Aug 07, 2014
Posted by: Hitsville

For Dylan fans only — the real story behind Victor Maymudes book

The NYT today has a review of a new book on Dylan. It’s based on the recorded reminiscences of Victor Maymudes. He was one of Dylan’s earliest friends in the Village and later a key part of his entourage during the years of chaos that followed.

The two had lost touch, but when Maymudes ended up down and out Dylan eventually put him back on the payroll, and he eventually rose to be essentially his road manager on the Never Ending Tour—and later had a lot to do with Dylan’s real estate holdings. (The star is said to have a hobby in flipping houses.)

Maymudes died in 2001; the book, Another Side of Bob Dylan, was put together by his son Jacob, based on 24 hours of cassette recordings his father had made.

The Times story elides some of the more, ah, colorful aspects of Maymudes life. The rockiness of the relationship is described like this:

[Dylan] [b]rought him back even after an episode involving a teenage girl that led to Victor’s being fired as tour manager in 1995. Another star might have banished him. Instead, Mr. Dylan had Victor scout for and look after his real estate holdings. A quarrel over one property caused the final, acrimonious break in 1997.

There’s more to the story. Maymudes was not charged in the 1995 incident but he was detained by police. According to another new biography, Dylan, by former LA Times reporter Dennis McDougal, that property quarrel was not what estranged the two. McDougal reports that Maymudes exposed himself to a 17-year-old  cafe waitress, and that’s what led to his ultimate banishment.

I’m not sure whether to trust McDougal’s book. It’s irritatingly unsourced. On the other hand, it’s not just a clip job, and he’s a legitimate reporter who seems to have some good Southern California sources with knowledge of Dylan’s activities.

The Times story also doesn’t ask about what happened to the ill-tempered tell-all Maymudes promised almost 20 years ago. “I’m going to peel him like an onion,” he told author Howard Sounes in the late 1990s — and called Dylan an “asshole.” Maymudes also detailed his years of shuffling women around for the star —and bragged he himself had slept with 300 women just in the Hotel Chelsea!

It can’t have been easy working for Dylan. Early on, Maymudes was a quiet presence in Dylan’s chaotic world, always there to play a silent game of chess or Go with him.  Later, there’s circumstantial evidence Maymudes was on a shorter leash. At the beginning of the Never Ending Tour, Dylan was on the road with the Alarm, a very poor man’s U2 who had a few months of notice in the late 1980s. Here’s a story the lead singer recounts:

“There was this guy Victor Malmudes [sic] who was just Bob’s mate. We never were quite sure what he did. One day Bob didn’t come down for his usual swim. Victor said, ‘He’s got a bit of a cold.’ The next day we were by the pool and Bob comes down for a swim and Nigel Twist [Alarm drummer] said, ‘How are you feeling today, Bob?’ He goes, ‘What do you mean?’ Twist said, ‘Victor said you had a cold.’ Bob said, ‘Did he?’ and that was it. He carried on swimming. That evening Victor was sent home off the tour for giving away personal information. He was banished for three days, and then he came back.”

 

Jul 24, 2014
Posted by: Hitsville

“Here be dragons”: A few thoughts on Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”

boyhood“Here be dragons”: Those words appear in a section of uncharted territory on a 16th-century globe. It’s a reminder that dangers lurk in places we haven’t been yet. That’s what life, in the end, is all about, and that’s what Richard Linklater’s new film, Boyhood, is all about. It’s the most technically interesting movie of the year–the Gravity of 2014–but not because of technology in the usual sense. Linklater lays out the events over 12 years in the life of a young boy; the trick is that the filmmaker, the crew, and the cast filmed the thing over an actual 12-year period, so you see the main character–and his supporting players–age genuinely over the course of the film. About a third of the way through you start to get the feeling that the result is something you’ve simply never seen before.

There are things about the movie that thrill you, but you also from time to time question the conceit. Wait a minute, you think. In a certain way, it’s not that big of a deal; we watch documentaries, after all, in which we see real people change over time, right? I think the difference with Boyhood is that in most cases anyone who’s the subject of a documentary would be someone we’d be familiar with as an adult, so the older pictures are quaint and harmless. Part of the thrill Boyhood gives you stems from the fact that, since the film is in essence about life, about time, the aging feels different. Each new segment of the film is a new step into an unknown world, and the effect as you watch is poignant, almost overwhelming.

