Thursday, April 23, 2009


This article originally appeared in the 4.23.09 issue of Metroland

Tonight the CRUMBS Night Out at the Linda Norris Auditorium is very special indeedy. First up at 7 is major buzz-band / collective / traveling circus Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned who may or may not play selections from their new EP Charles Mingus Garbage Pile. With a recent shout-out on NPR, an appearance at SXSW and an upcoming residency at Pete’s Candy Store, you really don’t want to miss this. Then you don’t want to miss the 8 PM music biz panel discussion about what’s up these days with indy labels, featuring the heads of two of the world’s great and most respected indy labels: Steve Reddy of Albany’s alt-rock powerhouse Equal Vision Records and Lincoln Mayorga of Chatham’s audiophile classical / jazz label Town Hall Records.

There’s a special place in hell for attorneys like Stuart Slotnick. Slotnick represents American Apparel, you know, the company that makes “edgy” t-shirts, posts swarmy ads all over the web and everywhere else, and tries to be the fashion voice of the 20-something consumer generation (recent post on the company’s site: “Kim Karadashian: Ghetto Fabulous in American Apparel!”). Gawd.

American Apparel used an image of Woody Allen in a recent ad campaign, with what looks like a screen capture of Woody decked out like an Orthodox Jew from a scene in Annie Hall. This is flat out, hands down, ridiculously illegal. Every state in the union (and most every country in the world) has laws, either statutory or common law, that you can’t use somebody’s image in an advertisement without their permission. You probably already know this, but apparently the morons at American Apparel didn’t, or were so gleeful in their commercial “edgyness” that they decided they are just way too hip for the law. Or something.

Note that this doesn’t only apply to celebrities. Everyone’s image, yours, mine, Woody Allen’s, is protected. It’s really a matter of privacy for most of us, of being left alone. For celebrities, though, it’s something more. The use of an images is more than an intrusion, it’s a taking, a hijaking, of the celebrity’s endorsement and persona, the celebrity’s “right of publicity.”

So naturally, Woody Allen sued American Apparel for this gross and blatant offense. Not surprisingly, the notoriously private Allen doesn’t endorse products in the United States. In fact, Allen has previously successfully stopped the use of Woody Allen look-alikes in clothing commercials appearing in magazines.

Enter Stuart Slotnick, Esq., who blabs to the press that, essentially, American Apparel is going to put Woody Allen on trial. Slotnick’s “theory” is that Allen’s personal life, and in particular his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn (which I’m sure you all also know about) has resulted in Allen’s commercial endorsement value being nil. Therefore, the “theory” goes, Allen’s “damages”, which Slotnick apparently measures as the market value what American Apparel would have paid Allen for the use of his image, is non-existent as well.

Now, we can all argue about the morality and propriety of Woody Allen’s personal life ‘til we’re blue in the face, but I would offer the following: Allen and Previn have been married now for 12 years and have two adopted kids. OK?

There’s a couple issues here. One, American Apparel broke the law in the most crass way possible, and the victim is now getting pummeled? If Allen’s image is really so worthless, why did American Apparel use it in the first place? And if the measure of damages is the market value of the image, what good is the law? Is American Apparel seriously arguing that they can steal someone’s image, and if they get caught, simply pay the “market value” of that use? Really? What protection does that afford someone like, say, Woody Allen, who chooses not to have his image used for any commercial endorsement, period? What protection would that afford you and me? What’s the value of the use of our image in a commercial, particularly if we don’t want our image used? Would Slotnick counter our lawsuits with smear campaigns about our pasts, too? Really?

Slotnick noted, in his extra-curricular conversations with the press, that American Apparel had pulled the ads and apologized. That’s mighty big of them. That can’t be enough, either.

Lawyers are duty-bound to “zealously” advocate on behalf of their clients. But there are boundaries of decency, boundaries of the law, boundaries of common sense, that lawyers should not transgress. Here’s hoping that a judge intervenes and stops Slotnick’s charade. It’s disgusting.

