What They Do Before The Show: Wilco, Mavis Staples, Nick Lowe Jam Backstage

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I’ve always wondered what artists do backstage to warm up and get in the mood before a show. And my chats with Saul Williams, Ant of Atmosphere and Secret Machines all gave me a fantastic look in to the psychological, behavioral and emotional baselines of an artist before they perform.

And because of those experiences I began to experiment with the concept of a BAAD show. And see how Broken Social Scene does this too.

All this said, I love the above backstage video via Paste of Wilco, Mavis Staples and Nick Lowe, warming up backstage before their recent December show in Chicago at the Civic Opera House.

Watching the clip I thought about our amazing experience seeing Mavis Staples at the Hideout Block Party and the fact that Wilco is still one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.

How ’bout you?

What do you think of this backstage clip? Were you at the Civic Opera House or any of the other Wilco shows in December? Does watching this video change or enhance your concert experience?

Share your concert experiences and thoughts in the comments below, on Twitter @livefixmedia, on Facebook or call the concert fan hotline at 773-609-4341, and we’ll include them in a future episode of Live Fix Radio.

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The Second City Hosts 24-hour Charity Concert “Letters To Santa”

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Letters To Santa Second City Charity Concert

On Tuesday December 14th, for the ninth year running, The Second City will host “Letters To Santa” to benefit local Chicago families on Christmas Day. Here’s the low-down on how you can join the fun and spread holiday cheer during the 24-hour marathon event of live music and improv comedy.

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Live Fix Featured In The Wall Street Journal’s Live Music “Field Guide”

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Wall Street Journal field guide to live music Sean McCabe

Hi Everybody! I have some great news! Today John Jurgensen of the Wall Street Journal featured Live Fix in “A Field Guide To Live Music Online” and in his “Is Video Killing the Concert Vibe” article.
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What Is The Future Of The Super Bowl Halftime Show?

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Okay, I’ve had just about enough of this post-Super Bowl Halftime show letdown. And it seems like the halftime show gets safer and more predictable each year. It’s almost like the NFL and CBS suffer from some kind of leftover PTSD from Nipplegate. So what was missing and who should play next year? Will 3D and augmented reality (or you) change the future of the Big Game halftime show?
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Best (and Worst) Concert Moments of 2009

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Hold on there for a second all you eager concertgoers!

I’m excited to get started on a new year of shows too, but before we head full steam in to 2010 let’s check a few things first.

Let’s see what remains as tops in our hearts and minds after we spent so much time, money and energy going shows in 2009. 

Let’s celebrate last year’s live music adventures once last time and separate the righteous from the wicked.  
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Is Your Favorite Band A Great Live Band?

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What do you think makes a band a great live band?

Is it how well they play live?

Is it how well they interact with the fans during the show?

Is it how well they meet your expectations after the show?

Well, after reviewing Wilco’s live show for Ink19 a few weeks back I wrote how they are one of the best live bands touring today and possibly one of the best live bands ever.

I also wondered if they would ever put on a bad show.

I don’t think they will.

But you welcome to disagree with me.

But before you do.

Just take a look at these highlights from the show then argue with me in the comments.

These moments show how Wilco is a master of the live performance, knows how to interact with their fans, and meets (and exceeds) our expectations during a concert.

Tweedy humour

This show didn’t sell out like Sunday’s did which gave Tweedy a humorous angle to connect with fans telling them, “This is the first time ever we’ve invited anybody who wanted to come see us play…there’s plenty of seats available…”

Fans tweet emotions, grab the mic and then nail the chorus

As I followed the flood of Wilco fan tweets on the way to the concert, I had the pleasure of reading one fan expresss his excitment about seeing Wilco with his brother.

Then at the concert, a gorgeous moment blossomed during “Jesus, Etc.” when Tweedy let fans handle most of the vocals and they filled the Pavilion like they had been with Wilco for the whole tour as a traveling choir.

Tweedy turns Wilco fans against each other

Tweedy loved the fan’s performance during “Jesus, Etc.”and created a bit of good-humored animosity saying, “This night’s crowd is far superior, as if last night’s crowd didn’t even know the words.”

Vinyl is still alive

Later on Tweedy tossed a Wilco (the Album) LP in to the crowd that was instantly snatched up.  (If you were the fan that grabbed the album please say so. I’dlove to get your perspective too.)

So I ask you again, what do you think makes a band a great live band?

Does your favorite band meet your live concert expectations?

Photo credit Colleen Catania

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Concert Review: Wilco at UIC Pavilion

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Jeff Tweedy

Touring is not a sprint. It’s a long, tiring and exhausting marathon. But if you end up at home the payoff is worth it. Don’t believe me? Just ask Wilco.

Starting off this last show of their North American Wilco (The Album) tour, front man Jeff Tweedy spoke for the entire band and confessed unashamedly that “We’re all very tired and glad to be home.” Though Wilco’s physical stamina levels were low, they showed no signs of sonic or musical fatigue. They joked, wooed, and played their hearts out turning the show into a two-hour personification of the lyrics from “Wilco (The Song)” as Tweedy crooned “Wilco loves you, baby.”

Moving from smaller venues like the Aragon or Auditorium theatre, Wilco played an arena in Chicago for the very first time. The UIC Pavilion presented a new dynamic to their pioneering mix of alt-country, rock, and pop-folk ballads. It wasn’t as cozy as previous shows, but the spacious sports complex gave fans plenty of room to stretch out — although those on the main floor clumped closely towards the stage for maximum intimacy.

With a hint of humor, Wilco walked on stage to the tune of “The Price is Right” theme song playing on the PA. Then two songs in, the ominous electronic piano progressions of “Bull Black Nova” unfurled, giving way to an explosion of tangled guitars and drums and releasing magnificent waves of anxiety, terror, tension, and confusion on the crowd. It was as if they were finishing the story started on A Ghost Is Born’s “Spiders (Kidsmoke).”

This show didn’t sell out like Sunday’s did, which gave Tweedy a humorous angle to connect with fans, telling them, “This is the first time ever we’ve invited anybody who wanted to come see us play… There’s plenty of seats available.”

A gorgeous moment blossomed during “Jesus Etc.” when Tweedy let fans handle most of the vocals. They filled the Pavilion like they had been with Wilco for the whole tour as a traveling choir. Tweedy loved the fans’ performance and created a bit of good-humored animosity saying, “This night’s crowd is far superior; [it’s] as if last night’s crowd didn’t even know the words.” Later he also tossed a Wilco (the Album) LP into the crowd — that was instantly snatched up.

For two hours it was vintage Wilco. And aside from the “new” songs, the show didn’t present anything that I haven’t seen or experienced at a Wilco concert before. But still, it was nothing short of superb.

And I’m starting to wonder if Wilco will ever play a bad show. Because after seeing them on this tour there are a lot of reasons why I’d consider them one of the best live bands today, if not the last ten years. Like on the new album, there weren’t any big surprises or jarringly new songwriting explorations.

Yet what makes Wilco such a subtle yet overpoweringly excellent live band is their mix of musical precision, chemistry, and warmth. Tweedy weaves joy, misery, and hope into one verse and finds ways to interact with the fans by just being his goofy, quirky, and lovable self; meanwhile, Glenn Kotche (one the best drummers playing today) and the others players embrace the low profile and continue to sharpen and explore their craft. The fact that they’ve been at it for 15 years (the current lineup for four years) is testament to the fact that they don’t see touring and making music as a sprint, but a marathon.

With another solid album behind them and the live show nearly mastered, I wonder what’s next for Wilco. Will they continue with all the current members? Will Tweedy experiment with a new songwriting style? Will Kotche still have that a massive gong behind him on the next tour?

Whatever they do and wherever they take the next album, I’m sure that old fans will follow and new ones will be gained too. And maybe they’ll fill up the UIC Pavilion on both nights the next time around.

