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.

Iron-Maiden-iron-maiden-607278_1024_768-300x225

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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!

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.

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.

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

Our Shadows Taller Than Our Souls

For the umpteenth time, I was watching Heart perform Led Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven” from this years Kennedy Center Awards ceremony the other day. And again I was blown away, simply astounding. Apparently, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant thought it was pretty good too with all three at some point exchanging smiles and nods. At about 3:35 you even see Robert Plant mouth the words “Not bad” to Jimmy Page. The big finish with the choir wearing Zep’s late drummer John Bonham’s signature bowler hat was enough just enough to bring tears to both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

I got to thinking that when Led Zeppelin was at the peak of their power, this was a band that was not only known for their music but also for their epic drinking and drug use, strong attraction to underage girls (most notably guitarist Jimmy Page), alleged ties to the occult and folklore about the misappropriation of a Mudshark in Seattle (NSFW).

The mighty Zep set the gold standard for what would become the era of sex, drugs and rock & roll. I suspect if one could hop in a time machine and go back to 1974 and tell them that in 28 years they would be receiving a Kennedy Center Award, I have no doubt I would have received a right good ass kicking from either Peter Grant or Richard Cole, probably both.

You see, in the 1970’s Led Zeppelin was the biggest act on the planet and accordingly, they were public enemy number one among the “establishment”. In Ohio, where I grew up, it was believed they were just one step away from the dark lord himself, Satan. In fact, I recall my 11th grade English teacher, Mr. Grueber, echoing the fanaticism of fundamentalists and telling us that if you were to play “Stairway to Heaven” backwards, you would hear a message from the devil.

Unless Satan sounds like a warbly Robert Plant being spun backwards, there is no message. I ruined my version of Led Zeppelin IV trying.

The band dissolved after the untimely death of drummer John Bonham. While they considered hiring a replacement, ultimately they realized that Bonham, and what he contributed, was irreplaceable. Over the years they have reunited periodically for different events and with the passing of time they’ve proven that maybe, just maybe, all that hype was just that, hype and that Led Zeppelin was really just a killer rock band. Albeit one  with healthy predilection for drug and alcohol abuse and underage girls.

Time grants forgiveness for past transgressions…for most things. If any band or artist proves that it is certainly Led Zeppelin.

Band drummers like John Bonham are, without question, irreplaceable. But there is a difference between a band drummer and a studio drummer. A studio drummer must be infinitely more flexible stylistically and mustn’t be afraid to be assertive in their contribution to the song.

When one thinks about modern studio drummers who helped shape the sound of modern day rock music, in my mind it can be narrowed down to three, Hal Blaine, Jim Gordon and Jeff Pocaro. All three transcended the role of sideman or hired hand. Hiring any of them was like recruiting a band member for the term of the session, not just a guy who could keep time.

All three helped shape the vibe and sound of every song they contributed to. Blaine is most famously known as a member of the Wrecking Crew, studio wizards who helped Phil Spector create his “Wall of Sound”. Jeff Porcaro was most notably the drummer for the band Toto, but is considered to be “one of the most recorded drummers in history” until his untimely death in 1992.

Sandwiched between Blaine and Porcaro is Jim Gordon. Gordon earned his chops as a session drummer in Los Angeles, playing the gigs that Hal Blaine couldn’t make. Gordon played on anything and everything and right after graduation from high school, he took a job touring Europe as The Everly Brothers drummer. Building a reputation as an inventive and reliable session drummer in the late 1960’s was no easy task and Jim Gordon did it, in spades.

After touring with Delany & Bonnie, he went off on Joe Cocker’s appropriately named Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. When that tour ended he lined up session work on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. While that music is not necessarily music of my era, I am enough of a student to recognize that is a trifecta of rock & roll awesome. Hell, just to have survived those three things would have been an accomplishment, let alone actively be a creative participant. Perhaps most importantly, the principle backing band on the Phil Spector produced All Things Must Pass ultimately became Derek and the Domino’s, led by God himself, Eric Clapton.

It’s hard to believe that the classic we now know as Derek and the Domino’s Laya and Assorted Other Love Songs was largely ignored when it was released. Clapton refused to market it as an Eric Clapton album so record companies did what record companies did (and still do) best, acted like petulant children and retaliated by not marketing it. Funny thing though, fans of music are far smarter than record honchos give use credit for, and even though the album was not heavily marketed, Laya and Assorted Other Love Songs quickly became one of the most definitive albums of the early 1970’s. The band’s signature song “Layla” was written by Clapton and Gordon is still a rock & roll staple. Besides the brilliant and instantly recognizable guitar intro and Clapton’s anguished pleas, it is Gordon’s piano coda that haunts this song and makes it one of the most sorrowful pieces of music in rock &roll.

Jim Gordon was not just a drummer, he was a genius. Maybe not by MENSA standards, but when it came to rock music in the late 1960’s through the mid 1970’s there was no one better. Even after Derek and the Domino’s imploded, Eric Clapton considered him “The best drummer in rock and roll” and used him on every solo album through Slowhand.

While Jeff Pacaro may have the title of “the most recorded drummer” there can be no doubt that Jim Gordon was arguably first in quality. The list of albums Jim Gordon contributed to is as long as it is varied. He effortlessly floated from genre to genre, from Mel Torme’ to Merle Haggard to Linda Rondstadt to Steely Dan to Carly Simon to John Lennon to Harry Nilsson to commercial jingles to Muzak and everywhere in between. Jim Gordon set a platinum standard for what it meant to be not just a session drummer, but a drummer as musician. Gordon’s ability to jump from genre to genre so aptly and impact each song so perfectly was almost schizophrenic. There’s a reason for that.

Jim Gordon is schizophrenic.

And on June 3, 1983 Jim Gordon’s illness overcame him and he killed his mother.

He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 16 years to life and has been incarcerated in California since 1984.

However, Jim Gordon’s story is more than just his illness and his crime and his music. It’s a cautionary tale of drug abuse as well as an indictment of the medical establishment at the time, Los Angeles authorities and the permissive nature permeating the entertainment industry. To dismiss Jim Gordon off as “crazy” is simple minded and negates both his illness and egregiously undermines his creative contributions.

Has enough time lapsed that we can re-examine Jim Gordon independent of his crime? In no way I am suggesting ignore his crime. It happened and it can never be understood, condoned or forgotten.

In our society, mental illness of any kind makes people nervous. Mental illness is a kind of societal leprosy. To acknowledge it in any fashion is to immediately become ostracized. Something as complicated and messy as schizophrenia is exponentially worse than depression or bi-polar disorder. There have certainly been advances in comprehending mental health issues and as permissive as the entertainment industry is, it generally still ignores mental illness and certainly doesn’t tolerate murder. It’s not surprising that many of Gordon’s colleagues and friends turned away from him after he was arrested and convicted.

Gordon is currently in prison and considering he was just up for parole for the fourth time and denied it, I am not entirely sure he will be released from prison any time soon. And I’m in no way asking anyone to ignore or forgive his crime, but 30 years on, he is paying for it and, I hope, getting treatment for his illness.

The music that Jim Gordon created and contributed to literally built the foundation for an entire genre of music and came to define an entire generation. While it may be the drummers plight to remain in the background there are those that truly rise above and deserve a more critical examination than those who can simply play to a click track and keep 4/4 time.