And here’s hoping you remember this idiotic behavior next time you go out to buy clothing.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Photo: Bowery Ballroom 12/31/08 (c) Philine VanLidth DeJeude used by permission believe it or not!
This article was originally published in the 4/9/09 issue of Metroland

I never payed much attention to the Dresden Dolls, thinking the world didn’t need one more gaudy, Weimar-influenced group and all that goes along with it. I think I need to be a little less of a jerk about these things.

The money end of the group, Amanda Palmer, has a solo album (Who Killed Amanda Palmer) that is beyond outrageous, and lately she’s been making waves by declaring war on her record label, Universal imprint Roadrunner Records. Roadrunner is the home of, uh, Nickleback and a whole bunch of commercial metal bands.

Some of the problem is the classic artist/label creative differences stuff: Roadrunner wants mainstream “hits” (whatever that means these days), Palmer wants to follow her muse and build on her already considerable fanbase. She thinks her album is a fine representation of her, and that means complex, intellectual and rowdy. The label wants something it understands, like, oh, say, Nickleback.

Things went totally south when the label’s promo department told her they wanted to photoshop or edit out some shots of her bare midriff in a video promoting the album because they said she looked flabby. She, understandably, went ballistic, and fans have launched a Belly Solidarity Campaign with tribute sites on the web featuring and celebrating photos of bare midriffs of every shape and size. Roadrunner, pathetically, tried to capitalize on this with their own “show us you belly button” campaign with Palmer-related prizes, which didn’t exactly help relations with Palmer or her fans.

Then she reported that, while touring Australia a few weeks ago, Roadrunner’s Australian head of digital marketing had no idea what Twitter was, saying dismissively that Australians are sometimes slow to catch on to things. Incredulous, Palmer sent out a Tweet and a few hours later hosted a party in a nearby park for 150 fans.

It all got so bad that Palmer’s now written a song directed at the label entitled “Please Drop Me,” has been playing it live, and is encouraging fans to record it and post it on YouTube. All this and she’s been hilariously feeding her fans the drama in real time on her blog and on Twitter to a thunderous response. Her fans helped finance her elaborate tour when the label wouldn’t, and she’s now got the kind of intimate, rabid, and lifelong fans most artists can only dream about.

She rocks. She’s my hero. Which Dresden Dolls album do I start with?

Meanwhile, you may have heard that the iTunes store this week began selling tracks with variable prices: current chart-toppers priced at $1.29, selected older catalog stuff at $.69, and everything else at $.99. Amazon jumped in a few days later with a similar pricing scheme.

As we’ve mentioned here before, there’s no reason that all music ought to be the same price. Hits are worth more to people than non-hits, right? But then, this may just be so many deck chairs on the Titanic. People aren’t buying and they’re are getting music for free, one way or the other, more than ever before. That’s why the labels are looking at an alternative that they derided as lunacy for years: the “celestial jukebox”, where all music is available all the time over the Internet and in the air for a modest subscription fee. The labels have hired Internet guru Jim Griffin, the guy who coined the phrase “celestial jukebox” back when the Internet was in its infancy, to set it up. He’s calling this new and as yet un-launched service “Choruss.” Look for Choruss to be rolled out at selected colleges fairly soon, and available though Internet service providers after that.

Will it work? It’s doubtful. Similar things (Ruckus, Napster) have failed on campuses before; kids are now so used to free that any payment seems draconian. And at this point, almost anything associated with the major labels is poison for many people. They just won’t play.

The second problem is tracking use. The money collected will theoretically be spread around to labels and publishers and artists and songwriters pursuant to some sort of mechanism that keeps track of what music is being downloaded, listened to, and shared. And there is no really satisfying way to do this without some measure of snooping into what individuals are listening to.

Maybe that’s not such a big deal. I dunno. Few people care that their ISP and Google keep track of their internet activity, so maybe it’s not a huge leap to accept a reasonably limited intrusion on listening habits. We’ve already surrendered out privacy. So pay up.