Defiling Bill Graham’s Memory

billgraham.jpgWhen he was alive, Bill Graham had a framed note hanging in his office, that someone had sent him when the Fillmore West closed in 1971.

It read, “Bill Graham may be an asshole, but he gave me some of the best years of my life.”

The guy who wrote it obviously had his tongue in his cheek, but these days the concert business really is run by assholes – deluded ones at that.

Now comes word, via Lefsetz, that LiveNation bought the rights to name two venues (one in New York, the other in Philadelphia) after Graham’s brightest legacy. But calling a building “the Fillmore” won’t make it 1967 again. Hell, it won’t even make it 1997. The only comfort, I suppose, is that these two concert facilities won’t be named after a bank, a computer maker or a cosmetics company.

But tickets will still cost too much, and LiveNation won’t stop treating their customers with thinly veiled contempt, inventing charges for services that don’t exist and overcharging for those that do – like parking – and scalping, er, auctioning all the good seats.

Tickets are commodities, they say. It wasn’t that way in the world I came from, and I doubt Bill Graham would be a TicketMaster kind of actor were he alive today. The business he invented is so far in the past now that it may never come back.

I grew up believing that everybody presented live rock and roll like Bill Graham. He was a class act, even when he was wrong about something. For example, when a Who concert at the Cow Palace sold out in 1974, Graham let the San Jose Box Office sell marked-up tickets. I wrote him to complain that this was scalping, a deplorable (and in those quaint, pre-EBay days, illegal) practice.

He wrote me back with a thoughtful defense of why he allowed it. It was 33 years ago, but his position then could serve as a mission statement for StubHub today. Making these tickets available legally lessens the chance that people will be sold bogus tickets, he said. He believed he was protecting fans. I didn’t agree – I still don’t- but I always admired him for taking the time to write me and say so, when he could easily have blown me off.

These days outfits like LiveNation rip off fans because they can, and could care less what anyone thinks. It’s business, they say.

Graham was different. Here’s an excerpt from his Wikipedia entry that I can verify is true:

For all his competitive nature and fiery disposition, Graham was recognized as an expert promoter who genuinely cared about both the artists and the attendees at his concerts. He was the first to ensure that medical personnel were on site for large shows and was both a contributor and supporter of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which he often used as medical support at events. He also loved putting together groups onstage from different ethnic backgrounds—many of whom were ignored by other promoters—and he had an eye for pleasing his audience, while making an effort to educate them in styles of music they would otherwise not have been exposed to.

When I was 14, I saw Howlin’ Wolf open for Alice Cooper at the Berkeley Community Theater; it was my first exposure to the real roots of American music. I ‘d paid to see a heavy metal show that ended in a hanging. Later the same year, blues guitar master Albert King was the middle act for a T.Rex concert; the Doobie Brothers opened that show.

I had many more such revelations in the 20 or so years I attended Bill Graham Presents concerts. In these times of packaged tours that almost never happens.

Every night at Winterland, or the Cow Palace, or later Shoreline Amphitheater, provided an opportunity for discovery. I’ve lost count of the albums in my collection made by performers who were opening or middle acts at BGP events. Loggins and Messina, Lynyrd Skynyrd, STEVIE WONDER (at the 1972 Rolling Stones show) were all on the bill below the headliner at Winterland shows.

Even when there wasn’t music on the stage, Bill Graham took care of the fans. One time, I waited in line all day for a Winterland show (Steve Miller and ZZ Top, I believe); it was bitter cold, so Graham opened the doors two hours early to allow fans to warm up inside, where we watched videos of past concerts and Betty Boop cartoons. Graham could definitely be a hard ass, but we’d cut him some slack when that happened. Besides, he usually had a good reason.

Such decency is a quaint memory. Bill Graham is dead, and the concert business is whored out to a disgusting mutation of Tony Soprano, Arthur D. Little and a cyborg. The only pure music environment these days is a dank, dusty club.

Concerts haven’t been fun since Bill’s helicopter crashed in 1991. But if he knew the Fillmore name was being sold out to LiveNation, I bet he’d kick some ass.

