Tuesday, June 30, 2009

AIDS, Crack and Michael Jackson

“It takes a long time to put on my face, but I like how different it feels. I can be in a whole ‘nother place with it. Sometime I wear it home, and people – kids – I look out the back window of a car and let them see me. Whoa, they get frightened! They don’t know who or what it is! It’s a trip, it’s really a trip. It’s a secret; that’s it. I like that it’s a secret.” Michael Jackson discussing “The Wiz” to Timothy White in 1977.

God, that picture looks freaky. Michael Jackson’s mugshot, taken in November of 2003, taken due to felony child molestation charges (of which he was universally acquitted), shows the singer without any of the lighting, airbrushing, or accoutrements he had become accustomed to when he was photographed. The photograph shows a man who looks less like an icon and more like an extra in the “Thriller” video, if it was shot by George Romero or Danny Boyle. For one of the few times in his adult life, Jackson was in a situation he had little or no control over. His eyes are bug-eyed, lips unsure of their proper placement, it seems he had little knowledge or concept of why he was being arraigned and even less on how he should conduct himself. It may have only started to dawn upon the superstar that he was indeed guilty of one particular incident: being Michael Jackson.

The late Timothy White was able to land one of the last interviews with Michael Jackson before his ascent to mega-stardom with his 1979 album “Off the Wall.” White was given massive access to Jackson, including a luncheon in which Jackson displayed such bizarre behavior as eating his Caesar Salad with his fingers, oblivious to the “oily dressing accumulating on the tablecloth.” Jackson would also admit to not knowing Gerald Ford had been president. It became apparent to White that Jackson had little touch with the real world, except when it came to music and dance, of which he was a prodigy in the vein of Mozart. When asked if he was scared of being in a movie, Jackson responded “No, not at all. Honest to God, I’m not. I’m challenged. I love it. I’m not scared at all.”

Despite his childlike demeanor, Jackson had already developed the self-confidence that would propel him through three classic records, music videos, and tours, during which he developed some of the most amazing dance moves of his (or any) era. He also expressed interest in working with Quincy Jones, the man who would eventually produce “Off the Wall,” “Thriller,” and “Bad.” However, when distracted with other topics, Jackson revealed a bizarre affinity for rats, his inability to understand “Star Wars” and an obsessive interest in his Scarecrow character from “The Wiz.” Jackson told White: “Sometimes, when I come home with my makeup, I keep dancing in front of the mirrors here as the Scarecrow…When I get into it, I forget everything else but the Scarecrow’s world. It’s a feeling of peace. It’s just like…magic.”

Soon after this interview, White believed Michael Jackson’s management severely curtailed media access to the star, as his eccentricities could easily overshadow his music, as the 2003 documentary, “Living with Michael Jackson” would ultimately confirm. When focused on music and dance, Jackson had no peer. His videos for the 1979 “Off the Wall,” made before the advent of MTV, show the singer in a plain black and white tuxedo and beginning the formation of the dance moves which would excite millions. However, he had started the process of reinventing himself physically, a habit that became so addicting it would become an object of continual ridicule. Jackson’s death at age fifty represents the apotheosis of media hypocrisy. The same media which would continually cover everything “Wacko Jacko” now worships him. It seems this musical Julius Caesar will not be buried, but praised in his wake.

The success of both “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” netted Michael Jackson more money than anyone with a child-like mind could really comprehend. He also began an infatuation with being a hero of some sort. His personas in the “Beat It” and “Bad” videos showed him a cross between badass and peacemaker, a kind of dancing Superman. He further expanded his concept in the “Captain EO” film and the “Moonwalker” video game, the former being ironically executive produced by George Lucas. Although he would adapt many other guises, it seems Jackson was more comfortable in the idol-hero guise than any other. He took this to an extreme measure at the end of his 1991 “Black or White” video, when he violently destroys the majority of the street set. It is possible he was reacting to many of the anti-heroes of the time, trying to be as badass as many of the hair bands that were in constant MTV rotation during the era (insert ironic comment here).