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Live Preview: Wilco (The Concert)

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It’s time for Wilco tonight. 

It’s the second of two shows at UIC Pavilion in Chicago. 

And seeing as I’ve passed out at a Wilco concert before and their 5 night residency at the Riveria during their last tour was fantastic, this will be the kind of show that I’ll bring with me all types of  memories and emotional touch points and triggers. We’ll see how my Ink19 review turns out.

Here are a few things I’ll be thinking about during the show:

  • I always wonder what a band does when they play back-to-back shows. Do they compare them in their mind or are they like  baseball players (when I played I used the  24-hour rule and only focused on a win or lose for that day then I moved on). So does a band just block the previous show out of their mind so they can focus on the present show.
  • Do they apply what they learn from the last show to make the second show better?
  • What level of change does the band experience with their emotional energy from one show to the next?
  • Does Wilco think of ways to make each show unique?
  • This will be Wilco’s final show of their recent tour, so will there be anything special for Chicago fans?
  • What will seeing Wilco in an arena be like, especially when they start playing “Just a Kid,” a song they contributed to the SpongeBob SquarePants movie soundtrack.

Tribune’s Greg Kot had this to say about Sunday’s concert.

Did you see last night’s show

Are you going tonight?

Follow my tweets on @chriscatania

 

Photo by Colleen Catania

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Don’t Do This at Your Next Concert

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Live Fix Experiment Results: Miike Snow &  The Tapping-On-My-Notepad Lady

These are no ordinary Live Fix Experiment results.

What I’m going to share with you is both rare and crucial to every fan’s live music experience.

It happened to me at the Miike Snow concert on Sept 25th. 

It was something that has never happened to me before.

It was something that I must share with you because the interaction I had with a fellow fan taught me a lesson that is of critical importance if we are to truly appreciate and respect the amazing diversity of our live music experiences.

During this Miike Snow concert at the Empty Bottle, I was conducting another Live Fix Experiment using Twitter, my Blackberry Storm and my Moleskine. 

I was loving the show and caught up in the wonderful throbing electronic pulse and frenzy vibe inside the Empty Bottle. 

Jumping back and forth from my Moleskine and Blackberry I was simultaneously sending out a flurry of tweets and scribbling down notes for later examination and recap. On the outside it might’ve seemed like a distraction to my enjoyment of the show, but actually it enhanced it.  Scribbling and tweeting are just a few of the ways that I enjoy the show.

And in the climax of Miike Snow’s hit anthem “Animal” a female fan reaches over and pokes me in the stomach and taps down hard on my Moleskin almost knocking it from my hand. And she says to me shaking her head and sipping her beer, “Just stop taking notes and enjoy the show.” 

Enjoy this!

Now,  let me say this first.

I appreciated the fellow fan interaction–and I always love when fans take the risk to reach out to perfect strangers at shows just for the sake of spreading the love and sharing the moment– but I have to be honest with you. I was pissed when she did that. It was really frickin’ annoying. 

But at the same time I felt sad for this confused and misguided fan.

LFTakingNotes

my post tap tweet

Because she, though she probably had good intentions, had failed to see beyond her near-sighted concert enjoyment perspective. And she probably thinks that the only way to enjoy the show was in the same way she was. 

So I smiled at her and just let her speak her peace. And we went our separate ways of enjoying the rest of the show. 

But you know what? 

I regret that I didn’t have the chance to tell her that she had sadly misjudge me and my note-taking.  I’d really like the chance to ask her a few questions. Why did she do this?  Does she normally do this at concerts to other fans?  Or was this a case of chemicals lowering her inhibitions to the point where she felt comfortable telling me how I should be enjoying Miike Snow?

I’m not sure how she would have answered those questions. But I can confidently say that this particular fan was, on some level, very aware and capable. And she knew exactly what she was doing. 

