Palm Springs

I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight
With a billion stars all around

“Peaceful Easy Feeling”

Not tonight. It’s raining. But last night it was so clear and there were so many stars it reinforced why artists come to the desert for inspiration.

I went to speak at NAMM.

What did I learn at the musical instrument show? That Gibson guitars now tune themselves! Purists may be annoyed, but they can always buy something from the custom shop, vintage replicas don’t have these tuners. But the truth is the machine can do it much faster than a human. And can tune to a flat piano. And can remember different tunings… Play with it, you’ll be amazed.

Also in the Gibson booth I saw their new Bee microphones. Bee, like yellow and black, designed by the old Blue people, if that doesn’t make you crazy enough. Amazing how much technology you can get for a cheap price these days.

And I played with the retro Arp Odyssey. Everything old is new again. No, not really, but analog synths are coming back. As for amplifiers, Korg no longer distributes Marshall, but now has Blackstar, which is supposedly the old Marshall people. Is all this true or hearsay? I don’t know.

And Sunday is not the best day to go to NAMM, that would be Saturday, when all the artists are in attendance. But I did run into Michael Halloran, of 91X, who told me that San Diego is a hotbed of boutique instrument companies, like Satellite and Revival amps, and that there’s also a nucleus of local talent, that’s what he’s emphasizing, because his station can own it first. Mike says he’s as excited as ever, because of the freedom 91X’s owners give him and the music.

And then I got behind the wheel to drive to Palm Springs, to visit my mother, who’s ensconced in the desert for a month while they fix her elevator. That’s right, they want her to walk outside for six weeks while they do their work, that’s not gonna happen, not in Connecticut in January.

And what you don’t realize is California is endless sprawl, until it isn’t. That if there were not signs, you’d have no idea you were in Anaheim as opposed to Los Angeles, it’s a megalopolis, with looping freeways taking people home to communities I’ve never been to, never mind heard of.

So I fire up Siri and she’s taking me from the 57 to the 91 to the 215 to the 60 and even though the speed limit is 65, if you’re not doing ten miles more than that, you’re endangering yourself.

I drove by Yorba Linda, saw the signs for the Richard Nixon library and burial place and it made me want to go, not that I still didn’t hate him, but for the fact that he grew up here in the first half of the twentieth century…what was that like? How did that make him who he was? If you grew up on the east coast you think that’s all that exists, but then you move to California and experience the weather and you ask yourself what you were doing back there all that time.

And since California is so young, there are few historical places to go and see. We don’t have the Civil War sites, never mind the Revolutionary War sites. History is so recent, you don’t even bother to study it.

And then the sun starts to fade in the west and the mountains turn green and sharp in its reflection and you’re driving through the hills and you’re so inspired, it’s eerie. You suddenly realize why U2 became enraptured by the Joshua tree, never mind legendary desert denizens like Gram Parsons. There’s just something about the light and the landscape that makes you feel both free and unfettered and creeped out. The possibilities are endless, what are you going to do with them? If you remove yourself from all the influences, the hustle and bustle of the city, all the obligations, you’re stripped bare to your essence, it’s only you and the environment. Life is for the living as opposed to the endless doing.

And today it rained. Don’t think it’ll help the drought, never mind the skiing, it’s got to snow in the Sierras, prodigiously, to make a difference and right now the precipitation at Mammoth is sporadic sleet. Ugh.

So we went to the Shields Date Garden, in Indio, for shakes.

But first we watched the movie.

Floyd Shields emigrated from Montana, met his bride in Long Beach and then moved to Indio at the turn of the last century to try his hand at date farming.

This always stuns me. How people have the pluck to go somewhere godforsaken, like the Coachella Valley, and compete in a new game and try to win. Kind of like the Silicon Valley madness. We hear about the winners, but most are losers.

And we’re watching the movie and I learn that you don’t pronounce it like the leather company, that there are two syllables, that it’s definitively CO-A-CHELLA. Where it can be 139 degrees in the shade and you’ve got to pollinate the dates by hand and Floyd won’t stop testifying about crystals.

Not crystal meth, date crystals, which are used to make the shake. Which would own the drive-in if it was exported. It’s thick and creamy and almost like chocolate and if you believe nothing can be too rich, the Shields date shake is for you.

And the shop is filled with so much chozzerai it’s overwhelming. Remember that game where you put a beard on the man with metal filings steered by a magnet? Shields still sells it. Along with hand sanitizer called “OCD” and so many varieties of dates that after you sample them all you don’t want to buy any, you’ve had your annual fill.

