Tag Archives: David Bowie

Dead Man’s Wallet

The publication that once self-described as “The Capitalist’s Tool,” which eventually had an unfortunate if apt meaning, Forbes, has, like its competitor, Fortune, long been into creating lists. This was something that preceded the clickbait approach of so-called listicles, which are pretty much predicated on short attention spans. In the case of Forbes and Fortune the lists were predicated on numeric data that their readers could use for purposes of comparison and analysis rather than distraction.

Still, times change for all.

One of the things that is tough to overlook about the music industry—and let’s recognize that what is most visible are the industry participants rather than artisans or craftspeople—is that it is hugely measured in the metric of “hits,” which means “sales,” which means “revenue,” which leads to “earnings.”

In the recent Q3 earnings call, for example, for Universal Music Group, during which it was noted that the company had its fifth quarter running of strong earnings (e.g., revenues of $2.68 billion), Sir Lucian Grainge (and know that Grainge wasn’t knighted because of dragons), pointed out that while there are some 100,000 tracks uploaded to streaming services each day, this is really not helpful because it tends to be “low-quality content,” as distinct from 114-million album seller Taylor Swift, about whom he remarked: “You just have to look at the excitement around the world on a brilliant album by a brilliant artist with this week’s Taylor Swift release. That drives consumption, it drives audience and it drives new people to everything to the products, to the platforms, to other music.” And, of course, it drives revenue.

But Swift is still with us, and Forbes has complied a list of the top-earning artists and entertainers who are dead but still minting some serious coin during the past 12 months.

Of the list of 15 people, musicians take eight spots. The first two on the list are J.R.R. Tolkien ($500 million) and Kobe Bryant ($400 million).

But then there is a musician at number three. David Bowie. He (or more accurately, some legally existing entity, but from here on out we’ll just cite names rather than estates, tontines, corporations, and what have you) earned $250-million. This primarily from a catalog sale.

(According to Will Page of Tarzan Economics, which runs numbers related to the music industry, the global value of music copyright is $39.6-billion, which is now 40% more than in 2001, the year of peak CD; now 55% of the value is predicated on streaming.)

At number 4 is a man who has been dead since August 16, 1977. Elvis earned $110-million during the past year. This is mainly a take from Graceland and various variations of Elvis-branded objects. One might image that at some point in the past—maybe 2001—we hit peak Elvis. Consider: 50,000,000 Million Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong came out in 1959. If they were an average 20 years old then, this means they’re now 83. The only hip shaking most of them are going to do could lead to a fracture. Still, they’ve evidently got some disposable income.

James Brown, the former hardest working man in show business, is in the fifth position, $100-million. This is based on music rights, real estate (evidently hard working and smart), and his name and likeness. Two interesting things to know about him: he was short: 5-foot, 6 inches (according to the CDC, the average male is 5’9”) and he died on Christmas (2006).

Michael Jackson is in sixth position, with $75-million in earnings. Shows in Vegas and on Broadway and his catalog accounts for the major portion of this income. (Speaking of Vegas, while there seems to be an increasing trend toward musicians doing residencies there so they don’t need to travel, it is worth noting that Jackson’s ex-father-in-law performed there more than 600 times, including a run of 58 sold-out shows—that’s entertainment.)

Seventh place, at $55-million, is held by Canadian musician Leonard Cohen, whose “Hallelujah” seems to be a song people like to cover. According to the New York Times Cohen died the night of November 7, 2016, “during his sleep following a fall.” Cohen’s Wikipedia entry has it that “His work explored religion, politics, isolation, depression, sexuality, loss, death, and romantic relationships.” Probably not the life of any party not being held in the basement of a funeral home. Cohen’s earnings were from publishing and his masters.

