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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[PHOTOS]: U2, Nashville, Playing It Cool

I would prefer a lot of people I know not hear me say the following: I am pumped for tomorrow night’s U2 show in Nashville.

Look, I am fanatical about a few things, yes. But I have been around some crazy people that treat U2 and Bono as if they are the answer to all problems of all humankind. To those (wonderful) people, I suggest playing it cool, and above all else – don’t look down upon those that either don’t like U2, or do not share your (worshipful) level of fandom.

That said, I truly am elated for tomorrow night’s show. I downloaded the U2 360 Tour app to my phone this morning. I got as close as I could a couple of hours ago to take the below images, and marvel at the spectacle. I am super excited to see U2 in Nashvegas tomorrow night.

We all want and need something bigger. That’s really what this show is all about. That is why we go nutso for an event like this. Our day-to-day lives get ultra-boring, mundane and mostly lack the unending joyous and passionate celebration we all desire.

U2’s 360 Tour: the claw, the songs, the atmosphere, the anticipation, the sing-alongs, the tears, the emotional impact – it truly is a landmark moment in most attendee’s lives. I get it.

To my friends that love U2 at stalker levels, this is a moment where I can almost understand you.

U2 and Bono don’t have all of the answers, but one thing I can say with absolute certainty – the boys from Dublin are doing their damndest to help us all get closer.

 

Paul Simon and Privacy

In Nicholas Dawidoff’s Rolling Stone story on Paul Simon (RS 1130; 5/12/11), he writes:

It hasn’t escaped Simon’s notice that the more he kept his personal life to himself, the better life got. ‘At a certain point,’ he [Simon] says, ‘you begin to realize about your life and your private affairs that it’s inappropriate that it should be entertainment for somebody else. There’s no requirement that I tell how I hurt and how I feel. It’s a mistake you make early on. I see Eminem out there talking about his family, his kids, and I think 10 or 15 years from now he’ll regret it.’

I do believe most art (songs, paintings, books, films, etc.) comes from a very personal place, a personal experience, personal emotion – something one feels. Consider some of the greatest works of art – someone experienced whatever came out in that song or movie, but that doesn’t mean the writer let all interested parties into their deepest, most personal of places.

Be it in interviews, public behavior, or creative output – be self-aware. Some information is wholly unnecessary to divulge. Some things really are better left unsaid.

Consider how what you say may affect others. That’s really the point here.

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.

Unsung Heroes of the Band

In a band construct, someone gets left out. When you have multiple individuals forging autonomous creative thoughts, and/or reaching for the spotlight on stage, on TV, on the radio, etc., it is essentially impossible for all to receive appropriate and equal credit.

This is why bands don’t last.

Ok, so a few do. U2 comes to mind. But rarely the full, original lineup stands the test of time. The Rolling Stones may have set the bar for anyone and everyone, but even that band’s composition has had its share of death/firing/resignation. 

This thinking also applies to solo artists, especially ones that have an unnamed band supporting them.

Band members not signed to the label or who’s publishing is a bit too convoluted/political are often not credited as co-writers when their contribution may have saved a song.

This is why bands don’t last.

The Impact of Grunge

An interesting thing happened between 1980s-America and 1990s-America: the music got real depressing. Actually, let’s be more clear. The music in the mainstream (i.e., what the majority of people hear) got real depressing. Or you could say it became more in-tune with what humans, especially young people, were feeling in day-to-day life.

This shift begs multiple questions. Why did it happen? What were the long-lasting effects? How did it change society, or was the music changed by society? Were the kids any better for it? Did you connect to it? It’s been 20 years; are we overdue for another shake-up?

I don’t have delusions of grandeur that (any of) these questions will be answered by this single post. I am looking to start further conversation on the matter, especially from a 2009 frame-of-reference, as we look back and ponder why the cultural shift ever occurred.

I am not of the incorrect notion that “in-tune with human feeling” music started in the 90s; far from it. There has long been music that actually touches a deeper level, but the influx of (Seattle-sound) bands like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Nirvana in the early 90s made for a very interesting changing-of-the-guard. 

Donna Gaines wrote a fascinating book called Teenage Wasteland (Suburbia’s Dead End Kids) that I just finished reading. It starts by telling of a suicide pact (4 teens) that took place in Bergenfield, New Jersey, in 1987. The book does an amazing job of looking into the lives of “outcast” kids in the town of Bergenfield, as Gaines spends quality, one-on-one time with some of them. The book delves deep into the effect social mores are having on American teens by the late 1980s, and it’s not good. A large portion of the book discusses music, and the way the book’s characters identify with the tunes of the day.

