Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Not Another Blog Post About U2

"Check out our awesome headphones. If you listen
closely, right before these things break on you,
you can hear the sound of us making money."
According to Patty Griffin, bigwig music exec Jimmy Iovine verbally bitch-slapped her while she was in the process of recording Silver Bell, her follow-up to Flaming Red, her 1998 attempt to enter the pop-rock fray.

Unimpressed with her work, the encounter went something like this:

"He basically told me, 'You have never made a good record,'" she says. "He handed me a copy of 'Beautiful Day,' which is a U2 record, and said, 'Take a listen to this. This is how you write a hit record.'"

The word “douchebag” is overused and abused to the point of being boring. Mr. Iovine can rattle off a long list of reasons why he knows more about music than me and 200 more music bloggers. But if you read enough literature, if you watch enough great TV and movies, you can tell what happened to Iovine, for his is a tale as old as time.

What began as a passionate love of music. As he worked up the food chain, his hands were, on some level, on Born To Run and Bat Out of Hell! He worked with Patti Smith and co-produced Damn the Torpedoes! But if you read his Wikipedia biography, what began as a love of great music began to sell itself, inch by profit margin inch, to the Almighty Dollar. The longer one longs for the sound of gold, raining down, tinkling and clanking together, rather than the sound of great and beautiful music.

Is the story of Jimmy Iovine’s rise to success any different, ultimately, than Walter White’s descent into hell? Both began with the best of ideals and ended up proud of nothing so much as their power and wealth. If there’s a God or a Shakespeare in heaven, surely one day Jimmy Iovine will look at himself in the bathroom mirror -- a mirror that will likely cost more than I see in a year -- and wonder what happened to the kid who just loved music and worked with Bruce and Tom and Patti in their early days, instead of a bunch of American Idol karaoke experts.

How else can one explain the insult to Patty Griffin, the shelving of Silver Bell? Although this 37-year-old singer-songwriter's star has barely once dropped from the critically-acclaimed sky, her album sales don't add up to a fraction of Achtung Baby, yet Iovine's saying she's a failure compared to U2.

Bob doesn’t think much of U2. He doesn’t think about them often, but when he does, he doesn’t think of them highly. I, on the other hand, think they are the biggest and most important band born after 1975, in terms of longevity and influence. They’ve sold more than 150 million records and have eight Number One hits. For 20 years, they rarely played it safe with their success, often making sharp turns in sound, occasionally with disappointing results from a commercial and pop-quality standard.

What kind of douchebag would tell a woman with two albums, one of which was just her voice and her guitar against the whole world, a woman who didn’t even catch a break until her mid-30s, and tell her she’s no U2? While he's at it, Iovine should go tell Emmylou Harris that she'll never make a hit as awesome as "Vogue."

To be sure, Patty Griffin is no U2, but no matter how many millions love them, and no matter how many millions will never hear a Patty Griffin song, her best songs can fight toe to toe in the ring, with every ounce of soul and depth as the best U2 songs.

If for no other reason than to realize just how much of Iovine’s soul got lost between 1973 and 2000, you oughtta go listen to Silver Bell, the album that sat hidden in cobwebs by a record company for 13 years. It would never have gone platinum, but it inspired the Dixie Chicks, who took three of her songs and went soaring into the stratosphere with them.

I’d like to think the 20-year-old Iovine who worked his way up at Record Plant, would love nothing more than to kick the 47-year-old Iovine in the nuts for being such a prick, for having traded in an ear for quality for one that used “ka-ching” as a tuning fork. The sound that comes to my ears as I imagine that moment... it's better than gold; it's justice.


Bob said...

Without knowing the full circumstances, the only clarifying question I would ask is: is he telling her that the songs are not good or that the production of her records has never been good? If it's the latter, then it's a different kind of put down.

Billy said...

Bob - Thanks. Good point, and I don't know. However, "Silver Bell" was recorded in Daniel Lanois' studio in New Orleans, and Lanois was heavily involved with U2's "The Joshua Tree," so it's reasonable to believe Iovine was knocking her ability to craft a "hit" song, and not the notion that she just hasn't found the right producer.

Considering she'd only recorded two albums when the comment was made, it's a douchey thing to say regardless.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking the record company should have kept "Silver Bell" in the vault if it would have kept the Dixie Chicks from being inspired. Just saying.

Robert Berman said...

Actually Anonymous, it was A&M's refusal to release Silver Bell that inspired the Dixie Chicks to purloin its best songs. Natalie Maines recently lamented that the release of Silver Bell would harm her own solo work. Anyway...

I think what Iovine was saying was, in the words of the A&R guy in a Tom Petty song, "I don't hear a single." He has a point, however brusquely he made it. I like Silver Bell, but not as much as her preceding "Living With Ghosts" and "Flaming Red" or especially her subsequent "1000 Kisses." Maybe that's just because all of Silver Bell's best songs have already shown up elsewhere by now, though.