The most-unexpected musician on the list is in ninth, with $25-million: Jeff Porcaro. Yes, the drummer for Toto. He died in 1992 at age 38 of a heart attack. While some may sneer at Porcaro and Toto, the opening paragraph of article that appeared in 1997 in Drum! magazine by Greg Rule is worth quoting in full because one can only assume that Drum! magazine probably has writers who know a little more about, well, drummers than the rest of us:

“For two-plus magical decades, Jeff Porcaro set the standard. Whatever the session, whatever the stage, when he picked up sticks it was pure magic. Smooth as silk. Deep beyond all comprehension. Taste, impeccable time and attitude for days. He had it all. From his breakthrough sessions with Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan in the mid ’70s to his final notes with Toto on Kingdom of Desire in 1992, the man with the golden groove was consistently brilliant. ‘He was one of the best drummers in the world,’ said Eddie Van Halen at a tribute held for Jeff in late ’92. ‘Definitely the groove master. He was just so heavy.’”

Porcaro’s earnings came from publishing and recording royalties. (Apparently Pocaro’s half-time shuffle beat on “Rosanna” is considered by many to be iconic. Speaking of that song, it was written about Rosanna Arquette, who had been dating Steve Porcaro, Toto keyboard player and yes, Jeff’s brother. Arquette is also the person about whom Peter Gabriel wrote “In Your Eyes.” She’s clearly something.)

Positions 12 and 13, $16-million and $12-million, respectively, deserve a shrug: John Lennon and George Harrison. Royalties and rights for the music in Get Back. One of these days George will get ahead of John. . . .

Bowie illustration by Michelle Rohn for Forbes.

New St. Vincent: The Melting Of The Sun

Video: St. Vincent – “The Melting Of The Sun”

Animation by Chris McD. From Daddy’s Home, out May 14 on Loma Vista.

The latest St. Vincent videos aren’t doing the songs any favors. Do we need to be bashed over the head with the pastiche gimmick? No, we do not.

The songs are cool and they sound great. Those tones and instrument choices are timeless. The drum sound on this new single is huge and moving. The Wurlitzer electric piano will never go out of style. The electric sitar, on the other hand, is a little goofy, but it’s a lot worse when you hear it while you’re watching this corny video. We get it. Seventies. Fine. Got it. Whatever.

Seeing this song performed on Saturday Night Live was a revelation about how this material can be presented without the cheese. Yes, Annie Clark is still wearing that terrible wig and is dressed like a prostitute in an exploitation film, but this time she looks cool. Not silly. Cool. She proves she can still pull off an interesting visual theme without merely relying on hackneyed cliches about the 70s. She’s immersing herself in those accoutrements in order to mess with us, like when David Bowie dressed up like a clown forty years ago and scared the shit out of America.

So yeah. More art, hold the cheese, please.

Especially since “The Melting Of The Sun” is such a cool song. Clark described it to Rolling Stone as “a love letter to strong, brilliant female artists. Each of them survived in an environment that was in a lot of ways hostile to them.” The lyrics specifically namecheck Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, and Nina Simone. I just don’t get why you’d want to blunt the message with a dopey video that looks like a combination of Schoolhouse Rock and the Teletubbies.

Continue reading New St. Vincent: The Melting Of The Sun

Random Notes

You’ve probably received emails from the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post encouraging you to subscribe in order to support the investigative journalism that the papers perform. Yes, while there’s lots of stuff that you can get for free online, paying people to do the work is not free, so if you want to get that information, you have to support it. (Ironically enough, you are getting this for free and I am getting nothing for it. Go figure.)

I recently received a subscription solicitation in my inbox with the subject line:

Support the journalists speaking truth to power

One of those papers or The New Republic or The Atlantic or National Review or Mother Jones?

No. Rolling Stone.

While I know that the solid work of Matt Taibbi appears in the pages of RS, here’s the question: If the objective is to support solid political reporting (assuming, of course, that speaking truth to power doesn’t mean the heads of record companies or Daniel Ek), is getting a subscription to Rolling Stone the right place to spend?

Well, there is that tote bag.

