Midnight Rider

In 1973, the Allman Brothers were the biggest band in the land. Sure, Duane had died two years before, not long after the commercial and artistic breakthrough known as “Fillmore East,” but the band carried on, ate a peach, lost Berry and emerged with an album so ubiquitous, we were all ramblin’ men and women.

They headlined Watkins Glen, the biggest rock festival to that date, “Brothers and Sisters” ate up the chart, and then Gregg Allman dropped a solo LP.

It was not like today, where we don’t expect anybody to step out and do anything good, and if they release product, we check it out, shrug and move on. No, music used to be a commitment, you had to go to your local store and buy the record, and having laid down your cash you dropped the needle and digested it.

And there’s not a soul alive who didn’t see “Laid Back” as a disappointment, only because of the high quality of what had come before. But all these years later, one can see it’s peppered with highlights, like the definitive version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” in the incarnation that most people heard it first, and also “Queen of Hearts” and “Please Call Home.” But the track that got all the airplay opened the album, yes “Laid Back” started with a version of “Midnight Rider.”

It was many people’s introduction to the Allmans, the third cut on “Idlewild South” that galloped like a horse, that was so infectious you could never burn out it.

But Gregg’s version was different.

It was slow and swampy, all about the groove, but one thing remained the same, Gregg Allman’s voice.

Now that’s a rock star.

He was good-looking and reticent, tall and charismatic, and not only could he sing, he played, he was an integral part of the band, back when you led with your music, not your appearance.

I’ve got to run to keep from hidin’
And I’m bound to keep on ridin’

I get the urge to hide away on a regular basis, the feedback blows me away, both negative and positive, once I labored in obscurity, now I’m an international punching bag, but when you’ve got more questions than answers you’ve only got one choice, to keep on ridin’.

But I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider

America is an outlaw culture, baby boomers understand this, the great American pastime was to get behind the wheel of your automobile when gas was far short of a buck a gallon and set off across this great country of ours, where you might call home collect every once in a while, but truly you were off the grid, no one knew where you were going, where you were, which is exactly how you liked it, because we don’t really want to be caught, we want to be free.

I’ve gone by the point of caring

That’s who I was worried I’ve become, a member of the over-the-hill gang, yes the baby boomers have a handful of years left at the helm of this country, and then we’re done, the music business transition is almost complete, if you’re not running the company, you’re not older than sixty, maybe fifty. And then I hear something like “Midnight Rider.”

This was back when all the swagger was in the grooves. When the goal was to drop the needle on your big rig and get closer to the music, fire up a doobie, drink some Jack or Bud, and settle into the most important thing in life, the elixir, the glue, music.

And I’m driving east on Pico, pushing the buttons on the satellite since Howard is on reruns, and I hear this.

And I’m brought back to art class at Middlebury, with this playing in the background, when you connected with the opposite sex not on what you wore, but what was between your ears.

Music was our soundtrack, our most valued companion, we went nowhere without it, even if it meant listening to the radio.

And the road goes on forever

I realized this afternoon that the road really does go on forever. That you’ve got no choice but to keep on keepin’ on. That around every bend are not only unforeseen potholes, but pleasures. That within the grooves of our old favorites is hope, as powerful as it was back in 1973.

Laid back my ass, we’re still groovin’, we’re still setting the pace, because we’ve got the power of music in us, no one is going to catch us midnight riders!

Gregg Allman – Midnight Rider – YouTube

Gregg Allman – Midnight Rider – Spotify

Why Things Don’t Last

1. Channel Overload

Used to be there were 5,000 albums a year and only a few got on the radio and if you didn’t get airplay or press, you were doomed. Now there are a zillion products, all easily promoted online, and unless your friend verifies quality and interest or a track becomes a phenomenon, you don’t care, and suddenly most people don’t care, and it’s gone. There’s a fiction perpetrated by the record labels that terrestrial radio reaches everybody, but the truth is with so many other options for hearing music, radio is a sliver of the marketplace. To make it everywhere you need not only radio, but video and… Actually, that which is ubiquitous lives online, not on terrestrial radio. Terrestrial radio is a ghetto. You can cross over from terrestrial radio to the internet, you can rise simultaneously from both, but to be gigantic, known by everybody, you need to make it on both terrestrial radio and the internet, whereas you can spike quite nicely online and function well without terrestrial radio, terrestrial radio is the dollop of cream atop the sundae. Online is on demand, terrestrial radio is not, and that’s why it’s doomed amongst youngsters, who don’t want to wait, who believe everything should be instant. The only thing no longer instant is sex. You can hear anything online when you want, research anything online when you want, connect with all your friends instantly via a plethora of communication techniques, but sex is still something you yearn for, although the internet has made porn ubiquitous, one can argue we live in a masturbatory fantasy culture.

