One of the disadvantages of having the End of the World scheduled in the holiday season is waking up on 12/21/12, realizing you’ve been conned, and having only three days to do all your holiday shopping. (Not to mention begging friends to give back all your possessions.)
But I’m quickly getting into the spirit of things and celebrating the season the way most people do, listening to grunge versions of favorite Yuletide carols. I don’t mean the death metal renditions, which are intended for satire (I hope). I’m talking about the real thing: rocked-out Christmas songs that sound raunchy but reverent, distorted but devout. This could turn into a new rock genre (Xmas Grunge?)—and not a moment too soon for a beleaguered record industry.
I read that Universal Music Group, with its acquisition of EMI, will control nearly 40% of the worldwide music market. My first thought was: maybe they should just take over the whole thing. If you’re going to call yourself “Universal” you can’t settle for just a piece of the market, right? I’d bet Sony and Warner wouldn’t mind. Think of the “synergies” and cost savings involved if Universal just owned everything! And we know they’d pass those savings along to their customers.
The school shooting last week in Newtown, Connecticut brings up a heap of stuff for me. For four decades my mom was a first grade school teacher—a profession I regard as holy. (Also, I’ve been to Newtown to visit friends in the past.) And it happened in the Christmas season, around the time that John Lennon was murdered 32 years ago. Lots of us listening to “Blue Christmas” this week.
I guess I’m a little late to the party on this Search Engine Optimization thing. SEO, for those of you who don’t know, is the process of getting your name more visible to Google so more folks can locate you. If people are looking for you, your company, your book, your band, etc., you probably want to make it easy for them to find you (unless you’re a Guantanamo escapee, a dog fondler, or a telemarketer). I did a search for John O’Leary and couldn’t find me on the first two pages of Google! And it didn't bring up The Running Game, the title of my 1980s book and music video. (Yeah, I KNOW I have a common name, but I haven’t exactly been a wallflower for the last 40 years.)
So to climb out of obscurity I’m prepared to do what I have to do. Desperate times call for desperate measure. I’m going to resuscitate my middle initial “G”—which I had mercifully buried decades ago when I left school. From now on, my professional name is John G. O’Leary. There aren't as many of those guys. Just don't ask me what the G stands for.
I recently caught an interview with historian James Patterson on the topic of his book, The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America.
An interesting fellow and book, which chronicles how quickly America's social harmony evaporated in 1965. But even more interesting to me was his reference to the Barry McGuire song, “Eve of Destruction” (written by P.F. Sloan), that inspired his title. For those of you who have never heard this iconic record, you’re missing a vital artifact of the 60s—the most controversial record of its time which generated acrimonious debate among critics and social scientists.
When I first heard the tune I was concerned that Mr. McGuire might be a few fries short of a Happy Meal. (See the above clip from NBC’s Hullabaloo to make your own assessment.) But I kept my opinions to myself while wiser heads unpacked the lyrics for macroeconomic insights and psycho-historical predictions. Was it a diatribe against Schumpeter’s theory of “creative destruction” (in which old business is destroyed to make way for new business)? Was it a mystical prophecy of the End Times? The Hullabaloo dancers wanted answers.
When it comes to making music videos, Walk Off The Earth is by far the most innovative band I’ve come across in my young life.
They have an ability to whip up insanely creative, joyful, organic DIY clips in their home studio. Music videos have been around for 30 years—and “song films” before that—but nobody has done them with this much fun and ingenuity.
Rock & roll, we know, is a hybrid of several musical traditions (blues, gospel, country, etc.) that have rural roots going back to Europe and Africa. But the synthesis of these styles into a new musical shape occurred in American cities, in places like New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York.
By the mid-20th century, many of the best musicians in their traditional fields had flocked to these cities for the same reason other creative people had. That’s where the action was. That’s where their peers were working, hanging out, exchanging ideas with each other. (That's why I slept a few nights at NYC's Tompkins Square Park in the 60s.) In these urban melting pots a cultural and aesthetic innovation was born: rock & roll! Like so much of art, culture, and commerce, rock owes its very existence to CITIES.