Archive | November, 2010

THE FORMULA

30 Nov

formula

Sometime in the early 80s one of the more obscure American Rock Legends of the 1960s was invited to a radio station in Tuscan, Arizona to guest DJ a spot. This guy was known to be more of influence then a best-seller and c.1983 was not a good time for such as him. So there he is in the studio and he whacks his latest record on. Within minutes the programme director calls the control room ordering the music be cut in favour of the standard list of then ruling dinosaurs: REO Speedwagon, Journey, Foreigner. The guest DJ hears this, stands and walks out. His name was Frank Zappa.

The programme director phoned the order in from somewhere else, New York maybe. LA? Who knows. The radio station had recently been taken over by the Abrams network in that early round of media concentration taking place during the 1980s. Economies of scale inspired the new owners to forgo inefficient local programming in favour of centralized control with standard playlists developed by marketing experts maximizing advertising revenue. This, considering Zappa’s extremely esoteric tastes and famously cantankerous demeanor, made the decision to invite him on air at all an embarrassing waste of time and money. Here was one guy – anyone remotely familiar with him wouldn’t doubt this – who would not play this game. Why bother?

Let’s get inside that Tuscan radio station from the technocrat’s point of view. The resident DJ has to do what the programme directors tells him to. The PD is not even in the city, there is no interpersonal relationship and the ability of that DJ to negotiate anything outside the standard playlist is nil. Do it or find another job, full stop: end transmission. Even if the PD were in the building that leeway would be non-existent. The playlist decree had been compiled by statistical marketing robots somewhere unknown. There’s three tiers of bureaucracy here separated on purpose by an impenetrable wall of authoritarian control systems. The DJ can’t make a decision to do things a little differently, the PD can’t either. Whoever’s directly upstairs might be able to bring the matter up at the next meeting of relevant heads. If they do a decision’s likely to come down sometime the following decade: MEMO re Zappa – No.

A centralized, standardized apparatus requires that directives eminating from those organs of command must be followed. No recourse. There is simply no way the DJ can talk to a person senior in the chain and say “Look, Zappa’s not gonna play our game but it’s worth cutting him 2 hours of slack for the kudos it’ll win this station with that part of the audience who’ve got high standards blah blah blah.” This doesn’t fit with The Formula. It’s a distraction from the Goal and therefore gets dealt with harshly in the ever expanding mega-tomes of protocol that Human Resource department spew out each year. It doesn’t compute that, altho’ 99.5% of the Tuscan audience gives not a rat’s about Zappa there are .5% that do. And they care a lot! And that it’s exactly that .5% that form the most powerful cogs in the wheels of word-of-mouth.

But it doesn’t have to compute. The deep-lovers of rock music have been collated with other minor factors in the marketing mix and it’s been found by the cost/benefit razor gang to be immaterial to the prime goal which is more ads for more money. The formulas that decide the ideal playlist for garnering large shares are friendly with the formulas that determine the entire repetoir of songs that occupy them. There’s about three formulas for writing songs. They only use two of them now. Downsizing.

Elsewhere, during 1980s David Geffen signed Neil Young to his label and had nothing but trouble. Young was a bit of a prize, the avatar of authenticity. In the post-punk era of fallen and jaded idols Young was the one Hippie-era rock god who’d both emerged unscathed by the great rock war of 1977 and managed to sell records as well. Geffen was stoked at first, then disappointed and finally blind furious. The first thing Young did was put out a synthesizer record! Then he went country. He went all over but the one place where Geffen wanted him to go and stay put – Classic Rock. Did it occur to him that ‘classic rock’ was simply a certain time along a process chain and that what’d made Young so authentic in the first place was that he basically did what he felt was right? No. Geffen wanted his authentic rocker writing and recording and playing to brand. He wanted Neil Young to produce standard Neil Young music. What he got instead was Trans.

