The Story

Standard

So, I started watching Melrose Place. Don’t ask why, and furthermore, please don’t tell anybody! Now, I’m hooked. I might have to buy a Hulu subscription after I finish the first 32 episodes, which are on the house.

The first few episodes seem pretty tame (that is, compared to the developments in subsequent seasons). Thus far, there’s a lot of focus on character development, along with some intriguing storylines, and a handful of cultural tie-ins that capture the mood of Los Angeles in the early 1990s.

The original cast members (from left to right): Amy Locane, Grant Show, Josie Bissett, Thomas Calabro, Vanessa A. Williams, Doug Savant, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Andrew Shue

It’s a group of twentysomethings living together in an apartment complex in West Hollywood, California. Michael Mancini is a doctor. He’s married to Jane Mancini. She works at a trendy clothing boutique.

Alison Parker, at least initially, takes on the “good girl” persona. Originally from Wisconsin, she is college-educated, and is looking to land an executive position in the advertising world. Alison shares an apartment with Billy Campbell, an uninhibited, selfish, and adventurous young man. He aspires to be a writer, but for now, he’s lost. He spends time driving his cab around L.A. in search of answers.

Jake Hanson is an oft-unemployed construction worker / mechanic. He has a troubled past and commitment issues. Sandy Harling is an actress. She is very insecure. She also works as a waitress at the local hangout, Shooter’s Bar and Grill. Jake and Sandy are in love, but they can’t seem to embrace it.

Rhonda Blair is a dancer-turned-aerobics instructor. She is not quite sure what she wants out of life. Finally, Matt Fielding works at a halfway house, helping troubled youth find their way. He is also openly gay. He is brilliant at solving other peoples’ problems, yet he can’t seem to get his own life in order.

The show pushes the boundaries at times, commenting on race relations, homosexuality, abortion, and the stereotypical L.A. lifestyle. It’s trashy. It’s predictable. It’s powerful. It reflects life in general. It’s perfect.

But again, why am I watching? Why now? I’m 23 years late to the party.

Coincidentally, I just moved to L.A. about a month ago. No doubt, it’s an odd place, unlike any other city I’ve lived in (namely, San Francisco and New York). It’s a melting pot of ethnicities and personalities. It’s a highly competitive landscape. If you’re not from here, you come here to pursue your dreams. But at what cost? There are so many people out here with varying ambitions, and there’s simply not enough time to get things done.

No matter where you are going, you have to give yourself an hour to get there. You have to be patient and proactive in this town, not only in terms of your career objectives, but also while changing lanes on the 110. And, you have to embrace the culture. Everybody meets for coffee to discuss ideas. But what’s an idea without proper execution, management, and follow-through? And, oh yeah, everybody is a writer in this town. Everybody has a story to tell. The question is, can you captivate an audience with your story?

By now, you’re probably wondering, “Why the hell did you move to L.A.?” Well, I came here to find opportunity in the music industry and document my own experiences. After all, life is about our experiences, and what we learn from them.

Also, you can’t beat the weather down here. It’s sunny here just about every day. That said, you need to carry a sunny disposition with you at all times, or you won’t get very far in this town. You need to think positively, stay busy, and interact with the right folks in your industry.

So, what does it mean to actually “make it” in this business of entertainment? From the artistic side, it depends on what you want out of life. Do you want to be a celebrity, or do you want to be a niche artist and make a comfortable living doing what you love?

From the business perspective, it’s all about finding the hits? After all, it’s a hits-driven business. Shows like Fresh Off The Boat will inevitably sink. This show, in particular, is chock full of one-liners, overly dependent on stereotypes, and it focuses on a specific era in time (mid-1990s). There’s not enough flexibility for development.

Instead, think of something that people will still want to watch 25 years down the line. Think of a show that will attract viewers from different generations, a show that is independent of trends, and thereby, stands the test of time.

Presently, I’m really enjoying Better Call Saul, which is the prequel to Breaking Bad. Like Breaking Bad, the show is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Based on the characters’ use of flip phones, the show is presumably set in the early 2000s. The series follows a struggling, small-time criminal defense lawyer, Jimmy McGill (who will eventually assume an alter ego, “Saul Goodman,” or “it’s-all-good-man” in future episodes). McGill manages a fledgling solo law practice, whose main office consists of a dimly lit room in the back of a nail salon. It appears that McGill will build and represent a clientele of intelligent crooks.

Thus far, it’s highly engaging. The pace, the character development, and the narrative style (often complemented by disjointed “flashback” scenes) are reminiscent of Breaking Bad. The formula is there, now it is just a matter of finding out how and why Saul Goodman crosses paths with Heisenberg, a.k.a. Walter White.

