Modern Life

We know everything and we know nothing.

We know that a plane was shot down over Ukraine, but we’ve got no idea what the number one record is.

We’re grazers, we’re surfers, according to Google, we pull our smartphones from our pockets 125 times a day. We want to be on the pulse, but no one is quite sure what the pulse is and everybody purveying is battling for mindshare, unaware that total domination is a fool’s game, unless you’re an element of a shocking news story or provide technology we can all use.

That’s right. Everybody can debate the merits of the iPhone versus Android. Some may only know you can get the latter cheaper, others know further deep details. But that’s because you use your phone all day long, you don’t listen to the same record all day long, you might not listen to music at all!

And everyone’s so overloaded, no one’s got any time. It’s all about the headlines and a few verticals. It may be the golden age of television, but who’s got the time to watch all those shows? And, if you are, you’re not listening to music.

And movies are a dying art form. My recommendation of the day is Bret Easton Ellis’s podcast, wherein he intellectually dissects issues of culture, film and TV. Michael Tolkin said his twentysomething children never go to the movies, Ellis said it’s hard to get his twentysomething boyfriend to watch a flick, and Tolkin said that just because Kevin Smith watches a movie every night, and discusses film with his brethren online, that does not mean it’s a mainstream pastime.

Huh?

We’ve got the bottom feeders, the lowest common denominator sites with traffic and ink that are all about clicks, like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post. And now even the “New York Times” is worried it’s not playing the game right, it wants its writers to promote their words on social media, believing if you don’t join them, you’re dead, but that could not be further from the truth. Do you remember when “Rolling Stone” remade its magazine into bite-sized chunks when “Blender” made inroads with that style? Turns out “Blender” lied about its numbers, and the magazine is extinct today.

But stories keep getting shorter in the belief that people have a short attention span.

But the truth is people are overwhelmed with grazing, there’s so much information, that they can only go deep in a few areas, and those in the arts just cannot fathom this.

Nobody wants the album because unlike the artists who made them, they don’t care that much and don’t have enough time, they’d rather listen to ten tracks by different people than ten by one. Of course there are exceptions, but that’s just what they are. Some acts have deep fanbases, they’re the iPhones of the world, the rest are Windows phones or BlackBerries, with a few diehard fans who keep trumpeting their features while the rest of us ignore them, because the truth is we all want to be mainstream, we’re all afraid of being left on the scrapheap.

So the true winner in the future will be whoever controls the top list, whoever lists what is popular. This is why sales charts are death, they don’t reflect popular usage. Bitch all you want about streaming economics, but the truth is that’s how the public consumes.

So what we’re experiencing is a winnowing out process. Everybody can play, but only a few can win. If you think the Huffington Post is for tomorrow, you only live in today. The “New York Times” has nothing to worry about, because they’re the only company that features real, in depth reporting, and he who controls information wins in the end.

But the “New York Times” is laboring under the conceit that it’s bigger than its writers, which is completely topsy-turvy. Today we believe in the individual, whether it be Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Ezra Klein or Rupert Murdoch. You hitch your star to the star. Otherwise you descend. Because people don’t trust institutions, they don’t trust corporations, they only trust individuals. So if you’re building an enterprise, focus on the talent. We can all identify with the talent. We believe Nate Silver has authority when it comes to data, the new people writing in the “New York Times” Upshot…WHO ARE THEY?

So you’ve got two sides to the equation, the seller and the buyer, and what’s even worse, so many are both. Very few are passive today. People may be surfing the headlines, but they’re also embellishing their personal brand, they want you to stop by at their Facebook page, check out their Twitter feed, when we ran out of time eons ago. So we gravitate to that which is in our face all day every day. Which is why if you want to be a famous musician, you’ve got to dominate the news cycle. This is what the Kardashians do so well and the bands do so poorly.

Or else you could make a song so good that it dominates the discussion. But we can’t even agree on a song of the summer this summer. Is that because one’s not good enough or because there’s no consensus, because we’re all scurrying off in our own direction.

So there are some who sit home self-satisfied, saying they know what’s going on, when that’s damn near impossible.

And then there are those who not only yearn for the days of yore, they keep bitching about what is lost in the new era.

And then there are those who do their best to keep up. And they’re the majority of the population. They’re trying to cobble together a life. Trying to decide what is necessary. Whether to look for love online or in real life. Whether to turn off their devices to enrich the experience or be fearful of missing out.