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In 1997 David Bowie created, working with Prudential Financial, “Bowie bonds.” When issued, they had a face value of $1,000 and were a long-term investment, as they had a maturity of 10 years.

The purpose of the bonds was to raise money so that Bowie could buy back the rights to the music on albums released between 1969 and 1990.

There was $55 million raised.

This approach became something like the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) phenomenon that is now all the range especially in tech circles, as variants were created for James Brown and others. (One would have thought that the King of Soul could simply mint is own money, but alas. . . ).

Bowie bonds came to mind as the management company for BTS, Big Hit, went public on the Korean stock exchange and had an immediate valuation of initially $7.6-billion, which then dropped to about $4-billion, and while the number is probably something entirely different right now, odds are that unless something completely unexpected happens to the seven-member band that has been performing since 2010, odds are Big Hit will continue to be a big hit, as the members of the band are undoubtedly fungible.

The thing about music that isn’t often taken into account is the fact that it is the “music industry,” just like, say, the “auto industry.”

The $55-million of Bowie 1997 would be worth about $89 million today.

Or $3,911,000,000 short of Big Hit.

Continue reading Random Notes

Bowie Gets Posted

One thing that probably isn’t thought about a great deal—or at all—is the subject of postage stamps. If they’re thought of, it is in the context of suddenly finding oneself in the need of one.

But they can be thought about in relationship to music.

That is, the U.S. Postal Service actually has a broad list of musicians that it has put on stamps over the years. This includes:
• Louis Armstrong
• Ray Charles
• Elvis Presley
• Johnny Cash
• Sarah Vaughn
• Janis Joplin
• Jimi Hendrix

Now it seems that while there is a number of philatelists who collect the first-day covers and press sheets (with our without die cuts), there are plenty of people who, when going into their local post offices in need of stamps and are faced with the choice between a pickup truck and Janis make the Mercedes-Benz choice.

Back in the day when comic books ran ads for things like “X-Ray Specs,” there were sometimes ads for stamps that were—and are—printed by small countries that were trying to cash in on celebrities, whether it was a stamp with a superhero on it or some voluptuous Hollywood star that happened to be in the news. One could argue that that was probably a more sensible approach financially for putting ink on paper than plenty of other alternatives. They’d seize something of topical interest and turn it into a stamp that would certainly never be used.

It used to be that in the U.S. someone had to be dead (see previous list) before they’d get their face on a U.S. Postal System stamp. That changed in 2012.

Which explains things like Harry Potter stamps. After all, the U.S.P.S. isn’t immune to a need for revenue, and presumably a whole lot of Muggles would be more than glad to have a Potter collection stashed away in an album.

Meanwhile, over in the U.K. the Royal Mail has announced that for the first time in its history it is devoting a stamp issue to an individual artist or cultural figure:

David Bowie.

That’s right, there is a set of 10 Bowie stamps that will go in sale on March 14, that include:
• The covers of Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, Heroes, Let’s Dance, and Blackstar
• Four stamps showing Bowie in live performances (The Ziggy Stardust Tour, 1972; The Stage Tour, 1978; The Serious Moonlight Tour, 1983; A Reality Tour, 2004).

Incidentally: the Royal Mail, after 500 years, was privatized in 2015. Clearly its motives are not unlike those of the aforementioned small countries. Or the U.S.P.S., for that matter.

Five from the Archive: Tedeschi Trucks Band in 2015

It’s been a few years since the last Five from the Archive post, but we haven’t lost touch with the Live Music Archive.  It just keeps growing and getting better. So we’re bringing Five from the Archive back. To start, we’ll be focusing on my favorite form of musical flattery – covers – from a few different bands. For our first go around, it’s the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Tedeschi Trucks became a band when Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks (now married) merged their bands together a few years ago. They are huge on the festival circuit, and growing more popular each year. They do extensive touring, and are currently on their Wheels of Soul Summer Tour, with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings opening up.

