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Cheers for the Bland

Cheers for the Bland!

by Roger Young / 07.09.2009

Each to their own I say. And to that end I was determined to go see Watershed at the Botanic Gardens, hoping to erase the hate from my heart and try work out why they are so popular, for socio-anthropological purposes. Again I failed. I more than failed, I ran screaming from the enclosure before they even began.

Upon arrival what struck me most about Durban Day was how many people were not facing the stage. Thousands of people and really only about a fifth of them were in any reasonable proximity to be able to see or experience the stage. Durban Day it seems may be an outdoor daytime live music concert, but really, as evidenced by the crowd’s non reaction to The Arrows, it’s more about balloons and boerewors than rocking out.

Until Jason from Idols comes on stage. Man, I totally get how, at an event sponsored by a radio station whose playlist is filled with past radio hits, a guy belting out cover versions of those hits is, well, perfect. I mean, in order for an alternative to exist, there must be a mainstream right? But if this is our mainstream then, well, I’m sad. Anyway the audience are up on their feet and loving it, so that’s good right? My phone rings during the inevitable “Where the Streets have No Name” cover, it’s the friend I left my camera with, I ask her where she is? “Halfway between the stage and hell,” she says.

When John Ellis from Tree63 comes on the crowd gets up. Well the first four rows get up, everyone else continues to eat, look for lost children and throw stones into the goose-free lake. Two things. One I think that the geese have fucked off because they’re not digging the music either, and two it’s not a lake so much as a large pond. Music By The Lake should maybe have a name rethink. So there are a whole lot of people sitting in chairs singing along to the famous Tree63 song and then John Ellis goes into a Mike Sutcliffe joke and I’m struck by how lazy the whole thing is. Sutcliffe gets a laugh, like a monkey slipping on a banana, no need for actual social commentary. I’m there to poke fun at Watershed, another easy target, the people are there for a day in the sun, the line up isn’t really a concern, so the organisers have booked the easiest bands for this environment. And it’s not like they don’t know about music, being that this gig was organised by Oppikoppi. Maybe it’s because I get to see a lot of really good bands that I wonder why these totally average bands, John Ellis segueing into a “Wonderwall” cover, should even be allowed on stage. But the audience is digging it in a non-involved way, so what do I know?

As Watershed’s setup begins I have to leave, because in the golden sunset, with all these people enjoying themselves because they are there and there is music they don’t have to engage with fully, I just find it a little sad that there are all these amazing bands in South Africa right now, who are pushing the boundaries and struggling in small apartments, in lousy jobs, who play better music, who could do with the kind of pay cheque that a gig like this warrants. I can see all sorts of people having a good time around me, and maybe that’s as it should be, but somehow the knowledge that one of the best bands in the country right now is sitting in the park on the other side of the fence, sharing quarts and wondering about their rent makes me just hate the flashy jewelry ridden Watershed types even more. So the running screaming was more metaphorical, it was just a lazy way to get you to read this story.

Picture supplied by East Coast Radio

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RESPONSES (52)
  1. djf says:

    It’s all relative Roger. You think Watercloset are bland, I think Wilco are bland. Harping on about it can only lead to bitterness, something which you bemoaned on another thread very recently.

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  2. Roger Young says:

    Um, djf, you like Watershed?

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  3. djf says:

    No, I don’t. But I also don’t think that trumpeting my indifference towards them is in any way informative or constructive.

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  4. WordWallah says:

    Among the MANY things I could be offended by, I choose to take issue with the fact that Jason Hartmann isn’t even from Durban. Point made… they’re not exactly hard up for good options in this town.

    There needs to be a serious push for original music in Durban’s main venues. I don’t think I can stomach another tribute show.

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  5. djf says:

    Wake up time, oh ye literate and witty mahala-readers & contributors. Your ilk is in a seeeeriyass fucking minority ’round here – not just nationally but even within white, so-called “middle class” and so-called “educated” circles.

    It’s not the promoters and the bands at such events that you should begrudge, but rather the members of the public that attend and continue to lap this stuff up. They don’t want inventiveness and originality, certainly not on their down-time. They want the warm hand of familiarity and they are prepared to pay good money for it. There are lots of them and very few of youse and that’s how the business of big events works.

    wakey wakey!

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  6. p says:

    mmm, i like it.

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  7. p says:

    not djf.

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  8. djf says:

    then click the kif button…

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  9. James says:

    Don’t forget that watershed has been around for a long time, a time where SA music was worst off then now. It was only a couple of years ago that they were “wondering about their rent”. Ironically some of the newly formed bands you see now are traveling on the roads that were paved by bands like watershed, mean Mr mustard, parlotones and prime circle, which are now considered “old school”.

    Ill be the first to admit that watershed are not pushing the boundaries of music and there are loads more talented bands in SA, but at the moment what we don’t need is someone voicing his negative opinion on such a public forum, rather spend you time writing about something positive in the music industry. There are individuals out there that devote a lot of time and effort to build the industry and it is tough and often unrewarding.

    The only thing I can agree with is that we need original musicians creating original songs and not someone singing covers.

    The SA music industry is small, lets not reduce it any further.

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  10. Roger Young says:

    James, negative opinions? I don’t work in PR.

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  11. djf says:

    Um, James – allow me to blur the edges for you there a little. Maybe there are a few bands in SA that write and perform “original” songs that sound so much like classic rock and country favourites that they may as well be covers?

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  12. lw says:

    the music industry is built upon critique. the job of an informed journalist is to critique AND praise where it’s due. if the gig and bands were bland – and the journalist said so, then surely the industry is served correctly. you can’t hide from the truth. also, i don’t see anyone saying it wasn’t a bland affair and it was outrageously good.

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  13. djf says:

    Ha ha ha ha.. “the music industry is built upon critique”

    The Music Industry (TM) is built on marketing. The more digestible you band is, the easier they are to market. QED.

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  14. lw says:

    no, The Pop Industry (TM) is built upon marketing. The music pioneers are normally picked up first via underground buzz and good journalism. Marketeers get there after that.

    Good journalism also serves to document the truth. Which this article did.

    Now, hand me my acoustic so I can go and do my version of wonderwall.

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  15. djf says:

    lw, the music pioneers are never “picked up” by marketeers. More ambitious copycats who work very hard on repackaging those ideas are the ones that are co-opted into the machine. Consider the likelihood that if you attach the word “industry” to any pursuit it then becomes subservient to the laws and practices of commerce – that are in direct conflict with the spirit of true creativity and original expression.

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  16. djf says:

    Oh, and there’s no such thing as “the truth” when you’re dealing with something as subjective as the appreciation of music.

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  17. lw says:

    djf – you’re right on many counts but we’re drifting off topic. this article was attacked in this forum because it was ‘not helping’ the tiny za music industry. i argue it is helping, because it is an accurate reflection of a gig. it told the truth. but it’s all relative right. it’s just an opinion. so i’ll say bye for now as i’ve really got to get my stairway to heaven ready for splashy fen 😉

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  18. djf says:

    Dude, it told “the truth” from only one person’s perspective. For others there it was fucking awesome because they felt handsomely entertained, which is what they spent their money on. The point that I’m trying to make is that the parameters for this event lie so far outside of the criteria that Roger has laid out for himself that it served no pupose for him to attend or review it.

    Face facts Roger, you tastes are so far removed from what is considered “mainstream” in (white) SA that you should abandon all hopes of such major events promoting the kind of acts that you value. If you don’t, nothing but cynicism and bitterness await.

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  19. Jerry Maguire says:

    The fact of the matter is that the concert was never billed as an Oppikoppi or SxSW. People who dig East Coast Radio and all things clean commercial loved it. People who are more Barney Simon (for lack of any other, or current for that matter, commercial radio rock DJ…) orientated were probably at Burn or The Winston. The market for the more, it loathes me to use the term, “alternative” rock music is too small to warrant the expenditure by the business people responsible for staging these type of events. The concerts featuring less commercial sounding local bands do well in the student towns where they have campus radio pushing SA bands. Durban is not one of those towns at the moment. What SA alternative music needs is a well funded philanthropic group similar in nature to the Diggers of San Francisco during the mid to late sixites. I suppose the Big Gig’s are trying to cater for this market but, as Roger said, the organisers felt the financial pinch after the first one.

