Former Bay Area resident Michael Koppy not only has carved a career from his Hoyt Axton-laconic albums (such as 2012’s “Ashmore’s Store”), he’s parlayed his compositional ideology into an incendiary new book “Words and Music — Into the Future: A Songwriting Treatise and Manifesto,” which questions the work of icons like Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Quincy Jones and even John Mellencamp and boldly asserts that most contemporary pop songs are dumb. He’ll read from it in The City this weekend in an event he calls “the chance for hardcore fans to engage me in fistfights, harangues and pissing contests.” He adds, “Sure, in my book I eviscerate badly written songs, but I also offer specific suggestions on how they can be improved.”
Bill Graham proved influential in your career. What advice did he give you?
Back when I was producing and directing concerts, musicals, film projects and TV in San Francisco, he severely chastised me one day on the phone, saying, “You do too many things. You can’t do that.” When I meekly replied, “But my shows are all successful,” he growled, “Yeah, I know. But you can’t do that. People in this business don’t like it when you do a lot of things. Most of ‘em can’t even do the one job they have!” And hell, he was right.
From 1976 to 2001 you didn’t perform live, until a friend prodded you onstage at a Hotel Utah open-mic night?
The Hotel Utah! I’m more of a backstage kind of person — a director, a producer. But if you write material, and actually play guitar, then you kind of have to go onstage, don’t you? Otherwise it’s just a hobby. And I’m too serious for a hobby.
That night at Hotel Utah sounds important. If you never mustered the courage to sing your songs to an audience, you might never have been able to discuss the craft so freely now. Ultimately, “Words and Music” feels like a warning, a wakeup call.
That’s interesting. I see why you might say that. But I think it’s more of an indictment — a severe, take no prisoners indictment. But I don’t just critique without solid, fully-sourced foundations and I locate positives, as well. So yeah, maybe it is a wakeup call. And if so? Good! Wake up!
What do you make of average “American Idol” contestants who typically don’t write their own material yet expect overnight stardom?
Well, I shouldn’t lecture budding performers. But if you ask someone, “What do you want to be” and he or she answers with, “I want to be famous,” watch out. You are talking to a doofus.
Words and Music — Into the Future: A Songwriting Treatise and Manifesto
Written by: Michael Koppy
Published by: Good Track Records
Note: Koppy appears at Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, S.F., at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14; visit bookpassage.com.