LAUGHING THEIR FUCKING ASSES OFF

January 2, 2012

LMFAO’s ‘Sexy And I Know It’ is America’s No.1 song. Significantly their previous No.1 has nudged back into the top 10 in its 40th week of charting. Nothing SO startling about that. Songs just stay and stay these days. In the days of physical singles whether we liked it or not record companies had the ability to delete singles from sale to force us to concentrate on a follow-up single or send us to the album containing that popular song. They can’t or won’t do that any more. Nine of the current American Top 40 songs have been around for more than half a year.

‘Sexy And I Know It’ is also back at No.1 in Australia. In 2011 between this No.1 and ‘Party Rock Anthem’ LMFAO spent 17 week at No.1 in Australia. No-one has accumulated such a dominant 12 month run in Australia since Abba in the 70s, and the Beatles in the 60s. No-one else!

We have to take LMFAO seriously. They’re not the decade’s Village People or KLF. They’re doing the business and are symptomatic of the times, not exactly perfomers, not exactly a group – a “project” created by two DJs with an interesting heritage.

Stefan Gordy (Redfoo) and Skyler Gordy (Sky Blu) were born 11 years apart. Stefan, the younger of the two, is Skyler’s uncle. Skyler is Stefen’s father’s grandson. Stefan’s father is Berry Gordy IV, the second of three children from Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr’s second marriage. Gordy (the father) married three times. He didn’t marry Stefan’s mother, like he didn’t marry Motown star Diana Ross, who also secretly bore a child to him. Berry Gordy Jr fathered eight children altogether, four inside marriages, four outside. Stefen is his youngest child. He’s the product of a brief relationship Berry Gordy Jr had with Nancy Leiviska, a Motown executive for 18 years. Leiviska did more than sleep with the boss. She came to Motown as Sammy Davis Jr’s personal assistant, and at Motown saw the company into the video age – long before the advent of MTV. When it came to MTV Leiviska wrote and produced a cutting edge video for Rockwell’s ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’, the first Motown clip aired by MTV. Rockwell, incidentally, was another of Gordy’s sons, another of the non-marriage children. Leiviska also directed and shot Rick James’ landmark ‘Superfreak’ video. She’s not watching her son’s worldwide success with LMFAO from the sidelines. Stefan’s mum administers the ‘Party Rock Anthem’ copyright.

One last family connection. The name LMFAO was accidentally coined by Skyler’s grandmother. When the messaged her to say the duo planned to call itself Sexe (pronounced Sex-say) Dudes, her response was LMFAO, a more profane extension of the Internet acronym LOL (laughing out loud). One could safely assumed that it was the grandmother on Berry Gordy IV’s mother’s side of the family. IV’s mum Raynoma has been the whistle blower on Berry Gordy Jr’s “interesting” history. She was the one who revealed for the first time the child Berry had had with Diana Ross – who had quickly married her manager when she discovered she was with child. Raynoma was there at the start of the Motown story. She helped her husband establish his recording empire. After they divorced and she remarried, Raynoma went back to the company, only to find herself sacked during a cost-cutting exercise. The final cruel blow came when Berry Gordy Jr sold Motown for $61 million in 1988 she expected a “little something. Her name had been on the original company documents but Berry had persuaded her to take it off for the good of the company. In 1988 she didn’t get a cent. SO she wrote a book instead. Now Berry is taking about creating a Broadway musical about his life. How much of the above will feature? The official Motown story is filled with fiction covering over a much more sordid reality.

More of that some other time. Let’s get back to LMFAO, worlds away from the original Gordy family empire. If we dare to attempt to predict the future we shouldn’t expect RedFoo and SkyBlu to party on for much longer. They’ll become a hit factory for others, as producers and maybe even as record label executives. In recent history there’s a long list of hitmakers who’ve been handed the keys to the front office, often a case of being prompted out of their depth. In the Gordy boys’ case their father paved the way.

Like the Black Eyed Peas – Will.I.Am was RedFoo’s junior high school friend and an early supporter –LMFAO, together or separately will become a money spinning corporation. RedFoo also has business background in investment and money. While their father’s Motown Records’ music will always remind us of the 60s and 70s, in a very different way LMFAO already have and will continue to shape the times were living through right now. Whether ‘Party Rock Anthem’ is the new ‘Lambada’ or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is yet to be determined.

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2011 – WE WERE ROLLING IN THE DEEP

January 1, 2012

When we look back on 2011 in time to come we’ll see it as a watershed year for the music industry, when amidst  all the confusion and uncertainty the success of Adele will be recognized as either a turning point or a last gasp reminder of what was lost. Adele’s ‘21’ not only defied all the odds – the biggest selling album in the US since 2004, the UK the biggest selling album of the 21st century – when all the indicators seemed to be pointing in the other direction. And it’s a global story, so universal there’s no escaping its significance. Not even Kanye West would dare grab a Grammy from Adele’s hands in February.

