All posts by Stephen Macaulay

Shine On, You Crazy. . .

Bob Dylan, the troubadour of the ‘60s who managed to write his way through the following decades with a number of songs that have become like cotton for many people, whether they know that he wrote the songs or not, is 81. For some people his career might be like the old joke about McCartney being in a band before Wings, but in Dylan’s case, that he actually did something before the Traveling Wilburys (and if you think about that band, it is a rather creepy situation, given that only Dylan and Jeff Lynne still on stage, with George Harrison, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison all exiting) may be somewhat astonishing to some people, although the best of Dylan was in that earlier period, not the later.

Although Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature (2016), he never had a number-one song on the charts. He did get to #2 twice, with “Like a Rolling Stone”* and Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” The Byrd’s 1965 cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” did make it to the top of the charts, however.

Dylan, of course, has a resonance that transcends whether he managed to acquire gold discs to adorn his walls. Which goes a long way to explaining why he’s managed to acquire, in the last couple of years, some $350-million or more by selling his recordings and catalog (to Sony Music and Universal Music respectively). Given that an LP weighs about six ounces and the price of an ounce of gold is $1,825, Dylan could easily wallpaper a room with gold records.

If we roughly estimate that Dylan has been working for the past 61 years, that means $5.7-million per year, which is probably somewhat better than he’d imagined when he lived in a cold water flat. (I don’t know for certain whether he lived in such a place, but obviously the nature of the performer lends itself to that, just as now we can posit that he has more than the wherewithal to live in the manner to which he has probably become accustomed, which has an expectation of more than hot water.)

Springsteen has done better with his catalog, estimated to have garnered $550 million, and odds are that he will add more work to his back pages.

Word now is that Pink Floyd—or the band previously known as Pink Floyd—is putting its catalog up for sale. The price is estimated to be $500 million.

Continue reading Shine On, You Crazy. . .

1955 (and then some)

In 1955 Charlie Parker died in the suite of a Rothschild, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, at a hotel in New York City. He was watching TV. The Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show was reportedly on.

Although the brothers, Jimmy and Tommy, had their biggest period in the first half of the 1930s, TV needed content in its nascent period, so musical variety was big then. Parker was a fan of Jimmy’s saxophone skills.

Parker was 34 when he died.

Elvis appeared on the Stage Show.

In 1955 James Dean, driving a Porsche 955 Spyder, had a collision with another car east of Paso Robles, California. It was fatal for Dean. The driver of the other car, a Ford Tudor, had minor injuries.

Dean was 24.

Rebel Without a Cause was released after Dean’s death. Another film with cultural resonance like Rebel, Blackboard Jungle, was released in 1955. It was based on a novel of the same name released in 1954 written by Evan Hunter, who was born Salvatore Lombino, but changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952. The first work that the author sold was in 1951, a short story titled “Welcome, Martians!”

Blackboard Jungle featured “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets. Chuck Berry released “Maybellene” in 1955 and “Johnny B. Goode” in 1958. The latter was recorded on 12-inch gold-plated copper disks that were launched into space by NASA on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space craft in 1977.

“Welcome, Martians!”

Continue reading 1955 (and then some)

Elvis in the Metaverse

Admittedly, this is a little confusing.

On June 1, Authentic Brands Group (ABG) put out a press release.

This is the opening paragraph:

Elvis Presley Enterprises and web3 studio Run it Wild today announced a series of new partners for Elvis On-Chain, the icon’s multi-metaverse NFT project. Ramping up for the genesis launch on June 1, the dream team of partners and collaborators includes leading decentralized gaming virtual worlds The Sandbox and Decentraland, digital creator Voxel Architects, wearables designer, DAPPCRAFT and renowned web3 utility creator Metakey.

The confusion is the clause “the icon’s multi-metaverse NFT project.”

That is, one can only assume that the icon in question is Elvis; Elvis Presley Enterprises, a subset of Authentic Brands Group, is creating more digital Elvis wealth, which will, of course, garner more wealth IRL for the owners of ABG.

