Wednesday, January 07, 2015

In the Air tonight - Phil Collins totally nailed that guy

Do you know the Phil Collins story about ‘in the air tonight’.  Supposedly, it is about a camping trip gone horribly bad.  Phil Collins apparently watched one guy let another guy die.  Troubled about this, years later Collins writes a song about it.  Even better, the first time he performs it live he has invited the guy to the show and points him out to everyone.  It’s all right there in the lyrics:

Well, if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand - I've seen your face before my friend - But I don't know if you know who I am.  - Well, I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes.  So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you've been It's all been a pack of lies

There is your story in black and white, right?  Well, no.  The story is a myth.  It’s a great myth, and one of my favorite rock stories… but just a myth.  It’s all metaphors about his divorce.  Snopes tore this apart years ago, but I wanted to go a bit deeper.

Point one – songwriters are rarely if ever that on the nose about anything.  Describing a scene verbatim isn’t art, it is reporting.  Musicians want to be arty.  Plus, if you are super on the nose, you risk major relationship problems and possible lawsuits.  Phil can’t write “my wife is frigid, I hate what my life has become”, nor can he write “my wife is a whore.  She bangs everyone but me”. 

Point two – the story goes he was camping and watched a guy let a guy drown.  He then kinda spent his life getting revenge on that guy.  ‘That guy’ in the myth is a total dick for letting that other guy drown and just watching it happen.  Yet… where is our protagonist in this story?  Well, he is busy watching the other guy watch the other guy drown.  Well, if “you where there and I saw what you did, saw it with my own two eyes…” then why didn’t Phil save the guy?  Huh?  How about ‘dem apples?  The song isn’t about letting a guy die, or even watching a guy die.  No.  The song is about watching a guy who is watching a guy die.  To me, this makes our protagonist ‘Phil’ just as guilty.

He isn’t, though.  It’s just a song, man.  Let it go.

In closing, Phil doesn't exactly come out unscathed in the real version.  Legend has it he divorced his wife by fax.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

the Sound, and Cost, of Silence

Editors note:  this is a unique and rare crosspost from my main writing site.

Did you hear that? No? Yup, that was mine. I mean… it’s not like I wrote it. It’s a cover. John Cage wrote it. We aren’t even allowed to play it at gigs. It’s a whole ascap/bmi thing, and we can’t afford even the digital sampling rights. Make sense? Good, it shouldn’t.

This is a true story of a man who recorded 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence for an album. That isn’t even the weirdest part of the story. He titled it, released it, and registered it with bmi/ascap. Bmi/ascap is the company that ALL songs are registered to, and through. They are a publishing company that handles that stuff. If you want to play 'Sweet Home Alabama' with your shitty bar band, technically you need release rights and permission from those two companies. They will charge you, and a LOT. Here is an example you maybe didn’t know. If your bar is playing music through the waitresses iPhone over the pa system in the bar… that is against the law.

If you have a piano in your coffee house, and patrons sit down and sing Bob Dylan songs, that is against the law. Unless… you have paid rights to ascap/bmi. The fees are in the thousands. If you aren’t registered and paid up with them, they can come after you. It’s rare, but they do.
Sound impossible? It ain’t… read here.

This becomes pertinent to our story of recorded silence. Mr Cage did not simply leave 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence between songs. He could have done that, but there is no publishing money it. He had to actually record, and publish, the 4:33 of silence.

Update, we are not even half way to dumb yet. The dumb grows a 1,000 fold in the next couple of paragraphs. Stay with me.

Mr. Cage was a classical composer, and I am guessing a pretentious a-hole as well. Never mind, he’s dead. In 2002, another classical composer recorded silence.  He recorded a minute of it. He did this as an homage to John Cage. Cage’s name is even in the title of the song. The songwriter (gee, it feels weird to use that term for a guy who recorded silence) even gave Cage posthumous songwriting credit. Frankly, Cage’s family and lawyers should be touched by the silly homage, right?
Nope. They sued his ass for ripping off 4 minutes of silence. Correction, the composer (Mike Batt) only did ONE minute of silence. That is barely a cover, and much closer to a sample. Sampling laws are different for artistic creativity reasons.

He thought it would be fun to do this with a track called “One Minute Silence (after Cage)”. This was credited to Batt/Cage.  Shortly after the album was released (and went to number one in the UK classical charts) Mike was contacted by Peters Edition, the publisher of Cage’s work, demanding one-quarter of the royalties from the sale of the song.

They argued over this for a while – interestingly provoking the kind of discussion which Cage had originally intended when he first performed the piece: does it truly qualify as a work? If not, why not? There was even a side-by-side concert performance of the two pieces in London, so that the, errr, differences could be illustrated.  Batt eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed six-figure sum.

 Got that? Six figures!  I am no math guy, but that is a minimum of $100,000 for also recording a minute of silence. Doesn’t that give awkward conversation pauses at parties new meaning?  Now... just sue your host, that fucking thief!

Now, how about you be the judge.  Listen to both, back to back, and decide if Blatt ripped of Cage's silence, of it Batt's silence is an original composition.  Sounds like a stupid fucking discussion... but this went court.  So, these were actual conversations being had with lawyers who likely bill north of a $1,000 an hour.

Here is the original ***

and here is the 'cover' from Blatt

*** omg, did you see that?  The guy up top has sheet music for the silence... and he is READING it.  I hope he has a metronome to keep time.  The title also clarifies this piece of silence was composed for a piano.  I get the idea of recording silence as art.  I think it's cool, in a Dali dada sort of way.  BUT... when you are using sheet music, and suing other people for silence... you are just an a-hole.  I won't say 'asshole', because that would be mean to assholes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Joni Mitchell has become bitchy and mean and just unpleasant on every level


I can say that because I wrote one of the nicest and gushiest pieces ever… about her.  Joni is great.  Joni was a groundbreaker.  Joni was the muse of seemingly everyone in the 60’s.

Problem is that now… well… she is just a bitch difficult.  Let’s discuss, shall we?

Before we begin, let’s drop this quote – "There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” – Madeleine Albright. I mention that not because it is wonderful and thoughtful... but it is also so Joni Mitchell sounding I am surprised it wasn't her.  30 year old Joni would have said that.

Hey Joni,  What do you think of young phemon Taylor Swift?

Ok, good talk.  Well, listen, we are going to honor you and your songs.  This will be a show where all these people bust their fucking asses to try and do some justice to your beautiful music.  Whaddya think about that?

I swear I SO wish I was taking this out of context.  Nope.  Not a ‘thanks’, or ‘wow, I am honored.  Normally, I am not into this sort of thing, but what a gesture.  Know what, she could have said “fuck you and your dog” and would have come off less heartless than ‘honor died in ww2’.  What does that even mean?  It is beyond ‘don’t bother’.  It’s not an ‘aw shucks, I’m not worthy’, either.

I have been seeing this stuff emerge over the last few years, but I just can’t take it anymore.  On the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s recording career.  Sure, many people think Bob is over-rated.  I, however, am not one.  I am a BIG fan of Dylan.  So, not that he needs me in his corner, but I get defensive when people talk shit.  Plus, this is a time and event to honor him.  Anyhow, let’s get back to Joni.  Joni, any thoughts on Bob?

Then she went off to talk about his guitar playing, which she thinks sucked.  I bet you do, too.  You would both be wrong.  No, he didn’t play fiery solos.  Neither did she.  What Dylan great exceeded at was rythym playing.  I have been playing guitar for 25 years, and I still struggle to pick up a ton of his rythym styles.  To say he sucks is a lazy assessment.

Maybe it's not Joni.  I mean, Joni was the iconic flower girl, about which all beauty was written.  'something in the way she moves', 'our house', even 'going to California' is about her.  So, I guess I just expect more.  Maybe it's Axl Rose in drag.  It would explain the ungratefulness, and boorish attitude at the face of praise and love and thanks.

Admittedly, these did not come out of a single interview.  They are stenciled together by myself after one too many incredibly horrible and catty and ungrateful things finally drove me to snap.

Joni is older now, and surely maybe no more complainey than your grandparents.  I guess if she said these things in her living room, it wouldn’t be my business.  Now, though, whenever I hear these iconic songs, both by and about her, I am clouded by her grumpiness.  Again, same with Axl Rose.  To me, it becomes difficult to separate the two.

Historically, I have praised her crazy forthrightness.  My perspective on that has changed, though.