My son’s Algebra teacher is also my new hero. Here’s a note she sent out to parents of her students:
This was supposed to be a post about my youngest kid, Andrew, who turns 13 today. I drove him to school, as a birthday treat (how thoughtful of me!), and he brought along a couple dozen donuts to share with his friends. I love the fact that he’s able to think of others on a day that’s normally “all about me.” That’s probably fairly rare in the teen years. But he’s a sweet kid all around, so I’m not surprised by his gesture.
If you’re keeping score at home, we now have four – count ’em – four teenagers in our household. 13, nearly 15, 17 and 18. Heaven help us… especially if our wi-fi ever goes out.
So it’s a happy day, and a happy birthday… and then when I got to work, a fellow music fan mentioned that the lead singer of Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchison, had been found dead, of an apparent suicide. Devastating. Soul-crushing. Looking back at the messages from both Scott and his family makes me so sad I can’t even describe it.
Then came the pleas from his family:
And finally, late last night, the news we feared the most:
I saw Frightened Rabbit in concert several times, most recently a year and a half ago when my buddy Dale and I squeezed up to the front of the stage for their set at an outdoor festival.
Several years ago, I was lucky enough to see them in an acoustic setting as part of a radio interview/performance at WNKU.
I even got to say a quick hello to Scott a couple of times.
He was always friendly, and seemed rather happy. But we never know the personal demons that live inside other people’s heads and torment them so.
“Thinking about songs like Floating in the Forth – I didn’t kill myself. I took that forward into other records. There’s got to be a sense that, as f****d as life can get, we’re still alive and we’re still doing this and we’re going to attempt to carry on.”
Scott wasn’t able to climb out of the abyss. We all know someone like him. Please, give them a call today.
Some of the footage in this video is from the Southgate House in Newport, KY. I was at that show too.
Marketing doesn’t have to be all algorithms, browser cookies and geo-tracking. The human touch will always be more memorable.
A few weeks ago, we needed a new faucet installed in our kitchen, and the shutoff valves below needed to be replaced as well. (I can do the former, but the latter is well beyond my DIY skills.) I found a local plumbing company that came highly recommended on NextDoor (like a Facebook for neighborhoods). Everyone I talked to, from the office manager who fielded my initial call to the plumber who came to our house, was friendly. About a week after the service call, I received a thank you card from them via “snail mail.”
I’ve used plenty of different plumbing companies over the years, and this is the first one to send me an honest-to-goodness thank you. On paper! In the mail! Who does that anymore? You’d better believe they’re on speed dial for all future repairs. And while robots may take over many jobs in the coming years, I don’t think I’ll ever trust a Roomba lookalike to replace two water shutoff valves under my kitchen sink. So the plumber’s investment in a single, solitary thank you card will earn them hundreds of dollars. (But not anytime soon, I hope!)
Yesterday I got the new Wussy album What Heaven is Like in the mail from the band’s record label, Shake It. Included with the CD that I ordered were a hand-written thank-you note and a postcard.
It probably took about 30 seconds to scribble out the thank you note, and another 10 to grab the promo postcard (clearly an homage to Springsteen’s debut album) and package it up with the album. Extra time in the era of efficiency – would Jeff Bezos approve? Doubtful.
But those 40 seconds will pay off for years to come, in the goodwill they generate, in the warm fuzzy feeling you get from “hey, they took the time to thank me by name… that’s cool!” Shake It started as a local label, releasing albums by artists that they were passionate about, before branching out to set up a bricks and mortar record store too. A record label and a record store… talk about tilting at millennial windmills! They know they can’t go toe-to-toe with Amazon on pricing, or compete with Spotify on music delivery. But by providing a personal touch, by caring about the music, engaging true fans, helping them dig deeper into their passions and exposing them to new artists, they can carve out a nice niche for themselves:
We carry some mainstream releases, but we specialize in independent labels from the obvious to the obscure – Chicago post-punk art-rock to Ethiopian boog-a-loo and all stops in between – rockabilly, vintage soul, r&b & blues, punk/hardcore, classic country & the best of the new breed, 60’s garage & psych, reggae/dub/rocksteady & vintage ska, krautrock, creative hip-hop & electronica, tons of straight ahead rock n’ roll & “alternative”, plus vintage bop, cool & avant garde jazz, cult soundtracks, Afrobeat/funk, “difficult listening” and much more. We’re introducing new releases and back catalog items every day, so there’s always something new in the bins.
You can keep your algorithms. I’ll stick with the handshakes.
I’ve previously posted a couple of audio clips from my 97X radio days. Here’s another gem (and by “gem” we mean “not completely painful to listen to”). It’s a commercial for a Cincinnati record store called Everybody’s Records. They advertised on 97X for the entire duration of the station’s existence, and are still around today, 40 years after they first opened their doors.
This commercial features three 97X legends… and me. Julie Maxwell, Rictile and Dave each spent several years at the station and are still remembered fondly by the small but mighty listener base. They’re all great broadcasters, and even better people. Rictile is still gracing the airwaves, albeit under his real name, at Vermont Public Radio. Julie and Dave work in advertising – as do quite a few other 97X expats.
This particular commercial was about 48 seconds long – at a free-form station like 97X, we didn’t have to adhere to strict timing guidelines. And the few advertisers that we did have gave us a lot of creative leeway in creating the commercials (as witnessed by my lame Grandpa Simpson impersonation in this particular ad).
The art vs. commerce scale tilted heavily toward the art side. We were a bunch of wacky kids, and the production studio was our playpen. We had tons of fun coming up with ideas and creating the spots… despite the fact that the recording equipment was a million miles away from state-of-the-art.
Like Julie and Dave, I too segued from radio to advertising, and our time at 97X was our “10,000 hours” in Malcolm Gladwell parlance.
One of the things I miss most about my radio days is doing wacky character voices. You don’t get many opportunities in the real world to bust into a Bob Dylan, Snoop Dogg or Fabio impersonation. Well, I suppose you can, but your family, friends and co-workers might think you’re crazy. And they may be right.
Child #2, Peter, turned 17 yesterday. All he wanted for his birthday was protein powder, t-shirts and some sneakers. He’s a man of simple means. Always has been. He’s been working at the local pizza parlor for nearly a year, and he never spends any of his paychecks – they just go right into the bank.
I wish he’d give lessons to my daughter… she’s more like this:
Peter also had been taking all of his tip money and throwing it in a box in his room. A few weeks ago, we counted the cash, and it was more than $800. Of course, once he gets his license and starts driving and dating, that surplus will dwindle quickly.
This past Saturday, his “Caring for our Watersheds” project finished 9th in a countywide high school competition.
He and his project partner, Fiona, worked with school officials and their science teacher to get two water bottle refilling stations installed in high traffic areas at school, and put announcements about it on the school P.A. system. (He’s a chip off the old tree-hugger stump!) Fiona couldn’t make the final presentation to the judges, so Peter had give a five-minute presentation on stage, solo, then field questions from the judges. Waayyy out of his comfort zone, but that’s part of the process, right? Now it’s in his muscle memory.
Speaking of taking the stage, my first cousin once removed performed on the Today Show yesterday. She plays Cady in Mean Girls, which just received 12 Tony nominations. NBD.
Check out this fantastic tune, “People Have The Power,” from Patti Smith’s mini-concert at the Beacon Theater after the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of the documentary film Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band. Patti and company are joined on stage by a gentleman from Jersey named Bruce, and young man from Decatur, Georgia named Michael Stipe.
I posted this for a couple of reasons:
- It’s a great song, with fantastic lyrics from the punk rock poet priestess Patti (say that 3 times fast), and it offers an inspiring message in troubled times.
2. As I watched the 71-year-old Smith, the 68-year-old Springsteen and the 58-year-old Stipe on stage, I found myself hoping to be as spry as they are in my next two decades… yet I also realized that there’s a generation gap when it comes to combining social commentary and music. What stars of the past decade or two are as popular and profound? Who is going to pick up the mantle of activism? Who speaks for (and to) the downtrodden, the working stiffs, the misfits and the outsiders? Where’s the next “Lost in the Flood” or “Johnny 99”? Who will do songs like “Orange Crush” or “World Leader Pretend”? Nickelback? Didn’t think so.
I believe everything we dream
Can come to pass through our union
We can turn the world around
We can turn the earth’s revolution
People have the power
People have the power
The power to dream, to rule
To wrestle the world from fools
It’s decreed: the people rule
We have the power
We have the power
The people have the power
We have the power
Five kids who grew up in Cincinnati (twin brothers from one family, two brothers from another family, and one other dude) and played in various local bands, joined forces in Brooklyn nearly 20 years ago and formed a new band called The National.
This past weekend, they staged a “Homecoming” music festival on the banks of the Ohio, in downtown Cincinnati.
10,000 folks showed up both days, in glorious weather, to see several great artists.
Both nights were capped by a headlining set from The National, under the light of the moon.
Pretty friggin’ cool.
Allow me to introduce you to “Hippie Bob.” He was a gig buddy of mine back in the day. I’ve gone to hundreds of concerts in my lifetime (I know, hard to believe from someone who blogs about music every other day). Because I like “weirdo” bands, the crowds are usually smaller, and you wind up seeing the same familiar faces, concert after concert. That’s how I met “Hippie Bob.” After seeing each other at several shows, we finally introduced ourselves to each other. At that time (circa late 90s), Bob was nearing retirement from his 30-year career as a photography teacher at a local high school. I called him “Hippie Bob” because he was clearly a product of that era, with his long ponytail, tie-dyed shirts and his turquoise jewelry. But he was also a great guy, soft-spoken, kindhearted, funny. A good dude to hang out with at shows. We never hung out socially outside of concerts. I never even knew Bob’s last name. But if you drew a Venn diagram of my musical tastes and Bob’s, there would be a 90% overlap.