Elvis, of course, is dead. Has been (I suppose I should say “Allegedly has been,” because nowadays it seems that facts are only what one wants to make them to be, and while it wasn’t all that long ago that conservatives attacked academics who were ostensibly proponents of post modernism for undermining Superman’s “truth, justice and the American way,” now it is that group who, as we were reminded of by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, are all about denying reality and do so with bear spray, clubs and Viking outfits; somewhere Superman is weeping) since August 1977. If he is still alive, he’s 87, which is probably past the age that one could reasonably work the drive-thru at a burger place in western Michigan or anywhere else for that matter, the massive number available jobs in the food service industry notwithstanding.

Continue reading Elvis in the Metaverse

The Defibrillator vs. the Money Machine

Creem Magazine, RIP 1989, is coming back. An initial reaction, of course, is “Bow Howdy!”, although there have been several returns from the grave in the magazine’s existence. Maybe this time it will take.

But I wonder.

After all, the publication, which had its run out of Detroit for 20 years, has a natural demographic that is, well, reading, if much of anything, The Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg BusinessWeek to watch their 401Ks crater.

Odds are there aren’t going to be a whole lot of them who are going to consistently keen on reading about rock history from the Creem archives or buying merch with the brand’s logo on it (unless, of course, they buy the T-shirt to do the chores on Saturday, like washing the Lincoln).

The model for its return has access to its over “69,000 articles, reviews, images, and original advertisements.” That number seems a bit high, given that if there were 12 issues over 20 years, that would be 287.5 items per issue, so clearly they’re counting every tiny bit of what was the magazine.

Yes, yes, reading Lester Bangs as well as early Greil Marcus and Dave Marsh is certainly a worthwhile use of time.

And realize that it was a time rife with wonderful music to write about. Consider only a few of the releases of 1970: Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, Johnbarleycorn Must Die, The Man Who Sold the World, Gasoline Alley, Morrison Hotel, Band of Gypsies, Back in the USA.*

But when you move from that it probably becomes an exercise in total nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. Consider, for example, that the ads are embedded: this isn’t like the posters and postcards available from Wolfgang’s Vault as much as it is a commercial chronicle of days gone by, the sort of thing that is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame meets the Henry Ford Museum. Ads from major record companies decrying “The Man” were appropriate then and seem craven now. The only ad that really has legs from that period is the Maxell “Blown Away Guy,” which appeared in 1980.

Continue reading The Defibrillator vs. the Money Machine

A Mighty Wind

Bob Dylan has made a special recording of his 1962 song “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

It is special specifically because there is one copy of the song recorded last year on an analog disc developed by T Bone Burnett.*

One copy. Recorded by Dylan. A one-shot.

It is going to be auctioned at Christie’s in London this coming July.

There are thoughts that it might go for $1.26 million.

This could be the definition of “irony”:

In a description of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that appears in secondhandsongs.com there’s this:

“In a 1978 interview, Dylan confirmed that “’Blowin’ in the Wind’ has always been a spiritual. I took it off a song called ‘No More Auction Block’ — that’s a spiritual and ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ follows the same feeling.””

“No More Auction Block” is about selling people, not pop songs.

Over $1-million for a Dylan song created in a special format.

I would think he would come over to somebody’s house and sing it for less than that.

Continue reading A Mighty Wind

Detroit, Detroit

“It’s carbon and monoxide
The ole Detroit perfume”
—Paul Simon

It so happens that on May 21, 1955, 67 years before this is being written, Chuck Berry recorded “Maybellene” at Chess Studios. Willie Dixon played bass. Among the songs that Dixon wrote that you probably know from covers are:

• “I Ain’t Superstitious”
• “You Shook Me”
• “Back Door Man”
• “I Can’t Quit You Baby”
• “Hoochie Coochie Man”
• “Little Red Rooster”
• “I Just Want to Make Love to You”

Just think of the importance of those songs for many bands. Odds are Dixon, no matter how much he may have thought of them, couldn’t have imagined that impact.

“Maybellene” was based on “Ida Red,” a song released by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in 1939, a song that is considered to be of “unknown origin,” just as the character Ida Red is unknown.

