Pere Ubu Frontman David Thomas Bewilders A Fan by Obdurately Believing Markets are Proper for Art

I get a weird pleasure of watching supporters of the obscure arts, whose fans lean overwhelmingly liberal-prog-commie, get increasingly bewildered as their heroes obdurately refuse to ratify their politics for them, forcing them to confront the unbelievable: decent worthwhile humans I admire might disagree with me about core elements of my politics!

I wrote amusingly of this when Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone spent round after round of questions trying to get Bob Dylan to admit he loved Obama.

Now it is classic avant-rocker David Thomas of the band Pere Ubu, in an interview in great punky-rocky interview zine Big Takeover, refusing to say he loves state subsidized art. The italics are the interviewer Allan MacInnis, the non-italics Thomas' answers:

I remember reading provocative quotes from you – and I’m sorry, I can’t pin down where – where you made statements about the vitality of art produced in free market societies, as opposed to art that is state funded. You came across as a bit of a libertarian. I try not to take anything you say at face value – I think of you as a provocateur – but I wonder if you actually still feel that way? (Because if so, there’s, umm, some irony to the band being mostly based in Europe these days, since state support of the arts is prevalent over there… and in Canada, I might add).

Yes, I still feel that way. I’ll take the dirty socialized art money but I prefer crummy little clubs where there’s a promoter who is risking his own money to put the show on. I feel no urge to thank an audience. I thank the promoter – as should the audience.

Follow up re “dirty socialized money” – is this less a matter of political principle for you, and more a matter of personal pride as an artist?

I think the government has no business in the arts at all.

Follow up: do you not think it valid, in countries that cannot compete on equal footing with the American entertainment industry, like Canada, to support their artists through government funding? I doubt there’s a Canadian musician, filmmaker, writer, or novelist who hasn’t received some government support along the way, be it scholarships, grants, fellowships, things like the Canada Council.

No, see above.

Follow-up: In a purely market driven entertainment landscape, which is mostly what we see in the States, doesn’t that lead to the proliferation of Miley Cyruses and Britney Spears and other such phenomenon? Isn’t it bad for art?

No, it’s good for them.

Sign Pere Ubu's non-alignment pact!

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  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Ah yes. The Big Takeover is must have reading (politics notwithstanding).

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Someday, being a libertarian will be cool.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    On that day you, being the contrarian, will go Marxist.

  • Fluffy||

    "Objectivists are not the same as filthy libertarians! Learn the difference!"

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    I'm not really a full fledged Objectivist. Their intolerance pisses me off.

  • R C Dean||

    You won't tolerate their intolerance, is that what you're saying?

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    I'd tolerate it, I just won't participate.

    Don't the Objectivists have two warring factions? The Ayn Rand Institute and the Atlas Society or some such nonsense?

    Those guys aren't being free correctly.

    Please.

  • Cytotoxic||

    There was a conflict over Rand's insistence that she wasn't a Libertarian among some other things. While her statement made sense in the Dark Age of Rothtard, Pope Peikoff's jihad against Libertarianism is The Dumbest Thing Ever. The TAS and ARI split is also The Dumbest Thing Ever. Based on what I've heard, the ARI is making a grumpy kind of 'accomodation' with libertarianism and the ARI is slowly realizing its hostility to TAS was stupid while TAS might be realizing it's kind of inneffectual. There were...talks between ARI and TAS a while ago.

  • ||

    While her statement made sense in the Dark Age of Rothtard...

    Tolerating libertinism without condoning it... Rothbard sure was a cunt!

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    I'll bet a good number of self proclaimed libertarians are contrarians. Or at least that's what brought them to the show.

    I've often wondered how my politics would have differed if I'd grown up in the 60s. I'm guessing I'd have ended up in the same place, but I may not have started where I did.

