I’m Not Hip Enough

ldw-pondersI finally figured it out.

I’m not hip enough.

Oh, I’m good enough – and I say that with complete humility because “good enough” by today’s standards is completely relative. And by that I do not mean your relatives think you’re good enough – that’s a given – I mean that in the world of instant reality show stardom, digitally perfected perfection, inexplicable and arbitrary fame, self published/self promoted… well… everything, what, really, is good enough? I have no idea. But I’m pretty sure I’m at least it.

I’m just not hip enough.

I was thinking about Rock+Paper+Music. Ever since I started writing for Huff Po, this blog here, my very own lovingly created, carefully managed and artistically designed forum for “sass and sensibility,” has become the slightly ugly stepsister overshadowed by the behemoth that is Huff Po. I try to find the balance: I keep my Huff Po stuff what is is – analysis and commentary on political, cultural, religious, and artistic issues –  sometimes articles overlap, but this blog is more personal, with more pictures, a warmer tone at times, often about non-famous people I know who should be famous, what my latest familial challenge is, that sorta thing. And despite the fact that I don’t obligate myself to write in just one genre (parenting, writing, photography, etc.), I do create a through-line with my brand of commentary, my voice, so to speak, so it is thematic enough…right?

Oh, hell, it probably isn’t buttonholed enough and that’s probably as unhip as all get-out and the very reason why Rock+Paper+Music remains a smart, thoughtful, but unviraled and slightly flatlined creative endeavor. I want it to be bigger, better, more OUT THERE, but either I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing in terms of proper 2.0 Internet promotion (likely), the title is too benign (I thought it was clever…what do I know?), or it’s too hard to…well…buttonhole. I insisted on taking liberties with the “blogging mandate of buttonholing” and look where it got me: writing about how I’m not hip enough. And saying buttonhole a lot.

This whole stew session was set off by a blog I was made aware of today. People I Want to Punch In the ThroatIt was implied by the poster of this blog link that it’s really funny. Or at least the posted article was. I immediately swallowed (with some difficulty) and clicked the link. I will refrain from commenting on the visual (there is none) and only read a bit, trying mostly to find out who “Jen” is (suggested by her bio, which is aptly named “Who is Jen?”), and it turns out the person who came up with this rather aggressive title, Jen, also writes for Huff Po (but, really, there are thousands of us, how hip can that be??), has been interviewed by NPR (shoot…I hardly even listen!), she’s witty, snarky, funny, and says things like, “All of a sudden I’ve got lots of people who want to know who I am.” and “I think the title sums it up. If you can’t figure it out, then go away before I punch you in the throat.” Sheesh. So I did go away…but not because I couldn’t figure it out, more because my visceral reaction to the literary violence of her title made me dizzy with hip-envy, which is really the downfall of a person like me. Because even after exhaustively social-media’ing, cyber bush-beating, virtual stone-unturning, and all my other various marketing ministrations, I lack Jen-like “virality” (I made that up…a play on virility and viral…come ON, that’s kind of hip!!).

Nah. Not really.

I’m so unhip, in fact, that I had an old friend – one I hadn’t spoken to in years but who’s on my mailing list – send me an email in response to a new blog notice with one line: “Please remove me from your mailing list.” No signature; no, “hey, how you doing?” Just that one line. Stunned, I wrote back, “We haven’t spoken in years, odd that your one communication in all that time would be this request.” He wrote back chiding me for “taking it personally,” adding the supposedly assuaging explanation that he “just doesn’t like blogs.” I took him off the list. He’s a pretty hip guy. You do the math.

But let me make this clear right now: I’m not a slacker. I know what’s what and I’ve got myself social media’d all over the place (personal page, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and I work those puppies like nobody’s business (just look at how I active-linked them all!). Maybe that’s the problem…nobody’s making it their business. Well, not nobody, but it can get bleak out there. Let’s take Twitter, for example. Despite my rather articulate, occasionally thought-provoking, sometimes self-promoting, but always 140-character Tweets of substantial pith, I’m pretty much ignored. While everyone’s tripping all over themselves to get “followed” by Benicio del Toro (who was officially on Twitter for all of two or three days) or retweeting some disgusting genital/masturbation reference by one famous actor or another, I’m clearly not high-profile enough for consideration by the Twit-verse. Frankly, they’re a hardy bunch and it’s likely I just can’t keep up. That feed scrolls off the page so fast that I can only presume the people who are constantly present, wit and parrying away, are sitting at a computer 24/7 with nothing better to do than desperately attempt to one-up each other or incite conversation with a Tweeting celebrity. Though Roseanne Barr did retweet one of my tweets once, I can only ride that train for so long. And I’ve now just said “tweet” or “Twitter” more in one paragraph than anyone should.

