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Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis

Posted: August 20, 2008 11:56 PM

The Punk And The Godmother -- A Timely Parable


2008-08-21-quad3.jpg
Punky's Dilemma: WHO will the punk pick as his support act?

I'm the guy in the sky, flying high, flashing eyes

No surprise, I told lies, I'm the punk in the gutter
I'm the new president and I grew and I bent...

- "The Punk And The Godfather" - Pete Townshend (1973)

Once upon a time there was a young Punk. Born at the tail-end of the baby-boom. Incredibly talented. Came to prominence out of the blue. Which pissed off some of the older artists he displaced in the public affection who had come of age in the previous decades. But "hey!" (as the Punk said) they'd had THEIR turn and now it was HIS turn. Which is what the baby-boomer artists had said to those aging rockers that THEY supplanted a few years before. And so it goes....

The Punk had it all. When he performed - the crowds went crazy. He only had to open his mouth to have them going wild. The detractors knocked him of course. Said it was just style over substance. And that the fans were just gullible dupes lapping up the skillfully-marketed Next Big Thing. But that's what they always say when there's a new kid or new genre in town. Some of the older ones don't get it at first. But the kids do. And the aging trendies who wish to appear hip at least pretend to get it...

The Punk only had two flaws. The first was that he was extremely aware of how talented he was. He tried to hide it the way a lot of self-aware smart people do. With faux humility and telling the audience that it was all about them. "I am just your instrument" he would tell them at his sold-out solo concerts. "The old way is over. This is OUR time." A lot of people bought that. But not everyone. Some people at his record label knew he meant it was HIS time. But that was okay. He had real talent - and he was making a ton of money for the label. That helps...

And he'd pushed very hard to get to the front of the herd. He fought just as hard as every other artist desperate to make it. And he fought even harder to make it appear as if he HADN'T fought at all. Looking like you don't care about succeeding (when you care passionately inside) is a very neat trick to pull off. Kudos to anyone who can get away with it. And the Punk certainly had...

But now the Punk was facing a real dilemma. (Let's Bookend this thought by calling it Punky's Dilemma.) And though there was an obvious solution - it would need him to overcome his second flaw.

The Punk had suddenly broken big and he was now the most popular artist at his label. His fans loved him. But there was a problem looming.

He had just had a well-publicized international tour in the summer that had wowed the Europeans - but not all of the American market was impressed with it. So now the label wanted him to go out on tour all over the US in the fall. But this tour was going to be competing for attention with another tour taking place at the same time - organized by a rival label. With a lot at stake - it was important that he pick the best support act. Someone who would help attract a big crowd and make it a more appealing ticket.

Now there were several second-string talents he could pick to be on the bill with him. Artists who he didn't have to fear might over-shadow him, But there was one towering talent who would be the ideal support. Almost as popular as him. Hugely talented and - in the unlikely event that he might not be able to finish the tour - could even take over.

But there was a problem. And it was all tangled up in that second flaw.

You see - to help make himself the most popular artist on the label, the Punk had done the time-honored thing of bad-mouthing the style of some artists that preceded him - denouncing it as the "old style" and decrying it as having been responsible for one of the inevitable slumps in the industry. Standard-issue career move. And very punk.

Now in his heart, the Punk knew that this was all crap. The artists on his label that preceded him by 15-20 years had paid their dues and had built much of the foundation upon which the Punk built his own career. And the slumps in the business had NOT been caused by the artists on his own label. The downward turn in the industry had been caused by older artists on that RIVAL label.

It was jealous artists and executives on the rival label who had first come up with attacking the older artists on the label that represented the Punk.

But - seeking that shortcut to success - the Punk had joined in their chorus in his interviews and denounced as "old school" the very artists who paved the way for him. And he had vowed that he would be different from them. And that he would never work with them. After all, "Change" was his biggest tune...

Now in his heart of hearts he knew that the double bill of the fall tour would be immeasurably improved if he could only swallow his enormous pride and reach out to his label-mate with the enormous fan base.

But would he? Or - having painted himself into the corner of parroting the negative spin spouted by artists and executives from the rival label - and a year of claiming that he was different and superior to some of his own label-mates - could he swallow his pride and put the fate of the label in front of his own attitude and ambition?

The artist he needed on the bill was certainly making it very easy for him - being very gracious towards him even though that artist had been narrowly supplanted in the affections of the label by the Punk.

All he had to do was ask...

You only became what we made you

Thought you were chasing a destiny calling
You only earned what we gave you...

- "The Punk And The Godfather" - Pete Townshend (1973)

Best Wishes - Martin
(A Citizens For Boysenberry Jam Fan)

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