  • Brett L||

    Eh. I'm from the "why should 1 to n idiots be able to tell me what to do as long as I'm not doing anyone harm?" And then I extended it to, "why can't everyone live that way". So contrarian only in that I believe myself capable of making decent decisions and perhaps 99999 of 100000 individuals are capable of making better decisions for themselves than government rulemakers will make for them.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    I got to it from that tradition as well, though in a more roundabout fashion: I more or less straddled between Marxist and later nihilist ethics before converting in my old age. Interestingly (and apparently unlike most libertarians), my turn and increasing devotion to the faith has made me more libertarian rather than less.

  • Curtisls87||

    Having grown up in the 60s was what lead me toward being libertarian. I still wonder why so many of my friends from that period who didn't trust anyone over 30, or the "man," now scrape on bended knee to big government.

  • Nooge.||

    Free shit.

  • PD Quig||

    What, are you kidding? We Baby Boomers are The Man now. What's not to like about finally being able to shove all of our self-serving, cowardice-based bullshit down everybody's throat? We were always narcissists--we wormed our way into every place of power that we could and then proved that all our tripe about "peace, love, and understanding" was really about "coercion, hate, and tyranny."

    So sorry for anybody who actually bought our ridiculous polemics.

  • ||

    As a contrarian I know i would play the devils advocate in discussions and pretend to hold Marxist positions if everyone was a libertarian.

    But no i will never go full Marxist no matter how big libertarianism gets.

    More likely I would become apolitical and just quote random out of context shit from the bible.

  • Enough About Palin||

    And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass

    Genesis 22:3 (partial) KJV

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    His wife said to him, "Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!

    Job 2:9

  • ||

    As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement.

    Deuteronomy 23:13

    That's a verse I've always lived by.

  • Agammamon||

    I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass.

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    +1 act of god

  • robc||

    Obdurately was a new word for me. Thanks, Brian.

  • Spoonman.||

    Really? My mom used it all the time when I was a kid...

  • sarcasmic||

    I think I'm going to start using it on the kid.

  • R C Dean||

    "I find your obdurate intransigence to be objectionable, insupportable, and generally unacceptable!"

  • Ted S.||

    You need to work truculent in there, too.

  • Sudden||

    I was gonna go to the tractor pull, but the truculent me broke.

  • ||

    It's always entertaining watching a political moron desperately dig for political affirmation from their entertainment heroes. Especially because they always want it so badly.

    That's what happens when you let the personal become political. It destroys your ability to just enjoy entertainment. But then again, what a perfect and appropriate punishment for someone dumb enough to make the personal political.

  • Nooge.||

    I think that's a natural thing for a young person to do. As one gets older, though, he should make an effort to get away from that. Framing one's worldview through an entirely political point-of-view can make enjoying anything damn difficult. Those who live that way can also kinds be total dicks.

    We always need less of politics, not more.

  • Fluffy||

    I try not to take anything you say at face value

    I like the implication that this could just not possibly be serious.

    I heard exactly the same thing listening to VPR interview Arlo Guthrie. They were absolutely adamant that it just wasn't possible for anyone ever to even remotely contemplate that even one thing a libertarian says might be valid.

  • db||

    Many of Dr. Girlfriend's colleagues are die hard progtards. They meet me and like me and then I let them know I own guns, vote libertarian, and laugh at Obamacare. They still like me, but their heads are rubbed raw from scratching at the idea that a decent person can have such wrong ideas as I.

  • ||

    I was listening to Jeramey Irons on NPR/BBC talk about his environmentalist bullshit when the interviewer brought up his libertarian leanings and tried to pin him as a hypocrite.

    I was surprised as hell at how hard Irons defended his libertarianism. It mostly had to do with smoking in public but he did say he opposed government regulations in general.

    He also said he is not advocating government regulations in regards to the protecting the environment but is working to increase awareness of environmental issues. Preferring individual action to protect it.

  • Archduke von Pantsfan||

    working to increase awareness of environmental issues. Preferring individual action to protect it.

    what a fucking fascist.

  • ||

    what a fucking fascist.

    What was interesting was that he was making all the talking points that you would hear from the likes of Bill Maher. chemicals poising our food, increase in the rates of cancer, GMO , chemical chemical everywhere the whole bit...yet he refused to be a statist about it.

    Hypothetically I imagined such a creature could exist...and was just dumb struck that Jeramey Irons of all people was such a creature.