Adele’s  is a story without the celebrity seeking Twitter fuelled orgy surrounding her contemporaries, an oasis of reality in a sea  of falsehood and audience manipulation, a distinctive voice in a time of autotune mediocrity. Adele has charmed the world with honesty all along the way, a refreshing nakedness. Our every contact with her has shone with integrity. It’s in her songs. It’s there with every performance, on stage or on television. It’s there in her every contact with the press.

As the major record companies shrink in number and pour their dollars into fewer artists, Adele has risen without them and amongst them, like a flower from a wasteland.

While Adele MUST be celebrated, at this point in time an aspiring musician coming into the “business” can’t hope for a living. A recent study  told  us that for an American artist to make minimum wage ($US1,160 per month) by just selling downloads, they would have to move 12,399 tracks on iTunes. There you see one of the problems. While the U2s and Paul McCartneys praised Steve Jobs loudly after his death, Jobs can be seen as one of the great villains in this story. When the record industry was at a loss at how to handle the digital age, running around like the proverbial headless chickens, Jobs offered them a one-fix solution – iTunes. In reality iTunes was a Trojan Horse. Apple’s priority wasn’t and isn’t selling music. iTunes exists to provide content to Apple’s other products. The cheaper the music the more viable the phones, etc etc. The record companies just handed over the whole shebang, getting sued in the aftermath for violating contracts they had with their artists.

Yes there’s been other successful artists in 2011, each of them in some other way illustrating the state of play. Lady Gaga’s multi-media assault. Her songs, her albums are one part of a complex success equation. Gaga’s using what exists to her advantage. Rihanna is slave to it. Katy Perry is a more playful participant. LMFAO point to the trend towards a single track music industry rather than one based on “bundled” albums. Good for the record companies, not so good for creativity and building careers. Harder for us to form relationships with artists and their music, artists becoming as disposable as hit songs.

Once apon a time a successful artist opened doors for others. A record company with a successful artist found themselves in a position of strength, able to grow and take chances. Those days are gone. Successful artists are now enterprises in their own right. That’s where the growth will go. There’s no trickle down.

The digital age has also made music much more global at the top level. If you take a look however  you’ll notice that the world’s audiences are in fact quite territorial. Wherever we live we are very still and increasingly keen to enjoy our local produce, but we have to do so under the growing weight of the need of the major international labels to make as much out of their stars as they can – and that (Adele again against the tide) means American stars.

So here’s another problem for the rest of the world. What America wants is not necessarily what the world wants. Country music is an American staple. It isn’t and never has been for the rest of the world. Same applies to a lot of rap. This is music that America wants, needs and will support, so that’s what THEIR record companies NEED to and DO provide. That’s THEIR territorial music, but because of the American industry’s strength and place in the music industry, THEIR record companies are also EVERYBODY ELSE’s record companies. Adele could not have come out of America!

That’s leaving less and less room for what the rest of the world might want. What we’re looking at is what Hollywood has done to the movie industry. With Hollywood dominating available screens other countries struggle to sustain healthy movie industries.

At the end of each year there are the inevitable ‘best of’ lists. 2011 wasn’t an impressive year for music. It was out there but we’re being denied access to it, and it’s being denied access to us – an ironic thing to say in the days of YouTube. Five minutes of fame is not what we’re talking about.

Music is in era of great change. We’ll look back and see this time as being as significant (maybe more) as the change from 78s to 45s, vinyl to compact disc. Change is change. It isn’t necessarily progress. The introduction of the CD was when record companies started killing our engagement with music, not intentionally but in effect. The change into the digital age could have been exciting. It may still become exciting. But it didn’t have to be like this. It didn’t have to force so much out of reach of consumers. It didn’t have to drive so many of music-makers into poverty.

There were a lot of factors, but a lot of the blame has to lie with the music industry itself. No courage. No imagination. No love for music?

THE BEACH BOYS DO IT AGAIN

December 18, 2011

Yet again we see the power of a brand name with excited headlines resulting from  the Beach Boys announcing their reunion for a 50-date 50th anniversary tour and new album in 2012. As a group they were never all that good. Brian Wilson’s genius as a songwriter and arranger made the difference. The musicians Wilson has been working with in recent years are heads and shoulders over the Beach Boys, who would never have managed recreating ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile ‘ on stage as Brian and his new friends have managed to do. To create the original works Brian had to work around the Beach Boys.

So, the reunion is about nostalgia rather than musicianship. It’s rather telling that what we know so far about the new album is that the group as is in 2011 has re-recorded their 1968 hit ‘Do It Again’ as its heralding call for the new year.  Don’t be surprised if that’s what we see and hear at the Grammy Awards. Awards used to be about recognition of achievement. They’ve become events. The Awards and winners have become less of the priority. The reunited  Beach Boys will be a Grammy event.

‘Do It Again’ was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love. In 1968 it was a return to the traditional Beach Boys sound after Brian Wilson’s sand-box collaborations with Van Dyke Parks. Mike Love was the Beach Boy who was most unhappy about Brian working with Parks and the music Brian was creating. Cousin Mike is on record for calling ‘Good Vibrations’ “shit”. Eat your words Mike.