2. Limited Time

They’re making no more time, everything has to fight for attention and very little sustains, because there’s constantly something new in the offing. Everyone is going ever faster, so the old paradigm of needing time to digest something is taboo. Industry has accepted this, art has not. Industry realizes the product has to be perfect in the first iteration and continue to work thereafter. Not buying a car in its first year is history, as is the fear that the electric windows will break. And with manufacturing so cheap, repairs (and repairmen!) have fallen by the wayside, why not buy something shiny and brand new! Yes, we all treasure some old favorites, but very few. So if you’re an artist, yelling may get you noticed for a day, but it won’t keep you atop the pyramid.

3. Competition

I used to read “Rolling Stone,” now I read “Fast Company.” Oh, I still get “Rolling Stone,” it’s just that the magazine no longer knows what it wants to be, and covers the travails of too many nitwits. I remember when I salivated over the words of musicians. Now I salivate over the words of entrepreneurs, because they’re thoughtful, they’ve got something to say. I’m a media junkie, so I’ve got all my magazines and all my websites and constant updates on my phone, so this squeezes out available time for competing media.

4. Howard Stern

He has single-handedly diminished my satellite radio music listening by hooking me. Many of us are hooked by something that pulls us down the rabbit hole, leaving little time for anything else. Used to be Howard Stern was on just a few hours a day, if you missed it, you had to wait for tomorrow. Now Stern is available 24/7, and I’m not driving 24/7, so most of the time I’m in my car there’s new Stern programming. We see this phenomenon in television. The late night talk show ratings have been decimated by the DVR, never mind on demand. We’re no longer victims of what’s on the tube, everything’s available all the time.

5. Cultural Norms

We used to go to the movies to be part of the cultural discussion. But once we realized no one else was going, we didn’t either. Furthermore, there is no cultural discussion left, because we all share different experiences, there’s very little commonality. This makes that which is successful even more so, because we want to talk about it with others, leading to a superstar and no-star world.

6. Dominance

With everything at our fingertips, we gravitate to the few that break through. Look at smartphones, there are multiple competing ecosystems, but iOS and Android dominate, Windows phone is an also-ran and BlackBerry is a joke. We only want the very best all the time and therefore it takes an incredible effort to penetrate our consciousness and stay there. Furthermore, the more successful something is, the more it continues to grow, reinforcing its success. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

7. Fatigue

With so much new music, many people stop paying attention to the whole sphere, they go back to their favorites if they listen at all. Yes, when everybody yells, it becomes a noise you ignore. And you just retreat and burrow down deeper into the hole you already inhabit.

8. Quality

Easy to recognize, hard to achieve, especially when it comes to art. Good used to be good enough, today good is awful, something no one cares about. We’re all in search of excellence, and if we don’t find it we don’t waste time, as we did in the three network and limited terrestrial radio world, we move on. This is why major labels use the usual suspects to create obvious hit singles, anything less, and the product is doomed. Sure, you can come from left field and dominate, but this is too scary to creators who grew up in a world where your personal network is everything, they’re fearful of being ostracized, left out, even worse in today’s connected society, ignored. But since art is not quantifiable, creators blame the system and the audience when the truth is people are surfing for greatness 24/7 and if they find it they tell everybody they know about it. A great media campaign can gain notice for a day, but it cannot sustain the underlying product. For that to happen, the product must be exceptional. Purveyors want to deny this rule, they believe smoke and mirrors still work. Cynics want to say promotion is everything. But the truth is once distribution has been flattened, which is the essence of the internet, only true excellence rises. As a result, you can remember Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” it becomes the most played track in Spotify history, but you cannot remember number two, never mind number ten. And that which spikes and lasts, however temporarily, is usually a twist, it’s usually innovative. “Wake Me Up” merged acoustic and electronic, “Gangnam Style” introduced a whole new style of pony dancing and made fun of consumption. The sieve rejects nearly everything but that which titillates, usually because of its cutting edge newness. Your past history will gain you attention, but it won’t make you sustain. You can either play with the usual suspects, the Max Martins and Dr. Lukes, or you can risk failing on your own, like Lady Gaga. But Gaga didn’t realize it’s about product, not revenue, she stayed on the road, out of the internet spotlight, for far too long, and then she overhyped that which did not deserve it. It’s damn hard to create innovative excellence, but that’s what we’re all looking for, that is what lasts.

Paying To Play The Super Bowl

NFL to Coldplay: Pay to Play the Super Bowl

You’re surprised?

This is what happens when nerds inherit the earth and “it’s just business” replaces the old saw “it’s only rock ‘n roll.”

Name the three biggest tracks of last summer. It’s easy, like taking candy, from a baby!

We’ve got “Get Lucky.”

And “Blurred Lines.”

And “Royals.”

What do the first two have in common? They’re fading away, they’re not radiating. No one has mentioned Daft Punk since the Grammys and Robin Thicke has become a public joke.

But not Lorde.

The two biggest phenomena of the past five years are both women, and both refused to play the game, refused to turn up the marketing to ten and yell from the rooftops…I’M HERE, PAY ATTENTION, BUY MY STUFF!

That’s right, Adele refused to play arenas, she didn’t do any endorsements. And despite being a teenager, Lorde knows the game better than the old men who believe they run this business. That in order to get into the hearts of the young, you’ve got to both have their values and be a leader.

The young are not famous. Stop reciting the litany of YouTube stars and branding by prepubescents. No, the truth is most young people are in school, playing sports, living their lives not much different than it ever was. If you believe they believe selling out is the way to go, your child has been offered a million dollar deal with Pepsi. But that never happens, that only happens to the rich and famous.

Give Steve Jobs credit. He hewed to his own beliefs. But everybody else is compromising, cutting corners, trying to play the game so they can get rich.

Come on, for all the ink Wierd Al has gotten, he’s already last month’s news, no one’s talking about him and his tracks don’t populate the Spotify Top Lists. And that’s what it’s about, staying power.

And it turns out despite all the hogwash about men dominating the charts, it really comes down to women. Because Lorde and Adele spoke from their hearts and left money on the table.

The NFL has never left money on the table. It squeezes everybody in the chain, believing it’s forever, whereas most people can’t even name the last two Super Bowl winners and attendance is flagging and the press is bad and…

But the sport gets a pass, because we need something to believe in.

Once upon a time we believed in music.

Who owns the best performance in Super Bowl history? Prince! Who didn’t sell tickets simultaneously. He’s toured to big numbers ever since on that one performance, but most acts are all about the short term, where am I going this summer, as opposed to where I’ll be five years from now.

If you think no act will pay the NFL for that exposure, you’ve never been exposed to the wannabes. If Ashley Madison is willing to sponsor a football stadium, believe you me someone without the cachet of Coldplay and Katy Perry will pony up, because that’s America, where everything’s for sale and it goes to the highest bidder.

Or does it?

Everything’s a promotional exercise. Who can top who. From Jay Z to Beyonce to Weird Al to Taylor Swift. They’re all Internet savvy, they all will sell their souls to the highest corporate bidder, and other than Ms. Swift, whose new effort hangs in the balance, their music has faded away.

It wasn’t always like this.

But the truth is the good old days were back when the business was being developed. No one knew the rules, they were being codified. Sid Bernstein ripped off the Beatles so Peter Grant demanded 90/10 deals and after Bill Graham ripped off CSNY, Michael Cohl created a new paradigm where the artists got tons of dough, they just couldn’t ask Cohl how he got the money back.

It was the wild west.

But it’s the wild west no more.

Except in the music itself. That’s what we’re all looking for, the elixir that tickles our brain cells, something we have not heard before, that we hunger for and tweet about. Because we want to share greatness.

Sharing built Lorde.

No one’s sharing the new Tom Petty other than the media he manipulated.

So, call the doctor, I think we’re headed for a crash.

But you know what the doctor says in that famous Eagles song, he’s coming, but you got to pay him cash.

And sure, the Eagles wanted to get paid. But they own the best-selling album in history because of the music.

You remember music, don’t you?

Adele does.

And so does Lorde.

So there is an antidote to the mercenary ways.

Yup, we’ve pushed the new paradigm to the wall. Did you read that celebrity fragrances crashed Elizabeth Arden?

Check it out:

Celebrity Fragrances Add to Slide at Elizabeth Arden

And know that it all comes down to the music.

Same as it ever was.

What I Hate About America

NO ONE CAN SACRIFICE

Everybody’s for change, just as long as it doesn’t negatively impact them. They can’t lose their job, they can’t make less money, you’ve got to leave that to the march of capitalism, and then these same citizens cry to the government to protect them. Ugh.

Unless we’re all willing to work together on solutions that benefit us all, we’re screwed. How come in families we know compromise is king, but when it comes to politics, it’s taboo.

MONEY IS KING

If someone is rich, they’re admirable. Making money is the highest form of personal achievement, unless you’re poor, then you hate those with the cash.

Which way do you want to have it? Whatever you’ve got, that rules?

But the truth is money has ruined art. It doesn’t matter how good or bad something is, it’s all about how much money it makes. No, let me restate that, if it makes a ton of money, it’s good!

MISINFORMATION

We’re living in the information age people! Don’t trust the hearsay of your friends when all you have to do is Google to get the information.

And this is where it becomes complicated, the rich and powerful are all about information and truth. Sure, they try to bend it, but they know it and understand it. Which is why anybody with a brain wants to hang with the rich and powerful, they’re the only ones who know what’s going on!

CONFORMITY

Being a member of the group is paramount to the millennial. You don’t want to stick out, if you’re a social pariah you can’t participate on social media!

In the sixties, it was all about letting your freak flag fly. Now it’s about being just like everybody else.

Even in art. The millennials don’t want to do hard time honing their craft and converting skeptics one by one, they just want to imitate those who are successful, which is why so much art is me-too!

Yup, watch my YouTube cover, because I haven’t got a single original thing to say in my music.

THE FICTION THAT THE YOUNG RULE THE WORLD

Check the age of the people running Apple, or Amazon. And even the meisters at Google are now middle-aged. And kids aren’t always on to the new trend, especially if it’s about more than mugging. Oldsters embraced Twitter first.

PEOPLE WHO ONLY READ ONE NEWS SOURCE

It builds bias. Because most outlets have a viewpoint. Yours can only be informed if you get information from multiple sources.

GOVERNMENT’S REFUSAL TO INVEST IN AMERICA

Infrastructure is flagging, we could have put America to work repairing roads and bridges and sewers when interest rates were negligible and no one had a job. Instead, we’re gonna wait until the economy revives and we have to pay more for money and workers. This is a country? Why is it no one wants to believe we’re gonna get to the future?

MISPERCEPTION

Despite data being rampant, publicity rules. With so much information at our fingertips he who yells loudest usually convinces America he matters, even though in truth he might not, no one may be buying his product.

SKINNINESS

Sure, we have an obesity problem in America, but how about those oldsters shrinking by the minute? Especially women, who seem to believe if they don’t eat they’re better than the rest of us, even though they lack brainpower and the ability to move. Despite living in a foodie culture, the older and richer you are, the more food is taboo.

THE HORSE RACE

I had to hear about the 2016 election from the moment Obama was elected in 2012. It’s like our whole news media has been overrun by the sports page, who’s winning, who’s up, who’s down. It’s like debating how good the Yankees or the Packers will be three seasons from now, how much time do you want to waste on that?

PHONINESS

Kim Kardashian lies about having plastic surgery and her only goal is to extract dollars from our wallets. American commerce is too often built on lies. If you buy this it will make you beautiful and successful. From religion to cosmetics, everybody wants your money under the pretense that giving it to them will somehow make you better. But if you want to get better, read a book.

ARTISTS HAVE NO BACKBONE

Show up in Ferguson, write a song about it, take a stand. But you’re afraid to, afraid it’s going to turn off some theoretical segment of the public. When did artists become such wimps?

ENTITLEMENT

I’m all about entitlement programs, a safety net for Americans…health, homes and welfare. But don’t confuse this with the right to be a success. Just because you made it, that does not mean people have to buy it. Just because you put it on Spotify, that does not mean people have to stream it.

PRUDISHNESS

Everybody wants to do it, but you can’t talk about it, unless you’re in private with your friends or significant other. Sex has to be fiction, the same way truth has to be in cartoons. Because people just can’t handle naked bodies and desire.

THE CLICK ECONOMY

It’s like we’re all being tricked every day, and the profitable websites which are responsible for this cannot be criticized.

CORPORATIONS AS PEOPLE

People die. People have a social conscience. People don’t make every decision based on money (although with the veneration of companies, people have moved further in this direction.) Why is the number one goal of artists to get money from corporations? If they really think the money is free, they’ve never heard of the chilling effect, and they know nothing about economics…it’s hard to get money from companies, they want something in return, and they always get it.