Dare to Dream

Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

Martin Luther King Jr.

But Always Love, Hate will get you every time
Always Love, Even when you wanna fight

Nada Surf “Always Love”

Here’s to better days ahead. (Hat tip to my friend Phil for the MLK Jr. quote. Hat tip to Nada Surf for being a great band.)

The struggle was real

Gather round, you young whippersnappers, and Grandpa’s going to tell you about the good old days when we had to struggle to listen to music.

I overheard some teenagers talking about how all their music is stored on McCloud. I don’t know too much about today’s technology, so I have no idea how they can store all their music on top of a fish-out-of-water law enforcement officer from Taos, New Mexico, on assignment in New York City, winning the begrudging admiration of his gruff, streetwise boss with a folksy approach to detective work, but that’s what the kids… Grandpa was talking, it’s impolite to interrupt… oh, alright, go ahead… Speak up! What’s that you say? Oh, it’s The Cloud not McCloud? Well, that still doesn’t make any sense.

Back in my day, we only had the radio and records. If you heard a song that you liked on the radio, and the Woolworth’s was already closed so you couldn’t buy the 45 rpm single, you had to wait until the radio station played it again.

If you were smart, you had your Realistic brand cassette recorder nearby, and you’d record the song right off the air.

If you didn’t know the name of the song or the band that played it, you had to wait until the DJ said the names, or ask your friends at school on Monday, because this is the only Shazam we had back then:

There was only one good radio station in every town, an FM station that played “album rock.”  But if you had an older used car as your first car, chances are pretty good that it didn’t have FM radio in it, so you had to buy something called an FM Converter and install it underneath the dashboard of your Dodge Cornet.

It’s probably a good thing there was only one rock station, because if you tried to tune in a different station on the FM Converter while you were driving, your car was sure to wind up in a ditch.

Eventually most cars came with FM radios, but there was no way to play your favorite albums in a car until the 8-track player came along.  

Meat Loaf rocks!

But since the songs on a two-sided album had to be spread out evenly across four stereo tracks on an 8-track, sometimes the tracks wouldn’t be in album order, and even worse, sometimes an 8-track would fade out right in the middle of a song. You’d hear a loud “ca-chunk!” as the player switched tracks, and then the same song would pick up where it left off. You kids probably can’t even imagine what a letdown that would be, if, for example, Peter Frampton was in the middle of his talk box part in “Do You Feel Like We Do” on Frampton Comes Alive, the song would sound something like this: “I wanna… CA-CHUNK… duck you!” (He didn’t say “duck” of course, I’m just cleaning it up for your virgin ears. Also, that Frampton song isn’t split up on 8-track, that would be an unforgivable sin. )

Oh, and if you missed your favorite song, you’d have to wait for the rest of the album to play through before you heard it again.

Then some smarty pants realized that we should have cassette players in cars instead of 8-track players. That was much better… even if your tape got eaten by the cassette player, there was still a chance you could rescue it with some Ticonderoga surgery.

But I’m still mad about the fact that on the cassette version of Led Zeppelin II, “Heartbreaker” and “Living Loving Maid” were on different sides. Good thing my high school buddy’s pickup truck had a cassette player with “auto reverse.” I became an expert at hitting the fast-forward button for five seconds and then hitting the “reverse” button to eliminate as much of the delay between those songs as possible.

I hear the kids talking about making a playlist by “drag and drop”… that’s how it worked in my day too. If you wanted to put together a mixtape, you’d drag your butt over to the Quasar stereo with the dual cassette deck, and drop in cassette after cassette of albums into the “playback” deck, laboriously cueing up your favorite songs just right before hitting “record” to transfer it to your Maxell blank tape in the “record” deck.

When CDs came along, it became easier to create a mix CD, but you still had to “rip” the album first, then “burn” it to a blank CD, and cross your fingers that the blank CD wouldn’t be a dud, useful only as a beverage coaster.

