I Drank A Coke

I know, I know, it’s illegal, but I did it! As a matter of fact I’m having a Caffeine Free Diet Coke right now! But it’s not the same thing, it’s not the real thing, not like Coke, made with sugar, in a bottle.

Soda was a staple growing up. My father owned a liquor store. He’d bring home flats of soda on a regular basis, we’d never run out, even Yoo-hoo, that’s how I found out about Gil McDougald, before that I had no idea who he was. I once brought my entire Little League team to my garage so they could have free soda. It tended to be Cott, cherry and orange, not that Coke and Pepsi were illegal, I remember the old Pepsi logo, with the swirl, but I preferred Coke, until I went to college, when the machines were Pepsi-only.

Of course I can tell the difference. Pepsi is not only sweeter, but you can drink the whole can in one fell swoop. You cannot do this with Coke, because of its effervescence. I’d drink three cans a day, for 15¢ apiece, that’s what they cost, until Vermont became the first state with a bottle law, when they went up by 5¢, but finding a place to take them back was a near impossibility. They’d always require you to have bought them there, and they knew we were college students, assuming we even had a car to get us there in the first place.

But during my senior year of college I had a car, a ’63 Chevy convertible my dad had bought for $350, overpaying because of low mileage, which my sister drove at BU and then got handed down to me. That’s when I switched to Coke, in twelve ounce bottles, I was burned out on Pepsi, I could now go to the grocery store and buy Coke, it was a relief.

And I stayed with Coke until they came out with the new one, literally New Coke, which was in ’88, right? Of course I could look it up, but sometimes you just want to rely on your memory. I remember where I bought it, when it was rare, at Jay’s, the convenience store up the street.

I got it home, chilled the bottle, broke it open and then…

Severe disappointment. A flat sensation in between Coke and Pepsi that satisfied none of my taste buds. Meanwhile, real Coke was unavailable, I switched to Pepsi and then…

I found Caffeine Free Diet Coke in the fridge in Vermont.

No, I did not partake of Diet Coke. Because of its bitter aftertaste. It wasn’t quite as bad as the dreaded Tab, but it was not for regular consumption. And now I’m confronted with a can that not only does not have sugar, but is sans caffeine to boot, it’s got NOTHING! I expected it to taste like water. But surprisingly, it tasted better than regular Diet Coke, less bitter, less aftertaste, a facsimile of real Coke, but at the time you could not buy real Coke, and the Coke that came back to market had fructose instead of sugar, so I switched allegiance.

And then everybody went to water.

I feel like an adolescent. The holier-than-thou tribe excoriate me every time they hear I consume Caffeine Free Diet Coke, like I’m putting poison in my body, like if I drink enough cans I’ll die. But I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t smoke cigarettes and I try not to eat rice or bread and am I entitled to live? NO!

As for water, it’s just not satisfying, especially that wimpy stuff with a couple of calories that’s “flavored.” It’s got color, but to the degree it’s got taste, it’s icky. As for truly flavored water, it’s got as many calories as Coke, so I might as well drink that.

But I don’t. You see getting older certain foods become illegal. See a baby boomer eating french fries and you’re convinced they’re going to drop dead in the next couple of weeks. And as my nutritionist says, nobody gets to eat everything they want. So we’re all limited, we’re all restricted, and my problem is when I go off the rails, I go big. I eat all the chocolate chip cookies, I have a shake with my burger, so I try to keep the reins tight, but this week I’m losing my resolve.

Last night I ate chocolate pudding. Not a whole hell of a lot, but enough to satisfy. The worst thing is eating crap and finding out it doesn’t live up to your expectations. But this did! And today when I went for a drink at the bar…

Coke must be a sponsor. I was carrying around a glass of water all day, even put a lemon in it, but it was like drinking medicine, I just could not consume it. And when I went back for one more glass, I saw the bottles, Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite.

Now on a plane, I go for Diet Sierra Mist, or Diet Sprite. Hell…I’ll occasionally buy Diet 7-Up or Diet Ginger Ale at the grocery store. I’ve become so sensitive to caffeine. I don’t drink coffee, but I used to drink full-strength Coke and Pepsi, but now I don’t. As for Diet Coke, it too has caffeine, so I never partake, I don’t want to be up all night. And I must mention that zero calorie Vitamin Water is quite tasty, but it’s hard to find, so…

I’m striding across the landscape, I’m bellying up to the bar, I’m getting ready to pour some water and then I see the little Coke bottle and I say to myself…

Hell, a sip’ll be ok.

It always tastes better in the bottle. But the bottles are rare, but they’re right here. And they’ve got ice! I keep my fridge really cold, my cans of Caffeine Free Diet Coke need no ice. But now, on a hot fall day in Ojai, the thought of a real Coke over ice is irresistible.

