Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"...Upon Review, The Opinion Seems To Indicate That I'm Too Critical..."

Never have made much of a secret of the fact that I don't care much for consultants.

In the interest of both full disclosure and fairness, though, I should clarify the cause of my contempt.

It's not the concept of consulting that I reject as much as the playing that gets done fast and loose with the definition of it.

Simply put, it's about knowledge as opposed to opinion.

It's one thing to become an expert on a subject, ideally as a result of years of being educated diligently on said subject, and then sharing that knowledge with those less educated on the subject.

It's another thing to offer up what amounts to nothing more than an opinion and try to drape it in a cloak of legitimacy with nothing more than a personal point of view and a business card that often includes, somewhere in the text, the term "...and associates".

Teachers, for example, who have advanced degrees in their chosen field, are, in my humble o, more than qualified to tell me what is, what was, what might be, what should be and what I might want to do about it.

The electrician who has gone to electrician school and understands, without having to check or recheck the schematics, whether the job calls for 110 or 220 is, in my view, somebody whose point of view is going to trump mine every single kilowatt hour of the day.

On the other hand, the layman who offers me counsel, perspective and/or advice without the benefit of any specific education and/or certification is, when you discount the drapery, offering me nothing more than their personal opinion.

And let's not let an opener even get close to the can of worms we could unleash on the subject of the silliness of being offered opinion, et al on subjects that are surely subjective.

Food. Politics. Anything and everything that might find its way into any given issue of People Magazine, Rolling Stone, TV Guide and/or Entertainment Weekly.

Subject list of subjective subjects subject to change, of course.

Despite any appearance that this rhetoric/rant might have been inspired by a lack of fiber in the morning's diet, it was, in fact, inspired by yet another piece I read online this morning from yet another "critic" who was "reviewing" the new Bob Dylan tribute album.

In the spirit of brevity, I'll spare you the text and just offer up the link, should you care to partake of this particular perspective for yourself.


Okay, first things first.

While this piece began as a little diatribe on the subject of "consultants", the focus here is on a different, but just as knotty,  branch of that same family tree.


And their first cousins, reviewers.

Although, upon review, I really don't know how to criticize the difference between the two.

Because I don't think there really is a difference.

Second, I don't know, and have never met, Melissa Maerz.

A little Google here and there and I learned this much about her.

LA Times staffer Melissa Maerz is to become Entertainment Weekly's lead music critic and will also contribute features to the TV department. One has to wonder whether Maerz didn’t see much potential for upward mobility at the Times after Randall Roberts recently took over the highly coveted pop music critic gig from Ann Powers.

Maerz has a pretty impressive resume. She was a senior editor at Rolling Stone as well as a senior editor at New York magazine, where she created and launched the mag’s now wildly popular blog Vulture.

Now, props being props, I'm sincerely respectful of Ms. Maerz's resume'. I am totally down with a righteous resume'.

I got a little of my own and wouldn't take kindly to being dissed about it.

But, in the context of what Ms. Maerz is offering here, resume matters less than zero.

Because music, like any art form, is....wait for it...subjective.

One's man's musical masterpiece is another's migraine.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but as big a phenomenon as, say, Lady Gaga has become, I assure you that you can find, in any reasonable cross section of humanity, at least a few folks who would choose root canal over one more presentation of "p-p-p-poker face....".

The point of all this is this.

"Reviews" from "critics" are, from inception, foundationally flawed.

Because the "review" the "critic" offers is, by its nature, a matter of opinion.

Due respect to a depth of knowledge on any one singer or another, but there really is no such thing as an advanced degree in the songs of Lady Gaga.

Or Bob Dylan, for that matter.

The holder of the PhD. in Mayan culture can tell me that there's a pretty good chance we're going to be toast later this year and, while I might not like hearing it, I'm gonna have to give the thought some legitimate consideration.

The music "critic" who tells me that Carly Simon sounds like she's telling Bob Dylan to "man up" is, first, giving me nothing more than her personal reaction to hearing it.

And, second, for all intents and purposes, putting words in Carly Simon's mouth.

Of course, that's just my opinion.

