All posts by Stephen Macaulay

Surveys and Selflessness

If there is one thing that is well known it is that Americans like to eat. They may not always eat the best of foods (predicated on the proliferation fast-food restaurants), but be that as it may, they go out to do it. Yes, there is an explosion in delivery service demand, but there is the reopening—and reclosing—of restaurants across the country.

The researchers at Morning Consult asked a statistically valid group of Americans about when they’d feel comfortable doing certain things.

And when it comes to “Going out to eat,” the number of Americans is robust.

That is, 30% of those answered “Next month.” And the information is as fresh as July 20-22.

In addition to which, 18% said next two or three months, 9% next six months, and just 28% said more than six months. Only 14% didn’t have an opinion.

But when it comes to concerts, things are not as robust. A full 46% said it would be more than six months. Eleven percent said within the next six months. Twenty-four percent had no opinion. The remainder is split between next and the next two to three months. Doing the math, that says 55% are looking at early next year and if we add the uncertain 24%, that means that there is only 21% who are saying they’ll go soon.

So this means about a fifth of those surveyed are ready to go. That should be contrasted with the 38% of the hungry who are going to be served within the next three months.

(In case you’re wondering, going to the movies is slightly less challenged, with 52% saying six or more months before buying a seat and a bucket of popcorn.)

Perhaps what some music promoters ought to do is to bring back dinner theater.

Admittedly a cringeworthy idea, but they’re going to need more than 21% to make their nut. So maybe they need to forget the whole concerts at drive-ins and setup concerts at restaurants.

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In both economics and philosophy there is an interest in the notion of altruism, doing something selflessly for someone else.

As it is described in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Behavior is normally described as altruistic when it is motivated by a desire to benefit someone other than oneself for that person’s sake. The term is used as the contrary of ‘self-interested’ or ‘selfish’ or ‘egoistic’—words applied to behavior that is motivated solely by the desire to benefit oneself.”

It goes on to say that there is a question of whether that is ever really the case that one behaves in such a manner: “According to a doctrine called ‘psychological egoism’, all human action is ultimately motivated by self-interest. The psychological egoist can agree with the idea, endorsed by common sense, that we often seek to benefit others besides ourselves; but he says that when we do so, that is because we regard helping others as a mere means to our own good.”

In other words, if you have $5 in your pocket and are on the way to Starbucks to buy a beverage but then see someone who is evidently needy and panhandling, by giving that person your $5 are you being selfless and altruistic—forgoing that delicious drink—or is the act of giving that person the money even more satisfying to you than the beverage, therefore providing a benefit to yourself?

Which brings me to Garth Brooks.

Continue reading Surveys and Selflessness

An Odd Couple Create a Lifeline for Venues

“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”

“The Mourning Bride”, William Congreve, 1697

It may be hard to conceive, but there was actually legislation presented in the US Senate this week to help keep the spotlights on and the amps operating at small music venues.

Why is what is literally named the “Save Our Stages” act so surprising is because it is sponsored by two people who seemingly have nothing more in common than the fact that they work in the same building.

One of the sponsors is Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the woman who had been running for the Democratic presidential nomination with the message that a bit of common sense and decency (contrasted with the ways and means of the current resident of 1600) are in order.

The other is John Cornyn (R-TX), the man who is generally seen only standing behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, positioned in such a way that you have the sense that he would take a bullet for Mitch, the senator who has proven to be as craven as is conceivable.

The word from Klobuchar is “Minnesota’s concert halls, theatres, and places of entertainment, like First Avenue in Minneapolis, where Prince famously performed, have inspired generations with the best of local music, art, and education. This legislation would help ensure that small entertainment venues can continue to operate, and serve our communities for generations to come.”

Which has a sense of Midwestern practicality and forthrightness about it: she evidently understands that the arts are not superfluous to the education of people of all ages.

Cornyn said, “Texas is home to a number of historic and world-class small entertainment venues, many of which remain shuttered after being the first businesses to close. The culture around Texas dance halls and live music has shaped generations, and this legislation would give them the resources to reopen their doors and continue educating and inspiring Texans beyond the coronavirus pandemic.”

Given that the reopening of Texas—based on the explosion in the number of cases of COVID-19—occurred a bit too soon thanks to Governor Greg Abbott’s evident fealty to the King Who Is Wearing No Clothes, one hopes that this means that the reopening Cornyn is referring to is something that will happen only after there is control of the virus.

