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Composer/Multimedia Artist JOEL PELLETIER
Joel Pelletier: Words

Blah, blah, blah... Some ideas seem best as a song, others in a painting, and others... well, maybe in words. Comments, prose, poetry - click and read something. It can't hurt (much).

  • Why I Walked Out Of Avatar 2
  • Why Post (and why post at all)
  • Consciousness and the Lost Opportunities of Blade Runner 2049
  • New 2013 blog: Bass Guitars and Chocolate
  • The Artist, Personal Responsibility and Consequences
  • Tribute Bands - Real Music?
  • Morals vs. Ethics
  • Remodernism & Stuckism
  • Aesthetic vs. Divine Experience
  • Disney Hall
  • Art and the 21st Century
  • When does art end?
  • RIAA, Grammy Propaganda and Those Evil MP3s

    Why I Walked Out Of Avatar 2 (14 December 2022)


    I just attended a free IMAX screening of the new Avatar film (which I will just call Avatar 2), and had to walk out about half-way through. Sure, like the first one (which I thought was OK for an escapist movie, but no more than that) it's pretty, and IMAX 3D looks nice, adds depth to the image, and (as advertised) really makes you feel like you are (more) there than a standard flat film image. Maybe that was the problem. And maybe I'm the only person who feels this way (no one else walked out with me). But there it is. This is not intended as a film review or criticism, which should be of no value to anyone. Writing this is my attempt to make sense of my feeling of overwhelming disgust, which requires a bit of autobiographical exposition.

    I have always loved animals. I have always had pets (I currently have 5), and from childhood felt a deep and immediate bond with them. It's the reason I have been a #badvegan for almost 35 years; except for the occasional use of salted butter, a bowl of ice cream or a pastry that (probably) contains dairy and (horrors) possibly even eggs, I decided to no longer participate in the process of breeding, enslaving and murdering fellow sentient beings (and except for two pair of vintage stage shoes and a few guitar straps which are almost impossible without flexible ends, I also wear and own no leather). It's not something I brag, cry or proselytize about, and except for making sense of my emotions regarding this film I generally keep it to myself and get on with my life. This stance is also in line with my lifelong aversion to guns and military in general. I not only own no guns (I know - why do I hate Freedum?), but as an occasional Hollywood actor I refuse any role that requires me to hold or use a weapon of any kind, because representation matters. This just seems like standard pacifist stuff to me, but it's not an attitude I run into very much these days, which is unfortunate but whattayagonnado?

    Beyond a general aversion to abuse and violence committed between humans, which (I would hope) we can all be against, I guess it affects me even more when the abuse and violence is inflicted on animals. Yes, if you are defending yourself against a bear/lion/cougar (or even a deranged human) all bets are off, because what's more important than life, but animals with absolutely no malice towards you or any other human? For a burger? There are more gentler ways to live life, and I do what I can.

    OK, enough philosophizing; let's get to this movie and my emotional reaction to it.

    (Side note: this emotionalism seems to be a trend with me as I get older. I recently watched another 2022 film, EO, about a mule that goes through things, and was so angry at the ending - not to drop a spoiler here, but it was not good for this creature - that I stomped around cursing for an hour or so after the viewing. I'm really becoming a softee; there's a "baby in the ocean" scene in the new film BARDO that has to be one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and I was wiping away more tears than when I watch a weepie on an airplane, where I can at least blame the air pressure.)

    Director/writer Jim Cameron (whom henceforth will be referred to as Jim, as does everyone involved in this film apparently) is promising five of these Avatar things, and those who have worked on it speak as if they were fortunate enough to be involved in something earth-shattering, like the Manhattan Project. In statements and interviews Jim has made a rather big deal (as he does about everything) about becoming a vegan 10 years ago or so, and how he is a proud tree hugger and environmentalist, and how he is all in on warning us humans about how we are destroying the only planet we can survive on (also a plot point in Avatar 2). Sure, all good, but.

    In traditional dramatic storytelling (film or otherwise) you create conflict between a good side and a bad. After making clear whom is whom, the bad side keeps winning until - spoiler - the good side pulls it out at the last minute and defeats/destroys/kills the bad. Jim has had quite a bit of success as a storyteller and filmmaker mining this trope, and his evolving visual virtuosity serves this very simplistic and timeless model. But, as with the first Avatar, his storytelling skills and attention to detail results in quite a bit of military and violence porn, strawmen characters and battle scenes. Yes, your colonel is a bad guy, someone the audience is happy to see killed off in the original finale, but bad science and silly spiritualism means he can be reborn to return over and over, hence sequels and no final resolution. And in his effort to BE SURE that we understand how mighty and dangerous this military force is (corporate mercenaries in Avatar 1, but now potential saviors of mankind in Avatar 2) his infamous attention to detail become the type of gun, weapon and hardware porn that dominates video games and militia enthusiasts. Prominent in Avatar 1, it's on steroids in the sequel, not only lovingly depicting CGI instruments of war, but having actors gleefully explain and anticipate how they work and what they will kill as the scenes unfold. This war porn glorification certainly exists elsewhere (including entire cable networks and war documentaries), but for a man who professes his love of animals and the natural world Jim still seems to get very hard over all this death hardware, depicted with the same level of realism as the animal-rich natural world and characters he also created to depict the good side of this dramatic conflict.