Jackson spent much of the 1980’s working with charities, a fact that is still relatively unnoticed by the now-adoring media. Initially, his projects such as “We Are the World,” written for the USA for Africa album, we taken as universally generous gestures. As the 1980’s waned, his purchase and construction of the Neverland Ranch gained more scrutiny, as the majority of young children he asked to visit and stay there consisted of mostly young boys. Jackson seemed completely oblivious to this criticism except in song. Songs such as “Leave Me Alone,” “Stop Pressuring Me” and “Scream” addressed his antipathy towards the press. Yet Jackson refused to modify or control the behaviors which netted him such massive scrutiny. There is little doubt of Jackson’s affinity toward childhood and the wide-eyed hope and wonder which comes with it. It is hard to compare this attitude with that of the savvy musician and businessman who outbid his onetime friend Paul McCartney for the Beatles catalog. Was he really clueless or was he addicted to being two Michael Jacksons?

There is the performing Michael, the self-anointed “King of Pop” who causes sold out crowds of adults to scream wildly during his concerts. There is “Peter Pan” Michael, the real-life Willy Wonka who gave thousands of children a golden ticket to his private castle. The superhero who longed to protect and help guide child stars like Emmanuel Lewis and Macaulay Culkin possessed little knowledge on how to protect himself was becoming an addict to an ever-evolving identity he could never settle on. Part of growing up is discovering who you are; the person you present yourself to be in the public eye. Children tend to decide upon this in adolescence. They spin “The Breakfast Club” wheel and become some version of the athlete, the princess, the brain, the basket case or the criminal. For some tragic reason, Michael Jackson could never make this decision for himself. In the end, he would become all of them.

Jackson’s lack of real-world comprehension outside of music and dance would ultimately become terminal. His 1993 civil settlement for alleged child molestation caused the star to enter into a marriage with Lisa Marie Presley; a union now considered an ill-conceived business arrangement. Presley’s presence at Neverland gave the impression of normalcy, as did his “You Are Not Alone” video which showed both of them scantily clad and supposedly in love. Business marriages of this type were common in old Hollywood, designed to stop any investigation of what were then considered “alternative lifestyles.” The marriage was supposed to be mutually beneficial. Jackson could still be the Peter Pan of Neverland while Presley could milk his massive genius for the music success which eluded her. Unfortunately, the decade was the 1990’s and not the 1930’s or 50’s. The marriage ended in a few years, leaving Jackson another void in his life.

Jackson entered into another ill-fated marriage with Debbie Rowe, who would bear the first two of his three children. The second union dissolved as quickly as the first, putting him back into the media spotlight with mounting “Wacko Jacko” coverage. Jackson attempted to escape the publicity in the only was the businessman knew how: a series of concerts at Madison Square Garden in 2001 celebrating his thirty years as a solo artist. The concerts, as always, were phenomenal. His performance of his classic hit “Billie Jean” showed he hadn’t lost a step, despite entering his early forties. During this time, Jackson would experience the first commercial disappointment of his career. The album “Invincible” sold poorly. The videos showed an artist searching for identity which was compounded that he had little grasp on reality itself. He never stopped inviting children to Neverland or on tour, despite incessant coverage of his actions. Like a child, he never thought of the potential ramifications or if he did, was comfortable in his own mind that he was doing nothing wrong.

It is likely Michael Jackson did know the police watched him everyday. He also knew he was doing nothing legally wrong. He placed the same trust in children as they did of him; an innocent longing to be in a place he was denied by his overbearing, abusive father. It would be hard for a person such as Jackson to deny and distrust the affection of kids. It is likely in 1993 he committed minimally the crime of indecent exposure. After he became a media magnet for weirdness, it is harder to believe the 2003 accuser had more than financial gripes against him. It was easy to believe he did it: he was Michael Jackson – King of Weird. Yet his behavior at the trial, baby dangling and calling his third child “Blanket” on TV did little to help the man. In the end, addiction overcame any sense of reality he had left.