I miss you, Bill.

iTunes Complete My Album Update

apple.jpgThere’s a press release on Apple’s website that clarifies the just-announced “Complete My Album” offer. It’s not due to expire on June 26, as my previous post indicated. Instead, it appears to be a permanent iTunes feature. The June 26 deadline is for all previously purchased songs – the date represents 180 days from March 29, when the offer was officially announced:

Complete My Album offers customers up to 180 days after first purchasing individual songs from any qualifying album to purchase the rest of that album at a reduced price. When users buy any song on iTunes the corresponding album will immediately appear on their personalized Complete My Album page with the reduced price listed.

Once again, the Cupertino company is at the leading edge in customer service and satisfaction. Wonder how long it will be before Zune and Rhapsody go down the same road?

ASCAP’s Buggy Whip Protection Act

dima2.jpgI caught word of the excellent Royalty Week interview with Digital Media Association Executive Director Jonathan Potter via Radio and Internet News. RAIN reported on DiMA’s response to the CRB decision; Potter’s take is exactly the same as mine:

I think the marketing departments and the promotions departments at the record companies are at war with the finance guys and the lawyers. The lawyers want to confirm that they have the right, and they have the ability to cut anybody’s throat whom they don’t like that day—take them to court. The finance guys need money. Their business is falling off a cliff, they need current revenue. The marketing and promo guys say, “Wait a minute, we should be giving these guys the music, and letting them play it. And begging them to play it.” The record companies need to figure out the business of the future, and they’re still figuring it out. And I think that Internet radio is suffering as a result.

“Begging them to play it.” Web radio has the potential to reach more listeners, and with more focus, than ever before. Yet Scarecrow John insists there’s no promotional value.

Potter’s thoughts on another matter, the recent ASCAP suit requesting an broad expansion of the definition of a “public performance,” are also dead on. If the court grants ASCAP’s request, listening to a song on an iPod would be considered a public performance subject to royalty.

Potter sees this desperate act as an inappropriate response to a dying business model:

Creators of new technologies, those creators of new business models, should not have to pay those who relied on the old business model merely because they changed the way things operate. The manufacturers of the automobile did not have to ensure employment for the employee of the buggy whip company when the automobile put the buggy whip out of business. And I’m not being harsh, this is reality, it’s economics. If you fly an airplane to get from New York City to Boston, the owner of the toll road in between can’t say, “Hey, transportation of any form needs to pay a toll on my toll road, because you could have taken my toll road.” The answer was I didn’t, I flew.

Read the entire interview at the Royalty Week website. You’ll need to the Acrobat Reader to view it.

Complete My Album – An iTunes Wish Fulfilled

completemylp.jpgI’m an avid iTunes customer who’s been making purchases since the first week the service went live. I typically buy more albums than songs.

When I buy an advance track from an unreleased CD, I usually wind up paying more for the complete release. That’s very frustrating.

For example, I bought two tracks from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Between Here and Gone” back in 2004, and when the album became available, I had to get the remaining 10 tracks at 99 cents each.

Had I waited for the album, all 12 songs would have been $9.99, but in this case I wound up spending $11.89.

That changed today with Apple’s limited-time “Complete My Album” offer. You can, until June 26, add the rest of any album you’ve purchased tracks from for a price that represents the iTunes cost less what you’ve paid for the songs you already own.

For example, as the picture below shows, the rest of the Mary Chapin Carpenter album could now be had for $8.01:

mcccompletemylp.jpg

I’m not sure why my account indicates the other 10 songs as missing. As I said, I filled out the album back when it was released. I’ll be in touch with Apple to find out about this bug; you shouldn’t take the store’s word for it either, lest you buy songs twice.

However, this discrepancy allows me to demonstrate the feature, even if I was too late to take advantage of it in the case of “Between Here and Gone”.

“Complete My Album” works with all music purchased by the track from the iTunes Store. When you click on the link (located on front of the ITMS page), it looks up your personal account information regardless of which computer you’re on, or what music’s stored on its local hard drive. Thus, if you have more than one account, you’ll need to log out and log back in to see details for each.

One thing to remember is that you need to navigate to your purchases via the “Complete My Album” button on the ITMS front page in order to be given the option to add unpurchased tracks. If you go to the album from the artist page, or search for it, it won’t show tracks already purchased.

This is a problem mainly if you’ve bough lots and lots of individual tracks. Near as I can tell, and I’d welcome additional input on this, there’s no way to go straight to an album you’d like to complete. You must choose a sort order and scroll page by page (25 albums a page) until you reach the desired disc. A friendlier interface would be nice, but I’m glad that iTunes is making this feature available, if only for a short time.

