John Moreland “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars” Live at SXSW

Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars – Youtube

There is hope.

There’s a canard that modern music is a cornucopia of vapid millennial popsters and I must admit they get more than their fair share of attention, but bubbling under there’s soul-fulfilling stuff that has gotten a push but just hasn’t landed on your radar screen yet, like John Moreland.

It’s not that I didn’t know him, it’s just that he hadn’t reached me yet. There wasn’t the right song, the right performance, and then someone sent me this two year old video and I got it immediately, I was closed.

I couldn’t believe it was him playing the guitar, it sounded like a record, like there was someone off-screen picking, because the sound was so PERFECT, so EXQUISITE, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy in a world full of zeros and ones where everything is slick and shiny but I’m imperfect.

But it is him. How long has he been doing this? Almost twenty years professionally, to some acclaim but little breakthrough.

But that’s today’s paradigm, you decide on your direction and if you’re not blown off course by practicalities, like money and family, you stay the course and get better and see what happens.

Don’t confuse this with the tireless self-promoters, the social network wizards, the true geniuses let their work speak for them, they let their work lead, because talk is cheap but talent is not, because when we see the real thing we know it, it’s just that today we’re bombarded with messages and it’s so unlike before, in the seventies when there were fewer than five thousand records per year and you could get on the radio, get in the press, and people would know who you were and give you a chance and in the eighties and nineties when you got on MTV and were either a hero or a zero, either your video was played or it was not, whereas today it’s a tsunami of product and we’re all inundated with clutter looking for a way out.

Now I love the Kraftwerk-influenced sound, those who pooh-pooh electronics are missing the message, but what reaches me most is authenticity, humanity, just one person and their instrument, singing straight from the heart, especially when they wrote the song, when I can look at them and know the work speaks for them, they’re channeling it from them to me.

This is very different from movies and television. Where the actors are beautiful and famous but nothing like the characters they play. That’s why music is a hotter medium, which is why we’re so much more passionate about music.

But many will say there’s nothing to be passionate about. And the detritus/dreck percentage to great is staggering, and one gets frustrated combing through the crap. But then you find something so right you want to tell everybody about it.

Now I checked out Moreland’s new album on Spotify, it didn’t affect me quite the same way. I didn’t want the production, the steel wool in the way. But he’s feeling his oats, experimenting, and that’s okay. But I’d like to see him solo live.

Not that he’s nowhere. His songs have been in “Sons Of Anarchy,” he’s opened for Jason Isbell, it’s just that he hasn’t broken through.

Yet.

P.S. Sound comes before lyrics. But there are lines in this song that resonate. Like “I want to learn exactly who you are.” That’s my goal, with EVERYBODY!

P.P.S. And musicians don’t fit in, and they channel our alienation, the concept of removing ourselves from society, being up in the sky, above it all, we resonate, we put on a record and it simulates that destination we want to go to but can’t, but can in our minds, as the music washes over us.

The Paul Anka Book

Success breeds access.

You think it’s about the money, but really it’s about the power. Get in range of those who control the country and you realize what you want most is a seat at the table.

Paul Anka got a seat at the table.

He sent me a personal note, referenced my back trouble, told me he lived in Vail for a while, hell, he also lived in Sun Valley, one of his daughters was a ski instructor, and when you get a handwritten note from someone who reaches out and is oh-so-personal and intimate face to face, you take action, I read the book.

Now you’ve got to realize, my consciousness began with the Beatles. Not completely. I knew “Puff The Magic Dragon,” my mother purchased “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” I was a huge Four Seasons fan, but I was too young to know much of what happened in the fifties and early sixties. Dion was already an oldies act, Frankie Lymon too, but Paul Anka had had hits and continued to do so.

So he grows up in Canada, Ottawa to be exact, not even Toronto, with immigrant parents, proving you can make it from anywhere, assuming you have the desire. Paul was sneaking out to gigs, lived to go to New York, and his ticket out was…

His songwriting.

Anybody can sing. Isn’t that what “Idol” and “The Voice” are about?

But Paul could write. And contrary to the scuttlebutt, the gatekeepers know talent when they see it, Paul immediately got a deal, and went on the road on multi-act bus tours where he was tortured for being a punk adolescent and experienced racism firsthand. You don’t learn everything in books. I’m not telling you to give up reading, I’m just saying to leave the house, follow your passion, interact with the world. That’s one of the flaws of America, no one goes anywhere, or if they do they go somewhere comfortable. Too many Americans don’t have a passport and too many Americans pontificate about the red and blue states when they haven’t been to one or the other. And Paul went all over the world, Europe kept him alive when America did not, and credit goes to Irvin Feld, his manager, yup, the guy from the circus.

