I GOT FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

I GOT FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

Garth Brooks Makes His World Taste Better

Johnny Loftus

Let’s be honest. Internationally known musicians with platinum grilles don’t need the money. And yet, well-heeled dopes like Sting, Aerosmith, and now Garth Brooks still find a way to schill for corporations large enough to afford the mad duckets required to retain their services.

In anticipation of Scarecrow, his latest “Ehh, maybe I’m not retiring” LP (due from Capital November 13), Brooks has entered into endorsement deals with both America Online and Dr Pepper. In the spot anchoring the latter’s new ad campaign, four pretty young things find the erstwhile Chris Gaines pickin’ and a-grinnin’ on a midwestern porch with a ragtag band of dobro-packing freaks and a bucket of ice cold Dr Peppers. No doubt drawn by the feelgood rhythms of Brooks’ product-inspired jingle, the girls grab a pepper and proceed to get up on the downstroke with Garth and his merry men. Based around the tagline “Be You,” the ad is a politely dull faux-music video with plenty of (puffy)-faced camera time for Brooks, and no clear message beyond the odd notion that attractive college coeds stuck at Wall Drug would like chilling with the same soda-proffering older dudes they wouldn’t sit by on the subway. It even resembles CMT programming in it’s letterboxed video-style, with a floating Dr Pepper hologram in the corner emulating a video network’s icon. To further prostrate themselves before King Garth, Schweppes (Pepper’s parent company) even agreed to an outro hawking Brooks’ new record, complete with a shot of the cover art and a mention of the release date.

It’s no longer possible to be angry with musicians for compromising their music through corporate tie-ins or sponsorships. It’s a simple fact of marketing for the major labels. Why spend millions on price-point discounts, instore standups, promotional tours, and free shwag when when an artist can get paid by a company hoping he’ll front their breat and butter? It’s the blurring of the line between artist and product that’s irritating. At least Aerosmith isn’t seen cruising the streets of “Truckville” in the spots they soundtrack for Dodge. But the jingle is so unmemorable, the product so offhandedly visible, that Garth Brooks’ Dr Pepper ads become a sort of guerilla music video for his new material. Which is exactly the way he wants it. Brooks’ AOL and Dr Pepper deals are particularly egregious because he seems to be positioning them as an excuse for touring – after all, that would entail being a professional, working artist. At the press conference to announce his new record and single (held at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame, natch), Brooks was happy to discuss his new music, but held off from questions about his ongoing retirement or lack of touring. Indeed, the man in the 4-corner colored shirt hasn’t toured since 1998, and now seems quite content to let his mega-dollar endorsements sell his record for him while he’s out ropin’ the wind in Oklahoma. Yeah yeah yeah, he wants to spend more time with his daughters. Well, during his various hiatuses he’s found plenty of time to try out for the Sand Diego Padres, hasn’t he?

Garth Brooks’ music is never going to save anyone, or give anything other than the cheap thrill of seeing a guy in a cowboy hat fly “Panama”-like across the stage. But his entrance into the endorsement game is only another bullet in the gut for music in general. Musicians aren’t like athletes. It’s okay for dudes like Kobe or Deion to sell Sprite or shoes or even shampoo. Joe Namath hawked panty hose, and everyone had a good laugh. It didn’t make him any less of a quarterback. But musicians need to be cognizant of their place within their art. Brooks’ endorsement deals and others like it can only dilute an industry already cheapened by homogeneity and lack of substance. And no matter how much he wants to be a Pepper too, Garth needs to see that this ain’t the way to go.

Besides, everyone knows that Bruce Willis singing about Seagram’s Golden Wine coolers will always be the coolest porch-based drink advertisement.

JTL

I WANNA ROCK WITH YOU — PLEASE?

Michael Jackson is Back. But For How Long?

