All photos of Andrew Andrew by Danielle Levitt.
Hey, which celebrities did Mick Jagger network, flirt with, fuck, or try to meet to get where he is today? None. Jagger comes from a time when narcissism, exhibitionism and — oh, yes — hard work and creativity were still the only tools of the trade. The idea of “meeting the right people,” expending some of your creative energy to set up a mini-self-promotion agency, wasn’t on the front burner. Drive and talent did most of it. Can you believe it? He actually thought his talent would carry him through. Mick and his ilk were the last to subscribe to the old myth of the creative genius. It seems incredible today, but it was once considered beneath an artist to do his own marketing. The cranking out of flyers and invitations, the false patter of cocktail schmoozing, the gossipy jangle of telephones, or a mind for business were all considered alien to the artist’s creativity. Somebody else took care of that shit. Compare Mick to my downstairs neighbor Adam Andrews. Adam is a 20-year-old musician and artist who came east from Portland to make it in New York. For him each day is a trade-off between developing his very original musical style and finding ways to get it noticed. He takes it for granted that nobody will ever know his name unless he sticks it in their face. So he’s copped a free, hip, noticeable haircut from his friend in beauty school, learned to crash parties, compiled a massive mailing list on his computer, produced his own CD with ripped-off cover art, and sucked up to the very people he once read about in seventh grade in Interview but now detests. All this self-promotion is taking the bite out of Adam’s creativity. Before he came to New York, he was knocking out a song a week. Now he’s been pushing the same demo for over a year. But because of people like him, artists who are spending more time on their work will never get noticed. There’s just too much aggressive marketing competition. Who do the fledgling artists of today focus their networking skills on? Mostly established old farts who are around Jagger’s age. These Baby Networkers don’t bother networking each other, just those who are on the rung above. Tradition says that a young artist hits the big time just in time to push the older ones into pasture, but these days new artists want favors before they give their former heroes the boot. “Say, Dad, would you mind promoting my career, listening to my demo, and taking me by the hand to your agent before I push you off the roost so that I can become the next household word?” The situation has created an interesting intergenerational dynamic. Aging artists who made it by sheer will are getting hustled by minor ace self-promoters who think it’s written in heaven that they should be groomed. According to the new ethos, all that’s necessary is to ask for help relentlessly or, should I say, whine for it. This, however, doesn’t rule out good cock-teasing skills. All the Baby Networkers are hip to the value of the seductive, sleazy come-on. Just like JonBenet Ramsey, they know how to project flirtation without ever delivering. Perhaps starting at home with their parents, they’ve learned how to turn older people on, or at least touch their hearts, stimulate their protective instincts, and make them feel guilty.
Maybe the worst aspect of the Baby Networker phenomenon is the callousness with which they approach established talent. In the past, young, worshipful artists sought out culture heroes who’d inspired them. These groupies were the types who had memorized every word or chord progression of their favorite celebrity. William Burroughs had a string of them. So did stuffy old poets like James Merrill and aging rock stars like Dylan. Even that old Nazi sympathizer Leni Reifenstahl, who filmed for Hitler and just turned 100, still has a young buck-bottom to carry her camera equipment. When these old-fashioned idolizers finally met their idols, they were always full of admiration and awe. They wished only to serve and learn. Not so today. Fledgling artists don’t worship idols, they merely fix them in their sites as potential targets. Imagine somebody working James Joyce or Shakespeare cuz they knew he was well positioned in the industry. There they’d sit, yawning during Hamlet or admitting that Ulysses put them to sleep while in the same gesture slapping some half-baked adolescent manuscript or homemade CD down for him to read or listen to. Suzy Zimmerman is a 21-year-old model who doesn’t think her squeaky Valley-girl voice is a hindrance to a crossover into acting. As a model she learned to project convincingly all kinds of weary, heroin-chic, urban, working-class, whorish personae. To tell the truth, she was damn good at it. Not having spent much time sensitizing herself to her own or others’ feelings, she sees acting as little more than a timed series of attitudes. I won’t tell you whose personal assistant she’s managed to become. The woman, in her late fifties, is one of our most respected living film actresses, but she’s old enough, and I guess narcissistic enough and medicated enough, to believe that Suzy worships all her films. The truth is, Suzy only saw one of them while she was doing speedballs with her out-of-work dot.com boyfriend. They fell asleep just after she gathered enough information to flatter her new boss. The legendary star-boss is too blurred out on pills to notice that Suzy doesn’t know many facts. Meanwhile Suzy has copied down all the names and numbers from the old bag’s speed dial.
