Yo Adrian… Belew

Adrian Belew is one of the most inventive guitarists ever. Don’t take my word for it, just ask anyone who has ever seen him play. Way back when, he toured with Frank Zappa and David Bowie. He was a member of King Crimson. He’s also played with everyone from Talking Heads to Nine Inch Nails to Paul Simon, and put out several solo albums, as well as albums with the brilliant but overlooked power-pop group The Bears.

Adrian Belew is also one of the nicest rock stars I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He’s from Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, and back in the early 90s when I worked at 97X in Oxford, Ohio, our paths crossed quite a bit. My friends and fellow DJs Ric and Dave agreed that his nickname should be “The Nicest Guy in Rock.”

Last night, Pixar’s Piper won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short (it really won, there was no confusion), and Adrian Belew did the score for it… his first movie score ever. Nice to see a nice guy finish first for a change.

You can read more about Adrian’s work on the movie, as well as his contributions to Bowie and Zappa tributes, here. Another interesting interview is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signs o’ the times


Three of my four kids have a weekly paper route, and the routes aren’t close enough to our house to be walkable. So my wife and I get to play (uncompensated) Uber drivers every Wednesday. My daughter has one newspaper delivery on a street that obviously has been forgotten by the City of Cincinnati road repair crews. It’s so bumpy, pothole-riddled and eroded that it practically qualifies as a gravel road:

What the name of this crumbling street?

Yep, Sturdy Avenue. Not because the street is sturdy, but because your car’s suspension needs to be to drive it.

 

There’s a cafe downtown that closed several months ago, allegedly “temporarily”, due to “renovation.”

Someone took a Sharpie and called B.S. on their signage:

 

There’s a FastSigns location downtown.

Here’s their corporate tagline in the window:

A. If they are “more than fast” and “more than signs” then maybe it’s time to consider a company name change.

B. Also, you’d think a sign company would be able to print a sign that could fit into a single window pane.

 

Looks like the Convent of The Good Shepherd isn’t accepting any visitors at this time. Maybe it’s temporarily closed due to renovation.

Hot. Water.

Yesterday was the warmest winter day ever in Cincinnati. 78 degrees.

Most of last week was unseasonably warm, with highs in the 60s. And here’s today’s temp:

These sort of rapid swings are happening far too often to be called flukes. Not just in Ohio, but all over (e.g. California going from drought to flooding). It’s global climate change, plain and simple. And it’s not going away if we ignore it.

The New York Times has a great article about how climate change is affecting Mexico City. Read it and you’ll start to realize that the next world war may not be over political or religious ideologies, but over access to water and food.

 

Instead of building yet another oil pipeline, we should be hanging solar panels. Instead of watering the lawn, we should be installing rain barrels. Heck, for $5 you can install a shower interrupter valve – push a button and the shower flow slows to a trickle while you lather up, saving a lot of water from being wasted every day.

 

It’s a small price to pay today… to help avoid paying a much steeper price in the future:

 

1 + 16 > 45

 

 

 

Happy President’s Day!

Intimate dinner conversation

Today is Valentine’s Day, but it’s also Taco Tuesday. So light some candles, turn on some Barry White and serve this for your sweetie:

I call ’em VD tacos. But perhaps another name might be more appealing.

Ljubjana is lovely

The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper carries Peanuts reruns in their Sunday comics section, because Peanuts is a timeless classic. Of course, they also run Marmaduke, which is a single-joke strip (giant dog acts like a human) that was never really funny and should’ve been cut about 30 years ago… but we’ll save my love/hate relationship with comic strips for another blog post.

One week ago, they ran a Peanuts strip from 1970, back when there still was a Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia is long gone, but Snoopy also mentions the city of Ljubljana, which is very near and dear to my heart. Many moons ago (1990 to be exact), I quit my job working as the overnight DJ at a country music station in Gettysburg, PA (for obvious reasons – I don’t like country music, had no friends there and struggled to make new connections with my vampire schedule) to visit my younger sister in Ireland for a month, then travel with her through Europe for another month. I cashed in a 401K from a previous job to fund my junket, and while any financial consultant worth his/her fee will tell you that’s foolish, I’d do it again in a heartbeat, because the experiences I had on that trip were priceless.

