Month: December 2017



You don’t have to be alone to feel alone
You can have someone and still feel alone

“Better Side Of Life”
Emitt Rhodes

My favorite album of the past two years is Emitt Rhodes’s “Rainbow Ends.”

At this point we’re disappointed by the new work of our heroes. It’s like they’ve lost the formula, what made them great to begin with. They’re afraid of losing touch with who and what they once were and they end up concocting music that sounds too much like what they’ve already done and it leaves us blah. That element of surprise, of limit-testing, is gone. So what are the hopes of an aged barely ever been?

Nearly zero.

But “Rainbow Ends” is a revelation.

Imagine if you were the same person you ever were. Threw off the trappings and were your naked nineteen year old self, but with all the experience of the ages wearing you down. Then you’d have “Rainbow Ends.”

I don’t know how people grow up, become mature, buy a house, have children, wear expensive suits and act like an adult. I certainly haven’t. Not that I exactly ever desired to. But the whole world changed and I didn’t, which is quite confounding. And at this point I’m not sure where to turn because now there’s a dividing line, between winners and losers, those who’ve adjusted and those who have not, those economically sufficient and those complaining that they are not. And the conundrum is that the winners are so much more satisfying to hang with, because they’re not bitching that they’ve been screwed. As for myself, I don’t feel I got the wrong end of the stick, I went on my own journey, I’m willing to sacrifice in a world where no one seems willing to. I don’t feel I’m entitled to anything, I don’t expect anything to work out, which is why I’m so surprised when it does. Like “Rainbow Ends.”

He doesn’t sound like Emitt Rhodes anymore. Not a McCartney clone, but your uncle who watches football and drinks beer and sings in a gruff voice. But it’s as if someone paused the world with the remote control and this puffy man stood up and started to sing and dance, tell his truth. And it’s my truth too.

It’s hard to explain how we were enthralled with melody, good voices, in an era where you couldn’t fake it, where you had to have the talent and the chops, which Emitt Rhodes certainly had, which are still evidenced in his new work. He speaks about the modern condition, on the losing end of a marriage, but he still has his hopes intact, he still dreams it will work out. That’s the essence of “Rainbow Ends”‘s title track.

I wanna be somewhere far away
Somewhere where I won’t be afraid
I wanna be sheltered safe and warm
I wanna be somewhere far from harm

Which is inside a record for me. I put on these tunes and I feel cocooned, I have the belief that things will work out. My mind is set free and…

I wanna be somewhere in the sun
Getting tanned having fun
I wanna be with the ones I love
Hold them close give them hugs

I can picture it in my mind, even if it never comes to pass, I believe it’s possible, the years have caused attrition, but there’s still that spark. And when I want to feel rooted with hope I put on “Rainbow Ends.”

So I put it on last night, and marveled how it’s the same guy yet different.

So I decided to go back to the beginning.

It’s really about that initial ABC/Dunhill album. If it was released today it would be a revelation, a distillation of the essence of Paul McCartney filtered through west coast rock. If Emitt was on TV tomorrow the judges would be stupefied into silence, when they could ultimately speak, after exhortations of perfection they’d say how “With My Face On The Floor” was a number one record.

It wasn’t.

Emitt Rhodes was caught in the schism between AM and FM. He was not a pop wimpster and all his contemporaries had moved to the FM dial but he was too poppy for that band. Still, when you dropped the needle…

And “Fresh As A Daisy” belonged on one of those McCartney LPs as much as the bard from Liverpool’s did.

But the song from that first album that resonated with me most last night was “Somebody Made For Me,” because we all dream there’s someone made for us, but really it’s the construction of the song.

And when you buy an LP as special as this, you buy the follow-up, at least you did when we paid money and didn’t care if they hit only that they fulfilled us. 1971’s “Mirror” isn’t quite as special as its predecessor, but it’s less slick and has peaks just as high, like “Love Will Stone You,” it will, but you’ll come down, that’s what the song says. We used to debate these lyrics endlessly back when that’s what you did in college, before the era of diversions. But the song that transfixed me at two in the morning was “Better Side Of Life.”

Everything that ever was will never be again
We’re only lonely people now wondering where we’ve been

It’s the human condition. You’re alone. I don’t care how many people are around you, brothers/sisters, lovers/friends. They cannot get into your brain, never know what you really feel, your only hope is you can resonate and catch a connection every once again. But the strange thing is we identify most, feel least alone, when we connect with art.

Rarely does it take you more than once or twice to learn
That love is so much deeper when you let the fever burn

There’s a fever. Deep in your heart, your chest, when a record resonates. You feel like you belong on the planet, that all your choices were good and you know what you’re doing.

Proving, once again, that art is best when it’s personal, inward-looking, not worrying about external perception, but trying to hew to its own inner tuning fork.

The funny thing about Emitt Rhodes is he’s still the same guy. Doing his best but ending up with the short end of the stick. But none of us win all the time, usually the opposite is true, no matter how much success you’ve had. You lose your job, your fame, you never have another hit, your spouse leaves you, dies, your children won’t talk to you, then what?

Loneliness will capture you in moments of despair

Ain’t that true, it’s the scourge of life. We spend our entire lives trying to avoid, eradicate it. And despite our best efforts, this is sometimes impossible to do. We go to a party, we go to a club, and we can only wish we were at home, we feel even more alienated, in a bubble, everybody’s having fun, why can’t we?

And the older you get the more downtrodden you become, you don’t even make the effort. Abodes are full of baby boomers who’ve given up, watching their television sets, not risking connection because they’ve been hurt too much. Opiates gain deserved attention, but loneliness is the real plague of modern life, when you no longer have to leave home to live, many people don’t.

And there’s a strong possibility
That we might often fail to see the better side of life

I know this sounds contradictory, but that’s Emitt Rhodes in a nutshell, just when he’s screaming towards the cliff he pulls up and decides not to drive off, he still has hope.

I hope you still do too.

The holidays are tough.

So put on your favorite record, pull up your favorite TV show, know that the creators are just like you, with more questions than answers, soldiering on until they feel safe and comfortable.

Like I do listening to Emitt Rhodes.

The Better Side of Life – Spotify


via Lefsetz Letter

December 31, 2017 at 10:34AM





I lied to get the job and and then he wanted to give me the store.

College graduation is one of the few things that’s weirder than legend, even worse than “The Graduate,” because there’s no Mrs. Robinson and Katharine Ross to rescue you. You’re just going through the paces, stepping on the stones, and then they end, disappear, gone. Where do you go now?

Now this was back in ’74, a very different era from today. Nobody I knew saw a recruiter on campus, no one I knew went to graduate school, we were free, to do what?

I decided to move to Alta, Utah, for the most guaranteed snow in America, I lined up a job as a waiter and that…left me two months until ski season started. So I drove to L.A. to visit my sister and she said I could stay if I got a job. And in those days of a thick L.A. “Times” and no Craigslist I pondered the classifieds and found this gig at Star Sporting Goods on Highland Ave., right next to Hollywood High.

The owner was cheap. He said he was gonna check my false references, but he could never get up early enough to call the east coast before the rates changed, so he gave me the gig anyway. And, like I said, a month later, the store, but he didn’t know I was planning to exit for Utah at that point, which I ultimately did.

And my gig was to sell skis. Which I did quite well. Although I only sold what I wanted to, what I believed in, you can take the man out of his environment, but you can’t change who he is.

And throughout this rambling establishment there were speakers, attached to a stereo right by our department, and we played KLOS. KMET was just a bit too edgy for our customers, but KLOS weeded the weird and still satiated us and that’s where I heard “Junior’s Farm.”

Paul McCartney was coming off the massive success of “Band on the Run,” unforeseen after what had come before. He was wandering in the wilderness, “Wild Life” execrable, came back with “My Love” but that was wimpy, and then he returned to snatch the crown? And not long after the title track of McCartney’s apotheosis faded from the radio this little gem exploded on the airwaves. It kept me going. The energy. Carried me through as it was late September and I really should have been back in school, where I ultimately went, but that was a mistake.


I was talking to Eddie Izzard, who was surprisingly voluble, about the show, about the political situation, when I saw Paul and Nancy emerge from their dressing quarters and stride towards the exit. This was my chance, not because I needed to talk to a Beatle, but because I had something to say. There were fewer than ten people still in attendance, I wanted to praise his performance, I told him it reminded me of the live take of “Junior’s Farm” that was such a huge hit.

And Paul turned on a dime, twisted his head, as only he can do, as we’ve seen in so many stills and videos, and he looked me in the eye and said that was COMING UP!

So funny in a world where rock stars say they don’t remember, that they don’t own their own records, never mind don’t listen to them.

Of course he was right. The past instantly came into focus. How did I commit such a faux pas?

He took Nancy’s hand, swiveled back, and left.

There’s a studio take of “Coming Up,” it’s excellent, it’s exuberant, it’s got energy. But it wasn’t a hit, not in the U.S., because the live version from Glasgow had that little something extra, it wasn’t perfect, the intro wasn’t as in your face, the vocal wasn’t as spot-on, but it sounded like a band, on stage, trying to chase its own song. You felt you were in the audience trying to hold on to the railcar as it left the station, this is a show, when it’s not about documentation, but experience, about being in the moment.

And I thought of all this when I couldn’t fall asleep last night. I confused the tracks once again in my brain, thinking that “Junior’s Farm” was the live one, even though I remembered my conversation with McCartney. And as I’m pulling up the tracks in the services, I decide to do some research.

That’s when I found out there really was a Junior’s Farm.

The great thing about being a legend is there’s a dissection of your history online. And it turns out “Coming Up” was built from the drum track up on McCartney’s farm in Glasgow. This is a studio concoction, a story we hear all the time, writing in the room.

But Junior’s Farm was a real place.

Wings went to Nashville to cut and they stayed at Claude “Curly” Putnam, Jr.’s farm. He vegetarianized it for him. And the experience ultimately inspired McCartney to write “Junior’s Farm.”

Let’s got, let’s go,
Down to Junior’s Farm where I wanna lay low
Low life, high life, oh let’s go
Take me down to Junior’s Farm
Everybody tag along

And we all did. The track made it to number three, when those statistics were kinda irrelevant, everybody was listening to the FM dial, where the song dominated. We bopped our heads, sang along to the chorus, loved the cut, but didn’t know why.

Because it was real. Inspired from real experience.

We’ve been influenced by the techies, by the MBAs, all their b.s. which has nothing to do with art. They talk about pulling all-nighters, working 24/7, failing to achieve excellence, but that’s not how you do it in art. In art you hone your chops and wait…

For inspiration.

You never know when it will strike. You’ve just got to be open to it. Catch it when you can.

You’re wandering through life and it takes a left turn and a synapse fires.

Hell, I wasn’t even going to write this and then I opened the front door to delivered food and it boosted my mood, VOILA!

If you’re an artist you’ve got to live. It’s more important than Facebooking and Instagramming, one moment of excellence can put you over the top. “Junior’s Farm” had no album in an era when all tracks on FM did. But it was good enough on its own to triumph. That’s the nature of art. When we experience it, when it’s done right, we can’t get enough of it, it resonates in some indescribable way.

Like “Junior’s Farm.”

P.S. “At the houses of Parliament/Everybody’s talking ’bout the President/We all chip in for a bag of cement” Nixon had just resigned. This contemporized the song. And illustrated a viewpoint. The more sharp edges in your song the bigger the chance they’ll pierce the audience, stick to them.