I’m also always suspicious about work where we’re supposed to marvel at how the thing was constructed, as opposed to what was constructed. If the PR folks are talking about process, it means they don’t have the substance to talk about. But again, once you think about it, you realize why this film is different. The process and the film’s meaning are in the end one. The process embodies the mystery at the heart of the picture and, again, life. Every new step forward into new territory is a victory in a journey that, for all of us in one way or another, is perilous. We’re in the same position parents and relatives are in as they watch the kids evolve over time. We know things the kids don’t; we ache to comfort when the unexplainable happens—when, in other words, the things that make life happen happen. And we see growth in all its forms.

The star of the film, playing the kid Mason, is named Ellar Coltrane; the risks Linklater took on the project–casting a 6-year-old on a 12-year-project–are obvious. Watching the kid both grow up and, essentially, learn how to act, adds another level of depth to the film. As we leave him, the round-faced Mason with the unblinking eyes whom we have seen emotionally battered in various ways has elongated, smoothed and–after that unattractive early-teen phase we all went through–turned into something that, on the surface at least, seems to be a resourceful and even somewhat confident young man. He knows things he didn’t know before, and sees his surroundings–and particularly his parents–in a new perspective.

One of the realities of Boyhood, however, is that, on top of this conceit, Linklater achieves his effects without actually doing much. There is no great narrative arc. It’s really just a series of vignettes about how Mason relates to his family and others, and how these experiences accrete to make us who we are. I may be forgetting something, but I don’t know if there’s more than an incidental scene in the entire film where Coltrane’s alone.

boyhood-richard-linklater-21343407

What Boyhood is really about is the fragility of every child’s life, and I think all will feel the slight air of dread that permeates the film. The effect isn’t a cheap one; rather, it’s a deeply humanistic point about the vulnerability of kids. That’s why parents tell kids the things they do: Don’t do risky things with your stupid friends; don’t text while driving. These are all are dangerous things to do, and they are all things kids do anyway. If you’re like me, you’ll spent a good part of the film slightly anxious. Linklater seems to know that there are subtler dangers as well. One character, a psychology professor, has the words “attachment disorder” on the blackboard. This theory says that a lot of emotional problems later in life comes from the level of secure attachment a child is allowed to experience with his or her parents. There’s a plain irony at work when a detached father, say, tries to warn the kid how to take care of himself. Most of the film, in fact, is quite subtle; entire new lives and other stories are hinted at by the smallest of things – a glimpse of a uniform, a passing remark to a friend.

Boyhood isn’t an easy movie. It’s long, and its disconnected episodes, given the film’s conception, by definition could go on for a lifetime. But by halfway through little Mason had caught me. He wasn’t a boy but Everyboy–at the mercy of a merciless adventure. No one knows where he will go next, but there will be dragons.

Jun 05, 2014
Posted by: Hitsville

Here’s what’s wrong with the big Ticketmaster settlement

The WSJ says that Ticketmaster is in the process of settling a long-running class-action suit attacking the company for its myriad “service” charges. The basic thrust of the case was that the company was just tacking on new charges that had no relation to the ostensible names—they were profit centers whose price bore no relation to the service supposedly rendered.

You can read the court papers here.

The Journal says the settlement could cost the company up to $400 million, but that its actual outlay would be much lower. The proposed settlement provides for $2.25 and $5 discounts on future ticket buys to members of the class; the paper says participation rates in cases like this are typically so low that the total the company pays out might be less than ten percent of the maximum.

The settlement as it is described is for many reasons something less than a silver bullet for music fans.

Part of it lets the company simply say on its web site that the various fees generate profits for the company. Ironically, this provision is bad for both sides. Most consumers won’t see the notice, and will remain misled. Those who do see it will have confirmed the suspicions they already had about how the company operates. This will undermine the company’s reputation further, though I suppose the argument can be made it can’t get any worse.

But this is all ancillary to the main issue, which is that the fees shouldn’t be allowed at all. But wait — don’t fans have a choice, like any other consumer?

They don’t. Music fans have no where else to go. As Hitsville has written before, the peculiar economics of the concert industry make it easy for shenanigans like this.  If you want to see U2 on a tour, you have to go through whatever ticket-purchasing system is available for the particular show in your town. You can’t choose to see U2 in a different venue, or buy your ticket through a different reseller.

