“I saw it back in the day that the Internet was essentially a clown show and a disseminator of bullshit, but at the same time it’s a great source for important information,” Daryl Hall, of Hall and Oates, said when I asked him to take me back to the moment when he first envisioned Live From Daryl’s House—a show that began on the Internet, but is now also broadcast on Palladia.
“What the Internet wasn’t, and still isn’t, for the most part,” Hall continued, “is a source of traditional entertainment in a truth-telling way—in a way that is, somehow, more real than what you get on network television.”
Hall’s creation—Live From Daryl’s House—was and remains his way of filling in the gap by giving viewers honest and traditional entertainment, while taking advantage of the independence that the internet allows.
It is an immensely successful show in which Hall invites a different musical guest over to his home each month for a concert and conversation. Hall, his band, and each guest blaze through a set of Hall and Oates hits and deep cuts, songs belonging to the guest, and covers of R&B classics. Guests have ranged from legends like Smokey Robinson and Billy Gibbons to rising stars like Amos Lee and Allen Stone. The show captures musicians of tremendous talent at ease and comfort doing what they do best.
It also allows for an exhibition of Hall’s musical ability and personality. The recent Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee might have acquired fame among casual music fans for 1980s hits like “I Can’t Go For That” and “You Make My Dreams Come True”, but viewers of Live From Daryl’s House know that he is one of the most soulful and powerful singers on the planet. Hall’s emotive singing, whether it is up or down tempo, transforms any lyric into a promise of honesty and urgency—understandable and palpable among anyone who has felt the wide range of emotions that soul music so effectively captures.
Church Music With Secular Lyrics
“Passion,” Hall explains, “comes with the territory if you’re a soul singer. Soul is not a style. It’s life. A lot of people—especially British singers right now—think they are soul singers when all they’re doing is copying a style. You have to breathe it and live it. It is gospel, really. It comes from the church. It just has secular lyrics.”
Hall’s description of the sacred and libidinal roots of soul music echoes the famous Ray Charles school of thought, who explained that the only difference between gospel music and soul music is that in one genre the singer proclaims love for God, and in the other, the singer proclaims love for another human being. “Ray Charles is 100 percent right,” Hall said, “and he got a lot of flak for it from church people who thought he was singing the devil’s music.”
The culture was not yet prepared for Ray Charles’ transformation of music, and similarly but on a smaller scale, television media was not ready for Live From Daryl’s House. “I got a very cold reception from all the networks I pitched,” Hall said. “One told me the show was too smart for TV, and another wanted to turn it into a contest like American Idol. They said, ‘the show has to have an ending.’ It’s moron thinking. So, the show could have only started on the Internet, in its truth-telling, honest way, and Palladia was the first to say, ‘We like the show just how it is. Don’t change a thing. It’s been very successful for them and me.”
The freedom of the Internet allowed Hall the creative control necessary to make the show not only possible, but popular. It is an antidote to frivolity of much of what passes for cyber culture—silly social media updates, vapid viral videos, and the meme and remix fixation that Greg Labash in The Weekly Standard called “a mirror of a Xerox of a parrot inside an echo chamber.”
In the creation and continual development of Live From Daryl’s House, Hall has shown how in the age of rapid digitalization, a smart and savvy cultural practitioner and consumer can oversee and enjoy the best of both worlds. Hall has taken what is most useful and beneficial in new technology to emphasize and spotlight the old practice of live music. His project is akin to importing the engine of a Tesla into a Studebaker.
Away From Autotuned One-Hit Wonders
Hall and his guest never rehearse before filming a show. “Every episode is a blind date,” Hall often says in explaining the chemistry and the risk inherent to each taping. There is not only an idiosyncratic, but improvisational quality to program. In an era of overly scripted, managed, and pre-packaged delivery of artifice, it is enlivening to have an opportunity to discover a stunning new musical moment not only for the first time as a listener, but in synchronicity with the artists who create it. One such instant of unplanned beauty transpired when Smokey Robinson appeared on the program. He finished singing Hall’s number one hit, “Sara Smile,” and without warning or rehearsal, Hall immediately launched into Smokey’s own classic, “Ooh Baby Baby.” The seamless transition demonstrated Smokey’s influence on Hall, but as evident by the smile of surprise on Smokey’s face, revealed the reach of human creativity when it is let loose from the leash of meticulous production and narrow thinking.
Given that Live From Daryl’s House most often features Hall collaborating with much younger musicians, it is also an alternative to the inescapable prison of computer-generated, autotuned noise that Americans are sentenced to whenever they turn on the television, shop in a high-end clothing store, or walk into a nightclub.
“Music has separated into two streams, and one stream is the continuation of the old pop world—raise them up, chart them up, knock them down, next. It’s all program directors, gatekeepers, only not good. It’s a cheesier version of the old way,” Hall explains, before identifying the other stream, “Then there’s the guests I have on my show, and they are part of the stream of live music. They subscribe to the idea that music no longer needs gatekeepers. It is about gathering a tribe, and allowing your live music to support you. Well, in order to do that, you have to be able to play well live.”