P.P.S. “I took my bag into a grocer’s store/The price is higher than the time before/Old man asked me ‘Why is it more?’” You may not have experienced inflation, but it was rampant back then. McCartney is illuminating a slice of life, which we can relate to. Or could.

Junior’s Farm – Spotify


via Lefsetz Letter

December 31, 2017 at 10:34AM

Don’t Bring Me Down

Don’t Bring Me Down

I still can’t believe Tom Petty’s dead.

I’ve been living in the aughts. I decided to go to my bootleg site, where I used to live fifteen years ago, after the death of Napster. There was this Jackson Browne concert from Hamburg in ’93 that was jaw-dropping, cut straight to my soul, “Late For The Sky” may have been nearly twenty years old but it sounded as fresh as ’74.

But then I heard Elton John with the Royal Philharmonic and it was so good, SO SO GOOD, that I couldn’t believe it was real. I keep going back to it. Was he really that talented? How could anybody sing so perfectly? I tingled as I listened.

And then I came across Petty.

Now Petty didn’t achieve stardom overnight. As a matter of fact, his initial LP didn’t even make a splash. He was considered a punk when he wasn’t on a label with little traction and he didn’t gain any notice until he went to England and a buzz began.

Then it translated to Los Angeles. That’s right, Tom may have been from Florida, but he’s as L.A. as you or me, the land of transplants, those who grew up listening and watching and just had to get the hell out of where we were and come to the coast to be free, to be our best selves.

And what broke him through was not “American Girl,” but a live version of “Breakdown,” with a breakdown, they played it all the time on KROQ, back when that was a free-format station, probably the hippest station of L.A., before anybody knew Kevin and Bean existed.

But then it started to spread.

To the big kahuna, KMET. And its more corporate dialmate KLOS.

But before that, KWST. The Led Zeppelin station. At 105.9. Up by KROQ. Where those who believed in rock and roll, loud and fuzzy, still lived.

This recording was from a KWST live broacast, from Capitol Studio A, that breakout year of 1977. And it includes Tom’s cover of “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

Other than that the tracks are from the debut, as well as “Listen To Her Heart” and a cover of “Shout,” but if you lived in L.A. back then, you heard this live take of “Don’t Bring Me Down” on the radio, and it shattered you.

The Animals.

They don’t get no respect. If Eric Burdon O.D.’ed or died in a plane crash forty five years ago he’d be a legend, but he lived on, he’s still here, but that voice, that darkness, that blues-influenced sound, it cuts to the bone.

And Petty knew it.

That was the difference between Petty and what came before him, HE WAS LITERALLY FROM A DIFFERENT GENERATION!

Sure, he graduated, was accepted by the rest of the Wilburys, but that’s like your high school brother taking along your junior high self. Special, but you see Tom was one of us. He’d seen the Beatles. He’d played in bands. He was bitten by the bug. He didn’t give up.

Most of us did. We all played guitar back then. It was like playing Pokemon Go, everybody did it. But most weren’t willing to put in the time, or when it got hard they gave up, went to college, played it safe.

Tom never played it safe.

And that’s what we loved about him. He never sold out. He was a lifer. He was in for good.

Not that we knew all that back when, it’s certainly evident in hindsight, but back in the midseventies he was just on a journey, one of credibility, faithfulness to the music, when the sound was going corporate and everybody was going for the bucks. And when they wanted him to, he refused. But that’s well-known history.

Anyway, it’s hard to describe sixties music if you weren’t there. The way it swept the nation, most famously the British Invasion. And the bands didn’t all sound the same, and you were addicted to your transistor, listening to the countdown as you did your homework, and EVERYBODY knew the hits, and you loved most of ’em, but then there were some that were special, like “Don’t Bring Me Down.”

This was pre-internet, pre-information age, we had no idea that it was a Goffin-King song. Carole’s another one who stupefied us. A legend even without “Tapestry,” how could one woman be responsible for so much greatness?

Now the Animals’ take begins with that eerie organ, straight out of the Midlands, this is not sunny America, this is a land of darkness that these musicians are praying to escape, based on the back of this tune.

And Eric starts to sing and it’s almost sotto voce, subtle, the antithesis of the “Voice,” if he was on they’d kick him off, but Eric knows it’s all about dynamics, presentation.

And the hook.

And that fuzz guitar. So familiar now, but brand new back then, we had to credit George Harrison. He was the progenitor, an innovator.

And then there’s that piano, in an era of electronic music it sounds so FRESH!

And the great thing about Petty was he believed, he paid fealty, he didn’t need to put his own spin on the song, he just needed to pay RESPECT!

Now you can listen to a take from 1985’s ” Pack Up The Plantation,” and that’s great, but this ’77 take is the antithesis of a victory lap, Petty still NEEDS it and he’s gonna PROVE IT!

That’s right, he came all the way from Gainesville, played in a million groups, won at the Battle of the Bands, and now he’s gonna strut his stuff, convince you solely with his music, back when that was enough.

When you complain and criticize
I feel I’m nothing in your eyes

Even the losers get lucky sometimes, but not frequently. Musicians were outcasts, they provided the entertainment at the club, they were not the ones making it rain, involved in the hijinks, they were the other, apart, hoping that their efforts could gain them entry to life’s riches, like women, like sex.

It makes me feel like giving up
Because my best ain’t just good enough

The FRUSTRATION! He’s trying his best, but he’s not succeeding. There’s no more he can do, he’s just gonna tell her the truth.

Girl, I want to provide for you
And do all the things that you want me to, but…

He wants to be her best man, give her all she wants, BUT!