My younger sister was living in Dublin, but I made a few solo forays to different parts of the Emerald Isle. When I was staying at a youth hostel in Kinsale, I met two wonderful young ladies from Ljubljana (which the capital and largest city in Slovenia, in case you stink at geography like I do). Mija and Damjana. I mentioned that my younger sister and I would be traveling through Europe shortly, and they said we should come visit them in Ljubljana. Which we did, a month later. Mija and Damjana and their families were so kind to us. You’d think we were relatives, not some Yankee strangers. They showed us around the wonderful city of Ljubljana, opened up their homes to us, and offered us great meals and comfy beds, which were sorely needed after three weeks of youth hostel roulette (room full of partiers? room full of snorers? yes and yes).

I remained “pen pals” with both Mija and Damjana (back when “pen pals” was a thing). 27 years later, we still stay in touch via occasional emails and annual Christmas cards. Both are married, both have two kids, both are still the same kind and gracious people they were back in 1990.  (And they like to point out that they are even more beautiful than Slovenia’s own Melania Trump… and have better husbands.) Mija still lives in Slovenia, and teaches English to kids. Damjana lives in France and is a crafter/designer/artist (you can see/buy her unique designs on Etsy, read her blog here and check out her photography on Instagram).

Obviously reading the Peanuts comic strip made me think of my dear old (but not old-old) friends. Ever the promoters of their home country, they suggested that everyone should get a glimpse of all its majesty and natural beauty on the official Slovenia Instagram.

So if you’re keeping score at home, a comic strip from 1970 made me think of 1990, and a city 4,716 miles away. Because friends far away are still close to my heart.

 

 

 

The media’s a circus, but we don’t have to be the clowns

Marketing guru Seth Godin really nailed it in his recent post about the growth of commercial media. And “growth” in this case means it’s spreading like a cancer. You should read the entire thing, and subscribe to Seth’s daily blog because he always offers some tasty food for thought.

But here (in italics) are a few excerpts I found particularly insightful:

They sow dissatisfaction—advertising increases our feeling of missing out, and purchasing offers a momentary respite from that dissatisfaction.

Much of that dissatisfaction is about more vs. enough, about moving up a commercial ladder that’s primarily defined by things that can be purchased. It’s possible to have far more than your grandparents did but still be deeply unhappy believing that you don’t have enough.

Hence a new iPhone release every year.

The media likes events and circuses and bowl games, because they have a beginning and an ending, and because they can be programmed and promoted. They invite us into the situation room, alarm us with breaking news and then effortlessly move onto the next crisis.

Hence the stories about shark attacks every summer, even though you have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime.

And now they’re being gamed at their own game, because the artificial scarcity that was created by the FCC has been replaced by a surplus and a race to the bottom, with no gatekeepers and with plenty of advertisers willing to pay for any shred of attention.

Intellectual pursuits don’t align with the options that media would rather have us care about.

A walk in the woods with a friend or your kids does the media-industrial complex no good at all. It’s sort of the opposite of pro wrestling.

Books are the lowest form of media (too slow, too long-lasting, no sponsors, low profit) while instant-on, always-on social networks are about as good as it gets. For the media.

If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

Hence “click bait” headlines, fake news and trolling. In the 60’s Timothy Leary encouraged us to “turn on, tune in, drop out” but now it should be “turn off, tune out, drop back into the real world.”

 

Super-conflicted

I’m torn about which team to root for in today’s Super Bowl, sponsored by JET LI.

(Wait, I’ve just been told that the “LI” in “Super Bowl LI” is actually Roman numerals… my bad. Better luck next year, Jet. And Jets.)

Normally it’d be a no-brainer because I can’t stand the New England Patriots. It starts with their GQ pretty-boy quarterback Tom Brady, who just happens to have a supermodel wife, and already has so many Super Bowl rings that he probably uses half of them as door pulls on his kitchen cabinets. And then there’s the evil Darth Vader  head coach, Bill Belichick, who is a genius with Xs and Os and player moves, but a complete jerkwad outside the lines, especially to the media. Throw in a “Gronk” (yeah, I know he’s hurt but his frat-boy specter still looms large over the entire franchise), a complete pest like Julian “Short Man’s Disease” Edelman, and a bunch of no names that come up big when it counts (looking at you, Malcolm Butler) and it’s very easy to hate the Pats, especially if you live outside of New England and like to root for the underdog. Oh yes, and as a Raiders fan I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the infamous “Tuck Rule” playoff game.