    This alone made me very uncomfortable. If I wanted to watch war porn, I'd watch those cable stations. Then he gets us inside a whale hunt. OK, the power of IMAX is that you get INSIDE the film in ways not possible in two dimensions. But our lizard brain isn't wired to differentiate between real visual data and artificial visual data. Storytelling was always about firing off inner emotions based on the story, and 3D visuals with ultra-realistic (and LOUD) auditory content gets even deeper into the fight/flight emotional core of our subconscious (or so goes my theory, anyway). You want me to get MORE involved with the story, feel MORE fear and ultimately MORE joy? Well, congrats.

    I would not voluntarily watch a documentary on whaling, including detailed descriptions and depictions of their vessels, weapons and tools used to carry out this barbaric trade, even if the intention is to demonize it. This was still a common thing over 100 years ago, when whale oil and products were common and valuable (until crude oil processing became cheaper and widely available). There are very few whales left even now, and it's still a thing in a few countries. But I don't want to see video of people being hunted, murdered and dismembered, and I also will not watch the same treatment of animals, especially whales.

    And so Jim, further illustrating his theory that the militaristic humans in his made up story are bad people, has to take us through the step by step process wherein the bad humans, who also include high-tech ultra-militaristic whalers who hunt to make their quotas (cuz, you know, money) gear up with their cool stuff. Adding to the pile, Jim establishes that these "whales" (or whatever he calls them after adding a 4-part jaw, a second smaller set of eyeballs and extra fins) are as or more intelligent than the humanoids native to this moon, and are able to communicate with them (I still haven't figured out how, exactly, but if you can transfer souls to cloned bodies then I guess this one should be eazy peazy) and even electronically/telepathically communicate using their... hair or something (face plant emoji). Jim then inflicts these whalers upon a pod of "whales" including a mother and calf, which they decide to focus on for the hunt. So they are now going to use this overwhelmingly lethal armada to kill a mother and calf. Proudly. Like a day's work, while drinking their coffee. THAT'S when I got up and walked out.

    Yes, Jim, I get it. These are bad people. Brilliant set-up for the obvious climax (to part 2, anyway) where your blue and green humanoids and whales work together to defeat the bad humans (just a guess here, not a spoiler, since I did not stay to see the ending). But you are NOT going to force me to watch the murder (maybe) of this mother and calf as entertainment. I was not going to have another EO moment. I'm out.

    Why Post (and why post at all) (6 December 2022)

    Note: As a now former avid Twitter poster, I have emptied my account of all data (the only value I had to the platform) and hold a placeholder account IN CASE things improve there. ITMT I am doing some posting and perusing on Post.news, and using to the top of my index page here to now showcase some photos I have taken and posted on Instagram. I wrote this short essay on Post on 12/6/22 after wondering if I really cared at all, and since leaving Twitter, I have not (at all).

    The Twit /social media habit of liking and reposting things is a hard one to break, but lurking (at minimum) or closing my Twit account entirely (at maximum) is both the best way to deprive Elmu of my personal data (my only true value to him) and the ethical thing to do. But it's hard; liking and reposting is both an acknowledgment of gratitude to the original poster, and a continued cry for acknowledgment myself. I get that it is normal and human to want my existence to "matter," but the reality is that, beyond my loved ones and acquaintances, it does not (and this coming from a performer and artist). Wanting to "matter" on even a personal scale is ultimately pointless, like wanting to be cool is by definition not cool. To be cool is to just be your best self and never caring is anyone else acknowledges or appreciates it, because it's for you and those who love you and whom you love (hopefully the same people/pets).

    So (in conclusion, etc.) time to leave Twits behind. If anyone here gets anything out of this Post, that's nice (I guess).

    Consciousness and the Lost Opportunities of Blade Runner 2049 (7 October 2017)

    I have always been a big fan of Ridley Scott's original BLADE RUNNER film. It was visually striking, of course, but for me it's power was in its exploration of what it meant to be not just alive, but conscious. Roy didn't come back to Earth to fight and kill - he already had plenty of that off-world. He came back to Earth and risked execution as an illegal/rouge Replicant because he loved living, and wanted more.

    The principal flaw in all of the characters of BR2049 is their preoccupation with the soul instead of consciousness. With all of the science and tech behind the creation of Replicants, they are ultimately human - they are not machines that have to fake human actions (like robots faking eating in the BBC series HUMANS). Replicants are skin and bone and blood and emotions and desires, just like us. The only difference between them and 'normal' humans is the way they are 'born'; humans are born mentally and physically unfinished, whereas Replicants are 'born' fully adult but still mentally immature, hence requiring memory implants to speed things along and catch up with the rest.

    But Replicant=Human is not even the point (nor is "more human than human", which is just a meaningless advertising term). Consciousness=Alive is the simpler and more obvious math here, and early scenes between K and his holographic girlfriend Roi hinted at developing this theory further. As Roi becomes more independent she becomes even more sentient, therefore proving she is an authentic conscious being/person, making the tragedy of being crushed underfoot even more so. The giant holographic version of Roi with the dead black eyes confirms that this later version was not the same "person," even if she looked the same (and eyes are very important in the BLADE RUNNER universe). K's registration of disappointment, to me, meant he understood that this was not his now dead love, only a duplicate (as was the new Rachael for Deckert).

    (Note: There are some animal rights philosophies and semantics involving the term 'persons', as in 'human person' differing from 'ape person', 'dog person', 'cat person', etc. These are all living, feeling, sentient and conscious, just different forms of being. Each has their own personality, hence they are their own 'person', which any multiple pet owner can attest to. Replicants are obviously 'persons', as is Roi.)

