Saturday, August 20, 2016

Up In Smoke*

*I couldn't think of a better title that describes cannabis and the state of artist discovery and development in 2016

I had a blast the other night appearing on the Elevate the Conversation podcast/show with @IAmDoctor420.

I'm a huge advocate for the use of cannabis as a medicinal alternative. I always have been. I think the amount of prescribed and over the counter medications that exist that are part of the pharmaceutical is such a huge business and so dangerous in long terms and in addiction, that to ignore the benefits of naturally grown cannabis to deal with the ailments a lot of the patients go to use cannabis is absolutely criminal. Cannabis is considered a class 1 drug by the DEA. That puts it in the category with Heroin, crystal Method and other drugs that are chemically created and have a dangerous effect in long term use. This alone is absurd.

Of course, the social and recreational use is a huge part of medicinal cannabis, but let's look at what we are talking about. It's not heroin. Seriously.

I have always heard the term "gateway" drug when referring to cannabis and that in itself is ridiculous. That's like saying beer is a gateway to alcoholism. These are both social and recreational substances that when enjoyed are normal. When abused, sure they can be dangerous. The only difference is you don't get in fights when medicated. You go to sleep. You don't hear about medicated driving as much as you hear about drunk driving. Shit, more people drive high on Xanax daily (pharmaceutical approved) and that's dangerous as fuck. Combine that with alcohol and you have people blacking out. You don't black out in cannabis.

The "gateway" factor comes from something deeper in someone's subconscious and issues that elevate the opportunity of addiction. But, you can't blame that path in cannabis. If you do, blame Zoloft, Paxil, klonopin, Xanax, oxycontin and every other prescribed medication. Abuse is going to happen as long as people are prescribed them and don't deal with other issues that drive them to addiction.

I grew up with a mother who had rheumatoid arthritis. I think she was on (at least) 6 different meds a day to treat various things. She didn't want to live on those. Who does? In the mid 80's I remember she was prescribed medicinal cannabis to help with certain parts of her daily pains and ailments. I don't think she stuck with it as long as someone would, but in 1985, medicinal cannabis was not understood or agreed on socially and medically. So, in the long run, she stuck with prescribed meds and drank socially. Socially of course leads to drinking daily. She wasn't an alcoholic, but defiantly drank to close out the night. Again, I don't blame her. I can't imagine what it was like to be in her body, looking at the world through limited opportunities, mostly physically. Not being about to walk, do things independently, like cook dinner for us. But she was my queen in teaching me how to do it through her. I'm grateful. I can't imagine how life would have been if the stigma of cannabis use was not so frowned upon. I think she would have had an easier time than resorting to drinking. Plus, for a frail woman, her appetite would have increased rather than not being able to eat well because of all the pills that I'm sure mixed would make you nauseous and unable to actually eat.

I've known many addicts and alcoholics in my life. I must say, it's a rare thing when you get to know one who doesn't have a story of some sort of traumatic experience that has been buried or silenced for decades that comes out eventually and they turn to substance abuse, but never has it been from smoking a joint.

I'm a casual user. If I was Cheech and Chong, I'd be Cheech. The guy that looks the part, acts the part, but when it comes down to it, is a huge lightweight. When I'm with friends, they can blaze up and I just look in amazement on what they can take down and function. I know my limits. My best friend is my Chong. She could match Snoop Dogg dab for dab. But what's amazing to me is, she's 100% aware, functional and responsible. Sure a pothead, but not the stereotypical, living in her parent garage not working and not doing anything. I admire the dedication and love she has for her job, being reliable and aware. That's today's real cannabis users. Of course the basement living stereotypes exist, but it's not all of them.

There people that I always have had a problem with that criticized and looked down upon cannabis use. I think I'm pretty safe to say that 80% of them were wine drinkers. Very judgmental while having no problem posting photos of them at a winery enjoying a Merlot or at a "classy" gathering of cheese and wine.

Well, let's compare the two.

Both come and are cultivated by the earth. Makers of wine are artists. They blend, they are scientific about it, where they grow it, weather conditions. The same can be said about cannabis growers. What they do with earth, blending and cultivating grows these plants into beautiful works of nature.

The time to harvest, the time it takes to actually get it ready, pick at the right time and prepare. Both growers are very organic and try not to grow with pesticides and harmful products to compromise their grows.

In wine, you have a Sommeliers who is an expert in wine to help you find exactly what you are looking in taste and mood as well for pairing with food. In cannabis, dispensaries have experts who go the same. What are you looking for in flavor, mood, feel and ailment.

