You know I get a lot of e-mail, and a lot of regular mail too. And I got this missive from some dude who said he was in the merch business and could he send me some stuff. I wondered what the giant box that appeared on my doorstep was. Then I ripped it open and got a peek of cotton and vinyl and remembered...and left the contents for another day.
But today I went through all the packages. I liked getting the Springsteen CD, I'll give it a chance, I hope it's as good as everybody says it is, but I'm worried that too many of those people are surfing on their memories. But the jewel cases of bands that I hadn't heard of, I just tossed those in a crate by the door, probably never to be looked at again, never mind played. Especially the one from some unknown label. They think this is gonna help them get noticed? Carpet-bombing people who get too much shit with shit they don't have time to pay attention to?
Then, when I was finished with the music, I saw that giant merch box on the floor. And dug in.
There were t-shirts from every gig known to man. Retro-classics, like the one featuring the cover of "Disraeli Gears". I saw Cream TWICE on that tour and I don't remember t-shirts at all. Then, wondering if I'd ever wear this shit, I noticed a box within the box. In it I found a hat, embroidered "Eric Clapton World Tour 2006/7, Crew". I'm follicly challenged. I can use this. To me it might seem like something sold at the gig, but would anybody seeing me in it know this? Would I look bogus or cool?
Then, I reached into the bottom of this endless box for...this vinyl bomber jacket. You know, the kind with the orange lining. And on the breast was a badge, saying "Eric Clapton World Tour 2006/7". And, on the arm there was another patch, saying "EC - UK/Europe, Asia, Japan, Australia/NZ, USA". A shit-eating grin covered my face. And then my heart sunk, WHAT IF IT'S THE WRONG SIZE!
I whipped the jacket out of the box, I threw it over my t-shirt. Arms, great... I pulled up the zipper, A PERFECT FIT! I ran into the bathroom, checked myself out in the mirror and...
Now I didn't see this tour. I've probably got every album Eric Clapton ever recorded, I saw not only Cream, but Blind Faith, but I don't want to go anymore to hang with the people who want to hear "Lay Down Sally" and "Wonderful Tonight", never mind "The Core". I didn't see them at the shows in the sixties. I don't want to be one of them...purchasing the merch.
Wait a minute. They HAD to sell this jacket at the gigs. Isn't the business all about the money?
But maybe they didn't...
And even if they did, what did it cost, $200? How many of these jackets were out there, could I PASS?
And it's a perfect weight for L.A. Maybe, with a sweater, for the mountains. I don't have anything like it. It's...cool.
But take off the patches and I'm no longer smiling. Sure, I like getting shit for free, but first and foremost, I WANT TO BELONG!
We all want to belong, we all want to evidence our badges of honor. That's why Social@Ross failed. Not because of the price so much as the fact that it was ONLY the hedge fund pricks. No, the hedge fund pricks don't want to hang out alone, unless maybe it's on vacation, they want to go where WE are, just looking a little cooler.
If we don't want to belong to your club, you're fucked. It's not about hit records, it's about religion. Doesn't matter if you think Eddie Vedder should get over himself, people want to belong to the Pearl Jam club, they want everything the band makes.
And the more obscure the act, the fewer the fans? The more people want to buy the merch. We don't want to be like everybody else, just like members of OUR group.
We're not all in it together. MTV's not a club we want to belong to. Nor the vapid radio stations inhabiting the FM band. We want to belong to the ACTS!
We love Eric Clapton because first and foremost he can play. It's not about him shooting off his mouth, but picking his guitar. And he left bands at their peak. And he's struggled for his art, he's been addicted.
I wouldn't have smiled if the jacket said "Styx", but someone else would.
Now this shit costs WAY too much. Explain it however you want, but fans need this shit. It goes with the music and the concert ticket. The music is first. And by owning the merch they feel closer to the artist. It's an EMOTIONAL bond.
We're in the business of making people feel good about themselves. And, stunningly, we've still got a business after abusing our customers again and again. The biggest bands ARE IN BED with their fans. Like the DMB. It's an ongoing relationship. Tape the shows, trade 'em, you want 'em that much? TAKE THEM! You need a uniform, WE'VE GOT ONE! You want to come to the picnic? We'll let you in baby. We'll find a way to get you reasonable seats at a reasonable price, which the DMB does, maybe because they control 50% of the house.
We're sitting on a goldmine. We enable people's hopes and dreams. They live for the music. The artists are gods. Guard this golden goose preciously. It will pay dividends forever. If you don't whore it out, if new acts know it's about the bond.