Originally published in 1999
Hi there, this is Sojourn staff writer DBC. What I love about the web is the opportunity to share my thoughts with others. But I also like to hear what others think and to exchange ideas. If you would like to share some ideas with me, click on the SUBMIT TO DBC email link below, and in your subject line write DIRECT TO DBC. Looking forward to hearing from you. DBC out.
A Bright Spot in Music History
In reviewing all of my previous postings the other day, I noticed a hint of negativity in some of my editorials. If you knew me, this would surprise you, as I am very positive person, especially when it comes to music. The negativity stems from some of the problems that I feel exist within the music industry. Maybe they were always there, maybe I am just becoming wise to them. As someone recently told me, "it is still an industry," in the respect that at the end of the day, earnings still need to be met. In a sense, the independent music side of the music biz is a much purer, creative avenue for artists today. However, going the independent route is often a much more difficult route to financial security. Although, with the emergence of the internet, the playing field has been leveled, to some degree.
In this post, I will attempt to delve back into the pure, positive side of the music industry. But first, it is important that I give some background. My freshman year at college, I became friendly with a student from my home state in Connecticut. We had many discussions about music, traded some discs and exchanged perspectives and opinions on music. While this student did not return for his second year, I valued the friendship that we had. I truly learned a lot and became more open-minded to other types of music, and life, in the process.
During my college years from 1993-1997, I watched a lot of MTV. They played videos back then, remember? It was around late 1994 or early 1995, that MTV played a "Buzz Clip" that changed my life forever. "The Last Goodbye" by Jeff Buckley had a limited run on MTV and I happened to catch it. His angelic voice captivated me, his music displayed a passion that I had never heard before. Shortly, thereafter, I received the "Grace" CD in the mail from Columbia House. Within a short time, the 10 songs on "Grace" weren't enough. Buckley's only previous release, an intimate 4-song solo live EP recorded at a small club in New York City, "Live at Sin-e," was not difficult for me to find, thanks to a great record shop, Repo Records, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. In a related note, Buckley caught criticism by releasing a solo debut, the first of many risks he would take in his abbreviated career.
Musically starved, I hit the net to find out more information and to try and see when and where Buckley would be playing live. Tour dates were sparse, but I did find one date in New York City at the Mercury Lounge and Cafe Sin-e on New Year's Eve, 1995. Being just 20 years old, a trip to NYC was a little bit daunting when considering that there would be no advance ticket sales. The prospect of being denied admission made the trip into the City a risk I was not going to ask of my out-of-town friends. Disappointed, I resorted to expensive CD bootlegs and poor quality tape trading to get my fill of live Buckley. Continuing to check the web for information, I had found out that Buckley was playing in Australia and playing bass at some gigs for Mind Science of the Mind, a side project of one of his musical friends, Shudder To Think's Nathan Larson.
It was at this point in mid-1996 that Jeff was embarking on his "Phantom Solo Tour", where he would show up unannounced and play a solo gig. Jeff had a history of doing this type of thing in the clubs and coffeehouses of the East Village in New York City. In late 1996, an upset fan asked why Jeff had toured and not told his fans where he was going to be playing, as he was performing under a variety of aliases. I was not the only one who was impatiently waiting to see Buckley and band perform. An excerpt from his handwritten response follows below:
"There was a time in my life not too long ago when I could show up in a cafe and simply do what I do, make music, learn from performing my music, explore what it meant to me, i.e. have fun while I irritate and/or entertain an audience who doesn't know me or what I am about. In this situation I have that precious and irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender. I worked very hard to get this kind of thing together, this work forum. I loved it then and I missed it when it disappeared. All I am doing is reclaiming it."
It is this type of mentality and sentiment that has had a lasting effect on my life. I am not alone when I say that Jeff Buckley has inspired me to love music and the creative process. From his example, I now embrace those artists that take risks and display artistic integrity. This same influence has also inspired me to work in the music industry.
Heading into 1997, Jeff Buckley and his band were continuing to record on and off. After concluding a session with his band mates, Buckley sent the band back to New York while he worked on some original compositions. It was on May 29,1997, the night that Buckley was set to meet his band to begin rehearsals for the completion of "My Sweetheart, the Drunk," when he drowned in Memphis, Tennessee. The collection of these unfinished songs would see the light of day in late May 1998, in the official release, "Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk." Released predominantly to appease his scores of fans, the album was unfinished and it shows. However, if you are a Buckley enthusiast, it is easy to hear the brilliance that remains and the potential that will forever remain untapped. He was clearly preparing to take a risk by bringing his music in a different direction.
