Wanted: bassists

If you are a bass player and you don’t sing or help with songwriting, then you need to shut up & play bass. If you want to handle management, booking duties, etc, that’s fine– but since you don’t write songs, you are NOT qualified to be the bandleader and therefore you are NOT allowed to dictate every creative decision by leveraging your position of advantage. That fucks up a band every time. There are a million guitar players out there & a zillion singers too, with a more limited pool of good drummers, but quality bass players are very hard to find. Many of the best bassists let this instrumental scarcity go to their heads, by taking the attitude that if they don’t get their way, they’ll simply take their bass & go home– leaving the band stranded. One of the biggest problems in rock music today is there aren’t enough bassists who are team players.

I’ve learned over the years that many of the top bassists do corporate gigs for a living, including tribute acts & such that play six nights a week and twice on Sundays. Any left-handed bassist is wanted for Beatles tribute bands, etc. That’s where the steady money is, as compared to forming a band and trying to be something new. My biggest criticism of professional bass players is that they are too rigid as a rule, which limits them. You can’t be a great band without a solid bass player, and you can’t be a serious bassist if you don’t work well with others.

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Manufacturing Music in 2022

Country music artist Miranda Lambert did it again with Palomino, which has plenty of crossover appeal. It’s my choice for the best mainstream album of 2022, in any genre. Conspicuously absent from most ‘2022 best-of’ lists, I’ve noticed.

Brian Eno & PJ Harvey are continually intriguing artists I follow. They endure & gracefully evolve by becoming multi-media artists. Thus they don’t fit so nicely on the limited ‘best-of’ lists published by most critics.

Beyonce, Megan Thee Stallion, Harry Styles, Wet Leg, BlackPink, etc, are production-heavy industry creations. These performers dominate most of the corporate media’s best-of-2022 music lists. These fans & boosters should credit the producers more, and realize what that means– particularly its limitations.

Mediocre & dull music is now precisely MIDI-ed, EQ-ed & compressed, which allows for better dynamics– yielding a cleaner & louder sound. Bass is boomier than ever, and distortion is crunchier in all ranges. Beats are mostly electronic, or at least enhanced by digital effects. That’s the sound of today, from pop & rap to punk & heavy metal. Much of this ‘excitement’ is achieved by computerized digital processing. It’s the same process in film, television & crypto.

Hillary Clinton w/ Pussy Riot_2014

The nefarious #MeToo campaign bears much of the current responsibility for this lack of excitement & innovation in popular culture. Many talented performers (in all fields) have been cancelled by a Democratic Party-led identity politics campaign in its feminist (Me Too), racialist (Black Lives Matter), and LGBTQ-activist incarnations. All are corporate funded, anti-science & pro-war. The “punk” spearhead for this CIA campaign has been Pussy Riot (pic above), who have been hyped in the Western media as a “protest art collective,” while being officially designated as foreign agents by the Russian government.

The list of performers who have been cancelled in music, as well as film, television & theater is staggering in terms of top talent, and irreplaceable in terms of art. You simply can’t replace a Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, or Bill Murray in film. In music, you can’t replace a Michael Jackson, Ryan Adams, or Roger Waters. If they can be attacked and taken down by cynical politics, resting on a mountain of lies & baseless allegations, then who is safe from this?

It’s nearly impossible to be an artist under these conditions. The industry hype machine allows nothing subversive (left-wing) to enter into popular consciousness. In fact, they censor it harshly. We are nearing the end of the ‘American Idol era’ in popular music, when a handful of industry big-shots & gatekeepers were allowed to control everything the public saw & heard– on the radio, television & online.

In 2022, most music fans are bored with Justin Bieber, Brittany Spears, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Adele, etc. No one expects any of them to age well. There’s not enough talent there. None of them come close to matching Prince, Madonna, Gloria Estefan, Chuck D, or Tupac in their primes. Anyone inspired by that is driven underground these days. I believe the best music of 2022, in every any genre, was underground. This means most people, myself included, never heard it.

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Sun Ra and his Arkestra: an appreciation

The most unfindable musical artist of the 20th-century was Sun Ra. As someone with a rock perspective who has purchased records & music since childhood, there is no artist as confounding as Sun Ra and his Arkestra. His classic Saturn records were pressed in limited quantities, usually 75-100 at a time, and were only available through the mail, at live performances, and in select neighborhood record stores in Chicago & New York.

It wasn’t until his Philadelphia period (1972-1992) when his music began to become available to consumers in big-chain & indie record stores. Sun Ra signed to ABC/Impulse in 1973 for a huge multi-record deal, and delivered them in amazing speed, but was quickly deleted when new management took over ABC in 1975– and was never paid. That’s how it goes in the music business, and few knew it better than Sun Ra.

Sun Ra knew how to survive & sustain and he did it in an ever-creative way. He lasted because he retained the joy of music which is what keeps us young. It’s the kids who always decide what’s hip & cool in music, and to maintain the leading edge in avant-garde jazz for 40 years, Sun Ra made it a point to stay in tune with new music of all genres. This is an artist who completely absorbed all the classic songbooks & jazz standards of pre-WW2 popular music, and was more musically advanced than Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, etc, the pioneers of be-bop.

Sun Ra’s Supersonic Jazz (1956) through Jazz in Silhouette (1958) are indisputable jazz masterpieces. Early Sun Ra and his Arkestra compares favorably to Miles Davis during his classic John Coltrane Quintet era. That’s where Sun Ra starts. From there, he launched a vessel known as his Arkestra, which was meant to take your mind into outer space. In doing this, Sun Ra left the rest of the jazz world in his space dust.

There was too much corruption & evil on planet Earth, so Sun Ra sought an outward trajectory for his music & live act. And Sun Ra had possibly the greatest act ever. It was an assault on the audience’s senses, in musical & visual terms. The crazy costumes & all his theatrics kept people at a distance and off-balance. This created a safe space for Sun Ra & his band to perform.

This is revolutionary music which still resonates, and thus Sun Ra had to be careful with politics during his lifetime. As a black man from the Deep South, he learned that he would never be taken seriously by white intellectuals in the 1950’s and beyond, so he was better off creating a myth of himself and then used that myth as a vehicle to drive his music.

Sun Ra maximized his influence by minimizing his political risk. Sun Ra was never a socialist politically, but it is in his music and how he lived. Sun Ra and his Arkestra lived communally so they could rehearse & play whenever Sun Ra needed them, which was all the time. There was never any money, so things were shared. Sun Ra lived by many socialist principles without identifying himself as a socialist. Ultimately, this carries more artistic weight than his Afro-futurist act, no matter how much he believed it.

Sun Ra was very much a black man, meaning he was proud of his race and wanted to help others like him. While he had dalliances with the Black Panthers & other such organizations, he never fully subscribed to any of their programs of black nationalism or militancy. Sun Ra and his Arkestra were thrown out of the Black Panther house in Oakland in 1972 because of this. It was Eldridge Cleaver & COINTELPRO that forced the split. Sun Ra was a black universalist, as opposed to a black nationalist– a man of the Omniverse (1979).

One of the great ironies (and there are many) of Sun Ra’s music is that it was often more accepted by white audiences (particularly European), than by black listeners of his day. As an avant-garde artist in NYC, Sun Ra  co-mingled with the Velvet Underground & MC5, and were very influential on acts such as Funkadelic & Pink Floyd.

