in a supreme irony, it took me forever to compose this

By and large, Rolling Stone may be the poster child for the obsolescence of the print magazine, but one thing they’re still good at is the in-depth, Cameron-Crowe-style artist profile.

Reading through Mark Binelli’s Lil Wayne profile in last month’s issue, we learn a few facts about the “best rapper alive”:

  1. Lil Wayne is always stoned.
  2. Lil Wayne releases tons of music for free over the internet.
  3. Lil Wayne goes to a recording studio every day.

Now, I don’t know what to make of the first one (as I understand it from the article, he literally chain-smokes weed. His assistants roll blunts and put them in packs which he carries on him at all times. Like Lyle and Ray’s Perfect Jays.). But #2 and #3 made me think:

Lil Wayne is to music as webcomics are to comics.

It was #3 that surprised me, but it’s starting to make a lot of sense. Studio time is expensive if you are a garage band, but not if you have the #1 album in the world and you own a dozen studios. It’s also pretty easy to do it yourself these days, even for garage bands. And if you are prolific and talented and like making music, why would you ever not be recording?

It’s a completely opposite model to the standard rock process (write songs privately, spend intense time in the studio perfecting the recording, then release your finished masterpiece into the canon). In music, call it the U2 or Zeppelin model. In comics, think of Craig Thompson or David Mazzucchelli.  It’s also distinct from the corporate deadline/assembly-line model, exemplified by the early pop singles industry, the syndicated comic strip, or the Big Two comic book.

Instead, it’s what people have been saying about the Internet for years: removal of middlemen, instant delivery, zero barriers between creation and distribution. Lil Wayne (or Randall Munroe) has an idea, he gets on his computer, he lays it down, he clicks a button, and 50 million people download it.

Art as blog.

Andrew Sullivan (who does more or less the same thing for political commentary) has written thoughtfully on blogging:

The blogosphere may, in fact, be the least veiled of any forum in which a writer dares to express himself. … The wise panic that can paralyze a writer—the fear that he will be exposed, undone, humiliated—is not available to a blogger. You can’t have blogger’s block. You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts

Apparently Wayne doesn’t even write his lyrics down anymore, he just records whatever comes to him during his (again, daily) recording sessions. Webcomic creators like Chris Onstad and Jeph Jacques improvise on a similar day-to-day basis.

And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality. The faux intimacy of the Web experience, the closeness of the e-mail and the instant message, seeps through. You feel as if you know bloggers… When readers of my blog bump into me in person, they invariably address me as Andrew. Print readers don’t do that. It’s Mr. Sullivan to them.

That matches my impression of both webcomickers and Lil Wayne: the immediacy and unmediatedness of their work is intoxicating, and they blur the line between personal diary and product, between friend and fan (with sometimes frightening results).

I hasten to add that I don’t think this is the sole future of artistic or literary production. It’s just one part of the cultural ecosystem. We will always need thoughtful, well-crafted, large-scale pieces in every medium. Some creators are better suited to one type or another (God knows if we were all bombarded with Twitter updates and Myspace diss tracks from Bono or Thom Yorke we’d shoot ourselves in the face). Some can tackle both, just as Sullivan finds time apart from his blog grind to compose the occasional essay or book.

But as for the New York Times’ much-mocked anxiety about the upcoming xkcd book — if this comparison holds, Munroe doesn’t have much to worry about.


3 Responses to “in a supreme irony, it took me forever to compose this”

  1. 1 Eric Reynolds April 22, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    “It’s also pretty easy to do it yourself these days, even for garage bands… It’s a completely opposite model to the standard rock process (write songs privately, spend intense time in the studio perfecting the recording, then release your finished masterpiece into the canon). ”

    Except this ignores a lot of counterculture from punk rock and every DIY movement since.It’s always been easy to do it yourself if you really want. It’s just the scale that’s changed. And yes,it’s easier than ever to get your music “out there” or whatever, but the signal to noise ratio is probably about the same.

    Oh, and Li’l Wayne is invited to take a tour of Fantagraphics any time he wants, if he’s reading!

  2. 2 Leigh Walton April 22, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Sure, the “bang it out” ethos is old as the hills; I guess my structure could’ve used some work. At one point I was going to cite Bob Pollard and John Darnielle as additional points of reference — and think about how personal the connection feels with them. Is that a consequence of their fecundity? of the tossed-off nature of the recordings? Maybe the lo-fi aesthetic itself cultivates this air of approachability.

    I also appreciate the notion (common to all of the above) of cranking out such volume of work, of such variety, that we fans don’t feel obligated to like it all… In fact it’s kind of nice to see them in various different lights, even if not always to our taste — it shows them to be as complex and human as we are. And we become habituated to regularly getting news from them.

    Hmm, I think I just talked myself into appreciating the value of a BATMAN subscription.

  3. 3 kielphegley April 24, 2009 at 9:20 am

    It’s weird. I understand the idea that D.I.Y. has embodied the kind of creative drive Eric is mentioning, but Leigh is right in that the internet has changed the way we both create and process these kinds of things. I’ve been in garage bands on and off since I was 17, and I’ve recorded a ton of bullshit just to record it, but most of that I never “released” in any real way to an audience of any kind. Pollard is probably the closest you’ll come to finding someone who would release everything they did in some way, shape or form, but still…blogs are different. I’m not sure how to describe it, but Leigh is onto something for sure.

    Also: I had a subscription to Batman from around just before all the Knightfall stuff happened until the first three or four issues of Morrison’s run that my grandmother kept renewing every year, and I can say from experience that having that comic show up, creased and wrinkled in your mailbox, enjoying it as a completely disposable form of entertainment and then forgetting it five minutes later is its own kind of pleasure. Even when that comic totally sucked even by mainstream standards, I was always happy to get an issue. And subscriptions are pretty cheap too. Recommended.

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Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).


Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.

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