I’m delighted to announce that my new book MIXTAPE: 21 SONGS FROM 10 YEARS (1975-1985) is now on sale, at the retailers listed here. It was a lot of work to write but also a great deal of fun. I hope you’ll check it out!
Al Snow’s “Self Help”
Professional wrestling is a fascinating industry. From my perspective as someone who does research on organizations, professional wrestling doesn’t work the way a successful industry is supposed to work, but it somehow manages to survive. There’s practices within the industry that are questionable – such as World Wrestling Entertainment’s classifying its “Superstars” as independent contractors rather than employees – and there’s things that happen in wrestling that shouldn’t happen in any kind of organization. And even though there’s a fair amount of regular turnover, as some wrestling companies close and others start up, and as wrestlers move from company to company, there always seems to be enough devoted fans for professional wrestling to keep on going.
As a kid, Al Snow was one of those devoted fans – and he went on to spend more than 35 years in the wrestling industry. I’m really happy that he’s written an autobiography, because I loved his work as a performer. However, Snow’s story is particularly intriguing, because (more…)
A Sense of Place: Almost Live! and Seattle
Next weekend John Keister, from Seattle’s legendary Almost Live! TV show, is doing a live show titled “Living and Dying in Seattle”. When I first saw the title, I was horrified – I thought it meant Keister had a terminal illness. Thankfully, that’s not the case. He’s planning to retire from live shows, but, as he explains in this interview, he sees the city of Seattle changing from the Seattle he knows, and he wanted to do the show while the city “was still partly recognizable”.
Almost Live! was a late-night comedy show that (more…)
Mary Tyler Moore and Workplace Equality
When Mary Tyler Moore passed away this week at the age of 80, the world lost a very talented performer. But the world also lost a woman that made a difference for other women. In the 1970s, through her TV show The Mary Tyler Moore Show – which she co-created and co-produced, as well as starred in – Moore helped to change attitudes about workplace equality.
Dan McGarry, who teaches human resource management at Seneca College in Ontario, sent me this post, which he also put on his course website. He wanted to tell his students how important Moore’s television show was in depicting the barriers that women faced at work.
Mary Tyler Moore’s name may mean very little or nothing to most of you, except that you heard that she passed away yesterday. However her television show, which used just her name, was a groundbreaker when it was first aired starting in 1970. Her character of Mary Richards was the first ‘career woman’ portrayed as the primary character in a TV show. 30-something, unmarried and unattached, she demonstrated something new in the mass media: a woman who could ‘make it on her own’. (more…)
“Follow Your Heart”: An Interview with Jim Pons
The start of a new year, along with all the “New Year, New You” encouragement, usually leads people into thinking about making changes. One kind of change that’s often considered is a new job or a new occupation – but that can be a pretty scary leap into the unknown, especially when there’s cutbacks and downsizing going on at many formerly prosperous companies.
I thought that it would be interesting to interview someone who made that big leap and had it work out for them. After some asking around, my friend John Cody offered to connect me to Jim Pons, who is a wonderful example of this kind of career transition. Jim is a bass player and vocalist, and was part of three major bands in the 1960s and early 1970s – the Leaves, the Turtles, and the Mothers of Invention. But he quit the music industry in 1973, and embarked on a career in video production with the National Football League, first with the New York Jets team and then with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jim has recently written his autobiography, and generously agreed to be interviewed via email about his experiences in changing careers. (more…)
Songwriters on Success
As much as I love music, the process of songwriting has always been a complete and utter mystery to me. I understand how to put words together, I understand how melodies and chords work, but combining all of those into something listenable is a skill I just don’t have. And I think that’s why I’m so interested in interviews with songwriters talking about their work.
I recently finished reading Jake Brown’s book Nashville Songwriter: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music’s Greatest Hits. I have to admit that I mostly stopped listening to country music around 2005 or so. I just got tired of artists that were pushed because of their looks rather than the quality of their music. And I was fed up with too many formulaic songs about trucks, beer and girls (or guys), and “country” songs that were substandard pop songs dressed up with a fiddle or lap steel guitar. So my choices for “country music’s greatest hits” would probably be quite different from Brown’s; here’s one that would definitely be on my list.
Because I don’t pay a lot of attention to country music any more, I don’t know all of the songs and artists that are mentioned in Brown’s interviews with 20 different songwriters. But nevertheless, the book was a fascinating read – and I found it particularly interesting that (more…)
Business and Creativity: Cautionary Tales
When I worked as a music writer, one of the most fascinating things about the job was getting to see the business side of the music industry. While I met many people who genuinely believed in their company’s artists and did all they could to support them, I also regularly saw musicians and creative people get exploited. Even as a lifelong music fan, the scope and extent of this exploitation was a shock to me. Many artists’ contracts were astoundingly one-sided – and not in the artist’s favour – and it was very easy for artists to quickly get into financial trouble, even if they were successful and smart.
Those experiences left a lasting impression on me. During the contract negotiations for the first edition of my textbook, I asked questions that my publisher’s representative later told me he had never had an author ask before. I had to explain to him that after seeing things like all the “recoupable expenses” that record companies routinely deducted from artists’ earnings, I wanted to be absolutely sure of what kind of contract I was getting into. And I also wanted to have at least some chance to make money from my work.
I don’t hold any illusions that things have gotten any better for artists in the years since I wrote about music. Taylor Swift recently got a lot of attention for boycotting Apple’s new music streaming service when she found out it wasn’t going to pay artists during its first three months of operation. Good for her for speaking up – but there’s many, many other creative people who get ripped off and who don’t have the public profile or commercial power to demand fair treatment. Here’s two examples I recently encountered. (more…)
The Problem of Too Much Talent
This week I needed some distraction from things that are keeping me busier than usual, so I was very happy when this CD arrived in the mail.
Jellyfish are a hugely underappreciated band, and Stack-A-Tracks – the instruments-only backing tracks from the songs on the band’s two albums – just reinforces how magical it was when Jason Falkner, Andy Sturmer, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., and Chris Manning worked together. Some fans argue that what sunk Jellyfish’s career was the onslaught of grunge music in the early 1990s. Clearly grunge wasn’t the place for four guys dressed in 1960s psychedelic gear and playing melodic power pop – but I’d argue that what ultimately doomed the band was that it contained too much talent. (more…)
An Appreciation of “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”
As a Stephen Colbert fan, I was very happy to learn that Colbert will be the new host of The Late Show with David Letterman when Letterman retires in 2015. However, I was considerably less happy to learn that Craig Ferguson – who once was rumoured to be next in line for the hosting job on Letterman’s show – will be leaving The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in December of this year. (Apparently he has a new gig as a game show host starting this fall.)
I am a big fan of Ferguson and of The Late Late Show. And so is John Doyle, the TV critic for Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper. Doyle wrote a column that pretty much nails all the reasons why Ferguson is such a great host. (more…)