The John Oates Book

“Rich Girl” got me through law school.

I didn’t want to go, but I’d run out of options. I’d choked at the freestyle ingress, gotten the world’s worst case of mononucleosis, part of me wanted to stay at Snowbird but I knew if I didn’t leave Utah right then, I’d be there forever. That’s the lure of skiing. Mostly the sensation of freedom. But there’s the fresh air and the mountains and it turns out John Oates got hooked too. Went to Aspen on a ski trip in college and ended up buying a condo and moving there after the thrill was gone, after the band had had its hits, had broken up, and he was broke. There he skied every day, found new love and got remarried, even had a kid. He was living the life of normalcy. We think of them as stars, but the truth is they’re just regular people, possibly with a prolonged adolescence, but either you have to O.D. or face the truth, we’re all equal on this planet, we all have to get along.

Now Hall & Oates were an FM band. Hip with little traction. You knew who they were but you didn’t own any albums. Devoted followers of the scene knew that Tavares had had a huge hit with their cover of “She’s Gone,” but Hall & Oates was a struggling Philadelphia act that had worked with Arif Mardin and then taken a left turn with Todd Rundgren and had now switched labels to the worst in the business, RCA, which mean it was only a matter of time before they fell off the edge and ended up in the dustbin.

But then came “Rich Girl.”

Okay, okay, purists would say it started with “Sara Smile.” And it did. But that was mostly an AM hit in an FM world, “Rich Girl” was played on FM, and no community had more FM stations than Los Angeles, you could twist the dial and hear your favorite song multiple times, almost like owning it. And that’s what I did with “Rich Girl.”

There was no long intro. No overbearing instrumentation. Just Daryl Hall and a keyboard immediately getting into your brain, jerking you by the arm, taking you on a roller coaster ride that was oh-so-brief in an era when everything was oh-so-long. I distinctly remember the first time I heard it, driving out of the law school parking lot, it brightened my day, made me feel like life was worth living, like I could endure the boredom and inanity of law school if I could just hear music like this.

That’s why I had to be in Los Angeles. It was the epicenter, with billboards on Sunset and gigs every night of the week. I could lead an alternative lifestyle. Inhabiting the record stores and reading the rags while my school brethren read the books. Actually, I gave up the books completely the second semester, other than Criminal Procedure, because I liked the teacher and he liked me, and was scared I was gonna flunk out and then my father would excoriate me but the truth is they’ve got these things they call outlines that the professors pooh-pooh but will carry you through, I found that out and got scores better than 85% of my class and all this is true but the competition wasn’t that great. And part of the reason I’d given up studying, although I did go to class, if you stop going to class it’s like you’re not in school at all, was because I’d fallen in love, and that was more important than anything transpiring in a classroom. Maybe if I had better teachers I’d have been more into it, but I didn’t care about the law anyway, just music, and John Oates cared about music and sought out the best teachers and slowly moved ahead.

We have the belief it’s an overnight success. John played in bands, went to college, cut records, heard them on the radio and was still nowhere. That’s how it was back then. A deal with a major label was a dream that rarely came true. To be a hero in your own hometown was oftentimes good enough.

Now I loved “Rich Girl” so much, even though it sounded not a whit like Zeppelin or so many of my other favorites, that I went out and bought the album, “Bigger Than Both of Us,” which was so good I had to buy it on CD when that format burgeoned, even though it didn’t sound a whole hell of a lot better than the vinyl. And not only does “Bigger Than Both of Us” get no respect, it’s not even considered in a discussion of the best albums of the seventies, but it should be, it’s playable throughout and it’s peaks are oh-so-high. Not only “Rich Girl,” but “Crazy Eyes” and “Do What You Want, Be What You Are.”

Payin’ dues, Earth Shoes, Chicago blues
Is that how you feel

I’d owned Earth Shoes! With their negative heel. But no one under the age of fifty is familiar with them and no one under that age knows Hall & Oates’s follow-up, “Beauty on a Back Street,” with the irresistible opening cut “Don’t Change” and the mysterious, sensual “Winged Bull,” but I do. I bought each and every Hall & Oates album subsequently, because when you can reach these heights, you may again.

Not that “X-Static” didn’t have me questioning this concept, but “Voices” emerged with “You Make My Dreams” and “Kiss On My List” and they were different from what had come before but just as infectious. And suddenly Hall & Oates were on a tear, one hit single after another, the darlings of MTV before being derided and experiencing a renaissance, before being inducted into he Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and going on an arena tour with Tears For Fears this summer.

