Tag Archives: Features

Being There

Nowadays* when you go to a concert at a stadium or an arena, there are invariably large LED video displays of the performers in action. On the one hand, these are highly beneficial to those who are sitting in the higher tiers of seats where otherwise there are only tiny animated objects visible on stage. On the other hand, I know that when I am confronted with said screens, particularly when the setup is one where the displays are immediately adjacent to the stage, even with a reasonably good seat and sight-line, I have a tendency to opt for watching the image.

Part of being at a concert is the environment. It goes beyond the performance. It goes to being there. Being there with other people. Being part of something bigger than one’s self. Being part of a community (even if some members of that community are highly annoying under the circumstances: why is it that the people who sing along the loudest are those who can’t sing—and doesn’t it occur to them that the reason that they bought the ticket was so that they can hear the performers, not themselves, and that if their personal-but-public performances are so essential, there are karaoke bars?).

But let’s get back to the LED screens.

Some of my friends are journalists. Some cover politics. Some cover motor sports. In the cases of both, there are instances where they are on-site where something is happening, but they are not there.

To explain: sometimes if there is a speech being made by a politician there isn’t a sufficient amount of space in the room where the speech is being made to accommodate all of the reporters. Consequently, there is an overflow room nearby where there are screens that the reporters can see and hear the speech.

For big motor sports events, there is a pressroom that is typically located so as to overlook the start-finish line. But within the pressroom there are also video monitors that display other portions of the track that aren’t in plain sight that the reporters can watch. If there is a crash, say, in turn 3, they can see it. As pretty much the entire racetrack is covered with cameras, it is sometimes more useful to watch the feeds rather than to look out the windows.

So here’s the question: Let’s say someone throws a shoe at the person making the speech. Is the reporter in the other room who sees it “there”?

Let’s say that the aforementioned crash in turn 3 is the causal factor for the outcome of the race. Can the reporter describe the crash as though she actually saw it happen?

In either case, are the reporters in attendance or in adjacence?

Continue reading Being There

The Money in Music

In her introduction to the IFPI annual Global Music Report, which covers 2019, IFPI chief executive Francis Moore writes, “. . .it was originally drafted prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic.” Presumably there is a bit of an acknowledgement on Ms. Moore’s part that while the 2019 stats are past, they are not necessarily prologue: who knows what the future will bring?

While some of the stats aren’t particularly surprising, as in, predicated on consumption in the forms of streaming, downloads, and physical formats, Taylor Swift is the #1 IFPI Global Recording Artist of 2019, there are some numbers that are a bit strange. For example, in 2019 synchronization revenue—which is that derived from the use of music in advertising, film, games, and TV—was up 5.8%, accounting for 2.4% of all revenue in 2019, or $500,000,000 (U.S.). Ten years ago this metric didn’t even exist (or the amount of money was microscopic to measure).

What is someone more unusual, however, is that of the 10 on that list of the tops, there are two that no longer exist as they were known to be when they gained the traction necessary to make them on the top-10 list: Queen (#5)—and there is a picture of the band including Freddie Mercury not Adam Lambert—and the Beatles #10). I wonder how Ariana Grande (#6) feels about being nudged out. Much of the strength for Queen and the Beatles is probably predicated on their performance in the global top albums, where Bohemian Rhapsody was #6 and Abbey Road #10.

The #1 global album in 2019? A greatest hits album by Arashi, a Japanese boy band, 5×20 All the BEST!! 1999-2019. One can only think that in order to be a boy band with that longevity there were musician changes like a revolving door.

(It is worth noting that there is something to be said for the power of boy bands. Number 3 on the global top 10 album list is Map of the Soul: Persona, by BTS, the Korean boy band. That album sold 2.5-million units. Arashi sold significantly more, 3.3-million. And what was in the middle? Taylor Swift’s Lover, at 3.2-million.)

Continue reading The Money in Music

Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

“. . . the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”
–Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

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The theater where I saw the Faces—with Ronnie Wood and Stewart hiding behind the amps–, the Birmingham Palladium, no longer exists.

