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Talking to myself

interview-1714370__340I’ve been wanting to interview myself to get answers to burning questions about recent topics in the news, but as usual it’s been a challenge to find the time on both our busy schedules. So once again we had to use email. But we were able to complete the interview in less than a week!

Q: What did you think of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature?

A: Long overdue! His lyrical approach, beginning in the early to mid-60s, changed the whole business model of rock as I’ve alluded to here and here. Lyrics were no longer an afterthought in popular music after Dylan’s arrival in the mainstream. Hit songs could include political and poetic content for years afterwards. Top songwriters (e.g., John Lennon, Paul Simon) took full advantage of it.

Q: Are lyrics still as important?

A: Well, the percussive effect of words, more than their meaning, is absolutely critical to dance, which has been the major trend in popular music for a while. But plain-spoken street talk—including sexual candor—is also part of the equation now, a product of pop and hip-hop “hooking up.” There is artistry involved in that, which can be heard in many of the top singles now. Yet I miss the fact that a song with such surrealistic imagery as Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” could once rule the charts and radio.

Q: How much longer will we be talking about radio?

A: The answer, my friend, is blowing in the airwaves.


Appreciating the Chess masters

Phil Chess, co-founder of the legendary Chess Records, passed away last week at the age of 95.

Phil and his late brother Leonard turned their small indie label in Chicago into a launching pad for top electric blues artists, and in the process helped pave the way for the development of early rock & roll.

The record company gave us blues greats such as Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Buddy Guy—but also Ike Turner, Etta James, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry (arguably the king of rock & roll).

But what intrigues me most about the story of Chess is how the brothers treated (or mistreated) many down-and-out blues singers. It’s a classic narrative that runs through the history of the music biz but especially the early days of blues, R&B, and rock & roll—where record labels, producers, managers, promoters, and agents have long been accused of exploiting their artists, many of them black.


My excellent adventure as a U.S. presidential candidate

Over three decades ago I ran an unusual political campaign for the highest office in the land. Looking back on it now, it’s hard to believe I actually did it. I’ve often wondered if alien lizards took control of my brain. But I suppose I should take responsibility for it and admit that the devil made me do it.

The short version of the story is that I appeared on NBC’s Tomorrow Show in 1980 to suddenly announce—four years in advance—that I was a candidate for U.S. President for 1984.

As a result of this appearance on national television, a book contract followed the next day, plus endless radio and newspaper interviews, and I was off and running. I had no illusions about winning, but I guess I wanted to find out what it was like to run for national office—and to show that anyone could in fact run for U.S. President.

I was a rock musician at the time, so I ran a rock & roll campaign—improvising and jamming thoughout. In the end I technically didn’t win (i.e. I didn’t get enough votes—a ridiculous way to measure victory) and Ronald Reagan managed to eke out a 49-state victory. Yet Walter Mondale, who came in second despite spending $27 million, won only ONE more state than I did. And I spent only two hundred dollars (of my own money).


Is Paul dead? Conspiracy theories aren't.

all-seeing-eye-1698551__340It's time to come out of the closet on this one.

This may infuriate some friends (and even a few business colleagues), but I have to say: I’m not a conspiracy buff. I know they have their titillation value—and I’ve indulged in a few in my distant past—but they really waste a lot of people’s time.

Of course some small fraction of conspiracies may be true, but I don't buy into the greatest hits. I don’t believe that three bankers run the world, that terrorist acts are inside jobs, that US elections are fixed, that man-made global warming is a prefabricated hoax, or that aliens with reptilian bloodlines are taking over.

My rejection of the above, taken as a whole, puts me in the minority among U.S. adults these days. This argues for (among other things) a curriculum overhaul in American schools, addressing our illiteracy in civics, history, science, and more—but that’s another topic for another occasion.

How, you might ask, have I come to embrace such a heterodox worldview, given the ubiquity of urban legends? Well, I was schooled early. I was exposed to many conspiracy theories in my early music days, my favorite of which was the “Paul is dead” controversy surrounding the Beatles.


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