Friday, December 28, 2018

The Kennedy Center Honors | Lefsetz Letter

If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t watch this show.

Welcome to the twenty first century, where old media has not caught up with new.

First and foremost, special events must be televised live, or we don’t care. You see we read all about these events after they’re recorded and before they air, there is no surprise. But the producers and acts are afraid of live. Well, welcome to the now, where mistakes are badges of honor, where they evidence your humanity, where if we want it perfect we can listen to the recording.

That’s why people go to the gig, to experience something different, when you know the answer to the question, why play the game?

This is the difference between now and then. We want to live in the moment. We want the edges. We want to feel part of the show. Or no go.

And these people honored who’ve risen above, don’t expect many of them in the future, no one can get that much mindshare. Except for maybe Lin-Manuel, and isn’t it interesting that he did it by creating a live experience that you couldn’t, experience that is. Never underestimate the power of sold out, the inability to go, exclude someone and they’re dying to go. In other words, “Hamilton” is unlike a movie, it doesn’t play for a weekend, it plays forever. And it features real people instead of comic book characters.

This is important. You’ve got to downgrade your estimate of stardom. If you’re shooting for the top, you’ll be lucky if you make it to the middle. People now have options and most don’t want to spend time with you, they like something different. Without MTV, Cyndi Lauper does not appear on this show. That channel and its limited offerings, which weren’t available on most cable systems at first, made Lauper a star. Not that she was not deserving, but today if you’re on MTV…when was the last time MTV created a star, since the 16 and pregnant people?

As for Cher…

It’s the power of a great song. When Lauper sang “Turn Back Time,” it fell flat. The hit was the video, not the song, with Cher and the ass tattoo and the strutting and the sexuality… Lauper evidences no sexuality, that’s not her game. As for the song… Sure, automatons in the audience stood up and danced, but that’s probably because they were bored on their asses for the hours it takes to film one of these shows.

But “I Got You Babe”…

That’s the funny thing, the personalities die and the work remains. What did you create, what did you leave? If it’s good enough, you’ll be remembered, if not, SAYONARA!

So the concept of a smorgasbord awards show is done, history, toast. From the Oscars to the Grammys, not enough people care, no one wants to be that bored, that’s why they turn to their phones. I certainly did during this trip back to the last century. To keep our attention you must be great, you must have edge, you must be pushing the envelope. Is there anybody in creation who loves those Grammy duets? They satisfy no one but the producer, they aren’t Grammy Moments but Shammy Shenanigans that are instantly forgotten unless they’re train-wrecks.

First they came for the classical, then they excised the jazz and the country, all to get you to watch the Grammys, but you stopped. You never cared about who won, but you do want to see your favorite acts live. Which is why we watched “Ed Sullivan,” we had no other options! Do you really think we wanted to watch Topo Gigio?

I’m not saying you can’t acknowledge a person’s life work. I’m just saying that in the future, most people won’t care, maybe won’t even know who that person is and certainly won’t tune in for the ceremony.

As for the production…

Prince owned the Super Bowl and Aretha owned the Kennedy Center Honors.

Give an NBA player the ball with seconds to go and they’ll deliver.

Give a has-been performer the mic and they’ll see it as just another exposure, when the truth is we remember when you hit a grand slam, these are the moments worth living for, and if you can’t deliver them, maybe you shouldn’t show up on stage.

But that’s modern America, where no one can say no, believing exposure is everything and if people just saw you, they’d like you.


Furthermore, anything worth watching is available online instantly.

And if it’s great we watch it over and over.

Hell, why would you watch SNL in real time?

Hell, I watched this show to placate the family, to be a member of the group, but there were no hosannas, because the production fell flat.

That’s another thing about art, especially music. It’s oftentimes singular, a bolt from the heavens into the brain/body of the performer. But TV shows are made by committee, trying to please everybody and ending up appealing to nobody. And no one can say no.

Isn’t it interesting that most truly great artists are mercurial, they haven’t got time to listen to your opinion, they’re too busy doing it their way, and if you don’t let them…

So we’ve got the schism between the old and the new, between the networks and the streaming services, between the oldsters and the youngsters.

But the truth is for decades we were hung up on our devices, that’s what we thought the tech revolution was all about.

But truly, it’s about software, we’re only seeing the after-effects now.

Why go to the theatre when you can watch it on Netflix?

You can build it yourself on social networks and Spotify.

The world is changing, but too many don’t want it too, won’t acknowledge it.

Isn’t that what’s happening in governments around the world? People agitating on the right to bring the old days back, Carol Burnett and the Sonny & Cher show?

But that ain’t ever gonna happen. We’ve been blasted into the future, where everything’s up for grabs. New people will be winners, color won’t matter, it’s those who use the new tools best, who understand the culture best, who will emerge victorious.

And once again, music is the on the bleeding edge, the canary in the coal mine.

We’ve got creators using the new tools to make, distribute and promote their wares.

We own live performance.

As usual music gets no respect, but everything’s going our way.

Into the land of cacophony, where it’s all about building an audience and serving it. Mass is dead, that’s why pop expired.

The king is dead.

Long live the king.


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