25 September 2009

More Inreach

Since the "Death of Music" discussion invariably intersects with the audience outreach and development discussion, here's a follow-up on the latter, which was actually in the works well before the former got me all riled up. Sometimes things just work out...


It seems to me that form is generally thought to be the musico-technical area where the novice and the specialist differ most greatly, perhaps even on as basic a level as merely being aware of the concept of a structural "big picture" in the first place. As such, it has become the go-to topic for many an outreach activity. This is not to say that the words "form" or "structure" are necessarily used all that frequently in such cases; they may not be used at all, but nevertheless, the idea that the ability to identify structural landmarks is what separates people who "get it" from people who don't seems to hold sway with quite a few musical missionaries.

There are larger issues here which I've chosen to gloss over for now, such as how long it takes for such musico-technical training to meaningfully sink in, and whether or not it is, in fact, the key ingredient to engaging and retaining new listeners in the first place. In the interest of space, I would again refer readers to my previous post on the topic, where these issues are discussed a bit more thoroughly. For the moment, let's just assume that the answers to those last two questions are both affirmative; why, then, choose to focus on form, and what are the consequences of this choice?

I posited above that form represents the most severe disconnect between professional musicians and new listeners. Many academics would tell us that "moment-to-moment" listening is shallow and limited, representing the ultimate inability to see the forest for the trees. The integration, development, and transformation of themes that classical theorists and musicologists tend latch on to often occurs across many minutes or even hours of music. In their defense, it bears pointing out that hour-long instrumental pieces have ceased to be novel in classical music ever since Beethoven, who died almost two centuries ago. Even so, such large-scale structural awareness remains a foreign concept to listeners with a history of nearly exclusive exposure to shorter musical forms. These shorter forms most certainly deal in variation and repetition as well, but the overall temporal units are significantly smaller and material is typically repeated much more literally.

As for explaining why certain people gravitate towards certain music, the nature-versus-nurture discussion is endlessly intriguing, but I don't think it lends itself particularly well to reverse engineering for the purpose of proselytizing for new audiences. I sense that it's neither practical nor desirable to attempt to gain control over listeners with the goal of achieving a specific outcome, and that there will always be numerous exceptions to any rule one might be tempted to establish. I do think it's safe to say that even listeners who bear an innate predisposition for structural contemplation will never experience it if they never have the opportunity, and hence that if nothing else, there's certainly good work to be done in the realm of take-it-or-leave-it exposure. I also think it's crucial to establish that structural awareness is not anathema to moment-to-moment listening, but in fact encompasses it; that they are not different things, but that one is a necessary precondition to the other; and that those who believe in the primacy of "the big picture" ought not forget this.

Moment-to-moment listening may be limited; it may gloss over the greatest accomplishments of many great musicians; and its predominance over structural listening among novice classical and jazz listeners may in fact be a direct consequence of an overly pervasive pop music aesthetic; but its primacy to the listening experience is undeniable and its influence is inescapable, whether in professional musicologists, rank amateur musicians, or the most musically naive among us. If the moment-to-moment sounds of a piece turn us off, then the whole piece turns us off. It's that simple. In absence of an attraction to what is commonly called music's "surface," mere "appreciation" (what an awful term) of the structure and development of a piece is not merely worthless, but I would think downright impossible.

While new music detractors love to accuse their enemies of exactly this pose, I've always had my doubts as to whether this is actually the case, there or anywhere else. I don't believe that atonal music is incapable of having an attractive surface simply by virtue of being atonal, and I certainly don't believe that anyone who claims such an attraction to atonal music is necessarily posing. But most importantly, I also don't believe that we can expect those for whom the surface of any particular piece is not attractive to simply ignore it and focus exclusively on structural elements instead. That's asking way too much.

You can dance around the surface all you want, but you can't make people ignore it. No one can ignore it, and they shouldn't ignore it anyway for crying out loud. That's just silly. One comes to care about (or even bother to think about) form only after the surface has drawn them in, but this process is one which can't be meddled with, forcibly drilled in, or lectured into behaving properly. Some may find it more plausible that structural listening could be taught, and that is undoubtedly how form has become the centerpiece of so many outreach activities, but even so, that's putting the cart before the horse. It's a sham, and neither an honest nor an effective way of addressing a shortage of butts in seats.


