Ch. 6: 2021-
This particular chapter will be continuously updated up through the end of 2022. A new chapter will not come until at least 2023. Don't say that you weren't warned. Also, I'd really like to hear your opinions about all this in reviews or PMs, especially the potential to work on the Wiki based on the events here and the AlternateHistory .com thread.
"Drew Barrymore Is Keeping It Clean," by Abby Ellin, The New York Times, January 6, 2021
Oh, the stains. The staaaains! It's the stains that truly obsess Drew Barrymore.
"I'm a stan for stains," she said on a recent episode of The Drew Barrymore Show, her syndicated talk show that premiered nationally in mid-September. Not that she knew what a "stan"— a portmanteau of '"stalker" and "fan" — actually was, which explains why she pronounced it "stand." Whatever.
Ms. Barrymore, 45, was wearing a white lab coat over an olive green shirt, a pussy bow peeking out. Boldly labeled bottles — Laundry Detergent, Club Soda, Hand Soap, Rubbing Alcohol — were lined up on a table. As she told the audience, she's a mother, and thus constantly rubbing, scrubbing and scouring.
This is a source of enormous pleasure. "I love concocting the perfect solutions, products, combinations, treatments, methodologies," she said with her signature lisp. She might as well have been Carol Channing in the Gen X classic Free to Be You and Me.
But Ms. Barrymore wasn't rhapsodizing about the need to share housework or the evils of advertising. Along with interior design and food, which the show also covers, stain removal is a lifelong passion. She asked viewers to send her their most aggressive soils, and she, Drew Barrymore — actress, producer, director, author, Golden Globe winner, former emancipated minor, three-time ex-wife, two-time mother, beauty entrepreneur and now host — would help them fix it.
Solving these sorts of human disasters is one of several bits on Ms. Barrymore's sunny and frenetic show, "a jolt of optimism in a turbulent time," as she said in a recent interview.
It was the Monday after Joe Biden's win was announced, and Ms. Barrymore was feeling a bit wistful. People had been partying in the streets all weekend, but she and her two daughters, Olive Barrymore Kopelman, 8, and Frankie Barrymore Kopelman, 6, were out of town and missed the festivities.
"We felt like old fuddy-duddies," she said. "We were all having FOMO. But I was also processing all weekend. I felt really internal and quiet, and I tried to think about how I could address it on the show."
This was more challenging than it may sound, because TDBS, as it's called by fans and those who produce the show, is supposed to appeal to everyone. The show is a "safe space," and as Ms. Barrymore said in her four minute and 38 second opening monologue that morning, "I didn't want to gloat because I know there are people out there who are hurting."
She teared up, as she does often. Like when her ex-husband Tom Green, whom she hadn't seen or spoken to in about 15 years, came on the show and they reminisced. Or when a psychic medium told Ms. Barrymore that Will Kopelman, to whom she was married until 2016, had relatives on the Other Side who loved her and considered her a member of the family.
Ms. Barrymore, a "little bit of a skeptic who also believes in everything," bawled. (Mr. Kopelman later told Page Six that one of the alleged spirits was alive and well in Boston.)
She Shares, and She Cares
Ms. Barrymore, famously, is not only a crier but also a sharer, even before the sharing economy picked up online. She has always been quick to confess her fears, her insecurities; she unspools ribbons of words at record speed. In a recent Instagram post, she told her 13.6 million followers that she's been eating her stress lately and needed a "brassiere thing" to fit into her pants. "For anyone who has to put an extender on your pants, well, just know — I feel ya," she said.
She's empathetic in person, too. And sweet.
I told her that my sister had died in March, and after watching the psychic episode I wanted to know what she thought. On a scale of 1 to 10, how high was the BS factor? Ms. Barrymore was shrewd enough not to respond directly: "I'd like to know what you think," she said.
I told her I couldn't get an appointment until October 2022. She immediately offered to call the medium on my behalf, and despite my protests — she had a million things to worry about besides helping me check in with the dead — she insisted.
"I'm the one who offered," she said. "I really genuinely mean it. Let me please get you in touch. And I would love to know what you think. OK?"
A few hours later an email popped up from the psychic and we scheduled a session. (For what it's worth, I think she's an amazingly gifted … Googler).
During another conversation, Ms. Barrymore was feeling anxious. "I'm coming down after a four-hour panic attack, which is awesome," she said. "Work and life and everything sort of collided today. It's like I felt somehow slightly paralyzed.
"It's hard to do it all," she continued. "I felt like a complete failure today. Sometimes I feel like I can take on the world and today, actually, I do not feel that way at all."
Candor has long come naturally to Ms. Barrymore. A native Angeleno, she moved to New York six years ago with Mr. Kopelman, an art adviser. They had married in 2012 in a "very Jewish" ceremony; their children are being raised Jewish, although Ms. Barrymore didn't officially convert. But she celebrates all the holidays, which makes her … Drewish?
Moving to New York was jarring. East Coast winters felt brutal. And then, in 2016, just when she was kind of getting used to it, she and Mr. Kopelman divorced.
"Nothing I've ever been through compared to this divorce," she said. "This was the first big thing that I went through that was involving a few people I care about far more than myself. I was depressed for like five years. I just wasn't coping with it very well."
Time helped. So does 20 milligrams of Lexapro every day. And so, finally, does this show.
"I don't know who I would be without this job," she said. "My kids come first, but I'm so lucky to have everything that I care about or attempt to do in this thing."
So how did America's favorite extraterrestrial-loving little girl, a veteran of talk shows since childhood who memorably flashed David Letterman on his in 1995, end up with her own? And for that matter, why would she even want to? It's not like she needs the money.
Well, why not?
Last spring, Elaine Bauer Brooks, the executive vice president of development and multi-platform programming at CBS Television Distribution, in Los Angeles, approached her. "I thought, who would be warm and real and charming and have a unique sensibility?" Ms. Bauer Brooks said.
When they realized they shared a vision of a friendly, kooky, apolitical show, they moved forward. Preproduction began during COVID-19, so they had to regroup. "She said, 'I want our Plan B to be so good that we forget about our Plan A,'" Ms. Bauer Brooks recalled.
Even though the crisis was over by the time taping began, there's still no in-studio audience, which is done to make the show different from its peers. Instead, Plan B includes "VFF's," or Virtual Friends and Family, an interactive virtual audience that allows Ms. Barrymore to engage with people as if they were with her in real life. Most guests are beamed in holographic style, so she's often talking to an empty chair. Other than a handful of crew members and producers, Ms. Barrymore is mainly all by herself in the giant studio. And even when guests appear in the studio again, audiences will not.
The show is taped in New York, where it is broadcast live, five days a week. Ms. Barrymore wakes up at 4:30 AM and works out ("well, that's wishy-washy") before arriving at work at 6:45. She and her team write an opening monologue off the news, and then they're on set by 8:15. The hourlong program starts at 9 AM in New York and is syndicated around the country. She spends the rest of the day preparing for the following day. She's home by about 5:30, when she goes into "mom mode."
"It's a lot," she said. "But you know, what's the alternative? There's none. We got one life. This is it. I'm going to burn the" — BLEEP! — "out of that candle at every moment."
Going live is extra pressure, but Ms. Barrymore felt that she owed it to the audience. "I thought, 'If there's one thing 2020 demands, it's live television," she said. "You have to be up to the second in this day and age. It's, like, so wild to be a live show that wants to talk about the world we're living in while not talking about politics or being political or trying to alienate people."
Most of the guests are her adored celebrity pals like Cameron (Diaz) and Kurt (Cobain) and Charlize (Theron) and Reese (Witherspoon) and Gwyneth (Paltrow), who was given the task of coming up with a "Drewphemism" for words you can't always comfortably say on morning network TV like "butt" or "something beginning with v that ends in 'ina,'" as Ms. Barrymore put it.
"Lady bits?" Ms. Paltrow offered. "Life's cornucopia?"
"I mean it is," Ms. Barrymore said, and they chortled.
The show features civilians, too, like a relationship expert to help people navigate divorce and a financial guru to help talk to kids about money. (Big Bird joined her in mid-November.)
And then there was Jonah Larson, a 12-year-old crocheting prodigy who tried to teach her the craft. Ms. Barrymore bumbled through the segment, constantly losing the ends of the yarn.
It was goofy. It was wacky. And it was kind of deliberate.
"I wanted to do the show like a variety comedy," she said. "I gravitate toward a Julia Child or a Lucille Ball rather than trying to do it perfect. Everything's going to fall on the floor and be kind of ridiculous."
'Exhausting and Fascinating'
It's easy to poke fun at the over-the-top, Valley Girl-ness of it all, as Chloe Fineman did in a Saturday Night Live parody. Ms. Barrymore took it good-naturedly, posting on Instagram that she has "loved SNL for as long as i know" — indeed, she has hosted it half a dozen times — and to also have the thedrewbarrymoreshow brought to the party is so fun."
She later invited Ms. Fineman onto her show, where a mutual admiration session ensued.
"I'm really nervous to meet you, I'm so excited, I'm your biggest fan," gushed Ms. Barrymore, whose mixed-breed rescue puppy, Douglas, had run out to greet Ms. Fineman.
"I'm your biggest fan, you're going to make me cry," Ms. Fineman said.
These are the sorts of conversations for which TDBS has received criticism. Daniel D'Addario wrote in Variety that Ms. Barrymore appears to reveal a lot, but that she's very much controlling the narrative; the show, he wrote, too often "defaults to the flat, broad approach of a celebrity who has fought hard, after a childhood exposed to the media's glare, to keep some part of herself from the public." Jezebel, which devotes a weekly column to the show, called it an "emotional roller coaster." (And let's not look too closely at the ratings.)
But considering the emotional roller coaster of 2020, it may be just what we need as 2021 dawns. It's fun, if occasionally cringe inducing, to watch Ms. Barrymore try so hard to have fun.
Because let's be clear: trying to have fun is work. Ms. Barrymore, as an executive producer, weighs in on everything, down to her chic schoolmarm costumes. "I love dressing up for work," she said. There are few child stars who go on to such sustained success. Of course, there are few with such a storied name (her grandfather John, great-uncle Lionel and great-aunt Ethel were all stars in their day).
She was only 19 when she helped found her production company, Flower Films, which has produced, among many others, Charlie's Angels, 50 First Dates, Never Been Kissed and Whip It!, which she directed and starred in. Most recently, she was a producer and star of the Blockbuster Entertainment original series Santa Clarita Diet, co-produced and starred in A Nightmare on Elm Street: Perchance to Scream, the legacy sequel produced by Springbok Productions and marked the return of director Wes Craven. And she's working with Springbok on a sequel the beloved 1999 Christmas special Olive the Other Reindeer, which will come out just in time for next Christmas. This on top of Barrymore Brands, whose lifestyle brand, Flower by Drew, includes beauty products, a home line, hair tools and eyewear.
Chris Miller, 51, the president of Flower Films recalled being in huge marketing meetings at Sony for Charlie's Angels back in the late 1990s. "Drew was in her mid-20s at the time and just had such conviction for how those movies should be marketed and sold," he said. "She knew and understood every detail about the product because she was involved in every aspect of its creation."
Years later, he said, "she'd be pitching a new lipstick and talking about how she had challenged the engineers to make the cap in a certain way that would not only feel good in your hand but would stay on during a six-foot drop test."
Mr. Miller has been with her for more than 20 years, as have most of the people in her immediate orbit.
"I'm very grounded in my life — all of my friends are 20 years, some 25 or 30," she said. "My friends are my first family."
She is trying to make sure her daughters have a more stable home life than she did. As Barrymore scholars know, she won emancipation from her parents at 14, not long after she went into rehab for drug addiction. She had been institutionalized for a year and a half, which she has since said she needed. Her father, John Drew Barrymore, died in 2004 after a life of substance abuse issues, but her daughters have met her mother, Ildiko Jaid Barrymore, a few times. "We just gauge it year by year," she said.
She and Mr. Kopelman co-parent amicably, Ms. Barrymore said. But the divorce is still pretty raw, and she's still single. As for dating, well, there's this pandemic. And men never ask her out. "I tried a dating app once, and I just got blown off a lot," she said. "I'd match with people, and they never followed through."
She'd like to go on a blind date, though maybe not 50 of them. She's trying to get to a place where she finds dating "delightful" again. "I just felt so heavy for so long that even the idea of lightening up about the whole thing would be such tremendous growth for me."
But for the most part, she's doing just fine on her own.
"I've never known this level of contentment," Ms. Barrymore said. "This is new territory for me, and I just don't want to screw it up."
"The Spirit of Neil Peart," by Brian Hiatt, Rolling Stone, January 7, 2021
Neil Peart made it only 10 months into his hard-won retirement before he started to feel like something was wrong. Words were, for once, the problem. Peart, one-third of the Toronto band Rush, was one of the world's most worshipped drummers, unleashing his unearthly skills upon rotating drum kits that grew to encompass what seemed like every percussive possibility within human invention. Before band rehearsals for Rush tours, he'd practice on his own for weeks to ensure he could replicate his parts. His forearms bulged with muscle; his huge hands were calloused. But he was also the self-educated intellect behind Rush's singularly cerebral and philosophical lyrics, and the author of numerous books, specializing in memoir intertwined with motorcycle travelogues, all of it rendered in luminous detail.
Peart took constant notes, kept journals, sent emails that were more like Victorian-era correspondence, wrote pieces for drum magazines, and posted essays and book reviews on his website. Despite ending his formal education at age 17, he never stopped working toward a lifelong goal of reading "every great book ever written." He tended to use friends' birthdays as an excuse to send "a whole fucking story about his own life," as Rush singer-bassist Geddy Lee puts it, with a laugh.
"I do a lot of my thinking that way," Peart told me in 2015. "There is a quote from E.M. Forster. He used to say, 'How do I know what I think until I see what I say?' For me, that's when I write."
Peart intentionally laid down his drumsticks after Rush's final tour ended in L.A. in August 2015, shortly before his 63rd birthday (though he did return to the fray just so briefly for Rush's set at Woodstock 50 four years later), but he intended to continue his writing career, which exacted less of a physical toll than pummeling a snare drum. He envisioned a quiet life. He'd work nine-to-five in what he liked to call his "man cave," a plush garage for his vintage-car collection that doubled as his office, just a block away from his home in Santa Monica, California. The rest of his time he'd spend with Carrie Nuttall, his wife of 20 years, and his elementary-school-age daughter, Olivia, who adored him. He planned to spend summers with them at his spectacular lakeside country property in Quebec, not far from the former site of Le Studio, the picturesque spot where Rush recorded Moving Pictures and other albums.
Before Rush's final tour began, Peart got a taste of the day-to-day existence he wanted. He ached to return to it, a rock star pining after mundanity like a cubicle drone daydreaming of living in the limelight. "It was awfully hard for me to turn away from a contented domestic life, a contented creative life," he told me in 2015, sipping Macallan on ice in his garage just before the tour. "I'd wait till Olivia went to school in the morning and then come over here. I'm an early riser, as she is. I'd go pick up lunch and come back here. And again, I never take it for granted. I'll be walking down Olympic to Starbucks or to Subway or whatever, thinking, 'Isn't this great?' "
After the tour, when Peart wasn't working in his man cave, he volunteered for library time at Olivia's school. "Olivia was thrilled," says Nuttall. "She got to see Daddy at school all the time." At night, he'd come home and cook family dinners. "He was living his life exactly the way he wanted for the first time in decades, probably," she says. "It was a very sweet, content time … and then the gods, or whatever you want to call it, snatched it all away."
"I just feel so bad," says Lee, "that he had so little time to live out what he fought so hard to get."
Peart started doing newspaper crossword puzzles back in the early Seventies, when he traveled to England from his native Canada to make it as a drummer, only to end up as the manager of a souvenir shop, with time to kill on a tube commute. For the past couple of decades, he made a ritual of whipping through the New York Times Sunday puzzle. In June 2016, he was baffled to find himself struggling with that task. "He couldn't figure it out," says Rush's longtime manager, Ray Danniels. " 'What was the matter?' "
Peart kept his concern to himself, but by summer, he was showing signs of what Nuttall assumed to be depression. She broached the subject with Danniels during a visit to the manager's house in Muskoka, Ontario. "I was like, 'Carrie, he got everything he wants,' " Danniels recalls. " 'He won. He got his freedom. He got a huge paycheck off the last tour. This is not depression.' "
In late August, Nuttall and Peart's mother both noticed that he was unusually quiet. When he did speak, he started "making mistakes with his words," as he later told his bandmates. He rushed to a doctor, and after an MRI, ended up in surgery. The diagnosis was grim: glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer with an average survival time of roughly 12 to 18 months.
Genetic testing of Peart's cancer suggested it was unusually treatable, and Peart lived until January 7th, 2020, more than three years after his diagnosis, which, in the case of this illness, qualified him as a "long-term survivor."
"Three and a half years later," says Lee, "he was still having a smoke on the porch. So he said a big 'Fuck you' to the Big C as long as he could."
Shortly before the surgery, Peart placed an uncharacteristic FaceTime call to Alex Lifeson, on the Rush guitarist's birthday. "It was so unusual to get a call from him, because he was never comfortable on the phone," says Lifeson. "You'd get these beautiful emails from him. But he wasn't that crazy about talking to anybody. I was in shock. But I could tell there was something weird. I thought maybe it was a difficulty with a connection or something. But he just didn't seem like he normally was. And I kept thinking about it afterwards."
A couple of weeks later, Peart sent an email to his bandmates with the news. He didn't pull any punches. "He basically blurted it out," Lee recalls. " 'I have a brain tumor. I'm not joking.' "
Lifeson was at a golf course when he got the message. "I think I started crying right there," he says.
"You go into fight-or-flight mode," Lee says. For Lifeson and Lee, the priority became finding chances to see their friend, who lived far from their mutual home base of Toronto.
Peart handled his illness with heroic strength and stoicism, friends say, even as he fought to survive. "He was a tough man," says Lee. "He was nothing if not stoic, that man. … He was pissed off, obviously. But he had to accept so much horrible shit. He got very good at accepting shitty news. And he was OK with it. He was going to do his best to stick around as long as he could, for the sake of his family. And he did unbelievably well. … He accepted his fate, certainly more gracefully than I would."
There was a certain fatalism to Peart, who wrote song after song about the randomness of the universe, and then saw the events of his own life prove it to him. In 1997, his daughter Selena died in a car accident on the way to college; his common-law wife, Jackie, died of cancer soon after. Peart's loss was so all-encompassing that despite his rationalist bent, he couldn't help wondering whether he'd somehow been cursed.
"My daughter died at 19, and my wife died at 42, and I'm 62 and I'm still going," he told me in 2015, discussing his refusal to consider quitting smoking (which is not believed to be a likely cause of glioblastoma). "How many people have died younger than me? How many drummers have died younger than me? I'm already in bonus time. … Something is gonna kill me. Look, I ride motorcycles. I drive fast cars. I fly around a lot in airplanes. It's a dangerous life out there. I like what one old-timer said about motorcycling: 'If you love motorcycling enough, it's gonna kill you. The trick is to survive long enough that something else kills you first.' "
For all of that bravado, he couldn't abide the idea of leaving his daughter behind. "That bothered him terribly," Danniels says. "It bothered him that he had come full circle. At first, he felt the pain of having lost a child. And now he was leaving a child."
Peart had his own mourning process to get through, says Nuttall, "for the future he was not going to have and for everything he would miss out on with Olivia, and with me, and with life itself. If anyone lived life to the fullest, it was Neil. And there was still much he wanted to do. When everyone says, 'Oh, he was so stoic and accepted his fate,' and all that? Yes, he did. But it also broke his heart."
Peart was determined to make the most of his remaining time, just as he had always sought to maximize his days. "What's the most excellent thing I can do today?" he used to ask himself. The answer often meant roaring through a national park on a BMW motorcycle before playing drums in an arena. ("You can do a lot in a lifetime," he wrote in the lyrics to "Marathon," one of Rush's most powerful songs, "if you don't burn out too fast.") That was one of his signatures as a drummer, too, cramming an improbable amount of rhythmic information into each bar of music; he made his living by pushing the limits of time.
"He lived incredibly deeply and richly," says one of his close friends, former Jethro Tull drummer Doane Perry. "Which might mean being on his own, reading a book at his place up in Canada on the lake — that was just as fully engaging as being onstage in front of tens of thousands of people."
Peart's lifelong need for privacy grew stronger. His illness was a secret kept among a small circle of friends, who managed to guard their knowledge to the very end. For Lee and Lifeson, who were doing interviews and fielding calls from friends and peers about rumors, the burden of concealment was heavy. "Neil asked us not to discuss it with anyone," says Lifeson. "He just wanted to be in control of it. The last thing in the world he would want is people sitting on his sidewalk or driveway singing 'Closer to the Heart' or something. That was a great fear of his. He didn't want that attention at all. And it was definitely difficult to lie to people or to sidestep or deflect somehow. It was really difficult."
Peart always dismissed unnecessary discussion of unpleasant subjects with a hand wave and a hearty "never mind," and that's what friends heard if they tried bringing up his illness or treatment. "He didn't want to waste his remaining time talking about shit like that," says Lee. "He wanted to have fun with us. And he wanted to talk about real things right up to the very end."
Peart never complained, Lee jokes, unless he "ran out of smokes." "One time I arrived without any alcohol," adds Lee, a serious wine collector. "And I'm famous for arriving at his house with what he used to call 'your bucket of wine.' And I didn't bring it this one time. And he was just so appalled. So of course, the next day, Alex and I went to a wine store and made sure we arrived with a bucket of wine. And all was good again."
Peart also overcame a lifelong aversion to retrospection and nostalgia, spending a significant amount of time listening to his catalog with Rush. "When we talk about his intense desire to be learning," says another close friend, Vertical Horizon frontman Matt Scannell, "very hand in hand with that spirit is, 'What's new? What next?' Back when I'd send him mix CDs, if it was old, he wasn't interested. But I thought it was beautiful that he found something to enjoy about looking back, whereas before, it was kind of anathema."
"I don't think any of us listen to a lot of our old music," says Lifeson. "It's all been done and played. But my guess is that he was just reviewing some of the things that he accomplished, in terms of music, anyways. And I think he was a little surprised at how well it turned out. I think that happens, you kind of forget. It was interesting to see him smile and feel really good about that. And when he still could write to us, he wrote about how he was reviewing some of our older music and how it stood up for him."
Lee wasn't surprised. "Knowing Neil the way I do," he says, "and knowing that he knew how much time he had left, I think it was a natural thing for him to review the work of his life. And he was finding himself very proud of how he had spent a big chunk of his life. And he wanted to share that with Alex and I. Whenever we saw him, he wanted to talk about that. He wanted us to know that he was proud."
Fly By Night, Peart's debut album with Rush, begins with the intro to "Anthem": guitar, bass, and drums interlocked in a brutally syncopated riff, in ⅞ time, with some of the most crisp high-hat work the rock world had ever heard. From there, the song became a ferocious salute to Ayn Rand-inspired individualism. The Rand influence was powerful at that point for a young Peart, adhering to his public image for decades, but he'd soon regard it as philosophic and intellectual training wheels, at best. He'd eventually call himself a "left-wing libertarian" or "bleeding-heart libertarian," and tell Rolling Stone in 2015 that he planned to vote Democratic after gaining his U.S. citizenship.
On Rush's previous album, recorded with a far more limited drummer, John Rutsey, Lee had been singing come-ons ("Hey, baby, it's a quarter to eight/I feel I'm in the mood!") over bar-band Zeppelinisms; now he was screeching objectivist philosophy over thrilling, twisty prog-metal, a genre his band was inventing moment by moment. "We wanted to be the most complex hard-rock band out there, that was our goal," Lee told me in 2015. "So I knew from the very first audition that this was the drummer of our dreams."
Peart spent his infancy on a family farm, before his father — who would eventually run his own auto-parts business — moved the family to Port Dalhousie, a suburb of the small city of St. Catharines, Ontario. Until his teenage years, Peart's childhood was relatively idyllic. He spent much of his time outdoors, cultivating what became a lifelong connection with nature. "Where he was really most comfortable was in nature and in quiet and a degree of solitude," says his friend Doane Perry.
There was one deeply traumatic incident. Swimming in Lake Ontario when he was around 10, Peart grew tired and tried to grab onto a buoyed raft, before some older boys decided it would be funny to keep him off of it. Peart flailed in the water, feeling himself start to drown. At the last minute, two classmates saved his life. Peart was left with a certain distrust of strangers, and would flash back to the terror of that moment years later, when he was unlucky enough to be caught in a crush of fans. He developed a phobia of feeling "trapped" that would shape his profound discomfort with fame and his constant need to escape the cloistered world of rock touring.
Peart was brilliant enough to skip two grades, starting high school at 12. He began drum lessons, practicing for a full year without an actual kit. Peart's first spark of interest in drums came with a viewing of The Gene Krupa Story, a biopic about the big-band drummer; big-band jazz was Peart's dad's favorite music, and Peart would take a serious stab at playing it later in life. Keith Moon, The Who's wild-man drummer, became his hero, but as Peart's skills developed, he realized he didn't actually want to play like Moon. The chaos didn't suit him. Peart would find a way to embody Moon's energy while staying true to his own spirit, playing parts that were even flashier and more dramatic, but also more precise and composed, following a sort of three-dimensional geometric logic. (Ever restless, Peart, in his later years, reversed course and worked on his improvisational side.)
Teenage Peart grew his hair long and started wearing a cape and purple shoes. Local jocks were unimpressed. "I was totally happy up until the teenage years," he told me, "when suddenly — I didn't know I was a freak, but the world made me aware of it." He was playing in his first bands and becoming completely obsessed with his instrument. He'd only stop practicing when his parents made him. "From the time I started playing drums, there was only drums and music," Peart said. "I did great in school up until that point, and then it just didn't matter."
He dropped out at 17, and by the next year made his way to London. He spent 18 frustrating months there, returning to Canada with very different ideas about his musical career. He decided he couldn't stand playing music he didn't believe in for money, and would rather work a day job and play for fun. "I set out to never betray the values that 16-year-old had, to never sell out, to never bow to the man," he told me.
He was offended by what he saw as pandering and corrupt commercialism in the rock world; there's genuine contempt in the line about the "sound of salesmen" he'd later write in "The Spirit of Radio." After a stint at the local record store, where he worked with the brothers of his future wife, Jackie Taylor, he settled into a job as parts manager at his father's business, helping to computerize the inventory system.
Peart's first attempt at ordinary life lasted barely a year before he was recruited to audition for a Toronto band already signed to a major label. Peart joined Rush, and began 40 years of recording and touring. "You look at him in photographs in the early days," says Lee, "and he had a great smile. He was very happy for a very long time. Only after years of grueling road work did that smile start to wear away a little bit."
From the beginning, though, Peart found the downtime on the road stultifying. He started putting it to use, plowing through ever-growing stacks of paperback books, filling in the gaps of his education. At the same time, he laced Rush's early albums with some of rock's oddest and most colorful lyrics. ("I have dined on honeydew!" Lee famously yelps on the 1977 classic "Xanadu.") In his songwriting, Peart drew at first on his love of science fiction, fantasy, and Rand, before shifting to more earthbound concerns by the Eighties.
Rolling with some of those early lyrics was a "leap of faith" for the band, Lee acknowledges: "Sometimes you weren't into it! And you didn't want to do it. You had to talk about it." As the years went by, the process became ever more collaborative. "For many years," Lee adds, "Neil sat beside me in the control room when we listened back to vocals, and we'd talk about something that could be improved and he would rewrite it on the spot." Later, Lee might pick just a few lines he liked, and Peart would rewrite songs around them.
The band's breakthrough, 1976's monumental, riff-happy rock operetta "2112," was dead serious in its furious salute to personal freedom; the priests of Syrinx, who controlled everything in their dystopian society, were a thin stand-in for record execs who wanted Rush to sound more like Bad Company (and for teenage fans, parents who just didn't understand).
There was more humor in the band and in Peart's Seventies writing than some of his critics understood — 1975's "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" was inspired, for instance, by the nicknames of two dogs Danniels owned. "I remember one morning saying to Geddy, wouldn't it be funny if we did a fantasy piece on By-Tor and the Snow Dog?" Peart told me. Even in their peak-prog moment, 1978's Hemispheres, the band was self-aware enough to give the wry subtitle "An Exercise in Self-Indulgence" to "La Villa Strangiato," a twisty masterpiece of an instrumental.