  • ||

    what a fucking fascist.

    What was interesting was that he was making all the talking points that you would hear from the likes of Bill Maher. chemicals poising our food, increase in the rates of cancer, GMO , chemical chemical everywhere the whole bit...yet he refused to be a statist about it.

    Hypothetically I imagined such a creature could exist...and was just dumb struck that Jeramey Irons of all people was such a creature.

  • ||

    god damn it.

  • RightNut||

    Follow-up: In a purely market driven entertainment landscape, which is mostly what we see in the States, doesn’t that lead to the proliferation of Miley Cyruses and Britney Spears and other such phenomenon? Isn’t it bad for art?

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Justin Beiber Canadian?

  • UnCivilServant||

    A technological marvel, the pinnacle of Canukistani robotics.

  • Gene||

    You mean we can just flick a switch and shut it off?

  • Agammamon||

    Not anymore, its become sentient.

  • 2ndClassProle||

    I am not much of Bieber fan, but he did get discovered on Youtube, which is cool.

  • Agammamon||

    That's not exactly a positive mark in Youtube's 'social utility' ledger.

  • 2ndClassProle||

    Well, I used to be a musician. Being able to upload a video, and get so many views a producer, manager picks you up. It is great story.

  • ||

    Arctic Monkeys got discovered on MySpace back when MySpace was a thing.

  • Generic Stranger||

    As is Celine Dion.

  • earthandweather||

    That was great....I think I like the same things you do Brian :)

  • ||

    Follow-up: In a purely market driven entertainment landscape, which is mostly what we see in the States, doesn’t that lead to the proliferation of Miley Cyruses and Britney Spears and other such phenomenon? Isn’t it bad for art?

    As opposed to what? I'm not really knowledgeable about music at all, but is there any genre I'm unaware of that only exists because of government funding?

  • UnCivilServant||

    Well, when monarchies were more common, they would be patrons of composers, so I'd rate classical music as the closest.

  • Curtisls87||

    To an extent true - but this was more a question of patronage because it had advantages for the patrons. However, some of the composers of the time got it. Mozart rejected the courts late in life, and produced some of his finest work, like "The Magic Flute," which played at an open venue, Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden.

  • db||

    Believe it or not, I used to be a huge fan of classical orchestral and choral music. As I became more libertarian, I felt dirty about enjoying it because so much of it was made with funds stolen from the public.

  • ||

    That makes no more sense than feeling guilty about owning land in America because of slavery. You can disagree with how a piece of art was commissioned without disowning the art itself. Particularly if you look at in a historical context.

  • Brett L||

    And yet there's still room for quirky little people who aren't entirely beholden to some label's marketing department and are significantly more free to play music more like the hipster interviewer wants. "How dare this person who has to do 3 TV appearances a week and live a carefully scripted life make $1000X while these 'genuine' artists who choose to have their own lives only make $X!" has always struck me as a strange argument.

  • Ted S.||

    As opposed to the stuff David Thompson blogs about.

  • R C Dean||

    is there any genre I'm unaware of that only exists because of government funding

    Military bands?

  • ||

  • Invisible Finger||

    Sousa was one of the first to kvetch about recording royalties.

  • Agammamon||

    Socialist Realism extends to music.

  • RightNut||

    Also, Uwe Boll gets all of his money to make his terrible movies from the German government, Isn't that bad for art?

  • ||

    Just imagine if the US government funded Michael Bay. I think the entire world would be destroyed.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Yeah, but a documentary of the Teapot Dome Scandal would be cooler with lots and lots of explosions.

  • Brett L||

    Listen, for some reason the lead actress always has to stand in front of an American flag, and he's not ashamed to film her when she does!

  • Nooge.||

    The taxpayers kick in for Bay. All that military hardware in his movies costs a shitload just to move it around and get it into a shot on the flightline.

  • ||

    To say nothing of tax breaks and subsidies for film production.

  • Agammamon||

    Well, he *did* make 'Postal' so I can forgive (mostly) his other work.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Glad to see the new Hobbit film got 75%...until I saw that Elysium got 69%. RT sucks.