Jim Gordon contributed too much to be so easily dismissed as “crazy” or forgotten so simply. What we know as fact is that he killed his mother, he is genuinely ill and he was without peer for the period of time he was a practicing musician. We also know that his story is tragically complicated and made even more tragic by slowly letting his creative contributions continue to slip away.

Has enough time gone by that we can look at his work independent of his crime?

I can’t make an argument for parole and in no way presuppose any sort of award or admittance into any “hall of fame”. I just think that maybe we can take another look at his work and see where it fits into the pantheon of rock & roll.

There will be those who may think I am comparing murder to whatever misbehavior Led Zeppelin may or may not have participated in.
I am not. The shenanigans of young spoiled rich and polluted rock stars hardly compares to a schizophrenic committing matricide.

There will be those who think that I don’t believe Led Zeppelin deserving of the Kennedy Center Award.
That is wrong. I love Led Zeppelin and think that they deserve all that they have received and continue to receive. For my money, second only to The Beatles in rock & roll significance.

There will be those who think I may be dismissive of the other surviving Gordon family members or want to forget his mother, Osa Marie Gordon.
I am not. What the entire Gordon family has experienced is something no family should ever have to experience.

There will be those who think I am a Jim Gordon apologist.
I am not. I have no illusions about what he did. He bludgeoned his mother with a hammer and stabbed her. That is fact. I also know schizophrenia wreaks havoc on not only an individual but also a family and ultimately, a society.

But isn’t Jim Gordon more than his crime? Isn’t he more than his illness?

A cursory look at the music Jim Gordon contributed to is simply jaw dropping. I think it’s time that the man get some critical analysis of his creative collaborations. As more years go by both he and his legacy continue to be marginalized.

And that is just another tragic layer to an already epically tragic tale.

Further Study:

You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
Yep, that is Jim Gordon on drums. For my money, after the lyrics and Carly, the third most important part of that song.

Jump Into the Fire – Harry Nilsson
Find a better groove, I dare you.

What is Life – George Harrison
Proving that he was Hal Blaine’s equal, Gordon plays drums on George Harrison’s first solo album, produced by Phil Spector.

Layla – Derek and the Dominos
Easily one of the most pained love songs in rock history. if you don’t want to hear Eric Clapton’s incessant whining, you can go to 3:10. Gordon also earned a Grammy in 1992 for Clapton’s shuffle re-do on his Unplugged album (Gordon was in prison and unable to attend).

Doctor My Eyes – Jackson Browne
Jim Gordon played on the original from Jackson’s debut album. This video is from 1978 and that is Jim Gordon playing drums. By all accounts this is the last complete tour a healthy Gordon was part of.

I will try to post a better version of this article when I can find one. But this is sort of the definitive Jim Gordon article written by Barry Rehfeld for Rolling Stone magazine…in 1985.

Hole Hearted

Originally posted elsewhere, May 2011.

Rock & Roll, both the music and the lifestyle, is pretty much predicated on three things, having a good time, falling in love and falling out of love. I might even submit that all music, nay art forms, are built on those three things. But alas, it is the heartbreak that seems to yield the most poignant and powerful manifestations of art. Certainly the most accessible.

From Mozart to the opening riff of “Layla” to the pied piper of broken hearts Tom Petty, when we hear certain songs our emotions can go from gut wrenching sadness to anxious tears, and if enough time has passed, to the head nod of recognition. The music world is full of the heart shattered downtrodden. Flying well below the radar is Schuyler Fisk’s “Who Am I To You?” off her debut album The Good Stuff. The album may be a few years old now but this song charts among the best of the “sad bastard” genre.

Quiet lies beneath the blue moon, you couldn’t say much less now could you? It’s on your mind, it’s in your eyes.

No matter what lengths we go to hide the way we feel or what we are thinking, it shows. In gambling it is called a “tell”, in medicine it is called “presenting” and in relationships it is called “the end”. If you’ve been in love more than once, odds are you have spent time at “the end”.

When you are staring at your partner wanting to shake them and just scream “TELL ME”, you don’t. You can’t. More often than not, you don’t want the answer. You quietly sit and wonder if they’ll try to work it out with you or if they’ll leave you. Sadly, more often than not, you know the answer.

They may think they are protecting you with their silence and distance, but they’re not. Being open and present in a relationship is the heavy lifting in a relationship. It’s the work beyond the love, it’s the work no one tells you about and movies don’t show you. If you can’t do the heavy lifting, you’ve got to try if you want to stay.

And if you don’t want to stay?

Silence delivers the fatal blow in relationships.

“I was here lying down (or I feel locked out)
My head so conflicted
Everything I am
I’m contradicted
I’m so caught up
I can’t let you go
I need to know
I need to know”

You feel the loss from you skin through your bones to your soul but you’re desperate. You’re pleading with them to break the silence so you can know one way or the other. All too often where there was once tenderness and love there is now only anger and resentment. One wants to know and doesn’t know and anger because the other knows and doesn’t want to tell.

To be in love is to experience an all consuming series of contradictions.

If it’s not me you need to sleep beside. If I’m not the thought that’s always on your mind. If I’m not the reason you dream at night.

You can’t really choose who you fall in love with. Sure, you can choose who you date. And if the dating goes well you build to a point where you end up thinking and dreaming about the person. You get butterflies in your stomach before you see them. You dress to impress. You fix your hair just right. You take extra care of yourself.

You do things. For them. Unasked. You want them to be so into you that they can’t take their mind off of you. That’s the first part, the dreamy part, of love. You imagine a future together. You picture everything you do and everything that you are with that person. You project the love out years and years. Beyond the awkward “firsts”, beyond the brunches, behond the shitty movies, beyond the fights, beyond the kids, beyond the suburbs, beyond the weddings, beyond retirement, beyond the beyond.

But sometimes life takes over, the love fades and if you loose that imagery or it stops and you can’t see beyond the disagreements, you should go. You need to go. Sure, you can hold out hope the feelings will return. You can push through and find a place to rest, but at what cost? At whose cost?

Love can often be selfish but you can’t be too selfish and waste your partners time while you drag their heart and emotions through the mud. If the person that you love is “not the thought that’s always on your mind“, you must be both selfish and selfless, let them find what they need so you can find what you need.

Can there be a more painful break up then the one where you don’t want to but know you need to?

I’m awake but you’re still sleeping, not some secret you’ve been keeping…Soon the sun will come to save me.

When you are first in love the sunlight of daybreak brings hope and optimism. It brings another opportunity to right the wrongs, it shortens the path towards tomorrow. You’re one day closer to where you want to be with your partner.

When love gets all wonky, as love often does, you lose sleep, you lose your hunger, you lose all feeling and it takes everything to not lose your mind. It always seems that the person least connected will always be the person most likely to sleep through it all. But then maybe they’ve been sleeping all along?

And in the end, it is that same sunlight of daybreak that brings the light of hope and optimism to give you the strength needed to pick up the pieces and move on. In spite of all the pain and all the hurt, there will never be anything more optimistic than daybreak.

History has given us some amazing love songs, running the gamut from new love to gut wrenching heartbreak, too many to name. And now we can add “Who Am I To You” by Schuyler Fisk to the list.

