The Boss Steps Down. Or, Money Changes Everything.

glory days, author image.

The Boss sells out. Big time. He somehow managed to set the record for selling his song rights alongside Dylan, Tina, I think most everybody in Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, and so on. Bruce. After 35 years of not having written anything special. Nevertheless, a ton of great songs in his catalog. $500M. So be it. My take?

You may already have read that mostly it seems like this is an oldster cash-out plan – they do the math on how many streams they get these days, expect to get later on, might not get, and how old they are, namely, how many years of publishing revenue they have left and these Hipgnosis and Universal con-men convince them that, Hey, man, I’m giving you an advance on your songs that you’ll likely never come close to seeing if you lived to be a hundred. You get it all RIGHT NOW. Sure, if you lived to be two-hundred, Bruce, you’d probably wish you hadn’t sold me the rights, but, nobody lives to be two-hundred years old, so, just do the math, man, WE ALL WIN.

And, of course, with these things involving nothing but moving money around, something stinks about it. For all the outstandingly brilliant mathematics, it smells bad. All the old stanchions of integrity, our singer-songwriters who have carried us all through our own hard times and dark days and our youth and middle-age and late-middle age and to our graves, the thing we go to in our time of need- the only thing left, it seems sometimes, that doesn’t reek like a corporate sell out con game. Namely, the music of our lives. Phtt! Poof!

Bought and sold, baby. Hard commerce. Yeah, I’ve read about this Hipgnosis “bizznessman.” He just wants to take care of the legacy of these artists he so loves. Uh huh. Let’s say he does. And he’ll be dead soon enough himself some day and then what? You will see Neil Young selling Coco-cola or Pepsi or McDonald’s or, whatever, selling for somebody else.

It’s inevitable, isn’t it? These artists probably realize that it is. They die, and what happens to the rights? I’m no entertainment lawyer, but if the family is savvy, they buy the rights, milk the 70 years out of the copyright and publishing, then they die, the next generation buys it, and so on. But it doesn’t go on forever, somehow. Jean Erdman purchased Joe Campbell’s publishing, outlived him by a long shot – she died a couple years ago at the age of 104…!!! She could be said to have been caretaking, with the help of others, her husband’s vocational legacy. All good. But then, she dies.

Okay, now what? I dunno where the rights went for Joe C. except to his Foundation, the one Erdman established – they are who gives me permission to use any of Joe’s stuff in my books. Eventually, I guess, it all dumps into the public domain. Anybody can publish a version of Moby-Dick, for example. Anybody can publish a version of Joseph Conrad’s stuff. And anybody can publish versions of whomever songwriter whose work has passed into everybody’s hands, as it were.

So, again, I dunno. If it were you or me and we had this “opportunity?” – what’s the best thing to do? Is there something legitimate to actually protect by NOT selling out? Things change. What once was this is now that. Bruce fought for the C & P all those Darkness On the Edge of Town years. He won. Bob Fripp had his long war. And won. And then, somebody comes along with god awfully deep pockets – share holders – and you can hand over your stuff to another corporation that has decided upon the market value of your life’s work as a whole. Do you say, Fuck no, man, I am autonomous, I’m not a sell-out, I am the creator, it’s sacrilege, it’s wrong, it’s greed, it’s the machine, it’s inauthentic, it lacks integrity, it smashes the entire wholehearted free-bird nature of my art-craft and everybody else’s; it shreds the very fabric of musical and artistic integrity that is supposed to resist, at all costs, just this same appropriation of… WHAT?

This is where it gets stuck. Or sticky. Times have changed like times always change. The music biz doesn’t sit still. Why not? Because THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN MONEY IN IT. I get it. But if somebody in some fantasy world where TIME CRIME was selling like, say, LOTR or whatever, or Dune, year after year, decade after decade, well, in a mere two decades I’ll be fucking 75 FUCKING YEARS OLD. If I last that long. So, here, man, your work is loved, here’s a shit ton of money that you may not need but, hey, maybe think of it as your last advance, and your last acknowledgement for your work that matters and you’ve still got a little time to enjoy it all. I mean, how much money does a man need, after all, but, okay.

Or something. And I’d say, perhaps, Yeah, man, I’ll sign. And then you make some agreements, perhaps also in writing, that while you live, at least, your work doesn’t appear as the soundtrack for Youporn, not yet anyway. Not that I’m against perfectly legal adult porn. But, after you’re dead, who fucking gives a fuck, ya know? About your creative legacy? If you don’t, because you’re dead. I mean, somehow, like it or not, we make stuff and then, somehow, it slips from our possession into the public sphere of publicness. I would say, of cultural mythology. You are mythologized. Likewise, your work, like the Bible, or that of The Beatles, is really nothing to do with you and anybody else who helped you create it, anymore. It was all mostly about your persona, anyway, wasn’t it?

