Letters to the editor

Listen up, musicians

I moved here from Memphis with my band five years ago because I saw Asheville as an inspiring place with a receptive audience and a more nurturing music scene than many cities. That has not changed. Just look at newspaper listings of music venues in towns of comparable size, like Bristol or Johnson City, and you’ll see what I mean. If anything, you will notice that the scene here is getting even better, with venues like The Orange Peel that draw major acts but feature local acts as well. This town truly loves its music, and rightly so.

However, behind all of this great music is an industry that takes advantage of the artists. When I moved here, the average wage for a weekend bar gig was about $100 per band member — comparable to what a bartender or wait-staffer might make. Now many clubs have stopped paying that much and have even quit providing extras like a meal or a glass of wine. I don’t blame the clubs. Running a bar, like being a professional musician, is a profit-driven enterprise. Music is played in bars because people want to hear it and will hopefully stick around longer if the band is good. The problem is that music is a very passionate endeavor, and musicians get great satisfaction out of doing their job well — which ultimately comes at a price.

What is live music worth to you? To a club owner, it can mean the very soul of your bar comes from the type of music you book. To a promoter, it means securing more work based on your good reputation. To a casual clubber, you want nothing more than a good time. But if you are a musician, then your very livelihood depends on it.

So it puzzles me when musicians are willing to work for such little money. They, more than anyone, should put value on their art. We’ve all been to the bar with the crappy Jimmy Buffet wannabe in the corner, belting his soul out with the only three chords he knows. Guess what — he’s not being paid. There’s a reason there’s no one in that bar. Now turn the corner, and you’ll find a full house dancing to a tight soul band. Obviously the band is doing fine, and the club is benefiting.

Then there are the musicians that fall somewhere between, which I consider more of the cultural fabric of Asheville. These are artists who really know their stuff and are contributing their original material, folk songs, roots and experimental projects that you can truly hear nowhere else. They express the musical soul of this town and will be remembered, and they have the most invested — and the most to lose by not asking for fair compensation.

If you know your stuff and are out there playing, then you owe it to yourself, as well as to all the professionals in this town, to ask for fair compensation. If you don’t, then you lower the bar for everyone. Next time a venue asks you to play, think carefully what it is worth to you. Your livelihood depends on it.

— Andy John

Property rights and wrongs

Recently, Councilman Mumpower shared a few points at a City Council meeting for which he seemed to receive some flak from other Council members.

Mumpower reiterated to the Council that greater government control leads to more expensive and elite development. This has been happening in Asheville, as evidenced by the number of people finding it harder to afford to live in the city. Mumpower has asserted it is illusory to believe government can override the free market.

Mumpower is philosophically opposed to government exerting greater control over private property and neighbors trying to control other people’s property. He claims that Council members are attempting to use their position of authority to impose their agendas on the city. For example, micromanagerial land-use planning was an exercise in futility that distracted Council from more serious concerns, like public safety and infrastructure.

Focusing mainly on the issue of private property rights, I’d like to ask the Council members a few questions. [What] if you purchased a home that was zoned with the property-use allowance for a bed-and-breakfast, and then this property use was changed by City Council, without any notice, so that you no longer [could] have a bed-and-breakfast? How would you feel? And what would you do? Would you not even care that someone else has told you what you cannot do on your own private property, even when you had the right to do so when you originally purchased it? (Be honest!) Or would you get angry that local bureaucracy had caused your property rights to be altered — without recourse — and perhaps decide to sue the city for doing such a thing?

This is what happened to me, and when I addressed this with the appropriate city office, I was basically told: “It’s what other cities are doing now in America.”

For anyone on the current City Council who doesn’t believe that various Asheville citizens have continued to suffer as a result of [Council’s] ongoing negligence regarding property rights, I beg you to please step down from your official position and give us a break!

But hey, I cannot entirely blame our various City Council members over the years, for this seems to be the socialized direction in which our entire nation is tragically headed.

Thank you, Dr. Carl Mumpower, for standing up for what is right and attempting to steer our local government away from its authoritarian nature.