If, for example, your local grocer let you wait in the checkout line, but then before handing over your food demanded a “cashier’s fee,” or a “convenience fee,” it wouldn’t stay in business long, because people would go somewhere else.

Also in a normal industry, other interested parties, like the venues or the artists that are putting on the actual shows, would feel heat from consumers. Ticketmaster gets around that by sharing the wealth.

For example, Ticketmaster has built up a network of exclusive facilities across the country. It keeps the arrangements exclusive by kicking back part of the ticket fees to the venues. In effect, music fans are being forced to pay more for their tickets to help prop up an extortionary system.

 

Oct 08, 2013
Posted by: Hitsville

Recent articles by Hitsville

For the New York Times:

“Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Nobel’s Door” (Why Bob Dylan Should Be Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature):

29DYLAN-articleLargeIf the academy doesn’t recognize Bob Dylan — a bard who embodied the most significant cultural upheaval of the second half of the last century — it will squander its best chance to honor a pop poet. What other songwriter would remotely qualify? Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen? Perhaps. Randy Newman? Chuck D? (In truth, the only other pop artist with work as timeless as Mr. Dylan’s is Chuck Berry — but that’s an argument for another day.) With his superstar peers either silent or content to collect the big bucks playing ingratiating stadium shows, this artist, iconoclastic and still vital, demands that we take the product of his muse on his own terms, and refuses to go so gently.

 

“Last Thoughts on Breaking Bad

Breaking-Bad-Season-51

A famous Agatha Christie book ends with thick sheaf of blank pages. She wanted to the end of the book not to be anticipated by her readers. The ending of “The Sopranos,” famously, came on a note of total ambiguity. Among other things, the scene was a meta commentary on the TV finale: why must lives end when the show does? What unites the previous three points is that Gilligan and Co. became too caught up in the story-ness of their story; they insisted on tying everything up with a tidy morality-tale bow. David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” never let us forget that evil sometimes walks way unscathed. Young Todd, the sociopath’s sociopath, should have seen White coming, considered the odds, and taken off to cook, and kill, another day.

For the New Yorker’s Culture blog: ‘Exile in Guyville,’ 20 Years Later:

Liz_Phair-Exile_In_Guyville-TraseraTo me, each song on Exile in Guyville reverberates powerfully, making it patently one of the strongest rock albums ever made. But the legacy of its maker is going to be of the what-might-have-been variety, the story of someone who took a look at what Joni Mitchell called the “star-making machinery” and neither engaged it nor quite walked away, with ambiguous consequences.

 

 

For the Wall Street Journal:  “Restless Wanderer” (Notes on the 25th Anniversary of Bob Dylan’s Never-Ending Tour):

PJ-BP073_dylan_DV_20130625172731It is a remarkable achievement—though not one that Mr. Dylan himself acknowledges. In the 1990s, he wrote, “There was a Never Ending Tour but it ended.” His organization doesn’t talk about his performances. No wonder then that, as the endeavor clicks into its 26th year with yet another leg of shows starting this week—dubbed the Americanarama Tour, with special guests Wilco and My Morning Jacket on board—no special note will be taken of the occasion.

But if it is not the Never-Ending Tour, it is a never-ending tour. As with many things Dylan, his motivations run deep. The shows align him with an earlier era—when blues and country musicians created their art on small stages in small towns or in small corners of big towns. They also trenchantly separate him from the current era. The modern rock-superstar act tours with a new album to sell and a new image to show off. (That’s why Coldplay was running around in Sgt. Pepper jackets a few years ago.) Mr. Dylan just keeps playing, and rarely does interviews. Highly scripted video and light cues make spontaneity in most if not all big-name rock shows rare. By contrast, Mr. Smith has said he often didn’t know what Mr. Dylan was going to play next.

 

In the New Yorker,  “The Pale King,” an essay on the legacy of Michael Jackson

 

NYer cover 12-24-12“No man achieves immortality through public acclaim,” said Bob Dylan, who had the opportunity to consider such things up close. From the point of view of celebrity and popularity—the point of view that truly mattered to him—Jackson may well have been the most successful entertainer ever. His life and career remain sensational to all of us who marveled as the black music that has run as a counterpoint to the past century—through gospel, jazz, the blues, soul, and hip-hop—resolved itself to play, for a time, perfectly in tune with a nation. Still, there’s little doubt that Jackson lost something self-defining along the way. He ended up a shade, and, besides the music, all that he really left behind—an ambiguous legacy, and a tarnished name, to some rich white kids—was just the final, meaningless step in the ultimate crossover.

