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Putting Soul in the Machine: Howard Bloom

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Summary:  Howard Bloom is the celebrated author of “The Global Brain,” “The Lucifer Principle” and many other books and was instrumental in helping the original SPIN Magazine find its soul.  As the founder of the Howard Bloom Organization,the long-time considered public relations firm where artists and record companies would go to achieve higher media status, Howard Bloom was able to tap into the heart and soul of clients such as Prince, Billy Joel, John Mellencamp, Amnesty International and hundreds of others by empowering the artists he represented to tap into their very essense that enabled them to “bleed their souls” in the music that would eventually touch and move their audiences of millions.

Something powerful to learn from the master of enabling the messengers to reach their audiences. What follows is his welcome back Keynote speech produced by a colleague of ours at he 2004 Global Entertainment and Media Summit, held at the Parker Meridian Hotel in New York City.

You’re not selling CD’s or DVD’s, It’s not Books or Projects: You are Selling Soul

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen a lot of you, and those of you I’ve never met I wish I’d had a chance to meet a long, long time ago. Bear with me, because I’m going to try something I’ve never done before. Instead of improvising, I’m going to read (boo, hiss) a speech. Why? Because I have many too many stories to tell, many too many messages to get across, and the only way to keep myself in check was to write it down and read.

First off, asking me to speak at a music industry affair is a bit like digging a discontinued figure out of the backroom of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. I said good bye to the music and film business in 1988 and haven’t kept up with the industry since then. But sometimes an old wax statue can still be good for something. Use it for candles in a blackout and it can still make some light. The music business is going through a blackout these days, from what I’ve been told. There are problems selling CDs. And the whole industry is in the process of boiling down to just three companies. These sound like rough, rough times. But rough times in pop culture are often times of opportunity.

There was a moment of opportunity like this back in the 1920s. The record industry was big business. It had started up in 1894, shortly after an immigrant to America, Emile Berliner, invented the gramophone in Washington, DC, and also invented the thing it played—a music disk. By 1905, the Victor Company had sold over five million Enrico Caruso records pressed on a brittle plastic, Bakelite. Then came big trouble. I think you’ll see its relevance. In 1922, 600 radio stations were licensed to go on the air. Those were six hundred radio stations that were going to give music away for free. So record companies covered the labels on their records with warnings that any unauthorized use of the disk in your hand—especially use on the air—would bring the wrath of God and the fury of attorneys down on your head. Those warning labels appeared on records for over ten years later. Today, that seems ridiculous. Airplay, at least when I left the business, was something music companies fought for—and sometimes paid to get. The free play on radio generated sales in record stores.

The lesson of that experience? Exposure begets more exposure. And more exposure produces demand. So MP-3 downloading—and even file-swapping–may, in the end, produce more good than harm.

Another lesson on intellectual property. 550 years ago there was a guy who created something that literally changed the world’s entire history. It would crank out intellectual property in quantities that defied belief. Everybody who could would use it. But they guy who invented didn’t get paid. In fact, he died in bankruptcy. His name was Johannes Gutenberg. His invention was the printing press. Unfortunately there were no patents in those days.

The lesson of this one—much as I love free stuff, its critical that ASCAP, BMI, the RIAA or any or all of the music industry organizations find a way to keep a balance—a way to avoid strangling the exposure that comes from giving it away, and yet a way that still protects the right to be paid. But, frankly, you didn’t need me to tell you that. I just like to give you tools from the tales of history.

Then there’s the problem of an industry concentrated in the hands of three huge companies. Periods of consolidation are often periods of opportunity for outsiders. Why? Because big companies kill off creativity. They get caught in the imitation trap. They repeat the formula of what worked yesterday. Or they monkey see and monkey do with what just worked for some competitor. But novelty is critical to music. Listeners need the hook, the twitch, the hint of something new.

Corporate lockjaw is the signal to go with your instincts and pounce. Let me give you an example. In 1969, there were roughly 180 record companies with offices in New York. By 1981, that number, for all practical purposes, was down to six. Six major companies controlled roughly 80% of the business. They were about to control 90%. So you’d think that small companies wouldn’t have stood a chance. Not true.

1981 was the year Sylvia Robinson discovered that kids in the South Bronx were making a strange sound, a sound very, very different from the ballads by Air Supply, Hall & Oates, and Lionel Ritchie that were topping the charts that year. Sylvia had an uncanny passion for music. She landed her first record deal when she was fourteen, became a songwriter and producer, made albums under the names of Little Sylvia, Mickey and Sylvia, and just plain Sylvia. She sang with Ike and Tina Turner, wrote and produced hit songs for a string of other artists, and did something very few other women of her time dared—much less black women—she started her own record company. Sylvia ran her label out of a converted dry cleaning store in Englewood, New Jersey. When she heard the new South Bronx street music, she put together a studio band, named it after her record company—Sugar Hill–then she issued a 12” single of the South Bronx sound. Called “Rappers’ Delight,” it sold so many copies that Sylvia was able to declare that disk the first platinum 12” single in history.

Sylvia asked me to work with her next project, a real band in the new style—Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Executives at all six major record companies told me that this street music was an abomination and would disappear in six months time. They thought they were closing a door. Instead their narrow-mindedness opened the gate for independents like Tom Silverman’s Tommy Boy Records and Corey Robins’ and Steve Plotnicki’s Profile Records, upstart labels that were able to dominate rap music without significant competition from the majors for the next four years.

It’s 23 years later, and you can see how very right the majors were. Rap has not quite shriveled up and gone away. In fact, if anything, it’s rap that’s now a formula crying out for a change.

The three new majors are going to be as stuck in formula fixation and the imitation trap as the majors were in Sylvia Robinson’s day. So the time has arrived for the passionate to come out and play.

But those messages are not the real reasons I wanted to come out of mothballs—assuming that the moths we study in science have balls–and talk to you tonight. They’re not the reasons I was willing to risk showing you my total ignorance of the current business.