When you open a bottle of wine, you smell, taste and have a process to judge the quality. With cannabis, the dispensary will have jars of flower that you can smell, look at under a magnifying glass to see the bud up close and see the beauty, colors and texture of the strain.

Even to the point of the enjoyment, the crafting of glass. In wine, beautiful glass is made to drink from, decanters all for presentation and use. Same is done with cannabis. Glass is blown for pipes, dab rigs and bongs. They are works of art that are useful.

So, in the end the similarities are there, but the stigma of cannibus makes these wine appreciating people superior culturally over cannibus users.

My thing about this is that is I feel like these people that frown upon cannabis users while drinking their wine is they maybe should put themselves in the place of these people that use it for medicinal purposes to aid them with an illness that include nausea, loss of appetite, migraines, fatigue, anxiety and so many other ailments people go to cannabis for... Ironically, the same side effects you have from drinking too much... Wine.

You go to a dispensary in Los Angeles and it never fails who you run into. People of all races, religions, age and socioeconomic backgrounds. It's a legitimate alternative for people. They don't judge each other while in there, the people who run these places look happy to be able to offer this service that makes people feel better. Dr. 420 was a very successful spinal surgeon prior to becoming a doctor who can give recommendation letters to grant these patients the opportunities of cannabis. He will be the first to say that it's the most gratifying thing he's ever done, because these people who come to him have been in hell for years and this is their final chance. His service is great, because in our world, the continuing stigma attached to cannabis is still frowned upon and the way he does it is not by going to Venice Beach and walking into some weird house that makes you feel like you are doing something wrong. It's over his site, he gets online with you talks to you about your issues and supports your decision. If I wasn't a patient already and wasn't sure of the decision, after talking to him, I'd be sold from feeling good about it.

The show was informative, funny and I got to talk about the music business. A few people I know watched it and thought the insight I had with regard to today's music industry and musical artistry was good. I'm far from an expert. I'm a dummy who used to be in it and has a passion for music, trends (music, technology, etc) and just wants to figure it out.

If any of this sounds of interest to you and you are tired of the olympics, the 24 hour news cycle, Donald Trump and all the other bullshit we get stuck with, watch this Interview and the others he's posted from his show. There are video versions on youtube and podcast versions.

Itunes Podcast version

He's a funny motherfucker.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

You're The Reason I Can't Listen To The Same Songs I Used To

Being someone who has spend his entire adult life in a business that has pretty much collapsed, I have been in this place trying to figure out what to do on a creative level.

I worked in music, but was never a musician, so writing songs was never an option. I don't know how to craft the words into poetry like so many of the people i listen to.

Art has always been a frustrating thing for me to understand, so I learned how to admire it and appreciate it. More than anything, how to use other peoples words to create a feeling that I can share with others.

I've been doing this since i was kid. The mixtape.

Even though I don't work at a record company anymore, I still have the great pleasure to work with artists. It's consulting, managing, advising.

The real challenge this time around is that the entire world of discovery has changed. So many places to hear music, so many ways to distribute it. These are all great things, but the problem becomes that it's an overcrowded space. Not enough hours in the day to listen to everything. So many distractions to keep people focused enough to appreciate music as an experience. The Album has become a hard thing to drive people towards. Its a singles world.

The mix tape concept can still exist on soundcloud or spotify, but there is something to be said about the art of giving something you put together as a gift. The physical presentation. The manual labor behind the curating and the song selections for the mood you are trying to convey. Creating art for it, the actual physical act of handing it to someone and having them take it somewhere to listen to it.

The physical product. The chances someone will take that tactile experience and take the next step to put it on, let it run uninterrupted, just seems more personal.

With digital mixes, you can't hand it to someone. You send a link and it ends up in a cue that may or may not make it it into the playlist. This while youtube, email, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Instant Message and TMZ alerts are all pausing the experience. The mixtape (CD), you can load in your car and get lost in the songs while battling traffic or just cruising home late at night.

I recently thought about this while working with a newer act called St. Ranger. His album is special. It's an album in the true sense. The problem, like mentioned before, is that nobody has the patience these days to listen to a full album. Too many distractions. So, the idea was to hook them with a song or two to subliminally make the next investment of time to explore further. I figured the best thing we could do, was create a mixtape based on the theme of one of his songs, "Happy". Get it to the audience and encourage them as a call to action, to get involved. Make their friend a mixtape, with the theme of one of the songs from his album. So far, it's generated some movement and actions to increase the experience. Take it old school.