WHO AM I TO YOU by SCHUYLER FISK

Daniel Kitson: Barrow Theater July 7, 2013

One of the many curses of getting older is recognizing that life, whether we want it to or not, moves forward and we have more experiences and, undeniably, get older. And for some of us as we get older, we wonder who we are. England’s Daniel Kitson’s latest piece, After the beginning. Before the end. is a nearly two hour set that barrels through the field of genius pondering some of life’s larger queries, are we who we think we are? what exactly do other people think of us? are we living up to our potential? Kitson is equal parts anthropologist, misanthrope, narcissist and all comedic genius.

I had no idea what to expect last night at the Barrow Theater because I had never seen Daniel Kitson before. Having only seen a couple poor quality YouTube videos, I was pretty much a neophyte. Apparently, I am in the minority as all of Kitson’s shows are sold out this week. Before the show started I played my favorite game “count the beards” (39) as I looked around the Barrow Theater at Kitson’s demographic. I also listened to the guy behind me try to explain Kitson to his female date. I was hoping to pick up something I had not already read on the web. I didn’t.

It’s hard to explain Daniel Kitson and yet it’s not hard to explain him. He’s often categorized as a stand up comedian, yet in After the beginning. Before the end. he remains seated. Obviously, this places the piece more in the monologue world than the stand up world (apparently sitting must denote a more cerebral experience and therefore a different moniker). But frankly, it is more monologue than stand up. Certainly there are elements of stand up in it but to call it only that would be somehow incorrect (and not because he is seated). However, this also isn’t a straight monologue, although there are elements of that in there. It’s not like this is some ethereal performance/spoken word kind of thing either. So what is it?

It’s genius at work.

What Daniel Kitson gives us with After the beginning. Before the end. is the perfect collision of stand up, monologue and spoken word.

It’s a matter of time before someone draws the parallel, if they haven’t already, so let’s deal with it now. While we may be able to draw a line from Daniel Kitson to Spalding Gray, it is too pedestrian and unfair to say he is “like” him. Daniel Kitson is not like Spalding Gray. That is neither good nor bad, it’s just a fact. That would be like saying Richard Pryor was like Lenny Bruce. Of course, the line between the two exists, but they are hardly the same. So there, onwards please.

Kitson spends a lot of After the beginning. Before the end. reflecting on himself and his life so far. And this is a good thing because in so doing he has made us realize just how normal we all may be. And there is a certain amount of insanity in our normalcy. But then, as Kitson points out, what is normal and what is proper are two entirely different things. You’ll have to see him to find out the difference.

He ponders such things as ” am I a dickhead”, the patriarchal misogyny in thinking the moon cup is disgusting (Google it, it is), the joy and pure evil of calling someone a “piece of shit” to their face. In lesser hands, these concepts would be just stand up schtick. In Kitson’s, they become more anthropological studies punctuated with jokes. Kitson’s careful examination and explanation of his material and thought process is as nuanced as it is hysterical. Above all else, it proves that the smartest and best comedy has no formula or template.

Unfortunately, as is often the case here in America, the strength is often the weakness.

Sure Kitson will play to sold out smaller houses in the major cities, and that’s great. Personally, I think it would be great if he sold out shows in smaller cities. Then maybe I could begin to restore my faith in the ability of our country to think. But, as I am sure he is all too aware, we American’s don’t much like smart or intelligent humor and we certainly don’t like any humor that may be rooted in humanity and require thought.

Our comedy is firmly entrenched in the puerile.

Like any good work of art, After the beginning. Before the end. is based in truth. The truth that “when we are born we are 100% potential and 0% experience and at death we are 100% experience and 0% potential”. Accompanied by an often too loud tonal soundtrack, Daniel Kitson takes us on the the journey in between. He explores some of the half-truths we live by, the misleading concept of remembrance, the false idea of hope and shows us how hilarious it can be.

And look, After the beginning. Before the end. is NOT egg head pretentious Brit humor. Just because I used the word “art” doesn’t mean Kitson’s humor isn’t accessible, it is. It’s only requirement is an open mind and the desire to think. Unfortunately, American culture continues to prove time and time again, that we don’t hold open minds and thought in very high regard.

Daniel Kitson is performing After the beginning. Before the end. all week at The Barrow Theater in New York City.
All shows are sold out.

Left of the Dial*

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
– Socrates

What’s that saying “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”?

or is it “What the fluck”?

Either way, today I am launching my first digital magazine entitled wait(er). As the name suggests, it is a magazine devoted to stories about the front of the house workers of the restaurant industry. It would seem that television has gone to great lengths to make the back of the house employees, like chef’s, superstars. I might suggest those shows are disrespectful to the true culinary artisans, but that is another argument.

Somehow waiters, waitresses, bartenders, busboys, hosts, etc. have been left out of the small tube mix. It’s not that there isn’t any lack of dynamism among the workers, there is. Something tells me it has more to do with the fact that so many of the FOH workers are most certainly not ready for prime time.

I should know. I was one of them for over ten years.

If you read my post yesterday, you got a sample of what wait(er) is. “Losing the Gamble” is my article for the inaugural issue and available for free by clicking on that link.

The editorial objective of wait(er) Magazine is simple, to provide a home for good stories from, for or about those people in the service, or “serve us”, industry. Some of those will be first hand accounts, some will be profiles, I’m developing some profiles of organizations. There will be solid journalism and there will be loads of snark. As a result of my secondary objective, to provide a home for new and developing writers, there may be grammar hiccups to start, but we’ll get them ironed out.

I hope you will share in the excitement…by doling out the .99 cents a month!

About two weeks ago the idea came to me and I decided to test the water, as it were. I cast a net across craigslist placing ads in San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, New York, New Haven, Austin, Houston, Minneapolis/St.Paul, Chicago, St. Louis, and a few others, looking for writers. The response and feedback was overwhelming. I thought maybe, just maybe, I was onto something…I dunno, we’ll see.

I can tell you that I received emails from writers of all sorts. Bloggers, experienced journalists, high school kids, recent graduates, et al. and it seems that a lot of people have either worked or work in the “serve us” industry and were eager to share their stories. wait(er) Magazine will provide them an avenue to do that.

I recently sat down with myself to ask me a few questions that I thought people may be curious about.

Why wait(er)?  I dunno, the image popped into my head like that and seconds later I though, “Yea, that looks and sounds kind of cool.” Seriously. Oh sure, I could pontificate about some sort of significant meaning behind the parenthesis and lower case, but I would be making it all up. I’m too tired to go down that creative rabbit hole. I honestly just thought it looked cool.

Why not waitress(es)?  Truthfully, that was a concern but in the research I did (albeit, extremely limited) I realized that waiter is not defined as gender specific, we assigned it the masculine property.

So, just restaurant workers?  No, of course not. Barista’s, fast food employees, food truck employees (please I’d like anyone to explain that phenomenon to me), pretzel cart guys, I don’t care.

Why digital and not print?  My last name is Higgons, not Newhouse. I don’t have the kind of scratch, or access to it, to bankroll a print magazine. Besides, then I would have to move to an advertising based model and frankly, I see no need for that. Personally, I feel we are slammed with advertising everywhere we turn and it would be nice to escape from it now and again.

Trust me, you don’t really wanna open up the advertising business model discussion with me. I have thoughts.
Suffice it to say, digital made the most sense personally and economically.

