A guest post from Peg Robinson

Thought some folks might be interested in this tirade Peg posted to her newsgroup on SFF Net in response to Helix’ rule that we do not accept money from our writers. Money flows toward the writer, is our rule.

Here We Come a-Wassailing

Peg Robinson

I am, as seems too often to be the case, being subversive.

Will Sanders and Lawrence Watt-Evans have made it clear, and more than clear, that if I dare try to sneak a penny into the old man’s hat – or even a ha’penny – it will come back to me with such increased velocity as to challenge Einsteinian physics. I have presented a piece of work to Helixsf.com, and from henceforth my money is no good in that bar. Indeed, they are paying me: in coin of the bloody realm, and in all the graciousness of being treated as an honored fellow of their effort. So I can’t make a donation, no matter how freakin’ good I think their goals are or how much I think they deserve to succeed – and think we need them to succeed.

Hell with that bullshit.

I’ve got lyrics that possess me. Joni Mitchell’s “Playin’ Real Good, For Free,” with its haunting contrast of a professional musician passing a street-corner player, has become one of my soul-songs: one I come back to again and again. Her recognition that the value of his art is as great as hers – maybe even, somehow, magically greater – for being offered for free, in the hope that gratitude and deep joy will offer back a nickel, a dime, a dollar bill in the old fedora, and in the burning knowledge that the music was worth it, regardless. There is a real, time-honored covenant between the artist, the art, and the audience that overrides all other issues.

I don’t know how it works for you. For me? When I pass a busking player, and I have any time at all, I listen. If he or she is any good, I try to show it. If there’s paper money in my pocket – the artist gets some. If all I have is coin – even a penny will do. When I’m cold stony broke, I try to find a silent moment between sets to say to the corner player, “That was real good.” If that’s not even possible, I at least try to throw the “thumbs up” as I go by, knowing that it’s too hot, or too cold, or too humid, or too windy, or too lonely, or too dangerous, or just too damn everything on a street corner – but that someone loves the pure sweet sound of what they’re doing enough to busk with it, rather than break into houses or flip burgers.

I also do it because I know that everything new started out in a slum, on a street corner, scribbled on a cocktail napkin in a bar. It stumbled, unexpected, across a high-school auditorium stage, flew into the mind of a prim, totally unlikely math tutor, danced wild and new and free on a honky-tonk piano, and rattled the windows of the suburbs as some garage band turned up the amps and really set out to ROCK!

So Helix comes a-wassailing, and you have to decide, as established professionals, as promising beginners, and as just plain loving readers, if it’s worth flipping a coin in the fedora. If it matters to you that there are forums where no-names and the Big Names can play what they love, because they love it, and give you a chance to see what you might never see any other way, then flip in some coin. Because Helix has provided a street corner where artists can “play real good for free – or for whatever you can afford to toss in the hat.”

The most honored S.O.B.s who edit that worthy work won’t let me dunk a dime in…and this testimonial won’t add a single cent to the check they’ve already sent me in the mail. I have nothing to lose but my honor if I stay silent, and nothing to gain – but my honor – if I choose to give a “shilling,” since they won’t accept my dime. So. Here it is. My honor, my one, white plume if you get the lit’rary reference.

“We are not daily beggars who beg from door to door,
But we are neighbors’ children, whom you have seen before,
Love and joy come to you,
And to you glad tidings too,
And we’re playin’ real good, for free.”

If you read Helix – even if you don’t read Helix – put a penny in the hat, and invest in that unspoken covenant with the audience that brings jazz out of the bordellos and honky-tonks, rock out of a garage band made up of six kids of poor complexion and uncertain age and gender, and pure, perfect art out of a blind sax-player on a street corner.

And Will and Lawrence, you can make all the bloody rules you like and I will honor them – as I honor you. But I will continue to be my subversive self and support the extraordinary, because, damn it, if I don’t then not even that one pure (if tattered), white plume is left to me. So there.

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