"The Spirit of Radio," from 1979's Permanent Waves, lived up to its title, winning Rush extensive FM airplay, followed by their biggest-ever album, Moving Pictures, with Peart's awe-inspiring performance on "Tom Sawyer," highlighted by some of the most indelible drum fills in rock history. Rush were now huge, and Peart wasn't enjoying it. When he heard Roger Waters' depiction of rock alienation on Pink Floyd's The Wall, he wrote Waters a letter of appreciation for capturing his own feelings so well.
His friend Matt Stone, South Park's co-creator, was stunned to find how ill-at-ease Peart could be about being recognized in public, even late in his career. "He was a really weird guy about his fame," Stone says. (For that reason, Peart particularly loved Stone's Halloween parties, where he could meet people while in disguise — which, one year, meant full drag.)
Peart developed strategies to break free. "I carried a bicycle on the tour bus and sometimes on days off I'd go riding in the country," he told me, "and then, if the cities were a hundred miles apart, I could do it on my own, and that was the biggest thrill. The whole entourage left, and I'd be in the little town in a motel room and on my own, and in those days no cellphones or anything. Just me and my bicycle." He took extracurricular trips, too, riding through Africa (toting, on one trip, a copy of Aristotle's Ethics and a collection of Vincent Van Gogh's letters) and China. The deprivation he witnessed in Africa was transformative, pushing the "bleeding heart" part of his libertarianism to the surface.
Peart tried to end Rush's touring days as early as 1989, when his daughter Selena was 11 years old. "After much wrestling in my own mind I came to the realization, if I'm going to call myself a musician, then I'm going to have to perform live," he told me. "I like rehearsing much better than performing. It's got all the challenge and gratification, but without the pressure. And you don't have to leave home. Even in '89, I was thinking, 'Imagine if they had a hologram, so every day I just went to one place and played my heart out, and then went home.' "
Peart felt intense pressure, night after night, to live up to his own reputation. "He never rated himself as highly as everyone else did," says Police drummer Stewart Copeland, another friend. "But he did very much feel the responsibility that he carried to be the god of drums. Kind of a burden, actually."
In May 1994, at the Power Station recording studio in New York, Peart gathered together great rock and jazz drummers, from Steve Gadd to Matt Sorum to Max Roach, for a tribute album he was producing for the great swing drummer Buddy Rich. Peart noticed one of the players, Journey drummer Steve Smith, had improved strikingly since the last time he had seen him, and learned that he studied with the jazz guru Freddie Gruber. In the year of his 42nd birthday, while he was already widely considered to be the greatest rock drummer alive, Peart sought out Gruber and started taking drum lessons. "What is a master but a master student?" Peart told Rolling Stone in 2012.
He was convinced that years of playing along with sequencers for the more synth-y songs in Rush's Eighties catalog had stiffened his drumming, and he wanted to loosen back up. (For all of his efforts and mastery, there were some areas even Neil Peart couldn't conquer: "To be honest, I am not sure that Neil ever fully 'got' the jazz high-hat thing," Peter Erskine, who took over as Peart's teacher in the 2000s, wrote affectionately.)
Rush as a whole were feeling some creative exhaustion on their next album, 1996's Test for Echo, but Peart felt he'd done his best playing to date, thanks to a revamped sense of time. He also found a new way to make touring bearable, even pleasurable, traveling from date to date on his BMW motorcycle. "I'm out in the real world every day," he told me, "seeing people at work and going about their daily life, and having little conversations in rest areas and gas stations and motels, and all the American life every day." Five years would pass before the band toured again.
On August 10th, 1997, Peart and his wife Jackie helped 19-year-old Selena pack up her car as she prepared to drive to the University of Toronto to begin her sophomore year. Her expected arrival time came and went without a phone call. A few hours later, a police officer came to Peart's door. At Selena's funeral, Peart told his bandmates to consider him retired, and Lifeson and Lee assumed the band was over. Jackie was shattered, and within months received a diagnosis of metastatic cancer. She responded "almost gratefully" to the news, Peart wrote. Jackie died in June 1998. She is buried next to their daughter.
Peart left everything behind, got on his motorcycle and rode. He felt alienated from himself; at one point, he watched one of his old instructional drum videos and felt like he was looking at a different person. There was part of him left, though, "a little baby soul," and he did his best to nurture it. There were times when he sought the "numb refuge of drugs and alcohol," as he put it in his memoir of the period, Ghost Rider. Midway through his journey, before embarking on a run through Mexico, Peart broke out of his isolation for a week, spending some time in Los Angeles with Rush photographer Andrew MacNaughtan.
One of the few things that made him laugh during that period was South Park, so Peart was pleased when MacNaughtan introduced him to Stone. "Andrew was like, 'Neil's coming to town,' " Stone recalls. " 'Let's get wasted and hang out.' I got some party materials and went up to the Hollywood Hills. Because of what happened, it was, 'Don't talk about girls. Don't talk about children.' So we talked about art and philosophy and rock & roll and travel. … But it was a guy who was just fucking sad."
Over the course of more than a year and 55,000 miles' worth of motorcycle trips, Peart began to heal. He ended up in Southern California for good, ready to start over. "When I first moved here it was remarkable, because my life was one suitcase, a bicycle, and a boom box," he told me. "All the possessions I had. I rented a little apartment by the Santa Monica Pier. And I joined the Y here. I would do yoga or the Y every day, ride around on my bicycle, come home and listen to my boom box, and it was great." Through MacNaughtan, he met Carrie Nuttall, a gifted photographer, and fell in love. They married in 2000. Peart called the band and told them he was ready to get back to work.
The band signed a new record deal with Exploitation Records, the record label arm of Kurt Cobain and Charlize Theron's Springbok Productions, and reemerged with 2002's Vapor Trails, a stunning reaffirmation and return to the fray. The band went back on the road, culminating with three dates in Brazil, their first ever shows there. After marking their 30th anniversary with an EP of covers and a tour, they released Snakes & Arrows in 2007, which earned among their best reviews and sales in their career. And Exploitation Records, along with lifelong Canadian label Anthem Records, did a master remastering and archival releases campaign over the years.
Rush were as popular as they had ever been by their 40th anniversary tour in 2015, having been belatedly absorbed into the classic-rock and pop-culture canons. After many stylistic reinventions, they had re-embraced their core approach with what would turn out to be their last studio release, the triumphant concept album Clockwork Angels, in 2012.
But Peart had again grown reluctant to tour. He and Olivia, now five, were very close, and during the band's 2012-13 tour, she found his absences painful and disturbing. Peart relented only because Lifeson developed arthritis, and the guitarist worried that it might be his last chance to play. "Realizing I was trapped," Peart wrote, "I got back to my hotel that night and stomped around the room in a mighty rage and an attack of extreme Tourette's." After the tantrum subsided, he decided to follow an adage of Freddie Gruber's: "It is what it is. Deal with it."
As the tour went on, Lifeson started feeling better. It was Peart who suffered. He kept up his motorcycle routine, a 62-year-old man riding hundreds of miles a day, sometimes in the rain, before playing three-hour concerts. He developed a painful infection in one of his feet, among other issues. "He could barely walk to the stage," says Lifeson. "They got him a golf cart to drive him to the stage. And he played a three-hour show, at the intensity he played every single show. I mean, that was amazing."
At the beginning of the tour, Peart was feeling good, and signaled to Danniels that he might be open to adding more shows. His feelings changed along with his physical condition. "Partway through the second run," says Danniels, "he made it clear to me, 'I can't do any more. I don't want to do any more.' And, you know, I was frustrated." So were Lee and Lifeson, who were in the middle of one of Rush's greatest tours, with a fan's-dream set list that ran through the band's catalog in reverse chronological order.
"My relationship with him had been one of coaxing," Danniels adds. "But even getting angry couldn't move him. He wasn't a racehorse anymore. He was a mule. The mule wasn't going to move. … I eventually let go. I realized I was going to negatively affect my friendship with him."
The band never really spoke about the significance of what was happening at Rush's final show on the tour, at a sold-out Forum in L.A. At least not aloud. "The conversation took place onstage," says Lee, "all through the show, in our eyes." Peart made it clear that something unique, and most likely final, was happening when he came up to the front of the stage with his bandmates at the show's conclusion. It was the first time he had done so in 40 years. "That was a beautiful moment," Lee says.
For all the finality, there was always some hope that the band would find some way to continue. "Do I think Neil would have done something again?" says Danniels. "Yes. He would have one day. [Something] different, whether it was a residency in Vegas or whatever. I think, yes, before the illness. That's what stopped this thing from ever coming back. The fact that he chose to brave all that pain, get in shape, and do one final farewell to the fans at Woodstock 50, knowing it would be the last...there are no words to describe what he achieved in doing so, especially in finally relenting on letting some songs be played again that day."
The years of Peart's illness were filled with uncertainty. Early on, he was in remission for a year before the cancer returned. "In a way, every time you said goodbye to him, you said goodbye," says Lee. "Because you honestly didn't know. Even when he was doing pretty well. It was three and a half years of really not knowing. The timeline kept moving. So when you said goodbye, it was always a giant hug."
During one visit, Lifeson stayed in L.A. by himself for a few days. "And when I left, I gave him a big hug and a kiss," the guitarist says. "And he looked at me and said, 'That says everything.' And, oh, my God. And that, for me, was when [I said goodbye]. I saw him a couple times afterwards, but I can see him and feel that moment."
The final time Lee and Lifeson saw their bandmate, they were able to have one last, glorious boozy dinner with him and Nuttall. "We were laughing our heads off," says Lifeson. "We were telling jokes and reminiscing about different gigs and tours and crew members and the kind of stuff we always did sitting around a dressing room or on a bus. And it just felt so natural and right and complete."
Peart had some degree of impairment as the disease progressed, but "really, right up to the end, he was in there," says Perry. "He was absolutely in there, taking things in." (A report after his death that Peart was confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak was entirely false, friends said.) He kept up his routine, heading to his man cave each weekday, seeing friends there, even throwing himself a final birthday party in the fall of 2019.
When Peart could no longer drive, his friends Michael Mosbach and Juan Lopez shuttled him there. "I'm just really grateful and proud," says Nuttall, "that I was able to provide Neil with the ability to still do all those things he wanted to do, really up until the very end. But I couldn't have done it without Juan and Michael."
Except for Woodstock 50 and the rehearsals prior to it, Peart never played drums again after Rush's final R40 show. But there was a drum kit in his house. It belonged to Olivia, who was taking lessons and seriously pursuing the instrument. Peart's parents had allowed him to set up his drums in their living room, and he did the same for Olivia. It said everything about Peart that his daughter wasn't shy about tackling the instrument in the shadow of his own achievements. "Neil immediately said, 'She has it,' " says Nuttall. "She did inherit what he had. And of course, that thrilled him. … He made a huge effort not to make her feel intimidated by him — he didn't sit there and stare at her having her lesson. He would be out of sight, but he'd be listening."
With Peart's passing closely followed by a global catastrophe, it's been a dark and surreal year for his friends and family. In a world still grasping for a sense of itself after a period of being frozen in place, it's been hard to process grief. "It feels like it wasn't very long ago," says Lee. There was more drama in the Rush camp, too. Lifeson became terribly ill in March, and was hospitalized for a few days and placed on oxygen. He tested negative for COVID-19 but positive for the flu, though he did lose his sense of taste and smell while he was sick. Lifeson has since fully recovered.
A planned private Toronto memorial for Peart had to be called off, but there was a small dinner with the band and friends in Los Angeles, and a formal memorial there hosted by his widow weeks later. "Carrie picked a beautiful place overlooking the Pacific," says Perry. "It was a beautiful afternoon. It was a healing time for everyone. Carrie put together a wonderful slide show of pictures, going right back to when he was a boy."
Some of Peart's friends — Scannell, Perry, Copeland, prose collaborator Kevin Anderson — spoke in front of an audience that included his bandmates and other famous drummers: Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Chad Smith, Tool's Danny Carey. In Copeland's speech, he noted that thanks to Peart, all of the drummers in attendance shared the indignity of meeting fans who'd tell them, "You're my second-favorite drummer!"
At the end, Olivia Peart, age 11, got up and talked about her dad. "She was wonderful," Perry says. "She's really Neil's daughter, a really smart little girl."
Olivia and her mother are, of course, still struggling with the loss, compounded by some degree of lingering pandemic-era isolation. Even with the disease considered on the way out after firm action during last February through May and the vaccinations set to accelerate in short order, the Canadian border has been largely closed for months, separating them from Peart's extended family. "Our lives were turned upside down when Neil died," says Nuttall, who spent Christmas alone with her daughter. "And then eight weeks later we were alone at home together, and it's been tough. … We both think about him every single day, and talk about him every single day, and miss him every day." Through it all, Olivia is continuing her drum lessons.
Since Peart's passing, Lee and Lifeson have found little interest in picking up their instruments. "I love playing, and I never, ever wanted to stop," says Lifeson, during an emotional joint video call with Lee. Lifeson was in his studio, where nearly a dozen gleaming guitars hung behind him. "And I thought, you know, 'One day, when I'm just sitting around shitting my pants, I'll still want to play guitar.' And that's kind of gone now. After he died, it just didn't seem important. But I think it'll come back."
"For the longest time," says Lee, "I didn't have any heart to play. … I still feel there's music in me and there's music in Big Al, but there's no hurry to do any of that."
Even as they mourn their friend, Lee and Lifeson are adjusting to the idea that Rush, too, is gone. "That's finished, right? That's over," Lee says. "I still am very proud of what we did. I don't know what I will do again in music. And I'm sure Al doesn't, whether it's together, apart, or whatever. But the music of Rush is always part of us. And I would never hesitate to play one of those songs in the right context. But at the same time, you have to give respect to what the three of us with Neil did together."
After the final R40 show, Peart stuck around the venue, instead of bolting off on his motorcycle. He was, for once, having a great time backstage. "He was ebullient," Lee says. Neil Peart had finished his work, held on to his standards, never betrayed his 16-year-old self. He was still playing at his peak.
"He felt like it was a job well done," says Scannell, who hung out with him that night. "And who could deny that?"
"Springbok Goes Big On Unscripted Television," by Brent Lang, Variety, January 10, 2021
This year, Springbok Productions has announced that it is finally making the leap to one corner of the entertainment industry it had yet to truly cover: unscripted television.
In 2019, it made its first step in that direction with the release of the car racing competition series Hyperdrive on Blockbuster Entertainment, and its newest offering, the HBO series Painting with John, a painting series hosted by John Lurie, is already growing considerable buzz.