    A few times in the film there are offhanded mentions of the soul. Only beings that are born can have a soul, according to highly technologically advanced humans who see the results of synthetic DNA and intelligence in their every day life. I'm not denying human beings' historical ability to delude themselves with myths, even if physical evidence to the contrary is right before their eyes, nor the macro-discussion of racism and bigotry that lies just below the surface of the entire Replicant plot line, but if something breathes/eats/shits/laughs/cries, then how can it not be alive, never mind conscious and sentient? If so, how can it not be extended the same legal status as the living things who created it?

    The preoccupation with AI research and philosophy over the last couple of decades, reflected in many films going as far back as the HAL9000 in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, is with at what point complexity becomes intelligence and ultimately consciousness. It's not about what physical form the information storage takes - it could be RAM, organic drives, the World Wide Web, robotic, organic, or any combination of these. The Turing Test in the first film, abandoned and/or renamed as Baseline Tests in the new film, are there to prove whether or not a machine can fool us (or, eventually, itself) into thinking it's actually a conscious, living person. But this necessarily includes confirmation bias in the tester, and the Turing Test never actually detects if someone IS actually alive (remember that Rachael asked Deckert if he ever taken the test himself, and never received an answer). The brain as a computer is at best only a metaphor, certainly as long as we are unable to figure out what makes us 'come alive'. But there is absolutely no physical evidence for a soul, in any way that it has been described in poetry, mythology and religion.

    (NOTE: In Douglas Hofstadter's book I AM A FEEDBACK LOOP he suggests that consciousness is the by-product of the brain's constant review of memory, which would fit neatly into the BLADE RUNNER universe and its major themes. It is also possible that consciousness IS nothing more that a feedback loop of memories, which would render the Turing Test meaningless, and Replicants just as 'conscious' as humans, especially later models with more complex memory implants. The goal of mediation is to silence that feedback, leaving only love for life, something Roy seemed to attain at his end. And then there is the character named Luv...)

    If the humans in BR2049 are so sure it's the soul that sets them apart, and can't stop talking about it, then wouldn't the Replicants (and holographic beings) talk about it as well? It's interesting that they never use the word. Joi refers a few times to being a real girl, and to K as a real boy (a la Pinocchio), and Luv uses similar references. But Luv's agenda seems very different from her boss. Wallace wants the lost secret to Replicant sexual replication mastered by Tyrell (who never talked about the soul at all in the original, and readily accepted Roy as just as alive as he), but Luv wants only to prove that Replicants can be real and alive, ignoring the obvious fact that she already was.

    (NOTE: It is even argued by some that Identity and Consciousness do not exist at all, and are simply self-delusion.)

    Maybe these issues were better explored in Spike Jones' HER, and the writers of BR2049 needed and/or wanted to make a different film. This could explain why the film diverges from these philosophical issues mid-way through and devolves into an mystery/chase/hand-to-hand lethal combat action film. The early nods to philosophy and poetry are all but abandoned once the chase gets underway, and robs the film of the depth and emotional climax achieved in the original.

    (NOTE: Exactly where did Luv hide all those knives on her pocketless person, and is she crying because life is so beautiful, or because death is so beautiful?)

    My ultimate disappointment in BR2049 is not that director Villeneuve did not make the film I wanted to see, but that he didn't make a film with anywhere near the emotional impact of the original BLADE RUNNER, nor of his last film, ARRIVAL. In that film he shows how humanity and emotion are more powerful than its technology/science fiction elements, but in this one they seem to overpower him. The center of the current ALIEN reboots lie in similar discussions of creation, birth and what it means to be human, and the BLADE RUNNER universe offers unique opportunities to explore these issues in even deeper ways. Maybe they will be better explored in the sequel(s).

    One can hope. Or at least this one human person.

    New 2013 blog: Bass Guitars and Chocolate (9 May 2013)

    I have found another use for the downtime associated with travelling to and from gigs - blogging. I realized that I spend most of my road time thinking about two things - bass guitars and chocolate, so I have started a blog about just that: Bass Guitars and Chocolate. Consider it a more up-to-date continuation of this WORDS page of my website (I might change out the links soon), where I muse on not just those two awesome and (in my mind) related subjects, but anything else I feel like writing about. I don't really read blogs per se, but when I do run across them my favorites are the ones that are the most obscure and obsessive. So here's my contribution...

    The Artist, Personal Responsibility and Consequences (20 July 2012)

    I was recently asked to comment on the work of painter Jon McNaughton (http://www.mcnaughtonart.com/), a Norman Rockwell-styled realist who's religious and political metaphors and parables take on a disturbing photo-realistic form of historical revisionism and political propaganda. I do not doubt McNaughton's chops as a visual artist, and have no direct reason to doubt his sincerity in either his subject matter or his desire to make money (or both). But his images, like many works of art (including visual art, music, and film) are disturbing to me not just as a consumer or art, but as an artist, because artists know how the sausage is made - they are the sausage makers - and we know that ideas aren't just "there," but have to be deliberately "made." With that knowledge, and the skill to create, comes some responsibility, as all actions have consequences.

    Words are representations of ideas - put those words in your head, and your mind creates patterns and memories associated with those words (to you) for your brain to make sense of them. Put those words instead into images, and they get right into the brain without need for translation. A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS (and more) because it affects us more directly, getting into the basic, oldest parts of our lizard brains, firing love and/or fear emotions more efficiently. Saying (delusional as it is) that President Obama is a socialist destroying the Constitution is one thing, but a realistic painting (again, in a nostalgic style of Rockwell's commercial Americana magazine covers of the first half of the 20th century) of President Obama holding a burning Constitution with the title "One Nation Under Socialism" is (pardon the pun) deliberately incendiary, demanding action (a hose at the very least, a gun at the worst).