Fiddlin’ Powers & Family released a recording of the song in 1924 and Dykes Magic City Trio did in 1927, which I point out only because they don’t name groups like they used to.

Back to “Maybellene.”

During the early ‘50s Berry, who was living in St. Louis at the time, worked at two car assembly plants. Back then there were St. Louis Truck Assembly, which was operated by General Motors, and St. Louis Assembly, run by Ford.

Although the song is ostensibly about the protagonist chasing a girl who had cheated on him (“Oh Maybellene, why can’t you be true?”), it is primarily about a race between vehicles: “I saw Maybellene in a Coupe DeVille/A Cadillac a-rollin’ on the open road/Nothin’ will outrun my V8 Ford.”

Detroit Iron vs. Detroit Iron.

Continue reading Detroit, Detroit

FIFTY

Obligatory Autobiographical Opening

When my friends and I were in high school we took a summer pilgrimage to a campground in northern Michigan, and if a pilgrimage requires a religious angle, then it was to celebrate Bacchus, assuming that he happened to drink copious quantities of Stroh’s.

None of us were in the least bit interested in camping. We had no skills. To build a campfire we had to rely on Coleman stove fuel, which got things going rather quickly and also served as an entertainment when it was splashed on an already raging fire, as there would be an eye-opening exothermic event. The days in the campground consisted of (1) drinking beer in the afternoon, long into the night; (2) passing out in our not-well-setup tents; (3) getting up the next day and going to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, where the sun, we hoped, would help sweat the alcohol out of our bodies; (4) bathing in ice-cold Lake Michigan; (5) repeat.

The summer of 1972 most of us were 18. Earlier that year the Michigan legislature had done us a tremendous favor by changing the drinking age in the state to 18. That meant we didn’t have to accumulate as much beer as we could while we were back in Detroit from people that would “buy” for us (in retrospect it seems an odd thing: we would simply say to someone who was older but who had a fake ID, “Will you buy for us?” and it went without elaboration what we meant) so as to be well stocked for our adventure. One of the downsides of this was that our trunks tended to be so full of beer that the camping gear barely fit.

Continue reading FIFTY

That’s Entertainment?

Ed Sullivan was something of a phenomenon of the 20th century.

He started his career working at a newspaper in 1919. By 1929 he became a Broadway columnist, which had him then focusing on the entertainment industry. One thing led to another, and in 1948 Sullivan hosted a CBS TV show, “The Toast of the Town,” which was renamed in 1955 “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It ran every Sunday night live from 8 to 9 pm Eastern until 1971.

It was a variety show, the likes of which no longer exist. That is, it featured comedians, jugglers, magicians, torch singers, popular musicians, and even a bizarre talking fist. The show, shot live, was performed in Studio 50*. It was later renamed the “Ed Sullivan Theater,” with the advent of David Letterman’s show. Although the late Letterman show—like Kimmel’s or Fallon’s of current—had something of the variety to it, Sullivan’s was different, in that he simply introduced the performers and they did their acts, whether it was singing a song that was quite fresh on the charts or twirling plates on a stick. He wasn’t the show. The performers who were booked were.

Given its time slot, the show was meant to be family entertainment, not something that wasn’t meant to be viewed until the children were well in bed.

One of the things that “The Ed Sullivan Show” did that no longer occurs was the exposure of new and breaking acts to literally millions of people. Arguably that exposure led to an increase in record sales and bookings for the performers, especially musicians. Certainly a good thing. (Something that would be useful now, as there have been so many acts who could use post-lockdown exposure.)

There was a wide array of people who performed on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” including B.B. King, The Animals, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and many more. Realize that it was an hour-long weekly show so it needed acts.

Continue reading That’s Entertainment?

There Is No 13th Note

In a book titled Great Thinkers, which includes essays on people from Plato to Virginia Woolf, there is this sentence in the entry about 18th century economist Adam Smith, the man known for his ideas regarding the division of labor and “the invisible hand,” in the portion regarding his biography:

“In his childhood, he was briefly kidnapped by gypsies.”

That’s it. It goes on from there, describing his becoming an academic philosopher. Nothing about why he was kidnapped, where he was when he was kidnapped or anything about the kidnapping.

