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Off the Record

U2 Producer Steve Lillywhite Debases Himself To Be the Next Simon Cowell

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Wed, Mar 24, 2010 at 10:11 AM

Esteemed producer Steve Lillywhite has released another video plea to replace Simon Cowell on American Idol. The producer behind some pretty great records by Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Rolling Stones, U2, and Phish (not to mention some other jam bands we listened to in 1994) is not undeserving of recognition, but these videos are a little, let's say, uncomfortable.

The production quality of the second video is pro, the shots are pretty good, and the stories of working with the Talking Heads and U2 in the early 1980's are pretty entertaining. Then it hits you, wait, he's TRYING TO REPLACE SIMON COWELL.

Oh God.

Due to the success of Facebook campaigns for Betty White to host SNL and the hilarious campaign in the U.K. for Rage Against the Machine to win X Factor's top Christmas Spot, we are bound to see more of these awkward pleas from talented people who want to emerge from behind-the-scene. But as embarrassing as these cries for attention may be, they seem to work.

Will it work for Lillywhite? Probably not. But the question remains. Why exactly would such a prominent producer try to do this? There's not much notoriety in being an American Idol judge, really. Being on American Idol basically increases your fame (and, of course, paychecks) but does it really increase your respectability?

Idol doesn't care about respected artists, they're only interested in record sales.

If Idol was interested in bringing in producers who make great records, they would have done so years ago. Idol has poised itself on the premise of making popular music, not music that will endure. Yet, if they wanted to bring in a larger than life producer, why not bring in Rick Rubin?

Years ago, I met Rubin at a Neil Diamond listening party (yeah, I'm not afraid to admit it, Rubin's Diamond redux was great), and I have to say, he is the biggest human I've ever seen (and I've met Kevin Smith). Belt size aside--which is admirable considering Rubin only eats macrobiotic vegan everything and, according to a producer I interviewed, uses a Thighmaster in the studio-- but in also personality and persona.

Rubin hides nothing, music flows in his bloodstream. When a song comes on, his eyes close, he moves uncontrollably, instinctually, as if under that beard and belly where pneumatic pumps and pistons that spring to life when a rhythm is in the room. Love ya Lillywhite, but an undulating Rubin is something I would like to see on network television.

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