Tag Archives: adam carolla

Grammys 2012: My $0.02

For me, the Grammys largely come and go most years without much notice. I occasionally have some small emotional stake in one or two awards. This year I was pleased to see Bon Iver (praised here) not only nominated but win, and I was pleased that they refused to perform. I don’t often watch the show. It’s not out of protest or an attempt to be some sort of hipster; I’m more curious in the outcome than the fanfare, presentations, and most performances. And yes, I’m well aware that the Grammys are more of a corporate than artistic affair. (That’s part of what made Herbie‘s well-deserved 2008 Album of the Year win so exciting.)

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

This year I actually had Sunday evening free and decided I’d watch the awards show. You know, give it a chance. (After all, I was hoping for some Bon Iver success, and I was quite looking forward to the Beach Boys‘ reunion performance.) That lasted about 30-40 minutes, or however long it took for Chris Brown‘s sad display to end, before I shut it off. Bruce was Bruce (and wasn’t helped by the awkward camera work), and the derivative Bruno Mars set lost my interest after a minute or two. (I love James Brown’s music, especially when it’s James Brown doing James Brown. [Un]fortunately [for Bruno Mars], it’s more than wardrobe and staging.)

Then good ol’ Chris. Not only was I offended when I first saw it (having looked up from my laptop, as I was also following the Greek debacle), but my irritation has grown as the week’s progressed. His performance, as I’m sure you know by now, sparked controversy across all media, but not for artistic reasons. Everyone’s been in a furor over 1) the Grammys allowing him to perform after his pre-Grammy domestic violence a few years ago, and 2) various reactions to those reactions, etc., especially via the all-powerful Twitter (granting gravitas to dumb 14 year olds everywhere). Yes, domestic violence is awful, and should not be either taken lightly or even forgiven. But here I’m coming from a strictly artistic point of view – music only, personal history aside. People who have done far worse have received infinitely much more praise throughout the years, and it’s often necessary to separate the music from the (wo)man. As someone with a deep, deep love of the music of both Miles Davis and Richard Wagner, I know this all too well. As high as a mantle as I may place the appropriately-named Prince of Darkness, I know and discuss his many shortcomings. It would’ve been amazing to have been his employee and band member, but not so much his friend or acquaintance. Forget Brown, Miles could have given a masterclass in misogyny and domestic violence. (Let’s not forget that he also enjoyed boxing). And of course there was his legendary drug addiction. Yet he recently received his own US stamp…

Often, an artist is quite complicated, and while a person’s life can and does inform their art, the art can – though understandably not always – also be judged separately from the (cult of) personality. Sure, different strokes for different folks – what some can compartmentalize others cannot. It can be as severe as Miles, or as subjective (for me) as Ted Nugent. 🙂

Anyway, back to Mr. Brown. Aside from his absurd staging, which resembled more of a realized Q*bert fantasy than anything else, his lip-syncing was atrocious. Not that he was lip-syncing, but that he was doing so poorly. Unless, of course, he wanted onlookers to believe he could circular breathe while doing so. Add to that the fact that he was lip-syncing something that was severely auto-tuned and you’ve got a recipe for something really special. I watched it as one would watch a train-wreck, and then to my astonishment the crowd (largely of music industry types) went wild. Hm. A man lip-syncs vocal effects in front of thousands of musicians and is adored. Corporate or not, that’s something to behold.

This whole last week, Adam Carolla has been saying about Brown on his podcast that, “We’ve constructed a society in which you can be forgiven for anything as long as you can dance.” While he was saying that in context of Brown’s domestic violence and Jacko’s many controversies, his point could just as well be applied to Brown’s performance itself (and many other pop acts). As with most things, Ace was on-point.