    The concert seemed to be a success for what is was. How was the attendance at the Burn and Winston mini-metal-festivals (I think they were this weekend)? And for Desmond and the Tutu’s (they would go down well even in a popped collar family littered park of spoodfed listeners)? I can only comment on the Ashtray Electric gig which was pretty lowkey but SAB did alright.

    Jerry Maguire feels you Roger.

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  20. djf says:

    Jerry speaks a lot of sense too…

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  21. tara says:

    Actually it was billed as Durban Day.
    djf – as for not begrudging the promoters and organizers, but rather the public – this is not a chicken egg situation – rather the public decide what to consume en mass based entirely on what choice they are spoonfed en mass.
    If all you know is a plastic spoon, you’ll never miss silver.

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  22. dbnrockstar says:

    the event was billed as the East Coast Radio Durban Day and not Durban Day and judging from the line up was based along the lines of the station’s playlist.

    Roger is unfortunately incredibly biased and had already written a crappy review before you even attened the event… you would have spared us all of a lot of time and energy if you hadn’t have attended.

    Your so called bigger and better SA artists? Where would these be hiding? The last time anyone checked they were the artists who were already headling major events in SA? aKing were at Mr Price Pro as were Zebra and Giraffe. The industry is very different in Durban – when last did you see almost 6000 people supporting rock, alternative or anything other than pop? Look at the shocking turn out at Coke Fest? You want to bitch about a pop concert – but I say, give the people what the want – everyone else must shut the f**k up and try getting their arses off the couch before complaining.

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  23. Roger Young says:

    There was a Coke Fest in Durban?

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  24. dbnrockstar says:

    great music journo you are if you cant even remember past events in Durban…

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  25. Roger Young says:

    dbnrockstar? here’s a thought. Identify yourself. Then lets talk, until then all you get is sarcasm.

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  26. dbnrockstar says:

    sarcasm is a great way to hide that you know nothing… it’s the same as writing LOL after something someone has said.

    why do you need to know my name? it makes no difference to the discussion that you write based on your own feelings rather than the industry, music and events…

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  27. durban supa rock star says:

    Im surprised at how many people think criticism is bad for an industry.
    Look at this big whallah whallah conversation going on between all people from all walks of life (well at least a few variations).
    And that’s bad?

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  28. Tara says:

    dbnrockstar – maybe what i have a problem with then, is what East Coast Radio (Durban’s radio station) playlists.
    When i was fourteen they playlisted The C-Weed Durban unsigned bands compilation.
    My song was on it and yet they wouldnt play it on the premises that it was too “hard” musically.

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  29. Roger Young says:

    dbnrockstar I would like to know your name because you say you are a Durban Rock Star, I would like to know how much truth there is in that assertion. Unless of course it’s just a your own feeling rather than a fact based on “industry, music and events”.

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  30. don juan and the chorus of lost souls says:

    one of these days Roger will write about something other than his messy life, one of these days he’ll actually do the job he’s been send to do… more ever so cleva slacker journo shite. Watershed suck, but so does this so called half assed incomplete review… keep phoning em in guys, that’ll start a revolution!

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  31. Roger Young says:

    Don Juan. That is the most sensible thing I’ve heard all day. Now all I need is a job description.

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  32. darkpigraph says:

    i enjoyed this article. sometimes you have to stick your head into the toilet bowl of MOR culture to remind your self why you do what you do.

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  33. Jerry Maguire says:

    Maybe the reason for Roger attending was because he ate a bad pizza ? I personally would not have gone even if someone had offered me free tickets. It is just not my scene. ECR is a business and they cater for their market. Adult contemporary (ok…not that contemporary but you get the picture) Moving on. Durban Rock Star has a few points. Durban “rock” festivals are poorly attended. And, I repeat, if we had a decent university (or 2) with an active and diverse student population, there may be a chance that there would be more room for the “harder” more “indie” “alt” rock bands. Most people realise that it would be pointless to attend UKZN, unless they wish to Major in (African) political science or self-defence, and leave our town for the more intellectually fertile goldfields or winelands.

