Wednesday, October 16, 2013


This article originally appeared in the 10.17.13 issue of Metroland.

Country and Blue Grass Bar

            I haven’t seen the CBGBs movie yet, which makes this a perfect time to discuss it.  I just learned that it was available as a pay-per-view on DirectTV for the entire month of September.  Nice of them to let me know.   It “debuted”, sort of, last week in NYC.  And it doesn’t look like it’s even getting normal theatrical distribution, just one night here and there.  Mostly there.   I see someone posted the entire movie on YouTube two weeks ago and only 1000 people or so have bothered to watch it.  Which ought to tell you something.

            Not that box office, or lack of, matters, especially for music films.  I remember seeing This Is Spinal Tap the one week it ran at the Northway Mall in a theater pretty much empty other than the members of Blotto (we were laughing hysterically) and the members of Visitor (they weren’t).  And look what happened to that one.  It went to eleven.

            The carping about the CBGBs film is as dismal as it is predictable.  Ummm, Sting’s daughter as Patti Smith singing “Because The Night” two years before it was written?  Bad lip-synching?  It wasn’t like that?  Yawn.  I’ve read numerous reviews saying that Alan Rickman was horrendously miscast as Hilly Kristal, and I’ve heard from several friends who knew Kristal well who say Rickman nailed it.   I’m guessing it’s a lot better than most people say.  But I’m also guessing it lacks the substance needed to become a cult film with legs.

            I certainly wasn’t a habitué of the sad little shithole on the Bowery. I know I went there to see The Mumps, and maybe The Ramones.  Or maybe The Mumps opened for The Ramones?  Or was that at Harrah?  Or did I just go in, use the bathroom, and flee in abject horror?  I remember driving by once in 1977 when Television was playing there and decided to go uptown to the planetarium instead.   That was stupid.

            By the time my band hit NYC in 1980, CBGBs was long over, propped up mainly by hardcore and out of town bands playing for little more than bragging rights.  We could have played there for a fraction of what we were getting paid elsewhere, and it just didn’t make any sense.   We wouldn’t have fit anyway.  It had become kind of a silly place.  I remember seeing early photos of Guns and Roses in their CBGBs shirts and thinking “what poseurs.” Somehow the club chugged on till 2006, populated by declining numbers of tourists and the delusionally faithful.  It’s now a store for some high-end fashion designer.

            But now CBGBs is a brand!  And last week, in conjunction with the “release” of the movie, there was the second annual (how did I miss the first one?) CBGB Music and Film Festival, touted as the largest music festival in New York.  Showcases!  Curated exhibits!  Industry panels, because nothing says punk like a panel discussion about corporate endorsements or song placements in television commercials!
            I went down to see the wonderful Genya Ravan, who was a major figure in the early days of the club and in the movie.  She scored me a pass for the whole she-bang.  Passes are good.

            Genya performed at a joint called Leftfield’s in lower Manhattan, in a skinny little room that held no more than 50 people with a tiny stage in the window.  Her band basically stood in a line behind her.  Her dressing room was her car.  This is what it’s come to?  Trooper that she is, she turned in a fantastic set, including the classic “I Won’t Sleep On The Wet Spot No More”.  I wanted to stay for Cheetah Chrome, but it was getting late and that skinny little room depressed me. 

            My “festival” continued the next night at some “punk club” in Williamsburg.  The front room was packed full of hipsters (don’t get me started), and the skanky back room, the “music festival” room, was empty except for a really awful hardcore band playing for four 40 year old guys who attempted to mosh, knocked over a table, and stopped.

            Then my CBGBs iPhone app (yup) informed me that The Interlopers were playing in Manhattan the next night.  The core of the band is three Berkshire kids who are all 2nd year students now at Berklee.  They started the band in high school and quickly commanded the respect of what’s left of the Berkshire music scene. I hadn’t seen them in forever.  They’ve grown into a killer R&B band, snakey grooves, 3-part harmonies, horns quoting Leonard Bernstein.  To a person they are virtuousos. They’re all around 20.  They took the Bolt Bus from Boston that afternoon and were taking it back that night.  They played in the dark in this basement club.  They filled the room and they held it.  People were screaming by the end of their set.

            These days, that’s really punk, my friends.

Paul Rapp is an ornery intellectual property attorney who recently had a Manhattan cocktail at the Algonquin while trading bon mots with an intellectual.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


This article originally appeared in the 10.10.13 issue of Metroland

            There are some shows one just does not miss. And if this sounds like an odd pairing, well, it was.  And it was magical in all sorts of ways.

            First up: Brian Wilson, or rather 11 musicians performing a tribute to Brian Wilson with Brian Wilson in attendance.  Opening softly with an ethereal 10 voice a cappella version of The Four Freshmen’s “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring”, the set made a compelling case that Wilson is in the pantheon of great American composers / arrangers, along side Copeland, Bernstein, Rodgers, etc.  Or would have been had he kept it together.  Which, obvious and famously, he didn’t.  There’s something both disconcerting and bittersweet about watching this obviously damaged genius be a near non-participant in his own performance.  But no matter, until the orchestral ensemble (augmented with original Beach Boys Al Jardine and David Marks, who both sparkled) devolved into running through the thumpy and treacly early Beach Boys hits to close the set, we were treated to an odd and adventurous set full of beauty and wonder.  The 1-2 punch of “Heroes and Villains” and “God Only Knows” (which Wilson mumbled was “my greatest achievement as a songwriter”) was simply devastating.