When I started making mixtape in school, they were always for girls. You wanted to connect with them in a way that expressed what you felt. What you wanted them to know about you. What you felt about them. I would turn people onto bands through a song sandwiched between something they knew. That song would become their favorite, then the next song would, but it was a form of communicating with someone in a subliminal and romantic way. A soundtrack to the courting, the relationship and musically document what they would share and feel.

I think my favorite documentation of this in a movie was in Say Anything. The main character, Lloyd Dobbler made it his form of expression. Being someone who would get nervous and uotknow what to say, he would make a tape to express his feelings. He would use a song to express his love (in the most iconic use of a boombox ever in film or television). I could always relate to Lloyd. I wasn't as bad as he was in expressing thoughts, but music just did it better. Plus, we had the same taste in music.

Getting back to my attempts to work out my creative thoughts, I continued to keep coming up at a loss. But, I would remember fondly on the mixtape and what it meant and what it was. I would think of the joys it would take to go through the steps of the courting a girl, the falling in love and even the break up. There was always a theme and a mood to these tapes.

There was an excitement period where you would put your 1st tape together to just "court" the girl. Get her to see how "cool" you were. Charm her with your diverse taste in music and start the hinting about your feelings.

The next one would be the "loving" tape. The one where you would get romantic and show your love for her. Show her in someones words to express how these songs make you feel about you and her. You would find the slow song... the one that would become "your song".

Lastly, would be the "break up" Mixtape. The one where you would attempt everything to get her back. You'd plead and beg for her to give it another shot. The songs would be about love, loss and hope. This was usually the tape that never got listened to because you blew it and she was done.

I always thought this would be a great movie. Something everyone can relate to. But, I'm not a writer. I just make mix tapes.

Click the links and listen to these 3 stages. If you like them, download them. Burn them, share them.

If anything, go back to that time in our life, when you showed and shared your emotions through song.

Music is a gift.

Friday, April 22, 2016

You're Sheer Perfection (Thank You)

When I read the rumor yesterday that someone had been found unresponsive at Paisley Park, I got mad that anyone would create a stupid rumor. But, in typical fashion, the rumor was proven right within 5 minutes of the original post.

Prince was dead.

I was about to start teaching a class to 6 young students who weren't even a thought in their parents minds when Purple Rain came out. Shit, They weren't a thought when Emancipation was released... But what was amazing was when I told them the news, it hit them as if it was an artist they grew up on, just as I did.

I taught my class and every 10 minutes, i would have to break my lecture to talk about Prince. But, it didn't hit me emotionally, it was more of the shock and the memories I had that related to him and his music. I actually finished the class early by 15 minutes, which is something I never do, because I like to hear myself talk... but I was out of things to say. It really was shock.

After that, I spoke to a couple friends, but still wasn't hitting me. Then every station was doing their tributes, monuments being lit up in purple, news reports, twitter comments, Facebook comments. There was no ignoring the truth.

This morning it hit me and I got to remembering why this individual was so important to me. It was the music. It was the swagger. It was the punk rock. It was the fuck it attitude. It was everything he was about.

I first heard Prince in (I want to say) 1980. My friend Nakato Mubanda, who was a few years older than me let me borrow Prince's 2nd album. We both lived in Waterside Plaza and Nakato and her brothers were like an extended family. We all knew each other from going to school together, hanging out on the plaza together, it was NYC in the 80's. She handed me the album and I remember looking at it wondering who this dude was and why was he on a Pegasus on the back? I put that album on and I don't think a week has gone past where I haven't listened to something by Prince. I still have that record. I think it's too late to give it back. plus, I don't know where Nakato is, but I love her and her brothers and thank her for our friendship to this day.

My love for Prince would only continue for the years. I remember buying Controversy and actually learning The Lords Prayer because of this album. It was kinda how i learned my times tables through Schoolhouse Rock. It needed to be something I could sing, I guess. Anyway, that album came with (like many of Prince's LP's) a poster of Prince in a bikini in the shower with a crucifix hanging on the shower tile. I thought this was the funniest thing ever and remember showing it to my mother thinking she would hate it Well, she didn't. So much for teenage rebellion. Only Prince could come up with songs, lyrics and imagery that would stick in your head forever. He was also that artists that could put such a poster in the album and both women and guys (straight or gay) would hang it up in their room.

Then of course would come 1999 and MTV. We all knew Little Red Corvette by heart and 1999 of course. But it was that double album that we would all learn word for word and play at every party. This songs introduced people to Prince, but he wasn't about only the hits. We all knew what D.M.S.R. stood for and that was an album track. Every song on this album sounds just as fresh today as it did in 1981. The man was brilliant. How many artists could write a song about the millennium 18 years the would become the anthem for the turn of the century?

