It was a musical turning point.
I found out about the attack on the Twin Towers from Kate, she called and invited me to her house to watch TV, we needed to all be together.
And then I woke up my computer.
It was a Power Mac G4. I’d started with a Mac Plus in ’86 and then went to a Performa in ’95 when the software exceeded its capabilities and when that fried I’d purchased the G4, the top of the line, the state of the art. Now not only does Apple no longer use Motorola chips, it is phasing out Intel chips for those of its own construction. The end result is much faster computing, however speed hasn’t been an issue for years, but hardware was king at the turn of the century.
So I fired up AOL and saw the news. I’d already switched from TV to internet. And, of course, AOL was a walled garden, with at this point access to the internet, and I already had a high speed cable connection, to download music, and AOL had purchased Time Warner a little over a year earlier and… AOL cratered shortly thereafter, most people have no idea who owns it now and that’s how you know you’re dealing with an oldster, they still have an AOL e-mail address when most people moved on to the far better performing Gmail years ago. As for Time Warner? It’s been sold for pieces. Warner Records is an independent company, the cable system was sold to Charter Communications and stunningly, AT&T purchased HBO, the basic cable channels and the film studio, although now that’s been essentially laid off too. And HBO, with its Max streaming service, is the focus, where the eyeballs and money are, the film studio isn’t quite an afterthought, but it’s close. A lot can happen in twenty years.
So if you’re of a certain age you remember where you were when Kennedy was shot. And it seemed everybody remembered 9/11, but now there are people in the armed services who weren’t even born when it happened. It’s fading in the rearview mirror. Took them a long time to rebuild, but the Freedom Tower is now there. As is the museum, which is a must-see, go and dedicate some time, although they recently announced a budget cut and a reduction in new exhibits, that’s how much people really care about 9/11, it always comes down to the money.
So I went to Kate’s house where we talked as we watched and the most memorable thing I saw was someone jumping out of the building to their death. It was shocking, but then the news outlets decided not to show that anymore, it was almost like I hadn’t seen it, I had to check myself, but if you go to the museum you’ll see pictures of the jumpers. Think about how awful it must be to jump to your death to save yourself from burning up, end result is the same, but both options are horrific.
Today everything is online, even suicides. They try to take them down, but the social media networks leak like a sieve, and when the envelope is pushed the software is not ready to excise that which is offensive.
So for a while there, we were freaked out. Took about a day to figure out what had happened and then the question was…is it going to happen again? This people were not prepared for, they’d felt safe in America, but we’re still not safe today, despite the news that our reservoirs and power grids are not protected from bad actors, they’re still mostly unprotected, despite ransomware being ever more prevalent. Future wars will be fought by computers, and if you really want to have a say you’ve got to know not only how to use them, but how they work. A kid makes a PowerPoint presentation in elementary school, most boomers still have no idea how to do so. Boomers are still afraid of their computers, kids are not. Then again, boomers remember when one false move could crash your computer, and it was just a matter of time until your hard drive crashed. You had to back up! But now not only do electronic devices work so much better, and are so much heartier in their underpinnings, your work is stored in the cloud, your end device in many cases is just a dumb terminal, look at the inroads of Chromebooks.
Now Kennedy was shot on a Friday, we had all weekend, without work, to be glued to the news. 9/11 was on a Tuesday. America essentially shut down. The movers and shakers were stuck where they were, planes didn’t fly, and there was a sense of community, that’s what happens when you’re all in a virtual foxhole. Then again, those not in New York City had no idea of what it was like to be there, and interestingly it was those in the most rural locations who were convinced the terrorists were coming to their hamlet next, so they gave the government a ton of powers, sacrificing their privacy, because they didn’t want to die. Now these same people are mad the government wants to make them get a vaccine.
Napster was killed in the spring of 2001. KaZaA was growing, but the music business was still flourishing, CDs were still flying out the door, and MTV and VH1 were still extremely powerful. The VMAs were a cultural rite, not to be missed, today they’re just a branding opportunity for performers most people don’t know the name of and don’t care to know the name of.
But music was still a juggernaut. In addition, it was the canary in the coal mine for digital disruption, something the film and TV businesses are still going through. The music business learned you must give the public what it wants, the visual sphere still thinks it can dictate, it’s now in a fever over piracy, not knowing that if you put all the media in one location for one low price people won’t bother to pirate. Then again, the film and TV businesses have always looked down on music, despite music paying so many of the bills in the twentieth century, music was a cash cow.
But in 2001 the musicians were still powerful, gods, known for their music, not their shenanigans. And the way to bring everybody together was to have a concert, on all networks, on Friday night.