Cornyn strikes me as the kind of politician that only Hunter S. Thompson could have adequately described.

What is interesting (and laudable) about the act is that it would provide six months of financial support to venues (including paying employees; it would allow the Small Business Administration to make grants that are equal to the lesser of either 45% of operation costs from calendar year 2019—you need to base the amount on a normal year—or $12 million) that are not arms of giant organizations.

Continue reading An Odd Couple Create a Lifeline for Venues

The Lights (ultra-violet) of Seattle

When you think of Seattle, there is undoubtedly an entire genre of music that comes to mind, one spawned from the misty environs and which continues to resonate even throughout culture at large in a way that few other types of music do, and it is all the more unusual in that it is known by people who have never heard a dour note of the sound.

Seattle, of course, is the place from whence Starbucks arose, and when people go into their local store (and given that in 2019 there were approximately 15,000 Starbucks outlets in the US, local is absolutely nearby) and order the “regular” coffee, Pike Place, that goes to the Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, which was a hip farmers’ market before things like that existed.

And Seattle is the home of Microsoft, which has somehow become far less evil than it was once perceived to be (and Bill Gates has gone from a guy who had horns drawn on his picture to one of the few sensible non-political public figures on the planet, which is validated by the fact that there are those of the mouth-breathing set who have conspiratorial views of the man), as well as Boeing—although the company moved its HQ to Chicago, and given everything from the 737 debacle to the fact that British Air has announced that it is going to permanently park its fleet of 747s—and it is the airline with the greatest number of those flying behemoths—it is perhaps not the industrial crown jewel of Seattle as it once was.

Last but certainly not least, there is Amazon, too.

Given the diversity of these things—from Cobain to Bezos (and let’s not forget Tom Robbins became a Seattlite)—there must be something in the. . .coffee.

In 1962, for the World’s Fair being held in Seattle (named the “Century 21 Exposition,” which probably has nothing to do with the real estate firm of that name), the 605-foot Space Needle was opened. (At this point you’re thinking that there isn’t a whole lot of music in this, so know that during the first year the Space Needle was opened, Elvis took the elevator up to the saucer-shaped structure where people can see the planet below, and 31 years later Nirvana did, too. And another musical aspect is that if you take the monorail—yes, part of the Century 21 execution—and get off at the stop for the Space Needle, you’re just as proximate in space to the Frank Gehry-designed Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, which was founded by the aforementioned Gates’ Microsoft co-founder, the late Paul Allen in 2000; it is now known as the Museum of Pop Culture, and among the pop cultural artifacts are those of Jimi Hendrix, another son of Seattle.)

Of course, COVID-19 shut the Space Needle down. A recent story in GeekWire—another Seattle-based endeavor—details the measures that are being taken by Needle to make it safe to reopen, measures that include visitors—and know that pre-C-19 there were thousands per day some days—passing through Far-UV-C devices that kill the virus (no mere thermal scanning here). What’s more, there is an extensive use of UV lights throughout the structure, including in the elevator cars, which travel outside and which bring in outside air that is treated before it is expelled: there are Far-UV-lights on the ceiling of each of the elevator cars. And there will be elevator operators in each of the cars pushing the buttons, just like in the early days of the elevator.

Continue reading The Lights (ultra-violet) of Seattle

Workin’ for a Livin’

I remember seeing a photograph of The Beatles nearly buried in a massive snowdrift of fan mail.

Or maybe it was The Monkees.

Either way, there were certainly a lot of cards and letters sent their way by adoring fans and probably by a number of people who they would have probably preferred liked the Stones. (Assuming we’re talking The Beatles here. Otherwise I’m not sure who the appropriate foil would be. The Archies?)

Certainly, there were people who worked for the bands who opened the letters and possibly responded to them. Remember: this was an earlier time when things like that were conceivable. (E.g., I sent a letter to Morgus, host of “Morgus Presents,” and I received a postcard in return, so while the host of bad horror movies at 11:30 pm on Friday nights may not have been to the level of any of the aforementioned, it proves my point. Somewhat.)

If you think about it, bands today have a lot of people working for them. There are the folks like the managers and the publicists. There are the people who take care of instruments. There are the people who take care of the equipment, everything from amps to snacks. There are the people who handle logistics. And on and on and on. A veritable not-necessarily-so-small business.

Many of us have a romantic notion of what a rock and roll band is (talking in the context of bands who more people are aware of than who, for example, remember Morgus).