It’s important to understand that when someone mentions “Sun Ra,” they are also talking about an Arkestra of virtuoso musicians. John Gilmore was at least the equivalent of John Coltrane on tenor sax. Marshall Allen & Danny Davis were virtuoso multi-instrumentalists in the alto range on sax & woodwinds. Pat Patrick had one of the fattest baritone sax sounds ever. Ronnie Boykins could coax sounds out of his stand-up bass that brings you to tears & makes you shiver. Everyone played percussion at some point, as Sun Ra used polyrhythms & percussion-as-texture better than the rest.

June Tyson added the dimension of a woman’s voice to what up to that point was an entirely black male ensemble. June Tyson joined the Arkestra in 1968 (or so), and would stay with Sun Ra until her death from breast cancer in November, 1992 at age 56. June Tyson never recorded with another artist. Sonny died 6 months later, and John Gilmore, who was in deteriorating health for years, died in August, 1995 at age 63.

Other significant members of the Sun Ra Arkestra over the decades included: Tommy “Bugs” Hunter, Clifford Jarvis, Robert Cummings, Ali Hassan, Roger Blank, Teddy Nance, Jimhmi Johnson, Chris Capers, Pharoah Sanders (whom Sonny named), Danny Ray Thompson (who also doubled as Sonny’s de facto manager), Akh Tal Ehah, Eloe Omoe, James Jacson, Dale Williams, Hayes Burnett, Samarai Celestial, and many, many more.

Perhaps the most confusing & challenging part of Sun Ra’s music is the space chord, which is when members of the Arkestra all wailed different tones on their instruments as loudly as they could at the same time. This is Sun Ra calling for a space chord, which creates a LOUD combination of sounds– full of tones, harmonics & rhythms that will change the flow of the music. Sun Ra developed this disciplined/undisciplined avant-garde compositional technique to allow free improvisation to move forward, finding new forms & creative directions.

Sun Ra was a master talent collector. If you’re going to build something that lasts 40 years, and then beyond your Earthly death, you constantly need fresh talent. This infuses the artist and provides what is needed to innovate with new ideas. Musical talent means you can play well and have a passion to be part of something remarkable. Sun Ra’s reputation as a master made it easier to find the talent he needed, and he was always receptive to it, where most old-guard musicians (in any genre) feel threatened by young talent.

As an artist you have to learn to go with the flow, when the general direction is forward. You can influence more effectively if you stay young in the mind, and that’s the revolutionary concept behind the music of Sun Ra. By orienting towards youth & new ideas, Sun Ra transcended much of mainstream jazz, as well as capitalist politics.

Sun Ra was the pioneer of Afro-futurism which can be defined as a black astrological myth. As mentioned, it was a great act. Sun Ra read a lot of books, but mostly obscure ones, it appears. John Szwed’s biography Space is the Place (1997) lists a lot of them as books on numerology, Egyptian mythology, etc, along with sci-fi space travel and NASA/UFO stuff.

I don’t criticize Sun Ra for his taste in books, but I will say this limited him intellectually when it came to dealing with the Frankfurt school of post-modernism (Paris pseudo-intellectuals praising him with babble), and the powers of the state. Sun Ra didn’t dare approach Marxism, because the era of HUAC and red-baiting anti-communism made it impossible for him to do so.

Sun Ra would tell people he came to this Earth from Saturn (the planet of disciple & sacrifice) to make his music which humanity needed, and nothing was going to interfere with that. Marxism would have blacklisted Sonny forever, and then no one would have heard of Sun Ra. Sonny was smart enough to know the circumstances that limited him, and then adapt.

There are so many sides to his genius, and it takes a long time and a lot of listening to even begin to get your head around Sun Ra. Ask any fan. The best place to start is anywhere you can. But if you are reading this with serious interest, then you really owe it to yourself to get a few Saturn records. In total, all his eras are filled with amazing titles, and what you like often depends on individual taste & preference.  By 1986, his releases are compact disc format. Mayan Temples (1990) is his last release before he was debilitated by a series of strokes in November 1990. He still went on stage, but could no longer perform the Sun Ra magic. By the end of 1992, Sonny had to return to his family in Birmingham, Alabama due to terminal illness. Sun Ra died of complications from pneumonia on May 30, 1993 at age 79.

Leadership of the Sun Ra Arkestra has since been assumed by Marshall Allen (above), the only original member remaining. In 2020, at age 96, Marshall Allen recorded & released Swirling, perhaps the final Sun Ra Arkestra studio recording. Marshall Allen still lives in the House of Ra, which he owns in Germantown, Philadelphia. I hope that place becomes a registered national landmark at some point. It should be already.

What Sun Ra did was impossible. There was no money. This avant-garde keyboardist, composer & bandleader was an outcast of the jazz world because he broke too many rules and never apologized for it. The gatekeepers never forget that, and up to today their wrath towards Sun Ra still applies. In this era of vinyl re-issues for everyone, too many Sun Ra titles are still hard-to-find or ridiculously overpriced in the re-sale market. No one deserves a contemporary & comprehensive catalog re-issue more than Sun Ra.

Sun Ra is still being suppressed because his music is revolution. If people widely discover Sun Ra, then all of a sudden all those lame mainstream records will never sell again. “The Network” can’t have that, and neither can the artificial & overpriced re-sale market. That’s why there aren’t very many Sun Ra records available when you first look for them.

By the 1970’s Saturn Record releases became more infrequent, as Sonny was suspicious that his business partner Alton Abraham wasn’t giving him all the money he deserved, so he began making deals with any label he could. Sun Ra also formed a new label with a NYC partner and called it Enterplanetary Koncepts, which pressed & distributed his records. Today, many classic Saturn titles have been re-issued on Enterplanetary Koncepts, and other labels including Cosmic Myth and Evidence. As a starving artist the motto is: Anywhere you can find the money. Thus, there were a lot of record labels that issued Sun Ra recordings.

Modern Harmonic is a great record label that is active in re-releasing classic Sun Ra titles, as well as unreleased stuff. Artyard is a UK indie label that is also keeping the faith in Sun Ra. Artyard was a distributor of a few key Ra titles including Horizon (1971) Antique Blacks (1974), Sleeping Beauty (1979), and On Jupiter (1979). Many of Sun Ra’s 1970’s live albums from Europe & beyond were off-label releases. In the 1980’s, more of his studio projects fell to such labels too.

  • BTW, in parenthesis after the title, is listed the recording date, not the release date. Sun Ra makes you do this, otherwise his catalog is a mess, because many early Saturn records were recorded in Chicago (1954-60), but not released until many years later when he was based in NYC (1961-70). When sequencing Sun Ra titles, do it by recording date and they will make more sense when listening.

Sun Ra creates difficulties that you never face with any other artist. His catalog is well over 200 albums, plus singles & EP’s. Since his death, there has been a plethora of new releases, new-found tapes, live concerts, compilations, etc. The hardest part is figuring out what you need, and what you can pass on. A lot of that depends on your taste and (of course) your budget.

About a dozen Saturn albums from Chicago, and 20+ NYC-era albums are essential, with the later being more space music. By summer 1970, Sun Ra finally began to tour Europe & the world. There are a lot of live concert recordings from this period up until his death. This is where you have to be picky, and identify titles in eras of interest.