  • Nooge.||

    The wife unit and I watched Elysium a few days ago and were amazed at its coldness, its sledgehammers, its tiresome "in the future, the world is fucked and don't ask why" dreck. It's a sad and preachy movie. Money bad, business bad, free shit good. Ugh.

    DOS, however, was worth ever dollar to watch in IMAX 3D. I really enjoyed that movie. It was a lot of fun.

  • Jordan||

    Follow-up: In a purely market driven entertainment landscape, which is mostly what we see in the States, doesn’t that lead to the proliferation of Miley Cyruses and Britney Spears and other such phenomenon? Isn’t it bad for art?

    THE HORROR! PEOPLE MIGHT LISTEN TO MUSIC I DON'T LIKE! What kind of asshole thinks the appropriate remedy to that is to put a gun to someone else's head to force them to fund their own tastes?

  • Almanian!||

    A STATIST ASSHOLE, SIR!

    /Stripes

  • JW||

    I hope he was waving a very punk hanky when he said that.

  • Mike M.||

    Follow up: do you not think it valid, in countries that cannot compete on equal footing with the American entertainment industry, like Canada, to support their artists through government funding?

    "We need more Canadian content!"

  • R C Dean||

    I think where our little interlocutor goes wrong is in equating "the entertainment industry" with "art".

    Telling, really.

  • BakedPenguin||

    "We need more Canadian content!"

    Hello, eh? I'm Bob, and this is my brother Doug..."

  • Archduke von Pantsfan||

    90% of all US hockey teams are Canadians.

  • BillPrep||

    Lying shit!!! and racism or some such thing

    http://www.quanthockey.com/TS/.....lities.php

  • Archduke von Pantsfan||

    Fun fact:
    Bryan Adams album 'Waking up the neighbours" was not considered Canadian Content at first

  • JW||

    How is that possible? He spelled 'Neighbors' with a 'U'.

    Long ago, when I worked for a law firm, I had a box of documents in my office, that was sent from Canada for some case. On the outside of the box was hand-written in large letters, CONTAINS NO PORNOGRAPHY.

    While my heart was broken at such a prospect, I kept that box around long after the case was done. No one could look at it and not comment after a long beat.

  • GILMORE||

    It would be even better if it were stamped in very official lettering with the symbol of a government department, clarifying: PORNOGRAPHY-FREE* (at least 98.7% no porn here)

  • ||

    Now, now, the Canadian government has apologized for Bryan Adams on several occasions.

  • GILMORE||

    "I try not to take anything you say at face value – I think of you as a provocateur – but I wonder if you actually still feel that way?"

    i.e.

    "Something you said contradicted the fundamental underpinnings of my narrow childish worldview, so naturally I put my fingers in my ears and went, "Nyah!Nyah!Nyah! NOT LISTENING!!"... I reimagined those words being spoken by my cartoonish ideological enemies and felt better. Now I will offer you the chance to pretend along with me that this never happened, because you see, unless you can echo the right-thinking Marxist sentiments, your fanbase becomes incontinent with confustion. Repeat after me = ......"

  • GILMORE||

    You have to give the guy being interviewed credit for his simple, direct replies to the long-winded rhetorical questions. "No, See Above". I guess when you're speaking with an interviewer, 'above' means, 'what I just fucking said and you should have written down, dumbass'.

  • robc||

    I have a feeling the interview was done via a series of emails.

  • GILMORE||

    That makes sense. However, I still think that's so awesome a reply, I'm going to do it in conversation from now on. "see above"/

  • Curtisls87||

    Agreed!

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Indeed.

  • SIV||

  • GILMORE||

    The trope 'government funding' is just a convenient way of saying, "money should be taken by force from people and given to politically-approved "artists" to do more of their right-thinking, high minded stuff...", rather than letting mere peons actually determine for themselves what satisfies their desires for entertainment, amusement, emotional gratifications, etc. Because then (gasp!) people might choose the *wrong stuff*, like 'Britney spears" or whatever... which, is like, bad or something, because.... money.... and .... uhm.... its not "arty" (as per the chin-stroking definition) ....

