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The Pixies Sell Out

Anyone who complained about Jim DeRogatis’ review of The Pixies’ Doolittle-themed show because DeRogatis focused on the band’s rampant commercialism must be shocked by Pixies’ frontman Black Francis/Frank Black’s interview with Quietus [via Pitchfork]:

“We’re interested in anything that’s going to earn us a fair wage. It’s not to say it’s not about art, but we made that art fucking twenty years ago. So forget the fucking goddamn art. This ain’t about the art anymore. I did the arty farty part. Now it’s time to talk about the money. How much do you think we should sell the tickets for? Where do you think we should play? How many shows do you think we should play?”

Sure, the interview ends with Francis saying he’d like to record new music, otherwise known as “making art,” with the band. But considering Francis seems so bent on the business end of things with his old band, it’s a toss-up if the new music will sound more like Doolitte or more like a complicated list of requests on The Pixies’ rider. Here’s hoping for the former…

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19 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Bob Cook #
    1

    Jim DeRogatis, who earns a fair wage, needs to grow up. There is nothing wrong with an artist who wants to get paid, especially one (like the Pixies) that have seen others make big money being inspired by their work. Plus, phony concerns about art (like DeRo favorite the Smashing Pumpkins bogusly putting out an album on an independent so they had cred when they already had a major-label deal in hand) is no virtue.

    I’m not saying that a band’s ONLY concern should be finding a way to be commercial — that can not only work out badly for the music, but it can also fail on its own terms. But I can’t blame Frank Black for wanting to make a little cabbage at this point in his life. Especially when he knows his audience has grown up and has the money to cover it.

  2. scohart #
    2

    Even Bono wants internet companies to rat out customers to find people who take money away from “artists”……. Gotta love the honesty though.

  3. 3

    Shocker: Artists like to make a living, pay rent, feed their families. I find discussions of ‘selling out’ unbearably tedious and juvenile. The Pixies got left out of the grunge gold rush, despite being a major influence on the sound. Let them cash in now if they want to. They’re not hocking cigarettes to little kids. They’re playing music people want to hear. What’s the big deal?

  4. 4

    Also, this is an excuse to link to Dave Egger’s classic rant on ‘selling out’. [See Addendum]:

    http://www.armchairnews.com/freelance/eggers.html

  5. Leor Galil #
    5

    You’re completely right about there not being anything wrong about an artist wanting to get paid: Their work is their living, and they deserve the money if they’re successful.

    But I can’t disagree with you more about “phony concerns about art.” That is the point of music, and culture, criticism: It’s all about the art. Same with those creating the art.

    If you’re looking at it from the standpoint of the job title, it’s Frank Black’s job to make and perform music. Period. It’s not like he doesn’t have people working on the business end of things to wrap everything up for him. He is a fairly successful artist, with or without The Pixies. He’s one of the few musicians from olde alternative acts who can sell out major venues on a solo tour. It’d be one thing if Black was booking the tour, organizing shows, etc. But he isn’t. And it’s painful to hear an artist seem so crass about the work that’s making him a more than reasonable amount of money today.

    Sure, artists deserve to make a living off their art. But good for DeRogatis for questioning why people would pay a massive ticket fee and then spend another $25 on a recording of the show you just saw. And not everyone in the audience is “grown up”: The Pixies still draw a large college-age crowd, and I’d be interested to see how many undergrads went to see The Pixies, plunked down $100 for tickets and merch and what their college debt and post-grad job opportunities are. Good for DeRogatis for pointing out that we don’t live in a bubble.

  6. Leor Galil #
    6

    I agree: Artists should make money from the art they create, especially when they’re making great art. It kills me that Joey Santiago may have had trouble paying the bills before The Pixies reunion (that’s more of a rumor than anything I can pin down as fact), and it’s good to know he’s on his feet.

    The “big deal” here is that the emphasis seems less and less on the music and more on the business side of things. I want to see a band play music, I don’t want to witness a business transaction. Frank Black doesn’t have the same kind of money concerns as the countless indie bands that are churned out every day: His band (and his solo act) have the kind of name that is hard to come by in this fractured society, and he could play a thimble for half an hour and rake in more money than any number of bands could in a year.

    So, my concern isn’t so much “selling out.” Honestly, that term is a bit shallow, but a good hook for a headline (it got you here, right?) It can create an endless conversation where everyone’s upset and no one wins. What’s really concerning is the fact that Black seems to have no qualms with the fact that his band has become more a business enterprise than anything else.

    So how isn’t it like hocking cigarettes to little kids? They openly charge a pretty heady fee for ticket prices (not as much as U2 or The Rolling Stones, but that’s another story in and of itself) and then gouge their fans with expensive merch. That IS hocking an addicting item (be it music or the esteem of a band fans love) to people who would get hooked instantly. It’s become less about the item in question and more about the transaction.

