Musk Self-Immolates

And brings Tesla down in the process.

By the time you read this, “The New York Times” documentary on Tesla will have launched on Hulu. But read here for the main takeaways:

“Company insiders rip Tesla’s stance on safety in hard-hitting Elon Musk doc”: https://lat.ms/3LyXbki

For months the story has been percolating in the press. How Elon Musk personally chose a self-driving system that everyone but he believe is substandard. This is one case in which the ancient, rearguard companies, may win in the end, by being cautious and thorough, which is hard for a tech company to be, at least one being launched and trying to build a customer base.

Conventional wisdom is all publicity is good publicity. But if you believe that, you’re still living in the twentieth century, because that’s not how it works these days. Today you can burn up right in front of our very eyes. Remember Charlie Sheen?

What a story that was, with many reveals, like the HIV infection. Now? Charlie Sheen lost his seven figure a week TV contract and has faded from public view. Turns out when the lens was focused upon him the public learned a lot of stuff it wished it hadn’t, people can’t look at Sheen the same way anymore, and generally speaking they don’t want to look at him at all.

Ditto Johnny Depp.

Don’t look through the eyes of the public. Look through the eyes of those who pay Depp’s bills, i.e. the movie studios. Depp is too high a risk, the business can exist just fine without him, just like the music business can exist just fine without Travis Scott.

One thing we can say about both Musk and Depp is despite being in the public eye, they’re completely out of touch with what the public thinks. This is what happens when you get too rich. The doors may open in front of you, but they close behind you, you lose your frame of reference. And when you think you know better, you’re just cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

Don’t forget that big media is still operating by twentieth century standards. Then again, it’s social media standards too… Whatever garners eyeballs is published/shown. If it bleeds, it leads. Hell, Don Henley even sang about this forty years ago in “Dirty Laundry.”

But that does not mean what they lead with is what the public is interested in.

That’s the big story, how everything is niche. Except for a very thin layer of people. We’ve got Trump, Elon, Kanye…even Biden isn’t as big. Hell, most people have no idea what Biden has done in office, they just hear the buzz that he hasn’t delivered and buy it. Proving, once again, that facts are fungible and the truth is irrelevant.

The big phrase in the music business used to be “world domination.” It started when the Police toured the entire world, places where no rock band had gone before, their manager and agent’s father had worked for the CIA, they were aware of the entire world and realized even if you don’t make much money on the actual show, just by going to these far-off countries dividends are paid in consumption in the future.

And then every band wanted to do this. So album cycles got longer and longer. Because it took years to tour the world and hoover up all that money. They put out single after single from the album, to keep the fire burning, and the record may have come out when you were in high school, but by time your favorite act released its follow-up, you could be married, even with kids!

But that’s done.

You see you have to focus on the bleeding edge.

And the bleeding edge tells us that you must employ the new tools and you must be in the marketplace almost always, not only with new material but social media posts. Oldsters hate this, but this is the job today, you’re more than just a singer/writer/player. Sure, you can hire a team to do this for you, but the truth is the public can feel the phoniness, they want honesty, if you didn’t write it it usually doesn’t resonate and people stop coming back, and you want and need people to come back.

But there are so many more offerings in the channel. Nothing is ubiquitous. The media reports these stories, believing most people care, but most people don’t. Rihanna had a baby? When was the last time she put out a record? In other words, all the big stories are not.

And I could go much deeper, but I’d mess with your preconceptions.

One of the biggest acts in the world doesn’t go clean, i.e. sell all the tickets. And if you parse the sales and streams the numbers are not too good either. But the media keeps pounding you with contrary information, purveyed by the artist’s label and team, so you think it’s true, and it’s not.

Free Britney. Well, we all learned something about the conservatorship game, but no one has been convinced Spears is not bats__t crazy. And most people don’t care about her, her activities, her music, nothing. She’s got a very vocal group of fans.

Even BTS. Amazing numbers, but the truth is their fans are zealots. There seems to be a moat around the band and its influence, if you’re on the other side you don’t know and don’t care and can’t be converted.