Now, Springbok will further consummate the leap into unscripted series with at least two new offerings later this year. First off, it will revive the renowned educational science discussion series Newton's Apple, which ran on PBS for 16 years, and which will be co-produced for PBS by Monkees guitarist Michael Nesmith's company Pacific Arts, which distributed some of the episodes on home video in partnership with PBS.
The other outing is a 30-episode docudrama series for Blockbuster Entertainment called Food Crimes, which will be hosted and narrated by Gordon Ramsay, describing in his irreverant and famously profane manner, some of the most notorious incidents of foodborne illness or adulteration of food products, such as the 1993 outbreak of from undercooked Jack in the Box burgers, the salmonella outbreak from Peanut Corporation of America, the U.S. Army "embalmed beef" scandal during the Spanish-American War, and the manner in which food merchants purposefully adulterated their product in Victorian England.
"Springbok's push for unscripted content has been a long time coming," TV division head Laverne McKinnon said in the press release. "Now, we get to include great, quality programming in that field without being tacky or inauthentic or manipulated. Springbok's new unscripted series this year is just the beginning of better things to come."
"Phil Spector, Famed 'Wall of Sound' Producer Convicted of Murder, Dead at 81," by Keith Harris, Rolling Stone, January 17, 2021
Phil Spector, the monumentally influential music producer whose "Wall of Sound" style revolutionized the way rock music was recorded in the early 1960s, died Saturday at the age of 81. Spector's life was tumultuous and ultimately tragic; as groundbreaking as his studio accomplishments were, those achievements were all but overshadowed by his 2007 conviction for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson.
Spector's death was confirmed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "California Health Care Facility inmate Phillip Spector was pronounced deceased of natural causes at 6:35 PM on Saturday, January 16, 2021, at an outside hospital," officials said in a statement. "His official cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner in the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office."
Spector adopted what he famously referred to as "a Wagnerian approach to rock and roll," calling the hit records he assembled in the Sixties for artists like The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love and The Righteous Brothers "little symphonies for the kids." His productions were dense and orchestral, accumulating layer upon layer of guitars, horns, keyboards, strings and percussion, often with multiple instruments playing the same note in unison. The songs he selected were dizzyingly romantic, typically written by the greatest of the Brill Building songwriters, and his classic recordings relied on the brilliant contributions of a set of musicians dubbed the Wrecking Crew – drummer Hal Blaine's four-beat intro to The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" is one of the most distinctive song intros in rock & roll history.
Spector's classic recordings spurred his contemporaries to become more ambitious in the studio. "He's timeless," Brian Wilson said of Spector in 1966. "He makes a milestone whenever he goes into the studio and this has helped the Beach Boys evolve." A decade later, Bruce Springsteen would seek to recapture the grandeur of Spector's productions on Born to Run. "Phil's records felt like near chaos, violence covered in sugar and candy … little three–minute orgasms, followed by oblivion," Springsteen said in his 2012 South by Southwest keynote speech. "And Phil's greatest lesson was sound. Sound is its own language."
Spector's techniques were effectively taken and enhanced yet further by Jim Steinman, the lyricist and producer responsible for Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell trilogy, and notable hit singles for Air Supply, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Bonnie Tyler, Boyzone and Celine Dion, especially under the tutelage and care of Todd Rundgren on the original Bat. "Phil Spector and Richard Wagner are my only idols," Steinman famously said in one interview.
"A genius irredeemably conflicted, he was the ultimate example of the Art always being better than the Artist, having made some of the greatest records in history based on the salvation of love while remaining incapable of giving or receiving love his whole life," Stevie Van Zandt wrote on Twitter.
Since 2007, Spector had been imprisoned on second-degree murder charges, with the producer serving a 19 years-to-life sentence following his conviction for the 2003 murder of Clarkson, an actress who met Spector while working as a hostess at Los Angeles' House of Blues. Clarkson accompanied Spector home to his Alhambra mansion in the early morning hours of February 3rd, 2003; soon after, Spector's chauffeur, waiting outside the mansion, heard what he thought was a gunshot. As the chauffeur would later testify at the producer's murder trial, Spector emerged from the mansion and said, "I think I killed somebody."
Harvey Philip Spector was born in the Bronx on December 26, 1939. His father died by suicide when Spector was nine years old. Spector moved to Los Angeles with his mother in 1953, and within a few years, he was playing in jazz groups.
Spector formed The Teddy Bears in 1958 with high school friends Marshall Lieb and Annette Kleinbard. Spector took the title of his first production, "To Know Him Is to Love Him," from the inscription on his father's gravestone. It was a Number One hit, but the group's subsequent singles, as well as their sole album, The Teddy Bears Sing!, flopped and the group quickly dissolved.
When he was 18, Spector caught the eye of veteran L.A. producer Lester Sill, who instructed Spector to go to New York and work with Sill's former proteges, the successful songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Spector co-wrote Ben E. King's hit "Spanish Harlem" with Lieber and played guitar on The Drifters' "On Broadway." But it was as a producer that Spector would make his biggest impression, helming Ray Peterson's hit version of "Corinna, Corinna," Gene Pitney's "Every Breath I Take" and Curtis Lee's "Pretty Little Angel Eyes."
In late 1961, Spector and Sill formed Philles Records. (The label name was a contraction of the owners' first names.) Spector's reputation as a producer ballooned as he focused his attention on girl group the Crystals, who had hits with "There's No Other (Like My Baby)" and "Uptown." After a third single, the controversial "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" flopped, Spector fired the original Crystals, replacing them with singer Darlene Love and her backing group, The Blossoms. (Such summarily dictatorial decisions would be a hallmark of Spector's career.) The personnel change worked: The new Crystals' first single, the million-selling "He's a Rebel," became Philles' first Number One single. Just a year after forming the label, Spector bought out Lester Sill's share. At 21 years old, Phil Spector was a millionaire.
Spector began recording on the West Coast in L.A.'s Gold Star Studios, where he expanded his trademark Wall of Sound even further with help from the Wrecking Crew, which included such unparalleled session musicians as guitarists Glen Campbell and Barney Kessel, pianist Leon Russell and drummer Hal Blaine – with Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono often arranging and overseeing the recordings. (Bono famously used what he'd learned from Spector in order to build the sound and style of Sonny and Cher's famous and catchy singles, after attempts to get Spector to utilize his then-girlfriend properly came to naught.) Spector created four Top 10 hits in 1963: the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me," Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans' "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" and, greatest of all, the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," showcasing the streetwise, seductive rasp of young singer named Veronica "Ronnie" Bennett.
Though Spector's focus was on crafting 45s, at the end of 1963 he released his only classic LP: A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector featured all the label's artists and consisted largely of well-known Christmas songs, such as The Ronettes' ecstatically reworked "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." The standout track, however, was a new song written by Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich: Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," which has become a holiday standard in its own right.
Spector had become rock and roll's first superstar producer – "the first tycoon of teen" as a 1964 Tom Wolfe profile famously dubbed him. Spector held his own against the British Invasion of 1964, producing even more hits for the Ronettes, and the following year, he turned his attention to a male duo called The Righteous Brothers. The group's "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" sold over 2 million copies and became Philles' third Number One hit.
But Spector's productions were increasingly time-consuming and ambitious – some even said bloated. In 1966, the baroque pop epic he considered his masterpiece, Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep — Mountain High," stalled at Number 88 in the U.S. (though it would hit Number Three in the UK.) A resentful Spector secluded himself in his Hollywood mansion for two years, emerging only to appear briefly as a drug dealer in the classic counterculture film Easy Rider. In 1968, he married Ronnie Bennett; in her 1990 memoir, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette, she depicted Spector as an abusive husband prone to eccentric if not outright insane behavior.
"[Phil] took singing away from me and it was devastating because I had no idea that I would never record," Ronnie Spector told Rolling Stone in 2016. "I had no idea I would never perform again, which was my life. I was in shock with that because here's a person who wrote your records and produced them. … And then, you're never gonna sing again. … I never knew 'What goes around, comes around,' until he went to prison. Then I knew what it meant. Because I was in prison in the mansion and I couldn't even get out. For seven years, I didn't go anywhere."
Spector returned to the music world in 1969. A new Ronettes single, "You Came, You Saw, You Conquered," flopped, but that same year he also released Sonny Charles and the Checkmates' "Black Pearl," a Number 13 hit. Now securely back in the production saddle, Spector hooked up with The Beatles. He produced John Lennon's solo hit "Instant Karma!" and was given the task of creating an album out of the group's abandoned Get Back sessions. The result was the Beatles final studio album, Let It Be.
Some of Spector's critics, including Paul McCartney, were unimpressed with his string-heavy treatment of tracks such as "The Long and Winding Road." But McCartney's bandmates were happier with Spector's work. George Harrison not only asked Spector to produce his triple-album, All Things Must Pass, but Lennon brought him on to co-produce The Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, albums that had an uncharacteristically spare sound for Spector. Fittingly, Lennon also had Spector, the creator of the greatest rock Christmas album of all time, produce his single "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)."
In 1974, Spector barely survived a car crash in Hollywood. He was thrown through the windshield of a car and nearly declared dead at the scene of the accident; it took hours of surgery to keep him alive – as well as more than 700 stitches in his head to his face and more than 400 to the back of his head.
Prior to his car accident, Spector had formed a new label, Warner-Spector, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, for which he recorded Cher, Harry Nilsson, Darlene Love and a young singer named Jerri Bo Keno, whom he'd hoped to make a star. After a falling out with Warners, he formed Phil Spector International, reissuing an album of his classic Sixties recordings that had long been out of print. The label's most anticipated new release was to be a comeback for both Spector and Dion DiMucci, but Born to Be with You failed both critically and commercially.
Spector's next two albums were for cult artists seeking a fuller production sound, and both albums were met with skepticism from the artists' fans. In 1977, Spector produced Leonard Cohen's Death of a Ladies' Man, a marked contrast to the singer-songwriter's more somber acoustic affairs. In 1980, after four classic let-it-rip albums, The Ramones brought him in to provide a makeover on End of the Century. Legend has it that Spector carried a gun during the Ramones sessions and even threatened band members.
By the time he entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Spector had effectively been retired from the music business for nearly a decade. (He was inducted by both Ike and Tina Turner; Spector had told neither that the other had also been invited.) In 1995, he agreed to produce a Celine Dion album, the one that ended up becoming Falling into You, but then pulled out of the project, citing his dislike of the Canadian singer's management, her late husband Rene Angelil; Jim Steinman ended up producing that album's actual biggest hit: "It's All Coming Back to Me Now."
Spector spent much of the next decade in court. He successfully fought to retain the UK copyright to the music and lyrics of "To Know Him Is to Love Him" in 1997. Three years later, though, a U.S. court ordered him to pay Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes $2.6 million, primarily for back royalties. He had become a gloomy figure around this time. "People tell me they idolize me, want to be like me, but I tell them, 'Trust me, you don't want my life,'" he said. "I've been a very tortured soul." But the superproducer's most life-changing legal battle was yet to come.
In 2003, police were called to Spector's mansion in Alhambra (later purchased by Kurt Cobain and Charlize Theron after Spector's conviction and remade into a facility dubbed "Detox Mansion"), where Clarkson was found dead from a gunshot wound. Despite telling his chauffeur that "I think I just shot her," as the chauffeur told police in an affidavit, Spector later recanted this, telling authorities and saying in interviews that Clarkson "may have accidentally taken her own life." Spector was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
The producer had kept out of the public eye for years, and now, during a televised trial, he presented a startling image with his enormous, unkempt nimbus of curly hair. During the trial, several women serving as witnesses for the prosecution testified about Spector threatening them with a gun; in each instance, Spector "was romantically interested in the woman, but grew angry after the woman spurned him," the prosecution argued.
Following a trial which resulted in a conviction on second-degree murder charges in September 2007, Spector was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison, where he remained until his death.
"Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic," by Manori Ravindran, Variety, January 24, 2021
Only a year ago, the world was seized by the strain of novel coronavirus identified in Wuhan, China, which ended up spreading through the entire world in little time.
SARS-CoV-2, as it is officially known, or COVID-19 as it became more popularly identified, ended up becoming the worst medical crisis in recent memory, killing 100,000 people worldwide before the disease burned effectively burned itself out in June. Of course, pockets of recurring flareups here and there inevitably occurred, but thankfully there were very few infections and even fewer deaths between June and now. And with the string of promising vaccines by the likes of Pfizer/BioNTech, AztraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax being shipped worldwide and inoculating themselves in swift thorough manner, the disease will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Much of the credit for this swift turnaround goes to American President Hillary Rodham Clinton and her positioning of the CDC and the country as a whole to be an exemplar for the rest of the world to follow. As soon as news of the identification of the strain in Wuhan became more widely known, she implemented a nationwide mask mandate as well as implementing "social distancing" of six feet apart as a rule of thumb. A robust program of testing and contract tracing was also used to help keep track of the virus and where infections were. Fierce restrictions regarding travel were also implemented.
"The Clinton administration deserves all the plaudits and praise for keeping the ship righted," one observer says. "They showed incredible leadership in how they tackled the virus, and set a blueprint for other countries to follow."
Besides the U.S., the countries that best handled the disease are Canada, the UK, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Their policies combined represented the stiff wall of defense against the virus, and ensured that infections and fatalities remained considerably low. Thus, the feared prospect of an indeterminate lockdown, where all nonessential business and activities were shut down or severely curtailed, never came to pass, as people were able to do virtually everything they usually do, just with masks on.
Of course there were exceptions. For three months, movie theaters worldwide were shuttered, because of a raft of film delays, starting with No Time to Die. And the entire concert touring industry went completely dark, as all major tours and festivals planned for 2020 were cancelled. Broadway and the West End closed up shop for the year as well, and small artists who make a living performing in bars and intimate venues could not do so.
Thankfully, from a mixture of fundraising streams, especially those of webstreamed "concerts from home", successful lobbying for government assistance, reorganization of industry standard practices, and good old fashioned patience, the bottom did not fall out, not even for the industries that could not restart unlike the movies. Indeed, while 2020 was set to be a decline from 2019 anyways without a film like Avengers: Endgame, the rate of decline because of closures was minimal. The exhibition industry only declined by a mere 20 percent overall, which still meant over $30 billion of profit, especially with several billion-dollar blockbusters like Mulan, No Time to Die, Jungle Cruise, Tenet, Hellboy III: Silverlance, Wonder Woman 1984, Mad Max The Wasteland and Black Widow.
