Local Rhythms – What’s Not For Sale?

With all the Chevrolets and Cadillacs in his songs, Bruce Springsteen probably sold a lot of Detroit steel over his career.  What if it turned out GM paid him for all that product placement?

Is it an accident that the working girl in Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” takes American Express?  Did Mark Knopfler write the song on commission?

Recent news reports have me wondering.  It turns out there’s a PR firm, called the Kluger Agency, solely devoted to getting brand names into pop music.

Wired.com did a story about the California agency’s attempts to court seemingly chic Double Happiness Jeans with an “oppertunity” to “participate in a brand integration campaign within the actual lyrics of one of the worlds most famous recording artists upcoming song/album.”

That’s an actual quote – I guess spelling and grammar isn’t their forte.

A visit to their web site shows a company that looks to be doing quite well at selling out art for commerce.  Puff Daddy, Ludacris and Kid Rock are featured prominently, hawking Mercedes Benz, Cadillac and Beck’s Beer, respectively.

Though I’m curious how a company founded in 2006 takes credit for “Cowboy,” a song Kid Rock recorded in 1998.

In a world where John McCain invented the Blackberry, I suppose anything’s possible.

There’s one big problem, however.  Double Happiness doesn’t make jeans.   It’s an art project – a virtual sweatshop in an online gaming world, to be precise.

Created by a guy named Jeff Crouse as part of something called the “Anti-Advertising Agency” – probably not the best product placement partner.

Crouse wrote Kluger back, requesting the Jonas Brothers – “their Disney-fresh style just screams “Virtual Sweatshop Jeans” to me.”

He posted their exchange on the AAA blog, and within an Internet nanosecond, the modern day “Mad Men” of Kluger were heaped with global snark.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Like the song said, it’s hard out there for a pimp, but I had no idea it was this bad.

20 years ago, I died a little the first time John Lennon’s “Revolution” was used to sell Nikes.

Now, the sneaker company just pays Nelly to write and record a song about “Air Force One” sneakers.  Because, according to Kluger’s ill-fated e-mail, “lyrics play an important part in the use of music as marketing.”

You say you want a revolution?  Don’t change the world – brand it.

Makes me want to crawl into a Posturepedic® bed and pull the covers over my head.

Great – that should pay for next week’s beer tab, speaking of which:

Thursday:  An Evening of Jazz, New England College –
A benefit for Uptown, the New Orleans-based musical theatre company founded by trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis, who also performs.  The show also features the Dave Tonkin Group, and the Kearsarge Regional High School Jazz Ensemble.     Uptown provides musical theatre training for young adults, offering original performances focused on community unity.

Friday: Bradford Bog People, Sophie & Zeke’s – I loved “Cold Mountain” for the music, and this duo – Woody and Beth Pringle of Bradford, New Hampshire – faithfully re-create the Civil War sound curated by T-Bone Burnett in that movie.  If we ever run out of oil, and the electrical grid goes dead, there will always be fiddles, banjos and Appalachian music.  Small comfort, I know, but take what you can.

Saturday: Vermont Life Wine & Harvest Festival – The weekend long festival begins Friday with a bluegrass BBQ featuring the Stockwell Brothers and continues today with a farmers breakfast.  The Mount Snow event’s entertainment also includes the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Brass Trio “Fanfare,” along with the Will Patton Trio, performing Gypsy music, Brasilian choros and Appalachian waltzes.

Sunday: Sugarland, US Cellular Meadowbrook Pavilion – This show’s practically sold out – only a few lawn seats remain.   But if the weather cooperates, I can’t think of a better place to be today than Meadowbrook, to my mind the finest outdoor music venue in New England.  Sugarland is among the hottest bands in American, with multiple CMA nominations and a number one album in the charts.

Monday: Northern Harmony, Norwich Congregational Church –
This “shifting collaboration of accomplished singers and instrumentalists, based in Vermont,” as their web site describes them, perform everything from shape note to “Stormy Weather”.  Seriously, their take on the Depression-era chestnut sounds like the Mamas and Papas.  Yet, Northern Harmony appears mostly in churches, including an upcoming tour of the UK, France, Italy and Switzerland.

Tuesday: Cesaria Evora, Lebanon Opera House –
An ambassador of Cape Verdeen culture, this singer has been called the “one of the world’s masters of happy-sad music.”  Funny, I thought Matt Nathanson ruled in that department.  Seriously, the “Barefoot Diva” has won a Grammy (best World Music Album, 2003), and performs over 150 concerts a year of moma and coladera music.  This week’s eclectic pick.

VSO Makes Its First Stop In Bellows Falls 1 October

When he’d finally convinced the Vermont Symphony Orchestra to bring the annual “Made In Vermont” tour to the Bellows Falls Opera House, says Ray Massucco, “I felt like the dog chasing the car – now what am I gonna do?”

A year of back-and-forth emailing between Massucco, a lawyer and part-time concert promoter, and VSO Executive Director Alan Jordan led to a site visit early this spring.

Jordan was immediately taken by the recently renovated opera house. “I don’t think they were here an hour before Alan said, ‘we’re coming to Bellows Falls this year,’” recalls Ray.  “He told me, ‘this is ideal acoustically for the kind of show we present.’”

So, on Wednesday, October 1, the oldest state-sponsored orchestra in the country will make its first appearance in Bellows Falls, with a musical salute to autumn.  The program includes “Holberg Suite,” Grieg’s Baroque homage to the Danish writer originally written for piano, George Gershwin’s lilting “Lullaby,” and Vivaldi’s masterpiece, “The Four Seasons.”

The centerpiece of the performance is the premiere of “Autumn Rhapsody,” a commissioned piece composed by Pierre Jalbert.

