Club Without a Clubhouse

October 17, 2011 will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the most important encounters in rock-and-roll history.  It was on that day in 1961 when two English teenagers recognized each other while waiting on a Dartford Station train platform.  One had a guitar, the other, some Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry records.  A conversation was struck about the records, and continued on the train as the guitarist was recruited to join the singer’s group.  Five decades later, the greatest rock-and-roll band in the world, the Rolling Stones are still rolling.  To think it started when Keith Richards saw Mick Jagger holding some albums.

One could say that the fateful meeting was exactly that, but I may argue a different point. Without records, and by extension record stores, there would have been no Rolling Stones.

The medium by which music has been delivered from the artist to the audience has changed a lot in the last 50 years.  From the 45 to the LP, 8-track to cassette to CD, one thing remained fairly consistent- the neighborhood record store.  Thanks to the digital age of music, however, the record store is about as relevant to today’s society as the CD or any of its predecessors, themselves.  If you still have a brick-and-mortar record store in your town, consider yourself lucky, and rare.

Major record labels still issue the chart-topper’s new releases on compact disc, but more and more the place to purchase the latest hits are the megastores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy.  Don’t want to leave the house?  Amazon.com will ship it to arrive at your home the day it’s released.  Your neighborhood record shop likely has been reduced to a thrift store for music buyers- trash-to-treasure for the avid collector seeking a used copy of Adrian Belew’s (as of this date) out-of-print gem Mr. Music Head, or Phish’s debut Junta, initially only available on cassette (!).

This is, of course, assuming you even want an actual piece of plastic, that to be heard, spins inside a bulky machine cluttering the cabinet space in your living room, or sits on a shelf in its case awaiting the same fate as the books you won’t ever read again.  Most people, at least the young people, don’t.  They want a file, compressed and cataloged neatly enough to fit on their cellular phone or in their computer’s hard drive, obtained from an Internet site like Itunes, or from a “friend” generously sharing from a database as of yet undiscovered by the FBI.  Just as some artists continue to issue special edition vinyl of their current offerings, so, too will the CD exist, though likely as an increasingly niche product for audiophiles and the middle-age demographic.  Regardless, the plummeting annual sales numbers are there for all to see and with them the end of the compact disc as the medium of choice for music consumers.

So what?  Think of the advantages of music as a file.  You can store nearly 2,000 songs on something as small as a cigarette lighter.  Sound quality?  To the average person, very little in the way of detectable fidelity is lost by squeezing the information to function as an mp3.  It doesn’t scratch, warp, skip or break.  Plus, and this is a big one, it’s available instantly, cheaply, and perpetually.  Maybe I can’t download the aforementioned Belew album because he or his label hasn’t reached an agreement with Apple or its ilk just yet, but that’s his loss.  In the meantime, there are hundreds of millions of songs in the digital universe on which I can spend my 99 cents.  A music buyer’s dream come true.

Except that something is missing.  It starts with being part of a community, part of a music appreciation society.  The record store was a clubhouse, with open membership, no dues, and high rates of return on your investment of time and money.  Shopping for music may have been inspired by the desire to purchase a specific product, but often it became something much more.  It became a chance to discover something playing over the house sound system that you’d never heard before.  It became a chance to meet fellow fans of an artist as you rubbed elbows perusing the racks and stacks.  It became a chance to appreciate the artistry of the album cover, the pictures and track listing on the back, to hold that cardboard square long enough to know if you were ready to take it home today.  It was a relationship, a commitment as you parted with your $8.99 in exchange for a musical experience, and it wasn’t to be taken lightly.

One story from my life comes to mind.  When I was 12, I loved a Led Zeppelin tune titled Hey, Hey, What Can I Do.  Occasionally I would have the fortune of hearing it on the radio, but being the Zep fan I was, I knew that the radio was the only place to hear it, as it was not on any of their albums.  To me, there was a disconnection.  How could the radio stations have it, if it wasn’t on an album?

On one of my many trip to Sam’s Records, I asked the guy behind the counter the same question.  His answer was that it existed as the B-side on the 45 of Immigrant Song and was available as a Japanese import.  I had to have it, and a few weeks later, straight from Japan, it was mine.  I couldn’t decipher the Japanese characters on the cover, and Immigrant Song sounded slightly sped up, but I didn’t care.  I would never again have to wait for the radio to deliver the goods; just crank up my turntable and drop the needle.  The car ride to and from Sam’s was 20 of the longest anticipatory minutes of my life.

That tiny moment is significant of things much greater; the social interaction with the store employee, the delayed gratification of obtaining my goal, the knowledge, perhaps trivial by nature, of where it came from and how to get it, and the simple joy of the phone call that my record was waiting to be picked up.  I learned a lot; things I didn’t even realize until much later.

Log on to Itunes and it will take all of about 25 seconds to buy the same song, and truthfully, at a fraction of what the Japanese import cost me.  Some may say that’s a better way to do business, but it isn’t a better memory.  It isn’t a better story.  It isn’t a better experience.  Doubtful that with the click of a mouse, one would learn nearly as much, or anything for that matter, about the song, the band, or themselves.

Back to the Dartford train station, where today a couple of teenage boys are probably waiting for the 5:15 into London.  One’s got earbuds tucked into his ears, the other likely checking the text messages on his phone.  It’s a fair guess that neither will even look at the other, let alone interrupt their solitary information consumption.  Too bad.  They may have been the next Mick and Keith.

Recommended listening: Adrian Belew- Mr. Music Head

 

Larson
Larson Sutton, 38,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

Giving Thanks to Saint Burchardi and John Cage

I’m not sure exactly when Halloween became the start of the Christmas season, but it seems that ever since the light went out on the jack-o-lantern the airwaves have been jammed with the talk of gift-buying. Late December remains seven weeks away, and in between now and that time of packages tied up in string there is a little something called Thanksgiving. Many families across America will gather one Thursday for food and football, perhaps briefly stopping at some point after the green beans and before the pie to consider for what or whom they are thankful.

This year has been a rough one for so many of us. Even if the casualties of war or the uncertainties of the financial markets have not directly affected your household, it’s likely you know somebody whose life has been hurt. This is why I’m taking the time to be thankful for the fact that in the town of Halberstadt, Germany there is the church of St. Burchardi. Inside that church there is an organ, and that organ, at this very moment, is performing a piece by the late avant-garde composer John Cage titled, As Slow As Possible.
Back in 2000, a conference of musicians decided it should be played precisely in that manner, and since no specific time requirement was indicated by Cage’s eight-page composition, they would devise a way to honor the implied tempo of the work; by playing the piece for 639 years.

639 years.

