The John Waite Documentary

“The Hard Way”:

Now that was depressing.

We believed in the dream…

But now the dream is over.

I own a a Babys album. It was always hard to believe in a group with that name, but “Isn’t It Time” is magical. To hear how that track came to be is disillusioning.

I normally don’t watch this stuff. It’s hagiography on a budget. Look that word up, you’ll think of it whenever you see these career retrospectives, even of legends. It’s all positive, it’s all up, up, up! Or if there is, god forbid, a down, there’s a renaissance, to a height just as high as ever.

What B.S.

But Solters told me this movie was different, that John was being honest. And since it’s Larry…

I gave it a chance.

Messed me up.

You see we believed in the rock and roll dream. It started in the sixties, with the Beatles. It was an alternative universe, a clean break from our parents’ generation. If you made it, you were as rich as anybody in the world, but lived by your own rules. We may not have reached that destination, but the fact others did made our lives complete. Yes, there was an alternative path.

And then I see a nearly seventy year old John Waite with long hair and a young blonde girlfriend with big boobs and I ask myself… Is this 1982 or 2022?

Ron Nevison cut his hair. He’s decided to own his age. But he’s a behind the scenes guy.

Richard Marx came later, his hair was never that long, and he looks up to date here, but when he talks about butchering the song he’s going to play live with Waite… I winced. Believe me, if it was gonna be that bad they wouldn’t have performed it. Meet a famous musician and you’ll find someone reluctant, worried about how they look, how they sound, their image.

But it’s all irrelevant in the age of social media. Artifice no longer works. Unless you take the Angelyne route and it’s only pictures and not only no voice, but no story. She may have been an enigma, but no one in the public eye is today.

But really, the change happened long ago.

You see in the sixties having long hair was a statement. And then the Allman Brothers, never mind the San Francisco acts before them, started to wear their street clothes on stage, illustrating the music was everything. But then the eighties came along and MTV burgeoned and the boys were wearing spandex, stage outfits, your look was important, and then Nirvana came along and killed that paradigm, with Pearl Jam rushing through the sieve, but while we rockers thought the music was on the way up, in truth hip-hop came along to crush it.

You see we’ve got perspective.

The 27 club, all those artists who died early. They’re frozen in time, they never aged. But getting old happens to the best of us, and it’s then you realize we’re all equal.

Oh, there are the billionaires, but even though they profess to love Springsteen and other acts, they’re not part of the club, no way. Steve Jobs was, he idolized Bob Dylan, he pushed the envelope, but the rest were nerd techies. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that it wasn’t and still isn’t rock and roll.

And today calling yourself a “nerd” is a badge of honor. Yeah, if these people ever encountered the nerds of old, out of step with no friends, pariahs, they wouldn’t embrace that moniker. Go on TikTok, see all the beautiful women claiming to be nerds, don’t believe it, you still can’t get laid.

We believed in the music because we certainly weren’t having any sex.

You see the rock and roll hard core, the true believers, were outsiders. They didn’t fit in anywhere else. Everything everybody else wanted, we did not. We didn’t want a house and a wife and a job and some kids, our number one desire was TO GET THE HELL OUT OF TOWN! To go somewhere where like-minded people lived, like Los Angeles.

Now there are like-minded people everywhere. And you can find them online, pretty quickly. But your club, no matter what brings you together, will never have the penetration and impact of John Waite. That’s what one MTV hit could do for you, make you a worldwide icon. He couldn’t leave the house, he employed a bodyguard.

But if you saw him in the grocery store today, you wouldn’t give a second look, you wouldn’t recognize him. Unless, maybe he was wearing rock and roll clothing, which makes you stand out, but you’re a period piece.

John Waite didn’t fit in. All those people working at Goldman Sachs and Apollo? THEY SPECIALIZE IN FITTING IN! How else can you do well enough in high school to get into Harvard? Believe me, a C average and 500s on your SATs doesn’t get you into Harvard, no matter who your daddy is.

