All posts by Stephen Macaulay

Why Dolly Parton Matters More Than Most You Can Name

Back in the 1960s there was a war going on. A physical war. One with guns and bullets. With American kids being shipped literally to the other side of the world and plopped into jungles where the terrain was in itself rotten, to say nothing of the fact that there were other kids shooting at them. Some of those kids had volunteered to service. Others were selected by lottery, sort of like Theseus and the Minotaur—or The Hunger Games.

And in the 1960s and early ‘70s there were protests in the streets of America by other kids who wanted the war in Vietnam to be ended. They didn’t want their friends to be killed. They didn’t want themselves to be killed. Of course politicians—Johnson and Nixon—did what politicians tend to do, which is to worry more about themselves than others. They rolled out a rationalization that were Vietnam to fall, then it would be the first of a series of dominoes. The North Vietnamese were “communists.” That would mean there would be a whole bunch of commies created as a consequence.

On April 30, 1975, there was the fall of Saigon. The Americans left. The North won.

And now everything from clothes to hair extensions, from computers to shoes, are being produced in Vietnam and shipped to places around the world. Including the U.S.

Now the government is against production in China. Vietnam has become a more acceptable source.

Funny how times change. Countries and people.

During the 1960s and early ‘70s music was changing, as well. A simple way to think about this is that there was AM radio on the one hand and the nascent-but-growing FM band on the other.

AM radio played 45-rpm records. They were capable of handling approximately 3 minutes of music, so that’s why there were so many short songs. FM radio played cuts from LPs, which at 33.3 rpm, were capable of handling approximately 20 minutes per side. So the AM stations played the “hits” while the FM stations—at least those that were considered to be “underground”—would play entire sides of albums at a time. Very subversive, that.

Musicians that had their music played on FM, musicians who were chronicled in the pages of publications like Rolling Stone when it was literally a tabloid on newsprint with gritty coverage, were often openly anti-war. Which was a tricky situation for them to be in back then, because on the one hand they were trying to gain traction in what was still an AM-hits-driven market and on the other, as righteous as that position may seem, at the time there was a majority of Americans who didn’t have that point of view. Yet “The Man” wasn’t going to keep them down, so there were festivals and concerts where the peace sign (as in the pointer and middle fingers forming a V, which Winston Churchill had used about 25 years before to signify “victory”) and the circular graphic version (which was actually created in 1958 by a designer Gerald Holtom, who came up with it as a nuclear disarmament symbol: one interpretation is that it is based on the semaphore communication system that uses flags; the sign for “N” has two flags down at a 45-degree angle and the “D” is one flag straight up and the other straight down) proliferated everywhere.

Jimi Hendrix didn’t play “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock just because he thought it would be a clever cover.

All of this is to get to something that is highly laudable that happened this past week, when Billboard published a cover story on Dolly Parton, the 74-year old country singer, songwriter, actress, and apparently all-around good person.

Perhaps the most widely reported quote from the interview is “Of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No. Everybody matters.”

She also said, “All these good Christian people that are supposed to be such good Christian people, the last thing we’re supposed to do is to judge one another. God is the judge, not us. I just try to be myself. I try to let everybody else be themselves.”

And with those two quotes she has arguably said more than I’ve heard from any number of musicians, and those who are speaking out seem to be more interested in doing it in some metaphoric ways than Parton’s clear, unambiguous statements.

She had named a dinner attraction named “The Dixie Stampede.” She dropped the “Dixie”—in 2018.

“There’s such a thing as innocent ignorance, and so many of us are guilty of that,” Parton told Billboard. “When they said ‘Dixie’ was an offensive word, I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to offend anybody. This is a business. We’ll just call it The Stampede.'”

Woke well before others.