It seems that in 1361, the church of Saint Burchardi first installed an organ within its confines, and thusly, 639 years later at the turn of the millennium, this conference felt that this number of years provided the proper symbolism for such an event that recognizes such an independent spirit as Cage, and an organ was built to accommodate the nearly seven century-long performance.
On September 5, 2001, the 89th anniversary of Cage’s birth, it began, appropriately enough, with a rest of seventeen months. There is a strange irony that the world and the future of its existence would be questioned with the 9/11 tragedy in the United States less than a week after such a benign and progressive act.

The first note sounded on February 5, 2003, and despite everything that has transpired around the world since, the tones continue to resonate. Pilgrimages are made each time the note changes as it has become a rather rare and powerful occurrence. The next three note changes will be on July 5, 2012, October 5, 2013, and September 5, 2020, and when it does, the church will be filled with visitors from all over the planet.

John Cage was one of the more controversial figures in modern music. Look no further than his composition, 4’33, in which the musicians play absolutely nothing for four minutes and 33 seconds. It’s been the inspiration of many punch lines since its debut, (Worst song I ever bought on Itunes, or, I’m not the best piano player, so I might make a mistake playing it. You get the idea). However if given the chance, the notion of almost five minutes of mandated silence can be incredibly refreshing and possibly even a challenge for those of us driven to fill the space with sound. Or maybe it was Cage’s idea of a really clever joke aimed at the pretentions of “sophisticated” compositions and audiences. Either way it’s a brilliant way to get the world to be quiet for four-and-a-half minutes.
As Slow As Possible sits at the other end of the spectrum as a tone will sound continuously until the next change. Those curious as to what note is being performed at the moment can dial up a website www.john-cage.halberstadt.de and listen.

Of course, none of us will be around to hear the finish in 2640, but this is precisely why I’m thankful. There is an inherent optimism that someone will be around to hear it, and I appreciate that there are people confident of this. It’s so easy given the current state of the globe to wonder if humanity is going to come out the other side of all these messes. Most people aren’t confident in the next six months, let alone 639 years.

So this year when it’s time to give thanks, I think I’ll pause for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, and then I’ll think of Halberstadt, and of my great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren asking in bad German accents for directions to Saint Burchardi.

    Recommended listening:

  • John Cage- 4’33

Voila_Capture89
Larson Sutton, 38,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

Staring down the end of the year, I’m debating the deployment of one of several tried, perhaps tired, and true formats for this column; the Best Of list, the Recap, the Resolutions, the Remembrance, and so on.

I’ve decided that it’s going to be like a plate at Christmas dinner. A little bit of everything. A proper medley of topics and tallies.

Beginning with this column and any of the previous entries, I wish to say thank-you to any and all that have taken the time to read it. It is a pleasure to have a forum to express myself about something I have enjoyed my entire life- the art of music. I hope that you continue to read and continue to comment as you see fit. I will continue to try and make it worth your time.

Some random updates regarding past columns:

Vol. 1- The Rolling Stones are rumored possibly to launch a 50th anniversary tour in 2012. Meanwhile, record stores do whatever they can to survive, sadly, with one of Los Angeles’ most venerable vinyl shops , Music Man Murray, looking for a buyer. Hard to imagine, but the Stones may have a longer lifespan than the stores that carried their music for so many years.

Vol. 3- The Monkees had one of the summer’s most successful tours and are also rumored to perhaps hit the road again in the new year. Regardless, a Monkees-inspired musical, Monkee Business, will premiere in Great Britain this spring.

Vol. 4- Elvis Costello’s record label recently released a boxed set of his work with a retail price tag in excess of $200. This prompted the bespectacled Costello to urge his fans, via his website, to avoid its purchase until the cost comes down. The punk band Fugazi, long a champion of all-ages shows and $5 tickets, turned loose online 130 of a potential 800 concerts recorded during their heyday, available for download for $5 each or, and this is why their fans love them, for whatever the consumer wishes to pay. Phish, the road-warrior quartet of improvisational wizardry, also made available another live compilation free for download as part of their Live Bait series.

Vol. 5- The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced their inductees for the Class of 2012. They are Guns N’ Roses, the Beastie Boys, Donovan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Laura Nyro and the Faces. Deserving? Does it matter?

The Grammy nominations were handed out a few weeks back and out of curiosity, I decided to see of the 100+ nominations, which albums I acquired this past year. The answer? One. It was a nomination for best reggae album, Ziggy Marley’s Wild and Free. One album out of hundreds. I’m not sure what this says. For starters, when I listen to the radio, I tune in to KUSC, a Los Angeles public station operated out of the University of Southern California that plays classical music exclusively. My wife and daughter do their best to keep me aware of the latest pop and alternative fare. Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, (that single and her album are multiple Grammy nominees) was on a loop at our house for a few weeks last spring. Beyond that, I’m somewhat oblivious. Maybe, as a music writer I shouldn’t be admitting that.

What I do notice is that during my above recap, other than Adele, not a single artist mentioned has a career shorter than 25 years, and that most peaked before the turn of the century.

I wonder if I even have an open mind or ears for what’s new in music. Usually something comes along that gets my attention, but there haven’t been many. Derek Trucks and M. Ward are two that have produced some incredible things lately, but after that, not much.

Do I need to forget my auld acquaintances, at least temporarily, and get with the times? A question for the new year.

Lastly, as with every year, the world loses some talented musicians. One I wish to note is Amy Winehouse, a brilliant young woman with endless ability and style, who lost her fight with alcohol and drug addiction. Even before her passing, her death was mentioned by many as ‘inevitable,’ due to the severity of her addictions. It came as no surprise to some when she succumbed. It’s an incredibly unfortunate comment on society when one’s preventable death at 27 can be seen as inevitable and without disbelief.

So many musicians have been lost to the demons of addiction. As I write this on a rainy Monday , I think of the Carpenters’ hit, Rainy Days and Mondays, and I think of another young woman lost too early to a different kind of addicted behavior.

In these cases it should be obvious to remember our auld acquaintances, honor their work, and hope that those at risk can get the help they need before it is too late.

Song of the Year- Midnight in Harlem The Tedeschi Trucks Band from their album Revelator
All the best in 2012.

 

Voila_Capture88
Larson Sutton, 38,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

Somewhere over the Hollywood sign

There was a time in my life when I was in my late teens-early twenties that I felt fairly certain that I would be the subject of many interviews in my career. Already, I’d been on a few radio shows and in several local newspapers, and I figured it was just the beginning of my rise to celebrity.

