…in 2012 - hereinafter referred to by former music industry insiders as (variously) "Black Friday"/"The Day The Music Died"/"OUR 9-11" - the Capitol Records building in Los Angeles closes its doors for the final time, as uniformed salvage men remove the last items of furniture and recording equipment from the iconic structure. That morning, engineers and musicians (including Morrissey and String Cheese Incident, slated to begin a long-planned collaboration that day) are refused entry to nearby Sunset Sound, also closing up shop seemingly for good.
Just steps away, Amoeba Records - perhaps the biggest and most successful record retailer in the United States to thrive in a post-file sharing world - is boarded up and padlocked by crews acting on behalf of the foreclosing ownership, as one lone fan stands vigil just feet away from the store‘s entrance (camping out for that day's scheduled in-store - a pairing of Ringo Starr and System Of A Down). The file sharing/streaming sites are faring no better - donations, subscriptions and ad revenue have dried up nearly in full for the likes of Demonoid, Soulseek, and Spotify, expensive advertising budgets for such surefire blockbuster pairings as Vampire Weekend featuring Brian Wilson or Nickelback with Robert Wyatt having drained the last of their once considerable resources.
The likes of Best Buy and Amazon have aggressively abandoned the business of music sales, restructuring to emphasize the likes of appliances, toys, computers and mobile electronics. Dumpsters and landfills alike are piled high with optimistically astronomical pressings of Cocteau Twins featuring Jim Dandy compact discs, vinyl and point-of-purchase in-store displays.
Across Hollywood, abandoned music venues are empty and looted - including such former sites of industry triumph as Doug Weston's Troubador, The Roxy, and the Hollywood Bowl (all of whom spent their last struggling weeks hosting such disastrous yet expensive events as Leonard Cohen and Smashmouth or The WMDs - an ill fated supergroup featuring Paul Williams, Dave Mustaine and Glenn Danzig). Ticketing agencies and “brokers” alike are all ceasing operations - unable to liquidate stacks of Modest Mouse featuring Tad Doyle tickets at even a fraction of original face value. The lawsuits fly.
Where did it all go wrong? The recording industry had struggled limply through the beginning of the 21st Century, deeply wounded by the advances of the computer age in which most of its customers opted for a more "cost free" method of consumption. Record stores closed daily around the world and recording and advertising budgets evaporated as the means of delivery changed. Artists were forced to take to the road, selling ever more expensive tickets and t-shirts in an effort to make up the money that once derived from record sales. Record companies created increasingly outlandish "physical product" in an effort to keep their wares on the shelf - endlessly repackaging classic or evergreen recordings in hat boxes (Girl Groups), Porta-Potties (Chuck Berry), or tampon dispensers (Henry Rollins).
Occasionally, every other year or so, a movie soundtrack or blockbuster artist will come along and send the "one record a decade/Bodyguard soundtrack owning/music-for-people-who-don‘t-like-music" consumers out to Best Buy in droves (Adele, Coldplay, David Lowery), providing a stay of execution for the entire industry (and receiving enormous and sincere tributes, plaudits and awards in the process), but things are - generally - grim for a once robust and healthy industry.
That is until September 2010, when veteran Bay Area thrash rockers - and longtime file sharing curmudgeons - Metallica hatch a wildly successful plan to reinvigorate the music industry, and the livelihoods of all who toil in its service. The plan is simple, if somewhat risky: they will revive their own flagging career by teaming with a superstar "frontman". Various names are bandied about - Stephen Malkmus, PJ Harvey, Chris Robinson, Taco, Jay Zed, Jandek, but none really have the "magic we were looking for...the magic we NEEDED, really" according to bandleader Lars Ulrich. Putting his own Lars Mars (a collaboration with "some guy from Motley Crue") project on hold to intensify the search for a new "face", Ulrich spends months combing his Facebook friends list, his rolodex and his record collection for inspiration.
"I knew if we were gonna beat these punks, we were gonna need a real ace up our sleeves. Something super fresh but classic; like a T-Bone steak with buffalo sauce. You know, the other guys in ‘tallica are all such stick-in-the-mud squares, and I knew it was up to me - ‘the edgy one’ - to really radicalize the band. I mean, David Lee Roth was cool for early Van Halen, but much like it was time for those guys to grow up and create something of real artistic merit, WE don't want to play 'Master of Puppets' when we're sixty. Change is GOOD! You know, think about how Tommy Shaw brought some balls to Styx, or...you know, Kevin Cronin totally helping REO Speedwagon ride the storm out. That's the kind of risk 'tallica has to take, and those guys sitting home with their families don't seem to get that. I tell James every day that he's gotta stop being so...2005."