The Grande Ballroom, where I saw the original Fleetwood Mac—the one with Peter Green—is gone.

The Eastown Theater, where I saw Derek and the Dominos, is a memory. As are Derek and the Dominos.

What is important: the building or the memories? One could point out that were it not for the building there wouldn’t be the memories, which is absolutely true. But were I to drive down Grand River and see the sad remains of the Grande (if you’re interested in seeing it, the address if 8952 Grand River, Detroit; Google Maps has an image of the remaining structure), would it make much of a difference with the exception of a brief wave of nostalgia? If the Grande was purchased by some corporation and transformed into some faux-hip venue, would that make my memories any better?

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Two miles southeast of the Grande on Grand River, the Olympia Stadium once existed. There is now an Army National Guard facility on the site and most of the property appears to be a shitty parking lot. Olympia was opened in 1927 (the Grande opened as a dance hall in 1928), closed in 1980 and was torn down in 1987.

I saw the Rolling Stones there. That band apparently continues to exist. I have no interest in seeing the present incarnation of the Stones. That the site where I saw one of the best concerts of my life is now something entirely different doesn’t much matter.

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Right now we are in the midst of a plague. A plague that is burning through our lives, leaving charred and devastated rubble in many cases. Things that we did, places that we went to, activities that we were a part of are in all-too-many instances irrevocably changed. They won’t come back.

The National Independent Venue Association has been established to help save independent music performance centers that are likely to be closed as a result of COVID-19.

In a letter sent to Congress in efforts to get financial assistance for the ~800 operations that are members of NIVA, assistance in the form of loans, tax relief, insurance, and other measures, Dayna Frank, board president and owner of First Avenue & 7th St Entry in Minneapolis, writes, “Our stages give artists like Adele, U2, Keith Urban, Prince, Lizzo, the Eagles, Wu-Tang Clan and Foo Fighters their start. The world could be without the next Lady Gaga, Kenny Chesney, Chance the Rapper or Bruce Springsteen if we cease to exist.”

The letter is addressed to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Kevin McCarthy, and Mitch McConnell.

Does anyone think McConnell would be convinced by that argument?

To her credit, Frank also points out, “While we are small businesses”—and aren’t the Republicans the bulwarks of small business?—“the estimated direct annual economic impact we bring to our local communities is nearly $10 billion.”

That should raise some sleepy eyelids.

Continue reading Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

Living the Live Nation Life

When Live Nation announced its earnings for Q1 2020, they were down 20% year over year, which is surprisingly not bad. Convert revenue was down 25% and ticketing off 16% compared to the same quarter in 2019. According to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, “Globally, over 90% of fans are holding on to their tickets where refunds are available, which is the clearest demonstration of pent up demand that will enable us to quickly start concerts back up.”

Of course, there are other considerations as to why a number of those people may still have their tickets, which has absolutely nothing to do with their fervor to see a show.

For one thing, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as I am writing this there are 3,965.863 total confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, of which 1,284.708 are in the U.S. There have been 275,527 deaths, of which 77,201 are in the U.S.

Presumably there are a whole lot of people on the planet who have been otherwise occupied.

And given that 20.5 million people lost their jobs in the U.S. in April, bringing the overall unemployment rate to 14.5%, odds are that even if they have a cache of ducats, they’re probably spending their time trying to file for unemployment benefits than dealing with trying to get refunds for tickets, as expensive as those tickets may be.

But CEOs must be optimistic.

Live Nation put out some stats with its earnings numbers that are lack only a bright, big smiley face.
For example, according to a survey it conducted, “when event restrictions are lifted”—which in some states can’t happen fast enough, which makes one wonder about what the governors of those states really think about their governed—the most “likely attended type of event” will be. . .live music.

Continue reading Living the Live Nation Life

Virtuosity

Rei Toei is the title character of William Gibson’s Idoru. “She”* is an artificial intelligence-based hologram, a pop performer. When looked at by an individual, she adapts to that person’s taste in J-pop. When she performs in concert, the performance is predicated on the group’s consensus of what they think she should be.

