Look I’m In A Band!

What is it about wealth that makes people who were successful at one thing decide that they’re actually good at everything?

I can probably answer my own question: once you have a certain level of money and clout, you can solve problems with a lot less effort. You tell your majordomo or factotum or whatever you call them, “go get me a photo op with ${whoever}” and they do the leg-work of making it happen. All you do is write some checks, so then the actual process looks easy.

That theory, if “theory” is the right word for it, also applies to how wealthy/powerful people develop a sense of entitlement: they forget (or never knew in the first place) how hard it is to make things happen by yourself, and they get annoyed as hell when they actually encounter the day-to-day difficulties of life, like dealing with a flat tire or a slow line at Starbucks’ or whatever.

Anyhow, Anna and I recently played through Cyberpunk 2077, which sucked, and our conclusion was that one of the suckiest things about it was Keanu Reeves’ “contribution” toward making the game less playable. There are constant interruptive play-breaks in which Keanu demonstrates how tough he is, which mostly triggered controller-pounding and temple-clutching. But the worst part about Keanu’s performance was the parts where it’s clear that he’s trying to make sure all his involuntary fans know: he was in a band. In other words, it was a desperate plea to think he’s cool. It had the opposite effect; all we could think was that he’s another insecure dweeb boy whose financial and cinematic clout are on their way to ruining his life.

Oh, and that name, “Johnny Silverhand” is not an homage to William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic though the game designers probably thought that shitting all over the best stories in cyberpunk fiction was somehow a tie-in. At another point in the story, Keanu makes sure you know he likes classic Porsche 911 Turbos, too, and the in-game vehicle line-up includes some motorcycles that Keanu really wants you to know that he actually owns in real life. So now his taste in bikes, guitars, and cars are featured prominently – and called into doubt – in the game. What a dick.

And of course there is the other famous Hollywood dick guitarist, Johnny Depp. Why not age gracefully and let the alcohol take care of it? Naw, gotta have a band. I hate to say this, but I know enough good musicians (and one great one) that I could throw some money at and probably produce a few tracks. Maybe I could rap? Just joking – I have enough things to do that I am not very good at that it seems silly to add another. Not everyone has to be a renaissance man, I suppose.

But I think it’s probably mostly an excuse to hang out with real musicians. If you’ve got the money and a publicist you can set up a gigging opportunity with other musicians who need the money. There are plenty of has-beens who’ll take a bunch of money to appear on stage with a wanna-be. I’m sure I could rap battle Vanilla Ice and maybe he’d let me win if I spent enough. Yuck.

In an otherwise interesting article on BBC, [bbc] there is a picture of Alibaba billionaire Jack Ma, who is an otherwise smart guy, demonstrating that he’s got some issues with ageing gracefully. I hope he gets a better publicist; they should have done something that was maybe more dignified, like hire a room of joke-writers and buy him the opportunity to MC the Golden Globes, or some other horrible denoument for his career. See the problem? When you can afford to buy the Golden Globes outright, it’s hard to keep some rich jackass from buying the microphone.

I’m not saying, exactly, that this is wrong because I’m not even sure what wrong is, but it’s distasteful to me. Why? I appreciate skill and artistry, which are two of the things you can’t just buy; you have to put your time in and do the work. Even so, it’s possible to spend a lot of money to remove all of the impediments in your path to gaining skill. There’s a popular art photographer who seriously does excellent work, who started his work-life as an opthamologist, presumably made a bunch of money doing that, then switched over to photography. It helps if you have enough money to buy studio space in New York and hire a publicist. It doesn’t substitute for talent [what is talent? coming up] but it funds the research and development.

