Not So Fast…

Manchester United have looked completely toothless in front of goal so far. They escaped with a 1-0 win against Wolves during the opening weekend of the Premier League season that had more to do with luck than skill.

On Saturday, their magic ran out. United lost 2-0 against a Tottenham Hotspur team that had just lost their best goal scorer to the transfer market. Despite out-shooting Spurs 22-17, United didn’t have their finishing boots on and squandered several good scoring opportunities. Their ongoing problems in midfield (Casemiro had trouble covering so much ground on his own without help from Mason Mount) meant that one goal was probably going to be enough to condemn them to defeat.

With only the unreliable Anthony Martial and the unproven (and unfit) Rasmus Højlund in reserve, United could use a proven goalscorer and natural finisher.

That person was supposed to be Mason Greenwood — until today’s announcement that he will never play for the team again.

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(Legal) Career Killers: Violent Femmes and Wendy’s.

Advertisers love using popular music in commercials in order to generate a positive reaction or forge strong bonds with potential consumers.

When done well, a song can become an effective spokesperson for a product. Think Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” and Chevrolet. Or The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” and Microsoft Windows 95. Or for a sad, but equally effective example, Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and the ASPCA.

In some cases, a good ad campaign can re-invigorate an artist’s career and re-ignite interest in their music. For instance Volkswagen’s 1999 ad featuring “Mr. Roboto” served as a springboard for Styx’s comeback. Meanwhile, Sting’s decision to license “Desert Rose” for Jaguar gave him one of his biggest late-career hits and buoyed his 1999 album, Brand New Day. A few years later, an innovative HP commercial exposed a new generation to “Picture Book,” a fairly obscure Kinks album track and B-side that has, since, become of their best-known songs.

Sometimes, it can even give artists much-needed exposure. For instance, Moby’s 1999 album, Play, had largely been ignored until it was aggressively licensed for commercials, TV and film. The move allowed Play to become a multi-platinum hit and served as a template for subsequent artists like The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend and Imagine Dragons to follow.

Of course, it can also lead to accusations of selling out. Some artists, like Neil Young, Tom Petty and The Beastie Boys (until recently) have adamantly refused to license out their music, while others, like The Beatles, got upset when their songs were used in ads without their blessing.

When it came to the Violent Femmes, it was a 2007 Wendy’s ad that led to a bitter lawsuit between band members and a subsequent breakup.

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(Legal) Career Killers: Lou Pearlman and His Ponzi Scheme.

At one point, boy band impresario Lou Pearlman was, arguably, the most powerful and influential music industry mogul since Berry Gordy.

In addition to launching several popular boybands and teenybopper acts, including The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, Pearlman established a template that pop acts continue to follow to this day.

Manufacturing boy and girl bands for maximum commercial effect? Pearlman didn’t originate it (see: Menudo, The Monkees, early K-Pop or even Take That), but he definitely popularized it and turned his label into a factory, mass-producing teeny-bopper acts and watching the money roll in. In the last couple of decades, we’ve seen a ton of manufactured bands from the likes of Simon Fuller (S Club 7, Spice Girls, Now United), Simon Cowell (One Direction, Fifth Harmony, Little Mix), and so many K-Pop bands, including the biggest of them all.

Employing outside songwriters (such as a then-unknown Max Martin) to churn out hit singles? It’s practically the industry standard now. At one point in the 2010s, the Billboard singles charts were dominated by songs written by four songwriters/teams: Martin, Stargate, Ester Dean and Dr. Luke.

Using the power of television to put bands together? His Making the Band show on MTV spawned legions of imitators and demonstrated the potential of reality shows as a vehicle for musicians regardless of whether they were unknowns, established stars, or somewhere in between.

So why is his name mentioned today about as often as Voldemort’s or Chris Benoit’s? Probably because he was exposed as a con man, convicted of running a massive Ponzi scheme and embezzling over $300 million, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. That and some disturbing allegations about sexually abusing and harassing members of his boybands, and you can see why he’s been unpersoned.

