guest authors: Marina and Uwe Minkler
Voltaire or better Aurelio Voltaire Hernández is a Cuban-American musician / author / visual artist – besides being a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He has made his mark in the US and the European Goth / Steam Punk scene; multi-talented, multi-faceted – so he surely knows something about sins …
Ahm well… If we are going to talk about gluttony or my musical career, it is probably worth mentioning that I drink a 750ml bottle of rum during my one-hour show. I think this may very well be the meaning of gluttony. In America they don’t have Havana Club, because all Cuban imports have been illegal since 1960, so it has to be Captain Morgan’s and yes, Captain Morgan’s should definitely endorse and sponsor me! And once they’ll take embargo off from Cuba, maybe then Havana Club could sponsor me too.
Greed… well… I mean, this is a business. I think a lot of musicians do not realize that if you are taking your musical career seriously, you are a small business. And you have to treat it like a small business. So you have to treat fans like customers: you want them to feel welcome, you want them to feel that you are grateful, you know? And then of course there should be a financial side of it. But the strange thing is as a musician, that if I basically do this for a living, this is how I pay my rent, this is how I feed my child, how I pay his tuition at school, and so I need to make money. Above and beyond having fun at the shows, above and beyond writing material that moves people, that makes people laugh or cry, I do have to be focused on a fact that this has to be a financially successful business. And I don’t think of it as “greed” of course, but it is interesting to me how many fans think that if you make any money from music, you are greedy and somehow you love art less. Both art and business, each have their place.
The art…. Well, ok, there are some musicians who never differentiate between art and business, those are the musicians who do not write their own songs, who pick songs which they think will be successful and then they play them. So as someone who writes all of his own material, I could look around the world around me and figure out what is successful now and write songs like that. That would be favoring business over art. Or I could do the opposite. I could do things which I know won’t speak to anybody but me and I could go on stage and stand there naked, with a bucket on my head, screaming for an hour, and maybe I need that for authoric purposes, but maybe that is not going to entertain anybody.
So you do need to strike a delicate balance between art and business in doing what you love and hoping that it will be something that other people will love as well. But I must tell you that what I found works very-very well for me is just as corny as it sounds, just to be true to myself. If I sing about my emotions, being jealous that I saw my ex-girlfriend with her new boyfriend, feeling so sad that I want to kill myself because I am being bullied, feeling very lustful when I see something very sexy, feeling very happy when something amazing happens, if I express those emotions truly, you will always find somebody in the world who would recognize this emotion as something they also feel. So the balance between art and business for me is very simple. For the most part if I am just myself, the business works out pretty much ok. It is impossible to fail at being yourself. I shine the light on the fact that I make mistakes. I cannot go wrong if I am myself.
Lust…. Ah, lust! You know, I am very, believe it or not, very monogamous person. If I am single there is no limit to the number of people I might want to have sex with AND have sex with, but when I am in a relationship, there is only one person in my life. And almost my entire musical career I have been in a relationship with one person or another person. So I went on tour for the very first time as a single man, only about two years ago, and I am 49! So that experience of going on tour and having sex with random women in every single city, has never been a part of my career until recently, when I became single and got divorced, and then got to experience this crazy side of rock’n’roll where you maybe do take somebody from the audience home every night of the tour. Maybe you don’t, maybe you do. What happens at a show, stays at the show. Or at the doctor’s office…
Sloth, you know, unfortunately well… I should say that being self-employed, if you are a musician, for instance, there is nobody telling you when to wake up and what you must do that day. And some people would dream to have a life like that. But unfortunately it also leaves a lot of room to be slothful. And to be completely honest with you, I just get very depressed sometimes, like a lot of people. And sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed. And sometimes it feels like I am working very-very hard, but I am not reaching a lot of people. Or if the bills are late and I am not making very much money, and I feel like my career is not very healthy or very successful, and that adds to feeling depressed. And so plain and simply, there are days I just do not want to work, but I have no choice because my boss it the world’s biggest asshole. And yes, my boss is me. So luckily I am a bit of a workaholic, so even though I would much rather sometimes just completely fuck off, I will force myself to get up and work.
To be honest with you, my most favorite thing in the world is to make things and create. So what other people consider going to work, I consider doing something I find very exciting – writing a song, writing a book, making a film, sculpting a stop motion animation monster, whatever! All those things are so exciting to me, that this is really how I have fun. And then there are two other pastimes, which are very lame. One is that I love baths. I will take 4-hour long baths. True story. With candles, incents, salts, listening to Mozart or harpsichord concertos, and I find it very relaxing. But did you know that when you take very-very long baths, the brainwaves in your brain change?! It turns into a theta state and it is the only time when it happens, except when you are dreaming or long-distance running. Like if you are running for so long that you forget that you are running, you almost start dreaming, the brainwave actually changes. So the time in the bath is a very creative time for me. My other favorite pastime is people-watching. I am perfectly happy to get a coffee, or a cocktail, and sit at a café and watch people go by. I can do that for hours, especially on any public street of New York. It is interesting to see people have different styles, different characters, some walk down the streets, smiling to themselves, and you wonder what they are thinking about, so I just like to watch people that way.