Update: No time limit for Complete My Album

RIAA Blowback

shotinfoot1.jpgThe music industry’s blanket lawsuit habit may soon backfire, says ARS Technica’s Eric Bangeman in a recent post. RIAA typically requests that actions against accused file-traders be “dismissed without prejudice” – this means that lawsuit defendants have no recourse against what are often frivolous cases. Some of them have recently asked that their suits be “dismissed with prejudice” so they can collect court costs and attorney fees from RIAA.

Writes Bangeman:

The hundreds of cases filed have all proceeded along the same lines, with which most of us are all too familiar. The music industry’s exit strategy from cases it deems undesirable to pursue—due to mistaken identity, poor likelihood of winning, or other factors—has been just as consistent. The record labels file for a dismissal without prejudice and everybody goes their own ways, footing their own legal bills, and no one is officially cleared of wrong-doing. Recent events may be casting a shadow over the wisdom of the RIAA’s strategy.

Now they’re trying a new approach – dismiss without prejudice, but with an additional promise not to sue the defendant again. One of those defendants, however, isn’t willing to accept less than complete exoneration of wrongdoing, which isn’t part of the settlement package. In Warner Bros. v. Tallie Stubbs, says Bangeman:

Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange split the difference. She granted the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss without prejudice while denying their motion to dismiss the counterclaim, ruling that “there are independent bases for subject matter jurisdiction over Defendant’s declaratory judgment counterclaim.” In other words, the defendant can seek to have her name cleared of any wrongdoing, regardless of the plaintiff’s decision to dismiss.

The industry’s dual approach is fraught with problems, continues Bangeman:

In choosing this course of action, the RIAA is taking a calculated risk. Dismissing a case without prejudice while promising not to bring further legal action could be interpreted as the functional equivalent of a dismissal with prejudice. As a result, the judge may very well decide to dismiss the case with prejudice after all. She could also then dismiss Stubbs’ counterclaim, as a dismissal with prejudice would mean that she is the prevailing party and leave the labels vulnerable to an attorneys’ fees awards.

Read the whole article here.

Sprint Music Store – A Stupid Business Model Smartens Up

upstage.jpgI thought the idea of music delivery via mobile phone was cool until I saw the price tag. Whoever dreamed up this business must have been looking back with greedy eyes at the compact disc’s birth. In 1983, no one gave a second thought to paying twice the price of a vinyl album for a CD.

But when iTunes launched, the price of an album actually went down, to $9.99 or less. Of course, songs were famously sold for 99 cents each.

So what did Sprint do when it rolled out the first mobile phone music store in 2005? Priced songs at $2.49 each. Music was delivered slower and at a higher price.

Brilliant.

Sprint honchos thought things were going swimmingly back then, but total track sales to date are a paltry 15 million. So this week Sprint announced they were cutting the price to … wait for it … 99 cents a track.

More brilliant.

A few additional features in Sprint’s press release are even more interesting to me. Sprint Radio offers up to 50 music streams, and there’s also a free music page with 10 songs a month.

Spring also announced that Samsung’s new two-faced Upstage phone will ship in April, and there’s five other Sprint Music Store-compatible phones offered at 99 bucks, with a 2-year agreement.

Of course, long-time Sprint customers (like me) are out of luck there. Is it just me, or are most cell phone providers completely backwards? They punish loyal customers and give great deals to people they’ve never met.

It sounds like the dating game back before I got married.

One more thing – Sprint’s press release attempts again to flog the only idea dumber than 3 dollar a whack songs and ring tones – cell phone television. Good luck on that one.

Local Rhythms – Live Free Or Die

lrnewsmall.jpgAdapted from a previous post

There’s nothing like seeing your town on the big screen, and for many in attendance at the “Live Free Or Die” premiere Monday night at the Claremont Cinema, that was the main draw.  It isn’t for all tastes; there are more F-bombs in the film’s 90 minutes than a lot of the audience had probably heard their entire lives.

But seeing Shirley’s Donut Shop and Lambert Supply on the big screen made it all worthwhile.

The film’s profanity may be shocking, but that’s the way a real guy like fast-talking loser John “Rugged” Rudgate would operate.   To their credit, co-directors (and former “Seinfeld” writers) Greg Kavet and Andy Robin didn’t flinch when creating him, and Aaron Stanford’s star turn as Rugged is, to use the character’s favorite phrase, “shit hot.”

