Whitney

Why can’t we just let it be? Why do we have to dig, and ask, and stalk, and uncover the private and potentially even more heartbreaking details about the death of an icon? What is it in us that must be satiated?

I realize knowing the full story is important for us to move on, to put it to rest, but in this very sad and untimely instance of Whitney Houston’s death, I find myself simply hoping for people to leave the “rest of the story” alone.

We know she was having a hard time. We know life with Bobby wasn’t roses. We know that a superstar among superstars lives a life that 99.99% of earth’s population will never remotely understand.

Yet we can’t leave it alone. We pry. We check TMZ. We watch Nancy Grace-type “news” coverage, that, if we stop and think about it, should make us all sick during moments such as this. Look, I was just watching HLN’s coverage about Whitney, so I’m in this like the rest of us. But I continue to grow tired of it.

A good story is a good story, and the death of a musical legend in her Beverly Hills hotel room literally 24 hours before the GRAMMY Awards is a captivating story. Yes, of course. But since 99.99% or more of us cannot and will not ever understand what it was like to live Whitney’s life, I sincerely hope we can focus on the good times: her good times, and the good times she brought every single one of us.

Whitney Houston was a beautiful part of creation. She obviously had one of the best singing voices ever. Let us all pause and consider her wonderful contributions to our world. Let’s focus on the good times.

How do you want to be remembered?

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You probably aren’t that cool

I live and work around relatively cool people, but I am often amazed at just how “awesome” some people think they are, certainly including myself sometimes. When you are, or work around those that are remotely “famous,” it is really easy to start thinking you really have it going on. People come to you for free tickets, free drinks, party invites, job hook-ups, whatever, and you really start to think you wield some pretty rockin’ power.

And maybe you really are that cool. But I doubt it. And, when you start to “know” that you are cool, that’s probably when it’s going to quickly go off the rails, and people will begin to despise you and your arrogant attitude.

There are plenty of people I feel this way about, not only in Nashville, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, but many other locations.

I am including myself in this. I have spent plenty of time as the underdog, and have had just enough time as a “go to guy” to feel what both ends of the spectrum are like. They are very different. I hope you are able to have enough of a balance of the two to know what they both feel like. And do not forget what it felt like on the other side. It is important to know how to approach those with some power, and it is important to know what it is like to have absolutely no access. One minute you may have access, but do not forget, it could be gone the next.

Who you are associated with plays in to this, big time. Put thought in to who you closely associate yourself with. We often group reputations together. Make certain you are positioning yourself in a manner consistent with who you are. Of course there are people we would like to associate ourselves with, but simply do not have access to. Continually ask yourself if that person or company or group of people are worth the effort and potential compromises you would have to make to achieve access.

Treat people well. My goodness, I have seen some real jerks in my time, and for no good reason whatsoever. Stop and consider how you are treating people, how you’re sharing your opinion and whether or not you helped make their day better. Do you really like when people treat you like crap?

Be consistent. You want people to know what to expect when they call on you for any reason whatsoever. Don’t be a different person when you’re out late at night as opposed to who you are at home or in the office. I will never understand people that one day are super nice and bubbly, but the next seem to not even know me.

Do not meet someone two, three, four or five times. Remember them after the first time. I am not saying you are necessarily going to remember their name and every talking point about them, but for the love of God, pay enough attention that next time around you aren’t “meeting them for the first time.” I can think of multiple people I have met on numerous occasions because the first, second or third times, I was not in a position of power, or did not have access to the right artist(s). When they finally do allow space for me in their brain, I often harbor resentment towards them for being such an ass. Do your best to not treat people this way.

You may know a lot, but that does not mean you have to be a jerk about it. Sometimes it is for the betterment of all if you just keep your mouth shut. You may know this and that and whatever, but don’t be the guy that’s always spouting off and annoying the bejesus out of everyone. Over time, people do not like that person, regardless of knowledge.

Look, you are cool in some way. We all have something special we bring to this mess. Just be self-aware. In an industry and lifestyle where every single person is seemingly clawing for their own version of fame, know that your words and actions are still important, no matter the setting or context.

People are watching – don’t be an idiot.

Merle Kilgore saw right through me

I’m a rock and roll guy. I was not raised on country music, and prior to Nashville, I wasn’t around it much. Then I decided to attend college at Belmont University, in Nashville.