And there’s plenty of money in these giant niches. Hell, there’s plenty of money in small niches today, but if you have to appeal to everybody?

That’s a different game.

Don’t compare Tesla with a band. Tesla is a corporation with more money at stake than not only any artist, but any record label. It only works if everything in the food chain is aligned. Not only the supply chain and the cars themselves, but the consumers who Tesla depends upon to buy their automobiles and keep the virtuous circle going.

But if the public finds out that the circle is not so virtuous?

Tesla’s got a problem.

Don’t compare Elon Musk to Steve Jobs, Jobs died before the social media everybody knows everything culture really gained traction. We didn’t know what Jobs was doing minute by minute, he was not smoking a doobie on camera, as a matter of fact, Jobs was very private, he believed in secrecy, not only for himself but his company. You were on a need to know basis, and you only knew what he wanted you to.

This is how the blue bloods did it back in the day. Wore chinos and drove Country Squires and you didn’t realize they were rich, but they were. But unlike the rich of old, today’s people with uber-money didn’t inherit it, they earned it. And they believe they’re entitled to it, that they’re better than the rest of us, and we can feel it, we know it.

Let’s go back to Kanye. For all of the information, all of the news, the grosses for his album release parties, the truth is his audience is getting smaller and smaller. Like I said above, you can be niche and still appeal to enough people to make bank. As for his clothing and other enterprises… This guy is doing his best to undercut those too, which are sold on cool, because Kanye is out of touch and now we all know it, that he’s bipolar. Once you start threatening to kill your ex’s new boyfriend, that’s over the line for just about everybody, other than the small cadre of truly delusional.

As for Trump… The story isn’t that his endorsed candidates did so well in the primaries, but how many did not. Even “The Wall Street Journal” had a piece about that. You see the old institutions, the old Republicans, want to wrest control of the party back from Trump, not only because of his power, but because he, like Britney, is bats__t crazy. Sure, some people think he’s god, but fewer and fewer every day.

You see Trump has pushed the line too far. He’s gotten in trouble with the law. He’s only skating because elected officials were afraid of him and he was President, believe me, if it was anybody else they’d be locked up. And don’t forget, Roger Stone was.

So you have to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. You have to take the temperature of your career 24/7. You’re the upstart hero, then you’re established and then you’re the object of hatred. Just look at the English music press if you want an example of the paradigm.

So Elon was one of the PayPal bros, and then there was Tesla and SpaceX and for those paying attention, and believe me it wasn’t everybody until very recently, they had hope. Here was one man making a difference. Doing it different, as Apple would say.

But then the light started to shine upon him.

He could never be wrong. He barked back at the press. And at first it looked admirable, standing up for his company, over mileage and other issues, but then it became evidence of his personality. A singular, unlikable one.

Have you ever met any of your heroes? I hope not, because they very rarely measure up to your expectations. Not only musicians, but politicians and corporate executives too. Their images are massaged for the public. And the truth is to make it to the top you’ve got to be cutthroat and ruthless and usually flawed, you need the success to make you whole, at least that’s what you believe. But the public doesn’t cotton to people like this. The public is looking for heroes, but not this type. Something more along the lines of Bernie Sanders, who believes in his mission of helping the underdog and can laugh at himself.

Once again, it doesn’t matter if you hate Bernie and everything he stands for, he’s only got to appeal to enough people to win. And really, his job depends on the people of the state of Vermont, not those outside the hinterlands.

So you can double-down and marginalize yourself. That’s what Tucker Carlson has done over at Fox. He had the patina of credibility, at least according to his acolytes, but now he too is seen as bats__t crazy. I mean taking Russia’s side? Supporting Orban in Hungary? And he could have taken responsibility for the “replacement theory” uttered by the Buffalo shooter, but he couldn’t even do that. I mean he could have weaseled, but also called for calm and change. But he didn’t, he just doubled-down on his beliefs appealing to his usual audience. You know if you got him in a room, with no mics, he wouldn’t spout this crap, after all Carlson called Hunter Biden to help him get his kid into Georgetown!