    In McNaughton's "One Nation Under God," Jesus is depicted holding the Constitution, as if he brought it down Moses-style from the mountain top. He is surrounded by men who were actually historically responsible for writing and signing this document, here reduced to merely witnessing its immaculate conception. At the least, this type of historical revisionism should be considered an "art misdemeanor" in the same vein as President John Adams, as depicted by Paul Giomatti in the HBO miniseries, railing against the artist John Trumball's painting of the signing of the Constitution by the Continental Congress (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trumbull%27s_Declaration_of_Independence). It never happened as depicted (the actual signers snuck in and out individually over a period of time to evade arrest), and the idea that all future generations would think otherwise was, to Adams, a crime. But to Trumball, the image-creating myth WAS the very reason for the painting to exist, since art creates our myths. This pissed off Adams, but at the end of the day, and to this very day, Trumball won the argument, and this image hangs in the United States Capitol Rotunda for all to admire and learn history from, albeit erroneously.

    I have no doubt this is what McNaughton is doing. WE create the myths - images, stories, histories, religions - that civilizations consume. He probably believes what he is doing is responsible (to his values and interpretation of history, anyway), and his works ARE calls to action. The difference between his work my 2004 painting "American Fundamentalists (Christ's Entry into Washington in 2008)" (http://www.americanfundamentalists.com) is that where he is depicting metaphor as physical fact, I was projecting metaphor into a fictional dystopian future. I don't claim this is how things ARE, only how they MIGHT be if the persons depicted continue each on their individual paths, in the same way Orwell's "1984" was not about 1984 (or 1948), but how it COULD be...

    Whether McNoughton believes all of the ideas he is promoting in his paintings, he certainly believes in making a living. Just as fear proves to be a time-honored tool in getting people to vote against their own self-interests, it's probably also a good money maker in the fine arts print market. I am reminded of Irving Berlin, a very financially successful American songwriter, who wrote and regularly sang "God Bless America", despite the fact that he was an Atheist. To him, a gig is a gig, and he wrote the song for a stage show about World War One, but was happy to revive it to sell war bonds (and earn more publishing royalties) through World War Two. For him, a gig is a gig, it's just a song, whatever. But to millions of Americans (including McNaughton, apparently), that song reinforced and solidified the idea that God does actually bless America over all other countries.

    And today, the 20th of July 2012, the idea of artistic responsibility is again on my mind. A few months ago I saw the first trailer for the latest Batman film, "The Dark Night Rises." I believe in the GIGO theory - Garbage IN, Garbage OUT, and although I am sure all of the men and women involved in creating this work of art/commerce are talented professionals who love their families, what I saw depicted in the trailer was a celebration of anarchy, nihilism and violence both as a means of control and as a solution. I get that this is in fact one of the ideas explored in the series - does using violence to stop violence make you what you are fighting against (and it seems the answer is YES) - but the images depicted in the trailer include hand to hand combat, terror, murder and explosions (including the simultaneous destruction of all the bridges going into Manhattan). Many people to this day cannot look at the video of the World Trade Center crashes and destruction without real emotional and physical distress, because it was REAL and became real to them, even if they were thousands of miles away, but that 5 second bridge explosion shot is just as horrifying (if not worse), depicted in a way I would describe as Nihilistic Porn.

    As a writer and director, Christopher Nolan deliberately created and then executed the depiction of Anarchy, Nihilism and Violence. I don't know what he concludes at the end (violence=bad, violence=good, violence=necessary?), but I made the decision then that I did not want to give these images and ideas direct access to my lizard brain. Why is it a surprise that this genre (included in films, video games, graphic novels, etc.) attract Nihilists, Anarchists and the violent in our society? Is it a surprise that one very mentally unstable member of this subculture shows up at this film loaded for bear, and 15 minutes into the film lets loose a celebration of what his lizard brain is feeling?

    I have been offered gigs doing things or creating work I personally do not approve of, and have refused. You will never see a paint-ball gun website I designed, because I would not do it. You'll never see me in a cigarette commercial, because I did not audition for it (never mind refuse the part if offered). You'll never see me playing in a Death Metal or Christian Rock band (or Death Metal Christian Rock, for that matter), as I share no affinity with their ideas. I'll never write a "God Bless America," because I neither believe that gods exist nor that, IF gods existed, they would bless one country over another, and I could not live with myself if I had (although Irving slept well into his 100th year, thank you very much). If Jon McNaughton does not sleep well, I would guess it's because he thinks the Black Op helicopters are coming to take his bible and guns, or the Christian Dominionists will run out of money for his prints, not because he rips off Norman Rockwell to scare and sell to delusional paranoids.

    As an artist, I spend most waking hours thinking about making things. Not just WHAT I may create with my mind and my hands, but HOW and, most importantly to me, WHY. If I thought I would lose sleep over the finished work, I just don't do it.

    I have met Chris Nolan, I have actually been in his home, and he seems like a very nice person. But how is he sleeping tonight?

    Tribute Bands - Real Music? (13 August 2007)
    In December 2007 I joined a tribute band,
    The Who Show (more info on my music page). I began getting the itch to play live LOUD rock music again in mid-2006, having semi-retired from live original performing more than a year before to make room for the touring I was doing with my American Fundamentalists painting. Truth be told, I was also worn out from all of the logistical nightmares involved with singlehandedly promoting, booking, carting around and setting up a seven-piece band with a string quartet, with all the extra mics, headphones and other gear required to pull it off in club environments, only to be so tired by the time of downbeat that it was hard to pout out for the three people in the room who actually showed up to listen.

