After the holiday season, and before tax season and Spring, there's a rather blank period of time, which is usually bad enough with the aggressive weather and going back to work full-time (for many), but we're being tortured quite unnecessarily right now with the Season of the Awards. Award events and swag for movies, actors, and a zombie army of music industry miscreants, that is.
Whether a very good movie or an outstanding performance (we're looking at you, Sandra and Gravity) wins one big or several small awards is of no importance, but gives television and the fanzines something to get all lathered up about. That's the point, I guess, that and future media sales. It's said that obsession with bejewled and botoxed celebrities is a pretty clear sympton of low self-esteem. I think more about the emperor's new clothes meme than the concept that it's (very) good to be king.
There's a qualitative difference between the movie/TV actors' prize-catching on one hand and those for music: the former hardly ever favors complete junk; indeed, there are just too many good candidates. Not so with the warblers and pickers -- better described as costumed clowns and textbook mental cases, perhaps. Let's look at some who never walked the red carpet or lived to meet Fame, but are remembered for the quality of their work and talent:
Informed writers often mention with great admiration a 1970 record that didn't sell and wasn't promoted by the label (Kapp): Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms. She never made another album (hold on -- she's about to release The Soul of All Natural Things right about now, after all these years of obscurity) and this Mill Valley resident returned to her dental assistant job. Like two others I'm going to bring up, her work has been saved, nurtured and shared through subsequent technology like YouTube, Internet discussion, and reissues on CD done by small independents. Linda's music was used on TV shows and movies over the years, but you never know if the artist benefits financially much or at all.
Judee Sill, who died in 1979 of a drug overdose at 35, was better known, toured the U.K. twice, opened for major acts like CSN, and released two albums on the groundbreaking Asylum label with recordings already made for a third (it was finally released in 2005). But the other big acts on that label sucked up all the oxygen, and as a result of little promotion and a tiff with David Geffen, her second LP did little. She was on a Rolling Stone cover and sold a song to the Turtles ("Lady-O"), but with all that, her life that fell off track after the early deaths of her father, mother and brother and collided with serious drug addiction. Like Linda, her peers and later critics have given her the awards that matter: fellow songwriter J.D. Souther said of Judy, "She's school for all of us." Judy herself said "my music isn't just recreational; it's not just entertainment."
Englishman Nick Drake's three completely self-authored albums made no impression in the early 1970s. All were exquisite, and the last was just solo and short (28 minutes). He seemed to have run out of energy after being so completely ignored and committed suicide while still in his twenties, exactly five years after his first release which was eerily entitled Five Leaves Left. The title song, "Pink Moon," of the last, spare, album was picked up for a 1999 Volkswagen commercial featuring a convertible ride in the moonlight, and gave him the listeners and reputation he never expected during his life.
To be a hit a song often requires a killer hook, a cheap catchphrase, an irresistible chorus, vocal gymastics or some new/gimmicky electronic sound; obvious tricks musicians like these three avoided. No garish painted clowns here, no big black cowboy hats, no wigs, no glitter. Just the real thing.