Beer baron Sir Douglas Myers’ many achievements have been revisited after his passing last week. Pete Douglas takes a look at one of the most fascinating and unlikely of his successes – helping bring the great Gnarls Barkley single ‘Crazy’ into the world.
Deep into the second season of the greatest teen soap of them all, Dawson’s Creek, the show’s main antagonist Abby Morgan gets drunk, hits her head on a pier, falls in the water, and unceremoniously drowns. It’s one of TV’s oddest tragedies, because it’s not really treated like one at all. Jen tries vainly to jump in after Abby and save her, the party they are at carries on obliviously, and after a quick farewell episode the verbose crew of Capeside carry on over-explaining and under-acting on all their many, many feelings like nothing ever happened. This has always struck me as odd, because in real life even supposed villains usually receive a proper send off, and some recognition of their achievements.
I thought of Abby when multi-millionaire rich-lister Sir Douglas Myers passed away last week after a long battle with cancer. Along with his death came a torrent of tributes outlining the innumerable achievements of his life. Between his creation of a vast fortune via the success of Lion Nathan, for whom he acted as CEO of for many years, to his contribution to higher education via the various scholarships and funds he set up through his life, there was a lot of ground to cover.
However, like quite a few people of a similar age and outlook, my own views of the man during his life were not quite so glowing. Myers was key player in The Business Roundtable – an absurdly named right wing think tank which was formed in 1985. The Business Roundtable was kind of like King Arthur’s Knights of the Roundtable, if the Knights had eschewed their values of courage, honor, dignity, courtesy, and nobleness for a goal of pushing economic reform along as fast as humanly possible.
Sir Douglas Myers acted as chair of the Roundtable for a number of years, during which he was also a friend of Sir Roger Douglas, and played an advisory role in pushing the deregulation and free market ethos which became known as “Rogernomics”. When I was really little, other kids at school would ask me “Are you related to Roger Douglas? My dad says he’s a bastard.” I was pretty sure I wasn’t, but I’d still dutifully waddle home and ask Dad the same, who in turn would make a throaty “yuck” sound like a cat coughing up a furball, which I think in modern parent-to-child discourse translates to “HELL NO”.
I also remember some historically bad takes, such as a 1998 opinion piece where Myers stated that there’s no real value in public libraries (rip my heart out and throw it on the ground while you’re at it, mate), and when he deemed the implementation of a youth minimum wage during the Clark years as being the start of “a death by a thousand cuts” for the reforms he’d helped kick off and champion for so long.
However a brief note in one of the obituaries piqued my interest:
Sir Douglas also helped pay for the production of the Gnarls Barkley single Crazy in 2006.
Surely this was a mistake. Maybe the folks at RNZ are further upping their digital game by cleverly popping in the odd bit of fake news, to keep things fresh and unpredictable? Maybe some digital editor is just a really big Cee Lo Green fan, and wanted boost his Spotify plays in some misguided attempt to get their freaky gold-suit-wearing hero to come tour here when his new record drops?
But actually, and almost miraculously, it’s true. By 2006 Myers had sold his share in Lion to brewing giant Kirin and had plenty of cash to play with as he wished in business interests away from beer. Apparently, after his son Campbell showed an interest in music, Doug Myers took the opportunity to invest in the startup of an independent music label, based out of New York, called Downtown Records. (Campbell Myers himself would eventually work at Downtown as Director of Business Development between 2009 and 2010.) Early on Downtown picked up the duo of former Goodie Mob member Cee Lo Green and then up-and-coming producer Danger Mouse, who would go by the moniker Gnarls Barkley.
Gnarls Barkley’s debut album St. Elsewhere was proceeded by the single ‘Crazy’ – which became a huge hit. In the UK alone the song became the first song to go to number one based on downloads alone, stayed top of the chart for a record nine consecutive weeks, and was so ludicrously popular that the record company decided to delete the physical single and remove it from record stores so people would “remember the song fondly and not get sick of it.” Unlike many of the tracks you might find on a list of longest running number one singles list, ‘Crazy’ was also unusual in that it didn’t suck. It topped both the Village Voice and Rolling Stone song of the year polls, and Gnarls Barkley picked up two Grammy awards at the 2007 ceremony.
Mind-blowingly, Doug Myers was there at the Grammys. In this excellent 2007 Sunday piece, the legendary Mark Crysell chats to Myers about the experience (around 5 minutes in) – where Doug raves about getting to meet “The Sting” during his reformation performance with The Police. As Doug’s slight Sting confusion suggests, he was no hipster, despite his musical success. In Paul Goldsmith and Michael Bassett’s book The Myers, Doug’s daughter Jessica notes; “Dad is not hip, and has never been cool…He has the worst taste possible in music, like Willie Nelson”.
Hey, I bloody love WIllie Nelson!
These revelations make me wonder – maybe the world isn’t such a terrible place after all? If someone whose outlook I pretty much despised throughout my twenties is at least partially responsible for a song as great as ‘Crazy’ existing, maybe there is hope? Perhaps people of all creeds, colours, and political outlooks can join together behind a movement of obese, high-pitched, star wars memorabilia-wearing pop, and dance together towards a brighter future?
We can only hope.
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