Nancy Spungen

Before I get started on the meat of this post, let me just say that I read And I Don’t Want to Live This Life when I was in high school and I don’t remember it being a vindication of her parents at the expense of poor Nancy Spungen.

In retrospect, I can see that that’s true.  That it’s an explanation from a “normal” suburban mother for why she couldn’t control her daughter who then wound up dead.  (And let’s just set aside whether that should actually be the role of mothers).

But I remember reading it as a vindication of Nancy–here’s this poor girl who didn’t fit in to her normal suburban life and who railed against it so hard she kind of lost her mind and then she found true love and drugs and died, the end.  I just don’t remember focusing on the “love, drugs, and died” part.  I remember the “normal life can drive you crazy” lesson and feeling a shit-ton of respect for Nancy that she fought against the suffocating normalness, even if she didn’t fight against it very successfully.

That’s why, I think, I was so primed for Courtney when she came along, right?  There was Nancy, but she didn’t die.  More than that, there was Nancy but she got to fuck the boy and be in a band.  I could write a long post on my feelings about Courtney, but hearing her sing

They say I’m plump
But I threw up all the time


Like a liar at a witch trial
You look good for your age

about blew my mind.  Who knew women could be so angry and outraged and unpretty?

Anyway, where were we?  Nancy.  Yes, well, Joey’s linked to this great story about her, which you should read.  One part has been weighing so heavily on me, though, I have to talk about it with you.

The first wave of punk directly confronted a culture it despised. And Madonna hadn’t come along yet to turn bitchy aggression into an art form. “You’ve got to remember, Donny and Marie were on TV,” says McNeil. “We were tired of being nice. It was like, fuck you. The left had become as oppressive as the Republicans. They invented that political-correctness stuff. Punk was supposed to piss off everybody and make people think.”

It’s hard for me to articulate what’s been wearing on me.  But I keep thinking that, no matter what the election outcome, we have to face facts that we’re reaping the whirlwind of the commodification of art.  I’ve been thinking that just in terms of talking about Rex Hammock’s post and blogging.

I think what a lot of us feel is that something we love and that is important to us as an art form*, that allows us to know ourselves and each other more intimately than we might otherwise, and that is in the defining medium (cyberspace) of our lifetimes.  And along come the folks who want to commodify it, to monetize it, to take what was a byproduct of our art–attention–and make that the selling point, to change the focus from expression to attention.

Next thing you know Bill Ivey will be standing around arguing that the art form is nothing without the tension between creation and commodification and I will have to run around all day making gagging noises and then fucking Mike Curb will try to get fucking Pat Boone in the motherfucking Blogging Hall of Fame and a bunch of us will be sitting around all like “Pat Boone?!  What the fuck?!” and a bunch more of us will be sitting around being all “Why the fuck is there a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, as if that doesn’t miss the fucking point?”

Oh, wait, I mean a “Blogging Hall of Fame.”

Whew, where was I?  The commodification of art.  The problem with the change in focus on art from a creative medium some folks might make a living at to a way to make a living through creative expression that meets the demands of the marketplace is that it’s very rarely the time when you can meet the demands of the marketplace by pissing off the marketplace or confusing the marketplace or making the marketplace feel uneasy about itself.

Good art says, “Look at this and think and feel about it.”

A good commodity says “Don’t think too much about this, just want it, and buy it and the things associated with it.”

I’ve grown up in the MTV era, so everything I ever loved or thought was cool was nabbed up and made safe and sold back to me.  And, for the most part, I bought it unquestioningly, assured that the rise of the things I love to notice meant that there was value in the things I loved.

It took me a long time to get the “made safe” part.

Part of the commodification process is to make you numb to the surprises–buy this album, it sounds just like this other stuff you like; buy this book, it reads just like this other book you like; hang this thing on your wall, it looks just like the other stuff you like; etc.–and, what I believe is the most important point, to make you incurious about those surprises.

And folks, curiosity may have killed the cat, but incuriosity is what’s going to kill our nation.  Oh, ha, ha, stupid scientists and their fruit flies.  Who gives a shit about fruit flies?  Oh, oops, that fruit fly research helps us understand autism.