There is a great scene in The Commitments when Jimmy Rabbitte, the band’s manager, is lying in bed practicing his answers to a hypothetical interview, playing both parts of interviewer and subject. In my spare time, that was me. Not out loud would I practice, but certainly in my head I would imagine what I would be asked and how I would respond to questions like, signing our first record deal, headlining our first tour, taking some time away for a solo project, and so on.

By that point in my life I’d read countless interviews with my musical heroes. I poured over the pages, in the days before the Internet, and devoured every chosen word, every parenthetical indicator, (laughs), just to be sure I knew exactly what Paul Barrere or Gregg Allman or Trey Anastasio meant when they said what they said. I dreamed of the day when others just like me would do the same about what I had said.

Then, my sax player decided he would rather be an accountant, and my drummer soon followed him out the door. In one weekend my band was dead. I was 22.

I didn’t stop playing music. I recovered, formed a new group, and the dreams of record deals, tours, and page-turning interviews flickered to life. Until that one, too, split-up about a year later.

Something pretty spectacular was happening along the way, however. During our rise to regional notoriety in the college towns of the northeastern United States, I met a lot of my musical heroes. In some cases, we opened for them or even jammed with them. It was incredible.

Deep down inside I was a fan of these musicians, yet here I was talking shop, asking advice, and desperately trying not to look like a complete star-struck goof. I wanted to be seen as a peer, even though the reality was I was anything but. They were established stars, working each and every night, with audiences in the thousands. I was a wanna-be, still under the legal drinking age, begging club owners for slots. It was really strange.

If I have to be honest, part of me was thinking, “What happens if they (meaning anybody- audience, promoter, other musicians) find out we’re not very good?” We were raw, still learning, still making plenty of mistakes. The last thing we wanted to do was slip on the banana. Even with that measure of doubt, perhaps because of it, I believed that if we’d gotten this far, someday we could be big.

A few weeks ago I attended the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Awards. It was held at a theater in Los Angeles on the Saturday prior to the Grammys. I had requested press credentials to report on the event for an online magazine for which I write because one of the recipients of the Lifetime Grammy was the Allman Brothers Band- a favorite of the magazine’s and of mine.

I had met all of the younger, newer members of the band prior to this day way back when I was an aspiring young musician. As the red carpet interviews rolled, I had the chance to reconnect with those guys, talking about days from 20 years prior. Even if they didn’t quite remember the story, they did a great job of being polite about it.

In my travels, I had never met the three present original members of the group- Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, and Jaimoe- though I had wanted to always.

Across the street from the theater, waiting for the guests to arrive, were some of the devoted; a few men in their late 30s-early 40s, holding up Allman Brothers Band albums, hoping for a glimpse or an autograph. I won’t lie. As for Hollywood award ceremonies, this was pretty sleepy, with about two dozen photographers, journalists, and broadcast media, and that handful of fans across the street.

Of the big three, Butch arrived first, ebullient and bright, easy to talk to all afternoon if he had the time. Jaimoe was the diametric opposite in number of words, but equally as pleasant and forthcoming.

Finally, Gregg arrived.

Gregg Allman is as legitimate a music legend as the world has seen in the last 40 years. A brother and bandmate dying young accidentally, lead singer of the biggest band in the country, drug and alcohol addiction, a marriage to Cher, sobriety, movie and TV roles, and now, a career resurgence including a Grammy nomination this year for Best Blues Album- he has checked every box on his rock star card.

Just before I started to interview him, I saw one of the fans from across the street approach the red carpet area, his album in hand, but was cut off rather stealthily by a non-descript mountain of a security man who referred him back to the other side.

I finished my two minutes with Gregg, a very soft-spoken and congenial statesman at this stage of his life, and watched as he continued on down the procession, indulging each reporter. I couldn’t help but think about those fans across the street.

If not for the press lanyard dangled around my neck, I realized I probably had more in common with that guy with the album cover than I did with Gregg Allman.

I wasn’t famous.

I wasn’t dressed up, being asked questions, having my picture taken, getting an award.

I was more Jimmy Rabbitte imagining that life.

I was more anxious fan hoping for a connection.

Perhaps I was a step closer to it all, a journalist with some first-hand experience in the business that aided in my ability to relate, but I was no peer.

I think I would have made a pretty good rock star if I had the talent and opportunity to succeed. It’s also possible I would’ve been a disaster.

I am, still, a musician. And a fan. Always will be.

To think where those two things alone have taken me.

It’s awesome.

A Final Note: I wish to express my sadness over the passing of Davy Jones. Known mainly for his work with The Monkees, Davy Jones was a talented actor and musician that brought millions of people joy through music, including my family and myself. We will miss you.

Recommended listening: Joe Walsh- Life’s Been Good

 

Voila_Capture89
Larson Sutton, 39,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

Listen To Larson's Band Today! On iTunes

Eli, Tom Hanks, and two Mona Lisas, part one

I have never courted controversy. I don’t really like those that do. I write this because this first article in a series of three will present an idea that may be controversial to some of those reading this. I’m not doing this for affect. I know this because, strangely, I’m not even sure I fully understand the idea or agree with it, but maybe after this trilogy we will all have our answers.

Here it is:

There is no such thing as a great song.

Now, before the idea is approached from the wrong direction, let me clarify. I’m not saying that there are no great songs because of the word, ‘great,’ being a matter of opinion. I believe that all music is a matter of taste, and that my definition of great and someone else’s are not likely to be identical.

Music, in my thinking, can be equated to food. No one should tell you what tastes great. It’s up to you. If you love the way it tastes, then it is great-tasting. If you love the way it sounds, then it is a great song.

Except, it isn’t.
Because there is no such thing as a great song.

I have had this discussion with many different people with many different ranks for music on their lifestyle scale. Some who think about music most of the day. Some who think about it only fleetingly. Some in between. Yet, everyone has an opinion on my opinion.

The main reason why I say there are no great songs is because a song does not stand separately from its parts, and in most cases, isn’t even the sum of its parts. A song, to my ears, is only parts. It is made of pieces that fit together well, or even not so well, but succeeds because of something that is very easy to define, yet very hard to describe. That something is…

Performance.
A great song is not a great song.

A great song is a great performance.
Or a collective of simultaneous great performances.
There is nothing inherent in the song that makes it great.

Some will probably tell me it’s the melody, the hook, the lyric, something like that made the song great. I will say it’s the drum fill at the 2:34 mark.

To me, that drum fill at that exact point in the song IS the song. It is the reason I look forward to playing it and hearing it again and again. Or it’s that guitar solo. Or the way the singer is a hair behind the beat on the chorus. Without that fill, that solo, that timing, the song isn’t great, (even though there are no great songs.)

What really makes a song great for me is not its structure on paper, but what the players do with that structure.

