Hacks-Episode 6

You know when you do something great.

Conventional wisdom is no one knows anything in Hollywood. Only hacks believe that. Certainly when it comes to music, some songs are UNDENIABLE!

My favorite story here involves Al Kooper. He was being inducted into the Guitar Center RockWalk and we’re sitting in the green room after the ceremony and Lonn Friend was interviewing him, he’d scored that gig, and Al said that Lynyrd Skynyrd cut “Sweet Home Alabama” a year before it came out.

He was in Atlanta, he’d moved there because of the music scene, funny how it’s one of the epicenters of hip-hop today, and he’d signed Lynyrd Skynyrd to his label Sounds of the South and had recorded the first album and “Free Bird” was just starting to gain notice and Ronnie Van Zant called him up and said the band had a new song they needed to cut right away, and Al booked the studio time and they cut the track and like I said above, it wasn’t released for another year. So I asked Al if he knew it was a hit. And he said…IT WAS SWEET HOME ALABAMA!

If you listen to the John Fogerty podcast, you’ll hear the story of how he wrote “Proud Mary,” as well as how he decided to start playing Creedence songs live again. I don’t want to step on the story, but the bottom line is he wrote nearly all of “Proud Mary” in a flash, alone. And when he was done he felt like he’d written a standard, something on the level of Stephen Foster, something that would last forever. HE KNEW!

So the arc of this season of “Hacks” is Deborah Vance, i.e. Jean Smart, has lost her residency in Vegas… That happened last season, but now I’ll give a spoiler alert, even though you know how these shows play out, maybe you want to be surprised and can stop here but…

Deborah goes on the road to hone her new routine. She’s throwing out the old, the stale one that worked for decades in Vegas, and is starting with a clean slate, she wants to tell her story, she wants to be honest.

But it’s not working.

Get this straight. She’s come down from the mountaintop. She had a steady gig in Vegas baby, and now she’s back on the road, paying her dues, in small clubs, in secondary, TERTIARY markets and you’d think a star of her caliber would kill, but that’s not how it plays out. She keeps missing the mark, she wants to give up.

That’s another thing, the greats not only know when they’ve hit a grand slam, created an 11, they also wrestle with giving up. If you haven’t thought of giving up, you’re probably a hack. Because a true great may project an image of confidence, but inside many feel like a fraud. After all, they need the success to make themselves complete, it’s all that counts, success, they’re just that damaged.

And after you decide to stick with it, the light bulb does not go on instantly, you just have a little more oomph, a little more inner strength that keeps you keepin’ on. You’re in the creative wilderness, looking for hooks. And if you’re honest with yourself, you know what’s B material. You not only know what is B material, but B+ too. You need to be in the A category to play, especially today. An A- will get you notice, but to transcend the pack, to truly gain traction with the public, you need a solid A, and hopefully an A+.

And the dirty little secret is no one can reach that level every time out, NO ONE! Furthermore, the best stuff usually comes when you’re not even trying. You’re taking a shower, you’re driving in your car, you’re out and about and suddenly you have a blast of insight. And sometimes the insight feels good but ultimately is not good, but then there are other times when your adrenaline starts to pump, you know you’re on to something, and you know you have to commit, catch lightning in a bottle, or the moment may pass, your opportunity will be history.

Deborah keeps missing the mark.

But then it comes to her in a flash. Like my shrink says, sometimes you change one little thing and the whole picture changes. And suddenly she’s back on track, it all works and now she wants success even bigger than she had, more than Vegas and…

This is a business built on dishonesty. Either people are falsely humble or falsely bragging. It takes years to understand the game. Actually, someone had me going today, and then I got off the phone and realized I knew much more about the subject than they did, but they had me convinced for a while there, I just needed to step back and give it some context.

And when you hit a grand slam, create an 11, you’re not thinking about the money, the sponsorships, none of the crap that the amateurs can’t stop talking about. No, you get this feeling inside, like you’ve climbed Mount Everest. You’ve planted your flag but you’re solo, there is no audience, it’s just you, and that’s enough.

Sure, after the fact, when the track is released, you might get the accolades, even win an award. But if you think it’s about the award you’ve probably never been in the zone and hit it far over the fence, nearly 600 feet. Which is why the greats put their Grammys in the bathroom, if they even know where they are.

The feeling of victory is fleeting. On one hand you’re excited, on the other you’re scared.

You see you want to try again, you need to try again, but you’re afraid you won’t reach the same level.

And A+, undeniability, is very rare. A great will always produce something serviceable, but something transcendent? If you can do it once or twice a year that’s a good record.

And you know it!

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