Because when she tapped on my Moleskine and gave me her misguided advice, she proudly smiled at me like she was doing me some great favor of a lifetime.  Like she was some sort of  live music do-gooder  protecting the live music experience from being tarnish by note-taking-social-media-texting-tweeting freaks like me. 

But, sadly, she only rippd me right out of my zone of pleasure and flung me into a moment of annoyance and displeasure. Which, I’m sure, was actually the opposite of what she hoped to do.

This Just In:  Every Fan Has Their Own Way of Enjoying a Concert

I tell you this story because you need to know this about your fellow fans.  And I tell you this as a friendly and sincere word of caution. I tell you this because I care about you and your concert experiences. 

We all enjoy live music in different ways.  Some of us write or tweet. Some of us tap our feet and let the inner-mind do the dancing and wiggling. Some of us let loose in all directions and dance, sing or shout to abandon.  And some of us have no idea at all how to handle the social anxieties and rush of excitement that live music creates in us.

Yes, we all need to have our boundaries and comfort zones extended. But let’s not mistake a helping hand tapping on someone’s notepad for a misguiding missile destroying someone else’s enjoyment.  

Again, by all means, talk to your fellow fan, give them a fist bump during a great riff moment, toss them the devil horns when the band is killing it during your favorite song. 

Share a hearty WOOT with everyone else in the venue. Concerts are suppose to places for deep emotional connection with others. It’s why we spend our hard earn cash to see a show. 

But PLEASE don’t push another fan out of their own moment of enjoyment just because it’s not exactly what you think they should be doing.  Because when you do, you’re actually ruining the moment for them. It’s a fine line to walk. I know. 

How are you suppose to know when to say hello or interact with a fellow fan during a concert? 

Well, there are ways. 

I’ve had the pleasure of being asked what I was writing on my notepad by a fan once during a Wilco show and I found out right at that moment that when this fan looked at my notepad it was a life-changing experience for him.  I was honored to be a part of such a sacred moment for a fellow fan (I’m still amazed that my notepad scribblings can have such an impact on someone).

So when I think of how to interact with fellow fans I think of moments like that. So though it may seem hard and difficult to know when we should tap a fellow friend on the shoulder and “interrupt” their moment of pleasure.  But I know we can do it.  It really just takes what I call “common concert sense.”  I know we may not all have the same amount of “common concert sense” but I’d like to believe that we all have enough to know what to do when we see a fellow fan enjoying the show in a different way than us.

Silly actions couldn’t steal this show

Luckily, the Tapping-On-My-Notepad-Lady didn’t ruin the whole show.  It only caused a brief moment of fan-to-fan frustration that quickly passed once I moved away from the fan. And I was able to purge some of my frustration by tweeting this fan’s silly actions. 

Then I relied on Miike Snow  to take care of the rest.  And they did by putting on a great show that was a fabulous mix of terror and ecstasy.

Check out the videos below on the Live Fix YouTube Channel to see how it went. I did some experiments with light, sound and pleasure.  You’ll also see how I was part of a pre-Halloween fright rock intro.

Download Miike Snow via Miike

Where you at this Miike Snow show? 

Has a fellow fan ever ripped you from a moment of pleasure?

Photo by Colleen Catania

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Remembering Wilco’s Jay Bennett

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Getting back from the Indy 500 on Sunday, I was greeted by the unfortunate news that ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett had died. It goes without saying that this news was sad. And for me the connection and one of the reasons to mourn was linked to Bennett’s masterful production and contributions to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, one of my favorite Wilco  albums, most notably the song “I’m The Man Who Loves You,”  a song that made it into the playlist on my wedding day in 2004. 


I would like to share with you a few quotes from Greg Kot’s 5/25 article that captured Bennett’s commitment to his live performances, a commitment that, according the early reports on Bennett’s death, was also related to him taking pain medication for hip injuries sustained during numerous live show stage dives. 