It could be my age. I don’t make a point of throwing actual numbers around but it’s not hard to extrapolate. In any circle of contemporary hipsters I’d be considered seriously OLD and being considered OLD in the world of the considerably YOUNG is about as effing unhip as you can get. You don’t even have to do stupid shit like wear white stretch pants, say “anywho,” or keep complaining about Facebook Timeline. Despite the inroads made by Betty White and Cher, and despite the fact that we’re all sort of grossed out by the epic damage being wrought on older faces by cosmetic surgery, the fact is, if you don’t know why Kelly Osbourne is feuding with Xtina (or even who Xtina is), who/what is trending on Twitter, or how Vodka and feminine products have become linked (sorry…it is viral), you’re not only OLD, you’re terminally unhip. Which might mean I’m slightly hip for being able to reference any of those things. Probably not.

Basically you’re unhip just by virtue of having lived longer than the much hipper younger people who are now running the world on the sheer heft of their buying, downloading, clicking, viewing, sharing, texting, tweeting, stumbling, or YouTubing. Any hip quotient I could ever possibly muster pales in comparison. Though I have a smart phone and still wear black jeans. Not enough. Not near.

But I get the young thing. I do. It’s a great time of life. I had an amazing experience as a young artist. I did have all that stuff – the slavishly devoted managers and producers, the band members who happily hitched on my ride; good Variety reviews, people who said they’d make me a star, backers and financiers and agents and publicists and fans and all that head-swirling stuff, some version of which our girl Jen is probably reveling in when she isn’t punching someone in the throat. But, truth be told, even when I was young I wasn’t so hip. When an unknown Madonna and I met with the same manager at the same time (she and I didn’t meet at the same time, he was considering us both at the same time…and I was the one there on a recommendation from the legendary Kim Fowley of Runaways fame…how hip was that?!), that manager passed on me, took Madonna, and while I kept singing and writing songs about interracial relationships and the meaning of life, she was dry humping gay dancers and making millions (and, yes, admittedly, recording some great pop songs I dance to even to this day!). She was hip. I was not. Dammit all to hell.

Here’s the thing: when you do what I do – freelance writing, photography, music – and you’re not hip enough – as we’ve established I’m not –  the burden of wrangling all that creative output falls squarely on YOU. You don’t get a manager drooling over your “potential.” People don’t rush the door to get you viral and trending. No one’s setting up conference calls to “discuss the trajectory of your articles.” NPR ignores you. We’ve discussed the Tweeting. Basically you’re on your own. You market and media and bush beat and try not to annoy the shit out of the few people who actually respond to those mass mailings or Facebook links, and hold tight to the notion that you remain worthy despite it all. You write a few articles that do go (sorta) viral and that ticks up your hip quotient for a second, but it’s a “what have you done for me lately?” world out there and you’re Sisyphus; every single article, query letter, photography posting, and attempt to put a band together is a new effort that requires rolling that rock up the hill each and every day.

Rocking and frikkin’ rolling.

Did you ever see The Flight of the Conchords, that hilarious 2007 HBO show with the New Zealand music/comedy duo, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie? One of the funniest bits on the show was the ubiquitous appearances of their “one fan” (played by the very funny Kristen Schaal), who made it her business to be the very best fan she could be and, since she was their only one, they were grateful for her (most of the time!). Sometimes I feel that way about my small but very loyal group of friends and fans who always take the time to click, leave comments, re-post, pass on, and generally show a little love on a regular basis. Hipness notwithstanding, they are there, a small but mighty group, and what I lack in “virality,” I have – in spades – in some very appreciated loyalty from them. They’re like my “one fan,” though happily more than one. But just a little more! I’m grateful for them.

The truth is, I love what I do…my creativity lends tremendous purpose to my life. It always has, even when I was younger and hipper and not writing about either. But if it appears I’m now too sincere, too earnest; if I’m not snarky enough or funny enough for the times; if I lack cutting enough edge or just the right touch of verbal violence, so be it. I discovered long ago that you not-hip-enoughhave to be who you are, who you truly are, and if that doesn’t bring them to their feet, again, so be it. To feign something or attempt to be someone else just to match the zeitgeist in hopes of greater acceptance or more success is pure folly. It never works. You always get found out. Look at Milli Vanilli.