I wanted to talk to you about some of the lessons that being a guerrilla fighter in the music and film industries taught me. They’re lessons I taught to my clients back in the 1970s and 1980s. They’re lessons whose meaning I’ve had a chance to think out now that I’ve gone back where I came from—to science. They’re lessons in what music and you and I are really here for. They’re the lessons behind my fourth book—Soul In the Machine: Reinventing Capitalism—A Quick Re-Vision of Western History, which I’m working on right now. Soul In the Machine is a book aimed at all of Western Civilization and its economic underpinnings. But it owes its meat to the music biz.

First, let me give you a little background. I started the Howard Bloom Organization, Ltd., in 1976 on a coffee table in Danny Goldberg’s living room. I was too small and too strange to attract big stars to my client roster. So I had to make stars on my own. In 1976, I had a band that Bob Christgau had panned in the Village Voice. He’d said, “They have a sound like hammered shit.” I worked three years to get the critics to respect them. Last week they were initiated into the rock and roll hall of fame. Their name is ZZ Top. In 1981, I had a nineteen year old who’d just gone platinum with his first LP. Sounds like he should have been easy to break, right? Wrong. He was black and in those days white record company executives were all for civil liberties in principle. But they weren’t for civil liberties in fact. They refused to work with artists who were black. It wasn’t hip, it wasn’t stylish. Progressive FM-radio, which dominated the album scene, felt the same way about music that came from folks with the wrong skin tone. So Bob Cavallo and Steve Fargnoli—the two key members of this singer/composer’s management team–and I fought to get our 19-year-old across the color line. Last week he was named to the rock and roll hall of fame, too. His name is Prince. Then there were two rockers who were about to become two-hit wonders and who needed a radical turnaround. One of them was Billy Idol. The other was John Cougar Mellencamp. There were lots and lots of others.

Some came to The Howard Bloom Organization to achieve stardom. Others came because they’d gotten there and needed help in taking the next step. They included Bob Marley, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, Run DMC, Queen, and many others who didn’t really need us but came to us anyway—AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Kiss to name a few.

Now down to the messages I really came here to deliver.

Lesson number one. You are not selling cornflakes. You are not selling product or plastic. You are selling human soul. You are selling honesty of a very strange kind, honesty that comes from centers that don’t have normal voices in the human mind. Let me give you an example. Back in the Sixties there was a kid in Phoenix, Arizona, named Vincent Furnier. Vince was a scrawny little thing with a big nose whose mother used to dress him in a suit and tie before she sent him off to school. Vince who behaved so perfectly that he always became the teacher’s pet. And you know what happens to teachers’ pets.

The other kids hated the way he looked, hated the way he dressed, and hated his perfect behavior. So during recess, they called him “the schnoz” and kicked him mercilessly around the playground.

When he was sixteen, Vince was sitting at his kitchen table. In front of him was a Ouija board piloted by a nice, suburban neighbor who said she had the knack of contacting spirits from a higher plane. Vince was skeptical, but willing to go along and play the game. Sure enough, a spirit showed up and began to get personal. It said it was a 17th century witch who had been burned at the stake, and that Vincent Furnier was its current incarnation. The witch’s name was Alice Cooper.

So Vince put a rock routine together and went onstage during a school talent show. But he didn’t appear as the well behaved, scrawny little kid his high school classmates loved to hate. He wore mascara and a dress and chopped up baby dolls. He was Alice Cooper!

The mascara-wearing, gender-bending axe murderer inside of Vince had an emotional reality more powerful than the nice kid dressed in suits his mom had pressed. The newly unmasked killer-witch tapped something buried deep in the members of Vince’s audience too. The high school kids who had hated Vince cheered and applauded his act. They went crazy over it. And the jocks, the same athletes who’d kicked him around the schoolyard, came to him begging. They wanted to be members of his band. Ten years later, the lucky former football players who made it as Alice’s bass players and drummers would be millionaires. All because Vince Furnier had connected with a source of passion buried inside of him.

That’s why I say that what we’re selling in the music business isn’t an inanimate “product” like a cornflake. It’s raw human emotion. It’s a sense of self-validation. It’s a chance to make contact with normally hidden parts of the human soul. And it’s the right to feel that even in your weirdness you are not alone.

There’s a self inside of you more passionate and more powerful than the self of everyday life. It’s a self more potent than the self that asks “how are you?” and that answers, “fine, thank you very much. And how are you.” That’s the self your artists have to work from. That’s the self you have to work from too.

This is one key to the soul in the machine.

Lesson number two. Subcultures have souls. When those souls find their voices, champion them for all they’re worth. Music is an emblem of belonging. Artists and their music are badges of identity.

Here are a few stories to give you an idea of what I mean. In 1973, I was asked to start a public and artist relations department for Gulf & Western Industries. Danny Goldberg, who shows up in a lot of these stories, had been there before me, but there was apparently nothing left of his legacy—not his files, not his structure, and not his staff. So I started from scratch. I looked over the roster of fourteen record companies, quickly discovered that twelve were hopeless, and focused on two companies that had a work ethic, passion, and intelligence. One was Seymour Stein and Richard Gottehrer’s Sire Records. The other was a company down in Nashville called Dot.

Dot was the number three record company in country music. It was fighting like blazes to be number one. God, I admired the smarts and the conviction with which it was laying siege to the charts and was building its artists doggedly. So I went down to Nashville quite a bit and discovered something. I’d never been a country music lover. Not at all. I hated the stuff. But I loved the people. I loved the artists. And they were being locked in a ghetto just as if a wall had been built around the Bible belt.

Jim Foglesong, the president of dot records, had a vision. He called it country-politan. So did Jim Halsey, the manager for most of Dot’s key acts. Jim wanted to make country big in New York and London. So I worked my ass off to get Dot’s artists into major national publications—especially a new one called People. And, indeed, I got a lot of them in. Sales grew and we got a budget to start a Nashville PR office, the first record company in-house pr office in the capital of country music. That was the beginning of country crossover. And country crossover gave identity and consolation in spoonfuls, heaps, and beer mugs to men and women all over the world.

Let me repeat. Lesson number two is this– subcultures have souls. When those souls find their voices, champion them for all they’re worth. In a now long gone and distant time there were two very passionate guys in the record industry—room-mates—Ray Caviano and Bob Small. Both of them were kamikazes for their work. Bob Small worked with ZZ Top. Ray Caviano worked with a bunch of British acts on Sire Records. Both liked to take on difficult causes. So I loved pitching in with them. One summer Sunday afternoon, Ray Caviano called me from Fire Island, where he spent his summer weekends. He knew I worked like a maniac on Sundays and didn’t like interruptions.

He also knew that Monday was a sacred day at my company, the day when I brought each account executive into my office and went over every campaign to see what we’d achieved, what we needed to do next, and how what we were doing fit into the larger plan to build an artist to the next level and beyond. So it was a little strange when he said, “I know about your meetings. I know about your Mondays. But I have to see you at 10:30 tomorrow morning. You have to be at my apartment the minute I get in from the seaplane.” Ray twisted my arm until it came out of its socket, not an easy thing to do on the phone, and I gave in.

Here’s what Ray needed to tell me. There was a new electronic dance music trickling in from Europe. Ray had been taking it out to Fire Island every weekend. DJ’s had put it on the turntables. And folks had been going crazy dancing to it. But not just any folks. There was a silent community in New York City that congregated on Fire Island and came out in the shadows of the night. It was the gay community. Those were the days when you did not tell your boss or your friends or your wife or your kids that you were gay. Those were the days when teens who wanted to show how tough they could be got together, brought along their baseball bats, jumped into a car, and went out looking for a gay man they could beat. It was called “gay bashing”. Those were the days when a bar that catered to gay men could be raided, closed, and see its customers arrested simply for having an illegal sexual preference.

The euro-dance music Ray carried out on his weekend treks worked a strange magic on the gay community hidden away at Fire Island. It did something very tribal. Something music has a unique power to do. It welded a sense of community. It energized a need to say, “no more”. It energized a spirit of rebellion and a spirit of identity. It did what national anthems do—it drew folks together in a new solidarity. Thanks to this new music, a subculture found its voice and was ready to scream, “I’m me and I have a right to be. What’s more I’m proud of who I am.”

Then Ray told me he was gay—which came as a shock. He’d been one of my best friends in the music business for years and I didn’t have a clue.

Ray was ready to lead the gay revolution. And he wanted me to lead it with him. The fact that I was straight didn’t matter one bit. And, frankly, it didn’t matter to me either. Yes, I was embarrassed as all hell when Ray gave me the names of 20 cheaply-printed gay magazines and made me go out to the 57th Street newsstands to hunt them down. And, yes, I was amazed at the way my all-female staff went nuts over the pictures of men with oversized schlongs slapped across the pages.

But here’s the bottom line. Gay men had a right to be free. The club scene in the West Village grew from those Fire Island scenes. In those clubs, gay men would gather to be outrageous and to dare the police. Egged on by the music, they’d live out their macho fantasies. Some would dress as cowboys, some as Indians, some as construction men. They worked out, went to tanning salons, oiled their biceps and their triceps and showed them off. Two gay friends of Ray’s who barely spoke English flew in regularly from Paris, dropped into my office, went wild in the clubs, then put together a group based on those macho fantasies. It was the Village People. And when Mid-America heard their hit, “Macho Man,” few had a clue about what it really meant.

The music that set the gay community free was disco and it was popular to hate it. But it shaped the seventies. And it left a legacy. Disco and rap are the two musical forms from 20 and 30 years ago that are still on radios wherever you go today.

But let me repeat the point. Disco was the rallying cry of a subculture, a tribe within a tribe. It was the voice of a people straining to be free. So was country music when I worked to help it break out of its ghetto in the Bible Belt in the 1970s. So was the music of ZZ Top when the band built a stage in the shape of the state of Texas, had four touring-equipment trailer trucks painted with a continuous tableau of the Texas countryside, rounded up a turkey vulture, a buffalo, a long-horn steer, and two rattle-snakes, prepared to take them on a 50-city tour, told me tales of Texas history and revealed a Texas view of the world that Texans never confess to outsiders. Then ZZ Top had the Mayor of Houston name me the Ambassador of Texas Culture to the World. Punk music was also the cry of freedom for a bunch of kids who didn’t yet know they were a community. It became that when Miles Copeland founded a management firm and a record company, IRS, his brother Ian Copeland founded a booking agency, FBI, and their brother Stewart Copeland founded the band his two brothers helped establish, the Police.

The Copelands set up a new North American touring circuit that put punk music on the map. And they let me come along for the ride, acting as the spokesman for the Copeland family. Music lets all of us come out of the closet and find our common identity–whether we’re urban kids who feel like outsiders, suburban kids who’ve always been battling for a position on the inside, or mid-western kids who feel unrecognized by the tastemakers in New York and LA.

When you see the soul of a subculture congealing, help it find its freedom. Go for it with all your energy and belief. Find that place inside of you that resonates to its frequency. Let the cry for freedom catch hold of you. Burn with its fire. Crusade for it. Even if you can feel but not express quite what it means.

Those are the two major lessons I wanted to share. Capitalism is not what it seems. Nor is the music industry. Soul is the name of the game even if you are selling shoes or makeup. Capitalism as at heart an emotional exchange. Take your emotions to work with you. They’re your most important tools. Gather up your passions and crusade. Crusade on behalf of the secret selves inside of you. Crusade on behalf of others too. Never give up. Never give in. Battle for what you believe in and you will win.

Lesson number two. How to make album artists out of singles artists. In 1981 there was an artist in trouble. His managers didn’t know it. I’m not sure he knew it either. He’d had two hits on the charts. And something in the way he’d been exposed to the public got across an extremely strong message^^

Lesson number two—Be your audience. Know your audience. Love your audience. Save your audience. Crusade for your audience. Your audience owns you. Your audience is your boss. And if you dig down deep enough you’ll find the audience reflects a part of you. The audience can expand you and set you free.

Allen Ginsberg, the poet, wrote in his anthem of the beat generation, “Howl”, that, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.” I’ve also seen the best minds of my generation destroying themselves. But no they weren’t dragging themselves through the streets of Harlem looking for heroine. They were wasting themselves in the conference rooms at CBS. What do I mean? It has to do with something called my upcoming book, Soul In the Machine, calls “posturing for your peers”.

Let’s go back to one the biggest and least visible mistakes that folks in giant corporations make—posturing for our peers.

A division of CBS Records hired me in 1979 to work with a band every executive in the company despised—a mid-western rock group called REO Speedwagon. CBS was the Harvard of the entertainment industry. It paid the highest wages, offered the best benefits, carried the most prestige, and attracted executives with the highest IQs.

But the CBS executives I knew and worked with used most of their energy trying to impress each other, not trying to serve people like you and me. If fans found a band like ZZ Top and it became a hit before the critics could anoint it, it was vulgar. It was the swill of the subhuman classes. Liking it meant that you were beneath contempt. If the critics at the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the Village Voice found it first, then loving it meant you were in. You were first to pick up on something aristocratic, something higher than the lowly public could understand.

CBS’ executives wanted to work on the projects that would make them chic in the social cliques of their industry. Now think about that for a moment. What did it mean about how CBS employees looked at their paying customers, their audience? They looked down on it with contempt.

To show you what I mean, one year Epic Records—a part of CBS—had spare money in its pr budget. So it hired me to handle a band that no one in the company wanted to touch. It was a Champagne, Illionois band that toured its ass off and had developed a strong following despite zero coverage from the media.

One day I was hailing a cab from a luncheon-party at 65th Street and Second Avenue in New York. Just as a cab pulled up, four CBS executives popped out the restaurant where the party was held and asked if they could share a ride. By now, they knew I’d come to love REO Speedwagon for its hard work, for its sense of humor, and for its gift of melody. The CBS VPs and managers also knew I’d made the band a personal crusade.

The four CBS’ers spent the 20 minutes of our super-slow cab ride south through heavy traffic ridiculing the band. This made them look clever, fashionable, and socially adept—at least to each other. It made me furious. Less than a year after that cab-ride, the worldwide music industry went down the tubes, dragged into the plumbing by one of the worst economic recessions since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Thousands of layoffs hit music industry veterans who’d been sure their jobs were secure. The joke of the moment was that you’d press a million copies of a record and ship it to the stores. A month later, you’d get two million returns.

But not a soul was pink-slipped at CBS in that dark year of the plague. All four of the executives I’d shared a cab with were safe. Why? Because in a year when you couldn’t give away a record for free, REO Speedwagon’s new album sold fifteen million copies. In fact, REO Speedwagon had the biggest-selling record of the year.

So don’t be deceived by elitism and snobbery. Don’t get fooled by posturing for your peers.

If the listeners love something you’ve never paid attention to, it’s time to use another quality of soul. It’s lesson number three, Something Soul In the Machine calls “tuned empathy”. There’s another way to put this lesson. Crusade for your artist. Crusade for your audience. Do it by crusading for the part of you that resonates to their frequency.

Howardbloom.net
Author of: The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History (“mesmerizing”—The Washington Post), Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 21st Century (“reassuring and sobering”—The New Yorker), and The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism (“impressive, stimulating, and tremendously enjoyable.” James Fallows, National Correspondent, Atlantic Monthly).

FormerCore Faculty Member, The Graduate Institute; Recent Visiting Scholar—Graduate Psychology Department, New York University.

Founder:International Paleopsychology Project. Founder, Space Development Steering Committee. Member Of Board Of Governors, National Space Society. Founding Board Member: Epic of Evolution Society. Founding Board Member, The Darwin Project. Founder: The Big Bang Tango Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences,American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, Academy of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society,International Society for Human Ethology, Scientific Advisory Board Member, Lifeboat Foundation; Board Member, Humanity Plus.

 

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Chautauquas and Lyceums and TED Talks, oh my!

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Our future is in OUR Hands

We are aiming with Mobilized to create a vibrant forum for ideas.  “Big deal”, you might say, there are already places for that.

Well, you’re not wrong.  There was, in the earliest days of the web, a loose and wild forum called The Well.  The great and powerful Google had as it’s mission the goal of “bringing all the knowledge of the world to every person”… before it pivoted to a new goal of just making money off of what it knows about us.  That change was a real pity.  There have been sites such as Wiser Earth, which aimed to be a global directory of people and non-profit organizations so that collaboration could happen on a larger scale than ever before.  It lasted about two years, sadly; not long enough to create a legacy.  Huffington Post had a good run in its’ early days, sharing ideas widely and helping to boost its’ contributors in the public’s mind.

What’s important to know, is that as of this writing, there is not really a widely recognized forum online or in ‘meat-space’.  There are print publications such as YES! magazine, Tikkun, The Sun Magazine, and The Utne Reader, all of which which reach a population of hundreds thousands.  Great, but their reach could be even more broad, in my humble opinion.  Within social media sites there are plenty of good ‘groups’ but they also don’t reach enough folks outside of their own memberships.

Probably the most popular comparable live events right now are the TED talks, which do serve a valuable purpose.  Sadly, they also tend toward the ‘Gee-Whiz‘ and the ‘Shiny New Buzzword‘ in their contents.  Mobilized really wants to focus on the proven, the existing, and the hidden.  There are already, all over, groups doing wonderful work, but too many of them are laboring in obscurity.

So, how do we do that?  Well to begin with, we’re not trying to be a technology startup.  There is no secret sauce, no fancy algorithm at work here.  Almost all the underlying code behind Mobilized is made with off-the-shelf parts, such as WordPress.  There is zero reason to re-invent the wheel, and frankly the notion that one must do so has tripped up several earlier attempts at building a successful progressive community.  We take the approach of using the tools at hand to build our house.

Secondly, we are going into the future with an eye firmly on the past.  And that leads us to the point of this essay, a look at how America became America.  We can take many lessons from the past.  One of our best ideas as a nation was the Chautauqua movement.   It had it’s heyday from the 1870’s right up until the beginning of World War II.  In part, it helped spawn a Lyceum movement, the Vaudeville traditions in the theater world; and had an effect on the earliest days of the motion-picture industry.  Here’s why it was so popular: the average person, anywhere in the land, could go to a Chautauqua when it came to their town, and engage in spirited discussion with the brightest minds of the day.  It was direct, person-to-person, and offered a mix of local and national ideas and people; presented on a rotating basis.  So ideas could be hashed out and spread rapidly.  And they did.  In no small part due to these two movements, the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age were defeated.  The Great Depression was tackled too, and along the way no less than Susan B. Anthony, Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain became huge fans.  No part of society could, or wanted to, ignore the notion that average people could teach other average people.