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(Legal) Career Killers: R. Kelly and RICO, The Mann Act, Sex Abuse Laws, Child Pornography, Child Sex Trafficking, Forced Labor Laws…

Welcome to (Legal) Career Killers — a series that looks at how the law, lawyers or lawsuits killed a band’s or artist’s careers. In other words: They fought the law and the law won.

Americans love a good comeback story, and until recently, R&B superstar R. Kelly was in the midst of one of the most unlikely yet successful second acts in recent memory.

Accused of filming himself having sex with an underage girl, the hitmaker was acquitted on charges relating to child pornography in 2008. Kelly largely emerged unscathed. The self-proclaimed “King of R&B” subsequently reclaimed his throne, working with A-list singers, touring and receiving multiple Grammy nominations. Although a 2017 investigation published in Buzzfeed accusing the singer, songwriter and producer of holding underage girls captive in a sex cult resulted in some backlash, including streaming services refusing to promote his songs, Kelly kept his record deal, and more important, his freedom. Kelly may not have been able to fly, like he believed in his famous song, but it sure seemed as if he could do almost anything else, including dodge bullets.

But then the documentary Surviving R. Kelly premiered on Lifetime in January 2019. The six-part miniseries investigated the sex cult allegations while revisiting some older accusations against the singer, including those that led to the 2008 trial and his 1994 marriage to protegee Aaliyah, who was then 15 years old. Containing interviews with several former girlfriends, his ex-wife, family members and associates, the documentary succeeded in clipping Kelly’s wings. Days after the premiere, Georgia and Illinois opened criminal investigations and encouraged more victims to come forward. By the next month, Kelly had lost his record deal and been charged by the Cook County state’s attorney in Chicago with sex abuse. In July 2019, he got hit with federal sex abuse charges as well.

“I was so shocked that law enforcement got involved,” Surviving R. Kelly executive producer Tamra Simmons says. “We thought, ‘Maybe the families [of his accusers] could pursue legal action if and when they were reunited with their daughters.’ We knew there were certain laws that he had broken. What we didn’t know was if anyone would do anything about it.”

Victor Li, “Reel Power: Documentaries are shaping public opinion and influencing cases,” ABA Journal, August-September 2020

Turns out, this time there were quite a few members of law enforcement who were willing to do something about it. As such, the only performances R. Kelly has to worry about for the next 20-30 years will be at his federal prison’s talent show — provided they have them.

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(Legal) Career Killers: The Lovin’ Spoonful, Buffalo Springfield and Pot Busts.

Welcome to (Legal) Career Killers — a series that looks at how the law, lawyers or lawsuits killed a band’s or artist’s careers. In other words: They fought the law and the law won.

It might be hard for anyone who grew up at any point prior to the 2010s to wrap their heads around just how little many police departments, prosecutors, and governments care about marijuana now. As of this writing, cannabis is fully legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia and legal for medical use in 25 more (subject to some restrictions in some states pertaining to dosage or types of products).

That’s a far cry from when marijuana was widely considered a gateway drug to hardcore narcotics, like cocaine, heroin or LSD. “Leading medical researchers are coming to the conclusion that marijuana, pot, grass, whatever you want to call it, is probably the most dangerous drug in the United States,” said Ronald Reagan during his 1980 Presidential campaign. “And we haven’t begun to find out all of the ill-effects, but they are permanent ill-effects.”

During the tumultuous 1960s, marijuana was a staple of the counterculture — especially when it came to the music scene. Of course, that drew the attention of the 5-0, and as two major bands from that era found out, Johnny Law isn’t one that you want to mess with.

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(Legal) Career Killers: Chuck Berry and the Mann Act

Welcome to (Legal) Career Killers — a series that looks at how the law, lawyers or lawsuits killed a band’s or artist’s careers. In other words: They fought the law and the law won.

When Chuck Berry passed away in 2017 at the age of 90, plenty of commentators, musicians and critics dubbed him the “Father of Rock & Roll.”

After all, if anyone helped form what we now know as rock & roll, it was Berry. There were better guitarists, but Berry’s flamboyant playing style and flair for creating simple yet infinitely catchy and memorable riffs established a template for countless musicians to follow, including arguably the two greatest and most influential rock bands of all time: The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

He was a talented songwriter who created some of the best and most popular songs of all time — songs that still hold up to this day, like “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Johnny B. Goode,” among many others.

