The internet existed then, but I wasn’t plugged in. Gaining some measurable of mental stability and spiritual consciousness, I engaged in the world around me, physically and virtually, clumsily trying to communicate my seemingly profound insights about the worlds of form and spirit. At first, I was frustrated that no one seemed to be listening, but gradually, the desire for an audience dissipated and it became enough for me to just fling the ideas out there, willy-nilly, entheogens cast into the stream of collective unconsciousness. Surprisingly enough, some souls responded.
The internet is so easy, so accessible to anyone in a tin-foil medicine hat. Every one of us has the ability to blog about whatever random bullshit we think about while folding our laundry. Every fool with a Casio or a bucket to bang on can have their very own Bandcamp. Every raving maniac can set up their own website, free of charge, to broadcast their gibberish to the entire human race or to no one if no one clicks, but somebody will because no matter how ridiculous, malevolent or unhinged you might be, there is someone who agrees with you. The internet makes it finally possible to find and commune with those losers.
The bookkeeper at the restaurant where I work asked me to find a way for us to avoid paying licensing fees for the music we play in the dining room. I came up with a few solutions, some more unrealistic than others. We could, for example, download a years’ worth of music by musicians on Bandcamp who have offered their songs for free and waived their intellectual property rights – my own band is but one of many who have done such – and play that music in the dining room, thus exposing ourselves and our customers to all manner of new music by artists who are less motivated by the love of money than by the desire to communicate and share their sounds. Not for one moment did I think that was a viable alternative, but it is possible.
Certainly, a massive amount of what gets posted is garbage. There are the misguided and talentless, the bedroom imitators and the plain old malcontents. Misogyny, racism, homophobia and incoherent rage abound on Bandcamp, Tumblr and everywhere. Countless singer-songwriters upload their plaintive and insipid paeans to lost loves. Endless teenage pop-punk bands cover Green Day. Armies of friendless miscreants channel their petty gripes through stompboxes and call it power-violence. That’s the nature of democracy. Idiots and ne’er-do-well’s have equal access to soapboxes.
And what about intellectual property rights? Does the fact that somebody wrote or recorded a piece of music really give them the right to be paid for that act again and again? It’s worth thinking about, I suppose, but I’m not terribly interested in that debate. Some friends of mine once released a single that was a mash-up of Public Enemy’s “Rebel Without A Pause” and some Herb Alpert song. It was well-done, hilarious and arguably made a statement. They were sweating bullets, worried that Mr. Alpert was going to sue them into the fires of Hell, but they got away with it. I think they sold three-thousand copies – three full runs of a thousand each – before they decided they’d pushed it as far as they could. Another friend was caught selling bootleg cd’s by an agent of some band of millionaires and subsequently forced to close his record store. He was guilty, sure, guilty of selling music that he didn’t like, but which would help him to pay his rent and put food on the table. He had not in any way harmed the musicians who were bootlegged, didn’t impair their ability to gold-plate the toilets on their yachts or pack cocaine up their nostrils, but he lost his shop and had to go work in a factory. Phuck those rock stars.
So, debate it if ya wanna. I know where I stand. Most of what I steal falls into the “fair use” category, or so I’ll claim if I get sued. Fortunately, there are so many people jacking samples and posting them that the chances of me getting caught are slim to none unless I do something stupid to attract attention. Pussy Riot probably wouldn’t care that I used a piece of one their songs. Buffalo Springfield, or their label, might have issues with my use of “For What It’s Worth”, but as we learned from Negativland, being sued can be good publicity.
Really though, I’m much more intrigued by the opportunity the internet gives me to find out about shit that would never otherwise enter my little corner of the world. I have been able to reach people all over God’s green Earth, make friends, share music freely and discover all kinds of crazy stuff, music certainly – Zamrock, obscure inter-war blues and gospel, Sixto Rodriguez, middle-Eastern psych, Tuvanese throat-singing, countless hordes of outsiders flailing at guitars in their basements – as well as movies – the films of Estus Pirkle, Klaus Kinski’s spaghetti westerns and megalomaniacal rants, El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Begotten and Slaves Of The Cannibal Queen, the early works of William Shatner, Finis Hominis, hours of ephemeral films, B-horror and sci-fi, dystopian futures, the entire “Billy Jack” series, fucking Manos: Hands Of Fate, for Christ’s sake. It’s all there, the collected works of humanity, readily available for perusal, good bad or indifferent. Whatever you want.
Do what thou will with the internet. As for me, I’ll be recording whatever comes to hand, running it through a fuzzbox and putting it out there. It’s always pleasurable when I get a notice from Bandcamp saying that I’m running out of free download credits, but it makes no difference. I will continue to fling metaphorical soma into the thought pool because I enjoy doing so. The restaurant work pays the bills so I don’t need to get paid for the music. If someone is inspired, entertained or comforted by my output, as I have so been by the works of others, works that I did not pay for, that’s wonderful, but not important. I do what I do because I love to do it. The internet has freed me from the need to buy cd-r’s or blank cassettes to spread my gospel. I am the voice of one crying out in the World Wide Wilderness and I have been shocked to find fellow travelers, like-minded spirits and collaborators where I expected to find a Void.