As Michael Jackson entered into a self-imposed exile for much of the last decade, it seems he finally found the childhood affection that he had been denied. He did little performing but the headlines by his posthumous media friends never subsisted. Having his own children may have given the “King of Pop” a sense of peace and fulfillment, but the call of the limelight still beckoned. Whether it was to appease debtors or his millions of fans, Jackson decided to embark on one more great tour. What exactly caused his death weeks before his London engagement began may never be solved. What is known is that a complex, troubled man with a schizophrenic identity had little to lose and much to gain. He was a person who longed to be a hero, a “smooth criminal,” a genius, the best dancer in the universe and ultimately became a basket case due to the media coverage he helped create. Michael Jackson didn’t start the fire, but he did little (if anything) to fight it.
Copyright 2009 Adam Koeppe

Timothy White's Michael Jackson interview published in "Rock Lives"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"We Have Been Called Rock, Punk, Garage and Surf. I Guess We Do a Little of Each." Dal Winslow of the Trashmen Interviewed!

Rock and Roll music has amassed a rich mythology in its 55-plus year history. Even dating back to famed bluesman Robert Johnson’s supposed “deal with the devil” in the 1920’s, there has been a concerted attempt by record labels and managers to package the artist in a certain way. The Rolling Stones could barely play in 1962 when they issued their first single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On.” The Stones were fortunate in two respects: they were signed to a major label, London Records and had a savvy manager, Andrew Oldham, who packaged the group as ‘bad boys.” Not every artist receives the type of break the Rolling Stones received. For every Andrew Oldham, Brian Epstein or Malcolm McLaren, there are thousands of labels and managers interested only in the quick dollar return, putting the interests of the artist aside and choosing to market songs as commodities, not works of art.

For the majority of the Trashmen’s 47-year history, they have been saddled with the “goofy great” or “one-hit wonder” stereotype, a stereotype promoted extensively by SOMA Records owner, Amos Heilicher. Although “Surfin’ Bird hit number three on the Billboard charts in 1963, little was done by Heilicher or the band’s manager, George Garrett, to promote the band beyond the success on the initial single. Unlike other rock and roll artists, the Trashmen have been granted a second lease of music life, which began with the band gaining control of their recordings in 1991, reaching new heights in 2008 after “Surfin’ Bird” was featured on the comedy series “Family Guy.” This exposure resulted in “Surfin’ Bird” reaching #8 on iTunes and cracking the top fifty in Britain. Trashmen bassist Dal Winslow recently granted me an interview, in which he discusses the triumphs, disappointments and beurocracies of a band that may yet to have reached its peak after close to five decades in the music industry.

What was the band’s reaction to the use of “Surfin’ Bird” in the “Family Guy” episode “I Dream of Jesus?” How did this collaboration come about?
“This was actually the result of an article from MOJO magazine out of the UK in early 2007. It listed us as one of the top 50 Punk/Garage bands of all time. Shortly after Weird Al (Yankovic) came out in Rolling Stone with ‘Surfin Bird’ is one of the top all time rock hits. Fox picked this up and decided to do an episode on the song. We really did not hear anything until much later, actually a week before it was aired. We never thought the whole show would be dedicated to the song and never imagined the response on the downloads.”

There is a lot of great footage on You Tube of the Trashmen's 2008 tour. How is the band received there? What kind of venues are you playing? How is it different from the United States in terms of fans and overall reaction?
“The response has been overwhelming. The venues are everything from festivals to small 400+ clubs. Every gig has been packed or sold out. Compared to the U.S., if we did the same gig as Medina (Minnesota) in Europe, it would have been packed to the rafters and the crowd would range in the 21-35 year age group. I think the song is hitting a new group of people that were not aware of it. The other thing is that in Europe we are regarded as ‘legends’ and it brings in the new crowd.”