The New Gatekeepers: A Live Audience
Hall is optimistic about the future of music even if much of what passes for the Grammy Awards resembles one long boring and gaudy funeral for creativity and authenticity in the mainstream. “It’s not like it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Very few people are going to conquer the world after scoring one hit song or one hit album even, but the alternative is that very talented people can have a niche, make the music they believe in without so much direction, and earn a living.”
“The less gatekeepers involved, the better it is for music. You have to remember, there is no ‘music business’. There’s music organized crime. Historically, it was dependent on exploitation of people. What’s honest is people coming together, playing and enjoying music. So, that’s why I’m staying in the live world,” Hall said, then continued, “You could do it both ways when I was coming up. I don’t need to do it the old way anymore. I’ve already done that.”
Live From Daryl’s House, according to Hall’s account, is not only a musical enterprise, but a communal network. The “tribe” that Hall gathers and features on his monthly program is one of impassioned, soulful, and original musicians committed to creating in a culture conditioned on conforming.
“I’ve always looked for an alternative,” Hall said, “I’ve always searched for a way to execute my own vision or version.” With Live From Daryl’s House, Hall is not only presenting an alternative vision for the future of music culture, but also emerging as an alternative to the standard operating procedure of baby boomer rock and pop stardom—a process similar to fossilization. Rarely do rock or pop legends collaborate so generously with young talent, and rarely do they take advantage of new technologies.
“A lot of successful artists from my generation, because of journalism more than anything, had the wind in their sails. From their first album they could do no wrong,” Hall said, before continuing: “It is almost impossible if you’re one of those people to not believe your own press and hype, and believe in your own fallibility. So, they’ve become afraid to try anything new, because they believe they can just keep repeating the old successes, and they are afraid to let some new kid in there with them, because he might look or sound better than they do.”
Sticking It To The Music Establishment
The spirit of Hall’s criticism of the television network establishment continued in his criticism of the rock ‘n’ roll critical establishment. “Look at any cover of Rolling Stone. What are you going to read? ‘U2 rocks again’, ‘Bruce Springsteen rocks the house.’ It’s always the same fucking thing. I can’t even stand to look at the cover of Rolling Stone. Then once in awhile they’ll decide to throw a bone to some new band. But, it’s all so fucking lame. The worst part of it is that they are putting up creative road blocks.”
Hall’s latest enshrinement into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by the crowd he criticized hasn’t softened or mellowed his rejection of their stagnation and their onanistic love of self-congratulation. When I referenced the recent ceremony, he laughed and said, “I don’t know what it is about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but people just ramble on and on forever about themselves. It was repulsive.”
Hall’s candor is as upfront as his singing, and when he sets television networks, rock journalists, or older musicians in his crosshairs, he’s not only firing with the accuracy of military sniper, but he is consistently aiming at an elite dedicated, in Hall’s view, to keeping American culture stale, derivative, and boring.
“I’m not blowing my own horn because I think I’m god on earth,” Hall said, “but, at least, I’m doing something that is real and honest, and I’m not following the predictable patterns and formulas. People have really responded to Live From Daryl’s House. They’re addicted to it.”
The success of Live From Daryl’s House, according to the show’s creator and host, indicts the elite keepers of culture as guilty of “underestimating the public.” “The American people are much more discerning and much more interesting in good material than they are given credit for,” Hall said with optimism.
Reviving And Refreshing Old Traditions
The topic of politics did not enter into my conversation with the rock and soul legend, but his anger directed toward a self-involved, shortsighted, and simpleminded elite, in favor of a populist, homegrown, organic movement of creativity, seemed relevant to a nation whose politics is paralyzed by a coalescence of big government and big business blocs of special interest committed to muting the voices of everyday people.
“If you resist new ideas, because you’re afraid you aren’t going to do as well, you’ll end up not doing as well. You’ll end up being less creative, less interesting than you could have been,” Hall said.
His idea of progress, however, is not a reckless demolition of tradition. It is a sensible notion of progress that, if implemented, could resuscitate not only American music, but the country’s suffocated culture:
“The whole idea of progress is not a straight line forward. Progress is change. As we change as a society, the best way to progress is by taking the best things from the past, holding on to them, and using them in the present, along with new experiences and new things. If you’re just constantly trying to move in a straight line, while dumping everything that happened already, you’re losing. You have loser ideas.”
Much of American culture seems intent on attempting to myopically move forward in a straight line. Live From Daryl’s House, in that context, becomes not only an opportunity for entertainment, but an opportunity for instruction in cultural studies. It is impossible to imagine a classroom more fun.
David Masciotra (www.davidmasciotra.com) is a columnist with the Indianapolis Star.