And through it all, John Oates has been seen as the sidekick, the junior member. After all, Daryl Hall has one of the greatest voices in rock and roll history.

But the truth is neither of them could break through without the other. I purchased Daryl Hall’s solo LP “Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine,” and although “Foolish Pride” is a killer, the rest pales.

And Oates has never broken through alone.

But Oates came up with “Maneater,” he details the inspiration in this book. And he wrote the opener “How Does It Feel To Be Back” from “Bigger Than Both of Us” and the truth is, they need each other, there’s a special alchemy that happens when they’re both involved.

And they became involved back at Temple, after they’d been in rival bands.

All this forgoing college because you’re gonna make it.

Er, no, you’re probably not gonna make it. And Hall & Oates stayed in school. To get out of the war if nothing else. John details singing at his wrestling co-captain’s funeral, after he was blown to bits in Vietnam, and you recall how it was.

It was oh-so-different.

They say it’s the same today, but it’s not.

First and foremost, music ruled the world. Radio was the internet. And nobody was paying attention. Nobody had a smartphone, cameras used film, your everyday moves were not charted, which was especially freeing. I know, I know, it was even freer prior to my birth but I will tell you it’s inhibiting having everybody in your business, knowing there’s a camera on every corner to detail your faux pas.

And the two signed bad publishing contracts but ultimately hooked up with Tommy Mottola who whacked the money three ways, equally, and they went on the ride of a lifetime, and when it was all over, after Mottola had moved to CBS/Sony, John’s accountant called him in for a meeting where he told him he was broke.

Now this wasn’t the fifties, or the sixties, not even the seventies. But Hall & Oates were nine mil in the hole and Oates had to sell almost all of his assets to get ahead. One of the best part of the book is his detailing of his therapy appointments after learning the money was gone. It was the same shrink he saw with his ex-wife, who he’d screwed around on and hadn’t been honest with in couples therapy. The shrink busted him. Said he was not special. And to get with the program.

We’ve all got to get with the program, or find out options are limited. The world sees you as a rock star, and if you believe this it’s only a matter of time before you wake up and find out you’re a punk.

And this book is not the definitive Hall & Oates biography. I wanted more on each individual album, more introspection about the career, the ups and downs. Hell, Oates doesn’t display any anxiety, anything other than raw positivity and belief until he runs out of cash.

But the truth is this is not the usual rock memoir. It’s half Hall & Oates and half John’s introspective stories. The first third is all before stardom. Being the golden child in an Italian family. Bumming through Europe. And you read this and you realize, he’s not that much different from you. I was not the golden child, but I did go to Europe, I do remember picking up mail at American Express and that’s one of the highlights of the book, detailing the way it used to be.

And there are stories of buying cars and auto racing, but few tales of debauchery and it’s like your best friend from high school catching you up on the last forty years, with the comeuppance at the end, the running out of money and fame, that equalizes the equation. You didn’t go down this road, but you had your adventure too. You thought you wanted to be him, now you’re not so sure.

But it is good to be the king, for a while anyway, no one stays on top forever. Flying private and hanging with the household names. But it gets old and empty and all you’re left with is your memories, you’ve still got to get up every day and pull on your pants and wonder what you’re gonna do next. The joke is on those who get plastic surgery to be stuck in the past while the audience moves on. If you don’t grow up, if you don’t realize you’re just a troubadour, here for a short while, you’re gonna end up frustrated and unhappy.

And the tales of Hunter Thompson in Woody Creek are the best I’ve ever read, you get a feeling for the writer and his lifestyle.

But this is not the best book ever written, nor is it the most engrossing, and I’m not sure I’m recommending it, but I had to read it.

Because of those records.

“Change of Seasons: A Memoir”

 

From John Oates:

Bob, tonight just as I stepped off the plane at La Guardia to kick off my book promotion tour, your take on my memoir “Change of Seasons” appeared at the top of my smartphone’s email list.

First off, thank you for taking the time to read it and taking even more time to write about it. My gut tells me that the western heat wave and your apprehension over the orthopedic perils of spring skiing snow snakes might have given you a bit more time to ruminate. Bonus for me…to paraphrase one of your recent editorials…its all about “attention” in this vapid ADD society that we all must navigate whether we like it or not.

So I’ll take my fleeting moment of attention with gratitude and with the knowledge that because you’ve briefly shined the light in my direction there might be others who may discover and appreciate my humble story of personal transformation and musical dedication.

Thank you…and I agree the Hunter Thompson stuff is pretty good, even he said so when I read it to him in his kitchen command center. J.O.

