Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Anarchy in Venezuela

I've been working on an email interview for the past few days and this one's been a bit challenging because I'm corresponding with a writer for a Venezuelan anarchist publication called El Libertario. Even though he initially wrote to me in English, I answered his email in Spanish, which led him to believe that I was more fluent in written Spanish than I actually am.

One of my concerns in doing interviews is that my statements could be taken out of context or (in this case, literally) misinterpreted, so I made the extra effort of answering the questions both in English and in Spanish. I quickly realized that my command of written Spanish leaves something to be desired and I struggled to find adequate translations for U.S. expressions and idioms.

Here are a few of the questions that didn't seem to touch on subjects I've written about before. I've posted my answers in both English and Spanish.

In 1976, you formed the Bags due to the influence of, among others, the music of David Bowie and the New York Dolls. Why did you want to form an all female band at a time when rock and roll was dominated by male stars?

Precisely for that reason it seemed to me that a change was long overdue. We’re talking about the late 1970's - a time when the women’s movement had lost momentum and many men and women believed that equality had been achieved. At the same time when women were earning pennies to every dollar a man could earn, rock and roll stars could strut their stuff on stage, make loads of money, influence the young and pretty much have the world laid at their feet. I wanted a piece of that and I wanted other women to be able to have a piece of it too.

Prescisamente por eso me parecia que era tiempo para un cambio. Estamos hablando de los anos ‘70 - un tiempo en que el movimiento femenino habia perdido velocidad. En ese tiempo en los Estados Unidos, la mayoria de las personas de ambos sexos quizas por los logros de los anos 60 empezaron a pensar que la igualidad habia sido lograda. Al mismo tiempo las mujeres aun ganaban una pequena fraccion de lo que ganaban los hombres haciendo el mismo trabajo. En el escenario del rock los artistas masculinos gozaban de una libertad tremenda, podian ganar muchisimo dinero, y tenian el mundo a sus pies. Yo queria la oportunidad de tener todo eso y queria que todas las mujeres tuvieran esa oportunidad tambien.

On your website, you state “It is my hope that visitors to my site will understand the burning desire for change that was behind the early punk scene.” Can you explain in detail what you mean by this statement?

It must be hard for young people to imagine a time before bands made their own records, CDs and booked their own tours. In the time before punk, musicians and artists who hoped to ply their trade and make a living from it had to prove that they could sell their product. Record companies controlled the means of production. Nobody made their own recordings or pressed their own records. It just wasn’t done that way. Artists worked hard and waited to be discovered (they even had a phrase for it, called “paying your dues”) and some even tailored their music or artwork to the demands of these companies in order to land a record deal. Once these deals were struck, a record company might decide to change your music, your image or even your name and the artist usually complied because they knew that a record company’s support was everything. Record companies, publishing companies and all the other businesses that profited along the way were making the decisions as to what was being played on the radio. Not surprisingly what WAS being played on the radio was shit. The most diluted, safe and boring tunes imaginable. We disparagingly called it muzak.

It was out of sheer disgust that many us turned our radios off and turned to live homemade music for something better. The irony is that many of us hadn’t thought things through. We hoped to wake up the record companies and turn them on to new music. We hoped they would be so impressed with our live shows and homemade recordings that they’d give us some money to release records that would actually reach a bigger audience and enable the artists to support themselves. It wasn’t until the punk scene had been around for two or three years that the bands realized that we were going to have to take control of the means of production, but once we did it was like a dam bursting. Bands began booking their own tours, making their own swag, recording, pressing and selling their own music. The profits were smaller, but for many it was enough.

Things are not much different today. Young artists still have to make choices about their work. I have three daughters and each of them has very different taste in music. They watch the Disney channel, and/or American Idol, and don’t understand why I say that the people on those shows, although in many cases very talented, are not real artists or real musicians. They are like very fine pieces of clay that will be molded by another’s hands. They are the pretty packages that wrap the TV commercials. They are a product that sells other products.

