Four Dead Ramones

Let me tell you how I do this.

I work on inspiration. And when it comes, the words flow out of me, and that’s when it’s best. I know when I do something great, which is difficult to achieve, a mountain I am always trying to climb, if anybody tells you they don’t know what is great, chances are they are not a great artist.

I couldn’t write yesterday. I was booked all day. I had a podcast and then the nutritionist and another doctor and then I had to drive downtown for dinner and a gig. Actually, in stop and go traffic on the 10, I was listening to Trump in New Mexico, on Fox. I was inspired to write then too. Because if you only listen to Trump, he’s pretty convincing. And it’s definitely not boilerplate, he’s making it up as he goes, so you don’t get bored. But needless to say, I can’t write in my car.

Dinner was interesting. The manager of Slipknot and a guy who runs rock for Apple. We ultimately discussed politics, that’s where the conversation goes these days. We were brought together by Jason Flom, to see his act Counterfeit at the Moroccan Lounge. We actually got there ten minutes late, service at the restaurant was slow. But from the moment I arrived, I got it. You know right away. First it was the melody, the old tracks I’d listened to online were more noise, more punk. And the frontman was a good one. And the girls adored him. The new album was cut by Rob Cavallo. Can rock make a comeback? That’s what’s Flom’s fighting for.

And after discussing skiing with the aforementioned manager in his Land Cruiser, I drove home. But the map app said to take the 110 to the 10 to the 405. I’d been planning on stopping at the Shell station on Van Nuys Boulevard, but suddenly I wasn’t going that way. And I really had to pee. So I told myself I’d fill up tomorrow, i.e. today, but then I remembered my radio show so I stopped at the 76 in Bel-Air, which is overpriced, but I had no choice. And after reading Mike Isaac’s book on Uber, I retired, and when I woke up Amazon had gone CD quality. I was inspired to write something, but I did not have the time. How could Amazon catch Spotify and Apple flat-footed? Spotify is so busy trying to make the numbers work, primarily with non-music content, that they stopped pushing the envelope. As for Apple, it’s a me-too company in music, there is no innovation. And now Amazon is offering an upgrade for much less than Tidal and Deezer, absolutely killing Tidal. Amazon is the sleeper, it’s always the sleeper. Give ’em time and they’ll catch up and then surpass you. Apple ceded voice to Amazon, Siri was first, Alexa now dominates.

So I drove to the shrink and Howard was going on about paying your dues, staying in school, hard work paying dividends.

And when I got back at 12:20 I had to answer the urgent e-mail and call to schedule some appointments and by time I got ready to write about Amazon’s new music tier, I couldn’t, like I said, I do it on inspiration, and I wasn’t, inspired that is.

And I thought if I wrote about Ric Ocasek at all, it would be Wednesday, because I had to go do my radio show in Hollywood and I have dinner at 7:15.

But suddenly, I was inspired. I found an entry point. And when I turned on the music (Deezer HiFi actually), I was astounded how good it sounded, and I got into a trance, listening and writing, which is what I like to do most.

But suddenly, the clock was ticking. I looked up at the corner of my Mac, I was gonna have to leave to do my radio show. That’s live, I cannot be late.

So I’m writing and I think there are four dead Ramones, but wanting to make sure, I do a quick Safari search. And whether it was misinformation or I read the page wrong it looked like maybe one Ramone was still alive, I told myself I’d check in the rewrite.

Now I reread/rewrite twice. I change almost nothing, I’ll explain why sometime, but I’ve learned if I change anything, I ruin it, I’m just looking for obvious mistakes, lack of a word, a misspelling, and then…

I realize I probably can’t do the second reread. I’m up against a hard deadline. I ultimately rush through it.

And since I’ve got dinner at 7:15 in Brentwood, I’ve got to send this Ric Ocasek missive before I leave for the radio show, otherwise I won’t have a short window to write about Amazon.

Now it’s getting really late, the software is running slowly. I’m running on sheer adrenaline. I didn’t have time to check the Ramones again and…

I was wrong.

Now I wouldn’t e-mail someone about this little mistake, but I do admit, I would judge someone if they made this mistake, so when I got to SiriusXM and I picked up my phone, my heart sank, I’d been bitten by the deadline.

And I was gonna let it slide, but the corrections kept pouring in.

So I thought of writing this.

But then I wouldn’t be able to write about Amazon.

