Walter Egan At McCabe’s

We sacrificed our lives for rock and roll.

Walter Egan graduated from Georgetown. His mother wondered when he’d get serious and live the straight life. But then he got a call to play guitar for Linda Ronstadt and he decamped for Los Angeles. The rest of the band stayed behind, in Washington, D.C., but Walter couldn’t turn the opportunity down.

In high school his buddy John Zambetti said if he got an electric guitar he could join the band. At the time, Walter only had an acoustic. We all had acoustics in the house. With wide necks and nylon strings, we learned chords to play folk tunes, which were rampant.

And then the Beatles hit.

We grew our hair long. We feigned British accents. And we bought instruments. Lots of them. We wanted to participate.

And we wanted to get rich and famous.

It was very different from today. All the action was outside the house. We’d go to battles of the bands, where teenagers played the hits of the day. We were addicted to the radio, no one did their homework without a transistor nearby, to hear the countdown, to hear their favorites.

And then the action switched from AM to FM and it was like going from dialup to broadband and the entire nation was swooped up by the sound, well, at least the younger generation, the baby boomers, who ruled as a result of their sheer numbers, and still believe they rule today, even though they’ve been passed by and don’t.

But the gig with Ronstadt fizzled. She said her guitar player wasn’t working out and then he did, that was Andrew Gold.

Walter Egan has got a lot of these brushes with greatness. He’s even got a big hit record. But now he pays his bills by being a substitute teacher, but he’s still got the dream, he’s still got that twinkle in his eye, even though he’s past Medicare age he’s still writing songs, still dreaming of a hit, whether it be a cover or an original, he’s plowing on, the rest of the world be damned.

We’re littered throughout society. The lifers. Who wanted to make the sound our own. Who needed to get closer. Who are sans IRAs, maybe don’t even own a home, but can tell you who played on what and who produced it even though it happened decades ago.

So, living in Pomona, with Chris Darrow, Walter starts to scramble. That’s the essence of being a musician, the hustle, the relationships, making the most of opportunities.

Not that Walter hadn’t been in the game back east, hell, he orchestrated the meeting of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris in his kitchen, but now he was in the big time.

He got a record deal. Dreamed of having Todd Rundgren produce his record. A household name. Instead he got Lindsey Buckingham, who the majordomo at Sound City recommended.

And his big hit emanated from a license plate he saw on a pimpmobile driving back to Pomona long after midnight, it said NOT SHY. Inspiration has to come from somewhere, and all your songs have stories, and Walter told them last night. He didn’t talk quite as much as Billy Bragg, but he linked his career together, made the connections with the songs. And there were tons of near-misses. Having success on Columbia but then enduring an A&R change, which quashed his career. Then getting a deal with Danny Bramson’s Backstreet but losing his bullet and said deal when Bramson lost a power struggle with Irving Azoff. You hear about the successes. You rarely hear about the misses. Mostly you know the never-beens, but some people take the risk, and some people succeed. “Magnet and Steel” is constantly synched. Eminem even licensed “Hot Summer Nights.” But ask someone under thirty who Walter Egan is and their face will draw a blank. Time marched on, we didn’t think it ever would. And we keep protesting that we want musicians, bands, people who can play their instruments.

Walter Egan comes from this background.

The second half of the show was the Malibooz, the surf/cover/original band that Egan fronts. The guitarist is the aforementioned John Zambetti, who followed his parents’ incantations to go to medical school. But he became an emergency doctor, so he could take off time and play.

Which he could. Astoundingly. We spent so much time in our bedrooms and our basements, rehearsing, getting it right, and it didn’t get us anywhere in modern society, those skills are truly monetizable by very few, but the sound is the bedrock of our life. Scratch a baby boomer professional and they’ll lament that they went straight, they live for the music, they go to the show, they need to be close.

And after the deals dried up, Walter went on the road with Spirit. And last night not only did the Malibooz do a spot-on rendition of “Nature’s Way,” they killed it on “I Got A Line On You.” Bringing back those tracks that made our lives. Reminding me of when you went to hear a cover band as opposed to a DJ.

And Walter played his hits. And the band rocked. And the crowd was small. But it was a perfect example of what once was. We’re old and lumpy and gray but when the amps are turned up and the musicians pick their Fenders we’re reminded…

So I’m talking to Walter after the show. After talking to Lincoln, who runs the joint.

Lincoln’s finally getting married, at 54, to a girl he’s had a crush on since grade school. But he’s living in rental property in Venice. If he chooses to move, where’s he gonna end up, El Monte?

That’s right, once upon a time the Westside of Los Angeles had a bohemian element. Hell, Walter once made whoopee in the median separating San Vicente. But today you’ve got to be rich to live there. Truly. Good luck finding real estate under seven figures. And to make that kind of money…

You need a straight job.

Oh, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham can afford property, but they’re icons, they strung together enough hits to still sell out arenas. But there are very few of them. And so many of us still enthralled, still trying.

So Walter moved to New York when he inherited the family home.

And then to Nashville to be closer to the music.

And he tried to go straight, he tried to sell insurance, but it didn’t take, no matter how much effort he put into it, he was called to be a musician, he’s spent his whole life being a musician.

Did he throw it away?

My parents wanted me to be a lawyer. Hell, after two years starving in Salt Lake City and then getting the world’s worst case of mononucleosis, I actually went to law school, and practiced for a minute or two, but it wasn’t me.

I went off into the wilderness. Went broke. My wife left me. All this came back when Walter was telling me his story. Women are attracted to artists, but the bills always have to be paid.

And I’ve suffered to get where I am now. Unfortunately, I don’t see another path, even if I was to start over. I was a mentor for tech startups for a day and realized those are not my people, I’m not a businessman…

But I don’t own a house. I don’t have any kids. I’ve got some money in the bank, but I’m parsimonious, I’m never sure where the next paycheck is coming from.

But I still dream of success. I still dream of the breakthrough. It keeps me going.

And Walter wants to play more gigs. And when you discuss music he lights up.

And here you have an entire generation, lost by today’s standards but fulfilled by our own. Hell, I know people who made multiple six figures a year in this industry who are now broke, living in rentals, divorced, eking by.

But they can’t stop talking about the music.

It’s in their blood.

It’s in mine too.

We had no internet, no social media, not even cable.

All we had was the radio and our records. And when the Beatles showed up we jumped on the bandwagon and we never got off. And now we’re in an unrecognizable place that oftentimes freaks us out. But when we go to the show…

It feels like home.

Better Call Saul

That’s Bob Odenkirk.

Did I ever tell you I’ve never watched “Game of Thrones”? Apple announces it’s coming to iTunes and I’m not excited at all, I’d rather see Eddy Cue testify about the Warriors. I’m just not into fantasy.

But I do feel left out. We all feel left out, that’s the modern condition.

But I want to belong. Be part of the discussion. The only thing we have in common is politics, which has eclipsed music and tech to drive the culture today.

But then there’s TV.

No, not the sitcoms written for a market, with the innuendo and the eye-rolls, but the cable and streaming stuff, and to tell you the truth “Breaking Bad” seemed like something from basic cable until Bob Odenkirk came on.

That’s right, we’re digging in. We’re now eight episodes into the second season. And I was anxious about devoting this much time to it. Fifty hours? Come on, in a world where I’ve got no time?

And it’s just not that good. Best show ever? It wasn’t even in the league of “The Sopranos,” until tonight, when Saul Goodman showed up, i.e. Bob Odenkirk.

Now I’m familiar with the man. I never quite got into “Mr. Show.” He’s earned a living. I even saw he was in this show. But I expected him to chew a little scenery and disappear. Instead, he lit the screen on fire.

That’s the power of the individual.

That’s something the baby boomers have right and the millennials have wrong. The millennials just want to be part of the group, they don’t want to do anything that undercuts that status. They’re wary of excelling. And when they do they rally around their compatriots. Whereas baby boomers are all about reaching for the brass ring. Reveling in their achievement.

So what makes Odenkirk’s character work here is his malleability. He’s got a code of conduct, a morality, but it doesn’t align with the one in the Bible, he’s doing what’s right for him. Which is what our parents did, which is what we wrestle with. That’s the truth of society, if you’re not bending the rules, working the edges, you’re not getting ahead.

Unless you’re an artist. Where the same rules apply but underneath there’s an honesty. That’s right, artists bend the rules, break convention all the time.

In the pursuit of truth.

That’s what’s crap about most of today’s art. It’s made with the audience in mind. It doesn’t want to make people uncomfortable, it doesn’t want to test limits. But when you do, people can align themselves with you, you give them something to believe in, something to live for, because they know deep inside they’ve got the same viewpoint, it’s just that they’re unwilling to take the risk.

It’s kinda like politics, on the left side. If you don’t hew to doctrine, you’re excommunicated. You’ve got to pay fealty to all ethnic groups, you can’t make an off-color joke, you’re neutered. Meanwhile, the right is breaking rules left and right and succeeding, ever think about that?

So Saul Goodman changed his name from McGill, because criminals want a Jewish attorney. You can’t say that in public, but you can say that in art, art speaks the unspeakable.

And Saul is not a miracle worker, just an efficiency machine.

But Bryan Cranston and his compatriot don’t want this efficiency, it puts them in the crosshairs, so they take matters into their own hands and Saul…

Starts quoting “The Godfather,” the bible of the baby boomers. Their favorite movie. Drama and wisdom all wrapped up into one.

And what we’re all looking for is a godfather. Someone who will take control and make everything right. Someone who sees the landscape in a way we can’t, who we’ll align ourselves with and will save us. And it’s always an outsider, never a government official, never a member of regular society, not so much an entrepreneur but a fixer, like the Wolf in “Pulp Fiction.”

So now I’m a member of the club, albeit half a decade late. Now I see what makes “Breaking Bad” so magical. Now when someone brings it up in conversation I can testify. And it’s all because of this one performance, where shyster Saul takes control. It’s a masterful thing to watch. He appears a bozo, but he knows where the land mines are buried.

Shall we all have a Saul in our life.

And either you know what I’m talking about…

Or you eventually will. “Breaking Bad” is hiding in plain sight on Netflix. This episode was the best of art, fiction but more true than life. That’s why I gave up reading most non-fiction, it wasn’t true. But in a great novel you glimpse into humanity, feelings.

Shall you strive for such in your art.

And if you’re not a creator you’re part of the vast audience, just waiting to be touched by art, to make sense of this bizarre lonely life where everybody tells you they know the answers but they don’t.

But when done right, the answers are in art.

Don’t you ever forget that.

Oh, deep inside you already know.

Lunch With Mike Caren

He believes in artist development.

This is another thing the old guard has wrong. Stuck in the last decade they don’t know the ball has been moved.

Mike finds an act, brings him to the studio for a week and sees if the act has what it takes.

And how does Mike find these acts?

First and foremost you must know he’s addicted to YouTube, he reads the comments, to get the flow, it’s a data resource nonpareil. You see beatmakers post their work under “(famous name) type beat” for wannabes to rap over and post to Soundcloud. These beatmakers are not worried about getting paid, they just want to get in the game. They’re not worried about being ripped off, because if they are, if a hit is based on their work, the labels will come calling, everybody wants to work with a hitmaker. If you’re thinking about getting paid first, you’re old school.

And Mike doesn’t sign a deal with these acts, not right away. It’s the opposite of get the manager and the President and the act in a room and no one’s leaving until a deal is done. As a matter of fact, most lawyers don’t want to broker new artists deals these days, there’s just not enough money in it. Attorneys are rarely a source of new acts.

So Mike brings them in, based on their online work, and checks out not only their talent, but their dedication. Do they come early and stay late? Are they willing to learn? If yes, Mike knows it’s gonna be two to three years of work before he sees any payoff, and he’s wary of betting on the wrong horse. As for a competitor scooping up his talent after he’s invested in it, before he’s made a deal, Mike’s not worried about it. Because if the act feels comfortable with Mike, his writers and his producers, he’s not gonna go anywhere else (and, of course, it’s not only men, it’s women too…)

And Mike laments the fact that too many of today’s “artists” focus on socials instead of music. Because it’s easier to gain a following, easier to work the public, and it gives you data to quote. But Mike is more interested in the music, he’s getting in way early, and then helping you find your way to who you want to be.

And Mike’s also helped make stars of castoffs, like Bruno Mars, who had a deal with Motown and then was dropped. That’s right, being dropped is no longer the kiss of death. It was about surrounding Bruno with the right people, helping him find and execute his vision.

As for Ed Sheeran, he was an incredibly hard worker. He wrote for everybody. Released an EP of collaborations with rappers. In retrospect the climb looks fast, but it wasn’t.

And both Bruno and Ed could keep themselves alive with their writing work.

Whereas today you sign an act and they want to see income in two years and in reality it takes at least three years to find out if you have anything. But the act has little patience, it burns through the advance in two years, and if the manager isn’t making money…

And Mike feels the second album is more important than the first. That if you break through you can’t take all the offers, you can’t do gigs on the weekend and then write and record during the week, there’s not enough time, either you don’t produce or you do so substandardly.

And every act is different, some need a lot of collaboration, others not so much.

And there’s got to be a steady stream of product. An album every six months or a year, so there’s something to tour on.

As for EPs, Mike points to the fact that no one’s ever broken on one. That’s something he does with all his acts, sit them down and ask them who they want to be, their role models, and usually he finds out the wannabe has no idea of the pitfalls of the star, the failures, the hard work, the wrong turns. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n roll.

And the truth is we live in a hip-hop world. And we might not have had a new sound come along which eclipses hip-hop, but hip-hop has been through five or more changes in the last decade. Furthermore, today’s artists grew up with hip-house in the house, that’s what their parents were playing.

So upstairs is Mike’s office and his publishing company. Everybody has a piece of the action. And the ratio of acts to execs is very low, so there can be hands-on interaction.

Downstairs are the studios. With a computer and board and a couch and a coffee table that rises up so your laptop is at the right level. Furthermore, the writers have control of the speaker volume. Everything has been built from the ground up to foster creativity.

And a few buildings away is where the label marketing people are.

And on the same street is Crush Management, which has production next door.

And Anderson .Paak is across the street.

And down the street is the epicenter of hip-hop shopping. They were lined up for blocks outside the Supreme store and it was three o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. The internet may rule, but the public still wants to belong, still wants the identity totems.

So this is the way the new world works.

If there’s traction on Spotify Mike will spend marketing dollars. He doesn’t need radio to do so. As for radio, he wonders how long until they embrace the algorithms, go with what works on the streaming services as opposed to callout research.

So today you’re a self-starter, alone, at home, with your laptop. You pull beats from YouTube and you post your rap atop them and wait for a reaction. Some of these Soundcloud mixes have 250,000 listens. Because hip-hop is a community, a whole culture, which you can not only embrace, but stretch, innovation is treasured.

Whereas learning to play an instrument is hard. And there’s nowhere near the culture in other genres.

As for the success of Adele, Mike believes it’s not easily replicated because of the involvement of XL, the hipsters were interested, where normally the hipsters avoid this sound.

And if you were with Mike for three hours either you’d get really excited or really depressed. And your depression would come from realizing the game has changed, everything you believed is in the rearview mirror.

It’s not your music business anymore.

It’s the teens’ and twentysomethings’.

And they have no idea what you’re talking about. And they believe opportunities are plentiful. As well as money. They’re not talking about what once was, but what is. Meanwhile, too many labels are complacent with the uplift from streaming. You’ve got to rebuild your operation according to the new model. Empower not only the musicians, but the executives too.

Mike has.

Me On CNN

Me On CNN

Katherine Kendall was on after me.

I was driving to the Troubadour the night before, flipping the news channels on Sirius, and I heard her story, about Harvey Weinstein chasing her around his apartment, about hiding out in a bar to get away from him.

And here she was.

I don’t work it, I wait for the call. And yesterday, since no one really calls anymore, I got an e-mail from CNN, did I want to come on and talk about Eminem?

SURE!

But my logistics were off. I was in Santa Monica having lunch with Chris Moore and my electric razor was in Sherman Oaks at Felice’s house. I’d been planning to spend the rest of the day on the Westside, catching up, and now my schedule was blown to hell.

I hate to shave. And only do so once in a while. Not because I want that hipster look, but because the Beatles all said they hated to shave in one of those teen magazines and I’m bad at it to boot, I haven’t got the patience.

So I answered 279 e-mails, wrote twice and hot-tailed it to Sherman Oaks to shave and get myself together.

Whereupon I got into the provided car and they whisked me to CNN’s studio in Hollywood, an edifice that was once famous for its music residents, but no more.

And they’ve got tight security, as you can imagine, but if you’re on the list, you’re golden. That’s what life’s all about, being on the list.

So I was immediately ushered in to makeup. Whereupon I got the life story of the artist. That’s what inspires me most, people’s stories. They’re each unique, and they’ll all tell you, because they want to be known, so few people ask, and the facts are secondary to the nuances. How did they get from there to here, what inspired them, how did they make that choice. And along the way you find points that bond you, unexpected ones, life experiences that are embedded inside that you rarely get to talk about, like being impacted by suicide.

And as we were discussing people taking their own lives a couple entered the room to be cleaned up. They were jovial, connected, only they weren’t.

There was the resident psychological expert. And the attorney. And both were dressed up in business attire, looking sharp for the show, and we all live in L.A., not New York, where I haven’t been to a doctor wearing a tie in memory. And the suit was sharp. Not an Armani, but something au courant that said something about its wearer.

They were there to talk about Harvey Weinstein.

That’s all they were talking about on Tucker Carlson’s show, which I was listening to on the way from Santa Monica to Sherman Oaks, a hellish escapade on the freeway, L.A. traffic is insane, even at 8 PM.

And you’d have thought the Weinstein case involved world peace. Tucker kept excoriating the silent left, the Hollywood hypocrites. He insisted the government investigate tinseltown, to root out this behavior. Huh?

The government ain’t gonna crack down on Hollywood. And what exactly is the crime here anyway? Carlson wasn’t talking about the culture of harassment so much as the silence with regard thereto. But if you were listening to him you’d be all fired up, that bad Harvey Weinstein, wreaking havoc.

With his daughter calling 911 and Harvey evading the cops.

And the expert?

Harvey Levin.

That’s right, the majordomo of TMZ, that’s how far we’ve sunk. And Tucker’s railing that Weinstein’s escaping to France, to evade the long arm of the law, and it’s Levin who’s got to reel Carlson back in, saying no crime has been charged and as a matter of fact Weinstein is not going to France. Yup folks, on Fox the gossip columnist was the voice of reason, correcting the bloviating blowhard.

I’m just wondering what Tucker Carlson would be like in real life. Would he really say these things? Maybe he’s one of those bulldozers who never backs down, abhorred in every day life, but really, is Harvey Weinstein’s sexual behavior the most important thing happening in our country, does it Trump North Korea?

On Fox it does.

And then I’m called in to do my spot and what you forget is for the anchors this is a job, they’re there all night, I’ve been on before, they’re busy talking through their earpieces, but then the light goes on.

And we hit it just that fast.

You can see the results above.

But one thing is I was running so fast yesterday that I didn’t Google myself. Yes, I do that regularly. So I didn’t know that doofus in the “Atlantic” had written about me, I was caught off guard, and you always want to be prepared.

But then as the anchor read the words I started to laugh, genuinely, THIS IS THE CRITICISM??

And I was complimented when we were done, told we put ten minutes of news in a five minute bag. They were happy, and that’s the essence of work, you want to keep the customer satisfied.

And I ambled back to the makeup room to have my face removed and…

Someone was sitting in my seat.

And another woman was right by her, she came for moral support.

So who was this?

The aforementioned Katherine Kendall!

I told her I’d just heard her on the radio the night before.

But I couldn’t remember the outlet.

Then she listed all the ones she’d been on. You see when you’re news, they swoop down and pick you up, and then they drop you off soon thereafter. You see news is a business, and it’s not called OLDS, so when your five minutes is done, it’s back to obscurity (like me!)

And Katherine was 24 when this happened. It sapped her drive. She had a career, she’d been in “Swingers,” but if this was what the industry required to make it, she was not up for it.

And we’re truly getting into it, the war of the sexes, her decision to go on the record, but what was utterly fascinating was watching the physical transformation. Now don’t get me wrong, Katherine is a very attractive woman. But by time Kristina, the makeup artist, was done with her, she was the untouchable beauty from the cover of a magazine.

Maybe it was the instant curls from the hot iron.

Or maybe it was the eyeshadow.

But I’m thinking it was the lipliner and lipstick. When Kristina was done, Katherine Kendall was…

A movie star.

You see it’s all an illusion. Kinda like those kids at home trying to replicate stunts they see in the movies. Oftentimes they’re not real, they’re done with special effects, but they don’t know that.

And I’m b.s.’ing with Kristina and Katherine and Katherine’s friend and everybody’s being open and honest because I’m inside the club.

One often wonders, is it Tucker Carlson’s desire to get inside the club? Believe me, being a right wing pundit doesn’t get you far in Hollywood.

Nor does being a left wing one. All those writers in the newspaper, they ain’t got the fame of the movie stars and musicians.

Which is why when Eminem speaks, everybody listens.

Trump is still silent on Marshall.

A politician is no match for him.

But a musician?

It’s no contest.