The Doobie Brothers Documentary On Qello

Tech is evanescent.

Music, when done right, is forever.

Steve Jobs famously said he was creating tools, to enable the creations of others.

Musicians are at the end of the line, they are the creators.

Social media is about providing a service. You’re beholden to your customers, you follow them.

Musicians walk into the wilderness and hope people come along. But they’re never sure they’re going to.

I started the evening by setting up my Chromecast. I was stunned at its utility. That’s what today’s tech evidences, the wow factor. Which we used to have in music. I’d listen to Frank Zappa and wonder how he came up with this stuff. I remember looking at Al Kooper’s cover for “I Stand Alone” and marveling at the images and wondering who the person was behind all this, I wanted a further peek into his mind.

The Doobie Brothers flew private in the seventies. Their manager figured it was cheaper. You didn’t have to buy everybody a ticket and you could scrimp on hotel rooms. Furthermore, you could smoke and drink and bring anybody on board you wanted to. It was a party. Sure, people wanted to make money. But if that was your main concern would you really build a band of five or six? You’d be thinking about the split from day one. And although bands of the sixties are still bitching about getting screwed on songwriting royalties, the truth is everybody was ignorant, there was no source of information, you just got inspired, had the music in you, saw the Beatles on TV and started to play.

Some stopped.

And some continued. And those who continued sacrificed everything else. They drove uninsured VW bugs which sometimes ran and sometimes didn’t. And although they dreamed of the big time, they weren’t sure how to get there.  They just wrote and played and hung out. And when you hung out you met new people. And new combos were formed. Because, like all great music, you know it when you hear it…when Michael Hossack sits in as second drummer, when Skunk Baxter wails when he’s not doing his thing with Steely Dan. It’s all about serendipity and chances and when it works…

Well, it doesn’t work the same way anymore.

The Beatles got rich and got laid. And those two elements drove the musicians who came after.

Keith Moon destroyed hotel rooms. Led Zeppelin amped up all the debauchery. But there was always a manager with a wad of hundreds, there was always enough money coming in to keep on going. Because your fans were bonded to you.

Not that the Doobies started off successfully.

They played a biker bar in the hills above Santa Cruz. I know that’s a legend, but in this doc you actually see it. There were places like that in the seventies, where you went to get drunk and rowdy and sway to the music while no one was watching. There was no documentation because your phone didn’t have a camera, and you didn’t have a phone at all. You just kept your eyes and ears open and went along for the ride.

And that’s what is stunning about the early part of this documentary, the footage. For those of us who grew up in the church of rock and roll to see the band outside a hotel, Tom Johnston strumming on an acoustic guitar, is like getting a glimpse of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sure, by time we hit the eighties there were video cameras, there was more documentation. But before that filming was expensive and cumbersome and rarely done, so so much of what happened fell through the cracks. Which is where most people wanted it. Because in the seventies you smoked dope but you didn’t go on record about it, unlike Ted Templeman in this doc.

That’s another highlight. Mr. Bizarre comes out from the shadows to testify. He was just learning his craft watching Lenny Waronker on the first album. But then he got the gig behind the board on the second and “Toulouse Street” sold two plus million. Never mind being ubiquitous on the radio. Listen to the music indeed. No music today has as much impact as that of the seventies. Because there were only radio stations, which we all listened to. If you made it, everybody knew about it, like tech today.

But tech hadn’t been invented. If you were a renegade, if you wanted to live life differently, you were a musician. Or a manager or a record clerk or…

And there was no preparatory program. You just had to decide to play. Bruce Cohn never managed another band, did not go to music business college, had no uncle in Hollywood. He just rode herd over what was.

Which went through so many twists and turns that the band eventually became something different and Pat Simmons quit.

But that was after Tom Johnston got sick and Michael McDonald helped reinvent the band’s sound and…

Sure Tom had an ulcer… But he also lived and partied hard. On the road. Up all night, sleep all day. Only you don’t sleep that much. And eventually, like Tiran Porter, you do coke just to get by.

Tour, make an album, tour, make an album, year after year.

What was the motivation?

You start to lose track. You’re famous and you enjoy it. You’re making money and want it. And then you’re afraid it’s all gonna end. And people have expectations. And then you wake up one day and you just can’t do it anymore, you’ve had no life, you’ve sacrificed your days and well being to the demon rock and roll.

Sure, you can be a devoted listener. But to be a player is to be on an endless treadmill with no safety net wherein if you stop running, it all comes to a halt, you fall off and no one cares about you anymore.

I was planning to write about Major Lazer’s “Lean On,” I don’t think it gets the ink it deserves.

But looking up its place on the Spotify chart I was stunned how Justin Bieber dominated listening. The times are changing. Radio plays one track, usually way after the fact, but fans embrace it all right now and then move on, Bieber has supplanted the Weeknd.

But none of them work alone. There’s a clear division between writers and performers, between those in front of the mics and those behind. It’s a factory, it’s big business.

And it was business back then, but we were inventing it on the fly.

But then MTV suddenly reached everyone and you could make more money than ever before and the concept of “rock star” changed. Now you had to be beautiful, more money was spent and more money was made, if you hit. You wanted to be famous for who you were as opposed to the music you made.

And then the internet came along and blew it all to hell, jetted us all back to the Stone Age, to the pre-Beatles era where singles ruled and there was less money involved and music was a second-class citizen.

Meanwhile, everybody who was there before can’t fathom the change, and those who weren’t feel their chance was stolen, not having read “Outliers,” not knowing that timing is everything. You can be great in the wrong era and not succeed.

But you can play forever. That’s what Michael McDonald says, there’s no age limit on playing. Which is why there’s a live band at every baby boomer reunion. Everybody brings out their Gibson or Fender, plugs it in and sings the songs of yore. Whereas their children hire a deejay and shoot pictures to post on social media, believing everybody is a star.

We knew who the stars were back then. We were just happy to bask in their glow.

And I credit the techies, I marvel at their inventions. But despite having more money than everybody they don’t know how to spend it, don’t know how to be cool, they call themselves “rock stars” but couldn’t be further from the appellation.

A rock star follows his muse, even if it does not take him to the pot of gold.

A rock star believes in feelings, taking them in and then remixing them and sending them out as art.

A rock star plays for today, because he knows there may not be another tomorrow. That the gig goes into the ether and all that remains are the hazy memories.

A rock star touches people.

We may never get back to the garden.

But some of us were there once.

And we’ve never forgotten it.

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