Loyalty & Honesty…and Metal

This week, Iron Maiden is back in the news proving again why they’re still a band that matters.
Using honesty, loyalty (and little help from big data) to get fans, not sue them.
Well played Maiden, well played!
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“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson

After completing my evening chores last night I decided to watch a little television. Not in the mood for anything too thought provoking and not having a strong desire to sit through a marathon dramatizing the raping and pillaging of New York City via Dick Wolf, I scrolled through the bagillion stations. It was 9pm, so I knew I had to act quickly as shows were just beginning. Buried deep down, on the Palladia Network, I noticed a documentary about British metal gods Iron Maiden called Iron Maiden: Flight 666. I like music so I shrugged my shoulders and decided to give it a try.

iron maiden Growing up Iron Maiden wasn’t really my kind of music. I tend to go for the more visceral rock and roll stuff. My heavy metal tastes were practically nonexistent. For me, Iron Maiden always seemed geared for the Dungeons & Dragons set and I didn’t run with that crowd. Come to think of it, that crowd didn’t run with that crowd, there was no running at all. They simply sat in their own suburban dungeons playing the game. Nonetheless, the lone rock station in town played a few songs and I grew to like those songs and there ended my interest in Iron Maiden. Until last night.

The premise of Iron Maiden: Flight 666 is pretty simple. A documentary crew follows the band over 45 days, 23 shows in 11 countries accounting for almost 50,000 flying miles, filming the first leg of their 2008 World Tour. Right away I thought that was a pretty aggressive itinerary but the absolutely fascinating part is that the band chartered a 757, dubbed Ed Force One, to carry all of their equipment and crew allowing them to tour more efficiently.

The logistics of a world tour are immediately streamlined when you are responsible for all of it. But to find out that the lead singer, Bruce Dickinson, was the pilot of the 757 made me giggle with glee. Its one thing to be the lead singer and responsible for 20,000 peoples enjoyment during a live show and then entirely another to be responsible for that and then responsible for 70+ peoples lives as they travel to the next date.

If ever there were a renaissance man for rock and roll, it would have to be Bruce Dickinson. In fact, in 2009 Intelligent Life Magazine named him a living example of a polymath (someone who’s an expert in a significant number of diverse subjects). Here in the states, we’d probably have someone like that medicated and label him ADHD. In addition to being the lead singer to one of the more successful metal bands in history, he holds an airline transport license, owns aircraft maintenance business Cardiff Aviation Ltd., served as Marketing Director for Astreus Airlines, for eight years was a DJ on BBC radio station 6 and for four years on BBC Radio 2, wrote two novels about a character he named Lord Iffy Boatrace, a semi-transvestite British land owner (yea, they were published and successful), is an avid fencer and owns Duellist, a fencing retailer. I’m sure I am leaving some stuff out, but clearly, Dickinson is more than just a rock singer.

Now, for the cynics out there who say that rock and roll is dead, after watching Iron Maiden: Flight 666, I don’t think that is the case. It may be in a deep coma and on life support, but dead it is not. Seeing how fans reacted to Iron Maiden in South America is truly overwhelming. Seriously, the scenes from Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina and Brazil are insane…and I don’t mean fans at the shows, I’m referring to the fans waiting outside the airports and hotels.

Iron Maiden has been together for well over 30 years! These guys are not 20 something hipsters, they’re all over 50 and they look it. Not in a bad way, they look like quite normal guys, aside from the hair and tattoos. In other words, no plastic surgery, no liposuction, no personal trainers, no bizarre rituals to maintain youth (unless you count drummer Nicko McBrain’s post concert ritual of eating pizza).

Rock and roll means something to the people in those countries.

In one particularly poignant scene from the Costa Rican concert (I think), they cut to a fan that had caught a drumstick from Nicko McBrain. This fan cradled that drumstick and was crying. The camera slowly moved in on him as he wiped away his tears. The shot stayed on him just long enough so that one could comprehend what that drumstick meant to him. Clearly, this was more than just a drumstick.

Of course, Iron Maiden’s music is the reason they still play arenas and stadiums around the world. However, to get that kind of reaction from fans means it has to go deeper than just the music.

From what I saw in the documentary, it is Iron Maiden’s commitment to honesty and loyalty that makes them one of the more relevant bands today. It’s that honesty and loyalty to their music and their fans that, 30 years on, still shines. That’s the reason that guy cried while he cradled the drumstick.

In the past 50 years, virtually every country in South America has witnessed a revolution or been bled dry by their leaders under the guise of the “free market” or culturally and economically screwed by multinational corporations or the IMF or The World Bank or drug lords or some combination of all of those.

As that guy cradles that one drumstick, isn’t it possible that one stick of wood represents a symbol of life, of hope?

There is no rhyme or reason why some things resonate with some people and not with others. For me, Iron Maiden songs are lyrically too verbose and reference things I have no interest in; and the music is undoubtedly amazing and technically flawless but strikes me as lacking emotion. I don’t have the visceral reaction to Iron Maiden that I get from, say, Pearl Jam. I certainly don’t think one is better than the other, it’s just my preference. And then it struck me why Maiden remains so popular. The integrity that Pearl Jam projects to me is the same for Iron Maiden fans.

Seeing the band behind the scenes made me realize how real they truly are. They appeared to be genuine guys who just really love life, their life. There were no shots of mansions, glitzy hotels, groupies or ridiculous parties. No in your face “we’re rich rock stars”, aside from the 757, but when the whole crew is on board and the lead singer is the pilot it sorta negates any envy. No temper tantrums. Oh, I’ve no doubt some of that stuff happens, they are rock stars after all. But you know what? It happens to everybody, regardless of job profession.

Iron Maiden: Flight 666 is really a documentary of the band as people. And you know what? They seem to be really nice people! It in no way appeared to be an act for the cameras either. All six members come across as really solid average blokes. In addition to the already covered Dickinson, bassist and Maiden founder, Steve Harris travels with his family, drummer Nicko McBrain and guitarist Dave Murray are avid golfers, guitarist Adrian Smith is a tennis player, guitarist Janick Gers is a bit of a wanderer. All in all, they appear to be pretty normal and well grounded guys.

But their honesty is just part of it; their commitment to each other is amazing. Of course, being in a band for 30 years, there is some strife. And while I am certain it still exists within the band, thankfully, this film left it out. What it showed was how loyal the band is to one another. It’s fairly obvious they are not all the best of friends, but they seem to have found a way to travel and work with one another without seemingly sacrificing too much in the process.

They’re loyal to their crew. I’m fairly certain I didn’t see a crew member under 40, which tells me they’ve probably been together awhile.

They are loyal to their music, bassist Harris is seemingly the keepsake. He, along with current producer Kevin Shirley, maintain the loyalty of the Iron Maiden sound, which has remained consistent throughout their career.

They are loyal to their fans. As guitarist Adrian Smith tells it, (I’m paraphrasing here) “If I am outside and you want an autograph or photo, fine, I get it, that’s part of my job. I’m happy to do it.”

More tellingly, they have had the same manager, Rod Smallwood, since 1979. Now THAT speaks volumes to the character of the band. How many bands have catapulted their managers once they achieve fame? How many have fired managers as a result of either their own greed or the managers greed? How many managers take on more than one client and then wait for one to hit and then give themselves totally to that artist?

Forget rock and roll, in ANY industry, to find that kind of allegiance from either side is rare. But BOTH sides? And to think that doesn’t get noticed by fans is foolish. Trust me, we notice and it resonates with us because that kind of loyalty manifests itself in the way the band operates, both professionally and artistically.

Honesty and loyalty, in the world outside Iron Maiden, has been trumped by deceit and self interest. Corporations prove time and time again they’ve no loyalty (forget about honesty) to their employees. Employees have no loyalty to the companies they work for because they know the companies have no loyalty to them. Employees have no loyalty to one another because they either want to keep their job or get ahead, not realizing the game is fixed against them. It’s pretty shitty all around.

It’s no wonder we continue to spiral down the rabbit hole toward a revolution.

Just imagine if corporations respected their workers enough to be loyal, to be honest, treat them accordingly and share in their riches? Imagine if employees felt valued? Imagine if employees cared enough for one another to help them achieve their goals?

After watching Iron Maiden: Flight 666, I can’t say I saw any evidence of the band being cognizant of their seeming dedication to honesty and loyalty. From what I saw, it appears to be just part of who they are, its part of each member’s genetic code. It also doesn’t appear to be part of an agenda or PR stunt.  They are just good guys. Sometimes it is that simple.

It’s these traits, and their artistry, that allow them to keep their long time fans and speak to new fans. It’s the reason Bruce Dickinson remarks “Our audience keeps getting younger, not older.” I might submit they keep getting younger because you can’t lie to kids because they haven’t ingested some of the cynicism that comes with age. If music is Iron Maiden’s spoken bond with their fans, their dedication to truth and honesty is the unspoken bond.