After reading this book, one thing is clear to me. It is no wonder the Grunge-era occurred.

Cultural evidence is usually years in the making. In other words, a switch wasn’t flipped as the calendar turned to the 1990s. From Gaines’ book Teenage Wasteland,

When kids in America learned anything about right and wrong in the brutal 1980s, they learned it from their bands. If they were able to express themselves openly and honestly at any time, it was in their scenes. Of course there were people who exploited themes as trends, but those bands didn’t last. They were dismissed as poseurs, teenybopper bands.

In the Great Crossover there was above all a cultural exchange. You had bands like Metallica hanging out with the Misfits, and after a while everyone started writing songs about the real things that threatened kids: drug pushers, Army recruiters, spiritual isolation, nuclear holocaust, child sexual abuse, mental hospitals.

The Support that Matters

Musicians (and I’m not really talking about the successful ones) often have a very hard go at it. Most people don’t “get” what they’re trying to do, and as a result, inadvertently don’t support the venture.

In her book Teenage Wasteland, author Donna Gaines interviews Billy Milano, lead vocalist of the band M.O.D. (Method of Destruction):

Billy talks about something that was a real “kick in the ass” for him. He says, “In the last year and a half…my whole life my father told me how much he didn’t like my music…and I said, but I like doing it, is there anything wrong with liking what you do?” But Billy’s father said since he was playing bass, why didn’t he take lessons? Billy says, “I said I don’t want to take lessons, I just like playing. I’ll get better with practice. And he never liked what I played. And he was ill for a while, and on his deathbed he said to my brothers, out of everyone in the family he was most proud of me because I got to do my dream. I wish I was there, that was the kick in the ass, not to be there to hear him say that. It rips your heart out, all along you think he’s a bastard and he turns out to be your best friend.

This story (though somewhat late) ends well.

Most don’t.

Importance of Producers

I admit there are a lot of times when I associate an artist’s music strictly with that artist. As in, I forget all of the behind-the-scenes people that make a significant impact on the final work.

Record producers get credit, and you usually see their name in the liner notes, but I don’t think they always get what they deserve. (Of course, a whole heck of a lot of people don’t get the credit they deserve for successful artists, but that’s another post; for now, producers).

Without the overall guidance and crafting provided by a producer, a lot of artist’s careers and sound would be way different. Or, they may not be at all.

Here are a few producers that have significantly impacted music, followed by a sample of artists they’ve worked with: George Martin (The Beatles), Phil Spector (The Ronettes, The Ramones), Quincy Jones (Michael Jackson, Ray Charles), Glyn Johns (The Who, Eagles), Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix), Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash), Steve Lillywhite (U2, Phish), Timbaland (Justin Timberlake), Brian Eno (Talking Heads, C0ldplay), Phil Ramone (Billy Joel, Madonna).

I realize that based on my listing of producer names and artists that the producer’s importance is not necessarily being proven, but I guarantee it is irreplaceable.

An artist has to exist, and a song has to exist. 

But the right person has to exist to put it all together.

Al Capone’s Music

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred in 1929, Chicago. Seven people dead. Al Capone led the South Side Italian gang that (apparently) carried out the killings, but who really knows? When you’ve got St. Valentine’s Day Massacre victim Frank Gusenberg answering the cops with “I don’t know who shot me” after being shot 22 times, few details are fact.

A couple of facts we do know: Alphonse Capone was involved with organized crime, he did time at Alcatraz and he loved music.

According to an AP story published on MSNBC.com, “Capone’s last hit could be a tender love song,”

“Capone could read music and liked to play a banjo and a mandola, which is like a mandonlin, only bigger…Capone’s love of music was evident right up to the end of his life. In his research for a book about Capone, Chicago author Jonathan Eig found that even when Capone’s mind was ravaged by syphilis and he was paranoid and delusional, he continued to play his mandola.”

Capone wrote a song called “Madonna Mia” while he was incarcerated at “The Rock,” aka, Alcatraz. This is why the AP story was written.

Obviously Capone’s not really known for his music, but I love the further proof that music plays a role in (nearly) all of our lives, even one of the “worst” criminals in history.

From the same article, Rich Larsen of CaponeFanClub.com recently lined up musicians and singers to record “Madonna Mia,” and the song should be available for purchase soon. The song “Madonna Mia” was either written to Capone’s wife, Mae, or perhaps the Virgin Mary. Either way, here is an interesting excerpt from the song lyrics:

With your love to guide me

Let whatever betide me

I will never go wrong

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