The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #126067 Message #2885840
Posted By: Joe_F
13-Apr-10 - 05:16 PM
Thread Name: Dave Van Ronk's Memoirs
Subject: RE: Dave Van Ronk's Memoirs
I have listened to the Smithsonian's page on Moe Asch, and also revisited Van Ronk's book. Both, IMO, confirm my belief that the folk scene in general & Folkways in particular adhered to the entertainment industry's lying, cheating, & stealing code of ethics. I did not like hearing Van Ronk excuse Asch on the ground that he was a soft touch for small loans. (I'll bet he wasn't terribly fussy about repayment either.) Be generous with the people you've swindled; with a little luck, they'll feel *they* owe *you* something. Reminds me a little of what I've read about the relationships between pimps & whores -- and also about the way professional poker players manage their suckers.
Likewise, earlier in the book (pp. 188-189) we read:
"John [Hurt] never had a bad word to say about anyone, not even people who really did deserve a few bad words. We were sitting around one night, and someone brought up [...] Tom Hoskins, the guy who had rediscovered him.[...] Hoskins had signed John to a contract where he earned a ridiculous percentage of John's wages, owned his publishing, and controlled all his business, and John actually had to go to court to get out from under his thumb. Naturally, we were filled with righteous indignation, and I was cursing Hoskins up hill and down dale, and John was just sitting there[...]. Finally, I paused[...]. And John said: 'Well, you know...if it weren't for Tom, I'd still be chopping cotton in Mississippi.' No way to argue with that."
No way to argue with it, in that the bargain was within what game theorists call the negotiation set: It was better than the status quo ante for both parties, and it was Pareto optimal (it could not be made still better for either without making it worse for the other). Nevertheless, there are ways to avoid approving of such bargains, and I am happy to know that Van Ronk & some judge happened on one or two of them.
Of course, if you are a communist, as Van Ronk & I used to be, you ought to argue that talents do not belong either to their possessor or to their discoverer, and *any* bargain over the division of their proceeds is illegitimate: They belong to the community (perhaps by the grace of God), and the possessor will be happiest, & the community best served, if they are exercised for fun. It is possible to take that attitude, and people who manage to do so are much to be admired; but there seems to be no way to institutionalize it or to teach it to children -- least of all with the instruments of government.
The video does, however, argue strongly against one favorite notion of mine, concerning the *origin* of the vileness of entertainment business relations (as described also in other books such as _What Makes Sammy Run?_ & _The Revolt of Mamie Stover_; essays such as Trilling's "You Don't Ask, You Don't Get"; and even movies such as _Ace in the Hole_, _A Face in the Crowd_, & _Once upon a Time_). I would like to blame it on *mass* entertainment, by which I mean entertainment in which the chief measure of success is the size of the audience. To maximize the audience (& thus sales, or ratings leading to advertising revenue), it is no doubt helpful, and perhaps even necessary, to produce something that large numbers of people will enjoy. But it is not sufficient. People have different tastes, and are in different moods at different times. In order to drive them into a huge demand herd while supply is short, extraneous motives are required. The most important of these, in our era, are peer pressure & intergenerational hostility, that is to say, fear & hate. Those are base motives, and the business of exploiting them is bound to attract bad people & make them worse. No wonder, etc., etc.
That, clearly, does not account for Moe Asch. Of course, he wanted to sell records, but that was only a means to an end, which was to record things he thought were worth recording. In that, he resembles, not a movie mogul, but a book publisher of the old, respectable sort. Get the stuff printed, and then, even if it sells very slowly, it will get its chance in the long run. People with that attitude can be immensely valuable in perverting the market system to mollify some of its vices. But one would think they would also be moved to do without lying, cheating, & stealing. Well, maybe Mr Asch was so moved, until the advent of the Folk Scare put visions of sugar plums in his head. Or maybe he had to make obeisance to the foul canons of his profession in order to preserve his self-respect. Stranger things have happened. But most likely, I am missing something, as I generally am when I try to think about human beings.