Panic Street Lawyer: Wising up

Sunday, 28 April 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Jay Hornack

20130428 lilly photocom87697118 150Both the Pittsburgh legal and medical communities were rocked this past week with news of the sudden deaths of two leaders in their respective fields. My sincerest sympathies go out to the families and friends of Judge Lancaster and Dr. Klein.

Even in situations where the deceased is a colleague or a neighbor of mine, well-researched obituaries will almost always reveal something I did not know: hometowns, educational backgrounds, past associations. Two out-of town obituaries of people I never knew personally – one an attorney, the other a musician – helped me formulate ideas for this blog piece.

20120428wap richiehavens480Roger McGuinn, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan perform the finale of the The Rolling Thunder Revue in this 1975 file photo. (Associated Press)

First, retired lawyer and law professor Edward de Grazia, who pushed the boundaries of First Amendment protection for sexually explicit books and movies, died on April 11 at the age of 86. His New York Times obituary contained a number of interesting details about de Grazia’s life, including his legal representation of Grove Press when it was seeking to distribute throughout the United States the 1967 Swedish film “I Am Curious (Yellow).” One of those details pertained to litigation funding:

Mr. de Grazia had devised a novel way to finance the legal battles that allowed these showings: local lawyers were given a contingency fee based on box-office receipts.

Decades later, the legal financing of clients (and lawyers) is big business in the U.S.

Second, singer-songwriter-guitarist Richie Havens, who was the unscheduled opening act for the 1969 music festival at Woodstock, died on April 22 at the age of 72. Havens performed publicly both before and after Woodstock (his biggest hit was a 1971 cover version of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”). His New York Times obituary mentioned this life detail:

He also found success as a jingle writer and performer for Amtrak, Maxwell House Coffee and the cotton industry ("The fabric of our lives").

This “alternative” method of music career funding brings me to my comparison of two living artists whose tours brought them to Pittsburgh within days of each other: Aimee Mann (on Friday) and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys (this Tuesday).

Aimee Mann (age 52; almost 100,000 followers on Twitter) is such a recognized creator of original music back to the 1980s that she was included in a National Public Radio 2006 list of the ten best living songwriters. She has released 2 albums since 2006, including the 2012 album “Charmer.” But I will forever associate her with the magnificent 1999 film “Magnolia,” which was written, produced and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson under the heavy influence of Mann’s music. She received both Oscar and Grammy nominations for the film song “Save Me,” but the song I found most compelling in that movie was “Wise Up,” in which Mann sings on the soundtrack while the characters lip-synch in turn. As one British interviewer put it this past January, “It’s a superb, almost overwhelming sequence.”

20130428wap aimeemann 150Aimee Mann.
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
The year 1999 was also the year that Mann stopped contracting with big recording companies and instead formed her own label (SuperEgo) for her music. I have written previously about other musical artists who break away from the traditional recording industry. But Mann was the real pioneer in this area -- and she still has a lot to offer beyond new songs. Mann gave a wide-ranging interview to Sam Jones this past January, covering topics such as (1) making money while doing work that you love and (2) growing older and wiser and being really happy. If you are interested in what one successful musician thinks of the past, present, and future of the music business in this era of Kickstarter and the Royalty Exchange, you should make the time to read this interview.

To be clear, Mann’s interests go beyond self-enrichment. She co-founded the independent music collective United Musicians, which is based on the principle that every artist should be able to retain copyright ownership of the work he or she has created. On her Twitter account, she also has a link to a family memorial fund set up for the children of Scott Miller, “a great musician and friend and huge influence” who died unexpectedly on April 15 at the age of 53.

Patrick Carney (age 33; over 140,000 followers on Twitter) is the drummer for The Black Keys duo that I wrote about back in February. I was rooting for Carney and his partner (Dan Auerbach) at GRAMMYS time because (1) I liked their songs and (2) I liked the way they fought within the U.S. legal system to protect their intellectual property from infringement. And, for the most part, the two had a great February 2013.

20130428wap patrickcarney 150Patrick Carney. John Shearer/Invision/APBut The Black Keys are different from Aimee Mann in more ways than the sound of their respective music. Since 2006, The Black Keys have been on the Nonesuch Records label, which is owned by Warner Music Group. And while none of Mann’s songs have been used to sell other products, Carney and Auerbach have sold their songs for use in several commercials. If you are curious what some people think about the duo’s songs in advertisements, you can Google “the black keys are sell outs” and see how many results you get.

And Patrick Carney – 19 years younger than Aimee Mann – frequently uses his Twitter account for less mature forms of communication than Mann does hers. For example, while there is much to criticize about some of the statements and actions of pop phenomenon Justin Bieber, Carney’s prolonged Twitter war of words with “Beliebers” (some half Carney’s age) does not seem like a very wise way to spend one’s time.

But Carney is young, so he has time to override some of this professional and personal history – although, do any of us really how much time we have?

(Top image: Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

The Panic Street Lawyer is a personal opinion column by attorney Jay Hornack. Contact him right here at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow Jay on Twitter: @panicstlawyer

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