Friday, January 20, 2012

"...Kenny and Larry and Me...."

Another tough time passage week for music lovers.

Etta James.

Johnny Otis.

Larry Butler.

Songwriter and musician Larry Butler, who produced several of Kenny Rogers' biggest hits, died Friday (Jan. 20) of natural causes at his home in Pensacola, Fla., at age 69. A Pensacola native, Butler began playing piano at age 4 and performed in a band in Florida before moving to Memphis to become a member of the Gentrys, who scored a Top 10 pop hit in 1965 with "Keep on Dancin'." In Nashville, Butler was a top session musician, playing piano on hits such as Conway Twitty's "Hello Darlin'" and Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey." He produced records for Capitol and CBS before being named head of United Artists Records' Nashville division in 1973. At United Artists, he signed Dottie West and Crystal Gayle to the label and played a major role in launching Kenny Rogers' solo career by producing hits such as "Lucille," "She Believes in Me," "The Gambler," "Love or Something Like It," "You Decorated My Life" and "Coward of the County." He and co-writer Chips Moman won a Grammy in 1975 for best country song for "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song," a major hit for B.J. Thomas. Butler won another Grammy in 1979 for overall producer of the year in the nonclassical division. After leaving United Artists, he formed an independent production company and worked with acts such as Charlie Rich, Mac Davis, Don McLean and John Denver. In recent years, Butler continued his work as a producer in Pensacola.

In the course of twenty odd years (as opposed to an odd twenty years)knocking around Nashville in search of fame, fortune and a "regular" status at Pancake Pantry, I had the privilege of being a paragraph or two in Larry Butler's life story.

Paragraph one occurred when a song that Cyril Rawson and I had written was taken to Larry via our publisher Micki Foster who, like us, believed said song was a proverbial "out of the box" smash for Kenny Rogers, still working with Larry at the time. Low and behold, Larry was of the same mind and played the song for Kenny smack in the middle of a recording session. Kenny, consummate artist that he was, listened to the song and totally agreed with Larry, that the song was a monster. One little variation on the theme, though. Kenny just didn't see it as a monster for him. Larry did his best to talk Kenny into it, to no avail. Truth be told, that was one of the first signs of the beginning of the end of my own songwriting days as I realized that if the guy who found, and produced, "Lucille", "The Gambler", "Coward Of The County" and a half dozen other Kenny megahits couldn't convince Mr. Rogers that the song belonged in his neighborhood then I had to face the very real probability that mega hit song success simply wasn't in my own deck of cards.

And it was time to know when to fold them.

The second paragraph was written when I had the pleasure of doing a freelance interview (some time prior to the Kenny adventure) with Larry for a Nashville based songwriter trade magazine. Mr. Butler was cordial and comedic, offering wonderful anecdotes along with a healthy dollop of sage songwriting advice.

One pearl he offered up was the notion that young songwriters needed to be aware of a basic, and key, truth when it came to pitching their wares to producers, publishers, the assorted movers and shakers who can move or shake in such a way as to put a young songwriter into a higher tax bracket, sometimes overnight.

"When pitching", Larry said with a wise smile, "remember that the producer, artist, publisher, as the case may be, isn't looking for a reason to say yes...

...they're looking for a reason to say no".

"So don't give them one."

Kenny Rogers peeing in my Cheerios notwithstanding, advice well heeded.

Thanks for the chat, Larry.

And your best effort to convince Kenny of the error of his ways.

Godspeed, music man.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"...No, It Definitely Says Here That You're Not Supposed To Be Enjoying This...."

Old joke.

A consultant is someone who can give you fourteen hundred different expert opinions on how to make love to a woman.

And doesn't have a girlfriend.

Someday, I predict in my usual maverick, inevitably misunderstood and/or misconstrued manner, the decline, and eventual extinction, of conventional broadcast radio is going to be linked back to the moment that conventional broadcast management made the decision to program conventional radio stations based on what consultants told them was their best path to success.

Don't get me wrong.

Some of my best friends are consultants.

On the other hand, some of my best friends are vegetarians, too, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop eating things that once had a face.

Or begin suggesting that you should likewise come out with your hands, and your double Angus cheeseburger, in plain sight.

The problem with expert opinion, within the parameters of the conventional definition of expert opinion, is that it is fluid and not static, when you add to the equation the insidious and inevitable "x" factor.

Human nature.

We like what we like and dislike what we dislike.

Right up to the moment that we start to like what we once disliked and dislike what we once liked.

In September of 1997, The Dixie Chicks couldn't get arrested.

In October of 1997, the single "I Can Love You Better" was released and went top ten U.S.A. country.

Within 90 days, every record label within a dead cat's swing of 16th Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee had a multi girl group on its wish list, drawing board or roster.

Had you asked a radio consultant in September of 1997 about multi girl groups, the response would have been, at best, a polite "uh, what part of market research don't you understand?"

Numbers, the experts insist on insisting, never lie.

And there's not a consultant worth his retainer who won't whip out a pie chart or bar graph to make the point with a speed that would have made them a force to be reckoned with in the fast draw gunslinger days.

Here's a thing about pie charts and bar graphs, though.

They might be good for telling you what is.

But they can't possibly predict what's next.

I'm reminded of all this because I have, just recently, made the decision to move on in my broadcasting career, leaving conventional radio behind and putting my money where my maverick is, so to speak.

More on that as the days, weeks and months progress.

Meanwhile, I came across a fun website that lets you look up number one songs at particular times. Friends and family on Facebook are using it to look up the number one song the week they were born and sharing with friends and family on Facebook.

bobborst.com, by the way, and click on pop culture to share in the fun.

In the course of looking up my own birthday chart topper, I discovered something that brought into focus an issue I've long theorized, proselytized, pondered and/or pontificated about when it comes to expert opinion, more specifically that most sacred of consultant worshiped idols...

...the audience demographic.

And why, during my time in oldies radio, I spent an inordinate amount of time politely explaining to civilians/listeners who were perplexed, and asked, why I couldn't play, on the air per their requests, songs that were recorded and released in the years 1960,61,62 or 63 even though the station that I was on, at the time, proudly touted itself as "the greatest hits of the sixties and seventies".

A positioner most assuredly determined by hours of consultancy.

Bet your bar graph, baby.

And the reason was the greatest hits of the sixties didn't actually begin to accumulate until January 26, 1964.

Anything prior to that is officially (read: consultingly) designated as greatest hits of the fifties.

Say what?

That's right, campers. Trivial things like planetary rotations and eons old calendar calculations are both superfluous and academic in the universe of pie charts and bar graphs.

And, conventional consultant wisdom (and there's a phrase that just comes out in a choking noise no matter what) conventionally marks the end of the fifties and the beginning of the sixties, popular music wise, on January 26, 1964.

January 26, 1964 was the day that Bobby Vinton's place at number one on the Top 100 Pop Chart was taken by a new group with a song that would reside at number one for the next seven weeks.

The Beatles.

"I Want To Hold Your Hand".

The debate endures as to why the beginning of Beatlemania became the designated decade demarcation. Best guess would be that with The Beatles came the ensuing onslaught of English groups, the historic "British Invasion" and that caused popular music to pivot off in a totally new direction, leaving behind, it its wake, the then current trend of single vocal hit makers like Chubby Checker, Tommy Roe, Neil Sedaka, even Ray Charles and Elvis and, of course, the guy who has the dubious distinction of being the "last hit maker of the 50's" if you buy the whole premise.

The silliness here is that Bobby Vinton's "There, I've Said It Again" was no less the hit song that had been at the top of the charts for four weeks at 12:01 A.M., Sunday, January 26, 1964 that it was at 11:59 P.M, Saturday, January 25.

And Bobby Vinton was no less the hit maker at a minute past midnight than he was at a minute till. In fact, it was a little less than a year later, ear deep in the hoopla of the British Invasion, that Bobby popped back to the top of the pop charts for a week with "Mr. Lonely". (Of course, the week before that, the number one pop song in the country was "Ringo", the classic gunfighter saga sung by Lorne Greene, the then star of one of the more popular weekly western TV series, "Bonanza". Brits coming out of the woodwork and every American radio speaker notwithstanding, it really was quite the eclectic period in pop music history).

