Chris Collingwood In A Backyard

He met Mitchell Froom on LinkedIn.

His then manager said the uber-producer wouldn’t be interested, that they couldn’t afford him. Chris expected this high-powered majordomo to take matters into his own hands, that’s why you sign with the movers and shakers, their relationships, their access, but it turned out Chris made more progress by himself.

Welcome to the modern music business, where the acts do all the heavy lifting unless they’re label superstars, and the superstars make all the money and if you don’t get the big label push you can’t get significant traction.

Chris Collingwood was one half of Fountains Of Wayne, two school buddies from Williams, they made revered LPs with one big MTV hit and now they’re on semi-permanent hiatus, Chris has got to do it for himself. And he did, he cut this album with Mr. Froom and he’s now on the road promoting it.

His manager implored me to come see him Friday night at McCabe’s.

But already being booked at the Forum I grasped the chance to see him in Chris Palmeri’s backyard this afternoon.

Chris Palmeri?

I’ve got no idea either. He’s a fan, he writes for Bloomberg, I accepted the invitation, if you don’t leave the house you’ll never have a new experience.

And I didn’t know a single soul there, all thirty and fortysomething couples with kids. That’s the strange thing about music, all the focus is on the barely pubescent but the older folks have a passion…

And Chris introduced me to Tom Vickers, who started out writing for “Rolling Stone” and then ended up working for George Clinton and major labels.

Tom’s done now.

That’s the story of the baby boomers, if we’re not running it, we’re in the rearview mirror, we’re out of the loop. Tom had gone to a screening of a movie about rock critics, it’s on Hulu right now, and he said to see where these folks are today… They followed the muse and it left them on the side of the road, broke, with no direction home.

They don’t tell you this when you’re growing up.

Not in the sixties anyway. Today the kids don’t want to be left behind, they’re all like Alex Keaton on “Family Ties,” young Republicans looking to work for the man. Because if you’re not getting ahead today, you’re being left behind. Whereas back then, the music was enough.

So Chris is on tour with Squeeze, and the label paid half his tour support in merch, vinyl and CDs, they said he could make up the difference.

But Chris doesn’t want to ask.

Today you’ve got to be artist and salesman. Which is why the salesmen are triumphant. Come on, does anybody sell better than Kanye? But usually the artistic temperament is separate from sales, artists depend upon someone else, and when they’ve got to take on the mantle…

I told Chris to make it a funny story, to tell it from the stage, the truth with a twist, kinda like Tom Rush. Tom says to buy the merch so his daughter can go to college, and if people buy enough merch she won’t have to go to college! The truth is Tom does have a daughter in high school…

We’re all trying to get along.

In a world where it’s nearly impossible to get noticed.

What if it doesn’t work out?

In the nineties Chris was a programmer. Ironically, his expertise in SQL and Ruby still flies, he could work. And in the past year he’s taken courses to brush up, not that he’s planning to enter the world of bits and bytes, but…

Not everybody can be famous, not everybody can be rich. And few can continue to be rich and famous, even if they once broke through. What are you gonna do when the well runs dry, when people no longer care, when your bank account is empty and all you’ve got is your memories?

This is the issue confronting not only the acts, but the employees, those whose shoulders the empire was built upon. They’re no longer needed, but they’re not yet dead. What now?

Maybe you inherited enough money.

But if you’re trying to get along on social security…

It was different back then, because the music was EVERYTHING! A culture whose institutions built an edifice parallel to traditional reality. There were not only the labels, but the radio stations… It’s like our religion died and it was replaced with a faux belief that we just cannot fathom.

And there’s so much noise that even if you’re great it’s hard to get noticed.

I didn’t mean this to be depressing. I spent an afternoon in the California sunshine, everybody wearing shorts on this ninety degree day. The music washed over us, we were living the life.

But when I scratched beneath the surface…

Nobody likes to complain.

But there’s a lot to complain about.

