CREDITS INCLUDE SONGS ON SONS OF ANARCHY, LAW AND ORDER, BLOODLINES, NURSE JACKIE, THE FBI AND MORE. HE IS A MEMBER OF THE SLIM KINGS.
So instead of writing about vote counts and post truth issues — I want to write about an amazing songwriter who took it upon himself to become my mentor and eventually collaborator and friend, Marc Blatte.
Marc saw me perform at Rockwood, back when it was only one little room on Allen street downtown. I don’t remember much about the set, but I was still very young and working my first record. A week later I met him for fancy BBQ in midtown. When we spoke on the phone to arrange the meeting he told me, “bring a pad and a pen, and don’t be late.” I was a little taken aback at how intense he was, but I knew he had a few hits and people told me that he had written some seriously profitable jingles, so I figured there was something to learn, and maybe money to be made. Marc began our meeting by quoting lyrics from my record verbatim and telling me they were brilliant. Great! What followed after that was some serious constructive criticism. To that point my songwriting was basically something that I did completely unchecked by anyone except the people in my band, so it rattled me a little. He told me that I didn’t have any real lifts in my songs, and that they didn’t sound like hits. I think I said something defensive like, “that’s not how I write," and he said, “You'll never make it in the NBA if you can’t dribble with your left hand.” I knew he was correct immediately, even if I didn’t want him to be.
Marc has a way of putting up an objective mirror. He has done that for me countless times over the years and it has helped me become a better craftsman, but also a more aware human. I think if Marc was not a writer he’d be a great shrink. In fact, at a very dark moment later in my life Marc suggested I see a therapist. Over lunch he told me that I looked "like a car crash in slow motion.” I took his advice, and it has helped me become a happier, more productive person - and the car crash seems to have been averted.
Anyways, shortly after that first lunch way back when, Marc got me my first real record label meeting. It is still probably the best real “look” I ever received from an important label. Bruce Lundvall ran Blue Note for decades and invited me into his corner office in his white dinner jacket and gold chain bracelet. The meeting went ridiculously well. Lundvall and I hit it off. He told me he wanted to sign me after I played some songs under the Coltrane and Miles Davis Grammys. Ultimately the signing did not happen. (Lundvall's A&R underling said I was too pop and without his staff behind me Lundvall didn’t think signing me was smart for either of us.) I was seriously disappointed, but Marc told me to hold my head high. He told me about the fifty some-odd phone calls it took for him to get through to Clive Davis, who ultimately signed him, and his work as a plumber saving up just to get studio time to cut his demos. He reminded me how much further ahead I was than I thought. I don’t think he always got through to me because I was so blinded by ambition and so used to undermining my successes internally, but in retrospect he was not just making an introduction to a label, he taking me under his wing.
In the years that followed Marc would hook me up with all sorts of important characters in the music business that resulted in all sorts of adventures and sessions. I wrote pop songs, jingles, rap tunes, you name it...at his insistence. All of them steppingstones to becoming a more bulletproof songwriter. There were times when I thought this was an error, that my songwriting was being corrupted, should be more organic, and just my own individualized art form, but I’ve come to learn over time that even the most beautiful abstract painter still needs to understand how to draw a decent still life. That skill only enhances the artistic, it doesn’t diminish it.
Years later, perhaps when he thought I was ready, Marc and I finally sat down to write a song. Marc told me to write 40 titles before we got together. Yes, 40! This way he could throw out 39 of them and we’d still have a song to write. He was really looking for what he called “a big idea.” The process of writing huge lists of titles became common place for me. They become less precious, and writing more of them guarantees that I pick my best ideas to elaborate on and go there first. Plus, it is a great thing to do on the subway instead of bejeweled.
Not surprisingly, the first song we wrote together became the most profitable song The Slim Kings ever released. “Dirty Minds” was licensed 4 or 5 times on hit shows by supervisors I had no connection to. When we co-write together, those songs somehow always become the single, or the one that earns. That is not a mistake. When you are working with Marc, if a lyric is not good enough to be the first line of a hit song, it doesn’t make the cut anywhere in the song. He demands clarity for the listener without dumbing an idea down, and he breaks himself for it. I have done 10 drafts of a lyric with Marc. The same is true of the music. Marc demands a perfectly logical melody, so if it doesn’t lift or move enough he simply says we need to do another “fix” of the song. What that really means is that you need to re-write the music and melody entirely. It is not uncommon to do two or three fixes for Marc. After writing together he always tells me he is totally wiped out. He says it is because he has to keep up with me, but in truth it must just be exhausting to hold the bar so high for so long without saying “good enough.”
I cannot talk about Marc without noting that he is the best self-promoter I ever met. He can take an ember and blow on it until it catches fire. He gets quotes from friends, writes emails, calls everyone, and hustles. Work ethic born of the NY streets. Also, it is true that Marc is never shy about hitting me up for a favor or two if I have the connection. Early on I was taken aback, but he was never a dick about it, and after all, he has done it for me dozens of times. He is simply moving everything forward for BOTH of us. Same team. That taught me about what it takes to create what he calls “a social matrix” around oneself. Without a network of people to mobilize, you can be a tree falling in the woods with no-one listening. In other words, my ambitions' worst nightmare.
My relationship with Marc is much deeper than a post because it is ongoing. He has come to tell me that I have written a few masterpieces, and after years of intense critique his validation has extra weight to it. At times of self-doubt, he has said things like, “you’re the most successful person I know who doesn’t think they are successful,” or “it’s a war of attrition, just stick around.” This kind of mentorship is an act of sheer generosity. The hours he has spent being my friend, cheerleader, agent, and collaborator is mind boggling. This kind of mentorship is rare in the world of passive aggressive musicians and certainly more fun to read about than electoral lawsuits in Pennsylvania!!! Loving writing these notes because supporting and listening to one another will be EVERYTHING in the future.
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