Billy Bragg At The Troubadour

“I played bars thirty five years ago and I’m still playing bars today.”

That’s what Billy Bragg told me when I asked him about the dream, you know, the one where you become rich and famous. He referenced other acts, like the Housemartins, who had broken through, where were they today?

But he’s still standing.

I’d never seen him before. Always knew about him, got the CDs from the label, but never paid much attention, thought he was marginal in today’s winner-take-all world.

But he’s not.

The Troubadour had sold out months before. Steve Martin, the agent, told me they could have done three no problem. But what about the rest of America, outside the city? He was good for almost as many tickets, sometimes more. How could this be?

But the audience was not young, not the boppers propping up the popsters, but rather thirty, forty and fiftysomethings, who knew every word and sang along. They needed Billy. They needed to be there. How did they get the memo?

I still don’t have the answer to that.

But one thing’s for sure, Billy was a star in their world.

So it’s just him. An electric and an acoustic and two amps, nothing more. And for two hours Billy plays and talks and…

He said he had a cold and his voice was shot. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think it was that off, but then he remarked that one of his handlers said they came for the stories not the songs anyway.

And the stories are riveting.

It’s the antithesis of modern showbiz, all sleek and removed. There was little barrier between the fans and Billy, but one thing’s for sure, they saw him as a teacher.

You remember teachers, don’t you? Probably some of the worst experiences of your life. But when done right…

Education is illuminating and stimulating.

And it was last night.

Billy’s a left winger. Dyed-in-the-wool. And he won’t give up. And he doesn’t believe in apathy or cynicism and sings songs to that effect. He’s imploring you to stand up, telling you that what you say and do makes a difference.

And he assumes you’re educated, that you’re not a nitwit, that you keep up with the news. He’s talking about Brexit and Corbyn and America getting bounced from the World Cup and and one thing’s for damn sure, this is not the same show he does every night.

Now normally when you don’t know the material a show is an endurance test. You can’t make out the lyrics and the hooks don’t, hook you that is. But going to see Billy Bragg is akin to seeing a musical, you need no advance study, all the songs are comprehensible, and BRIEF! Normally live the numbers are extended. But Billy’d sing the three minute song and that’d be it. Then he’d go back to politics, his personal life, his history, exuding no star attitude yet his talent shined through, you knew you couldn’t stand up on stage and do this.

So what motivated him to become political?

MARGARET THATCHER!

Before that he did not give a damn.

This is what Billy told me upstairs.

Normally he hangs out with the crowd, for an hour, and I didn’t expect to meet him, it’s usually unpleasant meeting people who don’t know you, if you’re a glad-hander backstage you’re ignored, but Steve said we should go up and after the perfunctory notes about the show, in a moment of silence, I asked Billy about his career, where he was going, politics.

And he had no problem articulating his position.

I was stunned. Most musicians are aloof. Can barely eke out a sentence, never mind an informed one. But Billy walked me through the Tories and Labour and what was gonna happen with Brexit and I could have talked with him all night if they weren’t shutting the place down, if we didn’t have to go.

I guess you can go to the show and have just that, a show. That makes you marvel, that might even leave you with a glow.

Or you can have an experience. That makes you think. That takes you on a a journey. That makes you feel whatever you’re experiencing is personal only to you, tonight, with this crowd.

Now Billy is carrying on. And he’s got multiple projects, he’s promoting a book he wrote on the skiffle sound. He’s making a living. As he told me, he never had a straight job, music has supported him, and that was a victory in itself. But he’s not dominating the chart. But he has a loyal audience. And you wonder…

What does the future hold? Will there be more journeymen like Billy Bragg, or just superstars and complainers who bitch that they are not?

I’m not sure.

But one thing is for sure. I’m continuing to think about last night’s performance. I was impressed by Billy’s passion, his belief, his perseverance.

That was a beacon to me.

And it will be for you too.

I recommend you go.

P.S. Billy does a reworked, topical version of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” that is genius. Start at the one minute mark in this video:

More Eminem

Trump’s afraid to tweet back.

That’s the power of entertainment, that’s the power of Hollywood, that’s the power of Detroit, that’s the power of art.

My inbox is filled up with right wing denizens decrying the work of Marshall Mathers. Saying he sucks, that it doesn’t matter, that we must respect the President. They’re no different from the older generation that hated the Beatles and supported the Vietnam War. They were on the wrong side of history, and Perry Como’s been long forgotten.