I simply waited until Monday to catch the Beach Boys performance on the internet, and I must say I watched it probably twenty times. What a joy. Unfortunately, most reviews referenced or centered around their age and appearance, but let’s not forget that they’re celebrating their 50th anniversary. (That generally means old.) Sure, some of the harmonies could have been a little cleaner, but overall they sounded quite good for all being near 70. And in context, they outdid the preceding lackluster cover performances by Maroon 5 and Foster the People. (Case in point, when Adam Levine and that other guy joined them for the end of “Good Vibrations,” Levine made no effort to actually sing into the microphone. Was he afraid the judge wouldn’t turn his/her throne around?) Yes, the Beach Boys are old, and Brian Wilson often looked near death. However, given everything they’ve been through – professionally, emotionally, physically, mentally, and psychopharmacologically – it’s amazing those survivors did anything at all. (Just skim their lineup history for a taste of the drama.) And Brian Wilson actually looked to be having a ball at times.

As surprised as I was to hear so much discussion of Chris Brown after the Grammys, I was equally surprised – and disappointed – at the lack of Beach Boys discussion. While I didn’t expect them to receive undying praise from all media outlets, it seems as if their performance was largely unnoticed. Perhaps I’m cynical, but maybe there are just too many left alive to care. I mean, The Beach Boys are one of the biggest rock/pop acts in American music, and Brian Wilson is consequently considered one of the great American pop songwriters. The Beach Boys also allowed the US to give England & the Beatles a run for their money in the 1960s. I’m sure part of it is their heavy association with a particular geographical area (i.e., the tropical coast), and the fact that their enduring career provided a decent amount of cheese, possibly diluting the more substantial material. (I can’t be the only one my age who remembers endlessly hearing “Kokomo” at the roller-rink in elementary school.)

[This of course touches on a whole other area worthy of much discussion – longevity and surpassing one’s prime – distilled in this clip from High Fidelity (a GREAT movie for pop music snobbery — one of my favorites, and one I often reference in this blog) – simply substitute The Beach Boys for Stevie Wonder.]

Although Brian Wilson (and the rest of his bandmates) have enjoyed wildly different post-1960s careers than those of McCartney, Lennon, et. al., and even the Grateful Dead, the fact remains that they belonged to bands that laid the groundwork for much of what took place the subsequent 4+ decades. I saw a (skeletal) Beach Boys performance around 2003 – Mike Love had licensed the name for touring with bandmate Bruce Johnston and a backing band that I think comprised most of the Grammy backing band – and it quite fun. Similarly, and more profoundly, when I saw the original Black Sabbath in 2004 & 2005 and The Dead in 2010, I knew that I was seeing a genuine piece of rock history. Also in those cases, the old original members blew away their younger competition.

Going back to the aforementioned Grammy performances, The Beach Boys actually sang (!!!) those trademark tight vocal harmonies and ended up a footnote, whereas Chris Brown pretended to sing auto-tune and walked away with much of the press’s attention (thanks also to his tremendous hubris).

And jazz and classical musicians are sad to be largely excluded from this circus…? Blech.

Paying for what you like

“I pay for the things I like.” – Jen Kirkman

The above quote comes from comedian Jen Kirkman‘s appearance on the most recent episode of The Long Shot Podcast.  She said this while the regular panel of comedians were discussing their podcast’s nascent donation-based monetization model.

As discussed in prior posts, I’m a big fan of stand-up comedy.  (It’s my other art/performance/entertainment interest aside from music – there are many parallels between a music and stand-up.)  As a result I listen to a LOT of comedy podcasts.  I suppose one could say I’m a somewhat early adopter – I’ve been listening to podcasts steadily/daily for almost two years.  I mention this because (comedy) podcasting has really exploded the last few months, and as a result different comedians/shows have pursued different monetization avenues: subscription (Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, Never Not Funny with Jimmy Pardo), donation (Marc Maron’s WTF), commercial (all ACE Broadcasting series’), premium content (WTF), live shows (The Adam Carolla Show, WTFNerdist), etc.  It’s very interesting seeing the varying successes of each.

Why this is so compelling to me is that comedy podcasts are largely free, done so intentionally to attract a large audience.  However podcasting ain’t free.  Not only does the comedian him/herself take the time to produce/record/edit the material, but, depending on the scale of the operation (and it varies WIDELY – compare The Adam Carolla Show with Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast), there is likely a staff assisting in the process.  Then there is the bandwidth used to distribute each episode, one of the costliest elements.  (For instance, in the first months of Adam Carolla’s podcast he paid it out of his own pocket, upwards of ~$15,000/month!)  This is all done so that the listener may be entertained a couple hours each week or day FOR FREE!!!

At every turn towards monetization there have been vocal detractors for pretty much all series’.  This is what I’ve found fascinating: so many hundreds of thousands of people listening to this FREE content regularly, then complaining when asked to pitch in what often amounts to only a few dollars each month.  (Not too different from the generic starving children in Africa.)  I actually do donate to such things; just as I do to NPR (something else most skimp out on).  Then I remember that I’ve seen this all before, only in reverse:

The music industry.

As everyone knows, the music industry has all but imploded over the last 15 years or so.  Now we have what’s euphemistically called “the economy of the free.”  What that translates to me as is: “Why the hell should I pay to be entertained/moved?”  Which, for me, goes back to what Jen Kirkman so eloquently said: “I pay for the things I like.”

Those who know me personally know me to be a loud, staunch advocate of paying for music.  (And, as described in my New Listen series, I like to pay for physical copies – CDs – whenever possible.)  Yes, Lars Ulrich & Co. can be annoying when yelling about Napster from their mansions and jacuzzis.  But what about those of us trying to “make it” (whatever that really means)?  Should musicians not be compensated for their art?  It was made with time and physical/mental labor, afforded often by years of study/practice, and then made available for public consumption.  Sure, it can’t be physically felt, but, assuming it’s effective, is it not felt emotionally/intellectually/viscerally?  (Sorry Google, I know you want everything to be free so you can keep making money on ads.  Not gonna happen.  Hopefully…)  Keep in mind I’m not here necessarily defending Kanye West’s bank account – ick! – but rather those of the smaller, more independent acts.

We’re all familiar with the torrent sites, P2P sharing, etc.  Another common practice, oddly enough by music majors (who theoretically will seek careers making money via music), is to excessively “borrow” music from music libraries, stuffing their hard drives to the gills.  (Yes, I’ve researched music from university collections many times, but if I end up finding I like something enough for personal enjoyment, I’ll then buy it.)  Again, I just don’t understand the theft element.  I would think that of all people, musicians would largely set the example that paying for music is respectable.  I’m happy to report I’ve bought, or received as gifts, all ~1000 albums (and growing!) in my collection.

(Granted, I often unintentionally take this to extremes.  I generally don’t even listen to copies of CDs people randomly make for me.  If I put it in and like it, I’ll go ahead and buy it.  If not, I’ll discard it and not use it again.  Sometimes I don’t even listen to it because I don’t have the time and have no opinion to lead me to purchase it.)

Now what do these two topics – comedy podcasts and the music industry – have in common, other than the obvious?  For podcasting, this young and evolving medium has yet to really find solid financial ground, but the wheels are in motion for it to establish its legitimacy (in the eyes/ears of the listeners).  (One major example is the recent rumor that Apple was in talks to have Howard Stern move his market-moving show from satellite radio to podcasting for a $600 million contract.  However he later announced he’ll continue on Sirius for another 5 years.)  Then on the other hand there’s the music industry, a once commercially-dominant industry that has completely unraveled, now struggling to make a profit.  (Again, I’m concerned about the musician, not necessarily the corporation.)  At the heart of both “industries” is the consumer’s ill-informed belief that they deserve everything for free.

So the next time you decide to “rip” something off the internet (or library), please remember Mrs. Kirkman’s simple words of wisdom: “I pay for the things I like.”

And you should too.