Luke Bryan At The Fabulous Forum

It was like Friday night at college. Back before iPhones. When Mommy and Daddy had no idea what transpired, when you forgot about studies, raised a glass, and hijinks ensued.

And Luke Bryan was the ringleader.

I got there early, to see the opening act, one Dustin Lynch, who was supported by a band made up of three guitarists and a drummer. For a thirty minute set? Rock and roll lives on in modern country. And music lives on at the Forum.

It’s the respect.

Normally you go to the venue and are treated like crap. Inundated with marketing messages, brushed aside by the rent-a-help that doesn’t give a crap, never mind feeling like a displaced person in an arena where sports rule and the victories of these gladiators are enshrined overhead with the message that the arts are a second-rate pursuit.

But not at the Forum. Which was clean, sans endless ads and sports memorabilia, and featured an endless buffet of gourmet food for this event which did not draw the insiders of Hollywood. I didn’t recognize a single soul in the Forum Club other than manager extraordinaire Coran Capshaw and Forum employees, yet the red carpet had been rolled out for these poseurs and wannabes, how cool!

Dustin Lynch took the stage after the PA blared AC/DC. It’s country that’s inherited the rock mantle, that has embraced the classics. And when the guitars worked their way into a frenzy I told myself there was nothing like live music, nothing like the experience of being there. You can talk VR all you want, but you can’t FEEL IT! You can’t marvel at the attendees strolling by in their outfits. And one of the treats is being completely outside the mainstream, in a cocoon, where you and your brethren rule. All the acts paid fealty to Southern California, but the venue might as well have been on the moon. We were insulated from influences and judgments, and that felt so cool.

Little Big Town occupied the middle slot. They played “Girl Crush” and “Pontoon,” most of their set was taken up by recent tracks. But the highlight was “Boondocks”… When the assembled multitude, including me, stood on our feet, thrust our arms in the air and exclaimed…

I feel no shame
I’m proud of where I came from
I was born and raised in the boondocks

Now Jimi Westbrook claimed to be from a hamlet of 3,000, whereas most in attendance had probably never been in the woods, but at heart we all feel like we come from a small town, alienated, with our families as our main influence.

I loved hearing the anthem “I’m With The Band.” And Little Big Town also covered Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” demonstrating their classic rock bona fides, but…

Everybody was there to see Luke Bryan. Possibly the biggest name in country music. He’s excoriated by the red dirt authoritarians for being a pretty boy bro, but it’s Luke who has the hits, a treasure trove of them.

“Rain Is A Good Thing” was the opener, a cliched number about corn making whisky which makes one’s baby feel a little bit frisky. But the energy was UNDENIABLE! Luke, who turns out to be quite tall and beefy, the epitome of a hunk, thrust off his jacket, was bouncing in his t-shirt and I finally got his sexual appeal.

You see the last time I’d seen Luke Bryan was at the Hollywood Bowl. He performed, but that was not his show. Last night I got the full on experience. And I was stunned that it was so LOOSE!

Everything’s choreographed these days. Not only the dancing, but the songs themselves, oftentimes they’re printed on the laminate. Go from one town to another and you’re gonna get the same show.

But not last night.

Luke reached into the audience to grab a coat with stars upon it. He tried it on, attempting to sing at the same time, missing a few words, no hard drive filling them in, but when he finally got it on and the sleeves were so short and he was smiling you started to wonder, WHAT IS THIS? We’re used to an assault by an hermetically sealed entity we can see but not touch, whereas the only difference between Luke and those in attendance seemed to be that he was on stage. He was the charismatic guy in your dorm who pulled a Solo cup full of beer from the keg and bellowed at the top of his lungs THAT WE WERE GONNA HAVE THE GREATEST NIGHT OF OUR LIVES!

You know that experience, right? The college drinking ritual. It’s about having fun and testing limits. In search of god knows what, but we’re gonna go there!

And he’s playing his hits. Talking in between numbers. Not to excess, like Adele, but with enough information to create intimacy. He thanked Little Big Town for performing and then went into more than a few bars of “Girl Crush,” which was mind-bending, this dreamboat on stage sans accompaniment other than bass testifying to…his love of women? Funny and intriguing all at the same time.

And there was a giant runway into the audience. From which Luke could reach down and communicate with those in attendance. He asked if there were any schoolteachers there, and when he found some he told them their students were there too and Monday morning everybody was gonna know they were there drunk.

And he asked for and found a bachelorette party. There were a ton of women there, Luke said the ratio was ten to one, and that if we males couldn’t get laid… Like I said, it was akin to a frat party, but before the blackouts and the untoward sexual activity. It was a celebration that seemed unique, that we were privileged to attend.

And everybody was singing along. And I’ve experienced this at many a show, especially Taylor Swift performances. But this audience wasn’t that young, teenagers were in a distinct minority, most people were middle aged, they were music fans, they needed these tunes, they bought the albums, they knew all the songs by heart, no matter how deep the cuts.

And then Luke did “Play It Again.”

And with the audience taking over parts it was a victory lap for a track that embodies the essence of modern country music, a rock-based sound that is all about life…the trials and tribulations, the triumphs. You sat there (and stood there!) and thought about moving to Tennessee or South Carolina, far from the metropolis, where life was solely for the living, where your experiences mattered, where you weren’t chasing fame, just laughs.

And Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town flew up from the depths with Luke to sing their duet “Home Alone Tonight.”

And after bringing out the rest of Little Big Town Luke called for the Patron. You see tequila adds fuel to the fire. And after an a cappella take of Tupac’s “California Love,” tiny red cup were passed around and everybody took a shot, and then another, and then the assembled multitude, Luke and all four members of Little Big Town, sang the Ed Sheeran hit “Thinking Out Loud.”

And that was good, but the moment became transcendent when they segued into Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” with the sex oozing from the stage, the audience oiled for…

This was a revival show. Sans religion and focused on music. This was not static, but something that lived and breathed, imperfect and constantly changing, just like you and me.

Dustin Lynch reappeared and the two extracted beer from a Yeti and passed it down to the throng.

And then came an extended version of “Huntin’, Fishin’ And Lovin’ Every Day.”

If I could make a livin’ from walkin’ in the woods
You can bet I’d be sittin’ pretty good
High on a hill lookin’ at a field downwind
If I can make a nickel off ‘a turnin’ them bass
Never worry about the price of gas
I’d be wheelin’ and dealin’ and sittin’ there reelin’ ’em in

The four guitars are wailing, Luke has strapped on an axe and is duetting with the lead player and I’m sitting there wondering, maybe he has it right, maybe the rat race is not quite what it’s cracked up to be, all of us trying to get ahead for fear of being left behind, working so hard for our leisure that we’ve got no time off.

Now I don’t want to say there weren’t some jingoistic comments made. When Jimi Westbrook went on about how America is the greatest country in the world I winced, it’s this blind patriotism that keeps people away from country music. Then again, by time he was done, Jimi had included everyone as an American, unlike Donald Trump, so I forgave him. Luke thanked the military, and then the police and firefighters, and I’m not saying we don’t need ’em and they aren’t doing a good job, but I wonder what they’d have to say in Charlotte and Oklahoma right about now. But when Luke went down the ladder to include transit police and then stopped at the TSA, not sure whether to give them a pass or not, you had to laugh.

The sound is pure rock and roll.

But the politics…are too often questionable.

But the songs, we can relate. As Luke said when he told us to sing along with “Drink A Beer,” we’ve all lost someone, we’ve all got someone we can lift a beer to.

And there you have it. After Dustin’s thirty minutes, Little Big Town’s hour and Luke’s nearly two, it was all done.

But what was it?

It was like it always was and forevermore should be. It was just like the seventies, we were inside the Forum, thrilled by Gibsons, detached from an outside world that neither understood nor accepted us.

This is white music. This is not a big tent.

Then again, Luke did sing the Florida Georgia Line hit he cowrote and performed on, “This Is How We Roll,” which has got more to do with urban pop than Merle Haggard. You see the makers of this music may come from the South, but they’ve got cable TV and the internet, they’ve been exposed to the city influences just like you and me.