It’s my opinion that “talent” is not really a thing. Sure, you need basic eye/hand coordination but all you need to do to be a photographer is learn the lighting, learn to think about composition, learn the technical details of the camera technology and current imaging landscape, and practice for about 10 years. Someone we might call “talented” is someone who can shorten that 10 year process of developing excellence down to 9. Someone who is wealthy and can afford to have staff that bulldoze all of the impediments away can shorten that process down to maybe 7 years. I’m a case in point: I had a successful career in IT security that allowed me to shift to metal-working without the need to feed and clothe and house myself. I was also able to buy all the gear, which is non-trivial. Keanu Reeves can afford to be a “motorcycle designer” because he has millions of dollars from being an actor and can choose the level of his engagement with his motorcycle designing process. I’d find it extremely distasteful but I could hire an “understudy” to be a knife-maker for me, and be a “knife-maker” studio, which is an old tradition in the arts – have understudies doing the boring set-up work and then the master comes in and finishes the job and signs it. Dale Chiuly, the famous glass-blower, doesn’t blow glass – he designs it and an understudy blows the glass. How does he then call himself a “glass blower” and how does “his” work command high prices? I want to dodge the question of whether Chihuly is talented or not.

The “I’m in a band” meme seems to me to be a cheesy way of hanging out with real musicians. Jared Leto, Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Jack Black… I’m not saying they’re not good, but I think it’s not unreasonable to question whether they got to be front-men in a band because they’re good, or if they’re just egotistical guys with a lot of money. I’m also vaguely reminded of “The Blues Brothers” – Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi – who cooked up one of the best scams in this regard: they made a movie that required that they get to hang out and jam with real musicians (and Carrie Fisher). It wasn’t a bad movie, actually, but it was pretty clear what was going on when they made a sequel with a Last Waltz-style line-up of amazing musicians that ended with a great big ensemble jam. All it lacked was Vanilla Ice, who was probably available at the time.

All of this meandering is triggered by this thing that dropped into my in-box thanks to the youtube algorithm. I sometimes enjoy watching footage of fake martial arts, most particularly aikido. And one of the great fake aikido practitioners is: Stephen Seagal. So, yes, he crops up in my inbox sometimes. Like this:

Please go gentle into that good night. At least he’s not a blade-smith.


  1. says

    Meanwhile, those with a modicum of genuine talent let the music do the talking, not use their profile in other places to gain undeserved attention. For example, Bernie Williams (ex-NY Yankees) and Hunter Smith (ex-NFL punter). Smith is not someone I’d listen to, but I’ll admit he sounds capable.

  2. StonedRanger says

    He is a thumb picking genius and he wears his hat backwards so you know he is a certified ROCK GOD©. It was tough getting to the one minute mark, but I managed it. Pardon me while I go and throw up.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    Another example: celebrity novelists. If you want to write an autobiography about what you’ve experienced that’s one thing, but lots of celebrities seem to feel their celebrity means they must know how to string words together to create a story. Often childrens’ literature bears the brunt, because how hard can that be, really? (Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, I’m looking at you.) It’s rather contemptuous of all those who have worked for decades to hone their writing craft the old-fashioned way, by practicing for decades.
    And yet my distaste is tempered by the fact that, if my name ever becomes a household word in a positive sense, I would be very likely to take the same route and use it to strike a publishing deal the same way Julie Andrews did. I’ve spent a lifetime stuffing my head full of ideas, and it’s probably a deep human desire to strive to make them still propagate after I’m gone. Authors often talk about their books as their progeny, and it’s pretty much the same instinct to leave a part of ourselves behind.

  4. Tethys says

    I’m not going to torture my ears listening to actors attempt to be musicians. I don’t generally watch the type of movie that casts Steven Seagal as a character, but his martial arts skills aren’t fake. He started his career as an Akaido instructor in Japan, and is currently a 7th degree Dan black belt according to Wikipedia.

    Talent is also a real thing. Gear doesn’t make the photographer. Doesn’t matter how much gear you have, if you don’t have an artists eye, no amount of training or gear will turn you into a good photographer.

  5. kestrel says

    OMG. I have seen this “I should be in a band, so I’ll just pay for it” scenario play out (haha) IRL. The results were underwhelming. (Billionaire daddy insisted 40-yr-old “kid” knew how to play the harmonica and forced a band playing at his club to play some songs with Kid. How I wish I could forget that.)

