the lot of an artist

It’s no secret that I am a Radio NZ National junkie. The radio is always set to 1116 AM in the car, (unless my sons have just been driving,) in the kitchen, everywhere. This alters when I need light relief and want to sing along to a tune loudly to myself in the car, or if I need a laugh. Then I’ll choose an old rock music channel or listen to Gary McCormick’s morning banter on More FM, en route to NMIT in the traffic jam.

Yesterday afternoon I tuned in part-way through a recording of Karyn Hay’s 2020 Lilburn Lecture called Living The Dream.

I recall the old days watching Karyn’s show on television in the 1980s. Karyn is an author and broadcaster, ONZM (thought to have been New Zealand’s first female Rock DJ.) She received national fame as the presenter of the music TV show Radio with Pictures. Karyn won “Best First Book Award” in the 2001 New Zealand Book Awards for her debut novel Emerald Budgies and she presents Lately with Karyn Hay on RNZ National.

Here’s an excerpt from her lecture:

‘If you just have recognition and no money you have the worst of all worlds: the dreaded fame without fortune, which is a burden for any performer, and one I have seen repeated over and over in this country. It’s wonderful to create meaning, to ignite something in other people (who happily steal it from you anyway, they make it their own. And quite rightly: it is theirs now), but there are only so many times you can be prodded, poked and shafted – in a non-sexual way – without getting paid for it before you begin to wonder if making music was a really bad career choice you made at 18.  

While we may live in a unique environment, a small market, where it’s easy to plead that there’s not enough money to go around, musicians are not show ponies. Well, they are, but – pay them. Pay them the absolute maximum the budget will allow, not the sum you think you can get away with. If they’re coming to appear on your radio station, or your function, if you want to use their music for something, give them the most money you can. Don’t try to get away with per diems and a few bucks for gas. Afford them the respect they’re due for their talent and for what they’re bringing to the party.’

I couldn’t help but think of this as a parallel for many artists, writers included, many of whom cross over the genres. Karyn herself describes herself as an ‘observer,’ not a musician.

On the upside for musicians, though many may not be living the dream, Karyn suggested that, ‘writers might not have as much fun as musicians, who out of all artists, probably get the best of it when it comes to instant gratification and job satisfaction. Writing doesn’t quite cut it, as it’s a solitary pursuit that nobody applauds. You might get a smattering of clapping at an event with a glass of cheap red, but nothing [as exhilarating] like a great gig elicits.’ She did add, ‘though the red gets more expensive, the more books you sell.’

I pondered my time writing in this solitary confinement that Karyn alludes to, and I dispute her claim somewhat. Certainly writing is not instantly gratifying, except perhaps when you nail that sentence, though there’s the risk you might be told to ‘kill your darlings’ by your editor. Writing is laborious and painful at times, but it’s not all solitary.

I’ve met fascinating people, made great, genuine friends, who probably know things about me that other friends don’t. The writing and sharing process has brought us together, baring all, and exposing our vulnerabilities. With this, brings a degree of acceptance of each other and a freedom that one can’t always obtain through other social encounters. During this course, I may not have had as much time to ‘socialise’ with established friends from pre-writing days, as much as I did previously. However, my social pursuits have been both authentic and levelling. This experiential learning has enriched me socially on a deeper level, transferring beyond the course confines.

I look forward to our writing group’s ongoing contact and support for each other.

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