I must be one of the few people in the universe who like Trans. I have to admit it would be a little perplexing for various marketing nerds and apparatchiks in the editorial offices at RockMag Inc. It’s 1982 and the quintessential folk-dude produces a synth record! What’s he doing? Is he selling out and trying to be hip now? Like that would work. Who’d buy scruffy old Neil Young in concert with Duran Duran and the Human League? Haircut 100 even? Forget it. But he’d never even come close to selling out. He didn’t even know what was going on out there submerged in his northern California ranch. He just got his hands on some new technology and liked the sounds and cut a record from them. Simple, easy to comprehend and yet totally inscrutable to those who’s job it is to apply The Formula.

THE MAGIC WORD

29 Nov

It’s commonplace week-ends in the CBD to deal with the great shampoo’d mass of 4WD lugging boneheads from the suburbs and their ingrained sense of entitlement to lifelong comfort and convenience. Urban space? They have no idea. They believe that the entire universe was created for them to stroll thru unencumbered by the interests of others. A bit harsh maybe? Well suffer. When I first entered the world of online farnarkling I spent a while on Andrew Bolt’s blog. According to his disciples everyone living within 5 klicks of the CBD is a dole-bludging communist drug-addict. If you want to play that way I can too. Fuck you.

I had a choice encounter really, a classic example of the banal, ubiquitous discourtesy perpetrated by the perpetually unaware of everyone and everything. She was heading to her parked 4WD and cut straight in front of me as if I wasn’t there, saying ‘sorry’ as she passed. She knew I was there, walking along the sidewalk. She wanted to get to her tank and waiting the half-second beat it’d take me to pass was an outrageous tax on her precious time. So she shoved in and past. I had to swerve to avoid an elbow in the guts. She’s important: aren’t we all? But she did say… sorry.

“Don’t be sorry, just don’t do it,” I replied. Picked that phrase up in the country. Out there people will tell you off for being a jerk. And when you apologize they’ll say it: don’t be sorry, just don’t do it. So that’s what I said. She was exasperated! Clicked her tongue; Well! Really!!! How unreasonable! How rude!

Every week-end, every single day during the preparations for the stuff your fat faces fest Christmas holiday, you are cut off, stifled, blocked, pulled, pushed and trapped by people who have no idea that they’re being rude. This city is full of crowded narrow alleyways and these people will stroll down the centre of them, taking up as much space as they can, walking as slowly as possible without standing. At the cafes they cut straight into an obvious line nonchalant, pretending it doesn’t exist. Inform them and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy, paranoid. They weren’t trying to cut in, they just didn’t see. Sorry.

Sorry – no longer an admittance of slack behavior, of reprehensible inconsideration. It’s the magic word: the get-out-of-jail-free card. Do what you want. Act like the venal human seagull you are and evade all consequence or remand by saying it: sorry. Trample a little girl’s kitten, run over a foot, push old ladies into the gutter – sorry. We have all begun to expect automatic forgiveness at the utterance of a single word.

So this 4WD driver, she says sorry and I give her a serve and she’s all flustered. Telling me off down the street. I stop, turn, say: “You were rude Madam.”

And she replies, “I said sorry,” amazed that I could be so out of touch with reality that I wasn’t aware of the power of the magic word.

On the road and on the sidewalk, 4WD drivers know they come first. The light might be red but this doesn’t apply to them, pedestrians be aware. Cross the road at your peril. Such vehicles are perfectly entitled to mow you flat regardless the signals. Traffic lights? More like a guideline. They don’t apply to Drivers of Suburban Tanks. Their fat arses are higher.

You can see the problem in the tone of this post. I’m being rude. I’m slandering everyone who lives outside the 5 klick radius of the glistening towers that mark a city in the 21st century: fat arse’d, stupid, rude, uncultured, self-indulgent clods!!!! And they all drive what American television have us calling SUVs these days. And all SUV drivers are jerks. Is that how it is? Not fair is it? It’s a stereotype, it’s a slander. It’s naked hostility that only makes things worse. But that’s what you get. Discourtesy is contagious.

