Blue Notes

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Mining the past

At a certain age we all start to look back. Hopefully, it is a pleasant view. But even for those who see chaos and heartbreak, it can be rewarding.

For instance, consider the lives of rock stars. Not just the big ones who are still packing them in to baseball stadiums, but the regular ones who are at the end of their careers and unless they can reboot with an appearance on a PBS nostalgia show they are doomed to an old age of neglect and anonymity.

Being rock stars, the arc of their lives has gone like this: begin with a love of music, become famous, make lots of money, do lots of drugs, get screwed by the business and lose it all.

So much of their earnings was stolen by the record companies.

We in the normal world are used to normal contractual arrangements. But in the record business there is no such thing. For instance, in the normal world if you buy a house, you go to the bank, put up collateral, the bank loans you the money and you purchase the house. Over the next 20 years or so you pay the bank back your loan and the interest.

And then you legally own the house.

With a record contract, the record company puts up the money to make your record and start your career. This “loan” is paid back from all moneys that are made from that record. On top of that you pay back whatever the company has spent on promoting your record, which can include almost everything from parties for radio programmers to hookers and crack. But when you have finally paid off all that you will finally own the record, right?

Wrong. They still legally own the record. You just don’t still owe them.

So because there are no pensions in rock and roll and they have spent their lives paying for something they can never own, our aging middle-tier rockers are now selling their life stories to the generation who grew up adulating them and their music.

There are so many rock biographies out now that some publishers are wondering if the genre is getting overcrowded.

Now “all can finally be told.” We can all share the turbulent lives of these pioneers of permissiveness, icons of excess and champions of creativity from the safe distance of our living rooms. We can now find out what actually went on in the studios, limousines and hotel rooms.

Back in the day they rode the whirlwind and mined the present. Now they are mining their memories, or what’s left of them. It is the one thing they still own.

And judging by the current sales of rock biographies, it’s gold.

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