ARTS

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January 23, 2009

Words & Guitar

Journalism be damned. I’ve decided to become a rock star.

Here’s why: Unless our shiny new chief executive has enough historic feats up his sleeve to institutionalize commemorative newspaper sales, playing in a band will be as solid a career move as taking an entry-level reporting gig by the time I hit the job market.

So I’ve decided to make the more exciting of two very bad choices. Consider this my departure from journalism and my declaration of war on indie rock.

Now, despite recent hoopla concerning our nation’s boundless egalitarianism, you probably don’t see room for a diffident Asian girl in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Neither did I at first, but the more I thought about it, the more the obstacles began to look surmountable.

So let your fears for my hard rocking employment prospects be allayed: I’ve made a list of all the potential roadblocks, as well as the ways I intend to bulldoze through them. Starting with…

1. I have no talent.

Despite torturous years of music lessons, I play about as well as Milli Vanilli sings. And about my singing…let’s say it isn’t recommended for a more sentient audience than my shampoo and conditioner.

Luckily, talent has never mattered much in music—and these days, you don’t even have to lip-sync for a Grammy. Take Joanna Newsom for example. Not only does she have the voice of a world war between chalkboards and fingernails, but Pitchfork has actually conned hipsters into thinking she’s a worthwhile taste to acquire.

And therein lies the key to latter-day rock ’n’ roll fortune: paying a hefty tribute of cash and baby’s blood to the rolling stoners at Pitchfork, just to make sure they won’t 0.0-bomb your career before it gets off the ground. (May Travis Morrison’s livelihood rest in peace.)

Once I’m cleared with Pitchfork, legions of zombies in skinny jeans are sure to stand motionless in the audience at my shows. This brings us to our second problem: what they’ll see when their lifeless gazes hit the stage.

2. I’m not hot.

When Corin Tucker sang “I think that I sometimes might have wished/ For something more than to be a size six,” I don’t think she was just generalizing about the female condition—she was probably taking issue with the standards of her own 9–5 as well.

Among music’s many gender imbalances, looks continue to matter vastly more for girls about to rock. While Madonna and Amy Winehouse are breaking ground in this area, rock and roll generally welcomes butt-ugly men where similarly unattractive women would be stopped at the door. So girls continue to play the sex appeal card, without Liz Phair’s old I-eat-boys-for-breakfast attitude.

You might think the hotness standard would be my downfall. I certainly don’t challenge any notions of female beauty associated with this school.

But considering the homely state of indie rock today, even I don’t have much to worry about. Though Sleater-Kinney was cute and 50 percent lesbian, they’re out of the game now.

So who’s my competition? The various middle-aged bassists named Kim? I don’t think so. The translucent American Apparel waifs? I could knock them over with a breath. So long as I can stay the course as a poor—nay, penniless—man’s M.I.A., I have a safe spot in the middle of the pack.

Speaking of penniless…

3. I’m broke.

According to Steve Albini’s numbers, signing with a major label, making a record, and going on tour will leave me with glorious riches amounting to $14,000 of debt.

But even skipping the major label and keeping my soul doesn’t completely solve the problem. Like any other money-making scheme, rock ‘n’ roll has overhead. So if my signature sound requires anything more sophisticated than drumming on an upturned bucket, I’m going to need a real patron of the arts to foot some of the start-up.

Turns out I live just down the street from the ultimate sugar daddy: the University of Chicago.

You could get in on this, too. Want to spend the summer composing lyrics? Get a creative writing fellowship. Need to play a festival in Europe? Apply for a FLAG grant. Scrounging for extra cash when you get home? One of the Pritzker School’s medical essay contests would surely reward your vivid descriptions of the drug-addled human specimens you saw on tour.

Sure, I know the endowment’s shrinking. But what’s a research institution for, if not to fund the pursuit of weird ideas? And if starting a band to make a living doesn’t qualify, this school’s more practical than I thought.

So there’s nothing stopping me from embarking on my rock ’n’ roll journey—except myself. The truth is I actually like music, so further polluting its already tainted airwaves by throwing my hat in the ring doesn’t actually register as an option for me.

I guess it’s back to journalism then. Damn. I was so close to doing something fun for a living.