Even with A-list writers like The Beatles, it was the tone of John Lennon’s voice. It was George Harrison’s ringing guitar. It was Ringo Starr’s flourishes. It was Paul McCartney’s harmony and pulsing bass lines. That’s what made me wear out their records.

I can hear someone’s response now- Yes, but I’ve heard Aerosmith cover the Beatles and the song was awesome!

Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford. Those guys are very talented musicians. It should sound awesome.

Try listening to my band play Come Together and tell me how awesome it sounds. It doesn’t.

Ultimately, it’s the performance that matters, and I cannot perform at the level they can.

Ray Charles could’ve sung my daughter’s report card and have the room in tears.

John Coltrane took My Favorite Things and jet-fueled it to another galaxy. I can’t even believe it is the same song Julie Andrews sang so well in The Sound of Music, except for the opening melody line. It stands, even now, as the moment that changed my whole idea of what people could do with the same notes. Hearing Coltrane play it, or anything else for that matter, gave new meaning as to what could be a great song- and that is any song, as long as it was Coltrane playing it.

Okay, that is just a few examples, and I will not bombard you with more to make my case.

This is not to suggest there isn’t such a thing as a great songwriter. (And this is where it gets tricky.)

I think my favorite pop songwriter of all-time is Carole King. Her songs have always been timeless and full of emotion, and yet it isn’t actually possible to be either of the things. Songs are symbols and words on a page. In and of themselves, they carry no emotion and no ability to be timeless. The emotion is in the performance. The timeless quality is from the performance.

I think what great songwriters can do better than others is find the notes, the words, the combination of the two that can most convincingly and movingly be translated into a great performance. Her lyrics are accessible, honest, and relevant. Her melodies are rhythmic, cascading, and challenging to the better singers. All of this demands a great performance in order to be a great song.

For me, it’s like hitting a baseball. A hitter is only as impressive as the pitcher who delivers the ball. How much more incredible is it to see someone catch up with a 95-mph heater and hit it out of the park than it is to see someone launch an 85-mph one? Great songwriters deliver perfectly difficult pitches to hit, and when they are struck squarely in return- look out! In this metaphor, Carole King throws about 100-mph, and Aretha Franklin is Babe Ruth. Respectfully, King is also a wonderful singer. So, I guess Carole is Babe Ruth (a terrific pitcher and legendary slugger). Let’s make Aretha Hank Aaron.

Anyway, when I was a freshman in college I used to listen to Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage record every day at about 10 am after my morning class. I would blast it, so loud that one day the janitor heard it through the dorm door as he washed/waxed the hallway floor. He knocked on my door, waking me up, (I often like to sleep to really loud music), and asked me to whom I was damaging my hearing. I told him, and he said he was going to go out and buy the album.

I relayed this story to a neighbor, who said that Franz Zappa was great as a musician and composer, but his songs were sub-par. ‘You’ll never hear Eli singing Zappa,’ was his best volley.

Eli was a semi-homeless guy who sang on the corner of Drunk Street and Regurgitation Ave., at the end of a long row of off-campus beer halls, hoping inebriated co-eds would make the mistake of dropping a $5 instead of a $1 into his tip jar during their stumble home as he belted out one Eagles classic after another on his acoustic.

Granted, I never heard Eli break out Catholic Girls or Wet-T-Shirt Night, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t think of those nuggets as brilliant, or as valid and valuable to civilization’s ever-growing catalog of songs. My friend’s contention was that a great song was one that could be played by Eli on an acoustic, that anyone could enjoy. Not something so esoteric and admittedly vulgar as the aforementioned Zappa offerings. My argument was that his argument was wrong.

And I will tell you why in part two…
Recommended listening: Frank Zappa- Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8Zrr2cvKUI
Voila_Capture89
Larson Sutton, 39,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

Listen To Larson's Band Today! On iTunes

Eli, Tom Hanks, and two Mona Lisas, part two

Recap: For those who have not read Part One of this trilogy, this column may not make sense. Then again, it may make perfect sense for that very same reason. Regardless, part one’s contention was that, for a variety of reasons, there are no great songs, only great performances.

Life is like a box of chocolates.

It is a now-famous line of dialogue from the movie Forrest Gump uttered by its title character as portrayed by actor John Travolta, who went on the win the Best Actor Academy award for his performance.

Except it wasn’t John Travolta.

It was Tom Hanks, who accepted the role only after Travolta turned it down, and did indeed win the Academy award.

Travolta as Gump? Some can imagine, maybe even believe, that Travolta would have done just as well playing the affable Alabaman as Hanks clearly did. Perhaps, Travolta too would’ve won an award. Others of us disagree, the same way we would probably disagree that Al Pacino, while a brilliant actor, would have made a lousy Han Solo (the Star Wars role he turned down that went to Harrison Ford).

Pacino flying the Millennium Falcon? Who-ah? No.

Hollywood lore is filled with casting stories like this one. Just as there are actors that seem perfect fits for their iconic roles, it is a vision that occurs only in hindsight. Someone thought of Travolta and Pacino before Hanks and Ford, and at the very least, how different those movies would be had they not declined.

A movie is only a movie when it is filmed. Until then, it’s a script presented to actors as an outline, a guide as to what will happen once the director shouts, ‘Action!’ In much the same way a song is a script and really is not a song until it is performed.

Lyrics exist like lines in a script. Chords and notes exist on a page like setting and stage direction; indicators of what and where things happen while the words are delivered. But is not a movie until the cameras roll and it is not a song until it is performed.

Consequently what makes a line like, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates,’ so memorable, so effective is how it is being said, when it is being said, the lighting, the wardrobe, the angle, everything that composes a shot or scene. Until then it is words on a page. Great words, but still just words.

Similarly, a song is built of suggestions, elements that are offered by the writer or author that he/she believes will best communicate a thought, an action, or an emotion. Still, it is just a suggestion. It isn’t a guarantee of delivery.

While the scene in a script comes to life with the aforementioned list of components influenced by the participation of humans and technology working together, as well does a song.

The tempo, the tones, the inflections, the phrasing, the volume, the dynamic, the interplay, the mic choices, the room choices, the energy, the mix, the medium; it all matters as to whether or not the music and lyrics make for a great performance. Just like a script without an actor, without these things it’s not a song. How can a song be a song without a singer? Its existence depends on a performance, and it’s that performance that determines its appeal.

It’s Gump with Tom Hanks versus Gump with Vinny Barbarino. (Actually, I liked Travolta in Blow Out, Saturday Night Fever, Get Shorty, and Primary Colors)

Here’s another way to think of it.

A song prior to being performed is like a recipe- a list of things to put together to make something that presumably tastes appealing.