  • Raston Bot||

    When the interviewer thinks punk, he thinks state-sponsored music. I'm a bit woozy from this.

    Anyway.

    That pere ubu guy kicks ass:

    My attitude to the music biz is no different now than it has ever been. It’s a business. It’s up to each musician to decide on how he/she is going to deal with it. Record companies are not philanthropic organizations. They mean to sell records. That said, many, maybe most, people in the business have some sort of passion for music. It’s perfectly possible to navigate a course that gets you what you want. Depends on what you want – if it’s pop stardom and lots of money then don’t blame the record company if it all gets nasty and cheap.

  • Cytotoxic||

    That gave me a warm feeling inside.

  • SIV||

  • nipplemancer||

    OT: I saw this story about a 72-year-old woman with dementia arrested for failing to pay a 5 year old seat-belt violation after a concerned relative called for a welfare check. As bad as that story is while reading the comments I read one of the most boot-licking authoritarian response ever:
    Mike Land
    December 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm
    Our city has a division called City Marshal. All they do is handle traffic warrants, nothing else. They have a steel bench with rings in the wall where the person is handcuffed while waiting for bail. Only if the person can’t make bail before 6PM do they get a trip across the street to the jail. If the city did not operate this division, then no traffic ticket would mean anything. People would run lights, speed, drive drunk, and if they got a ticket, they could just toss it out the window and go on with impunity. Even with the marshals going out and arresting people all day long, the city still has more than 1.5M in uncollected traffic fines. Its not a totally safe job any any measure. Last year a marshal got shot by a lady who didn’t want to go to jail. I guess she thought she would shoot him and then the city would just decide to leave her alone. Wrong, they sent in the tactical team, busted nearly all her windows, arrested her entire family, and shot her drug dealing son dead in the back room. I guess she taught them.

  • Contrarian P||

    That's just spooky. That there are people in the world who believe that shit just boggles the mind.

  • ||

    You know libertarianism is a lost cause when people don't even have that visceral, gut reaction to hearing stories like this anymore. When you're inured that deep I think to a certain extent you've lost your humanity.

  • ||

    Zappa nailed it. His argument here isn't about state sponsorship per se, but about gatekeepers: entrepreneurs will sell what the people want, whereas smarty-pants hipsters will sell what they think the people should want. The same argument applies to art subsidies.

  • db||

    Yep. It also is beginning to apply to technology and industry. Government funding of the sciences is just as or more destructive to society.

  • db||

  • Killaz||

    I doubt there’s a Canadian musician, filmmaker, writer, or novelist who hasn’t received some government support along the way, be it scholarships, grants, fellowships, things like the Canada Council.

    Ridiculous statement. For every artist that a bureaucrat favored with other people's money , there were an x number who were turned down, and who either went on into other careers or turned their endeavor into a profitable activity.

  • db||

    ..."With money you've squeezed from the peasants..."

    So you'll be an Austrian nobleman
    Commissioning a symphony in C
    Which defies all earthly descriptions
    You'll be commissioning a symphony in C

    With money you squeeze from the peasants
    To your nephew you can give it as a present
    This magnificent symphony in C
    You'll be commissioning a symphony in C...

    How ironic, given Cake's apparent politics...

  • Billy!||

    Wait, when did libertarians start believing a market for music? I thought we believed that all record music should be made available for free to the public at all times.

  • RishJoMo||

    Sounds like some crazy crazy plans to me dude.

    www.BeinAnon.tk

  • PD Quig||

    With a government grant I think I could make it truly silly.

  • Brian Doherty||

    The interviewer Allan MacInnis wrote me directly with this comment:
    "FYI, I was not at all "bewildered" by Thomas' libertarian politics, nor trying to get him to ratify my own views, which have more to do with being a Canadian, where state support for the arts is pretty much taken for granted, than being "liberal-prog-commie" (which position you sort of foist upon me)... I was trying to get him to elaborate on what many might feel is a provocative opinion, give him space to air his views..."

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