Streaming also exponentially expanded throughout 2020, with new series continually rolling in, and Blockbuster Entertainment either proceeding with or winning rights to films like Greyhound, Palm Springs and The King of Staten Island. Documentaries like The Last Dance and A Wilderness of Error also especially went over like gangbusters, particularly the former, which told the story of Michael Jordan and the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls. Disney, fresh from success with streaming series like The Mandalorian and the MCU series like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision, chose to announce it would be going big on this part of the business, announcing a raft of series, including nine Star Wars series, several Marvel properties, and even several Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar series.
"Peak TV is truly here to stay," Disney-ABC Television Group head Dana Walden observes. "And Disney is clearly going to be a big part of the trend. The patterns we saw over 2020 are quite encouraging. The fact that even in circumstances like a global pandemic, such gold can be mined, is truly astonishing."
Several companies actually saw their position grow throughout 2020, even during the brief media-based shutdown. Springbok Productions, despite suffering a definite tumble in its stock price early on, rallied quickly and grew a solid 30 percent overall during the year. Even though this media shutdown was short-lived and movies in particular returned quickly, Springbok had more than enough money to have waited out the entire year, if that had happened. Flush from selling its stake in Six Flags New Orleans, half its stake in its publisher unit Autumn Deer Publishing, and so on, they already had plenty of money to burn. Notably, though, Springbok's executives all forfeited their salaries and bonuses for the year, and all stock options scheduled to vest in 2020 as well as a third of stock options scheduled to vest this year. This ensured that Springbok's payroll and operating income was never in doubt, and it sent quite a reassuring, and laudatory, note to the public.
"Springbok really is the poster child for how to weather a storm like COVID-19," an analyst for UBS PaineWebber says. "They didn't have to do anything like this, but the fact that they did really shows that they clearly believe that the company's responsibility is not only to the stockholders. They take care of everyone, especially the industry as a whole. Much of the net changes made because of COVID happened because of their lobbying and mediation. And now that society is returning to normal, they're especially primed to make incredible gains as a result, especially with their cinematic universe based on the Dark Horse IPs."
Of course, not everything went well. In countries like Italy and Brazil, the government and the populace were completely caught off guard by the seriousness of the pandemic, and the virus swept like wildfire. There, they had to undergo tight lockdowns of every nonessential business during February through May. These two countries racked up the worst death tolls, and outrage was inevitable.
"Silvio Berlusconi and Jair Bolsanaro are representative of how not to respond to a disaster like this. They are basically demagogues, and they hold no regard for their people's suffering," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry replies. "They didn't listen to the experts, and tens of thousands of people died in Italy and Brazil. It is beyond despicable, and there is no excuse. Naturally, we've been in talks with the WHO (World Health Organization), the CDC, the UN and The Hague regarding how to respond to their behavior."
Italy and Brazil's handling also holds another fact in stark relief. The handling of the pandemic could easily have been far worse, especially in America. If President Clinton's Republican opponent, Donald Trump, Jr., had won in 2016, he undoubtedly would not have handled it the same way she did. There would have been far more infections and deaths, and more sacrifices needing to be made by the public. The question is how much and to what extent. "I like to think that even though we'd certainly be worse off compared to where we are now, it wouldn't have gone on too long," Dr. Anthony Fauci, who became one of the most visible experts guiding the American response to the virus, replies. "He surely wouldn't have been so callous to avoid the point that by the summer, he'd have woken up and started to finally do the right thing, after tens of thousands of Americans had died by that point and businesses everywhere shut down, like Berlusconi and Bolsanaro did. I mean, if not, then he'd have to have some kind of death wish himself."
Still, regardless of whether the Clinton or Trump response was what ended up happening, there is one lesson to take away above all others. How to not be off-guard from the next, most likely deadlier pandemic to come.
"We dodged a bullet with this one," Fauci says. "If COVID-19 had had a higher rate of lethality, it could've been a potentially apocalyptic scenario for humanity as a whole. We could very well have reached a point of uncontrollable transmission, to the point that modern civilization would fall apart, the electrical grids shut down for good, leaving the survivors in a very different, harsh and unforgiving world. To make sure that doesn't happen, we have to prepare ourselves for the next pandemic, especially since we are bound to have one with a higher mortality rate, that if we don't nip in the bud, it could nip us. It's not a question of if but when."
"Dan Lin's Rideback Signs First-Look Deal With Universal Pictures," by Angelique Jackson, Variety, January 27, 2021
Universal Pictures announced a first-look production agreement with producer Dan Lin and his Rideback production banner.
In a statement announcing the partnership, Universal Pictures President Peter Cramer said, "Dan and his team at Rideback have an exceptional track record producing major franchises, animation and prestige films."
"Additionally, with Rideback Ranch, he has created a groundbreaking filmmaking community, and his commitment to cultivating talent across the industry perfectly complements our studio's own efforts and values," the statement continued, alluding to Rideback's creative campus located in L.A.'s Historic Filipinotown. "We are thrilled to welcome Dan and Rideback to Universal and look forward to a partnership in the years to come that builds upon his amazing run of success."
As a producer, Lin's projects — including The LEGO Movie, Stephen King's It, the Sherlock Holmes franchises, and Disney's live-action Aladdin — have grossed more than $5 billion worldwide. As founder and CEO of Rideback, Lin oversees the company's film operations along with President of Film, Jonathan Eirich.
"As a 22-year-old kid, I started my entertainment career at Universal and was thrilled to walk the hallowed halls of the Black Tower every day. 25 years later, I'm returning to Universal and feel that same excitement about partnering with Donna, Peter, and the entire Universal film team," Lin said in a statement. "As they boldly innovate new approaches to making and distributing movies, we are excited to bring Rideback's collaborative, filmmaker-focused approach to this new partnership with Universal."
Universal and Rideback already have several projects in development, including the next movie based on the global LEGO brand. First reported by Variety in Dec. 2019, the brand's film rights were acquired by the studio in April in a new, exclusive five-year deal.
The new first-look deal also boasts several new projects, details of which are all being kept under wraps, including a high-concept romance, an adaptation of bestselling novel, and a diverse reboot of a popular Universal film franchise.
Prior to launching Rideback in 2008, Lin served as SVP of Production for Warner Bros. Pictures, where he oversaw the development and production of such films as Martin Scorsese's The Departed.
Rideback also produced the Oscar-nominated Blockbuster film The Two Popes, and Fox's Lethal Weapon TV series. The company is currently in production on CW's Walker. The creative campus Rideback Ranch, launched in 2018, is also home to David Ayer's Cedar Park Entertainment, Margot Robbie's LuckyChap Entertainment, the animation studio Animal Logic and Warner Animation Group.
"Skydance Media Closes $1 Billion Credit Facility," by Brent Lang, Variety, January 28, 2021
Skydance Media has closed a four-year, $500 million revolving credit facility led by J.P. Morgan.
The company says that it has the ability to expand that facility to $1 billion and also said that it plans to use the money to support corporate operations as well as production and development. Skydance previously closed a $700 million round of new financing in 2016 with J.P. Morgan.
Skydance, which has financed or co-financed the likes of True Grit, The Old Guard, Gemini Man, Jack Reacher and several Mission: Impossible sequels, is hoping to use some of the money to back its moves into animation and television.
Skydance President and Chief Operating Officer Jesse Sisgold closed the facility in collaboration with Skydance CFO Larry Wasserman. Other partners involved in the facility include Comerica, Bank of America, Truist Bank, Union Bank, Bank Hapoalim, CIT Bank, East West Bank, Fifth Third Bank, California Bank & Trust, Citizens Bank, Bank of Hope, and Preferred Bank.
"Alongside our long-standing partner J.P. Morgan, we designed this facility to be nimble with forward-thinking financial institutions who appreciate our grasp of the ever-changing business models, platforms, and economics of the entertainment business," said Sisgold and Wasserman in a joint statement.
Upcoming Skydance movies include The Tomorrow War, Spellbound, Luck, GI Joe: Snake Eyes, and the seventh and eight installments of the Mission: Impossible franchise.
"Judge Allows Suit Accusing CBS Chief Of Backing Viacom Merger For $125 Million Payout," by Gene Maddeus, Variety, January 28, 2021
A Delaware judge has allowed CBS stockholders to sue over the 2019 merger of Viacom and CBS, finding a reasonable claim that former CBS chief Joseph Ianniello "sold" his support for the deal to Shari Redstone in exchange for a $125 million payout.
Ianniello was president and chief operating officer under former CEO Les Moonves, and he sided with Moonves in trying to block the merger, arguing it would be bad for CBS. Redstone owned a controlling stake in both companies through National Amusements Inc., and was seeking to combine them to achieve greater scale.
But after Moonves' ouster over misconduct allegations in September 2018, Ianniello had a change of heart. As acting CEO of CBS, he supported the merger. He left shortly after it was complete, taking the $125 million severance.
A group of CBS shareholders filed suit last April, accusing Redstone of wasting the company's money, and of causing CBS to overpay for Viacom, which even she acknowledged was "tanking."
Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights of the Delaware Chancery Court allowed the case to proceed on Wednesday, rejecting motions from Ianniello and ViacomCBS to dismiss it.
In the 159-page ruling, Slights noted that Redstone had been critical of Ianniello's compensation package — which included a $60 million severance provision — when Ianniello was trying to block the merger. But once he switched sides, the judge wrote, Redstone endorsed his pay package and supported giving him tens of millions more.
"Both Ianniello's and Ms. Redstone's 180-degree change from their prior positions support reasonable inferences that Ianniello's enriched severance compensation was a quid pro quo and that he violated his fiduciary duty, with the Director Defendants' help, by giving his loyalty to Ms. Redstone in return," Slights wrote. "By selling his endorsement for the Merger — which Plaintiffs well plead Ianniello knew was bad for CBS stockholders — Ianniello conceivably violated his fiduciary duty of loyalty."
Ianniello has disputed this, noting that as a CBS shareholder his incentives were aligned with those of the plaintiffs. But in a footnote, the judge said he was unpersuaded.
"At this stage, Ianniello has offered no basis that would allow the Court to deny Plaintiffs the reasonable inference that his contractual incentive to support the allegedly unfair merger overpowered his counteracting incentive as a stockholder to support only a fair merger," Slights wrote.
Last month, Slights also allowed Viacom shareholders to proceed with a separate suit challenging the merger.
In each case, the stockholders argue that Shari Redstone disregarded their interests when she installed loyal board members at CBS and forced the merger.
"'Artists need to pay attention to their legacy and be very specific about it,'" by Tim Ingham, Music Business Worldwide, January 28, 2021
John Branca is smart enough to know that his inclusion in this interview is bending the rules a little.
The latest, highly-qualified candidate in MBW's World's Greatest Managers series, Branca is nevertheless best known in industry circles as a lawyer – more specifically, a lawyer with a reputation for a super-sharp mind, and a habit of wrestling the best possible deal for artists away from the music industry's largest institutions.
Over the course of a four-decade career in the music business, Branca has successfully fought – and won – landmark battles on behalf of creators that have set into motion a sustained change in the remuneration of artists and songwriters.
His achievements on this score are genuinely too numerous to list, but they include helping Don Henley win back his copyrights for his work with The Eagles, ensuring John Fogerty could reclaim royalties from his Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog, and extricating artists like Dr. Dre from onerous contracts, leaving them free to set their own future (which in Dre's case led to the formation of Death Row Records).
Branca also orchestrated The Bee Gees' acquisition of their entire master recording catalog (which in 2016 the band sold/licensed to Capitol Music Group), and, most famously, he aided Michael Jackson's fight to regain the rights to his recordings. (You can see why Martin Bandier called Branca the No.1 music publishing attorney in the world.)
These days, Branca – a partner at law firm Ziffren Brittenham LLP – says he considers himself a "lawyer-manager" (see; we're bending the rules, not breaking them), not only overseeing activity involving Michael Jackson, but also helping artists like The Beach Boys renegotiate deals for their catalogs.
"Often what certain lawyers do overlaps or contributes to what the actual manager does," says Branca. "I don't compete with managers, we work with managers, but the best use of a lawyer is [for us] to be part of the business team that provides strategic advice, helps plan tours, negotiates record deals and oversees estate planning.
"Technically it's not pure management, it's being a 'lawyer-manager', but it's a role that can be very important to an artist when utilized properly."
In addition to his work representing artists, Branca's impact in the "dollars and cents" column of the modern music business is hardly inconsequential. It began in 1985, when he helped Michael Jackson buy ATV Music Publishing for just $47.5 million – a deal which netted Jackson the rights to The Beatles' song catalog.
ATV Music Publishing then merged with Sony Music Publishing in 1995 (another deal in which Branca played an instrumental role), leaving Jackson with a 50% shareholding in the consequent company, Sony/ATV.
Branca then also helped negotiate the deal in which The Beatles catalog was cleaved from Sony/ATV, back to its original name of Northern Songs, of which Sony sold its half stake, dividing it between the surviving Beatles and Yoko Ono, and Universal Music Group, while Jackson kept hold of his half share of the catalog as well as his half share of the current Sony/ATV. The deal ended up netting Sony $663 million, and immeasurable value to Jackson, naturally.
Other huge music business deals in which Branca has played a hand include the formation and sale of Jimmy Iovine's Interscope Records, the recent establishment of Saban Music Group, and the sale of Berry Gordy's Jobete Music – the publishing house of Motown classics – to EMI. The Jobete sale took part across three separate deals: EMI bought 50% in 1997 for $132 million; another 30% in 2003 for $110 million; and the final 20% in 2004 for $80 million. Total deal price: $322 million.
Branca also represented Vivendi and Matsushita in their purchase of Universal Music Group in the '90s. And he did two transformative music biz deals – estimated at $50 million each – back-to-back in the sale of the Leiber & Stoller catalog to Sony/ATV in 2007 and the sale of Steven Tyler's Aerosmith publishing catalog to Primary Wave in 2008.
Contemporarily, Branca is busier than ever buying and selling important music catalogs, producing various Michael Jackson ventures (including a film and Broadway musical), and leading the music department at Ziffren Brittenham.
Ziffren Brittenham has a strong claim to be the premier entertainment law firm in the world. The power of its film and television division is unparalleled: it counts Pixar, DreamWorks, Springbok Productions (which Branca helped with the establishing of from the ground floor up, including its record label arm Exploitation Records), Barack and Michelle Obama, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Tyler Perry, LeBron James, Idris Elba, Emma Stone, Sacha Baron Cohen, Graham King, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Harrison Ford, and the late Chadwick Boseman as clients.
