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Fein Mess 12/00
Burrowing From Within
In 1996 I worked for DMX, a cable radio provider, programming 50s and 60s rock. I can't remember if it paid $100 per week or per month, there is no difference, but it was an opportunity for me to expose America to the greatest songs I knew because my "handler" knew nothing at all.
There was a 3-tier system, hits first (most frequent play), semi-hits second, non-hits third. I didn't cheat, I kept the hits at the top, but loading the bottom was so much fun I would have paid them to do it. Playlists from that period still fill me with pride: "I Never Felt Like This (Jack Scott)," "Train Kept A Rollin'" (Burnette Trio), "See Saw" (Moonglows). That these songs were broadcast (cable-carried) into homes and restaurants around the world still fills me with pride.
My undoing was prosaic. First, a wife of one of the owners complained that she didn't hear enough of "the songs I heard on American Bandstand." I assured her that most of the songs indeed were heard at least once on American Bandstand, but that the 50s rock & roll hits, the familiar ones, only numbered around 300, which would rotate every day, which was why we were shooting for a library of 1500.
"Then get more hits" she said.
Then one day a new "handler," a 20 year old girl, asked me to justify my Tony Bennett choices. "Are you sure ANYONE wants to hear Tommy Bennett?" she said. I did not argue: I tipped my hat and left.*
Tales of Two Cities
L.A. is the entertainment capital of the world. That means movies and tv.
A huge hunk of the world's music comes from here, but it's not important, at least not to the city, which doesn't trumpet (heh) its presence, not to the tour buses that stop at only one music shrine, Elvis's house (and he straddles movies and music), not the L.A. Times which frames obits of anyone who every played in a movie (it recently black-bordered the obit of Kathryn Hepburn's BROTHER, who 40 years ago wrote a play) while overlooking deaths of the city's stellar music-makers. (Two weeks ago, Bobby Sheen, of Bobb B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans passed away. It'll be noted in Europe, but not in his home town paper.)
It's not crazy, it's makes cents. Music generates 10% of what movies do, and at that rate it's invisible here. I know this, yet I am still shocked when movie people I think know stuff don't. Like the gal who headed up a big internet entertainment company who nodded along with my stories and when I said 'rockabilly' she said, "Oh sure, I love it. Marshall Tucker, the Eagles."
Recently I was at the house of a film editor, whose wife said "Bob is working with so-and-so." I looked blank, and she repeated the name. "You said you know about music -- he's a big film scorer." I explained that music was the limit of my interest, movies didn't enter in. In her eyes I was abominably out of it.
A half hour later she screened "Almost Famous"** for some kids. She announced "This is the story of the man who founded Rolling Stone, the rock and roll magazine."
I recoiled in horror. Not only has this film been discussed to death in newspapers, she had already seen it.
"NO ITS NOT!", I shouted.
"Yes, it is" she continued, now convinced I was a know-nothing.
As Don Rondo said, "we live in two different worlds."
A column or two ago I mentioned my time with Lennon. Now let me tell you my non-time with Ringo.
In mid-1983 my L.A. Rockabilly album was warm (even if rockabilly wasn't; the first rebirth died late in 1982), and I knew that Ringo Starr was not on a record label, so I went to his lawyer's office in Santa Monica and slipped a packet under the door suggesting that I produce a rockabilly album with him and get it released on Rhino, where I knew people.
That was August. No response, and I forgot about it. One morning in January 1984, I get this call. "Hello, Art, this is Ringo." It sounded like a real overseas call, crackly and all, and since I knew some people in England I figured it was one of them playing a joke.
"Who is this?" I said. "Ted?
"No," he laughed, "Ringo."
I regained my composure and talked to him. He said I should set up the band and the songs (!) and he'd come in and sing them.
"I wouldn't want any money, just whatever it takes to get there."
I said alright, and hung up the phone, blissful. But I called his lawyer the next day and he said "Ringo has to fly first class from London with his wife. And he has to be put up in the Beverly Hills Hotel for two weeks. That'll be about $25,000."
I didn't even ask Rhino if they'd do it: back then it would be a miracle if they sprung for hot dogs at the company picnic. So I let the opportunity pass. A few years ago I asked one of the owners of Rhino if they would have paid $25,000 back in 1984 for the Ringo album.
"Definitely not" he said, sadly.
Funny, but six months afterwards I slipped another note to the lawyer. "Dear Ringo," I wrote. "This rockabilly thing has burned out already, but I think Jump music will come in next. Let's do an album of Louis Jordan and Louis Prima stuff."
If he'd gone for that, we could've had at least a dozen years on the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Speaking of Which
In 1981 I was in New York with the Blasters, and our Brooklyn friends who had a rockabilly band took me to a club in Amityville, New York, to see the only other rockabilly band within a hundred miles, Brian & The Tomcats. "They're not as good as us, but they're OK" they told me.
I was astonished. The lead singer was dynamite and played a mean Gretsch. The other two guys had gobs of what looked like colored Crisco on their hair, and played like mad. I collared the lead singer afterwards and asked him if he was looking for management.
"No man, we're flying to England tomorrow to try our luck there."
The next time I saw them they were "from England," and called the Stray Cats.
I Dig Girls
It may seem like I have gone out of my way to knock women writers (well, reviewers), because I slam the pretentious airhead Ann Powers (See "Letters" at the very end of this column, after the seemingly endless footnotes), I lash out at all the L.A. Times gals, and haven't even started on the biggest L.A. Times blockhead of all times, Heidi Sigmund-Cuda, who writes the breathless and surrealistically fatuous L.A. "club" column.
To wit, here's some gals I dig: Pauline Kael is the greatest; Maureen Dowd; I like Cynthia Heimel at least half the time; that gal in Texas, Molly Ivins. Ellen Goodman. Camille Paglia. Annie Sprinkle. Dame Edna.
Thank goodness VH1 now abides by my rules.
A year ago I complained that their Led Zeppelin tv-bio included "but critics never liked them," when critics' opinions mean nothing and ought not be included in anyone's bio. Watching their Billy Joel look back the other night I noticed it omitted any mention of his critics (and they're legion).
I hate to repeat myself, but there's one cardinal rule for music reviews: Reviewers must be fans.
Only fans can recognize growth or disappointment: knee jerk rock crits*** can offer no insights about Britney Spears or Hootie &The Blowfish or Emerson Lake & Palmer or Kenny G bec they're on the "banned" list. The outcome of their reviews is predictable, tiresome, and ultimately insulting to readers.****
For example, Jimmy Buffett has been reviewed three times in the past 5 years, and every reviewer says the same thing: "Why are all these people in the audience having fun when I am so miserable?"
Note to writers: you ARE miserable. Stay home. Tell the editor to send someone who cares.
Don't forget to play the Phil Spector Christmas album, loud.
It's the greatest album ever made.
- 57 -
* She called me a day later with in the cutest naivete I've ever heard. "We're going to have to let you go, OK?"she said. "No," I said, "I don't think that's OK." She sputtered, "Well, I mean, you HAVE to go." She's probably president of MTV now.
**Because hubby's an Academy member, they get all the current films.
*** Does ANYONE have copies of the stillborn mid-1980s L.A. television show "Rock & Roll Evening News", hosted by Bob Hilburn and featuring a panel of rock-crits? No one I know has ever heard of it. It was so howlingly dreadful, so mind-numbingly rock-writerly and dull, that it raced off the airwaves within a month. I want a copy of the first episode, when Belinda Carlisle sang "live" and her real voice could be heard. Yow!
**** Steve Hochman at the L.A. Times recently critiqued a Richard Thompson music history lecture in which he praised Britney's "Baby One More Time." Hackman - sorry, Hochman -- reported that Thompson did so with his tongue in his cheek, when Thompson did no such thing. It was Hochman distancing himself from "wrong" music. Though Thompson is a crit favorite, his opinion holds no water when it crosses established critical lines.
Ann Powers' 11/20 NY Times review of a blues show was particularly egregious for blowing smoke, spurring this note from reader/writer Neal McCabe.
(In the review - damn, I can't find it - she compares Southern blues to old rusty cars, which are cherished by "fetishists" after they stop running.)
Thanks for the tip on Annie's latest atrocity. I'd hate to have missed
I can't make it out either. Her description of the country/city
Now, I can read English, and I can play the guitar, but neither of these
"The slide guitars of Mr. Burnside and Kenny Brown ran a close race."
"The insular blend of sparse words and circular riffs was rooted in Mr.
"Mr. Brown showed a fondness for flashy runs up the fret board..."
"Within this range, repetition stretched the sound, turning it
"...the lack of effect was effect enough." As in: "the lack of meaning
"Super Chikan also used a smile to fortify his integrity." Huh? NO
I must stop now. I'm getting a headache from her. But this is
"Living by the rules is another way of hoping the future will be like
"Become what you are" - Juliana Hatfield
You got that, Art? If you don't, you're just not cool like Anne. I
Me? I am as cool as Anne! I've become what I are...
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