    In committing to get back into live playing, I decided I wanted to play cover music, not original music, but being so difficult to please there were few bands or repertoire I wanted to learn and perform. I first joined a 1960's cover band, armed with a new $200 Chinese-made Beatles/Hofner-style bass that played and sounded incredible. A half dozen rehearsals and one free party gig later, both the band and I seemed to mutually lose interest in each other. I think I was a bit TOO intense for them...

    So, if not a themed "cover band," then the only way I could limit the music I was playing to music I truly LOVED was to form or join a "tribute band." Tribute bands specialize in ONE band's music, usually limited to classic bands with large, popular repertoire (although interestingly enough, I have since seen and heard of tribute bands of almost any band, even current bands with only a couple of minor hits - but I guess these guys are simply TRUE fans who want to play this music). One of the key selling points of a Tribute band is that they already HAVE a name and fan base nationally and even internationally, and (most) the songs being covered are worldwide classic hits. Some bands simply show up in street clothes and play their version of the bands tunes, along with other similar cover tunes from other artists; others try to duplicate the SOUND as accurately as possible; and others tre to go the whole visual route as well, attempting to faithfully reproduce an athentic concert experience looking and sounding like the original band as much as possible (with gear, costume, wigs, etc).

    The bands whose music I wanted to perform had to have both great songs (to me) and great bass parts. In college I was in a RUSH tribute band for 4 years, absorbing Getty Lee's playing and (the best I could) vocal style (while also performing progressive music from Yes, The Police, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson and our own fairly indulgent and totally forgettable original material). We never tried to look like the band, only to pull off the same sound with the same three piece lineup as the band we admired, with varied results.

    In 2006, the only bands I thought I would be interested in performing this intensely would be Yes, Led Zeppelin or The Who. I checked out a local Led Zeppelin tribute band live, who performed searingly loud although fairly inauthentic (for the rhythm section, at least) versions of mostly ROCKER Zep songs, which appealed to the crowd, but not to me (for me, Zeppelin will always be a highly progressive and musically sophisticated band with incredible musicians and a screaming singer with a voice more interesting AS a musical instrument than the lyrics that framed it). What I was really interested in doing was a BRUFORD-era YES tribute, where musicianship trumped look (and most probably a female lead singer would do a much better job than a small one-in-a-billion soprano man like Jon Anderson). I bought a Rickenbacker bass, something I had always wanted to play, and started learning much of Chris Squire's bass parts from that era. After two monthas of searching in vain for a Bruford-style drummer, I was starting to get a bit frustrated.

    I then found an ad for a WHO tribute band. John Entwistle, along with Lee and Squire, were the bassists I studied and copied in my teens when I first started playing and making my own electric basses (including an over-the-top "Flinstone-style" bass with a huge head, influenced by a bass John played in the TOMMY movie). Entwistle's style, tone and bass technique is something I had absorbed decades ago. I called and offered to audition - a few months later I got the call, got a cheap Epiphone Thunderbird bass to show my commitment, and learned a half dozen Who tunes. The rest (so far) is history...

    As I was preparing for the audition, I was reminded of how I felt auditioning for cover bands many years ago, and how I never really liked them much just hearing them (and was a bit embarrassed performing with most of them, although when I was actually DOING it I could usually blot this out and just concentrate on the bass parts). I wondered how I REALLY felt about the whole "tribute band" thing. Can it be a serious way to make music, or are they just cover band clowns appealing to a very narrow musical subculture? Except for a few bands that no longer exist (Beatles, Led Zeppelin, etc), most tribute bands are actually trying to glom on to an established fan base of an actual, current existing band. Most tribute bands that I have seen don't come even close to matching any of the musical sound, power or authenticity of the original band.

    Here's a few things I have realized since really getting into this thing:

    1. Most ALL bands are cover bands, including most original bands, who make their living performing hits sometimes created decades ago with mostly different musicians
    2. Most all musicians make their living playing OTHER people's music; it's what they put into it that helps top make it uniquely their own
    3. ALL musicians and performers wear costumes onstage; some are wearing their "street costume" that fits into the current definition of "cool", at least for their genre/social/economic group, but most musicians wear uniforms from matching suits to tuxes to coat and tails. I recently accidentally attended a "Casual Friday's" night at the LA Philharmonic, and actually hated all the different clothing the orchestra wore, feeling that it took away from the visual unity of the ensemble.
    4. Most all original bands attempt to SOUND like an established, successful band in order to get that record deal (many times I have been advised by managers and record company people to "pick a band and write songs like them" to get a publishing or record a deal). This is how the music business works - they are afraid of something truly different, and only sign unique and ground-breaking bands after they have had so much indie success that they can no longer ignore their financial potential
    5. Anything can be ART if you take it to the highest level, and if you take it seriously enough, then it IS serious
    I take this seriously because I take the music seriously, take John Entwistle's bass parts VERY seriously, and get to play with some incredible musicians with the same attitude and skill level I try to bring to it. Every week I tweak and hone my playing, my instruments and gear, my costume AND my attitude. I have realized that I can not only do this well, but I can actually look alarmingly like The Ox himself. All I can do is try to be the best John Entwistle I can be. Each time we perform I am rewarded by peak musical experiences, and I recently received the highest compliment I could probably receive doing this gig.

    While shooting a live promo video in June 2007, the director Jeff Stein, who was personal friends with the original THE WHO, and directed their only film documentary, 1979's THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT. Jeff told me that when he saw me walking onto the stage in my full costume, plugging in a bass and playing John's bass parts, he was actually creeped out how much I BECAME John Entwistle.

    What more could I ask for - if I can SCARE true WHO fans into thinking John has come back to life, then it's truly fun.

    Morals vs. Ethics (16 January 2007)
    A recent website article entitled
    The Lie Of Moral Atheism blogger Bill Wilson continus the timeless canard that without god there can be no morality OR ethics. This is exactly the subject of a planned painting for quite a while now (see it larger here), and have spent some time thinking about this issue over the last few years. I could not resist sending Bill my two cents, but although I'm sure his commentary will remain live for quite some time (as will this common view across the planet), I doubt my response will ever be posted there, so I post it here:


    In your article about the SCA and Arlene-Marie, it seems you confuse morals with ethics, and claim that only persons of faith can have either. Morals is based on a punishment concept, where God commands certain laws or actions, which men are supposed to follow without question or pay the consequences (in this life in the Old Testament, or in the next life in the New Testament). Ethics is based on consensus amongst men and women, rules agreed upon because they enable us to live our lives with each other here on this earth, regardless of each person's, family's or country's religious beliefs.

    Your morality can inform or guide your ethical decisions, but morality is a personal thing between you and your God, and cannot (and should not) be forced on others.

    By claiming that there can be no ethics without the fear of God's punishment, you deny 7000 years of human civilization, politics, arts, philosophy and ethics.

    Ethics, because of it's ability to evolve with human civilization, supercedes morality, especially when morality is is rooted in ancient laws and practices. Contemporary ethics concludes that it is wrong to execute a woman because she commits adultery (note recent cases in Ethiopia), even though, according to Leviticus and other religious texts, it is moral.

    As for Arlene-Marie, no one is perfect, and she corrected her statement. Ask Rev. Haggard about perfection in morality. Ethics says he did nothing "wrong" to us or his congregation, only (perhaps) to his wife and family - and himself - by lying about his true nature for so long. It is ethical to conclude that this is a matter between him and his family, and none of our business.

    Which, interestingly enough for a very moralistic community, seems to be exactly how the issue is being handled.

    Remodernism and Stuckism (21 August 2006)
    I recently discovered the existence of an Art movement called Remodernism (also referred to as Struckism). Wiki has a few postings sbout this:
    Remodernism, Stuckism, Stuckism in America. Here's Wiki's intro to Remodernism:

    "Remodernism is a term promulgated by Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, in an attempt to introduce a period of new spirituality into art, culture and society to replace Postmodernism, which they accused of being bankrupt and cynical. Its premise is that the potential of the Modernist vision has not been fulfilled, that its development has been in the wrong direction and that this vision needs to be reclaimed, redefined and redeveloped. It advocates the search for truth, knowledge and meaning, and challenges formalism. The ideas were announced in a manifesto "Remodernism"."

    It turns out there are some LA Stuckists, who have seen my American Fundamementalists painting when it was on display in a gallery in North Hollywood in 2004. We are in general agreement regarding "contemporary art", which remonds me of the "tonalist/atonalist" arguments back in my music school days. I was and am firmly in the "tonalist" camp, and in the "figurative/non-figurative" debate also find myself firmly in the former. We have been emaling back and forth, I have been accepted as a "member" (along with links and an image of my work at their site), and they have also reposted my "Art in the 21st Century" essay on thier blog. Although I prefer the term Remodernist, I look forward to meeting and hanging with some of these LA-area painters, and perhaps doing a group show in the future.

    Here's a note I sent to them:

    I have recently (in the last 2 years) re-entered the art world after a couple of decades concentrating on music. I have completed a very large work that is critical of current American politics, religion, economics and (by it's existence) modern "art." What I have discovered is:

    1. The ART BUSINESS is worse than the MUSIC BUSINESS
    2. Being much smaller than the MUSIC BUSINESS, the ART BUSINESS is even more inbred and set in it's own status quo of small galleries, local and international museums
    3. POSTER ART is in the position to destroy real "art" just as non-representational and nihilist art (because it celebrates mind-numbing simplicity and art as graphic design)
    4. The greatest French word of all is BANAL, which describes so much of what is American culture, as well as "modern/postmodern" art
    I am returning to the tightrope walk of figurative painting (with a touch of the surrealists) with great fear and joy. I believe that true, HONEST art is the attempt to create an image as CLOSE to perfection as possible. It's in that inability to reach perfection (because perfection is impossible, and if possible, devoid of all life) that the artist's true style and personality comes through. Any attempt to create a visual "style" is false, and leads to graphic design and "content creation." (JP)

    Aesthetic vs. Divine Experience (18 August 2006)
    In a recent
    TruthDig posting Sam Harris, bestselling author of "The End of Faith" delivers a scathing review of "The Language of God," a new book by Human Genome Project head Francis Collins that attempts to demonstrate a harmony between science and evangelical Christianity. Sam writes: "According to Collins, belief in the God of Abraham is the most rational response to the data of physics and biology, while "of all the possible worldviews, atheism is the least rational." Taken at face value, these claims suggest that "The Language of God" will mark an unprecedented breakthrough in the history of ideas... Collins describes the moment that he, as a scientist, finally became convinced of the divinity of Jesus Christ:
    "On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains... the majesty and beauty of God's creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.
    If this account of field research seems a little thin, don't worry-a recent profile of Collins in Time magazine offers supplementary data. Here, we learn that the waterfall was frozen in three streams, which put the good doctor in mind of the Trinity..."

    I posted the following comment:

    So Mr. Collins had a profound and overwhelming Aesthetic experience in the woods, and because his training was in science and not the arts, he could only interpret this as divine.