Which leads me to think that sometimes we are kidnapped by ideas that briefly take us to all manner of places. . .

Anjanette Comer was an actress who appeared in several TV series mainly in the 1960s and 1970s (e.g., Combat!, Mannix, Bonanza, and various other one-word-title shows), and a few feature films. Although it was announced that she was going to be in the film Funeral in Berlin with Michael Caine, which appeared in 1966, although there were publicity stills showing the actors together, she didn’t appear in the film. Not everything goes as planned. Presumably she wasn’t briefly kidnapped.

One film that she did star in is 1967’s Banning, which also features Robert Wagner, Jill St. John and Guy Stockwell. This is a somewhat complicated movie that has to do with a golf pro, Mike McDermot (played by Wagner), who is unfairly accused of throwing a tournament; he changes his name to Mike Banning and catches up with the guy who had tried to get McDermot to cheat and then accused him of cheating, which led to McDermot becoming Banning, and so Banning, who now has to pay off the mob (?), gets into a tournament, where it is actually a do-or-presumably-die situation. . . .

The poster for the movie proclaims in the sensationalistic verbiage of the day: “The action begins. . .when the auction ends! The truth about the women who go all out. . .when they go for a man!”

Note the absence of golf. Sort of like Comer in Funeral in Berlin.

Banning was nominated for an Academy Award. “The Eyes of Love,” a song performed by Gil Bernal, who also crooned a tune in Blood of Dracula’s Castle (“Count Dracula and his coffin-mate Countess Dracula need young girls to stay alive. . .another 300 years!”), was nominated. There was some serious competition for Best Song that year, such as “The Look of Love” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Both “The Eyes of Love” and “The Look of Love” (strangely ocular titles) lost to “Talk to the Animals,” music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, performed by Rex Harrison, in Doctor Doolittle.

Which brings us to Quincy Jones, who wrote the music for “The Eyes of Love” (lyrics by Bob Russell).

Continue reading There Is No 13th Note

Of Flowers and Digital Folly

As it is finally Spring in this part of the world—despite the three inches of snow a week ago—the flowers that started to emerge had a pause but are now blooming. Among them are tulips, pretty flowers that are all-too-soon blown, leaving a bizarre-looking remnant as the pedals all fall away. (Daffodils look even more strange, as though the life has been sucked right out of them, leaving an empty suit, as it were.)

Which brings me to Tulpenwindhandel, a four-year period in Dutch history in the 17th century. Early in that century, tulip bulbs, which came from Turkey to western Europe in the second half of the 16th century, were prized such that their value was crazy high. Apparently a brewery in France was exchanged for a single bulb. (Keep that in mind the next time you are going through Schiphol and see the bags of bulbs that are there right next to the wooden shoes and nijntje knuffel. With a single bag you could buy Twitter—and quite possibly Tesla.)

Although the bulbs had been restricted to the professionals prior to 1633, the hoi polloi managed to get their hands on bulbs, and with the increase in demand (i.e., there are far more regular people than there are experts, even now, although given the number of people who are now bloviating on all manner of channels, digital and otherwise, you might think the experts outnumber the norms), there was a rise in prices for the bulbs. And not surprisingly, the rise led to a fall in 1637. And while the whole phenomenon of Tulip Mania became exaggerated over time (e.g., there weren’t all that many financers who jumped out of windows when the 1929 Wall Street Crash occurred: they also used other methods in the subsequent weeks), it did have an effect on the finances of plenty of people who thought they were ever-so clever getting on the proverbial financial bandwagon to wealth. (It also gave rise to one of the best book titles of all time: Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which was written by Charles MacKay in 1841.)

While this isn’t a perfect analogy (after all, there really is not such thing), this activity of several hundred years ago brings to mind what is an exceedingly popular purchase that some argue could be the salvation of many artists, musicians among them.

This is the NFT, or non-fungible token, which is a string of bits that doesn’t exist in the physical world, but on a blockchain. This could be a special album cover or an album. A clip of a performance or a singular photograph (perhaps of a musician with a nijntje knuffel).

Continue reading Of Flowers and Digital Folly