So as Popeye would say, I am what I am. Thank you to those who get me. I love you guys, I really do. Which is a long way from wanting to punch someone in the throat.

Yep…definitely not hip enough.

LDW w glasses

Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Grammys, Taco Bell & Esperanza Spalding


I love music.

I’ve loved it since I first put a needle on a 45 (yep, that old). It soundtracked my life, reflected my heartaches, and serenaded my romances. I’ve lived music as a longtime singer/songwriter and I remain admirably contemporary in my musical tastes (i.e., I knew who Arcade Fire and Muse were). So when I watch the Grammy Awards I do so as a fan, a cheerleader, a participant and, yes, a critic.

There was obviously an abundance of extraordinary talent on that stage. These are, after all, the folks being awarded for excellence, they should be talented! And while there are those select few who perform with elegant simplicity, it lately seems that to be truly relevant in today’s music industry, one is expected to put on a production worthy of Franco Dragone. Act after act exploded onstage with cadres of limb-snapping dancers, robotic vocorder vocals, lights and smoke and mirrors and enough gymnastics to exhaust Cathy Rigby. As I blinked frantically enough to ward off potential seizure, I couldn’t help but wonder why cacophony has so thoroughly bewitched the art of music.

No one loves snappy choreography more than me, spectacle is fun, and vibrant stage presence is a must as a performer. But when you not only have to possess the body of doom, Alvin Ailey dance moves, a fierce stage entourage and panoply of digital enhancements, it no longer seems required to be all that good at the actual singing part. Or at least it’s getting harder and harder to figure out if you are.

Allow me this profoundly incongruous analogy:

The recent Taco Bell “where’s the beef?” brouhaha struck a chord with a bevy of burrito and taco consuming folks. Look, they reasoned, if you tell me I’m getting a beef taco with sand product and oatmeal dust and I still want to buy that taco and inexplicably find it palatable, you’ve done your job as an honest promoter and I’m a consumer with no taste. Likewise, if a listening, cheering, music-purchasing fan knows the artist they’re consuming is a gussied up digital creation — each note auto-tuned to perfection, every strum mimicked by an actual player and those original songs ghost-written by a pro — and they still love that artist, well, OK…they’re buying into the illusion (delusion?) and no harm done. They don’t mind the sand and oatmeal.

But what about those of us who want the real thing? Who want to know that what we’re hearing and cheering is true talent, perfected over years of experience or nurtured from innate ability? That a songwriter we admire has honestly created his catalogue, artfully rendered from hours in the bubble with his creative muse? That the joyful noise we’re singing along to was actually created by the vocal chords of that photogenic boy or girl on the CD cover?


This isn’t necessarily a new conundrum. Remember Yvette Marine (“Corvette” of The Mary Jane Girls)? The Yvette of the Marine vs. Abdul brush-up in the early ‘90s? Yvette was a vocalist hired to “co-sing” on Paula’s album, Forever Your Girl. After she became convinced that the bulk of the actual vocals used on the record were hers (as opposed to vocals used only to enhance Paula’s), she sued Miz Abdul and the record label. The suit stirred a lot of discussion about the authenticity of contemporary artists and much was made about that and the Milli Vanilli fiasco. Yvette lost (surprise, surprise) and ultimately disappeared from the spotlight, but the event brought to light the dirty little practice of “ghosting.”

Full disclosure: I did plenty of “ghosting” myself. Back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s I, too, was hired by producers to come in and ghost the vocals of big name stars who wanted to or were required to sing but lacked the ability to professionally pull it off. Before the ubiquity of Pro Tools and its digital ease of vocal correction, the limitations of analogue technology demanded the actual creation of an in-tune note to boost and replicate the ones that missed the mark. I ghosted a famous actress who starred in a Disney film with music, an A-list TV actress who co-produced a movie about the music biz, and several other lesser-known singers who yearned but r2b-bluecould not produce. With the Disney project my vocal was predominantly used on the theme song of the movie but I at least got union wages, credit as a “singer,” and residuals for years after. The TV actress? She never knew I stood in a vocal booth for hours, sweating to create the necessary vocal affectation to sound like her but in-pitch. No one knew except the recording engineer and the music director. I was paid cash, shook on an NDA, received no credit and later, while catering an event for the very TV show on which she was a star, found irony inescapable when she rudely snapped at me while ordering her drink, huddled with friends jabbering on about her soon-to-be released movie. True story.