Mobilized aims to help bring that back into common understanding.  In the present era, there may well be a place for tents and lecturers setting up in farmer’s fields.  There certainly is a crying need for an educational platform that is accessible to the masses.  And now, there exist enough robust tools for us to re-create the ethos of a Chautauqua on the internet.

We, the people, when it really mattered and the stakes were high, collectively taught ourselves how to better ourselves.  Now, in every corner of the world, the stakes are once again pretty high.  It is time for a new Chautauqua movement, and this one will be truly global.  So step right up, come on inside our virtual tent.  Welcome to the show.

 

 

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Fearless Bravery: Pennebaker and Hegedus on Documenting Life as it is happening

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“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”  — William Shakespeare. 

If all the world’s a stage, we can clearly state that documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker literally invented a way to capture life as it’s happening without being invasive or intrusive.

They have captured some of the most exciting moments in rock and roll and real life. From Dylan’s Don’t Look Back to the debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience in “Monterey Pop” to the behind-the-scenes Political documentary, “The War Room,”  D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus  created some of the most exciting and ground-breaking cinema  ever photographed.  But it’s not the type of footage you’ll see in mass market, but instead, they bring you into the story, into the lives and places, backrooms, dressing rooms, stages and airports, seeing the moments that make the difference, telling the story of life as it’s happening right in front of their very eyes, not sure what’s to come next….. Yet  captivated  by every new moment…because as documentary filmmakers, there is no script—ever, and they’re living through the moment as they’re looking thru the lens.

They have captured some of the most exciting moments in rock and roll and real life. From Dylan’s Don’t Look Back to the debut of the Jimi Hendrix Experience in “Monterey Pop” to the behind-the-scenes Political documentary, “The War Room,”  D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus  created some of the most exciting and ground-breaking cinema  ever photographed.  But it’s not the type of footage you’ll see in mass market, but instead, they bring you into the story, into the lives and places, backrooms, dressing rooms, stages and airports, seeing the moments that make the difference, telling the story of life as it’s happening right in front of their very eyes, not sure what’s to come next….. Yet  captivated  by every new moment…because as documentary filmmakers, there is no script—ever, and they’re living through the moment as they’re looking thru the lens.

Uncut and verbatim, the conversation we had many years ago reveals the inner workings of their creativity, what makes them tick…..and what gets them to talk. This conversation took place in 1994 at their home on the Upper West Side in New York City.  Broadband was new, we didn’t have the smart phones or the tech that we have today. Please keep this in mind as you experience the conversation.

 

There had to be a moment when you know what you wanted to do.

Chris Hegedus:   I always knew as a child I wanted to be in the arts, and I went to the Hartford Art School and then the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design, which had all sorts of interesting people there. People such as Philip Glass, and painters and filmmakers, and it was a very creative environment. Because the art world was burgeoning towards conceptual art and performance art, I didn’t really see how to make a living doing it, and after a while I lost interest in it because I really didn’t want to be a conceptual artist.

I didn’t see a place for me in the art world, and most of my work at the time had been photography and minimal art film making, and when I graduated from college, I got a job in Ann Arbor working for the University of Michigan Hospital working for a surgeon there, he gave me a job making films of surgery, and I got dropped into a career where most people have to go to medical school first.

And is was fascinating to me, and it seemed like this was a way of making films, getting dropped into peoples lives and getting into this inate voyeuristic scenario watching this entire drama unfold infront of you. In this case, it was the drama of what went on in the operating room. I used to make the analogy of this was like Doctor Marcus Welby or Mash—but much more like MASH. That really turned me around. That there was a job I could do in filmmaking, and that I could do films about the real world.

I had seen some of Pennebaker’s films, and as I graduated from film school, I knew I didn’t know how to be a Hollywood Director. I saw how to make these stories happen in real life. But the equipment became developed so where we could rent a rig in the late 60’s or early 70’s and we could get our hands on great equipment, and my interest escalated with the advent of more technology become easily available.

When you are documenting life as it is happening, do you feel it necessary to get into a comfort zone so that they audience can feel that they are there with the subject you are filming? In a way, filming so that the viewer can be part of it?

D.A. Pennebaker   I Don’t think it’s our problem so much, but I think that you’re not thinking about it this way. It’s like you are writing a play based on characters, whether you are Shaw or Aristophones, but you are writing a film about characters that you know, but in this case, the characters are right in front of you. And the instant is right now. And if they are going on the plane going somewhere, you make a judgement call to see if you want to film that. And why do you want to film it? Well—it’s a connective to where we are going. And where we are going is really what it’s all about. We’re not interested in airport conceptual filmmaking, but at the airport, they might make a phone call, they might look out of the window, they might say something, and those are the longshots…you say that you want to get someplace with them, so when you get to the place where you do want to film what we want to film, we’re part of that entourage. And that in a sense, is what guarantees you the continuous entrée. And it’s maintaining that entree as continuously as possible during the process of filming, but you are really writing a play, but the pencil is really uncertain and undetermined, and you can’t be sure if this line is what you want until you sit down to edit it, but you know you need to have something up on the screen to look at. It’s not a problem if the characters are going to act for you. If that were the problem, you wouldn’t even start it. Because if you thought that there is a chance that they would be acting, you would say, fuck it, I can’t do it, it’s too hard.

 

 

Obviously you must have their trust in you before you start the process of documenting them….

