image title

Sympathy for the bootleggers

Like the Rolling Stones? Read about their influence on bootleg record industry.
ASU professor loves the Rolling Stones, examines their bootlegging influences.
Mother's little helper? Rolling Stones influences generation of bootleggers.
November 29, 2015

ASU lecturer chronicles Rolling Stones’ influence on the bootleg record phenomenon

Decades ago the word “bootleg” carried an outlaw connotation.

The contraband was usually kept beneath store counters and discreetly sold to known collectors in paper bags that hid the contents. Or it was ordered through the mail, sent from mysterious P.O. boxes in California or North Carolina.

But, in today’s online culture, the cloak-and-dagger routine has all but been erased.

People searching for unauthorized albums or live recordings of their favorite musicians are downloading and trading these bootlegs as casually as some folks send an email.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan — whose concerts have been a popular bootleg target — the times, they are a changin’; and in more ways than one.

Though they once resisted or condemned such bootlegs, big-name acts are now capitalizing on these once-illegal recordings by making them “official” and charging the fans a premium price. No one is putting this practice more into play than the “Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.”

Steve Farmer, a senior lecturer in Arizona State University’s Department of English,The Department of English is in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. has chronicled this phenomenon in an article he penned for the latest issue of Rock Music Studies, which commemorates the 50th anniversaryFarmer says because “the wheels of academia sometimes turns slowly,” 2015 marks the 53rd anniversary of the legendary group. of the Rolling Stones.

“I teach Victorian literature, and I was able to take a real pop-culture interest of mine and make it work in academia,” said Farmer, who has followed the British group since he was 12 years old. 

“The research was fun. When the call for papers came in, the natural pull would have been to write a generational piece. I wanted to take this in a different direction.”

“Googling With the Stones: The Greatest Rock and Roll Corporation in the World and the Mainstreaming of Bootleg Recordings” takes a look at how the record bootlegging industry — from the sellers to the collectors of Rolling Stones recordings in particular — came into being, took root and evolved over the years, and then exploring how the Stones have responded to this universe of bootlegs, both as individual musicians and as a sprawling corporate entity.

According to Farmer, the relationship between the Stones and bootleggers commenced on Nov. 9, 1969, when a shadowy but colorful figure known as “Dub” Taylor smuggled a portable Uher 4000 reel-to-reel tape recorder into the Oakland Coliseum. Taylor stood among the thousands of concertgoers and recorded both Stones appearances — an afternoon and an evening show.

“I actually looked up the model of the reel-to-reel and while portable, it was still bulky. It’s the size of a boom box,” Farmer said with a laugh. “You couldn’t get that thing through security in today’s world.”

Man sitting in a dorm pasted with cool posters.

ASU senior lecturer Steve Farmer sits in his office
as he talks about his hobby of collecting authorized
bootleg copies of Rolling Stones music and concerts.

Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The Stones endured technical difficulties throughout the first show, but it was Taylor’s high-quality, stereo recording of the evening gig that was released almost a month later as “LIVEr Than You’ll Ever Be” on the Trade Mark of Quality label. It was the same label that was also responsible for the first unauthorized rock bootleg, “Great White Wonder,” Many of the songs on this bootleg were later released in 1975 as Bob Dylan and the Band’s “Basement Tapes.”which pioneered the rock-and-roll bootleg business six months earlier. 

“LIVEr Than You’ll Ever Be” became a cultural sensation and was even reviewed by esteemed rock critic Griel Marcus in the Feb. 7, 1970, issue of Rolling Stone. Mick Jagger addressed the illegal album and stated to a Danish radio host that he not only liked bootlegging but encouraged it because he didn’t “like capitalist record companies. I just don’t like them, and if anyone has got any other ideas to distribute records, I’m fine.”

Decca Records, who distributed the Stones' catalog at that time, didn’t necessarily agree with Jagger’s viewpoint. To stem the tide of further bootlegs and in response to “LIVEr Than You’ll Ever Be,” Decca issued “Get Yer Ya Yas Out,” the official live album of the same tour in September 1970.

But the damage had already been done. That and Jagger’s hearty endorsement of illegal recordings, Farmer believes, was the singer’s way of “sticking it to the man.” It also opened the bootleg floodgates.

“It’s the bootleggers way of saying, ‘We have his blessing,’ ” Farmer said. “Later on, Jagger’s attitude changed.”

Throughout the 1970s, the creation of bootleg records became a cottage industry, and sellers were brazen enough to take out ads in the classified sections of Rolling Stone and Goldmine magazines — advertising their goods as “rare imports.” As the bootleg industry became more competitive, it also became more consumer-oriented. The plain-sleeved and rubber-stamped covers of the early bootleg years were replaced by eye-catching laminated covers and a rainbow of colored vinyl. Inserts like posters, postcards and limited-edition runs often sounded the siren call for all collectors.