Did you read everything that was sent to you?  I did. I still am actually. It’s just me right now. Well, the dogs and cats try to help, but they’re not literate beyond “sit”, “get off that” and “shut the fluck up” and they have enough trouble with those. So yea, I read everything and will continue to.

Did you edit as well?  I did and admittedly, that is not a strength of mine. So, you may see a few mistakes here and there. There is beauty in perfection and imperfection. If anyone knows someone willing to do some editing, pro bono or at a seriously reduced rate, contact me!

Did you pay the writers?  Yes. Well, not as of this writing, but I am going to. I think it’s important to pay people what you can for their creative efforts and time. I get doing stuff for free, but having done a lot of free work, especially writing, over the past five years, I wanted to be able to offer writers something, other than a venue, to recognize that I value their work.

I felt vindicated today when I read an exchange between journalist Nate Thayer and The Atlantic. They wanted to re-purpose a blog post of his…for free. They claimed to be out of money to spend on digital. They further went on to say they only pay 100 dollars. The Atlantic. COME ON! Thayer has been getting some flack about his stance, but I think he’s right. Free is fine if you are starting out but eventually you gotta get paid and you deserve to get paid.

Anywho, yes, I am paying the writers. It ain’t much but it is what I can afford, with the promise that as wait(er) grows, so will the rate.

Are you getting paid?  No. I’m bootstrapping everything so it’s unlikely I will see any personal returns for some time, if ever. For me, it’s about the experience and constructing a hive of like minded individuals.

How much did it cost to start?  None of your business. More than I have but not enough to stop me from doing it. That is one of the true joys about them Internets, you can go from concept to fully realized vision in two weeks and not break the bank. And look, I am a firm believer that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This just feels right.

Where do you see yourself in five years?  Go to hell, this isn’t an HR interview.

Is there any type of story you are interested in?  Nope. Not at the moment. Pitch an idea. All I am looking for is honest stories that are told well. Leave the revenge piece about a shitty manager or owner for the blog.

Does everyone have a story to tell?  Oh yea! If you have worked in the food “serve us” industry in any capacity for longer than two weeks, you have at least ONE story. And if you don’t have ONE story, then you either weren’t paying attention or weren’t working hard enough. People are crazy and, eventually, they go out to eat.

Will you share all of your stories? All of them, no. I did that work for a long time and am thankful for the experiences and the living it provided me. Truth be told, it’s a job like anything else and it had its routine. BUT when it went bat shit crazy, hilarity ensued, especially in hindsight.

In a restaurant, it’s not just a Power Point slide malfunctioning, it was usually something far worse. It’s those bat shit crazy stories that still make me laugh and shake my head. Let’s be honest too, the story behind some manager who builds an epic PP deck only to have it malfunction is just never going to have the legs of a story about trying to explain to a customer why there was a spider in their salad or kicking someone out of the bar because they haven’t tipped you in four hours.

Will you tell a story in each issue?  That is not my plan. I didn’t create it so I could relay my own personal experiences. I have a blog for that. If I feel they fit, sure. If I feel the need for content, sure. Mostly, I am looking to build the hive.

wait(er) Magazine is for other people to share their stories and to give new writers some exposure. Front of the house staff are a unique group of people…and we’re everywhere. In the restaurant business, after a busy night (actually after any night) you would go drink and talk about your shift. I’d like wait(er) Magazine to be the bar you went to with your fellow workers to commiserate. Sometimes you’ll laugh, sometimes you may get angry, hopefully never cry; hell, sometimes you might learn something but above all else, I am simply hoping you’ll enjoy it.

How often will you publish wait(er) Magazine? A new issue will come out the first Tuesday of each month…to start.

What platforms is wait(er) available in?  Currently, just web subscription, Kindle, MOBI and EPUB. Apple iOS is forthcoming, but they require one issue to be published before submitting it to them for approval. I suspect iOS will be available soon. I’m reticent to give a time frame. Follow us on Twitter @writermag, Facebook, Google+ or on WordPress, for all the updates, etc.

Any last words? Never any last ones, but I will leave you with these:

“We learned more from a 3-minute record, baby
Than we ever learned in school
Tonight I hear the neighborhood drummer sound
I can feel my heart begin to pound
You say you’re tired and you just want to close your eyes
And follow your dreams down
– Never Surrender
Bruce Spingsteen

CLICK ON THE WAITER AND SUBSCRIBE!

Waiter Issue 1

* – The phrase used to mean something, sadly now it doesn’t. Nonetheless, this is a nod to a constant source of inspiration for me, The Replacements.

Circle Jerkin’

“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go.
You lead by going to that place and making a case.”

— Ken Kesey

The annual broadcast network, advertising and media buying circle jerk known as the upfront is underway. Yesterday saw both NBC and Fox release their fall 2013 schedules.  Today, ABC releases their schedule and tomorrow it is current network king CBS’s turn, and for those who care, Thursday is the CW.

These four days are traditionally the time when the majority of advertising is booked on each specific network, based upon their programming. It’s the way the business has operated pretty much since…well, it’s the way it’s always operated.

It’s also been a time when all the programming executives get an opportunity to self flagellate their brilliance in front of an increasingly skeptical advertising community. In the case of NBC, skepticism from the ad community is now bordering on outright hostility.

No other broadcast network in history has had a more difficult time than NBC trying to regain some of their viewership. They continue to stumble and make programming decisions that not only baffle advertisers and viewers alike but also leaves them scratching their head wondering what on earth is going at the once blue chip net. For a few years I was convinced NBC was on a path to deliberately broadcast the worst television shows to attract viewers.

Maybe something is afoot at the Circle K though. Since the Comcast acquisition, NBCU CEO Steve Burke has cleaned house, from the top down, and got rid of a lot of the human detritus left by Jeff Zucker. I might argue there is more to be done, but I digress. In so doing, Burke and Comcast made a solid commitment to re-building their NBC prime time schedule and re-building the bridges that Zucker and team so cavalierly blew up…repeatedly.

After watching their upfront presentation yesterday, I am happy to say that it appears as though NBCU CEO Steve Burke and NBC Programming head Robert Greenblatt might actually be on the right path. They’ve done what no one thought was possible, a really good job.

I honestly didn’t think there was any hope for NBC at all but to my utter amazement, they presented a nice slate of shows. NBC presented a really comprehensive and interesting schedule. Here is a list of some of the new shows:

Million Second QuizUnscripted and stupid. I may be wrong here, but this looks absolutely ridiculous. If ever there was a show pitched from a cocktail napkin, this is it. I’m not going to even describe it. If you want to know, waste your own time and look it up.

The Michael J. Fox ShowScripted Comedy. I have to be honest I was beyond skeptical about this show. NBC ordered a complete season without a pilot. It seemed like a huge gamble based on Mr. Fox’s illness. It also seemed like a desperate grab to go back in time. BUT, from the trailer I saw, it looks really funny. I laughed out loud twice! Michael J. Fox is still incredibly charming and very funny. I suspect the Parkinson’s jokes and storyline may get old quick but provided the peripheral players are able to hold their own and support Fox, this show should really work.

Shame on NBC for flagrantly using their other news programs within the context of this show. It’s contrived and extremely hollow, I hope they re-think that. Aside from that gripe, this show actually looks really good.

