Fluffy thoughts

Of7vyUNC Being snow-bound in New England this winter has led me to more observations and reflections, as deep and fluffy as the 10-foot drifts outside my window. (Can thoughts be both deep and fluffy?)

I'm only one quarter of the way through Hotel California: The True-Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends by Barney Hoskyns, and already I miss the LA weather! But the work itself, which I've waited eight years to read, is one of the most smartly (and snarkily) written rock history books I’ve come across. Supporting the argument of my last post, the book shows what happens when you put dozens of wildly creative types in the same spot—for instance, Hollywood's Laurel Canyon. (Having opened shows for many of these desperados in their early days I can attest to the creative intelligence of this pack.) Mix the above names with the likes of Cass Elliot and John Phillips (Mama’s & Papa’s), Mickey Dolenz (the Monkees), Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, J. D. Souther, Jackie DeShannon, and many more who hung in the area, and you’re going to get some catalytic reactions. No wonder Hollywood was once rock’s Silicon Valley. Maybe it still is.

Heard on National Public Radio awhile back: “A single for Taylor Swift's upcoming album came out on iTunes in Canada Tuesday. But it was only a few seconds of white noise, likely a technical glitch. The track shot to No. 1 on the charts.” I happen to like Taylor Swift, but I had to appreciate the irony: some critics are saying ALL her music is "white noise." The bigger point, however, is that nothing succeeds like success. When you’re not doing much business as an individual or organization, a single mistake can kill you. When you’re rocking on all cylinders you can not only afford to make a few mistakes, but you can make money on them. (The Beatles made more mistakes than most, but it only made them richer—a subject for a future post.)

Given my love of rock & roll (in the widest sense of the term) I’m not a huge fan of kulture police who try their best to stifle artistic creativity—and, in the process, commercial creativity. So it’s teeth grinding time for me every four years when the US Presidential race begins (better known as the “The Gong Show”) and candidates emerge to compete for the title of Grand Moralist. Right on cue, Reverend Mike Huckabee is in the early lead after his pontifications on Beyonce’s music as “obnoxious and toxic mental poison.” Of course this is the best PR in the world for the megastar singer (see my recent post about the value of “negative” publicity). I wasn’t a huge Beyonce fan before, but I realized that if she offends bloviating American politicians (sorry for the redundancy) she must be doing something right. After giving a closer listen to Beyonce’s music I’d have to say that her music stands up surprisingly well with the best of the toxic mental poison (aka “the devil’s music”) of the last 60 years—including the music of Little Richard, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Madonna, AC/DC, Green Day, Nirvana, Eminem, and Lady Gaga, to name but a few artists who have corrupted me beyond redemption. But thanks for the warning, Reverend. And make sure you get that check from Beyonce.

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  1. hollywood was "rock's silicon valley"? that means stoners are running google, apple, fb?

    wouldn't charles manson qualify as one of those "wildly creative types"?

    1. Are you insinuating that the rock celebrities of 1970s Hollywood took drugs? Those rumors never seem to go away. I guess I'll have to do some research on it.

      Yes, Charlie Manson (whom I keep confusing with Marilyn) was part of that scene, as the book mentions. (He even wrote a song the Beach Boys recorded. True fact.) But everybody knew Charlie had a few issues.

  2. You lost me after Prince.

    I feel many of the Laurel Canyon bunch were geniuses; Zappa, Morrison, Phillips. Unfortunately, most of those you mention may have thought they were "deep" but I'd say they were only "fluffy". Too many drugs and obsessed with politics or themselves. Leftovers from the Folkie era, although, I thought the Byrds had a refreshing, more progressive sound for their first couple of albums. I desperately needed to ROCK in the 60s (hormones, and all that), and was immersed in Hendrix, Clapton, and Page because they were making music, instead of a "statement".

    I recently spent a few days examining the current state of FM radio in my region, since I haven't listened in a while and wondered if it still even existed. Except for one Classic Rock station and one Classical Music (public) station, the rest (around 40) could accurately be described as "white noise". We used to also have a Jazz station, and I threw out my radio when that one left town.

    I'll be interested to hear how The Beatles got richer from their mistakes. Every succeeding artist benefitted by not repeating the bad or uninformed business decisions they made as a group, and it would seem by every possible accounting that they could be exponetially wealthier if not for those circumstances. Or maybe you're reffering to mistakes in their music?

    By the way, I live in the coldest spot in the Northeast, and while I would rather not have to shovel snow, it's better than constantly swatting flies and sweating through my clothes just standing at the bus stop!

    1. Ed—Now that you mention it, I enjoyed Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young better in their earlier bands (Byrds, Hollies, Buffalo Springfield) though their individual talents never went away. And of course all the LA bands lacked the power of Hendrix, Cream, and Led Zeppelin. But as far as singer-songwriters go, Mitchell-Taylor-Browne were as good as it gets. And watching them develop, gig by gig, in small bars was quite an education. Mitchell and Taylor were pioneers on guitar and all three of them wrote classics that will be played in a hundred years. Re the Beatles mistakes I was thinking more of artistic decisions than business moves. One could certainly argue that some of their later (post-Epstein) business decisions contributed to their demise.

  3. Another business lesson: I'll take your recommendation of the book over the dozens of "meh" comments at Amazon written by people who thought the book was something it's not and were disappointed.

    More to your point: by coming together, albeit virtually, a bunch of loonies wrote eleven thousand songs during February:


    Most of those folks write nothing the other eleven months of the year. Community makes it happen.

    1. I admit to a certain boomer bias for the Hotel California era and some nostalgic longing for the simplicity of a time when I could live on a food budget of a dollar a day, rent a house for $50/month on the canals of Venice Beach, play in my band most nights on Sunset Strip, and hang and jam with talented players who hadn't yet attained super-stardom—and weren't expected to. (I remember when the Eagles and Jackson Browne , who were steady fixtures at the Monday night "hoots"—open mic— at the Troubadour nightclub, were laughed at by the cognoscenti. So maybe not everyone will be as enthralled by Hoskyns' tome as I've been. But if you're a fan of that era—and especially of the lesser known lights, like Gene Clark or Gram Parsons—you'll love the book. I'm also a sucker for good writing.

      That fawm.org collection of songs is a riot. I listened to one about zombies that was pretty funny.

      1. Couple FAWMers are among my favorite singer/songwriters anywhere. Chap who only calls himself Resonance: everything good about Styx, combined with everything good about, oh, James Taylor or Jackson Browne. Phil Henry, one of the greatest storytelling songwriters alive.

  4. Election year, eh? We have one in the UK, too. I wonder how long it'll be before a) a politician goes with a song that has a good line but an overall message that's totally at odds with that line (Born in the USA) or b) one that gets the artist up in arms because he doesn't want to appear to endorse the politician? My bet is: 2 weeks before the first primary, at the latest.

    Frank Zappa planned to run for President, possibly following your lead John. I can' help but think that you and Frank on the same ticket would have been an unbeatable combination.

    1. Mark—my bet is two months before the first primary.

      I had thought Zappa ran for President before I did, but it was eight years afterwards (in 1992). Maybe if he watched a lot of late night TV in the 80s he would have seen me. Of course Frank would not have accepted the #2 slot with me—and vice versa. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that Palin et al. copied my playbook (without attribution!) in 2008. http://businesslessonsfromrock.com/blfr/notes/2010/11/ask-not-what-money-can-do-for-you

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