No Money Down

A still frame from the video NO MONEY DOWN by RICANSTRUCTION
A still frame from the video NO MONEY DOWN by RICANSTRUCTION

“We will not be bought and sold.” – Not4Prophet

There was a time in NYC when you could work part time live in a fucked up shitty ass apartment in the LES (Lower East Side) or Williamsburg or Soho or El Barrio or Harlem or the South Bronx and pay the rent… As an artist it left you with all the time in the world to make art for yourself… As an artist you could go to places inside yourself without worrying about where your next meal was going to come from. NYC was a cheap, dangerous, visceral place to live and it was for that reason that so many people who wanted to be artists came here to live and work. The 50’s, 60’s 70’s and 80’s in NYC were a prime time for this…

From the Jazz scene in the 50’s, to the Folk scene in the 60’s, to the Nuyorican Poets & Salsa in the 70’s, to the Hip-Hop, Punk & No Wave scene of the 80’s… People could make art for the sake of art and not have to worry about selling out because you could pay the rent working part time… The art could be pure because there was time and resources to be creative… The reason we look back on these various art movements and see the strength of what was wrought form those times is because the art was not driven by a primary need to pay the rent… The artist were not driven to create for financial gain. One could create art and live in this city without having to consistently compromise one’s art to pay rent…

The same was true for the network of small businesses that survived on these artists. Like art supply stores, musical studios, music stores, photo studios, small theaters, club venues, cafes, bookstores, independent move theaters and art galleries. These businesses also benefitted from the relatively cheap rent that existed and it allowed artist to showcase or patronize more radical groundbreaking work without out worrying that much about eviction notices. A recent perfect example of this was the closing of CBGB on the Bowery. CBGB was one of the few clubs that gave new bands a place to develop an audience. It was able to do this until their lease was up and the landlord wanted to triple the rent for no other reason other than that they simply could. As a result CBGB was forced to close down. The club that gave the Talking Heads, Bad Brains, Patti Smith, Blondie, Living Colour, Television and the Ramones a home was no more.

When rents went up and squatters were thrown out of buildings for developers to tare down or renovate the art scene changed because now you had to work full time to pay the rent and it left little or no time to make art. So people started to try and find ways to make money off of their art and the allegiance that every artist must have to their art became compromised. The moment an artist no longer has an allegiance to the work and is forced into compromising it in order to survive financially, the work becomes a product for the “art market” and the moment it becomes a “product” it has a great potential to stop becoming art that helps us understand what it means to be human and has the potential to become art that panders to capitalist concerns.

That’s not to say that you can’t buy and sell art… You can buy and sell art but the prime reasons for making it have to be about an exploration into the human condition and not trying to pander to the current trends in an effort to live out some capitalist dream. The reasons for buying art also have to be out of an appreciation of how that art speaks to you… Buying a painting or a chap book or a CD or DVD is not buying canvas or paper or plastic discs… It’s the appreciation of what’s on the canvas or the paper or the plastic discs… It what’s on or in the medium that is appreciated and of value… It’s the way that art connects with you and speaks to you about the human condition… It’s the way the art reveals the radiance of living… i’m not against finding a way to make a living off your art, i’m against that being the the primary driving factor in making your art…

If you ask artists what drives them to make their art none of them will tell you that it’s because they do it to make money. However, how many of those artists when confronted with not being able to make money on their art would continue to do so? How many of those artist would struggle to make their art within a capitalists society in which the value of your worth is measured with a financial measuring stick? To do so means to redefine your worth in terms other than capitalists ones. To do so is to express yourself without any thought of the capitalist marketplace…

Expressing yourself in as pure a manner as you can and let the rest take care of itself… i realize that this is a hard thing to do with $3500 a month one bedroom apartments but the purity of creating art is something that capitalism finds dangerous because within capitalism everything must be done for financial profit. The capitalist machines intent is to monetize everything and if it can’t be monetized well then it must be destroyed. If the idea of value without a price tag takes hold then that idea MAY become a threat to everything in our lives that has become monetized… it may become a threat to capitalism. It may become a threat to the monetization of things like housing and food and healthcare and education… To do something out of love and not care about money is anti-capitalist.

If this idea of doing things for love and not for money ever caught on to a large degree the foundations of this capitalist shit-stem would crumble beneath the weight. The idea of the starving artist is admired in part because they are doing something out of love… i think that capitalism understands that being a true artist that creates without a care for buying and selling is something that undermines a major pillar of capitalist mythology, which dictates that in order to be happy, one needs to be a successful capitalist, one has to make lots of money. In my mind it’s not a coincidence that the gentrification process that has overrun NYC began in poor communities with large numbers of artists. Communities such as the LES or Williamsburg or Soho. It’s a two fold attack by capitalism, a dispersing of poverty so that it seems that capitalism works in eradicating poverty and at the same time attacks artists who flaunt their anti-capitalist lives in their ability to find happiness outside of capitalism.

If artists keep an allegiance to the work and not to the marketplace then we are a threat to this capitalist shit-stem that must be stamped out lest anyone get the idea that if someone can do something for love and not financial profit then maybe we don’t need financial profit… And maybe that model of not doing something for financial profit can be applied to other things like housing or food or healthcare or education…

i’ll close with DREAM IN PORTO RICAN / NO MONEY DOWN two songs by RICANSTRUCTION from their album LIBERATION DAY a band that i worked with for years and who epitomized the ideal of artists creating art that transcends the moment and was/is a threat to capitalism because of it… Both these songs address these issues in different ways. Dream In Porto Rican is a list of desires that exist outside of the capitalist “ideal” and No Money Down is a line in the sand telling capitalists that not everything is for sale.

– vagabond

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Dream in Porto Rican freakin’ dreamin’ a nightmare
Of evil institutions wielding weapons as welfare
Of sacred solider cemetery slave to the system
Of sabotage surviviors never knowin’ what hit ‘em
The scribble bible drivel of a barrio breakdown
The SIDA sucker swivel of a societal shakedown
Lucky loteria losers living looking for last chance
We’ll dance and romance and pretend that it’s only a dream

Wanna know there’s something to believe in our time
Wanna show the world that I conceive of
is not just in my mind
wanna end the damage and disease in our time
wanna send some love and receive in our time
or no time at all

Dream in Porto Rican freakin’ dreamin’ of death camps
Of supermarket suicidal saviors and food stamps
Of project pimps and pushers  peddlin’ pain in the playground
Of poverty perico and break down
Medecine manteca and the mercy of markdowns
Of prison politicians police pumping a last round
Of pentecostal preachers teaching coffins and cristo
!Estoy Listo Ya!

Wanna wake from amerikas nightmare
Wanna take just a little of my share
Wanna demonstrat that my people are still here
Wanna walk thru the city with no fear
Wanna dance maybe live in the sunshine
Wanna chance gonna spit out the cheap wine
Want it now cause today is a fine time
I want it now cause it’s my time or no time at all
lyrics by Not4Prophet

beggars and bastards and budget hounds
battering flesh by the pound
misers and maggots and money clowns
marketing silence and sound
billboards and bargains and businessmen
borrowing what you believe
master and mobsters
and money lend martyrs with tricks up their sleeves
forming tracks that trivialize
we number those who have tried and failed
greed born of crap you criticize
another show that is not for sale

lawyers and loaners and lotteries
living for no money down
mongers and major monopolies
mortgaging the underground
cut throat and credit commodities
cashing in what you conceive
rebating rapists realities
refunding what you receive

we will not be bought and sold
we will not be bought and sold
we will not be bought and sold
we will not be bought
lyrics by Not4Prophet



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