Rhinofy-White Ladder

What if you put out three albums and no one cared?

You lost your record deal. Do you give up or..?

History is littered with people in this exact same situation, those who were given their chance and then faded into obscurity. But not one David Gray…

David Gray spent his own money and recorded “White Ladder” in his apartment. A desperate move, that’s for sure.

And the result went on to sell seven million copies.

But it didn’t happen quite that fast. Recorded in 1997, Gray put “White Ladder” out himself in 1998, but it didn’t really gain traction until the turn of the century, when it was rereleased on ATO and Gray opened for the Dave Matthews Band. Proving that just because it’s in the grooves that does not mean it’s gonna happen, go big, be successful.

BABYLON

With a jazzy groove akin to a Donald Fagen cut, one can honestly say that KCRW blew this up. “Babylon” is a track you hear once and love, if you’re in the target demographic…educated, financially successful hipster. To tell you the truth, the resulting buzz turned me off. Kind of like the one on Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.” In both cases, the single is not the artist’s best work.

But that’s not to say “Babylon” is not good. After the album became ingrained in the culture, when “Babylon” was in the rearview mirror, it was a pleasant listen as part of the album.

WHITE LADDER

The title track. It’s so intimate, so heartfelt, yet not a dirge.

The feel, the groove, it’s enrapturing. You can get close, but you cannot touch the track, it lives in an alternative universe, like so much great music, you resonate and pay fealty, astounded that someone can feel this much and lay it down in a way that touches us so.

SILVER LINING

Slower than “Babylon” and “White Ladder,” “Silver Lining” is hypnotic. You cannot listen without your head involuntarily moving back and forth to the beat.

We were born with our eyes wide open
So alive with wild hope now
Can you tell me why
Time after time
They drag you down

But it gets even worse…

Down in the darkness deep
Fools in their madness all around

You’re licking your wounds, gaining the power to look for your silver lining.

Ain’t that life, they kick you down, but instinct keeps you going. And nothing helps as much as music.

MY OH MY

“White Ladder” is the best track on the record, but it’s “My Oh My” that touches me most.

It takes a lotta love
It takes a lotta love my friend
To keep your heart from freezing
To push on till the end
My oh my

Reflection. It’s the human condition, but anathema in our winner-take-all society. It’s hard to square the hurt inside with all the images and stories of success. How come they can do it and you can’t?

The truth is we all struggle. And occasionally you’re entitled to wallow, to kick back, take a drink or a smoke, lick your wounds, fortify yourself for the coming battle.

And when this happens, you want a track to ride shotgun, like “My Oh My.”

SAIL AWAY

Sail away with me honey
I put my heart in your hands

Where did all the adult records go? Made by intelligent people with multiple emotions that evidence experience? There used to be one of these on a regular basis. Before the internet blew a hole in the music business, made it incomprehensible, leaving those looking for more on the outside looking in.

It’s hard to convey how big “White Ladder” was. It dominated the airwaves and adult consciousness for years.

And we wanted more. But David Gray has been unable to deliver.

His later works are better than Alanis Morissette’s, who also garnered unexpected success after toiling in relative obscurity, but none have equaled “White Ladder.” It’s like he had to struggle, be pushed to the wall, to create at this level. The same way we make crucial, life-altering decisions when we’re so far down we’ve got nothing to lose.

Either you know what I’m talking about or you don’t.

Either you’ve experienced loss or you have not.

Either you know the magic of David Gray’s “White Ladder” or you don’t.

Rhinofy-White Ladder

The Stones At The Fonda

START ME UP

You make a grown man cry

Like the one out front, who offered four grand cash, so he could take his ten year old son to see the Stones. I saw the green. But today it’s all about experiences, not possessions, and there’s no amount of money that will prevent you from having a peak that may never come again, like the Stones in a small venue.

It was Jan & Dean who sang “They’re coming from all over the world!” but Jan is gone yet his fellow stars from the “T.A.M.I Show” are still doing it so it was amazing who came from far and wide for this event. I haven’t done this much business in one night since MusiCares. But this time there was no riff-raff. Ha!

And the band started on time and they were not over-loud and by beginning with the obvious opener…THEY BLEW MY MIND!

And that’s what it was, a band. A relic from the sixties and seventies. When there were no hard drives and ELO was put out of business for performing with tapes. There was no fakery, no smoke and mirrors, just a few lights and a bunch of fellows with instruments and amps.

This is the way it used to be. When the British invaded and changed our world forever.

WHEN THE WHIP COMES DOWN

My second favorite track from “Some Girls,” the first LP that fully integrated Ronnie Wood, who, like Charlie, was really good tonight.

Up close and personal he’s a mere wisp of a person, but on stage Ronnie is a giant, a full-fledged Stone, he’s never been better. You could see all the way back to those Rod Stewart records, where he switched from bass to lead.

