Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Karma and Commerce

Music and money are always trouble, the music business being littered with tales of crookedness, chicanery and underhanded behaviour. Two stories this week make interesting contrasts on this theme.

First, dear old Leonard Cohen, the 71-year-old Zen Buddhist, has filed suit in a LA court claiming Kelley Lynch, his manager for 16 years, has stolen $5m from his retirement fund, leaving only $150,000 - which Cohen can’t now access because of the legal dispute. As a result he has had to mortgage his house and faces a multimillion dollar tax bill.

Lynch who is a Tibetan Buddhist and former lover of Cohen’s denies all charges and is counter-accusing Cohen of conspiracy and extortion.

In addition, Neal Greenberg, Cohen's investment adviser of almost a decade, has also launched a legal suit which accuses Kelley Lynch of siphoning money from the songwriter and also accuses Cohen and his lawyer Robert Kory of conspiracy, extortion and defamation. It alleges the two, in an attempt to recover at least some of Cohen's lost money, threatened to besmirch Greenberg's reputation and concocted a plan to force Greenberg to give Cohen millions of dollars.

According to Macleans magazine: ‘The suit paints an almost preposterous picture of Cohen as an artist who led a lavish celebrity lifestyle and then turned bitter and vindictive when he discovered the money had run out. For example, the suit quotes Lynch describing how Cohen demanded she discuss business matters while he soaked in a bubble bath, and how later he was somehow involved in calling a SWAT team to her home, where she was handcuffed and forcibly taken to a psychiatric ward while in her bathing suit.'

Cohen is now planning to tour for the first time in 12 years, is releasing one album recorded with his current girlfriend Anjani Thomas this autumn, is recording a new solo one, and has a book of poetry due next year.

He told Macleans: ‘What can I do? I had to go to work. I have no money left. I’m not saying its bad; I have enough of an understanding of how the world works to understand that these things happen.’

Read the full and complex story here:

Elsewhere, John Densmore, the former drummer of the Doors, has turned down lucrative offers to use the band's music in adverts.

In 2004, Cadillac offered $15 million to lease the song ‘Break On Through (to the Other Side)’ to help sell its luxury SUVs. Densmore vetoed the idea and the company is now using Led Zeppelin's ‘Rock and Roll’ instead. Densmore also rejected a $4m offer from Apple Computers plus numerous other lucrative approaches.

"People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music," Densmore told the Los Angeles Times: "I've had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music, other people say they know someone who didn't commit suicide because of this music…. On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That's not for rent."

Disagreements over this issue date back to the end of the 1960s when the Doors were offered $50,000 to allow their biggest hit, "Light My Fire," to be used in a commercial for the Buick Opel. Morrison was in Europe at the time and his bandmates agreed to the deal in his absence. When Morrison returned he was furious and vowed to sledgehammer a Buick on stage at every concert if the commercial went forward – which it didn’t.

As a result of that, in November 1970, the Doors agreed that any licensing agreement would require a unanimous vote. The band had previously agreed that the members would share equally in all music publishing rights.

During the 1970s Densmore did relent once when he agreed to let ‘Riders on the Storm’ to be used to sell Pirelli Tires in a TV spot in England. When he saw it he says he felt sick: "I gave every cent to charity. Jim's ghost was in my ear, and I felt terrible. If I needed proof that it was the wrong thing to do, I got it."

This current furore has intensified the bitter dispute between him and former band mates Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger over the rights to the band's name. Densmore and the Morrison estate had filed a suit in 2003 to block Manzarek and Krieger from using it or any permutation of same.

Last August, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge ruled that Manzarek and Krieger could no longer tour together as the 'Doors of the 21st Century.' The pair, who now tour with former Cult singer Ian Astbury handling the late Jim Morrison's vocal duties, switched the name to D21C and plan to continue as Riders on the Storm.

An audit is underway to determine how much money Krieger and Manzarek must turn over from their two years of touring with their old band name which grossed $8 million. "John is going to get about a million dollars for doing nothing," Manzarek said. "He gets an equal share as us, and we were out there working. A free million bucks. That's a gig I'd like."

The whole issue of classic rock music being used in adverts is still a contentious one which began when Nike used the Beatles' ‘Revolution’ for a sneaker ad two decades ago.

Currently Bob Dylan is singing ‘The Times They Are A-Changin' ‘ in a tv ad for healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente, a Rolling Stones track features in an Ameriquest Mortgage ad and Paul McCartney music is being used for Fidelity Investments.

Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles, Neil Young and Carlos Santana amongst others continue to say no to commercials.

In The Nation, Tom Waits wrote the following letter in praise of Densmore views expressed in an article "Riders on the Storm".

'Thank you for your eloquent "rant" by John Densmore of The Doors on the subject of artists allowing their songs to be used in commercials. I spoke out whenever possible on the topic even before the Frito Lay case (Waits v. Frito Lay), where they used a sound-alike version of my song "Step Right Up" so convincingly that I thought it was me. Ultimately, after much trial and tribulation, we prevailed and the court determined that my voice is my property.

'Songs carry emotional information and some transport us back to a poignant time, place or event in our lives. It's no wonder a corporation would want to hitch a ride on the spell these songs cast and encourage you to buy soft drinks, underwear or automobiles while you're in the trance. Artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs. It reduces them to the level of a jingle, a word that describes the sound of change in your pocket, which is what your songs become. Remember, when you sell your songs for commercials, you are selling your audience as well.

'When I was a kid, if I saw an artist I admired doing a commercial, I'd think, "Too bad, he must really need the money." But now it's so pervasive. It's a virus. Artists are lining up to do ads. The money and exposure are too tantalizing for most artists to decline. Corporations are hoping to hijack a culture's memories for their product. They want an artist's audience, credibility, good will and all the energy the songs have gathered as well as given over the years. They suck the life and meaning from the songs and impregnate them with promises of a better life with their product.

'Eventually, artists will be going onstage like race-car drivers covered in hundreds of logos. John, stay pure. Your credibility, your integrity and your honor are things no company should be able to buy.

Hear Waits talk about this issue here:

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