Sunday, September 02, 2007

As Philly Boy Roy would say:

"Who does he think he is, Omelet Ertegun?"

Sunday's New York Times Magazine had a feature article on former wanna-be wrestling manager/current Columbia Records co-chairman Rick Rubin, detailing his efforts to save the music industry without having to get up from the comfort of his zabuton. First, I should mention the article is amusingly bookended by Rubin's discovery of a "new" band called the Gossip, who I first saw when they opened for Sleater-Kinney in 2000 and are so popular in England that Beth Ditto bared her corpulent flesh on the cover of the NME. Second, this is more like Rubin-as-Guru PR stuff, rather than an astute appraisal of his credentials as a producer. I'd like to read more about just how "hands-off" his role is during the recording process; surely Slipknot can't be the only band with grievances? That said, one need only type the words "Def Jam" to shore up Rubin's cultural cache, and he was unquestionably a godsend for Johnny Cash's career. There may not have been a Walk the Line and probably a lot fewer reissues if the Rubin-helmed American albums hadn't made Cash marketable to Gens X, Y, XY, YX, MXPX, and so forth. He also deserves credit/blame for extending the Red Hot Chili Peppers' career by at least 15 years, thereby establishing Chad Smith as a national treasure (and ensuring that I will now get tons of google hits for "Chad Smith" + "national treasure").

The article also details some of Rubin's ideas for saving the major music labels, who at one time could weather storms like home taping and the Rock 'N' Wrestling Connection but are now in genuine danger of collapse. I have doubts about Rubin's proposed $19.95 subscription model, but at least he seems to be bringing something to the table other than flailing gestures and the usual contempt for consumers and artists alike. Take Steve Barnett of Columbia's suggestion in the article to start gobbling up artists' touring and merchandise revenue; Not exactly the kind of idea that'll prompt Steve Albini to shutter his recording studio and start a supergroup with Ashlee Simpson, Taylor Hicks and Gibby Haynes.

As for me, I don't pretend to know what could solve the major labels' woes, but I did think of a couple of possibilities while writing this post:

1) Have prominent Dead Boys fan Jim Cramer go on CNBC and beg the Federal Reserve to bail out the music industry like he did in response to the mortage crisis.

2) Expand upon a curious new phenomenon I witnessed firsthand at a club the other night: band elections! Normally, you couldn't drag me out to H St in DC on a Wednesday night to see Rogue Helicoptor Pilot open for These Cupcakes Are Delish, but this was more like a riveting microcosm of our political process than a standard indie rock show. The guitarist, bassist, drummer and glockenspielist of TCAD were all campaigning onstage for the title of Band President, to be chosen by the audience at the end of the show. The lead singer told the crowd he was ineligible to run "under the Van Halen Fairness Doctrine," but that he was promised some sort of honorary title and a specially designed, gold sequined robe from American Apparel as compensation. The singer also introduced scattered "campaign ads" projected on the wall throughout the night - I was struck most by the glockenspielist's heartwrenching tale of having to pay 4% of his art school tuition - and moderated a heated debate during the encore break in which the guitarist called the drummer a "leaden-footed flip flopper," holding up a gasp-inducing cameraphone pic of his rival drumming while wearing flip flops to bolster his claims. The band then handed out golf pencils and paper scraps to the audience and waited until the results were tabulated before playing the last three songs of the night. Unfortunately the voting ended in a tie, necessitating a run-off gig later in the month, but I'm sure Sony or whatever would have the wherewithal to rig it so that doesn't happen very often. At least I hope so, as some of the miffed indie rockers in the crowd started poking each other with the golf pencils, spilling their cheap beer and hurling subtle sarcasm at the visibly cowed band until the club owner politely asked everyone to file out in an orderly fashion, which they did. Maybe next time these kids will learn to run on the only political platform I care about: The Uplift Mofo Party Plan.

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