Now look, I’m no dummy. I’m aware this was a movie and it’s supposed to paint them in the best light possible. They’re also rock stars, so I suspect there is some dark shit hiding in each of their closets. Regardless, if you are not a good person there is no amount of editing or post production shimmery that can hide that. If you are an asshole, it eventually shows up.

As a band and as individuals, the Iron Maiden organization appears to be asshole free and built around five really good people. I suspect when they formed the band their intention was not to serve as some sort of beacon of light to truth and honesty, but 30+ years on, they are. Thankfully.

This is a sentence I never thought I would write, but here it is:

The world needs more Iron Maiden. And from the looks of it, they’re getting it!

Click on image or here to learn more.

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The Principled World According to Dick Cheney

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“From kindergarten to graduation, I went to public schools, and I know that they are a key to being sure that every child has a chance to succeed and to rise in the world.”
– Dick Cheney

In high school, I had a tutor, and she was a nice enough lady, even if she was narrow minded, conservative and a tad too religious for my tastes. But, this was Centerville, Ohio and to expect a tutor who was an intellectual progressive would have been to believe in unicorns. Even after all this time, one of her lessons still resonates with me, the difference between principle and principal.

I had made that grammatical mistake in a paper I had written and she pointed out “the easiest way to remember the difference is that a principle is a belief and the principal of your school is your pal.” While I became instantly aware of the difference, under no circumstances was my high school unit principal, Mr. Durnbauugh, my pal.

If white collar marginalization is the adult equivalent to waterboarding, then high school is a teenagers introduction to both marginalization and torture. And every Monday morning in high school I was blasted with that as I would wake up with the dread of knowing I would be met with a pink slip from my homeroom teacher telling me to go visit Mr. Durnbaugh. It’s not like I was some sort of hellion who was blowing things up, mouthing off to teachers or truant to the point of expulsion, I was way too high to care about most of that stuff. Come to think of it, weed was mostly responsible for those visits. It would seem that at one point during the previous week, one teacher or another would report me for being “out of sorts” (stoned) or tardy (pot heads are not known for punctuality). Those were my only infractions, outside of typical sullenness, which wasn’t a punishable crime at that point. Invariably, I’d walk into home room, not even sit down, grab my pink slip and go visit Mr. Durnbaugh. Who would dole out Saturday school to me. And for those of you wondering if “The Breakfast Club” was real, it did exist. And thanks to Mr. Durnbaugh, “The Breakfast Club” hit pretty close to home for me when it was released.

Thankfully, the guy who monitored the 7a-12p Saturday school sessions was my sophomore English teacher, who either liked me or was afraid of me, I never knew and never really cared because I was usually WAY too high and felt the punishment was beyond silly. While he was militant with the other kids about doing school work, I usually got a pass reading whatever rock and roll biography I had my nose in or the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Once and while he’d stop at my desk and say “At least make it look like schoolwork.”

But neither Mr. Durbaugh nor that Saturday school monitor were my high school teaching nemesis. That title belonged to David Mark Fife. This guy was barely out of college when I had him for freshman science. Mr. David Mark Fife, with his nicely trimmed beard, solid button down shirts and knight ties and wide corduroy pants, would zero in on me daily and, while I was a wise ass, I am not sure I was deserving of much of the sarcasm of verbal accosting I took from that guy. Little did I realize that I would become as hated to him as Osama Bin Laden was to Dick Cheney.

Back then radio was much different than it is today. And in the little suburban sanctuary of Centerville, Ohio anyone under thirty lived and breathed by the local AOR station, WTUE. This predated the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and syndication so radio stations and their DJ’s were pretty tailored to their markets. And the morning shows were the centerpiece of information, music and humor for cities outside of major metropolitan areas. At WTUE , Jeff Curry and Dan Pugh (who would later find success as ESPN God Dan Patrick) were ours and it just so happened that Jeff Curry was my half brother.

One of the more popular characters created during that time was Waldo Snivels, a dweeby sort of guy who was always unlucky at…everything. Well, they had created a storyline where Waldo met a woman and fell in love. So in the final storyline for the character he fell in love and was to get married. Obviously, given Mr. David Mark Fife’s age, and our class discussions about Waldo, I knew he was a fan of the morning show. The Friday morning before Waldo Snivels Monday morning nuptials, I made a bet with Fife that Waldo wouldn’t get married. Mr. David Mark Fife took the bet, not knowing my inside line. OK, I probably shouldn’t have made the bet, but I wanted to one up the bastard, even if it was only for a Snickers bar.

Monday morning came and during the morning show the Mayor of Dayton had run off with Waldo’s bride, leaving him alone at the alter. So, I walked into Mr. Fife’s class with way too much confidence and announced to the class, and a fuming Mr. Fife, that he lost and owed me a Snickers bar. Unbeknownst to me, someone had told him that my half brother was one half of the creative team of the morning show and after class he pulled me over to the side and from clenched teeth seethed “I don’t owe you shit you little bastard. You knew ahead of time what was going to happen.” He was pissed and I knew enough to shut up.

A few months later while we were all outside for a fire drill, I reminded him he still owed me a Snickers bar and he pulled me aside and said “You’re an asshole Higgons, that’s all you’re ever gonna be, you know that?” Apparently, he was still angry and again, I knew enough to shut up.

My sophomore year I ran into Mr. David Mark Fife in the hallway where he blocked my passage and said to me “Take a swing at me Higgons. I’ll give you a free shot. Go on, just take one swing at me.” This was after lunch so I was pretty high and didn’t take the bait, “No way, I hit you and you expel me.” He smirked and replied “Exactly.” I recall nervously laughing and walking around him, not knowing if it was a joke or not. Either this guy really hated me, had some serious rage issues or I was just a master of cutting sarcasm at 15. Somehow, the first two ring most true.

This was the era of overhead projectors and I knew Fife had all his notes on scrolls and I knew where he kept them. So one day after school in my junior year, I decided to go stealth on Mr. Fife and steal his notes. Well, I didn’t take them so much as just relocate them to another drawer in his classroom. Obviously, the next day there was quite a commotion during first period as Mr. David Mark Fife was in a state because his notes were missing. Being that my class was next door, he came in and asked if anyone knew anything about where they might be. I raised my hand and suggested “Maybe someone just moved them into another drawer in the classroom.” He stared at me and quietly stormed out of the classroom.

The last semester of my senior year it all came to a head. I had gained a little more confidence, surliness, and was beginning to relish in my anti-authoritarianism. I was walking by the lunchroom where kids sat for study hall and a friend threw a piece of orange at me. So I picked it up and threw it back at him and from behind me came “You throw like a girl Higgons, now go pick it up.” I turned and there he was, Mr. David Mark Fife. I replied, “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t throw anything.” and kept walking.
“Go pick it up,” he said.
“No.” I said as he trotted up to grab my arm and swung me around.
“I saw you throw that, now go pick it up.”
“I didn’t throw anything and I am not picking up anything.”
“You can go pick it up or we can go to Mr. Durnbaugh’s office”, Fife said.
“Fine, let’s go”, I turned and headed towards the office with Mr. David Mark Fife in tow.

We made it to my princi”pals” office where Mr. David Mark Fife and I argued quite vociferously about what had happened with the orange. (Yep, the absurdity of this all still rings true to me.) It finally ended with me yelling “Why do you even bother to teach if you hate everyone so much?!” Sensing this was a millisecond from becoming a physical fight, Mr. Durnbaugh quickly ushered Mr. David Mark Fife out, saying “We’ll talk later”. He came back in to discuss what happened and I told my side of the story to my “pal”. Someone threw it at me, I threw it back. That was it. Durnbaugh asked who threw it first and I said I didn’t know (I wasn’t then and am still not, a rat). So he called my father and arranged for a meeting with the three of us the next morning.

The next morning as my father, Mr. Durnbaugh and I convened to recount the “orange incident”, I was given the choice of one week of out of school suspension or two months of Saturday school. When I asked what would happen to Mr. Fife, I was stonewalled. Feeling unjustly prosecuted, I opted for the out of school suspension because I felt that would ultimately be less painful. My father strongly suggested I take the Saturday school. He used the argument that “You don’t want an out of school suspension on your transcript.” Given my transcript and the college counselor’s sage “He shouldn’t go to college” advice, I’m not entirely sure it would have mattered all that much.

But then I got to thinking (it really is amazing how much quicker you can think without doing a wake and bake) and decided the Saturday school option was clearly the better choice because the assigned Saturdays took me through the end of my senior year which meant that Mr. Durnbaugh couldn’t add any more on my Monday morning visits for being high or tardy. Ultimately, I went with Saturday school…besides, I had just started a killer Bob Dylan biography.