And the film is shown in an auditorium that hasn’t been updated since the fifties, when it was built. With wood paneling and old school theatre seats it not only reminded me of summer camp, but college, where the venues were aged but the ideas were new, where I made my primary relationships.

Not that I’ll tell you the “Romance and Sex Life of the Date” movie was riveting, I think I need to see it again, but I was stunned by the aged cars, we’ve been driving a long time. Kind of like those online pictures from the Great Blizzard of ’88:

The Great Blizzard of 1888

Did those people know they were backward, living under duress? Or like us, do they believe they’re on the cutting edge.

Not that those in the desert in January are on the cusp of changing the world. A gray-haired man in front of me fell asleep during the twenty minute movie. Everybody’s shuffling. This is what comes next, which is scary.

But that’s life. It’s all about letting go and enjoying the ride. Knowing that people trump things and you don’t need technology to have an experience.

Hell, the Shields date shake couldn’t possibly be improved upon!

Shields Date Garden

Eric Church At Staples

THIS IS MY HOMETOWN!

So I’m hanging with Tony D. upstairs, waiting for the Eric Church V.I.P. experience. They sell it according to the size of the room. In L.A. that’s 200 people, for $200 apiece. How can that BE?

And we’re killing time in the museum to the man. With framed letters from icons like Taylor Swift, thanking Eric for getting kicked off the Rascal Flatts tour so she could get the gig, and I’m fingering the Lucchese boots you can only buy here, with Eric’s lyrics etched into the bottom, then I hear that whoop of recognition, Eric has arrived.

Here’s the deal. The V.I.P. experience includes some food…and an acoustic appearance by the man himself.

And I’m talking to Louis Messina. I’m a jaded old coot, I’ve seen it all, and then Eric starts to strum.

He’s wearing his aviators, but no hat. He’s making small talk and then he starts to sing and I begin to tingle…THIS IS IT!

You can go see the local act play at the bar and get as close as you want to. But once they make it, once they have fans across this great country of ours, you can read about their travails in the gossip pages, but you’re never going to ever get up close and personal.

But here he was!

And everybody’s got their phone in the air, not only shooting pics, but making videos. There’s all this bullcrap about possessions, but you can’t buy a $10,000 iPhone, no, the reality is today it’s all about experiences, and the fans in attendance were peaking and freaking…AND SO WAS I!

This is the only place you can get this, the only way you can get this adoration is by playing music. And the hit is INCREDIBLE!

That’s right, you can be a legendary actor, you can be a billionaire, but you’re never going to get the response Eric Church got from the assembled multitude Friday night.

The connection between musical performer and fan. Not lip-synching, playing to hard drive, but giving you an unimpeachable, totally unique acoustic rendition of songs you know by heart.

Give me back my hometown
‘CAUSE THIS IS MY HOMETOWN!!

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So what happens at an Eric Church show?

First and foremost it sells out, which ain’t easy at Staples, where there’s an upper deck above three tiers of skyboxes that is so high it might as well come with oxygen.

And there’s no fakery. Just a drummer and four guitars. You remember bands, don’t you? Don’t pooh-pooh country music, you haven’t given it a chance. It’s everything you yearn for. Honest, played by real musicians, singing about real life. The only difference is the accent. But if you read the “New York Times,” you know the northerners are migrating down south, that’s where everybody’s going.

So there’s this white goateed slide guitarist who’s bringing me right back to the seventies, my body is twisting and turning as he wails. I start to ponder how good he is compared to Duane Allman, but then I remember no one even does this anymore. And if you hadn’t been around back then, you’d be inspired to play. Remember that? Seeing your heroes up on stage and buying an instrument to get closer to the music yourself?

And then there’s the hard work. First time through L.A. Eric played at the Whisky, to six people. Ten years ago. When he was already 27. Tell that to the barely pubescent stars they keep telling us have something to say and will last forever. That’s right, Justin Bieber’s doing a roast because he’s a joke!

And sure, Eric plays the hits, but the set is different every night, because if it’s not fun for the people making the music, the audience can tell. Because, after all, when done right live music is a religious experience.

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And then he played “Dancing In The Dark.”

It was the intro to his big hit “Springsteen.” Because the thread runs through rock and roll all the way from New Jersey to Nashville.

And it is about hits. They’re the tree you hang the ornaments upon.

And the best hits are songs.

You remember songs, don’t you? Those things you can sing along to in the car?

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So what did we learn?