Sorry.

IMAGE

28 Nov

Hockney

“We Two Boys Together Clinging”, 1961
David Hockney b. 1937

PIECE

28 Nov

Glasssolopiano

Perfect for wet and miserable days like these

WORDS

28 Nov

Delilounderworld

The two women looked across a landscape of vacant lots filled with years of stratified deposits – the age of house garbage, the age of construction debris and vandalized car bodies, the age of moldering mobster parts. Weeds and trees grew amid the dumped objects. There were dog packs, sightings of hawks and owls. City workers came periodically to excavate the site and they stood warily by the great earth machines, the pumpkin-mudded backhoes and dozers, like infantry-men huddled near advancing tanks. But soon they left, they always left with holes half dug, pieces of equipment discarded, styrofoam cups, pepperoni pizzas. The nuns looked across all this. There were networks of vermin, craters chocked with plumbing fixtures and sheetrock. There were hillocks of slashed tires laced with thriving vine. Gunfire sang at sunset off the the low walls of demolished buildings. The nuns sat in the van and looked. At the far end was a lone standing structure, a derelict tenement with an exposed wall where another building had once abutted. This wall was where Ismael Muñoz and his crew of graffitti writers spray-painted a memorial angel every time a child died in the neighborhood. Angels in blue and pink covered roughly half the high slab. The child’s name and age were printed under each angel, sometimes with cause of death or personal comments by the famly, and as the van drew closer Edgar could see entries for TB, AIDS, beatings, drive-by shootings, measles, asthma, abandonment at birth – left in dumpster, forgot in car, left in Glad Bag stormy night.

This area was called the Wall, partly for the graffiti facade and partly the general sense of exclusion – it was a tuck of land cut adrift from the social order.

“I wish they’d stop already with the angels,” Gracie said. “It’s in totally bad taste. A fourteenth-century church, that’s where you go for angels. This wall publicizes all the things we’re working to change. Ismael should look for positive things to emphasize. The townhouses, the community gardens that people plant. Walk around the corner you see ordinary people going to work, going to school. Stores and churches.”

“Titanic Power Baptist Church.”

“What’s the difference – it’s a church. The area’s full of churches. Decent working people. Ismael wants to do a wall, these are the people he should celebrate. Be positive.”

Edgar laughed inside her skull. It was the drama of angels that made her feel she belonged here. It was the terrible death these angels represented. It was the danger the writers faced to produce their graffiti. There were no fire escapes or windows on the memorial wall and the writers had to rappel from the roof with belayed ropes or sway on makeshift scaffolds when they did an angel in the lower ranks. Ismael spoke of a companion wall for dead graffitists, flashing his wasted smile.

“And he does pink for girls and blue for boys. That really sets my teeth on edge,” Gracie said.

They had stopped at the friary to pick up groceries they would distribute to the needy. The friary was an old brick building wedged between boarded tenements. Three monks in gray cloaks and rope belts worked in an anteroom, getting the day’s shipment ready. Grace, Edgar and Brother Mike carried the plastic bags out to the van. Mike was an ex-fireman with a Brillo beard and a wispy ponytail. He looked like two different guys front and back. When the nuns first appeared he’d offered to serve as a guide, a protecting presence, but Edgar firmly declined. She believed her habit and veil were safety enough. Beyond these South Bronx streets people may look at her and think she is a quaintness of ages past. But inside the strew of rubble she was a natural sight, she and the robed monks. What figures could be so timely, costumed for rats and plague?