    Places like Wits, TUKs, Kovsies, Maties and UCT have a cosmopolitan population of vibrant students that are catered for by campus radio stations that push a diverse range of local sounds and events. They aren’t forced to listen to SABC stations (or if they are well heeled, watch MK or MTV) to find out what is happening. There are also a number of free student publications that appear at coffee shops, music stores and in the local papers.

    It is sad to say, but most sub-culture-type youths in Durban are relatively poor (and hence have not left to study at good universities) and are more interested in Black Label, Durban Poison or fornication than what is going on in their local music scene. How many music websites/blogs originate in Durban? How many free music related publications get distributed?

    These seem to be the sorry facts.

    The City Bowl Mizers, FTTW and The Arrows seem to be making some inrodes in the Cape and some of the Metal and Punk bands do well up North. But. It must be costing them a packet and that is probably the reason that there are so few local representatives venturing away from the humid harbour that is Durban. This is why the Durban Alternative Music Scene is seen to be as almost non-existent by the other major centres. This is why the same bands play the same songs week in and week out at the same small venues until they have to get jobs that pay, sell out to covers, world-music or pop, or, a very rare senario, can produce something unique and commercially viable that is seen by the right person at the right time and allows them to become “upwardly mobile”

    The greed heads don’t want to spend money on the alternative scene because they can’t make a profit…

    Show them the money…..help them help you.

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  34. djf says:

    @tara: that’s a rather simplistic and somewhat idealistic view of the situation, especially in South Africa. If there was a sizeable market for more interesting music to be exploited in a more profitable way the marketing gurus would have found it by now. History will show many more cases of niche-marketing failures than untapped listening preferences when it comes to contemporary music. Here is SA there are far more conservative whiteys saying “turn that weird nonsense off” when something vaguely interesting gets played on the radio than there are frustrated enthusiasts.

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  35. Billy Pineapples says:

    I don’t like Watershed.

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  36. Ex 'Maritzburg Londoner says:

    I recall ‘Maritzburg having a great music scene in the mid 90’s (a good 20+ gigging bands which is something for anyone who knows the place) which died a rather swift death thereafter.

    It never broke anywhere close to even the coat tails of the so called mainstream but what it did do was provide some great so called ‘underground’ entertainment for a a rather specific sub sub set of people, myself included. Said people digging rather specific sub sub genres of ‘alternative’ music.

    Like all the rest of you my laboured point is that provided there is a ‘scene’ at all we are moving forward. Not necessarily in the right direction, mind, but at least we are moving.

    perhaps djf needs to examine his/her own wordsmithing for distinct signs of the bitterness he/she bemoans ever so eloquently.

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  37. Ex 'Maritzburg Londoner says:

    Which is not to say the current crop of bands are any good. To be honest the last good bands I heard from SA – outside of the metal scene which is very much ‘on point’ to use the lingua franca of the young and hip – were Freshlyground (saccharrine and packaged, yes but eminently enjoyable) and BLK JKS (now signed by the deeply cool US label, Secretly Canadian). the point is that the scene is healthy if not thriving and the appeal is broad. No real world beaters to speak of but a solid Calvanisitic upbringing was never going to predispose the masses to be Will Oldham fans…

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  38. Ex 'Maritzburg Londoner says:

    To those that bitch and moan how juvenile and bland the commercial scene is perhaps your efforts are better suited to seeking out some dirty gems in your own backyard. By all accounts there are some very interesting young bands out there to watch in nice intimate venues. If corporate festivals are your thing then you never will be satisfied by the lineups presented. J Tillman and Jason Molina for Cokefest 2010? I think not. A King perhaps though…

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  39. Ex 'Maritzburg Londoner says:

    As a newbie poster I must say this website has been a great find for me this year.
    Keep forging ahead, guys. It’s great to read about SA based arts for once and the current creative scene seems so fucking vibrant and diverse.
    Now just tell me what I have to do to get a freebie Mahala t-shirt posted to Blighty? A weekly column piece? You got it. Mail me at shadwell@hotmail.com 🙂 It’s OK, it’s my spam address…
    Selah.