Carnegie Olson, that is to say, is me. Now. But already, after just 181 sales of TC, you can say that it is less me than the real me. Whatever that means, it seems to at least mean that I am a SF author but not entirely and exclusively that except to my handful of readers, perhaps, who have no interest in the rest of me. Otherwise and meanwhile, who made TIME CRIME? Me and the cosmos together, you could say. Anybody’s art-craft. We get it. We’re akin to a weather vane – the cosmic winds are our source, we tilt or angle ourselves in sympathy and cooperation to those winds, at least when we’re properly on the adventure, at least when our personal mythological game is on. I write about this shit all the time, it’s one of my interests, of course, this personal and cultural mythology thing. The idea that your job is to surrender to that cosmic wind and not fight it; to produce the work you were “meant” to produce upon this Earth, as they say. If you’re lucky you get fed and housed. If you’re really lucky you get rich. Or perhaps that ‘ain’t so lucky, dunno.

$500M. A guy like Bernie Sanders, perhaps, I can see him getting all red in the face and his eyes bugging out and his wisps of hair wisping. TAX IT, TAX IT, TAX IT, GODDAMMIT TAX THE SHIT OUT OF IT!!! NOBODY ON EARTH DESERVES THAT KIND OF MONEY!!! And give it to whom, instead? Spread it around to all Bruce Springsteen listeners as a stimulus check, say, of some kind? Or give it all to some chump livin’ on the government dole?

This is why we hate money. Money sucks, in the end. Because humans made it. Not that humans intrinsically suck. I like to believe we are, as humans, as a race, at least as good as we are intrinsically bad. C’mon, now, don’t make me go on about the play-of-opposites nature of it all. It’s true. Nick Cave, he’s all about radical love, the kind of love that breaks through into something spiritual, something mythological, something eternal. But even he says, on any given day, “People are shit.” He’s right. I’m shit. You are shit. On your good days, well, you aren’t.

But I talking about money. At best, the wise amongst us will describe it as a tool to get your life’s work done and out there. Money is better than, say, using shells for currency. Or having no currency and resorting to trading goods for goods. I won’t get political but history tells us none of that works on anything like a large scale. So far, we’re stuck with money, at least some form of it.

Meanwhile, your life’s work. What’s it WORTH? Ask the free market, baby. What are you willing to pay? THAT’s what it’s worth. Most of us get it, we understand life isn’t about what’s fair; rather, it’s about what is it worth to you? Do some reading of history, perhaps indulge in some comparative mythology, and you find “fair” and even ethics themselves is, like or not, relative. Across time and culture, what is perceived as right and wrong is, well, that’s a whole different rabbit hole.

It’s just that $500M on its own doesn’t really make any sense in individual human terms. Who amongst us, for instance, who doesn’t already have $500M would have any idea, off the top of their head, what to reasonably DO with that kind of coin?

And that all these greats no longer own the rights to their own work, that’s what seems to grind me, somehow. That’s the thing that is tarnished in some mysterious way. It seems wrong, that Bruce (and of course I don’t know what his new $500M contract says), if he wants to play his songs publicly, for instance, now he has to ask permission. John Fogerty ran into that for decades – some tool owned the rights to all the great Creedence tunes and if John wanted to play them live, he had to get permission and pay royalties to this rich asshole who he’d somehow agreed to sign away his song rights to. And that right there, brutha – the being beholden and having to ask permission – well, as everybody from Ian hunter to Graham Parker to Chrissy Hynde to goddamn Bruce Springsteen, once known as The Boss, would have told you when they were coming up and even long after that, AIN’T ROCK N’ ROLL.

No. It’s, as Graham Parker once suggested, socks and sandals, somehow, man. “Socks and sandals,” he sings somewhere, “ain’t rock n’ roll.” He’s right, somehow. And we need our rock ‘n roll. Because it’s a large part of my personal and cultural mythology. We need it, folks like me, in some very fundamental way, to remain, I don’t know, cosmically pure. We need it to be eternal. And money, well, money isn’t. I suppose something else will take the place of rock ‘n roll – the mythology of rock ‘n roll. Because something always takes the place of everything. Meanwhile, the Boss steps down. Or, money changes everything. And so it goes….