Debe de ser dificil para la juventud de hoy poder imaginarse un tiempo antes de que las bandas hicieran sus propios discos y CDs o que lanzaran sus propias giras. En el tiempo antes de punk los musicos,y artistas que deseaban ganarse la vida con su profession tenia que demostrar que podian vender su producto. Las companias disqueras controlaban el medio de produccion. Nadie hacia sus propias grabaciones ni sus propios discos. Las cosas no se hacian asi. Los artistas estaban acostumbrados a esperar la oportunidad de ser descubiertos, hasta habia un nombre para esa espera le llamabamos “paying your dues” que significa pagar lo debido. Algunos artistas trataban de ajustar su arte o su trabajo al gusto de las companias disqueras con el anhelo de obtener un contrato disquero. Si ese contrato era logrado las companias podian decidir cambiarles el nombre, la musica, la imagen a sus artistas. La mayor parte de artistas no protestaba porque sabian que el apoyo de una compania disquera lo era todo. Las companias que publicaban la musica, tanto como las disqueras y todos los otros negocios que se beneficiaban de la labor del artista estaban en la posicion de decidir lo que se tocaba por la radio. No es ninguna sorpresa que lo que se tocaba por la radio era pura mierda. La canciones mas diluidas, sanas, y aburridas, imaginables. A esa musica le llamabamos Muzak para distinguilar de la musica verdadera o music.

Fue por aversion a esa Muzak que muchos de nosotros apagamos nuestros radios y fuimos en busca de la musica real, viva, y hecha en casa. La ironia en esto es que muchos de nosotros no lo habiamos pensado bien. Queriamos despertar a las disqueras con una musica nueva. Esperabamos impressionarlas tanto con nuestras actuacciones en vivo y grabaciones que nos darian dinero para grabar mas y nos ayudarian a distribuir la musica a una audiencia mayor. Esto significaria que un artista se pudiera sostenerse con su labor artistica. Nos tomo dos o tres anos darnos cuenta que ibamos a tener que tomar control de los medios de produccion, pero en cuanto sucedio fue como una presa que se abrio. Las bandas empezaron a lanzar sus propias giras, a creear su propia mercancia y a grabar e imprimir sus propios discos. Las ganacias era pequenas comparadas con las de las grandes companias disqueras, pero para muchos eran suficientes

Las cosas hoy no son muy diferentes. Los artistas jovenes aun tienen que hacer decisiones sobre su trabajo. Yo tengo tres hijas, cada una con su propio gusto en musica. Ven el canal Disney, o el programa American Idol y no comprenden cuando les digo que los jovenes en esos programas, aunque tengan mucho talento no son verdaderos artistas o musicos. Son mas bien pedacitos de barro o plastilina que seran formados por las manos de otros. Son los bonitos paquetes en que vienen envueltos los commerciales en la television. Son los productos que venden otros productos.

30 years after the birth of punk, what things do you feel should be discarded and what things should be revisited by subsequent countercultures?

After 30 years, rebellion has to be reinvented by the youth of a new generation. It’s ok to sing your parents’ songs but each generation has to write their own songs as well. The ideology of punk: the DIY ethic, the desire to challenge conventions of dress, social attitude, ethnic, gender bias, etc. has to be taken to the next level by today’s youth.

I want the youth of today to challenge me. I don’t want their art or music to be so easy and familiar to me that I immediately like it. Nothing that has ever made me grow has ever been comfortable for me. Progressive ideas, like progressive art and music are sometimes an affront to the spectator because they are new and unfamiliar. If everyone in your group dresses like you and likes the same music as you and thinks like you then you may as well live in a vacuum. Life is most exciting when we’re put in the uncomfortable position of having to evaluate our beliefs and either having them be strengthened or having to toss them out.

Despues de treinta anos la rebelion tiene que ser reinventada por la juventud de la nueva generacion. Esta bien cantar las canciones de sus padres pero tambien tienen que escribir sus propias canciones. La ideologia del punk, la etica DIY (hazlo tu mismo), el deseo de desafiar las convenciones sociales, de vestuario, de prejuicios sobre etnicidad o genero, etc. tiene que llevarse a la proxima etapa por la juventud de hoy. Me gustaria que la juventud me brinde un desafio, que no me ofrezcan lo familiar, lo que me guste immediatamente. Nada que me ha hecho creecer a sido comfortable o familiar. Las ideas progresivas, como el art progresivo, a veces afrenta al espectador precisamente porque son ideas nuevas, no familiares. Si todas tus amistades visten como tu, escuchan la misma musica que tu y piensan como tu seria como vivir en el vacio. La vida es mas emocionante cuando estamos en la posicion incomfortable de tener que evaluar nuestras creencias. Esto nos hace fortalezer nuestras creencias o deshacernos de ellas.


Anonymous said...

What a great illustration, I love that image. It would be perfect for a tee shirt! Does that phrase translate as "The worldwide wave of resistance"? My spanish is not good at all.

Thanks for the great insights.

godoggo said...

Those little diddleywads flying over the letters are a pain to type, aren't they?