For me with live Sun Ra, it’s the early mini-Moog stuff from 1970-71 that excites me the most. It’s a historical fact that Sun Ra was the first to perform live with a mini-Moog. See the liner notes in the 2012 re-issue of My Brother the Wind, Vol 1 (1970) for details on this. There are now at least 100 titles of live Sun Ra, so listen first on YouTube, etc, and decide on what you like. I estimate there are, at minimum, about 75 titles (65 studio, 10 live) that you need to understand Sun Ra’s music.

Sun Ra made so many live albums because 1) he invested in the technology early and learned how to use it; and 2) it made him money. Sonny learned how to record himself early, so when his Arkestra finally launched in the mid-1950’s, he completely understood micing, acoustics & recording principles so well that he would always get the best recording the available technology would allow. Sun Ra was his own sound engineer & producer [!] for most of his career. When he was finally recognized as an artist in Europe in the summer of 1970, Sun Ra started recording every concert he could, and would do so until he couldn’t physically go on stage anymore. If the tapes didn’t get lost, damaged, destroyed, etc, it almost always turned into a record release, sooner or later. It’s still happening.

Philadelphia-era has some of the hardest-to-find Sun Ra albums. For instance, in January 1978, Sun Ra went to Rome with John Gilmore, trumpeter Micheal Ray, and drummer Luqman Ali to record as the ‘Sun Ra Quartet.’ Those are hard-to-find and expensive when you do. A few other off-label/European releases such as Cosmos (1976), etc, are coveted Sun Ra oddities.

It’s a crazy market for Sun Ra, and it will test all of your skills as a music connoisseur & consumer. It’s a great unknown world, with mind-blowing rewards, but all kinds of snares & pitfalls to discourage you. For example, many Sun Ra titles have more than one cover image. Some titles are different names for another already-existing record, such as Jazz by Sun Ra, Vol 1 (1956), which is also titled Sun Song (1956) on a different record label. Cosmo-Earth-Fantasy (1974)  and Sub-Underground #1 (1974) is another example of this. Live in Egypt, Vol 1 (1971) and Dark Myth Equation Visitation (1971) is yet another. It’s easy to buy duplicates of what you already have because things are so confusing.

AllMusic normally has a reliable artist discography, but for Sun Ra it’s a mess. AllMusic still lists The Sound of Joy (1956) as Sun Ra’s first album, when it’s actually his third. It gets worse from there, with bad dates and disorganized titles up & down his regular album & compilation discographies. This makes everything tougher for someone trying to research Sun Ra, and is part of the subtle censorship he still receives. AllMusic would never let this happen to Count Basie or Wynton Marsalis.

The John Szwed biography is essential, and the 2020 edition has a correct discography for his albums & singles which lists by recording date. Sun Ra records make a lot more sense when you can play them in order, as there is a logical progression to his catalog. But you need to know the correct sequence. Most artists don’t present this problem, but with Sun Ra it’s a different world, as he created much of this confusion by design.

It’s difficult to make comparisons to Sun Ra because he was such a unique figure in jazz music. Only Duke Ellington & Miles Davis have his longevity of relevance, but they both fit squarely within the mainstream and were critically accepted in their day. Sun Ra’s acoustic piano playing is comparable to Thelonious Monk, but Ra was also the master of all electric keyboards, which Monk wasn’t. Sonny was the first to record with electronic keyboards– in 1956. He could play the clavioline (precursor to the analog [Moog] synthesizer), all types of electric organs, rocksicord (electrified harpsichord), and finally Moog synthesizer & mini-Moog. Sun Ra was arguably the most prolific & aggressively experimental synthesizer artist ever.

Sun Ra was avant-garde, which doesn’t get the respect it deserves, particularly with the critics who are supposed to be fair & unbiased, but really are not. Influential critics from Nat Hentoff to Scott Yanow clearly have their favorites & pariahs, and Sun Ra is the latter for them. Outside of jazz, Fela Kuti, the multi-instrumentalist Afro-beat artist from Lagos, Nigeria; Brian Eno; and Sonic Youth, an art-rock band from NYC, are probably Sun Ra’s best comparables.

What makes Sun Ra an artist of special interest is that he’s a 20th-century figure who will be more appreciated in the 21st-century & beyond. There’s a lot to learn from Sun Ra. He started his Saturn label as a way of taking control of his music. He did it in the 1950’s when no other artist comprehended doing such a thing. He created an inimitable persona to protect & promote himself. He lasted & was prolific, building an Arkestra that continued on after his death. Sun Ra humbles you because an as artist you know you will never come close to matching his output, and he inspires you by opening your mind to new creative possibilities. That’s the dialectical rub which makes Sun Ra so magical & revolutionary.

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The significance of Roger Waters

Roger Waters commemorated the fall of the Berlin Wall in July 1990, and used it to promote his music. The destruction of the Soviet Union (1989-91) and collapse of the Eastern Bloc was a reactionary event in world history. Any Trotskyist will tell you that. It was a degenerated workers’ state falling back into capitalism because the Bolshevik revolution had been strangled & betrayed by the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Since 1992, NATO has expanded some 800 miles eastwards up to Russia’s border, finally provoking Putin’s reactionary (but politically understandable) invasion of the Ukraine. Roger Waters is surely better than these modern musical clowns he publicly cites, and his support of Julian Assange proves it. But there are flaws in his overall politics, combined with monetary incentives, which tie him to the rotting corpse of capitalism.

The question wasn’t whether the fall of the Berlin Wall was a good/bad thing. All such walls are inherently bad. The historical question was: Who did the pushing and upon whose heads did the rubble fall? The standard-of-living for the vast populations in every former Eastern Bloc nation has declined, wars have flared up & never stopped, all while a corrupt billionaire class has been created which embraces neo-Nazi ideology with funding from the CIA/Pentagon complex.

Roger Waters got upset that the latest teen flavor was interviewed before him in Toronto. But the truth is Roger Waters isn’t significant to 16-24 year olds, and that’s the only demographic that matters in music. Waters doesn’t speak to them convincingly. If he was significantly influential with his anti-war message, he would have been cancelled like all the rest.

He’s allow to exist & go on because kids don’t care about him. It’s all “I, me, mine…” in that notorious interview, which tells you it’s more about promotion than anything else. Pink Floyd was never a political band, they were artistic stoners who hit the jackpot. Then punk/post-punk showed the world how stale they were, and they’ve been dinosaurs since.

Pink Floyd is a staple of classic rock, whose playlists were ossified by mafia programmers in the early 1980’s to the benefit of Roger Waters. He never objected that well-deserving artists such as the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart, the Stooges, Modern Lovers, Sex Pistols, Wire, etc, never get played on classic rock stations, even though their music is of their era. Why is that?

As a middle-aged man, I can definitively say that I am sick & tired of hearing Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Boston, etc, over & over forever on rock stations. There HAS to be more to music than that, and in fact there is MUCH, MUCH more. All you need to do is turn off that boring classic rock you’ve gotten so comfortable with and try something new & different. It’s actually the music industry you’re listening to when you dial in the classic rock format. You’re feeding Clear Channel & EMI, who have an unlimited supply… of bullshit. Here’s the 2003 re-issue cover of Roger Waters Live in Berlin.

It’s capitalism you’re feeding. The music industry needs you to forever tune into their stale stuff, and they surely DON’T want you seeking an alternative. That’s why Husker Du & Sonic Youth were called “alternative” in the 1980’s and still are today. Never to be heard on programmed XM Satellite radio. Either you love the music or you don’t. To those who do, I’m with you.