Don Delillo
Underworld, 1997

SAY YOU DON’T NEED NO DIAMOND RING AND I’LL BE SATISFIED

27 Nov

Mods

The best things in life are free
But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees

Quant

Money don’t get everything, it’s true
What it don’t get, I can’t use

Crawdaddy

That’s what I want, that’s what I want that’s what I want, that’s what I want, that’s what I want that’s what I want, that’s what I want, that’s what I want that’s what I want, that’s what I want, that’s what I want that’s what I want, that’s what I want, that’s what I want that’s what I want, that’s what I want, that’s what I want that’s what I want, that’s what I want…………

CARNABY CANNIBAL

27 Nov

LoogOldham

The Empire was dead some fifteen years give or take but the stale old farts that ran the country didn’t know it yet. The century had turned American and off-shore, ships beamed the sounds of American music into the grey old island of once-great Britain where for the longest time it’d seemed like 18 year-olds were in a rush to be 50 and an evening out consisted of a red-curtained cabbage-smelling creaky room and juvenile sexual innuendo; afterwards dinner and drinks, dancing to Trad. Trad, traditional jazz – polite, watered-down music for ladies and gentlemen. For shades of beige and navy blue. So grey you almost forgot who invented it.

This was the years 1962 and 3 when things changed, when they’d been changing already. The years between ‘the Chatterley trial and the Beatles’ first LP’. That record seems mild now. Recording at the time was run with all the joie de vivre of a wet Monday morning on a busted-up Brixton Hill road with the lads from the Department of Works holding a demarcation stop-work over who’s job it is to get the sewage pipes off the lorry.

Making a living as a musician was a never-ending ritual of sucking-up to the pin-striped stiffos at one of the few record companies that’d managed to stay afloat. The biggest boat in these waters was Decca – onceuponatime the greatest label in the world. Decca, run by royal old fart extraordinairre Sir Edward Lewis. To get a gig you needed an agent. To be an agent you needed certification from the London County Council. Once you were an agent you needed to get on the BBC if an impresario was going to book your band. All according to the tastes and standards held by people who thought Mahler was a bit wild. Then along came the Beatles’ first LP.

Their manager had ran the record department of a furniture store in Liverpool. The only reason people would even see him was cause they respected his status as a retailer. The band he represented not so much. “Guitar bands are on the way out Mr Epstein”, as said by one Dick Rowe, the A and R guy at Decca . Six months later he felt a right berk.

There was a lad who’d done a bit of PR work for Epstein’s band in London. He had loads of talent just not for music. He was hungry, vicious, relentless. Looking at Epstein he knew where to get it he just needed a band. He did some work for Epstein promoting the Beatles in London. He’d worked at Mary Quant’s Bazzar in Knightsbridge doing a bit of everything. He reckoned he could do everyone’s job there easy. Even Quant’s. Years later she had to agree. One day she got his resignation in a letter posted from Heathrow, from what job exactly she never really knew.

Bazaar

All this and he wasn’t even 20. He was looking for his opportunity and he wanted it before notching up two decades on the planet. Somewhere to put his chutzpah. That was the time when the boys spent their wages at the tailors. The girls cut their hair short after Vidal Sasson’s ‘5 point design’ and wore Mary Quant’s easy pants suits and mini-skirts. Red-faced blokes in bowler hats tapped angry on the windows of SoHo coffee shops railing at Modern Youth. It was the time of mid-day nightclubs and blue pills that kept you up all night. The music was rhythm and blues, the backdoor music of urban ghettos and Southern barn dances out way beyond the wrong side of the tracks. Epstein had his band, the kid wanted one too.

He found ’em one night at a place in Richmond: The Crawdaddy Club . These guys weren’t looking to be anything bigger than London’s best blues band. But the kid had worked for the Beatles and he seemed to know what he was talking about. He told ’em if four berks from Liverpool can make it huge, then… They listened, they signed.

Epstein had had every door in the country slammed in his face trying to sell the Beatles. But Andrew Loog Oldham wasn’t into that. He figured the thing was to find the one door that was right and kick it down. And who’s door was better than the poor bloke who’d passed on the Beatles. Rowe was desperate to cover up his Beatles gaff, it’s said he left a board meeting to see this 19 year-old upstart who learned everything he knew about negotiation from A Clockwork Orange. The kid wanted total control, ownership of the master-tapes, decisions about where and when and what to record – all up to the band. Unheard of!

But he got it.