“I wish we had a fucking BMW right now,” I complained over the rushing wind.
We were on our way to Mammoth Lake via Yosemite National Park, and the temperature was dropping precipitously as we wound our way through the Sierra Mountains of California. The plan, if you could call it that, was to rent a house there and chill for a few days—literally.
“Why do you wish for a BMW?” Kanish asked.
“Because this thing sucks for cornering, that’s why.”
“I see what you mean, but I still think that an American car is best.”
“Best for faux patriotism, maybe.”
“Are you saying that I chose an American car to veil the fact that I’m Indian?”
“I’ve got news for you. Everyone can see that you’re Indian.”
Kanish ignored my smart-ass comment. Rather than leave that hanging there, I decided it best to expound upon the thought.
“I think that deep down, you believe you’ll curry favor with Americans by driving one of our cars.”
“This is what you think?” Kanish replied, completely ignoring my clever use of the term curry.
“What other explanation could there be? Surely you’ve driven BMWs and Mercedes. You can’t possibly tell me that an American car competes!”
The top was down, and the windows were up, and we had the heat blasting from the vents in order to counteract the increasingly frigid wind.
“You do not believe that buying American is patriotic?” Kanish asked.
“People buy cars for all sorts of reasons, Kanish. Just as a for instance, I’ll reject certain cars just so that I won’t be associated with the type of people that tend to drive them.
“Forgive me, but you are suggesting that there are personality traits of people that drive certain cars?”
“And what kind of people drive this car?”
“Douchebags,” I replied.
“Blurred Lines,” was spinning on the satellite radio, which Kanish turned up to full. At first I thought he was annoyed, but then I realized he just loves that song. As do I.
“Blurred Lines,” of course, was the mega-hit song from the summer of 2013 featuring Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and rapper T.I. You couldn’t go ten minutes without hearing the song that summer, and as a result, it is often held up as proof that there’s still money to be made in music. The two main cowriters made millions from it. Unfortunately, that money was at risk from this little matter of a copyright infringement suit.
At issue was the striking resemblance between Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up” and the duo’s effort with “Blurred Lines.” And while I use the word striking, that wouldn’t be my term for it. When I listen to the mash-up of those two tracks on YouTube, the similarities most certainly don’t rise to the legal definition of infringement.
If you grew up listening to Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” you could very well become irate as you compare the two tracks. They do, after all, use a similar chord pattern and groove, but that’s the extent of it. Similar. Regardless, neither the chord changes nor the groove are protected by copyright, and frankly, this is far too outside the scope of what a layman should judge. These cases would be best argued in front of professionals who make music for a living.
Much to-do is made of a Robin Thicke interview in which he admits to pinching the vibe of the track. And while that may seem like one big “oops” to him now since intent comes into play in an infringement case, you really can’t blame Robin for mentioning this in an interview. For as long as I’ve been in this business, an Artist could come right out and state his or her direct influences without concern. It’s the lyric and melody that are protected, not the groove, or the vibe, or even the chord pattern. And while it’s true that you can also protect certain elements that make a song immediately identifiable—like the guitar riff from the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”—in general, you’re in good shape so long as you don’t rip off the melody or the lyric. Or at least you used to be.
According to Daryl Hall, Michael Jackson confessed to borrowing the bass part from “I Can’t Go For That” to use in his ’80s mega-hit song “Billie Jean.” So, why then didn’t Hall & Oates sue for infringement? Because they fucking took the bass line themselves, as did those before them, and those before them. Which is why you can’t protect a bass line, or a chord progression, or anything that has to do with feel. That said, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Willimas lost that suit to the Gaye estate. As of this writing, it’s in the appeals process.
The problem with juries is that they make all sorts of fucked-up decisions, especially when it comes to something as complicated and nuanced as Copyright Law. That said, the infringement suit itself is nothing more than a distraction as far as I’m concerned. The big story here is the jaw-dropping $7 million that Universal Music Group spent to promote the song.
Let me repeat that.
The Universal Music Group spent $7 million to promote one song, performed by two proven and currently hot commodities in Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. From a songwriting standpoint, it was about as close to you can get to a guaranteed hit. Yet they spent $7 million to promote it!
Granted, this figure includes expenditures to send Robin Thicke around the world to perform the record, including his infamous public dry hump of Former-Miss-Disney-Innocence #19, also known as Miley Cyrus. Even so, that’s a lot of jack to promote a song that’s already hitting on all cylinders.
I hate to be the one to point this out, but if Universal has to spend $7 million to ensure that “Blurred Lines” blew up sufficiently, then all you Independent musicians out there trying to break your song really don’t have a shot. Even if I were to halve that promotional figure to $3 million—even if I were to bring it down to a million—tell me, how is an Indie Artist supposed to compete with that? How long must the odds be before it’s not even a worthwhile gamble?
The song was coming up to T.I.’s rap in the third verse, which meant my favorite line was approaching, Much to my surprise, Kanish yelled it out with me.
In a hundred years not dare, would I,
Pull a Pharcyde, let you pass me by!
“You see! You are vehdy famous from this song!” Kanish laughed.
The lyric was a reference to the song “Passin’ Me By,” which was the hit single off the album Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde—my first Gold record as a recordist. Kanish was once again giving me far more credit than I was due.
“I’d be willing to bet most people have no idea that line is even in the song, Kanish.”
“You are vehdy much missing my point. Your work is rehashed and regurgitated into the lexicon.”
“It’s being regurgitated, all right.”
“Why do you deny being part of something so great? No matter how you discount your influence, you must remember, had you not been there, the results would not have been the same.”
Had I not been there, the results would not have been the same. It was difficult to argue with that logic, but Kanish was now confusing the influence of a creative force with a facilitating one.
“Look, I don’t discount my contribution to the Pharcyde’s first album.”
“But you do!”
“No. I don’t. I was the only one who was straight for the large preponderance of that album, and I know what my role was on it as a facilitator. I was just there to keep the technology out of their way and to capture their brilliance, over and over again, until they were happy. I never gave them any advice on what was good. I never made suggestions. I just shut the fuck up and captured them, and tried to keep the technology out of their way, nothing more and nothing less.”
“Perhaps so, but at the end of the year, you were an important part of a work with great relevance to society.”
“Relevance to society? Please. You realize the song is about them getting their hearts crushed in high school, right?”
“And what could be more relevant than that?”
A line of ten cars was now crawling up the mountain—a silver Prius leading the parade. I was half expecting a marching band and some onlookers, and even with no particular schedule, I found myself becoming aggravated by the pace. I’m not sure what it is about Prius drivers, but for some reason, they seem content to be the ones in this world who constantly fuck up the free flow of traffic.
I’ve driven a Prius, so I’m familiar with the car, and while it is certainly a dog where pickup is concerned, it is nowhere near as slow off the line as Prius owners would have you believe. It’s almost as if the Prius driver views the actual destination as irrelevant. All that really matters is that one use as little gas as possible. Perhaps someone should tell all the Prius diehards out there that they would use even less gas if they’d just stay at home.
You know, I don’t begrudge someone driving slowly. What pisses me off is when people drive obliviously. And this is the big problem with many Prius drivers—I find them inexplicably oblivious. I mean, if you’re going 30 miles per hour in the left lane, on a road that people generally travel at 50, and if car after car passes you on the right and then whips aggressively in front of you, then that would be the very definition of oblivious. If only there were a passing lane.
You see, mountain roads generally only have one lane going each direction, and that would be the case here. In California, if you have five cars or more stacking up behind you on a single-lane road, you’re supposed to pull over at a turnout. These small areas of shoulder appear every few miles or so on the mountain roads, so as to promote the free flow of traffic. This particular Prius had neglected to pull over at the last two turnouts. As a result, drivers were now laying on their horns.
“Prius drivers are such fucking Douchebags!” I exclaimed.
“You vehdy much like this word, Douchebag, don’t you?”
“It’s a Jersey thing.”
“A Jersey thing?”
“That’s where I grew up. In New Jersey. It’s a popular word there.”
“To douche is to bathe. You know this?” Kanish pointed out.
“Yes, in French. But we have a very complicated relationship with the French. We even changed the name of their fries to Freedom.”
“But wouldn’t a better insult be to call someone an Enemabag? I would vehdy much prefer be called a Douchebag than an Enemabag, let me tell you.”
Kanish had me laughing at this line of reasoning, flawed as it was. I’m not sure how Douchebag came to be such an effective slur, but people sure do seem to understand that you don’t like them very much when you call them that. I just didn’t understand where this was coming from.
“Is there like a campaign against the word Douchebag or something?” I asked.
“A campaign? What do you mean by this?”
“Like, you know, if you use the word retard these days, some people get all bent out of shape.”
“Ah, yes. But you use that term in your books.”
“I used it in my first book. But the backlash to that word is . . . I mean, you’d think it was a fucking racial slur. So I’ve stopped using it. Now I just refer to anyone below an IQ of 80 as Rrritarded.”
“Rrritarded? How is this different?”
“Ritard is a musical term which means to slow down. So now I use the term Rrritard. This way, I’m not offending anyone.”
“It’s interesting when you think about it,” Kanish pondered. “The Rrritards seem to have more protection than black people in this country.”
It was a good point. Rrritards weren’t being shot and incarcerated at an alarming rate.
I understand defending the defenseless, I suppose. But hysteria breaks out the moment anyone mutters the term mentally retarded. Even a phrase as innocuous as to retard one’s progress seems to get a rise out of the more sensitive types. I had a woman flip out on me once over that phrase, which is absurd. To retard progress means to slow it down. The object in that sentence is progress. We need to protect progress? Meanwhile, you can’t turn on the radio without hearing the word ho. Not that I care about that word either, but the verbiage police really need to get their priorities straight. Ho is demeaning to half our population. What percentage is Rrritarded?
The only people who feel better about removing that word from the list of approved speech would be those who care for the mentally Rrritarded. What-fucking-ever! The Rrritards themselves are oblivious to all of it, and I have a problem with people telling me that I’m being hateful by using a term that quickly and easily describes a person in need of permanent assistance. That’s Rrritarded!
The green Prius finally made use of the turnout. Unfortunately, there was a red Prius next in line and fully prepared to take over the Douchebag patrol. Kanish had had enough. He swerved into the left lane and gunned it up a short stretch of straightaway. Well! As crappy as the Stingray was around corners, it sure did like straightaways just fine. We passed the entire line of Douchebags in a flash.
“Let me ask you this,” Kanish said. “Did you keep them happy and relaxed?”
Ah, he was back on the Pharcyde again.
“Of course I did,” I replied.
“Did they like you?”
“Sure. But I was never close with them or anything. They weren’t inviting me to go out with them after recording. I never went to clubs with them.”
“I don’t understand. You say clearly in your Zen books that your most important job is to keep the Artist happy and relaxed because this has an effect on performance.”
As appreciative as I was of Kanish’s attempts to place my involvement with that album as historically significant, that’s the last thing I wanted. The Music Business isn’t about the past. It’s about the here and now. It’s about relevance. And relevance has a very short shelf life, more so now than ever. I can assure you, an album that I recorded twenty-two years ago doesn’t qualify as current or relevant.
Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde is, and always will be, an important feather in my cap. And while it’s true I wouldn’t have gotten the gig were I not exceptionally aggressive—and I’ll take all the credit in the world where that is concerned—I really just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“You know, Kanish, timing is a very important component to success, and when it comes to timing, there’s often an element of luck. You know?”
Of course, I was saying that to the son of a Billionaire. A Billionaire’s Heir, as it were.