You kids and your streaming services and your satellite radio and your Bluetooth… you don’t know how lucky you are! Now get off my lawn, and don’t come back until I’m finished watching reruns of McCloud!

A Real Showstopper

At the risk of being the out-of-touch, crotchety “get off my lawn” guy, I think social media hasn’t been helpful in regard to our current cultural predicament (see Capitol, rioting).

My friend Phil sent me a link to this PBS Frontline documentary:

I watched the program a couple of nights ago. Pretty chilling.

What really stuck in my head was when one of the experts being interviewed said that in pre-social media times, a person who believed in a conspiracy theory was usually a “lone wolf” crackpot. But through the “magic” of the interwebs, they could now not only find like-addle-minded folks, but also amplify their beliefs in the social media echo chamber.

It’s like the old saying “A lie will gallop halfway round the world before the truth has time to pull its breeches on” – only now that lie isn’t galloping, it’s rocketing.

Did you notice, in the footage and photos of the Capitol coup attempt, how many of the rioters had their phones out, livestreaming their seditious acts or “doin’ it for the ‘gram”?

Seth Godin (yes, I know, I’m a fanboy) totally understands the rules of the game.

Seth’s entire post is here. Well worth a read. His wrap-up is something I hope the Zucks and Jacks of the world take heed of:

Amen, Brother Seth! It won’t solve all the problems that America has, but it’ll tone down the rhetoric and the lies that are designed to garner attention.

The Illustrated Man

John Ham passed away a week ago. No relation to Jon Hamm. But there was a connection.

Jon Hamm, the actor, is best known for playing the character of Don Draper, a cigarette-smoking ad agency man in the 1960s, on Mad Men.

John Ham also was quite the character. He was a cigarette-smoking ad agency man in the 1960s. And the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s, too.

I worked with John from 2000-2005. He was an illustrator, and a damn good one. He did a lot of the packaging artwork for the original line of Star Wars action figures and toys. He created the illustrations for a Cincinnati beer company’s souvenir six-packs of the Reds World Series Championship way back in 1976.

By the time I joined the agency where “Hammy” worked, he was 62 years old… the wise (and wisecracking) elder statesman of the creative team. He didn’t really need the money – he and several friends had broken away from a big agency to form their own small ad agency decades prior. They grew the business, and were eventually bought out by a big national firm. But John was a people person through and through. “Gregarious” is probably the best adjective. He genuinely enjoyed the camaraderie of a creative environment. Always smiling, always generous with his time. He was much older than the rest of the creative team, but it never really felt that way. He was one of us. And when he wasn’t pursuing his art at work, he was engaged in his other passion: playing tennis.

Toward the end of his career, John would often get tapped to create a “farewell” caricature. It was usually for a bigwig who was leaving P&G (our largest client by far). But occasionally he’d create them for co-workers. I was lucky enough to get the Hammy treatment when I left the agency.

When John retired in 2008, Keith Neltner, our mutual friend and co-worker, turned the tables and created a caricature of Hammy in that same style.

The Yoda in the illustration is fitting – not just because of John’s Star Wars experience, but also because he was a lovable, wise mentor to all of us.

I shouldn’t feel so bummed out about the passing of a guy with whom I haven’t worked in 15 years, especially someone who made it to 83 (despite the smoking habit) and lived a very fulfilling life. But that smile, man, it was incandescent. We’ll miss that light.

May the force be with you, Hammy.

Out, damned spot!

Well, this past week was a whole ‘nother level of abnormal, wasn’t it? I mean, we thought Kim and Kanye would be together forever, amirite? Oh, and I think something happened in D.C. too…

First, a couple of notes to the folks who are saying “this is not who we are” about the ugly rioting by Trump’s thuggish, domestic terrorist minions:

This is who we are. 74 million Americans voted for Donnie Dumpsterfire. (74 million is the real count, not the mythical one.) And he topped Gallup’s 2020 poll for the most admired man in America.

