I know I’ve said it before and I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it, but this time it’s for real. I’m out of here. Portland is so over – I’m going to New York. It’s always been a tough choice – Portland’s affordable housing, eco-groovy lifestyle, and beautiful parks versus New York’s plethora of radical museums and vibrant music and art scenes. But now that Eliot Spitzer is looking so good in his gubernatorial bid N.Y. has tipped the scales. I’m out of here.
But the touch of Eliot Spitzer transcends the Big Apple; the current New York state attorney general is doing enough good for the whole country. He’s sort of the mob buster of the corporate world, the Eliot Ness of boardroom politics. He’s the people’s champion, taking on everyone from the New York Stock Exchange to polluting power plants, to underpaying delivery companies. He is, as The Washington Post puts it, “using state law to change national policy.” He’s high profile and he’s aiming at a career in national politics.
Great, but how does that affect us here in the safe and balanced burg of PDX? Eliot Spitzer’s war on corporate corruption has finally touched on something to which we can all relate: music. And his recent attack on corporate music conglomerates resonates well beyond New York, and is worth watching here in P-town, where very few things matter more to us than rock.
And he’s hitting it on all fronts. In December, Spitzer launched an inquiry into possible conspiracy to fix prices for music downloads. It seems there’s a showdown brewing between the music industry giants over the price of downloads on Apple’s iTunes. According to The Economist, a music industry conglomerate, headed up by Sony BMG, Warner Music and EMI, is unhappy with the set iTunes downloading price of 99 cents a song and $9.99 an album. It seems that the bigwigs feel like in the scheme of things (which is $1.1 billion in digital music sales last year, of which iTunes owns 83 percent of the market), they’re not making as much as they’d like to. Granted, they are selling no actual product, simply electronic information, and receive 65-75 cents a download, but when Apple’s contracts start coming up next month record companies are making noises that they may hold out for higher prices and higher returns before signing.
Since each company’s threats are so similar, suspicions have been raised that there may be some scheming in the works, which sent Spitzer to work. Now the Department of Justice is in on it too, with a separate investigation, confirming, to many, the validity of Spitzer’s probes.
And that’s not the only time The Man has taken on big music business. As recently reported on “Primetime Live,” Spitzer has uncovered a gigantic payola scandal, reaching, as he puts it, “the highest corporate levels of record and radio companies.” Payola, an illegal practice started in the 1950s where record companies pay stations to include songs on play lists, is, as “Primetime” reporter Brian Ross puts it, “a multi-million dollar secret.” Companies Spitzer has investigated for receiving pay for play of corporate garbage, like Avril Lavigne and Jessica Simpson, include Infinity Broadcasting, which owns six major Portland stations, and Intercom, which owns seven. This, along with The Oregonian selling out pirate station KPRA to the FCC, may very well explain why Portland radio is such a wasteland.
Which is not to say that you, as a discerning, well-cultured hipster, should give two shakes about corporate radio or legal downloading, but how often is it that a politician makes national waves by doing the right thing by artists and listeners? And these days it’s pretty rare to see a politician, much less a Democrat, making waves at all. Which is why I’m hitting the bricks and heading east. Oregon may be a borderline Garden of Eden for a tree-hugging, barefoot earth mother like me, but four more years of inaction from political laze-abouts Ted Kulongoski and Tom Potter and there won’t be much Oregon left to love; just clear-cutting, condos and overcrowded classrooms. I want a politician that gets good things done, and as far as I can tell I’m gonna have to go 2,900 miles to find one. That is until Spitzer runs for the White House – then I’ll be back. There ain’t no way I’m moving to D.C.