Roger Waters has the right to be heard, and he has been. The rest of us have the right to criticize him because we bought his records a long time ago and have listened to them. I like Pink Floyd as a group. I like the fact that David Gilmour took care of Syd Barrett (as best he could) after he left the band. I didn’t like Roger Waters suing Pink Floyd after he left the band, over their name. He lost that one because he was selfish & wrong. Today, I view Roger Waters as selfish, but at least on the correct side politically– for now. We’ll see how things go. We’ll see if anyone cares.

For over 40 years now, punk rockers have considered Pink Floyd irrelevant. They were a decent band who made a few great records back in the day, then slowly disintegrated. Pink Floyd was often a Rogers Waters’ studio project more than anything else, and that’s why he finally went solo. For better or worse, that’s how I see this band and the creative force behind it. Over & Out

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Political guide to being an artist

Music is personal and everyone does it for their own reasons. Everyone who has tried knows that. This essay is to concisely explain my reasons, which are mostly misunderstood. I started like everyone else because I love music and wanted to do my own thing. At first the goal was to be a rock star. I eventually learned that wasn’t possible, so I outgrew the idea and became something more. I became an artist with socialist consciousness.

In the history of popular music, this has only been tried a few times, and it has always been met with virulent hostility & blacklisting from the entertainment industry & ruling establishment. The surrealists led by French writer André Breton were the earliest 20th century example of art & socialist politics meeting (through Trotsky), and their movement was deeply influential, though it was finally overwhelmed by fascism across Europe in the 1930’s. The surrealist movement deserves careful study today in terms of content, revolutionary potential, and its inherent limitations.

Mexican painter Diego Rivera, whose frescoes & murals dazzled the art world in the 1930’s, flirted with Trotsky, but eventually retreated to his mansion as World War II broke out in Europe.

Post-war art has been kept under the thumb of anti-communism, ever since President Truman laid out US Cold War policy, which has continued up to this day. Cold War policy can be summed up as: Russia is the evil enemy, and Marxism is never to be tolerated. If you were an advocate for civil rights (women, blacks, immigrants) & anti-war in this era, then you were branded as a godless communist that must be expunged from the Earth [!].

Popular folk music group, the Weavers, whose best known song was “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” were blacklisted because leading member Pete Seeger was a socialist. The Weavers had a “clean” playlist for live performance, but it didn’t matter to the anti-communists in 1950. The original Weavers disbanded in their prime by the summer of 1952, due to no gigs. They revived themselves a few years later with their famous Carnegie Hall performance, recorded Christmas Eve 1954, but not released by Vanguard Records until April, 1957.

* As a footnote. these irrational hysterics & witch hunts were brought back to life by today’s anti-communists with the Black Lives Matter & MeToo campaigns in the 2010’s. Their goal (as always) is to artificially divide the working masses through identity politics. No serious discussion of class inequality & imperialism is allowed with anti-communists. That’s when they get hostile & violent.

Bob Dylan’s working class appeal in his early to mid-1960’s era made people take sides on issues like racism, class society, the Vietnam War, etc. Fans & the establishment turned on him when he electrified (which magnified his message), to the point where he finally had to retreat & hide away.

On July 29th, 1966, a month after his final classic-period masterpiece Blonde On Blonde was released, Bob Dylan crashed his motorcycle near Woodstock, New York. He used this (relatively minor) accident as a pretext to remove himself from the political discussion in the mainstream. He did this to save his life. At this point, Vietnam was becoming out in-the-open & overwhelmingly polarizing. Bob Dylan risked being killed like Malcolm X, as he was the white equivalent at the time with his songs. MLK, and Democrat for President, Bobby Kennedy were gunned down in 1968, just to give you an idea of the times.

I don’t blame Bob Dylan for doing what he did to save his life, and neither should you. There was no organized political party on the left that he could have joined to protect himself and his political convictions. In revolutionary terms, Bob Dylan was too far ahead of his time. He had to retreat back into capitalism to carry on.

In the jazz realm, Sun Ra (pic above) stands as the shining star of revolution, with a catalog & body-of-work too vast to discuss here. His avant garde piano/electric keyboard/synthesizer style, backed by his Arkestra, seems to have come from another planet, which he claimed it did. Everything he did, from Saturn Records, to how he recorded & marketed himself, while holding his Arkestra together for 40+ years until his death (and then beyond), deserves careful study.

Sun Ra approached music as a conscious objector to WWII. He lived with, then ran afoul of the Black Panthers, a point ‘Afro-futurist’ racialists avoid. Sun Ra created his myth, to protect himself, and it worked. He died naturally in 1993, and never had to change his message.

If you are not a myth, whose reality are you?
If you are not a myth, whose reality are you?
If you are not a reality, whose myth are you?

— Sun Ra

Let the verse cited above roll around in your head for awhile, while contemplating deeply. I love Sun Ra, but I don’t want to be a myth, I’m a reality, so the question eventually became for me, as Ric Size: How do I become a revolutionary artist without having to retreat politically or descend into mysticism?

First, you must educate yourself in all spheres. You can’t be fooled by the bullshit, old & new, and you can’t rely any anyone else to tell you the truth. You must discover it for yourself & always keep it close. You must know yourself completely.

But beyond that you need help. No one is an island, and eventually everyone dies. You need to affiliate yourself with an organization that represents your political values and will survive into posterity. By the time I became serious about being an artist in the late 2000’s, such a political entity had come into existence– the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS).

The WSWS has had an Arts section from the start, at the insistence of Arts editor David Walsh. As I understand the discussions which took place back in 1998, (and I wasn’t present), it was David Walsh who insisted on the inclusion of an ‘Arts’ section as essential, and he had to convince David North & Nick Beams (among others)– and finally did. It was a far-sighted inclusion which deserves socialist merit, because it is art that sparks revolutions by defining it to the masses through songs, film, literature, paintings, etc. You can’t separate art & revolution.

Let me finish on musical artists with socialist consciousness by pointing out that there is revolution in the reggae music of Bob Marley & the Wailers, Scratch Perry, etc. Same with P-funk, punk & post-punk. Same with Fela Kuti’s Afro-beat. Same with Eno, Fripp, Byrne…

I affiliate myself with the ICFI, the Trotskyist party of international socialism. By doing this, I never have to walk anything back. My art isn’t perfect, and there is no such thing anyways. All it’s meant to do is inspire & educate. As a revolutionary artist, you light a candle so others can follow. Whatever comes after is left up to others, as it should be.

All an artist can do is continue to work. The critics & naysayers will always be there. You can’t have fans, without having haters. The idea is to love your fans and always be true to them, while appropriately dealing with the haters. It’s serious work, so make sure you find good help & trusting allies.

I’ve written a lot about baseball analytics on this site and for good reason. There is a truth in the numbers, that is often hidden through only observing. MLB is such a long season, and the subtle differences between good teams & the best team, are often too slight to see with the naked eye. If you can see them, it helps to have numbers to back up what you are scouting.

It’s like this with art & politics. Art is creative freeflow, where politics can be studied scientifically using orthodox Marxism, known as Trotskyism. To make sure your art stays true to the truth, you need Trotskyism (the WSWS) as a political guide. Once you are fundamentally sound (politically speaking), a dialectical change will occur, and then you will be able to write anthems that appeal to kids & the masses with a revolutionary spirit.