While Rei is a synthetic performer, there have been, during the past few years, a number of biologically dead performers—Tupac, Roy Orbison, Ronnie James Dio, Frank Zappa, Whitney Houston, etc.—who have “performed” in digital renditions. And reading the reviews of these shows leads me to believe that this is something that is well accepted among the fans of the deceased.

Why is it that people find it fascinating to see a “performance” by someone who is in absolutely no condition to perform? Would it be just as engaging for them to watch, say, a movie of said performer rather than a hologram? Back in the early days of movies there were often orchestras who played the soundtrack live. (In 1981 I had the opportunity to watch Abel Gance’s reconstructed Napoleon (filmed in 1927) at the Fox Theater in Detroit with a score written by Carmine Coppola; Francis Ford’s American Zoetrope was behind the showing of the 3.5-hour film in venues across the country, which probably had a little something to do with why dad wrote the music; and it may be interesting to know that Francis was born in Detroit when dad was a musician with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra: the middle name comes from Henry Ford, for whom the hospital Francis was born in is named.) Now there need be nothing but speakers, projectors and a sufficiently robust GPU-based processor.

Is the digital performance better, say, than a cover band version of the performer(s)? Wikipedia has 24 pages of Beatles tribute bands and there is a disclaimer on the entry: “This list may not reflect recent changes.” Odds are there aren’t fewer people who are pretending but more. Could many of them, however, go away, were there to be some sort of licensing deal with the estates of John and George and the existing Ringo and Paul by companies like Base Hologram or Eyellusion?

As we are all under various stages of lockdowns, as concert venues are closed and not likely to be reopening anytime soon, might people start strapping on the HoloLens2 headset and watch their favorite performers?

Continue reading Virtuosity

A Hamburger Today: The Wimpy Approach to Tickets

One of the cartoon characters that has pretty much disappeared from the scene is Popeye the Sailor Man, the bizarrely configured individual with forearms the size of barrels and upper arms the size of twigs. He gained strength from eating spinach, not of the variety that most people might be familiar with from salads (which often had a warm bacon dressing, canceling any of the nutritional benefits), but from a can that he would crush in the middle such that it popped out of the top for quick consumption. Popeye needed the strength to take on his rival, Bluto, or Brutus, which at some point was claimed to be a set of twins, who typically was kidnapping Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. Not even a 1980 Robert Altman movie starring Robin Williams (Popeye) and Shelley Duvall (Olive Oyl) with a screenplay by Jules Feiffer music by Harry Nilsson could save the strip.

At this point you are probably wondering whether you’ve accidentally stumbled onto some comic-book related website or that GloNo has transformed during this time of working from home.

Well, not exactly.

There is another Popeye Universe character that has recently come to mind: Wimpy. Apparently his full name is J. Wellington Wimpy. Something of a ne’er-do-well who seemingly came from a place of higher station and has fallen to a lower one. And who has become a con.

Wimpy’s catch phrase is: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

And you know that Tuesday never comes, even if it is Monday.

Even with states “opening up,” the likelihood that there will be concerts of any size anytime soon is slimmer than Olive Oyl.

Yet there are companies including Ticketmaster and AEG have sold tickets for concerts, and seem to be having a refund policy that would be familiar to Wimpy. You can get your money back on Tuesday.
Part of the approach is that a concert must be officially canceled or new dates have to be set for the show before a refund is considered.

Continue reading A Hamburger Today: The Wimpy Approach to Tickets

The Crying of Lot 205

Friday, April 10, was the 50th anniversary of the breakup of The Beatles, so what better day than that to buy stuff?

Specifically, Beatles’ stuff.

Let’s face it, there hasn’t been a whole lot of interest in the actual music being put out by the two remaining people who had been part of the band, so that’s not driving a whole lot of revenue for anyone.

So a wide array of things that were associated with the once Fab Four were put up for auction at Julien’s Auctions.

