Neil Young--"Heart of Gold (live)" (mp3)
a phrase used of a rower
when he fails to raise his oar clear of the water
when he misses the water altogether in making a stroke.
I know, I know, it's a carefully-wrought aesthetic argument I'm crafting here, so there is bound to be some gray area. But if I stick to these four rules, then I can make allowances for those people I like who appear to have "sold out" (Bruce Springsteen on Born In The U.S.A.) and those who have tried and failed (Liz Phair), thereby avoiding my wrath.
My guiding angels in this argument are Ernest Hemingway and Neil Young. Hemingway chided F. Scott Fitzgerald for writing short stories for big money on the side, which then gave Fitzgerald the income and flexibility to pursue his true literary endeavors. Hemingway saw this is a corrupting compromise which, once done, could never be undone. What we don't know, but can surmise, is that Fitzgerald was making a buttload more money than Hemingway was at the time (yes, incredibly, at the time one could get rich publishing short stories in magazines) and that's what drove Hemingway to criticize him. As for Neil Young, he's probably one of the few major rock stars who can legitimately claim that he never sold out, hence his "hit" MTV video, "This Note's For You." His crazy, sporadic career appears to be driven by nothing more than his own artistic muse, which, admittedly, has taken him some strange places, but never to corporate sponsorship or the need for a hit song. Or so the legend goes.
And, as I noted above, I have to disagree with Hemingway somewhat. I can see how serving both money and art would lead to a dangerous compromise, but I'd like to think that it isn't a fatal one. Heck, we all have dark periods when we aren't ourselves and aren't who we want to be, and if there were no chance for redemption, what would be the point of anything?