Like as Roger Daltrey writes in his Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite, of The Who’s early touring:

“It was on one of those long trips to Margate, Folkestone or Dover that I broke our beautiful new van. Okay, it wasn’t beautiful and it wasn’t new either. It was an old Post Office Austin with sliding doors. . . . The main thing was that it worked. . .or did until I hit a railway bridge. . . .

“It had a huge dent in the front, which we fixed with the help of a lamppost opposite my mum’s house, a heavy chain, and a flying start in reverse. I sorted out the door with some two-by-four timber, a hacksaw, and some sheet metal. Any further dents, Pete painted red to look like dripping wounds. Good as new, except the rest of the band had to climb through from the driver’s seat.”

That was then. This isn’t.

While I am confident that there are a multiplicity of young and hungry musicians out there right now—and who would be out there on the road right now were it not for so many closed clubs, halls, bars, fairs, basements and other venues—many bands that we are cognizant of aren’t a group of rag-tag scrappy performers so much as proprietors of businesses.

Yes, businesses.

Continue reading Workin’ for a Livin’

C-19, Music & a Gratuitous “Hamilton” Gloss

As Disney+ has brought Hamilton to screens across the country, there is one character who has a standout performance and he is the guy who, presumably, we are supposed to love to hate: King George III. Here’s a guy who got the throne in 1760 and before too long, the ornery Americans started acting up and caused him all manner of trouble. In 1781 General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, and then in the following year, the Treaties of Paris were signed, thereby putting an end to the UK in America, at least until February 7, 1964, when the Beatles landed in a Pan Am flight from Heathrow at JFK. Since then, British musicians have pretty much taken back what Cornwallis lost.

COVID-19 has had an effect on the UK. just as it has on other countries. In fact, the UK government has done a particularly poor job of addressing the pandemic (well, not as bad as the U.S. government, but that is a whole mess onto itself), and even Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalized, having contracted the virus.

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center the UK is seventh on the list of countries with confirmed cases and third on the list of deaths from the virus. (Yes, the U.S. tops both of those lists by a considerable number: as this is being written the number of deaths in the U.S. is 129,438, which is more than double that of Brazil, at 61,884. What was that about “Great Again”?)

As can be readily imagined, the music industry in the UK has been hammered by the virus. So a campaign has been established named “Let the Music Play” and it is arguing that it needs “the Government to help the music industry, which contributes £5.2 billion to the economy annually and sustains almost 200,000 jobs to ensure it remains world-leading following the damage caused by this pandemic.”

George III would certainly like that “world-leading” bit.

Continue reading C-19, Music & a Gratuitous “Hamilton” Gloss

Reports from Right Now

When you hear people say, “The world has certainly changed since—” the timeframe is generally more than 20 years. But things—even though as we endure the seemingly endless COVID-19 conditions, which make one day seem pretty much like another and so time takes on a different dynamic from our personal perspectives—are accelerating such that what is arguably recent history at most seems like a quainter period of time.

Case in point: in London, on March 10, 2003, Natalie Maines, lead singer of the band then known as the Dixie Chicks, said to a concert crowd, “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”

The war she referred to was the Iraq War, which overthrew Saddam Hussein. It was the war that was part of the search for WMD. It was the war that included pronouncements from Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf that were so absurd and disconnected from reality that he became known as “Baghdad Bob.”

Here we are 17 years later, when the current president says things—at home and abroad—about his political foes, people from other countries, the media, judges, elected officials, and others that make Maines’ comment a case study in “Why was that a big deal?” Who talks about things like the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that makes what Baghdad Bob was saying seem as though it was sage, thoughtful commentary.

Maines’ comment in 2003 pretty much tanked the band’s career for a number of years because it was taken to be the height of insult, something that just wasn’t said, especially when one was in a different country. (Maines was born in Lubbock: one would imagine that proud Texans would have vociferously stood up for one of their own. After all, George W. Bush may have moved to Texas, but he was born in New Haven, Connecticut.)

Seventeen years seems like a century—or more—ago.

Continue reading Reports from Right Now

“If Music Be the Food of Love. . .”

Last week, more than 600 musicians and comedians signed a letter sent to Congress on behalf of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). In this letter, asking for aid, there is the following sentence: “We will know America is ‘back’ when our music venues are filled with fans enjoying concerts safely.”

Given what is happening out there, it seems as though America is not going to be back any time soon.