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Electrified! promo/update

I went to a Catholic high school and then a Jesuit University. I’ve recently been thinking about what I’ve done that most offends these people, and it’s probably “Atheist Psalm” from this record.

As true-believing Christians, I seek your forgiveness on this. I’m not apologizing for it. “Atheist Psalm” is rated ‘Explicit’ by YouTube, Spotify, etc, when there are no swears in it. That’s a measure of its shock value & how much the censors hate it. The rest of Electrified! (2015) does the same. That’s why it’s so hard to find.

Electrified (2015)

There is a fascist paramilitary element that wants to overthrow the US Constitution and establish a personalist dictatorship in America. The US Constitution says ALL people are allowed to express their political feelings without fear of retribution violence, blacklisting, etc. It also explicitly expresses that there needs to be a separation of church & state.

If you disagree, then consider this thoughtfully instead of resorting directly to Biblical hysterics, guns & violence. That’s the difference between acceptable political debate and what fascists did on 1/6/21. The idea that politics is ideological discussion & ethical debate of history, class inequality, etc; and NOT hand-to-hand combat, is not yet for everybody– I understand. But someday it will be. It has to be for our species survival.

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Pussy Riot & Ukrainian ultra-nationalism

Preface: Music & art are aptitudes of mine, and you REALLY can’t fool me when it comes to punk rock. I know it because I’ve loved it since I was a kid.

A few weeks back it was announced with sensational fake media coverage that two members of the so-called “art collective” Pussy Riot, Masha Alyokhina & Lucy Shtein escaped from Russia.

Pussy Riot refers to themselves as an “art collective,” but gets promoted like a band. They are neither. Pussy Riot are foreign agents, as declared by Vladimir Putin’s Justice Ministry. Since December 30, 2021, when Nadya Tolokonnikova & Nika Nikulshina were added to the Russian government list of “foreign agents,” they have been required to start every tweet with this disclaimer:

THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) CREATED AND DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT

“These people systematically distribute materials to an indefinite circle of persons, while receiving foreign funds,” the Russian Justice Ministry said in a statement. For the record, this author declared this conclusion a year-and-a-half earlier in this report.

These foreign agents (AKA Pussy Riot) have mostly fled Russia since Putin’s reactionary invasion of the Ukraine began in late February 2022. The NYT breathtakingly describes their escape to Lithuania as a heroic dash to freedom. “A lot of magic happened last week… It sounds like a spy novel.” Maria Alyokhina said, perhaps revealing more than she meant.

Another agent of Western imperialism, Maria V. Alyokhina, said, “I still don’t understand completely what I’ve done,” in the New York Times propaganda piece, again revealing more than intended, because you don’t just escape from Putin’s Russia without knowing what you are doing!

These agents were under Russian police surveillance and forced to wear ankle bracelet ID trackers, etc. You need serious help from Western intelligence to escape that. Since Pussy Riot are simply patsies for US imperialism, they don’t fully understand the “magic” that made it possible. It’s somehow connected to a Turkmenistan embezzler, Swiss bank accounts, and $20M in cash that disappeared after he turned up dead in a hotel room. Murky, murky

Getting back to what we know, it is a historical fact that US President Joe Biden provoked Vladimir Putin’s desperate invasion. Biden and his colleagues have authorized $40B (& counting) in US taxpayer money for weapons & ammo to arm the Azov Battalion, Right Sector, etc, who are all fascist SS progeny. Their historical leader is Ukrainian ultra-nationalist Stepan Bandera, who collaborated with Adolf Hitler in his war to exterminate Marxism & Jews in WWII. That is history. The rest is de-evolution.

Pussy Riot screams “Glory To Ukraine,” during all their “performances” across Europe now. This is the battle cry of the ultra-nationalists, CIA mercenary scum of the Maidan Putsch & Odessa Massacre of 2014. It is a historical fact that “Glory To Ukraine” is a Nazi anthem.

Since fleeing to the West with a lot help from their friends in Langley & Washington, Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova & Maria Alyokhina now concentrate much of their activity on their anti-Russian (CIA) propaganda outlet, Mediazona. If you were a foreign agent posing as an art collective or punk band, you would do exactly this right now.

In late April 2022, the Dartmouth Political Union hosted a virtual event with Nadya Tolokonnikova, who had been booked months in advance, well before the Putin invasion. Of course, she was not asked if she is an agent of the US, but when asked how she comes up with ideas for “art protest” Tolokonnikova said “that it is not so much about the quality of the performance as it is the quality of the protest.”

As a revolutionary artist I can tell you that it is ALL ABOUT the quality of the performance, with politics being an essential part of it, but genuine art also has humor, humanity, love, science, culture, etc. That’s the difference of thought between a real artist and agents of imperialism.

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All about music & divas

I’m an underground musical artist on hiatus. No more songs to give and certainly no money or gigs. So when something like COVID-19 comes along, and it just isn’t going your way, you give it up before it consumes you to death. It’s called listening to that inner voice that’s telling you, “Listen to your mother.” So now I’m just a music fan again, which means I can catch up on what’s been going on for the last 25 years or so in popular music.

When you become an artist you commit yourself to the process and believe 100% in who you are and what you are doing. You must have this approach because no one else will believe in you. You rely on yourself because only you know what is in your head & heart. This is why I haven’t paid much attention to what’s been happening in the popular music realm these past two decades plus.

What I did musically (& with this blog) can be defined as underground. This is the realm of revolution. I always look at making a record as trying to set a standard that’s hard to beat. When you seriously listen to AC/DC’s Powerage (1978), or any of their other great records, you finish shaking your head & saying to yourself, “That’s hard to beat.”

That’s what inspired me over the years. I was always trying to make that song, EP, or LP/CD that was hard to beat. You have to know it’s going to be great before you record a note. Every great record you’ve ever heard in every genre had that. They all knew they were about to do something great, and then they did it. It’s a great feeling when it’s done. You know it’s going to be a classic because it’s hard to beat.

It’s harder than ever today to make a great record. It starts with great songs which have become scarce. A dirty truth of the music industry is that their popular music stars rely heavily on professional songwriters. These manufactured stars just don’t have much to say, and I get bored with that. I know I’m not the only one.

Songwriting is also a dividing line for those such as myself with punk ethics. Underground music in 100% organic, meaning it is not using professional songwriters, but instead creating its own material. Most of it isn’t very interesting, but there are genuine artists in every genre at all times, you just need to know how to find them. They’re all more interesting than Diane Warren & Max Martin.

For decades, you had to be a fan to know who the major artists were, especially in more esoteric genres such as electronic, dance, etc… Today, AllMusic & YouTube provide any eager listener with everything they need to decide who they really like. The basic rule for going into unfamiliar genres is to do early research and figure out who the major artists are– past & present. How long has the genre been around? Who started the genre, and who is the best artist today? Work your way forwards & backwards from there and you won’t get too lost. Lost means you don’t know and buy too much junk.

Let’s take country music as an example, as I’m not the biggest country music fan in the world. I lived in central Florida for over 25 years, and I’ve been around a lot of country music fans so I understand how they feel about it, but generally their contemporary stars don’t move me. I love Bob Wills, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie, Waylon & Jessi. But contemporary country largely doesn’t catch my ear. George Strait, Reba McEntire & Garth Brooks were the best & biggest country music artists through the early-1990’s, which is where I left it, so I’m looking for the best since then up to the present.