    Many non-theists are science-types for the obvious reason that REASON appeals to their personality and worldview. But sometimes it seems many in the "Humanist" community (scientists/freethinkers/atheists/agnostics) forget that the term Humanist implies all of humanities and the human condition, especially the intangible and immeasurable sensual activities of the Arts. There is no contradistinction between demanding a rational worldview and standing in awe of extreme beauty, sensual and intellectual ecstasy. This, in fact, is what makes life worth living and so wonderful. Belief in a deity, imaginary friends or other childish notions is not required to appreciate the real "magic" that exists in our lives, from art to food to orgasm.

    As a musician and artist, I have always been aware of the line that must be walked between technical proficiency and inspired interpretation. Without both, there is no music, no art. Life is like that as well - reason balanced with intuition, intellect with ecstasy. We don't need gods and mysticism to explain this, we just need to look at ourselves.

    Mr. Collins needs to take some art appreciation classes, eat a nice piece of chocolate or drink a glass of fine wine and get over himself. (JP)

    My First Trip to Disney Hall (February 2004)
    In January 2004 I had a chance to attend my first concert at the new Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Zubin Metha was in town to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Beethoven's 9th. Hmmm, hearing one of the world's great conductors conducting the GREATEST piece of music EVER written, performed by one of the world's premier orchestras in the newest (and rumoured to be one of the finest) concert halls in the world. Well... OK...

    Of course, the first night I got there I waited over an hour in the stand-by line, hoping for a Thirsday night ticket to this sold-out concert. No such luck, but I was able to buy a $68 ticket for the next evening, so at least I didn't have to rush down there on a Friday worrying about even getting in.

    I did arrive early enough the next evening to hear the start of a dry-as-toast pre-concert lecture, then walk the grounds outside of the hall. Lots of interesting metallic geometric shapes, but not sure what it had to do with music, art, or even the structure of the building. My first impressions of the inside of the building, before they let us in the hall itself, was lots of en=mpty, wasted hall space. it's as if they were so proud of the architecture that they wanted to show off every square foot of blank wall, which coould be MUCH better used showcasing art or something, like an organic West Coast Guggenheim. Oh, and the ugliest carpet I have ever seen...

    The inside of the hall (EXCEPT for the carpet) is visually magnificent. But that meant nothing after the orchestra started the first movement. The opening chords of the 9th are still able to bring tears to my eyes (a pleasant reminder of why I love this music). As for the acoustics, I thought I KNEW this score, but I heard things in Beethoven's 9th that I never noticed before, thanks to the clarity of the wind section. I was sitting in the side with the ass end of the flute fireing right at my head, so the flute parts were a bit loud, but the balance was overall incredible, especially since I was on the side rather than in front. I look forward to attending other programs in the future form different parts of the room, reaquianting my ear to whatstrings REALLY sound like (as opposed to harsh and overly-pumped up low end regularly heard in recordings).

    Art and the 21st Century (25 January 2004)
    What is Art (with a capitol "A") and the Artist in this 21st Century? Jacques Barzun (in "From Dawn to Decadence") suggests that the Western culture has run its course. There's nothing left, and the proof is that Art today is all recycle and homage. No new ideas anymore.

    I fear he may be right. 500 years was a pretty good run...

    But is an artist only someone who thinks up something new? Is "new," unique," "different" or "cutting edge" all that matters? Maybe that's the trap Art fell into in the 20th Century; faster and faster rule breaking, burning through genres, techniques and scandals in a desperate Blitzkrieg of "newness" until there was nothing new left. J.S. Bach was dogged by this most of his life, and was only resurrected as a master decades after his death (during his lifetime his sons were considered the great ones, and he an old fashioned stick-in-the-mud).

    Then there's the whole career/success/money thing. Can I call myself an artist if I don't pay the bills with my art? Amateur artists used to be thought of in high regard, but we're in America, and successful people are rich people (even if they don't admit to being rich - ever tried to raise a family on $500k/yr?). At the risk of admitting I've seen Howard Stern on cable a few times, I once heard him remark to a woman that her 40-something boyfriend must be a loser because he has not made a name for himself in his field. Rely on Howard to express the consensus of today's society.

    I'm inclined to think that Art is a verb, not a noun. The act of creating is just that. The first spark of an idea, the working out of the structure and tone, strategizing the executing of the piece, to the actual creation and culmination - all of this is ACTION (so much so that, for me, the final creation of the piece is the most laborious and least interesting). The final physical work is simply the byproduct of the Artist's efforts. The design folks on HGTV who regularly create "art" for peoples walls' (other than their own, mind you) do as much to debase the term as any of the avant guarde deconstructionists of the latter 20th Century. Like the word "genius," which really should be reserved for a handful per century (like Einstein or Stravinsky). Art is something that comes from obsession, individuality and necessity. It's not about making something new, but about seeing something old in a new way, and working out the best way to communicate this in the way that is most truthful to the Artist.

    And if everyone is a unique combination of experiences, then real truth guarantees uniqueness. The completed work is just "product" to the Art world, something to buy and sell. Maybe this is what keeps me from churning out "stuff." I really don't want any part of that. I just want to keep making things, which continue to help me understand a bit more about who I really am.

    Or, I want to understand just exactly who (or what) I am, so I continue to make "stuff." It's just that, for me, stuff can be anything - a song, a painting, a house, a car. That's my "Art." The act of planning and creating a carport, or overcoming the technical and aesthetic challenges of a Hindemith sonata, force me to make choices and overcome challenges. In doing so I find out a bit more about myself.