In case you are wondering, that business is not operated by John Lennon’s son: he’s Julian. According to the folks at Julien’s, it is “the world record-breaking auction house to the stars.”

(And as we have a bit of time on our collective hands as we shelter at home, let’s think about that “auction house to the stars” claim for a moment. Also according to the firm, it “received its second placement in the Guinness Book of World Records for the sale of the world’s most expensive dress ever sold at auction, the Marilyn Monroe ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ dress which sold for $4.81 million.” That happened in 2016. Ms. Monroe sang that song to John F. Kennedy in 1962. Ms. Monroe died that same year. So one of the claims to fame of the “auction house to the stars” has no benefit to the star in question, as both the star and the person to whom her slinky vocal stylings were directed have both been dead for more than 50 years. In addition to which, in terms of the auction that we will be looking at in a moment—honest, I will get out of this parenthetical remark soon—again, two of the stars are no longer with us, as John Lennon died in 1980 and George Harrison in 2001, so again, how are they going to benefit from the auction? In case you’re wondering about the first placement in the Guinness Book of World Records, that occurred in 2009, when it auctioned off a white glove that had been worn by Michael Jackson, “making it the most expensive glove ever sold at auction.” Jackson died in 2009. It isn’t clear whether the glove sold before or after his passing. And the whole notion of a glove being owned by him is not worth thinking about too hard, or at all, for that matter.)

Back to the auction of the Beatles’ related materials.

Continue reading The Crying of Lot 205

What to Listen to Now: Painted From Memory

If you have time to go through your stacks, pull out this disc.

One of the most evocative songs of the ‘60s is “Anyone Who Had a Heart” performed by Dionne Warwick. The song, released in 1963, was written by Burt Bacharach (music) and Hal David (lyrics). The two were to write a number of other songs performed by Warwick, including “Walk On By,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” (cheesy, but infectious).

The Bacharach/David partnership, which was to result in an array of music that is known for its performance better than authorship (e.g., they wrote “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”).

Fast forward to the mid-90s. Bacharach and Elvis Costello collaborated on a song, “God Give Me Strength,” for a movie, Grace of My Heart, starring Illeana Douglas (a character loosely based on someone like Carole King) and Matt Dillon (think Brian Wilson), released in 1996.

Then, two years later, Bacharach and Costello put out an album, Painted from Memory, which includes “God Give Me Strength,” as well as 11 other songs that the two collaborated on.

While it might seem somewhat bizarre that Costello would work with Bacharach, it is worth knowing that even back in ‘78, when he was still sardonic, Costello performed “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself,” a David/Bacharach composition that was first performed by Dusty Springfield in 1964. The Warwick version was released in ‘66. And the White Stripes rendition of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” was released in 2003.

Costello has shown a tendency to perform against type during his career. Consider, for example, that sandwiched between the albums Trust (‘81) and Imperial Bedroom (‘82) is Almost Blue (‘81), an album recorded in Nashville of country covers. (Remember: this is 1982, long before something like that was considered to be not at all stretching any bounds.)

In 1991 there was G.B.H., the soundtrack for a British TV show about left-wing politicos in the Age of Thatcher; in ‘93 he released The Juliet Letters, which he performed with the Brodsky Quartet, a classical band of musicians, arguably as far from the Attractions as one could imagine.

While Costello has proven himself to be nothing if not productive, turning out albums at least every couple of years in this early period, what is somewhat interesting to note is that after Painted from Memory came out in ‘98 there wasn’t another record until 2001, For the Stars, on which he teams with a mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter for a series of songs including the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)”, the Beatles’ “For No One” and “This House Is Empty Now”–which appears on Painted from Memory. Clearly, he recognized that it is such a good song that it bore repeating sooner rather than later.

While it might be difficult to argue that Painted from Memory is Costello’s best album, it wouldn’t be hard to maintain the position that his voice has never sounded better on a recording.

Painted from Memory is, in some ways, a fully realized sequence of songs that perhaps had its genesis in “Alison.” But the cool, sophisticated arrangements of Burt Bacharach takes this to an entirely different place.