She was sittin’ all alone over on the tailgate
Tan legs swingin’ by a Georgia plate

This is how it happens. We’re in a new environment, off at school, at a new job, and we catch a glimpse…

I was lookin’ for her boyfriend
Thinkin’ no way she ain’t got one

We’re all insecure, we’re all checking ourselves, looking to get up the gumption to take a risk, that’s the essence of not only love, but LIFE!

She was like, come here boy I wanna dance
‘Fore I said a word, she was takin’ my hand

We’re trolling for action, looking for a response, and nothing gets our adrenaline pumping more than gaining reciprocity. You like me? You wanna play with me? HOW COOL IS THAT!

Spinnin’ me around ’til it faded out

That’s what being at the show was like, caught up in the maelstrom with fifteen thousand other souls on the exact same page. All we could say was…

PLAY IT AGAIN!

E-Books Die

They’re killing the book business.

The old guard, the ones married to paper and indie bookstores, the publishers afraid of big bad Amazon, have achieved their goal, they’ve killed the e-book. That’s right, e-book sales are down by 21.8%, the entire book business has declined by 2.7%, this is what happens when Luddites living in the past refuse to enter the future. This is what would be happening in music if the insane artists screaming about streaming were able to get their way.

Alas, music is far ahead of the book business, with everything available for one low price, with streaming burgeoning, sales are up by 8.1%.

Daniel Ek single-handedly save the music business.

And for that he is Public Enemy Number One.

What has happened to our country? Is everyone so afraid of moving backward, losing what little they have, that they refuse to enter the future and cling to the past? Is this about income inequality, where there’s always an enemy and change is anathema? Or is this just fat cat baby boomer businessmen who are riding out their contracts and want to receive their bonuses and are holding back the future.

But not in the music business. Universal Music might be home to Taylor Swift, but it’s Lucian Grainge who’s spearheaded Spotify, who decried Swift’s anti-Apple, anti-free-tier comments. There’s no one as ignorant as an artist, never forget that. And I’d worry they’d be offended, then again, I’d have to ignore the venom directed at myself every single day online.

We’ve come so far in the music business. The means of production are in the hands of the proletariat, distribution is nearly free. And somehow the vocal minority which controls the airwaves cannot stop bitching.

Probably, you wouldn’t have been able to play in the old system, you would have never gotten a deal, never mind get your indie album into the record store, never mind coming up with the money to record to begin with.

And if you made a record, good luck getting it on the radio. Gatekeepers ruled. And streaming playlists are the new gatekeepers but they’re much broader in scope than radio playlists. That’s the dirty little secret of the major label world, everybody pays fealty to radio, even though it means so much less and is out of touch with today’s times.

The future’s so bright you gotta wear shades.

But it’s not gonna be bright for everyone. If you don’t have fans, streaming your music, you’re out of luck. Maybe you can play live, more power to you. But please stop complaining that no one wants to buy your overpriced CD or vinyl. Those are souvenirs, many people have neither a disk drive nor a turntable, sell these tchotchkes at your gig, your fans can keep you alive, I’ve got no problem with that.

But, please stop complaining. If things went your way they’d be so much worse.

E-books used to be under ten bucks. Now, in some cases, they cost more than the physical iteration. That makes no sense, with no printing and shipping. The book business is making the same mistake the record business once did. Believing it was entitled to profits. That it was all right to sell an overpriced CD with one good cut, that the public didn’t mind, but that proved untrue.

But at least people wanted to steal music. They don’t seem to want to steal books, they just want to ignore them, that’s the real disaster, how the book business has marginalized itself.

As for the film and TV businesses… Tell me once again where¬† you can get everything for one low price? YOU CAN’T!

So piracy reigns.

And it’s dying in the music business.

But somehow YouTube is the enemy. An antiquated system that will be surpassed in time. The history of the world is people paying for convenience, and YouTube is mighty inconvenient. Spotify is not. As for Apple Music, if it ever gets its user interface right it might have a chance.

So the book business defeated the techies. The supposed rapists and pillagers who cared not a whit about the value of content. They brought Jeff Bezos to his knees.