And according to the NIVA, “Due to the national routing of most tours, this industry will not recover until the entire country is open at 100% capacity.”

Again, 100% is a lot to shoot for unless you’re a craven politician who cares nothing about health and just adulation.

So what does the NIVA ask for? Things like the RESTART Act (S. 3814), which does things like provide money to businesses that is equal to six months’ payroll, benefits, and fixed operating costs. Up to 90% loan forgiveness for businesses that have fewer than 500 FTE (full-time equivalencies, as in people with jobs), and a 7-year payback period for the loans. Tax credit relief for a percentage of refunded tickets. Rent/mortgage tax credit (as in the Keeping the Lights on Act (H.R. 6799). An employee retention tax credit for shuttered businesses that have obtained PPP loans that runs until the business is back and at 100% capacity. And tax credits as described in the Clean Start Act (H.R. 7079) for cleaning businesses and providing PPE for employees and customers.

All of which is to say that (1) the independent venues that the NIVA represents are looking to the federal government for money to stay in business and (2) the NIVA is clearly somewhat optimistic about a 100% return of patrons to their venues in a foreseeable future.

Music and entertainment venues are not the only facilities that are on the brink of partial extinction.

Continue reading “If Music Be the Food of Love. . .”

Of Masks and Money

Unless it is a beach community or a tropical island, both places where the norms tend to be different than in land-locked and less temperate locales, there is a rule that is either openly stated or known so well that it need not be announced:

“No Shoes. No Shirt. No Service.”

While you could conceivably go to a bar in Hawaii sans shirt (assuming male gender) and shoes, were you to try to do the same in, say, Iowa, you would probably be summarily asked to leave—and the asking might not be of the please-and-thank-you nature.

The Three No’s are essentially a rule of decorum that everyone knows. It is a situational rule. For example, even if one were to be flying from Kona to Honolulu you couldn’t board without wearing a shirt. This is not only predicated on the fact that odds are the person would not be a specimen that people would want to have to look at, there is also the fact that no one would knowingly want to sit in 24C after that person spent time in it.

At the present time there is extensively researched recommendations that people should wear face masks (ideally properly wear face masks, which means not having them below one’s nose as that—which seems to be a surprise to some people—is a feature that one uses to breathe, or wearing them around one’s neck, as though it is a bit of fashion flair on an elastic band). So maybe what we need is to add a fourth No to the three (although it would, admittedly, break up the assonance).
Yet there is tremendous push-back by some people on wearing of a mask as it seems to be some sort of admission that the coronavirus not only exists, but that it passes from person to person. Go figure.

During the period of lock-down in several states there were those who rose up and maintained their constitutional rights were being violated because they couldn’t get a haircut. Life, liberty and the pursuit of a razor cut.

Which brings me to a stunning state of affairs that is presently occurring. Some music promoters, who are finding that restrictions against crowds, are suing state governments. For example, one suit has been filed in Ohio against the doctor who had been running the state’s health department by festival organizers, whose ability to put on events is being impacted by such stipulations.

The basis for the suit? Violation of the plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In case you’re wondering, the Fourteenth is the one about equal protection under the law.

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The Bubble

Although you may have missed it, there was a boxing match on Tuesday, June 9, at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Although Vegas is generally thought of in the context of gambling and of performing artists who have passed their prime and are looking for a place where they can considerably cash in without having to do too much in the way of heavy lifting (i.e., odds are that if they are performing at Caesar’s or The Bellagio or wherever, they are comped a room such that they don’t need to worry about doing too much in the way of traveling, outside of an elevator ride), the Strip is all about boxing (which goes along with the whole gaming experience but which doesn’t go to the point of tired acts because old boxers aren’t in the game).

While I’ve never been to a bout live, I’ve seen some televised events and the thing that always puzzled me is why the people who are dressed to the proverbial nines have seats closest to the ring, given that the boxers tend to throw off as much perspiration as they do punches, so even in a world that doesn’t have a pandemic, that effluvium doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that one would like to be doused with: Wouldn’t they be better off, say, in row 10?

Tuesday’s card was organized by a company named Top Rank that has been in existence since 1966 and has been behind 9,000 fights and 1,500 cards. Bob Arum, Top Rank founder, was early in the closed-circuit and pay-per-view models for fights. Presently it has a contract with ESPN to provide free boxing (well, at least free for those who have ESPN as part of their cable package, presumably).