Johnny Loftus

After the wholesale failures of HIStory and Dangerous, and his increasing reliance on foreign sales receipts to purchase Neverland’s animal feed, it seemed unlikely that Michael Jackson would ever again rise to Thriller levels in the hearts, minds, and dancing feet of Americans. In fact, Jackson’s tenuous grip to his King of Pop throne was seemingly strengthened only by screaming throngs of Japanese schoolgirls (always an impressionable lot — remember, this is the same demographic that went rabid for teen albums by Alyssa Milano and Alanis Morrissette…) and the occasional US fan who, most likely, was also an avid watcher of “Wings” and “Coach” — two long-running sitcoms that no one ever admitted to actually viewing. Nevertheless, Invincible, the latest unassumingly-titled effort by Michael Jackson — and his first new studio album since 1992 — will debut at #1 on next week’s Billboard chart, bolstered by first-week sales of over 360,000 units. Taking into consideration the prevailing cultural view of Jackson as a guy just a few slices short of a loaf, his new album’s early success might suggest it a new name — Inconceivable.

Even his stable of high-priced producers admit the difficulty in navigating the hills and valleys of Jackson’s oeuvre to discover the trail to success with today’s youth. “It’s real weird to see a new generation accepting Mike,” said Rodney Jerkins, guru producer of Brandy, Britney, and now The Gloved One. “That was the mission for all of us [while making the album]: ‘How do we get the younger kids?'” And Jerkins didn’t mess around. His beats for Invincible’s lead single “You Rock My World” find Michael Hee-Hee’ing and Shah-mon’ing over a punchy backing track and a great mid-song loop that will definitely blow up in the clubs. And yet, if you dropped Blu Cantrell or R.Kelly vocals onto the track, it would be just as successful. Despite the best efforts of Jerkins and his hotshot mates, there’s nothing in Jackson’s new work that is as seamless as his 80s heyday. An invisible barrier separates Michael’s trademark MS-DOS vocal delivery from his albums’ Windows XP production techniques, making communication between the two impossible. The hype is in place, sure. There’s a longform music video with big Hollywood stars and extended dance moves. Chris Tucker stops by for a skit or two. And there’s a promotional budget that overtakes the GNP of Finland. But at the heart of it all is a frail-looking eccentric who — whether by his excesses or idiosyncrasies, scandals or disappearing acts — has distanced himself from, er, himself, as well as the American Pop audience.

There’s a pained look in George W Bush’s eyes when he addresses “the ‘maircun people.” He puts on a brave face and makes a go of it, but you get the feeling that he’d rather be back at the D.C. Hooters, pounding hot wings and grabbing waitresses’ asses. It’s similar with Michael Jackson. He’s appeared on the VMAs, TRL, concert specials, and has even waved to his fans (seriously — where did they all come from?) in Times Square. But watching his expression shift from grimace, to sweet smile, to glazed fear, and back to bashful grimace, you can’t shake the notion that The King of Pop would much rather be feeding the goats back at Neverland, or at least hanging out in ultra-moderne downtown Tokyo, where even a swan-clad Bjork wouldn’t get a second look.

He might not have to worry about it much longer.

Invincible‘s big daddy status might not last longer than a few weeks. Britney’s shitstorm of a new album will likely sucker punch Jackson with a giant boxing glove shaped like a dollar sign. After all, Jive Records/Spears have at least as much money as Michael, and they didn’t have to pay off Tito to appear on that Jackson 5 reunion special. It will be interesting to see how long Jackson’s newfound connection to today’s record-buying youth lasts. Because even when he tries to be, Michael just isn’t like the other guys.

Jam on it.

JTL

A taste of honey…

If there are folks out there who would like their first legitimate, high-quality taste of Wilco’s unreleased masterpiece, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, you should get your ass to your local newsstand and pick up a copy of the November issue of Jane Magazine. Make sure you get a copy with the enclosed CD, because it contains “I’m the Man Who Loves You” in all of its glory. This will be of interest to Wilco fans who are obsessive collectors who need to own every single item that has anything to do with Wilco. It should also appeal to audiophiles who are not satisfied with the fidelity of the MP3 files that have been floating around the internet (even encoded at 192 kbps, mp3s still don’t sound perfect).

Plus, Jane Magazine rocks.