You’ve got to be on the front lines. That’s what the liberal elite just doesn’t get, the faceless reporters for the “New York Times,” the highly educated who know no one who voted for Trump. Then how did he win? Put your name on the line and you’ll be subject to blowback, I get it every damn day.

I knew of Trump’s power because when I denigrated him they came out in force, always with the same message, screw the poor, I worked hard for my money and Obama and Hillary are criminals, oftentimes with poor spelling, always writing “your” instead of “you’re.” And you can laugh at them, but they’re ruling. Check out the landscape, it’s not only Trump, Republicans rule D.C. and most states. Because the Democrats weren’t working for them, or they just want to keep their money and they’ve been misinformed by the right wing media.

You’ve got to watch Fox News. I listen on Sirius. It’s like a totally different country. I flip between MSNBC, CNN and Fox on the satellite. Oftentimes big stories don’t make it to Fox. And the hosts interrupt naysayers. And you’d think they had it so right if you didn’t know they had it so wrong.

That’s right, Fox, et al, have won hearts and minds. Almost no different from the Vietcong, it’s hard to defeat indoctrinated people.

Kinda like this Harvey Weinstein thing.

As soon as I wrote about it my inbox overflowed with right wingers wondering if he was gonna get the same treatment as O’Reilly and Ailes, saying that there was a double standard. Talking about donations to Hillary and Obama.

But Paul Krugman had it right:

“The Weinstein affair is giving us an object lesson in right-wing projection. I keep seeing outraged demands for liberal condemnation 1/

‘Will liberals condemn Weinstein the way they condemned Ailes and O’Reilly?’ they ask, presuming that the answer is no. But actually … 2/

Everywhere I look the answer is, in fact, yes. What we should ask is: ‘Did cons condemn Ailes/O’Reilly the way they condemn Weinstein?’ 3/

And the answer, mainly, is no. Excusing evil behavior by people on your side is what THEY do; they’re just projecting it onto libs 4/

And they’re outraged in advance over the false assumption that liberals are just like them 5/”

Those tweets were on Friday (@paulkrugman), and the truth is everyone on the left is excoriating Weinstein, he’s done, how many on the right came out against O’Reilly and Ailes?

Very few.

So hip-hop is the most powerful force in America. Rock is a joke and movies are too. Television is superior, but the biggest show, “Game of Thrones,” is fantasy, hip-hop is real life.

And Eminem is hip-hop royalty.

It doesn’t matter what Killer Mike says. Young Thug either. I applaud their efforts, but the America we live in is one wherein only those at the tippity-top have power. So the fact that nobodies, people far down the food chain, with a fraction of the traction of Mike or Thug, warbled songs against Trump is irrelevant, as a matter of fact, many were just looking for attention, but someone at the top, who is listened to, who has a broad audience, takes a stand and…

He or she can move mountains.

No one else has done this during the Trump Presidency.

Never forget, you can get away with anything as long as it’s the truth.

And Eminem’s screed was such.

And it doesn’t matter that the cognoscenti watching television hate rap, the younger generation lives for it, it’s a whole culture, absent from any other genre of music. People don’t go from hit to hit, they’re INVESTED in the sound.

And rap has been around for decades. So not only do you get the thirty and fortysomethings, you get the young ‘uns, and they are the future.

And you’ve got to start somewhere. Kinda like with the Vietnam War. So many were for it before they were against it. What turned them around? The culture, the music, the same music being listened to by the younger generation today. You may be pro-Trump but when your hero comes out and says the President’s a doofus directing us towards danger you evaluate what he has to say in a way you don’t evaluate the opposite viewpoint in TV or film. You believe in Eminem, you believe in the sound. And he’s so passionate and pulling no punches.

So Donald Trump can attack NBC. Elected officials. But he doesn’t dare mess with Eminem. Kinda like you can mess with the NFL but not the NBA. Because the slaves have taken over the plantation in the NBA, the players realize without their participation there is no game, and they utilized this leverage.

Whereas most musicians leave their leverage on the table. Believing they can accumulate the wealth of a techie or a banker they play it safe and whore themselves out with the result that no one believes them.

But they believe Eminem.

That’s the power of hip-hop.

