Take It Easy

The sun is out, the surf is up and it’s a beautiful Southern California day.

That’s right, we might be plagued by earthquakes and gridlock, but when the elements align, which is nearly every day, when you get behind the wheel and crank up the radio, you feel like a million bucks.

So I just went for an MRI at Kerlan-Jobe, for a hip injury that occurred skiing the ice two and a half years ago, I’m wondering what is causing the pain at this late date, and after lying in the tube for forty five minutes running every sexual fantasy possible through my brain to avoid concentrating on the fact that my ankles were Velcroed and my knee hurt I emerged into the sunlight to “Take It Easy” on the satellite.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the last week of August. Used to be school was taboo. That week was taken up with recovering from summer exploits, before classes resumed after Labor Day. I’d come home from New Hampshire or Europe and immediately drive to Korvette’s to buy the latest albums, to catch up on what I missed when I was away.

And that’s where and when I bought the Eagles’ debut.

But it wasn’t only that, but Sly & the Family Stone’s “Fresh,” and a bunch of other records that I’d spin incessantly my first few weeks back at college in Vermont, where before you knew it, you were in the doldrums of November.

But it’s different out here. The doldrums never appear. It rarely rains on your parade. And with no one asking where you went to college, never mind what you scored on your SATs, you’re free. And that’s what I love so much about SoCal, the right to be me, to live with a lawn and a car in a city where you may be unable to park, but at least you don’t feel closed in.

So the world is blowing up, people’s rights are being challenged, opportunity is rare, yet when you emerge from your house into the SoCal sunniness you can’t help but smile and be optimistic.

Never underestimate the weather.

Yes, it’s weird how the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. It’s like we’re beginning a four month run to Christmas, soon we’ll all be in front of the fire sipping hot cocoa.

But not me!

It’s the time of year when the Doors’ “Summer’s Almost Gone” goes through my brain.

It’s the time of year when the boys of summer make their last pilgrimage to Malibu, before everybody hunkers down and gets serious.

And it’s the time of year when “Maggie May” no longer resonates. Yup, for decades I was haunted by Rod Stewart’s refrain that it was late September and I really should be back in school. But no more!

You see I’ve broken free. I am who I am, the story cannot be rewritten. And whether I’m happy with what’s inscribed in the book of life or not there’s nothing I can do about it other than put on my sunglasses, slide back the sunroof and turn up the radio.

So, so long summer 2014. It was hotter than usual in my house without air conditioning but I won’t be worrying about it for long.

So long hot summer nights where I could bask in sunlight ’til nearly nine.

And so long to the pressure to find a song of the summer, to make the most of the few months off.

Because in the modern world you’re never off, you’re on all the time, tethered to your devices, working to stay ahead of the man.

But the truth is I’m on an endless vacation. I listened to Jan & Dean, I got the memo, I came out west to live the Beach Boys’ lifestyle and found out…

THEY WERE RIGHT!

Income Inequality

What about my incentive?

I just spent an hour in traffic listening to Nick Hanauer tell me the pitchforks are coming out. Yup, the guy whose TED talk was banned wrote a piece last week on Politico and now the left-leaning NPR has him on delineating the evils of income inequality.

But only the converted will hear it. He gets no play on Fox, never mind CNN, because those are owned by giant corporations supported by rich advertisers and anything that undermines their comfortable wealth is prohibited. So most people never hear the truth. That the rich are getting richer and your odds of succeeding are close to nil.

Pretty depressing, isn’t it?

Kind of like the music business.

You see a lot of job listings for the labels and concert companies? Of course not! Because the titans have to make millions and they don’t want to share the wealth. Talk to an underling at a label, he makes bupkes and works ’round the clock thrilled that he’s in show business, not knowing his ass will soon get fired and he’ll have nothing to put on his resume.

It’s even worse for the acts. You know why you’re poor? Because your potential fans don’t have any money! They can’t come see you live because they paid a scalper hundreds of dollars to see the superstar, they’ve got nothing left over.

