A December to Remember

The last month of the year can be a bit “extra” as the kids say (or used to…). Holiday lunches, holiday happy hours, holiday parties, holiday shopping, holiday baking,… it’s a whole lotta holiday stuff crammed into a short amount of days. And too much of a good thing isn’t always good.

It’s all well and good to connect with friends and family. But it’s also fine to take a pass on some of the festivities. Especially if festive is turning into frenetic.

“Thanks, but I can’t make it” is a perfectly acceptable answer to any holiday offer. There’s enough stress already during December – it’s OK to take a break for yourself, and keep the “happy” in “happy holidays.”

And if you’ve been meaning to get together with an old friend, why not consider the month of January? There’s plenty of room on the calendar for gatherings during that typically gloomy month. Less stressful. More enjoyable.

How about Cyber-none-day?

Cyber Monday is just a contrivance.

Yet another ruse to separate you from your hard-earned money.

There’s a tradeoff for the convenience too… most of the stuff is made in China. And it’s just “stuff”… if you really want to give a gift that will be memorable, why not give of your time and talents instead? Most of us don’t need more stuff… but we do crave more human interaction. Ignore the hype – focus on the heart.

Your price-gouged “service fee” dollars at work

As a live music fan, I am duty-bound to hate Ticketmaster (a.k.a. Ticketbastard). I’ve been railing against their ridiculous fees for years, and doing everything I can to avoid them – which usually involves a trip to the venue box office during the limited hours that it’s open.

But now the cavalry is on the way to help – the Taylor Swift Army. Because hell hath no fury like a Swiftie scorned (they learned from TS herself… just listen to her lyrics).

The Taylor Ticketmaster debacle might finally break up the Live Nation/Ticketmaster monopoly – a merger that never should’ve been allowed to happen in the first place. (Hmm, combining the largest artist management and venue company with the company that sells tickets to shows… what could possibly go wrong?)

I’m not against for-profit businesses making a profit. But I am against profiteering. And when the various and sundry “fees” for a ticket wind up adding an additional 50% to the price, that seems really excessive to me.

The Royal Crescent Mob reunion shows are a Exhibit A.

[Music-heavy sidebar – feel free to skip ahead if you’re not into that sort of thing – Hi Kelly! The Royal Crescent Mob was a punk/funk band from Columbus, Ohio – their heyday was the late 80s/early 90s. They disbanded in 1994, but are reuniting to play two shows in December — one in Columbus and one in the Cincy area — as cancer research fundraisers, because three members of the band have been impacted by cancer.

With drummer Carlton Smith recently diagnosed with brain cancer (Glioblastoma), singer David Ellison, recently treated for Prostate Cancer and the loss of guitarist B’s wife, Cincinnati Attorney, Sallee Fry in May, 2022, to Pancreatic Cancer, the four band members, decided there is no time like the present to celebrate life and revel in the joy of playing music together and the healing spirit music embodies in the human soul.]

Same band, similar venues in Columbus and Cincinnati on consecutive nights. The Columbus show tickets sales are through TicketWeb (a company that is dedicated to working with independent venues and promoters). Face value of the ticket is $30. TicketWeb service fees add another $7.95… and the fees are clearly shown on the site.

Meanwhile the Cincy show (it’s actually in Northern Kentucky) is a Ticketbastard show… Face value of the ticket is $30, but fees add $14.45 to the price tag… and the fees are hidden unless you know to click on the tiny carat symbol by the price.

“Service fee”… “facility charge” (keep in mind Live Nation/Ticketmaster owns a lot of these venues)… “order processing fee”… they just make up names for the various line items to make it seem like it’s not all going into their pockets. Don’t be fooled!

But the fees for a club show are chump change compared to the large venue shows like T-Swizzle and Bruce Springsteen. For a Bruce arena show in Columbus, the Ticketbastard “service fee” on a $518 ticket is a whopping $76.65. Oh, and don’t forget that order processing fee of $6. $82.65 for Ticketmaster to perform the same services that they were willing to do for a paltry $14.45 for a club show. Talk about paying the cost to be see the Boss!

(We’ll save the topic of “dynamic pricing” for another post…)

How does Ticketmaster get away with it? You don’t need a top hat and monocle to see the answer:

Apparently the Justice Department has been investigating Live Nation. I say it’s long overdue.

Story is here

They claim the investigation predates the Taylor fiasco, but Taylor’s travails will certainly add a bright, hot spotlight to the investigation. Ticketmaster has been ripping off customers for years… something music fans know “all too well.”