“Jay Bennett was a master in the recording studio, the type of talent who could pick up almost any instrument and make music on it. On stage, he could be a whirling, chain-smoking, dreadlocked dervish. As a key member of Wilco and a prolific artist and producer for other bands, Bennett had a reputation as a musical obsessive who chased perfection.”

He also reported on his MySpace site that he would need hip replacement surgery, after years of pounding his body in performances on stage: “… a decade plus of multiple nightly stage jumps and various other rock and roll theatrics had finally taken a toll that I could no longer merely deal with or ignore.”

Bennett’s battle with the pain because of his nightly stage dives has me thinking about the beating an artist’s body can take when they’re as fully committed to their live performance as Bennett was.

And the injuries Bennett ensued over time from his nightly stage dives also led me to think about one of the sub-stories to Bennett’s death:  The ongoing battle that musicians face in their fight to afford adequate health insurance and it’s connection to the emotional, physical and mental commitment we expect from the artist and vice versa.

Some artists express their commitment to put on a great show in different ways whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally.  

And in Bennett’s case, one of the ways he expressed his love and commitment for a great live performance  was by jumping into the crowd with complete abandonment. And I respect that.  

But I wonder, and this might be some of my own guilt and grief talking, but still I wonder; do fans owe more to artists when the giving of the artist starts to take its toll on him like it did with Bennett?

What can fans do when it comes to helping musicians like Bennett who give of themselves 100% during a show and then end up with injuries that need surgery and adequate health insurance to deal with the pain?  

And what level of responsibility should fans assume when it comes to supporting the artist when their body begins to give out because of the commitment we expect, and benefit from, during a show?

And what is the limit to what a fan should be expected to do to help an artist, like Bennett,  who needs help paying for hip surgery?

Tough questions to ask in such a time filled with grief and sadness, but this is just my way of sorting things out; much like I did when I wrote these two pieces for Popmatters and Being There  as I struggled through cycles of grief and loss, navigating my emotions in the wake of the deaths of friends over the last few years.

What do you think about this?  How do you deal with the death of one of your respected and cherished musicians?

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Bennett family and the live music community he was apart of.

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Shaking Off The Dust of Wilco’s Ashes of American Flags

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He’s so right. I completely agree with Ben Rubenstein as he reflects in his MixTape Confessions Popmatters column on a recent trip to see Wilco’s concert/tour film Ashes of American Flags at the Music Box in Chicago.

Ben says that the crowd in the theatre was surprisingly subdued and that it made the screening of the film that much more of a downer. And I know exactly what he’s taking about. Because the crowd has way more power over a performance than we realize. Though this screening wasn’t actually a live concert I connected with Ben’s insight when he riffs on the feelings of having your expectations come crashing down.

Without going into the show with the right perspective and realistic expectations, watching a concert film of your favorite band (especially if you weren’t at the show featured in the film) can be like eating leftovers expecting them to taste  as sweet and succulent as the original meal.

I have yet to see Ashes of American Flags, but  I was surprised to learn that it doesn’t feature any Chicago shows but instead is filmed at the 9:30 club in Washington D.C. Probably another reason why Rubenstein and the crowd watched in subdued exhilaration as a hometown Chicago band played infront of a non-Chicago crowd forever captured in time and history on the silver screen and a forthcoming DVD.

Seeing Wilco live holds a special spot in my concertgoers heart on many levels as my experience of having a medical emergency at a 2006 show and last year’s Riveria show were both inspirations for Live Fix posts and personal concert highlights. Like most Wilco fans, I was also bummed when the original plans to release the footage from Wilco’s Chicago Theatre shows  for Kicking Television were aborted.  Nonetheless I’ll be sure to check out Ashes of American Flags and get back to you should there be any more insights.

Have you seen the Wilco film?  What’d you think of it?

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The Risk Artists Take When Performing Live

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I wanted to share this article I came across last week. It’s written by Chicago Independent Music Review and it focuses on a crucial aspect of live performance I’ve always thought about during live shows.

It piggybacks on a thought the writer had after reading an interview where Radiohead’s Tom Yorke reflected on a conversation he had with REM’s Michael Stipe after the release of OK, Computer.