Oh! Oh no, don’t bring me down
I’m beggin’ you darlin’
Oh! Oh no, don’t bring me down

He’s got a LIMIT! He can only take so MUCH! He’s not gonna be a DOORMAT!

That’s what the music did for us, inspire us, to not only be our best selves and stand up for what we believe, but to take no b.s.

And it was all in our heads. This was long before MTV. Production at shows was limited. You bought the vinyl and spun it alone in your room and transcended, you had to go to the show not to shoot selfies, not to say you were there, BUT TO PRAY AT THE CHURCH OF YOUR SOUL!

It’s hard to describe why music is magic. In this case maybe it’s Benmont’s organ, Tom’s sneer, but the concoction releases this sound, this feeling, that makes you feel alive, solidarity in the darkness, that this encapsulates your life.

And the “Plantation” take is just a bit less immediate, a bit more polished, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s slick, but it doesn’t sound so much like a basement club, with no video cameras, where the experience will be one and only and then evaporate.

But trying to find a version close to this bootleg I stumbled on a take from 1985’s Farm Aid.

And of course the first thing that blew my mind was Petty was alive. Even though he’s dead. How can he be dead?

And the organ is not quite as immediate, although the guitar sneers, and then Petty stands up to the mic…

And you feel the relaxation, he’s comfortable, he’s been here before, he’s doing his job, he’s not punching the clock, he’s getting in the groove, he’s bouncing up and down, he’s DELIVERING!

That was the fine line Tom Petty walked, between being a journeyman and a superstar.

And then when he hits the second verse, he’s fully in the groove, he’s got that Burdon sotto voce thing going, he’s dancing around the melody, he’s using body language, and then…

You’ve got a whole band firing on all cylinders, all eight, and they’re so well-rehearsed Tom spins and they hit the change, it sounds like the record but it doesn’t, it’s different, it breathes, it’s alive.

But Tom’s not.

Tom Petty was not only a fan, he was a student. He loved the old songs, played them on his Sirius show. He needed our respect, couldn’t take our neglect, he demanded attention, he needed our love.

That’s the essence of a performer. They’re not whole. They need something from us to complete them. You can sense the neediness in their performance, it’s not bulletproof, it’s not hermetically sealed, it needs us to join in.

And we did this when we heard Tom on the radio, when we went to the show, we communed, we felt like we were in it together, fighting the good fight, despite all the b.s., despite everything going in the wrong direction.

And then he peeled-off, dropped out, and sure, legends have been dying like flies, but not this young, not this vibrant, not someone who refused to go on a victory lap.

That’s right, the scene changed but Tom didn’t. He continued to forge his own path. And you felt if you could just sit down and talk with him, be in his presence, you could learn the essence of life.

But now that opportunity has evaporated.

And we feel so empty.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Studio A, Capitol Records Tower, Hollywood, CA, November 11, 1977” (start at 19:20)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – “Don’t Bring Me Down” (Live at Farm Aid 1985)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – “Don’t Bring Me Down” (“Pack Up The Plantation – Live At The Paradise Theater/1978”)


via Lefsetz Letter

December 31, 2017 at 10:34AM



“What are your assets as an actor? Your weaknesses. Whatever your fears are, whatever you suck at, that’s what you gotta tap. That’s what people want to see when you’re playing people. They want to see you at your weakest. They don’t want to see some asshole comedian show off. They want to see him fail. That’s acting.”

That’s Pamela Adlon in “Better Things.” She’s teaching an acting class. Multiple partners are doing a scene. And after the comedians believe they’ve knocked it out of the park, she says the above.

That’s what’s missing from music, weakness. Vulnerability. The human condition.

It’s just a reflection of the times. We live in an era of winners, despite supposedly owning your failures, the mantra of Silicon Valley, the people preaching this philosophy are all fat cat winners, the failures are an educational experience to be endured, a blip on the radar screen, but last I checked you inhabited your body 24/7 and were oftentimes riddled with doubt, unclear where to turn, frustrated with more questions than answers, and all you’ve got in music is wankers telling you how much better they are than you, imploring you to roar, or biting back at those who supposedly offended them. Huh?

At the risk of beating a dead horse, and why the hell not, that’s what appealed to me so much about Taylor Swift’s early work, the vulnerability, the outsider talking about how she felt, when she wanted to fit in, before she believed the entire world was against her, but that’s the internet ethos, raise your head online and someone’s gonna come and cut it off, primarily because they’re angry that you’re somewhere and they’re nowhere, we’re so busy fighting amongst ourselves that the real perpetrators, the fat cat politicians and corporations, are skating.

Art is personal expression first and money second.

But now that’s been flipped.

And since there’s not that much money in music, the best and the brightest don’t go into it, only those with no options, and these people fight amongst themselves and kiss ass to get ahead.

Meanwhile, everybody’s glued to the TV set, where truth lives. Not only on “Better Things,” but almost every hit show. Flawed characters confronted with dilemmas.

Everybody’s got the answers in music.

Or they’re bopping along happy without a care in the world, a nitwit.

We can’t relate to that. We might be able to dance to it, but we can’t connect with it. And when we connect we testify, we bond, we give it all our money. It’s why Joni Mitchell is a legend who never falls out of the discussion and Laura Branigan and so many pop singers are oldie staples at best, not worthy of words.

Sure, traditionally pop hits have often focused on lost and unrequited love, but even those songs don’t translate anymore, because they’re too phony, belted out by winners tied in with Target and perfume companies. Which is why artists need to stand alone, separate, but I don’t want to give you too many challenges at once.

And here’s where I say that the wannabes need to be excluded.

I know, I know, YOU write about your weaknesses, YOU do it right, the only thing is you can’t sing and your songs suck. Did you ever think about playing in the NBA? Hosting the “Today Show”? Why is everybody convinced that music is so easy?