 

In New York magazine, a look back at David Bowie’s bracing, ineffable early career:ny mag cover

David Bowie—indigestibly arch; unfailingly cerebral, distant, and detached—was always sincere about his insincerity, but never insincere about his sincerity. At the time, this distinction was as crucial and confounding as the highly sexualized, polymorphously perverse demimonde he celebrated. He mocked rock seriousness, even as he delivered some of the most lasting songs of the era, all the while carrying himself like a lubricious aristocrat, drawing, with a sort of kinky noblesse oblige, strength from his audience’s adulation and in turn bestowing his blessing: E pluribus pervum.

 

Sep 30, 2013
Posted by: Hitsville

Last thoughts on ‘Breaking Bad’

Breaking-Bad-Season-511) The machina ex machina.

Walter White’s last great plan involved the creation of a jerry-rigged gatling gun. He was a chemist by trade, and chemistry was the show’s thematic through-line over five seasons of chemical reactions and carbon-based life forms. Why did the final episode hinge on something out of “Wild Wild West”?

And even by the standards of a series that had already offered us a truck-borne supermagnet, this was a hugely improbable device, one that would have been useful only under a very precise set of physical circumstances. White—surprise!—managed to find himself in exactly those circumstances. (He could have been forced to leave his car outside the fence, or been taken down into the meth lab, rendering his contraption useless.) The plan had no way to be adapted to a different situation, and not much nuance, either. I thought about it for 30 seconds and came up with the idea of an explosion that distracts the gang and then a gas that puts the thugs to sleep. White could have rescued young Jesse and called the cops as he left. (I could imagine him telling the 911 dispatcher wryly, “They are armed but won’t be dangerous for eight hours or so.”) The White Power guys would have been found with the blue meth lab, and he could have made his peace with …

2) Pinkman Agonistes.

Among the various narrative arcs of the show, the one that saw the systematic unraveling of Jesse Pinkman was its starkest and most visceral. Pinkman began as a fairly gentle soul with only faint antisocietal leanings. With White as a catalyst, he is first turned into a monster and then, as if in penance, became, of the characters left alive, the show’s most potent sufferer. His agony became another of the psychic weights around Walter’s neck. The last show made no note of this, and our last image of Jesse was a manic and gleeful one. But of course the brutality of the physical and mental traumas he had suffered, his lack of a support system, and his tendency to self-medicate don’t make his future bright. Our final glimpse of him had no hint of this and was accordingly false.

3) Envoi.

The enormity of White’s (d)evolution built steadily to what was to me the series emotional ground zero: “What the hell is wrong with you?” he raged at his cowering but defiant wife and son a few weeks back. “We’re a family.” This absurd speech was bookended by his confession to Skyler in the finale: “I liked it,” he said, talking about his ascent to druglordship.

The two positions are mutually exclusive. Either he became a true maniac, raging in some Learlike extremity, or he was a canny and clever master criminal. In fact, “Breaking Bad” is about male ego. White was a milquetoast at the show’s beginning, condescended to by his brother-on-law and pitied by his son. In TV terms, he was turning himself into a Ralph Cramden, an Archie Bunker, or a Tony Soprano; the hulking, raging male overlord. And yet he is allowed to die with a smile on his face, as if this was his plan all along, Ozymandias does not rest so easily.

4) The tyranny of the finale.

A famous Agatha Christie book ends with thick sheaf of blank pages. She wanted to the end of the book not to be anticipated by her readers. The ending of “The Sopranos,” famously, came on a note of total ambiguity. Among other things, the scene was a meta commentary on the TV finale: why must lives end when the show does? What unites the previous three points is that Gilligan and Co. became too caught up in the story-ness of their story; they insisted on tying everything up with a tidy morality-tale bow. David Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” never let us forget that evil sometimes walks way unscathed. Young Todd, the sociopath’s sociopath, should have seen White coming, considered the odds, and taken off to cook, and kill, another day.