In subsequent years Mike Love initiated lawsuit after lawsuit against his fellow Beach Boys, over his contribution to the songwriting,  over the name of the band, etc etc. ‘Do It Again’ isn’t just an appropriate theme for 2012, that song offers is a peace dove within Beach Boys ranks. Missing in action in the meantime of course are Brian’s brothers Dennis and Carl who have taken their surfboards into the beyond.  Dennis drowned in 1983. Carl lost his life to cancer in 1998.

The 2012 Beach Boys will see one-time protagonists Brian Wilson and Mike Love joined by Al Jardine and David Marks. Jardine was a high school classmate of Brian Wilson’s who joined the Wilson Boys and their cousin Mike for their first recording session   When he left the Beach Boys shortly afterwards he was replaced on bass by Marks but returned in 1962 at Brian’s request. Marks, despite many overtures,  didn’t become a permanent Beach Boy again until 1997.

What’s kept our attention on the Beach Boys over the years of course was the group’s relationship with Brian. After a mental breakdown they left him at home to write songs while they sang their old songs about surfing, girls and hot rods around the world. They came back and found him in his sandbox with Van Dyke Parks. Try as they might to carry on without their deranged resident genius they could never quite manage it. Whenever the Beach Boys needed a career lift they tried to get Brian on stage or into the studio again. Eventually it just all fell to pieces although Mike Love and Al Jardine put some of the broken bits together separately towards their own ends. Miraculously Brian Wilson emerged (relatively) sane and has been making some wonderful (and eccentric) music.

In the beginning Brian Wilson needed the rest of The Beach Boys. He didn’t for long, but he was stuck with them, just as they were stuck with a quickly out-dated name. The Beach Boys always needed Brian Wilson, even if it was only spiritually. While Brian’s been working with musicians worthy of him the Beach Boys have limped on. Was that version of the Beach Boys that toured Australia earlier this year REALLY miming?  To be at all relevant he Beach Boys STILL need Brian Wilson and will have him again in 2012.

Suddenly The Beach Boys name means something again.

 

SHOULD WE START WORRYING ABOUT RIHANNA?

December 15, 2011

Where to for Rihanna?

At the same time as she’s been named by Forbes as one of the year’s best paid female entertainer there’s worrying signs that she might be starting to unravel. Cancelling gigs (Ireland) due to stress is one thing. Keeping your fans waiting for more than an hour (England) is another. It’s unforgivable. It’s spitting in the eye of the very people who’ve put her in that high priced bracket – kind of.

Today entertainers get to where they are and get what they get financially through more than the records they make and the numbers who attend their concerts. These things help to create a brand, which leads to endorsements, which leads to $$$ and more $$$. While the music industry whinges about piracy’s impact on their income, have you noticed that the top artists are earning more money than ever before? Product endorsement is a big part of it. Rihanna’s list of endorsements is nearly as long as the list of her hit records.  It’s important to remember that during the storm over that Chris Brown incident there were fears that SHE might lose endorsements if she pursued Brown in court.

In recent years Rihanna has been pop music’s most consistent star. On top of her own records everybody from Eminem to Coldplay wants an association – another form of endorsement. Apart from consistency Rihanna has certainly been BUSY. In just over six years she’s released just as many albums, almost unheard of in the modern history of music. If it was JUST about music right now SOMEONE would be worried. Elvis Presley’s Colonel Tom Parker lived by the management maxim: “Overexposure is like sunburn. It hurts’. It might hurt a music career but it keeps the endorsements providers happy.

 Are we really so celebrity awe struck that we’ll buy a perfume because it comes with Rihanna’s image? Apparently.

Something else to note about Rihanna. In that relatively short career she’s had a number of changes in management, usually with $$$ at the core. It’s happening right now. She’s unhappy with her current management – NOT because they’ve got her churning out music, NOT because she’s working to the point of stress, NOT because  she’s putting out videos with questionable messages – but because her management has  just taken on management of Beyonce and there might be a conflict of interest when it comes to those all-important endorsement clients.

But  …. as much as we’re watching those eye candy  videos, as much as we’re consuming those Rihanna songs – have you ever noticed how LARGE those songwriting credits are? – and apparently beating our way into the stores to buy anything else associated with her name and image ….  we actually don’t care do we?

If Rihanna IS unravelling, and I’m not saying she really is, and – dread the thought – she’s heading the way of Lindsay Lohan or Amy Winehouse we really won’t care will we? We’ll consume all that with just as much fascination. As well as celebrity we love a trainwreck. That year Britney Spears dominated Google etc etc, it wasn’t to do with our love for her as a singer.

Rihanna deserves all that money she’s making. I’d just like her to find time to enjoy it.

DEATH IS NOT A GOOD CAREER MOVE

December 14, 2011

Amy Winehouse is No.1 in England. It’s a hollow achievement. On ‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’ we’re listening to music that’s unworthy of her. If she’d lived and released this record her career would be finished. We wouldn’t accept it. But Amy is dead and her leftover scraps have been swept off the studio floor, polished up and presented to us “in tribute”. Sad.

