All posts by Stephen Macaulay

Philosophy and The Recording Academy

The Recording Academy—which, if you think about it, is a rather unusual name for the organization in that Merriam-Webster has it that academy, when used in a capitalized manner as it is here, is “(a) the school for advanced education founded by Plato; (b) the philosophical doctrines associated with Plato’s Academy,” and near as I can tell, there is not a whole lot of philosophizing going on during the annual GRAMMY Awards®; the third definition has it as “a society of learned persons organized to advance art, science, or literature” and the fourth “a body of established opinion widely accepted as authoritative in a particular field,” so while it is clear that there’s nothing Platonic about it, we have to wonder whether the Recording Academy Voting Members are “a society of learned persons” or if they somehow are the keepers of “opinion widely accepted as authoritative,” which doesn’t seem to be the case due to controversies associated with some awardees each and every year—has come out with a set of rules and guidelines for the 65th GRAMMY Awards.

The first round of voting for the awards, which will be presented on February 5, 2023, opens on October 13 and closes 10 days later. Nominations are announced three weeks later (November 15), then a month after that the final round of voting begins. What are the voters during that month doing? Wouldn’t one assume that they’ve already heard the music of the nominees? After all, they have voted to put those musicians in that category of finalists. But there is one thing that is somewhat curious vis-à-vis the presumed learned or authoritative Academy: two weeks after the nominees have been announced is the “Deadline for errors and omissions to the nominations.” So does this mean that somehow there has been a GRAMMY-level individual or group that has somehow slipped by the voting members of the Academy? If that’s the case, what has been going on since October 13?

The final round of voting begins on December 14, which means, that there is roughly two weeks for those who were overlooked (overheard?) to have been put on the ballot so they can be considered. The voting ends January 4, 2023.

One of the criticisms of the awards is that of relevance. So the organizers have come up with some new categories or names for previously existing categories. There is now “Alternative Music Performance” and “Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media.” They recognized that for the 64th award there was “No performance Category to acknowledge the popularity of Americana music” so for the 65th there is the new category, “Americana Performance.”

Note the word popularity there. A question of whether the GRAMMY Awards are presented to the best or the most popular seems to be answered with the use of that term by the learned individuals.

Continue reading Philosophy and The Recording Academy

50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong–or Can They?

While the numbers are not laser etched in diamond*, Michael Jackson has sold some 258.9-million albums. This puts him behind the Beatles (289.5 million) but ahead of his first, former father-in-law (well, he would have been had he not been dead for 17 years): 230.6 million. All of these are/were (how do you count when the Beatles no longer exist, nor do either of the two Kings?) pikers compared to Rihanna, who has sold an estimated 334.7 million albums and the 34-year-old billionaire has, presumably, a long career ahead of her.

But back to Jackson. According to Spotify, he has 30,531,780 monthly listeners.

“Billie Jean” has had 1,149,441,023 streams. Consider: the population of China is 1.4-billion people, so it is as though most all of them know that “She’s just a girl who claims I am the one.”

Given these numbers it is safer than houses to claim that there have been a lot of people who have listened to Michael Jackson, either then or right now.

Continue reading 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong–or Can They?

Gas, Food, Concerts

Funny thing about the economy. To use a hackneyed reference, it is like the weather, as in everyone talks about it, but what is somewhat different is that it is not the case that they don’t do anything about it. (Which leads to a thought: if somewhat talks about the weather, just what is it that they’re supposed to do about it?) People piss and moan about high prices, so what do they do? Spend more. And I don’t just mean spend more from the standpoint that the prices are increased and consequently they need to spend more, but from the POV that they buy more stuff because they have more money.

“What!?” you sputter.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that in May 2022 (reported June 30, 2022, because it takes some time to collect and crunch the numbers) “Personal income increased $113.4 billion (0.5 percent).” What’s more, “Disposable personal income (DPI) increased $96.5 billion (0.5 percent) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased $32.7 billion (0.2 percent).”

Who would have thought this is the case?

Gasoline prices are one of the things that there is much consternation about. While some note that adjusted for inflation gas was more expensive back in the summer of 2008, we drive in the present, not the past, so that is sort of a specious point.

But as you may recall from Econ 101 there is a little thing called “supply and demand” and despite the fact that oil companies across the board have exhibited themselves to be shitheels as they rack up profits, there is this:

According to the Federal Reserve, Americans drove 2,849,147 miles in February 2021 and as of April (again, the latest numbers for now) 3,271,946.

More demand, limited supply, increased price.

Continue reading Gas, Food, Concerts

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