Perhaps most importantly, his appeal to audiences of all ages and races (especially as a Black man whose career peaked in the 50s) represented the ultimate ideal of rock and roll as a utopian, unifying force that transcended color and class.

And of course, his offstage debauchery and repeated run-ins with the law made him a trailblazing rock star in other ways. Berry was arrested multiple times on charges ranging from assault to tax evasion to drug possession to child abuse. He was also sued by multiple women for allegedly videotaping them using the restroom in his restaurant without their knowledge. And years before R. Kelly was accused of recording himself urinating on young girls, Berry starred in homemade porn tapes involving Golden Showers and Cleveland Steamers (look it up, but not if you’re in a public place).

But there was one arrest in December 1959 that was so controversial and generated so much outrage that it, effectively, killed his career. It also set him on the path towards establishing another rock cliché: the aging, over-the-hill star who makes a living by becoming a fixture of the oldies circuit.

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(Legal) Career Killers: George Michael v. Sony

Welcome to (Legal) Career Killers — a series that looks at how the law, lawyers or lawsuits killed a band’s or artist’s careers. In other words: They fought the law and the law won.

When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced this week that George Michael had been named as a finalist for the 2023 class, my reaction was: “Wait, he hasn’t been inducted yet? What gives?”

After all, when I was growing up, he was one of the biggest pop stars in the world. He was also a highly respected artist who was a fantastic singer, a charismatic performer and an excellent songwriter. The Hall was built for people like him.

But then I remembered: He wasn’t a big star for very long. In fact, he disappeared at the height of his career, and when he came back, he seemed well past his prime. It all started with his decision to sue his record label.

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(Legal) Career Killers: Geffen Records v. Don Henley

Welcome to (Legal) Career Killers — a series that looks at how the law, lawyers or lawsuits killed a band’s or artist’s careers. In other words: They fought the law and the law won.

Nothing can kill an artist’s career quite like a lawsuit.

After all, litigation not only taxes a party’s resources while putting them under an undue amount of mental and physical stress, it can also take time. Lots and lots of time.

And if an artist or band tries to take on their record label, time can be a real killer. After all, most labels simply put an artist on ice once the lawsuit is filed, essentially freezing their careers by refusing to release their recordings or promote them. Since most contracts have an exclusivity clause, artists often have limited-to-nonexistent options when it comes to recording on other labels or guesting on other people’s songs.

Simply put, for many musicians, time is a luxury they don’t have. All acts have a shelf life, and as Clive Davis once pointed out, if they aren’t in the public eye, they risk being forgotten about.

As such, artists end up losing years of their career that they’ll most likely never get back. For instance, George Michael was one of the biggest stars in the world when he sued Sony to try and get out of his record deal. The lawsuit dragged on for nearly two years and Michael’s career never quite recovered. Same for Prince when he challenged Warner Bros.

Same for Don Henley when he took on Geffen Records. Luckily, he had other things to fall back on…

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(Legal) Career Killers: Michelle Branch and her Warner Bros. Contract

Welcome to (Legal) Career Killers — a series that looks at how the law, lawyers or lawsuits killed a band’s or artist’s careers. In other words: They fought the law and the law won.

When Michelle Branch was arrested in August for assaulting her husband, Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, it raised so many questions:

“Wait, she married the drummer from the Black Keys? When did that happen?”

“And he allegedly cheated on her? One of the hottest and biggest stars of the early 00s and someone who’s music is still widely beloved by people of a certain age?”

“Speaking of which, what happened to her anyway? Where did she go for 15 years?”

Well, the answers are yes (they got together shortly after Carney produced Branch’s 2017 comeback album, Hopeless Romantic), that’s what she said on Twitter (although she later deleted her Tweet and suspended divorce proceedings), and it’s complicated.

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(Legal) Career Killers: “Alone Again” by Biz Markie

Welcome to (Legal) Career Killers — a series that looks at how the law, lawyers or lawsuits killed a band’s or artist’s careers. In other words: They fought the law and the law won.