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  40. djf says:

    Hey EML, it’s weird that one of your later points assists me in refuting one of your earlier friendly accusations. My remarks about mainstream tastes in SA are hopefully not offered in a spirit of bitterness but rather one of seasoned realism. I do not think that it is realistic for South Africans with more adventurous tastes in music to expect that bands they enjoy will ever make it big time here and enjoy playing at large mainstream events. I’m suggesting that holding out hopes for such a commercially untenable situation is what will untimately lead to real bitterness. Thus far I have only emphasized the negative behind that and it may seem logical to consider me a tad bitter as a result.

    Well, I’m not. Your third posting provides very sane comment on why those of us who could be should rather take solace in a more realistic solution. Are you familiar with a documentary on the Icelandic music scene with a dodgy title of “Screaming Masterpiece”? There’s an interview with one guy who remarks that musicians in Iceland could only hope to sell about 200 CD’s to a few friends and play very small gigs because their population is so tiny. He then remarks that as a result the artists in Reykjavik have stopped trying to impress audiences and rather make music for their own personal fulfilment. This is perhaps what has lead to an unusual global interest in Icelandic bands in recent years – their dedication to personal expression and less compromised musical ideas that are harder to come by in most Western nations.

    Local artists could do well to consider that and spend less time worrying about the size of the audience they’re playing to than the ability of that audience to accept their creativity on its own terms.

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  41. Eskom_Ceo says:

    Hi Roger Young.

    I strongly believe that there is a place for criticism, but then it should be constructive criticism and not aimless.

    I also strongly believe that your role as a journalist writing a review on an music event should firstly be a factual report of what transpired on the day, especially on how the music sounded, should definitely not be about your personal stereotypical opinion on the playlist selected for the occasion.

    The point behind a “controversial” article is not to offend with your personal opinion but to rather create a motion for change.

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  42. Ex 'Maritzburg Londoner says:

    Damn!
    I was hoping to stir things up ever so slightly for personal antagonistic amusement. Instead I find myself agreeing completely.
    Fucker.

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  43. djf says:

    Eskom-dude, facts are BORING. Music is there for enjoyment and contemplation on a SUBJECTIVE level. Therefore, good music journalism addresses the reviewer’s experience from a subjective viewpoint – and that’s how I and many other music lovers want it.

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  44. Ex 'Maritzburg Londoner says:

    (My previous comment was directed at djf by the way)

    Making music SHOULD always be first and foremost for the personal achievement and enjoyment of the artist. Success if it happens should be a happy consequence. As you stated, if more bands pursued this approach instead of the immediate Grammy and Pepsi endorsement (think Bill Hicks marketing tirade…) then perhaps a healthier scene would be created.
    I will wait for the burgeoning of a Secunda scene 🙂

    @ Eskom_CEO:

    While you have a valid point I disagree. There certainly is room for aimless criticism.
    Case in point the 40+ comments this piece has attracted, most of them measured, intelligent and coherent. The band ‘featured’ is almost irrelevant so no harm done to them.
    It has served to instigate debate whether intended or not.

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  45. Ex 'Maritzburg Londoner says:

    @ djf

    Regards ‘Screaming Masterpiece’ (Dodgy title indeed. A Munch reference maybe?) I have Wiki’ed it and since added it to my LoveFilm DVD rental account. Shot.

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  46. djf says:

    Much was Norwegian, so I doubt it.

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  47. Roger Young says:

    Why, oh,why do people keep insisting that I’m a journalist and that there are rules and crap, anyway, It’s not my intention ever to provide a balanced viewpoint but rather a viewpoint on the state of the balance.

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  48. djf says:

    Roger, Roger, Roger. Anyone who publishes analysis and commentary on music performance is in essence a music journalist. If this is not the case from your viewpoint, I’d be very interested in your opinion of what a music journalist actually is?

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  49. Roger Young says:

    Sorry, I was being flippant and friday-ish. My second sentence stands though.

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  50. djf says:

    Your second sentence has a lot of merit. This objective/subjective debate that “conservative”, less imaginative and lazier listeners have been parading in debates in this country for ages is wearing very thin. Music is an artform and not a pure science for the very reason that subjective experience is key to its significance.

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  51. Jerry Maguire says:

    It is a pity that today the business aspect of music has become the artform that must be mastered to enable the artist to eat.

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  52. Graeme Feltham says:

    Finally some sense, Wodja Wabbit.

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