In its self-definition, the company states flat-out: “Las Vegas-based Top Rank stands as the country’s premiere boxing promotions company for one reason: We take care of our fighters and our fans.”

And that “take care of” is more essential now than ever before.

To pull off the event, there was a comprehensive COVID-19 protocol for all those invited. According to ESPN, “Once fighters land in Vegas, teams are transported in a sanitized vehicle to take a PCR test, the results of which will take six hours. If a fighter or anyone on their team tests positive either at this test or at the test following the weigh-in, he or she is immediately quarantined, and the fight is off.”

If they are OK, “They’ll be taken up a back elevator to a designated floor in the hotel for Top Rank. No access will be granted by elevators for other hotel guests, and all movement to and from the floor will come from a back-of-house elevator.”

Then there is regular testing and isolation from the outside world.

The bouts took place with without fans. The people calling the fights were not in the immediate space of the ring. The fighters were, in effect, in a “bubble.”

A bigger bubble is planned to be inflated next month at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando: this for some 1,500 people associated with the National Basketball League.

The tentative schedule is for the players, coaches, etc. to arrive July 7 and then playoffs starting on August 17. Families and others will be permitted to arrive on August 30. The NBA Finals is expected on September 30.

During this time there will be, not surprisingly, comprehensive testing of everyone.

There will be no fans in attendance.

One consequence of this is that the phrase “I’m going to Disney World!” may end up having a whole new, somewhat dystopian, edge to it.

The point of all this is to consider the future of concerts. Coachella and Lollapalooza, both outside events, unlike boxing or pro ball, have been cancelled.

Continue reading The Bubble

History Lesson from Alanis

On April 3, 2001, Don Henley spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the subject of “Online Entertainment and Copyright Law.” To hear Henley say, “Like it or not, Napster has changed everything” makes you realize how far in the past 2001 is, perhaps not in terms of time as much as in technology. And just as a historical side note, also speaking to the Committee was Hank Barry, then-CEO of Napster, who noted that Sean Fanning was in the audience and was 20 years old, which made him, Barry undoubtedly said to be funny as he spoke primarily to a group of people who had white hair, “over the hill.” As Barry is an attorney and a venture capitalist, he probably had a better sense of Congressional humor than I do. And speaking of senators, it did seem odd to see, while watching the C-SPAN coverage of the testimony, Senator Patrick Leahy, then as now representing Vermont (he is presently the longest-serving senator, besting both Chuck Grassley and Moscow Mitch McConnell), sitting next to Orin Hatch (who retired from Congress in 2019 after 42 years—bet you didn’t know you were going to be getting a civics lesson on GloNo), pull out a camera—yes, a full-size camera, as, remember: this was six years before the iPhone—and presumably take a picture of Henley.

It is also worth noting that following Henley, Alanis Morissette spoke, and I must say that she actually did a better job of making a presentation, raising—remember, this is 2001—an interesting argument that because when it comes to royalties musicians were pretty much not receiving them due the the accounting practices of the labels and consequently it wasn’t an entirely bad thing that listeners were getting access to music free from the Internet because from her perspective, she wasn’t seeing anything in the way of remuneration, so that music would help build community which would then allow her (and others) to make money from touring and merch. She also stated, “History has not been kind to artists who have candidly expressed points of view that differ from recording companies.’”

Last week, Henley was back in front on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property Law. The subcommittee is now chaired by Thom Tillis, who is in his first term representing North Carolina, and who is running for re-election this year. When I Googled him the first result is an ad that has below the text headline: “Support North Carolina’s Warrior in the Senate. Donate Here! Conservative. Father. Proud North Carolinian. Husband. Grandfather.” I wonder how his wife feels about her position in the rankings. Apparently the first live concert that Tillis, 59, Warrior, saw was. . .the Eagles. Which segues nicely to: “As a 55-year veteran of the music industry, I was asked, by the chairman of this Senate subcommittee, to come here and testify today on behalf of the creative community—songwriters, musicians, music publishers—also known, in today’s digital world, as ‘content providers.’”

Henley stressed that he was speaking on behalf of the little guy: “It is truly unfortunate—and patently unfair—that the music industry is perceived only in terms of its most successful and wealthy celebrities, when in fact there are millions of people working in the industry, struggling in relative obscurity, people whose voices would never be heard were it not for hearings such as this one being held today.”

Continue reading History Lesson from Alanis