Citing his all-time favorite album - Stevie Nicks' duet-filled debut, Bella Donna - as inspiration ("Every song on that fucking thing was a hit. James isn't cool enough to admit it, but...you know what? No Stevie? No ..Puppets."), he does actually get both Tom Petty and Don Henley to rehearse with Metallica. As those who have seen the band's Some S*&t That Went Down In 2010, Part One documentary DVD can attest, Ulrich’s double bass barrage and random barking failed to gel with Petty and Henley’s mellow California gold.
The conversation that follows Nick Cave's dismal "audition" makes for riveting viewing:
Cave: I love when you guys do that song, “She Fucking Hates Me”. Why don’t we give that one a go?
James (off-mike): I think we should work with Anne Murray
Lars: You know James, I was just thinking the exact same thing. But Reba MacEntire.
The band's guitarist (and resident doormat) Kirk Something-Or-Other then suggests Laurie Anderson ("I've always dreamed of working with Laurie ever since 'O Superman'", he tells Sounds, RIP, AND Kerrang!). Citing their enthusiasm for WKRP In Cincinnati, Ulrich and Hetfield quickly consent.
Anderson demures ("I fucking HATE San Francisco! Windy city, my ass!") but offers her husband Lou Reed as a more suitable alternative. Kirk says next to nothing ("These things happen, and I'm certain it's for the best. Right?"). Hetfield and Ulrich, however, are over the moon.
James: "Dude - this is the kind of shit we were born to do. Heavy, you know? I've been a fan since The Raven. There's just something so elemental about his work. I think if anyone is gonna get us back to that sort of Re-Load level of energy and success, it's Lou. We could do the obvious thing, like record an album of cover songs or work with a symphony orchestra..., but I think a collaboration with the Godfather of Heavy Metal is...it's destiny, you know?""
Lars: "Eh, I'll do it anyway."
Kirk: "Please don't hit me."
Lou Reed is beyond receptive. He's downright ecstatic about the prospect ("I LOVE Puddle Of Mudd! No one understands the lowest depths of the human condition - the dirt and the scum and the interesting smells - like the Mudd. I mean, look at something like their very honest, unflinching interpretation of 'Smooth Criminal'. There's a real depth and beauty there that I can't help but respond to. These people take no prisoners. You know, people fucking laughed at me for doing Metal Machine Music!'). Reed has his people send Lars a now legendary text: "How did you get this number?"
Lou joins the band in their rehearsal recording compound immediately, and six months are dedicated to top secret, around the clock sessions (Ulrich: "We needed a certain privacy, a certain freedom. We needed to be able to scrap the whole thing if it was lame. People spend a lot of time knocking things before they actually happen, and we couldn't really afford that kind of scrutiny. You know, maybe it's fashionable for a certain type of fearful person to hate Metallica, even when we're right out there on the cutting edge."). The chemistry between the veteran quartet and their new frontman is electric (Kirk: "I cried after every session."), and while there is some minor giddy trepidation about taking such a risk with their audience, the feeling within this new collective is wholly one of rebirth and renewal (Ulrich: 'I haven't been this happy since we fired Dave Mustaine!")
Though the band's label refuses to release a video, print ad, or even a single for radio (Hetfield: "That's fine. Led Zeppelin didn't release singles.") and does very little in the way of advertising or promotion (Ulrich: "Whatever - they didn't advertise ..Puppets and that thing still sells today."), Metallica’s management continually goes to bat for the band and the project, leaving the suits at Elektra little choice but to release this new and frightening music
Hetfield: "These were the only Metallica masters they had. If they wanted to put a Metallica record out this decade, it was gonna be this or nothing."
Reed: "Labels don't know shit. Of course they were fucking scared, the little fucking pigs. Every goddamn record I've made was turned down or insulted by some little shit who thought it was 'the wrong record'. How dare some little schmuck tell me that the last year of my life, my blood, sweat and tears are uncommercial. YOU write a line like ‘Standing on a corner/suitcase in my hand,’ motherfucker!"