Then there was Purple Rain. I remember being in Nova Scotia visiting family that summer. I had just turned 15 and the movie was coming out the following week. I made my dad take me, because there was no way I was going to miss that film the day it came out. It was a musical version Star Wars. I just watched it and felt like, what the fuck just happened. You could feel something happening to everyone there and it showed as the year went on. Prince was now a household name. The album was a classic. It was still Prince. He never changed for anyone. it was sexual, controversial, heart felt, funky, guitar heavy and pop. Nobody could do that and cross so many musical genres and gain such die acceptance from everyone.

I could go on and on about the obvious... but I feel like everyone has the same types of memories. Some additional highlights that involved Prince included... He was the only artists I camped out all night to get tickets to his 1988 Lovesexy Tour at Madison Square Garden (i snuck in a tape recorder and taped it), I got to see his purple BMW parked outside of the Record Plant everyday while Tim Palmer was mixing the debut Sponge album. During that time, found out that Prince would go in around 10pm, write, record and mix a whole album by the following morning. I actually got to see him there once. We were told not to look at him, but I was all "fuck that, I'm looking", so I did and when he saw me I immediately looked at the floor. Yes he had that kind of vibe.

I got to see him play two surprise shows at the House of Blues, one private event at Roseland, traded tapes with other fans of rarities, live shows and demos (much like the Grateful Dead fans would trade live shows), made many friends just because of our love of Prince.

I think I own every 12" he ever put out and every CD. With Prince, it wasn't about the hits. It was about the b-sides as well. There are so many songs that people may or may not know about. For example, the B-side of Mountains, from Parade was "Alexa De Paris" instrumental that he plays drums on that just will blow your mind. I would have posted it, but you won't find it online.

All the songs he wrote for other people that were huge, the artists he nurtured, the careers he made and the musicians he discovered... his legacy is one of a legend indeed.

I will forever miss him. Even though I wasn't into the later stuff as much, he was still and will only be the only Prince.

What other artist could be identified by a single name, a symbol and a color.

If you need me, I'll never leave
I know, that you know, without you there is no me
There is no me
Without you there is no sea
There is no shore
Love is to weak to define how much I adore
You, child
You, child
The last words you hear

Goodnight, Sweet Prince.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Give me a moment, some kind of mysterious

I gave up on music videos a while ago.  Mostly because there was no place to really watch them and the fact that the majority of them became product placement commercials for headphones, body spray and Samsung.

A couple months ago I was watching Palladia on Directv.  Palladia shows great concert films, performances, and events like Glastonbury.  Places I would love to go and see live, but as I've gotten older, much more enjoy from my couch.  Less people, less mud and better views and sound.
I was busy cooking dinner or something and it was just serving as background noise that I could look over at times to see what was happening.  Whatever I was originally watching was already over, but the TV was still on and stuff was still playing.  I suddenly heard a song I wasn't familiar with, but recognized the voice.  I walked over to my TV and it was a video for a song by The Killers called "Shot at the Night" from their Direct Hits album.  The song itself was great, but I wanted to see the video.  I hit rewind on my remote and started from the beginning.  From the moment the song began, the visual grabbed me to the point that I had to sit down and watch.  I did this about 4 more times in a row.

The song, like I said, is fantastic, but this visual that told a story to this song was even better.  A beautiful story, with great direction and acting.  It actually tugged on my heartstrings in such a way, that this song has became my obsession for months.  The combination of the video and song did everything I love about the how the two mediums can complement each other to elevate the feeling to a whole other place you never knew existed. The video for "Shot at the Night" is (to me) a short film and not a music video.  A story of a working class girl from Las Vegas, who works at a hotel where people come in and out and both her and the visitors are just faceless and interchangeable objects in a 24 hour period.  The girl (portrayed by Bella Heathcote), represents (and totally nails) a naturally beautiful, lonely girl who's life is a repetitive, uneventful cycle of just her and her cat.  She goes to work, goes home and then back to work.  Until one day, while driving the strip of Las Vegas in her beat up, old used car almost hits a young man as she daydreams while behind the wheel.  The two lock eyes for a brief moment, they smile and she continues to her soulless job.  As she continues her daily duties, she once again almost hits this same young man, this time with her housekeeping cart.  It's a deja vu moment for the two that is kismet.  The young man, (perfectly cast Max Minghella), invites the young housekeeper to join him and his friends for the evening.  The young housekeeper goes in the room with the girl that is with the young men and she pulls out  a dress for the evening for them to go out.  The young housekeeper then reveals herself a Cinderella story.  They leave and she goes out to live outside of who she is for her "shot in the night".  The visuals of the two new found lovers is so romantic as they experience each other with such passion, I felt like I was experiencing that magical feeling with them.