In the music department, Branca and his partners David Lande and David Byrnes represent icons like Beyoncé, Travis Scott, Pharrell Williams, Enrique Iglesias, Justin Timberlake, and Shakira. Branca, Lande, and Byrnes' expertise in the field of music publishing rights has led to their involvement in a score of publishing catalog sales in the modern marketplace (some of which have been reported, and many of which, says Branca, remain confidential).
They have also been on the forefront of creating revenue outside of the traditional music business, including negotiating deals for music artists such as Blake Shelton, Alicia Keys and Kelly Clarkson to become television hosts.
Branca has worked with an array of superstars down the years, including the names mentioned here plus The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana, ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac and The Doors (whom he once supported as a teenage musician in his band The Other Half). But, to a degree, it's Branca's relationship with Michael Jackson that continues to define his career.
New York-born Branca began representing Jackson in 1980 – a professional relationship that, aside from one break (which we get into below), has lasted into the modern day. Amongst many direct contributions to Jackson's career, Branca helped create and co-produce the hugely successful Michael Jackson ONE show with Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas, as well as Jackson's THE IMMORTAL World Tour with Cirque, which ranks in the Top 10 grossing music tours of all time. Branca also co-produced two Spike Lee documentaries: Bad 25 and Michael Jackson: from Motown to Off the Wall.
YOU'VE BEEN AN ADVOCATE FOR ARTIST AND SONGWRITER RIGHTS THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER. WHICH OF YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS IN THAT SPACE ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF AND WHY?
Things have changed substantially over the years in the business so far as artist rights are concerned. People tend to forget there was a time where everything was weighted in the favor of the record companies and publishers.
Coming up in my career, it was very important to fight for artists and songwriters. Over the years I've helped Don Henley reclaim the ownership of his Eagles copyrights; secured royalties on Creedence Clearwater Revival masters for John Fogerty which he never had; renegotiated rates for legacy artists like the Beach Boys and The Doors to bring them from the sort of slave wages they received in the '60s to modern rates; secured ownership of recordings for the Bee Gees; secured ownership for Michael Jackson of his recordings, music videos and songs.
More recently, for Justin Timberlake and several other artists we have gotten them out of onerous contracts, emancipating them from difficult contracts.
WHAT DOES AN "ONEROUS" RECORDINGS CONTRACT LOOK LIKE TO YOU – AND WHAT DOES A FAIR OR MODERN CONTRACT LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
When I was working with Jeff Kwatinetz in representing The Backstreet Boys, they were signed to Lou Pearlman, as an example; they had sold worldwide close to 30 million albums, and maybe been paid at best $2 million or $3 million – clearly unfair.
It was important to get them out of that contract, to get them what they were entitled to. And once we did that, we were able to then negotiate an unbelievable deal with Live Nation for a worldwide tour, and renegotiate their tour with Jive/Zomba Records.
Back in the day, record contracts were eight, nine, ten albums long, with the options being with the record company – you seldom see that kind of contract today. The leverage has swung in favor of the artist.
THESE DAYS WE REGULARLY SEE ARTISTS WITH THEIR OWN LLC COMPANIES LICENSING THEIR MUSIC FOR SHORTER TERMS TO THE MAJORS, AS WELL AS GETTING BETTER SPLITS AND LARGER ADVANCES; OR SOME TIMES WHEN ARTISTS CHOOSE TO SELL THEIR CATALOGS TO PUBLISHERS FOR LARGE SUMS LIKE BOB DYLAN JUST DID. DOES THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY?
I've always been an artist / independent label / songwriter representative, unlike others who also represent the [major] record companies. But the truth is, deals have to be fair for all parties – for the artist, the label, and the publisher. That way everyone can win together.
AT WHAT STAGE DID MICHAEL JACKSON GET TO OWN HIS MUSIC ON THE RECORDED SIDE?
When I started representing Michael in 1980 right after Off The Wall came out, he did not own his masters – and he was in a contract as a family member of the Jacksons. We renegotiated that deal so he had his own contract and then he put out Thriller.
After Thriller, needless to say, we had a vast amount of leverage. Walter Yetnikoff was the head of [CBS/Sony], and he did the right thing; we were able to secure for Michael ownership for all of his master recordings and his videos.
Of course, Tommy Mottola, when he took over at Sony Music and signed Michael to his new deal in 1991, basically stripped that away and tried to maintain hold of them. If it wasn't for Kurt Cobain pointing out what was going to happen when Michael released Invincible and Irving Azoff putting the screws to Sony, he wouldn't have broken free from that contract and move on to sign with Springbok. Very different story there. But as it happened, I'm glad Michael secured his freedom.
GENERALLY, HOW DO YOU SEE THE TREND OF ARTISTS RECLAIMING THEIR RIGHTS PLAYING OUT OVER THE NEXT DECADE, AND HOW WILL THAT CHANGE THE SHAPE OF THE RECORD BUSINESS?
There's always been a split in the kind of record deals you see: some artists coming up sign deals that are onerous, and other artists through popularity on social media are able to command better terms.
"THE BIG ARTISTS HAVE MORE LEVERAGE THAN EVER."
We also have in the United States the issue of the termination of transfer, the ability for certain artists to regain certain copyrights. It parallels what's going on in sports: the big artists have more leverage than ever.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR PASSION FROM TO FIGHT FOR ARTISTS?
I always felt I was either going to go into either the music business or the sports business – my dad and uncle were professional baseball players. I was a musician, not a good one, mind you, but I wrote music for my band and we got a record deal when I was 16 years old. I think music and artists have always been in my blood. If you had told me when I was a kid growing up that I could represent Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Brian Wilson or Michael Jackson, I'd have said: 'How much do I have to pay you?!' I'm serious.
My uncle, Ralph Branca, came up with The Dodgers. His first full season was 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. My uncle Ralph was the first player to embrace Jackie, they became lifelong friends and Ralph maintained a friendship with [Jackie's wife] Rachel Robinson.
In his own way, Ralph stood beside Jackie – Jackie had to bear the brunt of great racism. So fighting for the right thing, fairness and justice, has always been a part of my family legacy. And growing up in the Sixties, being a musician during the days of Vietnam and social protest, I came by that role honestly.
WHAT OTHER STANDOUT TRENDS DO YOU EXPECT TO SHIFT THE FACE OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IN THE YEARS AHEAD?
I'm not that prescient and would defer to the prognosticators. There are some very smart people and companies that are able to forecast future trends.
I will say this, though: Roger Daltrey once famously said, "I hope I die before I get old," and Mick Jagger said he couldn't imagine still singing "Satisfaction" at the age of 40. And yet here we are: they're in their seventies, and their music is still going strong.
Artists need to pay attention to their legacy. They need to give some thought in their estate planning, as to who they appoint to represent their estates and carry on their legacy, and be very specific about it. You can really see the difference, for example, in the eventual Michael Jackson Estate versus the Prince Estate. And yes, some of it is about management, but really it was Michael appointing people who he thought could handle his legacy, knowing that when he dies, things will be in good hands, whereas Prince left it to the courts and a bank and they had to fight things out after he died a few years ago.
It's very important when I look at some of the artists we represent now; it's probably not a bad idea for an artist to think about how they want their copyrights licensed [long into the future], how they want their legacy handled, do they want holograms…
… SPEAKING OF WHICH, HOLOGRAMS WERE A HOT INDUSTRY TOPIC FOR A MINUTE, AND A MICHAEL JACKSON HOLOGRAM WOULD CAUSE A REAL STIR IN THE FUTURE. IS THERE ANY FUTURE IN IT? IS IT TOO COMPLICATED LICENSING-WISE?
I don't think the issue is licensing; it's not that complicated. I'm just not a big fan of holograms.
In short doses, like the Tupac hologram, I like them – I think they're fun, they remind us of the artists and you get a sense they're there with you. But as an entertainment vehicle for extended periods of time, they're just not dynamic enough.
I know there are companies out there putting on hologram tours for Roy Orbison, Maria Callas, Jackie Wilson and others. I'm not saying I wouldn't go see one. But I don't think it's as powerful as seeing a live Cirque show inspired by the artist.
CAN YOU TALK US THROUGH THE SALE OF SONY'S STAKE OF THE BEATLES CATALOG AND HOW MICHAEL STILL MAINTAINS OWNERSHIP OF HIS STAKE IN THAT AND SONY/ATV, BUT ALSO EXPLAIN WHERE THAT LEAVES MIJAC – JACKSON'S PUBLISHING COMPANY WHICH OWNS THE RIGHTS TO JACKSON SONGS AND OTHER HITS? WHAT'S THE FUTURE FOR THAT COMPANY?
I represented Michael in buying ATV in 1985, and we merged it with Sony in 1995, creating Sony/ATV. I also helped manage Sony/ATV's purchasing of EMI in 2012. Now, Sony/ATV still exists, and Michael has his half stake, but it no longer has The Beatles' songs. Last year, Sony ended up selling their half of the catalog, which got split between Universal Music Group, where they merged it with their preexisting group, Calderstone Productions, which manages The Beatles' recordings, and Paul, George, Ringo and Yoko. Sony earned a lot of money on that deal. And so did Michael, because he still owns his half stake in the catalog, so now that there's two distinct revenue streams and the consulting fees from the deals, we had a very big payday.
Mijac remains a very active, thriving music publishing company. We will never sell Mijac in a manner to give up control – it will be passed down to Michael's children. We just purchased the renewal rights for the Sly & The Family Stone catalog.
It's not known by many, but Mijac owns some of the greatest copyrights in the history of popular music – things like "People Get Ready," "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," "When A Man Loves a Woman," and "Great Balls of Fire," as well as classic Ray Charles songs, "Higher and Higher" by Jackie Wilson, Eminem's publishing rights, and many more.
MULTIPLES BEING PAID FOR MUSIC PUBLISHING RIGHTS ARE ESCALATING OUT THERE AS NEW MONEY POURS INTO THE BUSINESS. HAS THE MUSIC INDUSTRY REALIZED ITS TRUE VALUE YET?
As long as streaming revenues continue to increase, valuations will keep going up. The multiples are at an all-time high; when I sold Berry Gordy's Jobete Music for 20 times, it set a record, and then when I sold Leiber & Stoller for 23 times NPS, I thought no one would ever exceed that. But deals we have done recently have exceeded that valuation metric.
Valuations and multiples are at an all-time high, based on the fact the music business has turned out to be a good place to invest money as of late. There was a time when people thought it was a dying business, but clearly it's not.
FROM ACROSS YOUR CAREER, WHICH MOMENT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE, AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM IT?
Michael Jackson fired me in 1990; that was because of David Geffen and his manipulations, which everyone knows about. I was 39 years old, and I didn't want my career to be over yet. But in the aftermath, I've never had so many people hire me – Don Henley, Rick Rubin. Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Robbie Robertson, Matsushita… it was unbelievable. Not only did I survive, but I prospered and I did so because I did the right thing.
So when Michael came back in 1993, I was [professionally speaking] bigger and stronger than ever. But it was a challenge [when Jackson walked away] – a very turbulent time.
WHAT'S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU'VE EVER BEEN GIVEN – IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS OR OTHERWISE – AND WHO GAVE IT TO YOU?
I had the opportunity to work alongside some of the legends of our business: Jerry Weintraub, Mo Ostin, Irving Azoff, Walter Yetnikoff; I worked on them separately, and I've worked with them as a group, representing Springbok.
You learn from people like that, especially when you're younger and you're coming up. It's interesting: people think it's all about lawyers or business advisers giving advice to their clients, but what I learned from Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Barry Gibb, Brian Wilson, Carlos Santana, Don Henley, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Berry Gordy, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Mike Tyson, Leiber & Stoller… you get a Harvard Business School Ph.D in the music business. It's something you can't buy, there's only one way to acquire it and that's by doing it.
I remember when Michael Jackson first hired me in 1980, Clarence Avant, who's since become known as the godfather of black music, said to me: "You can build a career off representing this young man, Michael Jackson." I never forgot it, and it was prophetic.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I'd like to see it more about standing up for principles and ideals, social justice, and less about ego and self-aggrandizement.
It's important for artists to take a leadership role in society and stand up for what's right; I'd like to see more of that. Social consciousness characterized certain artists in the '60s, like Bob Dylan for example; Michael then did it in the '80s by breaking the color barrier on MTV.
Entertainment professionals should do the same. I am honored to have been invited by the law schools and business schools at Harvard, USC, UCLA, Stanford and others to share my knowledge and experience with their students and staff.
I also want to work to create fairness and equality. I was honored recently to be asked to join the board of directors of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and participate in their scholarship and mentoring program, and to retain my position as Honorary Chairman of MusiCares. Let's give back to the industry that has been so good to us.
"Springbok Joins Forthcoming Indiana Jones Trilogy," by Nellie Andreeva, Deadline Hollywood, February 2, 2021
Springbok Productions has announced that it is joining as co-producers on not only the forthcoming fifth Indiana Jones film, but that an entire new trilogy is now in the works, that the fifth film, currently scheduled to be released in March 2022, will be the first salvo of.
The new trilogy will be done in the vein of legacy continuations on new characters like Creed and its sequels, which continue the story of the Rocky franchise and Rocky Balboa appears as a supporting character in, but the main thrust of the story is on Apollo Creed's son Adonis building his own career, mentored by Rocky. As a result, the new Indy trilogy will focus on Shia LaBeouf's character Mutt Williams, introduced in 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with Indy taking on a supporting mentor role in the story.
As has been previously announced before the trilogy plans were revealed, the fifth film is being written by David Koepp, who helped write Crystal Skull as well as the first Jurassic Park, while Steven Spielberg has relinquished the director's chair and handed it to James Mangold, best known for his taking over of the Fox X-Men franchise as well as films such as Walk the Line and Ford v Ferrari. Besides LaBeouf and Harrison Ford reprising their roles, John Williams returns to score the trilogy. Springbok joins Lucasfilm Ltd., Amblin Entertainment and The Kennedy/Marshall Company as producers. Despite not being part of Lucasfilm since 2012 or involved in the story, George Lucas remains an executive producer on the trilogy, along with Spielberg. Springbok founders Kurt Cobain, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Todd join Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall as producers on the trilogy. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures will distribute the trilogy, while the original films' distributor Paramount Pictures is a financial participant.
Besides the trilogy, Springbok, Lucasfilm, Amblin and The Kennedy/Marshall Company announce that a new spinoff streaming series for Blockbuster Entertainment, showing Indy's ancestors, down the line to his father (famously portrayed by the late Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and their experiences with notable figures and events in human history, similar to The Young Indiana Jones and its showing pre-Raiders of the Lost Ark Indy growing up and witnessing people and events in history. The series is being worked on, and has no set premiere date.