I think it was on this song that Mick first played guitar.

ALL DOWN THE LINE

This was the first stratospheric moment, when Keith opened with the signature riff.

Despite the recent accolades, “Exile On Main Street” was an overlooked album. Number one while the band was on tour soon after its release in ’72, it fell off the chart almost instantly thereafter.

But if you put in the time, “Exile” reveals its magic.

And I always thought “All Down The Line” was a throwaway romp, especially compared to “Let It Loose,” “Ventilator Blues” and “Casino Boogie.” But tonight I got it, because of Keith and that guitar.

We know those legendary sounds, they came out of the car speaker, through the KLHs and JBLs, into our headphones. And it used to be that you went to see the Stones and the sound was not exactly the same. But tonight it was, as if Keith channeled ’72.

Made me grin from ear to ear.

SWAY

So that’s the gimmick of this tour, the playing of the ’71 classic, “Sticky Fingers,” from start to finish.

But they still might not. Because there are so many slow cuts. Will the people tolerate them? After all, the Who performed “Tommy” and always left a couple of numbers out.

This was not the first time the band did “Sway” live. It was good to hear, but not transcendent.

DEAD FLOWERS

They locked into the groove.

That was what was surprising about this entire gig. How good the boys were. They’re famous for being ragged, not quite as bad as the Grateful Dead, but there are always moments when it’s not quite jelling. But not tonight!

I like “Dead Flowers” on record, I LOVED IT TONIGHT!

WILD HORSES

The same, yet different from the record.

You see Mick was selling it more.

It’s hard to play live gigs. No matter how famous you are, you only get the benefit of the doubt for the first thirty seconds. After that, you’ve got to prove yourself night after night.

Ever since he did that solo turn on the Grammys a couple of years back, Mick has upped his game, he’s as good as ever, if not better. He’s comfortable with himself, his patter is cutting and insightful.

For example, you can’t perform “Sticky Fingers” from start to finish, because then you’d have to begin with “Brown Sugar” and you’d end up squandering your momentum. So Mick said they were going to play it in the order from the 8-TRACK! You remember 8-tracks, don’t you? Unwieldy cartridges where the songs were rearranged to fit the four sections of tape? Needless to say, Mick was lying/making a joke, but even better was his tossed off aside that next time they’re going to do “Satanic Majesties” from start to finish!

But my point is it’s Mick who’s keeping it under control, everybody else is just playing, he’s moving, prancing, not as much as in the seventies and eighties, but in more of a refined fashion these days, and this toned-down version works.

And during the breaks between numbers, the audience talked, but Mick soldiered on.

It’s all about being a professional.

SISTER MORPHINE

And here’s where it starts to get really good. When you start to hear songs you’d never think you’d ever hear live.

They were albums, and you played them from start to finish. And in the middle of “Sticky Fingers”‘s second side was this magical track with that acoustic guitar and then wailing electric and the despair of a late night druggie. I always loved it then, and it was sensational hearing it tonight.

YOU GOTTA MOVE

The PIECE-DE-RESISTANCE! The highlight of the show, the moment I could not get out of my head.

So Mick says they’re gonna sing a song they didn’t write. Unlike so many of his brethren, he credits Mississippi Fred McDowell and then says Keith is gonna play the 12 string.

And from the wings a roadie comes out with an acoustic, Keith sits down and starts fiddling, smiling those pearly whites all the while. AND THEN HE STARTS TO PLAY!

Forget the record.

On “Sticky Fingers” “You Gotta Move” is a throwaway. Tonight, it was a thread from what was to what is and will always be. The essence of rock and roll, the blues!

Having not performed these album tracks on a regular basis, the Stones rehearsed the hell out of them. These deep cuts were better than the rest. And, “You Gotta Move” evidenced a groove not even touched on the record.

If you were a fan, if you know the Stones catalog, THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS!

BITCH

Listening to them play “Sticky Fingers” you realize how few hits it had. This was the album’s second most famous cut, and how famous is this?

It was a different era. Where it was about the LP, listening to our favorites over and over again, the radio was secondary to our collection.

“Bitch” was good.

And is this the moment to say how Keith seems to have recovered from his fall, from his mental hejira? Not only was his guitar-playing on point, so were his background vocals!

CAN’T YOU HEAR ME KNOCKING

Mick Taylor’s tour-de-force.

Alas, Mick is not on this tour.

But what put this over the top was the instrumental section, featuring Karl Denson in the place of Bobby Keys. They changed it up just a bit, improvised just a bit, and that made all the difference.

For those who weren’t born back then, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is seven plus minutes long, it was a journey to the center of your mind and back. And when you hear it today you’re connected with back then and your whole life makes sense. It’s not about money, but art.

