Art vs. Business! Fight!

I’ve tried to set this blog up so that it automatically posts to Twitter. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, last night I went with the girlfriend to the Cyndi Lauper concert. It was one of several outdoor concerts our local zoo puts on. My girlfriend is a big fan, especially of her older stuff, and I have a few of Lauper’s songs that I like a lot. I’m not a huge music geek. I love music, but most of what I love is based more off of nostalgia than technical skill or innovation or whatever. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “She Bop” take me back to the mid-80s, watching wrestling with my grandfather. “Time After Time” reminds me of high school and college when I heard the song for the first time in the soundtrack for Strictly Ballroom. (And, really, that movie is directly responsible for one of my tattoos. Just saying.)

What we didn’t realize prior to buying the tickets was that Cyndi Lauper had just released an album called Memphis Blues in which she sings blues songs. Specifically, she sings blues songs with her thick Bronx accent. It has apparently been at the top of the blues charts for a while. This concert was part of her tour to promote this blues album.

So the opening act was an old blues singer who was part of the blues band that she was touring with. And then when she came on stage she spent almost an hour and a half singing blues songs.

When she did the Obligatory Encore, she sang four or five of her older songs and ended on another blues number. Through most of the show the crowd was pretty mellow, just hanging out on the lawn and listening. A few people, who I suspect were chemically altered, were grooving around like they were at Woodstock again. Or still. But otherwise, really sedate. When Lauper busted out the old songs, everyone sprung to their feet and the entire field was filled with people dancing.

From a consumer point of view, I was pretty frustrated. In fact, it was only faint hope that she’d sing older stuff that I stuck it out. To poach a quote from Jerry “Tycho” Holkins, “It is like getting a ordering a pizza and getting a free walrus. Even if the walrus were excellent, I mean truly exemplary, I’m really not in the market for it and it’s not why I ordered the pizza.”

I’m not a fan of blues. I wouldn’t say I hate it, but I never find myself seeking out blues. I definitely plan to pay money for a Cyndi Lauper concert to listen to a solid block of classic blues songs while sitting uncomfortably on the lawn. The girlfriend didn’t either. If I were to base an opinion off of the actions of the crowd, most of the people there weren’t hoping for a blues concert. They were politely respectful of the blues stuff, but it wasn’t until she set the WABAC machine for 1983 that people got excited to be there.

Other performers I’ve seen pimping new albums would weave the new stuff with the old stuff in order to connect with their old fans and present their newer stuff. It seems like a tried and true model, so I’m a little surprised that she didn’t approach it that way. She could have opened up with one or two classics and then segued into blues while riding on the energy she built up. But she didn’t.

From an artistic point of view, I’m more inclined to adapt one of my favorite Neil Gaiman quotes to say: Cyndi Lauper is not my bitch. Continuing to find inspiration as an artist is an evolving process, and sometimes authors follow a different path than their fans were prefer. Or sometimes they get known for one big thing that haunts them for their career. (“By Grabthor’s Hammer, what a savings…”)

It was pretty clear that Lauper was excited about the new project she had been involved with, getting to work with blues legends and create music she found inspirational. I imagine it was probably very frustrating for her to pour her heart out on stage with the blues songs and only have fans appreciate stuff she did over 25 years ago.

You see other artists go through that too. Martin seems to have hit it really big with his A Game of Thrones series, and has been vocally frustrated when people complain about him working on stuff that isn’t AGoT series. I can think of one urban fantasy author who finds herself chained to a couple ongoing series. It’s fun now, but the fun won’t last. I really can’t imagine how Sue Grafton was able to keep writing Kinsey Milhone novels without going insane.

There’s a lesson here for me as a writer. Where do you find the border between “what makes you money?” and “what makes you happy?” I should be so lucky to have the kind of success that makes me have to worry about that. But I could very easily be on the receiving end of the frustration from “fans” who aren’t interested in following me where my heart leads me.


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