Capitalism Killed the Rock-and-Roll Star

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Jonathan Taplin, Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab makes opening remarks during the USC Annenberg "2013 Innovation Summit", in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Annenberg Innovation Lab.

Jonathan Taplin may not be a household name, but he has been behind the scenes of some of the most influential moments in 20th century American music. As the description of Taplin’s latest book notes, the University of Southern California professor emeritus has made waves in every one of the past several decades: “he was tour manager for Bob Dylan and the Band in the '60s, producer of major films in the '70s, an executive at Merrill Lynch in the '80s, creator of the Internet's first video-on-demand service in the '90s, and a cultural critic and author writing about technology in the new millennium.” Taplin joins Robert Scheer on this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss his fascinating career as well as his friendships and encounters with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix,  Martin Scorsese, Eric Clapton, and many others, all of which is captured in his new memoir, “The Magic Years: Scenes From a Rock-and-Roll Life.” 

In a wide-ranging conversation, Scheer and Taplin share personal stories about the ‘60s and ‘70s and break down how money corrupted the revolutionary music that emerged from that era. They specifically note the case of Bob Dylan, who started his career when music was not a lucrative industry and he and his music--partly inspired by the countercultural ideas the Beats had begun to explore before him--played a significant role in the political movements of his time. 

“We have to worry about who [are] going to be the leaders of the culture,” says Taplin. “If I can think about the role that Sam Cooke or Bob Dylan played in the early sixties in terms of thinking about supporting the Civil Rights Movement, or even the amount of money that Louis Armstrong gave to Martin Luther King, which was a lot, and then I'd look to what happened this last fall--quite honestly, I was more impressed with what LeBron James was doing in terms of trying to get people to vote and forcing the NBA to open up all its stadiums so that people could vote in those stadiums, than I was with what, you know, Kanye West or Jay-Z was doing. 

“Musicians are more thinking about selling their champagne company to Louis Vuitton than they are thinking about getting people to vote. So maybe now the sports stars are more the cultural heroes than the rock stars. That's a kind of strange change and I don't really know why that is.” 

The “Magic Years” author also warns against the nihilism that many cultural figures have fallen prey to in recent decades. In response, Scheer, who also played an active role in the activist movements of the ‘60s, points to what he sees as the main culprit behind what Taplin labels nihilism. 

“It seems that the ability of the [capitalist] system [is to get us] all to [sell out],” Scheer posits, “This is something that comes up in these podcasts all the time: don't sell out, don't sell out, don't sell out. Suddenly--and Bob Dylan played a role in this--selling out became fashionable. And to resist selling out, that became being kind of out of it.” 

Taplin, who joined Scheer previously on the show to discuss his book “Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy,” also outlines how the arguments of his previous book were illustrated vividly by the attacks on the Capitol on January 6. Listen to the latest conversation between Taplin and Scheer as they also discuss the intersectionality of class and race in American society, as well as examine how the revolving door between Wall Street and D.C. has helped establish and promote a type of capitalism that is destroying main street while making the 1 percent richer than anyone thought imaginable. 



Joshua Scheer