Farmer said perceived threats to the industry’s wellbeing had caused the U.S. music industry to lobby hard for the Sound Recording Act of 1971, which allowed federal copyright protection to “extended and actual music performances.” A 1979 civil suit in a California federal court brought on by CBS and Bruce Springsteen against bootleg label Vicky Vinyl resulted in a $2.1 million judgment for “The Boss.” The judgment sent a shockwave of fear through the bootleg industry, and after the FBI and Royal Mounted Canadian Police conducted more than 150 raids in America and Canada, bootleggers shifted production from North America to Europe, Asia and Australia.

“I hate to be disparaging of the Rolling Stones because they were my gods, but it’s an easy cash grab for them.”
— ASU English lecturer Steve Farmer

As the record industry made the conversion from analog to digital in the early to mid-80s, Farmer said bootleggers happily embraced the change.

"One could say that CDs were easier to hide, easier to store, easier to ship and cheaper to produce,” Farmer said. “The sound quality was superior, and the fact that it wouldn’t deteriorate with play was an easy way to seduce the buyer to make the switch.”

Buyers were also willing to shell out big bucks to see their idols live in concert. The Stones' embracing of corporate partnerships would bring in huge sums of money, which eluded them the first half of their career. Their 1989-90 Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle tour, sponsored by Budweiser, changed all that. The tour eventually grossed $170 million, giving the group the largest payday of its career up to that point.

It was the beginning and the end of a Stones era. Gone were the days of a $6.50 ticket, which was the price Farmer paid to see them in 1972.

The windfall, Farmer believes, shifted the band’s focus away from making art to the business of making money. Since that ’89 tour the Stones have embarked on almost 10 world tours — each subsequent one topping the next, at least financially — but have only produced three albums' worth of original material in a quarter-century.

And that’s where those old bootlegs come back into play, Farmer said. Since 2010, the Stones began packaging and releasing their old bootlegs on CD, DVD and as digital downloads, charging fans a premium to purchase them. In the span of five years, they’ve issued about a dozen releases, rendering at least 100 bootleg albums all but obsolete. 

“I hate to be disparaging of the Rolling Stones because they were my gods, but it’s an easy cash grab for them,” Farmer said. “Somebody in their camp must have said, ‘Let’s clean up these old bootlegs and “boutique” them.’ ”

Farmer said even though he’s objective about the Stones’ attitude when it comes to money, he’s an easy target when it comes to official bootlegs.

“There’s a new recording out from 1970 called ‘Get Your Live Leeds Lungs Out!’ and it’s been available as a bootleg for many years but recently it was repackaged with their classic album ‘Sticky Fingers’ for $150,” Farmer said. “Historically the first two songs of the ‘Leeds’ concert has been missing but with this album, which is a deluxe package, included the full show. Now, I don’t need another copy of ‘Sticky Fingers,’ but I sure wanted those two songs. And so I bought it.”

Farmer sees the Stones as “corporatists” and smart business people, estimating they are now a billion-dollar band. He does not begrudge them or their partners for co-opting a bootleg industry that some have argued has cost them a bundle over the years.

Still, Farmer and other music fans miss those old days when locating a rare bootleg of a favorite band felt like a slightly taboo act yielding a rare perspective.

And as Jagger still sings — at $700 a ticket — “You can’t always get what you want.”

 
image title

What can we expect from Paris climate talks?

ASU sustainability expert: Climate action costs more the longer we put it off.
Paris climate talks just one step toward realistic solution, ASU expert says.
Possibilities for personal change are myriad, ASU sustainability expert says.
November 29, 2015

ASU sustainability expert takes realistic look as conference gets underway

Leaders and representatives from nearly 200 countries, including President Barack Obama, are gathering in Paris starting Monday to forge an agreement to reduce carbon emissions and stave off rising global temperatures, while squabbling amongst themselves over how to split the tab.

On the other side of the pond, Republican leaders in Congress are vowing to do everything they can, including a government shutdown, to stop just such an agreement. They dispute many conclusions of climate science and warn against subjugating the United States to the UN and handicapping the nation’s energy production.

Sonja KlinskySome of Arizona State University’s own climate experts are attending the talks in Paris, which run from Nov. 30 through Dec. 11. Sonja Klinsky (left), assistant professor in the School of Sustainability and a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, sheds some light on the latest conflict surrounding climate change and whether nations can realistically hit emission targets. 

Question: Within the United States, there is disagreement over the cause of climate change and even greater disagreement about our global responsibility to address it. Given that internal dissent, how can we expect to sign on to a new international agreement?

Answer: When climate change was first discussed in the United States it was a nonpartisan issue. When we look at some of the climate impacts that the United States is likely to experience, it also reminds us that this is still a nonpartisan issue. For example, we have some very vulnerable places in the U.S. including parts of Florida, Alaska, the Southwest and the Eastern seaboard. This includes cities like New York and Miami in which we have very large populations. At some point, we are going to have to deal with these challenges, and we will need to work together in order to do this.