I’ll just take a few swallows.

So I fill a glass with ice. I wondered how much to use, but the bottle was not cold.

Then I used a can opener to pop the top, reminding me of the days of yore, in my dad’s garage, using the metal Rheingold or Ballantine can openers to pop the top of soda bottles before there were screw tops.

And then I poured the caramel-colored liquid over the ice and effervescence ensued and I was getting into the mood.

I’d only planned for a little, but I filled up the glass, it looked so good with the ice.

And then I hoisted the glass to my lips and took a sip…

VOILA! My face broke out in a smile, the world went from black and white to color, I thought back to college, I reconnected with who I once was, felt good I was the same guy, and then could not stop.

I was in a good mood. I was in a commercial. My life was better with Coca-Cola.

I walked the grass with a bounce in my step, I poured the rest of the bottle in the glass. I calculated whether it was too late in the day to consume caffeine, decided it wasn’t, noted that there were only eight ounces in the bottle and downed my drink and…

It made my day, I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m not going back on a sugar water regimen, but it was like taking LSD, I saw the world in a new way.

Sometimes you’ve just go to color outside the lines.

My name is Bob Lefsetz and I’m addicted to Coke.

AND I’M PROUD OF IT!

Stream

I’m not supposed to talk about it.

Actually, I asked Martin Sorrell’s permission, actually SIR Martin Sorrell, and he said to run it by him first.

Ain’t gonna do that.

Actually, I deleted the e-mail the first time through. I’m invited to scores of conferences. I won’t go unless you pay me. Hell, you’re reading this for free, I’ve got to make a living! And usually conferences are worthless. Sponsored by the government to promote industry they’re clusterfucks with no point. You see the usual suspects spouting the usual statements and if you’re lucky, you make some new friends and hang with old ones. And then there are the bands, oh I hate this. The organizer signs up a hundred wannabes, charges them to play in the hope they get a deal, whatever that means these days. Actually, for about a decade there, music conferences were fascinating, because the business was in turmoil, but it’s in turmoil no more. You’re now either a winner or you’re a loser, and you know which one you are by whether you’re bitching or not. If you’re complaining about streaming and how you just can’t make any money you’ve been left behind, the past is never coming back. All that hogwash about musicians being fairly compensated for their work… Yeah, that’ll happen when you can force people to listen to your trash, and that’s never gonna be, you’re competing against the best music of all time, you’ve got to be just that good, and the dirty little secret which is actually hiding in plain sight is if you are that good, if you are at the top of the chart, you’re making more money in adjusted dollars than you ever made in music previously. But try to tell that to the losers. You’re not entitled to make music for a living, do you think you’re entitled to play in the NBA?

So Stream is free. I learned that when they tracked me down again. Sponsored by WPP, the world’s largest advertising agency, whose majordomo is the heretofore mentioned Mr. Sorrell, and a bunch of other household name companies, it brings together agency people, media people and those like me, who wonder how we got on their list.

And believe me, these are different people, I never come across them in real life. Hell, I probably hear from as many people as anybody in Hollywood, but I don’t know advertising agencies and packaged goods consultants and it’s just stunning how many people really live in the world, and many of them are foreign, with a different perspective. The more you learn, the less you know. I’m sitting around in discussion groups today wondering to what degree I’ve got my finger on the pulse, because everybody’s got a family, everybody’s buying stuff, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

Well, the people at Stream are the ones who are selling it to them.

Now the difference between Stream and the music business is these people are smart. Whereas music is peopled by hustlers. With no barrier to entry and great rewards for success, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff in music, which is why you can’t get access, why you’re better off making a noise and being found than knocking on doors. People are DELUSIONAL! They’ll e-mail you files that suck which they believe are chart-toppers, it’s just that no one will tell them this, and if you do, you crush their dream and are labeled an asshole, harassed forever more, which is why it’s a club you cannot get into, no one has the time to waste with the great unwashed.

But in traditional business you’ve got to prove yourself to move up the food chain. But advertising is challenged. It’s just a decade plus behind the music industry. You see they’re being squeezed out, even though in many cases they’re necessary, but no one wants to pay, can you say NAPSTER??

Everybody hates disruption. They think their job is forever, or should be. But the world marches on and new companies emerge and many no longer have a seat at the table. But rather than deal with this, many deny it, try to prevent it, and howl when it comes to be, just like you hate the rappers who built culture online, gave their wares away for free and now dominate Spotify. You denigrate their music, the system, instead of getting on board and trying to play the game. There’s no culture in rock, which is why it’s eclipsed by even country on Spotify, one thing the social web has taught us is you need a community. But there’s no new music in rock that engenders said community. You’re bitching about streaming while Fleetwood Mac has over a hundred million streams of their hits on Spotify, because they’re GREAT, you don’t need a manual to understand them.

And today it rained. You know what it’s like to be outside in the rain in Ojai, under a teepee? It’s like being at summer camp. There’s a feeling in the air, like your life could change, like you’re living in the moment, like nothing else matters. You’re pissed when your phone rings, when you get e-mail, you want to disconnect as opposed to being plugged in.

And the truth is everybody’s friendly and most have no idea who I am and there are five discussion slots a day, you go to whichever groups you want, they’re organized by attendees, kinda like electives at the aforementioned summer camp. And you encounter certain people a number of times and create bonds. And your consciousness is heightened and your social network is increased with flesh and blood friends and the busier you are, and I haven’t had a free moment all day, the more you engage, you realize technology is just a tool, that it’s really just about us.

Stream the WPP conference

Stream USA 2017

United Masters

Can there be more than one Chance the Rapper?

Major labels are good for radio and TV, but what if they’re not part of the equation? Chance made it online, without the help of the usual suspects, is this formula repeatable?

That’s what Steve Stoute is gonna find out.

Now let’s be clear, he’s not the first in this space. Remember Topspin? And Bandcamp? But maybe, like Rhapsody, never mind Napster, they were just too early. The techies did devour music distribution, they call that Spotify, it rules.

Now the major labels have one thing that cannot be underestimated, their catalogs, which are generating beaucoup bucks on streaming services, with all expenses paid, the money is gravy, featuring a low royalty rate in most cases. That’s right, if you signed your deal more than five years ago, you were screwed. Now there are no expenses, no manufacturing, shipping or returns, but your deal might still have a packaging deduction, even though there is none, it’s hard to get rid of legacy deal points, but not if you start all over with a clean slate.

And the important thing about catalog is the financial cushion, it keeps you afloat while you’re looking for hits.

But what if you’ve already got a financial cushion?

In this case United Masters is financed by Alphabet, i.e. Google, and Andreessen Horowitz, the clean slate people, from Silicon Valley, who’ve revolutionized our world. They don’t improve upon old ideas, they start with new ones, or refine new ones.

Kobalt is revolutionizing publishing. It’s all about their dashboard, you can see how your song is performing, what revenue is coming in, the company is pulling the rest of the publishing industry forward, they have to change, otherwise they’re going to be left behind. Furthermore, Kobalt writers testify that they make more per song than their cowriters with traditional publishers.

Kobalt was financed by Google.

But Kobalt is notoriously bad when it comes to synch, the people problem.

That’s what United Masters is trying to tackle. Google took people out of advertising, can the same thing be done in music?

Google created an algorithm, you bid for your ad space, the ad world has been revolutionized. Can the same thing be done with music production?

It’s all about the data. Like those ads that follow you around the web. How do they know? Imagine if you could target all your listeners, know who they are. That’s what United Masters is trying to achieve. With this direct relationship you can monetize your career in heretofore unforeseen ways. And maximize those ways that do exist.

And it’s all based on fairness and transparency, concepts which are anathema to the major labels.

But the major labels are banks. With usurious interest rates. But if you could monetize yourself, and keep almost all of the money, you could float your operation until you hit the big time.

Will United Masters triumph?

The devil is in the details.

But it’s truly the beginning of the beginning.

P.S. The majors use their catalogs as leverage. Just ask anybody who tried to create a company based on their wares. Spotify was successful because it gave the majors an interest in the enterprise. Hits also give you leverage, but in the past you could not get paid without a continuous flow of product. But now you can.

P.P.S. It’s a business of winners and losers, now more than ever. But the hope of United Masters is it can generate a living wage for the losers, and prop up those on their way to stardom.

P.P.P.S. Music is the canary in the coal mine, it’s always first. In the movie business they keep railing against the unfairness of Rotten Tomatoes, we’re past that stage in music, we believe in the facts, we’re entering the future. If you’re complaining about streaming you’ve already been left behind. Use the new tools to your advantage.

P.P.P.P.S. The internet is about cutting out the middleman, going direct to consumer. That’s what United Masters is doing.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Never underestimate fresh eyes. The labels are peopled by a very thin layer of overpaid, usually ancient execs and underpaid worker bees, but the newbies are not burdened by concepts that make no sense, like the aforementioned packaging deduction.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. The labels tell you what to do, own your product, and pay you bupkes. This is a business? Once upon a time there were no options. But now there are. Do you want to be told what to do or do it yourself? Everybody’s an entrepreneur, everybody watches “Shark Tank,” if you’re not in control of your own destiny, you’re about to hit a wall of frustration.

United Masters

Medium – United Masters

techcrunch – United Masters

Broken Arrow

She’d pulled away.

Relationships are funny. You’re together, then you’re not. But it’s the in-between that flummoxes you.

