Time to go see Neil Innes in concert at the Magic Bag in Detroit! On the way to Detroit, I was reading the complete short stories of Truman Capote, published in honor of what would have been his 80th birthday on Sept. 30. I read The Headless Hawk and part of A Christmas Memory.Hang on; we’ll come back to this later.
After not too long of a wait, Neil came out and opened with “I’m the Urban Spaceman”.
The songs, jokes and stories that followed made for a really fun evening.
Before and after the show I chatted with the other audience members. Many of them had seen Neil with The Bonzo Dog Band 36 years ago, which was the last time he had toured in Michigan. They remembered, and they came back for more. This fact amazed me.
It made me think of my job as a music buyer for an independent record store chain- a job that ended in the year 2000 (along with the company itself). One of the basic fallacies of the music industry is the idea that music lovers have a short attention span. Another fallacy is that people can always be told what they want to buy.
As a buyer, major label representatives met with me and told me how many pieces of a new item I needed to buy for our five retail stores in Michigan and our 300 college bookstore accounts. These could be returned for full credit within 90 days; therefore, there was no reason not to buy their recommended amount of new releases.
Besides, as I found out, if we didn’t go with their numbers initially and we sold out of a new title, they would hesitate to send another shipment, since we “lowballed” their original suggested number. I don’t know about other folks’ distributor/label rep relationships, but that was ours.
Why force such a specific number, some of you may ask? Because these wholesale figures are what the billboard top 100 chart positions are based on. The major labels heavily promote and decide what will be a hit before anyone even hears it. And, theoretically, a cd could be a big hit even if we’d returned all of our stockwithin 90 days, not having sold a single one. Then, wait a few months! The next new thing will come along, and forget what is being sold today, it doesn’t matter anymore. The ninety day rule treated music like it had the shelf life of a dairy product.
Fortunately, Mr. Innes can discuss these issues in a much more entertaining manner. His new “Ego Warriors” song/movement is a refreshingly irreverent stab at that tired old sacred cow, the mass media.
During the performance, Neil told the audience to congratulate themselves on taking part in the subculture. No one told us to buy his cd’s or see his live act, there was no enormous advertising campaign, it was what we wanted! This is why the music industry will ultimately fail, and good riddance. We can buy our music directly from the artist, whether it’s online or at a show like this one.
36 years later, the audience still knew what they preferred to hear. There’s no marketable substitute for good entertainment and good storytelling in the “meat world”. Back to my book: In the story “A Christmas Memory”, a young character based on Capote receives a dime from his elderly cousin to go and see a movie. She won’t come along, however. The old woman tells the boy to come back and tell her the story, because she prefers to hear it that way-in his own words.