Continue reading What to Listen to Now: Painted From Memory

Slow Song

When you’re sheltering in place, you begin to roll through the past. . . .

In 1982 I moved from Detroit to Rockford, Illinois, to take a job at what now might be considered a start-up, although in its case, it was an organization that was about developing ideas, not software. The move itself seemed like a good idea at the time. More or less.

For those who are not familiar with Rockford, it is “at the top in Illinois,” as the slogan had it, essentially in the middle of the state and about 20 miles south of the border with Wisconsin. It is also about 90 miles northwest of Chicago.

At that point in time the city was in flux, as it had been a town that had a lot of companies involved in making manufacturing equipment and accessories and the like, and that business was on a serious decline. The U.S. had entered a recession in July 1981 that is clawed its way out of by November 1982, and all of that clawing left a lot of companies, big and small, not unscathed. Some terminally.

Rockford is the home of Cheap Trick. And on occasion, when my wife, dog and I strolled along the Rock River in what was then the lovely Sinnissippi Park (it may still be lovely, but it has been a long time), we’d seen Rick Nielsen and his family enjoying the surroundings. What’s more, during the Christmas season in ’82 Robin Zander performed an evening of madrigals at the Coronado Performing Arts Center, and brought out his high school music teacher, as it was something of a tribute to her. Oh, and before the evening was complete, the other three members of the band came out and played as hard as they would have had they still been in high school. (Remember: this was post-Budokan. They were playing to the home town with a fervor that would have made Japanese girls faint.)

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“Rockford? Rockford! How can you lose with a name like Rockford?”
—Warren Zevon, Rockford MetroCentre, February 4, 1983

Although there were some memorable concerts (e.g., King Crimson at Alpine Valley) during my time there, what continues to musically resonate is hearing on the Northern Illinois University radio station the opening chords of Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out.” There was a brightness and freshness that cut through the funk that sometimes comes when you move to a place that you think is going to be all sunshine and roses and turns out to be, at times, partly cloudy and dandelions gone to seed.

And “We are young but getting old before our time” nailed it.

Continue reading Slow Song

What Will You Do When It Is Over?

After a friend read my piece on seeing the Rolling Stones on the band’s now-no-longer-forthcoming No Filter tour, she admitted to me that she had tickets for the show in Detroit. The explanation was simple. She’d never seen the band. She knew that if she didn’t act now she’d not be likely to ever see the band. (An issue on their side, not hers.)

Clearly, a sensible approach. After all, there are lots of things that people go see because they are Important Things. The Grand Canyon. The Liberty Bell. The Empire State Building. The sorts of things that one might check off the proverbial bucket list. Things that are interesting. Impressive. Or just there.

But here we are, in the midst of a situation wherein we are not going to see the seniors, the hole, the broken clanger, or King Kong’s perch. The list may still exist. The things in question still exist. But for now they are outside of our ken because we are all inside.

We are not going to be going to clubs and bars to hear music because those clubs and bars are closed.

And given the razor-thin margins that places like those operate on, when we are able to go back they might not be there for us to go back to.

What’s more, if we think about musicians that performed in those venues, economics are brutal and so they’re going to be in a tougher place than the one they were in before the virus—and that previous one was not in the least bit easy. Many of those people are going to have to give up on their barely paying gigs to try to get another day job.

Music is changed. Perhaps, but let’s hope otherwise, irreparably. Sure, the big acts will be able to coast for a while on the revenues they’ve accumulated, but even they are largely making it only on touring, and to the extend that the tours are on hold, that’s a problem that they may face, as well.
There is another consideration.

Once the stay-at-home advisories are lifted, once we can go back to routines, will we?

Will you shake a stranger’s hand? Will you give an acquaintance a hug?

Will you go to a small crowded club or a large crowded stadium, where the social distancing is a matter of inches rather than six feet?

Or will you decide that it is not worth the risk?

Continue reading What Will You Do When It Is Over?