That country is a big tent. Dwight Yoakam held down the middle and Halestorm opened, one of the highlights came when Eric called out Lizzy Hale to shred with him. It’s powerful to see a woman with an Explorer pick.

And the audience was 50/50 boys and girls. Some come for the stories, some come for the gut-wrenching playing, but they all want to put their hands in the air and sing along.

Like me.

Because deep into the set, I heard that intro straight out of Petty’s “Love Is A Long Road” and then…

Damn, I used to love this view

Living to listen to the music. Making pilgrimages to the store to visit the records, with the elixir of life locked inside.

All the colors of my youth
The red, the green, the hope, the truth

What kind of bizarre world do we live in where we lionize the rich and the no-talents? One wherein old guys in black tell us to love records by people who can’t sing and can’t play while the pop chart is ruled by people who are faces only.

My friends try to cheer me up, get together at the Pizza Hut

And talk about the good old days. The Fillmore. The Stones. The Who. All the classic rock.

These sleepy streetlights on every sidewalk side street
Shed a light on everything that used to be

The oldsters dye their hair, get plastic surgery and put out new albums that are unlistenable, wanting us to believe it’s 1975 when that was forty years ago.

And then you stumble into an arena and find 20,000 people who are not jaded, who know every word and sing along, just like we used to, to a guy who knows history but is not imprisoned by it, who wants to carry on the tradition, but in his own vision.

And I’ve got my arm in the air, exclaiming to the rafters with all my might:

Give me back my hometown
‘CAUSE THIS IS MY HOMETOWN

It’s great to get back to where you once belonged.

I know, because I went there Friday night.

Give me back my hometown – Spotify

Give me back my hometown – YouTube

Dylan/AARP

“Bob Dylan Gives Away 50,000 Copies of His New Album to AARP The Magazine Readers”

If you don’t pay for it, you don’t listen to it.

That’s the difference between yesterday and today. That’s what drove the album era. You laid down your cash and played that LP until you knew it by heart, you had an investment, and your collection was small.

But today the paradigm is completely different. We have access to everything, literally just a touch or click away. How do you convince people to listen?

What we’ve learned is a publicity campaign is not enough. Otherwise Tom Petty and U2’s new music would be ubiquitous.

Now if you’re about selling tickets, and that’s where all the money is today, it doesn’t even matter if people listen to the new music, never mind buy it. The attendant publicity will make people aware, and everybody knows if you have a new record and you’re doing publicity you’re going on the road.

Just don’t ask them to listen to the new music in concert.

Just like no one will want to hear Dylan’s covers of Sinatra at the show. Then again, everybody going to hear Dylan is either a brain dead fan, or afraid he’s gonna die and they won’t have this notch in their belt, they won’t have seen him.

Sorry for speaking the truth, but Bob can croak at best, and he rearranges his hits, go once and you never have to go again.

And there’s no better songwriter in the history of rock and roll.

And I will say this promotion may make me wince, but it’s not that stupid. His audience is retired and they still listen to CDs and this is an easy way to reach them. Furthermore, not being inured to the free music game, they’ll give the CD a spin. But don’t ask them to play it all the way through, that’s torture.

So, what we’ve learned is we’re pushing the envelope of marketing/distribution ideas. Believe me, you won’t be able to give away free CDs soon, Macs don’t even come with disk drives! Just like free downloads disappeared, killed by streams, the Wal-Mart cheap/value CD is gone now too.

But that’s the world we live in, where old rockers find it easier to come up with innovative marketing ideas than compelling music.

How do you get people to check your new music out?

Turns out being established no longer counts. Especially if you’re a boomer act.

Sure, the kids listen to the new stuff, but they rejected Gaga’s latest immediately.

That’s right, you put it out and if we even give it a chance we do it in a day and we give you five seconds, that’s enough.

The bar is so high, most people making music can’t even see it, never mind reach it.

Don’t tell people they’ve got to listen a few times.

Don’t put out any filler.

Go into the Apple Store. How many SKUs do they have? Nearly none. Steve Jobs collapsed the product line and now they sell very few extras. You can’t confuse the audience, you can’t overwhelm people and what you’re purveying must be superlative.

No one goes into the Apple Store and says a MacBook Pro isn’t good enough. They might think it’s overpriced, they might not buy it, but everyone says it’s great.

But Apple’s been at it for a long time, not quite as long as Mr. Zimmerman, but close.

Whereas the youngsters think they’re great right out of the box and the oldsters are resting on their laurels.

Used to be exposure was everything. Get on late night TV. Get a review in the newspaper.