The small-time criminal blusters with every breath, plotting low-margin scams and paying his rent with ill-gotten rebate checks. All the while, a real crime wave grows around him in a seemingly parallel universe; it’s a neighborhood that Rugged will, of course, ultimately stumble into – and at just the wrong time.

Stanford’s good, but Paul Schneider (”Family Stone,” “Elizabethtown”) is even better, quietly stealing scene after scene as Lagrand, Rugged’s dimwitted sidekick.  With each toss of his hair, Schneider gives the film a “Napoleon Dynamite” meets “Blood Simple” charm.  It has the Coen Brothers’ sensibilities, but without the wood chipper that turned happy-go-lucky “Fargo” into Midwestern Gothic.

Contributions from top-notch character actors like Judah Friedlander (”American Splendor”), who has a memorable turn as a foul-mouthed hardware store owner, and Ultimate Fight Club wannabe Alex Gazaniga, played with equal parts stupid and sinister by Ebon Moss-Bachrach (”Mona Lisa Smile”), could well lift “Live Free or Die” from a cult sensation (it won Best Narrative at the last years SXSW) to a solid smash on a par with “Clerks” or “Garden State.” The writing’s certainly good enough, and the performances are dead-on.

I only wish Zooey Deschanel (”Elf,” “Failure to Launch”) had gotten more on-screen time as Lagrand’s sister Cheryl.  She’s apparently the only competent adult who isn’t a police officer in the fictional town of Rutland, New Hampshire (Rutland? THAT bit of dramatic license sure drew some chortles Monday night).

What I’m ultimately saying is that you should go see “Live Free or Die” when it opens tomorrow – not just because it was filmed in Claremont.

See it because it’s a shit hot funny movie.  Now, what else is going on this weekend?

Thursday: Jason Cann, Brown’s Tavern – Sadly, this in-demand singer/guitarist’s busy schedule precluded him from playing a farewell set at Claremont’s Bistro Nouveau.  He’ll be performing at the new locations in Springfield and Eastman later in the month.  Jason’s built quite an Ascutney following with his easy on the ears catalog of songs that include the Dead, Dave Matthews and Dan Loggins.

Friday: Roland Yamaguchi Band, Sophie & Zeke’s – The music lineup at downtown Claremont’s favorite dinner spot changes a bit in the coming weeks.  Tonight, it’s a reconfigured New Kind of Blue, sans vocalist Emily Lanier.  There are some new faces in April, including upcoming Thursday dinner sets from the Norm Wolfe/Peter Concilio duo, and Draa Hobbs with sax player Michael Zsoldos.

Saturday:  George’s Back Pocket, Boccelli’s on the Canal – Listening to Rutland singer/guitarist George “G.V.” Nostrand’s music on his web site, I’m reminded of bluegrass skiffle bands like Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks or Asleep at the Wheel.  Nostrand played and recorded a well-received set at the Windham before it closed last year.   Tonight, he’s at Bellows Falls’ newest music venue.

Sunday: Green Mountain Shuffle, Middle Earth Music Hall – Since we’re discussing indie films, it’s worth mentioning the first movie from Vermont musician and writer Michael T. Hahn, which gets a 2 PM screening today.  Starring Heather Fitch, Adam Desautels and Derek Campbell, “Green Mountain Shuffle” is described as “an unforgettable tale of passion, deceit and redemption.”  It also features performances by Hahn’s eponymous band.

Tuesday: Taylor Hicks/Toby Lightman, Avalon (Boston) – As the current “American Idol” circus lurches through another season, last year’s winner proves there’s no guarantee of success beyond the title.  He’s no Carrie Underwood in the record sales department, and the Avalon isn’t the EnormoDome either.  The best thing about this show is Toby Lightman, the Philly chanteuse who could have been an Idol if she’d wanted to.

Wednesday: Lunasa, Chandler Music Hall – Randolph, Vermont’s jewel of an opera house was born from, of all things, a church merger in 1907.  Renovated in the 1970s, it’s hosted both local and international talent. Tonight, it’s a fine Celtic band, rich in tradition but with state of the art playing skills.  It features members of the Waterboys, Donal Lunny’s Coolfin and the Riverdance band.