But today, let’s talk about the folks who allowed The Ego in Chief to run rampant for the past four years. The ones who work in the building that was overrun on Tuesday. My friend Greg summed it up nicely yesterday:

Ever since he won the nomination he has had enablers of various types. Hypocritical sycophants– Cruz, Graham, et al. They declared Trump as unfit, citing the clear proof. After Trump’s election they became full-blooded Trumpists. Another type–Jim Jordan, Matt Geatz, Nunes, et al. Suddenly highly noticeable like stink on shit by ratcheting up their always wacko selves. And finally the many. Think Portman and many others. Stayed as unnoticeable as possible. Too chicken to call out Trump on so many opportunities, thereby being perhaps the worst enablers of all. And even after the latest episode some of them still yammering about needing a solution to the nonexistent problem of voter fraud. The ones who went on record before and even after the riot, opposing electoral votes that Biden won. Wenstrup, Jordan, Chabot.

I couldn’t agree more. By not speaking out against Baby Donald’s baseless claims, by not calling him out on his blatant lies, his egregious (and seditious) acts, they gave a whiff of credibility to the circus… they gave oxygen to the dumpster fire. Not just about the non-existent “stolen” election but to all the stunts he’s pulled for four years.

In the days leading up to the Electoral College certification, 13 senators and 100+ members of the House (all Republicans, of course) were, as the Washington Post so eloquently put it, “more interested in placating Trump than protecting democracy.”

Heck, even after the Capitol was overrun by Trump terrorists, eight senators and 139 reps still voted to sustain one or both of the objections to states’ election results, based on spurious allegations of voter fraud. (To quote our incoming Prez, “c’mon man!” Heck, even Bill Barr said there was no evidence... yes, the same Bill Barr who, on most days, could give Trump a colonoscopy with his nose.)

Photo composite from this New York Times article

I hope these politicians realize there’s blood on their hands. Brian D. Sicknick, an officer with the U.S. Capitol Police, passed away Thursday night.

Acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a statement that Sicknick died of “the injuries he suffered defending the U.S. Capitol, against the violent mob who stormed it on January 6th.”

I hope their consciences haunt them, much like Lady Macbeth’s did…

Out, damned spot! out, I say!

Officer Sicknick died for no good reason. And these craven congresspersons are part of the reason he died.

What, will these hands ne’er be clean?

No, their hands will never be clean. And it’s time to clean house (and Senate).

In the same Gallup poll where DT was the most admired man, Michelle Obama was voted the most admired woman. Here’s what she had to say after Tuesday’s events:

If we have any hope of improving this nation, now is the time for swift and serious consequences for the failure of leadership that led to yesterday’s shame… Thankfully, even in the darkness there are glimmers of hope… But make no mistake: the work of putting America back together, of truly repairing what is broken, isn’t the work of any individual politician or political party. It’s up to each of us to do our part. To reach out. To listen. And to hold tight to the truth and values that have always led this country forward.

Michelle Obama in this social media post

New year, same old you

Harry Shearer’s splendidly satirical radio program/podcast (he’s cross-platform!) Le Show does a great job pointing out the folly and foibles of humankind. His two-minute intro to the first show of 2021 made a great point about the silliness of a “brand new year”:

It’s so true – we put waaay too much stock into a single, solitary day on one particular calendar.

“Does the fate machine restart each time one of those flips a year?… We could just take the alternative path, resign ourselves to the ‘random now’…”

Harry Shearer

I love that phrase, “the random now.” Instead of making grandiose resolutions and year-long goals (most of which end up in the dustbin or collecting dust within a couple of weeks), just focus on the here and now. That way you won’t “break” your resolution irrevocably or feel like a failure.

Don’t take on the extra burden to create a “New You” in the “New Year.” The ‘year’ is arbitrary… the ‘you’ is always evolving, moment by moment.

Can you spot “Creed Bratton” from The Office in this band!