 

Pennebaker Maybe it’s not even trust. It’s trust in a way, like if you go out drinking with some friends you don’t want them to pull at you in some way, to get the fifty bucks you have in a pocket. But it happens is because they want to do it. Now why they want to do it is not our problem. When James Carville says “Why should I let you into my secret chamber?” which is the size of a basketball court, the only thing you can tell him is ‘because you want to.’ Now he has to figure out what that means. And when he does, you do it, and you’re not promising him any spiritual solution, but he has figured out what you are doing, and he figures out that out based on what I’ve done in the past, and he knew I had done Kennedy, and it was a politician, and he felt that the two of us didn’t have any other agenda. We weren’t going back on the air that night and put any footage on television and make him look like an asshole. That is something that he figures out, and when you come to a hard place, you don’t ever get to a place where you push a piece of paper in front of his face and say “James, you signed a contract, we have to do this.” They decided to initiate in a way, and the way you do it, gives them the sense that it’s their film. Whether or not they act is not the issue or important. Whether Dylan is acting. Now Chris, when you wanted to be in the arts, and you saw yourself as an artist.

 

When I grew up, an artist was a guy who painted a picture. Never in my life did I see myself as an artist. And my entire life, I was figuring it out, what was driving me. Because I was unemployable, I didn’t want to do what others were doing. I was trained as an electronic engineer. I was hired by a big company to build big projects. I was projected on a road, but I never saw myself wanting to be an artist. I didn’t know what an artist was. It took me years to figure out what the problem was.

 

As we are sitting here right now, Broadband technology is rather new, and there are companies who are making it possible for digital filmmakers to get their work out there.  Do you feel this is going to be the forefront for filmmakers?

 

Hegedus Sure! We wouldn’t have been able to make the last three films had it not been for digital. We’re doing a new film on digital. Startup.com was shot on a tiny DV camera. It makes it all possible. To do it on film would have been so costly and we wouldn’t have been able to raise the money to do it on film. The digital side is a definite reality of staying alive as filmmakers. Nobody was going to fund Startup.com, so we did it ourselves and we were able to do it. Moon Over Broadway was so expensive on film and so was The War Room. Because you had to pay the actors because of the unions, and we were filming in a Broadway theater. And it puts filmmaking in the hands of the multitudes now, you can edit on computers and it’s a whole different age.

 

Pennebaker     I think that what is going to determine if we’ve come to a branch in the road and there is no turning back, well, I think we’ve already crossed that path. The most interesting films we’re going to get as opposition to Hollywood films, which are predicated on a celebrity driven performance, that has been promoted and is so well known that people are going to see it—so you have something that is so conditioned by broad advertising appeal…but the young people coming in, the imaginations that are coming in, these people cannot afford to do it in film, they cannot afford the film stock, the labs, the prints. When a Hollywood Film comes out they are making 12-15,000 prints, and sending them out to theaters all at the same time, and running ads, and their ads and promotion is probably the same cost as making the film. And then you have independents turning out ‘crackers’ that some people are interested in seeing. So that aspect of the thing, driven by the fact that the theaters are going to show some of the films in video soon. Video projection is going to save the lives of a lot of smaller theaters who cannot afford to compete with the bigger theaters. And TV—well, TV isn’t interested because TV wants to sell cheese. They are not interested in the independent film making market. It contradicts everything they want to do.

 

I have always admired your commitment to quality…

 

Pennebaker   When you speak of quality, people know about intuitively, but in the end people only hear what they are prepared to listen to.

 

I remember listening to my 78’s, the quality of them is so much better than the LP’s….. I know that my brain is very seducible, I can’t say that is no good because I don’t hear it now. But I can hear and see what I want to hear and see, and the imagination is so powerful, that the new independent films are going to have so much imagination…people are going to make them, and theaters are going to run them. And they are going to be a little adjunct, but will never get 200 million heads…… So he really can’t worry about that major market. That’s only for the people selling cheese.’

 

You had mentioned Phillip Glass earlier in our conversation. He appears to be an artist who is able to balance and maintain artistic integrity and commercial success.  A rarity.

 

Pennebaker   Well he can make an opera and get it out. That’s a hard thing to do. We can make a film and get it into the theaters. That’s a hard thing to do. Most independents have a hard thing doing that, surviving from film to film. The question is, “is that journalism or is that art?” A lot of people are interested in knowing if these films are perceived as journalism. It doesn’t matter what our intentions are. But how are they perceived by a larger market…… Journalism doesn’t interest me so much.

 

 

Couldn’t “Don’t Look Back” be viewed as journalism, or a different kind of journalism, because you were capturing Dylan as it was happening, bringing and audience to witness the story as it is happening?

 

Pennebaker   But is that Journalism?

 

I don’t know

 

Pennebaker   I don’t know either!

 

Since documenting life as it’s happening right before your eyes, in order to create the mosaic you are looking for, does the editing process  become a grueling process?

 

Pennebaker    It’s like you are shooting again. And the difference in the process, I believe the difference, in a movie, the camera is part of the set, it is part of the actors, it moves like the actors, it is behind the glass. It moves like the actors. It doesn’t look around. For us, the way I see the camera, is the camera is the audience in the theater, and everything that happens on the stage is organized by someone else, someone else is planning their life day by day, moment by moment, and we’re not part of it. We have to make decisions what to shoot, when not to shoot, and we’re like the audience that is surprised because the camera is surprised in a theatrical kind of way. The editing takes that position and puts it is a more theatrical way. There is no certain way we always do it, but in the end, we come to an agreement about the way we want to be a pair of eyes, a pair of heads watching it.

 

 

Hegedus  There are two parts of our filmmaking. The first part is our detective work, it’s shooting the film and anticipating what we want to do, like in “The War Room” before we shot the film, we visualized the film as about a man becoming President. But when we got in there, we made decisions like “What is the story we are going to find here?” and who is passionate about what they are doing, and the stakes are high, and we were lucky to follow James Carville and George Stephanapolous. The second part is when you get the film back, is trying to make the story with the material you received, and that is an entire different kind of detective work. When you are making the film, the characters create drama. So before you are editing, you realize that the story line needs to create drama, so it’s all created in the editing room. The structure and the style, and how it evolves. And that is something you really think about when you are shooting, because when you are making the film, you are obsessed with capturing the moment and trying to figure out what the story is and how to get access to the people, and get what is there.

 

You seem to find a way to maintain your own autonomy, a rarity in this overly commercialized world run by a studio system whose only interest are profits.   What was it about growing up, your life as a child and your upbringing which may have implanted this way of being?

 

Hegedus    My mother was a teacher who loved the arts, and she fostered the love of learning. Somehow, and maybe it was inherit in growing up, there had to be some sort of passion that you have within you. And I don’t really where it comes from…..but it happens. So, who knows why you become passionate about what you are doing. My father was a corporate sales executive, not an artist so much. He was very much in the business world. A funny thing that happened recently at a family dinner, is my mother asked a question to everyone, “Tell me, if you weren’t doing what you were doing, what would you want to do?” And my father, who really surprised me, told everyone that he would have really loved to have been an artist!!! For me, I felt as if I was doing what I wanted to be doing.

 

Pennebaker   I think that the language acquisition moment—it can happen at any time in your life. It was when my friend Francis Thompson brought in a film and showed it on my wall. I had a projector in my apartment and a turntable underneath it. We used to show films like this with music going with a film, and I was about 25 or 26 at the time….and I had thought a lot about music, art and poetry, I was writing at the time, and doing a lot of stuff that was peripheral around the arts, and he had this film called NYNY and it was all abstract pictures of New York City.

 

It wasn’t that the pictures told me anything amazing, it was that he had done it by himself and I knew that I was probably not going to write a big novel, and while I had friends who were painters, I knew that I wasn’t a great painter, I knew that there were people who knew more than I did, and I couldn’t catch up with them, and I knew they would lead, and I became very depressed. But I had a company downtown that made computers and I abandoned it. And when I saw this film, and I realized “that’s it! That’s what I am going to do the rest of my life. I wanted to make films!

 

And I had all of these other things I have started, and I had a wife, and a child, and a life going, and now it became so clear to me…..and I knew how to make distorted pictures like Francis used, but I wanted to make a film by myself, the idea of controlling the work was so amazing….. and I loved working on films, and I learned how to make a scene, and how to make dialogue by doing it, but I couldn’t stand not being responsible for the final thing…. The final thing should be a jewel….and in most cases it was flawed and a badly cut film (by others) because they didn’t have the control of its final destination. It was a bad imitation of a jewel. And the first time I made a film the way I wanted to make it was don’t look back

 

Were you a Dylan fan?

 

Pennebaker    I knew that he was going to be a very important person.

 

So you weren’t a fan initially?

 

Pennebaker   Well, I became a fan because he was such an amazing musician. I was looking into the fiery furnace there, and I was about 40 watching a younger person trying out things, experiment. I had no doubts that the film I was going to make would be around for 25 years after I made it.

 

How long did it take to edit?

 

About three weeks.

 

 

Did you know what you wanted it to look like when you were done filming?

 

Pennebaker   No, I didn’t. I put off editing for about two months. I didn’t know what the film was about really, and it wasn’t until Michael Quinn said “If you’re not going to do it, I will do it. So I put my mind to it, and edited it on a viewer, not really an editing machine…”

 

How could you suggest to the up and coming filmmakers, art students, music students, anyone who is in the creative fields to find a way to maintain a level of autonomy, with the understanding that most of the people at the top levels of the studios, don’t really care about the story they are telling but are interested in the financial return.

 

Pennebaker     They really need feedback. They want somebody to tell them they love them, or that they have something good, it comes out of that need initially.

 

Hegedus     People in our career, you have to be incredibly passionate and have incredibly strong convictions of what you want to do. There are not a lot of financial rewards.

 

Pennebaker    You also have to be brave. Because with every chance, there is a chance of total disaster. And you have to be able to deal with that. But to deal with the idea that it might be a disaster. That is an aspect of independents that people don’t think about—is they are very brave. Bands such as Depeche Mode—are very brave….. But you didn’t answer my question. Art versus journalism.

 

I don’t really know. Isn’t life part of journalism?

Pennebaker     And now my final question….Do you have any sense in your own head of what defines art?

 

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Beatles Producer George Martin: Can too Much Technology Stifle Creativity?

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A note from Mobilized’s Creative Director: I first met Sir George Martin at a party for Pete Towshend at Sardi’s in New York….it was an event for the Special Olympics, I think.  As I’m speaking with a friend, she taps me on the shoulder and says “Oh, George Martin is here!” to which I thought to myself, “Ah, the Father of God!” 

I wanted to say hi to the man whose magnificent productions we grew up with.  Our first conversation was a quick one.

Me: “There are two words I have wanted to say to you for over thirty years!”

George Martin: “And they are?”

Steven: “Thank You!”

He tapped me on the shoulder, said “Thank You” and we went our separate ways.

I’ve been trying to find a way of sharing parts of this conversation with others, afterall, Mobilized is not music publication.  But I believe that learn from all of our experiences. From every conversation, from every step, from every advance and from every step backwards.

I felt, maybe people from other walks of life, outside of music, production and the arts could take a little advice from the master of sound, the man who shaped so many wonderful songs from  The Beatles

Over the course of the next several months, we plan to find a way to share the inspirations of innovators and inventors from all walks of life. But for now…..

It was certainly a very different time, there is much we just didn’t have in the ways of technology. In this interview from fifteen years ago, producer George Martin speaks of why too much technology stifles creativity….as well as where some of the ideas come from. Inspirations that can inspire anyone, anywhere, anytime, no matter the field one works in.

“I think that learning how to make change in anything is important, whether  you make cars or records. You will find that a person will be doing a better  job when they learn their craft before they attempt to work at it, and don’t  bullshit people. Don’t pretend you know something prior to doing it. Have  confidence. You have to have confidence or people will walk all over you.”

George Martin has produced the Beatles, America, Jeff Beck, The Mahavishnu Orchestra and even Peter Sellers’ comedy records. He is much more than a “producer’s producer” but he not only is able to extract  the very best best out of the artists he works with, he’s humble too. Maybe it comes from confidence, having the knowledge of the instruments of the orchestra, how they work both  individually as well as together.

But with confidence comes conviction. The sheer and utter faith in one’s  ability to shape sound. In this brief yet informative conversation, we spoke  with George from his home in England, where he assured us that a great  recording should always start with a great song, and that despite the  unfortunate situations of our creative industries being taken over by  marketing companies and non-creative corporate conglomerates, a great song  will last forever.