But Bezos doesn’t really care, because books are a de minimis part of Amazon’s overall market.

The supposedly smart people, standing up for the lowly artist, did a disservice to everybody involved. E-books were the future, priced to reflect the advancement of digital distribution. But they couldn’t survive, because the writers and publishers were afraid of change. And you wonder why so few people read novels…

That’s right, so much of the vaunted literature is unreadable. There, I said it. It’s a small tent and they don’t want any of THOSE PEOPLE!

And the same thing is happening in music. There’s hatred towards successful pop, especially if it’s laden with EDM touches. That’s not music those with a megaphone say. But it’s fresh and new and it’s what the people want. Major Lazer and Justin Bieber are making better tunes than all the old fogeys and special interest groups, they’re hoovering up money, you don’t hear Drake complaining he can’t get paid.

But that’s not real music.

Why does everybody have contempt for that which they do not understand, which is new and different, both tech and art?

We’ve built the platform in music. We’ve leveled the playing field. The next step is to anoint winners, to add comprehension to the chaos, and with the tech issues resolved we can focus on art.

HALLELUJAH!

“Audiobooks Turn Readers Into Listeners as E-Books Slip”

“The Music Industry Is Finally Making Money on Streaming”

Glen Phillips At The Levitt Pavilion

I went to hear “Walk On The Ocean.”

Funny how one song can immediately grab you and stay with you forever. Life is about the stolen glance, the once in a lifetime moment, when something indelible occurs and you never forget it, you keep reflecting upon it as time goes by, it’s like it just happened yesterday, it’s people.

And it’s songs.

We spotted the ocean at the head of the trail

That’s what it sounds like. A day away from the office, from school, in an era when none of us were connected, there were no mobile phones and the internet was unheard of. You’d leave your house and you’d feel free. The opposite of today when if you leave your smartphone at home you go back and get it. I love that everybody’s reachable, I almost can’t believe we weren’t able to connect instantly always. But somehow we got along. We went to AAA for a TripTik before we drove cross-country and we’d meet people at stop signs in locations we’ve never been to before and somehow it all worked out. And the great thing about the beach and the mountains is they represent a head change, a release, when you’re only human, no different from those who came before. With the snow under your boots and the sand between your toes you communicate with nature, our God.

And somebody told me that this is the place
Where everything’s better, everything’s safe

Even though it wasn’t, safe, that is. Our whole nation has turned into a no fault zone. I mean that there’s no personal responsibility, any loss is reimbursed. Whereas it used to be…you were in charge of your own destiny, and if things didn’t work out you’d be out of luck. Life is about recovering from loss, never forget that. I see people who’ve never experienced a breakup and I think to myself…just wait, one of you will leave this mortal coil and the other will be left alone and the pain will be so severe…you’ll know what the rest of us feel.

But places used to be special, just for us, before it was all about claiming you were there, first on Foursquare and then on Instagram. I don’t want to be the mayor of anywhere, I don’t want to put on my look to go someplace, I just want to throw on a t-shirt and shorts and venture off, I want to feel free.

And “Walk On The Ocean” makes me feel free.

That’s right, you can be sitting at home, in a classroom, in a boardroom, and a song can go through your brain and you can be taken away. And it’s your own private trip. Funny how that works, one song can open your mind more than any drug. The music is for everyone, but it’s personal to you.

And I played “Walk On The Ocean” again and again. It came out during the CD era. When if you liked something, you could put it on endless repeat. That’s what I do. Over and over again, dozens of times, it’s like being shot up with Demerol, a drug that makes you feel fuzzy and warm and taken care of. Funny how despite all the social networking nothing makes me feel closer to humanity than a song.

So that’s why I went to Pasadena.

I was kinda shocked. That Glen Phillips was doing a soft ticket show, actually, a free ticket show. I think of him as being so young.

But he’s 45. With two kids in college. And their school funds were filled up by…

Music.

That’s what a hit will do for you.