About a Boy – Scripted Comedy. Based on the Nick Hornby book and the Hugh Grant movie from 2002, this just looks dumb. It won’t work. Nice try and may achieve some modest success in the short run, but this will eventually be a dud.

Sean Saves the World – Scripted Comedy. Sean Hayes plays a gay dad raising his teenage daughter. Linda Lavin plays his mother. No one does befuddled gay guy better than Sean Hayes and Linda Lavin is always a nice treat, it’s just too bad this is the vehicle they chose. NBC appears to be fixated on branching out and capturing the gay audience and expect this show to go the way of The New Normal, that is to say, cancelled.

The Family Guide – Scripted Comedy. Blind divorced dad J.K. Simmons gets a guide dog and young son feels replaced. Jason Bateman and David Schwimmer are producers with Bateman providing the voice over. I like this for a number of reasons, J.K. Simmons is always great, it has a dog, Jason Bateman is involved and so is the diverse and always fantastic Harold Perrineau. Unfortunately, the day they announced the series order, lead actress Parker Posey quit. That is an awful sign, but presuming they get a solid replacement, let’s all hope for Mary Louise Parker, this could actually be a break out hit.

NBC also didn’t acknowledge Posey’s departure during the upfront (HUGE faux paus… sure, everyone already knew, but they should have owned it, acknowledged it and moved on.) It’s nice to see NBC still hasn’t lost their ability to stick their head in the sand.

Nonetheless, this could actually work…mary louise parker, mary louise parker, mary louise parker…

Undateable – Scripted Comedy. Unwatcheable.

Ironside – Scripted Drama. Blair Underwood recreates this 1970’s classic. Much like most shows in the cop genre, this is entirely resting on the cast. We all know the stories and the formula by now. The success of any of these shows rests solely on the cast and how they can make it resonate with the audience. Could go either way, Blair Underwood is extremely likeable but buying him as a paraplegic is going to be a tough sell.

Blacklist – Scripted Drama. This is the show getting the most attention and deservedly so. It looks good, has an interesting story line, a mysterious angle and it has James Spader playing crazy! Spader plays the world’s most wanted criminal, who turns himself into the FBI and offers to give up everyone he has ever worked with in exchange for working with a newly minted agent whom he seemingly has no connection. The “blacklist” in question contains the names of 20 of the world’s most wanted criminals (I suspect most will be Chinese, Hispanic and Russian).

If NBC has half a brain, they’ll get in front of this show and nail it down for an entire series run of 20-30 episodes, long enough to capture the people on the “blacklist” and then wrap it up. If they did that, this could be a defining moment in NBC’s history.

Don’t look for that to happen.

Welcome to the Family – Scripted Comedy. Look for a divorce from viewers.

The Night Shift – Scripted Drama. Medical show. Trying to recapture ER. Not gonna happen.

Chicago PD – Scripted Drama. Spinoff from Chicago Fire. Again, all dependent on the stories and the performers. Could work given the appeal of Chicago Fire. Unlike the flagrant crossover in The Michael J. Fox Show, these two shows would do well to air back to back and have a ton of cross pollination.

Crisis – Scripted Drama. Here is the official logline:
When Washington’s most powerful players are pulled into an international conspiracy, an unlikely puppeteer will bring everyone from CEOs to The President of the United States to their knees by threatening the things they hold most dear.

Here is how that logline translates: Someone kidnaps a bunch of rich Washington D.C. kids (from a yellow school bus, as if anyone believes rich D.C. insiders kids travel to school like that) in order to get back at CEO’s and the Washington elite. While no one likes to see kids suffer, perhaps NBC missed the memo, no one gives a shit about Washington politicians or over paid CEO’s. Absolutely arrogant in its premise and I’ve no doubt this show is DOA.

Dracula – Scripted Drama. Starring the exceptionally talented Jonathan Rhys Meyers (seriously dude, fire your team), this show just looks silly. A big period costume drama about Dracula. DONE and DONE and DONE and DONE…ENOUGH on the re-treads! Maybe a mini-series, fine. A PERIOD PIECE ABOUT DRACULA ON NBC! Ugly attempt to capture the Downton Abbey phenom…with vampires. Awful.

Believe – Scritped Drama. JJ Abrams & Alfonso Cauron. Blah, blah, blah, something about a gifted girl, they travel, some guy saves her and everyone is touched along the way. It could work, but not a long term show. This would be another show I would suggest NBC sign up for a specific number (I’ll say 26, two seasons of 13 ep’s) and then call it a day. If they do that here as well as with Blacklist, these two shows could help re-establish the network as both visionary and a destination for good content.

Don’t look for that to happen.

These are some of the shows I saw during their presentation and after listening to everyone and sitting through their respective pitches, along with the dreadfully unfunny taped pieces; I have to say NBC did a great job. I don’t think this is the type of slate that will put NBC back on top. However, it is the type of slate that indicates exactly how hard Burke, Greenblatt and company have worked over the past 18 months in doing exactly what they said they would do, invest in creativity and talent. Keeping your word and delivering is a sign of true leadership, well done!

Sadly, NBC, just like all the other nets, have their nose so far up the advertisers’ asses they can’t wrap their head around the future of broadcasting. I’m not an idiot, I get it; there is a ton of money to be had in this world of advertising sponsored television. And, wait for it, “it’s the way it’s always been done.” (YAWN)

Look, there is a place for this business model; it is just no longer with scripted shows. Sporting events, talk shows and unscripted shows have that sense of immediacy that prompts destination viewing and will always work hand in hand with commercial advertising.

In case you’re not paying attention, we’re moving toward a world where scripted shows will be viewed en masse. And no matter how hard each of the networks tries to jam that ad sponsored model down our gizzards, it’s simply not what we want. I’m not saying it’s going to happen next year or even in five years. I’m certainly not saying networks need to embrace the Netflix business model. What I AM saying is that it would behoove them to take it under consideration. SERIOUS consideration.

For example, let’s just say NBC decides to take my idea to book and market Blacklist as a complete show. We’ll say 26 episodes. Sure, air it on the network with the 12-15 minutes of commercials and get the revenue (at least until you accept the inevitable). But THEN, charge advertisers for the privilege of being the SOLE sponsor on a commercial free digital replay on the NBC site (preferably not the NBC site because it sucks). This way, everyone gets what they want.

OR Partner with Netflix and charge them the premium for the commercial free web replay. But do this while the story is moving forward. In the case of Blacklist, maybe you do the commercial free digital replay after each person on the list is caught. Just don’t wait 12 months after the first season!

Re-think your model for chrissakes.

Yes, there is Hulu and Hulu Plus…but, Hulu sucks. TV Everywhere has been fumbling along but shows no signs of gaining any real traction because it is confusing as all hell. Amazon is still a wildcard. HBO Go and Showtime Go are solid players. Even though Wall Street keeps yammering and hammering on about how Netflix will eventually fail, I am extremely suspect about their analysis and motivation. More their motivation.

At the end of the day, all the networks, despite their efforts to own and control the digital distribution, are simply going to have to partner with either Google, Apple, Netflix or Amazon and embrace this commercial free model. It’s the cod liver oil modern media in transition.

In the case of NBC, I would strongly urge them to start the process now. The network was built upon forward thinking vision but, with the bungled shenanigans of Jeff Zucker (good luck CNN!), they lost in less than ten years what it took almost 100 to achieve.

NBC finally has an opportunity to recapture that which built the company, true leadership and real vision. With the NBC upfront yesterday, I felt something unusual for the first time, hope…and just a small tingle of pride.

Loyalty and honesty.

“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.

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.

Simple Things

JOHN LENNON

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”

“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”

“As usual, there is a great woman behind every idiot.”

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”

“Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow.”

“Music is everybody’s possession. It’s only publishers who think that people own it.”

“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”

“If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect you can call me that… I believe in what I do, and I’ll say it.”

Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

“The secret of the man who is universally interesting is that he is universally interested.”
– William Dean Howells

I love John Mellencamp. In the mid 1980’s, after he had shaken the God awful Johnny Cougar moniker, he proved himself to be a brilliant, socially conscious American singer/songwriter on par with Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

To me, he was the definitive songwriter, more than Springsteen and Dylan. I worshiped the guy. During my senior year of high school, as I was facing an out of school suspension for a retaliatory orange throwing incident, I quoted Mellencamp’s “You’ve Got To Stand For Something” off Scarecrow. My father and I were negotiating some sort of equitable punishment for returning fire with said comestible and I was becoming more and more irritated with Vice Principal Durnbaugh’s firm footing that I admit complete guilt. I said “Fine, give me the out of school suspension. I didn’t DO anything and you’ve got to stand for something or you’re going to fall for anything.” In my head, it made complete sense and was pure genius. How could I possibly be punished after throwing that bit of genius down on the table? The two adults in the room just stared vacantly at me.*

While my musical tastes have certainly changed over the years, from an early 90’s dalliance in Brit Pop to a heavy grunge addiction to a deep exploration of the Americana movement of the mid to late 1990’s, I have always found Mellencamp a reliable home base when I needed to reconnect with what matters most to me, honesty. While he is not an overtly personal songwriter, Mellencamp writes extraordinarily well crafted honest social commentary, disguised as songs, about the trials and tribulations of what it is to be a working American.

Over the weekend, I read that on June 4th Ghost Brothers of Darkland County will be released. His first foray into musical theater, written with Stephen King and music production by T-Bone Burnett. I streamed a few songs and found them to be exceptional with an audio aesthetic on par with the more recent T-Bone Burnett productions. Now, while I suspect the content of the musical is probably too dark to ever make it to the Disneyfied Great White Way of Broadway, one can hope. In any event, in honor of the upcoming release, I’ve spent the past few days re-visiting my Mellencamp home base. While there, I noticed something. Something I knew all along but this time it clicked differently.

John Mellencamp has been in the “Serious Business” of music for well over 30 years now and it wasn’t until “Pink Houses” that people began to notice there was a more political side to him. He wasn’t just an ill tempered artist from Indiana, he was actually an insightful and intelligent wordsmith. With the release of  Scarecrow in 1985, he captured to tone of America and he got pissed. With Scarecrow John Mellencamp all but stood in the center of a mid-western wheat field and screamed “SHIT IS FUCKED UP!”

For most of my adult life through today, he continues to chronicle the plight of the average American. Mellencamp is still active in Farm Aid, an annual benefit for American farmers (to date they’ve raised over 40 million dollars used to pay the farmer’s expenses and provide food, legal and financial help, and psychological assistance). And he is still singing about how you and I are getting screwed. All these years on and he’s still standing in the wheat field screaming “SHIT IS STILL FUCKED UP!

Oh sure, he’s a rock star and probably has a fair amount of money. Although with three divorces and five children, I’m not entirely sure how that’s possible. Invariably, cynics and critics will grouse and grumble saying “Oh, he’s just another rich lefty rock singer”. Fuck ’em, let ’em bitch and moan.

He’s an artist and like any good artist he’s done what he’s supposed to do; hold a mirror up to society and provide social commentary. John Mellencamp just happens to be talented enough that he can place his observations into well crafted songs that people like. He worked hard to achieve his success, he continues to work hard. He’s extraordinarily gifted and undeniably in tune with what it is to be American and some of the inherent struggles that entails.

You’d think that over the course of his career that things would have changed, that they would have gotten better. You’d think that maybe John Mellencamp could stop doing Farm Aid, maybe write some ridiculously happy songs about harmony and equality and finally come in from the wheat field after screaming “SHIT’S OK NOW!“.

Well, you’d be wrong to think that.

All you need to do is look at the facts:

  • The Gini Index, or Gini Coefficient, used by economists to measure inequality within nations designates a score of zero as perfect economic equality and a score of one (1.0) being perfect economic inequality. The most recent Gini calculation (2005-2010) has the United States with a Gini index of .47, a 20% rise in income disparity over the past 40 years. A .47 Gini index is on par with both Mexico and the Philippines.(1)
  • The total business revenue of the top 200 corporations in the Unites States has risen from 21% in 1950 to 32% in 2009.
  • The six largest bank holding companies (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – some of which had different names) had assets equal to 64% of the U.S. gross domestic product (as of third quarter 2010).(1)
  • A confidential 2006 Citigroup memo claimed America had become a modern-day plutonomy where “economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few”.(1)
  • In 2011, Advertising Age concluded “Mass affluence is over” and the top 10% of Americans account for nearly half of all consumer spending.(1)
  • Economist Timothy Smeeding states “Americans have the highest income inequality in the rich world and over the past 20–30 years Americans have also experienced the greatest increase in income inequality among rich nations.”(2)
  • Data from tax returns show that the top 1 percent of households received 8.9 percent of all pre-tax income in 1976. In 2008, the top 1 percent share had more than doubled to 21.0 percent.(3)
  • Between 1947 and 1972, the average hourly wage, adjusted for inflation, rose 76 percent. Since 1972, by contrast, the average hourly wage has risen only 4 percent.(3)
  • Economist Jeffery Sachs developed a commercialism index to judge the advanced nations on how commercialized their media and cultures were and then compared that to overall public well-being and the common good. The United States topped the list as the most commercialized and most socially backward. (1)

If you are anything like me, you are acutely aware of how fucked up things are. Continuing to list facts about inequality becomes an exercise in futility. And it’s not just here in the states, you can see this growing influence around the world.

I’d like to believe that no one is naive enough to think that John Mellencamp, or any artist, has all or even some of, the answers. Hell, even Mellencamp admits as much “I’m using my art to comment on what I see. You don’t have to agree with it.”

For the majority of his career, he has been showing us time and time again how screwed up America is while still maintaining his pride in being an American. He’s been able to infiltrate our ears, our minds and our hearts with his observations. John Mellencamp is doing what artists do best, getting us to think.

For the majority of his career I’ve just enjoyed the music and agreed with the observations. But this week something changed, something clicked and the question I’m left thinking is, what are we prepared to do to change the course?

If you believe
Won’t you please raise your hands
Let’s hear your voices
Let us know where you stand
Don’t shout from the shadows
Cause it won’t mean a damn
“Now More Than Ever”

– John Mellencamp

Sources:
1 – http://tinyurl.com/cubm2e4
2 – http://tinyurl.com/2o3hb8
3 – http://tinyurl.com/7xmtqh5

* – I acquiesced to long term Saturday school punishment after my fathers argument that an out of school suspension would have damaged my college eligibility. With a 1.9 GPA, I’m not sure how much more damaging it could have been.

