In case you missed it, the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles (the one on Sepulveda at Mulholland) is hosting, through October 8th, a comprehensive retrospective about Bill Graham, one of the most influential rock impresarios in history.
We tend to see music as guided by the hand of the composer and the talent of the performer, and while that it true, we have been remiss in our study of music history in consigning promotors, publishers, recording executives, and marketers into a giant dustbin marked “suits.”
What we miss in limiting our study to artists and composers is the elephant in the room: being good, being talented, is just not enough anymore, and it probably never was. The road that music has carved through our civilization is lined with the carcasses of talented people who never reached their potential, never made it at all, or who lived and died unappreciated. The difference between success and failure was, all too often, a suit: a patron, a promoter, a third-party capable of recognizing, curating, and cultivating talent.
If that is insufficient evidence for the importance of people like Bill Graham, simply consider the legion of talent-challenged stars you have encountered in your life, the ones that made you wonder how the Hell they made it onto a stage at all. Thank a promoter.
Graham’s personal legacy in the music world is not as easy to assess as someone like Ahmet Ertegün, David Geffen, or Jerry Moss, which is why this exhibition at the Skirball is so important: it is an opportunity for us to better understand, through Graham, whether a great impresario can make a real difference, or whether (as LiveNation might want us to believe) a promoter is just an interchangeable cog in the corporate music machine.