As you may have guessed, I’m more interested in songwriters & story tellers, especially in the country music genre. Contemporary country largely has the same problem that pop & rap absolutely have; there’s so few vital voices/performers who are their own songwriter anymore. The last time there was an “excess of originality” in songwriting was when indie grunge & hip-hop turned major label artists from John Mellencamp to Winger into has-beens overnight, when Nirvana hit with Nevermind in September 1991.

The mafia which runs the corrupt music industry machinery weathered this crisis and adapted by buying-up all the indie labels & college radio stations. U2, REM, Metallica, Soundgarden, etc, were then canonized into classic rock. 1980’s indie label bands such as the Minutemen, Husker Du, the Pixies, Fugazi, Sonic Youth, etc, never reached mainstream radio. They had too much VU & Andy Warhol in them. The mafia that owns & runs the music industry hates its artists because they can’t control them. They hate artists for devaluing all of their mediocrities & posers which they throw stupid money at to promote. If the kids only knew…

Artists take everything seriously which means they must develop a razor-sharp sense of humor with ironic sensibilities in order to get along. You can’t be serious & on-point forever, especially without money, as it will burn you out and/or kill you. You have to be able to let it go & adapt.

I celebrated Record Store day during the few weeks leading up to it, as well as the day itself. It was April 23 this year, the day after Earth Day. The truth is every day is Earth Day and I wrote that long before it became a meme.

Vinyl costs a lot for a good reason. Its expensive & dirty to produce. New CD’s now list for roughly half the cost of vinyl on new releases. It is my professional record collecting opinion that records have gotten too expensive in every sense, therefore I go for what I only absolutely need on vinyl, otherwise I go for CD. I’ve always been like that in building my music collection: whenever the market is zigging, I zag.

That’s how you find the best deals and stay on budget. Records now cost ~$25 apiece. If you want 1000 records in your new collection that’s $25,000 cost. The used record bins have all been scoured at this point, and there are very few bargains remaining, with too much to hunt through to get to them. That’s my feeling on record buying at this point.

I’m not so much about the format anymore as I am about having the music itself. CD’s & records let you play what you want, without an app tracking you & sending you messages. Put mp3’s on an external Ipod and connect it into an auxiliary input on your stereo. That’s how you have a rocking music collection that doesn’t need to be online.

Until my recent record store binging, I hadn’t considered 21st-century artists very seriously for the reasons stated above. When I began my artist journey it was Alanis Morrisette, Brittany Spears & American Idol coming online. That didn’t impress me much. But Shania Twain did, so I bought all her classic stuff that she made with her then-husband, the famous rock producer who did so many records I love. Shania Twain is perfect pop, with irresistible hooks & a beautiful voice. She translates best to CD in terms of top sound quality and typical album length which exceeds the LP format.

Compact discs are perfect masters which means they can be ripped onto a computer & pirated, which is what happens everywhere. CD’s have wav files of the songs with all the metadata. When Napster came along, kids who had ripped their CD’s shared them online as compressed audio files known as mp3’s. YouTube is mp4, an audio & video file. Compression means some loss of fidelity. The gain is smaller files which are easier to share. I review all this basic stuff because this is how you look for & buy music today. You research & listen online. After you figure out what you really like, go to the record/CD store and buy what you love.

Vinyl is the original format of rock & roll. It was 45’s when Elvis Presley hit in 1955. Black artists such as Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard & Bo Diddley became huge stars. Jim Crow racism had kept black artists down, but when rock & rock was unleashed it was irresistible to the kids. After Elvis hit, rock & roll became bigger than Jesus, and young Presley was vilified for it along with all the rest.

Scandals & tragedy took most of them down, except for Fats Domino. It wasn’t until Elvis first became a GI and then returned as a teen idol, hopelessly behind-the-times that he became mainstream with adults. He still produced hits, but when the Beatles arrived in 1964, Elvis & the rest went into the oldies bin. AM radio formats this “golden hits era” as oldies, as compared to the FM dial’s classic rock. It’s the difference between mono & stereo.

Rock in 1955 was 45’s in a jukebox format. Kids would meet wherever there was a jukebox and room to dance. 45’s are different than albums which are 33.3 RPM. 45’s are singles, so you’re always looking for that GREAT song that grabbed you from the first time you heard it. If the artist who made that song never made another one, then get that single on 45 or mp3. Most flip-sides of 45’s aren’t good songs, but occasionally there will be a gem.

When vinyl (33’s & 45’s) was deleted by 1990, the singles format disappeared, as CD’s don’t work as singles or as EP’s. This was a creative problem for nearly a decade until mp3 sharing came about, because there are many, many more artists who can make a great song or two, versus those who can make a great album. Those who can make multiple great albums are the major artists.

The advantage of CD’s (over records) is their ability to hold up to 80 minutes of length. A vinyl record sounds best if the album can be split into two 22+ minute sides. Anything at or over 23 minutes/side degrades the sound quality significantly, meaning you must either make it a double album or else go to CD.

My advice for young artists is to make great CD’s. The CD revolution was not only a quantum leap in audio fidelity, but also creativity. If you’ve got 75 minutes of great music you can put it online & onto CD. Then people like me will want to hear it. Once you impress enough people and become a huge success, then you can sell that album as a double LP on vinyl.

Making records involves the use of toxic petrochemicals which degrade our Earth’s ecosystem. Therefore my rules on vinyl are these. Reissue only great & very good records. No more Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Supertramp, Yes, ELO, etc, re-issues. These such albums sat unclaimed in used bins I looked through for years, so why is the industry still pumping out fresh copies of this mediocre, industry-produced fodder? It’s the great rock records of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Mott the Hoople, along with the groove of P-funk & David Bowie that represent the best of 1970’s rock. Punk, reggae, funk & disco are what people covet most from the 1970’s.

Releases from 1990 onward are universally considered CD’s. Genres like pop, rap, country & rock are all recorded digitally with in-studio multi-tracking. Songs are constructed over hours, days, weeks & months on computers with the musicians, engineers & producers. This allows the sound geeks to get the best (loudest) sounds.

This has led to the “loudness wars” an industry term extensively discussed by serious sound professionals in online forums. Basically everyone in pop, rock & rap wants the loudest records, so we’ve reached the point where there is so much compression on all the tracks (guitars, bass, vocals, drum kit, etc) that the music lacks heart & soul. It’s sounds too slick & digitized because it is.

No popular artist in any of these genres does live-performance studio recordings on their albums. It’s kinda been that way since the Beatles did Sgt. Pepper’s in 1967. You can always make it cleaner & louder if you multi-track, because it allows sound separations and treatments (reverb, compression, etc) of each individual track.

So which format (record/CD/mp3) is best? Here’s my rule, if it has great songs and performances it will sound great on any format. Pre-1990, everything was released as a vinyl record. Pre-Beatles was 45’s, except for Bob Dylan who was always an album artist. Note that these are guides and that when you are record shopping you have to adapt to what is actually there. Don’t go insisting on a certain format when it’s unavailable or too pricey everywhere. The best deals today are on used CD’s. Major artists past & present in every genre populate the “used CD’s” bins, so find them.

Good stuff can be hard to find, and when it’s a good deal you should jump on it. If it moves you and has great songs from start to finish it will sound great in ANY format. The exception is cassette tapes, which degrade over time no matter what you do. Cassette tapes always have hiss, and are susceptible to getting eaten by vehicle tape decks & boom boxes.