I always believed in living together. It made it that much harder for the other person to move out. One argument was not definitive. But once I was married I thought it was…

Forever.

Because my parents stayed together, I was brought up with perseverance and commitment, I believed if I stood up in front of family and friends and said yes I couldn’t go back on my word, people would judge me, be disappointed in me, I’m the kind of guy who makes things work, who refuses to say no. But it takes two to tango, and you never really know where the other person is coming from.

We’d been coming apart for months, ever since the beginning of summer. There were so many weird moments, and at first I fought them, called out behavior, and then I went along with it. And when she suggested visiting friends in Mill Valley I’d never heard of, never mind met, I said yes.

And she gave them a bigger hello than she gave me. But that night we had sex on their living room floor, and coitus connects you in a way nothing else does, it has a way of pushing all your doubts into the background.

But the next day walking around town she was strangely distant, as if we were magnets with opposing poles, she couldn’t get too close.

And then we left the friends and drove over the bridge to San Francisco, wherein she had a desire to visit the Exploratorium, once again, I felt by saying yes it would bring us together, but this was not to be. And when it came to choosing a hotel she refrained from having an opinion, she deferred to me, and when someone does this you know they’ll never be satisfied. And she spent the night on the opposing side of the bed but the following day I made the most of it, I was game, we spent the day traipsing around the city, and then it was time to drive home.

Only she didn’t, want to drive that is. And it’s about 6+ hours, and to tell you the truth, I’m not big on driving at night. I’d rather start early and finish before the sun goes down. I know too many people who’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. Just you and the headlights, for hours, between the lines, it can be hypnotizing, in a bad way. So I thought she’d share the driving.

But she wouldn’t.

So I’m sitting behind the wheel anxious. With hours ahead of me in darkness, no conversation, only a thick tension inside the automobile.

And this was in the era of cassettes, before CD changers hit the car, when you’d drive down the highway and run out of radio stations. You always traveled with a box of Maxells, to entertain you between signals.

Along with some prerecorded cassettes. At this time I had traction, I was on mailing lists, or maybe I went to see John Kalodner and got them out of the Geffen closet, but I had bunch of mass-produced cassettes for listening, for the trip ahead.

And Robbie Robertson was a legend, who’d famously retired his group the Band, which ultimately reformed without him. And now he had a solo album. The song you heard on the radio was “Showdown At Big Sky,” back when you heard the new work of legendary artists. But the album, was dark and featured Robbie’s less than perfect voice, and to be honest I’d not given it a solid chance.

But that’s what road trips are for, catching up. You’ve got time to marinate in new music, wait for it to reveal itself to you.

And to be honest, the Robbie Robertson album is not that palatable, you don’t put it on as background music, it’s made for fans, paying attention, so I was anxious about playing it. But this was long after she’d forgone editorial judgment on what I inserted into the Alpine deck.

So I played the cassette, which flipped sides automatically, unlike the Blaupunkt in my old car, and when the album was done…

I let it play again. I didn’t want to disturb the environment. I needed her help to find another cassette, I wasn’t sure whether she was asleep or awake in the seat next to me, so I let the album play.

And that’s when I discovered “Broken Arrow.”

Who else is gonna bring you a broken arrow
Who else is gonna bring you a bottle of rain

That’s what relationships engender, trust, you can count on the other person to be there for you. But at this point, the track was delivering more than she was, listening I suddenly felt connected.

I want to come when you call
I’ll get to you if I have to crawl
They can’t hold me with these iron walls
We got mountains to climb

So the song is making me optimistic, even though all the signs pointed in the other direction. I’m the kind of guy who believes if I just put my nose to the grindstone, plow forward, I can get what my heart desires. But one of the pains of aging, one of the lessons, is finding out this is untrue. You can put all your effort in and still not get the result you want. And the problem is you get nowhere unless you make the effort, and so few do, so you believe that you’re special and have unique powers and then you find out you’re no different from anyone else.

Do you feel what I feel
Can we make that so it’s part of the deal

So I’m in a hotel that’s changed names, out in the desert for the inaugural SBK Records Convention, and the headliner was Wilson Phillips, who were going to make their debut, before their smash album was released. And they rotated the singers, so we got to sit next to each one of them, but the crowd was small enough that we got to mingle, so I went up to Michelle Phillips and uttered the above words.

She told me she didn’t sign anything without her lawyer anymore. I was stunned that she didn’t get the reference, that she didn’t know the track, but I was a product of the seventies, when we all knew the same stuff, but now this was untrue. Although she wrote her address on a matchbook so I could send her a letter.

I did.

I never heard back.

I didn’t expect to. But it was just another nail in the coffin of my optimism, a year and a half after my ex finally left.

I’ve been rebuilding my hope and confidence ever since.

Broken Arrow – Spotify

Broken Arrow – YouTube