Weekly Roundup: Today In Naples Edition

BO KNOWS. If you are a man of, shall we say, a certain age, you most likely recall the Nike ad campaign from 1989 that suggested Bo Jackson wasn’t just a sui generis athlete with professional-level talent in both football and baseball, but that he was brilliant at a variety of other sports, such as road cycling, hockey, and surfing. The irony of the campaign is that the sporting press crucified Jackson for being a two-sport superstar quite a bit more often than they lionized him for it. “Pick one or the other,” they’d screech, with the common opinion being that Jackson should focus on baseball since it paid better and rarely crippled its participants. After a career-ending football injury, Jackson spent four more years playing baseball before retiring at the age of thirty-two.

Jackson was neither the first nor the last casualty of our collective national unwillingness to allow the famous or talented to escape their pigeonholes. Be an NFL player or a major league slugger — but under no circumstances should you be both. We like to freeze people at the moment they enter the national imagination. Any attempt to deviate from that results in opprobrium at best and obscurity at worst. Ask Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell… or Marcus Mumford. On exceptionally rare occasions, we will permit a move from rapping to acting (cf. Ice Cube, Ice-T) but attempts to move in the other direction are treated as comic relief.

Kenny Gorelick, aka Kenny G, made a name for himself as a smooth-jazz superstar, earning a sharp diss track from Pat Metheny in the process. At the age of forty-two, he decided to veer back towards the “real jazz” that he played in his youth. No such luck. So he returned to the smooth jazz, with a roundly ridiculed detour into investment management. Today, he’s back out there playing the music people want to hear, which is the music he recorded a quarter-century ago.

It makes me wonder: what does it take to have a successful second act? How do you convince an adoring (or despising) public that you’re not the same person you were five, or ten, or twenty-five years ago? How do you go about securing permission to be, in Thoreau’s words, the new wine in the old bottle? At what point will people stop asking Kenny G to play that one song? I can’t say that I have the answer, but I have a few ideas. More on that to come.

This week I talked to IMSA racer Dion von Moltke and had him criticize my wife’s driving.

31 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: Today In Naples Edition”

  1. AvatarHarryC

    > you’re not the same person you were five, or ten, or twenty-five years ago?

    Some success stories come to mind. Neil Patrick Harris just sort of went away, then reasserted himself playing vastly against type (“Harold and Kumar”), and bifucating himself in “Dr. Horrible” and HIMYM.

    I think musicians have it the worst, as music freezes people in nostalgia and it’s _what they want_. Per my understanding, that’s why Zeppelin stopped touring–they didn’t want to play “Stairway” anymore, but it’s all people wanted. The old stuff.

    • Avatartrollson

      You’re missing the point. NPH is still an actor. He doesn’t even play very different roles.

      I think the problem with Kenny G is the branding. He created his elevator music brand and that’s what he’s known for. If he wants to play jazz, he should start from scratch and call himself something else. Maybe Ken Gore or something.

      Then when you break out your Ken Gore jazz record, you could impress some dumb bimbo by saying look, its really Kenny G. And she can be all like “OHMYGAAWD”

    • Avatarrnc

      Not to often you see a reference to the franco prussian war.

      Neil Young seems to be one of the few musicians to make it last over two generations, but then he made whatever he wanted without regard to his previous sounds.

  2. Avatarhank chinaski

    I’m old enough that the ‘X knows Y’ slogan ended up on our class T-shirt.

    To switch acts two things help, one being mandatory: A, not have a penis. B, fit whatever narrative your handlers/ paymasters/ the cathedral wants to best make use of you. See ‘Hannah Montana’ and ‘Bruce Jenner’.

    Not my wheelhouse, but IIRC Micheal Jordan was tolerated, at least as a hobby/goof because of his position.

  3. AvatarDougD

    I wouldn’t be too worried about the diss from Pat Metheny, that guy has been wearing the same shirt for 40 years. And like Kenny G, he’s developed his routine and he keeps doing it, and it keeps paying the bills.

    The chances of a different and equally successful 2nd act seem slim. Better to be like Jerry Garcia, who kept up the unfulfilling grind of the Grateful Dead to pay the bills, and performed other music on the side that he found more interesting but less lucrative. However it’s best to steer clear of the large scale drug consumption.
    And the blue and white striped shirts.

    • Avatarjc

      Yeah, I thought that the guy who has played essentially one tune for the last 40 years, just slathering that horrible “oooh-oooh-oooh” fake vocal synth pad over everything, criticizing Kenny G for a lack of taste, was pretty amusing. I’ve never understood the adulation for Metheny. To me all his stuff sounds like the tracks they decided not to include on the latest Yanni album.

  4. Avatardejal

    For someone who successfully did what they wanted, when the wanted and how they wanted I give you Neil Young. Folk,

    Jack White to a lesser degree does what he wants. Different bands/ different players.

    I’ll even stick Metallica into that group. It’s still Metallica at all times, but they will push the new when touring.

    • AvatarDaniel J

      I used to think that about Metallica but after Napster, they left a bad taste in my mouth. They still make good music but I’m just not as sold.

      Tool is my band of choice when talking about doing what they want when they want.

      Sometimes musicians are very successful detouring off their money making Gig, sometimes not.