The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore

I can’t get this song out of my head.

I needed to hear something familiar, so I dialed up Classic Vinyl on Sirius XM. But when I hit a clunker I switched to 60’s on 6 and heard this, which I didn’t want to listen to, because the Walker Brothers never really made it over here, but I kept listening because something deep in my memory bank told me there was an entrancing change a’ comin’, and it did!

The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love, baby

And it’s not about the words, I don’t think I ever understood their meaning until I just wrote them down, but the sound. The way the verse segues into this release, wherein the vocalist is suddenly set free, able to reveal his innermost feelings. Then again, there’s a scrim between you and him, it’s a Wall of Sound production even though it wasn’t produced by Phil Spector, but Bob Crewe, who got some ink upon his death back in 2014, having mostly to do with his sexual preference, which was unknown by the general public back in his heyday, but those of us who purchased 45’s knew his name, for it was all over the Four Seasons records, and as a matter of fact, Crewe cowrote this song with Bob Gaudio, and the original version was recorded by Frankie Valli the year before, ’65, after the Four Seasons had started to fade, but it didn’t quite break into the Hot 100, but when rerecorded by the Walker Brothers it went all the way to number one in the U.K., but it did not dominate in the U.S., it went to number 13, which meant it was not ubiquitous and in many markets was barely played at all, because really only a few records get spun religiously and in the days before MTV, before the codification of FM by Lee Abrams, radio was oftentimes regional, kind of like the food, I went to Park City and saw the same damn chains I see in L.A., from Subway to Burger King, and I revel in the fact that I no longer have to go blindly into some faceless emporium to eat the equivalent of shoe leather, which I remember quite vividly outside of Yellowstone Park back in ’74, they called it roast beef but it might as well have been billed Florsheim, but the point is you used to leave home and it was different, and now, statistically, no one leaves at all, they just stay where they are, not being able to afford to go where the jobs are, but the point is it used to be exciting to take a drive and listen to what was being played elsewhere before radio became homogenized and the satellite came along to save us.

And the weird thing is the Walker Brothers are American. But they had to go overseas to make it. Huge stars in the U.K. they became, and we heard their name now and again but we rarely heard their music, but tonight…

The Frankie Valli take is so out of time as to be almost laughable. You’ll hear the intro and know why this didn’t hit in the era of the British Invasion and then Frankie sings the verses like it could be the phone book, back when we had those, and then he belts the chorus in his classic way, albeit a bit reservedly, and it’s the same song but it’s completely different. You’re listening to the Valli version, but you want to know the singer of the Walker Brothers iteration, it’s all dark and mysterious.

The intro is hokey, but then it locks into a Gene Pitney feel and a deep vocal takes over akin to a Righteous Brother….

Loneliness is the cloak you wear

The scourge of life that’s somehow absent from modern art. Remember when songs were about the human condition, when you listened not to be a member of a group, but to bond with the singer in a twosome, a marriage where you felt safe and understood?

Emptiness is the place you’re in
Nothin’ to lose but no more to win

It’s when you’re stuck in neutral that life is worst. When you’re out of the game, when victory or defeat are not in the equation, only stasis.

You listen to the Walker Brothers’ recording and you visualize a whole movie. He’s lost without her, on the edge of despair, he’s got to testify, tell you, but it’s more than that, you can see through the record into the studio, a big room with everybody there at the same time, the rockers and the classicists, the electric instruments and the acoustic, the backup vocalists, the producer in a sweater.

It’s almost like a western. Something one step removed. What used to be. You’re intrigued. Deep inside there’s not only a story, but humanity.

Lonely, without you, baby
Girl, I need you
I can’t go on

The chorus is the hook, but it’s this interlude that makes the track a classic, it slows down and the truth is revealed.

And now you know what music was like fifty years ago. You couldn’t make it at home, you needed professionals in a studio, and they were shooting for the stars, doing their best to create something from heaven, that lasted forever, that would imprint itself upon listeners’ brains and make them buy it so they could hear it again and again, to get that same reflective feeling, from an era when music was totally personal, when melody was more important than the beat, when you sang along to bond yourself to the magic, when radio was a living, breathing thing and you never knew what you’d tune in and hear, when all the hits weren’t made by the same people, when every track was just a bit different, when music’s goal was to impart wisdom while at the same time taking you away, soothing you, helping guide you through life.

And the funny thing is the more they sing about the sun not shining anymore the more your own brain clears, the more optimistic you become.