 

But I’m super-conflicted this year because one of the New England Patriots cheerleaders is the daughter of my first cousin. (Does that make her my second cousin? First cousin once removed? Cousin to the nth degree?)

   

Jamie is super-nice and very funny. She grew up in New Hampshire, she now works in Boston and she’s loved to dance since the time she could walk. So it totally makes sense that she would be a Pats cheerleader. But c’mon, this is the Evil Empire we’re talking about.

  

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady chats with Donald Trump (Photo by Donna Connor/WireImage)

I guess I’ll have to split my allegiance… I hope the Patriot cheerleaders have a flawless game, and I hope the Falcons beat the football Patsies by a gazillion points. (Even though I know that odds are the Brady mansion kitchen cabinets will have a little extra bling very soon.)

 

Choco-holic

Graeter’s Ice Cream is a family-owned company that has been a part of Cincinnati since 1870. Their small batch (hand-swirled in two-gallon “French Pot” containers), artisanal ice cream flavors have made them a local icon, and won the taste buds and hearts of ice cream aficionados from coast to coast. Their Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip flavor is far and away their most popular flavor.

Braxton Brewing Company is a family-owned company that has only been around a couple of years in Covington, KY, just across the river from downtown Cincinnati.

Last night, Braxton and Graeter’s unveiled their collaboration beer – Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout.

 

The Braxton taproom was packed for the official tapping and release party. Lines went around the block, even in the frigid weather.

I went, partly to get my grubby paws on a couple of four-packs. Partly to witness the sheer spectacle of it. But mainly because I know the family that owns Braxton. I work with Greg Rouse, who is a print production genius at our company in his day job. His older son Jake interned with us several years ago, during the summer after his junior year of college. He graduated from Indiana University’s prestigious Kelley School of Business with a degree in Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation. Greg’s younger son Evan is the wunderkind brewer of the family, starting out homebrewing in the garage of their home on Braxton Avenue (hence the brewery name) and winning all sorts of awards. When Jake graduated from college, it completely made sense for them to start a brewery, with Jake as the “hustler,” Evan as the “hacker” and Greg as the production wizard (sourcing and negotiating prices on everything from hops to bar stools to old-fashioned ice cream parlor milkshake glasses for the Graeter’s beer). And Greg’s wife Tina helps run the taproom. They’re such great people, and I’m thrilled for them. Greg is a very no-nonsense kind of guy, but he’s admitted several times what a thrill it is to be able to work with his sons in a successful business.

Three cheers for family-owned companies. Braxton, may you continue to thrive a century from now, just like your friends at Graeter’s.

P.S. The beer is mighty tasty. The four-pack above is no longer a four-pack. Or even a three-pack. Chocolate is good for you, right?

 

Groundhog Day all over again

Yesterday was Groundhog Day, but the day before that, there was a Groundhog Day sighting in Cincinnati.

Yes, THE Bill Murray was at the Xavier-Seton Hall men’s basketball game (his son Luke is an assistant coach for Xavier). Everyone knows Bill. Everyone loves Bill. But how about a little love for his good friend, writing partner and sometimes co-star, Harold Ramis.

  

Harold’s star never did shine as brightly as Bill’s, but his fingerprints are all over so many of the most memorable comedies of my generation:

  • he wrote Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and the screenplay for Back to School and Groundhog Day
  • he was the head writer for SCTV for a couple of years
  • he co-starred with Bill Murray in Stripes and Ghostbusters, and also was an actor in SCTV, Knocked Up and As Good as It Gets
  • he directed Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Groundhog Day… and 4 episodes of The Office. (He also directed Stuart Saves His Family but still, not a bad batting average.)

Beyond the IMDb stats, though, from all reports Mr. Ramis (who passed away in 2014) was a really good guy… and that doesn’t happen often in Hollywood. Here’s Groundhog Day actress Andie McDowell talking about him:

Raised Jewish, Harold gravitated toward Buddhism, and even created a pocket-sized “5 Minute Buddhist” cheat sheet, which he kept with him at all times.

He described his belief system as “Budd-ish.” The influence of Buddhism shows up in Caddyshack:

And it’s all over Groundhog Day. So on the day after, which is like the day before, and the day before that, let’s practice a little gratitude for Mr. Harold Ramis.

And check out these fun facts about the Groundhog Day from Harold’s director’s commentary.