It’s the culture stupid!

You might think it’s about money and quality and marketing, but the truth is the culture has changed, and those who do not adopt their companies and their products to the new culture are bound to be forgotten.

Today you can truly be famous for fifteen minutes and forgotten shortly thereafter.

The key is to sustain.

And you do this by being in front of everybody with a quality product on a regular basis.

And that’s damn hard to do. That’s why Luke Bryan puts out two albums a year, why his label keeps pushing singles to the top of the chart, and most Americans still have no idea who he is!

Beyonce may be famous, but few know her new music.

And “Orange Is the New Black” may get great reviews, but who’s got 25 hours to dedicate to the show when there’s so much else to experience? Or, if you do, what else are you sacrificing?

So stop bitching and start figuring out how to play the new game.

Everybody else is.

Bret Easton Ellis Podcast

Johnny Winter

Methinks he O.D.’ed.

I understand the use of drugs on the road, but it’s hard for me to glorify them. As much as I believe marijuana should be legalized, along with the harder stuff, it bugs me that we lionize inebriation, as if the highest state of being is to be high. Because personally, my greatest experiences have all been natural.

I don’t want to lock you up. As I get older, I veer towards the libertarian philosophy of we’re all individuals and get to make our own choices, but when someone dies of drugs, I think of the waste involved, it taints the legacy. Yup, even Jerry Garcia. Wouldn’t it be great if we still had Captain Trips around, if you didn’t use him as your personal Jesus, forcing him into a drug habit retreat.

It’s hard to be famous. Not that only famous people do drugs, never mind O.D. But most musicians are not well-adjusted, they play for the love of the audience, they get high being on stage, and then being off is positively awful. First, the comedown from the gig, then the endless travel/boredom.

But maybe Johnny Winter didn’t O.D. He was seventy, he was an albino, maybe he never went to the doctor and died of a heart attack (yup, go every year, despite conventional wisdom, get a colonoscopy and take your statins and your life will be lengthened, and believe me, when you become aged, you want that.) But the truth is after the death of Jimi, then Janis and Jim, we’re skeptical. It’s not like Uncle Stan, or the regular people walking the street, when musicians die, we think drugs.

And my inbox is filling up with people asking me to write about Johnny. And I don’t want to speak ill of the dead. And I was not the biggest fan, even though I bought a few albums and went to see him live, but most interesting is his career arc.

He was overhyped.

The sixties were different from today. All the energy came from the label, and then it was dependent upon radio to blow you up. Oh sure, if you were not a label priority, you might build a fanbase that would support you along the way, while you searched for that elusive hit, as was the case with Bonnie Raitt and Little Feat, but if the label worked you hard and radio didn’t believe, you ended up in a no-man’s land, like Johnny Winter.

We all knew who he was, but none of us could name his tunes. Because we didn’t own the albums, because there was no Spotify, no YouTube, no BitTorrent. If radio didn’t play it, if you didn’t own it, it’s like it didn’t even exist, it might as well have been an empty cover in the record store.

So the first album stiffs. And then they hype the second one as a three-sided double. And back then the scene moved fast, tracks didn’t last a winter or a summer, furthermore, if the hype preceded the traction, it was even harder.

So Johnny Winter changed direction. He pushed aside the blues and embraced rock, and scored a hit with Rick Derringer’s “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo.” A certified smash in both this incarnation and the following Rick Derringer solo rendition. But it was the wrong track at the wrong time. It wasn’t quite the sixties, with album side long cuts by Arlo Guthrie and Iron Butterfly, but we hadn’t switched over to bite-sized tour-de-forces. Lee Abrams had not taken over the FM world, codifying it into AOR. “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” was too pop for WNEW. This was the height of hipness. A few years later, in the Abrams era, the track would have dominated like “Sweet Home Alabama.” But we were still waiting for “Stairway To Heaven” and “Free Bird,” which were yet to be released.

And suddenly Johnny Winter wasn’t what he was presented as. Rather than the blues slinger, the Texas Michael Bloomfield, he was just another rocker.

Then it got worse. Winter was finally a star who could draw, but he was covering the Stones’ “Silver Train,” it’s like he had a lobotomy and was delivering what the audience wanted, just to stay alive.

But this was the era of careers and credibility. And when the hits dried up, so did Johnny’s fame. Not that most cared, the grinning guy with the tiny guitar seemed a curio, far from the original bluesmeister.