While I've been using atonality as an example to this point, what got me writing this post in the first place was actually not atonal music at all, but rather jazz music. While classical musicologists certainly love them some large-scale tonality, I think that jazz musicians are even more prone to agonize over form when it comes to outreach than are classical people. The forms that jazz was built on are popular music forms, and hence, it is that much more agonizing for a jazz musician to be told by a pop-literate audience member after a performance that they have no idea what the hell just happened. That this happens all the time should tell us something about the respective roles of structural and surface listening. It should also leave us looking in, not out, for a solution.

There is, indeed, some common ground to work with here if our goal is merely to explain what, in fact, did just happen structurally and how it's not all that different from what happens elsewhere. Here as always, though, the problem with dealing so heavily in larger temporal units is that one sells short moment-to-moment sound and continuity. Form may ultimately prove to be important or even essential in creating a lasting relationship with the music, but there are so many other things that can turn off a listener long before they even have a chance to become meaningfully aware of it. I'm not nitpicking about audiophile subtleties, either; I'm talking about things as basic as instruments being too loud or too soft, or people who dislike the sound of a particular timbre or harmony.

Like it or not, these moment-to-moment concerns are make-or-break concerns, but I don't believe for a second that the solution is for listeners to ignore them in favor of ungrounded structural contemplation, nor is it for musicians to merely pander to the lowest common denominator. To the contrary, I believe that mere exposure is more powerful than proselytizing, and that our goal as musicians should not be to convince as many people as possible to tolerate us, but to reach the particular people (however few of them there are) for whom our music is enough by itself, without marketing, proselytizing or peer pressure. I also have come to believe through experience that sharing a performance with these listeners is eminently more fulfilling and enjoyable than the alternative, no matter how few of them there are.

As musicians, it is as important to respect the informed judgments of listeners who reject our work as it is to seek out those to whom it appeals. As such, I believe that the way to reach new listeners is not to subsume one's voice in the most marketable styles, but to invest the necessary time and effort to consummate this voice on its own terms. In short, what I'm saying is that rather than doing music different, we ought to do music better, reaching in, not out, for a solution. Big of me to issue such a challenge, since I could certainly work harder and play better myself, but I want to hone in on one particular facet of jazz performance that we could all stand to do better at, though, unfortunately, it's too often out of our control.

Generalizations are always dangerous, but I've come to believe (long before writing this) that "clarity" is an excellent catch-all term for what distinguishes great jazz performances from the rest of them. Furthermore, I would hypothesize that performances which fail to attain a high degree of so-called "clarity" don't stand a chance in hell of engaging the uninitiated listener (nor an experienced one for that matter). I would propose that instead of wasting our time reaching out by lecturing people about bridges and turnarounds, perhaps we should reach in and make it our single-minded goal to achieve an ideal level of "clarity" in our jazz performances.

What do I mean by clarity? Many things, but first and foremost, it's an acoustical matter. There are exceedingly few rooms that truly suit jazz's acoustic identity, and even fewer competent engineers capable of achieving truly balanced and clear live sound in them. Of course, balance and clarity are primary technical concerns of any musician or ensemble worth their salt, but these battles are hard won and the deck can too easily be stacked against us. Just ask symphony orchestras, who not only spend countless hours fine tuning balance issues, but typically have spent eight- or nine-figure sums of money designing and constructing their own performance spaces with the input of multiple eminent world experts on acoustics. Not surprising when one considers that issues of "clarity" or "transparency" can make or break the careers and reputations of their music directors; suffice it to say that if the same were true in jazz, there would be a lot of broken careers out there.

In jazz, the string players don't come in 10-packs (thank god), the percussion are not in the very back of a large hall, and the very directional winds and brass are not always able or willing to point in the right direction, yet the traditional small jazz group has at least one member of each of these instrumental families represented, and along with them, a built-in acoustical nightmare. The rare ensemble which has taken the time and trouble to achieve a clear acoustic balance in their rehearsal space will likely find the venues at which they perform to be both drastically different acoustically, and, in the form of their proprietors, drastically less willing to accommodate an acoustic performance in the first place, hence taking matters of balance and clarity out of the hands of trained and experienced musicians and putting them in the hands of whichever bartender happens to be doing sound that night. Eight- or nine-figure sums of money would indeed solve the problem, but that's a pipe dream for all but a select few jazz organizations, and even those for whom it is a reality seem strangely content to continue performing in concert halls that were designed specifically for symphony orchestras.

