August 5th, 2011 | by Nick Jaina Music | Posted In: Columns, Nick Jaina's Little Box of Lies

Nick Jaina's Little Box of Lies: The Benefits of Obscurity

     
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People don't really want to know how music is made, just like they don't really want to know how sausage is made. They might have a brief interest in the pulled-out guts, the ground-up assholes (here I'm talking about the music business—oh, did you think I was talking about sausage still?), but when it comes down to it, we just want to believe that it's all magic; that we can turn on the faucet and out comes a song, or a sausage, or Diet Coke—and we don't have to worry about the consequences.

The belief that we can get something for nothing is the belief on which this country was built, and it will continue to be that way until we un-build the country brick by brick. After all, humans are special because we are animals that can dream while we are still awake. We can look at our situation and wonder why it has to be that way. If a coyote loses a leg in a hunter's trap he just gnaws it off and deals with the fact that he now only has three legs. He doesn't lie around wondering "WHY ME?" Somehow, as humans, we can have everything go our way and live in the most prosperous society on Earth and we hit one red light and wonder "WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS?" 

If there were a shortcut to glory, some old amulet to be found in a junk shop that granted us wishes, surely we would have found it by now. Clearly those old genie stories are just told to us so we'll go to sleep at night, so that we'll dream of Santa Claus and not wonder how one man could possibly have the resources and time to service all the well-behaved children of the world. The idea that we can not only get something for nothing but that we DESERVE it has brought us to Las Vegas and given politicians and car salesman an eternal upper hand. We all believe that one day we will eventually have more money, work less and be more famous than we are. We'll believe anyone who promises they can get us there.

I used to want to be famous. When I started playing music one of my main goals was to have more fans than friends. A lot more. I couldn't wait until the point when I would be playing a show and there would be a large amount of people who I did not personally know that clearly came out to see me. I didn't know how to get to that point, how I could get even one legitimate fan. It seemed impossible at first. I'd book a show at the old Meow Meow and put up posters and tell my friends, and on the night of the show there would be six people there: the guitarist's girlfriend, my brother's college roommate who just moved to town and didn't know anyone, my two housemates and two people my drummer worked with. And I would feel so defeated because I wanted to reach those OTHER people out there. My friends were going to come and drink and listen whether I was playing a show or throwing an engagement party, but the whole point of making music was to reach people I DIDN'T know, the other people, because those people would be unbiased, and if they liked my music that meant that they REALLY liked it.

As a performer you want people to fall in love with you, but you know how hard that is. When you fall in love with someone special, it's like you've discovered the last remaining member of a forgotten species of bird. You stumble into the clearing of a meadow and there it is, all the feathers in place in such a perfect and determined way. You love it for the struggle it had to go through just to survive as such a rare creature.

Romantically speaking, if you've had three people really see you in your life, you've done well. Once you've had that first person see you—not just look AT you, or look you up and down, or look you over, or look over you, but SEE you—it becomes a lifelong quest to find that again. You look for that in audiences, but they never see you in remotely the same way. They look at you standing on a stage under a spotlight. If the room is alive and you're playing with purpose then they look up to you with admiration. You could potentially fill every need they have, whether that's consoling them on their breakup or fixing their transmission with a tap of a wrench. If everything is breaking down onstage then they look at you with pity. That quest for affection is so close to manic-depression that you don't even realize you're there until it's too late.

These days I'd rather have friends than fans. I'd rather not just mope around the backstage area hoping that somebody still thinks of me as perfect and pure. Perfect in their head, maybe, but at the end of your life you don't get to total up all the good thoughts people had about you in their heads. All you get is the actual interactions and actual communications with actual people.

I'm starting to think that the holiness we are seeking is not to be found in fame, but rather in obscurity. Fame is like heat in that you can only keep it alive for so long; eventually the molecules will slow down and return to cold. Napoleon said "Fame is fleeting, but obscurity is forever." Obscurity is the natural state. But obscurity can be holy, too. It is the same as standing outside the party lights, adjusting your eyes to the darkness so you can see more stars.

Think of how much more thrilling it would be to pursue obscurity instead of fame: You would no longer have to worry about losing an audience. You would only ask yourself what drives you and what you want to communicate. You wouldn't care about what the safe way out would be. I tend to shy away from situations involving large businesses trying to make money off of my desires. Nobody's trying to make money off of people diving into obscurity, but a whole industry exists to take money from people looking for fame.

To be obscure is more like being that last remaining member of a forgotten species of bird. You survived the encroachment of civilization and the tyranny of homogeny. You didn't change your feathers to blend in, even though it made you more vulnerable.

So many of us are striving to be well-known. We've built up a community where we start to get recognized around town if we play a few good shows and believe that in some way we are famous. It's a nice dream, but it's still a young person's indulgence. The famous are carved into coins or nailed onto street signs. The famous are like reverse-zombies: instead of running away from them, we are drawn to them, hoping they will infect us with their bite and turn us into one of them. If only it could happen that way.

I didn't start playing music so that I could crank out sausage, so that I could be the background music in a bar. I started writing songs so that somebody could lay on their bed and touch the arm of their sweetheart and say with their eyes, "This song is how I feel about you." Having that impact on someone somewhere is a gift. Wanting that to happen a thousand times over is greed. It's wanting something for nothing.

It's important to remember why we came to this party and that we can leave at any time, walk outside, rub our eyes and see the stars in the sky again.

 
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