Digital Pet Rocks

“The challenge is to manage the Web in an open way-not too much bureaucracy, not subject to political or commercial pressures.
– Tim Berners Lee

The Internet was developed to communicate. It was not created to be a media tool. When we speak of “new media” that is not the Internet or the Web. That refers to the companies that populate the Web. And many of them seem superfluous. This  transmogrification from what the Web was in the beginning to what it is now, and the even more frightening thought of what it will be in the future, should be alarming to all of us.

I recently read an article comparing the Internet with the advent of the automobile. Both are revolutionary and  with them came the idea that they would free America. Cars were to be the thing that brought America together, made us one, yadda yadda yadda. The same pitch was given about the Internet.

One hundred years later, no one can deny the importance of the automobile but at what price? The automobile business, and its ancillary industries, has killed millions of people, oil has been the source of countless wars, both covert and overt, toppled democracies and propped up dictatorships and on and on. What will they say about the Internet in 100 years?

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the internet was created by hippies. Free thinking and idealistic individuals who didn’t, and still don’t, want the legacy of their creation to be in hands of soulless individuals, also known as corporations. Its original purpose, to serve as a free and open source communication tool, is being hacked away at by corporate monoliths who have no intention of keeping the Web free and open. They want to strangle and subjugate it. The corporations have but one goal, to capitalize on it and reap the most revenue to boost that line item on their quarterly reports. We’re not there yet and we can’t end up there.

We all know the internet is huge. How huge? Tough to say for sure but one could easily make the argument that it represents Moore’s Law…on steroids. For those of us that happen to believe in democracy AND capitalism (and yes, those things are, or should be, completely independent of one another but lately they seem to be one and the same), as big as the Web keeps getting, the smaller it seems to become. You see, corporations are beginning to realize how to strangle the Web and monetize it and we are letting them. For example, the top 10 web sites account for 75% of all pageviews in the United States(1) and of the top 10 web sites only one (Wikipedia) is not built off a profit driven model.(2)

Because of the Internets rapid expansion and the myopic pace of government and partisan politicking, lawmakers couldn’t figure out how to regulate it. Actually, they still can’t. So, in the words of famed free market economist Milton Friedman, the government chose to “Let the market decide.” Given more and more media consolidation and the corporate expansion into “new media” coupled with their powerful lobbying arm, who do you think benefits, at this point, from any potential regulation of the Internet?

I have nothing against making money. In fact, I quite like it. What I take umbrage with is the Internet turning into a place where the sole purpose of creating an Internet business is to be bought out by one of the bigger Internet companies (we all recall the Internet bubble bursting, so IPO’s are out and Acquisitions are in). In and of itself, I firmly believe access to that creative freedom of the Web is awesome. The one simple and great truth about the Internet is that it completely democratizes creativity and if you can make a buck at it, great. But I see so many start ups and think “Why is this necessary?” And, more often than not, they are not necessary. They’re nothing more than digital pet rocks.

In the latest issue of Wired Magazine, they highlight some of the start ups that are located around the Wired SF offices. Among them are Wcities (spent some time on the site and while I consider myself pretty Internet smart, I can not determine what they do but they have some blue chip partners/clients), Cloud Prime (A cloud messaging service, which marries big buzz “cloud” with instant messaging…yea, don’t see the relevance of that, but I do see an acquisition in their future – SalesForce anyone?), Grockit (online test preparation…um, how did the more established companies miss the boat on this one?). Frankly, it’s worrisome that some of the best minds today are creating these types of companies. Wouldn’t it be a lot cooler if some of these minds put some of that intelligence to helping keep the Internet open by building services and/or tools that benefit all of us? For free?

Franco Berardi writes “At a certain point in the development of the application of intelligence to production, the capitalist model becomes a paradigmatic cage, constraining intelligence in the form of wages, discipline and dependence.”(3) The creation of many of these digital pet rocks were to gain entry into the Internets “capitalistic paradigmatic cage”. More simply, the Internet is slowly turning into one giant free market Pac Man game where start ups are built for the sole purpose of being gobbled up by Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook or Microsoft.

Can the Internet be saved? Yes, but only if we want to save it. The Web is big enough that it can house both corporate concerns and serve as a model of democracy. That’s on us as users to make happen. Admittedly, saving the Internet requires work. Every last one of us is stretched so thin on time, energy and patience (thanks to being slaves to feed corporatism…and ourselves), it then becomes how to fit the necessary work into our schedules. Allow me to submit a few ideas:

  • Be more discreet with the tools you use.
  • Share less. Please.You are only hurting yourself and helping them.
  • Spend less time on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Don’t be so quick to hop on the latest digital trend or social media application.
  • Create your own web site using a free service (yes, like WordPress. Yes, they gather data on usage but are transparent.)
  • Read a book.

To the entrepreneurial minded, instead of looking to the short game for a quick pay day, why not play the long game and create to change? We’re right around the corner from a day when the monolithic corporations simply won’t let you create business’ as easily as you can now. Soon, very soon, unless we change direction, that low barrier to entry we all love about the Web won’t be there. It will be too costly for any Tom, Dick or Harriet to start a business. But also, wouldn’t it be a lot cooler to think about how to make things better for everyone and not just how can to create something Google will buy from me?

Stop making digital pet rocks.

In and of themselves, these simple tactics independently won’t crush or alter the growing corporatization of the Web. However, cumulatively, they will have an impact on the two things corporations are most concerned about with the Internet, data and revenue.

Look, I understand this is a gross over simplification of a very complex concern, but unless we change the direction of the Internet it will become just another media outlet for multinational corporations to repress and retard our thinking. From where I sit, there is already way too much of that.

A sledgehammer is to the totalitarian government as media is to a democracy.  The Internet is the last bastion of democracy. Let’s make sure it stays that way.

References:
1- http://tinyurl.com/cvemeg2
2- http://tinyurl.com/6c53k5b
3- http://tinyurl.com/cqbgbkf

What time is it? It is now.

banksy

The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use — of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.
Robert Kennedy

It’s hard to write about class distinctions on a personal blog without sounding like either a lunatic or an entitled and spoiled twit. Admittedly, I probably skew a little more towards the lunatic side. I’ve never felt entitled to anything, except maybe my last piece of gum. However, I do feel frustrated by the lack of opportunity available to me so maybe I could improve my station. And I suspect I am not alone in that feeling.

To say the American economy is in recovery is to deny the facts. Sure, unemployment is down, but what about UNDERemployment and those who are simply no longer receiving benefits? Why has federal and state welfare spending increased almost 19% over three years? What do we define as recovery?

I did what I was supposed to do. I went to college (actually, I went to A LOT of them) and got my receipt (degree). I even went one step further and got a Master’s receipt (degree). I have the credentials, and debt, to prove it. Neither of my degrees are from an Ivy League nor are they highly specialized. They are both in the Liberal Arts world, which should indicate I am a well rounded cat. Could it be that no one is looking for a well rounded cat in a rat race?

Before I prattle on too far…left, let me say I am uniquely blessed. I have a job, I make a liveable (barely) wage, I have a roof over my head, I don’t go to bed hungry, I have people that love and care about me and I am very lucky. I shudder to think how many in my country, let alone the world, don’t have such things. I am hyper aware of my good fortune and I should just be happy and shut my mouth, right?

Love. I have people that love and care about me so who the hell do I think I am to bitch? I’m a human.

Feast or Famine. I don’t go to bed hungry and neither do my pets. I am blessed.

Four walls and the truth. I live in a great place and I am ridiculously lucky.

Middle Class (harrumph). I make a liveable (barely) wage. By all accounts, my salary places smack dab in the middle class. And if my bank balance is any indication, I still struggle. Part of that is on me, for sure. I live in NYC, by choice. I have credit card debt and student loan debt. I take ownership of those even if I personally believe credit card debt and student loan debt are almost mandated. But let’s just look at a couple of the things hacking away at my middle class status:

  • FICA tax jumped from 4.2% in 2012 to 7.65% in 2013 for employees and it remains at 6.2% for employers(?).
  • Starting this month, NYC mass transit monthly pass increased 7%.
  • The national average price for a gallon of gas is $3.74 (after nine weeks of increases).
  • Utility bills are increasing nationally for reasons unclear to me (those bills should simply be in Sanskrit, they’d be easier to translate) mine jumped 50%.
  • Food prices continue to go up. Ironically, food that is bad for you (yet, delicious) like pop tarts and all things sugary and fattening remain relatively level. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy nut, but aren’t a large portion of those companies owned by multinational’s? Hmmm…

Occupy my cube. I have a job. While I may not have a career path readily available to me, in spite of the company size, I do have a job. There are in excess of 100 employees managed by eight people. 88.5% of the staff is managed by the 12.5%, with virtually no management tier. It’s as though it functions as a small family business…until there is a problem or new idea to consider, then the myopic pace of a big company kicks in.

Is this a departmental or corporate mandated structure? My intuition tells me it is simply more of a “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Make no mistake, it’s busted, but fixing it involves change and change sucks. But even more than that, change is expensive and even in a billion dollar company, money is tight. I recently had my review and it was seemingly quite favorable and yet my contributions and performance for 2012 were rewarded with a pay increase that is less than the national average for 2013. I shudder to think how lesser valued employees fared. I am also looking forward to seeing how our CEO was remunerated.

I suppose I could have gone on record as dissatisfied, but experience has taught me that resistance is futile. I’m more angry about my own apathy.

PART II
Naomi Klein‘s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism cites numerous examples of what happens when a government is overthrown and then placed in the hands of charlatan economic theorists and corporations. In Klein’s cross-hairs is the economic theory designed by University of Chicago Economics guru Milton Friedman and what Klein refers to as “shock & awe”. Sound familiar?

Typically, the first phase, or “shock”, is a revolution (think Chile in 1972 or Iraq, most recently) and is something that shocks the citizens. Then comes the second phase, or “awe”. Economic policies are put into place that benefit, almost exclusively, multinational corporations and the societal top tier. Not surprisingly, built into the economic policy is a long and strong arm of suppression, specifically designed to eliminate dissension. I’m not sure how the “awe” works other then leaving jaw dropping historical proof of its inefficiency, which is certainly awful…horrible pun, I know.

Could it be that the financial crisis of 2007 and its subsequent trillion dollar, and counting, bail out was the American version of “shock & awe”? Of course, the government wasn’t officially overthrown. The bail out seemed to only benefit huge multinationals and the really rich (and continues to do so). Was this crisis designed and this current “recovery” simply the domestic implementation of an economic plan that has proven time and time again to be a horrendous failure for everyone except the few?

I think the fact that we continue to see record corporate profits, record corporate tax refunds, record executive pay, record high productivity numbers, the continued eradication of the middle class, pay increases that don’t cover a cost of living increase, anxiety and depression numbers rising, etc…yea, I kind of think there are some very serious similarities. And I think the 2007 financial crisis gave all corporations the free license to do these things. Legally.

And the fact is that no matter how many people write it, say it, or scream it, it seems as though no one wants to do anything about it. The Occupy Wall Street movement tried and while it was a decent idea it was eventually silenced by the hands of the state and the media.

Let me state this emphatically, I believe in capitalism and democracy which is, presumably, the foundation of our country. Perhaps it’s my own naivete, but I think these two should stand independent of one another. But I will live with that naivete over the cynical acceptance that they are forever linked and we can’t change it.

I don’t believe that corporations should hold our government hostage while the masses suffer. I don’t think corporate leaders should rape and pillage any economy to line their pockets while marginalizing or crushing the population. I am fine with a super rich class, I am not fine with a greedy super rich glass that expands its wealth at the peril of the citizens, the very people expanding their wealth. I am proud to be an American but lately, I am not proud of America.

To ingest the dreck that media companies jam down your throat and present as news is to miss the message. Make no mistake, it is a one-sided conversation controlled by a media oligopoly. “Control the media, control the message” was the famous quote of media theorist and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, so don’t fool yourself, the “news” is presented as information but specifically designed to keep you uninformed.

And please don’t try to make any distinction between mainstream and non mainstream media; it’s ignorant, misleading and wrong…no difference exists. Far left OR far right media is simply extremism and at no point in world history has extremism ever been the answer. The egalitarian nature of the Internet provides a wealth of opportunities to find a more accurate message or, at the very least, different messages for you to form your own opinion. GASP! It won’t always be this way as history teaches us that the Internet will take the shape of the current media landscape.

So, what is my point? It’s OK to say WTF to corporations, to politicians. We should be challenging them, always. Unless we change things, we’re screwed and the following generations are screwed. We all need a collective Howard Beale moment and we need to stand up for what’s right for the people. To let multinational corporations dictate what we will or won’t be or what we will or won’t have and shape our government policies will only continue the income inequality. Without taking action we’ll be complicit in to our own continued marginalization. As a society, as a culture, as a people, we can no longer continue to let corporations do this.

We, as human citizens, have to think bigger and better and force our elected officials to wake the f*ck up. Yes, yes, I realize how naive that sounds but isn’t it better to fight a little then get rolled over again and again? Perhaps collectively we can stop the Facebook and Instagram updating, the tweeting, maybe turn off your television and engage in a conversation, do some research, write a letter, start a book club, do something, anything, to better your environment.

Hell, I’m not writing anything new here. I’m not writing anything most people don’t already know. I’m simply using this as a platform for my Howard Beale moment. This isn’t a question of liberal or conservative, right or left, democrat or republican, it’s about being a citizen and caring for one another. It’s about finding the courage to do what is right for the masses. It’s about questioning the messages. It’s about saying maybe it’s time for something better and then setting the wheels of change in motion.

To think that there is no glass ceiling in our society is to deny the facts. Actually, it’s not so much a glass ceiling because that implies you can break through. What seems more apropos is that it is an invisible force field.

It’s not too late to change things. I promise.

Here is a great video on inequality: http://tinyurl.com/b3jll79.

“A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.”
Robert Kennedy

Happy Valentines Day

marely

“You may not be her first, her last, or her only. She loved before she may love again. But if she loves you now, what else matters? She’s not perfect – you aren’t either, and the two of you may never be perfect together but if she can make you laugh, cause you to think twice, and admit to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can. She may not be thinking about you every second of the day, but she will give you a part of her that she knows you can break – her heart. So don’t hurt her, don’t change her, don’t analyze and don’t expect more than she can give. Smile when she makes you happy, let her know when she makes you mad, and miss her when she’s not there.”

– Bob Marley