And now we know SpaceX paid $250,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim against Musk. Would this have come out if not for the Twitter shenanigans? No. People come out of the woodwork with stories, the media is looking for them, and voila, Musk looks bad.

But not only does Musk look bad, every company he’s aligned with looks bad.

Now SpaceX is kept alive by the government and corporations, but Tesla, Elon’s spearhead brand, is kept alive by the public. Are you gonna buy a Tesla now?

The drumbeat is getting louder.

Sure, Tesla has the best software, but no one says they have the best interiors, not for that amount of money. And fit and finish has been an issue from day one. To buy a Tesla you have to take a leap of faith, you want to not only be identified with the electric car/low pollution movement, you want to align yourself with a special brand that will rub off on you and your image.

And believe me, there are not enough right wingers to keep Tesla’s assembly line churning.

And then Musk comes out and says he’s switching political parties, he’s now a Republican and will vote such in the upcoming elections. Have you ever seen the head of another Fortune 500 company say who they’re voting for and then amplify it? That’s anathema, the goal is to appeal to everybody. This is the hot water Disney is now in. It wants to support the LGBTQ community and right wing Florida legislators at the same time. And the company is having a hard time doing it. Why? Because Bob Chapek is a weasel who didn’t know you get ahead of the controversy. You see Chapek was a background figure who’d never interacted with the press unlike his predecessor Bob Iger. You can’t only play defense, you’ve got to play offense too. And a corporation can move much faster than the government.

And the government is investigating Tesla crashes.

The Corvair? Ralph Nader killed it, Chevrolet had no choice but to stop making it.

The Ford Explorer? It reigned. But when the rollovers and fires happened… The paradigm shifted, people didn’t go back to buying the old Explorer, competitors burgeoned, with a new kind of product, an SUV body on a car frame, as opposed to a truck frame, which is how most SUVs you see out there are constructed today. They may look like a truck, but underneath they’re a car.

Never mind the Pinto.

Malcolm Gladwell says the Pinto was safe.

But Gladwell has been so wrong about so much that he’s lost his credibility, and his power over the marketplace. He put out an audio book on Paul Simon to crickets. He sold out to Lexus. He took the money and sacrificed his trustworthiness. He used to be on the side of the little person, now he’s talking down to us.

Yes, everyone was aware of “The Tipping Point,” but ask people what Gladwell’s last book was… Most have no idea. And the truth is Gladwell still has a good business, but he too is niche.

Elon Musk is not niche.

Elon Musk is pulling a Charlie Sheen. He’s crazed. He’s got the public’s attention and he doesn’t want to let go, he thrives on the spotlight. But when you’re in the spotlight forever people don’t like it, and they go looking for your flaws.

How many Musk bros are left?

One thing is for sure, their numbers are dwindling.

And now Tesla has competitors. Maybe not as good today, but they’re getting closer. And customer service is better elsewhere, especially with the luxury brands.

So beware of trying to be world dominant these days. You’ll be subject to the slings and arrows. You may think you’re a hero, but assuming anybody’s paying attention there will be a huge cadre of people trying to turn you into a zero.

Know that you’re probably always going to be niche, so play the game accordingly. When you try to reach everybody you won’t, and chances are you’ll alienate many.

The game has changed, and you must change with it.

You don’t want to be too famous. Especially if you’re a behind the scenes person anyway. Like the artist manager, or record company executive. Not everybody is showbiz, not everybody is a rock star, despite the press calling nerds who never went on a date who start tech companies so.

Don’t buy the hype. Musk is trying his best to pull out of the Twitter deal and his online activities have hurt Tesla.

Let that be a lesson to you.