Continue reading Why Dolly Parton Matters More Than Most You Can Name

Concerts: We’d Rather Not Go, It Seems

Although this is certainly not a news source—or at least it ought not be unless you have a rather peculiar sense of what news is, although if it is indeed the case, we’re not being critical here because we certainly want to encourage readership—results from a survey that was just released by Morning Consult are germane to one issue that we’ve been looking at for the past several weeks (which, admittedly, feel like the past several years, as time has taken on a different characteristic), so we thought we’d get this out sooner rather than later. So, yes, arguably, this information is news.

They asked a statistically significant number of U.S. adults about their plans regarding a variety of outdoor/social activities, ranging from Going out to Eat to Going to an Amusement Park.

What’s more, they asked the people to identify as to whether they’re Republicans or Democrats.

One of the questions was about their plans for Going to a Concert.

The survey starts at April 29-30 and ends at August 4-7.

In April 6% of Dems said they’d go. In August the number remains the same.

The Republicans are a bit more bullish. In April 14% said they’d attend a concert, and that has gone up five points to 19%.

And looking at “all” Americans, they started at 10% in April and just inched up 2%.

What is notable is that the only activity that scores lower than Going to a Concert is Traveling Abroad. In this instance, the number of Democrats at the start was 5% and it has grown to 6%; the number of Republicans started at 11% and grew to 15%; the number of “all” started at 8% and went to 12%.

Going back to the topic of concerts: Turns out that Millennials are more likely to go to a concert than Boomers, with 16% of Millennials saying they would and just 9% of Boomers. Interestingly, both age cohorts have had a 3% rise in their willingness since April 29-30.

Still, no matter whether it is young Republicans or old Dems, there are hardly the numbers that would make it particularly economically viable for there to be a return to concerts anytime soon.

And that’s the news right now.

Music, Politics & Iggy on a Cruise Line

So a question is to what extent does a musician “own” her or his music, not necessarily in a legal sense–which is certainly more than a trivial consideration vis-à-vis the livelihood of people–but in that the music represents, one suspects, though can’t be certain of*, what that person’s beliefs are.

This thought occurred as a result of the law suit filed in the Southern District of New York by Neil Young against the Trump campaign for the campaign’s unauthorized use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk.”

Other musicians who have objected—not all in court—against the use of their material by the Trump campaign over the years include Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Pharrell Williams, Tom Petty (his estate) and The Rolling Stones.

Which brings me back to the original question. Why does an organization like Trump’s campaign think that those musicians in any way represent the thinking, beliefs or social mores of Donald Trump? Aren’t many of these people antithetical to that?

Would, say, the Biden campaign use—unauthorized or otherwise—music from Ted Nugent or Toby Keith?

Music is a fundamental part of our culture. As such it reflects, in many ways, our values.

While one could argue that music has long been co-opted for reasons political and, more substantially, commercial. For example, right now you can hear “Magic” by Pilot in a TV commercial for diabetes drug Ozembic and Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” in a spot for Anoro, which is a COPD medication.

And who can forget the soundtrack for a Royal Caribbean cruise line ad from a few years back: Iggy’s “Lust for Life”? A waterslide? An endless buffet? Umbrella drinks? Sandals, socks, Bermuda shorts and overstuffed swimsuits?

In those cases, of course, the songwriters are undoubtedly being compensated for their work, and it is hard to imagine a political case being made against ads for medications (unless, of course, one is anti “Big Pharma,” which Trump has declared himself to be, so one wonders what pop song his people will roll out for that position—the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”: “And all the politicians making crazy sounds. . . “?).

One interesting aspect of the Neil Young situation is that it wasn’t until January of this year that he became an American citizen. “Rockin’ in the Free World” was released in 1989. “Devil’s Sidewalk” was released in 2003.

Which means that the Trump campaign has been not only music from a man who does not reflect or support the candidate’s ostensible positions, but from a man who was, at the time he released those songs, was a foreigner. And we know how Trump feels about them.

*This is problematic in some regards as let’s face it: many songs are written about fictional situations so it is impossible to say that anyone is making authentic statements in their songs, as it may simply be a reflection of what seems to be relevant in the market at the time of composition.

Continue reading Music, Politics & Iggy on a Cruise Line

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. . .”