    If Frank Black were the man behind the band’s business transactions, great. He’d be doing a fantastic job. But that should not be the primary concern for a group that’s done pretty well during the “indie rock reunion” era of the last decade or so. And the funny thing is, he’s been doing some pretty good musical work outside of The Pixies as of late (“Bluefinger” was a wonderful surprise.) So why doesn’t he say the same thing about those endeavors as with The Pixies?

    Obviously, a question that can answer itself, but that quote is just unnerving to think about. I look at the bands that put their heart and soul into their work and really try and reach out to their fans, be it a “cred” favorite like Dan Deacon, or a band people consider to be sellouts like OK Go. They want to embrace their fans and share the music. And I did not get that impression from Frank Black’s quote.

  7. Leor Galil #
    7

    I hadn’t read that before. Thank you for passing it along, it’s pretty fantastic.

    Perhaps my headline was a little more misleading than intended. I apologize for that and will be sure not to use the “s” word in the future… I do agree with Eggers that it’s a pretty small minded argument, and I don’t mean to dissuade anyone from liking The Pixies or Frank Black… I just find the what appears to be contempt for his work to be more than a little curious. He can make all the money he wants and do whatever he wants with it, but why shit on the hand that feeds you?

  8. kurtfawnigat #
    8

    “I just find the what appears to be contempt for his work to be more than a little curious. He can make all the money he wants and do whatever he wants with it.”

    He’s not contemptous of his mind-bendingly awesome body of work. He’s broke. You’re the sellout.

  9. Leor Galil #
    9

    Wow, I didn’t realize being broke gave people a free pass. I guess I did my year of AmeriCorps, where I lived under the poverty line, all wrong by not being a jackass.

    Did you know that the poverty line for a family of four in 2008-2009 was a little more than $22,000? Do you know how much Frank Black will be getting for playing solo shows this spring? $15,000+. Why, he’ll be out of his hole of debt after a show and a half! (Check Pretty Polly Productions site if you don’t believe it: http://www.prettypolly.com/)

    And The Pixies have been reunited for more than half a decade, and I can’t imagine how much money they’ve made from that. Definitely enough to do more than survive. Not quite broke.

    Still don’t believe me? Then I suggest picking up a copy of Ben Sisario’s excellent book on ‘Doolittle’ for 33 1/3 and flip to page 6. Black talks about remodeling his house while Sisario notes that it was most likely paid for because of The Pixies reunion. You can even read it here:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=QQm9WsW8JUMC&dq=ben+sisario+%2B+doolittle&source=gbs_navlinks_s

    And that book came out in 2006: Not broke then, definitely not broke now.

    And wow, I never thought I would attain the level of sellout! I’m so honored! I’d like to thank the Academy…

    But seriously, thank you for illustrating the point that Joseph (and Dave Eggers) made about the term “sellout.” You literally managed to live up to every complaint Eggers has about the word to a “t.”

  10. 10

    Thanks for the reply. There’s a lot here. Lemme see.

    “I want to see a band play music, I don’t want to witness a business transaction.”

    But those can’t be separated, at least not in the real world, among people that take time and effort to create. The only artists who think nothing of money are those born with trust funds. It’s like wanting a director to not think about (or at least discuss) concerns about box office. They don’t have that luxury.

    “Frank Black doesn’t have the same kind of money concerns as the countless indie bands that are churned out every day.”

    Not anymore! But when they were making those Pixies songs that people are willing to pay big bucks to hear rehashed (rather than hear new Frank Black stuff), I’m sure they did. And he did the whole starving artist thing for years and got squat for it. Now he’s older, with dependents, and he craves security more than some amorphous notion of cred with teenagers (the majority of whom, it should be noted, don’t even pay for the songs of the bands they judge to be selling out).

    “So how isn’t it like hocking cigarettes to little kids?”

    Hahaha. I’m not going to bother refuting this.

    “If Frank Black were the man behind the band’s business transactions, great. He’d be doing a fantastic job.”

    When you have artists that don’t pay attention to the money, you have people like Billy Joel and Willie Nelson who get royally screwed by their accountants. Again, I think you’re making this false dichotomy b/w Real Artists and Money Grubbing Hacks, a distinction that doesn’t exist in the murky real world. Heck, even McCartney and Lennon used to say “Now let’s write a swimming pool” before they penned those cherished Beatles tunes.

    I’m not saying artists should crassly water down their art for money. But if you want to see a twenty year old band who are all known for hating each other and don’t really feel like grinding out the old hits like a karaoke machine, you will probably have to pay a premium to get them to do so. Black’s mistake is one of tact, not ethics. Everyone knows he’s kind of a cantankerous asshole. I’m not sure why they’re surprised he’s not smiling for the cameras and keeping his mouth shut.

    Anyway, a good book on all this is Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in this stuff.

  11. Leor Galil #
    11

    Good points all around.

    The point I was trying to make was more of what you mentioned at the end: Tact, and Black’s lack thereof. Great he’s telling the truth, but really? You don’t seem to care about the music at all?!

    I’m not trying to separate artists into “real artists and money grubbing hacks,” but I do find Black’s comments a bit revolting. It’s one thing to be concerned with money, it’s another to focus on it to the degree that Black is doing.

    And my comments about hocking cigarettes – completely understand you not wanting to bother with that! I did use it as a particularly ridiculous metaphor.

    But, yes, I’m not trying to make a complex issue black and white… But Black’s comments do skew quite strong.

  12. Bob Cook #
    12

    The moment money gets introduced, it’s show business, not show art. So like the old joke, you’re a whore, so now all we’re arguing about is the price.

    I would also argue that music, like any artistic endeavor, starts off as craft, just like painting, writing or smearing shit all over yourself and screaming about your mother for an audience in an old warehouse loft. The audience will decide if it’s art. About the only kind of artist more insufferable than the money-grubber is the one who natters on and on about his or her “art,” as if it’s untouchable.

  13. April Peveteaux #
    13

    I went to the Doolittle show and paid less for a ticket than I expected (I think it was around $50?) and it was more than worth every single penny. When they offered the disc of the live recording it seemed to be just another example of the dramatic change in the music business model (a business I worked in for 10 years). Artists aren’t making money from album sales anymore, and regardless, the Pixies weren’t exactly The Backstreet Boys of Billboard during their time.

    I think the term “selling out” has been discussed enough on this board, but I would like to add that Frank Black being an a-hole is not news for Pixies fans. Since he hasn’t done anything morally repugnant like fathering a child out of wedlock while his wife is dying of cancer, or pretending to be a wholesome father while screwing every stripper in a major metropolitan area, his bad attitude does not negate the fantastic awesomeness of that band. Yes, I said fantastic awesomeness.

  14. johngrant #
    14

    If your headline for this blog was “Frank Black Lacks Tact,” or “Black’s Comments Skew Quite Strongly,” that would be one thing. Instead, your headline is “The Pixies Sell Out.” And you casually compare the band’s music with rampant commercialism and rider requests.

    The members of the Pixies are musicians. They perform for a living. Sometimes they try to answer questions from reporters who fail to recognize the simplicity of this condition. And sometimes they perform for thousands of happy concert-goers while a few self important rock-press assholes mope in the front row with their “reviews” written prior to leaving the office.

    Should Jim DeRogatis’ authenticity be questioned because he writes for a major newspaper, Chicago Sun Times, instead of some indie rag? Should Ric Ocasek’s motives be questioned because he developed a sucessful music industry business, Pretty Polly, instead of following his muse? Should B.B. King be chastised for not only performing the same songs for 50 years, but also advertising Winston cigarettes?

    Good for DeRogatis? Really? For questioning the integrity of good people, hardworking people, and mocking the thousands who enjoy it? Wow.

  15. Leor Galil #
    15

    Yes, you’re absolutely right about the show business part. As I said before, we don’t live in a bubble, and money always comes into play with everything. It’s just when the person making whatever kind of music they want places more emphasis on the money rather than the craft they pursue that things seem more than a little odd, which was what this whole post was about.

    And excellent point about the audience deciding what’s art. What’s one person’s art is another’s meaningless red blob on a canvass.

  16. Leor Galil #
    16

    Right. Because out of a wide array of readers, practically everyone out there knows that Frank Black fronts The Pixies, right? Not so: I’m writing for a mass audience, not just The Pixies’ fans. So I need to take a complicated issue and condense it into a succinct, easy-to-understand phrase that will get people’s attention. Headlines grab your attention, and I would hope that readers would understand why I would write one thing in the headline: to explain it further in the piece.

    And I don’t compare the band’s music to rampant commercialism and rider requests. I pose the question of the potential their future music endeavors could sound like that. Big difference.

    I completely understand musicians need to make money, and I’ve argued for that thusly in the comments. And that’s a pretty heady accusation that you make about music critics, but it seems you’ve got your pessimistic take on them. And I can only guess that you’ve placed me into that group, which is funny. Why? Well, I had the pleasure of seeing The Pixies perform at The Paradise in Boston back in 2005 for a DVD filming. I enjoyed it so much I ended up purchasing a poster from the show and the DVD that came out later (which, at $10 is significantly cheaper than the $25 audio recordings of their ‘Doolittle’ tour.) I also wrote a blog post praising the band’s performance for the now-defunct WBUR arts blog, which is where I interned that summer.

    Surprise, right?

