An interview with the interesting and elusive Ty Davison. Conducted by Ty Davison. Edited by Ty Davison. A blunt blow with a heavy object. A spiritual review of capitalism. Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. Too much monkey business.
An interview with Ty Davison
This interview was conducted on April 21-22, 1998 under bizarre circumstances. For whatever reason, Davison felt compelled to veil our meetings in a cloud of secrecy, insisting that I double back on my trail, encrypt all correspondence, use dead letter drops, etc. in effort to confuse and confound what he referred to as “an international conspiracy of Mentos-eating, Nike-wearing, Hanson-loving consumerists seeking to destroy me and my work.” Ultimately, I was blindfolded and taken to an undisclosed location which Davison described alternatively as “a secret hideout” and “the best burger joint in America.” Having spent the good portion of two days with him, I still have no idea what he’s talking about.
First off, why all the secrecy for this interview?
Oh, you’d love to know the answer to that, wouldn’t you? So you could pass along the information to the world-wide cabal that’s out to get me.
What group are you referring to?
The OTSG. The “One Tin Soldier Group,” an international conspiracy of Mentos-eating, Nike-wearing, Hanson-loving consumerists seeking to destroy me and my work. You know the song, you do the math. [Ed. Note: What song? What math?]
Remember that song, “One Tin Soldier,” from the Sixties? It’s all about that.
Okay….why don’t you tell us about your up-coming album?
I am telling you about my album! Don’t you see? The OTSG would like nothing better than for my album to be an utter failure. My music poses a direct threat to their continuing plans of world domination.
So this OTSG rules the world?
Of course. The OTSG helped shape the military-industrial complex Eisenhower referred to in his farewell speech, and OTSG membership is now-generally unwittingly-comprised of anyone caught in the throes of consumerism and the capitalist society.
You sound as out there as a Lyndon LaRouche follower.
That’s probably because you’ve been brainwashed like the rest of them. The OTSG influence is pervasive. Most people don’t think they’re influenced by commercials, but I don’t see McDonald’s going broke. I grant you my position is counter-cultural, but I accepted that Samsonite a long time ago.
“Baggage.” Stay with me, here.
You said that your music posed a threat to the OTSG. What did you mean by that?
My music is a sharp counterpoint to the attitudes brought about by relatively unregulated capitalism. Think of all the consumer products out there, and then ask yourself what any of that has to do with what makes life meaningful. You’ve got kids in the ghetto that will shoot you for the latest pair of Air Jordans, and part of what I’m saying is that companies like Pepsi, Gillette and Disney don’t make the world go ’round. In the final analysis, it’s loveâ€”also known as God if you define the divine the way Christians are supposed toâ€”not gold that integrates the pieces into the whole.
So you’re saying it’s Nike’s fault that kids are shooting each other for a chance to wear Air Jordans?
Sure. Who created the hype? Who turned the phrase “Just Do It” into a mantra? You think Nike sells these products out of love for people or for love of profit? Just look at what Nike does to the workers in the factories, if you’re not clear on the answer. It’s exploitation grounded in the capitalist profit-motive. OTSG, baby.
But Nike hardly pulled the trigger…
No, but they were certainly accessories to the crime. There’s no evidence that Nike shoes are any better than your average brand, and in some cases there’s evidence that they’re worse. What we’re talking about is a situation where advertising and marketing have triumphed. They’ve created their own demand by defining what’s hip. You tell me how that’s helpful to economically- and educationally-deprived kids in the ghetto.
You surely don’t hold all advertising and marketing in such contempt.
No, only that which seeks to deceive about the true nature of things or which is grounded primarily in the profit-motive without regard for what’s truly best for people.
Oh, you mean like Microsoft.
If your product or service is about love and the betterment of humanity, your marketing will reflect that. My objection to Microsoft’s marketing is that it purports to be about enabling humanityâ€””Where do you want to go today?”â€”but the reality is that Microsoft products are generally terrible, and all they care about is profit anyway. No worries, though; people are figuring it out. They always do eventually.
Isn’t there an inherent contradiction between attacking consumerism and selling your own album?
There is if my motivation is impure. But look, I have no desire to feed the machine. I’m not doing this for fame or riches. I’m not going to show up doing a Coca Cola commercial or jumping up and down on Planet Reebok in prime time. If I do it right, this is an album grounded in love, faith, and hope. If I move away from that, then I’ve ignored Yoda and turned to the dark side.
So you’re saying that if Coca Cola offered you a million dollars to represent them, you’d turn the money down.
Yep, though that’s just because I don’t think pitching yummy sugar water necessarily moves humanity forward. Coke’s a big company, though, so their might be some product they have which I could make a pitch for. Is Gatorade theirs? I might be able to make a go of that if I saw scientific evidence that the stuff was actually more beneficial than, say, tap water or non-fat milk.
But isn’t Coca Cola guilty of the hype-type marketing that you accuse Nike and Microsoft of?
