Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Elliott Murphy Documentary | Lefsetz Letter

He’s not happy.

But that’s the ethos of an artist, not a businessman.

And we’ve all become business people.

In the limited rock press, a fraction of what it is today, filled with press releases and the mass opinions of the great unwashed, Elliott Murphy got traction with his 1973 album “Aquashow.”

But it was on Polydor. And therefore destined for the dustbin. Yes, it was a major label, yes, he had a record deal, but sometimes you play with one hand behind your back and you just can’t break through.

And then your moment is passed.

Elliott switched labels, even put out music on Columbia. But the sound was changing, he was no longer the new thing, he drank and took drugs and finally put the whole thing to bed on his last promotional tour, he just could not be disappointed one more time.

So he went back to college. He was gonna become a lawyer.

Instead, he moved to France, and became a legend. Probably one most of you have never heard of.

But his fans keep him alive.

This all went down prior to the MTV era, never mind the social network era. Before that, you could only be so big. As big as you were during the AOR heyday of the seventies, it was nothing compared to the eighties when MTV penetrated the populace and everybody knew your name, when suddenly there was no time for non-stars like Elliott Murphy.

But that changed the paradigm. Money became ever so much more important, along with looks. To the point where the whole scene flipped over into pop, which was anathema before this. You didn’t want to be lowest common denominator, you wanted to make a statement, you wanted the people to come to you, not vice versa.

But those days are through. Of course there are exceptions. But very few with success. You see today you can yell loudly and be heard, for a minute, before you’re tuned out, but that does not mean anything you say is worth listening to.

So when everybody wants to make it in America, Elliott Murphy moves to France and has a hard time. His middle years. Too old to die young, yet too young to be a legend. He’s working. And recording. And writing. Because this is what he does.

And he doesn’t bitch.

If you can make it work, you soldier on.

Otherwise, you give up.

Some drink themselves to death, O.D. But you’re faced with challenges and you make a choice. Sometimes you’ve got to give up. Sometimes that’s the brave thing to do. Before you throw your life away. I know too many people who threw their lives away for rock and roll. They never finished school, they have no 401k. All they’ve got is their memories, and they wonder what happened to them. Back when a song was everything and a show was under ten bucks.

Elliott was buds with Bruce and Billy Joel, they’re in this doc. But really, it’s about Elliott. How he soldiered on when no one cared other than his fans.

He talks about playing for them instead of the execs.

Making records because he has something to say.

Wanting to write a new album right before the show, play it, and then discard it and do it all over again.

You’ll learn more about being an artist, being a musician, having a career, in this documentary than you will in most every other rock doc, because it’s not about the facts, but the emotions, the feelings, as all great art is.

Strangely you can’t turn this show off. Because not only is it shot well, it’s personable. You’re right in Elliott’s living room and mind. And the longer you stay tuned, you realize there’s something there, not only the original single “Last Of The Rock Stars,” but new material, like “On Elvis Presley’s Birthday.” He says it’s his most famous song these days, but I’d never heard it. But as he sings/talks about driving around with his father on January 8th your mind starts to drift, you start thinking about your own father, about the times when the world was not so networked and you rattled around in your own brain. Hell, is social networking just a way for us to feel less lonely?

And the Europeans love the music without knowing the lyrics, without knowing the language.

But there’s something in the music.

There is something in the music. To a great degree we’ve lost touch with. No one wanted to be a brand back then. They wanted to make a statement, they wanted to be heard. The trappings were just that, you were interested in the essence.

But then it all got co-opted, the big boys and the money. Just like the internet today. Does anybody really believe they can compete with the Big Four, who seem not to have our best interests at heart?

But, once again, that’s commerce, not art, corporations, not people.

Art when done right evidences life. Makes you think about your existence. Makes you contemplate your place in the universe.

We need artists to not only make sense of it all, but to make it worth living.

Not all artists can be household names.

But that does not mean those on a lower plane have little to contribute.

Elliott Murphy has hung in there long enough, paid enough dues to now be considered legendary. As he says, he’s on his victory lap. There was a pot of gold at the end of his rainbow, but it was chocolate, not cash.

You never know what you’re gonna find, where you’re gonna get, if you’re an artist.

Elliott Murphy is an artist.

And that’s why I can’t stop paying attention.

Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel interviewed for


“On Elvis Presley’s Birthday”


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