Sunday, June 14, 2020

Everyday People | Lefsetz Letter

Everyday People


There’s a joy in playing music.

We were inspired to buy electric guitars after seeing the Beatles on “Ed Sullivan,” but we’d been struggling with acoustics for a long time before that.

In an era where music was not plentiful, just a click away, you had to make your own.

A piano was a status symbol in the house. And certainly in Jewish families, you had to take lessons. But it’s an uphill climb. First you had to learn how to read the notes, then how to play them. You started with “Hot Cross Buns,” and then you moved on to classical numbers that you really didn’t care for. You yearned to play what was on the radio. And the teachers were from our parents’ generation, they didn’t understand our desires, they taught piano in the same fashion it had been taught for hundreds of years. Whereas we were interested in the now. This was the generation gap, we did not accept the precepts of our forefathers without examination, and we did not need to pay fealty to their heroes, we had our own, we were breaking new ground, we had no idea if our music would last, but it made us feel so damn good!

So concurrent with the hits on the radio, there was a folk scene. Sometimes those songs made it to the airwaves, but really it was a separate world with two titans at the fore, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and when you went to camp you sang “500 Miles” and “Blowin’ In The Wind,” they were our classics. And there was always a counselor, or a contemporary virtuoso, with an acoustic guitar, usually with nylon strings, playing and singing along.

Now many houses had such a guitar. They cost thirty to thirty five bucks. The strings were so high off the neck and so far apart that these instruments were hard to play, especially for young ‘uns. But we wanted to.

The people who taught guitar were different from those who taught piano. They might not have been younger, but they were definitely hipper, they lived in the now. And they taught you a few chords and…VOILA! You were singing a song!

You didn’t have to know how to read music, you just had to know some basic chords, and then you could feel the joy of making music.

And when you went to friends’ houses, the guitar came out, and you all sang along.

And then the Beatles came along and blew the whole scene wide open.

You see not everybody went to camp, not everybody was addicted to the radio, but when the Beatles broke the table was flipped right over. That’s when everybody got the memo. It was not only the music, but the opinions, the look, the lifestyle. They thought differently, so so did we.

But the first thing we did was buy electric guitars, so we could play along.

And when you knew a few chords and had an axe and an amp, you schlepped them over to someone’s basement or rec room and you all played along. Usually at the house of the guy who had the drums.

Bands were formed…they were the mobile apps of their day. And everywhere you went there was some band playing. The hits of the day. They didn’t think they were gonna be rich and famous, they didn’t dun you for likes, they just reveled in the joy of the music, being part of the scene.

Now one amazing thing is you could play these songs. Amateurs bought songbooks, or fakebooks, others just figured out the chords by themselves. That’s another experience we all had, sitting in front of the turntable, dropping the needle again and again. The key was to have a turntable with adjustable speed, so you could tune the record to your guitar, the other way…was not so easy for amateurs. As for tuners…at best, we had pitch pipes.


The only American acts who survived the Beatles were the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons. Everything that was a hit before, was suddenly not. Fabian, Bobby Rydell, even Bobby Darin…that sound was passé. The British Invasion ruled.

Until the San Francisco sound. That’s what came next. And it wasn’t the Grateful Dead, they didn’t really get any traction until “American Beauty” in the fall of ’70. First it was Jefferson Airplane. Even Country Joe and the Fish. But those were all white acts. There was also a black guy, a deejay who was familiar with the rock sound. Who soon formed his own band and shot to the top of the charts with his second single.

Sly Stone.

Forget the burned-out legend of today. This was the first time most of us learned that “Sly” was short for “Sylvester.” As for Sylvester Stallone, he was a decade away from success.

And the radio played both black and white music. But Sly, and his Family Stone, didn’t sound like what came out of Detroit. Its music had more to do with rock than soul, even though it was infused with soul.

We all danced to the music. That track was an explosion coming out of the radio. It was made for the tiny speakers we employed back then. It shook the cardboard cones. It was almost too hot for the radio.

And then came “Everyday People.”

Today’s hit acts are not everyday people. They tell you in their song lyrics that they’re better than you. They’re mirroring society at large. There are the rich and the poor and the goal is to hop over the fence, to the side of privilege. Forget that music can’t make you a billionaire (with a couple of exceptions, of course, but only one billion, not many), it does speak to the culture in a way that the techies do not. The techies make tools. The musicians build houses.

But the houses they build today are in segregated neighborhoods. Both white and black. Verticals that rarely cross.

But it was different back then, rock coexisted not only with soul but country too, and occasionally oddball tracks from the likes of Louis Armstrong. We were all in it together. And we took our instructions from the musicians, via the radio. Many people had no records at all, nobody had all of them, radio was the heartbeat of America, at least of the younger generation.


Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong

That’s positively revolutionary in 2020. People have an opinion and they will not change it, no matter how much evidence to the contrary is provided.

The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in

The bankers used to coexist with the rest of us. Now they’re on a separate plane, and the butcher gets no respect, unless he’s a tattooed millennial into grass-fed beef and…

I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do

Also out the window in 2020. Even the musicians constantly remind the listeners that they’re superior to them. And there are gated communities, and private jets and private islands, never mind private schools, and those on the winning side believe they deserve the spoils and while they do their best to keep us out, they tell us to be just like they are, despite being born with a silver spoon in their mouth, or being the beneficiary of elite education, never mind enrichment programs. These are the people who work for free, building a resumé, putting food on the table isn’t even a consideration.

There is a yellow one that won’t accept the black one
That won’t accept the red one that won’t accept the white one

Of course there was racism back in ’68. But it was the musicians who were preaching integration. Not only black acts like Sly and the Family Stone, but white ones too, like the Rascals with “People Got to Be Free.”

Despite the racism, people were optimistic. Today, that’s a dead concept. Seems the corporations and the entrenched players win again and again and again. And the truth doesn’t matter. Hell, the president was caught red-handed in Ukraine, even admitted it, but he skates. What are the odds you on the ground, with a camera everywhere, can get away with breaking the law? Miniscule.

I am everyday people

White acts were seen as album makers. Black acts were relegated to singles. Until…

Woodstock. The movie.

Everybody says the star of “Woodstock” was Jimi Hendrix, playing the national anthem. Huh? When most people had left and the place was a mess and the sun had already come up? No way! Sly and the Family Stone stole “Woodstock,” instantly Sly and his troupe were an arena act. The album “Stand!” sold over three million copies. And it was filled with messages. Not only did you have to “Stand!,” in an era where protests made a difference, but you were told “You Can Make It If You Try.” And music was not only cerebral, it was an aural lubricant for sex machines. And one thing for sure, music, along with marijuana, took you higher. And in 1970, when Sly still showed up on time, audiences of all races got together to bask in the sound, you see we were everyday people.


Quite quickly the Covid-19 era devolved into self-promotion. I’m doing a livestream, pay attention to me! It was all about ascending the ladder in an era where to a great degree, the ladder has been kicked away. There is no coherent scene. Chances are the radio doesn’t play your kind of music, at least not radio that matters. Assuming people are listening to the radio at all!

Then there are others who just see it as having fun, on a lark, and satiating those who do care, like Glenn Tilbrook.

What do I know about Glenn Tilbrook… He was a member of Squeeze. And KROQ played “Pulling Mussels From a Shell” ad infinitum, and I still don’t dig it. But I did like “Black Coffee in Bed,” I bought that album, but really it was about the one before, “East Side Story,” when Paul Carrack was a member of the band.

To this day, most people don’t know Paul Carrack was the vocalist in Ace, with its positively legendary “How Long.” But when Carrack was in Squeeze the result was “Tempted,” an undeniable gem, benefited by Carrack’s lead vocal, never mind co-producer Elvis Costello’s indelible background vocals.

That’s how I think of Squeeze. Great songwriters, not great vocalists.

Until today.

I got an e-mail telling me Glenn Tilbrook was doing covers on Instagram. It seems the whole world lives on Instagram today, even Ramy’s mother…that’s how you check people out, on Instagram.

Now the writer told me he was hooked by the Steve Nieve cover. But before even listening to that, I was interested in all the songs Tilbrook did.

And that’s when I saw “Everyday People.”

Now this ain’t gonna work. The whitest of guys from across the pond singing an American classic, originally sung by an African-American? When Sly emoted, the hairs on your arms stood at attention.

So it’s obviously a homemade production, with Glenn’s son counting off the song. And then the organ comes in, played by a kid still wet behind the ears and then the camera pans to Mr. Tilbrook himself, who looks like the hip teacher in your school, all gray-haired and over the hill.


Glenn’s singing the verse and his voice is mellifluous, you tell yourself this works, and then he reaches down deep, leans back from the microphone and screams…I AM EVERYDAY PEOPLE!

I was completely caught off guard. I was expecting a pale facsimile, you know, poor production with weak vocals, but this rendition illustrates how music is truly a unifying force.

Everybody’s wearing their street clothes, Covid attire, not the fancy outfits of today’s “winning” musicians. Glenn’s wife is even contributing background vocals, he smiles at her at the end, with the joy of a job well done.

Now the amazing thing is Glenn Tilbrook, et al’s, rendition of “Everyday People” only has 2,026 views. That’s a lot of effort for very little result. But that’s not why Tilbrook is doing it, HE’S HAVING FUN!

Remember when music, never mind the music business, was all about fun, not money? When the music was just the music, with its message, making you feel good, as opposed to a stepping stone to building a brand?

Glenn Tilbrook lived the same life I did. He picked up a guitar, he played in bands, he remembers the joy.

And when you watch his production of “Everyday People,” you will too.

Once again: Everyday People


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