Ulrich: “That kind of fear is a common reaction to pioneers. When we put an acoustic on 'Fade To Black' our fans were like...Duuuuude! When we started writing pop songs on ‘the Black Album‘, we got death threats. When we first started recording in Dolby, when we started covering songs like “Wanted Dead Or Alive” or “The Load Out”, people told us we were fucking up, told us we were finished. When we covered the jacket of Load with actual human ejaculate, fucking Starbucks stopped carrying our product. I’d say we’ve been unswervingly correct in our direction, whether or not the fans or industry agree at the time. You know, we look at Lou as our Ian Gillan, our Aldo Nova - and some people just see an old man who never really learned how to sing, and they get scared. If we have to keep churning out the same old shit in order to keep you as a fan, then, maybe we don't want you as a fan.'
The record - intriguingly called Lulu - is released with little or no fanfare in early February , 2011. The label presses up its smallest initial run of physical product since the days of Billy Bragg or Spacehog. But then a most strange and unexpected thing happens: "We were getting massive restock orders from Best Buy and Amazon less than two days after release." explains an Elektra staffer who wishes to remain anonymous. "The legal downloads were our highest ever - including evergreen catalog like Hotel California or Running On Empty. I mean, no one wants to admit it now, but we were basically told to spend nothing on that record and just pray for it to disappear, and almost immediately, we're getting all these reports from radio that kids are DEMANDING the thing. Like, threatening to boycott sponsors, that kind of pressure. It was all we could do to just duck and get out of the way - we were over 40 million in sales before we started running ads. I've been here for decades and never seen anything like it."
The record finds itself at Number One on Billboard’s Hot 100 Album Chart within two weeks of release - a position it will hold for more than a year. The album will also rise to pole position on Country and Urban listings, a first for either Metallica or Reed. The physical sales figures are alarming, certainly for two acts of their decades-old vintage, ESPECIALLY during an era when the average hit record now sells less than a tenth of what it did only ten years prior. People are actually going out and BUYING the thing, and it quickly exceeds sales records long held by the likes of Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Bob Seger and The Eagles (whose drummer - and rejected Lulu collaborator - Don Henley does NOT share in the seeming near-universal joy, complains that “a gimmicky duets record” should not be allowed to challenge any sales record held by The Eagles, and launches a one-man campaign to force retailers to remove Lulu from stock or risk losing access to the Henley catalog - a catalog which has been out of print since 1988 ). Entire record pressing plants are diverted to purely manufacturing Lulu in some effort to meet the rising and ongoing consumer demand. Lulu Listening Parties becomes Time’s Person of the Year.
Ulrich: “As someone who has taken a lot of grief for not wanting to have my music stolen, this was especially vindicating. I knew all we had to do was make Napster seem uncool. At this point, we’ve almost raised the legal fees to sue Youtube and Pandora. We might even sue Soundscan while we’re at it”
Critical response is nearly unanimously hyperbolic in its praise - seemingly these two artists who have long inspired contentious reaction can do no wrong together. Longtime popular music enthusiast Jim De Rogatis describes the record as “a real Pink Flag for the 21st Century”, while the similarly enthusiastic Greg Kot asserts that the collaborative magic on display is equaled only by “such legendary once in a lifetime miracles like Beck and the Lips.“. Bob Mehr calls it “A tonic for our times.“ A real spike in audiophile consumerism occurs - not since the era of Dark Side Of The Moon or Aja have hi-fi buffs dominated in such record numbers: it seems the pristine and nuanced sonic richness of Lulu has the iPod generation demanding - in large numbers - to hear it in greater fidelity.
Reed: “I’ve always made great sounding records. Lulu is no exception - listen to the bass on ‘Cliff’s Chest’ or ‘All Tomorrow‘s Puppets‘. Such a pure, undistorted tone.”
The songs are ubiquitous in virtually all radio formats. Hulu becomes Lulu, streaming nothing but the new album 24 hours a day. A ten month long world tour is hastily organized and mounted, also breaking a great number of long held sales, capacity and attendance records (economists predict that “Concert Security” and “Bootleg T-shirt Guy” will be the hot career fields of the new millennium). Opening track “Standing On The Corner” becomes something of a standard - even a cover version by Kidz Bop tops the charts at one point. One could compare the unstoppable self-generating momentum to the likes of Nevermind, Appetite For Destruction or the first wave of American Beatlemania, but these references really do understate the scale considerably. Lou Reed even buys a suit and combs his hair.
Ulrich: “I’ve always been incredibly modest about our many massive accomplishments, and I feel that this humility has helped us survive in a ruthless industry. But…we really hadn’t experienced this kind of grassroots surge and word of mouth groundswell since..well, ..Puppets, really. I mean, after decades selling out the biggest rooms on the planet, you kind of forget what it’s like to be surprised or moved by your own enormous success. As I say, a very humbling experience.”
