Dan Hicks

Is 74 the new 27?

Whereas the young rock stars die of misadventure…the oldsters seem to just wear out, to succumb to the maladies that affect the rest of us.

And we don’t like this, because we want our heroes to live forever.

Paul Kantner was an irascible fellow who could be notoriously hard to get along with.

But he piloted multiple bands under the moniker “Jefferson” that seemed to care not a whit about what else was going on. And money was secondary. As Bill Graham so famously said, whenever they got paid the band stayed home and smoked dope. They suspended the radio station at my high school when a student played “Eskimo Blue Day” over the intercom, it was a perk to liven up the hour before classes, but the rules of my public school didn’t mean shit to a tree, or the deejay involved

You can listen to “Surrealistic Pillow.” You can be wowed by “Saturday Afternoon” on “Baxter’s,” you can point out that Kantner cowrote “Wooden Ships,” but it appears you had to be there to understand. We had no idea San Francisco was a burgeoning hotbed of revolution, of alternative lifestyle, of thinking for yourself and not worrying what anybody said until…

We heard Jefferson Airplane, they were the first.

With Signe Anderson, who died at the same age and on the same day as Kantner. But it was with Grace Slick that the band made inroads. And isn’t it interesting that Slick has retired. She knows her time has passed. The kids listen and then they don’t, you become nostalgia, you stop being born, you’re busy dying.

And Maurice White captained a seventies superstar band that appealed to both blacks and whites and made a boatload of money, you still hear Earth, Wind & Fire tracks on the radio.

But you never hear Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.

Hicks may not have been the hothead Kantner was, but he was certainly irascible, he suffered no fools, the idea of kissing butt was anathema to him. Furthermore, he broke up the band just after it got traction, when it was poised for the big time.

And his career never recovered.

He did it his way.

And Hicks’s way was like nobody else’s. This was back when all the bands didn’t sound alike, never mind work with the same writers and producers. You went off on your own adventure, you turned your album into the label, the company did a bit of publicity and then the audience embraced you and spread the word…

Or you were dead in the water.

Sure, it was great if radio played your track. The airwaves reached the most people.

But as much as we were listening radio was primarily a sampling service, we wanted to know what to buy, to get deep into at home, like “Striking It Rich.”

Hicks’s first LP was on Epic. It got no traction and it sounded compressed and slick as opposed to what came out on Blue Thumb.

That’s right, Krasnow and LiPuma’s label. As a matter of fact, Tommy produced “Striking It Rich,” which was Hicks’s second LP for the company.

The cover was a giant matchbook. Back when the art was important and you could be cheeky, when we appreciated your innovation, your creativity.

And when you dropped the needle…

You went on an aural adventure disconnected from everything else on the hit parade, which made it even more special. Who was this Hicks guy? And how about the Lickettes? Naomi Eisenberg and Maryann Price were stars in their own right!

Back before graduate school was an option, when there was a large middle class that would support you. All the musicians of yore had their minds exploded in colleges which were all about experimentation, as opposed to preparation for a career. You got in touch with your sensibilities, you tried out different personae, and then you foisted one upon the world.

You played to your muse, not to yourself.

There were no hits on “Striking It Rich,” but there are tracks I’ll never forget.

Like “Canned Music.”

And “Walkin’ One And Only.”

And the piece-de-resistance, “I Scare Myself,” which made violinist Sid Page a star overnight.

Today we listen to songs in groups, as if we’re afraid to disconnect and be alone with the sound, taken on a journey to the center of our mind.

But “I Scare Myself” is all about mood. Taking you to the edge of the world…and pushing you off. Back before Uber, back before cheap jet travel, when your freedom came from getting in your automobile and driving across this great country of ours, it was cuts like “I Scare Myself” that rode shotgun, it’s why we know them so well, we played them over and over, until they became integrated with our souls.

Which is why Dan Hicks’s passing is such a big deal. He’s part of our DNA, part of our fabric, and if he’s gone…

Maybe we will be too.

His music is only kept alive by us. Once we’re dead, will we be forgotten too?


But we lived through an era when music was the grease, the highest calling of an adventurous young person, we were addicted to it, we went nowhere without it, despite having no MP3s, not even tapes, everywhere you went music was playing, it was a main topic of conversation, the money was just a byproduct, because when you’re selling truth, when you’re purveying excellence, we’ll give you all we’ve got.

So either you know what I’m talking about or…

You’ll listen to the below playlist and hear something that sounds unlike anything else, but is strangely affecting. You’ll get insight into 1972, when the album was everything and it wasn’t about building filler around the single but putting your best foot forward, making a statement, getting your vision down on wax.


Dan Hicks is not the only one.

And despite having no hits, he played Carnegie Hall, he made the cover of “Rolling Stone,” before that placement was reserved for TV stars and celebutantes.

It’s a sad day.

Dan Hicks – Spotify

Coldplay At The Super Bowl

And the winner of the night?

HONDA! For offering free Uber rides home, at least in SoCal, where I was watching.

You make the most of an opportunity. The advertisements were so busy being clever that they missed their target. You want to make us believe in your product and want to use and buy it. But in an era where fame is everything and substance goes out the window it’s no surprise that Madison Avenue demonstrated cluelessness.

But the truth is our nation is in a mass upheaval. That’s the essence of both Trump and Sanders. We want the truth, authenticity and credibility, we want to be respected, and when you see only dollar signs we shrug and move on.

Sometimes you have to say no. All exposure isn’t good exposure. What was the chance casual Coldplay fans would be infected by the band’s performance and purchase tickets to their show? Close to nil.

Now the band has a stink upon it, relegated to second tier status in their own supposedly shining moment, they appeared to be smiling nitwits in a sea of humanity that resembled nothing so much as Up With People, the lame, safe, halftime show the NFL used to employ, when musicians abhorred the rules and regulations of sports, when they were all about rejecting cultural norms as opposed to embracing them for profit.

It’s a violent sport. What’s up with all the wimpy music?

Lady Gaga stretched out the national anthem to the degree there was barely time for football. She’s gotten a publicity pass she does not deserve, her last album was a stiff and her trek with Tony Bennett a sideshow. It’s a hits business, and she hasn’t had one in eons and probably will never have one again, why is she considered a national treasure?

Because the NFL and CBS don’t have their ear to the street. They don’t know there’s a generation gap. They just believe everyone will buy the crap they serve them. As if nobody under thirty wants to cut the cord, as if football deserves a spot in America’s heart along with apple pie and religion. Did you see the MVPs walk out at the beginning of the game? Terry Bradshaw could barely amble out. How could Goodell let this happen? How come everybody in the 1% has lost touch and perspective, not knowing their success depends on the little guy, who is arching his eyebrows and judging what they’re seeing?

Chris Martin looked like a dork. And although the video stage was cool, he and his band’s music never lit up the joint. And the diversions looked like something from the June Taylor Dancers, but Jackie Gleason would want nothing to do with them. You could barely hear the vocals and you had the nincompoop teens running out to swarm the stage, even though they were barely conscious the last time the band had a hit. It was a celebration the audience was left out of. You could do nothing but sit there and wonder why anybody cared.

Until Bruno Mars took the stage.

Bruno knew it was not about music so much as show, and he delivered. Slinking around on stage with his backup singers you were energized and enticed. It may have been meaningless, but at least it was satisfying. Music is like porn, you know it when you see it. And Mars was the only person on stage who seemed to come from the music business.

Beyonce came from the gym. She was working so hard that when she aligned with Chris and Bruno in the finale she was nearly exhausted. She too missed the message, 2016 isn’t about reveling in your excellence, adoring you from afar, but embracing you when you get down in the pit with us, your audience. I’m not in that good a shape and most Americans aren’t either. Watching Bey was like watching an Olympian, you could respect her, but you just could nor warm up to her.

Never mind the chutzpah of doing her new song. I give her credit for that actually, most of the audience was unfamiliar with most of Coldplay’s material so what difference will it make? Did it help her sell tickets?

Not much.

Not for Coldplay either.

You see we’re inundated with marketing messages. And we choose what to pull in, what to embrace. We have no problem watching entertainment and then discarding it nearly instantly. I mean who at home is sitting there saying…I didn’t know Beyonce was going on the road, let me fire up my credit card and drop $100+ a ticket. No, the decision to go is much more considered these days. Sure, it’s hard to get the message out, but it’s not hard to say no if you’re a customer.

So why is it so hard for a manager to say no?

Come on, you see witless actors whoring themselves out, everybody from Anthony Hopkins to Christopher Walken to Helen Mirren. But they’re chameleons, filling roles. We don’t believe in their personalities, we don’t even really know who they are!

But musicians touch our souls. They’re consistent. They stand for something.

But the only thing Chris Martin and company stood for is promotion. And we know hype when we see it.

It was a strange game, dominated by defense. It may have been Peyton’s last, but one wonders if Brock Osweiler could have done just as well. Still, it was riveting to see Cam Newton, the biggest star on the gridiron according to the industrial hype machine, be completely hamstrung. Not so much by any individual, but a team, the Denver defense.

After losing the Super Bowl two years ago, Elway retooled. Threw out what didn’t work. He didn’t put new paint on an old edifice, he got a clean piece of paper and started over. Kudos to him, it worked!

We need a clean piece of paper in music. We need musicians who have some self-respect, who think they’re bigger than the game, who are willing to turn down promotional opportunities because they make them look small, like Coldplay.

But the NFL knows nothing about music. It wants something entertaining, but not edgy. But in music, that’s death. Then again, we’ve got so much of that on today’s scene. It’s almost like the string-pullers don’t want to champion anything outside the box, they want it safe.

But the world is dangerous.

Music used to reflect this.

The only peril on the field today was to the players.

Coldplay was immune.

No, that’s not true. By refusing to turn down this promotional opportunity they revealed the band to be the sham that it is. Four blokes who should have stayed in college who appeal to white people afraid of edge.

Sid Vicious is rolling in his grave.

Remember, you win in music when you’re outside, when you play by your own rules, when you behave like the rock star you are, not a tool of the man.

It wasn’t quite Billy Squier territory, but Coldplay’s career was stopped in its tracks today. Now fans will be subjected to hatred for their choice. We all saw the show and said HUH?


Music Moguls

Music Moguls: Masters of Pop – Money Makers – BBC Documentary 2016

This makes me feel inadequate. It makes me realize I’m not a businessman. Because a businessman puts the money first, and will do whatever it takes to not only generate revenue, but put as much as possible into his own pocket. It also makes me realize I’ve been a victim of the press, of the penumbra, I’m an end consumer, whereas to know what’s really going on you have to go to the heart of the matter.

Every successful artist needs a manager. Every artist needs a manager to be successful. A manager is a freewheeling character who believes rules are made to be broken, who sees the world as an opportunity, who is not fearful of standing up to anybody.

And that’s not me.

The best managers function in uncharted territory. Don’t limit yourself to music, this is the story of tech. It was for nerds in Silicon Valley, most people didn’t pay attention until Apple went public. And then Gen-X’ers started computing whilst their baby boomer brethren saw no need for a box. But it’s the children of the boomers who truly ran with tech, they saw the power of digits, they revolutionized society, and we just bask in the utility of Facebook and Uber and…

The same way boomers used to revel in the sounds of the Beatles.

We had no idea what made them successful. We thought we did, we hoovered up all the information we could, but we had no access to those pulling the strings, who were inventing it along the way.

This documentary starts with Colonel Parker. For this carny bloke it was all about the money. He smelled opportunity. That’s what the unwashed don’t understand about managers, they sniff well for talent. And the talent they’re looking for is the ability to cause a reaction, that will get people to open their wallets. Every act does not deserve a manager. And although great acts are few and far between, managers focus not only on musical talent, but marketability, moldability… The Beatles were scruffy, Brian Epstein made them clean-cut.

No one knew there was that much money in music. Only outcasts were in the field. Gay men who knew what the little girls wanted. Wet behind the ears twentysomethings who could not get a leg up at the corporation. Scrappy free-thinkers.

Andrew Loog Oldham didn’t stand by the stage self-satisfied when his proteges the Rolling Stones were doing their act, no, he went to the back of the hall and started screaming, to get the girls to do so too.

Simon Napier-Bell took Wham! to China for the publicity. A great manager is a manipulator, he sees the world as his stage, he makes way for the artists to create. As Bill Curbishley says, artists are defective, they’re missing something, it’s the manager’s role to fill that hole.

So if you’re good at math, well-adjusted, educated and your life is rife with opportunity…

You’re probably not gonna make it in music.

But if you can’t get up in the morning. If you’re alternately smooth and awkward. If you have trouble with authority… You might be a star, if you catch the eye of a great manager who allows you to be you, full time.

That’s the story of the modern music business. Not the acts eaten up by the public, they’re just the product, like Barbie or the Pet Rock. Rather it’s the people who foist them upon the world, who convince people to open their wallets, who are the engine of success.

You can go to music business college, you can read Don Passman’s book, you can be a student of the game yet still be unsuccessful. Because it’s not about what you know but who you are. Are you the kind of person who artists can trust, who will see you as their best friend, who can open doors for them, be fair to them and make headway?

Then you’re on the road to success.

The greats can always get more artists. The greats are always pivoting. Maybe moving from management to promotion to comedy to…

And the greats are always standing up to institutions. Whether it be Peter Grant demanding 90% of the gross or Irving Azoff starting his own performing rights society.

Great managers don’t know the word NO. And they don’t focus on dreaming, on the impossible, but what they believe to be achievable. They may start small, manipulating sales reports, but then they go big. It’s the only way to hold on to your client and survive.

Yes, fraud, manipulation, falsehood… They’re ubiquitous in the music business. They’re the grease that makes the engine hum. Sure, millennials are about honesty and transparency, but then why does Mark Zuckerberg keep changing the Facebook terms of service? Why does he keep changing the algorithms so you’ve got to pay to be seen?

Because he wants money and he wants to survive.

Kill or be killed.

That’s how Helen Kushnick made Jay Leno famous. She was hated for it, but most managers are hated.

By the people they supersede, who are left behind, who don’t have the vision and the cojones to make the world their oyster.

The doc moves on to Paul McGuinness. Turning the Irish band into a worldwide financial juggernaut.

But McGuinness got blown out when he couldn’t adjust to the new world, driven by the internet.

That’s how Scooter Braun became successful, finding Justin Bieber online.

But Braun is working in ancient territory. Creating desire in little girls who are not savvy to the world. Whereas the big money today is in creating convenience, in tech, allowing the public to become the star.

Not that there isn’t money in music.

There’s just a whole hell of a lot more elsewhere.

Which is why everybody in Hollywood has a tech play. Not because they love 0’s and 1’s, but because they love money, they love the action.

And at the center of the action you’ll always find the same person. Who usually didn’t go to college, frequently did not come from a rich family, who likes to tilt the playing field in his favor. The only difference is today the tech titans themselves are the stars. Evan Spiegel, Mr. Snapchat, or Daniel Ek of Spotify.

Because we need something to believe in. With people to believe in behind it. It’s the nature of being alive, otherwise life is too empty.

And sure, music fills the hole. But the way it gets to us is through these scrappy entrepreneurs, they midwife success.

And if you don’t know this you’re destined to sit on the sidelines.

This documentary will open your eyes.

But it won’t make you a manager.

Focus on what you do best. Wanting to play, wanting to be involved…that’s no guarantee of success in a sphere where everybody wants in. Hell, you can’t get a concert ticket because the hedge funders need to go and say there were there too.

But the hedge funders will give you their money, if you just figure out what they want.

That’s what a manager does, figure out what people want and then sell it to them.

Are you a mark or a merchant?

Look yourself in the mirror and answer that question.

When you know who you are you can plot your course and reach the destination.

And if your terminus is international rock star, you need a manager. Not someone who’s done it before so much as someone who can do it today. Who knows both the players and the marketplace. Who is even hungrier than you.

Don’t buy the gloss, look for the special sauce.

By time it gets to you the story has been changed, spruced up, there’s a patina of niceness to it. As bad as Peter Grant looked in the “Song Remains The Same,” it was a smidge of his nastiness.

Nice is not a path to victory.

Unless there’s someone being nasty behind the scenes, paving the way, keeping the vultures away, making you a desirable commodity.

Ponder that.

Bernie Sanders

What kind of crazy, fucked-up world do we live in where a 74 year old white-haired Jew from Vermont resonates with the millennial generation more than any entertainer?

One in which when the game is rigged an outspoken leader says the rules must be changed instead of preaching false hope.

My radar tells me it’s going to be a Clinton/Rubio race, and that all the dissatisfaction expressed for the past year might go by the wayside, or will it?

The Occupy movement was marginalized by the press, and despite lionization by Aaron Sorkin in the “Newsroom,” it was seen as an unfocused effort by slackers that was ultimately laughable.

That’s what happens when the aged won’t let go, they marginalize the efforts of the hungry newcomers. And in this case, the aged are baby boomers, who wrested power from their sleeping parents and refuse to let go.

Millennials run the bleeding edge tech companies.

Who runs entertainment?

If you don’t think aged boomers run records and concerts, you don’t know that Doug Morris is too old to be classified as a boomer, but the rest of the business is overrun with fifty and sixtysomethings who grew up in the sixties, seventies and eighties when entertainment was completely different, when it was all about promotion and the game was rigged, when it didn’t matter what sold just as long as something did.

But that ain’t gonna go on for long.

This is what’s gonna happen. An incorruptible millennial is gonna revolutionize music. Not Scooter Braun, with his lame over-promotion of nitwits, but an act with talent that will be comfortable saying no. That won’t work with usual suspect songwriters and producers and will specialize in touching people’s hearts more than slickness.

That’s what will make music healthy again, and it’s coming.

This effort might be midwifed by young businesspeople with new values, who believe in transparency and honesty as opposed to duplicity. You can’t get a good concert ticket at face value, you don’t even know where to look for one. Do you think this is the preference of the millennial?

No, the millennial believes in fairness. The millennial will pay top buck for what they want. Just make it clear, cast aside obfuscation.

The millennials are fueling the Sanders campaign. Which is not about fixing the old car, but blowing it up and taking a Tesla or an Uber. For all the trumpeting of the Top Forty, the truth is never since the Beatles have hits meant less, have they had less penetration, have they had so little cultural impact. And true, there are competing sounds and messages, but greatness triumphs, assuming you create it.

The boomers fueled the campaign of Clean Gene McCarthy. Whose candidacy disintegrated and the result was Humphrey got nominated and Nixon got elected. Disillusionment reigned, and then Reagan legitimized greed and the boomers sold out.

But the millennials have no one to sell out to. There are no jobs, no opportunities. And this may be overstating the case, but with college debt hanging over your head and the lifestyles of the rich and famous paraded in front of you on every media outlet known to man it can get discouraging, not everyone can be a winner.

So if you want to triumph in the coming music world, know that your bond with your audience is everything. And even though nitwit youngsters will follow the popsters, it’s college-aged audiences that trumpet the next big thing. And these students are looking for someone to treat them as an equal and to give them guidance, not tell them to overpay for empty products.

Hell, millennials aren’t into assets anyway, they like experiences, which is why they go to the festival, to commune with their compatriots and post their efforts to Instagram. When you’ve got nothing, it’s all about you.

Warner did a good thing to say it would share breakage with its acts, that the sale of Spotify stock would be divvied-up. The company gets it.

Sony followed suit within hours and expect Universal to do the same, otherwise they’ll have a hard time signing acts.

And Kobalt is revolutionizing publishing transparency.

But subterfuge still reigns in the music business. The acts could clear it up, especially on the live side, but their greed is preventing them from doing this, they’re hiding behind the front of Ticketmaster, taking no blame.

But millennials know it’s all about responsibility. They want to know who made their clothes and they want answers. Want to win them over? Provide same.

So Bernie is a harbinger of what’s to come. His importance may be greatest outside the political sphere. He has tapped into a well of disaffection deeper than any rapper has been able to. While Drake fights with Meek Mill, Bernie’s talking about paying your bills, leveling the playing field.

There’s something happening here.

And we’ll call it the millennial moment. When power shifts from parents to children. When adults brought up in a different era realize they’ve lost touch with what’s going on. Hillary Clinton uses Jamie Lee Curtis to promote herself, not knowing most millennials are clueless as to her identity.

But millennials know the Beatles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. They remember when music stood for something, when it could move mountains, when a musician challenged power and said no.

We’re looking for a few good leaders. Not those who have been self-promoting on social media incessantly. We want no makeup mavens, we want no video game players, we want artists. Not those on the “Voice,” a boomer construct if there ever was one, a money-making effort with no artistry involved, but those who go their own way. Who’ve flown off the radar for years honing their chops as opposed to getting mommy and daddy to promote their lame thirteen year old efforts.

We’ve been shooting too low.

The audience is sophisticated, the audience is hungry.

It’s time to feed them.