But the rockers had no safety net. They journeyed into the wilderness.

And most didn’t make it.

And just like Maynard G. Krebs stuck on the island, instead of beatniks today we have rockers in skinny black jeans and leather jackets, who think they’re still cool not realizing we’re laughing at them behind their backs, I mean GROW UP!

Just as bad is the male rockers who dye their hair and get plastic surgery. We know how old you are, you’re asking us to suspend disbelief, why? The songs are ageless, but not you. Your music used to mean something, but now your identity is turning it into a joke, you’re not credible, no way, and back then credibility was EVERYTHING!

So come on, what is John Waite’s image? Pretty boy with a pretty voice, someone who gets along, a minor figure in rock and roll.

But that is not who he turns out to be. First and foremost, HE’S DIFFICULT! His girlfriend says he’s got no friends. This is a guy who prays at the altar of rock and roll and still believes, even though that paradigm is dead. He’s still making albums, I don’t know who is paying for them, but I didn’t even know they came out. He’s got a fan base that hangs on every word, buys every product, but that base is very small. I’ll make it simple, if you see an old rocker working a day job that means their career was not successful enough to sustain, because believe me, they’d rather be playing music.

And not only is Waite edgy, he’s honest. He takes down Bob Ezrin, even calls him a See You Next Tuesday (think about it, it comes from “Sex and the City.”)

And Ron Nevison… Wow, he admits he was working for the record company. If you think people are on your side, you’re gonna find out they’re not. But all these years later, you’re glad you had a hit. And John undercuts Ron’s story. John ultimately gains the upper hand by saying if Nevison was so bad, why’d he use him for the next album?

And keeping a band together is nearly impossible. John gets into a fistfight with the Babys’ guitarist, and then they’ve got to kick the player out of the band. Look at Michael Corby’s Wikipedia page, he’s never done anything significant in music since. But at least he’s still alive, whereas many squeezed out in the game of musical chairs are not, having drunk or drugged their way into oblivion.

And the Babys make all those albums for Chrysalis, they had million sellers, hits! And how much is John Waite making? $200 a week. When it’s all over, he’s got $6000. And he had to cough up his publishing to keep the band alive.

Credit Ron Stone. Who sees something and puts the pedal to the metal and breaks the Babys, after the original manager, Adrian Millar, falls by the wayside after demanding the band return from the U.S. as a pawn in his battle with Chrysalis, and they don’t. Stone spent $600,000 breaking the Babys, and it was all charged back to the band by the record company, as were the videos, the act has never gotten out of the red, been paid royalties, TO THIS DAY!

Yes, this is the old major label game the wannabes of today are lamenting is dead. There’s an illusion that if you got signed you were rich. But this movie delineates that you could be successful and still be nearly broke!

And Bad English is completely skipped over, other than the music. Maybe Waite feels the same way I do about the band, corporate rock, a band built in a boardroom, not out in the street. Like Audioslave. Good musicians in their original bands, but together it was ersatz.

Of course there are those who believe in both of those acts. And that’s just an illustration of the way it used to be, that core belief in the act by the fans.

But most fans never ever get to meet their heroes. If they did, they’d know a well-adjusted musician who is insightful, conversational and good to hang with barely exists. At least the stars. They sacrificed everything to make it, and that takes a special kind of person and it changes you. John Waite may have rough edges, but without them, without the desire to do it his way, Ron Stone says Waite never would have made it.

So you remember the eighties, right? The MTV era? When Reagan legitimized greed, baby boomers sold out and the bands were bigger than ever before? Their music reached EVERYBODY! And there’s that Don Henley story about being way off the grid, encountering native people and one points at him and says HOTEL CALIFORNIA!

That’s the reach of music. Very few acts are that ubiquitous, but those acts from the eighties… Come on, we all know the Culture Club hits, never mind those by the Police and Genesis, they were EVERYWHERE!