Reed: “I’m not a young man. And, you know, I’d always been somewhat resentful of these fucking punks like Led Zeppelin, or my dear friend Gene’s band KISS, who seemed to rise up out of nowhere and achieve this massive, record-breaking success without any real aid from the industry or machine. Any little sniveling prick can play loud with enough amplifiers, but…what was I talking about? People can talk about the so-called importance of the Velvet Underground all they like, but you and I know what’s really important. Do you know what it’s like to be paid that type of lip service for forty years and not sell any fucking records? No, of course you don’t. You have no idea. Actual success, you know - it’s quite a beautiful thing, and for someone like me to have a second act like this, there are no words.”
Ulrich: “It’s not some cheap gimmick. Lord knows we tried to find a bandwagon to hop on, but this? This is like… alchemy. Those Sinatra Duets albums, and…you know, Nat King Cole singing with his daughter? EVERYBODY owned those records! I’d say if something’s cool enough for Sinatra or Nat King Cole, it’s probably cool enough for ‘tallica!”
Far beyond what this surprise runaway success means for the artists, the impact on the entertainment industry is enormous. Old time record stores begin sprouting up around the world, re-introducing a model that was ailing as recently as the turn of the century. This new aggregation (lovingly nicknamed “Loutallica” by fans and the adoring press) is, not-inaccurately, credited with reviving the entertainment industry, and - somewhat inevitably - sweep the 2011 Grammy Awards in an emotional ceremony. Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and The Pope have expressed interest in roles should Lulu go Broadway. Labels and retail outlets alike are hiring and spending robustly, at levels that would have seemed improbable at any point within the past decade. Unofficial “LuTube” competitions spring up, with amateur musicians recording viral videos of the songs, and even such name acts as Paul McCartney, Radiohead, Bob Dylan, and U2 have begun performing some of the tracks in concert.
Hetfield: “It’s heavy, alright. People are getting MARRIED to this shit, you know? I mean, I can’t say that Lulu is 500 times better than Mistrial, or 10 times better than ..Puppets, you know the types of figures that is, in fact, selling, but…I certainly appreciate that we’ve struck some sort of a chord, made a connection with the fans. In terms of its impact on the industry, that could have been anyone, really. I love the record, but…you know - I love ‘em all. Like children. Or Scotch.”
Ulrich: “People may forget that - for all of our enormous record and ticket sales - our critical stock was at an all time low before Lulu. I mean, during the last record we made (2008’s Death Magnetic), (producer) Rick Rubin was literally blasting ..Puppets during every session, telling us to ‘re-connect with our essence.’ I mean, yeah, everyone loves ..Puppets, but - he really had a way of making us feel washed up. What an asshole.”
Though the blockbuster success of Lulu has moved labels - both big and small - to start spending, signing, budgeting, and advertising at 20th Century levels of fiscal intoxication, industry watchers are noting a curious trend: the first few projects announced in the summer of 2011 are all somewhat unlikely pairings: Portishead with David Lee Roth, Spoon featuring Handsome Dick Manitoba, and the Jayhawks/Cyndi Lauper. In retrospect, it appears that the industry’s response to the very fluke that revived its fortunes is almost pathologically literal-minded and conservative: every label, in fact, was unashamedly eager and determined to make THEIR Lulu.
The first much-hyped and ballyhooed duet project off the blocks is a pairing of much-loved singer and chameleon David Bowie and perennially-still-around Bowling For Soup (Bowie: “I certainly didn’t come out of retirement strictly for the money, but - no person with children and grandchildren would be able to say no to what they were offering me to work with these fucking people.”). Bowie For Soup is scheduled to make its much advertised debut at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards, both opening and closing the event. For all the ultra-modern design, expense and crew involved in staging this performance, audience response both in the studio and at home is decidedly muted - many viewers reaching for their remotes and changing to ANYTHING just before the closing number. Their album - Aladdin Soup is released the following Tuesday. It stalls in the lower reaches of the top 200 for a week before disappearing altogether.
The following week’s Browne Flag (an aggregate featuring singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, guitarists Greg Ginn and Craig Doerge, bassist Chuck Dukowski and drummer Russ Kunkel) debut - a headlining appearance at Lollapalooza in Chicago - is the site of massive rioting. Thousands of fans are injured, millions of dollars in property damages are reported, and the band are forced to flee for their lives. The band’s similarly high profile appearance at the following week’s Pitchfork Festival is cancelled, though their replacements - Neil Young with Modern English - fare little better with their audience. Hedging their bets, they open with “Standing On The Corner” before succumbing to a stream of boos, flying debris and a mass exodus of attendees (many are injured and two killed in the rush to exit the event). Seeing the writing on the wall, The Bodeans and Tom G. Warrior opt not to perform together at Bjork’s Meltdown in London the following week.