Maybe because there’s zero barrier to entry. But that just makes the competition that much harder.

But those at the top have let us down.

But they’ve got little experience. They’ve never been to the garden, never mind know how to get back there.

Start with your personal experience. Your hopes and dreams. Your frustrations, your losses. Don’t be afraid of the slings and arrows. They come with the territory. Everybody won’t like you. But if you sing from the soul, evidence your humanity, we have a chance to connect.


via Lefsetz Letter

December 31, 2017 at 10:34AM

That which we worship

That which we worship

“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.”

– Greg Beale

The word “worship” most often has a religious connotation. But we can revere, adore, exalt, venerate and glorify many things beyond whatever concept of a Higher Power we have (or don’t).

We can worship money.

We can worship being right.

We can worship a bigger house filled with more and ever cooler stuff.

We can worship the demonization of people different from us.

We can worship busyness.

We can worship propping up or protecting our ego.

We can even worship feeling like a victim.

And on and on.

Then again…

We can worship compassion.

Or generosity.

Or acceptance.

Or courage.

Or forgiveness.

Or love.

The thing to remember is that which we worship is a choice, made each and every day, in the present moment.

The other thing to remember is that, ultimately, what we worship defines us and our impact on the world.

As we embark on a New Year maybe it’s time to make some different choices?


A version of this post originally was posted on my “other” blog: I Got Here As Fast As I Could.


via Steve Dennis

December 31, 2017 at 07:18AM

Tales From The Tour Bus

Tales From The Tour Bus


If “Tales From The Tour Bus” was on Netflix it would be a juggernaut.

Alas, it’s on Cinemax.

Distribution is king. Emblazon that in your brain and never forget it. Ignore all the hogwash about Adele and Taylor Swift and their CD sales. By keeping their albums off streaming services they hurt their careers. Swift’s “Reputation” has stalled, it’s stiff, and Adele’s “25” did boffo at the b.o. but had almost no impact on the culture, the songs are unknown, BECAUSE SHE PUT IT BEHIND A PAYWALL!

You think you’re winning by thinking about money first. But the internet has taught us since day one that you think about money LAST! That’s how all the tech titans achieved dominance. There was no business model at Google, no ads to begin with. Amazon kept reinvesting profits whilst keeping prices low. But in the entertainment business we kept hearing they were stealing our wares and no one would want to create anymore. I wish they didn’t, I’m overwhelmed with product, there’s more of everything now, it’s hard to break through.

So you pay attention to the buzz.

Cinemax did a good job promoting “Tales From The Tour Bus,” it’s just that it was for naught, because the show was behind a paywall that very few had the key to. Maybe ten million households, and most of them probably don’t care about this show anyway. Everything is niche today. It’s about appealing to those who do care. And in a country of 330 million, one percent can keep you alive and ten percent means you’re as rich as anybody, but people have to be able to kick the tires, check you out, or you’re dead in the water, they’re always making new product and it becomes harder and harder to gain traction with the old.

Now MTV existed in a different era. One of monoculture. And the wizards there decided to give “Beavis and Butt-head” a platform, and overnight it dominated. Execs have to take chances, say yes. That’s what’s wrong with America, never mind the entertainment business, too many people saying no. And Mike Judge built an entire empire on the back of “Beavis and Butt-head,” “King Of The Hill,” and “Silicon Valley,” and now “Tales From The Tour Bus,” when rock stars were rock stars and you still don’t know much of their story. Hell, I learned more about Jerry Lee Lewis in this half hour program than a lifetime of reading about him.

First and foremost it’s the lens. Judge’s viewpoint, with a visual sense that just cracks you up. Animated versions of people talking who were there interspliced with real footage. So you hear the Killer’s 13 year old bride talking as a cartoon and then you see the footage from the old days and it adds a spike of gravitas. Screw the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Mike Judge is doing a better job of detailing and lionizing the history of these hitmakers, and it’s without the phony comeback arc of VH1’s “Behind The Music,” it’s absolutely astounding.

There’s history here. From a different era. When the world was not a global village and there was not a camera on every corner.

Jerry Lee Lewis was dirt poor from Louisiana. He was married twice before Myra, and never even divorced. His family sold eggs to finance his trip to Memphis. After he jumped from Bible school and decided to play the devil’s music. Judge does an incredible job of illustrating this conflict. Jerry loves boogie woogie/rock and roll, but thinks he should dedicate his life to God. And maybe country music. He believes in himself, but believes he should be doing something different. Hell, I still think I should be punching a clock for an hourly wage, that’s what my mother thinks is work. If I showed up at McDonald’s I might have trouble making rent but I’d believe I’d done an honest day’s work, was a contributing member of society.

And being a good ‘ole boy Jerry Lee can see no problem with a 13 year old wife, this was before the days of publicity handlers, you can take the boy out of the swamp, but…

And he’s breaking the law and doing wrong things ad infinitum.

He shoots a band member and then fires him when he’s unable to play bass.

He talks about running over Liberace.

You think today’s TMZ denizens are rock stars? They’re not even close, they’re imitating what the classics of yore did back when. They mated their identities with the scene and we just couldn’t get enough of it. Watching Jerry Lee sing “Great Balls Of Fire” you can see the danger, which we haven’t had in music since Eminem and “Stan’ nearly twenty years ago. Hell, that was after the controversy about “Beavis and Butt-head”! We used to argue about art, now we argue about money.

And the great thing is each one of the country artists profiled have a unique story, they’re not cookie-cutter, they all didn’t go to Harvard, work with the usual suspects and take a deserved victory lap. They utilized their smarts and their talent to get ahead and sometimes it took a long time and sometimes it didn’t really happen at all.

