Six Seminal Concerts, or What I’ve Learned About Blogging
You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain’t no good
You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you
- LIKE A ROLLING STONE
End of the decade again. Everyone is writing the Obligatory Reflection and/or Prediction stuff again. So I ain’t going to write one of those. However, being a blogging newbie, I learnt a shitload this year which, it transpires, was well understood by the Social Media gurus I’ve loved for years. So, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you their wisdom from 1965 – 1970, the years I should have lived in. I’ll take my lessons from Lennon, Dylan, Hendrix, Page, Jagger or Morrison over social media whore @GuyKawasaki or ego-blogger @Scobleizer any day of the week.
Lesson #1: It’s Noisy Out There, So Make a Bigger Noise
The Beatles, New York, NY, August 15 1965
The Beatles concert at Shea Stadium broke records all over the place, with over 55,000 people attending. And Beatlemania was at its peak, so the crowd was going mental. The noise in the stadium was, according to Lennon, “louder than God”. No-one in the stadium could really hear any of the music. And, as it turned out, nor could the band. So eventually Lennon just started banging the keyboard with his elbows just to make some sound that people could actually hear.
It’s noisy as hell in the blogosphere too. Most blogs don’t get read. If you want people to notice you, you need to make a noise. Start banging your keyboard with your elbows.
Lesson #2: Experiment, but Don’t Pander to the Crowds
Bob Dylan, Newport Folk Festival, Newport, RI, July 25 1965
As some of you might know, I’ve got a soft spot for Bob. I love his older acoustic gems. So I might have been one of the sheep who were upset when, at the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan plugged in his guitar and backing band, and mixed it up a bit. At a concert in Manchester the following year, we had the famous Judas Incident. Details are still sketchy, but let’s go with the romantic version. Dylan starts playing some electric tunes, and during a gap between songs someone shouts “Judas”. Dylan replied with the rather cryptic “I don’t believe you, you’re a liar“, before turning to his band instructing them to “play it fucking loud!” And they did, belting out an awesome version of Like A Rolling Stone. The “rock” albums which followed (Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde) are two of my favourites, and they both went platinum nice and quickly.
So, like Bob, I’ve tried to experiment. Do different things, and see what your readers like. Don’t just keep doing what you think they like. Branch out a bit for potential new readers. Sometimes you can go a bit far, though. I’m really struggling to understand a world in which Bob could release such an embarrassing Christmas album. Maybe time will prove everyone wrong here too.
Lesson #3: Controversy Breeds Traffic
Jimi Hendrix, Monterey, CA, 16 June 1967
When The Jimi Hendrix Experience were booked at the Monterey Pop Festival, they were huge in England, but largely unknown in the US. Some of the biggest names in pop at the time were performing – The Animals, Beach Boys, The Mamas & Papas and more. However, it’s Hendrix that is remembered. He closed his set with an insane version of “Wild Thing”, which ended with Jimi dousing his guitar in lighter fluid, setting it on fire and smashing the shit out of it. Surprise, surprise – people remembered that and the buzz helped propel him to stardom in the USA too.
In the blogosphere, more controversial posts generate far more interest. It can be really boring reading the same things over and over again where everyone agrees with each other. Have (or make up) strong opinions, play Devil’s Advocate and encourage debate around your posts. If these debates prove that you were completely wrong, admit you were an idiot, thank the crowds for teaching you something, and buy another guitar.
Lesson #4: Talk About What You Know, Your Way
Led Zeppelin, Boston, MA, 23 January 1969
The famous Boston Tea Party concert. The birth of head banging. Zeppelin only had one 70-minute album under their belt at the time , but they played for over 4.5 hours. In the words of bassist John Paul Jones:
There were kids actually banging their heads against the stage. I’ve never seen that at a gig before or since, and when we finally left the stage we’d played for four and a half hours … I suppose it was then that we realized just what Led Zeppelin was going to become.
Most of the concert was rambling, brilliant improvisation. They mashed up their existing songs, mixed in some covers and generally went with the flow. The band knew each other, they knew their craft, and just kept making shit up.
For bloggers, there’s nothing wrong with rambling and improvising. I’ve discovered that I can’t really plan blog posts, and I can’t write short ones. If Led Zep can get away with it, so can I. And I prefer reading posts that have a little personality thrown in.
Lesson #5: Shit Happens, Live With It
Rolling Stones, Hyde Park, England, 5 July 1969
The Hyde Park Free Concerts are legendary. As are the Rolling Stones. Two days before their scheduled appearance, band mate Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool, another victim of “death by misadventure”. Admittedly Jones hadn’t been playing with the band for a month, but the Hyde Park Concert was scheduled to be his replacement’s first live gig. So the concert turned into a Brian Jones memorial. Jagger opened the set by reading a section from Adonais, a poem by Shelley. Over 250,000 people were there.
By all accounts, the performance itself was pretty crap. But the lesson here is that bad things happen, and you need to be flexible and deal with them. I’ve written some blog posts that are ridiculously bad and I’ve been tempted to delete the bastard things. BJ Fogg said on Twitter “I regret 20% of what I tweet“. I’m probably about the same. But you can’t do anything about it. Get over it, learn, and move on.
Lesson #6: A Network is About Quality, not Quantity
Jim Morrison, Miami, FL, 1969
Aaah, the Miami Incident. Now this didn’t actually happen exactly like it did in the movie, but I prefer that version. The story goes something like this. Morrison was really struggling with his self-created sex-symbol rocker image. He arrived at the concert much more drunk than usual (and usual was pretty damn drunk). He stumbled to the mic, and started rambling – a few versus of his poetry, but mostly utter nonsense. The crowd was getting uneasy, and Jim was getting annoyed with his followers that didn’t understand him. He started calling them idiots, culminating in the often quoted (though not 100% accurate) “You’re all a bunch of fuckin’ slaves!”
What am I getting at here? Well, Morrison had been collecting “followers” for years, and then decided he didn’t like them. Hordes of people hanging on his every word, but completely useless to him. They no longer understood what he thought he was. It’s a bit like Twitter really. The important thing is not how many followers you have – an army of SEO spammers or porn bots or follow-me-follow-you-gurus is no use to man or beast. You want people that care. Jim said it far better a year later in one of his poems – A Feast Of Friends a.k.a The Severed Garden. Admittedly he’s talking about death, but it works for Twitter too:
I will not go
Prefer a Feast of Friends
To the Giant Family.