While acoustical clarity is paramount in any musical performance, the element of my broad concept of "clarity" that more directly relates to the above discussion about audience outreach in jazz is that of structural clarity, and specifically, I believe, harmonic clarity. I'm not unaware of the pitfalls of putting such a concept on a pedestal: there are styles of jazz I enjoy immensely where it simply isn't a concern, as well as plenty of performances which strive to attain it, fail miserably, yet somehow are effective in some other way. I'm not trashing people who can't or won't play changes by way of a conscious artistic choice, I'm just trying to relate the concept of clarity to the audience outreach activities I'm aware of in the jazz area, which typically deal with the common practice "mainstream" bebop and post-bop styles of the 1940's, 50's and 60's. Within that very narrow stylistic area, I have no reservations whatsoever about saying that harmonic clarity is what separates the men from the boys.

So, giving the benefit of the doubt for just a second to those who advocate for form-centric audience outreach, let's establish that harmonic clarity is an absolute precondition for a jazz listening experience that is more structural and less moment-to-moment. This is not to say that the changes need be played the same way every time, just that the structure of the tune is clear at all times. Performances by eminent jazz musicians who purposely obliterate the original changes usually achieve far greater clarity than those by novice musicians who are just trying to "get through" the tune by playing it the same way every time. In the right hands, the three A sections of an improvisation over an AABA structure each have their own character, and I have several times walked into a performance in progress and known immediately not only which tune was being played but which A section I was hearing. That says something about me, too, a fact which advocates of musico-technical outreach would be quick to point out; but it also says something about the band, for as I'm sure may of you reading this can relate to, I have also gotten hopelessly lost in the form on many occasions, both listening and playing, while in the company of incompetent players performing material I know upside down and backwards.

Performing jazz is not about merely "following" the abstract structure, but rather about listening and reacting to those around you. That's why on the rare occasion that an eminent jazz musician drops an A section, the band stays together and sounds good doing it, and why when a student musician drops an A section, the other students in the band get lost immediately and everything falls apart. I am by no means convinced that our goal in reaching out to new listeners ought to be to teach them to experience the performance like a player, but if it is, then let's establish that merely drilling them on how to keep track of A's and B's doesn't qualify as such a thing in the first place.

Two musicians came to mind immediately when I started thinking about the clarity issue, and they are both pianists: Fred Hersch and Kenny Barron. If I were leading a new listener recruitment effort, these two would be my go-to guys when it came time to play records for the group. In my mind, their playing is as close to the ideal embodiment of "clarity" in bebop and post-bop jazz as I've ever heard, not just harmonically, but also technically and structurally. Their playing, compositions and arrangements are not only accessible but downright catchy on a moment-to-moment level as well. As for other instruments, my horn section dream team would be Terrell Stafford, Vincent Herring and Conrad Herwig. Dave Holland and Tain Watts would fill out the rhythm section.

Of course, you're not going to get this band together tomorrow and start running out to high school auditoriums in rural Minnesota, and even if you could, we all know that with musical ensembles, the whole is not always equal to the sum of its parts. I made the list for two reasons: first, to try to give the reader an idea of what exactly I meant by "clarity," and second, to make the point that when it comes to audience development, it's not worth bothering unless we put our best foot forward. We all know that outreach is inextricably linked with grant funding, and that many grants either require it as a precondition to the project, or offer additional funding above and beyond the initial award if the recipient adds it to their plan. What this means, though, is that most of the time, it's not the Clarity Dream Team providing the music, but rather some other team of grant funded musicians whose success in securing funding may or may not correspond to their musical abilities.

I'm not trashing anyone who's ever had a grant. There are a gazillion musicians out there who fall somewhere in between competent and brilliant, and that's sufficient for most purposes most of the time. Nonetheless, if the band, the room, and the soundperson alike can't deliver the musical goods to the newbies, it's a waste of time from an outreach perspective, and we'd be better served to go practice until this is no longer the case. That many musicians rely on this funding is unfortunate, a fact which lays bare my greatest reservation about the concept of outreach: the uncomfortable balance of selfless and selfish motivations that it requires. Human beings are generally too inherently selfish to strike this pose effectively, and hence, I feel that directing our efforts in rather than out is both the most productive and honest approach when it comes time to present our music to someone for the first time.

18 September 2009

Against "Hire Education"

Despite music's external reputation as a field teeming with hippy liberals, certain bits and pieces of distinctively conservative rhetoric never fail to find their way into the mainstream. For example, it seems that most every proclamation of the death of this or that music is now accompanied a call for music schools to teach business, to make entrepreneurs, schmoozers, and administrators out of each one of their performance students, this in the name of making them more employable orchestral players and/or more astute freelancers. Sounds simple enough, but it raises a question that's bigger than music: what is the role of higher education in our society? To make well-rounded people, or maximally employable people?

There are those who would argue that the sole purpose of education is to lead directly to employment, and that the relative merits of various fields of study are hence directly proportional to the employability of their graduates. Among those who feel this way, it's safe to say that there are not many advocates for teaching music and art, let alone for offering them as areas of specialization. The liberal arts in general are anathema to the employability doctrine, and music and art degrees stand out as particularly egregious cases (I should know, I have one).

While I certainly have been known to accuse musicians of blowing the extrinsic benefits of music education way out of proportion, I will defend to the death the value of a well-rounded education. That means us, too, music majors. The universitories may not teach much business to their students, but their business acumen is constantly on display in how badly they coddle us academically. They let us off the hook for things like foreign languages, science, math...you know, all the things music majors hate, things that might cause us to look at other schools or consider changing majors.

We barely deserve our bachelor's degrees because they are just barely bachelor's degrees, and unfortunately, this often means that we don't have to look too far to find examples of what a lopsided curriculum begets. It's great fodder for dismantling the employability doctrine in higher education, but even so, there are some musicians who would not only leave this doctrine in place, but actively embrace it. Hence, rather than arguing for their field's academic and cultural necessity in the abstract, they merely intend to make it fit the employability doctrine any way they can. For the moment, that seems to entail forcibly making business people out of music majors.

On the surface, there's an obvious contradiction here. I'm arguing for greater breath of curriculum, and adding business classes to music degrees would appear to represent just that. I certainly have my own decidedly liberal hang-ups about business as a field of academic study, but that's my problem. More pertinent to the present discussion is to establish what exactly these music school business classes would entail. It's safe to say that not every music major wants to have to take business classes, and also that many of those who do either can't or won't be able keep up in a "real" business program. So basically, what we're really talking about are more watered down music-major-specific classes with a narrow focus and a lighter credit load, and which by virtue of being tailored so narrowly towards music majors have significantly less currency outside the music world. This represents more of the same coddling we've grown to expect, and the advent of even greater specialization, not less.

It seems to me that music schools increasingly treat their students like children, weighing them down with a laundry list of low-credit nuisance courses, micromanaging their academic lives in the name of the misguided and all too politically malleable concept of "accountability," yet still setting the bar for academic success embarrassingly low. We need less of this, not more, and everywhere in education for that matter, but particularly in music school, where ulterior motives for maintaining high enrollment run rampant. Speaking of which, this most certainly factors into the embrace of the employability paradigm as well; after all, it's a paradigm that many parents (and their money) embrace, too.

Aside from philosophical hang-ups, the specter of teaching business in music school raises some interesting practical problems. How do you make room for it in the curriculum? Add a year? Further cut non-music course requirements? And what about theory versus practice? Keeping the information current from year to year? Based on my undergraduate experience, I'm skeptical about the institutions' ability to navigate every one of those obstacles, but I'm even more dismayed that we are having this discussion in the first place. It seems that musicianship is becoming valued less and less, even among musicians, and that the "school of hard knocks" brow-beating that at one time was the exclusive domain of the occasional disgruntled guest clinician is quickly becoming the publicly stated platform of many music school administrators and a credo for malleable aspiring professionals who don't know any better.

It sometimes seems that we are still in the midst of a post-1960's conservative backlash, even in the field of music, and that this is slowly killing idealism and imposing a dark, cynical pragmatism in its place. Or maybe it's just the economy. Either way, idealism is dangerous in a lot of ways, but it's a necessary component of any musician's development. You can tell a student a million times that they have to be versatile to make a living freelancing, but if they're not interested in anything but one kind of music, this admonishment rings hollow. By the same token, not every music student wants or needs the added burden of business classes, but those who do will likely be better served seeking out the real thing rather than blindly accepting whatever uncomfortable compromises their department ends up putting forth.