Isn’t it ironic? Most everything is a cliché – you know, everything is predictable; yet we can’t seem to figure anything out! Most viewers know why Saul Goodman will encounter Walter White. It’s inevitable. Saul Goodman’s hands will get too dirty, he will be in too deep. Goodman will become an integral player in the local drug business. He will assume the role of “peacemaker” and “dealmaker.” He will be the “liaison,” if you will, between the criminals and the justice system. The question is, “how will this scenario unfold?” And, again, at what cost?

So, if everything is predictable, what keeps us coming back week after week? Why are we so enthralled? Why do we live vicariously through fictional characters? Furthermore, is the mundane more satisfying than the “twist,” or is it merely based on personal preference?

Look at it this way, isn’t The OC just a reincarnation of Beverly Hills 90210? Likewise, isn’t Entourage a mirror image of Sex and The City? Isn’t Friends basically the same as Seinfeld?

It’s the same story over and over again, with a different cast of characters and a different setting. Yes, times change, and technology advances different aspects of society, but trends are cyclical and the philosophical nature of our existence remains intact. We have embarked on a search for purpose and meaning, just like Walter White did in Breaking Bad. The caveat is that reality is more than five seasons in duration. It’s an ongoing struggle.

As individuals, we need a support system, a group of close friends and family in order to get by. And we need brutal honesty at times, because how else will we better ourselves?

A television series, or any form of art for that matter, is destined for greatness when it can capture this aspect of friendship, the importance of relationships, and what it means to be human. History proves that nobody can do anything solely by him/herself. Surround yourself with great people, and the ideas will come to fruition.

Remember, “The story is the foundation of all entertainment. You must have a good story, otherwise it’s just masturbation.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to catch another episode of Melrose Place. Shhh!!! 

Timing

Standard

We lost a legend on April 5, 1994. Three days later, The Offspring released Smash (1994, Epitaph Records)To date, “[Smash] remains the highest selling independent record of all time,” having sold upwards of 12 million units worldwide. That said, The Offspring – their approach, their ethos, and their brand of alternative rock – surely would not have been successful without the existence and influence of Kurt Cobain. To illustrate, please bear witness to the following exhibits:

The-Offspring

The Offspring (circa 1994)

Exhibit A: Listen to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (from Nevermind – 1991, Geffen Records). Now listen to “Self Esteem,” via Smash. Pay attention to the melodies, the drawn-out harmonies, and make note of the varying tempos featured in each track.

Exhibit B: Now listen to the drums at the beginning of “Territorial Pissings” (also via Nevermind), and notice the similar drum roll at the start of Smash’s blistering opener, “Nitro (Youth Energy).”

So, does Smash go on to receive such critical acclaim if Cobain were still breathing today?

Kurt Cobain On 'MTV Unplugged'

“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”

It’s a classic example of the “Grandfather Paradox.” In other words, if you go back in time to (for lack of a better word) eliminate your grandfather, this means that Grandpa no longer exists, and therefore, your father was never born, and subsequently, you were never born. So, you never went back in time to begin with, right?

In Back to The Future, Marty McFly (a.k.a Calvin Klein) is accidentally transported back to November 1955 in Dr. Emmett Brown’s time machine. His (future) existence is dependent upon the timing of his (future) parents kissing (and falling in love) at the “Enchantment Under The Sea Dance.”

So, if I take the DeLorean for a joy ride, and effectively eliminate The Offspring (circa 1993), what happens to the modern rock ‘n’ roll climate? Meanwhile, if The Offspring no longer exist, am I even writing this blog post? Furthermore, if I had no intention of writing this piece, why would I have gone back in time in the first place? It’s confusing, I know.

delorean

“When this baby hits 88 mph, you’re gonna see some serious shit.”

At any rate, Smash was one of the first cassettes I ever owned, along with Dookie (1994, Reprise Records) and Doggystyle (1993, Death Row Records). I know you’ve heard it before. Now,

“It’s time to relax [again]

You know what that means

A glass of wine, your favorite easy chair

And, of course, this compact disc playing on your home stereo

Smash

It was a smash, indeed.

So, go on, and indulge yourself!

That’s right, kick off your shoes, put your feet up!

Lean back and just enjoy the melodies

After all, music soothes even the savage beast.”