As this is all happening, you have Brandon Flowers singing the song from above in a room overlooking the Las Vegas night like a Greek chorus or narrator.  His presence is perfect for this story.

What I love so much about this is that the song, (when I listen) gives me a romantic feeling that I could paint into any situation, but this story (written and directed by Roboshobo) feels like the song was written just for this story.  The video served the purpose I always felt a great video was made for.  It took my emotions for a song to the next level.
When music videos first came out, it was such an exciting time.  As a kid watching MTV at 12 years old, I was just starting to go to shows, but prior to the music video, I would spend hours a day listening to an album, looking at the album cover, reading the lyrics, liner notes, reading magazines like Rolling Stone, Creem, Hit Parader anything that could take me further into the world of these songs and voices.  Waiting for concert films or the actual acts to do a concert to come to town, so I could experience what I have spent so much time looking at still photos.

Images in magazines of Gene Simmons spitting blood, Pete Townesnd doing a windmill or Paul Weller and Bruce Foxton jumping (what looked like) 10 feet in the air.  The music video now allowed me to see this.  I would then spend my time between watching videos and reading liner notes.  The level of passion for a song was beginning to go to another level.  Of course, with this new level of connection, I would start making mix tapes for girls and send them musical love letters...That's another story.

When the music video first came out, there was so much trial and error of what to do with this medium.  The concert performance that brought the pages of the magazines to life.  Seeing David Lee Roth do his martial arts kicks, NWA taking you to Compton or even Tom Petty telling you the story of Eddie as he took you "Into the Great Wide Open".  Sure, there were more stinkers than winners, but it was a work in progress.

This new art of being able to mix the feeling of a song to a visual became a new experience that to this day I can't explain in words.   My first experience of this was the film "Over the Edge".  The soundtrack was adolescence of the late 70's explained in  11 songs.  In the 80's teen films were amazing, because the music placed in a film was doing this emotional enhancement by raising the bar of a moment with a song.  Certain directors were masters of this.  John Hughes comes to mind immediately.  The use of "If You We're Here" by Thompson Twins at the end of Sixteen Candles or "Don't You Forget About Me" at the end of Breakfast Club were as important to the scene as what was happening on screen.  The song never had to literally fit the scene, just hold the same feeling of what you were watching, whether it was a melody or a chorus.  John Hughes used "This Woman's Work" by Kate Bush in his (not as successful) film She's Having A Baby as there is uncertainty of the birth of this couples child.  The tone and vocal of Kate Bush, took this frightening and joyful moment and made you feel it in your soul.  John Hughes was a master.  There are other directors that share this same level of importance that music plays telling (or feeling) a story .  Cameron Crowe and more recently, Zack Braff with Garden State and Judd Apatow (and all affiliated directors). There are many more, but I can't think of them right now.

Television has been the place that has been carrying the creative flag of well done placement of music to a feeling in a story.  The beauty of this has been that it's been an amazing place for new artists to be discovered and exposed.  Judd Apatow and Paul Feig were so good at this in the brilliant "Freaks and Geeks"that they held off from putting out the box set until the songs used were all cleared.  The use of the songs were as important as the dialogue.  One scene that comes to mind, was a scene where the character "Bill" comes home after school to reveal that he is an only child of a single mother and (like many kids of the 70's and 80's) was a "latchkey" kid.  He comes home, makes himself a sandwich, and watches the Dinah Shore show as Gary Shandling performs Stand Up.  The scene has no dialogue and is sound tracked by "I'm One"by The Who.

This is magic. Another moment of sheer brilliance and could not have closed and wrapped up a series better was the use of Sia "Breathe Me" to close Six Feet Under.  I don't know one person who wasn't effected to the point of crying and being saddened when it was over.  I was in a dark haze for 2 weeks.  Without the use of the song, I really don;t know if it would have been the same.  Nor, do I care.  Because, this is how I feel it had to be.

The soundtrack and the music video lost their way when it became about a financial win.  Soundtracks in the 90's started this with music "inspired by" soundtracks, putting together soundtracks to place their new acts on for exposure and handing over B sides of their A list acts.  This from my experience, was not due to the supervisors, but the label dictating placements. The "Inspired by" songs were dumped into a soundtrack that are never even heard in the film or had any association other than using film artwork.  The Matrix, Spiderman, Hunger Games, etc... and the music video became a product placement source.  You watch any video and for no reason, someone opens a Sprite or grabs some Beats Headphones.  The passion and magic was removed.