And when Johnny Winter returned to who he was, very few people noticed. Enough to keep him alive, enough to keep him on the road, not enough to bring him back to prominence.

This was not someone ripe for MTV airplay, never mind a VH1 “Behind The Music.” His stardom was second-rate. It was unclear who his fans were. All he had left was himself and his playing.

And that’s when Johnny Winter started to flourish. When people stopped paying attention, he went back to who he was in the first place. Unfortunately he was a little too old for the Internet. If the online world had begun a decade earlier, and/or Johnny had been ten years younger, he might have been able to rebuild his career. But at his age…it’s kind of like Hot Tuna, there’s the hard core, and the rest of the people who might care don’t spend hours surfing the Internet and the youngsters who are are more interested in discovering the legends.

Which, unfortunately, Johnny Winter never became.

But Johnny was a musician, unlike so many of today’s stars. He really could play the guitar like ringing a bell, he did have roots, he did have a style.

And like the classic bluesmen who preceded him, Johnny had his ups and downs. But he stuck with the program. He delivered for those who cared.

So let this be a lesson for you.

Or not.

The truth is every career is unique, would the Beatles have licensed to corporations if they broke today? I’m sure Pearl Jam would. You’re a product of your place and time.

And Johnny Winter was a product of the radio and records era. Wherein you listened all night, bought the recordings and stayed at home practicing until you were good enough to gig and get a life.

It was so different from today. No one thought they were entitled to instant stardom, never mind a gig, whereas today pre-teens are stunned that no one wants to see them live.

But today no one’s lonely, you can always find your tribe online.

But back then the loneliness was overwhelming, especially if you didn’t live in the city. You were an outcast if you didn’t play sports. Girls didn’t pay attention to you if you weren’t cute. You got bit by the music bug and woodshedded until you could break out. And Johnny did. Although his career was thwarted by high expectations that were initially unfulfilled.

So another classic rocker is gone. Not one of the Brits who gave it up for a day job and rarely straps on his axe, but someone from the second generation, someone who didn’t break in ’64, but hit the scene before everybody had an FM radio in their car, when music and albums were still for the hip.

The timing of these musicians was right, they were infected before the Beatles, so when that band broke, they were ready.

But so many of the American bands were influenced by the Yardbirds and the rest of the U.K. acts feeding our history back to us. Yup, in the late sixties, we reclaimed the blues.

So Johnny, we hardly knew ye. You were trumped by the publicity, you changed styles before you caught on and when you returned happily to who you were times had changed and few were paying attention.

But you got to be up on stage. You got to play and record with your heroes. And life is not about charts and spreadsheets, it doesn’t come down to data, but experiences.

And all those playing at home just dream of having the experiences you did.

You were a soldier in the rock and roll army when not anybody could enlist, when they only wanted the best and the brightest. You fulfilled your duty. You got no medals, but you were a key player in the ultimate triumph of rock and roll over disposable pop.

We could still use you, your ability and your wisdom, your staccato and your twang, the way you wrung that sound out of your guitar.

Unfortunately, you’re gone.

Bye Johnny!

Rhinofy-Billy Squier Primer

ROCK ME TONITE

Billy Squier “Rock Me Tonite” – YouTube

This is the clip that ended Billy Squier’s career, that shot him from the beer drinker’s hope to nobody’s favorite seemingly overnight.

Dancing in a pink tank top? What was he thinking?

He wasn’t. He listened to famous choreographer Kenny Ortega and was instantly finished. Oh, he got some airplay thereafter, but there was a stink upon his career that still hasn’t worn off.

Meanwhile, this is a serviceable hit, but nothing like what came before, on “Don’t Say No.”

THE BIG BEAT

Yes, there was a first album, cut with Eddy Offord, of Yes fame, which got hardly any traction, despite this track ultimately being sampled by a who’s who of rappers.

YOU SHOULD BE HIGH LOVE

This track on the initial LP, entitled “Tale Of The Tape,” got a bit of airplay, in retrospect it sounds like classic Squier, but it was not a hit. Squier was just another unknown journeyman who’d worked with various outfits and failed and now had a deal with one of the worst labels in the business. And then came…

THE STROKE

The one. An instant hit. All over the radio. With that backward snare drum, masterminded by producer Reinhold Mack, who’d just come off Queen’s huge “The Game.” It was 1981, most people did not have MTV, but “The Stroke” broke through on FM, before the new English wave hit, when we were sick of the same old seventies hits. “The Stroke” was played into the ground, but with just a few modernizing tweaks, it could be a hit again today. Especially notable are the dynamics, how it can be loud, then quiet, then…

IN THE DARK

Nothing was as big as “The Stroke,” but I far prefer this, for the wall of sound riff, which segues into Billy’s mellifluous vocal. This is the kind of track that’s made for air guitar, you just close your eyes, pick out your imaginary axe, and then open your peepers and perfect your moves in front of the mirror…

Punks said they wanted to get rid of this sound, but so much of America still loves this sound. Probably my favorite Billy Squier cut.