Jane was founded and is edited by Sassy creator, Jane Pratt, who is a really cool chick. My wife has been subscribed to Jane forever, and I’ve always said that it reads like a Grand Royal magazine for girls. Or women. Or whatever. But it’s not gender exclusive. There’s smart, funny writing that really stands out in the “women’s magazine” genre. I flip through a lot of Allures, In Styles, Teen Peoples, and Glamours on the crapper and Jane is the only one that I don’t leave on the bathroom floor when I’m done. Even Vogue with its great movie reviews has let me down recently. All those other magazines really seem to have an overwhelming disrespect for women at their core, but not Jane. Jane rocks.

The CD contains lots of cool songs besides Wilco, including tracks by the Beta Band, the Silver Jews, Faith Evans, and lots of artists I’d never heard of before. This is a good thing for me because I really feel like I’m losing touch and losing interest in what’s happening these days in music. I don’t want to be one of those old men who only listens to the bands I listened to when I was 19, so I appreciate the exposure to shit I would never hear otherwise.

I truly do love rock and roll

Okay, that’s it. I can no longer defend her. In a cleverly annotated transcript of a dial-an-interview with Britney Spears, Jim DeRogatis reveals that she doesn’t know where Elvis is from and doesn’t know who originally made “I Love Rock N’ Roll” famous. In case you’re wondering, the answers are Tupelo, Mississippi (although Memphis would be acceptable, and even preferred by some) and Joan fucking Jett and the fucking Blackhearts. I could’ve forgiven her thinking Elvis was from Las Vegas. Maybe she just misspoke, and who really cares anyway? I think it’s really cool that she’s dressed in a white bedazzled jumpsuit for her HBO special in Las Vegas. That’s fine. That’s clever. It’s cute. I like it.

But don’t fuck with Joan Jett.

If I were in charge, I would publicly execute anyone who thought that “I Love Rock N’ Roll” was a Pat Benatar song. I’m serious. That would be the Law, and the Law would be very strictly enforced. I might even make people answer that question before they could get their drivers license, vote, or open a bank account.

I realize that Ms. Jett did not write that song, but it’s her song as much as “Jailhouse Rock” or “Viva Las Vegas” belong to Elvis. And Pat Benatar sucks. If you’ve ever heard her cover of “Just Like Me” by Paul Revere and the Raiders, you know I’m 100% right about this. We’ve discussed this issue before, and it sickens me to have to acknowledge it myself. Oh Britney, my Britney, why hast thou forsaken me?

I saw him dancin’ there by the record machine

I knew he must a been about seventeen

The beat was goin’ strong

Playin’ my favorite song

An’ I could tell it wouldn’t be long

Till he was with me, yeah me

The Art of Writing

A question of the relative (de)merits of so-called “art rock” was raised earlier on this site. The comments excoriating the genre were posted with the degree of fervor that had been anticipated. One observation can be made from the posting is that it seems there is a good percentage of the current listening public for whom the term “art rock” is basically a cipher. While hoary characters like Aerosmith and the Who still resonate, art rock musicians have slipped silently (albeit stylishly) below the surface (“Emerson, Lake and Palmer—what’s that, a law firm?”).

One of the best movies made about music appeared in 1991. It is Alan Parker’s The Commitments, based on Roddy Doyle’s novel of the same name. Read the book. See the movie. (I note the film first simply because I suspect that more people will go to the video rental place than will go to the bookstore or library.) The Commitments limns the development of an Irish band that is created to play soul music. James Brown. Motown. As one of the characters in the novel, Jimmy Rabbitte, says to two of the musicians who will be part of the band:

—Where are yis from? (He answered the question himself.) —Dublin. (He asked another one.) —Wha’ part o’ Dublin? Barrytown. Wha’ class are yis? Workin’ class. Are yis proud of it? Yeah, yis are. (Then a practical question.) —Who buys the most records? The workin’ class. Are yis with me? (Not really.) —Your music should be abou’ where you’re from an’ the sort o’ people yeh come from.

