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Bill's a Shill

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Dear Reader,

A few months ago, Bill Wyman ended his spirited defense of offering a Critic's Choice to a sold-out Hole show with the claim that he was no shill for the record companies [Letters, November 11]. OK. Then why would Bill argue that Liz Phair's new album "Whip-Smart isn't a flop" and fortify his claim by quoting Phair's label-owners [Hitsville, December 16]? What's striking is the apparent inconsistencies in the quotes Bill uses: Atlantic Records' Danny Goldberg thought the album would be gold out of the chute yet Matador owner Gerard Cosloy admits to being happy with sales of under 200,000. Someone's gotta be disappointed somewhere. Bill then infers that Atlantic's "marketing plan" for the record hinges on the release of the second single--as though some brainstorming session at Atlantic rendered the unimaginable concept of not releasing the best song from the album first. How did Bill hear about this one? Some exec at Atlantic perhaps? And then Bill shilled, er, passed that info on to lucky us.

There is one important point Bill glosses over in the wake of Whip-Smart's lackluster commercial run. Liz Phair seems incapable of performing live and her label is forced to live with this. Of course, musicians tend to find live performance of their material as the only real pleasure in an otherwise difficult existence. If Liz is truly a victim of stage fright, it's sad that someone in such a wonderful position is in danger of flaming out so quickly. If she's not a victim of stage fright, perhaps Bill could put the phone down with his record buddies for a minute and find out the real reason why she won't tour.

By the way, isn't it amazing what happens when one of America's corporate giants revs up the publicity machine?

Bill squirted at his comrades in the critic biz two weeks ago, calling some of his fellow noodlers "munchkins of the alternative press" [Hitsville, December 2]. Having viewed Bill's per- formance on TV and occasionally heard his radio show, I must remark that both his appearance and grating voice would allow him to easily assimilate with those lovable denizens of Oz. I can just hear it now: "The ululations of the great and powerful Oz were offset by his grandfatherly mien, but his spiel betrayed a scorched-earth rapacity . . . "

And, Bill, if any of this bothers you, "Calm down, Sparky."

Pat Brennan

Chicago

Bill Wyman replies:

Pat Brennan is confused. The point of the column was that the highly anticipated and well-promoted Whip-Smart was doing nowhere near as well as expected. I noted in passing that it "wasn't a flop" to put things in perspective.

Second, there is no contradiction between one label exec's pre-release boosterism and another's after-the-fact spin control.

Third, Brennan and anyone else is welcome to think me a shill. But a column discussing the lack of success of a heavily promoted artist, particularly in her hometown, is not the sort of press that record labels like to see.

Fourth, Phair didn't respond to an interview request.

Fifth, Brennan should be aware that the industry has changed a bit since his salad days with Dick Holiday & the Bamboo Gang in the late 1980s. It is de rigueur in today's record climate for alternative artists to release a harder-edged, credibility-maintaining track before going for the crossover hit single: that's why the Smashing Pumpkins released the dense, churning "Cherub Rock" before the surefire hit "Today." Same with Soul Asylum's "Somebody to Shove" coming before "Black Gold" and "Runaway Train."

Aside from these small matters, it was a spirited letter. I appreciate Brennan's taking the time to write, and encourage him to keep tuning in.

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