MY KINDA LOVER

The album opened with “In The Dark,” “The Stroke,” then this, with the enrapturing chorus you couldn’t help but do your best Stevie Wonder head weave to.

TOO DAZE GONE

Sure, it was an album track, but it was oh-so-good. Kinda reminiscent of Bad Company whilst still being its own cut…

Too daze gone…
Too daze gone…

And then that lyrical guitar underneath, whew!

LONELY IS THE NIGHT

The big hit that opened the second side of the album, and I had to own the LP, along with millions of others, because after a few hits you believed there had to be more, and there was. It’s all about the riff, with that squealing, bending sound, like an animal in heat. And those little guitar accents after the lines of the verse, and then that twisting, bending vocal in the pre-chorus. “The Stroke” may be overplayed, but despite “Lonely Is The Night” getting a ton of airplay, it’s still fresh in my mind.

DON’T SAY NO

Despite featuring future masked marvel Bruce Kulick on his solo debut, despite cowriting with Desmond Child on same, the second album was all Billy Squier all the time, he wrote all the songs, he pushed the envelope, proving he was a talent to be reckoned with. Sammy Hagar modernized Capitol Records, but Billy Squier made the label one to be considered.

“Don’t Say No” finishes the album on a tear, daring you to drop the needle and hear the whole opus again.

Billy Squier was a star. Radio made him, MTV blew him up, and then…

EVERYBODY WANTS YOU

The follow-up to “In The Dark” wasn’t quite as good, but what could be? Furthermore, by this time Culture Club and the rest of the new English wave were squeezing out the classic rockers on the all powerful MTV. Still, this made inroads, this is good, it could have fit perfectly on “In The Dark,” and that’s a good thing!

SHE’S A RUNNER

Another keeper from “Emotions In Motion,” it’s the guitar sound that’s so intriguing, that keeps you listening. The track builds, it’s different from what’s come before, but it satisfies.

EMOTIONS IN MOTION

The title track. Queen-influenced. Actually, Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor participated on it. “Emotions In Motion” was not made for radio, but for home, it was a hit in your living room.

SIGNS OF LIFE

And then came “Rock Me Tonite,” on this, Squier’s fourth solo album. It was the wrong video at the wrong time. By this time, Squier was a star, MTV was all powerful, Michael Jackson had penetrated it, everybody was watching, and Squier misfired.

Why wasn’t anybody in the room saying NO!

But that’s rock and roll. Where everybody convinces each other something’s a winner, and then the public immediately puts thumbs down, kind of like with Robin Thicke’s “Paula.” But Billy Squier was bigger than Robin Thicke. Back when it wasn’t about the single, but the body of work.

And then it was too late. Squier retreated, lost momentum and the game changed. It was no longer about rock and it was all about the video.

So what we’re left with is one superior album and a few tracks, a guy with talent who made it but then was excoriated and gone. Proving, once again, that even though you think you’ve made it, that may not be true.

Furthermore, it shows the power of video. Without it, Billy Squier would still be a star today, filling sheds all by his lonesome, or with Styx and Def Leppard.

Ah, progress…

Rhinofy-Billy Squier Primer

John Oliver

Fix the teeth, make it shorter and lie about your age.

Is John Oliver breaking all the rules or is the truth there are no rules to begin with?

What we know is you’ve go to appeal to the younger generation, oldsters don’t switch products, advertisers are not interested, if you’re not shooting for tweens and teens, we don’t care.

And god help us be beautiful. Isn’t that the Fox News mantra? If you find a guy who doesn’t want to bang Megyn Kelly, he’s gay. If you’re gonna hire a lawyer, one who’s actually smart, why not get someone beautiful? Yup, no ugly people on TV.

And don’t you know that kids have a short attention span? I mean you’re gonna talk about income inequality for fourteen minutes? Everybody’s gonna tune out, no one cares, can’t you throw in some cute dogs or cats while you’re at it, and a feel good moment too?