    Sometimes I think it could be legit… maybe that person wanted to play harmonica their entire life and spent every spare moment practicing, then once they had enough money, they could quit the “real” job and play gigs. But most of the time these people have clearly NOT spent a lifetime practicing.

  6. says

    He started his career as an Akaido instructor in Japan, and is currently a 7th degree Dan black belt

    Leaving aside the question of whether the entirety of aikido is a fake martial art, Seagal may have started out doing aikido but now he’s a faker. First off, his movie aikido is ridiculous – and his fame such as it is was based on his movie martial arts. He also has done post-movie aikido demos that take aikido’s existing fake demo techniques farther into la la land. The capper, for me, was when Seagal started claiming he had taught Anderson Silva secret moves before a fight – clearly hoping that he could claim to have had a major influence if Silva won (basic scamops) – it appears he tried to teach Silva “kick him in the face” ummmm… OK. None of what Seagal does is what a serious martial artist does – he’s as serious about his martial arts as he is about his rendition of “Sultans of Swing” i.e.: not at all.

  7. lochaber says

    Someone wearing a “shemagh”(sp?) anywhere but the desert, is pretty much a shortcut that they are a jackass. Probably the current equivalent to “all hat and no cattle” or whatever.

    I took some aikido in college, and it was okay, but full of a lot of pretentious idiots who had been in it for a year or two. I had previously taken some jujitsu as a kid/teen, and there was a lot of overlap in the falls, joint locks, throws, etc. Except, in jujitsu we were taught that a jointlock was also a way to break that limb/joint, which a lot of these aikido holier-than-thou “peaceful warrior” types didn’t realize.

    Anyways, it’s worth taking to learn how to fall, I think that’s probably the most usefull thing an average person can learn from taking a martial art. Hopefully most people never need to get in a fight, but everyone falls.

  8. says

    Steven Segal’s Aikido is (or was, I do not keep up) more “rough” than what is usually taught and thus it was closer to its predecessor, Aikijutsu, which was a legitimate wrestling martial art. Morihei Ueshiba was allegedly so disillusioned with violence during WW2 that he purged his Aikijutsu school of many techniques and modified the rest and thus created modern Aikido.
    The falls in Aikido saved me from severe injury at least on three occasions. On two occasions I have used the techniques to evade/escape being grabbed and flee from an attacker. But in an actual altercation, boxing or karate would probably be more useful – I was lucky enough to not need to find out.
    I have seen one freshly minted black-dan Aikidoka walk around with blackened eyes for a few weeks after he provoked a pub fight confident in his martial arts “mastery”. I was not actually present at his hiding, but I have seen those beautiful, rich, magenta-black shades under his eyes.
    I admit I liked Steven Seagal’s film when I was young, up to about 20 years of age. I do not even intend to try and listen to him playing guitar, I am not a great music connoisseur but I still do not want to risk my ears being tortured.

  9. Tethys says

    I am not a fan of the shoot em up genre, so it’s likely I have never watched a Seagal movie.

    I feel the same way about martial arts and boxing. Meh. I enjoyed the Kill Bill films, but I’m under no illusion that those are “real” skills.

    Some actors also have musical talent, but the examples here are vanity projects. If they weren’t famous actors you would never hear their attempts at being musicians. I never wanted to hear Shatner or Nimoy sing. To protect my memory from further terrible monotone scarring, I refuse to listen to Mr Seagal. Keanu can’t even emote while speaking, I imagine his music is similar.

  10. says

    Jack Black is an absolute exception to that. Admittedly, his music is a novelty act, and real music aficionados tend to hate that shit. That’s fair. But he’s got talent and has used music as part of his performance since well before he got famous. He surely does not deserve to be next to fucking Jared Leto and Russell Crowe on that list.

    This is all very subjective but I’d say as an artist it’s important to have a feeling or idea that’s worth expressing, and that the medium is a good fit for whatever skills your bringing to it at that moment. This breaks down frequently in music because being on stage, showin your ass, has an appeal whether you meet those criteria or not. I’m personally tempted to cook up a cheesy lounge act and swan it up, because it appeals to my vanity, but I know it would be a waste of everybody’s time if I did that right now.

