Sunday, January 12, 2020

No Saints, No Sinners | Lefsetz Letter

“No Saints, No Saviors-My Years With The Allman Brothers Band”

You sold your soul for rock and roll.

Well, at least your life.

For the last twenty years, we’ve been deluged with tales of college dropouts going to Silicon Valley to change the world and get rich.

They used to go into rock and roll. And money was not the primary driver.

Reading this book you’re stunned at the low payouts for concerts. Forget inflation, they’ve been far outstripped by today’s fees.

The experience has changed. Now you don’t save ticket stubs, you shoot selfies, and broadcast them on social media. Used to be attendance was a personal badge of honor, you told the tales of attendance, but it was the inner mounting flame of the music that got you there.

And you’re going to go back again.

When the baby boomers die, rock and roll will return.

Yup, if the delta bluesmen had money and social media they too would have decried the efforts of the English cats. So today you’ve got acts like Greta Van Fleet abhorred because they’re an imitation of what once was. They called them John Mayall’s BLUESBREAKERS, get the point?

So the problem with rock is it got too far from the garden.

Of course there was the Seattle reset, a replacement of the sold out ethos of the hair bands.

But before the advent of MTV, rock cratered because it became all about the Benjamins. It was labeled corporate rock, and in many cases it was.

But the eighties saw the flourishing of derivatives of new wave and ultimately punk but one thing was for sure, there was melody. Hell, Black Sabbath looks like nursery rhymes compared to today’s metal.

Now you might have seen the article in today’s “Times” about hologram tours:

Old Musicians Never Die. They Just Become Holograms.

One thing’s for sure, today’s classic rock performers who are not already dead soon will be, or will be unable to perform. But the hunger to see them, to experience their music, will remain.

This is what those focusing on today myopically don’t understand.

We talk about the Renaissance, even though that was half a century ago.

The sixties and seventies were the musical Renaissance. Maybe even some of the eighties too.

Come on, the Stones and the Eagles sell out stadiums. Look at the touring numbers, they’re dominated by old acts, and it’s not only old people going to see them. People want a hit of what once was.

Yup, when the boomers die, it will be cool to hearken back to what once was, to listen to the music of the seventies, never mind the sixties, all of which is available online. People will hear it and play it and then be inspired by it. And it won’t be about paint by numbers, but a feeling.

There’s no feeling in computer code.

Yup, in a digital world it’s the human that becomes valuable.

Expect a reset, not only back to rock and roll, but literature, story.

Computers can’t write story. And that’s why streaming TV is burgeoning, we’re all addicted to tales, and when the film business stopped talking about real people, there was a vacuum, and television filled it.

Yup, on one hand we’ve got technology out of control, like a bad sci-fi movie… Facebook and so many of the outlets are overwhelmed by consequences that they did not foresee, because the proprietors did not graduate from college, did not read enough books.

Today college is a glorified trade school where you start thinking about your resulting job long before you graduate.

But in the classic rock era… It was just preparation, time to set your mind free, to experiment. You figured out what you were gonna do after graduation, if then, if you didn’t hitchhike cross-country or save for a trip to Europe or…

Now of course today’s society is much more economically difficult. You can’t make it on minimum wage. And this is one reason people are up in arms about income inequality. I mean at least give us a few more scraps, so we can expand our horizons. Yup, there’s a backlash against tech, against elites, against CEOs, against globalization, because they pushed it too far, for their own greed.

The music was for us.

So, Willie Perkins was the Allman Brothers’ road manager.

He’d gone to college, he had a job at the bank, but he threw it all over for rock and roll, for $140 a week (the band members got $90), just to be a member of the circus, just to get closer to the music.

Yup, you start reading this book and you remember how it once was. When there were no smartphones and we were all disconnected and we went to the show to connect.

Funny thing is we can associate online, but we still go to the show to connect.

And that’s how the Allman Brothers broke.

You can’t get national reach anymore. Impossible. Unless you’re Trump or you shoot someone. People keep trying… Ha, in today’s “Times” there’s a story about Steve Martin’s new single…GOOD LUCK! Hell, once you’re promoting in the paper you know you’re screwed, either it starts virally online, spread by like-minded thinkers, or it doesn’t even begin.

So, you start on the road, playing live. That’s where the scene burbles.

But there are so many fewer places to play, and canned music and deejays fill the slots. And those at the advent always ask the same question…where’s the money? IT’S NOT THERE!

After being lauded by your parents, after being coddled, no one wants to sacrifice, at least no one with a brain, forgetting the nitwits who go on reality TV and then back to nowheresville where they came from.

The road less taken is far more difficult, and most people are not up to it.

But some are.

So, we’ve got faux contenders, wannabes. If you’re not a great singer, you’d better be the best lyricist…but in so many bands, this is not the case. It’s like everybody should get a trophy, when in truth only a few can grab the brass ring.

And after their heyday, the Brothers were broke. Sure, they liked the money, but that’s not why they did it. And then they didn’t go straight, they continued to play, in clubs, not arenas.

Some things never change. There will always be a hunger for music with melody played by human beings.

And there will always be a hunger for those who push the envelope, break the formula.

And sometimes it’s just a reconstitution of the formula. The Brothers had two lead guitarists and a frontman on a bench.

Now when you drop the needle on “Fillmore East”…

“I woke up this morning, I had them Statesboro Blues.”

Blind Willie McTell wrote it back in 1928. And forty-odd years later the Allman Brothers Band reinvented it.

And through the magic of the internet, you can hear the original, just one man and his guitar. It’s the same song, but a vastly different record.

Now the same thing is gonna happen in the future, after we believe rock is long dead and gone. There’s gonna be a coterie of youngsters who reject the pop sound, who become addicted to numbers ignored by others. They’re gonna learn how to play them, then they’re gonna perform them, and seemingly overnight the TR-808 and the jive of the hit parade will crumble and this new sound will take over. Happened with the Beatles, it can happen again.

And we’re getting to the starting point, the Doors came back, as did Led Zeppelin, but today the hits aren’t even hits, they’re far from ubiquitous, and what came before is just history, albeit encased in amber, at least the recordings.

And when I read Willie Perkins’s book I immediately got that jolt, that hit of the way it used to be, both in the music and the business. When you had to get paid in cash, when you handcuffed your briefcase to the bathroom pipe, when you’d do anything to get into rock and roll.

Music can move mountains when it’s done right.

And right is always a bit off-center.

The pebbles are there, you can follow the trail.

But being a musician is nothing like being an influencer, a social media star, a Kardashian. It’s not about getting rich, but avoiding a day job, living a different lifestyle, that feeling when you’re on stage and all the players lock in and you’re levitated into the stratosphere.

And the audience comes with you.

The audience is waiting, it always is. It moves faster than the media, it’s got more members, looking 24/7. Giving people what they want is a road to death. It’s the disruptors who triumph. And usually it’s only one or two, and then others are inspired to take risks too.

I know, I was there.

But those who were not, they’re gonna want to get close.


No comments: