Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pondering Upon A T-Shirt

About a week ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to an EBAY auction. Someone was selling a Shuffling Hungarians T-shirt, with an opening bid of $4.99.

My first reaction to this wasn't a good one: The shirt had become "memorabilia", and now it seemingly signified that I had officially attained "has-been" status, as I sit cloistered in my freezing apartment, living on cat food, writing songs that no one will hear, and stories that will never be read.

But ultimately, you have to take these things with a grain of salt. I'm a "hide in plain sight" kind of guy, and figured it was better to joke about it in public, and through social networking sites, rather than ignore it was actually happening. No one ever dies of shame, especially if you own it outwardly.

So following the auction with friends and old fans on Facebook throughout the week has been fun. We shared some laughs, we told some jokes, and we connected in ways that are real and authentic. I don't have to "stand behind the curtain" anymore, as far as The Hungarians project is concerned, anyway. Hell, I don't even OWN one of the shirts (which was the basis for much of the joking).

In my current "Exile on Helen Street", a big part of the day is spent interfacing on social networks. An archival site has been recently created that serves as a vehicle for CNY musicians, past and present, to trade history, photos, and the stories behind those histories.

Participation in that group has allowed me the opportunity to give thanks to all of the people and local musicians who inspired me; I learned much from them, and clearly I always knew, no matter what I did or continue to do in the future, that I stood on the shoulders of those that blazed trails for me, and also stood shoulder to shoulder as I tried to machete ourselves through the weeds to blaze some new ones of our own.

But this experience in gratitude also has had me contemplating this question:"Is someone standing on my shoulders, now that I'm officially a "has-been" and out of the game?"

I hope so. So here's a pointer for all you young whippersnappers out there from your Old Uncle Georgie:

This shirt sold for $20 back in 1995. Its a ratty assed, used shirt that just sold on Ebay for $51 plus shipping and handling. How many articles of clothing in your closet actually APPRECIATE in value over time? I'm pretty proud of what this represents.

Is it the shirt, or the memories attached to it? A little of both. But lets look at the simple mechanics of the merch itself.

This was a ten screen shirt, with sleeve and back printing, and a "fade" effect in the logo and flames, manually executed, to ensure that each shirt was unique. The cost to produce it was astronomical. By the time you added in ancillary costs like paying the Merch Girl (Thank You Vetala, Hibo, Monketta, and Jenn Sinclair) at every gig,a visa mastercard lease and the ability to swipe cards on site, taxes and comps.... let's just say we were lucky to break even on shirt merch.

The shirt was designed by Eliot Mattice, and signed. A massively integral part of our team, just as important as anyone on the bandstand. The shirt is a physical manifestation of just what it takes to build a team, and take on the responsibility of guiding it.

The shirt, the records, the show...all of them were just an extension of the overall philosophy that was woven into anything that Shuffling Hungarians Inc. did: "Go Big, or Go Home". That zeitgeist was the gravitational force that drew other like minded individuals into "The Hungarian Orbit". I may have been its original progenitor, the core of the sun if you will, but that was only a singular aspect of the Hungarian Solar System, and its THE SYSTEM that had the impact.

Over the top? Yes. But for me it was always about giving the fans the best value and biggest bang they could possibly get for their hard earned entertainment buck. It was never about money. It was about music, and it was about the art, first, and then designing the systems of delivering it with the attached philosophy of "at any cost". The message was the medium, and the medium was the message. A perfect storm.

So when people wore that shirt, when they still do; they are recognized as members of a secret club, and members of a team. I may have been performing a human high wire act with my own existence, but if you don't do that, you'll never attract team members be it in the areas of business, band members, support, or fans that think the same way... and that's what made that band, and that team, and that life experience, special. Everybody was in it to raise the bar, and to boldly go where no local band had gone before. That was our point and frame of reference, and everybody went all-in to do it.

Was it sustainable? History proves, at least at present, wasn't. Its better to burn out than to fade away, and although tentatively at first, I finally decided to pull the plug on it to make sure people remembered it at full strength.

But it was a hell of a ride, for those brave enough to take it, for band, working co-horts, and fans alike.

Art, if done right, should appreciate in value over time. This little shirt auction validates all the efforts of everybody involved in that project. That's what we wanted to make, and we did it the best we could, with no reservations and no regrets.

So keeds, those of you that are just starting out in the game, remember. If you aren't ready to pay that kind of freight, and take on those types of risks,then maybe you might want to reaccess just why you're doing what your doing.

Musicians like to bitch about current situations and the overall business climate in their hometowns. That NEVER changes.

But in my humble experience, there is one thing about The Salt City, that differentiates itself from the rest of the pack: The people who live here, and support live music.

Sure, they go out to see shows, and they are accepting of all levels of expression.

But if you dare to fail: If you dare to fall flat on your face, fully committed, the peeps of Syracuse will automatically recognize and rise up to support you. They know the difference between aiming for the middle of mediocrity, and aiming for far distant, and seemingly unattainable targets. They will suss out the half-assed approach eventually, and rise up to support the impossible dream, everytime.

Hopefully, as a link in the CNY chain of music history, that's the gift that The Shuffling Hungarians Experience gave you. Everybody that was resposible for developing that set of shoulders, the "System" of which I speak, did so at great risk, and at a great personal cost. They know. I certainly do, because I'm still feeling the consequences for those types of decisions.

It was an emotional investment for the band, its support network, but most importantly, to the fans that plunked down their money at the door on a regular basis.

And that's why a ratty assed used shirt can sell on EBAY for $30 above its original purchase price of $20 back in 1996.

Memories, Dreams, and Art all increase in value when they are produced from an "All In" mindset.

Those are your "Shoulders". Stand on them, and then deliver.

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