The Trashmen avoided the stereotype of “one-hit wonder” in Europe, making the band one of the few artists from the sixties that have managed to eclipse the image promoted by their original label, SOMA Records. Listening to any Trashmen record shows the band equal to any rock and roll band of the era in terms of talent and ability. Signing to Amos Heilicher’s label proved to be a mistake which cost the group not only money, but also the chance to develop artistically like the Rolling Stones or Beach Boys. Winslow explains:

“At the time Steve (Wahrer) and I were disappointed since we had visions of going to a professional studio in L.A. and working with more experienced engineers. At Kay Bank (studio), we had good engineers but it was more learn as you go. I think a good example of what could have been was Bobby Vee. He signed with Liberty who promoted him to the fullest.” Winslow believes the SOMA signing was the band’s biggest disappointment: “Giving the song (Surfin’ Bird) to SOMA instead of Columbia or RCA, which were courting us at the time. SOMA added nothing as far as assistance with recording, new ideas, etc. They seemed to be in it strictly for the short haul cash.”

Amos Heilicher, the “Godfather of the Twin Cities record business,” possessed a habit of promoting himself ahead of the artists on his SOMA record label. Despite “Surfin’ Bird” being the highest charting hit his label would ever garner, Heilicher would continue to describe the song, in an interview with Jon Bream, as “the worst record in the world…I laugh every time I hear it…it’s that bad.” The moxie was typical of Heilicher, who “was always there to take kudos from the press,” according to Winslow. Distribution of “Surfin’ Bird” was the sole saving grace from the Trashmen’s relationship with SOMA, Winslow believes: “They did that well, in 17 different countries and multiple labels. Soma and Garrett paid for recording time. Other than that they were useless. We got more promotion from our booking agent, Jimmy Thomas, out of Luverne MN.”

It’s fairly inconceivable for a band as talentless as Heilicher believed the Trashmen to be to not only have a top five hit, but also have that same song be enjoyed by multiple generations over four decades. Winslow states: “We were pretty popular in the cities and surrounding areas before the record.” If the Trashmen had not signed to SOMA, their path might have been similar to their Minnesota contemporary, Bobby Vee, who as previously mentioned, signed to a major label, Liberty Records. Vee’s first big hit, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” hit number three in 1962, but he went five years before his next top ten, “Come Back When You Grow Up,” also charted number three in 1967. Liberty Records stuck with Vee through this gap, as they did with instrumental group the Ventures. Although SOMA Records, cast away the Trashmen in the sixties, the band possessed a song that is now on the iPod of many young people who love rock and roll.

Amos Heilicher also proved to be a cheapskate when the Trashmen were asked to appear on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. The result would not only a triumph of adversity, but a testament to the Trashmen’s drummer, the late Steve Wahrer, the original singer of “Surfin’ Bird.” Winslow “took Steve to the airport and picked him up when he returned the same day. Dick and Soma would not pay for the whole group to go. Steve had a great time and it is still being shown on You Tube. He was used to hiding behind the drums and not doing front work. He was very nervous when they told him he would be alone on camera.” Steve Wahrer performed a maniacal version of “Surfin’ Bird,” doing ‘the bird” for the entire duration of the song. Exhausted afterward, Wahrer gave a charming interview to Clark. His innocence and enthusiasm can resonate with anyone from a small town wanting to make it big in the city. Although Wahrer passed away in 1989, his vocal on “Surfin’ Bird” is as instantly recognizable as any in the history of rock and roll.

Although songwriting credits to “Surfin’ Bird” were ultimately given to R&B/Doo-Wop group, the Rivingtons, the origin of the Trashmen version had little to do with the songs originally titled “Papa Oom Mow Mow” and “The Bird’s the Word.”

