Max Martin

This is a business of favors.

And only an emotional obligation would have gotten me out of the house this afternoon.  It’s pouring rain, and in L.A. it’s either wimpy drizzle or the end of the world bucket drops, and Jason Flom wants me at the Mint at 5?

Don’t schedule anything during rush hour.  Which at this point is seemingly from 6-10.  6 AM ’til 10 PM!  Traffic is so bad in Los Angeles I do my best to never leave my house.  It’s just not worth it, I’m wasting too much time.  I shop at the supermarket after midnight, or online.  I don’t want to while away my life gridlocked, no matter how much I love satellite radio.

It’s coming down so heavily that I’ve got my wipers on the highest speed.  You know, the one that makes you think you’re on meth.  I’m shy of Robertson Boulevard, and I’ve been in my car for an hour already.  I want to kill somebody.  The woman in the Mercedes trying to nudge in front of me, maybe myself.  There’s not a single band worth this hell.  Except maybe the Beatles.  I spent a good chunk of the afternoon casing out some of their videos on YouTube, there’s this incredible footage of the band in Germany.  You can see Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours in action.  They’re not self-conscious, they’re not uptight, they’ve played onstage ZILLIONS of times. They don’t need no stinking backup tapes.  They’re enough.  Watch a clip and understand why we needed to go to the gig, why music revolutionized the world.

As opposed to the drivel today.  Except for a few tracks.  Oftentimes completely meaningless, but oh-so-right.  Like the Backstreet Boys’ “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)”.  Not that I was thinking of that number while I was stuck in traffic.  I was working my way up the Sirius dial from 1 on into infinity!  Actually, I ended up stuck at the country station.  Sounded like music to me!

And by time I reach the Mint, after the appointed hour, but before Jason has confidentially told me the act is going to hit the stage, it’s barely drizzling.  But I take my umbrella with me anyway, knowing that weather comes from the west, and I’d just emerged from a meteorological event that was the H20 equivalent of a conflagration.

And when I get to the front door of the venue, Jason says we can’t go in.  The gig was called for 5.  It’s 5:20.  She’s supposed to go on in 5 minutes.  But Jason says it’s a legal issue.  I’m a lawyer, do I know what’s going on?  Maybe a nightclub law, who the fuck knows.  But now, after racing here, afraid I’m going to miss the 25 minute set, I’ve now got to wait, outside?

I stand under the canopy and check my BlackBerry.  E-mail Felice.  I think about emerging onto the sidewalk to talk to Jason, but the guy next to him is smoking!  Didn’t he get the memo?  Does he want to die?  This little pipsqueak with the gay sneakers is killing himself and I’m not going to stand next to him and have to put my entire wardrobe in the wash when I get home, I’ve still got places to go and people to see tonight!

But Jason motions with his arm and calls my name.  And introduces me to this living chimney.

“Bob, do you know Max Martin?”

Supposedly Max Martin is an overweight fifty year old who never leaves his house.  Hated by the industry for his talent, unknown by so many of the masses.  This can’t be him.  This can’t be the pop svengali.  He must be an impostor.  I must have heard wrong.

And while my mind is bending, they’re asking me what’s up in my life and I can barely get it out.  This is Max Martin?!

Soon thereafter they let us in, and like a groupie I hang by the Swedish mastermind and begin to quiz him.  How long is here for?  What’s he doing here?

He must be nominated for some Grammy award.  But he tells me he’s here to cut a track with the Backstreet Boys.

Isn’t one of them gone?

Yeah, but he wasn’t a key vocal element.

Yeah, the only key elements were Lou Pearlman and this shrimpy little 38 year old.

That’s what he told me his age was.  I started getting his background.  He played in bands.  Then he went to work for Cheiron.  I had no fucking idea what he was talking about.  I just looked it up on Wikipedia.  It was a studio, there was this guy, who did Ace Of Base.  Max gave up singing and started writing and producing.

And this is where I come in.  I tell him the conventional wisdom is wrong!  People say everything is cyclical. There were kid hits in the sixties, the boy bands were no different, it’s just the passing of the generations.  I told him this was incorrect.  New Kids On The Block sucked.  Their material was less than memorable.  But “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)”?  It may be meaningless, but it’s a fantastic record!  Same deal with “I Want It That Way”.

I tell Max Bruce has got it all wrong.  He needed to create one incredible track and whore it out.  Fuck an album.  That’s the old model.  That’s about money, not music.  If the Boss had just had one killer track, Top Forty radio would be forced to play it.  He could whore it out for commercials, sports shows.  The track could become a cultural institution.  Instead, he plays in front of ninety odd million people and moves a grand total of 250,000 records.  And if he’s lucky, 175,000 next week.

So what kind of music does Max listen to in his spare time?

Actually, he doesn’t listen to that much at all.  He’s a regular consumer.  He comes home and plays with his seven year old in silence.  He listens to the radio in his car. It’s an era of singles.

But I tell him it’s about careers.

And then, worried about monopolizing him, I let Max go.  He says we’ve got to continue the conversation, but is that just a figure of speech or..?

I catch up with Lee Trink, talk to him about his new deal with Kwatinetz, and end up watching the show right in front of Doug Morris.  And although Oliver Leiber and the band are killing it, and the first track by Jason’s protege is quite good, I can’t stop thinking about Max.  And then it hits me.  I just met a rock star.

I would have nothing to say to Britney.  Not more than a word to Kelly Clarkson.  They were just two dimensional vessels, marketed to the masses.  But what made it all work were the tracks underneath, so often written and produced by Max Martin.

I bought that initial Britney Spears albums.  “…Baby One More Time” is one of the best tracks of the nineties.  There’s as much sex as any hip-hop hit, but a sassiness and intimacy and a catchiness evidenced in the classic pop tracks.

And the reason anybody even cares about Kelly Clarkson is “Since U Been Gone”.

I realized I wasn’t as jaded as I thought.  Max was unassuming, but I was still infatuated.  How did he do this?  How did he come up with this material?

Oftentimes in collaboration.  Hours were spent in perfecting the material.  But what was ultimately released, this was what was infiltrating the minds of the younger generation.

This was not a hack.  This was a guy working at the zenith of his abilities.  He took an oftentimes vilified musical form and created art!

On my way out of the Mint, Max caught my eye.  Told me he thought the girl had a great voice.  I told him what she needed most was him!  A great production by the Scandinavian wizard.  Who the mainstream wrote off, but the true cognoscenti knew was a genius.

The Beatles live in Germany



~ by themintla on February 18, 2009.

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