Today the value of a live benefit concert is de minimis, nearly worthless. Everybody is available on demand online and during Covid-19 there were so many live streams that they’re no longer special. You’ll tune in to see your favorites, after that, it’s a time suck. This is not 1985, this is not Live Aid, your time is precious and you don’t want to waste it, and we live in an on demand world and why should you spend time on anything you don’t care about? Not that the media has caught up with this. Awards show ratings have fallen through the floor, but they’re still suckers for live benefits, when the truth is the last one that meant anything was Live 8, and that’s mostly because of the appearance of the reunited Pink Floyd.
But Pink Floyd wouldn’t motivate all viewers today. Not even Journey with Steve Perry. The acts still seem relevant to those who remember their heyday, but most of America does not, never mind the twenty first century being about hip-hop and not rock.
So you could be cynical about “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” which aired ten days after the attacks, but that Friday night, I don’t know a single person who did not watch the four network show. Now there are youngsters who never ever watch network television, they find a cable subscription to be a rip-off, why pay for all that stuff you don’t want to watch, in many cases they don’t even have TVs! They just watch streaming shows on their laptops, or their phones, even though the same boomers still nostalgic for the antiquated theatre experience can’t accept this, even though the films are shot digitally, edited digitally and the standard of production is an LG OLED TV, which you can buy at home and then have the same experience. What are you missing? Paying twenty bucks to be in a room of noisy people looking at their phones?
So the main force behind “America: A Tribute to Heroes” was Jimmy Iovine, majordomo at Interscope Records, back when major labels still dominated the landscape. There’s not a record exec that powerful anymore, no way. And despite decrying technology, i.e. “theft,” Iovine kept coming up with ways to beat the system and make a fortune for himself and ultimately it was headphones, and after selling Beats to Apple Jimmy stayed on for a while, but he was out of time and out of touch, Iovine is now a billionaire art collector, leading the good life, he’s gone from the scene.
As for Bruce Springsteen… He can sell out on Broadway, just not in the rest of the world. Springsteen, a second or third generation rocker after the British Invasion, depending upon how you calculate, is the last tie to credibility. He dyes his hair and is conscious of his image, but he still makes new music and the press eats it up and so do his fans, but almost nobody else. His rendition of “My City of Ruins” was very powerful. But the subsequent “The Rising” album can’t hold a candle to his twentieth century work.
U2? They don’t go clean everywhere either. And after selling their album to Apple via Iovine they became hated, people don’t like anything forced upon them these days, we live in a pull economy. As for tech companies paying for albums… That was a nonstarter, but if you are a star, they’ll pay you for exclusive video documentaries. U2, like Springsteen, still puts out new music, like Springsteen in the old manner, albums every few years as opposed to dropping tracks constantly like today’s players, and they both look like dinosaurs, Springsteen playing to the boomers, U2 to the Gen-X’ers. As for everybody else? They don’t seem to care.
Faith Hill. Remember when she was one of the biggest names in country music, when it was still country music, before it became a lame version of seventies rock?
Tom Petty… He’s dead.
The Goo Goo Dolls…this was their peak, it was all downhill from here.
The Dixie Chicks…were soon to be exiled and despite shortening their name they’ve never come back, they’re a period piece.
Dave Matthews? He was a creature of VH1. Remember when fans were up in arms that he shelved a Steve Lillywhite production in favor of a Glen Ballard album in search of hits? It worked, but today Dave is an outdoor summer treat for those who lived through it, kind of like James Taylor, they both do amazing business at the box office, but those who don’t go are unaware and happily so.
Celine Dion? “Titanic” was in ’97, her fans still want to see her in concert, but she can’t get arrested with new recordings.
Paul Simon? Retired from touring.
Sheryl Crow? The queen of music television had the chutzpah to play a new song and for me it was the highlight of the night. You only had to hear “Safe and Sound” once to be moved, but the album of this concert didn’t come out until December, when most no longer cared, whereas today everything is available instantly.
Willie Nelson? A man out of time. He’s still as hip as he ever was, which proves if you want to last you should never follow trends. And back in 2001 if you asked us if weed could be legal, we would have said…NO WAY!
Sting? He’s got a new single, but without his Police bandmates his live business is far from strong.
Eddie Vedder? He’s got a new single too, and Pearl Jam does good live business, but if you’re not a Gen-X’er you ignore them.
Bon Jovi? Richie Sambora is no longer even in the group!
Mariah Carey? Known for her pipes? A joke who is constantly criticized for being unable to hit the notes live.
