In Praise of the Working Artist

I first came to Los Angeles to make an album in 1996. Having grown up in Australia, I had a very romantic, and probably not uncommon, view of Hollywood as one giant star-making machine. I wanted to make meaningful, important and successful records that meant a lot to a lot of people. The type of success I envisioned likely had its genesis as a 14-year-old watching Motley Crue videos, and though the details of the fantasies escape me now, I'm sure they more often than not contained limousines with Jacuzzis in the back and a bevy of topless females.

As I matured (somewhat) from early-adolescent heavy metal fan into a young folky singer-songwriter, the aesthetic of the success I chased became a little more refined -- I now wanted four-star reviews in Rolling Stone, to be surrounded by artistic, successful friends and invited to the coolest parties. However, the emotional quality or feeling that I was chasing remained the same: glamor. A glamor that would remove me from my ordinary life and drop me into an extraordinary one.

I'm now 31 and have been making music for over half my life. I have experienced some moderate success, but nothing that would threaten Justin Timberlake. Back home, in Australia, my songs are sometimes played on the radio and I'm a bit of a household name, but here in the U.S. I play to a niche market of music-fans who dig pop melodies and some smarty-pants sensitivity in their lyrics. The glamor that I was chasing hasn't really shown up except peripherally (I dated a movie star in my early 20s, was the support act to some bands that headlined arenas, and am friends with a few relatively successful people). I have built a career on being a "working artist" -- someone that loves what they do and gets paid enough to keep doing it.

Most of my friends in Los Angeles could also be labeled "working artists." Whether musicians or actors, stylists or directors, songwriters or screenwriters, they are people who have carved out an often tiny corner of the pop culture landscape for themselves and, while they wouldn't necessarily be troubled for autographs in the Midwest, have continued to make their small but generous contributions to the cultural landscape we live in.

I've come to see the working artist as a noble calling. Everyone loves glamor, after all, it's easy to love. Who doesn't want lots of attention, yes men, and great tables in restaurants? But to really love a craft and to dedicate oneself to it year after year, with the full knowledge that becoming Brad Pitt or Jay-Z or Scorsese just might not be in your cards, seems a whole lot cooler to me now. I love the idea that at the end of the day, Los Angeles is full of "people making stuff," and they intend to keep on making stuff, whether the world showers them with praise or not.