Student Loans

So as of yesterday, I’ve had to deal with Sallie Mae. If I didn’t say that I detest student loans as a whole, it would be a lie by omission.

Situation is this: I opted for a particular repayment plan, and as part of it, my payments dropped into double figures each month. Awesome! I budgeted around this, and laid out a pretty solid budget for the rest of the year. But then, I check Sallie Mae’s website and…surprise! My payment amount has nearly tripled.

What the F.

Yeah. I had to call and politely, but not so very nicely, tell them that either my loan gets to a manageable payment amount, or they won’t be seeing any money, because guess what: I need to eat too. They mumbled their way through various reasoning that basically boiled down to, “too bad, bitch, pay up or else.” I ended up putting it into forbearance for five months, to the tune of $150.

What the F, redux. Since when is there a fee for forbearances? When I put my US Dept. of Education loan into forbearance, they didn’t even think to charge me a fee. They simply looked at my credit, looked at the loans, saw I paid everything on time so far, and said, “next payment due in November, have a nice day.” Nowhere was there a $150 fee. And really, Sallie Mae, telling me that you’ll credit the forbearance fee after 6 months of on-time payments is crap. Don’t charge me in the FIRST PLACE, how about that little chestnut? Or is that too much to ask for?

Rep. Hansen Clarke’s student loan forgiveness bill cannot be signed fast enough. I mean it. Don’t give me the crap how “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” is the only way. The bootstrap factory is outsourced to China, and the industry – yes, industry – of education is facing the same bubble-burst as homeownership. Student loan debt is up 511% over the last decade, and colleges have little choice but to keep increasing their tuition because the Pell and TAP grant budgets are getting slashed every year, and the qualifications are getting tighter and tighter. NONE of this has any sort of control or regulation, and some colleges would actually have you lie on the FAFSA to get more in student loans.

Yes, lie. Because they’re the ones who profit immediately and very well, to boot, but you, the student, are fucked. Because with the exception of junior colleges and barely accredited schools, you are very hard-pressed to find a college with a four-figure annual tuition, and with all the “education is a must for anything in life!” that is hammered down our throats from an early age, what else, aside from getting into heavy debt, can you do to keep yourself in school?

You may say “Trade school!” but you know what, trade schools need tuition paid too. And if there was any emphasis on trade schools right now, we wouldn’t be having the situation that we have now: metric ton of college grads, none of them able to find a job, because the degree that they had killed thousands of dollars on is suddenly not enough, and because the majority of work has already been outsourced.

Lovely, innit? And by this, I mean absolutely fucking terrible.

Seriously. Jobs don’t rain from the sky. The economy is only now feebly showing signs of recovery. There’s still a competition of a minimum of 30 people for an open position. For every one person who gets the job, there’s 29 more who have no idea how they’re going to pay their bills, or pay for that student loan. About half of the college grads have no choice now but to live with their parents because they’re unable to afford loans and pay for an apartment at the same time. It’s simple math: you can only stretch a $1,000 biweekly check so far when you’re in the hole for a high five-figure sum, if you’re lucky to get that per month.

“Get a better job and stop being lazy!”

“You have an education, you can just get another job!”

“Just pay them, it’s not a big deal.”

“Why can’t you afford it? You have a job, right?”

I’ve heard it all, and you know what, none of it answers the main and very pressing question of why the hell had this predicament been allowed in the first place – not just to me but for every college grad laden with debt in this country. Tuition for a small local private university should not have ever gotten near the 20K/year mark and allowed to double within five years since then, as is the case with Pace University, my alma mater. If I ever wanted to return to it for grad school, I can kiss that dream goodbye. At this point in time, Pace is more expensive than NYU will ever be. Pace’s financial aid had started to slash while I was still in school, and I’ve begged for grants to keep tuition to where covering the gap with loans was a plausible option. And considering my debt load and the average debt load of a Pace graduate, I still got away easy, and I’m still in bad straits. Why? Because I can’t support my living expenses, and the expenses of my business, and pay back $60K at the same time. And mind you, that $60K? Still less than what I had started with.

I’m about to start looking for another job, because even though my salary has been steadily climbing, it’s still not enough. I need to find a job that will pay me significantly more than what I’m receiving now. Why? Because I really don’t want to be in debt for the rest of my life. And with the way that the student loan bubble is going right now, that’s what it’s looking like.

And you know what? It should have all been regulated. There should be caps on tuition, even for private universities. There should be caps on student loan percentages. There should definitely be a massive improvement with job placement programs for schools. There should be a massive improvement in high schools, where guidance counselors offer trade school as a viable option for careers. Instead, what do we have? A loan bubble that’s about to burst hard, because there will be a huge number of college grads who will outright default on their student loans. They will do so knowing that their credit will be shot, and they will do it en masse because they want to actually have some semblance of a life that doesn’t involve constantly thinking about debt. And since bankruptcy laws now do not discharge student loan debt, then what? Wage garnishment? It’s a lose-lose situation one way or another.

This is a very, very preventable situation. One way or the next, I have to come up with 60K to pay everything off. Unless I win the lottery, this won’t be happening.

And yes, I’ve done research on bankruptcy. Because believe me, when you’re looking at your finances and no matter how much of a raise you’re getting, you’re not seeing anything actually become different, you begin to consider drastic measures if only out of panic’s sake.

And that’s no way to live.

K.G.

You have GOT to be joking.

Wow. Again, not often I categorize a post in “the pissed-off file” and “jazz” at the same time. Twice in a year, it’s a damned record.

I just got word, via my friend D., that there is a class action suit happening right now over the fact that 28% of categories in the GRAMMY awards are eliminated.

Among the eliminated categories are Best Latin Jazz Album, and Best Contemporary Jazz Album.  Old article link, but it outlines the cuts pretty nicely.

I’ll be frank, and call me an idealist if you will, but until I got wind of the class action suit, I just really did not think that they were going to go through with it. But they did. And I’m enraged, especially considering that contemporary jazz is out of the Grammy scene altogether with this cut.

First of all, let me bring up a point that has been a thorn in the side of pretty much every contemporary jazz lover, booking agent, and artist in the industry: contemporary jazz, or smooth jazz as the radio stations of yesteryear called it, is still a dirty word. It’s still a misnomer. It’s a misnomer that had bred plenty of stereotypes, and both the misnomer and the resulting stereotypes had already hurt the jazz world plenty.

Look around. Smooth jazz stations, which should by now have been featuring the new crop of artists, such as Jessy J (Latin-themed jazz, as it were, actually), Matt Marshak, or Elan Trotman, have been sold and have flipped their formats, and have done so at an alarming pace. Why? “There are no listeners!”. The venues that used to routinely book contemp artists either stop doing so, or completely stop advertising, and let the promo fall to the artist. Why? “Well, it’s smooth jazz, who of our regulars will come for it?” And give a contemporary album to a jazz aficionado, and you’re bound to hear, “Smooth jazz isn’t real jazz!” (My teeth were set on edge just typing that) The artist ends up working like a dog on their own marketing, and sometimes on their own booking, and rather than have it be the advertising gamut that it has originally been, the marketing of today’s new contemp jazz artist has shifted to become a quest to be taken seriously as a musician. And a Grammy award, in pretty much every genre across the musical spectrum, is seen as the holy grail of being taken seriously.

About 90% of the time, I get pissed when I tell people outside the music world that I write and do design for smooth jazz artists. Why? Because invariably, I get a reaction along the lines of, “Smooth jazz? You mean that music in the elevators? Ew, why would you do that?”

Because if people actually listened to smooth jazz, and by this I mean Road Warriors or South Beach Mambo by the Rippingtons, or Brooklyn Heights by Down to the Bone, the next sound after the last note cuts off will invariably be that of shattered preconceptions. I know it. The artists know it. But the people believe the stereotype of elevator music, and call it as such without even bothering to listen to it, and there’s nothing short of forcibly jamming the headphones on that would break it.

Let’s state another very obvious fact here. The audience is there. It’s loyal to the genre; every person who starts liking contemp and Latin jazz will stay with it, even despite the dead air on smooth jazz terrestrial radio. The artists are there, and new ones are willing to enter the genre, fully aware of the climate that they’re entering. And, as long as there are artists like Pat Metheny, Bob James, Larry Carlton, and the music and memories of the late, great, and amazing Grover, or groups like Spyro Gyra, the Rippingtons, and Fourplay to aspire to, the youngins will keep right on with their own music, working and perfecting it. And that’s why we have the current crop of musicians coming into play, most barely into their thirties, and bursting at the seams with talent and ideas, hoping that theirs will be unique enough, and acknowledged as such – key word here is acknowledged – to someday be considered as good as the artists that they themselves admire.