How can someone of moderate talent be presumptuous enough to hustle a real, accomplished icon of the preceding generation? Perhaps the answer lies in the steamy, unhealthy relationships between the Baby Networkers and their baby- boomer parents. These permissive moms and dads didn’t create an atmosphere of authority or discipline to be rebelled against like my parents did. That’s where all my productivity comes from. The need to defy and escape my parents’ authority made me strive for independence and self-reliance and kept me from an impulse for shameless sucking up. I had my own identity and was too proud to come begging to the older generation. Accordingly, it seems to be no accident that the new self-promoters come from a generation that has had trouble leaving the family nest. Why struggle to get your own apartment when Dad doesn’t mind you fucking your girlfriend at home? Why seek to make it on your own when Mom thinks you’re the cat’s pajamas just as you are? The situation seems to have created an intergenerational intimacy just ripe for feelings of entitlement on the part of the younger generation. In a way, networking and self-promotion are a lot like asking Daddy for the keys to the car. Because baby-boomer parents spent too much time “fraternizing” with their children and letting them act out all kinds of “family romance” scenarios at home, the new generation are like pampered whores who believe that the generation above owes them a living and should be shamelessly cajoled into doing favors.
The idea of the artist as a package is a relatively recent one. Even Jagger didn’t start out with much more than a guitar, a haircut, a voice, and some junkies-to-be as backup. In the beginning, when he created his most memorable music, he was no mediatized Marilyn Manson. Neither was Bob Dylan, of course. Probably the first person in rock to veer from art and self-reliance into a corporate-inspired kind of packaging was Bowie, whose glam revolution turned rock — a fairly straightforward working-class cultural phenomenon — into an upwardly mobile effort obsessed with social hobnobbing and glamour. Bowie’s art was still good music, but it was also an ingenious new business enterprise that involved hundreds of opportunistic people and glittering ambitions. Clothing, lighting, hairdos, and other eye-catching publicity techniques began to become more important than the music. That’s one reason why we will play old Jagger more than old Bowie fifty years from now. The new culture of self-promotion has had a disastrous effect on creation. Networked art has the shelf life of a tomato. Energy spent networking is the same energy that could be spent making masterpieces. Check out recent history and you’ll realize that the early fame that results from self-promotion doesn’t seem to make anything but flashes in the pan. There’s nothing worse than being acknowledged too early. Often, it can discourage you from struggling onward. Truth is, the New Networkers lacked a creative impetus in the first place. They have to cover up this lack with self-publicity. It hides the black hole of emptiness in their psyches. Again this might come from their relationship with their parents. Rage against parents was tangible with the older generations and thus more available as creative material. Rebellion creates a distinct identity. Young people today also hate their parents, but it’s a buried, passive-aggressive anger. They can’t really pin anything on their permissive moms and dads, but in some repressed way they’d like to disembowel them. For the New Networkers, rage exists more in denial. It’s less accessible to creativity. Baby Networkers lack material. Time will tell what will happen when the New Networkers become the older generation. From the way things are going, they can’t be expected to be listened to or read by the generation below them. But maybe this is appropriate since their output will be mostly composed of publicity. The young who work them won’t find anything but waning influence, power, and marketing strategies. Yet knowing them, you can bet they’ll try to charge for it.