Jalbert grew up in South Burlington, winning regional composition and piano competitions while still in his teens. Later, he studied at Oberlin Conservatory and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.  Most recently, Jalbert was awarded the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s 2007 Stoeger Award, given biennially “in recognition of significant contributions to the chamber music repertory.”

Currently, Jalbert serves as an Associate Professor at Rice University, where he’s taught since 1996.

The show began as a labor of love, but as it started to gel, Ray Massucco saw an opportunity to meld it with another big part of his community work, the Rockingham Free Public Library.  He chaired the organization for many years, and recently stepped down to become secretary, and head up the library’s Centennial Committee.

He realized the show corresponded almost perfectly with another important event in the town’s history.

“This concert is 100 years to the week of the day we laid the cornerstone for the library – October 8, 1908,” says Massucco. With that in mind, he decided the concert should kick off a year of celebration, in advance of marking the centennial of the building’s official opening, in November of 1909.”

“The inaugural concert of the VSO in BF kicks off the centennial year,” says Massucco.  “It really brings it all together.”

He’s faced significant challenges organizing such a large undertaking.  For starters, there are 35 musicians to house and feed.  There’s marketing for an event that’s worlds away from the “Roots on the River” Americana music festival he’s been staging since 2007, or the occasional shows he promotes at Boccelli’s on the Canal.

Realizing that, under the best of circumstances, he’d only make back 60 percent of the show’s costs – that was when he most felt like the dog catching the car.

Massucco has succeeded in courting underwriters for the show, “Angels” paying up to $500 a ticket to defray his expenses.  He’s also sold many second-tier underwriter tickets, which include a pre-show reception with Pierre Jalbert and VSO conductor Jaime Laredo.

Laredo will both conduct and play violin.  Classical neophyte Massucco said, “I had no idea how famous he is everywhere else.” The Bolivian-born musical prodigy began his musical career at age five, and has recorded with Isaac Stern, Yo-Yo Ma, and Emanuel Ax, as well as collaborating with Glenn Gould.

“It’s been steep learning curve, but I’m getting excited,” says Massucco. In typical fashion, he’s already looking towards the future.  “I asked them, ‘if I sell out the house, will you come back next year?’”

“They said, ‘if you sell out the house, we will be back next year.”

Jackson Browne – “Time The Conqueror”

Wearing sunglasses and sporting a grey beard, Jackson Browne stares out like a soft rock Unabomber from the cover of his new album, “Time The Conqueror.”  The name perhaps refers to the toll on his mind and body over 60 years.

“Time may heal all wounds, but time will steal you blind,” Browne sings on the title track leading off his 13th album of new material, the first since 2002’s “Naked Ride Home.”

But given the often too-literal content of “Time the Conqueror,” and his penchant for double meaning, it could also mean that age has compelled Browne to vanquish all urges to conceal his strong opinions, or for that matter, adorn them in any way.

“I’m gonna go down singing,” Browne intones on “Giving That Heaven Away,” as he grouses that it’s become his job “to show the whole world how to rebel.”

“Seems like the whole world’s at a fire sale,” he muses – and that’s during one of the happier songs on the record.

Browne is no stranger to mixing politics and music, but “Lives In The Balance” and “World in Motion,” his two most pointed albums prior to “Time the Conqueror,” were at least a little poetic, and punctuated with a few love songs.

This time around, he’s seething – and naming names.

On “The Drums of War,” he sounds more like a talk show guest than a songwriter.  “Where are the courts now when we need them?” sings Browne.  “Why is impeachment not on the table? We better stop them while we are able.”

“Where Were You,” a 10 minute indictment of the government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina, and how it reflects on America’s national character, might be the angriest song anyone’s written since Neil Young rush-released “Living With War.”

The song, a percolating blues number tweaked with synthesizers and sampling, lays out the charges in a way that recalls Woody Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre”:

“Where were you in the social order?
The Lower Nine or a hotel in the Quarter
Which side of the border between rich and poor?”

It’s all there – the horror in the Superdome, failed attempts to move from the convention center to higher ground, “the newborn and the elderly exposed to even more misery” and National Guard soldiers arriving five days late.

“Mainly they were used to keep the looting down,” laments Browne.

The song works, however, because it’s more than just a list of accusations.  After a snarling reminder of President’s Bush fly-by photo op (“shaved face, rested eyes, looking down he circles twice/on his way home from his vacation”), Browne turns the camera around.

“Where were you,” he sings, “when you got the picture?”

His rage never quite ebbs, even during the easygoing, mojito and gardenia soaked “Going Down To Cuba.”  He trips from visions of walking on a beach, “in one hand a Montecristo/in the other an ice cream cone,” to discussing the embargo, and reminding listeners that, whatever their faults, Cubans “do know what to do in a hurricane.”

It’s hard to believe that the same person who wrote “Late For the Sky” would include a line like “they make such continuous use of the verb ‘to resolve’” in a song, but there it is.

The record has a few nostalgic moments, including “Off Of Wonderland,” which name checks RFK and Martin Luther King, and recalls Browne’s days living in Laurel Canyon “with an unknown band” (presumably the Eagles), his ideals still intact.  “Giving That Heaven Away” finds him “still looking around for that Sixties sound,” even though he knows “those days are gone.”

“Just Say Yeah” is a more typical Jackson Browne love song, with lines like “it’s hard to tell where the relating leaves off and where love begins,” but it’s a small oasis in an otherwise hard and strident effort.

Though it will no doubt speak well to fellow travelers, it’s doubtful that “Time The Conqueror” will win Jackson Browne many new fans.

Maybe time conquered his need for those as well.