Pay Your Dues

I don’t always have time to write but I always make time to read and I am a subscriber/regular reader of The Lefsetz Letter, a music-industry centric daily blast, er, rant, from critic and analyst, Bob Lefsetz. (Here’s an amusing “Who The Hell is Bob Lefsetz?” article from Wired.)

I often disagree with Mr. Lefsetz but I’m nearly always entertained and sometimes even enlightened.

I wholeheartedly agree with this post.


HBO did not hire John Oliver with no CV. Oliver had spent years in the trenches at the “Daily Show,” honing his craft, playing number two before he ascended to the anchor chair.

Do not believe you’re ready before you truly are.

Study those in line ahead of you.

Know that your history is precursor to your success.


Like a pop song. Verse chorus verse chorus bridge. People become inured to the framework. Oliver’s “How is this still a thing?” is evidence. We understand the game, we look forward to it, it’s a singular element and Oliver owns it. Be yourself, but distill yourself into something comprehensible, establish your own hooks, we loops are waiting to become ensnared.


There are too many brilliant asides for Oliver to come up with them all by his lonesome. No one can break through without the help of others. Furthermore, the team must know they’re subservient to the star. Once the team feels responsible the whole edifice collapses.


If you’re not willing to offend, you’re not willing to speak the truth, and the reason Oliver resonates is because of the endless parade of truth. Sure, he makes some politically incorrect statements. But his willingness to hang it all out there, to not only talk but take action, is what titillates us. We need people to believe in. And we believe most in those whose risks resonate.


Oliver pokes fun at himself without eviscerating his talent or message. We’re all imperfect. Acknowledge your failings and you become humanized, and we can only identify with humans.


Every week Oliver tries to top himself, to deliver, he never phones it in. Being a fan is like seeing your favorite band in a third tier market, when they hit it over the fence you’re titillated and fulfilled because you were there! Oliver doesn’t hit a grand slam every week, but we keep rooting for him. Once again, we need someone to believe in.


Corporations are our enemy, not in all cases, but in many. Worried primarily about their stock price, their handsomely compensated executives underpay and fire their employees, assuming they’re not independent contractors (can you hear me Live Nation: “Exposing the employment ploy at concert promoter Live Nation”: all while paying no taxes. To see Oliver skewer institutions like Budweiser and McDonald’s is enough to make you get up off the couch and cheer!


When Oliver shows clips from the sixties, making the same point he’s trying to make today, it reinforces his point. We’re all just players in a script lasting decades, centuries, millennia. If you think it’s only about today, you haven’t lived too long.


Oliver could not do his show on network. Just like Howard Stern has flourished behind Sirius XM’s paywall, Oliver could only do his act on pay cable. Which limits his audience but bonds his adherents to him ever closer.


Talk about wanting to have a beer with someone… Oliver is the anti-star, the guy from the neighborhood who broke through who isn’t consumed by the trappings. He doesn’t believe he’s entitled to be interviewed by TMZ, he’s not that big a star. And the truth is the last big star was Michael Jackson. The internet flattened stardom, we’re all just in it together.


In a world where we die from a thousand cuts from which there is no judge, jury or justice, only a shrug of the shoulders, we unite behind someone who is pissed at the small stuff as well as the big. In an era where our elected officials don’t represent us, we need someone to believe in.


In an era where a record can stiff in a weekend, people don’t realize how hard it is to penetrate popular culture and ultimately rise above. You have to labor in obscurity and then keep doing great work for years before most people realize and recognize you. Oliver is still not a star. Jay Z and Beyonce are, but they’re squandering their stardom, Jay Z is all about himself in a world where we’re all in it together and Beyonce is too busy being iconic. As for the pretenders…Rihanna to Maroon 5, they’re just fodder for the tabloids. In a world that moves so fast, music moves too slow. Hits used to last 12 weeks, today they last a full year. But they won’t forever. Because the public won’t stand for it. The public knows today is already in the rearview mirror and they’re only interested in he who is being born as opposed to he who is dying, or stalling, or so busy trying to lasso up everybody that he forgets the core audience who supports him.

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