And sure, there have always been rich musicians, but as a friend who managed a household name act in the seventies which said he ripped them off…THERE IS NO MONEY, THEY SPENT IT ALL, TICKETS WERE FOUR, FIVE AND SIX DOLLARS AND THEY STAYED AT THE BEST HOTELS AND DID TONS OF DOPE!

That’s a musician. Entitled and stupid, no matter how successful.

But most are not successful, but they’re still stupid.

Come on, does anybody take music lessons with a desire to become a working stiff, someone who plays in a wedding band? No, what keeps most people going is the dream of becoming rich and famous. But that dream went down the drain and ain’t coming back.

At least in reality TV the people know it’s about the fame, that there is no back end.

But in music everybody’s Facebooking and tweeting and believing they’re just one step away from the brass ring.

Ain’t that a laugh.

And those that break through leave the rest of us behind. Yup, the rappers have had it right for decades, telling us they’re richer and having better sex than us. We’ve got no chance. Oh, you can dress up like a gangster, but if you think that’ll get you laid you consider McDonald’s fine dining.

We built this country, we sustain it, yet the rich and powerful have us duped into believing they’re the engine of success.

Stop buying tickets to the show, watch how fast Rihanna, Jay Z and Beyonce disappear. Or stop watching their videos on YouTube. They’re gonna kick and scream the same way big corporations do when they’re confronted by union demands.

But the union is the enemy, all hail the corporation! The union fights for the little guy, the worker, but now we’re all entrepreneurs, on our own, on the way to zillions! Ain’t that a bunch of hogwash.

So you’ve got the disinformation campaign of the wealthy, telling us if they have to pay more taxes, they’ll have no incentive to create these wonderful jobs we’re working at minimum wage with split shifts. Well, forgetting that their effective tax rate is much lower than mine, how about my incentive? Living with cancer in a rental unit without a family, having sacrificed everything for my so-called career. I was willing to starve and sacrifice while banks raped and pillaged, while governments cozied up to corporations, while the rich got richer and they kept pulling the carrot from my reach, saying I could make it but hoping I wouldn’t, because they want all the spoils for themselves.

And if I broke through thirty or forty years ago, I’d be as rich as anybody. Yup, not only musicians were kings, but writers too. But now writers are pawns in the game as business titans like Jeff Bezos and the faceless people at Hachette move us around the board in an effort to get even more wealthy. Because the writer doesn’t make the money, the man does. And even if you’re successful, you can’t live in a gated community and fly private. That’s for the financial wizards.

But at least I’m educated, I understand all this. But most people can’t grasp the facts, never mind the concepts. If they go to college at all, it’s to learn a trade, study business or publicity or some other worker bee subject, because you don’t go to school to enrich your mind, but to get a job, and those are scarce, so you’d better buckle down.

So it’s poor on poor crime.

You hate Ticketmaster not realizing the acts are the problem, that Fred Rosen created the paradigm to exclude fees from the dividable pot, since acts want it all.

And you hate the band that gets the gig you don’t.

You don’t realize that until we band together and fight the powers that be, we’re screwed.

Yup, you want paperless ticketing, so the rich don’t get all the good seats.

You want low ticket prices, so not only can you go, but they can come to see you.

And you want the end of income inequality so not only can you get a leg up, but so the working and middle classes have money to spend, making us all more healthy and wise.

So what is end game?

Are the pitchforks coming out?

Is Hanauer the canary in the coalmine, like those analysts who called the mortgage crisis? One thing we learned there is the edifice topples very fast.

I don’t know, but I’m stuck at the bottom with you, and I don’t like it.

“The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats”

“Banned TED Talk: Nick Hanauer ‘Rich people don’t create jobs’”

The Sarah Polley Movie

Used to be movies came on like a lion and then disappeared. Music entered the scene like a lamb and lasted.

But no more.

Records were all about traction, how could you get something to stick. Movies were about getting people into the theatre right away. At first, there was no television for reruns, the flicks just disappeared. Then came TV, then came the VCR and now comes Netflix. So films live on. Whereas a record that does not gain purchase, and very few do, disappears and is plowed under by subsequent releases. Both art forms are heavily promoted at the outset, but music promotion has no legs, no one years later says they’re interested in hearing the stiff work of so and so. But when we hear movies are good, the titles stick in our minds, and when we’re surfing our streaming services, a synapse fires and we hit play.

That’s what happened to me last night with Sarah Polley’s movie “Stories We Tell.”

It’s about a secret, a personal secret. It’s a documentary. And although I’ve always loved Polley’s work in front of the camera, I’m skeptical of actors who switch sides. Which may be why I did not make the effort to see this film in the theatre, and it is an effort, but I always remembered the accolades and when I hit play last night, I was hooked.

Are you married to the right person?

Are you an extrovert and is he or she an introvert?

That’s the case with Diane Polley. She was the life of the party, always going to and fro, whereas her husband Michael was a homebody who didn’t talk much and was fine with that. Did this cripple Diane or root her?

And do you make a clean break for love or do you hang in there for the benefits, enriched over time?

These are the questions which haunt us all. Am I more into her than she is to me? According to Michael, that’s almost inevitable.

But maybe these questions can be asked because the story took place in Canada, where they don’t have the American dream and it’s cold and snowy and who you are inside and who your friends are is all you’re gonna get. Whereas in the U.S., everybody dreams of getting out, rising above, leaving behind where they came from and entering a brand new, better world, crawling from the wreckage into a brand new car. But is it really better?

I don’t know.

Despite all the certainty being flung at me constantly I’ve got more questions than answers, and I find when I bring them up no one wants to hear them, no one wants to contemplate them, no one wants to debate them, because that would waste time on the way to their destination. And no one’s got any time anymore.

Including me. Which is why I can’t remember the last time I went to the movies.

And today it’s all about television anyway. Because TV knows it’s about story, movies have lost sight of this truism.

And there’s plenty of story in “Stories We Tell,” but what draws one in is the truth. That’s what art is in search of. And it’s not only lyrics, it can be sound, but we’ve long ago given up looking for truth in music. Because brands aren’t about truth, but deception, and money.

And some of the truth in this film is staggering. Michael Polley quoting Pablo Neruda:

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.”

Eureka, that is it! Today you break up and are over it immediately. You get divorced and remarried instantly. No one wants to talk about the damage, the lingering effects of disconnection. And if they do, their friends just say to get over it, as if you can will yourself into thinking something different, but you can’t.

So “Stories We Tell” is at your fingertips. If you don’t have a Netflix account you can sign up and immediately cancel after watching this movie.

And you should, watch this movie. Because we’re all human.

And it’s full of humanity.

And truth.

Like all stories are not tied up neatly. Everyone has their own truth. And we age and lose and ruminate and are thrilled by small joys we can hold on to.

Because life is precious.

And so is this film.

Stories We Tell

Video Music Awards

What channel is MTV again?

And what kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where an unscripted precursor is the height of the show. That’s right, the shooting of Suge Knight was this year’s memorable moment, and that’s all the VMAs are about these days, trying to create lasting impressions, which this year’s telecast failed to do.

How do I know? I scanned the web!

So we’ve got a self-congratulatory music industry trumpeting this faux show because of its reach and we’ve got an advertising industry fascinated because they see these young nitwits as their next audience and we’ve got self-satisfied oldsters refusing to watch because they’ve got no idea who these people are and want to feel superior.

Welcome to 2014, where self-promotion is paramount and music is second to your brand.

How did we get here?

Ironically, via MTV itself. Which proved that music is second to money. Which took fly by night acts and blew them up to icons so big that they can still tour sheds today.

But that was 1982. Long before videos cost a million bucks in the nineties and then the whole paradigm was eviscerated by the web. Yup, a couple of years back Adam Levine excoriates the channel, now he plays it, because after all, who can turn down that exposure?

That’s the avenue you take when you’ve got little talent, when you don’t record memorable music. You call out the usual suspects, the hacks in the media world, and get them to trump up your evanescent product to the point where you feel it’s significant, even though most of us shrug our shoulders and move on.

At least credit Sam Smith for concocting a good song. But the point is how do you reach people not in the echo chamber? Oldsters who prefer CDs to YouTube, who don’t search SoundCloud and find it too hard to use Spotify.

We’re complicit in the decline of the music industry. All the makers and sellers. Because we haven’t come up with a way to showcase our wares. So MTV does it for us, poorly, and Grammy ratings improve because everybody at home has no idea what to listen to. It’s kind of like Twitter. Its adherents and the press keep telling us it’s changing the world, but we never go there. Hell, I follow my feed religiously but almost no one was commenting on the VMAs last night, I guess there’s no nexus between who I read and those who watch the VMAs.

So where do we start?

Always with the acts.

Give these VMA stars credit, they create catchy tunes. Not Beyonce, who self-indulgently tributed herself with sixteen minutes of music that didn’t break through and few want to hear, but the Ariana Grande and Iggy Azaleas of this world. How come oldsters can’t write catchy tunes? How come Americana acts can’t write catchy tunes? Have we lost the formula? Do only Max Martin and Dr. Luke have the secret sauce?

Because it’s damn hard to be ubiquitous with a product that does not deserve the acclaim.

And today, even though classic rock sustains, almost nothing else does. Check the most played tracks on Spotify, you’ll find Led Zeppelin, but not PSY. And Led Zeppelin didn’t break through until “Whole Lotta Love.” And sure, “Stairway To Heaven” was not an AM single, but it was unavoidable on FM, which was coming to dominate.

The youngsters know how to play the game.

But they’ve got nothing to say, other than pay attention to me, watch me dance, look at my bank account, wanna have sex with me? You can’t!

The oldsters want to say something but they’ve got bad tunes and bad voices and they’re so demanding of our attention that we ignore them. The VMAs of the hipsters is a feature in the “New York Times Magazine,” which just goes to prove you’re a wanker who appeals to the head not the heart, and deserve little attention.

Yes, we need a new awards show. A Mercury Prize for America.

But who are we gonna give it to?

The problem is us. We refuse to acknowledge that the basics are always key. That first and foremost music is something you listen to, and if it doesn’t hook you quickly, it won’t hook you at all, especially in these overwhelming times.

Come on, how many times did you have to hear “I Want To Hold Your Hand”?

And most of the acts whose music you had to hear multiple times had hits to entice us first.

But the truth is I’m not optimistic. Because music lost its hold on the culture decades ago, it’s not where you go for honesty and truth. I get a bigger hit opening my browser than going to the iTunes Store. We’ve decimated our credibility. Once upon a time music was hot, now it’s meh.

Yup, YouTube features young stars with credibility, but on MTV we get the fawning Sway.

Radiohead entered our consciousness via “Creep,” yet has not recorded anything that memorable for the masses since.

Which is why EDM could be our savior. Because the mainstream doesn’t care about it, the oldsters don’t get it and the deejays and attendees don’t need our attention.

Yup, it may be driven by drugs, but no one in that world is saying LOOK AT ME!

So, so long 2014 VMAs… The run-up was more memorable than the show.

And so long the seventies, when breaking through on radio meant everybody in the demo knew you.

And so long to the eighties, when we were all watching MTV.

Hello to the twenty first century. Where we’re overloaded with information and just because you’re yelling that does not mean we hear you.

We live in a world where most is ignored but that which is picked up is spread like wildfire.

You know why you don’t know Iggy Azalea, never mind Ariana Grande?

BECAUSE THEY’RE JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

Kid music for kids.

But it used to be different…