So, what’s the ultimate point of this story? None, really. I just felt this story is marginally more interesting than the documentary “The World According to Dick Cheney”. If you watch this doc and are looking for some insight into the former Vice President, you won’t find it. And the truth is, I don’t think there is much to the man. He was, for better or worse, a straight shooter throughout his entire political career.

The only thing I took away from this documentary is that Dick Cheney was a deeply principled man and he was never interested in being anyone’s pal. And while I am diametrically opposed to him in every political and philosophical way, I couldn’t help but find myself fascinated by his steadfast commitment to his principles. It really is admirable. I mean really admirable. Sure, his ideals and principles have cost trillions of dollars, tens of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of lives overseas, shattered our international standing, etc. but he did stick to them. And in politics, that says a lot.

The only thing “The World According to Dick Cheney” left me wondering was what if his principles were different. What if he had actually used that steadfast commitment for good rather than duplicitous back stabbing politics, power, war mongering, torture, war profiteering, bastardizing the constitution, illegal incarceration, lining the pockets of Halliburton and the rich, etc. well, then maybe we’d all have been a little better off.

As for Mr. David Mark Fife? Well, that son of a bitch still owes me a Snickers bar.

I am the middle class.

Do you know how I know this? I am broke.

I realize it’s trite to be prattling on about income disparity and the 1% versus the 99%. Incidentally, a more than viable term that has somehow sadly devolved into a punchline. As trite as it may be, it is still relevant. And no matter how exhausted we become of the discussion, it is not one that should disappear.

To be honest, I am a capitalist so I believe that there will always be, and should be, certain class distinctive markers. It’s the way capitalism works…when it works as it should. Because it is not working as it should and thanks to the deified Ronald Reagan and his aggressive push towards privatization and “trickle down” economics, those class markers are more like chasms. The type Nik Wallenda may be prone to walk across.

Look, it’s also not just Reagan. Virtually every President since then, REGARDLESS OF PARTY AFFILIATION, has had a steady and firm hand in the manipulation and eradication of the middle class. Even Obama is turning into just as much of a stooge as those that came before him (and I’m a left leaning democrat).

Those of us who grew up in the middle class remember it differently. Or at least I do. I don’t recall the middle class being the whore to the upper classes and patron to the lower classes. It seems that we have gotten the short end of the stick.
Stuck up you know where.
Repeatedly. 06agenda-chart2-blog480

I sometimes wonder what it will take for Americans, and ever increasingly, citizens around the world, to realize exactly how hard that stick is being jammed up into us. The chart above shows very clearly how little the middle class has been able to accomplish since 1980 (11% growth verses almost 200%?!). The password is disparity.

Adding insult to injury, according to the AFL-CIO, in 1982, the CEO to worker to pay ratio was 42:1. OK, high. But I understand that. I’m honestly OK with that. In 2012 the CEO to worker pay ratio was 354:1! I am not OK with that.

It seems to me that when we look at CEO pay we should be using some of the same practices couples use in establishing what they are willing to do in the boudoir. “OK, yes I will do that, but I won’t do that!” Why can’t we have a say in what a CEO makes? Could the same be applied to corporate pay “OK, yes, I will pay that, but I won’t pay that!”  Do we go one step further and institute a corporate “safe word” when things get outta hand? My safe word is Nickelback.

Look, CEO’s, typically have to answer to people that I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire (Wall Street pricks). And the good ones juggle multiple tasks, have a distinctive vision for their organization(s) and work hard. I have no illusions about them being the best people in the world, but they do deserve to be paid.

My issue is not with most CEO’s being deserving of the money. My issue is that why does anyone in any leadership role feel that it is OK to take a 13-15% annual increase in pay when the front line workers are only getting a 2.5% – 5% increase?

Is it “leadership” to take more than your workers get? It would seem to me that a true leader, one being remunerated in both salary AND stock, would forgo ANY salary increase as long as their front line workers had to feel the pinch. Maybe a “leader” finds a way to issue stock in place of an annual increase? Maybe a “leader” offers another week of vacation? Maybe a “leader” LEADS.

Or is the new model of corporate leadership “take what you can get and fluck the rest”? If that is the case, I am storming the supply closet for post-it’s, pens and highlighters.

Shouldn’t I just be thankful I have a job? Yes. On most days I am. I’m thankful to have a mind numbing job that keeps me so far removed from interacting and networking with anyone who could perhaps help me achieve my professional goals. On second thought, let me restate that, I am thankful for a paycheck. What I would like to be thankful for is a career.

Of course, that then begs the question, are careers rapidly being replaced by jobs?

When my living expenses are increasing at an aggregate of 17% year over year and my cost of living increase (cleverly disguised as a merit increase) is a fraction of that, how am I to reconcile that sort of inequality? Am I just supposed to take it on the chin and say to myself “That’s just the way it is buckaroo”? Am I just supposed to numb myself? Turn on the latest marathon of whatever Real Housewives of blah blah is on? Log onto Facebook and get engrossed in peoples petty lives and issues that have absolutely no bearing on me in any way? Down a bottle of wine and pretend I am being cultured when I am really just masking my own sadness? No, I don’t think that is the answer.

All of those escapes are privileges. Being able to earn a liveable wage to sustain a decent life is a right. I should be able to save some money, pay my bills and go home to have a spirited and lively discussion about my day. Instead of going home constantly juggling and moving money around to pay bills and walking home beaten and broken, praying there is enough hot water to wash away the misery of the day.

Of course some of this is my fault. I didn’t have to go to college. OK, I didn’t HAVE to go to TEN of them (it’s true, I went to ten colleges…I was a little rudderless as a youth). I didn’t HAVE to get my Masters Degree. I don’t HAVE to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. And believe me when I say, I am one of the lucky ones! I’m aware of this. But does luck always come at such a cost?

Honestly though, I’ve never been one to discount my own role as being a broke middle classer. I definitely am accountable for some of it. If I can stand in front of the mirror and say to myself “Dude, you’re partly responsible for this” why can’t the “leadership” of companies do the same? Why are we in the middle class constantly being asked to bear the brunt of the tomfoolery and shenanigans of the pricks on Wall Street and their idiot cousins in the corner office?

NICKELBACK!

Some people may read this and say “Yea, you’re right but what can we do? It’s the way it is, ya know?” Bullsh*t! I have some thoughts but if I had all the answers I wouldn’t be banging things out on this keyboard. I can say for certain what we can NOT do. We can’t let this go on. And whether it is in the next five years or fifty, it’s gonna change and it is not going to be pretty.

As a guy working for a Fortune 500 company with a Masters degree, I really shouldn’t be contemplating a second job tending bar just to squeak by. I’m not saying I am entitled to more, I don’t believe that. I am saying we are all entitled to opportunities that can lead us to a comfortable existence, one of OUR choosing. That is a right. In fact, it is a defining principle of both capitalism AND democracy (both of which are on life support here in the states). As the middle class continues to be hacked away at and beaten into non-existence, we accept less and less of the rights we are entitled to because “It’s just the way it is”.

When can we all say it together?

NICKELBACK!

Is Arcade Fire Rock Music’s Dead End?

The Tiger Manifesto

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Let’s keep this one short and sweet. To do that, I will first zoom out and look at the state of rock in general and see where Arcade Fire fits in the scheme of things. After that, I’ll discuss how Reflektor’s individual character raises important questions about the band and how its success and failure as a product and as a work of art ties into some of the points I make in the first part.

First, consider this quotation from The Atlantic’s Noah Berlatsky, writing in an article about another Montréal-based band called Suuns:

[Rock] is now, and ever more decidedly, about looking over its shoulder. Suuns are pretty clearly arty kids doing rock … but that is no longer enough to put them outside the tradition. Rather, at this point, it just puts them in the long tradition of arty kids doing rock. When the Suuns reference Sonic…

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The Other NRA

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN WAIT(ER) MAGAZINE
SEPTEMBER 3, 2013

The current federal hourly rate for tipped employees stands at $2.13. You are reading that correctly and yes, it is September 2013. That amount reads $2.13, U.S. dollars. In fact, it has been at that amount since 1991. You can pick your jaw up off the ground now. In all fairness, while that federal amount has remained frozen, the ultimate minimum wage burden has been pushed down to a state level. And the states vary in how they handle tipped and non-tipped minimum wage employees. If you are scratching your head, wondering how the Federal baseline can be so low, you can thank the NRA.Nope, not the National Rifle Association, the OTHER NRA, the National Restaurant Association.

Thanks to 2012 Republican Presidential candidate, and former National Restaurant Association head, Herman Cain, it’s quite conceivable that it will stay at $2.13. You see, way back in 1996 during minimum wage increase negotiations in Congress, then NRA honcho Cain said, “We (the NRA) won’t oppose the overall minimum wage continuing to go up as long as the minimum wage for tipped workers stays frozen (wait for it)…forever.”