Bill Browder-This Week’s Podcast

Bill Browder is the author of “Red Notice” and “Freezing Order,” which delineate his investments in Russia and the ultimate death of his attorney Sergei Magnitsky after he refuses to back down on his accusation that Russian government officials fraudulently claimed a $230 million tax refund for Browder’s company, Hermitage Capital. We cover Browder’s history and ultimate investments in Russia as well as Putin’s personal vendetta against him and the status of Russia today.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/bill-browder/id1316200737?i=1000562505962

https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/9ff4fb19-54d4-41ae-ae7a-8a6f8d3dafa8/episodes/37c9677d-8767-4d84-b1db-2ea49428df9e/the-bob-lefsetz-podcast-bill-browder

https://www.stitcher.com/show/the-bob-lefsetz-podcast/episode/bill-browder-203307554

Re-The Skunk Baxter Podcast

Bob, I just wanted to comment on your masterful interview with Jeff. To hear two individuals on such an even playing field intellectually was both heartfelt and “fact felt”. Tempo was awesome, not a dull moment. Thank you for spotlighting an amazing musician and genuinely interesting human being. Sincerely, Dann Huff

___________________________________

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
Now I know who I’d like to invite to a fantasy dinner or be stuck with in an elevator.
The only negative aspect of this podcast might be, “How will you ever find a more engaging guest for The Lefsetz Podcast than Skunk Baxter?”

Keith Brown

___________________________________

What a fascinating conversation. Not many interviews run a couple of hours and I feel like I could’ve hung in there for another several hours at least.

Marty Winsch

___________________________________

Your long-form interview with Skunk Baxter was remarkable, thank you. Hearing from him about missile-defense systems and the war in Ukraine blew my mind. Even more so than hearing Ian Anderson talk about Indian cuisine and US politics. I commend you on your long-form approach: ask open-ended questions and then let these cats loose.

I sure would love to hear Brian May talk about astrophysics. Seriously!

Best wishes from New Orleans,

Dave Sharpe

___________________________________

Your podcast with Jeff Baxter is one of the most fascinating conversations I’ve ever heard.

If it were just about his life as a musician it would be great.

The stuff he can’t talk about would be enough to fill a few books.

Regards,

Ray Levin

___________________________________

I very much enjoyed the interview.  Fascinating guy.  Thanks.

Bill Nelson

___________________________________

Great talk…SHOULD be a movie made about his life .

James Spencer

___________________________________

That was an amazing conversation…..

Donald Bartenstein

___________________________________

A great listen…It was equal parts Meet the Press and Behind the Music (industry edition)….keep up the great work.

Scott Richman

___________________________________

Super Bowl night jan. 26 1986 Capital theater Passaic NJ and we are waiting for James Brown to start his show.An hour goes by no James. They make an announcement they’re waiting on a replacement guitar player.Another 45 minutes goes by.Finally James hits the stage and out comes Skunk Baxter in a baby blue tux and carrying a chair which he precedes to sit in for most of the show.Now I know why he sits to play the guitar. What an interesting guy in both his lines of work.Great interview Bob.

Dennis Amrhein

___________________________________

I had to tell you how much I enjoyed your interview with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. I have long enjoyed his playing and his time with both Steely Dan and the Doobies (and far too many sessions to name) and being a child of the 70s, I fondly recall seeing him on What’s Happening in the infamous bootlegging episode…. but I digress.

I was so captivated by Skunk’s story about his journey and the way you navigated the storytelling. I have been a long-time listener and reader of yours, but this interview seemed elevated as you were able to really allow Skunk to delve into his thoughts and insights without stopping the flow. Seeing as I am a lifelong musically obsessed music industry nerd, I was wanting to hear more about his tenure with both acts that he was a part of but I simply found the work he has done and continues to do for our government to be just as intriguing. I am so glad you spent so much time slowing him down and digging deeper into his defense work.

It really is rare to find a person so musically talented to have such insight and skills worthy of consulting with the US defense strategy and leadership alike. And can we take a minute and marvel at his work on the 2nd lead of Bodhisattva and Riki Don’t Lose That Number? Hell, I am just a drummer but I still marvel at listening to those licks. They touch those magical parts of my soul as great music should.

I will also offer a huge shout-out for your chat with Robert Scovill as his work in live sound should be more well known. His work with Rush was something magical that I was fortunate to witness in person a few times. I had no idea he was part of the team to help design Avid’s live products. Touring with artists for the last 12 years, I can tell you how a lot of the work he was innovating has helped change the entire FOH process. That was so interesting to hear from him on that part of his work. And you should never worry about going too far down in the weeds with any guest as it helps shape your conversation into something much more meaningful.