Over the next two years, Mary Guibert, Jeff's mother, and Michael Tighe, Jeff's guitarist, worked together to pick out selections from live performances in an effort to release a live album which captured the intimacy and the passion of Jeff Buckley's live show. The result, "Mystery White Boy" is a masterpiece and was released on May 9, 2000.
Also, released on that day was "Jeff Buckley: Live In Chicago." This is a DVD/VHS representation of a 5/13/95 performance at the Cabaret Metro in Chicago, Illinois. The entire show, "dedicated to People Magazine and Cuervo Tequila because both induce failure and illusion," gives credence to the thought that Buckley may be the greatest live performer of our time. Buckley's bold unpredictability helped to create a standard by which live performers should be judged. He uses a balance of strong musicianship, eclectic influences, and brilliant camaraderie amongst his band mates to connect to members of the audience. Buckley, known to treat his performances like an art, alternates between a Fender Stratocaster, a Rickenbacker, and an Acoustic guitar and utilizes banter in between songs to control the tempo of the performance while furthering his connection to the audience. All in all, 14 songs, including original compositions, covers, and unreleased material give an excellent representation of his live show. To go even further, I feel that everyone who has ever considered performing on stage has an obligation to watch this performance.
I dedicate this post to the memory and the legacy of the late Jeff Buckley. I hope that his influence will inspire those in the musical community to take risks and those in the listening community to respect these artists as a result of those risks.
BLAME THE CORRUPT POLITICIANS
We live in a strange world. Things happen and we look to pass the buck. There is very little accountability in our actions these days. A guy in Philadelphia steals a car, proceeds to speed away and create a dangerous, high-speed chase. He then proceeds to steal a police cruiser and take a few gun shots at police officers before he is apprehended and, subsequently, kicked and beaten numerous times. This video tape was plastered all over the news. Upon viewing the tape, members of the Philadelphia community had the NERVE to say that his civil rights were compromised when the officers subdued him. Did I mention the gentleman is question is a career criminal? My reason for dropping this example is show the severity of how blatantly and unnecessarily we, as a society, pass the buck to others.
This type of activity also goes on in relation to the music industry. A person commits suicide and the media and other figures are quick to point that the individual was a fan of Ozzy Osbourne, or any other artist that fits the bill. A parent catches their child with illegal drugs and they are quick to point to members of the music industry. In fact, two years ago, my Senator, Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), led an attack on the musicindustry to toughen its labeling system for explicit lyrical content. Senator Lieberman cites that the warning labels do not prevent children from getting their hands on this potentially dangerous material. At one point, Lieberman, et al. Were attacking The Black Crowes and a host of so-called "Gangsta-Rap" artists. I'll leave the criticisms of the rap folk alone, but The Black Crowes?!?!?! I'm sure the boys are willing to accept as much free publicity as they can; they were the first rock n' roll band to appear on Court TV, after all. I'm surprised they left the Beatles alone.
Getting back, it appears that members of the U.S. Senate and a former Drug Czar, William Bennett, had organized a powerful lynch mob. This mob was saying that expansive warning labels should prevent children from getting their hands on potentially dangerous lyrical content and not, oh, I don't know, mmmmmm...PARENTS!?!??!? I was going for the "Church Lady" motif here, but my point remains.
Simply put, parents need to take more of an initiative into what their children are:
a) Buying, and
b) listening to
It is all in the upbringing, I reckon. I honestly don't think kids smoke cigarettes because the Marlboro Man nor drink beer because of a set of "singing" frogs. They may recognize them, but that is not the reason kids partake in these vices. They do so, in part, because of peer pressure and the "rebellion" factor. Do you remember the first time you tried beer? I do; it tasted like horse piss. They must have been brewing different stuff by the time I got to college, because by then it resembled water to me, and I certainly didn't drink because of Spuds McKenzie.
It is with these sentiments in mind that I praise Napster. Computer-savvy parents can now (at least temporarily) download songs that their children want and preview the material before it corrupts them. In the meantime, parents are spending time with their children, teaching them about the complexities of a personal computer, and monitoring what they are listening to, all in one shot. Now, that is efficient parenting.
I am writing this today to appeal to the parents and the future parents out there. I am certainly not going to tell anyone how to raise their children; all I ask is that we, as a society, take responsibility for our children and their actions. Let us use our years of experience on this earth to create positive change in the next generation and not blame Ozzy Osbourne, the Black Crowes, the Marlboro Man, or a set of frogs when obstacles creep into our family life.
More comments from DBC
It is tough to be an artist today. If you haven't made it yet, you are a starving artist. If you are successful, you've sold out. To make matters worse, you have Britney Spears and `N Sync selling millions and they don't even play their own instruments. Well, if I put it that way, Eminem doesn't play his own instruments either, but he rips the mic so that's ok, I suppose.
Regardless, musical talent doesn't seem to sell a lot of records these days. As a self-proclaimed music aficionado, I find this troubling. As I grew up, I wanted so badly to play the guitar so I could emulate Mick Mars (Motley Crue) and Warren DeMartini (RATT). Although, if you took a look at the guitar I bought, you would have thought LitaFord.
Yes, as a 12 year-old in 1987, I was shortsighted enough to use my paper delivery boy income to buy a B.C. Rich Warlock. My guitar teacher musthave pissed himself when I walked in with that axe. I, of course, didn't listen to my mother when she suggested I get an acoustic guitar.I mean, c'mon, the only records she listened to were Petula Clark and Simon & Garfunkel. Would you have listened to her? I still don't but
I have purchased Petula Clark and Simon & Garfunkel CDs.
I began my lessons and due to a lack of inspiration, a fat set of fingers, and a steep hourly charge, my instrumental education was left incomplete. Call me a casualty to the need for immediate gratification. I couldn't play Testement solos after a month and a half, so I lost interest. Couple that with the annoyance of my teacher's refusal to miss a phone call during my lessons and two sisters in college. As a result of this educational experience, I developed a deep respect for the musical arts. In this respect, college was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. You meet people from all of the country, if not the world, and everyone has distinct musical preferences. A true melting pot, if you will. It is with that thought in mind that I wonder why there aren't more musical events on college campuses. I feel that the Napster revolution is shedding some light into the needs of college students. This demographic is music-hungry and deserve more credit than people give them credit for.
It almost seems as if the music industry takes the robust sales generated by this market group for granted and, quite frankly, why the hell shouldn't these kids download songs from bands they are curious about? They've paid their dues, literally, and they have greater odds of going out and purchasing the album than we do.
Another thing, look at how expensive CDs have gotten, $17.99
at Sam Goody (seriously). Are you kidding? If that is the case, why should I buy it when I can download with my cable modem in 45 seconds? I don't mind paying anywhere from $9.99-$13.99 for a CD, but once you go over that limit, there is a strong possibility that I'm not going to want to pay it, especially now. Sometimes it just isn't worth taking a chance on a CD you are unsure about. Trust me, I've gotten burned plenty of times, I've also ended up buying CDs that have changed my life (Jeff Buckley, for one).
In a lot of ways, I feel Napster is wrong. For starters, they've never given artists a choice to be included in the network, thus making it voluntary and circumventing copyright laws. On the other hand, it lets me sample music before I buy. In addition, I feel that there are efficiency problems within the music industry and I'll say this, these frivolous lawsuits aren't bringing down the price of CDs, are they? People respond negatively to greediness and the
digital revolution is a product of the current environment. You have industry fat cats running around spending money frivolously on the consumers dime. If there is someone out there that can answer the question, I'd like an answer: WHY ARE CD PRICES SO EXPENSIVE? I bought a 5-pack of Sony discs for $7.00 ($1.40/per, I'm a math man). There are many low cost methods of promotion, distribution, etc. that should bring down the cost of CDs, yet the prices remain high. With the emergence of the internet, there are simply no excuses for inefficient operations. In time, artists are going to follow the lead of Courtney Love and do there business on the web. Excellent short-term solution, but what happens when the internet gets cluttered (is it not already)? I HAVE AN ANSWER: LIVE PERFORMANCES!!!!! YES!! LIVE PERFORMANCES!!! It is then, musical talent will shine.
All those artists worried about copyright hijacking, etc., shut your trap and rock the stage.