    Put any term or title on me you want. What I am is what I do. I make things.

    When does art end?
    Depends on how an artist answers this question - "That thing you did last time sold pretty well. Do you think you can do another just like it?"

    RIAA, Grammy Propaganda and Those Evil MP3s (26 March 2001)
    Gosh, I JUST recorded 4 songs, and have already posted them on the site for FREE! How will I ever make money? Isn't this going to destroy music?

    No, but if we're lucky, it'll change the music industry (NOT the same thing by a long shot)! I had this conversation with some friends after the first 5.1 session, and one was VERY concerned about this issue based on what the spokesman for the RIAA talked about on the 2002 Grammy Awards. He warned that a couple of kids downloaded 7000 songs in one day, and that was STEALING from musicians. Well, what about radio and television? I don't pay for the music I hear on the radio, and as a kid would tape off the radio all the time. This is called PROMOTION, and each new recording technology is branded as the end of the world by the same old plastic-in-cardboard manufacturer/distributors. Cassettes didn't destroy the music industry; videos didn't destroy the movie industry, and CDs and DVDs only make a BIGGER PIE, not take more chunks out of the same small pie. What the music industry (re: the 5 major record labels) is most upset about is that they no longer CONTROL what music you choose to hear. The Internet is breaking the strangle hold on playlists, and MP3's have let the Genie out of the bottle - no matter what new digital technology is created to "control" who listens to music "when," ther IS NO SUCH THING as secure music files, because there will ALWAYS BE MP3 files. The more my music gets out there and heard, the more potential fans and supporters I have.

    As for MPs taking money away from me - well, if I singed with a record label, they would charge back to me, at about $3/disc, tens of thousands of "demo" copies of CD singles and entire albums to give out to radio, TV, media, promoters, etc., and also not pay me royalties and publishing on those promo copies. With MP3, I have a FREE way to distribute demo copies to everyone, with NO manufacturing costs, NO shipping costs, no promotion expenses. etc. If you like the songs, well, anyone notice how limited (and crappy sounding) MP3 files really are? I offer a full-length CD (CHAMBER POP) with additional videos, translations in 10 languages, original animations, bio info, etc., for $10. And I still make most of that myself. My next project sounds INCREDIBLE in the format it was recorded in - high-fidelity digital 5.1 surround, a format that can only fit on a DVD, DVD-a or SACD. If you like what hear, let me know, and I'll notify you when a hard-copy version of these songs will be available - oh, and I could come perform all this stuff live as well...

    ARTIST OR BUSINESS? (23 October 2k)
    I have been led to believe, through music industry publications, artist conferences and industry insider advice, that to be a successful artist you need to also be a successful businessman (or woman). The media of the new century bombards us with "capitalist news" - everywhere you turn, look or listen, the message is "wealth is the ultimate success." We used to make fun of this attitude in the 80's - they were called yuppies. Remember the movie "Wall Street?" If it were remade today it would end very differently, with Michael Douglas celebrated as the hero.

    Whether all of this is orchestrated by those salivating at the thought of "privitizing" social security or not, I have realized that I DO NOT have to buy into it. An artist need not hunger for acceptance from or as a businessman, and it seems to me that their values and goals are, more often than not, mutually exclusive. To pretend, as more and more musicians have been doing, that I am a "record company," "publishing company" or "production company" (or, to use a modern vulgarity, a CONTENT CREATOR) is to expend way too much valuable energy in the wrong direction. I am a musician, an artist, a composer, a creative person who can support myself well enough to make the art I want and need, with absolute disregard for what "the market can bear."

    Think of yourself, listener and reader, not as a CONSUMER, but as a potential benefactor (in the Medici sense), with the ability, through your moral and financial support, to aid in the creation of new music and art. That's what you are to me, and I no longer "sell" anything, but offer hard copies of my work as a gift in exchange for your support. Download it for free, send a dollar of two only if you dig it (does the Wharehouse promise you that?), and I'll even give you a CD or video in exchange for a minimum amount of financial support. The Internet can reach billions of people, and although the music industry requires millions per artist to grind on, an artist only requires a few thousand direct supporters to thrive financially and creatively. We artists and our patrons win, and the middlemen can drown in their own self-importance and diminishing stock values (go to music for the MP3's, comments to offer your two cents, and support to offer a bit more).

    FREE MUSIC? (25 September 2k)
    I believe that all music, regardless of the "music industry," is and should be free. Performers should be paid to show up and perform, and pieces of plastic with music imbedded in them should recoup the manufacturing and distribution costs, but the music industry as it has evolved today has a strangle hold on music availability, the artists who create it, and the method of delivery, all to financially support a bloated pyramid scheme where industry executives get and stay rich, but most artists make nothing. All of the tracks from CHAMBER POP are available here for FREE as MP3 files - if you really like a track, you can send me a $1 bill, which is more than most artists make on the sale of an entire album (CD, cassette, whatever...) on a major label. If you like a few tracks, send me $5 and I'll mail you the CD inserts (and a signed poster) for your own custom-burned CHAMBER POP CD. Send me $10 and I'll send you the CD (and the poster), which includes a 10-language CD-ROM. No industry pimps, middle-men or corporate pirates here, just the artist going directly to the listener, with the hope that if enough people like it, they'll ask me to come out and play in their town/city/country/whatever. If not, I'll just keep making more music for myself, and for the few that enjoy it (go to
    music for the MP3's).

  • © 2018 Joel Pelletier, The Way Home Media/Music, Hollywood, CA
    email: joelp@joelp.com

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