So not meant to be a blow-smoke-up-your-ass note here but these two interviews were just something special Bob!! I simply had to share my thoughts so you know that your interview style and questions for people around the music industry (and beyond) are so entertaining and you keep getting better and better at it. Keep up the fantastic work!

Best regards-

Jay Coyle

Co-Founder/General Manager

Propeller Sound Recordings

___________________________________

Wow, what an incredible interview with a true renaissance man.  He personifies his motto: “whoever dies with the most stories wins”.

Cliff Keller

Hacks-Season 2

It’s got a tone problem. As in whipsawing from believable to farce so two-dimensional you want to shut the damn program down.

But Jean Smart is so GOOD!

How did we get here? Replicating the old TV model with the new?

In case you’ve been under a rock, it appears that all streaming video outlets are now going to have free or discounted advertising tiers.

So what exactly is different about today’s paradigm from that of yesteryear, the one that has dominated for decades?

On demand. You can watch what you want when you want.

Only you can’t. You’re at the mercy of the outlets dripping out episodes to “build buzz” and to keep you from canceling. What of this reminds you of the modern world? NOTHING!

I mean we already have HBO. And Showtime and Starz and…

If you pay for them, you can watch them live on the flat screen, or on demand via your cable system, or via an app.

Arguably, the average customer is going to pay just as much and end up with less. I mean at least if you paid for the cable bundle you got network, with its local news, and scores of basic cable channels which will disappear without the cable system subsidy/payment. This is progress, ending up with less?

As for the bump in product…expect that to taper off as the players are solidified. Same as it ever was. Or meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Talking Heads or the Who, whichever you prefer, or both. Then again, they ruled in an era where many music fans didn’t even have a TV, or if they did didn’t turn it on. Today all the action is on the flat screen. As for the live show…I know people want to go, but the experience is different, it used to be exclusive, you had to go to know, now they’re just mass gatherings of people who want to shoot photos and say they were there.

So it all comes down to “House of Cards.” The first original Netflix series, which was better than anything else being televised. It drew fans, caused word of mouth, added subscriptions.

And in truth HOC took a couple of years to have complete traction. Just like the “Sopranos.” There’s so much in the channel, it’s hard to gain notice. So if you’re dripping out new shows week by week you’re actually losing instead of winning. Most people don’t know and don’t care, word of mouth on everything but hard news (well, soft news occasionally too), takes eons to spread. The best example here being “Breaking Bad,” which was on AMC for seasons but didn’t burgeon until people could binge it on Netflix. Binge, that’s the appropriate word. I mean come on, your mother buys half a gallon of ice cream and she tells you you can only have two spoonfuls a day. What! You know as well as I do that when it comes to ice cream and potato chips they truly only satisfy when you can eat them to excess. When you’re the one making the decision, when you’re the only one establishing limits, if any at all. I must say one of the things in life I enjoy most is sitting in the dark watching streaming television, being taken away. This is wholly different from reality/game shows, this is about narrative, a whole world, and when the mood is broken because I run out of episodes I’m pissed!

So the “backward” music business figured this out. You can get all the music for one low monthly price. And Spotify has a free tier, but that’s to combat piracy. Piracy is less of an issue in visual entertainment, if for no other reason than the files are bigger. But if you release all the episodes at once…it’s easier to just pay up than steal. Which is the Spotify game. Remember when all the insiders said no one would ever pay for music? What a laugh that turned out to be.

So the whole agency side of “Hacks” sucks. I literally turned off the first episode, it was too long a jump from the drama I’d been watching. But when Jean Smart does her thing…

You’re never quite sure exactly what she’s going to say.

Ever been around rich or famous people (or both?). There’s an inherent pecking order, even if each individual is paying their own freight, the rich/famous person dominates, is in charge, even if they say nothing! You play by their rules. You don’t go against them. Which is why you always hear about these same people being out of touch because they’re surrounded by yes people.

