Over the past few months, Planet Clair has ripped back the husk of truth to reveal the fruit of justice in more than one hard-hitting news column. Now it’s time to go back and revisit some of these stories and the impact they’ve had on the peeps.
Vulture’s Row Foozle
Remember the story about the 23-year-old kid, Howard Moore, who thought he was Bill Graham and put on a gigantic show on Treasure Island, only to skip town owing people and bands thousands of dollars? Well, not much has changed. He still hasn’t paid any of the musicians, including Thought Crime, which won the $10,000 battle of the bands. When the local NBC affiliate approached Moore for a story about the whole mess, he reportedly responded, “I don’t see why this is news.” Goddamn, is he lame. “Howard has purportedly put together some numbers,” says Joseph Huston, Machine Head’s manager, who says he cornered the promoter a few weeks ago to try and work out a payment plan. “I wanted to see some accounting, I wanted to see some math on the whole thing.”
But since then Moore has, you guessed it, been a no-show. He doesn’t answer e-mails, and his cell phone just rings and rings. Yet for some reason none of the people involved in his fraud have called the police or even hired lawyers. Face it, people, he’s never going to pay you back unless you take some drastic steps.
Internet Radio Muddle
Wow, has this issue gotten complicated. The short version is this: In the mid-’90s, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was adopted to try and create policies for the brave new world of Internet publishing rights. The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the biggie record labels, began demanding payments from anyone who wanted to stream its music online. Since the RIAA doesn’t get royalties from conventional radio (its payoff is in sales that result from airplay), the labels were inexplicably arguing that the new medium was somehow different. (Money-grubbing bastards.)
So the RIAA raised a ruckus, and the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Proceeding was formed to set the rules for Internet radio. What it came up with was a per-song, per-listener rate for Webcasters, to be paid to the record labels for use of the music. No one but the very big streamers like Yahoo or AOL could ever afford to keep Webcasting with those rates. So the Web jockeys raised their own ruckus, as did the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the performers’ union, which also wanted a piece of the pie that conventional radio never offered them; radio stations pay an annual fee that covers royalties to songwriters, but not performers.
So anyway, the Librarian of Congress stepped in to set some new rates, basically slashing the original recommendation in half, but it was still too expensive for the little guys to keep streaming — never mind that by October 20, they were required to pay retroactive royalties going back years, a hit to the wallet that would have left most of them bankrupt.
The latest development is that Congress got involved after being flooded with myriad faxes and phone calls from grassroots organizers fueled by the maverick work of weekly journalists. Congressman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin recently put forth a measure to extend the royalty deadline another six months in order to fix this whole mess.
But before Sensenbrenner could bring his bill to the floor, the labels and Web jocks struck their own deal: Instead of a per-song, per-listener rate, the small commercial Webcasters agreed to turn over between eight and twelve percent of annual revenues to record companies and performers. The Yahoos of the world can still pay per song, which works in their favor since they are so damn huge, while the small fish have avoided being filleted. Hobbyists and noncommercial stations like KALX are screwed, however, as they’re still stuck with the per-song, per-listener rate. That’s screwed as in “shit outta luck,” as in you ain’t gonna be hearing them on the Web any longer.
This whole sordid affair has made for some strange bedfellows. The federation of artists, which normally hates the RIAA, worked with the big labels in the beginning to collectively fight the evil online DJs who dared to promote their music. Weirder still, legislation to help the small-time streaming radio operations was put forth by a Republican and fought by Democrats. Hell in a handbasket, people: This country is going to hell in a handbasket.
Talk of the Town Brodie
Last year Kim Jordan, owner of San Francisco bar the Hush-Hush, had the great idea to open a large club in the East Bay that could accommodate bigger bands and crowds than we’ve been able to. She bought the Talk of the Town on Oakland’s International Boulevard and proceeded to remodel the entire premises, revitalizing the old bar and restaurant, and adding an upstairs club, now called The Side Door, where bands could perform. It was gorgeous. Inviting. Ours.
The problem was that the owners got in over their heads and were inundated with more work and responsibility than they could handle. For music fans, it was next to impossible to find out what was happening there on any given night. The shows weren’t listed in any calendars, and the property was too far away for most would-be showgoers to take a chance and just drop in. The Talk was also suffering from trying to please everyone — accommodating musical styles from bluegrass to drum ‘n’ bass, and all types of people, from SF hipsters to the multigenerational families who remembered when the joint was just a beloved taqueria. It was a utopian ideal that made for a bad business model, and the club’s ownership was frazzled. Things were not looking good.
Over the past few months the club has gone through several bookers, some leaving because they couldn’t afford to work without any financial backing from the club — bookers often depend on the venue to back their payment guarantees to bands — and some for other reasons. But at least three people are currently booking the Talk, and the shows keep getting better. The sound system has been vastly improved as well. The taqueria food has had its kinks worked out, and dang if it’s not just as good as the taco trucks that line the boulevard. Could the venue have a shot?
“Things are going well,” says booker Shannon Marie Ciortea, “but we need to get lots of people in there a few times a week if it’s going to work.” The current wave of bookers is trying harder to get the calendar out to newspapers, which publish the listings for free. The rest is up to us music fans. Check out Drunk Horse and the Cuts on October 19, and Electric Frankenstein, Bottles and Skulls, the Lust Killers, and Three Years Down on November 2.
Jam Band Blunders
Regarding the column on jam bands that generated so much fan mail: They still suck.