We take pride in being incurious.  Fine.  But then art needs to pull its head out of its ass and its hand out of Marketing’s pocket and do the work it is suited best to do.

And I go on about this at length, because I believe, more than ever–that we bloggers have a job we are best suited to do–and that is to talk about our lives and our opinions and our hopes and our dreams and our worries and to host discussions and to try to stretch others’ minds and to stretch our own minds and, for gods’ sake, to resist being wholly commodified.

Ask Bridgett what she wouldn’t give for a transcript of even one evening’s worth of talk in a bar in Vincennes, Indiana, in, say 1803, to hear what ordinary folks said to each other, what concerned them, what they laughed about, what put them in the mood for fighting, what sent them hurrying home to their beds.  And that’s a woman who can tell you more about the various pulls of history in that town than anyone I know.

It still doesn’t replace the great value of first-hand accounts from ordinary people.

And what this is right here, my friends, first and foremost, is a great big mechanism for recording first-hand accounts of ordinary people.

There has never been another time in the history of the world when ordinary people could write down their experiences and their feelings and their opinions on such a scale and have hope that those ideas will outlast them.

Will they?  I don’t know.  Maybe we all run out of oil and coal and there’s no electricity for 500 years and then when the power comes back up, no one knows how to get shit off the servers and can’t hardly recognize our archaic English when they do.

But we’ve never even had this opportunity before.

And we’ve got to seize it.

Not because there’s money to be made from it, but because we need to encourage and reward curiosity.  We need to provide the materials for those “aha” moments for other folks.  Because we need to be willing to take this opportunity to enrich our own lives and the lives of those who come after us.

And because our country needs us.

Not to play nicely and all get along and happily submit to the mechanisms of commodification that will strip our work of its vitality, though that’s what it will tell you that it needs.

But it needs us like Country Music needed this message from Johnny Cash.

*Keeping in mind that my definition of art is basically “anything that creates a situation of contemplation.”

9 thoughts on “Nancy Spungen

  1. Please read that “fucking Mike Curb” as being an adjective. I think that’s right. I want the fucking to be my opinion of Mike Curb, not what I was doing along with gagging.

  2. Curiousity is a threat to lots of people — maybe because they have so much tied up in the status quo. To those who are in the “business” of “content,” their very lucrative status quo is all about traditional ways of discovering, locking-down, packaging, distributing and “monetizing” content. The content can be “art” or “news” or any form of personal expression, information or data. All of these new forms of media and distribution that provide people with new ways to express ourselves — freely and for free — is a threat to the status quo. First they tried to deny it existed, then they tried to mock it out of existence. Then they tried (and still are) to take it over. That won’t happen as long as you and Aunt B keep blogging. (Geez, I might save this for another blog post one day.)

  3. Reading this post my brain went in 87 different directions, and I’ll probably have to chew on this for a day or so. And forgive me for a convoluted comment… I’m trying to get out the door for Halloween festivities… and had to get this out so I don’t marinate in it all day.

    In some form or fashion, you’re speaking of, in terms of the written word, what I’ve been talking about in design.

    So, here I see and draw a parallel with what you’ve discussed here: when you throw mass consumption into the equation — with art or the written word: once the masses get ahold of it, or consumerism enters into the picture, the next thing to happen is the devaluation of the art.

    The advent and increasing popularity of blogging is giving so many people a voice – an opportunity to put down and out into the world different views and feelings. Yes, there is nothing new under the sun. I get that. But, to me, visual artists using stock illustration is the same type of thing as a blogger writing a post exclusively using the quotes of other writers.

    The advent of desktop publishing for the masses is giving more people a voice, in a digital artistic medium, the opportunity to say things visually. What bugs me, is that people aren’t taking the time to put a new voice out there, in a manner the advent of the digital realm begs them to. In a post this week, I argued my case against the heavy reliance on stock illustration vs. creating something original. And a friend commented on the post the trouble she has with stock illustration sites selling artist’s work for little profit for the creators.