It’s happened before of course. John Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy’ was finished before he died. It wasn’t just his record. Half the songs were Yoko’s and performed by Yoko. He himself hadn’t meant it to be that way, but this was his first outing on record after five years of “watching the wheels”. If that’s the way it had to to be … Afterwards he went straight back into the studio, planning to somehow make his own record again. That’s what he was doing when he was shot, concentrating on a song of Yoko’s to make it so good she might be inspired to want to be on her own too.

So we heard an album called ‘Milk And Honey’, again half John half Yoko. At least we heard the songs  the way John left them. We can heard that there was a reason John had left these songs off ‘Double Fantasy’, not just to make room for Yoko. At best they would have been fillers.

Jimi Hendrix wasn’t so lucky. After HE died a producer called Alan Douglas claimed the right to go into the studio to give us the albums Douglas insisted Jimi had planned to make. Douglas used session musicians Jimi had never met.  This was different to Steve Cropper  adding the seagulls to ‘Dock Of The Bay’ after Otis Redding died. What Jimi did was collaborative. What Alan Douglas to his music did was sacrilege. Years later his family tried to unscramble the “egg”.

Jeff Buckley struggled with the follow-up to his magnificent ‘Grace’ album. There was a whole album he recorded afterwards and scrapped – or thought he’d scrapped. He was in the process of rehearsing a new band in order to try again when he died. So we heard the music he hadn’t wanted us to hear as, part of ‘Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk’. Ultimately a beautiful experience  – ‘Grace’ – was tarnished. It was his mother’s doing. Where does keeping a memory alive finish, and exploitation start?

Couldn’t we just have taken ‘Grace’ in its full glory as our lasting gift from Jeff?

Amy Winehouse’s “third album” isn’t worthy of her. These are not “treasures”. They should have remained “hidden”. For her sake – for our sake – it would be better if, as with ‘Grace’, we were left with only her two complted albums ‘Frank’ and ‘Back To Black’ to enjoy over and over. That’s who she was. That’s who she wanted to be. Finish.

They say that death is a good career move. For who?

JUST MAKING THE FAMOUS MORE FAMOUS

December 12, 2011

(Excuse the long absence if you’ve been here before. I hope to “speak” to you regularly again)

Hardly a week goes by without news of another celebrity artist being appointed as a judge or making a guest appearance on that seemingly ever-growing list of television reality talent shows … X-Factor, (Insert Territory)’s Got Talent, The Voice. Has everyone forgotten what these shows are SUPPOSED to be about .. unearthing unknown talent .. giving people a break?

Maybe that dream was there in the beginning .. it’s still the dream of the contestants-cum-combatants .. but that it’s a dream that’s been hijacked. If that dream was ever really there it’s been stolen. The dream has become a scam.

 It started with (Insert Territory) Idol holding feature nights, you know, twenty-something  year olds forced to sing the songs of a Lionel Ritchie who’s there on set to “mentor” them, catalogues so old they are not part of the lives of the singers forced to perform them, songs they have no passion for, may not be suited for. And at the end of one of those episodes someone gets thrown out. Sorry. Lionel Ritchie walks away with a big exposure boost. Thanks.

Then came the celebrity judge phenomenon. Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine take time off from their busy recording and performing schedules to give the wanna-bes the benefit of their experience and knowledge on America’s  version of ‘The Voice’. Popular show. Massive exposure. Who gets the most benefit? Aguilera records ‘Moves Like Jagger’ with Levine’s Maroon 5. No.1 single in America and around the world. Thanks. Who WERE those contestants?

‘The Voice’ is about to be launched in Australia. Signed up as judges are Keith Urban and Delta Goodrem. Keith, despite his Australian origins and his mammoth status in the US, is NOT a mega star in Australia. Not yet. Delta USED to be a mega star in Australia. She’s been concentrating on establishing am international toehold. Urban and Goodrem can both do with something high profile to turn the tide. ‘The Voice’ will do the job nicely thank you. I can guarantee you now even, before the first show is filmed, that when the series is over those two careers will making new Australian headlines. The pay for being on the show won’t hurt either. What contestants? Line up so we can applaud you and spit you out.

England’s judges for ‘The Voice’’s 2012 launch in that country will be singer-songwriter Jessie J , Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, Tom Jones and The Script frontman Danny O’Donoghue.  The show will do none of them harm. Can you feel a Jessie J/will.i.am collaboration coming on?  What contestants?

Theme nights, celebrity judges and – thanks to the massive audiences these shows boast – now some of the biggest acts in the world are lining up to make guest performances. Coldplay performing on X-Factor. The television bosses don’t mind. Look at the ratings. Simon Cowell doesn’t mind. Look at his bank balance. The artists don’t mind. Look at the exposure.What about the contestant?.

In the annals of show business there’s that legendary man with a cigar who comes up to uninitiated and promises to make them a star. Reality or an evil trap? That’s what these shows are the equivalent of. You can’t blame the Coldplays etc etc. They’re looking after their own interests, exploiting the shows, as they exploit those innocents.

And us? Are we being exploited too? Did we start watching those shows to help Christine Aguilera and Adam Levine to a world-wide No.1 or did we share Susan Boyle’s dream?