    Other art forms invite this kind of vanity as well. See books by Sean Penn and Morrissey.

  11. Trickster Goddess says

    I took aikido for three years back in my taxi driving days. Coming from a pacifist upbringing I appreciated the emphasis on defending while minimizing injury to your attacker, with the ideal of trying to avoid the need for physical fighting altogether.

    Like others, I found the most practical skill I learned was how to fall. I’ve used that a several times in my life, like the time I stepped of the bus with my groceries, stumble on uneven pavement, tucked into a roll and ended up on my feet still holding my grocery bags. An added bonus was that the bus driver and onlookers were suitably impressed.

    As for actors being musicians, I would like to point out one exception in William Shatner’s catalog where his rendition of the song is actually better than the original:

    [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMXhWf0vE7c&w=560&h=315%5D

  12. Reginald Selkirk says

    I took some aikido in college, and it was ok, but occasionally we had to deal with some vicious idiot who wandered over from the ju jitsu club and couldn’t understand that we didn’t want to break anyone’s limbs/joints. If we wanted to do that, we would all be in his ju jitsu class, wouldn’t we? Aikido was peaceful, and mostly safe, and I viewed it as light exercise with an emphasis on coordination. And it was graceful. I realized that the best way to deal with bar fights was not be be in them.

  13. consciousness razor says

    An interesting case: Jeff Goldblum on Cantaloupe Island. There’s a pretty interesting moment during his solo around 4:13-4:25. The problem with that tune is that, because so little is going on structurally, it’s very easy to be a little too relaxed and boring — even Herbie wasn’t especially adventurous in the original. But Goldblum was simply using his ears and having a great time … what more can you really ask for? I don’t think it was just an excuse for him to make some more money by being on a different type of stage.

    And depending on the type of music, it doesn’t always require tons of skill or expertise, so that’s not exactly what I’m going for either I guess…. It just shows when you actually care about the craft and put the work into it, which many people clearly do not. Of course, it’s still true that Goldblum got to use his acting cred as a substitute or a crutch. If it weren’t him but some other random pianist who can play just as well or better, they simply wouldn’t have that. But at least musically speaking, he’s not wasting everybody’s time with more commercially-viable garbage. There’s plenty of that already, so why bother?

  14. Tethys says

    Samuel Jackson playing Black Snake Moan is a great example of a mediocre vocalist doing a fantastic rendition of a blues tune. It’s a story song that suits his voice, and is used to dramatic effect in the film.

    He learned to play for the film, though I suspect that his guitar work was digitally enhanced. If you’ve never seen the film, I recommend it as very well done, despite the terrible advertising campaign of ‘nympho girl chained to radiator’.

  15. says

    William Shatner’s album Has Been is one of my weaknesses. Rick Moranis did an album, too, which did not go very far but was kind of witty.

    But speaking of actors with vocal chops, I loved Tim Curry’s solo Fearless which was quite good. That arch voice.

  16. lochaber says

    Reginald Selkirk @16

    I wasn’t trying to change anybody’s mind, or tell them how to practice their martial art, I was simply practicing a new martial that happened to have a lot in common with another martial art that I had previously practiced.

    There is danger in someone being taught a jointlock is harmless, especially if they were to find themselves trying to use it in a “real” fight when their is adrenaline pumping through their system. They are going to torque that joint with more force then they realize they have and snap that elbow or wrist, instead of merely controlling their opponent. They also had some interesting ideas about how people throw punches… These were the students that would wear their Hakama to dining hall and academic classes.

    It wasn’t all of them that were like that, it was mostly a (rather large) group that had about a year’s worth of experience, and unfortunately their were a lot of them teaching the new students. The more experienced students, and the instructors didn’t seem to have that problem.

    As to Aikido being peaceful, out of all the Japanese martial arts weapons, I wonder why they decided on the katana?

Leave a Reply