review of 9/5/96 cmj keynote address

[contributed by Gayle Keleman]

Patti's keynote address to the CMJ (College Music Journal) convention, a music industry event, served as a "rallying of the troops"--in regards to ideologies, ethics, and social responsibility within the music industry.

Patti started the keynote by saying that she had spent some time wondering why "we" would want her to speak at the CMJ convention, and why she would to give this talk. So she investigated her own motivations for giving the talk. And, although she didn't say this out loud, at least part of her motivation seemed to be to tell those of us in the music business to investigate our own motivations.

She told us that Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It" really struck her at an early age. She also said early in her talk that she is trying to "fulfill my duty not to misrepresent my heart..." and "to mine self be true."

She discussed rock 'n roll ("It's a word"), calling it the first real art form of the people--"a true popular voice" because "[it has the] most potential to be pure." Then she said, "And it is this voice that is the most tampered with." Patti placed a great deal of emphasis on not "tampering with an artist's vision"; that artists should be able to do their own thing. And she spoke of the possibilities offered by rock and roll, because it is a "form they (the 'masses') can contribute to. They can do it themselves." When people listen to rock, they are inspired to create their own music and to actively participate in the music, to do more than just be the audience.

She talked about the co-existence of form in music, and how she wished that it existed in/on radio; imagining a station that would play pop, blues, folk, and jazz in a single set. "We shouldn't segregate our own history," she stated. She continued by speaking of the imbalance of power in media; specifically radio, but other media and aspects of the music industry as well. Patti warned that "the integrity of this form will be lost." She felt that the medium through which music flows should "not just entertain, inspire, or influence." She encouraged people to take action; to make their opinions known if they didn't like the state of radio. "We can't blame or complain. That's not enough."

When discussing the different names we've come up with for music, she said--and this got quite the response--"I took off for 10 or 20 years, and you guys went label happy."

She talked about the last scene of the movie Tom Horn, starring Steve McQueen, in which McQueen's character, "the benevolent bounty hunter," gets killed as punishment, and but that she preferred his character to the crooked sheriffs who know they're wrong but are unable to react in a moral way. Patti said that one should question oneself everyday, about the motives for our actions. "I gotta ask myself everyday too. Sometimes I don't answer."

A question and answer session followed her talk. "Maybe I'm an unsympathetic old codger," Patti said after comments from folks who felt their work was mislabeled; were happy with the recent increase in female musical artists; or couldn't find the right people to work with. To the person who felt his band, named Total Sexual Freedom, was mislabeled, she responded, "As Jesus said, 'Those who hear will hear.'" She later asked him if the band came with condoms and talked about how the concept of total sexual freedom was non-existent in the time of AIDS. She explained that he needed to think about what message was conveyed by the name of the band.

When a member of the band Hush (a female band member) commented about women being able to express themselves in music on their own terms, Patti replied "I pioneer for people."

Patti answered another question by saying she thought the "communication network" of "people talking about music on the Internet" was "a positive thing." She said, "They're talking about music now, but that could expand to politics."

One person asked how she landed on Arista Records. "...There's the other Arista artists and then there's you..." Patti replied that Clive Davis "had Barry Manilow and Melissa Manchester. So naturally I was the third choice." She went on to say that Arista might not be the right label for her to be on and that they might not know how to market her, but "I have lived a clean existence on that label....and to me, that means a lot." (In other words, they have never tampered with her music.) She compared her relationship with Arista with that of Al Kaline and the Detroit Tigers.

Someone asked her about the Grateful Dead--if she was going to do a Grateful Dead song at her Summerstage show [scheduled for the night after the CMJ talk]. She recalled that she and the band were recording the night Jerry Garcia died. She saw a picture of Garcia taped a wall when she arrived at the studio and felt/knew in her heart that he was gone. The band was supposed to record "About a Boy" that evening and decided instead to record "Black Peter" (to be used as a B-side of a single.) And she added, "They [the Dead] were on Arista."

Other comments (out of context but worth repeating):

"Everything great requires sacrifice."
"Try to be the good apple that spoils the bad ones."
"Search your hearts."
While this was not the most organized speech I've heard, I was on the verge of tears throughout much of it. But Patti let us "breathe" a bit by making some really funny comments. What a sense of humor she has! She walked on stage wearing sunglasses and commented that she wanted to look cool and hoped somebody took her photo while she was wearing them. She explained how she and her son Jackson communicated about music by yelling: "Turn off that damned Metallica!". And she laughed about her own disorganization.

It was a good keynote: serious, funny, and very moving. Patti seemed somewhat nervous, but decidedly down-to-earth throughout..

Copyright © Gayle Keleman 1996

back to babelogue