Dal Winslow: “We had not heard of the Rivingtons when we first heard this song. A band from Wisconsin performed “Bird is the Word” as we thought it would be a great idea to change it up and add it to our list. We started playing it at dances and it became the most requested song. George Garrett agreed to pay for all recording and be our “personal manager. He cut the deal with Soma for distribution. The studio (Kay Bank) was not familiar with rock, only radio spots or small jazz groups. “Surfin’ Bird” was recorded in two segments, specifically to let Steve catch his breath. All others were done live. We did overlay the background vocals…there was only a 16 track recorder at the time.”

The success of “Surfin Bird” was used to full advantage by Amos Heilicher and George Garrett. “Since our song and album were so successful,” Winslow states, “they had musicians beating a path to their door to make them a hit. I’m sure they made a ton of cash off these groups. It only took a few months to see the only thing George was managing was the money coming in, He really never did any promotions.” One of these groups, Gregory Dee and the Avanties, performed a spirited song called “Olds Mo William,” which used a Steve Waher-esque “Do the bird!” to bridge into the chorus. The single was a fast-paced, frenetic shout out number. “It was kinda flattering,” Winslow said. “At least it was original. Most of the groups that came to record were doing covers, and not as good as the originals.” An underrated song if there ever was one, “Olds Mo William” was Soma’s best attempt at recreating the magic of “Surfin’ Bird.” Soma Records did manage to produce one more great single, “Liar Liar” by the Castaways, which hit #12 in 1965.

The British Invasion and psychedelic music began to dominate the 60’s music scene around 1965, leaving bands like the Trashmen with a changing audience which preferred to listen and inhale music rather than dance to it. Instrumental bands like the Ventures managed to maintain their popularity for most of the decade, largely due to the support and promotion of their record company, Liberty Records. Without this backing, the Trashmen saw their audience dwindle, deciding to disband in 1967. Winslow saw “a different response to our music. The crowds were not dancing and wanted war songs and message tunes. The blues and James Brown also started to become more popular. As we started to play clubs we decided that it was time to bail. None of us wanted to become lounge lizards.”

The Trashmen left the music scene and began their careers as normal, ordinary Americans. “We all worked for corporate America, including investment firms, manufacturing and banking.” Drummer Steve Wahrer continued to perform, using the Trashmen’s “name for a short time and then transitioned into other groups,” stated Winslow. Time passed, yet for some reason, “Surfin’ Bird” continued to be played on the radio and eventually covered by the Ram ones and the Cramps. The song was also used in the classic Stanley Kubrick film, “Full Metal Jacket.” Despite two decades of longevity and accolades, “Surfin’ Bird” was still being licensed by Amos Heilicher in budget compilations of “goofy greats” and “wacky wonders.” Ironically, some of the worst songs of the sixties era, “Harem Holiday” and “Animal Instinct,” were recorded by the “King of Rock and Roll”, Elvis Presley.

Presley’s record label, RCA, and his management managed to prevent any of these musical abominations from being associated with the mythology of the man who gave the world “Heartbreak Hotel.” Amos Heilicher, on the other hand, had no issue with placing “Surfin’ Bird” next to Alvin and the Chipmunks or Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater.” This decision for the easy dollar led to the misconception of the Trashmen as a novelty act and not the recognition of the group as a top band of their era. Imagine, if you will, the Beatles being promoted on “Yellow Submarine” as their magnum opus, without any context of the band making a song for kids. Perception is a big argument in how an individual sees the world and the things that surround them. If a song is marketed as a classic, it will be considered under those stipulations. If it is sold as a joke, it will be taken thusly so.

After 28 years of Soma distribution, the Trashmen decided enough was enough: “In 1991 we finally got fed up with hearing our song used and went to court to gain licensing rights,” Winslow stated. “At the time, it was being licensed illegally by Musicland, a division of Amos’ empire. The ironic thing was they had no contract to do so. The only contract that ever came across our desk was a document on management by Soma and Garrett. This was never signed since Tony (Andreason, the band’s lead guitarist) was only 20 at the time and his father said he would not sign it. In retrospect, a great decision. The (court) declared we had full ownership of all masters and any distribution or licensing going forward. We now receive compensation for any time the song (“Surfin’ Bird”) is used.”