And “Walk On The Ocean” was not the only one. There was “All I Want” from the same album. Glen played that one too. Funny how you feel when you hear a hit live, you connect with that radio you once listened to, it’s like you’re jetted back to an era embedded in your bones but only recalled upon hearing the song.

As for “Walk On The Ocean”…

When they play your favorite song you don’t want it to end. You concentrate ever harder, trying to soak it all up, because eventually they’ll stop playing it, it’ll be gone like the wind. Funny how the best experiences are always impermanent. Anything we can hold in our hands, possess, just isn’t as meaningful.

And the solo acoustic encore of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” was joyful. Funny how we all know these songs, even though we never talk about them.

But the highlight of the evening was talking to Glen after the show.

Because he was so honest. We think these rock stars live perfect lives, are trouble-free, that success with everybody knowing your name solves all your problems.

But it does not.

Glen said he’d been depressed. He’d gotten divorced, the disease was in his genes and…he sank.

Honesty is the best policy, when you open up to someone you bond for life. That’s what we’re all looking for. The internet gives the impression image is king. As for those posting their foibles, looking for attention, that’s usually not connecting, but a bizarre form of showing off, trying to garner some love. But when someone testifies as to how they truly feel, asking nothing in return, you’re touched, the sparks fly, an electric current passes between the two of you, moments you’ll never forget are created.

So, Glen’s moving to Nashville with his new girlfriend, she’s in a program at Vanderbilt. He’ll be in Tennessee half the time and Santa Barbara the rest.

Is he gonna try to get his songs covered?

That’s not his goal, he knows some people there, he’s got some projects in mind, but when it comes to the music business Glen’s learned…

You can’t take it personally.

He’s become more hippy-dippy. That’s what Glen told me. You’d think a guy from Santa Barbara would have those values baked in. But through all the travails, the successes and the failures, Glen’s learned you can’t take life that seriously, you’ve just got to soldier on. Maybe it’ll work out, maybe it won’t. But if you’re expecting something back…

We’re all expecting something back. Especially in this new internet era. We believe if we play someone should care, that we’re entitled to attention, that every step is one on the way to riches.

But what if it’s not?

The greatest wisdom comes from those who’ve traveled the path before. Which is why you should listen to your elders, seek out the history of those who’ve been where you want to go. Everyone thinks they’re reinventing the wheel, but in most cases they’re not.

You never know when your peak will come, if it arrives at all.

And just when you get used to it, it all disappears. And even though you blame yourself for your choices, oftentimes they’ve got nothing to do with it. The world works in mysterious ways. Not everybody can be on top forever. And if you think you know what people want to hear, you’re delusional. The history of the world, never mind music, is one of accidents. That which is done on a whim, with no consciousness, is what resonates. Probably because it’s not premeditated, it’s pure and genuine, it’s life itself.

And I was thinking of all this as Glen strapped his guitar to his back and ran off to catch a ride from a friend, with the same bounce in his step as a twenty year old, but with a world of experience.

Don’t let the years get you down. Your body may fail you, but your mind can stay young. It’s about opportunity, believing, taking chances, being optimistic.

I have to tell myself this every day.

I’ve got to walk on the ocean.

Step on the stones.

I can’t see where they’re all placed. I’m gonna misstep and get dunked.

But the memories grow sweeter, even though we grow old.

And when we’re connected with what once was, when I heard “Walk On The Ocean” Saturday night…

I smiled.

And that’s about all you can ask for. Externalities won’t make you happy. But when something resonates with our core…we know we’ve experienced life, we know what we’re here for.

The song unlocks the door.

And then we move through it.

Trump Lies

Celebrities lie and the media repeat these falsehoods ad infinitum without examination.

Donald Trump is a celebrity.

Madonna sells out every show!

No.

Springsteen can play forever in New Jersey!

Maybe in terms of time, but the truth is Groupon filled a bunch of those seats.

Never mind the pronouncements about sales figures… It’s all boasting, all image, all the time. And you wonder why Donald Trump can get away with the same thing?