07 September 2009

Perfunctory "Death of Jazz" Tantrum

I've tried really hard over the course of many weeks to resist joining the ongoing fracas over Terry Teachout's now-infamous Wall Street Journal article. I'm utterly burned out on the "death of [music]" discussion, I'm tired of reading about it on other people's blogs, and I'm tired of devoting time to it here because I think it's generally a waste of time. Nonetheless, I eventually caved and read through some of the responses it has elicited, which inevitably led to a flurry of thoughts about how this whole mess relates to little old me. As DJA would admonish us, this is precisely what blogs do; here, then, is what I've got to say.

First of all, while the present post is weeks late, the initial news of the NEA survey findings reached me rather early on by way of an e-mail from Pamela Espeland, and against my better judgment, I not only acknowledged its existence here, but shared two immediate thoughts I had about what it might mean, which are worth reviewing as a jumping off point for further discussion:

First, lost in this whole brouhaha, I think, is the very intriguing fact that the survey reported a substantial increase in adult participation in classical music while attendance at classical concerts continued to drop. So many of us have blindly accepted for so long that participation in music equates more or less directly to attendance, but what if that's not the case? This I find to be a far more intriguing question than anything related to the jazz data, which I think (yes, anecdotally, but bear with me) is so obviously flawed, but that discussion deserves it's own thread, so it would be best to table it for the time being.

The other thought I had relates to both the classical and jazz discussions, in particular the idea that classical concerts are too formal, and that this is responsible for turning young people off. What, then, do we make of the fact that the audience for jazz, which is by and large presented in significantly less formal settings than classical music, aged even faster than it did for classical music? If what we're seeing truly represents a rejection of formality, then one would expect a pattern to emerge in the NEA data whereby the attendance at and participation in very formal arts events charted differently than that for less formal arts events. That, however, does not seem to be the case, at least with respect to classical music and jazz. To the contrary, the pattern emerging seems by all interpretations to be one of across-the-board decline in arts attendance and participation, regardless of formality, and in one case (jazz), very much in spite of it's conspicuous absence.

In light of this, it is less surprising than it may have been otherwise that one of the many responses to Teachout's article actually advocates, in one sense, for more formality in jazz. In his letter to the editor, Ramsey Lewis writes:

I will take some musicians to task respectfully if I might—about wardrobe. Too many musicians and groups (not only in jazz) dress in such a way that it seems they don't care about their appearance and the impression they make on stage. A poor appearance lessens the audience's enjoyment. But if the musician took pride both in his appearance and his music, it would add to the overall experience.

So, while the classical punditry is hard at work excoriating orchestral musicians for overdressing, one of the most respected voices in jazz took the time to write a letter to the editor decrying the opposite phenomenon. Perhaps we can save the music simply by arranging a massive wardrobe swap between the two groups of musicians: who wouldn't want to see The Bad Plus in monkey suits and the New York Philharmonic in space suits? Or, just maybe the problem is deeper than wardrobe.

I myself am a notoriously poor dresser. If anyone who came to my jazz shows dressed any better, I'd be forced to keep up...but they don't, so I haven't. In fact, I generally fit right in, and even feel distinctly uncool when I up the wardrobe ante to include things like button-down shirts or nice(r) shoes (not to mention that I get some sideways looks from my bandmates, who are both surprised to see such a thing in the first place, and also mystified as to what exactly brought it about). If, as the classical music punditry would have us believe, it is important not to put oneself on a pedestal apart from one's audience by outdressing them, then I've been achieving near perfect marks in the audience development category for as long as I've been on the scene.

Lewis sees it differently, but still, in my mind, not correctly. His comments do less to further the audience development discussion than merely to lay bare a jazz culture clash that has both generational and racial issues entangled in it. Much like jazz itself, sharp dressing has long served as a significant expression of resistance and solidarity in the face of discrimination for many African-Americans, and such sartorial predilections among early jazz musicians (as well as these underlying motivations) are well documented. Where asserting their dignity was a rebellious act, this meant dressing up, not dressing down, but suffice it to say that there are substantial chunks of American society where the very opposite was and continues to be true, and if you come from one of those segments, you're likely to bristle at the suggestion that you should straighten up and fly right (not least because you've probably heard it before).