You see Feld made Anka mainstream when it looked like pop was fading, like the sun was setting on Anka’s career. He booked him at the Copa, and in Vegas.

Anka is infatuated with Vegas. The old Vegas, run by mobsters and peopled by the Rat Pack, Anka was a junior member.

There’s no one Anka didn’t meet. From Trump to Khashoggi. That’s what fame will get you, but you’ve got to make the most of it. That’s a skill Anka has, he’s not a reticent performer, he’s upbeat and intimate and you feel included, everybody wants to be included.

So, he writes the Carson theme, even writes Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” before that. People don’t know much about Anka, but he was there at the beginning and he’s still around. Hit with “Diana” back in ’57 and went to number one in with “(You’re) Having My Baby” in ’72. How many of today’s acts will accomplish that feat? Next to none.

And he kept his career alive by singing in Italian, by not stopping thinking about tomorrow, keeping his eyes open and his mouth working.

With the history of classic rock fading in the rearview mirror, the history of what happened before is almost forgotten. That’s the best part of the book, learning about the record business in the fifties. It was smaller, like tech twenty years ago, driven by personalities, from the ground up as opposed to the top down, a deejay in the hinterlands could break a record. And if you had a hit record it was ubiquitous, everybody knew it.

And Anka crossed paths with the Beatles, he seemed to know everybody.

But based on this book what he loved most was hanging with the stars he grew up with. Oh, he tells tales of Chuck Berry and his contemporaries, he likes to talk most about Frank, as in Sinatra, and Dean and Sammy and…

This was a different era. There were no cameras. Neither cellphone nor security. You could do almost anything, other than steal from your host casino, Frank got in trouble for that after ownership changed, after Vegas went corporate.

And Steve Wynn is a good friend and Anka opened a successful club but really, when you read the book, you marvel how Anka was not infatuated with his fame but his experiences. He liked the access, he liked the hanging, he liked to be part of it all. And still does!

Now I won’t say this is the most readable book. There’s a lot of repetition.

But I learned something, that…LIVING WELL IS THE BEST REVENGE!

“My Way: An Autobiography”

Beau Willimon Responds

Bob,

Thank you for amplifying and contextualizing this. As someone who started out in the theater, I can attest to how profound and necessary it is for us to gather in the same physical space and tell our stories. Like music, theater is one of our oldest forms of communicating with each other. It is communal and present – the opposite of the self-isolating digital echo box. It’s a place where we are free to confront our shared truths in both their beauty and ugliness. It is the confluence of both freedom speech and freedom of assembly.

The best theater, like the best music, cannot exist when it is constrained by the fear of those holding the purse strings. Sure, Delta and Bank of America are not obligated to donate to a not-for-profit theater. But by so publicly removing their support in reaction to the vocal dissent of right-wingers who have not even seen the play, they are sending a strong message that the arts should be punished for taking risks.

It is the PURPOSE of art to provoke at the risk of offending. We cannot access the truth and challenge assumptions otherwise. And for those who think that art should stay out of politics, you’ve got it wrong. ALL art is political, insomuch as every artist is working from his or her own experience and point-of-view, which is either consciously or subconsciously political. Life is political. And it is the artist’s job to “hold a mirror up to nature”, as Shakespeare so eloquently taught us in Hamlet.

I think it’s pretty amazing that a play which is over four centuries old has remained so relevant and controversial. That’s what makes the best art immortal – its grasp on the universal aspects of humanity are so true that we never tire of returning to it. Shakespeare took risks. Kings and Queens raided and shut down his theater. He could have gotten tried for treason. But he persisted, and the groundlings couldn’t get enough. He spoke truth to power, and that’s why his work is still with us today.

Finally, I wanted to share with you the statement that the Public Theater sent to its supporters today. It’s nobility and courage is inspiring. An organization that has bringing free Shakespeare to the public for decades knows a thing or two about integrity and class:

A NOTE ABOUT JULIUS CAESAR AT THE DELACORTE

The Public Theater stands completely behind our production of Julius Caesar. We understand and respect the right of our sponsors and supporters to allocate their funding in line with their own values. We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions.

Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy. Our production of Julius Caesar in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare’s play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.

 

I’m grateful that the Public Theater exists. And I’m grateful for all the artists past and present who have not cowered in the face of fear.

Beau Willimon

Stop Selling Files And CDs

I just read a great article in “Bloomberg Businessweek” on Adobe. It used to sell its Creative Suite, which includes Photoshop and Illustrator, for $1300-$1600. But then it switched to a subscription model and its user base went INSANE! They started a Change.org petition, 50,000 people signed it. And in the following year, 2013, Adobe’s revenue shrank 8% and was flat the year thereafter. But last year, revenue was $5.9 billion, up from $4 billion in 2013, and 80% of that came from subscriptions.

You see Adobe was sick of reinventing the wheel. Having to come up with whiz-bang products every year or so to convince people to fork over that $1300-$1600. But if they could get them to pay $50 every month… Voila! Revenue increase! Just like the music business.

Now if someone buys a CD or a file, they can play it to their heart’s content and the purveyors, the label, act and writers, never get another penny… FOREVER! Sure, you get a lump sum immediately, but Uncle Sam takes a tax bite and you think the gravy train is gonna last forever and you end up broke. But what if you could get paid every time your track was listened to for the rest of your life, and beyond. Wouldn’t that be great? They call that streaming. And the key to streaming is the more people who subscribe, the more revenue goes up. So if we could just force people to sign up for streaming services…

There’s no reason to sell CDs, other than to generate revenue and placate rearguard consumers. And in business, when done right, consumers are always behind the curve. If you’re following your consumers, you’re screwed. You’ve got to get ahead of them, confound them, that’s what great business leaders do. First consumers are confused and angry, then they embrace that which they did not know they wanted and you become RICH!

You can’t even find a CD drive in a car. My two computers?? No CD drive. But some jerk boomer manager insisted on sending me his act’s CD, he refused to put the music on SoundCloud or Spotify, he needed to feel good about sending me physical product, got angry when I said no, BUT WHERE WAS I SUPPOSED TO PLAY IT?

Oh, I’ve got a CD player at home, but I’m rarely there, you’ve got to make it convenient for me. And I tell you this story not to denigrate this jerk, although his hubris pissed me off, but to tell you you’ve got to get out of the hole you’re in, embrace the new paradigms, it’s where the revenue comes from.

So we stop making CDs in three months. Give it six. OF COURSE WE’RE GONNA LOSE REVENUE! But where are those people gonna go? Do you really think they’re gonna stop listening?

And same deal on files. You can’t even buy an iPod anymore. MP3 stopped supporting the technology. They take up too much space. Don’t tell me you need them in case you’re out of cell signal range, that just demonstrates your ignorance, you can synch thousands of tracks to your mobile device, as long as it has juice you can listen in the Sahara or at the top of Everest.

Once again, we’re fighting ignorance, we’re fighting history, we’re moving our entire audience en masse into the future, where is here NOW!

Believe me, when they can’t buy CDs or files, people will check out streaming services. I don’t care which one, Apple, Spotify, Tidal… They’ll want in on the action, the same way everybody signed up for AOL in the nineties, the same way oldsters embraced Facebook. And with a larger subscriber base, more money comes in! As for Spotify’s free tier, the only reason it exists at all is conversion. Do you think rights holders like free tiers? Of course not, but Daniel Ek demonstrates they cause conversion to paid subscription. And, the free tier on mobile, the platform of choice, is crippled, so it incentivizes conversion. And once you’re hooked…churn is low. You get addicted to hearing all the music.

That’s another thing that gets Adobe customers hooked. They don’t have to wait a year for new features, the software company rolls them out on a regular basis. The same way music is released on a regular basis. When it’s all available you get exposed to new stuff, and embrace it. And want to listen more and go to the show and buy merch and…

This is not a new paradigm in the music business. It’s killed old formats on a regular basis. Played your cassettes recently? And please don’t bore me with vinyl, that’s a fetishistic sideshow. Keep making it, I don’t care, it doesn’t affect the business. As for sound quality, it keeps improving, you can listen in CD quality on Tidal and Deezer Elite, assuming you’re willing to pay for it, but expect prices to come down and for more outlets to offer it. So if you’re complaining about sound, you’re either cheap or ignorant.

You want revenue to go up, don’t you?

This is basic economics, this is Digital Disruption 101. You forgo profits today to reap rewards tomorrow. Getting that ten bucks from more people every month, whew! Think of all the cash!

I implore everybody in the rights business to take this seriously. To kill files and CDs. When did this business become so rearguard, so fearful, so safe? Used to be music was the bleeding edge, now you find that in television, which takes much longer to make. When you lead, people pay attention, and they PAY!

“How Adobe Got Its Customers Hooked On Subscriptions – The switch to the cloud was risky, but revenue is way up”