Chuck Barris, Scott Baio and the Village People

The Scariest Halloween Costumes Ever

The Electric Company Easy ReaderAt Glorious Noise, we’re always decked out in orange and black, so it’s like Halloween 365 days a year. And strangely, people ask us all the time if we’re wearing masks, when it’s really just our real faces. Anyway, if you want candy, but you don’t have a costume, check out some of these at retrocrush. It’s like a trip down the K-Mart aisle of marked down memories, with some of the finest examples of the classic “cheap ‘n flammable” costume, with the plastic mask in the shape of some lovable celebrity, and a plastic smock which was easy to clean the vomit off of after you ate a whole bag of candy corn and circus peanuts. It reminds me of many Halloweens as a child, making the trip to the supermarket on the night of Halloween, just after they marked down the costumes and candy, my little brother crying because they were sold out of the Spiderman costume he wanted, my mother yanking a “Small Wonder” costume off the rack for him, while I roamed the bulk candy aisle sticking my head into the barrel of malted milk balls and chowing down until the store managers dragged me outside.

[link via coudal partners]

KEEP ON ROCKIN’ IN THE CAPITALIST WORLD

Corporate Posturing On a Grand Scale, And Michelle Branch Just Smiles Through It All

By Johnny Loftus

There is no question in my mind that the Popstar gravy train, so brazen for the last few years, will derail itself by Summer, 2002. The mediocre response to Britney Spears’ new single is proof enough, as are recent appearances by various boy bands that play more on a previously established cult of personality than any hint of their musical output. However bland the musical product these groups have put forth may be, it has still been their stock in trade. And to see Spears, N*SYNC, Jessica Simpson, 98 Degrees and the rest reduced to their base selves – to be used as simple, marketable brands for their respective labels and whatever corporations might like to use their likenesses to move product – to see them basically forsake their “music” in favor of face time – only proves the inevitable implosion of their longstanding rule of Pop. Which not only spells doom for Britney, et al, but also their record labels, ever conscious of the bottom line. For some, hiring Helmut Jahn to design their next HQ all of the sudden seems like a real bad idea.

On Tuesday night, Michelle Branch rolled into Chicago’s Double Door with Maverick Records labelmate Jude Christodal for the latest stop of the “2001 Unlisted Tour of the Big 10,” a traveling marketing concept behind which Kenneth Cole (the designer of the Unlisted brand) and Maverick hope to sell a few of their respective wares. Its website describes Unlisted as “a brand targeted to Generation Y and designed to promote being expressive, proactive, and experimental while seeking out trends and making discoveries.” Buying into this positioning, Maverick entered into a partnership with Unlisted to promote its young artists while spreading the word about fashionable square shoes to campuses throughout the Midwest. The deal even features a nationwide magazine ad campaign, with Jude and Michelle posing in rags like Maxim, Cosmo, and Teen People while wearing Unlisted gear. If that’s not enough spin control for you, Badger Kry & Partners, the marketing firm behind this onslaught, even came up with a battle-of-the-bands-type program for the night before each town stop, encouraging local talent to vie for a potential Maverick contract. Is it just me, or are record labels and youth-skewed fashion companies trying like hell to connect with young wallets?

Into this perilous equation comes Branch, a young woman from Sedona, Arizona who has, with the benefit of genuine talent and a truckload of luck, ended up being Maverick Records’ new hope for the future of Pop music. But if there’s any pressure loaded into that statement, the girl ain’t letting on. Arriving onstage with her trusty blue Taylor guitar, Branch and her band immediately launched into a cohesive set of non-threatening pop ditties that showcased not only the 18-year-old’s strong voice, but a backing band of four dudes seemingly chosen by Maverick not only for their serviceable musical chops, but also for their charmingly alternative features and exquisite taste in vintage T-shirts. Performing tunes from her Maverick debut (The Spirit Room) and a few re-worked numbers from her self-released acoustic effort, Branch was confident, entertaining, and even genuinely rocking on a few songs. Absent (thankfully and perhaps oddly) from her set was any posturing for Cole, his Unlisted line, or any mention of Branch’s label’s co-CEO’s, Madonna and Guy Oseary. Which is refreshing, especially when the girl is 18 and those people are paying for her tour. Nevertheless, instead of hawking designer shoe polish, Branch focused on her songs (all of which she wrote or co-wrote) for 40 minutes, and entertained a crowd eager for something fresher than Jewel, but not as old as Sheryl Crow or as scarily intelligent as Lucinda Williams.