I wasn’t born yesterday

My birthday is New Year’s Eve. (My dad always liked to say I was a “last minute tax deduction.”) But on Facebook, my birthday is erroneously listed as New Year’s Day. Probably because my Facebook account was created without my knowledge or consent. Several years ago, my desk at work was in a “quad pod” with Jason, Navendu and Gopal. (Yes, I know, it sounds like the uber-nerds who kept getting shoved into a corner at the fraternity rush party in Animal House. )

Jason, Navendu and Gopal would always be talking about the latest Facebook happenings, and I’d be out of the loop. Blissfully so, I might add — I loved playing the cranky, technophobe, “get off my lawn” old man of the group.

But one day, as a practical joke, Gopal secretly set up a FB account in my name. (He even created a gmail account to set it up… it’s the gmail address I use to this day.) Then he, Jason and Navendu friended this account before letting me know that I actually was on Facebook.

I’m guessing Gopal just picked the default 1/1 as my birthday. When you’re creating a clandestine account (probably when I was sitting three feet away), you don’t have time for those details.

Every year on January 1st, I get several “happy birthday” notes from fellow Facebookers. They’re not only a day late, technically they’re an entire year late.

I probably should correct the date in my FB profile, but I’m not on FB enough to care… and part of me likes knowing that Marky Mark Zuckerberg and his Funky Bunch of Data Miners don’t know everything about me.

Plus, the fake date makes me look younger than I am.

Thanks Gopal!

Radio silence

My old radio boss is finally calling it quits on broadcasting. Gary Burbank was the last of his breed, a radio personality who did “theater of the mind” comedy sketches. Mel Blanc may have been called the “Man of 1,000 Voices” in Looney Tunes cartoons, but Gary probably did more voices than anyone else, including Mel. And unlike the current breed of “morning zoo” personalities, his bits were funny without being prurient and/or insipid.

Photo credit: The Cincinnati Enquirer/Michael E. Keating

Gary’s show was syndicated to multiple stations in the mid- to late-90s, which is when I was part of the cast and crew. I learned a lot from GB -about humor in general, about doing character voices, about comedic timing, about how to deal with freelance writers and how to organize a show. Every day was a new adventure. It wasn’t always easy, but the end result was always entertaining. In many ways it was a dream job for me, but I was born about 20 years too late to be able to make a decent living at it.

In 2007, Gary retired from his weekday afternoon radio show on WLW-AM (known as “the nation’s station” because as a 50,000 watt clear channel AM station based in Cincinnati, it would reach 38 states at night). He created dozens of indelible characters (a partial list is on this Wikipedia page) but the one who lasted the longest was Earl Pitts, a blue-collar, ‘murica-loving redneck. Even after he retired from his daily show, Gary continued to record Earl Pitts commentaries, which are syndicated and air on several stations around the country. Now, at 79, he’s finally calling it quits on Pitts.

logo from the official Earl Pitts website

Gary’s already in the national Radio Hall of Fame — deservedly so — and at this point in his life he’s certainly earned the right to call it a day. But it’s a sad day for radio, because they don’t make ’em like Gary anymore. The good news is, Gary is turning his attention to a podcast that will feature several of the characters he created. So we’ll still be able to hear his voice(s).

You can read more in this article from John Kiesewetter, formerly of the Cincinnati Enquirer and now with WVXU (the former Xavier University station!).

Writing about Reading

The pandemic has been a boon for my reading habits. I don’t watch a lot of TV — although I did plow through all four seasons of The Good Place and loved it — so I had plenty of spare time to curl up with a good book. Or eBook.

I like to zig when everyone else zags, so while I did get a eReader, it’s not a Kindle. (Take that Bezos! I’m sure losing my business might sink your whole operation.) I bought a Kobo. I said “Kobo” not Koko!

Not only was my Kobo Clara HD cheaper than a comparable Kindle, but it has two features I really love:

  1. Any books I borrow from the Cincinnati Public Library via Overdrive are automagically added to my Kobo.
  2. Any web articles I save via the Pocket brower add-on (and I save a lot of articles this way) also are added automagically.

So I’m never short of free reading material. (Speaking of free, this is not a paid endorsement of Kobo readers… but I AM open to a bit of “influencer” cash… Kobo, ring me up!)

I also set up a Goodreads account recently, to start tracking the books I’ve read. Here’s my most recent half-dozen:

That’s a pretty good cross-section of my tastes, which definitely lean toward band biographies, “light” fiction/memoirs and humorous essays. I’m not a book snob by any means. Any book someone enjoys reading is a “good book” in my book.

Ray Bradbury, an all-time great

Tamara Shopsin’s book on the list above was good, but I thought her book Stupid, Arbitrary Goal was fantastic. David Rakoff’s essays are great. And better still, my friend Jay got a shout-out in the acknowledgements of Fraud (or maybe it was in Don’t Get Too Comfortable… I’ve been reading a lot of Rakoff.) Here’s what Jay said about him:

David was a great writer—really funny and poignant in equal measure. And just a wonderful guy. I edited him when I worked at Outside. It was very kind of him to give me a shout-out. I miss his voice and I miss him. He was taken from us much, much too soon.

I agree 100% with Jay’s “funny and poignant in equal measure” assessment. And yes, he left us way too soon.

Pandemic lockdown has been a real bummer in many ways, but it’s created more time for reading, and that’s certainly a plus.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now

MacKenzie Scott has become a game-changer for charities across the country.

Scott, an award-winning novelist, helped found Amazon with Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, in 1994. They were married for 25 years before their divorce in 2019. As part of that settlement, Scott received $35 billion and a 4% stake in the online retail giant, reported to be worth $35.6 billion on its own. Not long after the divorce was finalized, Scott signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment to give half her assets, or at least $17 billion, to charity over her lifetime or in her will.

From this Cincinnati Business Courier article

Over the past four months, she’s donated greater than $4 billion to 384 organizations across all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. In Cincinnati, several non-profits recently received record-setting donations from Ms. Scott. The United Way of Greater Cincinnati got $25 million, when a typical major gift is around $1 million.

“This validates United Way’s direction and hard work, and it comes at a great time,” Moira Weir, president and CEO of United Way, said in a release. “[The year] 2020 provided a fresh perspective on inequities in our community. Many took stock in the privilege and benefits they enjoy and pledged to change systems to advance equity. United Way now has the opportunity to capitalize on that momentum.” 

From the Cincinnati Business Courier article cited above.

And MacKenzie Scott isn’t just tossing around money willy-nilly. Unlike some other folks…

From this WaPo article

MacKenzie Scott and her team used data to determine the places where her donations were most needed AND could make the most impact.

I asked a team of advisors to help me accelerate my 2020 giving through immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the crisis. They took a data-driven approach to identifying organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.

MacKenzie Scott, in this Medium post

These contributions are game-changers. Actually, they’re life-changers.

These 384 carefully selected teams have dedicated their lives to helping others, working and volunteering and serving real people face-to-face at bedsides and tables, in prisons and courtrooms and classrooms, on streets and hospital wards and hotlines and frontlines of all types and sizes, day after day after day. They help by delivering vital services, and also through the profound encouragement felt each time a person is seen, valued, and trusted by another human being. This kind of encouragement has a special power when it comes from a stranger, and it works its magic on everyone.

From the Medium post cited above

Please read Ms. Scott’s Medium post in its entirety. It’s both eye-opening and heart-warming.

You and I probably don’t have $4 billion to donate to charity. (I checked under my couch cushions… nothing but stale Cheetos.) But if you’ve managed to ride out the pandemic and remain gainfully employed, you’re a lot better off than millions of Americans. We might not have MacKenzie Scott’s checkbook, but we certainly can take a page from her playbook:

If you’re craving a way to use your time, voice, or money to help others at the end of this difficult year, I highly recommend a gift to one of the thousands of organizations doing remarkable work all across the country. Every one of them could benefit from more resources to share with the communities they’re serving. And the hope you feed with your gift is likely to feed your own.

MacKenzie Scott
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