The Stones are the last of a dying breed. Sure, they’re making beaucoup bucks, but there are scores of wet behind the ears techie-punks who make much more. Instead of chasing what cannot be caught, the Stones are laying back into who they are, merging with their legacy, being first and foremost musicians, not stars. Tonight was all about the playing. You could tell they were having fun. And that’s the reason we do it, right?

I GOT THE BLUES

Almost as good as “You Gotta Move.” A track that never resonated with me on wax, “I Got The Blues” was exquisite perfection tonight. The groove and Mick’s delivery. This was when he had the audience in the palm of his hand. He even had the assembled multitude singing along with and without him at the end.

You go for the hits, but it’s the hidden gems that get you, that keep you coming back.

MOONLIGHT MILE

Just a bit faster, not quite as ethereal as the album-closing track, tonight’s “Moonlight Mile” worked on its own terms. It dragged not at all, yet still had you pondering those nights lying in the grass looking up at the stars as your mind was blown.

BROWN SUGAR

So let me paint the picture.

The Beatles had broken up. Despite the career peak double-whammy of “Beggars Banquet” and “Let It Bleed” there were no hit singles, the Stones were an album band, a big one, but their days on the hit parade were behind them.

That’s right, “Sympathy For The Devil” was too dark for AM radio.

And as haunting as “Gimmie Shelter” was, you’d never hear Cousin Brucie introduce it.

And then this.

Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields

Not that we could make that out. The lyrics were buried in the mix, it was all a sound, one that dominated the airwaves for most of the seventies. The party did not begin, the weekend did not start, until someone dropped the needle on “Brown Sugar” and we threw our hands in the air and sang “Yeah, yeah, yeah, WOO!”

And we did tonight!

ROCK ME BABY

B.B. King’s first hit.

And the first encore.

The Stones were devotees, historians, they had roots, which they extended deep into history. They were not just stars, but blues acolytes who filtered what once was to create something new that infected the entire hearing world.

“Rock Me Baby” is a song everybody knows, even if they think they don’t. A great way to put a capper on the evening.

JUMPIN’ JACK FLASH

A 1968 summer smash with an indelible riff that burned itself into our collective brains.

And I’d like to tell you it was as good as the “Sticky Fingers” stuff, but it wasn’t. Because they play “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” every night, they didn’t have to rehearse it, they didn’t have to make sure they got it right.

But it was great to hear it!

I CAN’T TURN YOU LOOSE

The finale.

Mick says they’re gonna do this one really fast. Reminding you that they’re a band, not locked into hard drives or click tracks. It was just ragged enough to evidence humanity. It was done for them, they seemed not to care what we thought, which made us care that much more.

And then they were gone.

The Stones At The Fonda – Spotify

Then/Now

THEN

Privacy

NOW

Everybody knows everything and despite protestations, you provide this information willingly, on Facebook, Instagram… We all want to be known, until we don’t.

THEN

Skirts had to cover the knee.

NOW

Young women raise their shirts to show their boobies and sext their friends. Pornography used to be underground, now all you have to do is Google it.

THEN

The record company gave you a big advance and not much more.

NOW

The record company gives you a small advance and not much more.

THEN

The record company built your career.

NOW

You build your career, the label just blows it up.

THEN

You went to the club to hear live music, cover bands or record company supported acts.

NOW

You go to the club to dance. Live music is a special event in a large room, it’s rarely even at weddings.

THEN

Saving the world came first, then you focused on money.

NOW

Everybody’s out for themselves, and if you don’t screw others you’re left behind, leading to a coarse society wherein the winners extricate themselves from the masses and the masses fight amongst themselves.

THEN

African-Americans protested against injustice.

NOW

African-Americans protest against injustice. Only now they’ve got cameras providing evidence of said injustice.

THEN

We believed the government was on our side.

NOW

The government has been demonized and those in Congress pay fealty to their corporate bosses.

THEN

You went to a friend’s house and perused their record collection.

NOW

You go online and peruse your friend’s life via the aforementioned Facebook and Instagram. We want to know what people are doing, but not who they are.

THEN

Local newspapers had boots on the ground.

NOW

The “New York Times” is the only outlet with boots on the ground and provides news for the entire nation, even if it’s disseminated through other outlets. Despite this, the NYT believes it’s challenged by the online world when the truth is it’s winning more than ever.

THEN

Save classical.

NOW

Save jazz.

THEN

We were interested in what musicians had to say.

NOW

We care what techies have to say.

THEN

Move to L.A. to make it.

NOW

Move to San Francisco to make it.

THEN

Movies were a reflection of the human condition.

NOW

Movies are an alternative universe populated by superheroes, part of the dumbing down of the culture to make sure those in power are not challenged.

THEN

Media executives were overpaid.

TODAY

Media executives are overpaid.

THEN

You never bought the first iteration, it was always flawed.

