Masters of Reinvention: Simulcasting with string theorists

By Victoria Rowan

As Tom Wolfe pointed out in Bonfire of the Vanities, the 20th Century Masters of the Universe were doomed for extinction. So I am happy to report I now have sufficient corroborating evidence for my theory that the 21st Century is destined to be the golden age of the Masters of Reinvention. Yes, the era of giant cold-blooded reptilian cads is being supplanted as you skim this blogpost dear reader by a new era of intelligent, collaborative upstanding mammals. And as the new self-certified expert of this social substrata, I can tell you they are identifiable by their fact-more-fantastical-than-fiction website bios and their penchant for distinctive hair styles and hats.

How did I arrive at this Andy-Warhol-ian anthropological aphorism (himself a fan of fine wiggery)? Here’s a recap of my a-ha! fieldwork day:

April 8th 2009 started out as a normal enough workaholic Wednesday until my boyfriend (himself a reinvention wunderkind with an over-the-top head of hair I find ever-so-swoony) invites me to a lunchtime chamber music concert. However, this was no ordinary chamber, and this was no ordinary concert. This was a performance by Glenn Tilbrook, of past and present Squeeze fame. And it was in the catacombs of the Neue-Bauhaus townhouse and music studios of Edward A. Bennett, of past and present Forbes-recognized media mogul fame. The guy giving out these golden tickets was Dusty Wright (note the coyboy hat and soul patch), past Editor-in-Chief of Creem, presently the impresario behind the podcasting hub CultureCatch.com, whose tagline is: “hooked on smart culture.”

Sitting there in the subterranean speakeasy-like darkness (having flashbacks to the Six Degrees bacchanals (now RainDance) I had attended there years before), it occurred to me that I was surrounded by walking-talking avatars of string theory: all of these guys are simultaneously succeeding in several parallel universes at once. And as everyone knows, the law of three makes an irrefutable cultural trend!

Take Tilbrook. One week he’s performing with his reunited band Squeeze at a sold-out Radio City Music Hall, each member basking in their own ginormous dressing room (where Wright interviewed him for another CultureCatch podcast last fall). Soon afterwards, he’s back to on the road with his own indie band, “Glenn Tilbrook and the Fluffers,” driving to dressing-room-less gigs in his un-glam breakdown-prone tour bus. As he says of this surreal situation, “When I’m performing with Squeeze, we have become our own best tribute band, rediscovering our own music.…And then with the Fluffers, we’re schlepping around our own stuff again, sleeping on people’s floors. I don’t recommend it, but it makes you a band.”

There’s Bennett hanging out at the periphery in a porkpie hat, a serious long-lens camera hanging from his neck, for all appearances a central casting cliché of a photographer for hire. Nothing about his deliberately self-effacing appearance would ever clue you in that his business world moonlighting still brings in the kind of big bucks that even rock stars would envy.

Glenn Tilbrook playing at Bennett Media Studios in the West Village

Glenn Tilbrook playing at Bennett Media Studios

And Wright, ever the affable soul-patched interviewer, rocker and producer who has gone by many names. That Wednesday he filled every seat in the house with people he’s Linkedin-to from a different line-item of his long-tail resume including: star-struck PR flacks from one of his equipment sponsors, a couple who had seen him lecture at a digital broadcasting convention, an electric redheaded singer he’s wants to interview next, and then my boyfriend who had met Wright playing music on an Upper West Side townhouse stoop. He also has fronted many bands and currently releases as both a solo artist and with the “chamber art rock quintet” GIANTFingers.

Glenn Tilbrook with Dusty Wright chatting pre-concert

Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze and The Fluffers with CultureCatch.com co-founder/host Dusty Wright

As for Tilbrook’s concert: it was extraordinarily homey, emphasis on the extraordinary quality of the hominess. Here were all were, lounging around in the basement rec room of a house where the kitchen upstairs has been the set for various cooking shows including a Bobby Flay pilot and Arianna Huffington had filmed an interview in the living room. The homemade cupcakes were each still-life painting perfect, courtesy of Magnolia Bakery (courtesy of Wright’s wife’s involvement in that business). Izze donated the post-modern-softdrinks. My boyfriend’s shoelace was temporarily reassigned to connect Tilbrook’s guitar strap. Tilbrook’s wife solicitously followed him around with warm lemon tea as he’s recovering from a bad cold and “trying not to sound too Dylan-esque.” When he realized how close the cameras and lighting would be, Tilbrook became a little self-conscious, toweling his face between songs and warning the cameraman, “dignity and I aren’t the best of friends.” But after he launched into a few numbers from his Fluffers’ “Pandemonium Ensues” album, it’s clear why he’s been such a popular performer since the ‘70s. He’s got an impish Benny Hill babyface crossed with the warmth of the local bartender that invites confessions, plus a gusto for rocking his heart out that is irresistible. Even though we all knew that in the parallel surface world it was still a sparkling springy sunshiny day, Tilbrook created that kind of late-night-second-wind vibe that makes you forget about last call and want to hang out at the club till dawn.

Appropriate to an event produced by Masters of Reinvention, the maxim “the only constant in life is change” was the theme of the day. In the pre-performance chat, Wright and Tilbrook discussed the new reality and new freedoms of the digitally distributed music world with genuine enthusiasm rather than with bitter nostalgia. The very building itself (having been over the years five stories, then two, then completely rebuilt by Bennett) was an apt physical metaphor for all the industry’s paradigm changes. And now it juggles multiple hats, serving the same day as both a mogul’s mansion and as a collection of multimedia studios just as capable of producing a wide variety of broadcast-quality material as any inside 30 Rock.

When Wright asked Tilbrook about the challenges of writing edgy rock music now that he’s a happily married father of four, Tilbrook unhesitatingly replied, “I’m now 51 and family life has given me rich pickings for my music.” Exhibit A: this hilariously harrowing moment described in “Best of Times:”
It was early in the morning you were laying on the floor
The person that I love most dearly
Our baby wasn’t mean to come for six weeks more
But the best laid plans can go wrong clearly
I called the ambulance and offered you some tea, you laughed
I’m trying to pack your bag and proving that I’m not the better half

Or this love song, “Still,” depicting people who actually sound happy to be of a certain age without being “smug marrieds:”
I couldn’t help myself but think you were fantastic
self-sufficient, organized and enthusiastic…
Building up not whittling down a total charmer
We’re together and it’s right no chaos or drama…
We can laugh at most things we’re facing
I’m so happy that we’re embracing….
I know you love me, other times can’t stand me
Want to punch my lights out
Though sometimes I’m handy
I spit the dummy and sometimes bicker
But you make my pulse go much quicker
It’s not over the top to say I’m thrilled
Still….

Stay tuned: I predict all these guys still have many more parallel lives to live that will be well worth watching–in podcasts or in the next new media format that comes along.

Victoria C. Rowan has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Moscow Times, National Public Radio and many others. A longtime producer of literary events in New York City, she was the Artistic Programmer for the 92nd St. Y/Unterberg Poetry Center’s 2006-7 literature series featuring the world’s greatest living writers. Since leaving Mediabistro.com, where she developed its nationwide school for media professionals, she has founded her own enterprise, Ideasmyth.com, which won a 2008 DailyCandy “Sweetest Thing” Award. She is also the writing expert for Ask.com.

Last 5 posts by Victoria Rowan

Posted on 20 Apr 2009 at 9:55am
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  1. [...] been chronicling for CityScoopsNY.com: Masters of Reinvention: Simulcasting with String Theorists http://www.cityscoopsny.com/?p=435 & Poetic License: The Academy of American Poets “Poetry & The Creative Mind” Benefit [...]

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