            And then it was hello Jeff Beck.  Yowsa.  With monsto-drummer Jonathan Joseph and former Prince bassist Rhonda Smith in tow, the band opened with Billy Cobham’s “Stratus” and raged through a set of raw funk fusion that was jaw-dropping.  Do hipsters know about this kind of music?  I think not.  Damn.  Beck’s guitar was, as always, totally loud and in yer face, which was refreshing given that Brian Wilson’s sound mix was, well, shall we say it was appropriate for a PBS fundraiser?   And the set was loose and Beck was on fire.  Crazy brilliant.   Effortless.  No one plays with more humanity, playfulness, or passion.  I can almost forgive him for breaking up the 2nd Jeff Beck Group back in ’72.  Bastard.

            And then the bands merged.  It kind of worked.  First they played what I’m guessing were tunes from Wilson’s upcoming album, slow bluesy numbers with Beck soloing furiously and the Wilson camp adding all sorts of 4-5 part harmony oohs and aahs in the background.  The back-screen showed lots of sun-soaked church windows, which was about right.  Then a gloriously sloppy take on the Delta blues classic “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”, straight out of one of those 2 AM blues jams in a corner bar back when we all used to drink.  What?  Then, Beck’s unnecessary but crowd-pleasing version of “A Day In The Life”, and a couple more stupid Beach Boys songs (blown up by hysterically inappropriate Beck solos). 

            Then “Danny Boy.”  Freakin’ Danny Boy.  As beautiful as anything you’ve ever heard.  Nite.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


This article originally appeared in the 10.3.13 issue of Metroland

Big congratulations to Phantogram’s Josh and Sarah on the release of their teaser EP on Barsuk / Universal (the full album will drop soon), their song placement in (1) that ubiquitous Gillette teevee commercial and (2) the upcoming Hunger Games movie, their return visit to Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (Friday October 4) and their recent gig at the freakin’ Hollywood Bowl!  Dayam guys!  And Godspeed to the remarkable Sean Rowe, who’s in Black Dog Studio in Stillwater conjuring up his third album for Anti Records, working again with the local brain trust (Frank Moscowitz / Troy Pohl & Co) that made his first album Magic so intimate and powerful.  Proof times two that with the right combination of talent, hard work, dedication, timing and luck you actually can blow this pop stand and reach for the stars.

            Moving on.  A few weeks ago I noticed people posting these Peanuts cartoon frames with the characters spouting Smiths lyrics.   A young woman had created a Tumblr page called “This Charming Charlie” that was chock-full of cute Peanuts / Smiths mash-ups.  Not being much of a Smiths fan, I didn’t pay it much mind until it was reported last week that Tumblr was pulling down some of the frames.

            Now, you would think that this was the work of the Charles Schultz estate, right?  Those involved with “protecting” the Peanuts franchise have traditionally been pretty aggressive, and who can blame them?  The most successful comic strip ever (still in syndication), TV, movies, massive corporate tie-ins (like MetLife), merchandise, etc. and so on.  That’s some serious property to protect right there.  Mondo dinero! And one could easily envision that a Peanuts fan, unfamiliar with the Smiths’ ouvre, might be a tad confused and concerned to happen upon Nancy holding the football and saying to Charlie Brown “boot the grime of this world in the crotch, dear”, or Linus carrying a sign that says “shoplifters of the world unite and take over,” or Charlie Brown saying to Linus “when you’re tied to your mother’s apron, no one talks about castration.”  Good grief, indeed!

            But no, it wasn’t the Peanuts people.   Perhaps there’s some Morrissey freaks in the Schultz clan?  Who knows?  The culprit that sent take-down notices to Tumblr was Universal Music Publishing Group, which controls the Smiths’ songs.  And Tumblr reflexively complied and removed the posts.  Oddly, only three of the dozens of frames using Smiths lyrics were removed.

            Music publishers have a long history of over-reaching with this sort of thing.  A little snippet of a lyric has always been strictly verboten.  I get asked often by authors about using a couple words from a song in a book or story—is it OK?  My standard answer is I think it’s almost always fair use, but that the song’s publisher will feel otherwise.  I’ve known authors that contacted publishers and have gotten charged as much as $500 for sticking one line of a song at the head of a chapter of a self-published book.  Other authors have asked permission to use a lyric and have been turned down.  A recent article noted that the DVD release of the TV show China Beach has been held up because a character quotes a 60’s song lyric in an episode and the producers can’t “clear” the quote.

            It’s all a little ridiculous.  And this was pointed in a concise and happy little letter sent by Boston lawyer Dan Booth (of the Cambridge firm Booth Sweet) to Tumblr (and posted on the Charming Charlie page).  Booth points out that the quotes were small (12 words or less), that the use was transformative (“as you can see”) and had absolutely no negative commercial effect on the original.

            Of course he’s right.  Although sometimes publishers jump up and down and say that they’ve always made money licensing lyric snippets, so it does have a commercial effect. But that’s a circular argument.  Just because you’ve wrongly shaken people down in the past for uses that are obviously fair uses, that doesn’t make it right today.   The use of the Smiths lyrics in the Peanuts cartoons does not diminish the value of the Smiths songs.  If anything, it enhances them.  Period.

            It’s unclear that Tumblr has gotten around to re-posting the three offending frames yet.  But late last week a spokesman for Universal told the L.A. Times that it was “dropping its pursuit” of the Charming Charlie site.

            Which is encouraging.  It does feel like notions of fair use are expanding to allow for mash-ups like this one, things that people do on the internet for fun which shouldn’t have a big ka-ching attached to them.  And here we have a Big Media player backing off, something that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago.  Yay.

Paul Rapp is an intellectual property lawyer and backwoods gourmand who likes the Greeks’ idea of throwing extreme right-wing politicians in jail to rot.