A green wave

The 2022 midterm elections are over (for the most part). So who won the races?

Well, the Democrats will probably still control the Senate… they might pick up one or two extra seats.

The House is still divided, but Republicans will probably have a very slim majority there.

It was the most expensive midterm election ever, according to the non-partisan group Open Secrets. So forget about a “red wave” or a “blue wave”… it was a green wave, and the real winners were political consultants and TV station ad salespeople.

$16.7 billion dollars... to bring us the same gridlock we’ve experienced the past few years.

In Ohio, U.S. Senate candidates J.D. Vance and Tim Ryan combined to spend more than $100 million (if you include outside spending, most of it “dark money” from anonymous sources… which is where the lion’s share of Vance’s money came from). $100 million… for a job that pays $174,000 a year.

Here’s the most telling stat of all:

Outside groups spent about $1.9 billion to influence federal elections through Oct. 31, blowing past the 2018 midterm outside spending record of $1.6 billion, adjusted for inflation. The biggest outside spenders are super PACs aligned with Republican and Democratic congressional leadership. 

Source: https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/11/total-cost-of-2022-state-and-federal-elections-projected-to-exceed-16-7-billion/

When candidates get that much cash pouring into their coffers, you know they’re beholden to these special interest groups. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Is your lone-vote voice really being heard over the whir of the money machine?

We need election reform. Get rid of dark money. Truly “drain the swamp” of lobbyists. Put non-partisan citizen panels in charge of redistricting to eliminate the ridiculous gerrymandering that makes most districts “safe” and therefore encourages the most radical elements from both parties to come to the forefront. Institute ranked choice voting to encourage candidates to appeal to a broader swath of their constituents, instead of playing to their base.

Until we do that, it’ll be a green wave every time.

What Heaven is Like

Heaven is having two of the best singer-songwriters in the whole wide world play a concert in your living room.

That’s Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker of the band Wussy. (Chuck used to front a band called Ass Ponys… as he readily admits, he’s 0-2 in band names.)

Wussy’s most recent album

Wussy has released several albums to much critical acclaim (see below) and limited commercial success.

“Wussy have been the best band in America since they released the first of their five superb albums in 2005.”

Robert Christgau (“the dean of American rock critics”) in 2012

Chuck and Lisa (and the other band members) still have day jobs. It nearly breaks my music-loving heart to know that such talented artists are toiling in semi-obscurity. Then again, if they were international superstars, they wouldn’t be playing my living room. I still have goosebumps from hearing their songs, and am still on Cloud Nine from the house show.

Chuck’s voice + Lisa’s voice = music magic!

Chuck and Lisa couldn’t be nicer human beings… they create amazing art… they get to play their songs for people who absolutely adore them. Who needs American Top 40 anyway?

https://undertowshows.com/collections/wussy

Radio to the Rescue

Doug Balogh recently celebrated his 80th birthday. Doug’s name may not mean much to you, but Doug meant the world to a bunch of youngsters who worked at the radio station he and his wife Linda owned and operated for more than two decades in Oxford, Ohio.

97X was a tiny station in a small college town. It had a weak signal, and it played weird music. Not exactly the recipe for runaway success. In fact, it barely registered on the quarterly list of radio ratings for Cincinnati and Dayton stations. But if you define success by the joy that station brought to both the station staff and the small-but-mighty group of dedicated listeners, then Doug’s ratings are off the charts — on the good side.

Doug gave countless young adults – many of them still in college or recently graduated – a chance to work in radio. For that reason alone, he deserves a ton of credit. But he not only gave them opportunity, but also a ton of freedom to do what they thought was best. To play the music they wanted. To be total goofballs on the air. To learn on the job. To grow up under his tutelage.

I’m probably the poster child for Doug Balogh’s Radio Refuge. I worked in radio for a few years after I graduated college, doing behind the scenes work at a company that ran an AM oldies station and an FM country station. I discovered 97X because they played bands you couldn’t hear anywhere else (Replacements, Connells, They Might Be Giants… I could go on and on). I wound up weaseling my way into some weekend air shifts there. I probably spent more in gas money than I made in hourly wages, but I didn’t care, because I had a freedom I couldn’t find elsewhere in the formatted-to-death world of corporate radio, and a connection to the listeners that made it feel like we were all one big (or not so big) happy family.