So really, the elimination of the contemp jazz and Latin jazz categories in the Grammy awards – ironically, two subgenres of jazz that allow for the most creative cross-genre mixing – the Grammy committee effectively sent a very clear slap in the artists’ faces, new and established, and affirmed the enduring and infuriating stereotype that a contemp jazz isn’t considered “real”. Bad enough that every corporate radio exec thinks that, bad enough that the listening public thinks that, but now the Grammy committee? That’s outright insulting. Tell me, then, what has Spyro Gyra been doing for 34 years? And Bob Baldwin, who had continuously pushed the creative envelope? And really, two words: Carlos Santana. Another two: Chick Corea. And another two: Lee Ritenour. They all have a slew of records, number-one hits, and enduring careers behind their belts. But the acclaim, acknowledgment, and respect for all those accomplishments? Just eliminated.

For a genre that’s been fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously, this has suddenly turned into a Sisyphean task. And last time I checked, the real world, while definitely harsh and difficult, was not the Greek mythical realm known as Hades.

Stop the madness.

Really. I know it’s all about the dollars, but these dollars have completely gone in the wrong direction. Considering that terrestrial radio has been losing listeners left and right, and not just in the smooth jazz genre, it’s pretty damn obvious that corporate radio had shot itself in the foot colossally. Instead of continuously fueling interest by having jazz artists – of all ages – give shows and seminars at colleges, which would have attracted a younger audience into the genre and kept the revenue sustained by the influx of the fresh blood, they decided to go for the easy way and sell the stations. And in the long run no one wins: the artists lose exposure and revenue, the quick-fix of money doesn’t last forever, and the younger audience is never even hinted to approach this genre.

And now, atop all of that, and atop the battle to be taken seriously, which right now even the established artists have to sometimes engage in, there’s an elimination of the Grammy categories. What gets me is that it’s been done under the guise of the Grammy becoming a “balanced and viable award.” (source: link above)

I can’t even give a snappy comeback to this. The Grammys have been steadily devolving into a glorified and televised popularity contest, if the uproar over Esperanza Spalding’s victory in the Best New Artist category this year is any indication. And it takes me everything I have not to point out that, honestly, the only thing Justin Bieber had going for him was the massive appeal to adolescent estrogen, and the reason I didn’t point that out at the time was that there was an actual uproar over the fact that an artist won based on pure talent, and part of the uproar was that the artist played jazz.

Look, we know. All of us: journalists, photographers, promoters, graphic designers, booking agents, musicians, venues, the remaining radio stations, online stations, even roadies – we all know that money’s what’s been talking, and the simple fact of people chasing money over doing what’s actually best for the music is what’s really been behind the decline in climate. But believe me when I say that some greedy bastages at the top deciding that they weren’t getting paid enough is not a good enough reason to shoot an entire genre of music in the foot. After all, hasn’t the sellout pattern at Seabreeze and Newport Beach proved in spades, year after year, that the genre is alive and kicking? I would think, just maybe, that if these many people are willing to flock across the country to see this music, that it’s a very viable market. If new artists, some of them fresh out of college, are entering this genre willingly, wouldn’t it be a sign to keep putting this genre into the spotlight?

The Grammy Award was the holy grail of musical acclaim for decades, and despite its obvious devolution, it still is considered as such.

Way to shoot two subgenres in the foot. Way to go.

K.G.

This New Yorker is pissed off. Officially.

It was coming, especially in light of the fact that, two days later, there’s still a near foot-thick layer of compacted snow over pretty much every street in my immediate 5-block radius. I almost blew out both my ankles walking home from the train last night and it’s a short walk. And as I was coming home, I saw that my main street is still covered with compacted snow, and the side streets are nigh impassable.

The same goes for this morning. I’m debating binding both my ankles with Ace bandages as a preventative measure. I’ve not skated in about 20 years; now is not the time for me to start practicing.

My nieghborhood is home to a very large population of the elderly. And it was only earlier this year that we had a comparable blizzard and the public transit was still in commission at that time.

Disclaimer: This is a rant. I’m angry, I’m letting off steam, and it’s bound to get profane – but that’s how I feel. I’m putting this behind a cut for language, and if you don’t want to read, close this window. I won’t hold any offense. This is mostly intended for my usual readers, who are comprised of mostly friends from outside my state, who are worried about how I’m holding up post-storm. I’m including reference links to the NY Post, wherein Mr. Bloomberg made some comments that made my blood boil, so you will see what elicited this.
For the record, no, I didn’t vote for him. And my rant therefore takes up the form of an open letter.

Continue reading “This New Yorker is pissed off. Officially.”