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THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Frampton At The Wiltern

What’s creepy about the passe acts is they want you to believe they’re still in their heyday. Not that they’ve still got their chops, which they might, but it’s the actual YEAR of their greatest success.

Look at Madonna. This almost fifty year old mother of two wants us to believe she’s still cutting edge, still a limit tester, when the songs everybody comes to hear live were hits DECADES ago! She works out hours a day, to have the body of a twentysomething, while those in attendance are all lumps and bumps.

And that’s why I won’t go see the Stones and so many of the classic rock acts. The construct bugs me. Like time stopped still. Like we’re all supposed to pretend we’re still in junior high. Like they matter. I still have a life. I like to believe good times are ahead. I don’t want to reside in an adolescent mental jail. I’d rather listen to the records, at least they’re HONEST!

Hiking with John and Rachael in the afternoon I apologized for seeing Peter Frampton.

Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

I didn’t say I was at the Fillmore when Humble Pie recorded their double live album. I didn’t say I bought Peter’s debut when it came out. Because Peter Frampton is a joke. A reference point in nostalgic movies. A coming of age footnote. To many their first concert, to others their first lay. I believed he was credible. But that credibility was eviscerated in one fell swoop with the COVER of "I’m In You", never mind the music.

But I remember when. And when Sujata Murthy at UME offered me tickets I said yes. Because I’d never seen him do his own act, I hadn’t experienced him come alive.

It was almost as if I was outed Friday. As if my uncoolness had been broadcast without my knowledge. For I started getting e-mail about tickets being sold for $6.50.

This must be impossible. Until I found out the company being employed, offering the ducats, was essentially a papering house. In other words, even in America’s second-largest city, Peter Frampton means nothing.

There was no vibe in the lobby. But then I looked up to the big screen and saw the opening act was already on stage. Insiders wouldn’t care about this time filler and would hang in the lobby. And that’s were I ran into Andy Somers and some of his fiftysomething Valley friends.

Andy represents Pennywise. And Social D. But here he was at Peter Frampton, with no business at hand. And his two buddies? They started waxing rhapsodic, about previous Frampton gigs. I felt like I was in high school. Not because of the dated material, but because these guys still BELIEVED! Nobody in the business still believes. Rock is dead. It’s only about the money now.

After moving our party to Tina’s office, eating some shish kebab, Frampton hit the stage. We rushed out and found an usher to guide us to our seats. Yes, seats. The permanent ones were removed from the Wiltern so kids could enjoy a club feel, but temporary ones are installed for certain events. Usually legitimate theatre, but also for old fart acts, for people too old to stand for an hour and a half.

And when we got to our glorified stools, Peter was playing "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours". Do you know the Stevie Wonder original? A TOUR DE FORCE! Frampton’s version is an homage of pure joy. And what stunned me was…thirty years later, this joy was PALPABLE! I’m shimmying in my seat, feeling an elation which too often eludes me.

And then he spoke.

Legendary rock acts don’t speak. Breaks the illusion. That they’re them and you’re you. It’s about REVERENCE, SPECTACLE! I’m a ROCK STAR dammit! ADORE ME! Whereas Peter Frampton seemed to be in on the joke. That HE’S a joke. Doomed to perform thirty year old songs for the rest of his life, nobody giving a flying fuck about what he’s done since. We were in it together. Has-been Peter and his baby boomer audience. With its thinning hair, jowls and beer bellies.

And then Peter starts telling this story. About performing a song they’ve never done, not even rehearsed. That they only worked up, discussed, on the ride from their hotel on Sunset (remember when all the rock stars used to STAY on Sunset?) He goes through the motion of giving each musician the key, and then lights into "Show Me The Way".

How many times have you heard "Show Me The Way"? TOO MANY! It’s a tune-out on the radio. But once, live, I could handle it. But then Peter shined the lights on the audience and had US sing the parts in our DNA. Even the sixtysomething black guy in the row behind me, who seemed to have arrived at the wrong address, was singing along. This wasn’t some rock star trying to ignite excitement, rather Peter was letting us IN! He knew these were OUR songs as much as his.

This is the way the show progressed. Peter would make fun of himself, acknowledging his status, then throw off some licks to prove that he still had it. Which he does. Hell, his voice hasn’t lost a thing. He was there for us. For us to enjoy who we’d once been. All those years ago when we LIVED for rock and roll.

There were no lasers, the amps were standing on the wheels of their road cases. The show was seventies in production. It was ONLY about the music. And then Peter traded his Les Paul for an acoustic.

Oh, he’s telling some story, hitting a few chords as he talks, and then it’s clear, he’s playing ALL I WANT TO BE (IS BY YOUR SIDE)!