That’s the power of music.

Who’s next?

Eminem On Trump

“What kind of crazy fucked-up world do we live in where the best golfer is black and the best rapper is white?”

One in which Eminem drew a line in the sand tonight, if you’re not with me, FUCK YOU!

This is everything today’s “musicians” are against. They don’t want to alienate a single potential audience member. Meanwhile, Marshall even takes the side of Kaepernick when Jerry Jones and the NFL want to keep teams down on the plantation.

But homey don’t play that no more.

This was unexpected.

We had an unjust war in Iraq.

We had a “moron” elected President.

And nobody in music said a word.

But those days are done.

What the music industry won’t admit is what it’s selling pales in comparison to what’s happening in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, label heads, touring honchos, all they want to talk about is politics, you can get nary a peep out of them re music. Because they’re both fascinated and afraid.

But now Eminem broke the barrier down. Tonight he spoke the truth. Our truth. Isn’t that what artists are supposed to do, speak their truth beholden to no one?

Expect the floodgates to open, just like women came out of the woodwork after Cosby got caught, after Weinstein got caught, we’re a nation afraid of consequences until one person stands up, and no one’s got as much power as a musician, but they don’t use it, they’re afraid of alienating sponsors, they want to make nice.

But Eminem did not make nice tonight, he put it all on the line, he’s a beacon.

I lived through the sixties.

This is worse.

I was worried about getting my ass shot off in Vietnam.

Now I’m worried about being blown up by North Korea, latest news is their missiles can hit the west coast, but in a country where Puerto Rico can be devastated and no one cares, where Northern California can burn and no one cares, if you live in the Midwest or East you’re far less worried, you’re most concerned about terrorism, even though your chance of being killed by a stray bullet is much higher, and if you think the terrorists are coming first to Dubuque…

You probably voted for Trump.

Every damn day MSNBC beats up Trump. The NYT and the WaPo too.

And it makes no difference.

Every week Trump commits a faux pas, but nothing changes.

Except this weekend, when one of his team stood up and gave it to him, said the White House was a reality show and he was worried about World War III.

The world is changed by individuals. One person can change the course of history. Especially when they speak the truth.

So everyone’s got their heels dug in. We live in a tribal nation. You’re on one team or the other. Country acts can’t even come out for gun control after their fans are shot to death.

But then one artist who crosses lines spoke up.

Artists are not politicians. They exist in their own rarefied atmosphere. Eminem speaks to both right and left, both adore him. So when he speaks…

Taylor Swift is fighting Kanye, Marshall Mathers is fighting for equal rights and world peace.

So now everybody’s gonna see this, the entire younger generation, because hip-hop rules the country and Eminem is royalty. But instead of worrying about his bank account, tonight Marshall stood up for what’s right.

And maybe you already agree with him.

But if you don’t…

Are you gonna burn his CDs? Or delete his MP3s?

No, his video, his streams, are gonna live online, where you can’t kill them, looking you in the face every damn day.

Tonight Eminem broke the logjam. One artist eclipsed the entire debate. Called foul on Trump and his cronies agitating for a return to the past, where the little guy without a voice is screwed.

The only person with a voice as big as Trump’s is a rapper.

And tonight the king of rappers called him out.

Just start a tweet war with Eminem, Trump won’t be able to block followers fast enough, that’s the power of a musician.

And Eminem exercised that power tonight.

It’s been a long time coming.

P.S. That quote at the top is from Chris Rock, ever wonder where I got it from?

The Man

I got gas in the tank
I got money in the bank
I got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man
I got skin in the game
I got a household name
I got news for you baby, you’re looking at the man

David Krebs thinks rock died because of sexism. The acts he managed, Aerosmith, Nugent and AC/DC, could they say those things today? Sure, they’re all still touring, doing well, albeit with aged material, could the bad boys from Boston release “Lord Of The Thighs” from 1974’s “Get Your Wings” today?

I don’t think so, they’d be excoriated.

And the Killers have gone on record that “The Man” is parody, a look back to who they once were and are no more, but one thing’s for sure it’s CATCHY!

I got the memo but never spent any time with the band. But the endless tsunami of hype finally got to me, I decided to give a listen to their new album “Wonderful Wonderful.”

It doesn’t sound good.

As in the SOUND!

