Friday, March 13, 2009


So last week, I spent a lot of time watching live music performances, which was pretty awesome. If you are not a Barenaked Ladies fan already, watching Ed Robertson perform solo would make you one. He was the most compelling performer of any of the ones I saw, because he had the fundamentals (great guitar player, very good singer, clever songwriter) plus he was engaging onstage, open to his audiences, generous in his praise of fellow musicians, and just generally seeming to have a great time. I watched him perform three times over three days and wasn’t bored even once. Indigo Girls, on the other hand – who I love by the way and have loved for decades now and will continue to love as long as they continue to produce smart acoustically-oriented folky music – well, after seeing them a second time in two days, I was about ready to move on.

Wonderful new talents that I was exposed during the week include David Ryan Harris, Vienna Teng, and Brandi Carlile. I guess Brandi has quite a following but I had never heard of her before. She’s got a huge voice and is a pretty kick-ass performer besides. The lovely Mrs. and I had the somewhat surreal experience of ending up in line to clear customs with Ed Robertson and his family on one side of us and Brandi Carlile and her entourage on the other. In a celebrity-obsessed world where you often wonder if strangers you pass by are “somebody,” being on a boat where everybody is “somebody” is a little mind-blowing.

Anyway, one of the things that I found interesting seeing all of these acts over several days was the appreciation of the musician “persona.” From what I’ve seen, musicians are not generally “actors,” unless they’re doing some kind of early Bowie or Kiss schtick. But there is definitely the development and/or projection of a persona, which generally seems to be an exaggerated or accentuated version of the performer him/herself. I saw this most distinctly with Lyle Lovett, a talented and extremely entertaining performer who has a certain low-key, homespun, almost absent-minded professorish persona onstage. There was also a woman named Mindy Smith who projected a somewhat ditsy, cute-as-a-button personality that I eventually found really annoying.

Many aspects of this fascinate me. I’m curious how self-conscious of a process the development of such a persona is. Does it just happen organically for most musicians? Do they seek input or does their management encourage them down one path or another? I also wonder how divergent these personas are from the performer's off-stage personalities. There is no way Ed Robertson, for instance, could be as open, engaging and funny all the time in person as he is on stage (and based on seeing him in line with his family, such is the case; a perfectly nice man but also not telling jokes to passersby…)

It also makes me reflect on aspects of life for higher-profile musicians. For instance, is one of the reasons Britney is so f-ed up in her life because she was (is) encouraged to develop this sultry, sex-kitten persona when in real life she’s something so completely different (like for instance the somewhat dimbulbish, small-town girl she seems in some interviews)? Does that kind of dramatic divergence help cause such dysfunction? Also, do musicians generally not have great success crossing over to movies and TV because they confuse projecting a persona with inhabiting a real character? What do you think?


Dave T said...

The following comes from Glenn Leftwich who conceded to me posting it here, since it seems relevant and lends insight. Enjoy!

"Also, do musicians generally not have great success crossing over to movies and TV because they confuse projecting a persona with inhabiting a real character?"

When I was teaching acting in LA, I was always thrilled to find that a new student was involved in some other creative pursuit, especially music. Without fail, musicians would just "get it" quicker than anyone else. Let's be clear, though! By "getting it", I mean the training; understanding "the process". I've had new students tell me they "don't need this stuff! I've done over 20 plays and three movies!". Well, the fact is, you still need to communicate with directors and your fellow actors in THEIR language! Nor can you learn everything you need to know by "just doing it"! So, these "cross-overs" of which you speak, most likely, would have a better shot at enjoying a certin degree of success as actors if they at least took the time to learn the basics. Whether they're victims of their own arrogance or poor advice seems the only real question.
Upon rereading what I wrote, however, I feel I must add/revise a bit. When I stated "Whether they're victims of their own arrogance or poor advice seems the only real question.", I left out a HUGE chunk of the real equation. While some musicians actually have ambitions (and experience!) regarding acting, many musicians are DRAGGED into Film/TV by producers who can smell a hot property in their sleep, or they're pushed into it by greedy managers and agents. And who's gonna say no? "Hey Kid! Ya wanna be in de MOOVEES?" So, off they trot as dutiful as they are unprepared. Ultimately, the managers and producers are the only ones not groaning.

Unknown said...

Some musicians are lucky enough to have the charisma and charm to create their own on-stage persona (and yes, all musicians have one...performing is performing, regardless of the art form you're practicing).

Some musicians are not so artful or creative or interesting as to create their own persona but have an appealing look and a malleable enough image (through youth or guilelessness or whatever) that they can be molded into whatever the record label thinks will be the best way to make money.

But the music business, like ANY business (as is the point of BUSINESS) is out to make money, and to make money, you need a product that people want to buy. Since part of the music product is the musician him/herself, there must be SOME kind of punch, SOME kind of flair, style, personality, whatever you want to call it...that special SOMETHING that makes people want to know more.

It's the same with musicians, actors, models, and any other industry that requires you to stand in front of people and sell something.