Wyclef Jean… Who?
Enrique Iglesias… Who?
As for Neil Young, he no longer has any power, no one from his era does, he used to speak and people listened, Young called today’s concerts superspreader events and it had absolutely no impact, the show must go on.
Stevie Wonder? Great, but he burned himself out in the seventies, with one of the best album runs ever.
And then there’s the curious case of Billy Joel, who by this point refused to release any new music and still hasn’t and is bigger than all the acts above! Billy’s depending upon the songs, it all comes down to the songs.
But not today.
Piracy? We’re thrilled you care enough to steal it! Will you please listen to my music! They said the internet would kill the incentive to make music and now we’re inundated in product, it’s never-ending, 60,000 tracks are uploaded to Spotify…A DAY!
No one will pay for music? Seemingly everyone is paying for music, on a monthly basis. I haven’t heard a person say they stole a song in years. Sure, some people never buy, but before the internet most people never bought, or only purchased one album a year.
Distribution? You needed the major label! Now distribution is wide open and essentially free to anyone, the friction is gone.
Radio? Find someone under twenty who still listens, I can’t find one.
CDs? I have three computers, none of them has a CD drive, nor does my automobile.
Meaningful songs that depict the heart and the soul of the culture? The biggest story of the past week is the beef between Kanye and Drizzy, it’s no different from professional wrestling. Turns out cartoons are the lowest common denominator, so you can get people to eat up this crap and go see the superhero movies but if you’re not interested…you’re not interested, AND MOST PEOPLE ARE NOT INTERESTED!
Melody? It’s now all beats.
Writing your own songs, making a statement from the heart? Now there can be eighteen writers on one song, songs are built brick by brick, it’s not about inspiration so much as calculation.
TikTok? Too many in the creative community don’t understand that the power is now in the hands of the proletariat. They decide what is a hit. You can do endless press and still reach no one other than those in your core audience, if they even get the message.
And then there are some things that never changed, that went through a few evolutions but are now back to where they once belonged, how they were in the beginning. I.e. e-mail. All the buzz is about Substack and newsletters, however only Heather Cox Richardson has seemed to garner a big audience with this model with a concomitant growth in esteem. Everybody else is writing to a tiny audience, thinking this is a good way to make a living when it’s not. What did we learn back in 2001? You’ve got to give it away free and make money on the ancillaries. The musicians learned this, Rihanna hasn’t put out new music for half a decade and she’s a billionaire!
As for tech… It was the wild west, it was all we talked about, we were constantly getting new gadgets. Now, the game of musical chairs is over, there are only a few platforms extant and if you don’t sell to them, you’re never going to succeed, because if you have a good idea they’ll compete with you and kill you.
Politics? It’s the new tech. It’s visceral, it’s life and death. That’s what those on both sides of the vaccine argument believe. The vaxxed think the unvaxxed are spreading the variant and more mutations will occur and the unvaxxed think the vaccine will kill them. As for science?
We’ve sold our souls to the 1’s and 0’s. But somehow people still won’t trust them. It’s astounding, you’ve got a computer in your hand, that almost never crashes, and it’s all built on 1’s and 0’s. But when it comes to science…it’s up for grabs, you must do your own research.
As for smartphones, they’re for texting and surfing the web, a young person never wants to talk on the phone, oftentimes they don’t even bother to set up their voice mail, or if they do they let it fill up and never check it.
So the big wheel keeps on turning, and we keep rollin’ down the river.
There are those in the music business who’ll tell you you’re too old, you don’t get it, that it’s the same as it ever was. WRONG! It couldn’t be more different!
And in an on demand world where everybody has cheap access to the same things it’s all now all about experiences, and concerts are the ultimate, people clamor to go. Yet you’ve got a media still focused on record sales and acts bitching they’re not making enough money on recordings when there are so many new avenues of compensation. So either they’re not innovative enough, stuck in the past, or they’re not good enough, but everybody in America, even the lowliest uneducated punk, thinks they’re as wise and talented as the President.
There’s no center, no common truth. People believe in their devices more than they do in any music.
And it is streams, even though “Billboard,” the “Bible,” turns everything into sales. CD sales are infinitesimal, unless you bundle them with t-shirts and other chozzerai in an effort to game the charts, which works, but you also make a ton of money doing it, getting more dollars from fewer people. Mass is passé, never forget it.
So the world has changed immensely from 2001. Completely different acts dominate recordings, despite the old acts still doing boffo at the b.o. But those acts triumphed in a different era, when we were all paying attention, when music could change the world.
It can’t anymore.