Friday, April 28, 2017

The College Degree Glut (Did Our Ancestors Know Something We Don't?)

This graphic is extraordinary. The caption reads as follows: "A Prospect Of Higher Education. Sixty-Eight Million Dollars Were Given For Colleges Last Year; --if the Mania for College Education Continues We May Soon Expect the Above State of Affairs." I found it in a book entitled, Looking Forward: Life In The Twentieth Century As Predicted In The Pages Of American Magazines From 1895 To 1905. Published in 1970, Looking Forward does exactly what the title says: I picked up for a buck at the library book sale for Squawker, who loves to read about Victorian- and Gilded Age-era life.

Considering that it's a century old, this illustration definitely strikes a nerve with me. Back in 1990, when I returned from my six-month tenure as a clerk, at the University of London, I faced a post-college employment picture that should look familiar to any graduate today. I was still living at home, so I didn't have that pressure of paying rent -- plus food, and laundry, and all that other grown-up rubbish -- over my head. However, my family was struggling financially themselves, so I had to pound the pavement. I couldn't expect them to subsidize me, on top of everything else on their plate.

However, after almost six months of pounding, I couldn't find a job that paid above McJob level (as in, minimum or sub-minimum wage). So I did what anyone in my spot does. I told myself:: if you must work a McJob, make it one you can stand. I went to my hometown paper, where I'd done a 150-customer motor route in the summer of '86. It didn't pay princely sums, but enough to put gas in my car, get a few takeout meals a week, and keep me in records and rock mags (which I was now beginning to score for free, having discovered the magic world of reviewing for comp copies).

I asked the paper if they had any big routes opening up. As it turned out, they did, and I found myself dealing with 200-plus customers through the summer and early fall of 1990. Eventually, after asking around some more, I found an out-of-county newspaper job with one my former college editors, who was now the boss there, and wanted me badly. So, in a sense, I landed on my feet, though not without some tense in the den, when a news report came on about the Gen Xers' struggles to find suitable jobs. I was about to mutter something along the lines of, "Wow, I can relate," when my dad looked over his paper, and said: "Son, the trouble with this place here is that everybody graduates." 

Not having found my second motor route job yet, I quickly changed the subject; I didn't feel like giving a progress report. Looking at today's numbers, though, I think that my dad raised a valid point. As of 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 260,000 bachelor's degree holders were working for $7.25 an hour or less, along with an additional 200,000 associate's degree earners trapped on the same go-nowhere treadmill.

This issue has produced no lack of anguished rhetorical questions from the likes of Forbes ("If college degrees are becoming more valuable, why are so many graduates either unemployed or employed at low-paying jobs?"), and the National Association of Scholars ("Obama wants to substantially increase the number of Americans who get college degrees, but what does he think they'll be doing?").

However, solutions -- and the long-term thinking needed to produce them -- are in shorter supply than ever, as we see from "Education Secretary" Betsy DeVos's decision to scrap promises of student loan forgiveness to graduates who took low-paying public sector jobs. As my dad suggested so long ago, there are way too many people competing for way too few jobs. The problem is that we're well into a new era of outsourcing and automation that leaves less and less for anybody to do, even though their bills don't ever stay the same for long.

This notion, to coin Lester Bangs's classic phrase, "is slightly inconsistent." As for Obama, I doubt that he's giving the matter much thought anymore, or why else would he feel comfortable with collecting $400,000 to speak at a health care conference this fall? Shame on him for doing it, but that's another discussion for another day. What's needed among grads, though, is a more radical resistance. 

Begging the world at large to ease your path toward a high-paying job only taps into the prevailing narrative that the federal government constantly pushes: college pays off in the end, so if we treat you like a walking profit center, you must be good for it. Every penny. Every percentage point. End of discussion. Deferments, forgiveness, lowered interest -- all of those remedies are fine, but what's needed is a tougher-minded look at the big picture. And that starts with my dad's statement, plus one more that's worth repeating: What do we mean by the golden rule? He who has the gold makes the rules. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Act Now,
Before Your Loans Go Up)
Common Dreams: Borrowers "Chilled 

To The Bone" As DOE Reneges
On Student Loan Forgiveness

New York Post: Sanders Calls Obama's

Wall Street Speech Fee "Unfortunate":

Student Loan Report
Student Loan Debt Statistics 2017

Think Progress: Half A Million People
With College Degrees Are Working
For Minimum Wage:

Taylor Swift Sleeps In Satan's Pocket (So Satisfy Your Artistic Soul Anyway, OK?)


<When the mimes are heading for the exits, they're trying to tell you something: Taylor Swift ponders her country-pop confections' impacts on a generation...and shudders>

One of the more amusing conspiracy theories making the rounds is the notion that country-pop phenom Taylor Swift is a) a former Satanic cult leader, b) a clone of '90s-era Satanist Zeena LaVey (as in, daughter of the late Anton LaVey, Church of Satan founder), or c) involved in some other unspeakable fashion with "THE PLACE WHERE THE GUY WITH THE HORNS AND THE POINTED STICK CONDUCTS HIS BUSINESS" (to quote Frank Zappa's "warning label" for his 1985 album, Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention).

You know what? I think the theorists are onto something. 

Surely, there's something Satanic about the Orwellian pervasiveness that carpet-bombs Swift's country-pop confections so remorselessly down our throats, everywhere we go. Like so many hyper-commercial phenomenons, she's absurdly overexposed, a situation hardly mitigated by her habit of slapping cease and desist orders on anything that moves or breathes without her approval. And future pop archaeologists will have loads of fun deciphering all those in-joke-laden odes to her exes (that'll require reams of footnotes to enlighten the next generation, if -- and when -- they're due for a reissue.)

But that's not how Discmakers' sees it. From their standpoint, I'm doing it wrong, at least, when it comes to programming my YouTube channel. Instead of posting what excites me on some level, I need to buckle down, and start covering more current artists, like Swift. Charting any other course is simply "flawed and self-indulgent," as Discmakers columnist Johnny Dwinnell suggests:

"You put up videos of your original material, but no one in the marketplace is aware of you, so you get zero views from new possible fans; just views from friends and family.

"You make videos of you covering your favorite obscure songs, but again, the only views you get are from people who already know you because nobody is searching for the original version of the curiosity you decided to cover in the quest to satisfy your artist soul."

"I'm An Artist-Businessman..."

What's the answer? Don't worry, Dr. Dwinnell has the cure: "This is where the cathartic artistic satisfaction comes from, putting your stamp on another artist’s original song. The more distant the original artist’s style is from yours, the more compelling your version can be. Take artistic license and go as crazy as you want to." To be fair, he doesn't suggest focusing on Swiftl full-time, since "every girl and her mother are posting their version of the latest Taylor Swift single."

On its face, such logic is sound enough. Consider how the Clash so indelibly stamped their full throttle punk attack on Junior Marvin's seminal cry of protest, "Police & Thieves." Released in May 1976, the song traveled well beyond its Jamaican origins -- notably, to the Notting HIll Carnival, in London, where it became an anthem for residents who battled a heavy-handed police presence there on August 30, 1976.

Two of the participants, Clash members Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon, decided to record "Police & Thieves." (The experience also reportedly inspired the first major Clash anthem, "White Riot."). The
 main ingredients -- Strummer's passionate vocal performance, Mick Jones's deft arranging, and unrelenting rhythmic attack -- ensured a permanent slot for "Police & Thieves" in the Clash's setlists. To this day, "Police & Theives" ranks among the most successful -- and influential -- cross-genre experiments of all time. (Take the song off the US or UK versions of the band's debut album, The Clash, and see what happens to the running time.)

So, yes, re-interpreting a song you didn't write often ignites greater possibilities. No arguments there. The problem, though, with the constant admonishments and exhortations dished out by Dwinnell, and others like him, is that they're not necessarily offered in that spirit (do these things to burnish your identity a bit more). Really, it's touted in the service of filling shoeboxes with $100 bills, something most music makers never get to experience (unless they fall into the blling-bling-bling hip-hop camp, which is a totally separate discussion). 

"I Can't Even Find Where It Went."
The advice reminds me of a term attributed to Saturday Night Live's creator and producer, Lorne Michaels, who once referred to himself an "artist-businessman." However, as Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad document in their excellent book, Saturday Night (1987), Michaels's business side won out moire often than not. Examples include the second season, when your favorite aliens and mine -- the Coneheads -- blasted off to their home planet of Remulak, apparently for good, only to return for the next season, no worse for wear.

Does that make Lorne Michaels a bad person? No. He's hardly the first creative personality to blink when the wish to take risks (Hey, here's my daring new direction) collides with the desire to keep earning the audience's vote of confidence. There's a reason why Graham Parker once sang: "I have seen the future of rock, and it sucks." But what makes these hyper-career-driven "music-preneur" sites irritating is the broad strokes that they use to paint the big picture. None seem to acknowledge that obscurity is the coin of the realm for genres like metal and punk -- where bands routinely one-up each other by digging up the latest undergorund nugget (like the Northern Irish punk band, At Gunpoint, on whom I stumbled via Dave Fanning's archive site).

This stuff matters. For all the gibing at "satisfying your artistic soul," you don't need to look far for disasters that occurred the minute an artist or band checked integrity at the door. For further reference,read When The Screaming Stopped: The Dark History Of The Bay City Rollers (2016). Then see how much you want to join the dream factory after reading quotes like this one, where the band's lawyer discusses what happened to the Rollers' merchandising money:

"'I can't even find where it went,' he said. 'It certainly didn't go to the band members. I'm not saying the merchandisers didn't pay, everybody paid and it went into the machinery operated by the accountants and professionals. He estimated that including record royalties, publishing incomes, merchandising and touring, the band had during their peak 'probably generated in excess of $1 billion in turnover and at least 25 percent of that was profit."

Locally, I've seen too many performers just going through the motions, slogging through their umpteenth rendition of "In The Midnight Hour" or "Brown-Eyed Girl" without a trace of emotion, feeling, or conviction. I don't care how much they pull in per night, or how much clapping their lead-footed version inspires....against all odds (and common sense). At best, they resemble the walking dead, minus the nifty zombie makeup effects, and painfully aware of it. At worst, they're not aware of what they're doing anymore, because, deep down, they've stopped giving a shit.

Enough of these so-called "artist-businessmen" already! Let us find an ice floe to perch them on, and send it drifting away, where they can't harass the decent folks who want to satisfy their soul (however they define that term artistically). As for me, I'll keep doing what I want, and leave the rest alone. I couldn't play a Taylor Swift song if it hit me on the head. However, if you want my take on that unreleased Clash song, or At Gunpowder -- guess what? You've come to the right place. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Buckle Down
And Learn Those Current Releases) August 30., 1976:
Racial Tensions Run High
As Notting Hill Carnival Ends In Riots:

Discmakers Blog: 
Developing Your YouTube Marketing Strategy:

Police &  Thieves:
Wikipedia Entry:

The Guardian: Junior Murvin Has Died,
But The Story Of Police & Thieves Lives On: