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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.

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10 comments to Six Seminal Concerts, or What I’ve Learned About Blogging

  • Two of my favorite subjects. Rock n’blogs. Nice work and interesting too

  • You know I normally write 1000 words or so for my blog posts, but I admire the Led Zeppelin tinged Steve Yegge http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/ who wrote longer and longer posts until the last one which is an 18 page pdf, after which he has vanished from blogland. Rock and roll suicide! I dont think I am going to get to that level of Nirvana for a bit!

  • Lesson #7: Be careful who you pick a fight with

    Stonehenge free rock festivals 1984 and 1985

    The 1984 Stonehenge festival ( http://www.ukrockfestivals.com/henge-history-84.html ) was the biggest of all the years but also the last one before the notorious ‘Battle of the Beanfield’( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Beanfield ) A mate and I headed there on my motorbike to go and watch Hawkwind play – we weren’t much more than kids but loving our new found independence. I still remember the daunting but exciting experience of us parking up and walking into the festival area and trying to pretend that we knew what it was all about. I still remember that overwhelming feeling of being well and truly out of my depth and completely naive to what was happening around me.

    I remember consciously not wanting to make eye contact with the Hells Angels – just in case I inadvertently upset one of them but in reality I’m sure I was an insignificant newbie and they were on the look-out for rival biker gangs and punks.

    The original festivals were largely gatherings of peaceful, friendly hippie types but then, as the documented accounts show, the drug pushers moved in, the biker gangs tried to self-police things, tensions rose between biker gangs and punks because the influx of new music genres but then the authorities felt they had to move in to maintain law and order.

    I feel there’s a strong correlation between the happy, carefree and somewhat Utopian view of blogging and Twitter and the outlook of the hippie movement. This is all very worthy and it would be good to chill out, go with flow and be friendly to everyone. However, the bigger these things get and the more people try to manipulate or exploit the environment for their own gains, the more tension and rivalries grow.

    In the case of Stonehenge, the authorities felt the need to get very heavy handed and I’m sure a lot of innocent people got hurt in the process.

    However, although the Stonehenge festivals were ended by the authorities, rock festivals in general have gone on to thrive in the 21st Century. Maybe they don’t have quite the edge of some of the originals but it seems, perhaps, we’ve got better at coming together in large groups to enjoy a cross section of culture and entertainment without everything erupting into a riot.

  • Tim

    Howdy,

    Nice piece, cool idea. Found it four years later via a Google Images search for Led Zeppelin.

    re: Bob Dylan and Judas: that was from his May 17, 1966 concert at the Manchester (England) Free Trade Hall. For that tour, he played shows around the world that were all solo-acoustic in the first half, and electric with The Band for the second. Bringin’ It All Back Home had been out for over a year, Highway 61 Revisited had been out for almost a year, and Blonde On Blonde had come out that spring, so even people who had no idea about Newport DEFINITELY knew that Bob had gone electric. It seems unlikely, however, that most people had any idea just how LOUD it was going to be.

    You can see it for yourself in the movie Don’t Look Back. Somebody calls out, “Judas!” Bob pauses before replying, “I don’t believe you.” He turns to the musicians behind him, then turns back to the audience to say, “You’re a liar.” He then turns back to the band and says, “Play it f-in’ loud!” as he laughs, turns back to the audience, and waves at the guy who shouted Judas.

    Here’s a short clip of it on YouTube, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCGPhzWWgco

    The entire show was released as part of the official Bootleg series, and is highly, highly recommended. One of the amazing things to hear is that Bob flips things the other way, too. Visions of Johanna is quite a rollicking electric number on Blonde On Blonde, but is a breathtaking solo acoustic piece in concert. (This particular number was recorded for Don’t Look Back, and is given an unedited airing the Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home.) It’s easy to imagine that even people who thought they were on top of the changes that Bob was going through were thoroughly disoriented by what they heard — an experience that remains true for Bob’s fans to this day. :-)

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