Sure, and that’s why I couldn’t sell Coke. That doesn’t mean they don’t have other products which I might find less objectionable. I grant you, however, that their primary business activities may be such that I couldn’t associate with them even if found a product in their lineup which was okay.
Like NestlÃ© and the infant formula thing.
Exactly. Study after study shows breast-feeding is best for babies, but NestlÃ© has repeatedly marketed in developing nations infant formula which is nutritionally deficient compared to breastmilk. Even after they signed an international agreement to stop the practice. Hell if I’m gonna make my milk chocolatey and cavort with the Quik bunny so NestlÃ© can keep doing what they’re doing. That’s a perfect example of an OTSG company.
So are there any companies or products you would endorse?
Sure. Apple Computer would be one. Their latest ads feature the greats of history and talk about pushing the human race forward. The implication is that Macintosh computers enable you to change your life, if not human history itself. You can say they’re just blowing smoke a la Microsoft, but talk to the graphic designers, musicians, video producersâ€”all the creative content people, reallyâ€”and see what kind of computer they’re using. Ask them if it’s changed their life for the better. It’s changed mine.
Anybody else you might endorse?
Perhaps Netscape. Releasing the source code to Navigator 5 was a courageous move that showed very clearly that they are a company that puts people first, profit second. And I don’t own one, but I suspect Saturn, the car company, would be another corporation I could endorse. Owners I’ve talked to are very pleased with their cars, and their customer service is known as very caring and hassle-free. I don’t think that’s a put-on.
It sounds like you hold people and corporations to pretty high moral standards.
No, I actually hold them to a pretty average moral standard. It’s just that the norm is to hold them to no standard whatsoever or to whatever “feels good.” Moral relativism is part of the individualism and consumerism of the age. The OTSG likes this a lot because it lets them make more money. It gives them the chance to export death to developing nations via arms and cigarettes.
Are you saying the profit-motive is bad?
You’re kidding. Really?
Pretty much. I grant you that it drives people to accomplish some wonderful things, and I have no problem with profit in-and-of itself, but any time somebody’s doing some for love of money instead of love of people, there’s a motivation and world-view that’s out-of-whack.
Can’t a person have both?
Well, that’s the ideal, isn’t it? Do something that makes the world a better place and get paid well for doing it. As long as those items don’t get flipped around so that money comes first, it’s all right. Generally, though, money comes first. Ask people why they’re in business and 90 percent of them will say “to make money.” It’s a sad, shortsighted view which fills the world with a lot of unhappy people.
Maybe making money makes people happy.
I’m sure it does for some people. But remember that money is an artificial construction. I mean, what is money? Nothing more than pieces of paper. Why should these pieces of paper be worth anything? They’re not inherently valuable; you can’t really do anything with a dollar bill except maybe floss your teeth.
We attach meaning to money because it can get us things which make us feel loved or important or sexy or whatever.
Yeah, but why bring money into the picture at all? Why not just feel loved or feel important or feel sexy. Why do we need Product X to make us feel that way? Why can’t we just feel that way? Why does money have to play a role in this at all?
You’re sure you’re not a communist or a socialist?
Hardly. Give me a nice regulated capitalism any day.
Well, then what about using money to pay for necessities like food, shelter and clothing?
Power to the people. That’s why I’m a fan of capitalism. I can’t think of a system that distributes the resources better or which maximizes human freedom better than capitalism. I only object to the accumulation of money when it (1) becomes an end in itself or (2) is made or spent without regard for others in the human race.
Fair enough. Back to this pervasive OTSG. How does one escape membership?
By making informed consumer decisions. By understanding that a dollar equals a vote and that by buying a product or service you’re explicitly saying “I like what you do.” We all have a responsibility to buy what we believe.
Well, that, and making sure what we do in life is for the greater good, that our motivations are pure.
So your album is all about the OTSG and the problems associated with it?
No, not primarily. This is all just background on the world-view that’s influencing my work. That’s crucial to an understanding of what will be coming up. Otherwise a person will listen to my album, think it’s neat in its own way, and have no idea what I’m talking about. The best I can hope for in those situations is a catchy melody. I’d rather aim a little higher.
Besides the album, how’s the rest of your life going?
Oh, just peachy.
Is that good or bad?
I have no idea. My ex-boss in Portland used to say that all the time; it’s totally noncommittal, isn’t it? I’ve always found that interesting in its own way.
Okay, but how are you doing?
Very well, actually. The technological build-up of my home recording studio is more or less on-track, I’m still studying and learning about chess, and my web site is incredible. [Oh brother.–Ed.] Erin’s in the final six weeks of an academic year that’s gone very well. Lots of friends are getting married this summer. There’s a bounce in my step and a smile on my face. I’m growing a goatee. I like my job. I love life. I love my wife. What’s not to like?
Well, I’m sure I speak for all our readers when I say, “You’ve got serious mental problems.”
Thanks. You too.