Gary Pig Gold Ponders
How Truly Powerful Is Today's Pop?
By: Gary "Pig" Gold
MANSIONS UP THE HILL
So guess what I got a chance to do today? Read! Actual books even! And whilst tearing through "Stoned," the first installment of Andrew Loog Oldham's uproarious "memoir of London in the 1960s," I couldn't help but wonder:
Where have all the characters -- no, I mean real characters -- in the music business gone?
Because despite occasional Big Puffy Dads littering the cuckoo world of Rip Rop, there seem precious few of equivalent nature at work and play 'way over here in (Power) Pop Land. And the more I think about it, maybe that's part of our favorite music's problem vis a vis its terminal absence upon the so-called cultural radar. For if the history of Pop teaches us anything, it's that one's sonic Steak is only as good as the Sizzle beneath it --metaphorically reaching that is.
With me then? Let's for a moment step inside our Wayback machines, shall we, from whence one can safely argue the talent tyrant who kick-started our whole rock rolling certainly must have been the one and the only Col. [sic!] Thomas A. Parker. Yes, he who managed -- or, if you prefer, mismanaged -- Elvis Aron Presley from cult status upon that most penultimate of indie labels, Sun, all the way to permanent Shopping Channel icon status and even beyond. Equal parts Louis B. Mayer and P.T. Barnum, The Colonel swiftly shepherded his lone star client from deepest, darkest Memphis straight into the whitebread living rooms (and, most importantly, beneath the six-transistored bedsheets) of the supposedly civilized world. The result? Well, for starters, John Lennon.
Speaking of which, Brian Epstein may have certainly lacked Parker's, um, panache, but he similarly steered his managerial ship through choppy and wholly uncharted waters with a clairvoyant flair, undying loyalty, and absolute eye for detail SO deserving of far, far more than the mere footnote status he's tossed within most Beatle anthologies.
Of course any true character roster of Svengalis Past must also include Dylan's co-conspirator Albert Grossman (imagine Tom Parker disguised as Benjamin Franklin), Led Zeppelin's notorious-and-still-then-some Peter Grant (more Thug for your buck), plus that delightfully under-employed gaggle of mid-Swinging Sixties New London Aristocratic Parlor Lords who window-dressed assorted Kinks, Yardbirds, High Numbers and even Sex Pistols into fame and sometimes fortune (as leeringly detailed within Simon Napier-Bell's riveting "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" expos?). Not to mention the ever-seamy Top Forty Underbelly populated by such twilight denizens of the Naked City as, to name but the most noxious, Morris Levy (--a little-revealed netherworld recently examined, man by man and blow by blow, in a wicked "Vanity Fair" article by the one and only Nick Tosches).
So much for the thumbnail rear view. Now let's flash forward to the present tense.
Hmmm. Wait a minute: Where are the Parkers, Epsteins, McLarens and especially Loog Oldhams of today's Pop scene? Those happily hopped-up, crazed visionaries who wouldn't dare let tradition, let alone what's left of the Music Industry, ever stand in the way of throwing their chosen prot?g?s up the nearest popularity charts --and achieve it all with a flourish every single bit the equal of their very charges' on-stage antics? Really, have things -- on either side of the footlights, I fear -- truly gotten that unimaginative, safe and (possibly most damaging of all) Predictable?
One day on the virtual Audities Mailing List and/or one night at any International Pop Overthrow festival must surely illustrate that an exciting, vibrant, and wholly-exploitable -- and I mean that in only the most altruistic of ways -- "scene" is right this second absolutely ready, willing, and far far more than worthy of reeking its vengeance upon all that is now considered, well, Pop by the massed media. And I, like you I trust, everyday hear great songs, see great bands, love their music, collect their cd's --yet is it only I who fear how much longer our personal little Good Music Renaissance can -- nay, should -- realistically survive its perennial subterranean status? Or, more succinctly put, Where o gawd Where is the Brian Epstein we all so desperately need right about now to help our fave rave climb out of their chosen cavern, as it were, into the bright light of widescreen, above-ground visibility?
As no less an authority on the subject as Cheepskate Shane Faubert once pontificated (circa 2 / 18 / 96): "You want a Number One Power Pop record that'll change the industry and the buying public? You need a great song with all the classic influences that we know and love, sung and played by someone who is for real and who looks like he/she lives in the [present]. A few dates with someone famous, maybe an arrest, maybe an unfortunate remark on a talk show and you got yourself a star." May I only add to this refreshingly cynical formula one single Col. Loog McLaren, and you know what? It could very well be 1954, 64, 76 or even 91 all over again. Really!