I wrote an ABA Journal cover story in 2019 looking at songs that changed the law. The issue of sampling has become an important one when it comes to copyright law. A major reason why was because of two 1991 cases. I spotlighted the first: a lawsuit filed by members of 60s era band The Turtles against hip hop group De La Soul. I decided to take a look at the second one, which involves the recently deceased rapper Biz Markie.

When the Diabolical Biz Markie died in July 2021, many publications made sure to emphasize that he was more than just a one hit wonder. Widely known for his big personality and sense of humor, the “Clown Prince of Hip Hop” (he once recorded a song about picking his nose called “Pickin’ Boogers” – either that or “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Gotta Boogie,” is the best song ever written about nose doo-doo) was a highly influential rapper who was beloved in hip hop circles and by his fans.

But the fact remains that most people only knew him by his big hit, 1989’s “Just a Friend.” A major reason why he never had another was because of a lawsuit that helped set a precedent in the then-grey area of sampling.

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It’s Good To Be Bad

My latest feature examines sleazy, incompetent, and ethically-challenged lawyers in pop culture and how they are shaped by, and affect, public perception of the legal profession. This one was a lot of fun to write and report. I had a blast speaking to some of the creative minds behind Liar Liar, L.A. Law and Presumed Innocent.

Plus, we got some good timing, since the issue went to press the same month that Better Call Saul wrapped up its run on AMC. As such, it was a no-brainer to feature Saul Goodman on the cover and throughout the spread. With quotes like “If you’re committed enough, you can make any story work. I once convinced a woman I was Kevin Costner, and it worked, because I believed it!” and scenes like this one where he effortlessly explains money laundering in a way that could be used in law enforcement training videos, he really is the perfect cover-boy for a story about bad lawyers.

Unless you count this guy. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fit my favorite bad lawyer into the story (it wasn’t for lack of trying, though). Maybe next time…

Winning Time

I was very honored to win the following awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE):

I was especially proud to see my section (Business of Law) win a National Bronze and Regional Silver award for Best Regular Print Department. I’m very grateful to my colleagues and reporters for helping make that happen.

Plus, we won honorable mention for Magazine of the Year (11 or Fewer Issues). Woohoo!

When Mitchell Met Nixon (Book Excerpt)

In honor of the premiere of Gaslit, the Watergate-era drama starring Julia Roberts and Sean Penn as Martha and John Mitchell, enjoy an excerpt from Nixon in New York looking at the origins of what was, arguably a far more consequential relationship for John.

At first glance, John Newton Mitchell wasn’t an obvious choice for campaign manager. The bald-headed, gruff-mannered, perpetually pipe-smoking bond lawyer had never even worked on a political campaign before, let alone run one. Unlike many of Nixon’s political intimates, Mitchell had no longstanding relationship with the former vice president—they had met, briefly, during Nixon’s congressional days but didn’t get to know each other until after Nixon moved to New York.

It wasn’t even clear what Mitchell’s political ideology was, let alone whether it was consistent with Nixon’s. In a 1973 profile of Mitchell in the New York Post, one longtime associate couldn’t recall ever having a single political conversation with him. In fact, he could have easily gone to work for the Democrats. Mitchell’s former press secretary, Jack Landau, would reveal in 1993, five years after his old boss’s death, that Mitchell had been offered an interesting opportunity in 1960: helping run Jack Kennedy’s campaign. According to Landau, Bobby Kennedy had met with Mitchell and tried to convince his fellow future attorney general to join the team. Mitchell demurred, but years later, after everything that had happened with Nixon, he seemed to have second thoughts. “If I had it all over to do,” Mitchell said with a smile on his face, “I’d run Jack Kennedy’s campaign.”

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Dun Dun!

Late last month, NBC announced it was reviving the original Law & Order as a prime-time series.

The news came a month after my feature examining the show’s legacy in shaping our understanding of the criminal justice system hit the stands. Surely the folks at NBC and Wolf Entertainment read it and decided they had no choice but to bring it back, right?

So, you’re welcome! Now, if I only can get NBC to bring Ed back.