Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Rock n Roll Delusion Syndrome, the Ukulele, and the National Folk Festival

My best shot at fame - voicepopfoible
A less than four minute read. Plus a video or two if you are tempted. 

For years now I have taken pride in being the originator of a new term - 'Rock n Roll Delusion Syndrome' (R&RDS for short). It is a condition which I and many of my friends and acquaintances have experienced, sometimes for decades. You can see it in our eyes and hear it in how we talk. At its worst it is evidenced in our bank accounts. For most, this condition means a life of penury - "the mortgage will be paid off next year because I will be famous, and my artistic work will be known to everyone". This is R&RDS at its worst.

This stupid delusion and conceit - annoyance at my own lack of fame - exists despite massive evidence of mediocrity, and a firm commitment to a lack of discipline and thoroughness. I am clearly not talented to the degree that gets me instant global recognition. I barely practice, prepare or work hard enough at being a star, and chance has just not been on my side. Neither now is age. I get on stage with the mildly famous, contributing tentative tones on my pocket trumpet, and then I fluff my notes. I won't be asked back again. I grab a chance at an open mic and the talent scouts are just not present.
vpf won the Inspired Queen competition at the 2005 Nash

Newly emergent friends and relatives now overtake me on the full bore fame highway, screaming past me, shooting for the stars, until they also ignominiously crash into their own double brick wall of oblivion, band politics, the inexorable passage of time, and all the unnecessary yet ever-present encumbrances of being human.  The very very few will make it across the dark chattering fields between the PR trenches of the meaningful gigs. My hopeful imaginings of the influential critics remain strangely silent.

It is debilitating. But forge on I must, for like Aesop's Fable about the sons and the orchard, there is gold to be had, even though it is not that gold of fame which is going to enrich me. The fruit at the top of them thar trees is the sheer joy and motivation of making music together, and of being a part of a community wealthy beyond compare (beyond compare to material wealth - obviously).

The irony of the insidiousness of the condition, stands in stark contrast to the reality - it is a living for the soul, a pursuit, a certain style of happiness, one which I am more than happy to propagate, without (hopefully) engaging too much in the nasty world of the dodgy record company and immoral promoter. Like everything else it touches, capitalism has also ruined music.

It's been really wonderful to see friends and family manifesting symptoms at Canberra's 2018 National Folk Festival over this Easter - the highs and lows, some of them in the comfort of a new context - retirement wealth; some still enveloped in the lazy assumptions and bounty of youth. The 'retirement wealth' thing is perhaps a rare and emerging variation on a theme, and much of the blame for this new cohort of R&RDS sufferers can be laid at the foot of the ukulele. For all its grey nomad baggage, the ukulele has emerged as a way for new people to experience the highs and lows of music-making life.

As a community musician (someone who helps others to make music), R&RDS is one (aberrant) variation we can present to our acoloytes on their musical journey from beginner to performer. It isn't something to which they should aspire. But they might catch it, for unlike many other syndromes, R&RDS is contagious.
Ukestral Voices joins the street choir program at the 2018 National Folk Festival
I love where I am, as my mediocre musical skills have allowed me to introduce hundreds of people to the joys of music-making together. Bringing 40+ people to the Nash, one of the world's great folk festivals, represents one pinnacle of my achievements in community music. But I suspect that, should I have been a virtuosic musician, I would not been so successful. And that is a blessing.
Where has this been all my life? invariably the response from uke-toting folkie novitiates. For me, the Nash's byline 'five days in a perfect world' rings so true. By the end of it (or even near the beginning), it is exhausting in its sensory and cultural richness. Dancing, music, blackboards, retail therapy, wonderful food, the sheer attractiveness of those on stage - all are honeypots for the R&RDS-vulnerable.

We leave deflated and disappointed that we have to leave this wonderful temporary community, unnerved that our permanent communities are nowhere near as idyllic.

My job is to help people realise that this should be their permanent level of existence; creativity and music-making should be the fabric which binds us - not dollars, jet skis, computer games and vacuous shiny baubles of fame, strung out along our increasingly always-on screen-time. The Nash, despite it dangling the fame honeypot, is anything but those things. Rather, it provides very real opportunities for engagement, for real people to meet in the beatific conditions of real interactions with real humans using real, flawed, enticing and incomplete creative processes.

Today digital distractions are ever-present, and the power of the media, be it social or traditional, continually tempt us from our true human path. In my quasi-intellectualising fog, the real meaning of life is to be a part of a real community, and to be contributing to the best of our abilities, and to keep our abilities expanding and growing, despite age or wealth.

Here's to the Nash. And here's to the power of the ukulele to introduce more and more people into the wonderful world of making music with our friends, despite our mediocrity. Maybe even because of it. Music-making is everyone's birthright, not just for those seeking the shiny baubles.

I rest my case, Your Honour.

p.s. here's Ukestral Voices' attempt to take out the Inspired Elvis Competition at the 2014 National Folk Festival.  We made it to the finals! It's rare footage, never before seen (for good reason. Try and pick the good reason).