NOW

It works the first time, right out of the box. If you don’t buy it now, you’re just gonna live without it for that much longer. Sure, the products are improved over time, but in retrospect, don’t you wish you bought an iPod the day it was released?

THEN

Entertainment reporters saw themselves as independent arbiters in search of the truth.

NOW

Entertainment reporters are idiots in it for the access. Such that no one trusts the hype complex.

THEN

College taught you how to think.

TODAY

College prepares you for a career.

THEN

Parents prepared you for the day you would be on your own.

TODAY

No one is on their own.

THEN

The goal was to go overseas before you started a family, to see how the rest of the world lived.

TODAY

Everyone just beats their chest and says the U.S. is the greatest country in the world and there’s no reason to go anywhere else.

THEN

Science was king. We were all fascinated by the astronauts.

TODAY

Science is king when it comes to tech, but when it comes to the government it doesn’t exist.

THEN

Politicians were leaders. We looked up to them.

NOW

Politicians’ goal is to dismantle the government when they’re not trolling for cash. The public has tuned out.

THEN

We believed in facts. And got our news from the same sources.

NOW

Facts are questionable, always in flux, and we only go to news sources that reflect our beliefs.

THEN

Emotions.

NOW

Data.

THEN

What was in your mind was key.

NOW

What’s on your body is key. Fashion rules.

THEN

You were famous for something.

NOW

You can be famous for nothing.

THEN

You were out of contact weeks at a time.

NOW

You bitch if you’ve got no cell access.

Where We’re At

The means of production have come down in cost and we’re overwhelmed by the resulting productions. Everybody’s got a documentary, everybody’s got a track, and other than their relatives, no one’s got time to view or listen. Therefore, there’s a rush to talent and publicity and those excluded are disillusioned while the public is overwhelmed by the tsunami of content.

Every week I get e-mailed a link to a new documentary. Not a Kickstarter campaign, but a fully-finished production. Once upon a time docs were exclusive, it took money to make one, but today with a camera in your phone and editing software on your computer, anybody can be a documentarian.

So I’ve given up watching documentaries. No, not completely, but it’s hard to know what to spend my time on, since I have so little, so I wait for universal acclaim and an airing on HBO. Which is why I watched the Scientology documentary but did not watch the one on Kurt Cobain.

Huh?

The campaign turned me off.

This is where it gets tricky. Those in power know it’s all about attention, so they double down with the press and we’re so overwhelmed we get turned off. The press believes it must promote everything and is rarely critical. Just open the Sunday paper, whether it be the New York or Los Angeles “Times,” there are endless features about this film or that, and you end up being disgusted.

Kind of like music…

The campaigns are brief and intense and the products come and go, so why should you bother checking them out, since time is precious?

Even if a track gets stellar press at this point it’s irrelevant unless one hears about it from a friend.

So we’ve got an echo chamber wherein the insiders are clueless, believing the public loves Kanye when he ends up getting booed at the “Billboard” awards.

This is the “Tidal” story. I thought it was interesting that Jay Z freestyled his position until I saw it everywhere, realizing that was his intent, it wasn’t a spontaneous rant, it was something done for the press corps. And once you get the press corps involved I’m out.

But Kanye and Jay Z are stars! What if you’re just starting out?

Good luck!

That’s where talent comes in. Since the barrier to entry is so low, it’s not enough that you know how to play and sing, you need to be able to write too, or have access to Max Martin. Which makes the barrier to success incredibly high, frustrating the wannabe, who blames Spotify for this problem.

But the truth is the public is overwhelmed.

Everybody’s a creator, everybody’s a broadcaster, everybody’s a writer, and that’s just too much.

And the funny thing is the filters don’t realize their power. All we hear about the press is the decline in profits, and the resulting cutbacks. But the truth is unless a screed is presented by an authorized outlet, I don’t care. In order to be a nobody and penetrate my consciousness you’ve got to be better than the NYT or WSJ writers. Which is an incredible burden, but I’m only conveying the truth, don’t shoot the messenger.

It will not be like this forever. At some point there will be a clear delineation between professionals and hobbyists. And the latter will expect neither attention nor profits.

And I hope at some point in the future the press will exercise some judgment, help the public wade through the crap to see the gems. But I’m not counting on that, because press and pros are all about relationships, scratching each other’s backs.

Which is why when it comes to blowing something up we rely on each other.

The pros put their best on the line and we decide what works. It’s not radio, as powerful as it is it’s less powerful than ever before. It reaches some people, not everybody. And we’re all concerned with what to watch on our flat screen, but we care not a whit where it’s shown. It’s about the content, not the channel.

So we no longer live in an era of spontaneous virality.

But we do live in an era of chaos.

But it won’t last forever.

There will be a thin layer which many consume and then everything else.

Even fewer people will be successful than before, despite everyone being able to create.

This is what the internet and digital tools have wrought.