Last week the question was put forward “Is Vancouver a “no fun” zone when it comes to support for the arts.”
The ensuing for-and-against argument that took place was heated, epic, and glorious. Apparently, even films were made to celebrate the event.
Now it took a while, but the numbers are in and the votes have finally been tabulated…
People who agree Vancouver is a “no fun city”: 2
People who disagree: 0
And there you have it!
Okay, maybe NO fun is a bit strong. As mentioned last week, there are indeed great artists in Vancouver and there are people working hard to create a scene there, but readers,… the numbers don’t lie,… 2-0! So what gives? Does Vancouver just fall in between the cracks of what makes for a healthy cultural city scene; not as big as Toronto, not as french as Montreal, yet not as wealthy as Alberta?
So if you’re one (or the other) of those who agreed, I put forth the only logical question which needs asking: WHO CAN WE BLAME? Surely, there’s gotta be some one or something we can blame. Some people say Vancouver’s just the hot girl who never had to learn to carry a conversation. Last week, it was suggested that the high cost of living plays a large part. I’m going to put forth that a lesser (than Toronto or Montreal) public transportation system and strict liquor laws are a factor. And what about the artists of Vancouver? How are we responsible? If at all?
And finally, what can be done about it? (I mean, you know,… I will move back there, but there’s only so much I can do folks!)
Then again, there’s always a chance that 2 people are wrong,…
Just kidding! 2 people against 0 are never wrong.
Below, are the comments by John and Morgan (both of whom have since moved to other cities).
As always, thanks for the comments and have a great week!
(Above picture from poster for Melissa James’ new film “No Fun City”, about,… you guessed it,… Vancouver.)
It’s not the only reason I moved away, but it is the biggest one. I was basically made to feel that my prospect for making a living there was a remarkably small piece of a tiny litle pie set off in one corner of a restaurant that was going …out of business. And as you noted, I’m not discussing the scene or any of the wonderful, inspiring music and musicians I had access to out there… I wouldn’t trade any of that for anything… It’s just my basic feeling on the percieved social value of the arts in general in Vancouver, outside of events happening as part of a “festival”.
I mean… the most artistically fulfilling house gig I had for over 2 years where it was with a working band that could do anything we wanted musically, we did at the behest of a clubowner who described musicians, variously as “pieces of shit on my shoe”, “the lowest form of life in the world” and “my fucking bitches.” We willingly subjected ourselves to that type of treatment in order to get our music performed. We don’t have to do that out here. I’ve never heard anybody talk about musicians like that out here. I may not make any more money playing at the Tranzac or even the Rex sometimes… but at least I’m generally treated with warmth and kindness and respect.
And honestly, for somebody known in BC and Alberta, it makes good economic sense to live out east and still have access to all the good gigs out west, with the added cachet of being from Toronto, Montreal, or New York. I hate to sound cynical or opportunistic, but that’s the reality of it for me. I did THREE tours last year funded by the Canada Council. That’s two more than my grand total for living in Vancouver for 10 years. Not that that is any sort of barometer of talent, or artistic achievement or anything else… but the music with each band WAS gratifying artistically, and I almost started to feel like I was making a real living there, for a minute.
Certain things about living in Vancouver started to make me feel unfulfilled (like I wasn’t any good), or at least that all my prospects for advancement were limited. I was never going to be the first call guy to play with the heavy out-of-towners at the Cellar. Never going to “sub” for Person X in Great Leader Y’s band. People from other scenes didn’t know I was interested in other styles (pigeonholing is much more convenient for a lot of people). I did not (and do not) posess the desire to teach awkwardly and amateurishly, like so many do everywhere in order to make a “living”. Probably what I was interested in presenting musically was always going to fall into the too “straight-ahead” category (never my words) to ever lead my own group in a really nice venue during the jazz festival, say with some premium out-of-town guests (outside of The Cellar, of course, thank God for the Cellar on so many levels).
Maybe some people just didn’t really like the way I play… I’m okay with that if that’s true. I did always try to do my best when given the opportunities that I had, to represent the music the way it was taught to me, and try to give people what they expected. I did get tired of the constant mythologizing of the Vancouver scene. “See, we’re special because we’re isolated and nobody has ever heard of us. But everybody here plays just as well as everybody in New York, and we’re certainly superior to everybody in Toronto. There’s nothing going on there, y’know, creatively.” That sentiment smacks of insecurity, to me. The world of music is a big place. It feels larger to me than it ever has before… and maybe that’s because of the fact I moved, and maybe it’s because I’m getting old… but it feels real to me.
I haven’t been a full time Vancouver resident for nearly 8 years now, but I’ve always kind of felt like Vancouver is a victim of it’s own success. In places like New York, it was still possible to be a penniless bohemian in a rancid garrett in the center of the Manhattan action well into the second half of the 20th century, although anyone who lives there now will tell you things are way different now and they they despair for the future of jazz in NY. But for now, the infrastructure of the arts is secure enough that the jazz ‘business’ (if not jazz culture) will remain centered in NYC for the foreseable future.
When I first started playing around Vancouver in the early 70s, it was possible to live cheaply and make a living playing music. Almost all the musicians I knew worked constantly in strip clubs and blues bars (and played jazz for peanuts in other places; some things haven’t changed) and lived right in the center of town, in places like Kitsilano or the West End. When I played in the house band at the Place Cabaret on Granville in 1973, a bunch of us rented a house at 2586 w13th Avenue for $175 a month. No way could you do that now.
Not that I’m laying blame entirely at the feet of the real estate industry. I know it’s not really the done thing to say this, but frankly, there just isn’t much support in Vancouver for things like jazz among audiences. Because you’re right, it really doesn’t matter much if things end a bit early (here in New Orleans Snug Harbor, the main straight-ahead venue, moved it’s shows from 9 and 11p.m. to 8 and 10, because they were losing audiences during the late set. In post-Katrina New Orleans, people work harder and get up earlier), but the puritan attitude evinced by that kind of thing IS significant. Vancouverites are often too busy hustling money to make the condo mortgage payment to have much energy to hang in clubs.
There’s no shortage of first rate jazz musicians in Vancouver, in fact I’m always amazed at how many there are, considering the size of the city. There’s just not enough audience for them.