Let’s face it, when it comes to opportunity, Kanish would have considerably more than I ever did. Certainly out of the gate. When you have to work just to survive, which surely describes the large majority of us, this limits your options tremendously in life. Immediate need always gets the priority over creative outlets, and only those who view creation as an integral part of their survival will find a way to accomplish both. But if you can literally devote all of your time toward a goal of your choosing, without any concern toward basic fundamental needs, then the only thing that can really stop you is your own self-discipline.
Discipline is an important virtue to have when it comes to creating art. It’s easy to create when everything is going smoothly. It’s those times when you must overcome problems that pure drive comes into play. To create requires a mental fortitude in which confidence manages to keep the upper hand in the unending war against self-doubt.
I imagine it would be more difficult to muster artistic discipline from a position of wealth. There is surely a certain unavoidable apathy that comes from such a position. Drive is born out of need. The question wasn’t whether Kanish has talent—he has it in spades in the form of charisma and charm. And people skills are of far more consequence for success in the Music Business than musical talent. But what kind of creative drive does he have?
One thing is for sure, Kanish will always have plenty of opportunities—and opportunities are the lottery tickets in life. Of course, unlike actual lotteries, skill and preparation have great influence over the winners and losers in this game. Which goes right back to timing. Once an opportunity arises for which you’re fully prepared, chances are, you’re going to come out ahead.
We pulled up to our Airbnb, which turned out to be a rather palatial residence tucked into the mountain at about 9,000 feet, and with a killer view of the lake. There were four bedrooms and a couch, and I was glad that the staff wouldn’t need to sleep on the floor of a barn again. Sevaka and Annapurna didn’t speak much, and the Sikh might as well have been a mute, but strangely, I was starting to really like them.
The staff caught up to us an hour later in the Bentley packed full of groceries. Annapurna grilled up the most stupendous ribeye steaks, corn, and potatoes, followed by a delicious salad. The dining room table was massive, and so I invited Annapurna, Sevaka, and the Dishwashing Sikh to join us. This surprised Kanish, but he didn’t dare protest. Of course, no one said a word the entire awkward dinner.
I rolled a Medicinal Fatty as the Dishwashing Sikh cleaned the kitchen. Annapurna and Sevaka retired for the evening, both of them to the same room. Kanish and I moved to the deck so as to enjoy our nightcap.
“Are Annapurna and Sevaka together?” I asked.
“They are married,” Kanish replied, before immediately changing the subject. “You have thought about today’s lesson, I hope, Guru Mixerman?”
“Oh, I have today’s lesson all right, but you’re not necessarily going to understand it.”
“Tell me!” Kanish busted.
“If god blesses a Donkey, it can become a wrestler.”
Kanish pulled from the Fatty and then proceeded to nearly cough out a lung. By the time he could breathe again, his eyes were a deep glassy red, an swollen from tears.
“This is not a lesson,” Kanish wheezed.
“Sure it is,” I replied.
“But the meaning is that even the most useless person can become great.”
“You’re assuming that a Donkey is useless.”
“I know the meaning of an ancient Hindu proverb.”
“That may be true, but are you suggesting to me that a Donkey isn’t a useful animal?”
“There is machinery that can do the job in a tenth of the time. That makes the Donkey indeed useless.”
“I doubt there was machinery when this proverb was written, Kanish.”
“You make a vehdy good point, but the Donkey is still considered useless.”
“You’re focusing too much on the Donkey.”
“So you are saying I am blessed, then?”
“I’m suggesting you can be and do whatever you want, Kanish. And I’m going to help you figure out exactly what that is.”
Kanish didn’t last long after that. Between the mountain air, the altitude, and the Fatty, he was faded, and crashed out on his bed fully clothed.
It was about time for me to have a discussion with Kanish over who he is, and what he is to become. It was clear that god had no designs on Kanish being my Assistant. This was not his lot in life. What was unclear were god’s intentions with me, and I say that as an agnostic or perhaps an atheist, whichever one requires less effort. If Kanish isn’t a blessing, then I contend there’s no such thing. And as much as this is Kanish’s journey, I’m not sure he isn’t just along for the ride.