Once upon a time the goal was to get a big rig, a stereo with huge speakers and enough power to render the tunes in full fidelity. And to tell you the truth, vinyl was always compromised. But I come from the school that it sounded better, and acts competed for superior sound, Steely Dan being famous for this, so many other acts strived to transmit the studio to the listener, but something’s been lost in the digital era.

Most albums are recorded on computers. And reproduced on lame little speakers, with the sound oftentimes being transmitted via the range-decimating Bluetooth. In other words, the reproduction systems of today have impacted what we’re listening to. Rock just doesn’t sound good on today’s listening systems. Bass-heavy hip-hop does.

But in this case is it the recording or the mastering?

The album is tinny and lacks punch. I’ve experimented with different services, CD quality on Deezer, thousand dollar headphones via an amplifier, and still…the sound is thin, it doesn’t embrace you, it doesn’t punch you in the gut.

But “The Man” is great. If you were a fan of mid-period Queen you’d love it.

I was stunned to find out it was released to radio back in May. Even went to #1 on Adult Alternative, making the top five of Alternative, but I didn’t hear it, because I don’t listen to those formats.

Oh, I occasionally bump between them on Sirius, when Howard Stern doesn’t entrance me. But terrestrial radio is a no-go, life is too short for all those commercials, my life is ruled by Spotify’s Top Fifty, that’s how I know what is happening, and it’s rarely rock, but “The Man” does have 20 million streams on Spotify, nothing to sneeze at, but Post Malone’s ironically-titled “Rockstar,” currently #1 in the U.S. on Spotify, has 159 million streams, averaging 2,348,714 a day. Hell, the #50 song on Spotify, Liam Payne’s “Strip That Down,” has 356 million streams and is still averaging 406,277 a day. Sam Smith’s “Too Good At Goodbyes,” which certainly isn’t hip-hop and has only been out a month, has 126 million streams. Why is rock such a backwater?

So I decided to play “Wonderful Wonderful” like I owned it. You remember purchasing music, don’t you? You broke the shrinkwrap and played the LP through and one or two tracks stuck out, and then you played it over and over and over again until you got the rest, until you memorized them. But no matter how many times I played the title track, which opens the album, it didn’t reach me, it’s just not a hit. I mean the Stones established this paradigm decades ago, you open with a killer, but the Killers did not.

But you get “The Man” the first time through. But between the lyrics and the sound it comes across as neutered, even though the band is close to the best we’ve got, in the rock world anyway. The lead singer can actually sing, the songs are compact and digestible, but they’re interwoven with these modern sounds, is that the problem? The music doesn’t sound like a breakthrough, just a band trying to appear hip and modern.

But that first time through I found one other killer, “Some Kind Of Love.”

Now most rockers won’t attempt this sound anymore, you won’t hear it on Active Rock, where the bands are afraid to get close to the dreaded hair band sound of the late eighties, but “Some Kind Of Love” is not wimpy, but airy, it’s not made for a market, it sounds genuine, it’s what Coldplay does, only the Killers do it better. You’ll be nodding your head as it emanates from your listening device of choice.

So “Wonderful Wonderful” has two extremely good tracks. I know, I know, this is coming across somewhat negative, but I wouldn’t be writing it at all if it weren’t for these two tracks, and the fact that the more I listen to the rest of “Wonderful Wonderful” the more it appeals to me.

But has anyone got the time? Especially in this genre?

You can’t tell from the hype. Every week there’s a new SoundScan #1. Insiders ignore it, unless their act is atop that perch. And then most are forgotten. Unless you’re hip-hop, there’s little cross-pollination, everything’s its own vertical, unless you make a specific effort chances are you’ll never hear it.

But in the early seventies, before FM was codified, you’d hear stuff like “Some Kind Of Love” all the time, it was the essence of the format, before a hit was defined as something that was catchy and could play on AM Top Forty.

So what I’d like to hear is a remastered version of “Wonderful Wonderful,” one that sounded more human. Especially now that streaming services make everything the same level shouldn’t the loudness wars be over?

I’m not saying the Killers are the only act on the bleeding edge, but with these two tracks they show they’ve got gas in the tank, that there still is hope left in rock, but this sound never crosses over anymore, it’s a ghetto.

And that’s sad.

the Killers – Spotify

YouTube: “The Man”

YouTube: “Some Kind Of Love”