So, Jean Smart as Deborah Vance is the rich and famous person here. Her star may have faded, but she still drives that Rolls Royce with the suicide doors. Yes, if you’re rich and famous you’ve got to act the part, you’ve got to live in the right place, drive the latest car and tip well at the best establishments. It’s your image! Especially if you’re an oldster.

So everybody’s afraid of her. But you never know when she’ll step down from her pedestal to your level and speak the truth. When she’s in the aforementioned electric blue Rolls and tells Hannah Einbinder/Ava the score, when she zeroes in on Ava’s personality, WHEW!

You’d be surprised how many rich and famous people are smart, at least street smart, because it’s a long way to the top, no matter how much you wanna rock and roll. You’re privy to all the lessons the public never sees, what happens on the other side of the curtain, the business. And believe me, it’s cutthroat.

As for Hannah Einbinder/Ava, she’s noticeably better this year. Because she’s grown into the role. She’s actually aged a bit, which makes her more believable. The fact that she was a writer with experience in the previous season? I didn’t buy it.

But even Hannah/Ava slips into two-dimensionality. When she’s constantly worried about that e-mail surfacing. I wish the broad comedy were excised, there’s enough real material without all the tropes, the gay assistant, the agency underling who has the hots for Jimmy who is played so broadly that you wince every time she talks, not at her so much as at the writers, what were they thinking, that we were going to buy this?

And in the second episode there’s a scene with Polly Draper.

You’ll recognize her, it may take a while for you to place her, she was Ellyn Warren on “thirtysomething.” But that was over thirty five years ago, and Polly Draper is 66 AND HAS HAD NO PLASTIC SURGERY!

Movie stars do not age, and at this point neither do musicians. Not only women, but men. Speaking of which, when you see Wayne Newton in this show you’re only reminded of one thing, that “Twilight Zone” episode “In the Eye of the Beholder,” you know, the one with the doctors and nurses with the faces? Newton is the greatest advertisement for stopping plastic surgery extant. Other than the cat lady. But at this point Newton is just as bad. But Draper?

Draper looks like a real person. Much better-looking than the average person, but she’s believable.

As for Jean Smart…she’s got lines in her face too.

As do I. It goes with the territory. You can keep telling yourself you have the mind and skin of a thirty year old, but inside your body knows different. Nobody here gets out alive and when we see people acting years younger than their age, we wince.

So what you’ve got here is an adult comedy. Except when it’s at the level of a cartoon, the kind of stuff a five or six year old would appreciate. Shows can grow over time, can’t this show be adjusted?

Well, it’s too late now, I’m sure all the episodes are in the can. But these shows have a long lead time, when you see them they’re already planning the following season.

So will what I wrote above get you to watch “Hacks”?

Not the second season. Either you’re a fan or you’re not. Either you watched the first season or you didn’t. If you did, you give the first two episodes of the second season the benefit of the doubt. But if you start there…you’re probably not gonna get it. But you could binge the first season and get it completely. That’s what happened with “Breaking Bad”!

How did we get here?

If you don’t give the people what they want in tech, you’re superseded. You have to be constantly innovating or you’re left behind. Although oldsters haven’t stopped bitching, one thing is for sure, the music industry has cut ties with the past. Sure, labels may still be focused on terrestrial radio, but the public isn’t. Hell, the public moved to TikTok and now the labels have too.

But in TV?

The suits think they’re still in control. That it can go their way.

And to see how Netflix has reacted to Wall Street’s reaction to their numbers…makes me want to puke.

Let me see… You had a business plan, you believed in it, but Wall Street soured on you and you listened to investors? This is like sports teams turning over the coaching to the fans. Sure, they foot the bill, but they’re not professionals, they’re not in the locker room, it’s all surface, and of the moment. They want it all and they want it now, and that’s no way to run a business.

People want the content that bad, but the minute they have an option… This is what happened with Napster, the industry was cruising on overpriced CDs and then…

We’re sick of the gatekeepers telling us how to consume our content. We want to be in control. Isn’t that the message of the online world, have it your way?

But not in the TV world, because these people think they’re better than us.

But after two plus decades online we know that is patently untrue. They’re delusional.

I’m frustrated. And like John Lennon sang, I’m not the only one.