Sex, drugs, and rock & roll

PillsI recently found myself in the position of defending the behavior of some rock acts, as if I'm condoning it. (Sigh.)

But my point was not that substance abuse and related activities are success habits of highly effective people but that they are no more common in the world of rock & roll than in mainstream business, including the C-Suite.

I don’t need to go into the details here of the cases of drug or alcohol abuse, sexual misconduct, or rampant adultery that I’ve encountered as a consultant in corporate America (though I’m tempted to, in order to boost readership). But if you think this is not a feature of 21st century business—including, perhaps, YOUR company—you’re living in Disney World. (And it’s probably happening there too.)

Several years ago a video company was going to partner with me to promote my business-lessons-from-rock approach, but they backed out because they felt rock bands have "drug issues" and didn't want to be associated with it. My response: as opposed to whom? Business organizations? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Not feeling "Glad All Over"

DC5I recently watched the film, Glad All Over: The Dave Clark Five and Beyond, which was telecast by PBS in its Great Performances series. As a classic rock fan, especially of the British Invasion of the mid-60s, I found it refreshing at first—mainly because there’s been so little DC5 material available to enjoy over the years.

By the end of the program, however, some things were starting to bother me. I realized the film, produced by Dave Clark International, was not your usual fact-based documentary. This was essentially a hagiography of Clark and the band, produced and directed by Clark himself, which PBS showed as a puff piece. There was celebrity after celebrity rhapsodizing about the DC5 as rock revolutionaries. Meanwhile there was not a whiff of the controversies surrounding the band and Clark’s management of it.

But before I continue, I should acknowledge that anytime I criticize fellow musicians, even mega-successful ones, I feel conflicted. So to assuage my guilt I will start with some positives.


Loud thoughts

file5181268512066 People often ask me why I'm working by myself on my blog and book, when the subject of my writing is usually teams: rock bands and business teams.

Well, I actually think of myself as a team. I hear SO many voices in my head all the time—usually haranguing each other—I think of me as a we. (I’m always asking strangers on the street, “Is the noise in my head bothering you?”) So when I’m doing anything creative it’s always a team effort.


After working awhile with hi-tech start-ups I’m beginning to agree with the opinion I heard recently that many start-ups are begun by folks who just couldn’t stand their previous boss—and had to strike out on their own! (Happens to rock artists too, when autocratic bandleaders drive good musicians away, who then start more creative, democratized bands.) It’s a mind-bender that "bad bosses" may be fueling the Innovation Economy.


Looks like I’ll be playing drums again when my old rock band, The Morning, reunites for a college reunion next month in New Haven. The salient word here is “old” (we broke up before The Beatles did) but in our prime we opened for some decent acts (Eric Clapton’s Cream, the Grateful Dead, Sly & the Family Stone, Joni Mitchell, etc.). With a little more business sense we might have lasted longer. That reminds me:

    Q: What’s the difference between a large pizza and a rock drummer?


The Mozart problem

Piano What do you do when there’s a singular talent in your field that is SO demonstrably superlative that no one can EVER hope to compete with it?

This is “the Mozart problem,” according to Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, who describes it as “the presence of a market-clearing talent in one’s chosen profession.”

The reference of course is to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the child prodigy whose musical genius eclipsed that of all other classical composers of his time, leaving jealous rivals such as Antonio Salieri—according to the movie Amadeus at least—in despair of ever approaching Mozart’s creative endowment. Beam gives examples of other “market-clearing talents” who spent careers psyching out rivals—such as Bobby Fischer in chess or Michael Jordan in basketball—but leaves out my favorite example: a rock & roll band that has cast a long shadow on popular music for half a century.

The Beatles—by nearly any measurement of artistic or commercial success—have blown away the pop music competition since they exploded on the world stage in 1964. They have been the biggest AND the best—selling over a billion units and topping most polls for best pop artist ever and best pop album ever (Revolver or Sgt Pepper usually comes out #1). As USA Today puts it, "No other entertainers in history have been as popular, as influential, as important or as groundbreaking." 50 years ago this very week they held the TOP FIVE SPOTS on the Billboard Hot 100. Think that will happen again in the lifetime of anyone reading this? Their preeminence as songwriters, arrangers, and recording artists has left more than a few pop songwriter/musicians wondering, “Why even bother?”