Can’t you just hear the diabolical chortling?

One can’t ignore that the National Restaurant Association is the tenth largest lobbying firm in the country and they tend to lobby on the conservative side. Why the head of a lobbying firm (Cain), and not an elected official, was able to wield this sort of influence should alarm you. It probably doesn’t, but it should. We all know the influence that lobbyists have on Washington D.C. lawmakers and the prevailing cynicism about American politics tells us this sort of manipulation is nothing new.

There is something inherently Dickensonian about strong-arming Congress in 1996 to keep the federal tipped minimum wage frozen…forever. Seriously, every time I read that I hear evil echoing laughter in my head. It’s like thinking that the pre-dream sequence Ebenezer Scrooge was an amazing capitalist and not just a raging asshole.

As anyone reading this probably knows, Herman Cain, and the other NRA, were successful in their lobbying endeavor…and throwing a huge chunk of the American public into poverty in the process.

The restaurant industry has so many elephants in the room that it would be a Sisyphean task to address them all in one article. But a good one to start with is the hourly wage.

Servers rely on tips to live. It’s worth noting that when tipping was first introduced in this country, it was met with “impassioned and organized opposition”. In an NYTimes article by Paul Wachter from 2008, he states that “tipping is almost antithetical to the democratic ideal because it truly began as an aristocratic practice, a sprinkle of change for social inferiors”.

However, when the aristocrats aren’t around to sprinkle the change; it’s that hourly wage that the wait staff rely on. It helps offset those days. Well, it should anyway. I once worked at a restaurant where I had to rely solely on a shift wage because there was literally no, and I mean NO, bar service. The only food I got were the two shift meals. I barely made enough in shift pay for gas to get to work. Rent was always late. It was horrible.

According to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, 7 of the 10 lowest paying jobs in the United States are restaurant jobs. With 10 million restaurant workers in the U.S., is it any wonder that the poverty rate among restaurant employees is three times that of the non-restaurant workforce? Did you know that food servers use food stamps at double the rate of the U.S. workforce?

By virtually every statistic imaginable, it would appear as though the aristocrat’s are not holding up their end of the bargain.

There is a small, but growing, movement among independently owned American full service restaurants to do away with tipping entirely. In some cases, it would mean the elimination of the tip entirely and the service cost being rolled into the menu. In others, it would be simply presented on the bill to the customer, and the customer is then responsible for the total amount.

What a dream it would be to go out to dinner and simply pay the bill; to not have to break out the calculator or an abacus to do some sort of math calculation that must somehow factor in an approval rating while fitting in with social mores.

While unlikely, eliminating a tipped environment entirely would certainly allow for a more consistent and livable wage among tipped employees. The amount servers make per shift vacillates and, as we all know, bills like rent and food don’t. Unfortunately, the majority of tipped employees work for large restaurant corporations and these corporations are closely tied to, and big supporters of, the NRA. This affiliation and steadfast commitment to keeping the status quo, at $2.13, all but insures that the poverty rate for servers will remain at three times the rest of the United States.

As corporation coffers continue to swell as the majority of us sit, unemployed, underemployed or double employed, through this glacially paced recovery, the employment within the restaurant industry continues to grow. According to restaurant.org, after hitting a 17-year high in 2012, 2013 “will represent the 14th consecutive year in which the restaurant job growth outpaces the overall economy.” Read alone, an amazing statistic. Paired with the fact that food servers generally exist below the poverty line, not so amazing.

It seems to me we can kill two birds with one stone by simply raising the minimum wage among tipped employees.

One bird we could kill would be the bloviating about welfare abuse. It would seem to me that if tipped employees live below the poverty rate at three-times the non-restaurant workforce and food servers use food stamps at double the rate of U.S. workforce, raising the rate on a Federal level from $2.13 would help alleviate that and the bitching.

The other, more esoteric bird, is that this adjustment would have a profound impact on such a large amount of the population that it would go a long way towards moving us back towards the democracy we were set up to be. An added bonus is that it would move a large number of people from poverty into the middle class.

If the restaurant industry continues to grow as projected, simple math tells us that with addressing this issue in some capacity, more and more people will sink into poverty and ultimately rely on government services.

There is plenty of blame to go around on how far we have slipped as a culture and a democracy. And certainly there is plenty of blame within the restaurant industry as to why it grows and yet its employee’s standard of living does not. One could start by blaming the tenth largest lobbying firm in Washington D.C., the National Restaurant Association, for wielding such power as to keep the Federal minimum wage for tipped employees frozen at $2.13, forever. That just defines new degrees of absurdity. And if a total re-alignment of the industry and the eradication of the tipping standard is not possible (and they’re not) than it’s up to the corporations to step up and take responsibility for their staff.

Yea, I guess we all know how that ends up.

Keith R. Higgons is the publisher and editor of wait(er) Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @krhiggons and on the web at keithrhiggons.com.

Additional Sources:

Department of Labor Chart

ROC United

Resaurant.org

IWW

Photo reprinted without permission under Creative Commons License.

UPDATE: Not affiliated with The Other NRA by Steven Rosenfeld published 8.27 on AlterNet. Linked here to billmoyers.com

 

Until I’m One With You

You might recall Ryan Bingham as the guy who seemingly came out of nowhere with the award winnng song “The Weary Kind” from the 2009 movie Crazy Heart.

After his win, Bingham continued his journeyman career and currently provides the title song for the FX show The Bridge (based on the Swedish original). Unless you are into glacially paced, brilliantly written and well acted crime drama’s, you’re probably not watching it. Luckily for me, I like that stuff, so I tune in to FX every Wednesday at 10pm.

The Bridge is in the same vein as AMC’s Swedish crime import, The Killing. In other words, it’s often been frustratingly amazing with minor dips into excellence. So the show is really great but for the past 12 weeks I’ve watched the opening sequence to The Bridge and have been annoyed, intrigued, and eventually beguiled by the theme song.

Initially, I was just pissed. In my head, I wanted something powerful and punchy that announced a new crime show. I was excited for this show because I was unable to find the Swedish version anywhere and wanted a theme song to match my excitement. When the opening sequence began with this sparse guitar and gravelly voice, I was irked. By the fourth episode, I had settled into the show, and the opening, and had softened my thinking about the opening song. In fact, I started playing this game with myself to see if I could figure out who the artist was without looking it up or at watching the end credits. By episode eight, I was affixed to both the show and how well the opening song worked. Everything was nothing short of brilliant.

But I still couldn’t figure out who performed the opening song. Obviously, by the tenth episode I was adamant about figuring it out myself and was confident I would eventually get it. This past week as the opening began I serendipitously recalled how much I liked the songs from Crazy Heart but when I heard the raspy voiced Ryan Bingham sing them, they didn’t work for me. There it was, that voice!

The opening song was Ryan Bingham.

Immediately, I double checked myself on them Internets and sho’nuff, it was Ryan Bingham and the song was called “Until I’m One With You”. I hopped on iTunes and splurged on the 1.29. I’ve listened to the song exclusively for the past two 36 hours.

“Until I’m One With You” completely ignores any sort of traditional song structure or pedantic rhyming scheme. It’s lonely and haunting guitar accompanying Bingham’s raspy voice and plaintive lyrics makes for one of the most affecting songs in recent memory. It’s the beautiful simplicity of the vocals and the lyrics that seemingly wants to tell us what love should be but it’s the tone of the song and a closer listen to the lyrics that reminds us of the complexity that love always is. As a stand alone song, it’s jaw dropping in its condensed intricacy.

As a theme song for a television show, it’s perfect. Not since the Jonathan Wolff jazz riffs for Seinfeld has a song worked so well in tandem with a shows theme. Wolff’s bass bits helped frame the tonality of comically punchy Seinfeld while Bingham’s song frames the tragedy of The Bridge. Both worm their way into your head so that you are enraptured from the first note and first frame.

Ryan Bingham seems to be channeling the lyrical prowess of Greg Brown and the restraint that guitarist Bo Ramsy uses. Which are both really good things. What is “Until I’m One With You” about ? I dunno. It reveals very little lyrically and you are left to interpret what you can from the songs pacing, Bingham’s singing and a closer reading of the lyrics. My gut tells me it’s not about unrequited love or a break up, as I initially thought. I think it’s about something much more tragic.

I want to believe that the show is smart enough that the song will fit snugly with the arc of this first series. But I will have to wait and see. Even if it doesn’t, it’s still a helluva song.

You’re never going to see anyone twerking to Ryan Bingham’s “Until I’m One With You” because, well, it’s not that type of song. It’s never going to be a hit and it will probably never receive an award. The recording industry doesn’t typically give awards to this type of stuff.

This is the type of song that MacArthur Genius Awards are given for. Yea, it’s that good.