— Bernard Baruch Carman

Something different this way comes

I’m writing this letter to say I love you, Asheville. I love your mountains, your people, your buildings and your climate. I love your extremists and your moderates. I love your constant debates and bickering in the Mountain X, and I love that you help people express their lives. I love your sunny, warm days and your cool, clear nights. I love your leisurely drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and your constant backup at Dysfunction Junction. I love everything about you.

I just moved here a few weeks ago. I was born and raised in Canada and have bounced around several places since migrating to the United States in 1996. I’ve yet to feel a place [to] call home — until now. When I was moving here, I drove down Interstate 40 through the mountains, and something funny happened. I began to have that feeling you’d get as a kid, when you were a few blocks from home after a long vacation. It feels like you know everything, and yet it all seems unfamiliar at the same time. I rounded the corner near Interstate 26 and I-40 and had to wait. I didn’t care. I didn’t care that I was in a traffic jam; I didn’t care that I wasn’t going anywhere fast; I just sat there, happy that I was a part of it all.

My reason for coming to this area is to plant a church. I’m sure that sentence in and of itself will raise great Mountain X controversy for weeks and months to come. I look forward to reading it. I realize that planting a church in an area where there are already 50 million doesn’t make a lot of sense. We plan to do things different — a lot different.

I write all that to give my final and most important reason for loving you, Asheville: I love you because you make it possible for people to do things different. You are the truest melting pot I’ve ever seen. You inspire, create and encourage people to think, act and perform differently. Thank you, Asheville, for all that you are and all you’ll be. I will love you forever, and forever you’ll be my home.

— Kevin Hayes
The Underground Church

Affordable wages should come first

I’ve got a simple solution for the lack of affordable housing. Pay a living wage to the people who enable Asheville to be a tourist town (gasp — what a notion!). For being such a conscious-minded community, I haven’t heard much outrage or cries of injustice over the pitiful wages doled out by the wealthy, who line their pockets while we toil just to get by.

Fifteen dollars an hour is considered a living wage here. Make some rounds of the restaurants and retail stores, and I’ll bet a realistic wage figure would be $8 per hour. The service industry is the backbone of our community, and we all know the long-term effects of abusing one’s back.

Increase the wages? I can hear owners groan in horror. “Why, we would simply go out of business,” they would hem. “It could never work,” they would haw. [But] here’s what would happen: Their profit margins would not be as large, but they would still make much, much more than their average worker.

Pay someone appropriately, and they are likely to stay put and give you their loyalty. The business will run smoothly with less costly turnover, and a positive energy will permeate the workplace. The customers will notice and want to return — which will mean more revenue for the employers, thus offsetting somewhat the wage increase, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

The alternative is to continue down the path we’re on, and let these hard-working souls become more hopeless under compounding financial stress. The disproportionate percentage of addicts in the service sector compared to other industries is not a coincidence, so we could continue to add to the ever-expanding jail [as] a monstrous monument to the insignificance we place on the drug abuser we helped create.

Imagine this: Tourists no longer come to Asheville because the sorrow of the addicted eventually outweighs the joyousness of the blind. The stink of fear settles over our once beautiful haven, businesses fail, homes depreciate, and the added cost to the taxpayer to incarcerate the poor finally takes its toll. Banks foreclose, and many people will have a chance to see what it feels like to work for $8 per hour — if they can find a job while being homeless.

Fiction? Who knows? But continue to treat the working poor as disposable, paying them unrealistic wages while the cost of living skyrockets, and they will be forced to move somewhere else. Businesses will close because there will be no one left to run them. The worker-ants can and will drop Asheville like a discarded crust of bread. We’ll become another retirement community, and the next piece done here will be: “Asheville, America’s Newest Old-Age Mecca.”

— Lars Johnson

Erase this menu item

Foie gras means fatty liver in French. By [means of] a metal pipe shoved down their throats, ducks and geese are force-fed grain three times per day for several weeks. The result is a liver that is 10 times its normal size. This is considered a delicacy. These ducks and geese, like most other food animals, are factory-farmed. They are confined in dark sheds [and] forced to endure extreme weather conditions, with little water.

Several countries have banned foie gras, including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In the United States, Chicago has banned it, and California, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois are working on bans. To help us ban foie gras in Asheville, do not purchase it. Tell the restaurant owners about it, and urge them to take a pledge to remove it from the menu. See www.nofoiegras.org

— Mark Crimaudo

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