I'm sure there are lots of videos out there that aren't any of the above, but unfortunately, the places you can see them have gone away.  MTV used to be so great at this.  From 120 Minutes, Headbangers Ball, Yo! MTV Raps..there was a way to find new music in all genres and feel new music. Palladia and AXStv hopefully will bring this back.  I'm not talking about the TRL rotation of the same videos, but blocks of discovery. 

"Shot At The Night" has given me hope as much as Brandon Flowers and The Killers continue to give me hope for long lasting bands who will continue to make great albums.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Oh Debbie...Hi.

I saw this documentary called Blondie's New York, that aired last week on the Smithsonian Channel (yeah, i never heard of that either).  It was about the making of the album Parallel Lines.  It featured the band and producer, Mike Chapman now, talking about making of the album, the writing and the recording.  Things like this are so awesome.  They usually have the artists sitting at a mixing console, soloing tracks as they talk about them.

Hearing Debbie Harry's vocals on "One Way Or Another" solo and her describing the recording and Mike Chapman describing his perspective really takes you back into the studio in 1977.  I could watch stuff like this all day. 

Parallel Lines was a total coming of age album for me.  I was 9 when it came out and Debbie Harry was my 1st crush.  Her voice, her look (even today) is still one of the sexiest women out there. 
From the moment "Hanging on the Telephone"* starts with a UK telephone ring tone, I get transported to when I first heard the album.  It still sounds just as fresh as it did 36 years ago.
*"Hanging on the Telephone" was originally written by The Nerves

Of course, this made me feel nostalgic and sad that bands like this don't exist anymore.  So while I spent all this time listening over and over to the album, my mind subconsciously ventured to another band favorite of mine from the 90's, Letters To Cleo.

I can't believe I never drew the comparison.  Not that Letters to Cleo were trying to be Blondie, they just shared a lot of the same musical DNA. Which would easily explain my immediate attraction to the band.

Blondie.  6 members.  Guitar and Singer relationship, killer drummer and key bookends to seal it all up.

Letters to Cleo.  5 members (ok not 6 like Blondie, but stick with me).  Guitar and singer relationship, killer drummer and key bookends to seal it up.

Singer.  Both women, Deborah Harry and Kay Hanley are tough as nails, beautiful and very distinct voices with as much attitude as sex appeal.

Both Chris Stein and Mike Eisenstein (Hello?  "Stein"?) are amazing guitar players and songwriters that complemented their romantic halves.

Stacy Jones and Clem Burke, both amazing drummers who both went on to play with other artists and hold amazing drummer reputations and great hair.

I'm not looking to short change Nigel Harrison, Jimmy Destri, Frank Infante, Scott Riebling or Greg McKenna but I don't want to go too into the history that I have looked up and know way too much.  I'm a fan, what can I say...

Musically, both bands crafted great pop/rock songs.  Both had great lyrics with a great sarcasm and truth.  Romance, great chorus and just great musicianship.  Their live shows also carried this vibe and you couldn't take your eyes off of their charismatic singers.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Letters To Cleo and call a few of them friends!  Even their Manager, Creamer who I love even though he's a Red Sox fan... That's a whole other blog. 

Kay even performed one time with Sponge on Conan O'Brien as a guest while they were on tour together.  Even with her just standing in the back singing back ups, she stole the show. 

Letters to Cleo never reached the level I feel they should have, but that's not their fault.  If the label was like Chrysalis was in the 70's and 80's, I have no doubt they would have gotten there.  The business was just different. Their records to me are timeless.

Blondie keeps doing it, Debbie Harry is still hot.  The songs are forever and albums like Parallel Lines are what make me LOVE music.

I have had a great week just listening to both catalogues of 2 great bands.  If reading this gets you to revisit them on YouTube, pull albums from your catalogue or even Spotify. 

If you trashed all your old albums,  I hope you take the time to go to a record store, buy a CD, LP or even to iTunes and put these bands into your rotation for a week.   It will leave you with a smile on your face.

Blondie are New York and Letters to Cleo are one of the only things I will ever admit to loving from Boston.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Paint A Vulgar Picture

After being someone who worked in the music industry for half my life, the one thing I dreaded becoming was the guy that would look at new bands or labels and say things like "back in my day".  I'm only 44, so my day wasn't really that long ago.