But that’s all history. We have an endless river of hype, which everybody but hard core fans ignores. And if these bands were only interested in hard core fans they’d price the album at $200 and sell it with tchotchkes, fans will buy anything.

But they want more.

This is the story of the teens. How in a world of overwhelming choice, we gravitate to very few winners. Which must reach a standard of excellence and ubiquity.

And the oldsters, actually everybody who’s an artist, doesn’t like this.

If you’re not good enough to start for the Cavaliers, we never want to see you play ball. Oh, you can shoot hoops in your driveway, but just don’t ask us to pay attention.

Sucks, doesn’t it?

Actually it doesn’t.

Everybody’s overwhelmed, nobody has any time.

Only one movie a week makes bank, the rest usually fail.

It’s because we’ve only got so much time and we want to be a member of the group.

Bob Dylan should retire. Should have years ago. Athletes go when they can no longer run, when their skills decline. Bob can barely sing, he’s over seventy, he had a good run.

His dedicated fans will excoriate me for saying this.

But his dedicated fans are the only ones who care.

P.S. Speaking of a brain dead press living in a bygone era, I point you to a brilliant chart in the “Digital Music News,”

“What the Vinyl ‘Comeback’ Really Looks Like”

P.P.S. Re Garth Brooks’s comeback… Got an e-mail about tickets going for $6 at his Boston show tonight. Went on StubHub, tickets are way below face value, as low as $10 on the site:

StubHub – Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood

I’m not saying Boston is Garth’s strongest market, I’m not saying no one wants to see him, but I am saying don’t believe everything you read. The press ranks have been decimated and writers would rather hang with Garth than write anything negative. And despite me putting down the vinyl revolution ad infinitum, every major outlet has done a story about this inane microscopic revival. Proving the purveyors own the press, but the truth is few are paying attention.

Rhinofy-Shelf in the Room

Remember when we used to argue about Days of the New?

This was back in the mid-nineties when Geffen Records was the king of rock, just before that format imploded and so did the label. Before videos were all about the production and not the music, before rap went on a victory lap.

It’s almost like it didn’t happen. Days of the New was huge, and then they disappeared. You see the “creative genius” of the group, Travis Meeks, fired the rest of the act after the initial success. Which he could then never duplicate. Did he lose the formula, or was the effort of the rest of the band key?

We can debate that forever and come to no conclusion.

But we do know in ’97 and ’98 you could not escape the band’s music.

It started with “Touch, Peel and Stand.” Which dominated the rock radio format for a while. And continued to get play in bedrooms of teenagers long after it slipped off the chart.

And then came “The Down Town.” Which also went to number one on the rock chart. But it seemed so DERIVATIVE!

Back when rock still ruled, and nearly five minute tracks were de rigueur, when they didn’t make you write with the hitmaker du jour and you could still do it your way.

And then there was “Shelf in the Room”…

Headbanging music made for males who’d ingested so much dope or alcohol they could only sit on the couch and nod their head.

The acoustic guitar intro is so simple, anybody could write it and play it.

But nobody does anymore.

You need more.

And more comes in. There’s another guitar. And it’s so HYPNOTIC!

And then comes the change…

The key is so distant
I’ve opened doors

That VOICE! Back when our stars were dark and mysterious, before they were busy promoting themselves on social media, when Heather Locklear and Valerie Bertinelli could not resist the allure of the players, when the players were still king, before they were trumped by the mercenary Kardashians who seem to know today’s game better than the musicians.

Holding out
Never hold in
Holding out
Never hold

The repetition with the effects, you cannot help but sing along.

It’s as if Jimmy Page was reincarnated minus a couple of decades and decided to make ethereal music in the vein of Led Zeppelin, albeit a bit less inventive.

But compared to today, “Shelf in the Room” sounds positively incredible! Like a lost sea scroll!

There’s not a whole hell of a lot on the track, it’s acoustic (like “Led Zeppelin III”!) and all you know is there’s a scrim between you and the performance and you just want to cut through and get closer.

“Shelf In The Room” demands you slow down and give it your complete attention. It’s not something that plays in the background which can be completely ignored.

Who is this guy with the deep voice? Singing like there’s not a single light in the room? How did they capture lightning in a bottle?

That’s right, that which appears derivative is seen as genius a few decades removed. Not only the Carpenters, but Boston and Days of the New.

“Shelf in the Room” sounds so different from what people play today. There’s no guest rapper, no stray electronics, it’s like the band is saying “This is enough.”

AND IT IS!

Rhinofy-Shelf in the Room