Despite that dubious practice, every real singer I knew made all efforts and took great pride in being able to hit their notes with heart and tone and as little technical assistance as possible. It wasn’t about perfection – the grit and feel of a voice was far more valued than pitch, but the goal was to make it as soulfully good as it could be without the help of technology. When it was necessary, analogue engineers had to adroitly punch in words or syllables that needed pitch correction and that could take some serious billable time, something we all wanted to avoid. Sometimes we were obligated to re-record entire sections of a song for that one bad note. So we worked our chops in the process, knowing that a solid, authentic voice got you both work and respect. Then came Pro Tools and the tide turned.

When I last recorded in a digital studio in Burbank, CA., the engineer working with my group was also engineering the sessions of a young (to remain nameless) TV star who was selling records by the boatload and, as it turns out, couldn’t sing a lick. Our engineer reported that he was required to auto-tune “I’m not exaggerating, every single note” and spent even more time trying to get her tone somewhere near human aural tolerance, even in live performances.  She was aware of all this and it didn’t bother her. The finished product was perfect and that’s all she and her handlers were concerned with. She was a huge singing sensation and that record? Yep, sold millions. Sand and oatmeal.

When Esperanza Spalding staged her upset much to the chagrin of Bieber handlers and screaming Wikipedia-hacking pre-teens everywhere, it was a sweet moment of victory for authenticity. I don’t begrudge young Justin his success; every era has its cute-boy singers and he’s on a delightful par with Bobby Sherman, Davey Jones, David Cassidy, even Simon LeBon. He has his talents, certainly, but put him on a stool with an acoustic guitar and no trickery and we see the limitations behind the curtain…a young, sweet boy struggling to meet the demands of his oversized hype. Saturday Night Live has unwittingly served to “out” many in the ranks of dubious stars who lack authentic singing skills, from Nelly Furtado, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, even the nominated Florence and the Machine. And yet, strangely, even when it becomes painfully clear just how limited these singers are, fans don’t seem to care. Watching some of the train wreck performances at times I’ve thought, “Dear God, if I was that person’s manager I’d be rolling over in my tanning booth right now,” but there’s little ripple, no loss of stature, no harm done. Inexplicable. Sand and oatmeal.


But don’t get me wrong. I love contemporary music. I listen to it daily, download it on my IPod, work, speed-walk, clean my house and rock out to it, mostly to artists much younger and hipper than I ever was. Even Eminem; come on, how cool does that make me?! 🙂 And it’s not all about being a good singer: Bob Dylan was never a good singer but his cachet was his poetry and heart. Plenty of hugely successful artists of every era and generation brought eccentricities and quirks to their music…but it was real. It hadn’t been manufactured by a wizard behind a Pro Tools console. Say what you will about American Idol but most of the artists we now know from that show had to actually perform, sometimes with no accompaniment, no rehearsal, and with trembling, unenhanced vocal chords. Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, David Cook, Adam Lambert and the inimitable Jennifer Hudson are all formidable artists with original talent as vocalists, some as songwriters, and all were tested in ways that would have sunk many a current marquee name long before Hollywood week!

Obviously the technology is here to stay and like any other evolutionary advance, it can be used for both good and evil. Despite its abuses, it also allowed me and many other independent artists to make our records and it has literally revolutionized the recording industry in ways both marvelous and expansive. It has leveled the playing field for brilliant talent in films and TV, as well, allowing under-funded artists to create amazing product where, prior, they wouldn’t have even had the chance.

And, more importantly, it’s clear that even in the midst of all the bombast and artistic chicanery, true artists do emerge. Young bands and singers who work hard to truly master their craft and honestly create. Journeymen who evolve and continue to inspire. They’re amazing and hopeful and that the Grammy Awards made note of many of these artists was especially gratifying. Because every once in awhile someone like Esperanza Spalding pierces the curtain and shows them all how it’s done. Quietly, brilliantly, with no hip-hopping hordes and a minimum of special effects. And we out here who long for the flavor of something real are delighted by the authentic and mesmerizing talent. Not a speck of sand or oatmeal to be had. Ahhh.

LDW w glasses

Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.