Lou Reed and Jason Robert Brown: Thoughts on Expectations and Downloading

Here’s a little lesson in promotion and audience expectations… Last Friday, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed and John Zorn did a performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival that pissed some people off. The Montreal Gazette got in on the action by describing the furor and going so far as having both positive and negative reviews posted by the paper’s writers and some of the attending fans in what seemed like a Dylan-At-Newport type incident (though not as historical).

The problem seemed to center around perception- should the fans have rightfully expected a more rock-type show with Reed participating or not? Were the festival organizers at fault for now saying clearly enough that this wasn’t going to be a typical rock performance (shades of PiL at the Ritz)?

For some clues, take a look at the program for the day. The listing is for Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed and John Zorn (not that Lou gets middle billing here). If you drill down through the site, you see more about the program for the performance:

“The lady is an avant-garde musician and performer with a dizzying, incredibly diverse list of collaborations to her credit: Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Bobby McFerrin, Jean Michel Jarre, Philip Glass, but also poet John Giorno, choreographer Trisha Brown, writer William Burroughs and surrealist actor-comedian Andy Kaufman. The first gentleman (her husband) changed the way popular music sounds and thinks with the Velvet Underground-whose incalculable influence redefined the music of the late ’60s-and went on to write a peerlessly literate and transformative songbook including the global smash Walk On the Wild Side. While these two are making their first visits to the Festival, they can count on the second gentleman as their guide, since American saxophonist John Zorn is making his fifth appearance chez nous. Together, they make up a most intriguing trio of musical explorer-improvisers the likes of which we seldom experience!”

Granted, the festival might have had different printed literature in ads and such but from the above description, other than naming Reed’s best-known song, what would lead you to believe that the show was just going to be “Lou’s Greatest Hits”?

For the Montreal gig, maybe the promoters didn’t make it clear that Lou wasn’t just going to belt out “Walk On the Walk Side” but a trio with Anderson and Zorn should have made that obvious, right? Also, if you’re a real Lou fan, wouldn’t you be interested in him doing something other than his biggest songs? Maybe it comes down to different types of fans- some who want the performer to keep being a greatest hits jukebox and some who will go along with them on a journey to different, strange places, which Lou has done a number of times throughout his career anyway.

For another twist on the story, dig this withering review of an Australian show he did a few weeks before the Montreal show. See, this is why Lou doesn’t care for the press… That aside, the tone is pretty brutal, though the writer acknowledges up front that a show based on “Metal Machine Music” which was clearly advertised as such isn’t exactly going to be a toe-tapper for the crowd. Still, the writer takes issue with Reed’s performance of “MMM,” explaining that there’s such a thing as good noise and bad noise (which is difficult to define but I agree in theory).

Poor Lou. He doesn’t get a break when he wants to try out his experimental side. Maybe his next tour needs to have posters saying ‘I’M NOT DOING ANY FREAKING ROCK SONGS TONIGHT!’ I’ll bet that some fans will still pay money and yell out for ‘Wild Side’ nevertheless.

Another musician who’s in a controversy worth more discussion is Tony-Award winning composer Jason Robert Brown. Recently, he had a conversation/argument with a fan posting his music for free. It was a good, hearty discussion and note that the composer was the one who wanted to make it public. Too bad the RIAA likes to preach and demand instead of discuss. Brown presents a well stated and a much needed viewpoint. As you see there, it it’s a much more persuasive tact than the RIAA’s own tactics (aka lawsuits). The RIAA made the decision to use more sticks than carrots, more litigation than innovation and now they’re reaping what they’ve sown (how’s that for stringing cliches together?)- many statistics show that the lawsuits and other tactics they’ve used haven’t had the desired effect at all. For another impassioned argument about the perils of unauthorized downloading, see this NYT review/editorial.