Street singing on weekends continues to be a source of endless fascination for me. Boundless food for thought—and always a business lesson or two.
As I played Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” last Sunday evening in the Public Gardens of Boston, two young girls who were walking by with their mother—perhaps ages 7 and 8—stopped and began slow dancing with each other in front of me! I doubt that they were paying attention to the words of the song, but I couldn’t miss the irony. These sisters, giggling all the way, were innocently waltzing to a tune about a grown woman who despite her adult ways (her “fog,” her “amphetamine,” and her “pearls”) can “break just like a little girl.” Being thoroughly entertained by the girls’ antics (I always consider my audience to be the real entertainers who are performing for me)—I extended the length of the song, and they just kept slow dancing. At the end they even contributed a dollar (from their mother). Not the primary demographic I’m trying to reach with my music, but…I’ll take it.
The Grateful Dead just performed their final concert in Chicago two weeks ago (though there are rumors of more dates on the East Coast) so I thought this would be a fine time to reprise an earlier post I wrote about them.
Having briefly lived and partied with Dead in their early days I can personally attest to their inspired ingenuity and lunacy. Some band members were relative novices on their instruments at the time, but their emerging genius and crazy spirit were unmistakable.
Seeing the impact of the Dead many decades later I'm not shocked that they've been one the most influential rock & roll business teams in pop history.
How, you say?
First, the Dead were continually and surprisingly inventive in their music. Different bands channel their originality in different ways of course. Some bands (particularly the Beatles) wrote exceptionally innovative material. But with the Dead it was live performance that spotlighted their creativity. They refused to play a song the way it was previously done, instead using it as a launching pad for extended—and eclectic—improvisation. (Heraclitus, who believed you couldn't step twice into the same river, would have approved.) In the process the Dead pioneered a new musical entity: the jam band. As a result, their repeat customers got a different product every night!
I came across an old YouTube clip featuring six of the biggest dent-makers in classic rock on the same stage at Madison Square Garden in October, 1992. The occasion was the 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration of Bob Dylan as a recording artist.
In this video Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison in consecutive order sing lead vocal on Dylan’s iconic “My Back Pages”—which Dylan wrote three decades earlier about his repudiation of the political idealism he had become famous for.
Two things I looked for in this performance:
1. How the performers would handle the surrealistic and at times barely intelligible lyrics to the song. It turned out that many of the singers had to read the lines on the monitors in front of them, even though they had only one verse each to remember!
2. How well these highly accomplished stars would collaborate. In the end they fully complemented each other, with no “upstaging.” But this was more than a reflection of their maturity and their mutual respect for Dylan. I realized that all seven of these celebrities were likely INTROVERTS. What are the odds of that? (More on that later.)
Walk Off The Earth released a homegrown video without much fanfare this spring, featuring a duet by Gianni Luminati and Sarah Blackwood, followed by an announcement of the due date of their next child.
It’s a must-see clip, which teaches us some simple truths. It shows how a minimalist, lo-tech production can be remarkably effective in an era of blow-your-mind visual gimmickry. It also demonstrates how powerful a gentle tug on the heart strings can be in communicating a message. You’d have to be catatonic to not be moved and inspired by the performance below. Whatever they want to sell me, I'm buying.
The song is Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe”—which was released 50 years ago tomorrow and quickly became a million-seller. But it's never sounded so fresh—with such heart-melting charm—as it sounds here. Catch the blend on Gianni and Sarah's harmonies, even when they're not singing words. This is Simon & Garfunkel quality.
I’m not talking about soft rock. I’m talking about soft rockers.
My favorite under-the-radar band, Walk Off The Earth, finally released its new album, Sing It All Away, which I heard them perform in a killer show last month. But it made me wonder about my other favorite up-and-coming acts, who have been MIA of late. Every month I check for A Great Big World’s sophomore album, but zilch so far. AGBW had a hit single with Christine Aguilera two years ago (“Say Something”) and a hit album two winters ago (Is There Anybody Out There?). But no product since then—an eternity in the world of popular music
Meanwhile Fun. continues its long sabbatical from performing and recording—a disastrous move, given the direction their career was headed after they racked up three hit singles and a chart-busting album by 2012 and won two Grammys (one for “Best New Artist”) in 2013. I understand that band members want to do side projects, but in this case the mother ship hasn’t been fully launched. It would be like Bono and Edge putting U2 on hold to pursue solo projects just as they began achieving fame in the mid-80s, BEFORE the band broke through internationally.