And right now I’m rushing because I have to make dinner!

Ric Ocasek

1

My internist says if I do what he says, I will never die of a heart attack. Actually, he sent me to a heart specialist, because my cholesterol number is insane. This doctor, Sandra Fallon, gets this in-depth test and then creates a program for the individual. I take 5 mg of Crestor every day. She says upping the dose would not improve my condition. Of course I take other things she’s prescribed, but at my last test, I had a high particle number. I was just retested last week, I’m going to see Fallon next week, you see I don’t want to die of a heart attack.

I went for that scan when I first saw her, where they uncover how much plaque you have in your heart. I was in the fortieth percentile. As in, at my age, sixty percent of the people have more plaque, forty percent less. Freaked me out, my internist had to talk me down from the ledge. You think you’re perfect, but you’re not. Now I hew to a strict diet of no rice, no bread, no potatoes, no pizza…my nutritionist calls rice “filler food.” I asked her about all the people my age I see eating fries and…she said they were going to DIE!

Not everybody, of course. But look at David Letterman and Bill Clinton, they had heart problems and they got scared straight. No one is forever and you want to increase your odds.

As for smoking and emphysema…I gave up smoking at five. My mother was an occasional smoker, I saw a lit cigarette in the ashtray, I asked her for a hit and she said SURE! So I took one puff and that cured me. That’s right, I never wanted to look cool in high school, hell, I never WAS cool. So when I see youngsters puffing today I shake my head…who are you rebelling against, yourself?

2

Rock stars die young, or as Joe Walsh puts it, the challenge is staying alive, not dying. So whenever I see a rock star pass before his or her time, I wait for the cause. Too often it’s “misadventure,” a euphemism for O.D.’ing. Some of your favorite rockers are hooked on drugs. Who would have thought Tom Petty would get hooked on heroin long after his initial success? As far as the fentanyl that killed him…I ain’t taking anything my doctor ain’t prescribing. That may make me a nerd, but if you buy pills on the net, on the street, you never truly know what’s in them. Another reason I quit smoking dope in the seventies. Sometimes I’d get fantastically high and wonder…WHAT’S IN THIS? There was no way of knowing.

Which is all to say, when I read that Ric Ocasek died, I held my breath until the cause was released.

Heart disease and emphysema.

3

Now the 1970s were an era of platinum sales and sold out arenas. But there started to be a backlash, against what was labeled “corporate rock.” I purchased the Ramones’ “Rocket To Russia,” because I loved “Rockaway Beach.” But it wasn’t until Joey Ramone died, back in 2001, that the band was acknowledged for the breakthrough they were. The Sex Pistols, with their one LP, got most of the attention in the mainstream. And now all four of the original Ramones are dead, they cannot bask in the band’s newfound glory.

But after the Ramones, there came a new sound, “New Wave.” Can’t tell you exactly what it sounded like, it was a catch-all for those not members, nor influenced by their progenitors, the legendary classic rock acts and the virtuosos in bands like Yes and ELP. Was Graham Parker new wave? At first he was considered so. Certainly Elvis Costello. And despite Costello’s legendary appearance on SNL, most people were unaware of the new sound, which came primarily out of England, there was a slew of bands if you were a fan, but they weren’t even played on AOR radio, they were too edgy, you needed free format outlets, like the original KROQ, before it was the tight-playlisted ROQ of the 80s.

Now at this point, record stores were religious temples. Chains littered the landscape, certainly in L.A. We not only had Tower, but the Wherehouse and Licorice Pizza and then Music Plus, where all records were always discounted. But if you were a true fan, you went to the indie shops. Aron’s in West Hollywood, Rhino on Westwood Boulevard, my favorite Grammy ‘n Granny on Gayley in Westwood. Because Grammy ‘n Granny had the best promos. And I was one of their best customers, so they held the promos for me!

And when I walked in the clerks would talk to me about the new releases. There was a bin right in front of the store, and therein one day I saw the Cars’ debut LP.

It turned me off. If you don’t put yourself on the cover…

And I wasn’t turned on by the woman in the picture, maybe she just wasn’t my type, this did not look like a serious band, and then I heard them.

4

My girlfriend’s parents were staying at La Costa. We drove down for the day. And on the way back, it was either KMET or KLOS, every Sunday night they’d play the complete side of an album. The industry hated it, this was the heyday of taping. But if you were a fan….