Hands down, this is a great album from start to finish. Every song is a hit, but, of course, I have my favorites. “Bad Habit” depicts road rage in Los Angeles in the early 90s. “Come Out And Play” comments on gang violence in the slums of East Los Angeles. Finally, the title track, “Smash,” reminds the listener that independence and originality contribute to a positive sense of being.

Does “Smash” resonate with you? I know it does with me. After all,

“I’m not a trendy asshole

I do what I want

I do what I feel like

I’m not a trendy asshole

Don’t give a fuck 

If it’s good enough for you

Cause I am alive.”

Swedish punks

Millencolin, a Swedish punk rock outfit, defined the Epitaph sound from the mid-90s through the early 2000s.

When I think of Epitaph Records, I think of Millencolin, Pennywise, Pulley, and Bouncing Souls. I don’t think about The Offspring. However, Smash put Epitaph on the map. Hell, Brett Gurewitz left Bad Religion (BR) in 1994 to focus on the label. He would not return until 2002 for The Process of Belief, which also marked BR’s return to Epitaph, after a five-album stint in major label territory.

BR seemingly fell off with The Gray Race (1996, Atlantic Records), No Substance (1998, Atlantic Records), and The New America (2000, Atlantic Records). Don’t get me wrong, the albums are decent, but the sound just wasn’t comparable to The Holy Trinity era and the early 90s material. Critics commonly attribute Brett Gurewitz’s absence to this artistic lull. And, punk rock music aficionados credit The Process of Belief as BR’s “return to form.”

Mr Brett

In 1994, Mr. Brett catapulted punk rock into the mainstream

Still, it was 1994. The skate punk scene was upon us. In addition to Smash, Mr. Brett and the Epitaph community taught us what it meant to be Punk in Drublic (1994, Epitaph Records). Meanwhile, 400 miles north, a group of street punks were yearning for “Salvation” (via Let’s Go – 1994, Epitaph Records). This was serious business. It was a revolution. It was ironic, too, because punk rock had reached the mainstream.

Look, everyone wants to be successful, but it’s hard to plan for success. In April of 1994, The Offspring’s lead vocalist, Brian “Dexter” Holland, was working towards his Ph.D. in molecular biology at the University of Southern California. At the same time, lead guitarist Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman was working as a janitor at Earl Warren Elementary School in Lake Elsinore, California. Gurewitz admits that, “Up until [Smash] I didn’t really think any of our bands would truly break through.” Nobody knew that the album would be a hit, much less go platinum. It was a smash, indeed.

So, what does this all mean, really? Granted, not everyone is this fortunate; however, we all have access to the same amount of time: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. So, tell me, how do you spend your time?

Do you know how to build an avid following (or a recognizable brand name)? After doing so, do you know how and when to execute? In other words, when is it the right time to move to the next level? Furthermore, do you know how to manage expectations? And, finally, do you know how to roll with the momentum? It’s all timing, my friends. Are you ready?

Remember, life is short, so, “Before you run out and change the world, ask yourself, what do you really want?” 

Take a moment to reflect. Are you stuck in a routine? Are you doing what you love to do? Are you making decisions that will impact your future in a positive manner? Meanwhile, are you aware of your surroundings? Do you ever wonder why people do the things they do? Finally, how do you classify the actions, interests, and beliefs of others?

Like it or not, society is a collection of cliques, derived from the presence of stereotypes. Do you remember March 24, 1984? Which character were you during your high school days? Were you “the brain”, “the athlete,” “the criminal,” “the princess,” or “the basket case?”

breakfast

The Breakfast Club

 

Unfortunately, stereotypes linger as we grow older. In turn, we align ourselves with topical brands (i.e. schools, sports teams, professions) that appeal to our specific interests and beliefs. So, which subCULTURE do you belong to? Are you the slacker, the one-hit wonder, or simply the businessman in search of the American Dream?

 

It’s fascinating to think that,

“Everyone I meet is so damaged

And I kept thinking they were strange

But I’m scared to realize that we might all be the same.”

If, in fact, we are all the same, then success is what sets us apart. Our dreams, our endeavors, our relationships – they are only successful if we plan, execute, and follow through on various objectives. In business, success is driven by engagement and brand awareness. First, can you get people excited about your product or service? Second, can you give your customers something tangible to associate with your brand, or at least “Something To Believe In?” Can you guarantee that your brand will still resonate with customers in 20 years? How about 50 years?

If you didn’t know by now, I am a die-hard Oakland Athletics fan; always have been and always will be. The team (or the brand, for that matter) has a storied past, and a promising future. I believe that the A’s are primed for a deep run in October. Statistics don’t lie, folks. Entering play on Friday, May 23, the Athletics are a staggering +96 in the run differential department. It’s no surprise that they own the best record in MLB.

Moss

Mr. Clutch

I know, the A’s philosophy is so cliché, right? It’s the whole underdog mentality, anchored by a working class fan base. Then there’s general manager Billy Beane, who is a genius when it comes to buying and exploiting underpriced assets. Michael Lewis wrote a book about it, for heaven’s sake! Then Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon. And, still, only 13,000 fans will show up for a Tuesday night game! So what’s that all about?

Well, I hate to break it to you, but most everything is a cliché. Clichés are time-saving mechanisms used to speed up the decision-making process. Hey, why didn’t you get the last job you applied for at Company X? Because you aren’t a Harvard Business School graduate, so the hiring manager pushed your resume aside.

It’s so cliché to analyze clichés. So, for the purpose of our educational discussion, let’s use the term, trope. A trope is “a common or overused theme or device” used in a creative work which carves out a particular cliché and/or stereotype. Tropes are often illustrated via typical character types, symbols, or images. When something is predictable, over-the-top, or downright corny, it is probably a trope. Think about it – Hollywood is an anthology of tropes. Executives will use these devices to create a cast of characters, and subsequently build off the core dynamic in an effort to tell a story (i.e. a movie) or a series of adventures (i.e. a sitcom).

Entourage

“Let’s hug it out, bitch!”

To demonstrate, consider the hit comedy series, Entourage (2004-2011). Vincent Chase is a trope. He is loosely based on Mark Wahlberg (who also co-produced the show), and his experiences as an up-and-coming Hollywood actor in the early 90s. Vinnie is the stereotypical Hollywood type – a young, attractive, successful, buzzing actor. Eric “E” Murphy is the talent manager trope. He manages Vince’s successes and failures, and deals with Ari Gold (the stereotypical, high-strung Hollywood agent). “E” is level-headed; he keeps things in perspective. Meanwhile, Vinnie’s older brother, Johnny “Drama” Chase, is the wannabe actor, who’s garnered minimal acclaim. Lastly, Turtle is the careless soul, who is simply along for the ride. He rounds out the crew (after all, the boys are life-long friends from Queens), but he is just in it for the glamorous experiences.

How about Seinfeld? This is interesting, because it is a show about nothing. But even nothing is something. It’s a depiction of our daily lives. Every day, we get up and go to work. Sometimes, we take the subway. All along, we yearn for better things. We argue with one another, we eat, and we exercise. We pass the time by talking about sex, dating, and baseball. Sometimes, all you want to do is “unwind,” but unfortunately, you’re stuck in traffic.

Seinfeld

“See, this should be the show. This is the show…This, just talking.”

The defined character tropes in Seinfeld generate an effective formula susceptible to random plots. Jerry is the successful comedian living the single life; George is the loser; Elaine is the tomboy; and Kramer – well, Kramer is just plain eccentric. But mix accordingly, and we arguably have the best show in television history.

Tropes are common in the music industry, as well. Popular music is comprised of superstarslegacy actsfallen heroes, “socially active do-gooders,” and “pranksters.”  And, of course, there are buzz bands. Think back to the early to mid-90s. Remember MTV’s “Buzz Clips,” featuring acts like Cracker, Nada SurfWeezer, and Gin Blossoms? I know – it’s hard to fathom that MTV was, in fact, cutting-edge in the 90s.

Weezer

Weezer, like The Offspring, were buzzing in 1994.

Again, it’s all timing. Your band is probably only going to buzz once in a blue moon, if at all, so it is necessary to execute at the right time. Because it’s all hype and short-term expectations. It’s what generates a list like this. Or this. Major labels aren’t in the artist development business anymore; they’re only interested in investing in a proven brand name. So, ask yourself, are you ready to move over to the mainstream? Are you ready to jump to a major label?

together PANGEA are ready. I can feel it. Badillac (2014, Harvest Records) will appear on the 2014 year-end lists. Have you heard it yet? Burger Records, the Anaheim-based hybrid label/record store, is riding the together PANGEA wave. You should, too.

Hey, did you see the episode of NCIS: Los Angeles a few weeks back? Yea, neither did I. I don’t have time to watch television anymore. But it airs on CBS – “America’s Most-Watched Network” – so I assume that most of the nation saw it. No, the garage rock trio did not actually appear on the show, nor was their music synched. Instead, the album cover to Badillac was used as evidence to solve the mystery at hand. “Interestingly enough, [the crooks] left behind one single Dorito and this CD booklet for a rock band.”

