Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Howard Stern and Tommy Sotomayor: Things We Can Learn from Offensive People:

If we were to look at the careers of personalities who've made a living out of being offensive--or at least not caring if they offend you or not--what they all have in common is that their only commitment is to what they perceive as the truth and honesty.

They welcome all who want to tune in and listen. And if you don't like what's being said, they're as eager to have you move on. Controversial types such as them don't change their positions just because you feel that they should. Your relationship is not a collaboration where the two of you take this long journey, for better or for worst. On the contrary. It's their way or the highway.

Two of my favorites are probably radio shock jock Howard Stern and YouTuber Tommy Sotomayor. Not only do they not run from controversy, it is the centerpiece at their table of politically incorrect discourse.

Tommy posted a video discussing how rapper Ice T was one of his biggest supporters when he agreed with what he was saying, which in Tommy's case is usually about the pitfalls of black culture. However, when he started taking viewpoints that made Ice T uncomfortable, he no longer wanted to associate with him. Tommy went on to explain that this is why he doesn't develop personal relationships with fans and followers. Since fans are not are not going to be in support of all of your views or work, trying to maintain a relationship with them would prevent you from being free to express yourself--especially if you began to worry about offending them in some way.

I've heard Howard Stern hang up on people who've been devoted followers for years, just because they were trying to persuade him to alter his thinking. Being uncompromising is often what makes them unique. So when you try to get them to be different from who they are, you're basically saying stop being the person who got my attention in the first place.

Fortunately for people like Stern and Sotomayor, they never succumb to these fan-pressures. They just continue being who they are: free speakers of what they believe the truth.

As musicians, we can certainly relate to this. We all want to build a sizable fan base, but at what price? When I stopped playing the tenor saxophone I lost most of my support system--musicians, journalists, club owners, you name them. There were a few hardcore supporters who stuck with me for a little while, but eventually even they had to jump ship--which I totally understood. They didn't need what I was offering, and I had a path to pursue. In fact, I have not seen many of them since, which makes me sad on a certain level. But hey, that's the business.

On so many occasions, I was tempted to record a standards CD or assemble a group of all-star players just to see if it would buy me a seat at the table at which I proudly once had a spot. Trust me when I say that I came close to putting together what I call a "please like me" project. Instead, I went in the opposite direction. I pushed the envelope even more. I got more avant- garde, more experimental. You might say that I made sure that seat would never be available to me again. As artists, these are the difficult decisions that we sometimes have to make. Sometimes you just have to let certain people and situations go. 

These types of losses come with the territory if you are more committed to your vision than losing your fan base--especially if you work in talk media. Having differing views that go against the grain of popular thought can often leave you with more fans--certainly bigger ratings. People like Don Imus, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern and Tommy Sotomayor prove this to be true, daily.

There's one memorable scene in Private Parts, the movie about Howard Stern's life, where the radio station managers are going over Howard's ratings stats. At one point, the guy with the stats reveals that the average Howard Stern fan listens for an hour. The main reason: To hear what he's going to say next; whereas, the person who hates him listens for two hours. Why? To hear what he's going to say next.

Not all of us can concoct the win-win formula of Howard Stern. But there's something to be learned from being more of a slave to your vision than worrying about offending or alienating your fans. Ultimately, being this type of person makes you someone that fans would want to check out in the first place. It's not often that we are intrigued by those hiding under the veil of political correctness. Listeners, viewers, and readers tend to tune in when there's controversy involved. Controversy is the gas that has fueled the careers of many.

Now I'm not advocating that we all start exploiting strippers and the mentally-challenged for their comedic value; or start referring to all inner city black women as hair-hatted hooligans and Beastie 1000s--two of Tommy's signature insults. But we can learn from their unwavering commitment to what they see as the truth--with or without their fans. This is what makes them who they are: unique and undeniable individuals.

If you're not hip to Tommy, here's a little clip of him doing what he does best: ethering!

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