You cannot be a performer who gets on a stage in front of hundreds, maybe sometimes thousands, of people, without being vain. You must have some vanity. Vanity can of course be very bad. Some people mislabel a healthy amount of self-love as vanity. I hear people say all the time “I will never take a selfie! Only arrogant vain people take selfies.” And I say, fucking relax! It is just a photo. You can take a photo and not be Donald Trump, not be the most vain person in the world. So you must have some sense of self-love in order to get on the stage and feel that some people might be interested in what you have to share. And a bit of vanity is probably very normal for performers. The thing that most people do not understand is that vanity is not arrogance usually, but vanity is usually insecurity. Vanity is more closely related to insecurity than it is to arrogance. I will look in every mirror that I pass by and somebody will say – “oh my God, you are so vain, you are so arrogant” – but what they don’t know is that I am not looking because I think I look so good, I am looking because I am wondering do I still look as ugly as I think I am. And it is true! I think there is a tremendous amount of insecurity that people mislabel as vanity. I am hugely insecure about the way I look, but I am very confident about my ideas. Maybe that’s vanity. I am very confident about the art that I make, and what I feel I have to share, the message that I want to share, I feel very sure about. But how I look I do not like at all. I love food too much for that kind of shape I think I should be, I love eating too much. If I didn’t like that, I would go to the gym, every day. And you know, I have never liked my face. I have a big nose and a very small chin, which is why I have a giant beard and I have a very high forehead, pretty sure soon I will be bald, so basically I see myself as a fat guy with big nose, and no chin. Actually, I just watched a documentary about Serge Gainsbourg and I could really relate because he always felt ugly and I always felt ugly. It didn’t stop him from being very popular with the women. I have always felt ugly and I will die feeling ugly. I don’t think I will ever look in a mirror and think that there is a very good-looking man. But it is not important ultimately, there are other things to concern ourselves with. I do consider myself a dandy, absolutely. I want to look good and I want to look presentable!
And it is funny because when I think I look fairly professional, but everywhere I went in Germany, people openly stared at me AND laughed at me. Actually looked at me, touched their friend – “hey, look at that guy” and started laughing. And this was not one day or one person, this was everyday I was in Germany. People actually pointed at me and laughed at me. And I still don’t know what they thought and I looked just like this, how I look right now. And I think I look fairly professional except then I was not wearing makeup, but I was wearing all black. Maybe they thought I was a fascist? Or maybe they thought I look like Elvis Presley? Because sometimes normal people walk to me and say “Hey, Elvis!” or maybe people who never saw goths, thought I look like a vampire? I really honestly don’t know! When I did a UK tour, before I came to Germany, and nobody noticed me in the UK. I was the most normal looking guy there. In Germany people look, point and laugh. When I was in Russia, they also look, but they don’t stare. In Germany they are a staring bunch of mother-f*ckers, I tell you! So I just look right back and say “Gooden Tack!” – and then they would get embarrassed. I have never been stared at like this anywhere, it is very strange.
Well, of course I envy! We all envy! How can you be a musician, especially when you are an indie musician, you know?… I don’t really have any savings… I have a very nice life, but I live month to month, I pay my son’s tuition, I pay the rent, I pay the bills and maybe there’s a little bit left-over for entertainment, but that’s about it. So how can you not envy somebody like Marylin Manson? Or somebody like Justin Bieber? And I know you will laugh because everyone wants to make a justinbieber-joke, but he is probably a millionaire! He makes POPular music and I don’t. I don’t make music that appeals to most normal people. I make music that appeals to people who are just like me and I am kind of an outsider. Ich bin ein auslander! At this festival (WGT in Leipzig, Germany – the ed.) we are 30000 people, but we are not normal people. We don’t listen to Justin or Taylor Swift. Being successful in our scene means ultimately that I will never ever be able to buy property in the city I live in. Ever. I live in New York City. Maybe if I move to New Jersey or somewhere else. But I live in NYC and being as you said, successful in my genre, I would never be able to afford a house. Not so much that I am happy with that, but I accepted it. My priority is to keep making art.
You know, we live on a planet where there are…. I think I’ve managed to separate. You can separate people in a lot of different ways. There are black people and there are white people. You can say those are goths and those are yuppies. But I ultimately decided that the best way to separate people is: those are kind and those who are hateful. If your behavior is motivated by kindness, then you are a person who is lovely.
If your behavior is motivated by hatred, then you are a hateful person. And ultimately, that is all that matters to me. If I meet you and you are a raver or a banker, or a farmer or somebody who’s never heard about Star Trek, or goth music, but you are kind, I probably going to really like you. You can be in step with everything that I like, Star Trek and Star Wars, vampires, werewolves, gothic music, new wave music, you can like all the same things that I like, but your behavior comes from a place that is hate, and you say “oh, I have that same corset as her, but she looks so fat and ugly in it!” – that is an ugly thing to say and that comes from a place of hate. And if you are that person, we are probably not going to be friends. So I am embarrassed to admit, that I do feel wrathful towards those people. I hate them! Which is ironic, but they make me hate because they hate so I hate them!
Honestly you know, we talk about the golden rule: do onto others as you would like them to do onto you. This is such a simple concept! But if people actually lived by that, think of what a utopia world would be. You wouldn’t do anything to hurt me because you wouldn’t want me to hurt you. And so my wrath is usually reserved for people who are rude, selfish and hateful. And even then I must tell you that my hatred is a rare delicacy. It is a very valuable commodity. Because I understand that hate takes a lot of effort. If I hate you, I am thinking about you when you are not even around. And I get angry and frustrated and stressful and worked up and you are not even here! And you can’t even hear me! That is effort, that’s passion and that’s a lot of work. When you hate someone, you are really beating yourself up. So I don’t say that I don’t hate people, because I really hate some mother-f*ckers on this planet, but I reserve it for those who really truly deserve it. Or I can write a really sarcastic song about them and at least get a good laugh out of it and some cash.
Photos: Kit Gerrits