And so it goes: the LMFAO featuring Tom Waits summer blockbuster tour also fizzles accordingly - a mere dozen tickets sold for their Giants Stadium appearance. Arena rock titans Rush gain nothing from their short-lived association with “some guy named Edwyn Collins”. Likewise, Scott Walker and The Coral Reefer Band fail to sell even one concert ticket and are forced to cancel a three month tour of amphitheaters. The few artists who will eventually speak publicly about this all tell the same story - enormous coercion and pressure from labels and management.
Damon Albarn: “For all that I’d done for the entertainment industry, for all that I’d done to advance and sophisticate the art form, it was unbelievably galling and disheartening to be bullied and blackmailed into collaborating with these awful people, who had no sensitivity to my work. Whatever the label may have felt about Steve Earle or Leslie West, you cannot imagine what it was like teaching them the…(tetchily)…do you know how many chords are in ‘Country House’?!?!?! Time to move on, I thought.”
Audiences seem firm in their rejection of the new paradigm. If, as the labels seemed to be insisting, there was another Lulu out there, consumers were resolutely disinterested. Bankruptcy courts began to fill and litigation quickly becomes “the new rock and roll” (as Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner would write in his widely quoted suicide letter). Within a year of Reed and Metallica’s seemingly single handed reviving of the industry - labels, promoters, venues, publishers, manufacturers and retailers alike were collapsing and dissolving in a sea of insolvency proceedings. Seemingly immune from this widespread backlash is the record that started it all.
The principles remain unusually philosophical about these events.
Ulrich: “People want me to say that the industry got greedy or shortsighted, that the moneymen got what they deserved…all of this really vicious, unkind and unseemly stuff. I don’t believe that. Trends have been the bread and butter of our livelihood for centuries. You know, maybe not every heavy band that came along after ..Puppets was gonna be the next Metallica, but…you know, if our success opened people up to Slayer or Guns or Nirvana…you know, gave them an outlet or an opportunity, I don’t think that can really be seen as a bad thing. Likewise with the British Invasion, or acid rock, or rap, or alternative. Everyone says the industry is cynical - I say a lot of good comes from these movements. The ‘post-Lulu duets boom’ is no exception. Maybe people think John Fogerty had no business fronting The Cardigans, but…did anyone bother to listen to the record? It’s not fucking bad.”
Reed: “I worked 50-60 years for that type of success. I‘m quite loathe to consider it tarnished in any way by a few schmucks losing their jobs. I had to drink my own piss before Cale came along - everyone has hard times. The work is what matters. I can assure you that nobody but Andy wanted the Velvet Underground to work with Nico. I mean, again - everyone says they love that record, but you cannot sit there and tell me that anyone listens to that kind of tone deaf, pitchy, off key bellowing for pleasure. People want to hear good singers with beautiful voices. You know - I think that’s why Lulu meant so much to so many people. You listen to a song like ‘Heroin Of The Day’ and tell me you don’t fucking feel something. So….some other prick‘s idea of who can and can‘t collaborate…you know, nobody asked you ungrateful little shits for permission to make music. Some turd from Pitchfork can‘t appreciate that gorgeous record Donovan made with Anthrax? FUCK you! Eat shit, Christagau!”
Hetfield: “It was heavy. People wanted to blame us for some drastic shit - scapegoat us like Milli Vanilli, and all we’d done was reach out in the darkness. What do I think happened? I don’t know. I know a lot of people got together and listened to music, I know a lot of people got together and PLAYED music. I know people lived, died, went through all kinds of changes to these songs. That’s not so bad, is it? People took a few chances. I never thought I’d live to hear Alison Moyet front Grand Funk Railroad. Maybe it didn’t sell, but…there’s more to life than money or plaudits. I think a song like “I’ll Be Your Master” - you know, that didn’t exist before we met Lou, and now it’s being played at funerals. I can’t help but be grateful. As for what happened to the industry? I think maybe people learned that that kind of chemistry can’t be forced. You know, what we and Lou developed and discovered was just so organic and natural - maybe people finally realized you just can’t manufacture the kind of lightning in a bottle that has always been our stock in trade.
Last edited by Meg White on Fri Feb 22, 2001 9:37 pm, edited 278 times in total.
But somehow when you smile, I can brave bad weather.