Nothing is everywhere anymore. Oh, you might see mainstream stories and ads, but the penetration is a fraction of those acts and songs from the pre-internet era. You couldn’t escape “Missing You.” This week’s number one on Spotify is Sam Smith and Kim Petras’s “Unholy.” I bet most people reading this have never even heard it. The industry is lauding this major success, and it hasn’t reached a fraction of the people that Herman’s Hermits did.

And the system is codified and calcified. The media that no one reads or sees and doesn’t care that they don’t. The network TV appearances that have about as much impact as broadcasting on social media from your basement, maybe even less. If you’re expecting the system to do something new, you don’t know the main goal of the system is to maintain its power. It’s about pushing down competitors, not changing in the wake of their success.

Everybody’s indie these days. There are a zillion musical genres and a zillion acts and almost all of the players are working, hard, for a living. Which is why if you want to be rich and famous, you get into branding, you sell out, you whore yourself out to Madison Avenue, Wall Street… How about all those celebrities who hawked crypto? They got paid, their fans went broke, there is no credibility. And what does this have to do with music? NOTHING!

And let’s be clear, John Waite is about the music.

He’s not first generation, he was inspired by the Beatles, just like me, just like so many of us. He drank the kool-aid and actually made it. Most did not. But he’s never ever going to have another hit. Kudos for still making new music, most of his contemporaries have given up.

And then he cries over his duet with Alison Krauss. I’ve never even heard their duet of “Missing You,” or if I have I’ve forgotten it. But to Waite, this is evidence he still counts, is still a musician, is still in the game.

You’ve got to give John Waite huge props for making this documentary. No one else has ever been this honest. And sure, he’s got some excuses, like the record company going out of business, but he’s got insight into that, he says EVERYBODY HAS GOT EXCUSES! Talk to an act that had a stiff record on a major label, they never say it wasn’t good enough, that it wasn’t in the grooves, they always blame somebody else.

But at least there was a line of demarcation between amateurs and professionals. Today, everybody plays.

And YouTube covers of “Missing You” are included and what went through my head most was REMEMBER WHEN THIS WAS A THING? People would e-mail me the work of their kids, or maybe something they stumbled on, wasn’t I impressed, wouldn’t I help spread the word? Now everybody knows these videos mean nothing. And to get any traction at all requires a ton more work, and probably the ability to write hits to begin with. The song, it does come down to the song, which is why Diane Warren, who wrote the big Bad English hit, is not only richer than everybody in this movie, but many people who are household name stars.

And just when you’re wincing, at the end, John is up on stage singing.

And suddenly, instantly, you’re brought back to then, when, that’s how powerful the songs were and still are. They were part of the fabric of our youth, our young adulthood. We didn’t talk about websites, we talked about records. We’d play music and do nothing else! Almost nobody does that these days, but that’s testimony to how powerful the sound was and how little else there was to do!

If you’re on your way up, if you’ve got the dream of becoming a musical star, YOU MUST WATCH THIS MOVIE! Because this is the truth. It’s disillusioning, and John Waite had more success than everybody but a special few. He dedicated his life to rock and roll. You want to see the whole arc, where he’s been, where he is now. It busted up his marriage and didn’t make him rich. Are you willing to forgo everything to have what he’s got?

I highly doubt it.

People don’t want to work that hard. And they’re not willing to give up much.

But once upon a time, so many did. No one talked about trying to make it for a year or two and then going to graduate school. No, most of the acts didn’t go to college, or didn’t graduate. They lived on their talent, wits and raw desire. But also you could live on little back then, today so many are scrambling just to put a roof over their head.

So ultimately, “The Hard Way” is less about John Waite and more about us. We get to see the man behind the curtain, we get to see how it all went down, and you never want to see how the magician does their trick, you think you do, but you really don’t. You just want to believe in the magic.

I miss it.

But it’s gone away.

I can’t bridge the distance, it’s heartbreak overload.

But it’s my life.

And it’s probably yours.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

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