Both X-Factor judge and Simon Crowell have admitted that Lady Gaga wouldn’t have survived one of these shows. Reid had the chance to discover Gaga properly in the first place, but he didn’t see her potential. He says he had a bad day.

For the last ten years the music industry has been lamenting downloads as the industry’s downfall. Don’t these shows also have a lot to answer for? A lot of energy and money has been invested for what result? Not much as far as the health of music is concerned.

WHAT I’M LISTENING TO

Feist (Metals): As a singer she has extraordinary warmth. Her voice just envelops you like sunshine. As a songwriter she has taste and imagination. Already a recording artist with a commendable history this is arguably her finest work.  I was hooked before. I’m addicted now.

VIDEO KILLED THE MUSIC STAR

March 3, 2011

The role video is playing in music is clearly changing. Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ has already topped the charts around the world. NOW she gives us a video. Same with several prominent videos in recent times. Eminem and Rihanna didn’t REALLY get together, for the video,  until AFTER ‘Love The Way You Lie’ had become a runaway hit. So what’s the rationale here?

It used to be that music video clips were made to save artists from appearing on every television show going to promote their latest release – when there were still television shows to appear on. Video didn’t kill the radio star. It killed the music star. We saw them more often, mouthing their songs accompanied by eye candy  often so memorable we talked about “seeing” someone’s new song. But we stopped seeing them in their raw state. Live performances on video and on television shows became boring.

But I digress.

Videos USED to promote songs. If you create a high profile big budget video for a song with already proven sales traction what’s the purpose? It HAS to be to promote the artist rather than the song, to make them more famous than they already are. For what purpose? Isn’t Lady Gaga’s video going deflect our attention AWAY from her song? We might look at the video again and again. Will we want to buy the song – if we haven’t already – to play the song again and again?  Playing the audio has been made a partial experience.

In Lady Gaga’s case the strategy MIGHT be to raise our expectation for the album waiting for release. Maybe. Hasn’t the music industry destroyed the album’s pride of place as the artist’s ultimate gift to their fans – a body of work in a collectable package?   

For some time we’ve been in an era of fame for fame’s sake. The music itself is a sideshow, the bait when there’s bigger fish to fry.  Sponsorship. Merchandizing.  Get a hit. Make a video to raise the artist’s profile even further, with product placement if possible. Create a platform from which to sell merchandise. How did someone who can hold a tune – not that all of them can – suddenly become a fashion designer or perfume mixer? More dollars in that than the pittance iTunes has forced the music industry down to.

And yet those top music artists are making much more money than music artists ever made. It ain’t just about music any more.

For artists who ARE about music the video still serves the traditional purpose.  Go visit YouTube. But where do you start? And how long with that forum last before it goes the way of MySpace?

WHAT I’M LISTENING TO

The Waifs (Temptation):  There’s more to music than struttin’ and  dancin’ and posin’. There’s self-expression, emotion, melody and performance. There’s the Waifs.

SINGING WITHOUT CONSCIENCE

March 1, 2011

As the people of Libya take it on themselves, at the risk of their lives, to end the reign of Muammar Gaddafi, the world’s politicians aren’t the only ones left condemned for leaving Lybia to its plight and choosing pragmatic harmonious relationships with its known terrorist and murderer leader.

A number of performers have enriched themselves by accepting Gaddafi’s favours, a fact highlighted by Nelly Furtado’s announcement she will donate the $1 million she was paid by the Gaddafi “clan” in 2007 to play a concert at an Italian hotel. If only it was that easy to wash their blood-stained hands for the world’s leaders.

In 2006 Lionel Richie helped Gaddafi and more 1,000 senior Libyan officials and diplomats – where were the people? – “celebrate” the 20th anniversary of a U.S. raid on the North African country. Gaddafi’s former home had been kept in its wrecked state to mark the overnight attack in which an estimated 40 people were killed including Gaddafi’s adopted daughter Hanna. The concert was named “Hanna Peace Day” in honor of the child, one of several infants reportedly killed in the strike. The event ended with a group of children dressed as angels standing on a balcony of the house and waving candles as they sang along to a recording of  Richie’s humanitarian anthem “We are the world”. It’s not known how much he was paid.

Mariah Carey was paid $1 million to sing just four songs at a lavish New Year’s Day 2009 bash on the Caribbean island of St. Barts, hosted by Col. Gaddafi’s son and national-security adviser, Muatassim.

The following  New Year  Beyonce, collecting $2 million,  and Usher provided the entertainment at St.Barts .

You might forgive these entertainers if these entertainments had happened before the December 1988 Gaddafi-sponsored the bomb planted on Pan Am Flight 103, which came down on Lockerbie, Scotland, ignoring all the other known Gaddafi atrocities. Reportedly, Gaddafi was a major financier of the “Black September Movement” which perpetrated the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Gaddafi should never have been forgiven for Lockerbie.

However, if it was good enough for the world’s leaders to still want to pal up with “”mad dog of the Middle East” after all that why not Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Enrique Iglesias, Jose Carreras and others? – while there’s financial gain in it.

What I’m Listening To –

The Memory Machine (Julia Stone). With brother Angus she’s charming. Alone she’s emotionally tortured.

Britney Vs Gaga: No contest

February 20, 2011

(I’m back – excuse the interruption)

So here we are, waiting (eagerly?) for major new releases from pop princesses Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. The contrast couldn’t be more different.

Britney – not matter what she has in store for us – promises more of the same. Gaga is the best thing to happen to music in a long long time. I’m sure even she doesn’t know what will happened tomorrow. That’s part of why she’s so interesting. As the music industry salivated over the then forthcoming ‘Hold It Against Me’ single I found myself wondering “why”? Who could possibly be interested in Britney any more?

You could understand it once. New girl on the block, a prospective rival for Madonna. That jailbait thing while she was telling us about reading the Bible every day and saving her virginity. None of it was true. She’s given us the odd good tune, made some entertaining (provocative) videos, but it’s all been a big fat lie. We’ve been deceived. The trainwreck of her personal life is sad, but no reason to deserve loyalty. What’s she got for us that we’re not also getting now from Katy Perry (saucy, but cheeky with it) or Rihanna (sexy and striking)? Britney’s music comes from the same production line (literally). What does Britney herself have to add and offer?

These days singer are often like fashion models. Someone else is responsible for the clothes they wear. Pop stars have become “clothes” horses. Here’s what you’ll wear today, get out on the catwalk and sell.

There is just one of Lady Gaga’s differences. She generates what we hear and see – with help of course , but she’s the engine. While others helped her become what she’s become amd she relies on a team to help her be what she wants to be, behind the craziness there’s a REAL Stefani Germanatto, with her feet on the ground. Her father is her business partner, but not her manager like others we could mention whose parents have pushed them into the spotlights mindless of the consequences. How many of the “problems” we perceive in others can be sheeted home to opportunist, bad parenting? Gaga is control. She’s running this show, at her own break-neck speed, not the industry’s.

There shouldn’t be a ‘Fame Monster’. She was simply supposed to add some new tracks to ‘The Fame’ to breathe extra sales life into that debut album, forcing her biggest fans to invest again. But the ever-excessive Gaga came up with TOO MANY tracks. She came up with another album! As her fame grew so did her shows, not just in number, but in extravagance. Lady Gaga hasn’t deceived her fans (her monsters). She’s shown her gratitude and devotion to them all the way.

The whole controversy about ‘Born This Way’ – is it or is it not Madonna-like? – is almost laughable. This singer constantly shows herself to be more than a song. It’s a package. It’s an event. It’s an adventure. While the music industry moans and groans about its fortunes, manufactures and manipulates, losing its “love” for music, Gaga providing everything that’s missing. Excitement. Passion. Commitment.

And she sings and dances.

If music is a carnival, Britney is the old Ghost Train (I’m not scared any more), Gaga is the Plunge of Death. ( Aaaaghh!)

What I’m listening to:

The National (High Violet) – Just can’t get enough of this album. The drama, the poetry, the intelligence!

Julia Stone (Memory Machine) – Raw, honest, almost agonizing emotion on display.

(Please come back for more)

JOHN LENNON:Happiness is a cold gun. Imagine.

October 9, 2010

It’s John Lennon’s 70th birthday. In reality he only made it to forty and sixty days of those seventy years.

 What if John Lennon had lived? What if somehow those five fateful shots that were heard around the world on December 8, 1980 never happened, or even if John Lennon had somehow survived, and today was still amongst us to enjoy his 70th life milestone. If so, what would Lennon be doing today? How would he have spent those “missing” thirty years?

 Imagine.

 To take those imaginary steps forward, we need first to go back, to 1975, when John Lennon and wife Yoko Ono learned they were expecting a child. There had been pregnancies before, and miscarriages. In 1975 the Lennons had only just been reunited after 18 months of separation and Yoko wondered whether a child was something they needed right now. She was contemplating an abortion, but John Lennon begged her to reconsider. John and Yoko made a deal –  if Yoko would go through with the pregnancy John would take give up his music career to care for the child for its first five years. In 1963 Yoko Ono made a similar agreement with another husband, Tony Cox, regarding their daughter Kyoko. Her marriage to John Lennon was Yoko’s third.

 John and Yoko’s son Sean Taro Lennon was subsequently born on 9 October 1975, John Lennon’s 35th birthday.

 Let’s move forward now to 1980, five years after that deal was struck, with Sean Lennon’s fifth and John’s fortieth birthdays looming. In March the Lennons celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary. The marriage had remained rocky. There was even speculation of divorce talk, and it was around this time that Yoko entered an affair with bisexual art-dealer Sam Green, no stranger to John. In November 1979 Lennon’s will named Green as Sean’s custodian should something happen to both John and Yoko.

 For their 1980 wedding anniversary Yoko bought John a celebratory Rolls Royce. John presented Yoko with a heart-shaped diamond and 500 gardenias. She was offended. John did not know that gardenias represent death in Japan.

 Mid-1980 John and Sean spent seven weeks in Cold Spring Harbour and Bermuda while Yoko continued to take care of business back in New York. Lennon returned in July, energized by surviving a stormy nine-day ride on the sailboat “Megan Jaye”,  rejuvenated and armed with a bunch of new songs. During his missing years Lennon seems to have been hiding his songwriting efforts, inside hollowed books, songs tucked away on tapes which if you started to listen seemed to only contain innocent recordings off the radio. Who was John hiding his music from? Now, in 1980 he was making music out in the open, recording demos and playing them to Yoko, phoning first son Julian to discuss the new songs.

Immediately on John Lennon’s return to New York, Yoko Ono approached Jack Douglas, a producer the Lennons had previously worked with. Was a return to the studio always part of the plan? Was it precipitated by the quality of the songs Lennon had come up with? Or were John and Yoko stung into action by the success of Paul McCartney’s ‘McCartney II’ album and its ‘Coming Up’ single, Paul’s first US No.1.? 

Paul McCartney had been trying to make contact with John Lennon. He’d phoned on the way to Wings’ January tour of Japan, but Yoko vetoed the call. There are some who believe that Yoko somehow was responsible to Paul McCartney being arrested and jailed for possession of marijuana on his arrival in Tokyo.

Jack Douglas agreed to produce the new John Lennon album. At the last minute Yoko had a surprise for both Douglas and husband John. Yoko would be sharing the album 50/50 with her own songs, and no, there would not be a John side and a Yoko side. Yoko Ono did not want her songs to be ignored.

The Lennons worked with a band of musicians Jack Douglas assembled for the project. There was one session with Cheap Trick. Yoko decided that was too rock and roll, too much like their 70s Plastic Ono Band period. Those Cheap Trick sessions never saw the light of day. Paul McCartney rang in the middle of the ‘Double Fantasy’ sessions, to suggest a collaboration, but again Yoko didn’t put the call through to John. John was telling Jack Douglas he was planning to take his new music on the road and wanted to include some of his Beatles repertoire in the set. He was enjoying making music again.

Then IT happened, but for the sake of this exercise it DIDN’T happen. Several things could have occurred instead. A few days previously John and Yoko had discussed stepping up security outside the Dekota Building. They decided to leave the decision until after the album sessions were finished. What if? On THAT night they were considering going out for a meal, but John wanted to get home before Sean fell asleep. What if? Anything else might have happened. HE might not have been waiting with his five-shot, short-barrel .38-caliber Charter Arms Special. No bang bang bang bang bang.

‘Double Fantasy’ would have been successful anyway – despite Yoko’s contributions. It was John Lennon’s first album of new songs in six years. He was an ex-Beatle. His songs – ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, ‘Woman’, ‘Watching The Wheels’, ‘Beautiful Boy’ – were some of the best of an illustrious career. John’s renewed enthusiasm for his work would have been matched by his fans’ enthusiasm.

What we know for certain is that he would have gone straight back into the studio. With ‘Double Fantasy’ finished that’s what Lennon was already doing. As well as his excitement for his own music, John had high hopes for a new Yoko song called ‘Walking On Thin Ice’. Lennon  thought this might finally be the song which would establish Yoko Ono in her own right musically. He would have pushed ahead, maybe convincing Yoko to allow him to record  more rock oriented material, perhaps with Cheap Trick again. He might have used ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ to encourage Yoko into a parallel career in music again, not a shared one.

Inevitably John Lennon would have looked at returning to live performances. He was talking about it.  There were only a handful of  post-Beatles concerts from John –  The Toronto Peace Festival, ‘Some Time In New York City’, with Elton John at Madison Square Garden. The two years before Lennon’s self-imposed househusband exile were spent under threat of deportation from America. Lennon was afraid that if he ever left American shores he would not be allowed to return. That threat limited the opportunity for live performances. Paul McCartney’s highly successful Wings career on record and in concert in the meantime had come and gone, Wings ended by his arrest in Tokyo.

Given the same work ethic as Paul McCartney, by now we would have heard nine more albums from John Lennon after ‘Double Fantasy’. Undoubtedly those albums would have revealed and documented Lennon’s ongoing relationship with Ono. From the still-married-to-Cynthia John Lennon pining for Yoko in India heard on ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ on the Beatles ’Abbey Road’ to ‘Double Fantasy’’s revealing ‘I’m Losing You’ John Lennon’s songs continually updated the Ballad Of John and Yoko.

How much longer was that relationship going to last? ‘I’m Losing You aside, was ‘Double Fantasy’s flagrant depiction of  professional and romantic unity public window-dressing, covering the cracks of a fractured reality? Would there have more ‘Lost Weekends’ when Yoko psuhed John out of the way by suggesting his affair with her assistant May Pang? Yoko only had to say the word and John was back, Pang out of the picture. There would have been more twists and turns.

Yoko’s own affair with Sam Green ended around the time of John’s death. Would it have ended anyway? Within months of John’s death she started another relationship, with another art dealer, Sam Havadtoy, who remained her lover and partner for a further 21 years. Would that have happened anyway, with or without John?

What of John Lennon’s relationship with Paul McCartney and the other Beatles? One glaring observation about McCartney’s music during these same last thirty years is how much Paul has missed John Lennon’s songwriting inspiration. Paul’s been living and working on reputation, with starry-eyed sycophants. At some point John might have put him straight.

Would it have happened? Would John have ever worked with Paul or the other Beatles again?

Five months after that day that didn’t happen Ringo Starr married actress Barbara Bach at the Marylebone Road Registrar’s Office in London. Paul and Linda McCartney and George and Olivia Harrison attended. Yoko didn’t. Out of “sympathy” she wasn’t invited. But presumably, if things had been different  John would have been there too, with Yoko. If ever there was a chance for the Beatles to mend bridges and restore old friendships that was it. In all the post-Beatles years Ringo was the affable one, the one without a grudge. He worked on John and George Harrison’s solo material. He played on McCartney’s 1983 release ‘Pipes Of Peace’. He would have been the conduit for a reunion were it to materialize.

Later that same year, in 1981, John Lennon and Paul McCartney had a chance to buy their music publishing from Sir Lew Grey. McCartney was keen. He attempted to put together a bid with Yoko Ono, but John’s widow decided  $10 million dollars each was too high a price. If John was around perhaps the Beatles music wouldn’t have eventually fallen into Michael Jackson’s hands. Perhaps not. The business stuff bored Lennon. In his final days he had talked of selling off his share of Apple.

In 1985 Paul McCartney upset the rest of the Beatles (and Yoko on John’s behalf) by negotiating a higher royalty for himself than the others from sales of existing Beatles recordings. Would McCartney have had the audacity to do that if he had more than just  happy-go-lucky Ringo and the reclusive George Harrison to contend with?  After that, the acrimony was so great, when the Beatles were inducted into the American Rock’N’Roll Hall Of Fame, McCartney didn’t attend.

However, the question remains –  could they, would they,  ever have worked together again, making a generation’s dream come true?

John and Paul McCartney were like a couple of sparring prize fighters, respectful of each other’s talents, forever looking for a chance to land a punch on the other, knowing full well that the contest between them produced the best from both of them. It would have needed inclination rather than opportunity, but the probability would always have been there. Simon and Garfunkel managed to find a way to work together when it suited. So might Lennon and McCartney.

Ringo Starr would have taken part without hesitation. George Harrison might not have been so easy to convince. The Quiet Beatles was also the Grumpy Beatle, protective of his own hard-earned space and place. Despite “When We Was Fab’ and “All Those Years Ago” he was not nostalgic about the Beatles, just nostalgic.

At the end of the Beatles, when  John and Paul were causing him to question his songwriting and musicianship, George Harrison was the one who wanted to work with others. It was George who brought Eric Clapton and Billy Preston into the Beatles studios. He subsequently wrote songs with Bob Dylan and still later assembled the Travellin’ Wilburys. To get George Harrison involved in another shot at recording under the Beatles name he would have wanted an expanded line-up. Keyboard player Gary Wright of ‘Dream Weaver’ fame would have been a candidate. He was one of George Harrison’s other favourites. ELO’s Jeff Lynne would have been in the mix. Lynne produced the Wilburys, Lynne produced ‘Real Love’, the Beatles 1996 “comeback” single, based on a leftover John Lennon demo.

During these thirty years since 1980 Paul McCartney has written classical music, opened a Performing Arts Academy of Arts, and had an exhibition of paintings. None of these would have interested John Lennon. Of his other creative pursuits only his lithographs and some experimental art films, stuck in time, have lived on with his songs. He would have left those behind him. John Lennon was first a musician, an occasional poet second. Nothing else would have motivated him.

It’s been said that Mick Jagger would have preferred to be a member of the Beatles rather than the Rolling Stones, and that John Lennon would have preferred being with the Rolling Stones. John Lennon’s first live performance after the Beatles’ last concert was his performance of the ‘White Album’ song ‘Yer Blues’ for the ‘The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus’ with a supergroup consisting of himself, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums and Keith Richards on bass.

Imagine if somehow Lennon and Keith Richard had found their way back together in 1988 when Jagger all but ditched the Stones for a solo career and Keith recorded his own solo album ‘Talk Is Cheap’, just to show Mick what he was risking.

From the day he first put the pre-Beatles Quarrymen together, through all the years he competed for the upper hand with Paul McCartney, John Lennon was happiest in the studio and on stage with others. Had he lived he probably would have ended up robbing Ringo Starr of his post-Beatles career. Since 1989 Ringo has been touring with his All-Stars, a loose line-up where “everyone on stage is a star”. If John had done that Ringo would not have been able to. In John Lennon’s All-Stars Ringo would probably be sitting on drums amongst all the other stars, sometimes with Keith Richard, and (until 2001) George Harrison on guitar.

If only.

Sadly, the fact is we will never know what the future would have held for John Lennon or even what he might have wanted. There were no final words. Bang bang bang bang bang. Silence. Happy Birthday John.