    No one here was arguing authenticity until you brought it up. I try to avoid arguments of authenticity, because those have more pitfalls in the music world than anything else. If anything, I’m arguing the sincerity of the reunion gigs, and clearly we know what Frank Black is doing it for. But, I never questioned DeRogatis working for the Sun-Times, Ric Ocasek and Pretty Polly and B.B. King for his shtick. Good for them. I imagine they’re doing what they love, and, though I enjoyed The Pixies set when I saw them, you could cut the tension onstage with a knife. (Well, Kim Deal was in good spirits, but it was still an awkward dynamic to witness.)

    Yes, good for DeRogatis for expressing an opinion that, if we’re looking at your remarks, are against the grain. It’s good to have some sort of difference of opinion, and your remarks that he is wrong for stating his opinion, which is his job, is a bit erroneous. If you can take his voice away because you think it’s callow, what place do you have to comment on it?

    Opinion is a two-way street. Everyone’s got one, and clearly you’ve got yours. And I don’t know if any of this will change your mind about my writing or about me, and if not, so it goes. But I hope it made you think about this stuff a little more.

  17. Leor Galil #
    17

    Yeah, I saw The Pixies back in ’05 in Boston at a tiny club for a live DVD filming. It was a great set, and I walked away with a poster and later bought the DVD. But, the show was $15, the poster and DVD were $10, and I don’t know if I would’ve tossed down $50 for the show. I certainly enjoyed it, but the tension onstage was unbelievably thick.

    And I admire bands with creative ways for dealing with the slip-shod shape of the music industry. But $25 for a live recording of ‘Doolittle’ and a handful of other songs? You can get the original version for $10 practically anywhere. The hefty costs of CDs was one of the things that really impacted people’s hunger for illegal downloading, and The Pixies aren’t thinking there. But, no matter what their level of success was like before the 21st Century, things have turned dramatically for the band during the last decade, and I’m sure they’d survive by knocking the price of those recordings down to $10. I mean, Jimmy Eat World is selling the live recording of last year’s ‘Clarity’ gig in Arizona for $8.99:

    http://www.jimmyeatworld.com/index.html

    Then again, The Pixies are also selling their ‘Minotaur’ box set for the cheap price of… $175:

    http://www.pixiesminotaur.com/

    I had to (unfortunately) pass up a free ticket to the first night of The Pixies’ ‘Doolittle’ show in Chicago ’cause I was sick. I don’t know what I would’ve thought because I didn’t go to the show, but I’m still perturbed by the pretty large fees for merch, not to mention the ticket prices.

    But, to each his or her own.

  18. johngrant #
    18

    Honestly Leor, my argument is not with you. In fact I appreciate your blog, and that you take the time to read & reply to the comments. It’s interesting that you call me pessimistic when my gripe is with the pessimistic aesthetic that the few proud Lester Bangs wannabe hacks, like DeRogatis, regurgitate review after review, as if the actual enjoyment value of a thing by actual people is irrelevant and bogus.

    My question to you, and/or anybody, is whether or not his one-way, self-interested hating merits a public defense.

  19. Leor Galil #
    19

    I appreciate the feedback John and your kind words. I’m glad you appreciate my blog, and I enjoy the criticisms: I enjoy the challenges readers can present to me, and I appreciate the feedback.

    And I apologize for accusing you of being pessimistic – I felt I had to be vigilant in my defenses for this post! And I understand where you’re coming from on DeRogatis, but I do believe he had some tangible and understandable criticisms. I’m no expert on his writing, but, if anything, I can see his particular criticism of that Pixies show as perhaps something of a spurned fan, someone who loves their old material just as much as anyone else, but expects more from them. And expectations can kill a mood just as much as overpriced merch.

    I understand where you’re coming from about people enjoying a show. With almost any show, at least one person will walk away thrilled by the experience, and one person will walk away absolutely hating it. Critics are hired because of a certain expertise, knowledge and wisdom on something, not to regurgitate what a majority or minority believe about a band.

    So, DeRogatis was reared on punk idealism. It obviously informs his writing. Whether or not his pessimism drags down his body of work aside, he manages to express his idealism in concert with well-written points about any number of acts. For me, it’s a little refreshing to see that every so often in a paper as widely-circulated as the Sun-Times: DeRogatis is very much a part of the minority of mainstream publication music writers.

    Though his writing may be negative, he manages to provide an informed opinion on music in ways that others cannot. It’d be one thing if he hid the way he felt about something, or provided a baseless attack on a band without some semblance of an explanation. I felt that his criticisms of The Pixies’ “Doolittle” set were well-established by a criteria he spelled out in an effective manner.

    Music criticism is just as much a craft as music, and though DeRogatis may have the sort of punk-curmudgeon thing down to the point where it’s overly obnoxious to some, he manages to maintain the role of a critic through and through.

    But, that’s just my opinion… Seriously though, thank you for the feedback, I really appreciate it.



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