This is kind of old news, but a few weeks back, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr was in the US doing some promo. When suddenly, his unexpected walk-out on a daytime talk show stirred the media. He was labelled a rockstar diva and people (who cared) started taking sides. The headline piqued my interest and I read further. The story is that the producers of the show asked him to cut two minutes out of the four-and-a-half minute song he was about the perform.
Who authorised the conceit of television? Why, suddenly, are the impulsive guidelines set by television shows made more important that artistry and craft? What’s the point of publicly performing a version of the song that was never meant to be? It’s maddening for a songwriter to have their creation belittled so thoughtlessly.
But it’s the undeniable role TV plays in defining our culture, the importance we put on it: publicists and managers will urge their artists to do anything to appease the powers that be. When we were asked to go on one US late night TV talk show, the producer told our publicist that we could only appear of we performed their favourite song. The show has a huge viewership and being invited to perform on it without selling a hundred thousand records was a real honour and opportunity for The Dears. But at what cost? They asked us to play a certain song in under two minutes. Now we have songs, including the singles, that would have fit easily into this slot. But they requested a five minute song that we had to re-rehearse, edit and basically butcher completely to get it under two minutes. I mean, I think we pulled it off but commodifying the parts of a song like that was an exhausting and soul-draining exercise.
So kudos to old Rings. If they had told us we had to cut our song right before we went on, there would have been some major, major freaking out. Performing on national TV is nerve-wracking enough. We don’t need the occasionally selfish and artless TV producer randomly adding to that. So a message to any band that writes a real, un-formulaic song over three minutes long: be warned. And Ringo Starr, you are my hero.