Branch’s single “Everywhere” was originally serviced to AAA/Adult-Alternative outlets, the kind of radio format where Lillith Fair never died and Rob Thomas is god. But, Like Lifehouse’s “Hanging By A Moment” before it, the song’s unmistakable riff and genuine pop sensibilities helped it expand to Top 40, “KISS-FM”-type outlets. (In fact, Branch’s first national tour was with – say it ain’t so – none other than Lifehouse). It now rests comfortably between the teeny-boppers getting over Britney and a 25-34 set of professional women who weren’t swayed by Natalie Merchant’s latest snooze-fest. Which puts both Branch, and her label, in an enviable position. In a Pop world turned upside down by falling profit margins and rapidly aging consumer bases, Maverick Records has on its hands a young artist who is just as recognizable to the TRL Nation as it is to sorority sisters, sensitive guys, and Jetta-driving marketing professionals. If that isn’t a cure for a tempestuous record buying climate, I don’t know what is.

And in the midst of all the brand positioning, promotional money, and magazine ads, Michelle Branch simply puts on a good Rock and Roll show. And that’s more than you can say for any of her primp’d, preening contemporaries clamoring for exposure now that the jig is up on their Z-grade musical talent.

JTL

Mary Kate and Ashley: Your Sweater Isn’t All They’ll Destroy

Despite his nauseous run as the nervously glowering host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” and whatever you think of those rumors that his standup act is actually really funny, it’s safe to say that Bob Saget has officially made a comeback this TV season. Er, at least for a little while. His new vehicle is the family sitcom “Raising Dad,” a WB product that is allegedly on a chopping block still fresh with the blood of Emeril Lagasse. Similarly, “Full House” alum John Stamos has been thrown a bone by ABC in the form of “Thieves,” some sort of ill-conceived spy comedy that nevertheless must pay better than being a professional Husband of Supermodel. The series’ vital signs are currently stable, but its Friday night timeslot and Uncle Jesse’s bizarrely Richard Grieco-like presence (not to mention any number or re-hashed plots from “Masquerade”) should put it on life support toot suite.

Instead of angling for face-time on the networks, Saget and Stamos might give think of looking up former co-stars Mary Kate and Ashley Olson, the twins who aged in realtime as Michelle, Danny Tanner’s youngest daughter on “Full House.” Now older, yet somehow still JonBenet Ramsey lookalikes, the twins preside over a multi-million dollar corporation built on their squeaky-clean image and cloying omniscience on childrens’ programming. With all the benjamins they’ve raked in with their videos, cartoons, magazines, and television programs, the Olsens could probably spare a few carrots for their former co-stars.

And now, it looks like Mary Kate and Ashley are adding emo-rocker to their list of celebrity accomplishments.

The Olsens will perform a version of Weezer’s “Island In The Sun” for the soundtrack to their upcoming film (see? Another medium conquered by this dynamic duo of capitalism!) “Holiday In The Sun,” the soundtrack of which is due November 20. The girls will perform the song with a band called Empty Trash, a group that seemingly doesn’t exist on the Internet. Maybe its Dave Coulier’s new project. Who knows. Whoever Empty Trash is, and however the twins got the idea of doing a Weezer cover,No one knows what this coition of alt pop and budding starlet will mean for Rivers Cuomo, his band, or music in general. What do all those rabid Weezer fans that Glorious Noise is so good at offending think of this development? And just when will “Thieves” be cancelled?

You’ve been warned. Happy Halloween.

JTL

Rude Awakening: Glenn Kotche and Guest

Glenn Kotche and Guest at Chicago’s Hideout Inn

As a kid, I never had much appreciation for abstract art. It seemed like just a lot of lines and splotches of color on canvass, or twisted metal and broken glass trying to be passed off as “sculpture.” It wasn’t until I was in 10th grade and I’d found a biography of Picasso that I started to realize what was going on. I saw Picasso as a classically trained artist who could paint portraits as vivid and realistic as a photograph but one who grew tired of the confines of fine art. He knew the rules and broke them. It was an awakening.