We used to have shows like this and they would be part of the national discussion. Believe me, if this Jerry Lee episode aired on network last night, assuming last night was in the sixties, that’s all anybody would be talking about today, it’d be like “Laugh-In,” but about music, a much more powerful force than comedy.

But the two are blended here, they’ve always been in rock and roll. “Spinal Tap” was not a satire.

And I have sympathy for Mr. Judge. I’m sure this show was not easy to sell. Maybe sometime it will float to an outlet we all pay for and can see.

But right now that is Netflix. They’ve got all the eyeballs. No one else is close, not even the vaunted HBO. We’re gonna pay, but we’re gonna pay fewer and fewer outlets that are richer and more powerful and if you’re bitching about them you’re missing the point. We’ve spent two decades living in a Tower of Babel society, not watching, not seeing, not listening to the same stuff, and it’s made life so unsatisfying. We want to communicate, we want tribes concentrated around the same art, we want to lift up the great and forget the rest.

And “Tales From The Tour Bus” is better than any record other than “Despacito” this year. Because, like “Despacito,” it breaks the mold, it delivers the unexpected, it challenges your preconceptions.

We used to call that rock and roll.


via Lefsetz Letter

December 29, 2017 at 10:33AM




This is what streaming has wrought. The new income has lifted all boats, but the ones of stars much higher than those of the hoi polloi.

Used to be a fan bought a star’s album and played it incessantly but there was no more income past the sale. Now every time a fan streams a track there is payment.

Whereas fewer fans purchased the albums of journeymen, and oftentimes didn’t play them as much.

But a sale was a sale was a sale.

Now you’re not gonna make much unless your fans are streaming your songs tens of millions of times. So, if this is not in your future, don’t plan on making tons of money from recorded music. Sure, you can still sell souvenirs at your shows, vinyl, etc., but look to other income streams, like synchs. And if this frustrates you and has you feeling like a loser remember, I’m just the messenger and in a world where everything is available at our fingertips people gravitate to the most popular and well known, which is why Amazon is a juggernaut.


In trying to capture secondary market revenue many acts are pushing up the price of close seats, and knowing those in the upper bowl are less desirable, they’re dropping the price of those. This is still a story in progress, but unless you’re willing to pay top buck for the exact seat you want, your best bet is to wait until the very last minute to buy your tickets. You may miss out, but you may get an incredible deal. Personal scalpers, i.e. the general public, buy the hype and overpurchase with the intent to resell. And once the show plays, the brokers’ tickets are worthless. So, if you can wait, you just might see a price drop.

As for transparency…

Forget about it. The music industry doesn’t want it. It likes subterfuge, it likes trying to maximize revenue whilst pointing fingers at everyone but itself. The brokers are just filling a market hole. The ticketing company is just doing what the act tells it to do. The act likes the pre-sales. And never forget, by time you get to the public on-sale fewer than a thousand tickets can be available at the arena.

Buying a ticket is a gauntlet that is challenging to the customer.

But then there are many shows where they can’t give away the tickets.

And then there are people bitching about the fees. You like the fees, you’re cheap. StubHub went to all-in pricing and sales went down, so they reversed course. They’re not really fees, they’re just part of the package, they’re costs. It’s a way to get more money without blaming the acts. That’s right, the ticketing company is paid to take the heat.


It’s a consequence of the hip-hop resurgence. Tracks start on Soundcloud, YouTube and Spotify, and oftentimes they don’t even cross to radio, why do you need a label, to get on the “Today Show” your fans don’t watch and think is a joke?

The truth is if you license directly to the streaming service, you’re making a ton of dough, why share that with the label without transparency whose business model is theft?

The major labels control radio and TV, both of which are in decline.

The acts themselves control the internet.


It’s what’s building hip-hop. There’s a scene. Other genres have to duplicate this, cross-pollinate, promote their heroes. Instead of bitching about streaming and the internet they should join in. Americana lives off the radar. If it went online, maybe Jason Isbell could be a bigger star. NPR and the NYT are echo chambers with limited ceilings, whereas if you can break through to the Spotify Top 50, you’ll reach everybody.


That’s name brand playlists, curated playlists, like Rap Caviar, the most important driver of consumption extant. Credit Tuma Basa, credit the power of Spotify, credit hip-hop. Expect more powerful playlists in different genres. Apple said they were going to deliver this, but none of their listmakers have gotten traction. Streaming services need to promote their listmakers, they’re the new deejays, like the old free-format deejays, picking the tunes themselves, evidencing their credibility.


Did you catch Echo/Alexa sales over Christmas? You get a free version of Amazon Music with your device. And you can upgrade to full, on demand capability. It’s like having a salesperson in your own home. Ask Alexa to play something it can’t, and it will urge you to upgrade. Amazon always plays a long game, and usually wins. We’ve evolved from iPods to iPhones to voice-controlled speakers, we are never going back, only the tweaks are gonna lift the tonearms and be involved in manual play. He who owns voice owns music, and right now Amazon is the leader by far. Sure, you can integrate Spotify and other services, but most people can’t figure that out.

Meanwhile, Apple is left in the dust. Apple appealed to all of its credit card holders, where is it going to get new customers for Apple Music? Both Amazon and Spotify have free tiers. Furthermore, Apple’s HomePod is so late in delivery it will be dead on arrival. You don’t have to have first-mover advantage as long as you’re better than competitors and they stop innovating. But the HomePod is a me-too product and Amazon keeps innovating. This is how Apple lost its power in music, by being late to streaming. Apple is hitting a wall while Amazon is coming on strong. Meanwhile, Spotify is the big kahuna, and its success is based not only on market share and free tier and first mover advantage, but technology. Spotify has traditionally had bad marketing, but the best product. Its Discover products have pushed it so far ahead of its competitors it will be difficult for them to catch up. We live in a software world. It’s all about features. But they must work and not be superfluous. Spotify has won by being young and tech-oriented, the old boomer swagger with attitude players have been eclipsed, can you hear me Jimmy Iovine?


Will tour to prodigious numbers, especially now that so many players are dying, but hits will be rare or nonexistent. It’s too late, times have changed, they’ve moved on. If a classic rocker wants a hit, an almost insurmountable challenge, they must concentrate on one song and tie it into an outlet that bangs it constantly, like ESPN or a commercial.


We were expecting it to look like the old hootenanny, midsixties anti-Vietnam era stuff, but in this case all the movement comes from rappers, who are speaking up against the government. Never underestimate this power. Someone will have a hit track. And culture, especially music, has power, people are influenced by it.


In this phony, sold-out culture, people need something/someone to believe in. If you don’t tie in with the corporation, if you don’t hang at the club, if you don’t flaunt your wealth, but you speak truth in a hit song you could win the jackpot.


Album tracks are in hope of people streaming the playlist, most people only want to hear the hit, no matter the genre. So, forget the detritus, focus on excellence. You know it when you hear it, if you play it for someone and they don’t ask you to play it again, start over.


Pressed cardboard my dad used to call ’em. Thin bread with little filling. That describes today’s pop records, massaged by the usual suspects with bland messages that don’t resonate. The Mariah Carey paradigm is dead. It’s not about pipes, but what you do with them. If pipes were important, those “Voice” winners would be all over the hit parade, but they’re not. Character is key. And honesty. Speak from the heart. When you get fifteen people writing a song you lose this. Your personal connects with people most. Don’t try to second-guess the audience. Pop drove itself off a cliff by losing its heart.


Rarely hurts, only when it’s overdone in extremis, but has little effect. We’re overloaded, with too much product. We’re moving towards a great consolidation, the music world is incomprehensible. And the new sounds will come from the bedrooms and streets, dare to be different, but also dare to fail.


Music is music. Something new will come along. But it probably won’t sound like what came before. Then again, the English cats were influenced by the delta-bluesmen, will youngsters be influenced by classic rockers and come up with new sounds? I wouldn’t hold your breath, it’s like waiting for that jazz comeback.


The electronic sound rules. It’s still new and different. Akin to those sounds you used to genuflect to coming from the Stratocaster and Marshall stack. When it’s all been done before, it’s the new and different that appeal. Deejays are big producers.


It always comes back to this. He or she who writes songs we can relate to and sing along with triumphs in the end. Once again, honesty is the best policy, sing from your heart and people will want to hear you testify forever.


via Lefsetz Letter

December 29, 2017 at 10:33AM

Better Things

Better Things

They say this is the best TV show of the year.

At least some people do. EW I think it was.

I’ve got a thing for Pamela Adlon. The way she’s so little yet is willing to take up so much space. I noticed her on that old Louis CK “Honeymooners” style show on HBO, it was unwatchable but she was not. I’m drawn to anyone who breaks the norm. Although she probably breaks the norm too much for me, and would be disappointed in my wimpoid tendencies. And how do you have three kids, and raise them on your own, with enough money to make it all work.

In real life Adlon is a voiceover artist. Unknown but handsomely compensated.

Now she’s got this show on FX.

The first episode didn’t work. The problem with “Better Things” is too often there’s not enough said. They focus on mood, there are close-ups and you’re waiting for the dialogue. You realize this is the same thing Louie is doing. A brand new sliver of show-making. But I’m one who never had a problem with the Aaron Sorkin rat-a-tat-tat.

But what they’re going after, the mood they’re trying to capture, it’s spectacular. Kind of like listening to Jackson Browne’s “Late For The Sky.” That’s what the singer-songwriter thing was all about, deep feelings, more questions than answers, that’s something that’s gone from the hit parade, which is probably why it’s so less appealing to me. There are a ton of boasters, a ton of fakers, but very few who are real.

Adlon is not afraid to be hated by her kids. A revelation after boomer parents who insisted on being their progeny’s best friend. Disappointed in themselves if they didn’t live up to some mythical standard. Adlon is more like our parents, she’s doing her best, and she’s not always getting it right, but she’s soldiering on.

And although you can see the trappings of her lifestyle, it’s not Kardashian-esque, all her friends are not beautiful and fabulous, it’s the anti “Real Housewives” paradigm.

And when she tells off that guy she’s been screwing…

Maybe the rapists don’t ask you if you came, but the sensitive guys frightened by Me Too always get around to asking this question, they want to be liked, they want to deliver. And when you’re not happy, they are not.

Adlon has sex before they go out so she doesn’t have to go home with him. She’s giving him what he wants, even though he can sense she doesn’t want to. And when he gets indignant, she lets into him… I don’t think I could handle this in real life, but when Adlon settles the score, talks about sucking his dick and performing up to his high maintenance standards we can see that oftentimes it’s the men who are needy, and the women who are in control. Modern life is so confusing, and it’s not always funny.

You set on a path and then it closes out. Everybody who was married when you were divorced is now uncoupled. And you wince at the way you behaved in previous relationships. Growing old is learning to let someone be themselves, however difficult this might be. You think you want everything, when you’re lucky if you get something.

And then Adlon meets someone kinda right. And the truth is do women want a sensitive guy or not, I’m not sure. They used to say they did, before sexuality permeated everyday life to the degree it now does. Now if you’re too sensitive you’re kicked to the curb. But this guy is trying to get it right and explaining himself and that can either bond you together or pull you apart. I remember one late night conversation in bed where I laid it all out, my history, my flaws, figuring this was the end, but it made us closer than ever before. But a few days later I said something I shouldn’t have and I pulled away, my shrink said I was freaked out about being too close.

And the shrink reference may make you laugh, but if you think you know where you’re going in this life, have got it together, you’re sorely mistaken.

So I continue to watch “Better Things,” for these moments. When Pamela Adlon is at loose ends. When she’s marching forward when she doesn’t have the wherewithal. When she says it would be great if her ex came by for dinner more, but she just can’t handle it.

How do we handle life when we’re middle-aged?

We’re too old for songs.

We’ve got feelings we too rarely verbalize. We want to share, but we don’t want to be judged.

Then we stumble on to something like “Better Things” and we get a glimpse of our inner life, we no longer feel so alone, we recognize it’s not about winning, but coping, waiting for the resonant moments.

This is art.

Better Things


via Lefsetz Letter

December 29, 2017 at 10:33AM

The United States Of Christmas

The United States Of Christmas

And the Trumpers are saying the holiday’s been stolen.

If you look at the Spotify US Top Fifty your eyes will bug out. Nine of the top ten are Christmas songs, the only exception is #10, Post Malone’s “rockstar.”

But the next ten, that’s right, from #11-20, are all Christmas songs.

And of the next ten, #21-30, only Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” is non-Christmas.

There are four non-Christmas tracks in the bracket from #31-40.

And half of the last ten of the fifty are Christmas cuts.

Meanwhile, if you look at the iTunes charts, you’ll see none of this reflected.

The people want Christmas music. The move to streaming is an even bigger game changer than the move to SoundScan.

You see it’s all about consumption, that’s how you get paid. We want to know what people are listening to.

And we have no way of knowing consumption with sales. Did you buy it and file it or play it incessantly?

One thing’s for certain, the Taylor Swift juggernaut is not, which is one reason ticket sales are soft. Ms. Swift only has ONE song in Spotify’s Top 100 Tracks of 2017. And it’s in the bottom half. (Although her duet with ZAYN from “Fifty Shades Darker” is #10.)

The big winner? Ed Sheeran, with four tracks on the chart, including #1 with “Shape Of You.” Proving once again that the Grammys have their head up their behind. Come on, what’s wrong with this picture, man writes songs with changes and hooks that all can sing along to and he’s snubbed?

We’re in for a realignment, wherein all the old metrics are cast aside in favor of true consumption, streaming numbers.

The first to go is sales. It’s a de minimis part of the financial picture now anyway.

Next is radio. Yes, radio is powerful, but it’s losing said power each and every day as youngsters forgo its passive listening paradigm in favor of an active, on demand one. Radio lost touch decades ago, with phony deejays playing the same cuts. The public has rejected radio the same way they threw over CDs during the Napster era.

But what the Christmas dominated chart tells us is catalog counts. Just because you’re not in the news, not putting out new hits, it does not mean you’re forgotten. People remember, they want to hear your songs, they want to see you in concert, you’re gonna make bank forever. Think about this, used to be your income from recordings expired. No one bought new ones, if they could even find them in the store. Sure, you got publishing on radio in the U.S., but what if you didn’t write the song? This is one of the silver linings in favor of oldsters who keep bitching streaming will kill them when it’s keeping them alive, giving them another bite at the apple.

As for the Christmas chart, Mariah Carey dominates, her “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is number one, with daily plays of 2,075,827 and a cume of 311,319,704. Hell, she could be the new Trans-Siberian Orchestra, doing a Christmas tour, despite all her faux pas, the country still demands her.

Brenda Lee is number 2.

And from there on it’s a cornucopia of old and new holiday cuts.

Wham!’s “Last Christmas” is #4, and lo and behold, BURL IVES is #7 with “A Holly Jolly Christmas”! I haven’t listened to him since I was in single digits!

Jose Feliciano is a holiday star. Judy Garland too.

You need to get in on this action. Sure, cover the classics, but you’re gonna have a hard time competing with the oldsters. Your best bet is to record an original, try and write a classic. That’s right, acts have been shooting too low, with cash-in cover albums. Better to have one superhit that can sustain! Songwriters, start your engines!

And if you’ve got new product, WAIT UNTIL JANUARY!

No one wants to hear it, not now.

As for all you oldsters saying only the younger generation streams… Do they really want to hear Eartha Kitt and Perry Como?

And of course some of these numbers are high as a result of playlists.

But this ain’t Pandora, with its crappy payouts. Sure, some of Spotify’s plays are on its free tier, but so many are on the paid tier and paying more.

And sure, you can get lucky and have someone stream your cover crapola album, but…

You want the hit. The chart is an endless parade of classics.

Now if someone were smart, and the music business is not, every year they’d put out a Christmas album with today’s hitmakers, try to get in on some of that chart action. Yup, Post Malone would be better off putting out Xmas music in December, Taylor Swift too. And the barrier to entry is so damn low. You record it and post it. You get caught up in the tsunami of holiday play, publicity isn’t even that important.

We’re in a funny period. The oldsters hate the youngsters’ music yet the youngsters’ music has less dominance than ever before. Most people have never heard Post Malone. Most don’t even know the music on Swift’s new album. So the young and old are coexisting, and at this point in time some of the classic acts are getting traction on streaming, they’ve got over 100 million streams on Spotify, their fans have moved over. But before rock came country. Sam Hunt is in the Spotify Top 100 Tracks of 2017, although he does skew young. And “Body Like A Back Road” is only 2:45. Almost all the hit songs are under four minutes long. You get paid the same amount if it’s shorter. Does it pay to stretch out, should you stretch out? Once again, the medium affects the art.

So now that we know December is for Christmas music…

Is there another time of year that has a particular sound?

We’re gonna learn this and so much more.

It ain’t the baby boomers’ music business anymore.

P.S. You can get a look at the Spotify Top 200 here right now, just never forget it changes EVERY DAY, the once a week chart is ANTIQUATED!:

Spotify charts regional


via Lefsetz Letter

December 29, 2017 at 10:33AM