It was always considered smarter to buy vinyl, and then record it onto a blank 45/90 cassette tape, than to buy pre-recorded cassettes. That way you got two albums per tape and if it got eaten or lost, just record another. Turntables were considered a nuisance by most as the 1980’s progressed, as CD players changed the music market.

VCR’s had revolutionized television watching habits and opened up new avenues in home recording. MTV hit in 1981 and popular music was never the same. From MTV on, you had to look good in front of the camera, otherwise you had no chance with the kids. Before MTV, oldies bands & performers could hide & hang-on as “rockers”. MTV immediately assigned REO Speedwagon, CSN, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, etc, to “classic rock” & “adult contemporary” status.

Of all of the classic rockers, it was Tom Petty who best survived the 80’s into the 1990’s when grunge & hip-hop exploded. By then Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Michael Jackson, etc, no longer had the kids attention, and were then considered legacy artists along with Billy Joel, Elton John, Eric Clapton, etc.

Grunge proved that kids liked bands influenced by the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart & the Stooges better than those championed by the classic rock dogmatists. The music industry canonized classic rock in the 1970’s under the institution of Rolling Stone magazine in which a few ex-musician hangers-on anointed themselves as the preeminent critics on rock, country & pop music.

Since the grunge wave of the early 1990’s, Rolling Stone has lost much of its credibility as the unassailable critics of music & pop culture. The more one learns of this institution, the more it can be seen for what it is: a tool of the music industry which employs its legion of hack writers, fake journalists & unserious critics to prop up the latest project the music industry deems important. These industry creations will always get a positive review in Rolling Stone; and depending on their industry clout, they may also get anything from a quick (positive) write-up, to a cover with full interview. That’s mainstream popular music in all genres. It’s totally a business, and that’s why it sucks so hard.

Divas are the explosive phenomenon in popular music in the last 25 years. The last divas I loved were Gloria Estefan & Madonna back in the day. Before them, Deborah Harry (Blondie) & Pat Benatar were my original favorites. MTV & the internet made divas more possible. The original modern diva in pop culture was Marilyn Monroe. In rock music it was Nico with the Velvet Underground & Warhol. Nico was the original bad girl, and a fascinating study in the ephemeral character of divas. They all want to be considered as artists.

The previously mentioned Shania Twain was first American pop music diva of the 21st century. Just to define the term, divas have to be beautiful, stylized & talented. Divas are coveted by all straight men, so they set the standard for women. Country music never really had a diva before Shania Twain. The original female country star was Patsy Cline. For a long time Dolly Parton was the closest thing to a country music diva in a genre dominated by wholesome-image female artists.

Country music since the 1970’s (at least) can be classified into two distinct styles: Nashville sound & outlaw. It must be understood that all country records are recorded in Nashville, TN, but there is a difference in style. Outlaw is rootsier and appeals to purists, while Nashville sound is slicker and more pop oriented. Contemporary country has been profoundly changed by pop, rock & rap. I listen to country songs that have a singer with a twangy voice, but if it’s a fast song, it’s rock music. Maybe they throw-in a harmonica & steel pedal guitar track to countrify it, but it’s basically rock. All the country ballads are basically pop & rap production.

In contemporary country music, the biggest pop diva has been Carrie Underwood since she won Season 3 of American Idol. Her first CD Some Hearts (2005) had the entire music industry behind it, so it was going to be a success no matter what, kinda like Titanic (1997). My listening of her first few albums is that they are highly polished, with some good singles, but also with too much well-constructed filler. Carrie Underwood has an amazing voice, but I never much cared for Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, etc, and that’s her style. It’s too much syrupy pop for my taste, which leans towards rock. My best chance of finding something I like in country music was in the outlaw style that takes Waylon & Willie as its roots.

The biggest star in country music for the past 15+ years has been Miranda Lambert. Like Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert also came from reality TV, and released her debut album Kerosene in 2005. Reading both these album credits today provides definitive clues in advance as to who would be the enduring artist in country music.

Carrie Underwood’s Some Hearts has only one song that she wrote, “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore,” while Miranda Lambert wrote (or co-wrote) every song on Kerosene except one. Both their follow-ups are they same way, and so on…

Miranda Lambert does use professional songwriters, but I get a sense that she really gets to pick the songs she likes. She also collaborates with these songwriters much more, in order to get them right for the album. Carrie Underwood had the material handed to her, and if Max Martin insisted that his song be on her CD, it got done. Carrie Underwood does the best she can, but too much of her material isn’t very inspired.

The songs that Miranda Lambert writes have more depth, heart & soul. These are songs of a restless artist who has the songwriter gift. I have nothing but respect & admiration for that because I know how hard it is. Carrie Underwood is more of a true diva, where Miranda Lambert is more of a Woodie Guthrie folk singer. They’re both country singers and both divas. Miranda Lambert is the true artist.

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The “Boycott Spotify” campaign

It was just over a year ago that Neil Young sold 50% of his worldwide copyright & income interests in his 1,180 song catalog to some UK capitalist whale. Now Neil Young has started this ‘boycott Spotify’ campaign over some reactionary podcast that promotes COVID misinformation, when it’s mass media misinformation EVERYWHERE.

I respect Neil Young the musician as I have many of his records & CD’s, but it just feels like all the wrong people are making money for all the wrong causes and nothing ever gets better under this existing set-up. I respect Neil Young’s & other artists’ right to use their political clout, so I hope they respect my right to say it’s self serving and a political dead end.

Spotify basically doesn’t pay the artists, especially indies. The reason our music is still on their platform is because it’s “new radio,” meaning free distribution through the internet. The music goes online through a major label (or the likes of CD Baby), which places it on every streaming site: iTunes, Spotify, etc, and you don’t get to pick & choose. The problem for indies (besides not getting paid) is that all their algorithms work against us, so relatively few listeners can find us. It’s like that with all the corporate platforms.

The original streaming service was Napster (1999-2002), which was destroyed by the RIAA, when its well-heeled shills (Metallica & Dr. Dre) did their dirty work for them. Their claim was artists needed to get paid. Napster offered to work out an artist payment model, but they wouldn’t listen or negotiate, only the destruction of Napster would suffice.

This opened the way for Apple iTunes & venture capitalism (Spotify, Pandora, etc) to monopolize the mp3 market. This is why 99+% of all mp3 downloads are “illegal” today. We need a revolution, not reformism, because these elitist bloodsuckers will never willingly give up control.

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Get Back (2021)

I just watched Get Back (2021) and it’s amazing! Get Back is directed & produced by Peter Jackson, who takes the vast film footage & audio material originally captured for Let It Be (1970) a documentary of the album by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, whose 16mm cinematography is stunning. Get Back seamlessly transports you back in time, while the digital editing & titles give it a clean modern look. Pushing eight hours in length, it never gets dull. It was all filmed & recorded in January 1969, and then finally put together just recently, but everything about this Beatles documentary is timeless.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg was a pioneer in music film production, who makes his face seen & voice heard in Get Back. For instance, there’s a debate among the band over 35mm vs 16mm for filming. Paul insists it should be 35mm, or else it won’t look right. Michael Lindsay-Hogg then interjects that 16mm will be fine, and that’s it. Watching in early 2022, it looks like Get Back was shot a few months ago, and put together quickly. Of course it was all shot 53 years ago, and took 4 years to produce. There are no flaws in the moving images, and the camera framing is exquisite, giving Get Back an authentic appeal.