You want to do it. You’re privileged to do it. You’ve got to do all the heavy lifting and oftentimes you can’t tell whether you’re making progress or not.

But the believers keep you on course. A young woman flew in from Japan to sell the merch. It’s these fans who keep us going.

But where are we going to?

Signifiers Disappear

First they came for your watch.

Next they’re coming for your car.

Used to be he who died with the most toys won.

Now, ownership is passe, everything’s on demand.

I first realized this fifteen years ago, when I noticed Jimmy Iovine had the same Nokia phone, a tiny blue stub of a device, it was the best available, you couldn’t get one with a longer range or a better sound, functionality was king and decoration was irrelevant, we were equals.

We’re all equals today.

For those of you buying an expensive car as a status symbol… Do it now, because in ten years you won’t even own a car. And that Ferrari? The Tesla outperforms it, at least in straight line acceleration. Turns out gasoline is no match for electricity. But before long, transportation will be an on demand item. Not only will the car drive itself, it’ll show up at your doorstep when you need to go somewhere. And the evaporation of a need for parking lots, and parking spaces is hard to wrap one’s head around, can you imagine a kid asking why a house has a garage fifty years from now? But you’re gonna lose your ability to stand out based on your possessions.

As for those watches… Your phone tells more accurate time. They’re just jewelry. And Swiss sales are off, the manufacturers are buying up inventory to maintain prices, the wristwatch is going to be marginalized, at least that which is not computerized. And what we know about computers is they become commodities, like phones, the best is within the reach of almost all of us.

George Carlin did a whole routine on stuff.

Is anybody gonna even own any stuff in the future?

Your record collection, vinyl and CD. You can hold on to it, people still collect stamps, although that’s a dying art with plunging prices, but it’s a hobby, music is something that arrives with the flick of a digital switch, like movies, via Netflix.

The rich will not be that much better than the rest of us.

Sure, they can own bigger homes. But people are returning to cities for the access, they like the action, the opportunities, the offerings. So sprawling suburban mansions? There’s gonna be a fire sale. As for vacation home ownership? It’s kind of like skis. Most people rent them, sales have declined dramatically, because when you factor in transportation costs, you’re better off hiring the latest and the greatest each time you go.

We’ve all got the same iPhones and Samsungs. There’s no $2000 model, never mind $10,000 model. And our lives are centered around our mobile devices, and what is virtually inside is more valuable than what is externally available.

That’s right, your social network means more than anything you own at home. As for food, delivery is making inroads in a world where so many have given up cooking anyway.

So, it all comes down to your virtual world and experiences. Those who are selling experiences will triumph tomorrow. It’s going to be who you know, where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Probably documented online, but it won’t be about physical trophies.

We won’t be able to tell someone is rich just by looking at them. Maybe they’ll have the best seat in the restaurant, maybe they’ll be able to get a reservation at the restaurant, but they won’t drive up in a Rolls Royce or BMW strutting their stuff.

We’re gonna become more equal.

This is hard to fathom if you’ve got nothing, you’re looking for creature comforts, items to make you feel good.

And this is hard to fathom if you’re rich, trying to feel better about yourself by working endlessly to acquire items that set you apart.

Of course, the rich will still have access to that which the poor do not. But it used to be a goal to own your own plane, most people now just rent ’em, they might call them fractional ownership programs, but the truth is your jet is delivered on demand, and you’ve got no headaches, and if you own your own plane today…it’s a signifier, to show that you’re better than your competitors.

We’re all in it together. We’re collapsing inward, and people don’t like this. The poor hate the immigrants supposedly stealing their jobs and the rich don’t want the poor elbowing in on their opportunities, like access to a first rate education.

So what do you need?

A roof over your head, a screen and someone to love.

That’s about it.

Oh, and a job. So you can partake of experiences. So you have something to do. Work will become about fulfillment more than paying one’s bills.

The times they are a-changin’.

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…


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.


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

“The Music Industry Is Finally Making Money on Streaming”