Lucasfilm is undergoing its biggest creative expansion since it was purchased by Disney 25 years ago, as its main focus has been on Star Wars during that period. (Disney did not fully distribute Crystal Skull but was a financial participant, because of a clause in Lucas and Spielberg's contract with Paramount giving them rights to the fourth film.) Besides following up the success of The Mandalorian and announcing ten other forthcoming streaming series as well as returning to films down the line, Lucasfilm has announced projects in both film and television for followups to THX 1138, Willow, Labyrinth, The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter and so on. It has also announced new forthcoming projects like Children of Blood & Bone and an adaptation of the anime Yona of the Dawn, also with Springbok.
"Neon & Bleecker Street Launch Joint Home Entertainment Distribution Company Decal," by Anthony D'Alessandro, Deadline Hollywood, February 11, 2021
Neon and Bleecker Street have formed the joint home entertainment distribution company Decal.
The standalone full-service operation, which is a joint venture between the two film labels, will handle distribution deals on the home entertainment rights to both Neon and Bleecker Street's curated slate of features and will be overseen by Neon's Andrew Brown and Bleecker's Kent Sanderson.
In the current climate and upheaval in the film business, Decal will also be in the market of acquiring third-party content, offering an option for independent filmmakers to optimize the transactional window with both distributors' strategic partnerships.
I'm told that Neon and Bleecker Street will handle their own costs, and reap their own revenues and profits on their respective titles. When it comes to handling third party content, each will pool resources and share in the returns.
The first Decal release will be Bleecker Street's Supernova, starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci, which Bleecker released theatrically on Jan. 29. Digital purchase and rental of Supernova will launch on Feb. 16th.
The formation of Decal comes with the Universal Studios home entertainment output deals for both Bleecker and Neon expiring, in regards to the latter it will be this summer and the hope is that their Pablo Larrain directed Princess Diana drama Spencer starring Kristen Stewart (which Deadline first reported Neon's acquisition of) will be the first title on the Neon side to go through Decal. A Neon and Bleecker Street team-up here allows both to creatively control their home entertainment window distribution from start to finish, including marketing materials, not to mention being more hands-on with their campaigns, as independent titles typically require their own unique type of push versus a one-size fits all marketing strategy which is standard with the major studios.
Separately, Neon and Bleecker Street have multi-picture output deals with Blockbuster Entertainment for a title's third window. Those are distinct separate deals for each distributor which will continue going forward. Outside of that deal, as we've seen at festivals, Neon and Blockbuster will still jointly acquire movies on a title by title basis, i.e. last year's big Sundance $22M pick-up Palm Springs.
Decal has hired Sara Castillo as SVP of Marketing and Distribution to lead the new venture's efforts and help expand its partnerships and develop a distinct brand in the space. Castillo, who previously held positions at IFC Films, Comcast and the Philadelphia Film Society, brings in-depth industry experience having launched a multitude of successful title campaigns while forging lasting relationships with filmmakers and platform partners.
Upcoming Decal titles include The World to Come, starring Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Christopher Abbott, and Casey Affleck, which will be released theatrically tomorrow, Feb. 12 by Bleecker Street with VOD and EST to follow on March 2, and Together Together, starring Ed Helms and Patti Harrison, which will be released theatrically by Bleecker Street on April 23 with VOD and EST to follow on May 11. Additional films will include Neon's Sundance award-winning film, Flee, and Jamila Wignot's documentary Ailey about dance pioneer, Alvin Ailey.
"Universal Music Unveils IPO Plan for Later This Year," by Jem Aswad, Variety, February 13, 2021
Vivendi plans to list 60% of its share of Universal Music Group on the Euronext market in Amsterdam by the end of the year, according to announcements from the companies in the early hours of Saturday. The minimum target value for the company is 30 billion Euros, or around $36 billion.
In a letter to employees obtained by Variety, UMG CEO and Chairman Sir Lucian Grainge wrote, "I couldn't be prouder: not only is this a validation of our strategy, our teams, and our unprecedented record of success, it's a natural evolution in the storied history of our company that will enable our entrepreneurial and creative culture to continue to soar.
"We'll continue to drive towards our strategic goals – full steam ahead. We'll remain committed to our artists and songwriters. And we'll continue to innovate and help lead the music community towards an incredible next chapter.
"In short, as I've said many times, we'll stay true to our mission: harnessing our collective talents and resources to shape culture through the power of music. When, in collaboration with artists, we come together as a company, what we can achieve is truly remarkable."
A Vivendi shareholders' meeting has been set for late March to further the process. The company had announced late last year that it was planning the IPO for 2022; the reason for the sped-up timeline — let alone making the announcement early on a Saturday morning — was not entirely clear, although it may be because of shareholders lobbying for sooner action.
The note from Vivendi chiefs Arnaud de Puyfontaine and Yanick Bolloré states: "The potential distribution of 60% of UMG's share capital will be subject to a Vivendi Extraordinary Shareholders' Meeting on March 29, 2021. The plan, if it comes to fruition, would mark a new phase in the outstanding relationship between our companies which has been established over many years. UMG would be in a position to take advantage of greatly increased financial flexibility to pursue its dynamic growth and its pioneering role in the music and entertainment industry, to the benefit of artists and fans everywhere."
Vivendi noted that Tencent — which finalized its acquisition of 20% of UMG late last year for 6 billion Euros, is expecting a higher price this time around.
The company's annual shareholders' meeting is scheduled for June 22, with its next financial results on March 3.
"India's Reliance Entertainment Inks Exclusive Deal With The Girl On The Train Remake Director Ribhu Dasgupta & Launches Joint Venture Film Hangar," by Tom Grater, Deadline Hollywood, February 16, 2021
Major Mumbai-based production outfit Reliance Entertainment has expanded its stable by establishing a joint venture with filmmaker Ribhu Dasgupta, Film Hangar, through which he will exclusively make movies for Reliance.
Dasgupta is in-demand having recently helmed the Indian remake of The Girl On The Train, which stars Parineeti Chopra, is co-produced by Springbok South Asia, and debuts on Blockbuster Entertainment on February 26. His credits also include the feature film TE3N starring Amitabh Bachchan, Vidya Balan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (which Reliance released theatrically), TV series Yudh, also with Amitabh Bachchan, the feature Michael, starring Naseeruddin Shah, and recently Bard Of Blood, which is also on Blockbuster.
Film Hangar establishes itself with The Girl On The Train remake and going forward it already has six further projects that are being added to the development slate. An untitled espionage thriller will be the next production through the venture and is set to go on floors in the near future.
Reliance has pre-existing long-term deals with directors Rohit Shetty, Imtiaz Ali, Anurag Kashyap, Neeraj Pandey, Vikramaditya Motwane, Vikas Bahl and producers such as S Sashikanth's Y Not Studios. The company, which is the media and entertainment wing of Reliance Group, has partnered internationally with Steven Spielberg and Springbok Productions, in the formation of DreamWorks Studios, and then with Amblin Partners, on movies such as The Help, War Horse, Lincoln, 1917 and the original The Girl On The Train.
"I have always believed that content sets the ground for you as a filmmaker and Reliance Entertainment embodies this philosophy with the stories it tells," said Dasgupta. "Film Hangar will bring films that are rich in content and high on entertainment. We aim to blur the lines between 'massy' and 'classy' content because filmmaking is an art that defies boundaries, definitions and labels."
"Right from our TE3N days, Ribhu has been someone who has brought a unique sensibility to every project and with Film Hangar, we wish to break the clutter with edgy and engaging content," said Shibasish Sarkar, Group CEO, Reliance Entertainment. "At Reliance Entertainment, we believe that filmmakers who keep us on the edge of the seat should be in the driving seat when it comes to content and our new joint venture is a testament of this belief."
"Inside the Ambitious Plan to Monetize The Beach Boys' Legacy," by Patrick Doyle, Rolling Stone, February 17, 2021
When Carl Wilson died of cancer in 1998, his sons Jonah and Justyn became heirs to their father's estate. That meant joining with surviving Beach Boys founders Mike Love, Brian Wilson, and Al Jardine to vote on key business decisions, from archival releases to commercials. It wasn't easy. "The dynamic changed a lot after our father passed," says Jonah, who was in his late twenties at the time. "Not to say it was all negative, but we had a lot of challenges." Adds Justyn, "In the beginning, it was just trying to navigate a very complicated group of individuals."
These days, Carl's sons are more optimistic. They recently came together with the founding members to make a major decision: The band has sold a controlling interest in The Beach Boys' intellectual property — including their master recordings, a portion of their publishing, the Beach Boys brand, and memorabilia — to Iconic Artists Group, a new company run by longtime music business power player Irving Azoff.
"They can make the final decision on business decisions, which is what we really need — what we have needed, I should say," says guitarist Al Jardine, who, with the rest of the band, will retain an interest in their assets, participating in the "upside" that Iconic expects to create by actively marketing and promoting the Beach Boys.
Azoff has managed The Eagles since 1974, and his clients also include Steely Dan, Jimmy Buffett, and Jon Bon Jovi. His Azoff Company has artist management, music publishing, and venue branches, and he has been a board member of Springbok Productions as well as part of the leadership of its music label Exploitation Records since the inception; but he is launching Iconic as he contends with a new reality: What happens when artists can no longer tour to support themselves? "A lot of his artists are getting to a point in life where they want to think about estate planning, they want to think about the future of their legacy," says Elizabeth Collins, co-President of the Azoff Company. "We're not replacing anybody's manager by any stretch of the imagination, but oftentimes, their manager is their same age." (Azoff, 73, expects Iconic to continue long after he stops managing artists.)
Iconic will bring The Beach Boys' music, branding, archives, and more under one roof, unlike recent deals struck by Bob Dylan, who sold his songwriting catalog to Universal Music Publishing Group for a reported sum of nearly $400 million, and Neil Young, who sold half of the worldwide copyright and income interests of his catalog to Merck Mercuriadis' Hipgnosis Songs Fund for an estimated $150 million. "The fact that they're buying not only music rights, but also rights and in name, image and likeness and brand — I think it makes their strategy somewhat unique," says David Dunn, a lawyer who has represented the estate of Prince and is part of setting up the eventual estate of Michael Jackson. "I think their strategy is interesting, because they're trying to develop the overall brand along with the music assets."
Azoff, who is not disclosing how much his company paid for a controlling stake in the Beach Boys organization, sees Iconic as filling a crucial role absent in other recent deals. "Most of those are being set up as financial transactions that are more financial-institution-feeling," he says. "We like to think that we have a particular talent from having represented people like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac and Van Halen and Steely Dan all these years to really, really understand longevity and how to build it, and we're going to be thrilled to help The Beach Boys achieve all these goals."
The first order of business is celebrating the 60th anniversary of The Beach Boys' founding in Southern California in 1961. Potential plans include a documentary, a television tribute special, a touring exhibit, and more — and maybe, if everything lines up just right, their first reunion shows in nearly a decade. "I'm humbled and honored that they chose us," says Azoff, who saw the band play when he was a teenager in Illinois in 1965, an experience he calls "mind-blowing." "It all started for me there," he says. "We understand the responsibility that they've assigned to us and we will not disappoint them. We're gonna get this right."
The history of The Beach Boys' business side is full of missed opportunities. In 1969, Murry Wilson, the domineering father of Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, and the band's former manager, sold Sea of Tunes — the band's publishing company, which owned the rights to the dozens of classic hits from "Surfin' Safari" to "Good Vibrations" — to A&M Records for only $700,000. "He believed we were washed up," Brian wrote later. "He had taken the only thing that we knew would last, our songs, and sold it off like he was running a garage sale."
Those songs, singer Mike Love wrote in 2016, might be worth $100 million or more today. Love believed that the lowball deal caused a "ripple effect" for the rest of the Beach Boys' career. Band members retained their own managers, and often battled each other in court. In 1989, Brian sued A&M to reclaim the copyrights, asking for $100 million in royalties; the case was settled out of court. In 1994, Love sued Brian for co-writing credit on dozens of songs, and won.
These and other disputes have mired the band in conflict over the years. For much of the past two decades, Love and Wilson have toured separately — Love under The Beach Boys name, Wilson as a solo artist. While it's been confusing for casual fans, the arrangement has worked for the Beach Boys organization. "Not to sound corny, but as long as the music's being played for audiences and they're enjoying it…that's really the thing to celebrate," says Justyn Wilson.
Through it all, the band has struggled at times to capitalize on its fame and acclaim. "We've gone through a few fortunes, believe me, with different organizations," says Jardine. He mentions a short-lived Beach Boys Cafe in Manhattan Beach in the early Nineties, and a long-forgotten clothing line. "We got totally destroyed," he says. "These things come and go and come and go, and after a while, you're like, forget about it, who needs it?" Love echoes the point: As he puts it, "I think we've been great in music, but maybe not as great as we could be in furthering our brand."
For Iconic, that means a chance to do better with a name that's been long undervalued. "In a lot of ways, they were what Jimmy Buffett did with Margaritaville before Margaritaville. It just never got done," says Olivier Chastan, Iconic's CEO. "The Beach Boys, in a sense, are not just a band. They're a lifestyle. They're a consumer brand. And they've never really exploited that."
Chastan remembers vacationing in France a few years ago, when he was working as a consultant for music publishing firms and investment funds. "I was walking down the street, where you have all the big brands, like Hermès and Louis Vuitton, all these iconic French brands, and wondering, how can they make it work where people still want to pay $10,000 for a handbag, and the brand is 200 years old? What are they doing that we're not doing? It was really taking these brand management concepts, and seeing, how do we apply them to the music business in general?"
Azoff was thinking about the long-term future of his artists, too. He and Chastan met shortly after the death of Prince, which had resulted in a bitter estate battle between various parties. "It was really through a discussion around: What happens when something as tragic as the death of Prince [happens]?" says Chastan. "And you've seen plenty of examples of fights around the artist, [like] the estate of Aretha Franklin. What we offer is a way to totally bypass some of those issues."
Chastan met with The Beach Boys, pitching them on a partnership that included two goals: brand development and brand monetization. With development, they would aim to reintroduce the group to new listeners through social media, radio, YouTube, and more. With monetization, they would leverage The Beach Boys' music, brand, video content, and memorabilia for film placement, documentaries, biopics, touring exhibits, and more.
