Like most new ideas, the first few affairs, held at the Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco, were sparsely attended and made no money for promoters or musicians, and the originators of the new trend used the slim funds to rebuild an old bus and decamp for Mexico, leaving the field to Bill Graham, whose vision encompassed the big bucks concert/recording scene we know today. The Innovators were gone and the age of the Operators had arrived.
Operators are experts in organizing. They design systems and rules, sign contracts and create order out of the artistic disorder that is usually the business style of the Innovators. By paying the bands, Graham created his right to charge whatever admission he sought, and by encouraging seated crowds as opposed to the wasteful use of space inherent in dancing, the profits soared.
Passive consumption of the “entertainment” replaced self-expressive participation and the result was mindless crowds staring stoned at some guitarist making a D chord in front of some swirling automated lighting effect. The Operators trimmed the extraneous elements, cut record deals and organized tours, making money at every step and stage. The Operators built a multi-million dollar industry, and then they sold out by selling the growing concern to the corporate or big bucks individuals who know nothing of the art or business but make their living by investing in hot properties and prospects.
The Undertakers buy demonstrated success and then stand by as their project slowly flattens out and begins to drift lower in performance, financially and artistically. The Grateful Dead may still draw huge crowds, but the fifth reunion tour of the Eagles may not sell out the local county fairgrounds. Record companies begin to organize their own promotional circuits and the whole affair loses its zest and sells at a loss to the next sucker.
Rock is a good metaphor, and if the above illustrated rule is truly universal it applies to other areas of concern, not the least of which is America’s historic saga. From revolutionary innovation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to our post-WWII attempt at imperial corporate hegemony around the world, to our current failure to prevail by military might on the Afghan plateau or the plains or the Euphrates.
America no longer innovates, the Chinese are the Operators of this era and the oil-rich gulfies of OPEC are buying up our debt like the dollar was still worth a buck.
“Travus T. Hipp” is a 40-year veteran radio commentator with six stations in California carrying his daily version of the news and opinions. “The Poor Hippy’s Paul Harvey,” Travus is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views.