There we were, show after show, year after year, following the same bands, and comparing notes on upcoming shows and new releases. “Are you going to Son Volt at Top Cat’s?” “Yes, I’ll be at that one!” “What do you think about the new Patty Griffin album?” “It’s great!”
Once kids came along, I got to less concerts, but invariably Hippie Bob would be at most of them. The last time I saw him at a concert was probably a decade ago, and his health wasn’t the best. I don’t even know if he’s still with us.
Allow me to introduce you to Lauren Fisher. She’s a creative, specializing in motion graphics and animation.
She lives in L.A. now, but she grew up in Cincinnati. Yesterday morning, she gave a talk at a Creative Mornings Cincinnati event, and talked about her artistic journey. Outside of her parents, the person who influenced her career choice the most was a high school photography teacher named Mr. Gregory. She was drawn to him because he was wired differently. When she put up a slide with an old yearbook photo of Mr. Gregory and described him saying “he had a ponytail, wore turquoise jewelry, listened to NPR and loved the band Wilco” I did a double-take and nearly blurted out “Hippie Bob!”
Yes, I only knew Hippie Bob as an super-cool older dude who liked good music. But over his 30-year career, Bob influenced so many kids, imbuing them with a love of photography in particular, and the arts in general. They say teachers change lives, and I’ve always believed that to be true. But it really hit home in a tangible, visceral way yesterday.
Today I’m going to an all-day music festival. I’m going tomorrow too. It’s a bunch of weirdo bands, of course.
I doubt I’ll run into Hippie Bob, but I have no doubt that dozens of his proteges will be there. So I know he’s still with us.
I saw Calexico in concert last night, at the Woodward Theater in Cincinnati. They’re a Tucson, Arizona band and don’t come through these parts too often, so I was willing to stay up late on a “school night” to catch them, and I’m sure glad I did. Seven dudes up on stage, most playing multiple instruments — including trumpets and xylophone — during the course of the set.
Wikipedia attempts to define them with “Americana, Tex-Mex, indie rock band” and says their musical style “is influenced by traditional Latin sounds of mariachi, conjunto, cumbia and tejano mixed with country, jazz and post-rock.”
In other words, they sound like no other band around, in the best possible way. I’m sure that’s a curse for album sales, but it’s a blessing in a live setting.
Lead singer Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino have been together since 1990, when they played in Giant Sand. They formed Calexico in ’95. Those decades of working together really show – they’re the musical version of a married couple who can complete each other’s sentences.
Calexico’s new album is The Thread That Keeps Us.
You can listen to every track on this playlist. One song is below. Happy listening!
As a 70s kid, I grew up with Evel Knievel on the brain. Motorcycle stuntman extraordinaire. (But “Skycycle” failure.)
A perennial performer on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Jumping fountains, jumping buses, jumping a pool of sharks before Fonzie did.
Evel was all the rage, and so were his toys.
Naturally my brother and I would attempt to emulate Evel. Usually that involved setting up a piece of plywood on a log as a makeshift ramp and attempting to jump over some obstacle on our Schwinn bikes with slick back tires and banana seats.
But once we just decided to try a long jump – sans bicycles – in our living room. We marked out a launch line and would track our landing spots, trying to jump a bit farther with each attempt (and probably making motorcycle “vroom-vroom” sounds with every launch). On my final attempt (and the reason it was final will become perfectly clear by the end of this sentence), I set a new record… but in true homage to my hero Evel, I got a bit wobbly on the landing, stumbled, lost my balance, and tried to stop my fall… by putting my hand through one of the panes in a living room window.
Luckily, my hand came out unscathed. But the window wasn’t as lucky. Because my father wasn’t much of a handyman and our meager household budget didn’t have room for repairs, we just thumbtacked a Hefty garbage bag over the missing windowpane. That damn garbage bag was up for years, a constant reminder of my failed stuntman career. Which is why I force my kids to take out the trash… the Cinch-Sak memories are simply too painful.
On a brighter note, a few decades later, I stumbled again… but this time it was stumbling across a true gem of an album.
If you ever see this album at a flea market, buy it! It has excerpts of Evel interviews prior to the ill-fated Snake River Jump, and even a song sung by Evel himself (and I’m using the term “sung” very liberally). The album wraps up with this lovely ballad (and by “lovely” I mean “cheesier than a pound of Swiss”).
He can move a mountain
Leap across a winding river
Once he’s made his mind up, there’s nothing he won’t try
There’s something deep inside him, lusting for the thrills that drive him.
Yet he knows someday he’s gonna have to face that canyon in the sky.
I miss you, Evel. The world needs more risk-takers like you. And stronger windows.