But then I had my “lost years”… I wound up leaving the radio biz and was living with my brother in Bakersfield, California and working as a travel agent. I knew I was deluding myself but I was in a bit of a rut. When I finally worked up the courage to try to get back in the radio game, the first call I made was to Doug. He had no business putting out the welcome mat for some travel agent in Bakersfield who did a few weekend shifts at the station three years prior. But somehow, some way, Doug brought me back into the fold. Because he saw something in me that I myself often struggled to see. Doug was an ace salesman, but his greatest skill was talent scout. He had a preternatural gift for sensing the right “fit” in the people who came looking for a job there.

I worked overnights for a year, mornings for a year and afternoons for six months before leaving for a larger station in Cincinnati. 97X was where I found myself… it was the radio reboot I desperately needed. It was a second chance at my first love. It was all that and more, thanks to Doug and Linda.

That was 30 years ago. I’ve said many times since that 97X was the least amount of money I’ve ever made… and the most fun I’ve ever had. The latter is much more valuable, and more precious, by far.

Prior to Doug’s big BD, his son Marty and daughter Kristy asked me to reach out to a bunch of 97X alums and get a birthday greeting from them. Several responded, and I edited the clips together for an audio surprise (seemed like a fitting format for a radio guy) that Marty and Kristy shared with Doug during the birthday celebration. I won’t share the total clip here, but you’ll hear snippets from three folks who worked on the morning show (in order: Julie Maxwell, John “JJ” Jesser and Steve Baker)

“The best job, the best memories, the best collection of people…”

“Mentor. Coach…. wonderful place”

“Best years of my life”

Some folks may think that Doug and Linda ran a tiny radio station for 20 years. But I know better – they created a magical place that still exists in our minds and hearts.

Mission accomplished!

An Overnight Success – years in the making

Adrian Belew is widely regarded as one of the best and most innovative guitarists in rock music. He recorded and toured with Frank Zappa, then the Talking Heads, then David Bowie. He led the prog rock band King Crimson for decades.. and he’s had an acclaimed solo career.

When he was in his teens and 20s, Adrian spent several years playing in cover bands, first in Cincinnati and later in Nashville. Years… not months. He easily could’ve given up. He certainly thought about it. But instead he stuck with it. He played the cover band gigs to make a living, but he used the rest of his time to focus on getting better at playing and songwriting.

When no one else believes in you, you have to believe in yourself.

The story of how Adrian became part of Frank Zappa’s band is the stuff of legend. How many other guitarists have been discovered because of a chauffeur? But if he hadn’t been playing that cover band gig, it never would’ve happened.

Success doesn’t happen overnight. It happens because you put in the work. One gig at a time.

It’s getting dark, too dark to see…

If you don’t think campaign finance reform is long overdue, please read this post from Judd Legum on his Popular Information site. (Which, IMHO, is well worth the subscription, btw.) A few excerpts are below.

One of the most powerful groups in the 2022 midterm elections is the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), the Super PAC controlled by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). 

In September, the SLF spent a total of $82 million on campaign ads. Meanwhile, all Republican Senate campaigns combined spent just $33 million.

But the largest donor, by far, to the SLF is One Nation. Through June 30, 2022, One Nation donated $33.5 million to the SLF. What is One Nation? Like the SLF, One Nation is run by Steven Law, a former Chief of Staff to McConnell. But unlike the SLF, One Nation is organized as a 501(c)4 non-profit organization. That allows One Nation to keep its donors secret. One Nation can collect unlimited donations from corporations and individuals, keep their identities secret, and then pass the money on to the SLF. 

If the same corporations and individuals donated directly to the SLF, their identities would have to be disclosed. It seems that many supporters of the SLF’s efforts are interested in maintaining their anonymity. Donations to 501(c)4 groups are not tax deductible. The only benefit, from a donor perspective, is secrecy.  [emphasis mine – DD]

Republicans have a similar structure to finance their efforts to retake control of the House of Representatives. The dominant Republican Super PAC running ads in House races is the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF). The top donor to the CLF, by far, is the American Action Network, a 501(c)4 non-profit run by the same people as the CLF. Through September 12, 2022, the American Action Network has donated $38.1 million to the CLF this cycle. The people or organizations that are donating to the American Action Network remain secret. 

This tactic is not limited to Republicans. On the Democratic side, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501(c)4 non-profit, donated $57 million to Super PACs supporting Democratic candidates, including Future Forward USA, American Bridge 21st Century, Priorities USA Action, and Unite the Country. The Sixteen Thirty Fund’s direct political involvement appears to have scaled back in 2022, donating about $6 million to date to political committees. The group says it supports legislation that would make political donations more transparent, including bills that would require the Sixteen Thirty Fund to disclose its donors. For now, however, the Sixteen Thirty Fund says it will use “the legal rulebook in place today.”

