Business-and-music-related observations and comment.

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The sound of silence

riff-149642_1280A funny thing happened on the way to the U.S. presidential inauguration. No rock star has offered to perform for it. And no pop artist of substance has agreed to play either. Their collective silence has been deafening.

In a recent post I predicted that the rock/pop community would take the lead in the mounting protest against the President-Elect. But I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. Unlike in the past—when, for example, U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder played at Obama’s first inauguration—not one A-list act has agreed to show up this time, and the PEOTUS is not pleased.

The Prexy-to-be has had to settle for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir who, based on past performance at least, are unlikely to kick out the jams or rock the house.

In some cases this snub may be simple economics. The top stars understand a fundamental business lesson of rock: don't risk a fan backlash by appearing to endorse a cause or celebrity that is antithetical to their values. (In marketing terms, they don't want their brand to go negative by association—as I once wrote about here.)

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Does anybody really know what time it is?

Talking to many blog readers this week, I'm realizing how many of you are looking for a respite from the post-election madness and the holiday blues. (Or is it the post-election blues and the holiday madness?)

Either way, you've come to the right place. For a wonderful four-minute escape, check out this video of a Chicago tune performed by a Ukrainian cover band, Leonid & Friends. This is SO charming I couldn't resist!

I have to admit that Chicago was not one of my favorite groups. A bit too much of a lounge band for my rock & roll tastes when I was younger. But from watching L&F meticulously reproduce the finer points of the arrangements I can better appreciate Chicago’s craftsmanship. (If you want more, here's a cover of a rockier Chicago hit.) Of course I love the fact that some of these dudes are older than me!

And what's the business lesson here? Quality is quality. It stands the test of time, even when Philistines (like, uh, me) don’t appreciate it at first. Through their flawless performance, Leonid & Friends have demonstrated their own virtuosity as well as the brilliance of Chicago’s compositions and arrangements.

Here’s another point: great artists, craftsmen, and innovators often begin by closely imitating—sometimes painstakingly replicating—the work of others. That’s one way to “get good.” I predict that this cover band will—if they haven’t already—become first-rate musical arrangers and players.

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Trouble in Jingle Bell Square

bell-39024_960_720 I’ve written before about the controversy surrounding the authorship of “Jingle Bell Rock.” Here's an update.

Singer Bobby Helms and renowned session guitarist Hank “Sugarfoot” Garland maintained till their dying days that they wrote it but were denied songwriting royalties. (See my 2013 post, “Jingle Bell Robbery.”)

This week I spoke with Hank Garland’s younger brother Billy and heard for the first time about the threats against Hank's life when he began speaking out against the music publishing scams and overall corruption of the Nashville music business in the 50s. (Such corruption was not limited to Music City of course, but Nashville had its own “small-town” brand of it.)

According to Billy, the career-ending auto crash that Hank suffered at the wheel of his Chevy Nomad station wagon in 1961—and the many electro-shock treatments he received during his recovery—were all part of the fix to keep him quiet. (Hank believed a gunshot blew out his tire, an eyewitness saw a man nearby with a rifle, and photos of his damaged car show bullet holes in the window.) The story is captured—with some artistic license—in the 2008 independent movie, “Crazy,” starring Waylon Payne and Ali Larter. Meanwhile Bobby Helms, who also complained about lost royalties, had numerous threats against his career and never regained his stature as a recording star.

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You say you want a revolution?



Ok, I admit this isn’t one of John Lennon’s more coherent tunes, but it does serve to get us into the discussion: “Revolution” is trending again.

Some use the term to describe what’s happening in the U.S. as Donald Trump prepares to take over as President in January. “Revolution” is defined as "a violent overthrow of government," but most people are using the term to mean a radical change in the governing system. The Prez-elect has used the term himself, leading many of his supporters to expect no less in the months ahead.

In the Presidential primaries earlier this year, Bernie Sanders was talking revolution too. His proposed revolution was from the Left, while Trump’s revolution is mostly from the Right, though much of the attention-deficited American electorate seems to have missed the polarity there.

At any rate, those voters from either side who feast on the revolution sauce seem to forget how the US system of government was designed to retard radical change, given the checks and balances built into the government and even into the larger “system.”

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Rock & roll is back in business

under-1716852__480I guess it’s time to break my radio silence since the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President. It’s been a lot to wrap my little brain around. Nearly everyone I work with is experiencing some form of PESD. But Post Election Stress Disorder is treatable—and may even be curable with frequent exposure to this blog.

Being a rosy-cheeked optimist, I already see a silver lining in this: good times for rock & roll! Especially for bright, trenchant social commentary that the best songwriters are capable of in times of national crisis. In my last post I predicted that a Presidential election shock would trigger a renascence of rock as a true political force.

Looking back at the last era of disruptive social change—which we are on the cusp of once again—we had Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Marvin Gaye, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, and many more to guide us through the choppy waters. These artists spoke out—in different ways—for peace, civil rights, women’s rights, the environment, or, fundamentally, the right to protest.

Speaking of which, crowds—even school children—started hitting the street in cities across America, hours after the election was decided. (I know what you’re thinking: why did it take so long?) They've been protesting not only the election results but random acts of violence against minorities—especially Muslims—that have been recently occurring (including a record-setting 300 hate crimes in the last week).

Now, I believe in giving people a chance, but in this case I’d have to extend that to a President elect whose campaign was steeped in bigotry, xenophobia, nativism, misogyny, and islamophobia. Yet Donald Trump is impulsive and unpredictable enough to change course on a dime. He COULD propose Big Ideas that would actually be valuable and feasible and which COULD win approval from a fawning Congress. (A "yuge" stimulus program to rebuild roads and bridges would be one example.) A figure like Trump could conceivably blow open the ideological log jam and enable some new and productive alliances to be formed.

Unfortunately, as we go to press, Mr. Trump is already picking advisors from Crazy Town. His chief strategist will be a white nationalist, whose right-wing news site is unquestionably anti-Semitic and misogynist. With him guiding the next POTUS, it brings new meaning to the term "White House."

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