Together Pangea

together PANGEA

So, viewers are aware that the band exists. People are curious. Meanwhile, producers want to bring together PANGEA back for an episode next season. The proposed story line has the band “playing outdoors on Venice Beach…[and] their amps get blown up by a hijacked drone so the NCISLA team has to come to the rescue!”

Look, industry insiders are talking about together PANGEA, all while bicycling through the Santa Monica mountains on sunny Saturday afternoons. Does it get more cliché than this? Oh yeah, “check this shit out – it’ll set you straight.”

I could go on and on – talk about the buzz levels attributed to PUP, The Ambulars, Cayetana, and Tweens, but I’d rather brush on a story developing in my own backyard. So, let’s talk about the dreamy, surf-rock inspired local band with unlimited potential. Yeah, I’m talking about French Cassettes.

I have seen them live on four separate occasions since February. I stumbled upon the group during Noise Pop in San Francisco. A couple weeks later, I caught their performance at Stubb’s in Austin. In mid-April, they opened for Surfer Blood at The New Parish in Oakland. Most recently, they were featured at the Live 105 “Locals Only” showcase at Rickshaw Stop.

There’s a reason why I keep going back. They’re buzzing. It’s fun to be a part of a cultural movement. It’s history in the making.

frenchcassettes

French Cassettes

If you haven’t heard French Cassettes yet, I think you will be thoroughly surprised. Formed in 2007, and originally from Ripon, California (a.k.a. “The Jewel of the Valley”), the group has since relocated to the more music-friendly (and the more temperate) confines of San Francisco. In 2011, they released the Summer Darling EP. Their debut LP, Gold Youth, followed in 2013. No record label; just a lot of persistence, a little luck, endless harmonies, and good timing.

Again, you can’t plan for success. You don’t know when you are going to “break.” French Cassettes have been a band for roughly seven years. These things take time. You can’t build a brand name overnight. As young’uns fresh out of high school, the band members would wait outside of the 21+ clubs in San Francisco until it was their turn to play. They stuck around, because they were kids.

See, the kids have time. Adults don’t have time. Adults are jaded, and they have other headaches to deal with – careers, their own kids, and mortgages. Adults don’t have time to discover new music.

marty be goode

“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your kids are gonna love it.”

This is why the music business has and always will be a youth-oriented business. If your band can attract the 16-25 year-old demographic, and has the opportunity to play all-ages venues, well then, you’re set. This is why EDM is so popular today and why Outkast and The Replacements reportedly “flopped” at Coachella.

Lately, French Cassettes have taken the Bay Area music scene by storm. My advice – pay $10 now. Or, wait to pay upwards of $200 when they play Outside Lands in the summer of 2016. Or maybe you’ll check them out on Sunday, June 1 at Live 105’s BFD, alongside Fitz and The Tantrums, M.I.A., and Foster The People. Maybe you won’t. It’s up to you. It’s your time. It’s your money. I’m just the middleman.

So, will together PANGEA and/or French Cassettes manage the buzz accordingly and be able to jump to the next level?

Back in 1994, Epitaph Records was not capable of managing the buzz attributed to Smash. The independent operation lacked key major label resources – that is, access to the radio, an abundance of press outlets, and a distribution arm. Gurewitz recalls, “It was overwhelming and kind of scary. At the time Epitaph was a company of maybe five or six people, myself included. And we had to meet this incredible demand.” As The Offspring grew in popularity, Smash accounted for nearly 95 percent of Epitaph sales.

By 1997, The Offspring had inked a deal with Columbia Records. After all, it’s the music business, and the major labels maintained positive cash flows in the 90s. Epitaph simply could not meet their upfront demands. The Offspring felt as if they deserved more in return after delivering such a monumental album. As a result, Dexter Holland and company were ostracized by the punk community, and labeled as “sell outs.”

The beef has settled over the years, and the rest is history. You can catch The Offspring this summer on The Summer Nationals Tour, with support from Bad Religion, Pennywise, and The Vandals, among others. They’ll be playing Smash in its entirety. You don’t want to miss this.

swingers

“Nikki? Great! Did you just walk in or were you listening all along?”

Remember, my friends, timing is everything, It’s the difference between a “can of corn” and a home run. It’s the difference between purchasing a suit at the regular price versus the “unadvertised” sale price. It’s playing it cool and knowing when to ask the girl out. And, it’s the reason why Apple is in talks to buy Beats. Is it the optimal time for the world’s biggest brand to jump into the streaming music sphere? Are they too late? Only time will tell.

P.S. I never really got into The Offspring beyond Smash.