But if you use spoiled ingredients, mix it poorly, and cook it at the wrong temperature, how good is it going to taste?

And does anyone ever remember eating a meal and saying, “That was a delicious recipe.”? The great comes from the execution, from the performance of the chef and the quality of the ingredients. From technique and equipment and how well the chef uses those tools.

Now, what if I have the same recipe and the same ingredients and the same equipment as Chef Gordon Ramsay, and we cook the same dish at the same time? Anyone think mine will be better?

I’ll answer that one in part three.

Recommended listening: Forrest Gump The Soundtrack

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Larson Sutton, 39,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

Listen To Larson's Band Today! On iTunes

My Least Favorite Question

At the height of my time as a working musician, I was 22-years-old. I was a college graduate, fresh out of school and clinging to the idea that my roots rock outfit, which I had formed my sophomore year, soon would be signed to a major label. Anytime anyone asked about what I was doing, I told them I was in a band. Inevitably the next question would be, ‘What do you sound like?’

I don’t fault anyone for asking this. I’d probably ask it, too, if not for the number of times I’ve been asked, thereby I never ask it of others for fear they have the same disdain for it as do I. A variation of this, and sometimes companion query, is, ‘What are your influences?’

The implication is that one’s band will sound like its influences. Fair enough. Six years ago I was recording an album, and someone asked, and I said the record sounded like a cross between Iron Maiden and Sade. I wasn’t joking, though the inquisitor thought I was and eye-rolled her displeasure before walking away.

I really like Iron Maiden and I really like Sade. At the time I was working on the record, I was listening to a lot of both. I own their records and have seen both of them live, (coincidentally, I’ve been in attendance on nights that each was recording a live album, so my support is forever documented on tape, just try picking out my applause).

I’m pretty sure my album ultimately did not sound like Sade or Iron Maiden, but the influences were there. The grooves of a smooth operator, the twin crunching six-string harmony lines, present and accounted for, sir. Throw in a dash of ska, (at the time, the English Beat was in the rotation, as well), and you had the answer to the question. Just that, it wasn’t the real answer.

The real answer is a bit simpler, and a bit more complex.

At any moment in my life, there have been influences stronger than others. I’m certain this is true of all of us. Influences, however strong, can also be fleeting. The strongest impression can be left by seeing or hearing or experiencing something once, and even briefly at that. Weaker, smaller influences can leave a mark, too, though. For me, it can be anything, really. A lot of songs I’ve written have been as a result of me hearing something incorrectly or seeing something only for a few seconds, often with the context I create around it belying the initial inspiration.

During my college years, I once was walking in a park when I saw a shirtless, overweight man in ill-fitting shorts and a skipper’s cap flying a kite. I went home that day and wrote the following lyric;

Sea Captain in his Speedos/ Flying a kite on a hill

They weren’t really Speedos, and the rest of the song characterized him as a suicidal alcoholic, though it’s unlikely that a man with such joie de vivre was looking to end it all. I can’t say the alcohol part wasn’t a good bet.

The accompanying music was a major 7/minor 9 ping-pong strummed against a vaguely Latin beat, with a long saxophone interlude preceding a modulating contrapuntal section that would crescendo back to the opening strum.

It was America-meets-Santana-meets-David Sanborn-meets-Genesis.

I had listened to America as a youngster. Ventura Highway. Sandman. Sister Golden Hair. Classics, one and all. Santana was a perpetual presence ever since my older brother queued up the Woodstock soundtrack when I was barely out of kindergarten. Sanborn was our sax player’s contribution and Genesis, our drummer’s fave, was also a resident of my record community.

I suppose it’s possible, even probable, that those four artists had a significant impact on the construction of Sea Captain, but what was our impact? What was our contribution as individuals? Surely, we all listened to so much more music than the aforementioned four. We had to offer something beyond the regurgitation of the sounds of others we had digested. Didn’t we have our own sound?

Plus, what about the rotund kite pilot? He was the biggest (pun intended) inspiration for the tune’s existence. Without him, there is no song. Which is why my least favorite question is, ‘What do you sound like?’

I know people want to hear something definitively descriptive like, ‘We sound exactly like a cross between the Beatles and the Boston Pops,’ but the accurate answer, the real answer, the only true answer, is that every musician sounds exactly like him or herself. Every musician is an amalgam of millions of influences, millions of daily experiences, desires to sound like some and unlike others, in a quest to express what is unique in one’s voice yet fueled by a passion to stand alongside one’s heroes.

What are my influences? Everything.


Who likes that answer?

Recommended listening: Arthur Fieldler and the Boston Pops Play the Beatles

http://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Fiedler-Boston-Pops-Beatles/dp/B00004KH76

 

Larson

Larson Sutton, 39,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

     Picture By Brian Gimmel

Listen To Larson's Band Today! On iTunes

Let’s Rock Again

December 22, 2012 marked 10 years since Joe Strummer’s death. Strummer was a singer/songwriter/guitarist and founder of the Clash, the only band that mattered, or so it and its followers proclaimed. An outspoken individual with strong principles and revolutionary leanings, Strummer was referred to as a “roaring, laughing, snarling lion.” Singers today aspire to be like U2’s Bono. Bono aspired to be Strummer.

Fittingly, the last record label he was on was Hellcat, a name that just as easily could’ve been a moniker for a street gang in the 1950s, a gang Strummer and his haircut/black T-shirts would have melded into perfectly. Not to mention the songs he wrote for Johnny Cash at the end of the country legend’s career- two hellcats in black, as it were. Hellcat re-released in the fall of 2012 the last three albums Strummer and his band, the Mescaleros, recorded; the final being the posthumous Streetcore, a collection of stray recordings put together by Mescaleros members that could possibly be his strongest solo work.

Probably three to four times a year for about the last five years I hold what I call Strummer Day , which came about after watching for the first time a DVD documentary about Joe called Let’s Rock Again, released also after his passing and detailing the year just prior. What Strummer Day basically consists of is me watching Let’s Rock Again or listening to his music, be it solo or with the Clash, until I feel better about life and everything that goes with it.

What I want to state, and make unequivocally clear, is that I have a life for which I had always hoped and have zero regrets. I have been so fortunate to have the family, friends, and experiences that I’ve had. This doesn’t preclude me, as a human being, from being disappointed at times, when the world and my place in it disappoints me.

So, on the days when I get down I reach for Strummer. Granted, it’s not the most obvious choice for a salve. His guttural, raspy voice, punky-powered guitar, and leftist acid-poetry lyrics aren’t going to relax most people, and yet for me, it does so because it reminds me of Joe and a scene in Let’s Rock Again.

