Tip Your Bartender, Screw Your Musician

The Grammys are tonight, and it goes without saying I won't be watching.

We herald Katy Perry as a "primo performer" because she lip synchs the Superbowl halftime show.  Betty Boop does Phoenix.

We prop up strippers and pole dancers as "serious female artists," when they're at best misguided females with good voices (and even that's debatable).

Our top-40 songs are written by con artist clusters – wizards of digital thievery who cut and paste formulaic patterns that end up hissing out of car radios, giving us high blood pressure.

Enough is enough.

There are great songwriters in America.  I hear them when I bartend at one of the last independent musical dive bars in the third largest city in the country, Chicago's Phyllis' Musical Inn in Wicker Park.  

People with heart and soul, with passion, playing to America.

I am one.

Why aren't we on the radio?

American culture, matey.

It's nasty.


My publishing gig pays pennies on the dollars now that it’s headquartered in a developing nation.  So I bartend at Phyllis', the same place I play every first, third, fourth and sometimes fifth Wednesday a month. While bartending's not the most noble pursuit (toxifying humans), it helps pay the rent.

Every shift, I’m tipped $1, $2, sometimes $5 – or more – to pop open a bottletop.  

To pour Jack Daniels into a glass with ice and add Coke.

To pour vodka over ice, then add club soda and a lime.

$5 a drink sometimes.  

As a tip.


Meanwhile, last night, after playing for over three hours, two solo acts and one band of four totaling six musicians made $22 in tips.  

Jonathan, the door guy, shook his head.  He’d been stunned at the snubs and condescension as he walked around the tip jar.

"Why are people so cheap?" he asked. 

Like I said, American culture, matey.

It's nasty.

We value artifice, pseudo-deities dancing on parade floats wearing cupcake tits.  We love our homecoming queens.

We keep Bieber around because he's non-threatening, anoint Taylor Swift because she's in bed with multinationals.

We prop up the ignorant, the easily manipulable, the young, because they're easy to control.


But the real songwriters, the leaders, are out there.  Gathering steam.

We're working dull jobs, we're burning midnight oil.  Writing because we have to, not because we're trust fund kids.

We're in Chicago.  We're in the Heartland.  And we're pissed.

We're at your coffee houses, your dive bars, your ailing music venues shabby and rough, risking it all on the notion that music – live music – is still one of the most important things around: a shared experience, a connective tissue, a swaying, moody, lovely, purple thing.

We're antidotes to stock faces smiling on TV, to logo-filled "music videos," to the mockery known as the Grammys.   

And when the shit goes down, when humanity's looking for leaders, we'll be there.

And when we unite, we'll be a tsunami.

We’ll crush Tay Tay.  

Like talented high schoolers kept down by the popular-but-dumb, we'll take culture back.

We'll rip off our band uniforms and our poets' berets.  

We’ll step out of painter smocks and throw off glasses.  

We’ll assume that sick look of the 70s – ripped, frizzed, wicked, wild – harkening back to a time when the coolest kids in school weren't the thugs (rap), the business nerds (music execs), the "conceited" (reality TV, Paris Hilton), or the guys with the best record collections (DJs)...but the ones onstage, playing. 

The ones with gifts.  The magicians.  The talented ones. 

Like I said. 

American culture, matey.

It's about to get nasty.

And fun.

  © Rebecca F. 2017