The speed that things have changed (not for the better) is incredible.  I don't care about the music and whether it's shitty or just unoriginal replicas of music from the past.  Ok I do care, but that's not the point of this post.  My issue today is how the opportunity of growth and development for an artist or band has become a thing of the past at a major label.  Now before I hear all about the indies, etc, that also is not the point of this.  I'm more talking about the boutique labels that existed as placed to grow and nurture before the big money and hits came.  Labels that existed within a label or were distributed by a major system, but didn't have the major label money to spend to develop those bands.  Sure the costs today are higher and the demise of record stores are also part of that, but there is always a way to adapt and adjust while still carrying on with the same marketing strategy.

Labels like IRS, Stiff, Reprise are ones that immediately come to mind.  But more important to me, Sire. Sire was home to The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Smiths, Madonna... The list is endless of great artists and bands. Sire was special mostly because if their large range of musical taste.  What they brought was almost always quality stuff that was new or important (even if we didn't know yet).  The commitment they had to artists was what mattered.  I didn't work with any bands that were on the label, nor did I work there (so those people might have a different thoughts), but I base my opinions on how I saw it.  Some of these bands broke into super stardom, some never got as big as they should have, but they did make a careers worth of material to be a band as a career (for the most part).  But specifically, Sire put out albums that made a mark and were important in their quality and what they will mean to people in the future.  Benchmark albums that get cited in the "most influential album" lists. 

I just got the brilliant new album by Against Me!

Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an album that belongs on Sire.  The only problem is, Sire dropped them 4 years ago.

Against Me! Had the luxury of putting out 3 albums independently and 2 on Sire.  The first release came out on (very small indie) No Idea.  Got a place to grow and build a fan base with Fat Wreck Chords for 2 albums.  Following those releases, they then made the bold move to Sire for the next 2 releases.  I'll be honest, I would always get mad when punk bands did this move to a major.  And I'll say it.  This was always because I was jealous that it wasn't me doing it.  That's the truth.

The move to Sire was to grow bigger, get more opportunities, sell more records.  Makes sense.  Sire made sense. Shit, if I was managing them, I would have done it too.  Only at this point the business was changing and the major label system wasn't changing with it.  The life span of a new or developing artist is not very long.  The numbers needed to keep a band working on a major are also amazing.  Because a release that sells 50,000 copies is a huge success on an indie, but a flop on a major. 

Against Me! did exactly what what it was supposed to do.  They made 2 great album and got bigger.  They grew with the opportunity.  They were following the Sire model.  Only, Sire wasn't that Sire anymore and that model was long broken. I'm not blaming those that were there, it's just the system and the loss of artist development vision.  They tore the trees from the field for not growing fast enough.  Sure, sometimes things happen faster, but that's a fluke (Offspring).  They failed to let them grow even though the roots were strong.   The billboard debuts for both records showed they were on their way.  New Wave entered at 57 and the follow up White Crosses at 34.  The touring was growing and the merchandise was insane, radio was playing them.  So why drop them?  It became a numbers game and the cost of keeping them wasn't worth it.  If this was the case back in the day, The Ramones would never have gotten to Road to Ruin, The Smiths would never have gotten to The Queen is Dead and Talking Heads would never have been able to release Fear of Music.

It looks like it became a blessing in disguise because on January 21st, 4 years after White Crosses came out, Against Me! debuted at number 34.  The album was released on Total Treble Music, the bands own label.

I'm happy for them, because this is a true rock and roll record.  If say punk album, but the word has been butchered so much, it would devalue it.  They never gave up and instead Laura Jane Grace and the band put it all into this, almost rebirth of Against Me!

Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an album about depression, living as someone you aren't, all the things that come with it and changing who you are and the what comes with that.  I think it's a important album for anyone who is struggling with any of these issues to know they aren't alone and hopefully gives them strength to live a full and happy life.  It's also an album for people to feel the pain some people have when dealing with these issues as well.  Learn how they feel and how to be supportive.

I hope as an indie, it gets the attention it deserves, but I can't help but wish it had a chance with the support of a Sire of yesteryear.  This album would fit right up there next to classics like Meat is Murder and Music for the Masses or Remain in Light

When The Smiths released the album "Strangeways Here We Come", the song Paint A Vulgar Picture always stood out to me.  Mostly because of the music and melody, but also because of the lyrics.  I kind of got what Morrissey was saying, but not really until I got into the business.  The story behind the song, is basically when an artist dies, the record company finds a way to parade the catalogue and anything they can to make a buck from what's over.

Catalogue is the meat of a label to make money.  It makes sense.  Exploit the catalogue, hope to please fans and make new ones while getting as much from your investment than you can.

But to sell a catalogue, you need to have a catalogue.  Having a greatest hits album with only 2 albums worth of catalogue is not a career.

By not developing artists anymore like they used to by investing time and money in something they believe in is killing it off, shortening careers and aborting the possibility of what could be.   