Since this verdict, The Trashmen have seen a renaissance that is incomparable to any artist from their era, propelling the group from a funny footnote to a band worthy of induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They are about to embark on a second European tour, after performing a concert at the “Back to the 50’s” Minnesota Street Rod Association show in St. Paul. During this time they will see fans old and new, young and old. To some they will be legends, to others a passport to an infinite memory of youth and innocence. Cars and bars, girls and tilt-a-whirls. To others, for a tiny moment of an hour, there is a band. A great band. A band that celebrates all that is great about rock and roll music. The persistence and diligence inside every kid when they pick up a guitar, trying to get the Chuck Berry lick down until it is as sweet as sugar on cereal. The Trashmen are the code word for belief. What’s the word? Don’t you know the word? It doesn’t need to be said. We all know…

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Pearl Jam - Rock and Roll's Latest "Free Agent" Band Fights On

On June 1st, Billboard.com confirmed that rock and roll stalwarts Pearl Jam will be partnering with Target Corporation for the release of their upcoming album, “Backspacer.” Pearl Jam’s alliance with Target is different than artists such as AC/DC and Bruce Springsteen, who gave uber-discounter Wal-Mart exclusive rights to album distribution. Pearl Jam will not just be selling their album through Target, but also through a variety of other outlets, both physical and via the internet. Manager Kelly Curtis stated “Target was cool enough to realize little independent record stores are not their competition,” implying Pearl Jam will still promote new material at your local record store, providing one still exists. As part of the Target deal, Pearl Jam agreed to make a commercial for the Bull’s-eye franchise, a decision that will have many music fans crying “sell-out” from a band that refused to make music videos for seven years. Given the current instability of the music industry, Pearl Jam should not be accused of “selling out” but be applauded for “selling in.”

For the better part of the 1990’s, Pearl Jam waged a one-band war against Ticketmaster, the ticket-selling giant whose monopoly on concerts continues to this day. The band paid a heavy price for their protests, as they found booking arenas difficult if not downright impossible without the consent of Ticketmaster. Many arenas had (and still have) exclusive agreements with Ticketmaster, leaving Pearl Jam essentially blackballed from many areas. In 1998, Pearl Jam conceded the battle and began selling concerts via the evil, fee-happy empire. During the same period, the band released its first music video since “Jeremy”, the iconic single from the band’s debut album “Ten.” “Do the Evolution” was an animated video directed by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane and received substantial MTV play. These changes could be interpreted as the band caving in to pressure from their record label, Sony, but for all accounts the band did not get along with them.

The best answer for Pearl Jam’s business decisions is not found in music, but in baseball. In 1969, outfielder Curt Flood became the first player to challenge Major League Baseball’s reserve clause, which contractually bound a player to the team they currently played with. A stellar player with multiple All-Star Game appearances, Flood put his professional career on the line by refusing to play the 1970 baseball season. Flood took his case all the way the U.S. Supreme Court, who ultimately ruled against him. The mental and physical strain on Curt Flood during this period was tremendous and he retired after a brief stint with the Washington Senators in 1971.

Flood’s failure to successfully overturn the reserve clause inspired two other All-Stars, Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith, to make another attempt at challenging the status quo. Both pitchers played the 1975 season without a contract, arguing that they do now “owe” their service to their current team beyond fulfillment of their contractual obligation. This time, lower courts ruled in favor of the ballplayers. Major League Baseball gave in after several attempts at appealing the decision. The demise of the reserve clause led to the free agent market, in which players can sign with any team they choose. McNally chose to retire, while Messersmith signed with Ted Turner’s Atlanta Braves for a ton of money. Like Curt Flood before him, the strain on Messersmith led to several sub-par seasons before he finally retired in 1979.