Politicians gave way to celebrities long ago, when elected officials sold their souls to lobbyists and corporations, there was no there there. Celebrities know their identity is everything. And a few pitfalls can be explained away by drugs and hardship… Celebrities know success is about an arc, going from somewhere to everywhere, beating the odds in the process. Politicians wait their turn in order to be nominated by the machine. Last I checked, it was the singers on Sony who were known by everybody, not Doug Morris.

Everybody knows Donald Trump. And he’s employing the number one axiom of celebrity…MAKE NOISE, STAY IN THE PICTURE, ALL PUBLICITY IS GOOD PUBLICITY, PUBLICITY IS EVERYTHING!

Leave the public eye and you’re forgotten these days. Which is why celebrities are all over social media, why their publicists plant stories repeated all over the web. It’s to keep them top of mind in the audience’s brain.

Hillary is losing the news war. She’s playing not to lose. If you don’t go for it, you usually don’t succeed. Utilizing old saws like the ground game as if it wasn’t 2016 and the entire nation is driven by what’s online. The oldsters are already registered, want to reach the youngsters, play online. Just ask Buzzfeed and the linkbait legends, that which goes viral, that which generates clicks, wins today. Substance is secondary to train-wreck quality. Everything’s run by algorithm. Respect the game.

But everyone inside the Beltway believes it’s the same as it ever was. Like the record companies and Napster. They believe the public will do the right thing, that they can shame people into behaving. But it didn’t quell file-trading and Hillary’s poll numbers are sinking because… To write again and again what a nitwit Trump is in the press is missing the point. People believe in celebrities blindly, they get caught up in the mania, just try tweeting something negative about Taylor Swift or Beyonce, you’ll be subjected to enough hatred to delete your account.

That’s the game Donald Trump is playing.

It doesn’t matter that he lies because everybody does. And the news cycle is short. And the key is to promote a new idea every day. Kinda like Drake releasing mixtapes. The old fart baby boomer acts take years to polish their turd albums whereas the young acts are constantly releasing new material, putting up covers on YouTube, they realize we live in an attention economy and attention is everything.

And if you don’t like it…

You’ve got to give people good jobs so their only alternative is not reality TV. They may not ever be able to be rich, but they can be famous for a week or two on the tube.

You’ve got to admit you’re flawed, but still stay on message.

The celebrities own this paradigm. When caught acting badly they cry, apologize, go to rehab and emerge refreshed. Whereas politicians believe they’ve got to stay the course, they can’t show weakness, they must be wary of gotcha moments. But in a world where your complete life is online your only choice is to own the gotchas.

So if you want to be famous, and seemingly everybody in America wants to, that’s the national game, you play on all platforms all the time and try to gain traction. And once you get a leg up, you don’t rest on your laurels, you keep taking chances, the well is never dry.

Of course Trump lies. Of course he’s uninformed on how to run the country. But if you want to beat him, you must play his game, not yours. After all, he beat all challengers in the primaries. Because the Donald is tapped into the American zeitgeist, where it’s every man for himself and we laud those at the top of the totem pole, irrelevant of how they got there.

Taylor Swift had a rich dad.

So what. Only the haters care. Her fans couldn’t care less.

So you can sit on the sidelines pointing to Trump’s faux pas or you can learn from his efforts. You don’t have to lie, but you don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes. Trump criticizes Gold Star parents and doubles down, Hillary labels Trump followers “deplorables” and then goes silent, allowing the enemy to spin her statement. Today you’ve got to own who you are, you’ve got to show strength, while, ironically, letting weakness emerge. As for hiding anything, like pneumonia, everything ultimately outs. You create your own narrative. Trump got out in front of the tax issue, said he was never gonna release his returns, said he was being audited even though his son recently denied this. It’s about being aggressive.

Sure, it would be great if we could appeal to voters by promising our best efforts to lift them up.

But if that was a TV show it’d get canceled.

No, you’ve got to have drama. You’ve got to have story. You have to constantly release new episodes.

Nobody believes anything anymore. The press has been complicit in spreading falsehoods and too many outlets have agendas. You create your own image. And it must appear authentic to enough people for you to reach your goal. When Hillary Clinton’s credibility is questioned by her own followers, you know she’s in trouble.