Dick Doblin: Privateye

PUBLISHED ON THE WG NEWS+ ARTS

Web series are a dime a dozen. Every flunky with an idea, an iPhone or digital camera now feels they’re qualified to shoot a web series. “Technical prowess and the syntax of English be damned,” they scream as they upload their dreck to the web. And with powerful distribution tools like YouTube and Vimeo making it as simple as an upload and click to reach an audience…God, or whatever, help us.

But before I spiral down that rabbit hole and I receive a tersely worded email from my editor accompanying a heavily redacted version of this article, I want tell you about one of the better web series, Tyler G. Hall’s Dick Doblin: Privateye.

Hall, a North Carolina native living in East Williamsburg (that’s Bushwick to us old timers), created Dick Doblin: Privateye with his roommate, and lead, Lucas Whitehead. The character came about as Whitehead donned the private dicks signature brown old timey fedora. Said Hall, “Lucas immediately looked like an old fashioned PI with his brier patch mustache and classic good looks.”  The two started riffing at home and soon took Dick Doblin: Privateye to the people capitalizing on their Upright Citizens Brigade improvisational skills on the streets of East BushWilliburg.

Tyler and Whitehead pitched the idea to producer, Ross Brunetti (who also handled sound, editing and camera). Brunetti helped them hone the idea and thus Dick Doblin: Privateye, the web series, was born!

After catching wind of the Dick Doblin: Privateye’s successful screening at Nite Hawk Cinema of all five webisodes (yes, it’s a word now) cut together for a 25 minute Directors Cut, I decided to sit down and watch both that and each of the five “pro tip” episodes separately.

Filmed primarily in Park Slope and Williamsburg, Dick Doblin: Privateye is a sort of local road web series that centers around transplanted Pittsburgh PI Dick Doblin and his “pro tip videos on how to become a professional private eye.” The only problem is that his camera is stolen during the first episode, while he is shooting his first “pro-tip”.

The always thinking Dick Doblin: Privateye enlists the help of his old Pittsburgh buddy, Randy, played by writer/director Hall, to put his “pro tip series” into action, and production. Randy films each of the five tips as Dick Doblin: Privateye utilizes them to catch this “punk kid with a hooligan haircut and a drop out attitude” who stole his camera.

Taken as a long form 25-minute show, the premise and jokes in Dick Doblin: Privateye wear thin and fall flat pretty quickly. It seems as though this long form version was an after thought and the webisodes were cut together to meet a standard sitcom format. For me, it didn’t work. Fortunately, the editing works well enough that it’s coherent and it flows evenly enough so one doesn’t loose interest.

As a web series, it truly shines. It’s in these shorter versions where the jokes seem stronger and less one-dimensional. The writing and cinema vérité filmmaking have more impact when the webisodes are screened individually. I won’t spoil some of the funnier parts, but the saxophone shout out in episode 5 was a particular favorite. It genuinely left me wanting more. As a web series, it’s very effective and seriously funny.

What holds both the long and short form versions of Dick Doblin: Privateye is the sincerity of Lucas Whitehead. His Dick Doblin: Privateye comes across as an unfrozen film noir private dick crossed with the looks of “Bass-o-Matic” era SNL Dan Akroyd and the lanky cluelessness of Whitest Kid U’ Know Trevor Moore. The bonus music video on the Dick Doblin: Privatey web site of Whitehead’s Trick Trodlin character singing an absolutely aborted and ridiculous version of “Old Man River” solidifies his connection to Moore and Akroyd.

When I reached out to Hall for a couple of follow up questions, it would seem that Dick Doblin: Privateye was still around. Commandeering Hall’s computer he fired off what can only be described as “whiskey soaked tips from a private dick”. Among them:

  • You can never be sure if food in Brooklyn will be “vegan” so bring some bacon bits just in case.
  • Look both ways before crossing Dick Doblin.
  • Did you know it’s illegal to smell bad on the subway? Oh it isn’t? Well it should be.
  • A good Privateye never reveals his clients…unless that client is Steve Buscemi and he still owes you money.
  • Being a Privateye isn’t all meeting women next to steamy sewer grates on dark nights. But sometimes it is and sometimes that woman is named Lucille Marlow and she’ll break your heart because she doesn’t know what’s good for– I’m sorry, what was your question?

Luckily, Hall was eventually able to subdue the intoxicated Doblin and reply to my questions. He told me that Dick Doblin: Privateye, while taking a needed rest, will be back for a more polished second series. He also told me that he and Whitehead have kicked around a spin-off show for Trick Trodlin and that both he and Whitehead will remain active with their improv team, Power Nap.

Dick Doblin: Privateye reminds me of what is good about both the web and web series. The web is the home where developing artists can explore their creativity and receive quantifiable feedback by views, comments and likes. Much like CBGB’s was home to a burgeoning punk rock movement and bands could receive quantifiable feedback by filling the place. And web series like Dick Doblin: Privateye represent the artists of that scene, like the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie.

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of bands played at CBGB’s and yet we still only talk about 20 artists, give or take, from those golden years of CBGB. Similarly, here we are in the golden era of web video where millions of videos and web series are uploaded and watched every day on the web. That’s a lot of noise to overcome for the Dick Doblin: Privateye crew of Tyler G. Hall, Lucas Whitehead and Ross Brunetti.

One thing is for certain, I’d like to see some more Dick Doblin: Privateye. So should you.

CLICK HERE TO SEE DICK IN ACTION

Why The Replacements Matter

Yesterday I saw a glimmer of hope for future generations. I was perusing the stationary/book store, in the bowels of Rockefeller Plaza, on the prowl for unneeded reading material. I found nothing…came close, but decided against the Peter Criss autobiography. I settled on purchasing a few unneeded Moleskin booklets, a package of three for 8.95, how could I go wrong? As I went up to pay I heard an all too familiar tune. A song that caused my heart to almost stop. Could it be really playing here? Was I in some way to hip independent film? Did I break the time space continuum? As I walked up, playing just loud enough for those who knew to know was “I’m In Trouble” by The Replacements, from their first album Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash.

Trying to deconstruct why The Replacements are one of the most important bands in rock and roll is an exercise in futility. If you don’t understand them by now, you never will. That’s not an indictment against you or your taste (OK, maybe against your taste). It’s not that their music or lyrics are in the same esoteric zip code of Frank Zappa or The Grateful Dead. They’re not like that at all. In fact, the ‘mats are as welcoming a band as you could hope for…as long as you can stomach alienation, sarcasm, snark, love and rebellion.

I chuckled and said to the clerk “It’s not every day I get to hear the ‘mats in a store.” Truth is, even when they were a full time working band you seldom heard them…anywhere. I used to get in trouble for playing the piss out of Don’t Tell A Soul when I worked in a record store during my Rob Gordon days. Since their break up almost 22 years ago, you hear them even less than seldom…if that is possible.

Nonetheless, hear they were playing a live version of “I’m In Trouble”…in 2013…in some tiny paper product store in Rockefeller Plaza. The kid, barely 25 if I had to guess, and I looked at each other and smiled. He said “Yea, this is from this weekends show in Toronto.”
“Oh, yea, that’s right they are doing those three festival dates this year.”

To a Replacements fan, a reunion seemed almost always likely to happen, but we just never knew when. They had reunited for a couple new tracks for a Best Of album a few years ago. And the new songs were pretty disposable. They weren’t bad, they just didn’t seem into it. But then they reunited last year to record some material for their former guitar player Slim Dunlap who suffered a serious stroke awhile back. Songs for Slim is an ongoing project where artists cover some of Slims songs and release special packages to help pay for his care. The first in that series was a reunited Replacements. And on this EP they sounded reinvigorated.

I said to my new found kindred ‘mats friend “I wanted to go to the show in Chicago, but it didn’t work out. I guess I will have to hope for a full fledged tour.” He handed me my change smiling and without gloating said “Yea, I’m going to the Chicago show.” I about fell to my shoes. The lineup for the upcoming Riot Fest in Chicago is a Gen X’ers wet dream: Bob Mould, Public Enemy, The Pixies, Mission of Burma, et. al.
“You bastard” I replied jokingly. I took my changed, shook my head and smiled, “Enjoy the show.”

The Replacements are more than just the folklore of drunken debauchery. They’re more than Tommy Stinson playing bass for the current incarnation of Genu-n-Roses. They’re more than Paul Westerberg’s self imposed exhile in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. They’re more than Chris Mars paintings and art work. They’re more than Bob Stinson’s death. They’re more than Slim Dunlaps stroke. They’re more than their history, real or embellished, and they’re more than their music.

Purists might argue that it is not the Replacements without Chris Mars and there is some legitimacy to that. Purists might also argue that they were never the same after they kicked Bob Stinson out. To that I would say, with all respect to the memory of Bob Stinson, that’s probably a good thing. The soul of the band has always been Tommy and Paul. So as long as it’s them, it is really the ‘mats. Is it perfect? No, absolutely not, but The Replacements were absolutely never ever about being perfect.

Obviously what makes The Replacements significant is the music. The names of bands they have influenced is ridiculously long and ever growing, thankfully. Listening to Paul Westerberg grow from wise ass punk to pure songsmith is one of the greatest rewards in music. Seriously. From the start, their songs straddle the fence of brilliant and tragic. Their songs, their music and their career are probably best summed up by Westerberg’s own song “I Don’t Know”, off Please to Meet Me, “One foot in the door, the other on in the gutter”.

What makes The Replacements matter is their connection with the fans. I mean, the fans. When you find someone listening to The Replacements you know, you just know it’s a kindred spirit. Whatever walls you may have up immediately come crumbling down. There is a calmness that comes over you when you run across someone listening to them, it’s like an auditory Xanax. For some reason, and it’s hard to truly explain in a blog post, when you meet a fan you just know you have a connection that will transcend the music.

I’m not entirely convinced this is something the band set out to do, but it’s what they did. I’m not even sure it is something that could be done by design. They accomplished what every band dies to do. they connected with their audience. And they still do. Sure, they embraced the beer swilling jocks, the angry punks but longed to talk to the kid in the back shouting out to hear “Skyway”. Those where they people they played to.

No, they never got the huge record sales they deserved, but somehow, that seems fitting. It’s not like they didn’t try, they did. In their own way. A video of just a speaker playing your song as your first video, for your first single off your major label debut at the height of MTV (they really did play videos once) and at the dawn of the college rock movement in the early to mid 80’s was probably not the smartest career move. But it was uniquely, purely and brilliantly The Replacements.

Watching that video you can almost hear the record company snarling, pissing and moaning because they knew what they had. They had a band,  the band, that could have defined a generation. You can almost hear the band sitting off to the side drinking their Mickey’s saying “Flcuk you fellas, we’re doing it our way.” The Replacements were the epitome of rebellion when we needed rebels the most. And maybe they didn’t define a generation, they influenced generations.

So, why do The Replacements matter? They’re not good looking, they have a reputation for being prickly, they’re not a perfect live act (Westerberg always forgets lyrics), they’re not super stars, they’ve never shied away from their foibles and missteps and often times, embraced them.

What makes them matter?
The Replacements are me.
They’re you.
They’re real.
They’re honest.
They’re human.
They’re not Gods.

They’re just The Replacements.

_____________________________________________

If you have never heard The Replacements, start with Please to Meet Me, then work backwards, then go forwards. PTMM is just brilliant. Some may say start with Tim, but I find the production on that album a little too tinny for me. Great album, but for my money PTMM captures them perfectly.

Below is a video from some crap ass awards show (the statue was actually and Elvis) where they perform “Talent Show” off Don’t Tell A Soul. While the introduction is certainly tongue in cheek, it about sums up the industries attitude towards them.

They bleep out this line “We’re feelin’ good from the pills we took” because the band wouldn’t change the lyric for the live telecast. So what did they do? They changed this line “It’s too late to turn back, here we go” to “It’s too late to take pills here we go“. God bless them.

Where Were You When Elvis Died?

I’ll always equate the death of Elvis with staying at HoJo’s and going back to school. Despite that, I still like a lot of his music and recognize his influence.

Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, died on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42. My family was moving back from Canada and we were squirreled away in some Howard Johnson’s off some highway in the Twin Cities.

At the time, my music tastes ran from KISS to Elton John to Hall and Oates, so the impact or historical significance didn’t quite register. I don’t even recall anyone in my family being too upset. Of course, in later years my mother would profess to have been deeply impacted by his death. My father maintained a steadfast commitment to ambivalence when it came to all things pop culture related so the passing of the King of Rock and Roll was nothing more than a brief segment on the nightly news. Dad likes rock and roll about as much as a prostate exam.

Anyway, I ran across the late great Lester Bangs homage to the Kings death in the Village Voice form 1977 and pinched it. I got it from here, but I suspect that it was also pinched. Nonetheless, it is a great story written in Lester’s truly unique voice. Love it or hate it, it was his voice. Bangs was a true wordsmith par excellence and his love of rock music was unparalleled. Frankly, there was probably no greater rock critic during the 1970’s than Lester Bangs.

It’s along because it was written at a time when journalism still had some gravitas and journalists still had opinions. They weren’t just ivy league puppets crafting corporate message disguised as news. So if you have a short attention span or don’t understand the concept of journalism, best to move on. You won’t like this.

For those that choose to muscle through, enjoy!
(psst Dad, you can probably avoid this one. Not sure you’ll like the writing and I know you won’t like the content.)

Where Were You When Elvis Died?
by Lester Bangs
The Village Voice, 29 August 1977

Where were you when Elvis died? What were you doing and what did it give you an excuse to do with the rest of your day? That’s what we’ll be talking about in the future when we remember this grand occasion. Like Pearl Harbor or JFK’s assassination, it boiled down to individual reminiscences, which is perhaps as it should be, because in spite of his greatness, etc., etc., Elvis had left us each alone as he was; I mean, he wasn’t exactly a Man of the People anymore, if you get my drift. If you don’t I will drift even further, away from Elvis into contemplation of why all our public heroes seem to reinforce our own solitude.

The ultimate sin of any performer is contempt for the audience. Those who indulge in it will ultimately reap the scorn of those they’ve dumped on, whether they live forever like Andy Paleface Warhol or die fashionably early like Lenny Bruce, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday. The two things that distinguish those deaths from Elvis’s (he and they having drug habits vaguely in common) were that all of them died on the outside looking in and none of them took their audience for granted. Which is why it’s just a little bit harder for me to see Elvis as a tragic figure; I see him as being more like the Pentagon, a giant armored institution nobody knows anything about except that its power is legendary.

Obviously we all liked Elvis better than the Pentagon, but look at what a paltry statement that is. In the end, Elvis’s scorn for his fans as manifested in “new” albums full of previously released material and one new song to make sure all us suckers would buy it was mirrored in the scorn we all secretly or not so secretly felt for a man who came closer to godhood than Carlos Castaneda until military conscription tamed and revealed him for the dumb lackey he always was in the first place. And ever since, for almost two decades now, we’ve been waiting for him to get wild again, fools that we are, and he probably knew better than any of us in his heart of hearts that it was never gonna happen again, his heart of hearts so obviously not being our collective heart of hearts, he being so obviously just some poor dumb Southern boy with a Big Daddy manager to screen the world for him and filter out anything which might erode his status as big strapping baby bringing home the bucks, and finally being sort of perversely celebrated at least by rock critics for his utter contempt for whoever cared about him.

And Elvis was perverse; only a true pervert could put out something like “Having Fun with Elvis On Stage”, that album released three or so years back which consisted entirely of between-song onstage patter so redundant it would make both Willy Burroughs and Gert Stein blush. Elvis was into marketing boredom when Andy Warhol was still doing shoe ads, but Elvis’s sin was his failure to realize that his fans were not perverse – they loved him without qualification, no matter what he dumped on them they loyally lapped it up, and that’s why I feel a hell of a lot sorrier for all those poor jerks than for Elvis himself. I mean, who’s left they can stand all night in the rain for? Nobody, and the true tragedy is the tragedy of an entire generation which refuses to give up its adolescence even as it feels its menopausal paunch begin to blossom and its hair recede over the horizon – along with Elvis and everything else they once thought they believed in. Will they care in five years what he’s been doing for the last twenty?

Sure, Elvis’s death is a relatively minor ironic variant on the future-shock mazurka, and perhaps the most significant thing about Elvis’s exit is that the entire history of the seventies has been retreads and brutal demystification; three of Elvis’s ex-bodyguards recently got together with this hacker from the New York Post and whipped up a book which dosed us with all the dirt we’d yearned for for so long. Elvis was the last of our sacred cows to be publicly mutilated; everybody knows Keith Richard likes his junk, but when Elvis went onstage in a stupor nobody breathed a hint of “Quaalude….” In a way, this was both good and bad, good because Elvis wasn’t encouraging other people to think it was cool to be a walking Physicians’ Desk Reference, bad because Elvis stood for that Nixonian Secrecy-as-Virtue which was passed off as the essence of Americanism for a few years there. In a sense he could be seen not only as a phenomenon that exploded in the fifties to help shape the psychic jailbreak of the sixties but ultimately as a perfect cultural expression of what the Nixon years were all about. Not that he prospered more then, but that his passion for the privacy of potentates allowed him to get away with almost literal murder, certainly with the symbolic rape of his fans, meaning that we might all do better to think about waving good-bye with one upraised finger.

I got the news of Elvis’s death while drinking beer with a friend and fellow music journalist on his fire escape on 21st Street in Chelsea. Chelsea is a good neighborhood; in spite of the fact that the insane woman who lives upstairs keeps him awake all night every night with her rants at no one, my friend stays there because he likes the sense of community within diversity in that neighborhood: old-time card-carrying Communists live in his building alongside people of every persuasion popularly lumped as “ethnic.” When we heard about Elvis we knew a wake was in order, so I went out to the deli for a case of beer. As I left the building I passed some Latin guys hanging out by the front door. “Heard the news? Elvis is dead!” I told them. They looked at me with contemptuous indifference. So What. Maybe if I had told them Donna Summer was dead I might have gotten a reaction; I do recall walking in this neighborhood wearing a T-shirt that said “Disco Sucks” with a vast unamused muttering in my wake, which only goes to show that not for everyone was Elvis the still-reigning King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, in fact not for everyone is rock ‘n’ roll the still-reigning music. By now, each citizen has found his own little obsessive corner to blast his brain in: as the sixties were supremely narcissistic, solipsism’s what the seventies have been about, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the world of “pop” music. And Elvis may have been the greatest solipsist of all.

I asked for two six-packs at the deli and told the guy behind the counter the news. He looked fifty years old, greying, big belly, life still in his eyes, and he said: “Shit, that’s too bad. I guess our only hope now is if the Beatles get back together.”

Fifty years old.

I told him I thought that would be the biggest anticlimax in history and that the best thing the Stones could do now would be to break up and spare us all further embarrassments.

He laughed, and gave me directions to a meat market down the street. There I asked the counterman the same question I had been asking everyone. He was in his fifties too, and he said, “You know what? I don’t care that bastard’s dead. I took my wife to see him in Vegas in ’73, we paid fourteen dollars a ticket, and he came out and sang for twenty minutes. Then he fell down. Then he stood up and sang a couple more songs, then he fell down again. Finally he said, ‘well, shit, I might as well sing sitting as standing.’ So he squatted on the stage and asked the band what song they wanted to do next, but before they could answer he was complaining about the lights. ‘They’re too bright,’ he says. ‘They hurt my eyes. Put ’em out or I don’t sing a note.’ So they do. So me and my wife are sitting in total blackness listening to this guy sing songs we knew and loved, and I ain’t just talking about his old goddam songs, but he totally butchered all of ’em. Fuck him. I’m not saying I’m glad he’s dead, but I know one thing: I got taken when I went to see Elvis Presley.”

I got taken too the one time I saw Elvis, but in a totally different way. It was the autumn of 1971, and two tickets to an Elvis show turned up at the offices of Creem magazine, where I was then employed. It was decided that those staff members who had never had the privilege of witnessing Elvis should get the tickets, which was how me and art director Charlie Auringer ended up in nearly the front row of the biggest arena in Detroit. Earlier Charlie had said, “Do you realize how much we could get if we sold these fucking things?” I didn’t, but how precious they were became totally clear the instant Elvis sauntered onto the stage. He was the only male performer I have ever seen to whom I responded sexually; it wasn’t real arousal, rather an erection of the heart, when I looked at him I went mad with desire and envy and worship and self-projection. I mean, Mick Jagger, whom I saw as far back as 1964 and twice in ’65, never even came close.

There was Elvis, dressed up in this ridiculous white suit which looked like some studded Arthurian castle, and he was too fat, and the buckle on his belt was as big as your head except that your head is not made of solid gold, and any lesser man would have been the spittin’ image of a Neil Diamond damfool in such a getup, but on Elvis it fit. What didn’t? No matter how lousy his records ever got, no matter how intently he pursued mediocrity, there was still some hint, some flash left over from the days when…well, I wasn’t there, so I won’t presume to comment. But I will say this: Elvis Presley was the man who brought overt blatant vulgar sexual frenzy to the popular arts in America (and thereby to the nation itself, since putting “popular arts” and “America” in the same sentence seems almost redundant). It has been said that he was the first white to sing like a black person, which is untrue in terms of hard facts but totally true in terms of cultural impact. But what’s more crucial is that when Elvis started wiggling his hips and Ed Sullivan refused to show it, the entire country went into a paroxysm of sexual frustration leading to abiding discontent which culminated in the explosion of psychedelic-militant folklore which was the sixties.

I mean, don’t tell me about Lenny Bruce, man – Lenny Bruce said dirty words in public and obtained a kind of consensual martyrdom. Plus which Lenny Bruce was hip, too goddam hip if you ask me, which was his undoing, whereas Elvis was not hip at all, Elvis was a goddam truck driver who worshipped his mother and would never say shit or fuck around her, and Elvis alerted America to the fact that it had a groin with imperatives that had been stifled. Lenny Bruce demonstrated how far you could push a society as repressed as ours and how much you could get away with, but Elvis kicked “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” out the window and replaced it with “Let’s fuck.” The rest of us are still reeling from the impact. Sexual chaos reigns currently, but out of chaos may flow true understanding and harmony, and either way Elvis almost singlehandedly opened the floodgates. That night in Detroit, a night I will never forget, he had but to ever so slightly move one shoulder muscle, not even a shrug, and the girls in the gallery hit by its ray screamed, fainted, howled in heat. Literally, every time this man moved any part of his body the slightest centimeter, tens or tens of thousands of people went berserk. Not Sinatra, not Jagger, not the Beatles, nobody you can come up with ever elicited such hysteria among so many. And this after a decade and a half of crappy records, of making a point of not trying.

If love truly is going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others’ objects of reverence. I thought it was Iggy Stooge, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation’s many pains and few ecstasies. We will continue to fragment in this manner, because solipsism holds all the cards at present; it is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis’s. But I can guarantee you one thing: we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.

New Tax Code Promises K-Y Deduction

I just finished reading an article in the August 5-11 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. Some interesting articles in there. The cover story is on whether or not Marissa Mayer can save Yahoo, there’s an interesting read on the Russian version of Facebook, Vkontakte, an article on some leadership lessons from Walter White, the character that actor Bryan Cranston plays in the television show “Breaking Bad” and a slew of short information nuggets.

Like this one on page 25 entitled “An Actual Vault to Hide Senators’ Secrets.” In short, Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana and Orrin Hatch, the Republican from Utah, are working on rewriting the new tax code. The first real rewrite since 1986. Actually, its not so much a rewrite as wiping the slate clean and starting form scratch. And in typical political fashion, it’s rather f’ed up.

     “They proposed sweeping away the tax codes thousands of loopholes, then asked their colleagues to submit written requests for the deductions they want put back in, assuring them that the requests would be kept private. Th response: silence. Senators didn’t want word to leak that they’d supported special tax breaks.

To combat the silence, Hatch and Baucus came up with a plan worthy of the George W. Bush regime.  The Bloomberg article has a leaked memo from July 19 that promises to keep the lawmakers tax code “wish lists” private.

Just in case you’ve been in a coma for the past 20+ years, most tax laws currently in place do not favor the middle class. Even in 1986, the tax breaks had very very little impact on the middle class and have slowly been hacked at and eroded to the point where almost any tax break or loophole is exclusively for corporations or the rich. The really rich, not the kinda rich. The “own an island” rich.

Let’s briefly recap before we move on. New tax code being written from scratch. Scribes Baucus and Hatch reach out to fellow lawmakers asking for their tax code wish list. No one responds. In an effort to get them to cooperate without reprisals from lobbyists, voters or other senators, they have developed a way to keep their “wish lists” secret, a vault. Literally.

Yea, yea, sure the process is interesting that they’ve developed to keep the stuff safe. Fine. Neat. Vault, whoopee. But the method or repository isn’t the story. It’s the fact that these wish lists will be kept secret and physically locked up for…wait for it….FIFTY YEARS.

FIFTY F’ING YEARS!

Let me break that down. New tax code being written. Lawmakers can submit which tax breaks and loopholes they want to keep in.  They can submit their wishes in complete secrecy. Those wishes will be locked up (seriously) and kept from the public! For 50 years!

For a little perspective, the Senate’s internal records are sealed from public view for 20 years, documents on the presidents nominees remain secret for 50 years as well as Senate investigations. Tax reform falls under none of that.

Now that authors Bauscus and Hatch have established some bipartisan trust, built off the promise of secrecy, senators are responding. The idea of trust being built from secrecy is almost too much for this ironic brain to handle.

Let me go off topic for a moment and remind you that there are over 15,000 registered. registered, lobbyists in D.C. and only a little over 500 elected officials. Now, math being what it is and all, tells us there are about 30 lobbyists per one elected official. I am gonna go out on a limb and say that none of those lobbyists represent the interest of the middle class.

Try not to forget that our country, the United States of America, was established to avoid unfair taxation. Does the phrase “No taxation without representation” ring a bell?

Senators Hatch and Baucus are positively stoked to have reached an agreement that has yielded in excess of 1,000 pages of secret suggestions about tax code reform. Or as Hatch said in the article, “I think it was just a good offer to get people to open up more…” Hey assholes, if anyone had the promise of complete secrecy for 50 years, they would open up too!

As the article states, “Only in the U.S. Senate would hiding information the public has every right to know be considered ‘opening up.'”

I honestly don’t give a shit which side of the political fence you sit on, whether you are a tree hugging liberal, a democrat, a steeping tea party member or a republican, having the lawmakers of our country build an entire new tax code in COMPLETE secrecy is not a democracy. It is the very thing our forefathers were trying to get away from! We should absolutely know how our “elected: officials are contributing to the writing of the code to insure they have not been completely co-opted by lobbyists or corporations.

There is a scene in the 1972 John Boorman movie “Deliverance”, starring Burt Reynolds, where co-star Ned Betty is assaulted by some moonshine making rednecks. In the scene, he is called a little piggy and made to squeal like a pig, “Squeal! SQUEAL!”. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the scene. If you haven’t seen it, you should, (long before Burt Reynolds was a punchline or ironic guest star, he was the biggest movie star in the world). A benchmark movie in American cinema.

Make no mistake, unless we know who is contributing what to the writing of this new tax code, you and I will be made to “Squeal! SQUEAL!” There is no way lobbyists have our interests at heart. And with a ratio of 30:1. the only way we get heard is to rise up in unison and let our lawmakers know that we know.

Unless we do something, this new tax code will be so painful that there won’t be a vat of K-Y large enough to ease the pain. Can we seriously sit idly by and watch corporations and the wealthy LEGALLY hijack and write the tax code while our representatives are allowed to cowardly hide behind a veil of secrecy…for 50 years!! That ain’t right folks. Just ain’t right.

Bitch to the rich, patron to the poor, welcome to the middle class!

I couldn’t find the article I pinched a bunch of this information from, but if you do a simple Google search, you will find tons of information.

Who is my Senator?

Sign Petition at Change.org.

The algorithm is gonna get you…but probably not.

Cover letters are boring.

I take it upon myself to make them less so.

Writing cover letters for jobs sucks. I can think of only one thing worse when looking for a job. Actually reading cover letters. But then, when it comes to eye torture like that, I think the Human Resources (ahem) professionals can handle it. It is one of their job functions, right? Or do they outsource that now too?

No matter the job you have, if you are not looking, you’re lying. I’m looking. As such, I have to send these introductory missives, along with my resume, in the hopes that the two documents will find their way through the algorithmic labyrinth that is the modern day job search.

Because my father was an HR executive, you would think I would know better and be all formal and proper in my cover letter approach. You would think that…and you’d be wrong. Of course, the truth is I do know better, but cover letters suck. And the hard fact is that they rarely make it into the spindly fingers of a Human Resource person.

Now you may be thinking I am shooting myself in the foot with writing a cover letter where I inject a little personality. Maybe I am. BUT, if someone actually reads it and looks at my resume and then calls me in for an interview? Well, they certainly know they are getting someone with, at a bare minimum, a personality. How many times do these HR (ahem) professionals bring someone in because they went to the right schools and have the right credentials only to discover that the person ends up being a horrendous fit into the culture? My cover letters serve as a way of introducing my personality and if they are interested, they’ll proceed to my resume to gauge my skills.

What follows below are a couple of cover letters I sent out recently, And if you read them and find yourself asking “Did he really send this as a cover letter?”

Yes. Yes, I did.
Seriously, how often do you get to quote Gloria Estefan in a cover letter?

COVER LETTER #1

coverletter.br

As I look over this one above and the one below again, there are a couple of mistakes and a couple changes I would have made to tighten them up. And maybe I could have done that here in order to make myself look better, but alas, I think it’s best to see these letters as they went out.

Some of you may be wondering what my success rate is with turning these cover letters into actual interviews. It’s low. Very low. Not zero low, but low.
But these days, in New York City, in my industry, to do what I want to do, without a connection or Ivy League education, I am not convinced my success rate would be much higher.

Given that most cover letters and resumes usually end up in some sort of digital employment purgatory (note to companies, you all need to seriously re-think your digital hiring process…BrassRing, still? come on!). I decided to have a little fun with my cover letters and exercise some creativity. Think about it, if they’re interested after reading these, then I know it’s the type of company I would want to work for.

So yea, I sent this one too.

(I obviously redacted any libel information)

COVER LETTER #2

coverletter.vc

STAY TUNED…MORE TO COME!

Words of Encouragement From Yours Truly

I was asked to send a friend some electronic encouragement last week. So I did.

*****y,

I trust you are getting all settled in to your new place. Waiting for the housewarming party…

Word on the street is that some twat at work is bothering you. Here’s the deal sweetheart. People suck. No way around it. My favorite comedian, the late Bill Hicks, said this of the human race, “We’re a virus with shoes.” Probably not what you wanna read first thing in the morning…sorry about that. The upside here is that this person is ALWAYS gonna suck. You see normal people have moments of suckiness but we eventually move past it. It sorta comes and goes…with normal people.

It’s true, we suck to some people, that’s the hard truth no one ever tells us growing up. We’re taught to believe we can do anything, be anything and we’re taught to believe we aren’t assholes. The truth is, we are….sometimes. But people like this jack ass that is giving you grief…they’re always assholes. They’ll never be able to acknowledge it, accept it, let alone escape it.

Dr. Suess wrote a book about it:
http://keithrhiggons.tumblr.com/post/57146814992/if-it-werent-true-it-wouldnt-exist

Some people plod along in their life and achieve varying degrees of success (however one defines it) and never realize they suck. They’re clueless. Fortunately, these people are ultimately harmless. They’re like a declawed house cat. Sure, they may have a little bit of power, but at the end of the day, they’re pretty innocuous.

Of course there are some people who know they suck and just don’t care…those people are scary. Typically they’re sociopaths, politicians, mid-tier entertainment executives or B-list celebrities. You should attempt to steer clear of those people. They’ll fuck you…and not in any way you want.

Here’s what I can tell you about this person that I have never met. Likely it is her own insecurities that are manifesting themselves in the way she treats you. I suspect it has very little, if anything, to do with you. The truth is that there is nothing you will ever be able to do to have her overcome her shit so that she is less shitty towards you. You may be able to have moments where she is nominally less shitty but that is all they will ever be. Moments. Cherish them.

My advice to you would be to pity her. She sucks. She’ll always suck. She literally can’t help it. Try not to let her bring you down or make you angry. Letting someone like that have any influence on your emotions is pointless. That type of person has but one goal and that is to make you, and everyone around them, feel bad. I assure you, it has virtually nothing to do with you.

Maybe someday the American Medical Association will recognize what I call GSD (generalized suckiness disorder) and develop some sort of treatment plan. Until that happens, we are on our own and will have to use our own diagnostic and treatment guidelines.

The other thing to keep in mind is that you suck too. Not all the time and probably only a fraction of the time, but you do. To know that about yourself and accept it allows you to push past the grief this idiot is causing you because you can find solace in knowing she sucks ALL the time and you only suck a fraction of the time. It’s all about empathy.

Also,, don’t cry at work. Just don’t. That may seem like a flip statement, but I assure you it’s not. There is nothing wrong with crying. Nothing. I’ll cry watching “Two and a Half Men”, mainly because I can’t believe a show that crappy is still on the air and is still successful. Just. Don’t. Cry. At. Work. If you have to, go hide. Don’t let anyone see you. It’s an emotional response most people don’t know how to respond to privately and even less so publicly. And sadly, unless they’re tears of joy, they’re seen as weakness by far too many people. You also never know when a Gypsy might be lurking around to steal them (they’ll steal anything). It’s best to just avoid crying at work all together.

Keep in mind you’re not gonna be there forever. You’re still so young so this is just a stepping stone. Treat it as such. Work, make the connections you need to make to get to where you want to be. As you go on that journey, remember this person. It will allow you to recognize the signs when you see them again (and you will). It will remind you that you too can have moments of shittiness yourself. Mostly it will remind you to never ever treat someone the same way. Don’t ever be that person that does crap to someone because it was done to you. I can’t tell you how often I have heard “Well, that’s what happened to me.” It’s a pathetic attitude, it’s wrong and just perpetuates the cycle.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” said Ghandi.
It is that simple.

Above all else enjoy yourself and don’t let this person bring you down. She’s just not worth any energy you spend thinking about her. She sucks. She is always gonna suck. Don’t let her general suckiness disorder disrupt your goals, your skills or your desires.

Fuck her kid. She ain’t worth it.

Much love,
Keith

George Saunders gave the commencement address at Syracuse University this year.
I won’t spoil if for you, but it is worth reading.

We need more kindness.
We need more kind people and less sucky ones. 
http://nyti.ms/14DN0yv