John Mayer Lives

Was in the process of destroying his career.

First there was that “Playboy” interview.

Then the “relationship” with Taylor Swift and the resulting bite-back song.

Then the firing of his long term manager for a newer au courant one responsible for hits, which Mayer so desperately desired, wanting to emulate the success of his younger girlfriend Katy Perry, and when no hits ensued he fired the new manager too.

Now John Mayer is 39. “Room For Squares” came out over 15 years ago. In today’s here today gone today culture almost no one sustains. So how come he’s suddenly so successful with a boffo arena tour?

It certainly had nothing to do with hits. There’s a subtle shift in the music business, it’s all going live. The chart is inane, not sure whether it’s about sales or streams, and only a small subset of the population pays attention to the hits on both streaming services and Top Forty radio, and the rest…

Is a vast morass indecipherable unless you’re deep into it.

Now it’s about your fan base. You can employ publicity to try and make them aware, but if your goal is to convert new fans, you can’t do it, only your fans can do it, by spreading the word online. Of course, hits make a difference, but unless you make beat-infused music you can’t have one.

Concerts are burgeoning. It’s a new golden age. In a digitized era people are looking for some honest truth. Which is probably why you should can the dancing and the hard drives and deliver humanity. That paradigm, of reproducing the video, evolved from a now passe era, that of MTV, when clips could cost a million bucks and become cultural touchstones. Today people watch videos on their phones in postage stamp-sized windows, it’s about the music, not the image, and that’s a good thing. And anybody with a smash video has seemed to lose traction thereafter. Can you say PSY, can you say Baauer? So when people go to the show they want to feel the buzz, the electricity, of a one of a kind event, not the exact same circus that’s gonna play the next day in Pittsburgh.

Of course there are exceptions, successful touring spectacles.

But that brings us back to Mr. Mayer. His career was at a nadir and what did he do, play with the Grateful Dead!

Now there was a predecessor. One Bruce Hornsby. Who too had gigantic soft rock radio hits and then threw them over in a 180, venturing to where it was conventionally thought his audience did not tread. But this turned out to be untrue. Some fans remained and Bruce made a whole coterie of new ones, much more loyal than the old ones, the fans of Jerry, et al. Because, as established above, it’s your fans who keep you alive, not the press, and no one is more loyal than a Deadhead.

And Mayer could always wail. So he goes on the road with Weir and crew and kills it. He single-handedly brings back the magic that once was, the shows even eclipsed those at Fare Thee Well, because it was about music and not nostalgia and it was akin to Derek Trucks reinvigorating the Allman Brothers but in this case Mayer was already a star. And refused to take a victory lap. The old Mayer would have hyped up his appearance, taken credit, in this case he was mostly silent, he let his axe do the talking, and boy did it.

So he could play with the Dead, his old career was moribund, right?

Wrong. Like a musician instead of a star Mayer decided to walk into the wilderness. Make music satisfying himself instead of searching for hits, go on an aural journey instead of playing the game. Instead of dropping an entire album and carpet-bombing the universe with publicity, he put out an EP, four songs, back in January, and another four tracks just yesterday. And there’s nothing a fan wants more than new music, and in the modern world four at a time is just about right, easy to check out and digest.

And there was a winner on “The Search For Everything – Wave One,” “Love On The Weekend,” with that smooth sound that made John Mayer the darling of women everywhere.

But the revelation was the opening cut, “Moving On And Getting Over,” where he was suddenly on the losing end. Having loved ’em and left ’em, prolonging his adolescence, it ended with Katy Perry and Mayer can’t seem to get over it, he’s depressed and vulnerable and ultimately RELATABLE!

“I’m one text away from being back again”

But he’s not. It’s over. He’s alone and struggling.

It’s personal. Which is what we’re looking for.

And “Still Feel Like Your Man,” the opening cut on “The Search For Everything – Wave Two,” released yesterday, is more R&B than conventional Mayer. Reminds me of no one so much as Todd Rundgren, who embraced his Philly roots on an irregular basis, it was so refreshing, you could not put him in a box, and suddenly you can’t put Mayer in a box either, he’s EXPERIMENTING!

Wow, it isn’t only Mayer’s career that’s been moribund, but music too. We’ve had the same pop sound with the fake drums for nearly two decades and the classic acts don’t even bother to make new music and when they do it’s substandard iterations of what they did before and suddenly the standard bearer for testing limits is John Mayer?

Now “Love On The Weekend” has 27 million plays on Spotify. Significant, but not stratospheric. Then again, only the pop hits can go nuclear on the service, hit triple digits, and there was some radio success, but the track was not a smash. It made it to number 5 on Hot Rock Songs, a dead format if there ever was one, and number 19 on Adult Top 40, a natural format for Mayer, but not a breakthrough, and on the Hot 100 it climbed all the way to number 53, which is kind of like not being on the chart at all.

Without this airplay the three other tracks on “Wave One” don’t have as much traction, but one has nearly ten million streams and one just over five million, which is quite healthy. In other words, Mayer is getting support.

But he’s detached from the game. Sure, he was on “Ellen” the other day, but in reality he’s now in the John Mayer business, being a musician not a star, and it’s working for him!

It’s possible he’ll have another hit, but it doesn’t seem to matter. He’s gone from being two-dimensional to three, from pretty boy to musician. He’s continuing, testing limits and making new music when most of his contemporaries are oldies acts playing to dwindling audiences on double and triple bills.

It wasn’t headed this way. John Mayer’s career was headed for the dumper, down, down, down. But he took risks, refused to play it the way everybody told him to, and it worked!

And it can work for you too. If you play to your fans instead of the media. The system needs fodder, to chew up and spit out. It’s a thrill to have a hit, but the focus is less on music than it is on the penumbra. But if you can garner an audience that loves you first and foremost for your tunes instead of your celebrity, they’ll follow you anywhere. Arguably, your celebrity works against you. Mayer’s vulnerability on these new tracks illustrates he’s just like you and me, he still hurts, we all still hurt.

And we all still want to feel good.

So we go to the show to hear the songs we know and the ones we don’t and dance in the aisle and smile and if you can deliver this experience you can sell every ticket in the building.

Like John Mayer.


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