Just imagine if the business was then how it is today.  I'm sure you can make a list of bands who  would never have made it.

I would post a link to stream Transgender Dysphoria Blues, but I would rather you plopped down $9.99 and supported the independent artist, rock and roll and future careers.

Here's to the the underdogs and here's to Laura Jane Grace

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wack A Mole

One thing about life is that nothing is ever easy.  It doesn't go in a straight line, so you adjust and roll with what you got.  You'll get a curve ball every once in a while, but that's just what it is...

The place where my kid has a coach at the batting cages have a shirt that says "When life throws you a curve ball wait for your pitch because every pitch is a new beginning and a new opportunity to make something happen"... who would think you'd get Confucius types of inspiration at a batting cage.

My life has been a world of the game wack a mole.  All goes well, then something pops up.  You fix, adjust and get back on track until the next mole pops up.  Growing up, my mom had rheumatoid arthritis.  It was tough, not because she was limited in what she did.  But because she was limited in what she (and I) wanted her to do.  Most of that was physical participation in things you could just see her desire.  It wasn't going to ever happen, but that never stopped her from being the strongest, most important person in my life.  Her strength, made me able to deal with any curve that came my way.  It was like being her youngest and taking care of her with the things she couldn't do on her own, was preparing me for the wack a mole game of adulthood.  The hardest part was never her limitations, but it was more how others dealt with it.  It was never the people closest to her, it was usually the rest of the world.  You spend enough time with someone and you see how someone adapts to situations and you grow in patience.  You travel outside of that circle and face the real world.  That world that is filled with people without compassion and patience.  But that's just the way it is.  The ultimate curve ball you face on a daily basis. 

I had my first son 10 years ago.  He's an amazing kid.  The 1st year of life as parents is nothing but curve balls, but we did great.  After he turned one, we saw some regression in behavior.  At 2, we got the diagnosis that he had Autism.  There is a scale of kids with autism, and luckily for us, he was on the more mild side.  But that didn't make it any easier.  Lots to learn, lots to do and the poor little guy just has it harder than a "typical" kid, only because things take longer to learn and certain milestones come later in life.  Seeing my little guy have a harder time adapting to situations that are unfamiliar, learning something new is tough, but he always gets past it and does great.  Batting cages went from being crying and screaming for the first 2 sessions to not missing one pitch and whacking them all the way to the back of the cage.  I see him make so many breakthroughs that makes me feel so proud and good about his path forward.

As a parent, you just want your kid to enjoy his life.  have a chance at individualism.  Make great (and wrong) decisions.  And become happy at what he decides he wants to do.  We aren't there, but we are on the right path.  I get so many moments of happiness on his progress.  Then comes the curve ball.

Today, after doing some things in the morning.  He told me he wanted to go to a movie.  There wasn't anything playing that I thought he would be request, so i made the decision of going to see Man Of Steel.  He was stoked.  Got there, got our popcorn, go to our seats (always in the back row to not disturb anyone) and as the movie started, he got into a giggle fit.  The 1st 10 minutes, i spent the time saying "shhh" and "be quiet"... He gets into these fits sometimes of giggles where they aren't going to stop.  This was one of them.  I did everything  I could.  Finally I got stern and in a quiet voice said "Please stop"...all of the sudden a voice from 4 seats to my left said "Yeah, please stop".  Yeah.  That didn't sit with me well.  I turned to the guy and said "He has autism.  Give me a fucking break"  the man sunk into his seat and said "i didn't know".  He got up, walked passed us and leaned over to my son and said "sorry. enjoy the film" and he went to the front of the room.  It was interesting how quickly he changed his tune.  Which was cool that he had a heart, but it totally let the air out of my tires and killed my spirit.  It was a reality curve ball that told me that my little guy wasn't there yet.  He continued to giggle, but by this point I just wanted him to enjoy the film.  There was another woman sitting in front of us who i didn't want to disturb, so we moved to the end of the aisle.  He enjoyed the film and at the end, I wanted tot wait until everyone left to leave.  The woman got up and walked over to us.  All I could think was i was going to get another person saying something lame.  She leaned over to me and said "You did a great job" and then leaned to my son and said "You did a great job too".  I had so many things I wanted to say, but got caught up in the moment and could just say "Thank you".  She then said "I have an 8 year old with autism as well".  That killed me.  I got choked up. I took my kid and for the rest of the credits and hugged him. 

I don't think I would have been prepared for any of these curve balls if it wasn't for my mother.  That boot camp that was life of having someone who needs more help isn't easy for anyone, but It helps.