The free agent market flourished after the 1975 decision, allowing baseball teams such as the New York Yankees to stock their roster with great players and essentially “buy” world championships in 1977 and 1978. Major League ballplayers would control much of how the game was financially played until 1994, when a player’s strike ended the baseball season, canceling the World Series. In 2002, an attempt at another strike was met by fan hostility, with beers, baseballs and profanities being thrown on the field during the final games on August 30th before an agreement was reached. Fan tolerance for rich teams and players had reached a breaking point, resulting in an agreement that has made baseball universally competitive for the first time in its history.

Throughout most of the 1990’s Pearl Jam was the music industry’s Curt Flood. Their anti-corporate stance was applauded and supported by their millions of fans but their decision to refuse to make music videos and play ball with the evil empire of Ticketmaster prevented the band from gaining or even sustaining their fan base. It is understandable the band’s record label, Sony, would not spend considerable PR time and money on an artist not willing to play the industry game. In the 2000’s, a record buyer would rarely see a big promotional effort to support the band, despite loyal fan allegiance and a history which places Pearl Jam among the best rock and roll acts in history. Although their concerts are still well-attended and indeed phenomenal, Sony seemed more interested in getting behind artists who perform the typical dog and pony show. The music industry has changed rapidly during this decade, resulting in inferior but photogenic artists being pushed in an unwilling public’s ear.

The propensity of downloading (legal or illegal) has resulted in several established artists to become the music equivalent of “free agents.” Radiohead’s decision to release their last album, “In Rainbows,” on a “pay what you want” basis online, surprisingly resulted in platinum physical sales. Subsequently, Trent Reznor’s latest Nine Inch Nails release, “Ghosts I-IV,” was offered for free download but record buyers were given unprecedented alternate options, including autographed copies if the purchaser was willing to pay for it. Although Pearl Jam had yet to enter this brave new world, their efforts a decade before set the stage for Radiohead’s and Nine Inch Nails’ success. Pearl Jam was the first major artist to allow and encourage bootlegging of their live concerts. The band went so far as to record every show during their 2000 tour and release the double-CD’s at a discount price. Bootleg concerts were a prime mover in the underground music industry until the advent of the internet. Three-hour Bruce Springsteen concerts would sell for sixty bucks at record shows, despite that they were made for five bucks in somebody’s basement. But access is everything, and music fans were more than willing to pay for a great show with good sound that made you feel like you were there. Pearl Jam’s release of it’s entire live tour delivered the first blow to bootleggers without a single legal action. Soon after, CD burning and internet downloading leveled these once astronomical prices. Pearl Jam’s live albums gave die-hard fans what they wanted, albeit with a little overkill.

The 21st Century has not been kind to Pearl Jam, whose fan base has dwindled further and unlike Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, have yet to gain interest from young music fans. Their partnership with Target should be seen as the band “selling in” rather than “selling out.” There is little argument Pearl Jam would have been one of the biggest acts in rock and roll history if they did not challenge the system. Unlike the late Curt Flood, Pearl Jam still has power over their destiny. If the band’s new record and commercial for Target reignites interest in the group from the public, they could experience a resurgence seldom seen in the music industry. If there is one thing to know about Pearl Jam, is they are dedicated and persistent. Don’t count them out yet.

If Pearl Jam’s gamble is even somewhat successful, they may pave the way for younger artists to break from their labels while they are still Billboard and iTunes darlings. There is yet to be a Reggie Jackson or Alex Rodriguez in the music industry, who became free agents at the peak of their careers. Imagine if Eminem, Black Eyed Peas or even the Jonas Brothers spurned record labels and took charge of their marketing and promotion. Many music critics such as Bob Leftsetz have predicted the demise of traditional music industry practices for some time. It remains to be seen when and exactly how the final blow will be delivered. When it happens, the artists who benefit from the fallout should thank artists like Pearl Jam, whose anti-corporate stance, incredible live shows and refusal to conform are more than enough qualifications to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.