Thursday, May 25, 2006

Too many people going underground / too many reaching for that piece of cake

All the tabloid fuss about Paul McCartney’s marriage bust-up and the noise about gold diggers and such has really passed me by, without much of a flicker of interest, without needing comment beyond that it feels like one of the endgames in one of the greatest shows on earth.

Ever, really when you think about it.

Anyone that knows me knows I’m a fan of the fabulous four. They’re the reason I’m writing this, that many, if not most, musicians of my generation made music, and it’s an odd feeling to know that, more or less, it’s over now. McCartney may well produce the odd good record still as last year’s critically acclaimed (and gold selling) Chaos and Creation proved, but the biggest musical phenomena (and its associated social earthquake which is still being felt today) ever, in the history of mankind, is, baring the eulogies and obits, over.

It’s not an unreasonable claim, The Beatles importance or their place, that is. Popular entertainment only became global in its impact in the 20th Century. There was Sinatra of course and Elvis. Elvis’ claim is tenuous as he didn’t drive his own career and much, actually, overwhelmingly, most of his material, with the exception of a couple of brief moments at the beginning and in the autumn of his career, was unrelenting crap. Sinatra was a phenomena but he didn’t provide his own material (although he was completely in charge of his direction) and his impact was limited by the technology of the day, at his peak; and a little thing called World War Two. Both artists had a substantial and undeniable effect on youth culture and its place in society. But The Beatles, aside from the obvious social aspects, changed repeatedly, throughout their career, the way we wrote, played, listened to, thought about, interacted with, and delivered music. And they, as far as they were able, controlled the machine, if not necessarily always consciously. Their revolution was, as the late Ian MacDonald said in his acclaimed but greatly flawed book “In The Head” and was, in every way possible, more profound than the other two.

Which brings me to Apple…Corps and Computer. My father sat with me and watched a live Beatles show on the telly (in glorious fuzzy monochrome) back in 64 or 65 and loudly proclaimed that it was rubbish….and you couldn’t understand the words. Fast forward to 1996, the late George Harrison, bless him, made similar noises about Oasis (who’s Liam once said famously “The Beatles wrote the book, we are just a good photocopy” or words to that effect). George espoused many years before that All Things Must Pass and how ironic that he was able to personify that so well.

But to the matter at hand, the silly, and rather sad lawsuit by the surviving Beatles against Steve Jobs and whanu over the rights to the name, to the “copyright” in the word Apple as applied to the music industry and in particular its application to an alleged recording company. Myself I think the conclusion that the Judge arrived at was demonstrably wrong in law, and its interpretation of the agreement between the two parties made all those years ago, but, despite that, just.

Apple Computer, by any reasonable measurement is a record company in modern terms. It is as much a record company as, say, Festival Records was in New Zealand for many years, where it simply acted as a middle man to other copyright owners and used its best efforts to exploit those copyrights for corporate gain. No one would dispute the fact they were a “record company” as such. Likewise, for much of the past fifty years, the bulk of the global business of the multi-nationals has been the exploitation by independently registered local companies, some owned, many not, by the parent of international repertoire, which they may or may not own. Simply put, they are a distributor, sometimes via a retailer and sometimes directly (for example record clubs). Apple, the computer company, simply combines the role of the distributor and the retailer, selling digital files which are every bit as much a record as a slab of vinyl or a silver laser read disc is. No, the judge was wrong and was far too narrow in his interpretation of what a record company does and is.

That said, I’m well pleased it went against the former Fabs and their heirs. They seem to me like Canute fighting the tide. Music is all about revolution and in 2006 Apple, the computer, represents the revolution….the same revolution that Apple, the Corps, represented in 1968…the same independence of thought that the music industry needs to thrive (as it is despite the doomsayers…more people are listening to music than ever before thanks to the likes of Mr Jobs) so its appropriate the baton passes to another Apple.

Neil Aspinall, Apple, the Corps’, mainman and former Beatles roadie, has done a sterling job in recent years raising the banner of The Beatles and has sold vast millions of records to a new generation (and re-sold them to an older generation). Forty years after the fact, they sell and sell and they remain more than a household name, their star shining brighter commercially in the past decade than at any time since their prime. But the refusal to license the music for online sale for reasons of maximising any impending financial gain, and the failure to issue properly remastered copies of their, still, full priced, catalogue after all these years now looks mean spirited and nasty, as does this law suit.

So yes, they should have won, but I’m well pleased they didn’t.

Then again, Paul may need the dosh now….sure…