TRIBUTE: THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOOD
by Arthur Orfanos
The Mood Publishing; 2012
Review by Francis DiMenno
“In the fight between you and the world,” Nietzsche famously pronounced, “back the world.” Solid advice. Although it seems obvious that our own continued existence on earth depends upon mutual cooperation and a sustainable use of resources, the forces of reaction are powerful and relentless, and, all too often, men of good will are ineffectual and apologetic at best and, at worst, prove pitifully weak. “Man is wolf to man,” said Plautus, and: “The race of men, while sheep in credulity, are wolves for conformity,” according to Carl Van Doren. The sad truth is that mavericks who speak the truth are often punished—from Colonel Billy Mitchell to the present day. Nearly 100 years ago, Kafka wrote his novel, The Trial, which is an object lesson in how the little guy gets screwed every time by a predatory system whose main actors never seem to tire at profiting at the expense of others.
So what? Boo hoo hoo. “Cry me a river!” say the cynics. So what if we, in the 21st century, are stuck with the capitalistic ethics and personal morality of the 16th century House of Medici? That’s the way it’s been for generations; there’s no use in ranting against something which you can’t change, so also say the very people whose vested interest consists in keeping the whole vast redistribution of wealth away from the poor and middle class in order to further benefit the powerful.
Mr. Orfanos’s autobiography, subtitled My Life in a Tribute Band, is plain-spoken and somewhat naïve and sometimes more than a bit paranoid and conspiracy-minded—though often, I suspect, with very good reason. The chief value of his narrative lies in its object lessons about how the music industry all too often actually works, as opposed to the fantasies of starry-eyed dreamers who long to make it big. We discover, early on, that Mr. Orfanos is disillusioned: “It’s too bad we don’t realize… the music business… is exactly that—a business, and should be treated as such, just like the jobs most of us go to every day.” (8)
Of course, if you spend enough time grappling with any career, then, like Hamlet, you will learn about “the proud man’s costumely,” as well as “the law’s delay.” In spite of all the cant which gets spread around about ethical behavior in the workplace, in reality, such talk is thin—“like piss on a rock,” to quote Richard M. Nixon. Taking a principled stand and refusing to go along with misfeasance and outright theft may all too often cost you your job and possibly even your livelihood, not to mention your health and mental stability.
From the looks of it, Mr. Orfanos has been through that mill. Note well: If you are a trusting sort and decide to enter into a partnership without a written contract, you are setting yourself up to be cheated (189). We also learn that if you co-sign a contract which holds you liable for expenses, you shouldn’t be surprised if your partner defaults (18), and if you count on people you barely know to commit themselves to a project, you should always be prepared for a let-down (25). And Mr. Orfanos is just getting warmed up. In 1999, his Pink Floyd tribute band, the Mood, had an opportunity to supplant another tribute band, the Machine. The law of supply and demand dictated that, even though there was a substantial fan base and market for such a band because The Mood were an unknown quantity, they could expect, at the outset at least, to be paid less for performing their act. According to Mr. Orfanos, however, his sideman and eventual antagonist does not agree. He allegedly not only makes impolitic demands for respect and compensation, but, apparently, he also sabotages the band in many infuriating ways—“not making decisions based on what was best for the group.” (83). For example, he refuses to back Orfanos up in his disputes with venal club managers, and he supposedly turns down ten grand to play a two-evening Hempfest in Pittsburgh because it’s too far from New England.
We’re now about a third of the way into the story, and here is where the main conflict begins—Mr. Orfanos’s sideman recruits two new members who will add keyboards and saxophone to the mix. But, apparently, they also have a guilty secret. They have allegedly appropriated—by their own admission, Mr. Orfanos maintains—sound effect files from none other than Pink Floyd themselves and, in spite of Mr. Orfanos’s strenuous objections, they even intend to actually use the stolen files—as a selling point, no less—while performing their tribute to Pink Floyd in front of large audiences.
This is probably not the place to go into abstruse theories of what precisely constitutes art in an age of mechanical reproduction, but this is where the story takes a truly dark turn. The final third of the book tells a dismal tale. Orfanos threatens to blow the whistle on the theft. Orfanos is axed from the group. Vindictive former band mates allegedly troll his website and message board. Orfanos is shocked. (Why? That’s what trolls DO.) He is also deeply offended, so he retaliates. The former band mates, now calling themselves Pink Voyd*, have outside money and resort to the law. Orfanos also does so. His lawyer, however, is not as effective as he would like. Eventually, his lawyer dumps him. Orfanos is not wealthy and is compelled to represent himself in the lawsuit taken out against him. He is allegedly subjected to physical threats, loses his case on procedural grounds, and is compelled to pay the attorney fee of his antagonists. Supposedly, attempts are made to steal his identity and hack his bank account. The police, we are told, are powerless to remedy—and possibly also indifferent to—his plight. My impression is that, if even half this disturbing story is true, Mr. Orfanos was indeed both principled and naïve—and he’s still paying the price. Moral: don’t let this happen to you! When your instincts tell you to remove yourself from a bad situation, you would be well-advised to do so. Ultimately, what this morality tale depicts is not a fable but a hard-earned lesson of just how brutal the music industry can be.
* Nowhere in the book is this name mentioned, and the author of the book did not supply us with it. Ed.