It’s brief, in the middle, and if you are not really paying attention it can slip right by. Strummer is sitting on a sidewalk with a half-dozen teenage boys and girls, talking to them and the camera. A girl asks him his motto and he says, “Never give up.”

Clichéd and simplistic as it may appear, I believe it is as genuine and true a statement as anything. It’s something our parents would say, or our teachers, our mentors, our heroes. It’s a go-to inspirational-speech line that runs the risk of sounding trite, but there are times, there are people, who when they say it, it’s all one needs to hear. It reminds me of Jim Valvano, the cancer-stricken coach of the 1983 NCAA basketball champion North Carolina State Wolfpack, who gave a famous speech in 1993 in which the most memorable line was, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Valvano died eight months later.

I suppose we all have our tonics. We all have that little something that knocks everything back into perspective. It’s probably odd to some, if not most, that mine is five seconds in a documentary about Joe Strummer. I can’t say it doesn’t seem odd to me, but it doesn’t make it any less relevant or true. Thanks, Joe.

Recommended listening- Joe Strummer and Mescaleros- All in a Day

 

Larson

Larson Sutton, 39,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

Listen To Larson's Band Today! On iTunes

To pay or to be paid? That is the question

Watching a NASCAR race this past weekend, I was reminded of something known as the Richard Petty Driving Experience, a fantasy camp of sorts that allows anyone with a driver’s license to pay a fee, pass a morning instructional course, and get behind the wheel of a racecar for laps around the track- the amount of times around determined by how much the participant was willing to pay.  It’s a well-run organization that offers a real chance to learn what it feels like to be behind the wheel and take the turns on the oval.  Years ago, I gave such an experience to my father as a gift, and to this day, he recalls it with excitement and fondness.

As well he should, as it provided him with the opportunity to do something that the circumstances of his life and lack of professional racecar driving skill would otherwise have rendered impossible.  I think about that and other fantasy camp experiences like shooting hoops with NBA legends or spring training with heroes of the diamond.  Or even real adventure experiences, (after the proper release forms have been signed, money has been relinquished, and in some cases, a bet has been made as to whether one will or won’t do it), like hang-gliding, bungee jumping, or sky-diving.  I think about all of these having one simple common denominator- money.  Crazy as it sounds, for the right amount, you,too can go one-on-one with Michael Jordan.

‘Pay-to-play’ has become a common phrase uttered among musicians, often with vile connotation.  Its basic definition is somewhat self-explanatory.  If a musician or band wishes to perform at a club that employs such a policy, it must pay money up front to the club in exchange for time onstage.  Simple enough, but what many musicians object to is the idea that they can lose money to a club at which they are providing entertainment to its patrons. This also runs counter to the thought process of someone attending the performance as a member of the audience.  Especially if there is a cover charge or ticket cost to enter the club. If asked, my guess is that every guest of the club that night would assume that at least a portion of that expense at the door would go to the talent entertaining them.  It doesn’t, unless your admission was paid directly to the band itself.  Even then there’s a good chance the money is getting the band out of its debt to the club, not providing it with a profit.

Let me provide an example from my days as a working musician in the clubs of Los Angeles.

The club offers my band a Tuesday night timeslot of 45 minutes on a bill with six other groups starting at 8 pm.  The cost of admission to the club that night is $5.  The cost of the timeslot is $250.  I pay the club owner the $250, and in return, am provided with 50 ‘tickets’ to sell at any price or, if I so desire, give away.   Any money I make over $250 is profit.

Let’s assume for the sake of this example, that a person comes to the club without pre-purchasing.  A doorman typically will ask which band the person is here to hear.  If the person has an answer, then the admission charge goes toward paying back the $250 of that band, and again, anything over that is profit.  However, if the person just wanted a night out and doesn’t know any of the acts, the money usually goes to the club.

Now back to the timeslot offered; a Tuesday night, 45 minutes, on a bill with six other groups starting at 8 pm.  Maybe your band can pull 50 people to fight LA traffic, pay to park, pay $7 and more per drink, to try and stay, (if your band is unlucky enough to get the last slot), until 12:15 a.m. knowing they have to get up for work in six or seven hours, but mine rarely could.  Not exactly the most attractive, enticing offer for your potential fanbase, even if they mostly are friends.  Scenarios like this often left me with so much guilt from asking people to come out to hear my band, I gave away more tickets than I ever sold.

Again, even if you got the 50 people to come out, and believe me, 50 in Los Angeles for an unsigned band on a Tuesday night would be just shy of incredible, you still only have broken even.  Nothing to show for your effort, your time, your promotion, your music.  Nothing, but the chance to play.

The irony is, once you’ve paid, you can do just about anything.  Regardless of experience, and in many cases, ability, you can live the dream, even if the dream is the audience’s nightmare.  Sing off-key?  No problem.  Hit a bum note?  Who cares?  Drummer falls asleep?  He’s the lucky one.  You’ve paid the cost to be the boss.  Your 45 minutes are your own.  You don’t even have to play.  You can just stand on-stage in silence.  Sure, the club wouldn’t like that very much and they would probably try and give you the boot, but the point is still the same.  You want to drive 55 in the turns at Talladega, Richard Petty and Co. couldn’t care less.

It would seem natural, and certainly not unusual, that many musicians may like this policy.  After all, it’s an opportunity to be a rockstar, and it only costs $250.  One of the most famous clubs in the world, the Roxy in West Hollywood, with a stage graced by just about everyone from Springsteen to Zappa, is pay-to-play on nights when national acts are not appearing.  In fact, the entire live music industry essentially is built on the premise of paying someone for a space to perform, and then hoping enough people want to witness what is being performed in order to earn, and not lose, the money it cost to put on the show.

In other words, every concert you have ever attended in your life was a pay-to-play arrangement.

A lot of clubs across this country are not pay-to-play, and it’s a wonderful thing that they aren’t.  Talent should be rewarded, or at least given a free chance.  Many clubs give the artists opportunities to earn the door money, or a percentage of it, and some even give a guaranteed paycheck based on the speculation that the venue’s built-in audience or appeal of the band will attract enough to cover the cost.  This is how a multitude of hard-working, dedicated musicians earn, or supplement, a living, and it’s great work if you can get it.

If every club was to become pay-to-play, I can see how this could reduce the music available in clubs to that of the highest bidder, regardless of artistic achievement.  It may be disastrous and defeating to any aspiring performer trying to survive without a bankroll.  Really, how many stories of rock stardom begin with the sentence, “From the very beginning, they had plenty of money,”?

Still, I can also see how much fun it would be for my bandmates and I to each scrape together $50 and commit it to the cause.  We can sing in key, hit the right notes (mostly), and our drummer is a force of nature.  In our minds, $250 is a small price for that magic moment under the lights of the Roxy.