Friday night at my beloved Hideout found a room full of sleepers still trying to rub the gunk from their eyes as Glenn Kotche and Jeff Tweedy were packing up their gear after a 40 minute set of spastic percussion and caustic feedback.

The Hideout had a Wilco-heavy bill with John Stirratt’s Autumn Defense (See Jake Brown’s upcoming review of this great band) checking in with material from their new album and Kotche opening the night with an undisclosed performance. Being the drummer for Wilco, questions were bandied about as to what Kotche would do? A half-hour drum solo? Spoken word set to rhythms? Or would he have help? Rumors soon spread that he would indeed have help from none other than Jeff Tweedy.

Rumors of a Wilco members hanging at the Hideout will usually draw a small crowd on any night. An Autumn Defense show draws larger crowds of melodic-pop music lovers. A “secret” performance from Tweedy draws a packed house with dozens of California Stars lovers hoping to catch an intimate performance of their faves like those that long-time Wilco fans brag about in the Lounge Ax days. The place was abuzz with people high-fiving each other for finally getting to see one of these famed stripped down sets. They should be careful what they wish for.

Kotche took the stage with his un-announced accompaniment and without a word from either, locked into a set of unstructured, unrestrained noise.

The crowd was mostly obliging as a one minute of feedback stretched to three, but nervous jokes and furrowed brows soon surfaced and the groundlings began to stir.

“Can you dance to this?” a blonde to my right jokingly asked her beau.

“Number Nine,” a Beatle-hip scenester droned from the back.

Three minutes dragged to ten and conversation circles formed. Most people realized this was a night of avant-garde and resigned themselves to waiting for the next act and the fact that at least they can say they saw Tweedy up close. Still others held out, hoping this was an extended intro. meant to throw the audience off and that soon enough they’d be hearing the heartbreaking strains of Far Far Away and the rawk-stomp of Casino Queen. Surely, America’s pre-eminent songwriter will bless us with his songs!

God Bless Glenn Kotche and Jeff Tweedy for NOT playing any songs. Those folks on the countless message boards devoted to Wilco can rest assured that they did not play Hesitating Beauty for the one-millionth time. This was a night of art. Pure expression devoid of rules.

That’s not to say that Tweedy’s pop sensibilities didn’t pop up from time to time. There were enough riffs to make most hardened Classic Rock station manager grin and Kotche and Tweedy craftily raised and loosened the tension with swells and lulls of sonic pressure. But it was not a night of well-crafted country/folk balladry. In fact, as the screeching howled into the half-hour mark, already alienated No Depressioners around the world could be heard drawing a warm bath and getting out the razor strap.

Friday’s show may have been seen by some as self-indulgent, but Wilco has been struggling to shed the alt.country moniker for years. Tired of being pigeon-holed by an obsessed fan base hell bent on keeping them for their own, the Band who helped define the genre is growing out of its skin and alt.country Rumplestiltskins should wake up and smell the music.

A Brand New Culture War That Takes Till It Hurts

Some of you may note that the headline above combines the two headlines directly below this with—what else—but a reference to none other than Sting. As I’ve previously mentioned, I happen to use MSN for Internet access, and when I logged on this afternoon I not only discovered a brand new interface for the site, but right there on top, a photo of the musician in question, who was hired by Microsoft (and for some reason, Intel Pentium 4 has something to do with it: perhaps the performance will be done while the band wears bunny suits) to help promote XP. (At least the folks from Redmond didn’t try to roll out the Stones again a la Win ’95.)

So let’s see. . .We have sab’s “Big Business” slathering Sting across the ‘Net (the concert, physically happening in NYC, is, of course, being webcast); this, unlike what Phil wrote about, is clearly about commercialism, pure and simple.

The benefit concert in NYC, regardless of how good it was or wasn’t, still reminds us of what the best in music is all about, which is a generosity of spirit, if not always one of fact.

Seems to me that these corporate gigs show that “The Man” hasn’t sold us out, but that the people who we may have once thought were on “our” side are really most interested in their own self-interest.

“We won’t get fooled again”? I doubt it.

Rock and roll can change your life.