on dropping like flies
The phrase seems to have been first used in 1902 in an article printed in the Atlanta Constitution: “I saw women and men rushing back and forth amid the flames for an hour. They would run along, then came the choking smoke and they would drop like dead flies.” Today we use it occasionally when death comes in numbers, such as this weeks (so far) passing of George Jones, Richie Havens and Bob Brozman. Others have posted memorials and acknowledgments here, so I have no need to restate the obvious other than that all will be remembered for their musical contributions. But obviously I have some thoughts to share, for what else would delay a day of laundry and cleaning the apartment? And there is some practice time needed on the mountain dulcimer as I’m doing a song for May Day (a bit early) that I’ve yet to write or practice. In those rare instances as a performer of sort, I love to walk on the wire. Often I fall off and bump my head.
In my past life as record industry weasel and middle management sales flunky, I’ve often been dragged into the pitch meeting. It’s gruesome. And thankfully, as record labels now aren’t inclined to sign blank checks, I imagine that they are becoming fewer and fewer. But especially in the nineties and early oughts, I met with dozens of (usually) artists of success and renown from years long past, who had been “working on something really new and exciting” and were ready to get back into the ring, so to speak. Kenny Rogers was one…and he actually scored a hit single, sold a bunch of albums, performed on Broadway and revitalized his bookings. But most were failing to discover lightning in the bottle again, and it was tough to watch.
The company I worked for at the time seemed to love chasing memories. We funded tons of projects and lost millions and millions of dollars. While gambling on the long shot was a time honored tradition in the record biz, my boss perfected the art of falling in love with the idea of taking an artist with sixties or seventies popularity, and turning them into a new sensation in a world of boy bands, video games and the internet. The cold hard fact? Nobody gave a damn anymore.
I met Ritchie Havens in a hotel room in either Las Vegas, San Francisco, LA or Orlando. It was the same week that Gary Wright (“Dreamweaver”) came in with a proposal that we all voted down. But the meeting with Ritchie was one I looked forward to because first, he was Ritchie Havens. And second, I always thought of him as one of our finest song interpreters. He was kind, gentle, interesting, intelligent and engaging. We spent a half-hour listening to the pitch…he needed just a little money, distribution and some marketing assistance. Being the one responsible for ultimately delivering the bottom line, I went with my gut and not my heart. So I passed. It was the right thing to do, but I’m glad that another distributor picked him up as the music was very good, and in many ways important to be released and shared. Couldn’t sell beans, but sometimes maybe that’s not so important, eh?
That’s why I like the music business better today than yesterday: anybody can put their songs out into the wind without dumb ass business people like me putting our thumbs up or down. And while very few can turn a profit, many are making ends meet and if you don’t bother to listen to the whiners who mostly are chasing dreams of fame and fortune, a performer these days can enjoy one helluva ride. But I am drifting.
On dropping like flies.
So we’ve lost three musicians this week and Bob Weir collapsed on stage the other night in Port Chester. (I think he’s ok.) We’re witnessing the aging of not only ourselves, but of the musicians we grew up with. And it’s a bit ugly and sad, isn’t it? I met this lawyer on the train yesterday who named the last two albums he bought. He joked that it must have been 1973. I corrected him and said, “No, 1971”. But the point was that for him, his musical frame of reference besides the occasional Broadway show his wife made him go to, and all of his musical listening and exposure spans about a dozen years between ages 12 to 24. Hardly shocking…even on this site we spend pages and pages on Dylan, Parsons, Townes and what have you.
>Got not much to add to the George Jones passing, other than I saw him once at a restaurant in a Nashville shopping center. He looked like any other senior citizen grabbing a four to six early bird dinner special. On Bob Brozman, of which there is a nice post here that someone wrote, I’d like to mention that I didn’t think of him as the “New York Jew who played blues”, but as a master of Hawaiian steel who collaborated with Cyril Pahinui. And so if you’ve never heard them, this track is being sent out to all three…George, Richie and Bob…long may your music live on. Be well all.