Friday, December 29, 2017

Tales From The Tour Bus | Lefsetz Letter


If “Tales From The Tour Bus” was on Netflix it would be a juggernaut.

Alas, it’s on Cinemax.

Distribution is king. Emblazon that in your brain and never forget it. Ignore all the hogwash about Adele and Taylor Swift and their CD sales. By keeping their albums off streaming services they hurt their careers. Swift’s “Reputation” has stalled, it’s stiff, and Adele’s “25” did boffo at the b.o. but had almost no impact on the culture, the songs are unknown, BECAUSE SHE PUT IT BEHIND A PAYWALL!

You think you’re winning by thinking about money first. But the internet has taught us since day one that you think about money LAST! That’s how all the tech titans achieved dominance. There was no business model at Google, no ads to begin with. Amazon kept reinvesting profits whilst keeping prices low. But in the entertainment business we kept hearing they were stealing our wares and no one would want to create anymore. I wish they didn’t, I’m overwhelmed with product, there’s more of everything now, it’s hard to break through.

So you pay attention to the buzz.

Cinemax did a good job promoting “Tales From The Tour Bus,” it’s just that it was for naught, because the show was behind a paywall that very few had the key to. Maybe ten million households, and most of them probably don’t care about this show anyway. Everything is niche today. It’s about appealing to those who do care. And in a country of 330 million, one percent can keep you alive and ten percent means you’re as rich as anybody, but people have to be able to kick the tires, check you out, or you’re dead in the water, they’re always making new product and it becomes harder and harder to gain traction with the old.

Now MTV existed in a different era. One of monoculture. And the wizards there decided to give “Beavis and Butt-head” a platform, and overnight it dominated. Execs have to take chances, say yes. That’s what’s wrong with America, never mind the entertainment business, too many people saying no. And Mike Judge built an entire empire on the back of “Beavis and Butt-head,” “King Of The Hill,” and “Silicon Valley,” and now “Tales From The Tour Bus,” when rock stars were rock stars and you still don’t know much of their story. Hell, I learned more about Jerry Lee Lewis in this half hour program than a lifetime of reading about him.

First and foremost it’s the lens. Judge’s viewpoint, with a visual sense that just cracks you up. Animated versions of people talking who were there interspliced with real footage. So you hear the Killer’s 13 year old bride talking as a cartoon and then you see the footage from the old days and it adds a spike of gravitas. Screw the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Mike Judge is doing a better job of detailing and lionizing the history of these hitmakers, and it’s without the phony comeback arc of VH1’s “Behind The Music,” it’s absolutely astounding.

There’s history here. From a different era. When the world was not a global village and there was not a camera on every corner.

Jerry Lee Lewis was dirt poor from Louisiana. He was married twice before Myra, and never even divorced. His family sold eggs to finance his trip to Memphis. After he jumped from Bible school and decided to play the devil’s music. Judge does an incredible job of illustrating this conflict. Jerry loves boogie woogie/rock and roll, but thinks he should dedicate his life to God. And maybe country music. He believes in himself, but believes he should be doing something different. Hell, I still think I should be punching a clock for an hourly wage, that’s what my mother thinks is work. If I showed up at McDonald’s I might have trouble making rent but I’d believe I’d done an honest day’s work, was a contributing member of society.

And being a good ‘ole boy Jerry Lee can see no problem with a 13 year old wife, this was before the days of publicity handlers, you can take the boy out of the swamp, but…

And he’s breaking the law and doing wrong things ad infinitum.

He shoots a band member and then fires him when he’s unable to play bass.

He talks about running over Liberace.

You think today’s TMZ denizens are rock stars? They’re not even close, they’re imitating what the classics of yore did back when. They mated their identities with the scene and we just couldn’t get enough of it. Watching Jerry Lee sing “Great Balls Of Fire” you can see the danger, which we haven’t had in music since Eminem and “Stan’ nearly twenty years ago. Hell, that was after the controversy about “Beavis and Butt-head”! We used to argue about art, now we argue about money.

And the great thing is each one of the country artists profiled have a unique story, they’re not cookie-cutter, they all didn’t go to Harvard, work with the usual suspects and take a deserved victory lap. They utilized their smarts and their talent to get ahead and sometimes it took a long time and sometimes it didn’t really happen at all.

We used to have shows like this and they would be part of the national discussion. Believe me, if this Jerry Lee episode aired on network last night, assuming last night was in the sixties, that’s all anybody would be talking about today, it’d be like “Laugh-In,” but about music, a much more powerful force than comedy.

But the two are blended here, they’ve always been in rock and roll. “Spinal Tap” was not a satire.

And I have sympathy for Mr. Judge. I’m sure this show was not easy to sell. Maybe sometime it will float to an outlet we all pay for and can see.

But right now that is Netflix. They’ve got all the eyeballs. No one else is close, not even the vaunted HBO. We’re gonna pay, but we’re gonna pay fewer and fewer outlets that are richer and more powerful and if you’re bitching about them you’re missing the point. We’ve spent two decades living in a Tower of Babel society, not watching, not seeing, not listening to the same stuff, and it’s made life so unsatisfying. We want to communicate, we want tribes concentrated around the same art, we want to lift up the great and forget the rest.

And “Tales From The Tour Bus” is better than any record other than “Despacito” this year. Because, like “Despacito,” it breaks the mold, it delivers the unexpected, it challenges your preconceptions.

We used to call that rock and roll.


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