That’s the power of a hit record.

That’s the power of music.

The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore – Spotify

Trumpcare Fails

This is what happens when entertainment abdicates its responsibility.

Reality triumphs.

The movie business is in decline, the China it depended upon has sputtered, if it weren’t for increased prices grosses would have tanked. And this is a result of the studios giving the public what it thinks it wants.

Nobody knows what the public wants. William Goldman was correct. Nobody knows anything in Hollywood. And now all the focus is on D.C.

This calcification, this predictability, this rule-abiding has infected music too. Credit Beyonce and Eric Church and most recently Drake for messing with the distribution paradigm, but they’re still selling albums even if they call them playlists and what they contain is moribund, we need more experimentation, speaking to the disenfranchised.

We’ve got a business selling hip-hop in a world where forty percent will never listen to the sound.

We’ve got a preponderance of beats and an absence of melody.

We’ve got songs written by committee because we’re afraid of individuality.

What we’re looking for is tracks that speak to those without a voice, those who are not rich or elected or in control of the press.

Instead, we’ve got an insularity that turns off fans and an overwhelming amount of fake music.

There are so many records by so many people demanding our attention that we can’t even find the good stuff. On a regular basis people e-mail me songs that have hundreds of millions of streams which I’ve never heard of. Try Duke Dumont’s “Ocean Drive,” links below, which made it to number one on the dance chart but only number forty on the Top Forty so most people have never heard of it, despite having 245,513,819 views on YouTube and 105,336,472 streams on Spotify. Who is gonna cut out the detritus and focus us on that which we need to hear? I mean I knew Dumont’s name, but with so much crap pushed down my throat I can’t see the forest for the trees, like an average American.

Or if Duke’s one listen smash is not your cup of tea, how about Mudcrutch’s “Hungry No More,” from their second album, “2.” If you lived through the seventies and eighties, when rock was king and you sat in front of the stereo stoned nodding your head, this’ll reach you, sit through the whole thing, as the aural adventure unfolds.

So, there is good new stuff out there, but it’s not getting to the public. The same way people don’t know the truth about the Affordable Care Act or globalization or so many of the issues dominating the economic landscape.

Then again, money is the root denominator, the only thing we think about more is love, although if you’ve got no mazuma good luck getting laid.

So, we’ve got a cornucopia of information and little coherence in music. No wonder it’s static, we need to entrance the public. But people are being force fed retreads and are saying no mas. When the truth is they want something brand new that’s different, they want someone to lead them to greatness the same way Elizabeth Warren cuts through the fog by speaking truth.

But maybe you don’t agree with that.

But your party just lost. Because when given the power you couldn’t get it done.

The artists have been given the power for fifteen years. They can record for nearly free, distribute for nearly free, publicize for nearly free, but all they can do is bitch that the game is rigged or put out derivative drivel.

It’s time to rise above. It’s time to lead.

Music has power. It can influence not only hearts, but minds. The Food Network turned the average American into a gourmand. Great new music can change people’s beliefs and make them take action.

Watching what was happening in D.C. was more riveting than anything coming out of the entertainment industrial complex, and we still have no idea where it’s going to end up, kinda like trying to predict “Sgt. Pepper” from “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” There’s gerrymandering, there are more Democratic Senate seats up for grabs the next election than Republican and…

Who’s gonna lead us out of the wilderness?

Artists. If they just grab the wheel and start to drive.

“Ocean Drive”

Spotify

YouTube

“Hungry No More”

Spotify

YouTube

P.S. “Hungry No More” has only 46,123 views on YouTube and 90,848 streams on Spotify. In other words, greatness is not enough. The cream can no longer rise to the top, like truth in our country at large. You need to push it, make people aware of it.

P.P.S. I like to get excited about things, I like to be passionate about things, I like to feel alive and following the shenanigans in D.C. I feel this way, but too often I feel dull when hyped and exposed to music, but there’s nothing as enticing as a track that titillates and stimulates, it’s just that we’re venerating wankers playing by the rules instead of celebrating those who think outside of the box and test limits.

The Bob Dylan Interview

The Bob Dylan Interview

Q&A with Bill Flanagan
Mar 22, 2017
Exclusive to bobdylan.com

Won’t get anybody to listen to the music. Actually, all you need to know is revealed in the answer wherein he says he listens to music on CDs. The plastic discs were supposed to be an improvement on vinyl, permanent and clear, but now the world has bifurcated, into vinyl purists and on demand streamers and if you’re listening to digital discs it just proves that you’re out of the loop. When did Bob Dylan become such an old fart? Then again, he’s 75.

Don’t get your knickers in a twist. If we can’t criticize the giants we cannot push them to test the limits and exceed their previous work. We’ve been giving Dylan a pass for far too long. I’ll piss him off, and his Grammy speech taught us he’s listening, intently, and say the last great thing he did was “Things Have Changed” from the “Wonder Boys” soundtrack. It was a one-off. Which percolated in the marketplace long after the movie stiffed, even though it was quite good, better than the book, then again, Michael Chabon’s one who’s gotten an unjust pass himself, too much focus on the writing and too little on the plot and I’ll posit his best work was his very first, “The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh,” but now I’m getting so obscure and referential you might be lost. I’m doing what Dylan is doing in this interview, and it’s utterly fascinating.

Getting back to the marketing element, in today’s world it’s so hard to gain attention that your product must be available simultaneous with the hype. Just ask Drake, who just proved it, or Beyonce. It’s only old farts inured to the movie business who believe in the buildup. To tell you the truth if “Triplicate” had been on Spotify today I would have checked out some of the cuts Dylan talks about, but I won’t when it’s released, whenever that might be, because I will have already moved on to new stuff and Bob’s disappointed me with his frog-throat voice and rearranged songs for far too long unless I hear from a trustworthy source I’m missing out. Then again, Dylan’s from a previous generation, he’s like God coming down from the mountaintop with the tablets, we pay attention to him, we don’t need no stinking penumbra. But I’ll bet your life and mine that this interview is better than the three disc set. Because that’s what Bob does best, opine, give us insight into the culture. He’s now lived long and is still obfuscating whilst revealing truth and instead of covering old chestnuts he should be blogging, now’s when we need him most, when our country is in turmoil, we’re looking for insight, we’re looking for art, we’re ready for his tricks. Instead he’s bunting, using up his capital hyping a project that no one cares about that will be instantly forgotten, like his previous cover LPs, and if you think he doesn’t care then why did he do this interview in the first place? A fake one to boot. Bill Flanagan is interviewing him but it debuts on Bob’s own site? Did Flanagan even get paid? Hell, Flanagan’s questions are the worst part, it’s Dylan’s cryptic answers that intrigue. Riddled with truth and falsehood. Bob’s the original Keyser Soze. We don’t know what to believe, but we can’t stop paying attention.

So just when we need him most, when he could put out one cut that could change the world, Dylan overloads us with irrelevant product in a world where we’ve got no time. How come all the old acts can’t come up to speed. Not only should the release be day and date with the hype, but one track is enough, we’ve got time to listen to one track. And then follow it up with another not that far down the line. We’re interested in what Dylan has to say, but the fawning press has been kissing his ass for so damn long that we’ve gone on react and are tuning his work out. Because how many times can you go to the well and find out it’s dry?

Dylan makes Minnesota come alive. Cites Twin Cities bands from far after he left. Creates myths about his family and friends not knowing or caring about his appearance on “Ed Sullivan” when he was always close to his mother and even brought her to a Yetnikoff event. Bob’s creating a character, who knows who he really is, and when he says he’s got nothing to say and is not worthy of the hang time you either protest too much or roll your eyes and say “there he goes again,” evading the punch, dancing like a butterfly while he stings us like a bee.

Yes, Dylan’s still here, unlike Muhammad Ali. And his insight and chops are as sharp as ever. But he’s squandering them. He refuses to reach for the stars. Refuses to write a song that will change the world. Refuses to come down off the mountaintop and interact with us in the new world. Sure, he did that XM series, but imagine Dylan on Twitter or YouTube. Imagine him writing with Drake. Imagine him risking.

Because he still cares. And he’s still stuck in the old ethos, where music is everything and you’re a student of the game. Bob Dylan still gives a damn, in a world where most aged acts are only about the bread, collecting cash from Live Nation when they pass Go!, and plying the boards endlessly giving people what they want. Dylan never played that game, he gave us what we needed. And what we need now more than ever is leaders who make us think for ourselves, who sharpen our vision, who get us to investigate and come up with our own conclusions, to question authority and brave the road untaken. This interview is a marvelous start, but the “Triplicate” project is a nonstarter, dead on arrival in a world where what happens in the morning is already forgotten in the afternoon and if you take chances and create greatness you can impact society, but there’s no greatness in covering aged tunes, however much insight they might contain, not when your voice is ragged and nearly unlistenable. For that, you’ve got to write a song that’s solely your own. We’re waiting Bob…