Back before most people knew who Peter Frampton was, he released an album entitled "Wind Of Change". The opening track, "Fig Tree Bay", is dreamy, but the unforgettable cut opens the second side, "All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)". It’s an epic that doesn’t need to be taken on grand terms. It’s not a statement, like "Free Bird", rather it’s about changes, lyrics, and then a closing instrumental section of sweet guitar noodling. It’s the kind of track acne-scarred boys listen to on headphones to make them forget they can’t get a date. It’s my FAVORITE Peter Frampton song. The one you secretly hope he plays in concert, but tell yourself it’s all right if he doesn’t.

I let out this wail. Or maybe it was a sigh. Kind of like finding your old baseball mitt, that you’ve given up on locating when you want to play catch with your son. I lean over to Felice and tell her it’s my FAVORITE song, and then I sing along.

Can’t you see what it’s doing to me
All I want to be is by your side

The lyrics are great, but it’s the CHANGES that get under your skin.

And then the chorus continues…

I don’t care if they cut my hair

That was part of his teenybopper appeal, Peter’s hair. Long blonde ringlets. But that’s all gone. Male pattern baldness has set in. What’s left is short and white. Peter sings this line and STOPS! Shakes his head, rubs it, acknowledging how he’s follicly challenged, waits for the laughs to die down, and then continues.

God, it would be as if Stevie Nicks acknowledged she’d put on a few. Like we can’t see, like we can’t tell, like it’s something to be ashamed of.

Rather than get plugs, or a wig, Peter let nature take its course. He ACCEPTED himself.

Can you accept yourself? Can you accept your job? Your economic status? Or are you like Lyor Cohen, lying about his age to appear hip to the rappers signed to his label. Hell, Ahmet Ertegun doesn’t lie about his age, and he’s REVERED! Age happens. It’s inevitable. But not in the media. Everybody’s nipped and tucked. And sure, some of the hoi polloi follow in the footsteps of celebrities, but the vast majority don’t. Peter is singing for this vast majority.

He didn’t play "Shine On", but he did do "I Wanna Go To The Sun".

By this time, we’d moved upstairs. The bass was blowing back what little hair I have left in our tenth row seats.

We’d heard "Penny For Your Thoughts". Written when he was in love, yet still being played long after that girl dumped him. We heard "Baby, I Love Your Way". It was a romp through who we used to be. When we lived to buy records and go to the show, when music was the most important thing in our lives.

I didn’t recognize it at first. The piano player was working out. But then, he hit Bob Mayo’s part. And I started dancing in my seat. And then Peter hit the couplet, at the end of the fourth verse…

Music is my food and life

I elbowed Felice, did she HEAR THAT??

I had a shiteating grin on my face. I was happy in a way I never expected, in a way I thought I’d lost. I was who I used to be. I didn’t look seventeen, on the outside I was old and wrinkled, but on the INSIDE, where it COUNTS, I was the kid who could let go of the bullshit of life and let music take me for a ride.

And then I realized… I hadn’t looked at my watch! Not a single peek. This hasn’t happened in eons. Gigs are work. People going through the motions for a paycheck. A giant artifice. This was something different, there was a vibrancy, a lack of pretension, it was a celebration of the CONNECTION, between us and the sound that comes from the stage.

And then Peter asked if we were ready. If we were REALLY ready. And suddenly I knew, this was the EPIC! The staple. The late night stoned-out anthem. And then Peter played the lick.

The whole audience exclaimed in joy. People immediately popped up throughout the audience. It was involuntary. They wanted to answer Peter’s question. Yes, they felt the same way. They felt like they do, the band on the stage.

And suddenly it became clear. The RUSH of being a rock star. It’s nothing like being a movie star, a celebrity. Three thousand people ENTHRALLED! In the palm of your hand.

People are thrusting their arms in the air.

"Do you, you, FEEL LIKE I DO!"

The lights are flashing, illuminating the assembled multitude, we’re part of the happening, unlike the modern era, we’re being INCLUDED, it can’t happen WITHOUT US!

And it can’t happen without the fan. Today’s music is so often made for radio. Or retail. The fan is an afterthought. But when Peter released "Wind Of Change", he was just hoping it would catch fire, that people in burgs would get caught up, tell their friends, that he’d be allowed to play, and stay alive. And he worked for half a decade. Touring incessantly. Trying to please those who believed. He seemed to be stuck, making no headway, but then INSTANTLY, all that hard work paid off, with "Frampton Comes Alive!" You want to talk artist development…

The encore was "I Don’t Need No Doctor". A Humble Pie staple you didn’t have to know to enjoy. But it seemed clear that those in attendance HAD heard the side-long epic. Whether it be on the radio or at house parties back in the seventies.

The finale was "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".

And I won’t tell you I was weeping. I had that inner glow, that heartlight, that HIGH we used to get after all those shows so long ago.

Peter had survived. Breakups. Loss of money. He’d soldiered on. Doing only what he knew best. Like us.

He wasn’t cryogenically preserved. He didn’t have a facelift to reappear. He’s never going to come back. And we’re never going to play for the Yankees. He’s made peace with who he is. And I hope you’ve done the same. For chasing a dream beyond your grasp is such a fruitless game, and SO unsatisfying.