This is mostly a testament to how well the original film crew & Michael Lindsay-Hogg did their jobs. This made the digital transfer much easier, and the result is one of the great rock documentaries ever, maybe THE best. And to think, it sat “in the can,” wasted & unused for decades. In many ways it compares to the Netflix release of Orson Welles’ famous unfinished film, The Other Side of the Wind in 2018.

Get Back is Disney property, which maintains strict monopoly distribution of its content. I’ve got friends who have pirated it, because that what happens when you try to “own” something that really should be public domain. Everyone has the right to see this film, as the Beatles are part of the fabric of our popular culture. I know it’s being called a TV series by Disney, but really it’s a 3-part movie that runs 468 minutes total. That’s too long of a film for most people, so it’s marketed as a TV-series.

This definitive Beatles documentary of their early break-up phase has an unending cast of interesting characters; Mal Evans, Peter Sellers [!] & (of course) Billy Preston are a few of my favorites. There’s plenty to choose from as each of the Fab Four comes to life under constant camera & microphone recording, which (in retrospect) was their recording of Let It Be, released in May 1970; after Abbey Road (September 1969), and after their break-up was officially announced by Paul in April. Paul is the one who tries the hardest to prevent their inevitable break-up, because he profits the most from working with John. Everyone loves Ringo, so it’s George that’s made the target of Paul’s frustrations.

The real war in Get Back is between Paul & John for band leadership. John had always been the leader of the Beatles, but increasingly Paul feels he is more than qualified to lead. The disagreements are creative, as well as financial. Linda Eastman makes her first appearance on the scene during filming, and becomes another of the cast of characters fans will come to know better in time. There’s a scene featuring Paul working out a song on piano, with Linda & Yoko talking in the background so we can’t hear them. As far as popular music & human interest goes, it hard to get much more fascinating than that.

Paul always had a tough time with Yoko, which meant a conflict with John. This is early tabloid era, where you just needed to refer to them by their first names. Nothing ever again approached 1960’s Beatlemania, not even K-pop. The Beatles separate oldies & doo wop from classic rock. The Beatles flipped the switch, and music went from AM to FM; from mono to stereo. John sings “Revolution” in different ways, single vs. album. The Beatles changed cover art & lyric writing. The Beatles led the counter-culture & anti-war movements. In a word, they forever changed everything in popular culture.

As a diehard Velvet Underground fan, I take the Beatles as the pop standard no one can match. The Velvets did their underground Factory multi-media show with Andy Warhol & Nico in 1966. The Beatles were attempting to put on some kind of TV show in Get Back, but mostly it’s bad ideas, and then the drama of George leaving the band for a few days over Paul’s harassment. Artistically, the Velvets were far ahead of the Beatles in many important ways, but they were both broken-up (around the same time) by the same industry forces.

George was always the weakest link in the Beatles, and not coincidentally he’s the one who was most taken-in by Allen Klein in his post-Beatles career. George has a weakness for mysticism and is most-influenced by John, whom he idolizes for his songwriting & emulates in his singing style. George also is in awe of Paul for his prolific songwriting, musicianship & sweet singing voice; and thus covets his respect & approval.

Allen Klein is introduced to John & Yoko on the evening of January 26, 1969, and it’s referenced, but not filmed in Get Back. It helps if you know your Beatle-ology here, as Allen Klein is one the most notorious & prolific conmen in music business history. Allen Klein made a career for himself by ripping-off artists such as Sam Cooke, and then the Rolling Stones with his ABKCO Records, but his ultimate ambition was to manage the Beatles. Eventually he would, over Paul & Linda’s strenuous objections. It was definitely one of those times in Beatles’ history where Paul was right. Allowing Allen Klein to manage Apple Records for just a few years, led to bad personnel decisions, millions in lost royalties & endless lawsuits.

In Get Back, Paul has ideas for his new songs, that George can’t get to. It’s a truth of the Beatles that John is their best guitar player. George offers little when it comes to being a “lead guitarist,” and that’s why in his early solo career he worked with Eric Clapton so much. By 1969, George is a rhythm guitarist & aspiring songwriter, who is of little use to Paul. This is why Billy Preston is the key to making the Get Back sessions work, as the “Fifth Beatle.” As Paul acknowledges, “Billy Preston solves a lot of problems,” meaning his musicianship helps Paul realize his songs more fully, which eases George back into the band and relieves the pressure, which was immense.

Most Harrisongs aren’t Lennon-McCartney quality, but any attempt at songwriting is always welcome in any serious band. John encourages it, while Paul mostly dismisses George’s new ideas. The hardest thing to do is produce good new material. The Beatles did this for a dozen albums, all classics, due to an amazing songwriting team in Lennon-McCartney, which gave them a freshness & unique sound that always put them at the cutting edge, from mop-top sensations, to rock pioneers of studio recording.

A lot of people like to slag Paul, but I’ll take him in my band any day. Bass players are hard to find, and prolific songwriters are even rarer. That’s why John latched onto him when they were the Quarrymen. To have talent means you recognize it in others. The hard truth was that most of George’s new songs weren’t that good, but he had colleagues (outside the band) who were telling him they were, so egos start flying.

One can argue that it was George Harrison who broke up the Beatles, as he wanted to do a solo album of songs that Paul wouldn’t do, and John wasn’t crazy about. Or you could just Let It Be. For those who don’t know, writing songs is serious business, and the true artists who can do it don’t hand out free passes just because you’re a bandmate with ambition. You have to deliver, repeatedly, at a high level. These lessons in collaborative creativity & artistic standards remain relevant today.

The confusion that permeates their first rehearsal location, as well as the Apple Records studio are brought into focus when George Martin finally arrives, and promises the band in his assured & professional style that he will get all the sound issues straightened-out by the next day. The band finally breathes a sigh of relief as they leave. This is how it was.

The Beatles never really had a manager who could handle everything, because nothing like the Beatles had ever happened before. Brian Epstein had their best interests at heart and guided them to stardom, but he wasn’t tough, and he died in August 1967. Apple Records was established in January 1968, with no leadership, which meant the Beatles financial issues wouldn’t start to get resolved until the mid 1970’s.

But they always had a great producer in George Martin, and that’s more important, because if you don’t make great records then no one cares. Great records start with great songs, which means the producer has to recognize it, and then record an inspired performance. Then it can be produced. Get Back proves once again that no matter how gifted you are creatively & musically, you need a producer with a clear head.

The legends of decadence & excess at Apple Records are confirmed in Get Back, with all kinds of stoned employees, gay groupies & other hangers-on, etc, occupying the studio. Who are these fucking people? Answer: It was the 1960’s. Many appear well-meaning, but too many are wasted and none can handle the Mafiosos constantly in the background, rubbing their hands over how much money they were going to make. It should be noted in retrospect that it’s this lack of attention to security that ultimately got John killed.

Perhaps the best part of Get Back is when the Apple employees handle the bobbies, as the Beatles are playing their final concert unannounced on the rooftop of Apple Records in London. “It’s making quite a bit of racket… We’ve had over 30 complaints already,” claims the UK cop immortalized in the footage. Apple Records receptionist Debbie, and Beatles road manager, Mal are priceless here. So much love went into this music created by John, Paul, George, Ringo & Billy with their ever-producer, George Martin, and yet it’s the businessmen who are raking. That’s how it is when you’re an artist, and it’s all in the film.

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