Like many of my classmates, I had a stupid, arrogant, anti-country music attitude because I thought the music was “dumb,” or insert whatever stereotypical prejudices you can think of relating to the South, country music fans, whatever.

Sidenote: Nashville is far more than just country music, but that’s not the point.

In early 2003, I was arrogantly sitting at my desk as an intern at a PR firm called PLA Media, which is on 16th Ave., right in the heart of Nashville’s Music Row, an area founded upon the successes of country music. I answered the phone and had no earthly idea who the guy on the other end was. Merle Kilgore was calling to talk to my boss at the time, Pam Lewis.

Merle, being about as quick-witted as they come, picked up on the fact that I did not know who he was, and he decided to confirm it. We had a brief, super-awkward conversation where he filled me in on his credentials.

As long as I live, I will never forget the feeling I had after that conversation. In that moment I decided that even though I didn’t, and still don’t, love country music, I am going to respect the hell out of it. I am going to learn about it and quit making fun of an extremely important genre of music, both in Nashville and beyond.

By the way, Merle Kilgore co-wrote “Ring of Fire” with June Carter Cash, was the long-time manager of Hank Williams Jr., was named honorary state senator for Tennessee in 1987 and in 1998, Van Morrison recorded a version of the Kilgore-written “More and More” with a guy named Bob Dylan.

Mr. Kilgore passed away two years later, in 2005. I was fortunate to be at his funeral at the Ryman Auditorium, where Kid Rock sang “I Saw The Light.”

Photos: Canyon Country Store

I had the honor of visiting the Canyon Country Store on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Los Angeles last week. We saw and experienced some amazing things during our trip to the left coast, but I honestly would have been happy to just go hang around the Canyon Country Store, and Laurel Canyon in general, for a few days.

The importance of the physical location of Laurel Canyon, including the Canyon Country Store, on American recorded music cannot be overstated.

From Michael Walker’s fabulous book, Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood,

Glenn Frey, then a callow folkie fresh from Michigan, later said that when he happened to glimpse David Crosby sitting on the steps of the store, he knew he had made the right decision to come to L.A. “The Country Store was like the lobby of the Laurel Canyon hotel, and therefore was a fabulous f*cking place,” says Michael Des Barres. “The residents of this crumbling establishment would gather for their milk and cookies. We used to go there at all hours of the day and night. It was lovely, just catching up with the dealers.”


Unsolicited thoughts on Chris Brown and Robin Roberts

If you watch Robin Roberts’ interview with Chris Brown on ABC’s “Good Morning America” from the morning of Tuesday, March 22, 2011, it is really not that big of a deal. I fully realize that Brown was pissed and apparently stormed off set after his appearance, out into the street with his shirt off, etc., etc.  But as for the actual interview, it was uneventful.

Should Robin have cued in on the obvious subject-shift and body language from Brown? No question about it. But you can argue she was just doing her job as a journalist, if that is what a “Good Morning America” host is (I am not saying Robin Roberts is not a journalist, I am referencing the fact that most national network morning shows are fluffity-fluff). Robin and her producers were desperately trying to get their guest, their source, to entertain a very unnecessary conversation that they knew would make for good gossip, good TV, good ratings. One thing they did score, post-buzz, was ultimately not really a result of the actual interview, but Brown’s post-appearance reaction.

Should Chris have been nicer to Rihanna? There is no question about that, but we all do stupid things and (sometimes) deal with consequences. Brown has attempted to put his actions of 2009 behind him. Let the man be.

Should Rihanna purposefully spend much time around Brown following what happened, regardless of how long ago it was? No.

I used to be a publicist. I know how publicists attempt to control questions and steer conversations, but Chris Brown came on to Robin’s show. Robin should be able to take the conversation where she wants. It’s her show. And she has repeatedly said all questions were cleared ahead of time, which is also something in media that drives me nuts, but everyone deserves to be prepped.

Chris and his team sought the exposure and promotion that an appearance on GMA would provide to increase his brand’s value, with his new album release serving as the catalyst for the appearance.

Chris and co. are using GMA for their gain.

Robin, GMA and ABC are using Chris for their gain.

Let’s call this what it is.

There is some sort of social contract entered into by all parties when an appearance like this is booked and executed. All involved need to keep in mind that non-monetary payments are often going to be requested, sometimes demanded, and it may not become apparent until the cameras are rolling. I am not trying to over-dramatize this, but it is the risk that all run. Live media is a fun, nerve-wracking and exciting platform. Does anyone remember Justin and Janet’s little situation during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII? There is an associated risk. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it does not.

The topic at hand is seemingly good for someone, because I am using my Saturday afternoon to express my opinion on the matter, but I can tell you it has not increased my long-term respect or interest in either party.

When you put yourself “out there” in hopes of gain: fame, money, whatever – you better expect difficult questions, nagging interviewers, crazy fans and jaded critics.

Robin should have shut up and moved on, and Chris could have peacefully left the GMA studios and simply vowed to never return again.

Jack White is a smart man

I am not the biggest White Stripes fan. Don’t get me wrong, I like them a lot, but I don’t bow at their altar. However, the more I learn about Jack White, the more I am convinced of his genius. And I don’t mean “genius” in some sort of tortured soul, preternatural, indefinable way – although there probably is some of that – but in that he is very intelligent and calculated. Yes, he does have more musical talent than me, you and all of our friends combined (no offense), but unlike most he actually uses it well. He has parlayed his successes into a truly respectable repertoire.

It is refreshing to see a celebrity consistently make good decisions. He has a deep appreciation for history, and that is part of his genius. He actually learns from the blunders of others. Anyone that can develop a relationship with, and eventually produce albums for, Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson – that is someone to emulate.

If you haven’t read the note on The White Stripes’ website about their break-up, please do – and consider it a model for how a band should wrap. There are a lot of bands out there today that should have ended a long time ago, but that is for another day.

When I watched the documentary, It Might Get Loud, which delves into the stories of White, Jimmy Page and The Edge, I was surprised to be most impressed and interested in White.

My only personal interaction with White occurred at thee Nashville Airport. We exited the shuttle bus at the same time in the middle of the parking lot. We walked relatively close to each other for a bit, then when he needed to turn to his car, he said the only words uttered between us, “excuse me.”

I’m gonna go listen to The White Stripes perform Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”

 

Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”

The other night I came to the end of an exit ramp in Nashville. Twenty yards ahead on my left was a man in need of help. What specifically?, I have no idea – I couldn’t read his cardboard sign. It was a profound moment for me as John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” was playing on the radio.

“Happy Xmas,” which originally appeared on Lennon’s 1975 compilation album Shaved Fish, is essential to me during the Christmas season because it always redirects my heart and soul to consider what really matters during this most sensitive time of year: people, love, peace and safety. Regardless of your political or religious stance(s), the holiday time of year is simultaneously a wonderful and terribly troubling time. Wars and domestic heartaches do not pause nor stop. Homeless men, women and children continue to stand on street corners and sleep under bridges. Jobs are lost, loved ones die and family members continue not to speak.

But there is a hope that it can be better. A hope and a longing that is exemplified and expressed by John and Yoko through the words of this beautiful song. We cannot control this world or the community around us, but we can control ourselves. We can give, share, encourage and love.

For me personally, my hope is in the man who’s birthday originally caused what has devolved into the biggest capitalistic, commercial, Disney World holiday of them all. Your hope may be found there, or somewhere else. Regardless, I promise you there is hope. It is doubtful we all will get what we need, but we can sure as hell try. We all have a second chance to make a difference in the world of those around us. John and Yoko gave us a masterpiece with a poignant reminder that, in our hearts at least, war is over, if you want it.

Happy Christmas. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.

Crosby & Bowie: Christmas 1977

There are a few pop culture necessities for me when the holidays roll around: Christmas Vacation, Elf, a visit to The Opryland Hotel, any and all Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole Christmas music, White Christmas (the movie), A Charlie Brown Christmas (the TV special and accompanying album), “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, “Beloved Christmas Tree” by Kopecky Family Band and Jars of Clay’s Christmas Songs.

Back to that Crosby guy, his recording of “Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy” with David Bowie has always interested me. Plenty hate it, I get that. Either way, it was a very important moment for music in the late 1970s. It brought together one of the most classic vocalists and talents of the twentieth century, Bing Crosby, with one of the most essential and impactful writers and performers in Rock and Roll, David Bowie.

The pairing was not a result of a pre-existing relationship. The producers of Bing’s TV special, “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” thought it a good idea, and made it happen. According to a 2006 story by Paul Farhi in The Washington Post, “The notion of pairing the resolutely white-bread Crosby with the exquisitely offbeat Bowie apparently was the brainchild of the TV special’s producers, Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, according to Ian Fraser, who co-wrote (with Larry Grossman) the song’s [“Peace On Earth”] music and arranged it.”

Apparently Crosby did not know who David Bowie was initially, but his children did, so he agreed to the idea. David Bowie was not interested in singing “Little Drummer Boy.” The producers of the show literally wrote the “Peace On Earth” part of the song within about an hour’s time, on the day of the taping, which is the part Bowie sings in the second half. The two rehearsed the song for less than one hour before the recording on September 11, 1977.

Bing Crosby’s Christmas TV special was set in England and the premise behind the skit is that Bowie is stopping by to see a friend. Crosby is in visiting from America and is staying at Bowie’s friend’s home. Crosby answers the door, the two quickly connect over their musical interests and via television magic, music begins to play and the two sing a beautiful version of “Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy.”

There are two separate songs here, but they work together. This is called “counterpoint,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character.” In other words, two separate songs that totally work when performed simultaneously.

Obviously tongue-in-cheek, but still important is part of the exchange from the skit preceding the song:

Bowie: Do you like modern music?

Crosby: Oh, I think it’s marvelous. Some of it really fine. Tell me, uh, you ever listen to any of the older fellas?

Bowie: Oh yeah, sure. I like, uh, John Lennon, and the other one, Harry Nilsson.

Crosby: Oooh, you go back that far, huh?

Bowie: Yeah, I’m not as young as I look.

Crosby: None of us is these days.

David Bowie was 30 years old at the time of this taping. Crosby was 74. A difference of 44 years.

On October 14, 1977, just over a month following the taping, Bing Crosby passed away as the result of a heart attack, in Madrid, Spain. “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” initially aired November 30, 1977, on CBS.

Crosby is an absolute legend. I am so thankful this pairing was made and the result was recorded for posterity’s sake. When you watch the skit, notice Bowie’s youth and Crosby’s frailty.

After catching the original, be sure to catch Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s parody version of the performance.

Fake Plastic Trees

This is one of those songs that hits hard.

Have you ever really listened to the words of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”? Have you ever watched the music video and let the visceral, disturbing images sink in? Maybe you see your life in the song, or at least something about the world you live in.

We could spend time discussing the disdain for consumeristic society being imbued through the lyrics, but that feels too pronounced.

If you ever have been impacted by this song – is it the words, the music video, or the music that gets you?

For me it is the music. I am prone to that anyway, but in this case I know it. At the same time, the lyric “it wears me out,” which definitely sums it all up, is why I believe the music connects even deeper with me. I always want to think words could be anything and I would still love the music, but this is an instance where the impact would not be the same.

The coupling of real world stuff with amazing music – yeah, that is why I love music. It communicates what can not be put into words. It takes any of the ideas embodied in the lyrics to “Fake Plastic Trees” and in five minutes helps you feel it in a way that you never had.

And then there is the music video, which can be interpreted in myriad ways. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is riding in a shopping cart around a bright, nameless grocery store type venue. Odd characters appear to represent aspects of the lyrics. The broken, cracked polystyrene man that crumbles and burns makes me sad. He is us.

“Fake Plastic Trees” is our world. It is not going to ease up, it will only dig harder. I would tell you not to let it wear you out, but it will.

At least we have some killer music while we’re at it.

Water at Van’s Warped Tour

Curtis Alan DeForest, a 26-year old, died at Monday’s (8/2/10) Van’s Warped Tour at Capitol Springs Park @ Sandstone, in Bonner Springs, Kansas. The cause of death is yet to be made official. Either way, all signs point to some sort of dehydration. I’ve seen reports online that bottled water was going from $6 to $10.

Sandstone’s website states that patrons are permitted to bring in “one bottle of water (sealed) per person.” Then over on Sandstone’s blog, it states, “patrons were allowed to bring in their own bottles of water.” It also mentions “water refill stations” but does not clarify if there was a cost associated with this.

There was a heat advisory in effect for the area on Monday. Temperatures hovered around triple digits.

Is this Sandstones’s fault? Van’s Warped Tour’s? DeForest’s? The Weather’s?

It is really none of the above. Two companies are trying to make money. DeForest just wanted to come to the rock show. As for the weather – it’s August!

My hope in this very sad matter is that we all freaking pay attention.

Be careful with the weather. It is not kidding around.

And sometimes that extra buck is not worth it.

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