As a band, Tedeschi Trucks is like an old school soul revue meets the Allman Brothers. They’ve got two guitar players (Tedeschi and Trucks), two drummers, a keyboard player, a bass player, plus two back up vocalists and a horn section. A big band that knows how to occupy (and not occupy) the open spaces in a song. They’ve released two of their own albums, and they do a good number of covers. Today we’re highlighting five of the covers they’ve played so far in 2015.

1.  Tedeschi Trucks Band – “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”. A classic Dylan song. From The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, it’s just Bob and his guitar, but here it becomes a soulful big band ballad in the hands of Tedeschi Trucks. There are great flute and trumpet solos in there, too. Full show: Tedeschi Trucks Band – January 17, 2015 at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg, Fl.

2. Tedeschi Trucks Band – “Oh! You Pretty Things”. A surprise but welcome choice, and a great cover. This is old school David Bowie, going back to the early 70s and Hunky Dory. It’s mostly just him and the piano on the album, and so it is here – mostly Tedeschi’s vocals and a spare piano accompaniment, that builds to the full band as the song progresses. People have no idea what song they’re playing. I love it. Full Show: Tedeschi Trucks Band – January 18, 2015 at Mizner Park in Boca Raton, Fl.

3. Tedeschi Trucks Band – “Space Captain”. “Space Captain” is practically a standard for Tedeschi Trucks now. It’s a frequent encore selection. It originally comes from Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishman record. Full Show: Tedeschi Trucks Band – February 21, 2015 at Warner Theatre in Washington D.C.

4. Tedeschi Trucks Band – “Living Loving Maid -> What Is And What Should Never Be  -> The Storm”. OK, I’ll admit, this one is a bit of a stretch as a full fledged cover. It’s not. The band plays around with the riffs from the two Led Zeppelin songs for a few minutes, but the rest of the clip is their original “The Storm” from Made Up Mind. It’s a solid jam, though. Full show: Tedeschi Trucks Band – April 17, 2015 at Santander Performing Arts Center in Reading, PA.

5. Tedeschi Trucks Band – “I’ve Got A Feeling”. Here’s an example of where the background vocalists get elevated to lead vocal. They both add so much depth to the band’s sound. This version of The Beatles “I’ve Got A Feeling” highlights some of that added depth. Full show: Tedeschi Trucks Band – May 18, 2015 at Central Park Summer Stage.

Not a bad collection of covers, and we’re not even halfway through 2015 yet. I’m going to see these guys again this summer, this time at Meadow Brook Music Festival. Can’t wait to see them and Sharon Jones.

Find more of Mike’s work at MVP Presents. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

[Ed. Note: Image from Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Michael F. O’Brien]

Paul Weller Welcomes Twins, Names Them After Fave Musicians

When I was a kid—and I mean, when I was eight or nine years old—I told anyone who would listen that if I ever had kids I would name them after The Beatles. And I meant all of The Beatles, even Ringo. But I was a kid and what did I know? I grew up and realized it was ridiculous to name my kids after my favorite band.

Paul Weller on the other hand is welcoming his twin sons Bowie and John Paul into the world this week. The 53 year old former frontman of The Jam announced their birth via his website.

Don’t get me wrong, I love music and understand how deeply our favorite artists can touch us. But isn’t it a bit childish to be so blatant about it? I mean, it’s not like I have a son named after a famous musician. Oh, wait…

VIA The New Music Express

Cursive – Let Me Up

Cursive has a new Daytrotter session featuring “What Have I Done?” off of Mama, I’m Swollen and “The Casualty” from the band’s previous album Domestica, in addition to covers of The Cure‘s “Love Cats” and David Bowie‘s “Modern Love”, both of which had recently become staples in the band’s live shows on their July/August tour.

MP3: Cursive – “Mama I’m Swollen”

Lots more here.

Bad ass video from Saddle Creek‘s Cursive. “Let Me Up” is the third video from the band’s new album Mama, I’m Swollen after the jump…

Continue reading Cursive – Let Me Up