Here's the point.

Consultants rely on, and advise their radio station clients via, bar graphs, pie charts and other geometric paradigms constructed using the latest empirical numerical data accumulated through focus group inquiry and geographic market sales trends factoring in age and gender demographics.

Listeners turn on their radios and they either like what they hear or they don't.

Radio programmers who continue to wander around in the desert lamenting the stalled growth of their audience while blindly following the false prophets who sternly exhort their followers to either adhere to the gospel according to pie chart and bar graph or ignore at their own peril may be taking care of the small details but they're missing the big picture.

And every great chef will tell you that a recipe is a guideline, not a gospel.

I've done oldies radio twice in ten years.

At some point during both gigs, I played The Beatles.

And Bobby Vinton.

I got fired from both of those gigs, by the way. For not following the programming philosophy of the stations.

And, not for nothin', but my show was number one in the market in both cases.

I'm pretty good.

But not so good that I would have been number one without playing the music that people love.

From either side of the designated decade demarcation.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"...This Pretty Much Assures Her The Center Square on Hollywood Squares Someday..."

First, for all the offended purists in the crowd, let's be honest.

There's nothing new going on here.

More on that in a minute.

(The Huffington Post) From heartbreak to Hugo: Taylor Swift is growing up.

The country star has been offered the role of Eponine in the star-studded upcoming film adaptation of the musical "Les Miserables," TwitchFilm first reported and BroadwayWorld.com confirms. Amanda Seyfried, the sites report, has been offered the role of Cosette.

If a rumor first reported by the NY Post in late November is true, Swift's casting represents not only a major step in her acting career but also a major and perhaps unexpected victory over a number of star actresses vying for the part in the Tom Hooper-directed film. The Post reported that Scarlett Johansson, Lea Michele and Evan Rachel Wood were all auditioning for the role as the daughter of the Mr. and Mrs. Thernardier, who will be played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. To date, Swift's acting has largely been confined to music videos, a part in "Valentine's Day," a guest spot on "CSI" and upcoming voice acting in "The Lorax."

Seyfried, who is classically trained as an opera singer and appeared in the film musical "Mamma Mia!," also has an interesting challenge ahead of her: she will be portraying the daughter of Fantine, who is to be played Anne Hathaway, who is just three years her elder.

The stars round out a cast that also features Hugh Jackman in the lead role of Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert. Eddie Redmayne, who was seen this fall opposite Michelle Williams in "My Week With Marilyn," has been cast as Marius, which given the casting of Swift and Seyfried, continuing his streak of epic good luck.

It's understandable that, given Taylor Swift's marginal vocal abilities, there would be, at the very least, a little hue and cry about her being cast in a major role in a major motion picture adaptation of a major Broadway musical.

But the precedent of casting "stars" in roles better suited to "singers" was established long ago.

Julie Andrews sang the part of Eliza Doolittle like a house afire in the Broadway version of "My Fair Lady". When it came time to make the movie, though, Julie's designated driver was Audrey Hepburn, a bigger movie "star" at the time.

Irony being what it is, of course, Julie had her own turn when she was cast as Maria in the movie version of "The Sound Of Music", usurping the Broadway star who had made the part, and the play, a mega hit, Mary Martin.

And, then, Patti Lupone became Patti Who? when it came time to cast the movie version of Eva Peron.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Tony award winning, legendary Broadway show stopping...Madonna?

Uh, yeah. Okay.

In the grand scheme of things, there are worse offenses than casting lightweights in heavyweight roles simply because the lightweights bring an extra dollop of "celebrity drawing power" to the cobbler.

Celebrity drawing power that puts people in lines at box offices and bodies in theater seats.

But if those of us who love musical theater have to concede the advantage of said celebrity factor, those who would cast Taylor Swift in Les Miserables' should, in fairness, concede us this...

It might raise the gross, but it lowers the bar.

And nudges these movie versions ever closer to crossing line into dinner theater territory.

So, break a leg, Taylor. I'm gonna let this one slide.

If, though, I read that the Kardashians have been cast in a biopic about the Andrews Sisters, we're going to have problems.