In the early part of the 1960’s, a young music manager named Brian Epstein  was contracted by four musicians from Liverpool to secure them a record  deal.  While just about every record company he spoke with passed on the  band, it took incredible persistence for Epstein to continue pursuing a dream that would go down in the history books forever.

Essentially, it was the creation of a very special team that enabled the  Beatles to become as big as they became, and, while the time was ripe for  such a band to succeed, it’s doubtful something like this could ever happen  again, as if there was only one time in the history of the Universe where these stars would unite.

Brian had the vision to solicit the attention and support of an EMI staff  producer, George Martin, who, in the past had produced orchestral  soundtracks as well as comics such as Peter Sellers.  Martin’s knowledge of  orchestration—and–most essentially, the relationship between all of the  components of the orchestra enabled him to create the type of records he  produced, and at a time where music technology was starting to grow, they  didn’t have the tools and technology of todays digital studios, instead, they  were forced to create by pulling ‘rabbits out of their hats,’ and invent new  ways of producing records.

While one can find it amazing to listen to their later works, one wonders  what was going on in the mindset of Producer George Martin, what he saw in  the band, and how he empowered them to be better than great, to be the best  they could be.  And considering the lack of technology available to them,  that some of the Magical  Mystery Tour they encountered, was the journey they  made during their recording process.

“First of all, I’ve never really experienced dealing with people who don’t  have a musical education, ” Martin said from his home in England.    “But  having said that, there are some very successful record producers who just  are not great musicians. But I think that it is an enormous help to be a  musician and to know what the guys in the studio have to do, to have some  experience in knowing what they go through. It is definitely an asset to  know the terrors and the difficulties that a musician goes through so you  can understand how to handle them. I think there are so many facets to being  a record producer that are important. It is like teaching in a way. I  started out as a musician and I got involved in the recording business by  chance.

“I really wanted to write music for films. Orchestrating music was very  important to me. In regards to the studio business, I did realize that I had  the ability to get the best out of people and making them better if I hadn’t  known them. I think that a producer has to look inside the person and say  “what is there that I need to get out of them and how to get them to release  it?” You got to get inside the person. Each artist is very different. There  is a lot of psychology in it. I learned that diplomacy and tact were  important when I really didn’t have those attributes and made a few mistakes. Then the ability to shape music and know what will appeal so you  can take a bit of raw material and shape it knowing that it is good the way  it already is, however it could be better if we did something with it.”

But then is it a producers main job to continually ask the questions “What  if?” during the process?  Is asking questions an essential part of  production?

“Yes, of course,” he admits.  ” You see, that is one of the problems today. Technology has been getting more sophisticated and clever and more  complicated with each day that goes by instead of years, and it is quite  mind-boggling what you can do with it.. It’s a far cry from where I started  when you had to do everything by the seat of your pants and some rubber  bands, mast tape and sealing wax. Now everything is right in front of you  and available for a price and because of that, it is really easy, given the tools, to produce first class sounds, and you can create a song that doesn’t  sound wonderful, in a back room. This stifles creativity because you don’t  have to work for it, it’s already there! When you’re hungry and you have to  work hard for something, you can be more creative than when something is  handed to you on a plate. Technology has helped music and creation, but we  shouldn’t abuse technology.”

But as someone who has spent a lifetime within the trenches of the music  industry, one wonders what qualities are needed in order to fully develop  talent, or to develop the creativity of another person, even if they’re not  in the creative fields.

“The record industry is very different today. The people who actually run  the record companies today don’t make records. They are marketers. They take  the product off the street while the producers are finding the talent. It’s  rather like comparing it to Hollywood when you had great studios and talent and now you have nothing  more than finance companies organizing and buying independent films and  projects. I guess I was lucky in a way because timing is everything and I came into the business at a very important time when the recording changes  were coming out of mechanical into the electrical into electronic and Stereo  was coming in and people were getting sophisticated in their thinking, but  it wasn’t too sophisticated. When people say to me “I can’t believe that you  made that record on a four track” I say that it was an advantage because  having the constraints that you had, you had to work  through it, you had to  work harder, you had to think more to get the effects you wanted. I feel  that having the constraints really helped me in many ways.”

Other than the constraints that faced him, it was essential for him to have  a full music background.  And sometimes it takes a little creative  ‘borrowing’ of ideas from another source in order to fully realize the shape   of something new to come. For example, the string arrangements of “Eleanor  Rigby.”

“”The production and the scoring are two separate things. But my role model  for that was Bernard Hermann who did the scores for Alfred Hitchcock. He was  a great film score. I got the idea for the jagged strings from, I think,  Fahrenheit 451. And it was very, very effective. Also the harmonies that  Paul gave me gave me a bit of Benjamin Britten.”

What can a person in any field of work or industry learn from the creative  alchemy of George Martin?

“I think that learning how to make change in anything is important, whether  you make cars or records. You will find that a person will be doing a better  job when they learn their craft before they attempt to work at it, and don’t  bullshit people. Don’t pretend you know something prior to doing it. Have  confidence. You have to have confidence or people will walk all over you.”

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Mobilized TV

Mobilized TV on Free Speech TV  takes a deep look at our world, the consequences of human activity on our planet, and how we can reverse and prevent existing and future crises from occurring. Mobilized reveals life on our planet as a system of systems which all work together for the optimal health of the whole. The show delves into deep conversations with change-makers so people can clearly take concerted actions.

Produced by Steven Jay and hosted by Jeff Van Treese.

Mobilized’s TV series Mobilized TV  premieres on Free Speech TV on Friday, October 15, 2021. All episodes appear:

Fridays 9:30 PM Eastern (USA/Canada)

Saturdays; 6:30 PM (Eastern USA/Canada)

Sundays: 8:30 AM Eastern (USA/Canada)

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The overwhelming news being shoved down our throats on a daily basis is having a debilitating effect our our mental and emotional health. While many people seem to feel powerless, there are a lot of actions that people can take. Mobilized.news gives you a front row seat to the change that you can create in the world when we speak with Rob Moir, Executive Director of leading environmental organization, The Ocean River Institute.

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