    I saw a commercial the other day for the ABC show “Eli Stone” and the imagery of the spot was a nod to the art of Rene’ Magritte. Now, on one hand, I think it’s great — there are people out there that have never seen his work, and the exposure is a good thing. Maybe they’ll go out and explore his other stuff and his ideas and learn something about surrealism and a whole new world will open up to them. And the surrealistic imagery of the art of Magritte fits perfectly with the tone of the television show. But, still, Magritte, his ideas and his artistic vision is being sold out.

    To me, that’s akin to all those coffee mugs and posters you see with Van Gogh art on them. It’s unsettling to me to think about how Van Gogh died insane and penniless, yet all these people are making tons of money off his imagery, and it’s been reduced to being mass marketed — most people don’t know jack about the man, but they like the sunflowers because it goes with their sofa or something.

    As a graphic designer, I’ve often felt like I was whoring my work out. Welcome to my world. Anytime there is an intersection of art and commerce, this is apt to happen.

  4. Wow. I was just reading this post that really echoes some of these things. here’s an excerpt (

    “The hardest thing for an American artist to remember is that creativity is not strictly private, like a piece of property or a message in a secret code. The first reason why this is so hard to remember is that the “creative class” in America is all about golden boys, glamor girls, copyright and cash payoffs, it’s about prestige, power and privilege among the elites. And the second reason is that the spectacle of this privatized creativity is so hard to swallow that black bile is the most comon gastric reaction for most thinking and feeling people. The hardest thing for an American artist with a conscience is to make work that’s not wound up into a compact ball of resentment beneath an indecipherable dystopian skin. But there’s still a need and an overwhelming desire for art that’s lucidly open, fearless, critical and beautiful, showing every possibility of existence and collective transformation within the cracks and the fissures of the declining machine.”

  5. Rex, yes, exactly. It’s funny because i think of you as a business blogger–as a blogger whose primary concern is the state of his business. But I always feel like you’re having genuine thoughts and conversations around that topic, never like you’re just trying to sell me something. So, I don’t think there’s a simple line to be drawn between artists and commodifiers, with business people on one side and us on the other, because clearly, you are not a commodifier, in the sense I mean it.

    Beth, your blog has been on fire lately. Wow. What thought-provoking conversations. I just keep thinking that the difference has to be between getting paid to do what you love and compromising what you love in order to get paid.

    Ripley, thanks for that link. I want to mull it over some for sure, but I feel like there’s something about this moment–this whole moment–that nags at me.

    I mean, to come at it from another way, I think electing Obama will be a great step towards getting us out of the rut we’re in, but it’s not going to be enough. It’s too deep and too built in and has too little to do with politics, at least in the sense of an easy vote.

    And I want to be on the side of fixing things. I’m not sure how to be, but it weighs on me, like a big shit I can’t quite get out.

  6. This is why I’m insanely glad to have my grandma’s diary from 1965-1969. Not only does it chronicle major world events, but it also throws in the personal stuff too- what it was like to live an everyday life in the 1960s in north central Indiana. And she’d pack little delicious tidbits into a space about 1 inch by 3 inches. Stuff that she didn’t have the space to flesh out, like, “Saw a UFO.” God, I wish she was around to explain that or had more space to talk about it. My grandma would have been an awesome blogger.

  7. Ivy, I am so super jealous of you for having that, it makes me twitch.
    I’ve been corresponding with family – first cousins specifically – and we’ve been trading family stuff on Flickr.

    What I would give to have an actual diary. I do have in my possession a few handwritten letters (3) from my grandparents to a sister/sister-in law. It’s wild to see how the writing of my grandfather translated to the penmanship of my dad.

    So jealous…

    And this is the exact reason I am keeping handwritten diaries in moleskine notebooks — I write it all down — and then all the other crazy Nashville stories, I keep on my laptop. But I need to write them out. Sometimes I think “oh, if something happens to me I need to assign someone to burn them” but – screw it – let it all hang out… let people learn from my experiences…

  8. I feel extremely grateful to have that. My mom has the letters my grandfather wrote to my grandmother when they were courting (long story short, she was from Illinois, he was from Kentucky, events conspired so that she met him in Muncie, Indiana for a summer and then she went back home, they wrote back and forth for at least a year and then they got married) but she won’t let me see them. She thinks I’d make fun of her dad’s spelling and grammar. :/ But oh, to have those letters. Maybe someday.

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