The Paterno Letter

“Bill Murray Faces Legal Threat From Doobie Brothers – A lawyer for the band demands that the actor pay for using the song ‘Listen to the Music’ in an ad for his William Murray golf wear.”

What kind of crazy, fucked-up world do we live in where a letter from a lawyer gains more traction than the work of almost every musician?

One in which said letter evidences creativity that the music does not.

Google shows 1,250 results when I search on “paterno doobie.” Furthermore, my e-mail inbox and iMessage threads have been going wild since yesterday. I didn’t get this much reaction when Bruce Springsteen released new music, I don’t get this much reaction when ANYBODY releases new music!

Now if you know Peter Paterno you know two things. One, he actually is a music fan, a big one. And two, he’s a real lawyer. Too many music lawyers are actually schmoozing business people masquerading as attorneys. And if you think you can’t go against Trump, they consider themselves part of a club, which protects each other. The acts come and go, but they and those who are ultimately responsible for their revenues, labels much less these days, sustain. But Peter will give you the legal theory, and he’ll stand up to anybody. He’s one of a kind. HE’S GOT PERSONALITY!

Oh, I’m not saying he’s dancing on the table being the life of the party, just that he’s in color when too many are in black and white. And he’ll challenge precepts. Whether it be those in the music business or traffic court. Too many lawyers are by the book, not Peter. Which is why after his tenure at Hollywood Records he went back to practicing law and his clients came back, which has never happened before. Yes, if you know your music business history especially in the seventies, labels were run by lawyers. They’d leave for the big check and after their tenure was over, and it always comes to an end, if they were lucky they could get a gig at a big firm and fade away. The clients did not come back, they had new people, and their old attorney was not THAT good, but that is not Peter.

But this isn’t about Peter’s client roster, which includes everybody from Dr. Dre to Metallica, but the nature of our business.

Too many are unwilling to rock the boat. Both creatively and in business. They get locked into a mind-set and then they repeat it endlessly. And we haven’t had a breakthrough sound in decades. Used to be something would come along and wipe out what was stale, the way grunge killed hair bands and their ballads, but not today. It’s possible to ignore new music and be quite comfortable, whereas music, its acquisition and listening to it, was religion. You didn’t go to the gig to shoot selfies, you went to meld your mind with the band!

If you can teach creativity at all, it’s when kids are very young. Then again, our educational system beats innovation right out of children. It teaches them to conform, by rote, schools teach to the test. Isn’t it funny that some of our greatest legends dropped out of college? I went to college, it didn’t set our minds free, if anything it taught us to respect our elders and do what was expected of us. And if you tested the limits, even got close to the rails, even if you were doing the work well, you were blackballed. I know from experience.

And I went to law school where they teach you to write in a way the rest of the world cannot understand. The gobbledygook you see in record contracts. They could be written in plain English, but then lawyers would not get paid as much and labels would have less elbow room to screw artists. Ever since Watergate no one respects attorneys, no one! And even the best are compromised, like David Boies with both Harvey Weinstein and Theranos.

If you’re not willing to challenge convention, if you’re not willing to hang it out there, don’t even start in the music business, we don’t need you. Which is why some of the most legendary songs of all time were written in a matter of minutes and Berklee and other schools training musicians rarely turn out hitmakers, these schools teach you to be members of the group and conform, when true artists are individuals with an edge. Come on, those you respect, like John Lennon, also had reputations for being assholes…maybe they just couldn’t suffer fools.

Paterno injects humor into something that’s always dry. And it’s not only one line, it flows throughout the letter. And he insults the product when it’s got nothing to do with the subject matter at hand. Murray is a comedian and he knows he can’t keep a straight face. And the dirty little secret of high level business is lawyer letters are sent all the time, usually sledgehammers, and oftentimes the recipients ignore them, if anything they’re laughing at the money and force spent in delivering them. But Paterno is showing Murray that they come from the same irreverent background, and zetzing him to the point where I’m sure Murray is ashamed.

What most people don’t know about the law is it’s all about the end result. I certainly didn’t learn this in school, but from a sole practitioner. You don’t sue someone who can’t pay and you don’t waste money setting up your lawsuit if you can settle it easily. And it’s almost always about settling. It’s only the deep-pocketed assholes with attorneys on retainer who fight you to the end.

As for copyright infringement? WHAT WAS BILL MURRAY THINKING? There’s no excuse. You can’t use his likeness or anything related to him without paying. He can try to blame someone in the chain, but it doesn’t ring true. As for all that e-mail I get from business owners pissed that performing rights associations are charging them to play music in their establishment, just one boom box in a coffee shop, maybe this will make them understand what is at stake. If you use it, you should pay for it.

But, what is worth using?

If you didn’t crack up, if you didn’t smile reading the Paterno letter I feel sorry for you, you’ve got no sense of humor. You marveled at the creation, it sustained its tone and quality throughout. It was an album where all the tracks were great, and how often do you encounter that these days? It made its point without overplaying its hand, like a musician who knows what you don’t play is often more endearing than what you do, in other words you can layer so many instruments, add so many notes, that you end up killing the production.

So, everybody talks about virality but almost no one achieves it. Furthermore, it’s all done by established recipe. Old wave PR is especially excruciating. Get hype ink in traditional media, to the point if you’re paying attention at all, and most aren’t, you’re turned off. Or, manipulating TikTok. Yes, the business and its artists find a formula and repeat it to the point it’s stale, they use it up and the public goes elsewhere. Meanwhile, Peter Paterno writes a private letter and it goes wild, everybody knows about it, even people who don’t care about music, who’ve got no idea who Peter Paterno is.

The story was broken by Eriq Gardner on Twitter:

Eriq’s only got 10,700 followers. He’s not Kim Kardashian. He found the story interesting and then it went wild. Everyone always asks me how they can get their song heard, how can they spread the word. WRITE SOMETHING AS GOOD AS PETER PATERNO’S LETTER!

Which may be one reason Paterno’s still working and so many have been excommunicated from this business. Yes, if you’re old, you’re gone, unless you’re working on the touring side or on stage playing your hits of yore.

And Peter could not have written this letter without experience. He tapped all he’d been through, learned to deliver this short letter. Which is why the music of the prepubescent is so often worthless. Who cares if your kid is twelve, I don’t want to hear what she or he has to say, there’s no insight, no wisdom, no road miles. Which is why kid stars usually don’t have any legs, once they grow up, no one’s interested, the main attraction was their youth.

Too many of our creative fields are stale. Because they’re not populated by people like Peter Paterno. These people call themselves “creatives” well, all I can tell you is Paterno is more creative than seemingly everybody employing that moniker, and he’s a lawyer. Creativity is something you exhibit, you need to earn your stripes over and over again, testing the limits, pushing the envelope.

Like Peter Paterno.

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