I’m thrilled my Dad got to drive 120+ mph around a speedway because it’s something he always wanted to do.

I’m thrilled to play music in front of an audience because it’s something I love to do.

Isn’t why we are there more important than how we got there?

Recommended listening: Frank Zappa- Roxy and Elsewhere

Larson Sutton, 38,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

 

Getting Older, Getting Old

Several years ago, I had a neighbor named Peter. Peter lived a few houses down from me, and I would often see him out walking his dog. In his 60s, Peter was a pleasant enough guy, and sometimes if I saw him on the street I would stop to talk to him about music. He was a multi-instrumentalist- everything from French horn to banjo- and played clubs with his band Shoe Suede Blues. Not too long after I made Peter’s acquaintance, I heard he moved to Connecticut, presumably to live out his retirement years. Sadly, I also heard he had throat cancer.
I saw Peter last Saturday night, back in Los Angeles. He was performing at the Greek Theatre in front of a capacity crowd of over 5,000 as 1/3 of the reunited Monkees on their 45th anniversary tour (fourth member Michael Nesmith abstained). Peter Tork was out of retirement, a cancer survivor, and a working musician playing everything from French horn to banjo.

The Monkees were the first band that I ever saw. As an adolescent in the early 1980s, I watched reruns of their television show. In the pre-MTV era, this really was the only music on TV. Though I enjoyed the music of the Monkees, that wasn’t the entire appeal. It was the idea of living on the beach in Southern California, struggling with your three other bandmates to get gigs, and finding adventure along the way that captivated me. This is the life, I thought.

My teenage years saw the explosion of music videos. It changed things in the industry forever. Now, we could all see the people who sang those songs we loved. Unfortunately, not every musician benefited. It has long been supposed that Christopher Cross, a Grammy-winning, platinum-selling, wonderfully talented guitarist and singer-songwriter has MTV to blame for his career taking a sharp downward turn after the general public got a look at his less-than-Brad Pitt appearance.

Irony rose to the occasion, however, as MTV ran a marathon of Monkees shows in 1986, celebrating 20 years of the quartet and prompting a successful reunion tour of the group. Perhaps watching 40-year-olds sing and jump around onstage was okay if they were once cute and cuddly. Or if the audience, too, was aging right along with the band.

Here it was 25 years after that, and 45 years after the Monkees took on the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the rest of the world, outselling all of them from 1966-1968. Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork all in their mid-60s, (Tork closing in on 70), delivering 2 and ½ hours of hits, B-sides, and rarities from their vast catalog.

I had skipped the chance to see them in ’86 or during any one of the subsequent reunion jaunts, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it never felt like the right time. This one was different. I was different. It has been said that nostalgia hits the middle-aged man the hardest, and while I approach 39 and stave off middle-age, I feel the pull of youth.
Last summer I attended my 20th high school reunion, at which I performed with a successful working musician and fellow classmate Willie Myette. Memories of younger days were discussed and celebrated alongside updates of everyone’s current situation. Me? I’m living near the beach in Southern California, struggling with my band to get gigs, and finding adventure along the way. It all sounded very familiar coming out of my mouth.

The gods of television were in on it as well, conspiring to force me to address the band of my childhood, to face those responsible for that initial spark of inspiration. In January of 2011, an over-the-air station called Antenna TV debuted in Los Angeles and began showing reruns of the Monkees on Saturday afternoons. I tuned in, of course, but joining me on the couch now was my 7-year-old daughter. She, like her dad, loved them. Soon, the CD of choice in the car was the Monkees. Mike’s hat, a topic of conversation. And then…

It was announced sometime in early February. A tour and an appearance at the Greek in July. I have never before or since heard a scream of such joy as I did from my daughter when I told her. She did undergo a little conference with my wife and me, explaining that Micky, Davy, and Peter would not look as cute and cuddly as they did on Saturday afternoons. She didn’t care. She just wanted to go. So did we. So, some 30 years after I first heard and saw them on my fuzzy TV screen in Rhode Island, I was hearing and seeing them onstage in Los Angeles.

I’ve been to hundreds of concerts in my life and this one will always be memorable. The Monkees sang and played exceptionally, more than living up to expectations and to the sterling reviews they had earned from Rolling Stone and others during the previous two months on the road. More importantly, it was a night for our family to be together, having a great time listening to music. It mattered nothing the age or appearance of the band. Perhaps that’s what it means to understand we all get older, but we don’t have to get old.

A final note- My wife and I spent a New Year’s Eve a few years ago at the Universal Ampitheatre in Los Angeles seeing Christopher Cross. He was fantastic.

Recommended listening- Then and Now… the Best of the Monkees

Voila_Capture89
Larson Sutton, 38,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

At what price?

$3.99.

I really enjoy a bargain. Probably equally as much, I enjoy finding that bargain. Like the treasure at the end of the hunt. I also enjoy collecting. Finding a bargain to add to a collection is the perfect storm of the shopping experience for me. It stands to reason, then, that I have a love-hate relationship with the Internet. Never has there been a tool so exquisitely designed to respond to the shopper’s itch than the World Wide Web. Information superhighway? More like commerce supermarket.

It’s dangerous, this virtual global mall. Just about anything and everything available for sale is just a click away. Yes, it takes a little bit of effort. A few missteps to sites that don’t have exactly what I wanted. Comparisons on product and price. In the end, though, if I have taken to the Internet to buy something specific, I usually find it and buy it, as well as some random other products I didn’t necessarily want, definitely didn’t need, but saw along the way. Like I said, dangerous.

For the music collector in me, the Internet has allowed access to stores and collections that would otherwise be impossible. It’s a gift in that regard, but gone for the most part is the thrill of the chase. If it’s out there with a price tag on it, it’s more than likely a search engine entry away from being found. So much for driving from record store to record store, scouring yard sales and thrift shops. The hunt has become a leisurely stroll.
Out of stock simply means try another website. Overnight shipping is ubiquitous. Cash isn’t even accepted, let alone required. For better or worse, what was once an economy that held the consumer hostage based on geography, time, and cost has become an endless, limitless commercial universe, always open, run on credit, and growing daily.

Naturally, this brings me to George Thorogood, the rock and blues bopper backed by the Bo Diddley beat. Bad to the Bone. Who Do You Love? Move it on Over. A multi-platinum-selling musician who, with his Delaware Destroyers, has been making records and touring the world for nearly four decades, Thorogood is an artist that has clearly earned his place in the pantheon of rockers.
So why am I getting an email from his record company offering a download of his latest album, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, a terrific assemblage of lowdown and dirty blues numbers, for the lowdown and dirty price of $3.99?
Why $3.99? Why not more? Why not less?