“the expressiveness of a performer can never be reconciled with the consistent need for adoration/ feelings of inequity that undeniably come with the territory. In other words, it is a razor’s edge that the songwriter walks – having to bare one’s soul to the world while praying that the exorcism is thoroughly enjoyed, accepted, and shared by those who may not have the slightest understanding of the experience. To speak even more plainly, to be a rock star, you must be absolutely confident in what you do but, be completely insecure with the broken experiences and shifting reality you’ve created. This creation is a direct cause of massive anxiety and introversion, being that by most definitions, your “art” is defined by how many other people enjoy it. So the challenge, the standard as to what is “good” in opposition to that which is “great” would be the singer/songwriter/performer’s ability to be in two places at once, absolutely sure that they are unsure – this tiny, curious grain is completely instrumental to relating with an audience – and it can’t be taught, there are no lessons to learn it, only an ability that most don’t have, but all can see.”

The article elaborates on the truth that, as songwriters, artists take a massive risk.

What risk is that, exactly?

Well, as the writer points out, when an artist writes a truly expressive song, that song is inspired by a deeply emotional event. And in a live setting it’s almost impossible to truly convey that experience and have the audience understand that experience in its entirety.

So, as Stipe points out to Yorke, artists either do or don’t have the ability to overcome the fact that the complete meaning of a song won’t fully “connect” with an audience, or worse the meaning might be misunderstood.

The part I love about this short article is how it speaks to the fact that the audience might not get the entire meaning of the emotional outpouring. And that, ultimately, the song that the artist created alone in their “bedroom” with such deep meaning is now, destined to “be defined by how much other people enjoy it.”

But can a song really change, or lose, its meaning based on how a crowd responds to it live?

This really made me rethink my take on songs being used in commercials, especially after I heard the Smashing Pumpkins “Today” used in a Visa commercial recently.

This article made me rethink how the same thing happens when a band gives their song to be used in a commercial. Both live performance and commercial use take a certain amount of willingness on the artist’s part. And in both cases, the song and the emotions behind it, are undergoing a similar emotional reskining, or in extreme cases, a complete emotional rewiring.

It’s hard to face that fact that there are similarities between the two, but the truth is that very rarely will a crowd tap into the exact set of emotions an artist conjured to create a song, whether it’s during a show or while watching a commercial.

What usually happens is that, at a show or at home, a fan ends up somewhere in the ballpark of the songwriters intended emotion depending, of course, on what the fan’s emotional state is like during the show, or how the song is used in the commercial and what they’re selling.

Then, whether the artist is ready or not, the fan is now in complete control of the song’s emotional steering wheel. And that’s a huge risk for any creative person to take.

But does this emotional transition impact really change the “meaning” of the song. Is the song still the same? And does the audience know that they have that much power over the artist?

It’s hard to think that a band’s performance can be so open to interpretation and end up being so far from its intended meaning and original emotional epicenter.

But as Tom Yorke reflected on the advice from Stipe, this is the risk a songwriter takes when you decided to share your art with the world.

I’ve told many people that whether or not I think their music is good or not, I respect all musicians these days for many reasons and one in particular:

Being an artist in this day and age not only involves the risk of having your music emotionally reskinned, or completely rewired by a live audience, but, in the age of The Long Tail, there’s also the risk of going through the whole songwriting process and never having the chance to play in front of an audience at all.

In short, as an artist, you give up a lot when you decided to move from the safety of the bedroom to the uncertainty of the stage. So you best be ready for the challenge.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Wilco songs “What Light.”

There’s a couple verses that always choke me up when I hear it.

Because the truth in these verses speaks directly this topic.

“And if the whole world’s singing your songs
And all of your paintings have been hung
Just remember what was yours is everyone’s from now on

And that’s not wrong or right
But you can struggle with it all you like
You’ll only get uptight…”

And I think this fan gets the point. But how about you?

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