My BMW 2002 had a Blaupunkt in the dash and two rear deck mounted speakers. This was before the head unit was stolen and I upgraded, but even that setup pumped out a ton of sound. And the deejay gave a long intro and then dropped the needle.

Now the track was entitled “Good Times Roll,” which was hard to fathom, since this was the moniker of a classic. But when the sound started pumping out of the speakers, this was a whole new kind of good times.

It sounded new. Infectious. It was loud without being in your face. I got it immediately. And that’s oh-so-rare.

Let them leave you up in the air
Let them brush your rock and roll hair
Let the good times roll

Too much has been made of the Cars’ lyrics, with totally different words, the tracks still would have hit, they were just that powerful. To what degree was that the result of Roy Thomas Baker’s production…who knows? But he was a master, he’d done Queen.

But one thing was for sure, the band was in on the joke. They’d chosen the song’s title intentionally. They wanted to have good times, but these were a new kind of good times. You could either get on board or not. But really, once you heard the sound you had no choice. I won’t say it was like “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” but on some level it was. There was no turning back, you got excited. This sound opened the channel for all kinds of new acts. And one thing’s for sure, you had to turn it UP! And when you did, the good times played in your head.

Then came “My Best Friend’s Girl,” which at first hearkened back to the early sixties in sound, the track was totally different from “Good Times Roll”…and then this teenish song went through changes and had a great melody and…it wasn’t the girl of the sixties, she had the nuclear boots, he wasn’t pining for her, he knew he no longer had a chance, he was just telling the story, and pissed that she was now together with his friend. And there was even a guitar solo…who created this elixir of a mish-mash?

Even catchier was the third cut, “Just What I Needed.” This was straight down the middle, it was an obvious hit, it was old, yet new. The Cars had what today’s act don’t, they knew how to meld sound, changes and a chorus to make a hit. You only had to hear “Just What I Needed” once. And, once again, they weren’t feeding us pabulum. These were the cool kids commenting on what was going on, coming from the future back to the present.

The very next day I went back to Grammy ‘n Granny. They still had two promo copies, this was before the almost instantaneous buzz began. I brought the album home and played the second side.

“You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” was as catchy, as much of a hit as “Just What I Needed.”

Even better was “Bye Bye Love.” It was more intimate, akin to “I Want To Tell You” on “Revolver,” with its descending riff. But even better was the way Ric uttered the words in the chorus…”bye, bye, love,” after the bridge, they weren’t quite sotto voce, but somehow less in your face than what had come before.

And then the album cut, “Moving In Stereo,” the longest cut on the LP at 4:46, it wasn’t made for the hit parade, but your bedroom, it was the song you ended up playing the most once you’d played the album a dozen times or so.

The Cars went from nobodies to A-list stars almost immediately. From nowhere to part of the firmament.

I bought the second LP, “Candy-O,” the day it was released in the spring of ’79. I just had to.

With the Vargas cover, I now understood the aesthetic, I got the cover of the debut.

You dropped the needle and you heard…”Let’s Go.”

The synth line alone puts the track over the top. The song was a tear, you went from zero to seventy instantly. And the concept was so rock and roll…LET’S GO! Take chances, explore the world, act, don’t think. She likes the nightlife, take her hand and GO OUT!

But my favorite cut on “Candy-O” was “It’s All I Can Do.” It was so sweet, both in sound and message. It was a new piece in the puzzle.

It’s all I can do
To keep waiting for you
It’s all I can do
It’s all I can do

How many times have you been in this situation? You’re tapped, you’ve given it your all, it’s their move.

And, once again, that synth!

Everything was so right. It’s like they perfected it and pushed the faders up to drive your head just shy of explosion.

But, once again, it was the longest track, the album track, this time the very last cut, that got under my skin, that I kept playing.

Certain words stuck out…”uranium lover.” The nuclear threat was emotionally greatest in the early sixties, this was almost an anachronism.

And the “museum directors”? How did this fit in?

But one thing’s for sure, the chorus became part of your DNA.

She’s a lot like you
The dangerous type
Oh, she’s a lot like you
Come on and hold me tight

Girls go for bad boys. But boys go for bad girls. They ogle them, they’re fearful of interacting, they let them wrap them around their little fingers…before the girls move on.

“Dangerous Type” was a mental movie.

I’d love to tell you I loved “Panorama,” but I didn’t. It never revealed itself to me. And then I gave up. Each LP was getting worse. After three, I was done.

But “Shake It Up” was a return to form. I heard “Since You’re Gone” all over the radio, same deal with “Shake It Up.” But they were no longer my band, I’d ceded them to the masses, it was the same act, I’d seen the trick, now the band seemed to be playing to the audience. And after four albums in four years, the Cars seemed to know this too. So they waited two and a half years to release their next, “Heartbeat City,” made with Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who we’d first seen credited on those Graham Parker LPs, as well as City Boys’, and then he’d done “Back In Black” and the Def Leppard LPs and was the easy choice for best producer in the world, the one who’d come through, who’d deliver, didn’t he rescue Foreigner from the dead, endless repetition?

I don’t have to laud “Heartbeat City,” you saw the singles on MTV when everybody was watching, the Cars were part of the firmament, they’d come back and conquered.

The follow-up, without Mutt, produced by Ric and Greg Hawkes, was almost an afterthought, times had seemingly surpassed the Cars. The band broke up, but Ric Ocasek stayed. He produced LPs, he was married to a supermodel, he never faded away, he was always in the conversation, until he died.

5

The shock was that he was 75. He didn’t make it just after puberty. He’d paid his dues, that’s why the Cars could emerge fully-formed, the players had so much experience the band’s expertise was easy to showcase.

Now the strange thing is if you play the Cars’ records today…you’re shocked, too much old stuff you have to apologize for, you wonder why you once liked it, but not this music, it sounds as fresh as ’78, ’84, as a matter of fact it sounds even better. Radio always muffled the lyrics, now they stand out and their wisdom and insight and humor stick out. But even better is that sound, an amalgamation of the old and new filtered through a hit record sensibility, the Cars didn’t want to stretch out and noodle, they wanted to get it right, in a compact fashion, anything unnecessary was excised.

Now unlike Eddie Money Ric Ocasek wasn’t friends with everybody, he wasn’t the life of the party, he suffered no fools, he spoke through his music, that was enough, it was less emotion than intellect, the tracks were all you got, the band members were not individual stars, all you got was this vision, unique in the landscape, direct and oftentimes ironic, it kept you guessing, but the music did not.

So what we’re left with is not stories so much as the impact of the sound, which was indelible then…

And still is.

Jason Flom-SiriusXM This Week

We’ll be focusing on what it takes to break an act, yesterday and today.

Call in with your questions and opinions.

Tune in tomorrow, Tuesday September 17th, to Volume 106, 7 PM East, 4 PM West.

Phone #: 844-6-VOLUME, 844-686-5863

Twitter: @lefsetz or @siriusxmvolume/#lefsetzlive

Hear the episode live on SiriusXM VOLUME: HearLefsetzLive

If you miss the episode, you can hear it on demand on the SiriusXM app: LefsetzLive

World Domination

“Artist Andy Warhol is credited with saying that in the future, everyone would be world-famous for 15 minutes. The world has changed considerably in the 50 years since he allegedly made this prediction. Hockney, who has outlived his contemporary by more than three decades, has surveyed today’s cultural landscape and has arrived at a different conclusion.

‘In the future, probably nobody is going to be famous,’ he asserts. The mass media has become atomized, he says; information sources are becoming niche. Celebrity was, he says, a creation of the once-omnipotent mass media. Now global fame of the Warholian vision will elude most limelight seekers, he predicts: ‘People will become famous locally.'”

David Hockney in “WSJ”

I tell my shrink this all the time. The target has disappeared.
The goal of an artist is always to have a larger audience. Actually, Hockney talks about that too:

“‘I have the vanity of an artist,’ he says. ‘I want my work t be seen. But I don’t have to be seen.'”

In money culture this never gets airplay. That’s what people always have asked me, how I make my money. But money was never important to me, I’m not saying I dislike it, but my focus was on reach. How do I reach the most people with my message. But now, it’s harder than ever to grow your audience, my audience, you’ve got to be thankful you’ve got an audience at all.

Now the first act I remember talking about world domination was the Police. They toured everywhere, inspired by the Copelands’ CIA father.

Then it became a mantra, especially amongst brain-dead rockers. The goal was to be top of mind, known by everybody, in the MTV era that was sort of possible, but it’s impossible now.

How come a fine artist knows all this and the media does not?

Because the media reports, it’s always one step behind the news. Which is why Steve Jobs famously did no market research, people are not ready for the new and different until they experience it. And the media landscape is littered with publications that have bitten the dust. They superserve their readers, and then those readers age or disappear, and something else becomes the rage. “Time” was the Bible. Now not only do I not read it, I never see it anywhere. As for “Rolling Stone”…it got stuck in the past, not writing about new acts, and now the deep articles are still good, but with monthly publication in a fast-moving world it has become irrelevant, niche, for subscribers only. How do you grow your circulation? YOU DON’T!

So the media keeps trumpeting the Top Ten. But that chart no longer represents what people are truly interested in, what they’re listening to. Used to, back in the sixties, when AM was dominant, but not now. You can canvass legions of people and they’ve never heard these songs, but the media and the performers rage on about their impact, which in the age of instant availability is smaller than ever before. Come on, admit it, even with acts you love, if you play the whole album that’s significant, and it’s doubtful you continue to play it, because there’s so much else out there, and it’s not only music.

One can even argue that striving for world domination hurts you. Most people never see you, but if they see you too much, they turn against you, even if they don’t know you. Like most of the social media influencers. I don’t follow them, there’s no reason to, but I hate them anyway. It’s their tireless self-promotion that bugs me.

As for the pop acts? When successful, their promo lands everywhere, turning me off. Is this the system we live in, where purveyors can convince everyone to air/write about a story that almost always is here today, gone tomorrow? It undercuts the credibility of the media, which has already lost too much. We see this in politics, everybody has different “facts,” they don’t know the truth. Which is kinda the point of this story to begin with. Unless you subscribe to the “Wall Street Journal” you can’t read the Hockney article. And if you do, if you get the physical product, you will see ads for high-priced clothing that is the opposite of today’s fast fashion. Which is kinda funny unto itself. Kids today think clothing is disposable, that’s how cheap it is. Whereas oldsters still think if you pay more it means more, that it will last and be stylish, but who are they impressing?

And somewhere during this century I didn’t know the stars in the gossip columns, the people and their shenanigans talked about online. And then people played the system to the point they were only famous for their shenanigans. The first was Paris Hilton, she established the paradigm. Her fame was only based on her name. The Kardashians only improved upon the paradigm. But will this paradigm play in the future? Probably not, we just won’t care. Hilton and the Kardashians were products of their time. Kids today don’t watch broadcast/cable television, they stream what they want on demand, there are very few cultural rallying points. That’s why “Stranger Things” was such a big deal, kids rallied around that when they didn’t rally around almost anything else. And then the media reported on that. Once again, by time it hits the media, the early adopters, those who set trends, are involved in trends, have already moved on. And they couldn’t care less that there was a story about their activity in big media, they don’t read it, success is evidenced in cubby holes online. Used to be you were thrilled when big media featured you, now you just shrug your shoulders.

Today it’s all about the large audience you have. That’s why Howard Stern gets the A-listers. People pushing know he has a rabid audience, and that the rest of the media follows him. Yup, today Howard Stern makes celebrity news, not the magazines.

It’s going to be harder and harder to reach mass. You’re going to be thankful to have an audience at all. Your cult will support you handsomely, people have unlimited funds for their favorites, but the vertical is pretty narrow.

Oh, one more thing. This is why the Marvel movies are irrelevant. They’re just the biggest thing in a niche world, i.e. the movie business. Most people ignore them and move on. This is not “Butch Cassidy” or “The Exorcist” or the original “Star Wars.” Oh, they’re hyped to high heaven, but only a sliver of the public sees them and the rest drive right on by.

There’s only one star in America today, and that’s Trump, because he’s President and says outrageous things all day long. If he weren’t President, his musings would have little impact, but since he is, and he plays all day long, he can say whatever he wants with impunity, it can be wrong, it can be misspelled, but I challenge you to remember today’s faux pas two days from now, even tomorrow.

Everybody needs shoes. Food. Clothing. Although it’s harder to have a dominant brand in those areas too. But everyone certainly does not need your art. It needs some art, but not necessarily yours. And today no one likes stuff jammed down their throats, they’re busy promoting themselves online, they don’t like the competition, if they’re paying attention at all.

This is the new world. The internet lets everyone play. And fewer and fewer are paying attention to specific people and their endeavors. Get used to it.