I’m reminded of artists like Radiohead, who allowed the consumer to pay whatever he wished to download its album from the Internet, a practice it employed on 2007’s In Rainbows, including paying nothing. A lot of people paid nothing. But that was Radiohead’s decision. A way, I would imagine, of saying the band’s not in it for the money. On the flip side, record companies are in it for the money. Only for the money. All the money. Clearly, Thorogood’s record company, EMI, home to the Beatles and one of the biggest labels ever, is no exception.

Thorogood isn’t as relevant to today’s teenager as Radiohead, but maybe Radiohead isn’t as relevant to today’s teenager as Lady Gaga, an artist who, through an Amazon.com promotion, sold her album this past spring as a download for 99 cents. Are we to surmise from all of this that Thorogood’s platter is four times more valuable than Gaga’s, and that Radiohead’s is theoretically worthless? Personal taste will have us arranging those three candidates in our own order of desire and worth, but when the high water mark for any of the three is $3.99, to me that says something. The bargain hunter in any of us would jump at the prospect of acquiring music we like for less, but at what price?

I worry that all of these practices, whether designed to boost album interest, draw attention to an aging artist, or cross-promote with a corporate tie-in, also have the unfortunate effect of devaluing the art. It runs the risk of implying that even the most popular artists of today are not worth more than a buck. Maybe they are, maybe they are not.

There is a reason why the remaining Beatles and their living representatives contractually insisted that its 2009 remastered CD series carry a price point of no less than $14; it’s because they believe their music is worth that much. I would agree. If I had to, I’d pay $14 for a new, remastered Beatles CD. If I had to.

This past July, at a monthly outdoor swap meet in the parking lot of Venice High School in Los Angeles, amongst the batteries and shampoo a dealer was selling were new, in the shrinkwrap, remastered Beatles CDs. After some negotiation I bought two for $15. The perfect storm.

      Recommended listening:

 

Voila_Capture89
Larson Sutton, 38,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

A Judgement to Rush

What I don’t want this to be is another in a long line of articles declaring the reasons why this year’s nominations for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is ludicrous because, while filled with deserving candidates, it fails to include some long overdue for consideration, (ie. Rush), and, therefore lessens the value of the Hall and its members. I don’t want this to be that.

But, really, no Rush? Not even a nomination? They can’t even consider the power trio that defined progressive rock for the last 40 years? Tom Sawyer alone is enough for me. Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson…., Neil Peart!?!?! Not good enough to be nominated?

Anyway, I’m not going to write an article about that. The candidates that are nominated all have their devoted, those championing them to be recognized in the same breath as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Bee Gees, The…, wait a minute, The Bee Gees? The Bee Gees are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rush isn’t even nominated? What am I missing? I’m aware I’m asking a lot of rhetorical questions in this piece, but I’m genuinely confused.

Now, granted, The Bee Gees gave us some of the most memorable disco, repeat disco, off of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, making it the highest selling collection from a movie for a long, long time, and I would wager that most wedding receptions since 1978 have failed to exist without someone channeling Travolta while the dee-jay spun Stayin’ Alive. It’s hard to argue with 25 million sold and counting. The thing is, I don’t want to argue why The Bee Gees are in the Hall, (though I’m sure I could) that isn’t the point. The point is that when music becomes a competitive exercise, with awards and plaques and halls, there is going to be some head-scratching and ultimately a distraction from the purpose and the import of the music, itself. I love the idea of a rock and roll museum. I don’t like the idea of a hall of fame.

Music is an art form. Music is a medium of communication, of expression. A way of telling a story, of celebrating. Healing. It is so much more to people than a commercial endeavor only meant to fill pockets with shiny gold pieces. When you start elevating the standing of one artist over another, and you do so with such varying criteria as the Hall seems to have, it can only create an embarrassing oddity such as a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Bee Gees in and Rush out. Yes, The Bee Gees are popular and have sold the art form as well as anyone. However, if friends come to visit and they ask for a restaurant recommendation, I don’t automatically say, “Well, there’s this red-and-yellow place on the corner, with a clown and golden arches that has sold more burgers than anybody else.” There is no denying the popularity, the monumental success, or the influence among its peers, but is McDonald’s my top pick for culinary excellence? The Bee Gees are not among my top picks for rock and roll excellence.

The line for me between art and commerce for all intents and purposes was painted over when the Brothers Gibb re-imagined the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as a road movie featuring some stars of the era including Peter Frampton, Steve Martin, and George Burns, with even Beatles producer George Martin shepherding the soundtrack. The final scene assembled a crazy-quilt of talent, all of whom thought it wise to stand without irony in this cinematic, cultural disaster zone, singing side by side, as if the Beatles classic album cover had come to life inside a mirror-ball of the late ‘70s. Among those participating were Chita Rivera, Dr. John, Seals and Crofts, Carol Channing, and Hank Williams, Jr. (way before Monday Night Football or Hitler comparisons). A horrible mess of a film and soundtrack, yet there The Bee Gees are, in the Hall of Fame. If doing regrettable cover versions of classic songs doesn’t give those in charge some pause, then they’d better be saving up for the American Idol wing they’ll have to build in about 20 years.

The truth is I like The Bee Gees. There was a time not too long ago when my hair was long and I had a beard, and the girl at the record store counter said I looked like a Gibb brother. I, naively maybe, took it as a compliment. They are good-looking, affable guys by anyone’s standard. Their music is sparkling, with gorgeous voices blending into unparalleled harmony. They softened the butter enough for the Stones to come along and melt it with the Some Girls record. Even the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a Rock Hall nominee this year, have cited them as an influence. If there is a Disco Hall of Fame, they are first-ballot automatics, but for rock and roll there may be some ahead of them in line.

Like Rush!

Still need convincing? Go to YouTube, dial up the aforementioned Sawyer or any of their myriad masterworks and then get back to me as to why they aren’t even nominated. Oh, and just in case album sales is your most important criteria for nomination, Rush's sales statistics place them third behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums by a rock band.

Once Rush is atoned for, we can move on to the rest, like Kiss, and the Doobie Brothers, and Chicago, and Iron Maiden, just to name a few.

Recommended listening:
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees for this year
  • Beastie Boys
  • The Cure
  • Donovan
  • Eric B. & Rakim
  • Guns N’ Roses
  • Heart
  • Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
  • Freddie King
  • Laura Nyro
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Rufus with Chaka Khan
  • The Small Faces/The Faces
  • The Spinners
  • Donna Summer
  • War

Voila_Capture89
Larson Sutton, 38,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel