In the Spring of 1983, during the tail end of my freshmen year in high school, I met a character whose mantra, “life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death,” deeply embedded itself in my psyche. That character, Mame Dennis or Auntie Mame, is the star of a book, stage play, stage musical, movie, and musical movie. Famous actresses such as Rosalind Russell, Lucille Ball, and Angela Lansbury have all portrayed the character and a children’s book, Auntie Claus, pays homage to her as well.
Mame is larger than life—at turns flamboyant, charming, irrepressible, and outrageous. Her elegantly decorated New York City home, her unending support of artists and intellectuals, and her dedication to broadening the mind of her nephew, Patrick fascinated me as soon as I discovered her.
During my freshman year, I joined the school’s stage crew team. Like many high schools around the country, my school put on a few productions a year, one of which was a musical. Not only did my fellow students act in the production, we also provided the musicians (as a side note, one of my classmates, who played in both the school’s band and orchestra became an Oscar-winning film composer) and built the sets. It was during those Friday night and Saturday morning set-building sessions that I first learned about Auntie Mame.
Throughout the musical, Mame’s luxury apartment goes through several different phases and we needed to convey that by building and painting various sets, screens, and flats. The sets were attractive—we painted faux marble on the steps we’d built and created art pieces to mirror the décor in Mame’s apartment. But, it was during rehearsals that I really fell in love with the character. Our director had chosen an elegant, tall girl with bobbed dark hair to portray Mame. In retrospect, she was perfect because every eye was drawn to her, sucking all of us in to the spell Mame weaves on the audience.
Since then, I’ve seen a touring production of Mame, watched the film versions many times over, read the book, and even produced an academic paper and presentation about all of the various iterations of the character for a class on American theater. To say that I love the character would be an understatement. I’ve always joked to my daughter that when I got older, I would enter my Auntie Mame period.
Well that time has come. I’m definitely older (hah, where the hell did all those years go?) and I’m so ready to become my best version of Auntie Mame. I’m not inclined to dress flamboyantly and I’m far too clumsy to be elegant, but there is one aspect of Auntie Mame’s character I can heartily embrace—patronage. Although I’m not exactly buying the most cutting edge pieces of art to furnish my home nor sending money to experimental schools in the Village, I am stepping into the patronage role by supporting that which nourishes my soul—music.
Let me clarify something from the outset—I’ve always supported musicians. Buying vinyl, cassettes, CDs, digital copies, merch, and attending concerts has always been my thing. But, like most people, I’m pretty clueless about how the music industry actually works. I can only surmise from my time spent working in publishing, that contracts and royalties are rarely in favor of the artist. And, unlike book publishing, the costs are definitely a whole lot higher.
Over the past year, as I discovered a lot of great young bands, it dawned on me that these bands could really use some support. It’s really far too easy to just stream a song, add it to a playlist, and go about your day. If one subscribes to any of the streaming platforms, there’s an underlying assumption that the artist is being properly compensated for their work, so it’s okay just to listen without actually paying.
The falsity of this premise became clear to me over the summer when I was participating in one of Vertical Horizon’s Thursday Night Therapy streaming events and Matt Scannell casually mentioned how pitiful the streaming royalty percentages were. I took immediate notice. That offhand remark really made me think about how careless and casual we are about the fruits of someone else’s labor.
We seem to assume that because something entertains us, we’re not only entitled to be entertained, but that we really shouldn’t have to pay for it either. So much of that stems from both radio and television which seemingly presented things to us for free, while, in fact, advertisers paid the bills. We’ve also been fooled into thinking that all musicians become multimillionaires—from Elvis to the Beatles to the Stones to U2, the list of musicians who cash the big paychecks seems endless. And, sure while there are a LOT of very successful musicians, there are undoubtedly a far greater number who never even sniff at that kind of success.
And, it’s precisely to those musicians that I wish to offer my patronage. I don’t have some vast fund or portfolio to draw from, but whatever disposable income I have is primarily headed to any new, young, independent, or non-mainstream band which strikes my fancy. To that end, I subscribe to ALL of the major streaming platforms. I buy digital downloads from Bandcamp whenever available because they pay more out to the artists than Apple does. I buy physical copies and other merch, and I make sure to follow bands, like, love, and download songs, and create playlists featuring those songs. Seeing how many bands took photos of their Spotify streaming numbers and posted them on Instagram at the tail end of last year tells me exactly how important those likes, follows, downloads, and adds really are.
So until I have grandbabies to spoil (and even after) I plan to keep on supporting musicians so that they can continue to make the music which nourishes my soul. It’s the very least I can do. . .