The reality is that good public policy can help us design a transition that facilitates renewable-energy development, research and innovation, and things like public transit and green buildings. Change can be intimidating and there will be some costs, but they can be managed with good policy design. 

We know from many studies as well as human experience that many of us are procrastinators. However, climate action will get more expensive the longer we put it off.

Q: Because of differing timelines of industrial development among the countries, the summit is a little like a bunch of friends who went to a bar to drink, but they showed up at different times. Some have been hoisting beers for three hours, and others recently showed up and haven’t finished their first. Now the tab has arrived. How do you settle the arguments among countries that want to pay differing amounts?

A: One of the most promising elements of the Paris agreement is that for the first time, all countries will be contributing to climate action. However, these actions will not all be identical as each country has a unique situation. For example, the U.S., Mexico, Bangladesh and Japan all have different opportunities and resources for taking climate action and face different barriers. What will work in one country will not necessarily work in another.

The good news is that emissions can be reduced in many ways, some of which may not actually cost very much. This means that there are genuine opportunities for all countries to take actions that make sense in their own domestic circumstances. The bad news is that it is hard to compare these actions because they are all so different. Figuring this out is a core challenge for the Paris negotiations. This conversation is known in UN jargon as “differentiation” and will be a major topic of consideration this year, and for the next many years as countries continue to try to take more ambitious actions.

Q: China emits the most CO2. Can we realistically expect it to make the changes necessary to affect their emissions levels?

A: If you look only at how many emissions an entire country produces, China now emits the most. However, it is also the most populous country in the world. Currently each American emits on average a little more than 20 tons of CO2 per year. The average person in China emits only about 7 tons, and this is a very recent development. Because emissions stay in the atmosphere for about 200 years, we also have to deal with all of the emissions that have accumulated. When we count all of these emissions, the U.S. is absolutely the single largest emitter of any country.

Interestingly, even though per person they have emitted much less than we have in the U.S., they are already doing a great deal about greenhouse gas emissions. For example, China has twice as many emissions covered in carbon pricing systems than we do in the U.S. They also have the fastest-growing rates of solar-power development anywhere in the world. China is now the world’s largest solar-panel market. Some analysts estimate that more than 25 percent of all solar installations in 2015 will have occurred in China. China is already doing a great deal.

One thing that is particularly important to note is that China also has much less money per person than we do in the U.S. The per capita income there is about $13,000, while here it is about $55,000. This makes their achievements particularly impressive.

Q: What will it take to achieve success at this year’s climate summit in Paris, and how can we avoid the failures of the 2009 summit in Copenhagen?

A: We need to be very clear about what “success” is at these talks. International climate talks are significant because they send a clear signal to all governments, industries and individuals that climate change is an important issue and that there is universal agreement that action needs to be taken. However, the real action that actually reduces emissions and deals with impacts from climate change happens at the city, state and national level. 

This means that “success” at Paris will look like a global agreement in which all countries commit to taking some climate action. Most countries have already made some commitments as they have announced them in the lead-up to the negotiations.

Q: The previously agreed-upon limit for temperature increase was set at 2 degrees Celsius.  Is this a realistic goal?

A: Currently it is estimated that the pledges that have already come in from countries will not get us all the way to 2 degrees Celsius. This is why a crucial part of the Paris discussions will revolve around designing and initiating a review mechanism that will, over time, increase these pledges. 

It is important to remember that for many countries and vulnerable communities — including small-island developing states or Inuit communities in Alaska — 2 degrees of change may already be too much. Similarly, some ecosystems may not be able to survive a rapid 2-degree change. Paris will not get us to 2 degrees, but it is one more step and one more tool that can help get us there. 

Q: What are the most important changes we can make in our daily lives to positively impact climate change?
 
A: Roughly speaking, each of us plays at least three roles in our society.

• First, we are all citizens. Climate change has not always been, and does not need to be, a partisan issue. Climate action is very possible in the United States, and in many ways could improve our position globally in terms of innovation and market share in areas like renewable energy. However, many of the changes we need will require political action, and each of us can inform our elected officials at all levels that this is something we care about.

• Second, we are all part of organizations such as our workplace, our church, our synagogue, our local school board or our broader community. This means that each of us can be part of collective decisions about how we talk about climate change and how we make decisions about corporate purchasing or energy production. For instance, can your workplace or religious organization invest in solar energy? Can it help support employee use of public transit?

• Third, we are all individual consumers. We make decisions about whether to insulate our homes. We can choose to minimize our commute. We can consider eating less meat. We can build a backyard composter. The possibilities for personal changes are almost infinite.

The image at the top of this page is by Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons