My mother used to tell the story of how—at a very young age—I stood up in front of a crowd and, without any prompting, did an acceptable impression of Elvis Presley.
That’s when she knew, she told me, that music and performing were in my future. Accordingly, shortly afterward she bought me my first guitar—a Stella with Black Diamond strings—and thus set me on a course a course for the rest of my life. Continue reading
To the 2-3 people who follow this blog: I apologize for not posting anything for, well, a while. A combination of financial, personal, medical, geographical, cybernetical (is that a word?) — and probably astrological — problems have interfered.
It’s easy to Tweet on an iPhone; a blog post: not so much.
But, rest assured, cyber-buddies, I will be back at the ol’ keyboard long before this time next week, with enough content to make up for my lapses in spades.
So. please don’t give up on me. I’ll still be holding my open mic at Pizza Baron tomorrow night at 7:00 PM, but will be heading back out of town again immediately afterward. If I can get online before then, I’ll have 5-6 new posts before next Wednesday. If not, then that following Friday.
Too much information? When I return—I’ll type, and you’ll decide!
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been drawn to the arts—most of them, anyway. At one time or another, I’ve fantasized a career as a
- movie director,
- TV producer
Unfortunately, the only career I was ever able to make a living at was as a professional musician (Well, maybe a little as a writer, but not the way I’d imagined). No matter, though: I lived out my dreams vicariously, through biographies and autobiographies. What follows are three autobiographies that had the strongest impact on me and informed me as the person I am today.
The name Moss Hart might not be familiar to most of you reading this today, but during the ’30s and ’40, the playwriting team of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart was as well known as Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of South Park) are in the naughts. Together, the two of them wrote Broadway hit comedies that are still performed today, such as You Can’t Take It With You, The Man Who Came To Dinner, and George Washington Slept Here.
In Act One Mr. Hart tells the story of his early life in best-seller fashion: from his impoverished Manhattan childhood to his discovery of live theater and the lure of Broadway to his apprenticeship as social director at myriad summer resorts to his initial attempts at writing plays and his first meeting with Mr. Kaufman—in prose that is infused with an unabashed affection for all things theatrical and free of any artifice—and ends as the pair’s first collaboration, Once In A Lifetime, opens to rave reviews on Broadway.
Interspersed with Mr. Hart’s own story are tasty vignettes of the period: The Algonquin Round Table, summers in the Catskills, the rewards of Little Theater—but most of all, the story of man who never lost his passion and his dream.
It was this book, above all other things, that provided me a sense of optimism, a passion for art, and a love of live theater that continues to this day.
Papa John (1987
If Moss Hart’s story represents a dream realized, Papa John, this autobiography of the John Phillips—founder of The Mamas & The Papas—is a nightmare of sex, dysfunction, and addiction. In a tale laden with 60s excesses Mr. Philips chronicles his ascension from Greenwich Village folksinger to his gathering the the rest of the group members forming them and directing them to the apex of their critical and commercial success—followed by his downward plunge (spiral is too moderate a term) into drugs and attempts at rehab, all the time dragging with him the other members as well as those with whom he came into contact.
Although Phillips tries to paint a sympathetic self-portrait, he fails and the sense of entitlement that informed him, both personally and artistically until his death, shines strongly though.
Although I admired John Phillips as an artist, Papa John provided me as good an explanation as any as to why I’d always been uncomfortable watching him perform.
The life of Sammy Davis, Jr. could have been that of any Black man growing up in the 40 and 50s, except for his exceptional talent as a singer, dancer, and all-round entertainer.
Yes, I Can, opens as Mr. Davis is in a car wreck and, fearing an impending death, reflects upon his life from a childhood as the youngest member of his parents’ vaudeville act, through his success and discovery in his teens and early 20s, his marriage to Swedish actress, May Britt (then considered
Through Mr. Davis’s recollections, we learn the reasons (and accompanying tribulations) behind his conversion to Judaism, his self-doubts, the racism he encountered in the Deep South, the loss of one eye, and finally his triumphs as a world-class entertainer.
Yes, I Can is an easy read and many will find it inspirational if not illuminating. As such, it reads as easily as a summer beach novel.
These three autobiographies—along with one other that will have to wait—are pleasant diversions, yet still offer—if not a glimpse, then a peak—into lives that are different from most of our own.Image Credits: Respective publishers.
From my previous post, A good dance band is never out of work, you may have surmised that once-upon-a-time I was a professional musician. For quite a few years, in fact. And, as a band leader, I learned a few things about business that I carried over to my website design company when I left the neon light of the Las Vegas Strip (Really!)
But, that will have to wait for another time.
The following steps apply to businesses, entrepreneurs, employees—and even musicians. Y’all are intelligent enough to make any necessary substitutions.
- Get your act together. By “act” I mean the literal meaning of the noun, as in “something brought about by human will”. In other words, what you’re gonna do. Here are some of the components: choose your material, rehearse and arrange it, decide what songs you’ll be playing as well as the order in which you’ll present them. Decide what kind of audience you prefer and choose, arrange, etc. accordingly.
- Research venues. Make certain that your music fits a venue that actually exists. If your kick is Nigerian toe-slapping music, make sure there’s a place where that kind of thing is appreciated. Or that there’s at least the potential for appreciation.
- Decide whether you must be paid (in some manner) or if you might be willing to play showcases, open mics, and festivals for the experience and publicity. Choose your venue accordingly.
- Approach whoever does the hiring and arrange for an audition.
- Choose the material you’ll perform at the audition. Because you’ve researched the venue, you know what will work and what won’t. Don’t play for yourself; play for the decision maker.
- Show up early. Set up quickly and unobtrusively. Don’t chase out any customers who are already there.
- Perform your audition set. Don’t chase out any customers who are already there.
- Tear down quickly and unobtrusively. Don’t chase out any customers who are already there.
- Unless the owner indicates that s/he wants to talk to you immediately, as soon as you’ve torn down completely, approach him or her and tell them you’ll contact them the following day.
- Then, do so.
So, until we meet again: Keep rocking.
A good dance band is never out of work.
What in the heck am I talking about? and, what doe it have to do with content creation or business?
Here’s a hint: It has absolutely nothing to do with playing danceable music; but, then again, it has everything to do with it.
Break it down: People like to dance, even those who can’t. There seems to be some biological-neurological-physiological-psychological—something—that responds to certain rhythmic patterns and set one’s toes to a-tappin’. Don’t ask me, I’m in that second category.
But, just accept it: people like to dance. Think Studio 54. Think disco. Think house (the music, not the TV show). Think Saturday Night Fever. Do you know how much money the Bee Gees made off that soundtrack? I don’t either, but I bet it bought a shitload of Capezios and Angel Flights.
Corollary: People like to dance, so a band that plays music that people can dance to is going to be popular with people who dance (or would like to dance). That attracts them to your venue.
Corollary: Club owners, bartenders, and cocktail waitresses like people who are dancing, a/k/a customers. Why? Because dancing feet are thirsty feet and alcohol is the divine lubrication of happy-thirsty feet . . . which leads to more drinks being sold. Simply stated: Drinking = dancing. Dancing = drinking. The circle of life.
So, here we have the needs of both the audience and club owner-bartender-cocktail waitress being filled. And, yours, too. As the primary mover behind this miracle of symbiotic synergy (synergistic symbiosis?), you’re getting paid for your services . . . aren’t you?
Some bands look down on playing danceable music: They want to play sold-out concerts in mammoth stadiums. Or small, intimate coffee houses, where the lights are dim and the smoke is thick, and the audience listens rapturously to every nuanced lyric turn and subtle, muted note.
They’re allowed. Just substitute “crowd-pleasing” for “good dance band,” or “content creator,” or “business owner,” or whatever else you’d like it to be.
That’s just one of the wonderful things about a good metaphor—which is exactly what “dance band” is.
The proposed cuts to the University of Nevada, Reno, by Gov. Brian Sandoval, threaten to return Nevada to its 19th century roots as an agricultural college; we all saw it coming, but have been living in denial since at least 1999, when powerful business forces in the state opposed the Millennium Scholarships that have since allowed thousands to attend Nevada colleges and universities.
The jobs of the future will be more technical, not professional. And colleges aren’t helping with this.
David Bush, then president of the National Association of Building Contractors, the second most powerful lobby in the state, added his voice to the debate:
The U.S. system of education has lost its focus. High school counselors push college prep curriculum, instead of focusing on producing quality graduates . . . We ought to stop pitching college degrees as a status symbol
Another who was against the Scholarships was a casino mogul who also opposed the aid, fearing that a greater proportion of college graduates could attract a more diverse business population—forcing casinos to compete for their employees.
Thus, the two arguably most powerful forced in the state stated their opposition the thought of Nevada students receiving college educations—on the record
Our last two Republican governors have gutted higher education; and why should we be surprised?
During that debate, the head of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association was quoted as saying that his members would have to pay workers more money if they had college degrees, and anyway, they didn’t need bachelors’ degrees to valet park cars . . . did they?
Finally, to those in the Governor’s Mansion who argue that without such deep and drastic cuts to education, taxes (although already among the lowest in the nation) will have to be raised, one must ask: Did the innovators who moved— and continue to move—to Silicon Valley, do so because of California’s low taxes and lax regulatory system? Er . . . that’s a rhetorical question.
Gentle reader, I’d like you to try an experiment: Choose a 1-hour TV show you watched last night and pretend you’re relating the story to somebody who is generally familiar with concept of the show—perhaps some of the characters, its location, and general setting—and try to describe that night’s episode as quickly as you can, while conveying enough information for the imaginary listener to understand the storyline. Time yourself. And, when you’re finished, see how long it took. Chances are it was longer than 2 minutes. Probably closer to—I don’t know—maybe 15 minutes, 20 minutes, maybe even longer if it had a complicated plot.
Now, I’d like you to think back to the 2008 vice-presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin. The format of the October 8 debate was this:
- The moderator (Gwen Ifill) asked each candidate a question, to which
- they had 90 seconds to respond.
- An open discussion period of 2 minutes followed, and,
- finally, each candidate was given 90 seconds to provide a closing statement.
Next, compare those times with what I asked you to do in my first paragraph. Which was longer, more complete, nuanced, contextualized, and informative? I’ll bet your imaginary listener left with a better understand of—say—One Tree Hill—than about the candidates’ views on foreign policy in the Middle East, or the effects of new taxes on the deficit.
Would it surprise anybody reading this that during the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates during the 19th century, the format was a little different and that
Douglas would speak first, for an hour; Lincoln would take an hour and a half to reply; Douglas, a half hour to rebut Lincoln’s reply.
One of Palin’s responses in 2008: “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
One of Lincoln’s, in 1858
It will readily occur to you that I cannot, in half an hour, notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say I an hour and a half; and I hope, therefore, if there be anything that he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to cover his whole ground.
Slightly different: in length, complexity, and context, wouldn’t you say? In one sentence, Lincoln acknowledges the time differential between his and Douglas’s declamations; that Douglass has covered several topics; and asks the audience’s forgiveness for not rebutting each and every argument.
“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
This next series of blog posts will deal with the fact that journalists have accepted, perhaps even promoted, the notion that their readers require less and less information with which to form their opinions. Whether it’s deciding to begin watching a TV series or deciding the next leaders of the free world.
Today, our elected officials need not spell out complicated and detailed campaign platforms, nor provide solid, informative answers to difficult questions. In the 21st Century, a 9-second sound bite is usually all that it takes.
Lincoln’s quotes are from: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
In my previous post I mentioned that the profession (the calling if you want to be dramatic about it), of journalism enjoys a popularity just south of a root canal. I also wrote that I was going to explain why.
First, though, I’d like to offer some possibilities. Don’t worry—you don’t lose any points for a wrong answer:
- Bias and partisanship
- Poor research
- etc., etc., etc.
Okay, you might be saying to yourself at this point. So, what is the answer?
My answer is . . . Yes. It’s all-of-the-above.
The fact it that journalism (and, by extension, journalists) has lost the public’s respect and is on the brink of becoming irrelevant.
I can’t really disagree, especially with the proliferation and popularity of those pandering platforms that pretend to be journalism: certain cable TV networks, blogs, websites, Tweets, MySpace and FaceBook pages.
By the way, see what I did there? I used alliteration in the sentence. All those p’s.
Getting back to the point, which can be summed up in one short sentence: Journalism is in trouble, has been heading in that direction for a while, and finding an solution to its seemingly inevitable slide may may be futile.
Hmmm . . . That’s a bit more than “short,” but is a perfect example of the fundamental problem that journalism faces. I either lied or misled mischaracterized or—most likely—didn’t bother explaining what I meant by “short.” In other words, what I wrote had no veracity, it was not credible.
And that, I believe is, what is wrong with the news: As communicated, by whatever means, most of it lacks credibility. As Judge Judy often says: “If it doesn’t make sense, it’s a lie!”
I believe that in order for journalism to regain its credibility and reputation and standing, journalists must apply that which most j-schools promise, but that few deliver: the use of Critical Thinking (also known as “informal logic”) in researching, analyzing, and, finally, writing the news. I like to call this “Critical Journalism,” and that’s what I will be writing about: How to do it.
I believe it was Carl Bernstein who said something along the lines of: “Journalism is the best version of the truth.” Actually, I’m pretty certain my paraphrase is off by an order of magnitude at least. Carl would never have written so clunky a sentence, even on his worst day. But I hope you get the point:
If journalists write better, more truthful, more cogent stories, people will begin to respect us again.
That’s what I believe. I wonder if you believe it, too. If you have an opinion on the matter, drop me a comment in the little box below.
All journalists are corrupt and ignorant bums!
Not that many years ago, while working toward my MA degree at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, I was exposed to a number of studies decrying the sad regard in which the public at large held members of the profession in which I had spent a great deal of my life, and to which I planned to dedicate further years.
I admit, I was pretty shaken. I knew that newspaper readership was declining and that people just didn’t trust “the media” that much anymore. Was this necessarily a bad thing? Weren’t there alternatives to print and television news? Blogs, websites, portals and good old Soc-M—Social Media?
By the way, I’d like to get something straight from the get-go: I despise the term media when referring to newspaper and television news. The First Amendment to The Constitution refers to “freedom of the press,” and, if it was good enough for the Founders, it’s good enough for me (That’s the least of my reason for disliking the term, and I’ll explain why in a later post).
The bottom line is that I am (among other things) a journalist, and I’d like to see some respect restored to that profession to which I’ve dedicated so many years (and bear the weight of many thousands in student loans!).
I consider myself a pretty smart fellow, so the first thing I did was to identify the problem. That was easy: People just didn’t trust us. They really didn’t trust us. We ranked just below used-car salesmen and just above the fellow at Blue Cross-Blue Shield who just denied your claim. Or, vice-versa.
Okay . . . So why didn’t people trust us? After all, after Woodward and Bernstein and Bernstein broke the Watergate story, journalists were revered. Weren’t they?
Well, not by all, it turns out.
More on that in Part 2, which I’ll post this Friday.