There are many who see rebellion and subversion as the very essence of what jazz is. Though I wouldn't necessarily count myself as one of those people, it's obvious that jazz has both attracted and created an interesting assortment of rebels of various stripes. For this reason, I'm afraid we'll just have to forgive the white kids their dirty laundry and poor grooming because that's largely what rebellion is in their world. As for this particular white kid, I can't legitimately claim this exemption, since my parents were hippies. The only way for me to rebel against them would be to become an accountant and start wearing $1000 suits to work. There are a variety of reasons that's not going to happen, the most important one being that none of my friends (who are all young and went to at least one jazz performance last year) would never talk to me again.

That brings us back to the Teachout Fallout. What's readily apparent from the ensuing firestorm is that many many people took his comments personally, especially those who have invested everything they have in making music in spite of its small following. I, for one, found his original article to be rather innocuous at first, merely par for the course from a publication that has also employed the likes of Greg Sandow. It certainly wouldn't have inspired me to write something of this length had there been no further blogospheric back-and-forth about it, but since that's exactly what has happened, I've latched onto one particular element of the discussion that I do take quite personally, and which disturbingly enough seems to actually have become the primary area of common ground for both sides. What I'm referring to is the assertion that it's not the music that's the problem but how it is marketed and presented.

This sentiment seems to be on the tip of everyone's tongue, not only in jazz, but also in classical music. It feels good to say it, and it sounds harmless enough until you really think about what it means, namely that we need to do a better job of fooling people. It's telling that the buzzword is not "promotion" or "organizing," but rather "marketing." Marketing is fundamentally about deception. If marketing was not fundamentally about deception, then the very concept of marketing (the word, the field, and the act itself) would not exist. To make clever marketing the centerpiece of our plan to save jazz is to say that we intend to fool people into showing up and paying money for something they, at best, don't need, and at worst, don't even like. That's the function of marketing elsewhere in the economy, and as best I can tell, that's the function being advocated for by well-meaning commentators on both sides of the Teachout fiasco.

For many of us, this sort of approach would mean working quite hard to paint ourselves as cool when we're really not all that cool, nor do we particularly desire to be cool, or even think it's cool to be cool in the first place. It brings us back to the rebellion thing in a way, but also to the more universal and desirable concept of honesty, which would be necessarily sacrificed were we to appropriate the conventions of American capitalist marketing to our music careers. Seriously, how many scatterbrained hippy-dippy jazz writers (and quite a few musicians, too) have pronounced over the years that jazz was first and foremost about "truth" or "honesty"? Too many to count! Now for me personally, the music isn't "about" anything in particular; honesty and integrity are human qualities, and a music cannot be either of these things any more than a rock can. I certainly didn't get into jazz because I was looking for honesty or a chance to rebel or any of that BS; I got into it because it was a natural high. But now that I'm here, I certainly have embraced the ways in which a music career offers a refuge from the unmitigated train wreck that is mainstream American capitalist society, and I don't look particularly fondly on the idea of appropriating what is perhaps the very most vile and destructive feature of it, namely deception.

Perhaps I'm overreacting, misinterpreting, and/or being a sourpuss for no good reason other than that it's my natural temperament. You'll just have to forgive me for not giving a flying hoot what anyone else thinks is "unhealthy" about being honest. Fortunately for them, I do not own jazz, and they can do whatever they damn well want to about it's perceived crisis. To paraphrase the popular bumper sticker, it's your crisis, you fix it. Regardless of what that entails, you'll find me doing pretty much exactly what I was already doing, and if popular consensus determines that my particular approach is "unhealthy" for the jazz world, then all the great hordes of new young jazz fans have the irrevocable right to not come to my shows, not buy my recordings, and not play my compositions. That possibility doesn't concern me in the least because I'm having too much damn fun, with or without them.

Let me be clear that I have no vested interest in jazz remaining uncool. I'm not any happier about it than Terry Teachout is, and I'd certainly love to play for more people in better rooms and get paid more to do it. Anyone would. But what's truly addictive about performing isn't the sheer size of the audience, but rather their engagement with the performance. That's why I've often said that I'd rather play for one person who cares than for a hundred who don't. Buzz cannot be simulated anymore than boredom can be hidden, even (especially) when it's your friends and family in the audience. It's rather implausible that I could market myself as being just that cool in the first place, but even if I could, the payoff isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be. If there's something unhealthy about feeling that way, then I've got no one to blame but myself, and I've got no right to complain about it.