Not everyone in the music industry is on board with the current gold rush in catalog sales for legacy acts. Pop hitmaker Dianne Warren recently said on the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast that selling her songs "would be like selling my soul, and that's not for sale"; other industry players have issued warnings about moving into "a world of finance that lacks a certain amount of discipline."
But The Beach Boys would rather focus on the upsides of giving Iconic control of how their name and music are used. "They want to preserve the legacy, and if they want to do a little branding, it would be fun," says Jardine. "I'd like to have some fun, you know? You get to a point where it gets really serious, the business of having a legacy. Maybe we'll have a little theme park somewhere, or, I don't know, restaurants. I always wanted to have a Beach Boys restaurant somewhere."
Love, for his part, is characteristically cheerful about it all. "This partnership will expand the potential of everything," he says. "No stone will be left unturned." He likes the idea of a stage production: "There can be a musical on Broadway, things that we haven't done yet," he says. "Look at what happened with The Four Seasons and Jersey Boys, a huge success around the world. There's no reason why the same couldn't be true of The Beach Boys."
The deal does not give Iconic ownership of much of The Beach Boys' Sixties material, which is now owned by Universal, because it owns their famous label, Capitol Records. "Yes, the rights are split — it's not the end of the world," says Chastan. ("We have the original recordings, and we have the publishing, but our ability to do the most with this band relies on the ability to work with the band," says Bruce Resnikoff, president/CEO of Universal Music Enterprises. "Iconic will represent the band in a way that will only enhance, I think, the value for everybody.")
Chastan gets most excited talking about The Beach Boys' brand and future tech possibilities. "That includes VR, AR, 3D, CGI, natural language processing, et cetera," he says. "That, to me, is probably the most interesting aspect of what's going to transform our business. In five years, I could send you a text and say, 'At 2 PM, let's put our Oculus Rift glasses on, and let's go see the Beach Boys record 'Good Vibrations' at Western Recorders.'"
The CEO continues: "The studio is still there, so we could 3D scan the studio. The Beach Boys' faces can be digitally replicated pretty easily. You've seen it with that Scorsese movie [The Irishman], where he did the de-aging technology. You've got natural language processing, which gives you the technology to actually have a conversation. So we could be witness to history from our couch."
Chastan recently visited with Love in Lake Tahoe, where he looked at old memorabilia. "One thing that Iconic offers, which is absolutely unique, is that we're a partner while they're alive to actually help them shape that legacy, which they can't do once they're gone," says Chastan. "How you want to be remembered? How you want to see your legacy in the future, even when you're not there?"
Love even says there may be a day when The Beach Boys are touring long after he stops singing. "As long as it's presented beautifully and authentically," he says. "The beauty of music is, even though the originators might not be there anymore, the music can live on for centuries, as you know from the classics. Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, you know?"
While The Beach Boys are game to talk about their legacy, they're even more eager to talk about their immediate future as a band. Their 50th anniversary ended messily: In 2012, they reunited for a new album and a successful tour, but by 2013, Love was touring under the Beach Boys name without Wilson or Jardine. "It sort of feels like we're being fired," Wilson said in a statement. They did reunite for Woodstock 50 in 2019, but it was very clearly a one-off.
Now, a day after receiving the first dose of the COVID vaccine at Dodger Stadium, Wilson sounds upbeat. He says he misses touring, and he's been staying in shape by walking in the park "every goddamn day" and working with his vocal coach three times a week. "We did 20 songs today," he says. "My voice is sounding really good!"
The possibility of marking the band's latest milestones appeals to him. "I want to make the 60th anniversary a big celebration," he says. "We're thinking it might be cool to have a restaurant and some stores to sell cool Beach Boys stuff." Most exciting to Brian is the idea of touring and possibly recording with the group he founded in his parents' living room six decades ago. "It'd be a great trip, a big thrill," he says. "When we went on tour for the 50th anniversary we had so much fun. It'd be such a joy to be singing with the boys again."
As for when such a tour could happen, given the realities of the aftermath of the pandemic, Azoff says even he doesn't know. "We've got lots of experts and everything weighing in," he says. "While a lot of postponed tours are ready to get on the road for the spring and summer, that's not the case with tours that don't have the machinery or bookings in yet. There's a lot of paperwork to get through, designs to make, rehearsals to do, so a summer launch is not feasible for us. I really hope that the fall is good… I'm hopeful for the fourth quarter."
When tours do start up again, Love says the new business arrangement will not affect his ability to tour under the Beach Boys name. "I think that that remains the same," he says, but adds he is also open to a reunion with the other founders. "I wouldn't rule anything out." One thing he's not thinking about is retirement. "I feel pretty darn good," Love says. "I'll be 80 years old March 15th, but I'm not like the normal 80-year-old guy, because [of what] we do on stage. It's like youth serum or something."
Jardine had been touring with Wilson's band before the pandemic hit, but he also regularly talks to Love. "We don't discuss business much," he says. Jardine tells a story about the other day, when he went to his basement and put a Chuck Berry 78 on the jukebox. Soon, he'd picked up his bass and was playing along. "I suddenly I felt like I was on the road again. It was the best feeling. So I called Brian right away. And I said, 'You won't believe this.' I said, 'It was just like the old days, when we were all playing together.'
"And there was this long silence," says Jardine. "And then Brian says, 'I gotta go now.'" Jardine laughs. "And that's okay. Because at least we connected, you know? It was nice to be able to call my old friend and partner and share that."
"Brett Ratner Lines Up Directing Comeback On Milli Vanilli Biopic With Millennium Launching Sales For EFM," by Andreas Wiseman, Deadline Hollywood, February 19, 2021
In a surprising turn, we have learned that Brett Ratner is lining up a directing comeback on his longtime passion project about pop duo Milli Vanilli.
Millennium Media is teaming up with Ratner's RatPac Entertainment (of which it was recently revealed that he was secretly a co-founder of besides the public face of James Packer, who initially claimed to have founded it alone) on the project and is launching sales ahead of the upcoming European Film Market.
This would mark Ratner's first feature directing job since the Transformers trilogy for Paramount.
In November 2009, seven women, including actresses Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge, accused the filmmaker of sexual harassment and misconduct, causing Hollywood to sever all ties with the producer-director.
Ratner, who has denied the claims, had kept a low profile since then, but lurked in the background as a silent partner and co-founder of RatPac (it has been revealed to be named after him and Packer), which has prospered well, especially after it landed a plum 75-film slate financing deal with Warner Bros.
The Rush Hour director has been attached to the untitled Milli Vanilli biopic for over a decade. It was originally set up with The Kennedy/Marshall Company.
Life rights were acquired from band member Fab Morvan and the film is due to feature all of the group's hits including songs written by Diane Warren ("Blame It On The Rain") and Kevin Liles ("Girl You Know It's True"). Screenplay is by Jeff Nathanson (Rush Hour). Liles will be an executive producer.
German-French R&B duo Milli Vanilli had big success in the late 80s and early 90s before a lip-sync scandal caused their careers to spiral and band member Rob Pilatus died at the age of 32.
The Expendables outfit Millennium is in postproduction on movies including Jolt and various projects with Springbok Productions, including their planned Dark Horse cinematic universe. Millennium was unavailable for comment today about their EFM slate. Responses to news of Ratner's plans to come back have been mixed, to say the least, with Ratner's accusers claiming he deserves no second chance; but others pointing out that in the more than a decade since the allegations, he has never been charged with a crime and that most people simply no longer care about him or the allegations these days.
"ViacomCBS Plans Disney-Like Streaming Expansion For Blockbuster," by Nellie Andreeva, Deadline Hollywood, February 24, 2021
One of the biggest events of the last few months was when Disney announced its plans for a massive expansion of streaming content for Blockbuster Entertainment. Besides its previously announced exclusive movies and series (like revivals of Lizzie McGuire and The Proud Family and a series sequel for The Mighty Ducks) and MCU and Lucasfilm projects, it decided to really expand, especially after The Mandalorian became a massive success. Disney announced many additional Star Wars series (including the long-gestating Obi-Wan series, the Rogue One prequel series for Cassian Andor, an Ahsoka Tano series, The Book of Boba Fett, a Lando Calrissian series, The Acolyte, The Bad Batch, Rangers of the New Republic and A Droid Story), series expansions based on various Walt Disney Animation Studios films (Zootopia+, Baymax!, Tiana, Moana), a series sequel to Willow, various additional MCU series like Ironheart and Secret Invasion and an untitled Wakanda-based series, planned Pixar series like Dug Days, a sequel to Enchanted and even expansions/reboots/continuations of Fox IPs. Disney has staked a massive future in streaming, to make it as important as theatrical distribution, linear TV, video games and the theme parks.
Now, ViacomCBS is planning on really expanding in the arena. These plans include the previously announced reboot of Frasier with Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce returning, a reboot of Criminal Minds, a prequel spinoff for Yellowstone, further expansion with Nickelodeon-based product (in the vein of Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling and Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus) like the reboot of Rugrats and the SpongeBob SquarePants spinoff projects such as Kamp Koral, a new division for continued derivative content in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender in both series and movies, series expansion/reboots of classic Paramount films (Love Story, The Italian Job, Fatal Attraction, The Parallax View), continued series expansion for Top Gun, revival and film prospects for continuations of Beavis and Butt-head, taking advantage of its 49 percent ownership stake in Miramax for derivative projects on the original company's Disney-owned library, and of course various original projects, such as the true crime series American Tragedy.
Clearly, like Disney's CEOs Bob Iger and Bob Chapek and Disney's studio chairs Dick Cook and Meryl Poster, Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos and studio chairs Michael Ireland and Daria Cercak are betting that streaming expansion will pay off rich dividends for the company and push further aggressive expansion. Such an expansion would benefit every other network and division in the ViacomCBS family, to be sure, especially given how since the re-merger, the combined company has certainly struggled in earnings.
"AT&T Inks DirecTV Deal With Private Equity Firm TPG; Company Will Retain 70%, Net $7.8 Billion In Cash," by Jill Goldsmith, Deadline Hollywood, February 25, 2021
AT&T has clinched hotly anticipated deal to sell a significant minority stake in satellite broadcaster DirecTV to private equity group TPG in a deal that will net the telecom giant $7.8 billion.
The deal, expected to close in the second half of 2021, values DirecTV's video business at $16.25 billion. In a hastily organized call with analysts Thursday, AT&T CEO John Stankey admitted, "We certainly didn't expect this" in 2015 when the telecom giant acquired DirecTV for $48 billion (or $67 billion including debt), testament to the steep secular decline in the business. A few years later, AT&T acquired a 10% minority stake in Time Warner, envisioning a powerful combination of programming and distribution under one roof in a strategic alliance.
In the complex deal, the partners will establish a new company, still called DirecTV, that will own and operate AT&T's U.S. video business unit consisting of DirecTV, AT&T TV and U-verse video services.
Some sort of transaction had been widely anticipated as the company looks to raise cash to pay down debt and has been investing heavily in spectrum on the telecom side and focused on the growth of Time Warner's streaming content strategy with Blockbuster Entertainment. "It sharpens our focus on the strategic businesses that are important to drive us forward… areas we think we can can grow and add value at a faster clip," Stankey said.
The FCC revealed yesterday that AT&T bid a hefty $23.41 billion in a spectrum auction for licenses in the upper 3GHz band — that can now be partly offset by the DirecTV proceeds. Moody's Investors Service warned yesterday that C-Band purchase was was likely to increase leverage and was credit negative. Today, the ratings agency called the DirecTV deal credit positive.
"DirecTV has been a drag on the company's overall equity valuation, and it is logical that management would sell a part of this declining business," it said. DirecTV had 17.2 million video subscribers at the end of 2020, down from 20.4 million the year before.
Under the terms of the transaction, the new DirecTV will be jointly governed by a board with two representatives from each of AT&T and TPG, as well as a fifth seat for the CEO, which at closing will be Bill Morrow, CEO of AT&T's U.S. video unit. Following the close, AT&T will own 70% of the common equity and TPG will own 30%.
Stankey said that retaining the equity stake, even with the company deconsolidated, or off AT&T's balance sheet, allows it to participate in any eventual upside (however unlikely). It also creates stability and keeps options open in terms of DirecTV's relationship with the Turner networks and Blockbuster.
The transaction earmarks $2.5 billion for the new standalone DirecTV to cover up losses tied to DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket package.
AT&T is retaining DirecTV's business is Latin America but Stankey said it's exploring options for that as well.
AT&T and TPG said they "believe the new structure will provide greater focus, flexibility and resources to best position the business to succeed in the long term and deliver on its commitment to customers, employees and shareholders. The new DirecTV will continue to offer a competitive video service with best-in-class content."
But the service has been leaking subscribers and AT&T has moved away from traditional pay TV with the 2018 purchase of of the Time Warner stake and the latter's recent expansion with streaming content for Blockbuster.
DirecTV, U-Verse and AT&T TV Now are all based around a linear television model of broadcast and cable networks. DirecTV still bring in lots of cash despite being in secular decline.
The sale is one of the biggest moves yet by John Stankey, who took the reins at AT&T CEO last summer.
AT&T lost nearly 3 million video customers last year. It also recorded a $15.5 billion impairment charge it a reevaluation of its domestic video business.
The telecom giant has been steadily unloading assets to drive down its debt of about $105 billion. It sold its wireless and wireline operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in December and last year divested its majority stake in Central European Media for $1.1 billion. Execs have said they're looking at real estate sales. And unconfirmed rumors have bubbled that AT&T might even be talking with Time Warner to convince them to sell CNN.
Activist hedge fund Elliott Management took a stake in AT&T several years ago, urging it to focus its business and divest noncore assets.
A merger of DirecTV and smaller rival Dish was initially considered a possibility but would have raised antitrust issues. The FCC rejected a proposed combination of the two satellite broadcasters once before, in 2002.
Other were said to be circling DirecTV as well, including Apollo Global Management and, according to Bloomberg, a blank-check company, or SPAC, backed by former Citigroup exec Michael Klein. (Klein's vehicle announced a deal this week with electric carmaker Lucid Motors.) Apollo Global Management also had talks about a possible transaction.
AT&T launched AT&T TV in March 2020 to provide DirecTV channels over Internet streaming rather than satellite. AT&T TV was designed to replace DirecTV and traditional cable TV. It features live TV channels — including ABC and Fox, plus cable channels such as ESPN, TNT, Nickelodeon and HGTV — that are streamed over the Internet.