Let’s run those numbers again. $82 million. $38.1 million. $57 million. All “dark money.” All in secret. It’s a shell game. It’s three-card Monte, and Joe and Jane Citizen lose every time, because the cards are stacked against them.

Undue influence. Burning money on a surfeit of attack ads that fuel the fires of political polarization.

If the goals of these donors were noble, wouldn’t they want to be transparent about it?

One of the comments on the post has it exactly right:

Most people would not want to submit to being controlled by the extremely wealthy & corporations who almost always use their money and influence for their own benefit but not the benefit of the larger good… By basically equating money with free speech, Citizens United was a terrible blow to fairness and democracy in this country… It just keeps getting worse as both parties have to crank up the spending. 

Citizens United was — and is — awful.

Campaign finance reform — and in particular getting rid of dark money — is long overdue. If these wealthy individuals and corporations want to keep pouring millions into political campaigns, they should at least have the guts to put their names to it.

Time and Tide Wait for No Man

This is a photograph, a window to the past…

It’s the five couples who spent a glorious (pre-Hurricane Ian) week at the Outer Banks, courtesy of the dude who is fourth from the left, Vinnie, and his wife Janine (to the right of Vinnie).

The “boys” in this photo — if you’ll indulge me for a moment and allow me to use the term “boys” for guys who are pushing 60 — met at college 40 years ago. D2, LJ, Thin Man, Ricky C and Donger (16 Candles reference). We’re all over the map now – Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Annapolis, West Palm. But we all managed to carve out a week together at the beach. And it was glorious. The weather was perfect, but the weather was inconsequential. It was about reconnecting, recollecting, laughing, dancing like the fools we are.

Vinnie on the left, Damian kneeling, LJ 4th from the left, Art at the far right. Circa 1985.

Got a glimmer in his eye, seems to say, “This is what I’ll miss after I die

And this is what I’ll miss about being alive…

Vinnie has offered up his vacation place nearly every September for the past dozen or so years, but there were few takers. Too many responsibilities, too many kids’ practices, not enough time. But this year was different. Most of us are empty nesters now, or pretty darn close. That’s part of the equation. The other part is realizing that time and tide wait for no man. Some of our peers from college have already passed away. Our good friend Ned had a stroke. Our buddy Art was scheduled to be on this OBX trip, but he had to have emergency surgery two weeks before.

Now time’s the undefeated, the heavyweight champ

Laughing in his face, as he dance likе Sugar Ray

Used to be “c’mon c’mon” but now “no mas, no mas”

The older we get, the more we treasure our time together. Pushing back against the tide may be a fool’s errand, but we’re just the fools for the job.

Fare Thee Well, Hippie Bob

I like weird music. Well, “weird” to most people. Certainly the bands I love are well outside the mainstream. I’m good with that.

Because my tastes tend toward the obscure, most of the live concerts I attend have a small-but-mighty crowd. (I’ve been to gigs where the people on stage outnumbered the audience.)

Believe it or not, there are other folks who share my musical tastes. You start noticing the same faces at shows. And for a long stretch in the late 90s and early 2000s, it seemed like every show I went to — especially singer-songwriters shows– I’d see the same older dude with a ponytail. The Venn diagram of our musical tastes overlapped significantly.

So I finally introduced myself to him, and every show after that, we’d compare notes on new albums we liked and upcoming shows on our radar. His name was Bob Gregory (I called him “Hippie Bob”), and he taught photography at Sycamore High School in suburban Cincinnati for decades before retiring to a life of going to sparsely-attended shows and being bothered by some music nerd (c’est moi!). He was a sweet dude, soft-spoken, funny, and kind.

The last time I saw Hippie Bob at a concert, several years ago, he was having some health issues and wasn’t able to attend as many shows as he’d like to.

I’m now at the age where I follow the Carl Reiner morning ritual:

“Every morning before having breakfast, I pick up my newspaper, get the obituary section, and see if I’m listed. If I’m not, I’ll have my breakfast.”.

Carl Reiner

Last Sunday I read that Hippie Bob had passed away earlier this month at the age of 82.

We weren’t exactly buddies. Just kindred spirits. But I always enjoyed catching up with Hippie Bob. The world could use more people like him, not fewer. R.I.P. my music friend.

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