But no, John Oliver is British. So he’s self-deprecating and can verbalize the truth everyone in America is afraid to utter. That’s right, the mayor of Los Angeles utters the F-word and it dominates the news for two weeks, as if no one over twenty ever swears.

And there’s the fiction that there are two reasonable sides to every story. As if every time someone’s bleeding to death, we should call in the Christian Scientists for their take.

No, the truth is everybody knows what’s real, and it’s beyond refreshing to have someone in a position of power utter it.

That’s what John Oliver is, a truth-sayer.

Who’s been doing his job for decades.

Wait a minute? Don’t we revere the barely pubescent, who haven’t even had their first kiss? Old means worthless in America, over the hill old man, we don’t want to hear your opinions. And the hilarious thing is the old people buy it, they diet down to nothing, wear their children’s clothing and imitate their lifestyle. Why else to get plastic surgery other than to evade the aging police. It’s like the whole country’s living “Logan’s Run,” but no one will admit it. And they also won’t admit that with age comes wisdom, which grows from experience. You live and you learn, but most people don’t learn to let the epithets of the youngsters slide off of them. They feel inadequate themselves, when the youngsters say they are they don’t own their identity, they change it.

The virality of John Oliver’s HBO program is astounding.

And it’s all because he’s firing on all cylinders. To watch Oliver’s show is to wait for the lull, the mediocre interlude, that permeates sitcoms, that’s dominates society. It’s like watching an acrobat, or a tightrope walker, we’re on the edge of our seats, just waiting for him to fall. But Oliver keeps cruising along at an insightful comedy altitude that’s jaw-dropping. Which is why everybody’s talking about him, e-mailing clips about him.

Yup, you’ve just got to be that good. I mean you watch Oliver and you damn near have a heart attack, it’s akin to watching the Beatles or Richard Pryor, if Richard Pryor did not only talk about race and his life, but politics. We’re drawn to excellence. But everybody who’s less than wants attention. Which means we wait to see what rises above. And John Oliver has risen above.

Income inequality. Even the Republicans now admit it’s a problem. But it’s a television third rail, because of “class warfare.” Huh? There’s already class warfare, why worry about the moniker? And Oliver addresses this too.

Now his fourteen minute diatribe on income inequality is not quite as good as his shorter evisceration of climate change deniers, but…

He starts with a joke, analogizing income inequality to whether you’re stealing or paying for HBO, while he’s on HBO! You won’t get a musician to disparage his label, to poke holes in its business model, to criticize it as being antique unless said musician wants off.

Then, like a roller coaster, there are popular culture references and history and a refusal to be all or nothing, as in stating that true equality is a pipe dream.

And then there’s the skewering of America’s inane optimism, wherein if you’re not a winner, or on your way to victory, you’re a base whiner who must be shouted down and removed from the debate, you’re a hater trotting out facts without concrete solutions so please get out of my way as I delusionally work twenty hours a day pursuing victory at a casino wherein the house always wins.

It’s like an album where all ten cuts are winners, where there’s no bait and switch, where when you’re done you want more.

It turns out that we’re not interested in exterior, but interior, that everything being told and sold to us is wrong. You don’t have to be beautiful, your father doesn’t have to be rich, but to triumph you’ve got to be smart, experienced and creative.

Oliver fights with facts, wrapped up in a presentation so good that it doesn’t rely on said facts. It’s like Eric Clapton not needing to whip out a lick because the song is so good, his guitar playing is secondary.

So when you gonna wake up?

That’s right, once upon a time we relied on Bob Dylan and other musicians to speak the truth. But that no longer happens. Instead we must watch cartoons and comedians. You’ll get more honesty on “South Park” than you will on the nightly news. And it’s lucrative too, just check out “Book Of Mormon.”

So keep telling yourself the game has changed, that the old values are out the window, that everybody’s got a short attention span and we live in a hit and run society wherein Britney Spears is already too old and we need someone much younger to replace her.

You need no money to speak your mind. You need no money to be good. But if you pay your dues, those supposedly against you will embrace you, HBO will pay John Oliver to skewer the establishment. And the end result will be of such high quality that the unwashed masses will lift you above and beyond, you will become a superstar with credibility. Which is a far cry from what we’re featuring on today’s hit parade.

There is hope.

 

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Wealth Gap”

 

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Climate Change Debate”