Rock and Rap Confidential is a newsletter that music critic Dave Marsh has edited since 1983 or thereabouts. It’s published intermittently, arriving in my e-mail every so often—there’s a website, too, although the current stories on it haven’t been updated since October of last year. But I’m hopeful that the stuff in the latest newsletter will find its way onto the web pretty soon. Because the newsletter is advertising-free, Marsh and his writers can say pretty much whatever they want, and in the latest edition, they say plenty.
For instance, there’s an update on the saga of Marsh vs. Bono. The U2 lead singer, who has been highly visible in meeting with world leaders on economic issues affecting the developing world, had agreed last year to a debate on Marsh’s proposition that “celebrity politics has been a pretty much complete failure.” Said debate was supposed to take place on Marsh’s Sirius Satellite Radio show. But last fall Bono apparently bailed—and Marsh’s takedown of him, and speculation about his reasons, are as harsh as you’re ever likely to read from a mainstream music journalist:
In the wake of the New Depression generated by Bono’s tutors in world finance, it’s hardly necessary to issue a point by point refutation of his statements about how the world works,. Based on Bono’s response to criticism of U2’s tax avoidance, he plans to carry to the grave the ardently stupid globalization orthodoxy of Forbes, the Wall Street cheerleading rag he co-owns. Can there be anyone else who’s ventured a deep thought in the last several months who still believes that the only path to change involves bending the knee to the powerful?. . .
I don’t know why Bono spit the bit on debating these issues in a public forum with a well-informed antagonist. Maybe he decided that he’d fucked up and was about to lower himself by going head to head with a journalist. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal on the spot with descriptions of his repeated appearances at the conferences of the leading capitalist nations where he’s yet to ask his first hard question about anything but Africa; about his settling for promises from world leaders that patently weren’t going to be kept, and never doing more than mewing when they weren’t; about why it is that Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, by no means an anti-capitalist, observes that she met him “at a party to raise money for Africans, and there were no Africans in the room, except for me,” or why so many other Africans have complained that he claims to speak for them but has never so much as asked their permission. In regard to the last, I did receive more courtesy than Andrew Mwenda, the Ugandan journalist Bono cursed for raising such questions at an economics conference. (But then, I’m white and Celtic-American.)
It certainly isn’t my fault that I have to say “maybe” about all of this. Bono never got back to me, or had any of his handlers get back to me, about the ground rules for our projected “debate”—his term, not mine. I’d have settled for an honest interview although “debate” would have been more fun, even though the result was inevitable. No matter how many people sided with my being able to see through the kind of thing William Burroughs once poetically dubbed “a thin tissue of horseshit” it wouldn’t be enough to outweigh Big Time Pop Star status.
The instrument has yet to be invented that can measure my general indifference to Bono. But the proposed conglomeration of Ticketmaster and Live Nation gets me more energized. The merger is already forcing music consumers to bend over and grab their ankles. In a comment over at Popdose recently, a reader reported he had to pay a $25 per ticket service charge to Live Nation for tickets to a recent show. Is it going to be that bad or worse in the event of the merger? How could it not?
The concert industry has become a cesspool at a level that used to be reserved exclusively for Top 40 radio promotion. Live Nation, the name given to Clear Channel’s concert promotion wing when the image of the parent brand rotted beyond repair, corners markets and encourages ticket price escalation. Ticketmaster fees gouge customers up to 25 percent of a low-priced seat, adding insult to injury with every bogus “convenience charge” added to every exorbitant “service charge,” while meanwhile shuttling online buyers onto Tickets Now, its “legitimate” ticket scalping service, even while face-value tickets are still available. All this is abetted by managers and artists who take kickbacks on the “service charges” and the scalper mark-ups.
If Ticketmaster and Live Nation are allowed to merge, the sky’s the limit on how much consumers will be cheated, though not about how often—the bleeding will be constant if the prime and secondary venues and the ticketing are all controlled by one entity, especially one led by Irving Azoff, who is notorious but not for works of charity and kindness. Artists will also suffer, having few places to turn either for promotion or venues, and little control over the actual pricing of their shows. (What is there to prevent a “service charge” of 100% on a $25—for that matter, a $250–ticket? Certainly not a law.). . .
Is the merger likely to be approved by the feds. Uh, yeah:
Ticketmaster and Live Nation have boards with strong links to the Obama administration, including Live Nation’s Ari Emmanuel, brother of chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel, and Ticketmaster’s Julius Genachowski, a member of the Obama transition team. Live Nation has also hired RIAA chieftain-turned-lobbyist Hilary Rosen, one of the key figures in ramming the loathsome Digital Millennium Copyright Act down the file-sharing public’s throat. You’d have to be as dumb as merger advocate Billy Corgan to think the fix wasn’t already in.
There’s lots more in Rock and Rap Confidential. The best way to get the most up-to-date edition is to subscribe by e-mailing rockrap at aol dot com.