  5. AvatarComfortablyNumb

    I kind of like Thoreau’s answer to your question: if you labor at something long enough that it becomes you, or vice versa, you’ll – justifiably – feel like a new man in the old. Then you can think about repackaging the product. I’m sure John Mayer would self-subscribe to this group. I would agree, though a lot of his “fan” probably view his blues work as sailing under false colors.

    • Avatardejal

      That’s pretty good!

      I knew the name and knew she was a bit of a train wreck for awhile but that was about it. Nice to see someone carrying the torch for “Not rap”. Unfortunately in today’s world doing that will mean you probably won’t have a huge career. Nothing wrong with not being huge if you are happy or at least having an outlet to express yourself that leaves you satisfied.

  6. Avatarstingray65

    I believe teen idol Ricky Nelson wrote a song about this called Garden Party, which ironically became his first big hit in many years and joined his play list of oldies. In the non-musical genre, the most successful cross-overs have been auto racers, although it happens much less frequently in recent times than back in the 1950s to 70s. John Surtees (GP bike champion and F1 champion), Mario Andretti (Indy champion, F1 champion, Daytona 500 winner, endurance sports car winner), AJ Foyt (same as Andretti except swap out F1 for USAC dirt track champion), Jimmy Clark, and many more did very well in very different types of races and cars. Of course top drivers were paid peanuts in those days so they raced anything on free weekends to get another check, but it would be interesting to see how well top drivers in Nascar, F1, Indy, sports cars, etc. would do if they switched around on a weekly basis. Montoya is probably the closest recent example, but he never did real well in Nascar and never raced in multiple series at the same time.

    • AvatarRick T

      …Played them all the old songs, thought that’s why they came
      No one heard the music, we didn’t look the same
      I said hello to “Mary Lou”, she belongs to me
      When I sang a song about a honky-tonk, it was time to leave

      But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
      You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself

      Someone opened up a closet door and out stepped Johnny B. Goode
      Playing guitar like a-ringin’ a bell and lookin’ like he should
      If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck
      But if memories were all I sang, I rather drive a truck

    • Avatarjc

      Aaaahhh, it’s always got to be “Summertime” or “Funny Valentine” when classicos try to play jazz.

      Howscome we never see them doing “Fables of Faubus” or “Giant Steps” or “Love for Sale” or “Lonely Woman”?

  7. AvatarCliffG

    I guess if you get famous for one gig, it is hard to move to something different. However, in this day and age, unless you have been elected to Congress at an early age, you are most likely to move around to at least three completely disparate careers over your lifetime. So, ordinary people have to reinvent themselves fairly constantly. I am sure the members of Led Zeppelin weep every month as their royalty checks for Stairway to Heaven roll in.

  8. AvatarJeff Zekas

    What does it take to have a successful second act? Simple: be BETTER than you were, the first time around. Kenny Loggins and Paul Simon made worse music, later in life, and were (fairly) criticised for the garbage they made (perhaps to pay off ex-wives). And look at Johnny Depp’s fall (again, after a messy break up). If you are a good baseball player, and they you become an EXCELLENT Formula One driver, no one will question your rebirth.

  9. AvatarShrug

    Musicians really do have it the worst in terms of never being able to move on from their past.

    Against Me! once had bleach dumped on their merch table and their van’s tires slashed just because they signed with a sorta-kinda-not-really “major” label.

    It took them like 12 years, the lead singer coming out as transgendered, and a shift to independently publishing their music for them to be “accepted” again.

    In those 12 years they put on some great shows and let out some killer songs, but to a certain community it never mattered.

    They changed and ever-so-slightly grew up (see: “I Was a Teenaged Anarchist”). That particular sect of their fan base though couldn’t match that maturity. They were crust punk lifers, and any who attempted to move on from the scene were viewed as traitors and heretics, capitalist scum who weren’t down with the cause. To them that’s a death sentence.

    Gaslight Anthem also comes to mind. They had a punky-Springsteen sound and followed similar motifs of girls, nostalgia, the loss of youth, and a blue-collar upbringing. While those themes rarely changed, their sound did. Slightly at first, and steadily more pronounced. Again to their fan base and professional critics this was an affront to good taste! Never mind that Gaslight was regularly made fun of for frequently mentioning things like a girl named Maria or The Radio before this shift. It just could never be good enough for some.

    I saw Gaslight at their 10 year anniversary show for The ‘59 Sound in Asbury. They were older, and so was the crowd. I was among the youngest there, and I felt like it. The people in the crowd though, they went wild for the songs of their youth. The band played a 1.5 hour long set of just whatever they wanted from their discography.

    It seemed as though both sides forgave each other. The crowd for the band abandoning their early sounds, the band for the crowd abandoning them.

    I don’t have a good closing other than to say that making a living solely on the whims of the public seems daunting and defeating. I don’t always envy those who made it.

  10. AvatarAoLetsGo

    I have been following Jade Bird lately. A little lass from Wales and a confident, creative dynamo. Her songs are all very different and so far she has retained control of how her record will be produced. She is only 21 but has been writing a song a day since she was 12. Some call her the next Janis Joplin but I think Jade has a lot more depth than Janis.

  11. Avatarjc

    How about Miles Davis? He had four or five “next acts”.

    Charles Ives – from insurance executive to avant-garde composer.

    Randy Wayne White – from fishing guide to best-selling mystery writer.


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