On Elitism

Something I've heard a bit too much of finally set me off yesterday, and this is going to be a bit of a rant, so I must disclaim here: this blog is a publication of Cleveland Scene. It is not an adjunct of - and certainly does not presume to speak for - the Cleveland Lottery League, its organizing body, or any of its participants except, obviously, for me. And really, it doesn’t even do such a hot job of representing whatever the hell the views of Scene may be, and as an organization I can't imagine Scene could give a flying fuck about any of what I’m going to address here. I’m given pretty free reign over what I say here, in fact I’m barely even edited (yeah, yeah, you noticed). So to be clear, I’M the asshole. And I’m going to be a BIG asshole. I’m even going to build a straw-man Lottery League hater to kick down. And swear a lot. ‘Cuz saying "fuck" is fun.

I find that this happens: some musicians who aren’t in the Lottery League complain about not being in the Lottery League. The most common grievance, one I've heard both first- and second-hand once too goddamn often, is the fatuous and reductive complaint that the League is “elitist” and as such participation is chiefly a matter of who you know.

I’ll dismiss the “who you know” gripe first: NO SHIT, GENIUS. Everything is about who you know, you stupid fool. Ever try getting your awesome, awesome band a show at a club whose booker has never had a reason to have heard of you (without naïvely buying into a ticket-selling scam, that is)? Ever try getting press coverage without putting out a press release? It’s a vacuous complaint and anybody making it is perhaps not so astute an observer of the world around him. If you or your band has a problem with not knowing “the right people,” get out there in the world and fucking MEET them. What assholes call “networking,” the rest of us call “making friends with people,” and if you have trouble doing that it’s not the goddamn Lottery League’s fault.

Here, more personally and pragmatically, is why it’s about who you know: when the League was first conceived, it was not intended to be as huge as it became. It was originally about 50 musicians, all of them close to the organizers, for obvious reasons — you’re trying to get something happening, you talk to people you know and trust. That the organizers still managed the whole thing as well as they did once the whole hot mess ballooned to 150 participants is a testament to their dedication. For the second League, about half of the original participants (and a third of the organizers) dropped out, by my unscientific estimate. New people were recruited not by the organizers, but by the League’s previous participants. So you could have been recommended for a slot this year if only you knew just one of A HUNDRED AND FIFTY FUCKING PEOPLE from a wide spectrum of musical styles — metal, indie-rock, hardcore, country, noise, punk, sunshine pop, hip-hop, jazz, psych, whatever Uno Lady is — all those scenes and more are represented. Oh, you didn’t know ANY of those 150 people? In a city this small? What’s that say about you? Well, maybe it should be MORE than 150! Yeah! If it’s not endlessly and unrealistically inclusive, IT’S FASCISM! Dig: the number was kept to 150 for reasons that should be screamingly fucking obvious to anyone not needing oven mitts duct taped to their wrists and a drool cup, but I’ll explain it anyway, since I have exactly that much esteem for the analytic faculties of the people to whom this screed is addressed.

1) With 150ish musicians, the drawing of names took something like five hours. By the end, people would have justifiably wearied of the process had the organizers not gone well out of their way to make it entertaining. But let’s make it 250 musicians so it takes seven hours. After all, the League owes you an accommodation, right? So come right on in, here’s something ELSE you can make tedious.

2) 150ish musicians = 33 bands. 33 bands at 10 minutes per set, with breaks in between and intermissions = roughly a seven hour show. See above.

3) Capacity of the venue = about 500, I think, though reduce that some because of the additional stage taking up space. With 150 musicians in the show, that leaves let's say 250 or so tickets available to the general public (I’m guessing on that, I don’t know the actual number). But why not make it 400 musicians? That’d be more fair right? (Unless you were STILL excluded, then I have to assume it would be somehow unfair.) Who cares if nobody’d be able to see it? YOU’D be in it and that’s what matters, right?

As for elitism, define your terms, please, oh bottomlessly wise but easily butthurt rocker dude. (<= Look, there it is, see? That’s the straw man I was talking about kicking down! I figured I'd hang a lampshade on it, so everyone could join in the fun.)

Do you mean elitism in the sense of lives being controlled by politically powerful people whose self-interested whim becomes the destiny of the masses? Or do you mean elitism in the meritocratic sense, where talented persons in a given field rise in that field and the most exceptional are recognized as elite and accordingly sought out?

I’m just kidding asking that. I know it’s the first thing. If it was the second, bottomlessly wise but easily butthurt rocker dude, you wouldn’t be complaining. You’d be practicing. Or “networking.” But from where I sit it looks like you’re mostly just complaining.

So here’s a secret, bottomlessly wise but easily butthurt rocker dude: before the Lottery League was invented, there was no roadmap for how to do this. Nobody did it for the guys who thought it up, they made it up as they went along. Take up their example. Instead of crying in your pissbeer about how you’ve been excluded, DO something apart from waiting around for “official channels” to open the door to you. Nobody owns the concept, so if you don’t like being left out of this league, make your own. You might even find a better way to do it, right? Parallel Lottery Leagues would be AMAZING, I’d totally go to your Big Show. You could show us elitist indie assholes a thing or two, couldn’t you? Hell, do an all-screamo League! Do an all-rockabilly league! Neither of those would be motherfucking cut-your-wrists boring for seven hours, no siree! You could make YOUR new improved league a competition with judges and prizes, that wouldn’t irreparably douche it all up to hell! DUDE - you could totally make the bands sell tickets! Cha-CHING!

So to sum up, butthurt rocker dude, your complaints about exclusion and elitism are empty and pointless. No event can possibly include everybody. You might as well ask Studio-A-Rama to include every Cleveland band every year. You’ve surely done events that Lottery Leaguers weren’t invited to, so why again is your exclusion a source of such angst? Why are you soooooo special? (BTW, so we're clear, Leaguers aren’t particularly special either, I assure you.) You could very well be in the next one, you know. And I’d welcome that. Seriously. I have no doubt, despite all my foaming at the mouth and insult hurling above, that you’d be an asset, butthurt rocker dude. The more new people every time, the better, I say. Wanna know something that may or may not matter? I recommended two new people this year, and one got in. I was a little bummed for the one that didn't. So I get it. In addition, apart from my two allotted “official” recommendations, I lobbied the organizers to include three entire bands, not one of whom has a single member in the League this year. (And I think it merits mentioning that I’ve never actually met a single member of any of the three bands I lobbied for.) But I don’t go cryassing about it, because it’s not my show. And of course nor is it yours. Nobody likes to be excluded, but if you were running this kind of show, how would YOU accommodate everyone who wanted to be in it? My suggestion to do something on your own still stands. That would be best in keeping with the DIY spirit of the whole thing, would it not? Then you can listen to the people that YOU didn’t invite crab about how your hard work on a totally egalitarian attempt to bring strangers together in creativity is somehow “elitist” and that you’re an asshole.

Rant over. Big Show's in less than a week, on Saturday, April 10th. Pre-sale tix are $15, and it's $20 at the door so it's mighty obvious what you should be doing. Tix are available at Music Saves, My Mind's Eye, Blue Arrow and Visible Voice. And probably the Beachland, right? I mean, surely they must be selling tickets at the venue. Get'cha some.—Kretsch

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