. . . This is the Story of Johnny Rotten.

In late 1994, Bob Ludwig had just mastered “Altitude” for us, and despite the man’s genius at his craft, we were very unhappy with the results. In the recording and mixing process of the album, we had taken great care to maintain the dynamics that were an important part of the songs themselves as well as the band’s sound overall. Ludwig’s take on it was to wipe that all out in order to make the record sound great on FM radio. That was not his idea, by the way, it was in fact the directive from Howard Thompson, our A&R man. Those were his instructions to Nick Sansano (Producer) and Brad Leigh (Engineer) and was never mentioned to us until after the fact.

You see, The Rake’s Progress operated as a 5-person consensus and we were very neurotic people at the time. The grown-ups (Howard, Nick, Brad, and our manager Patti DeVries) had enough of our group dysfunction by the time we were done with the 3 months of production, tracking, and mixing to the cost of a quarter million dollars of Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ money.

We were told by Nick that he and Brad would be driving up to Portland Maine together to work with Bob in his studio there, and they would take our aesthetic wishes along with them. They never told us about Howard’s directive so we were pretty shocked and upset at what we heard when we put the DAT on at Matty Kaufman’s apartment and heard all of our precious dynamics gone.

We were so upset, that Bob Ludwig wrote us a very thoughtful letter on his thinking behind the decision to level everything with compressors. He said that since this was supposed to be an “FM Radio Hit Record” he used his very fancy and expensive high-end compressors to do the leveling, rather than have the crappy compressors the FM stations use to the job. This is an entire topic unto itself, but to explain it briefly, FM radio stations compress their signals to level out the dynamic range (i.e. loud/soft). They do this so their signal doesn’t over-modulate and bleed into other frequencies (which is illegal), and also so that the music has more “presence” (i.e. maintains a level and relatively loud “in your face” sound to hold your attention). Some stations compress heavier than others, and the worst culprits of all are the stations that play the “hits”. We were poised at the time to have a “hit record” and that’s why the label was paying all this money to get this dang thing out there. Bob’s rationale was that the record would sound better on the radio, and he was right about that, but it made the CD listening experience pretty dang lousy.

Since we were on the road so much at the time, four of us in the band maintained a small apartment-slash-crashpad on East 10th Street in Manhattan, which we shared with a few of our siblings. One evening, Tim and I were hanging by ourselves around drinking beers and mulling the fate of our beloved new album, when the phone rang. It was Howard.

“Hey Bob, any of the guys around?”

“Yeah, Tim is here.”

“Cool. Why don’t you and Tim come over to the 10th Street Lounge. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Hanging with Howard always meant fun, and the fun was always on the label’s dime (which technically meant our dime actually), so Tim and I headed down to the bar which was just a block away.

The 10th Street Lounge was a bar which we frequented often since Mary Denny (the woman in the Cheese Food Prostitute album sleeve) was the manager, and we never paid for a single thing, ever. The whole staff treated us like rock stars even though we were only marginally successful. Actual celebrities drank there and they treated us just the same way as they did Kate Moss and Mike Piazza.

It was a Tuesday night and the place was practically empty. At the main bar towards the front sat a few couples making all lovey-dovey, and in the small bar at the rear sat Howard with a guy wearing a winter parka, the hood pulled over his head so you couldn’t see who it was. They were having a chat and a laugh with the hot female bartender. In addition to being a haven of free drinks for us, the bar was staffed with beautiful girls who were very happy to spend quality time with guys in marginally successful rock bands such as Tim and myself.

We approached Howard and his Mystery Friend. Howard turned and smiled at us.

“Bob, Tim, I’d like you to meet my friend John.”

The man pulled down his hood slightly and extended his hand. It was John Lydon AKA, Johnny Rotten, whose post-Sex Pistols band PIL Howard had signed back in the ’80’s.

I froze up completely.

“Aaaaah, so THIS is the band.” he said with a curious look in is eye. Tim and I shook his and and sat down.

“They’ll have what I’m having, luv.”

The bartender fetched a bottle of Stoli and scooped some ice into a cocktail shaker. She poured a healthy measure of the vodka in to the shaker and mixed it with a spoon. Strained into our glasses, was basically pure vodka watered down with a bit of ice.

“Cheers, boys! Howard is a dick!”

Tim and I laughed hysterically, as did Howard. I don’t think there’s anyone else in the world Howard would have sat there and took that from.

We tossed back our shots, and my initial nervousness melted away as I realized this guy was going to be fun.

“Pardon me boys, need to visit the loo.”

John stood up and walked back to the restrooms. Howard leaned in to me and TIm.

“Listen, guys, don’t bullshit with him. He hates that. Just act normal, be your normal selves, and we’ll all have a blast.”

Mr. Rotten returned a moment later and rejoined the group.

“John, these wankers have written a song about me called ‘Howard Is A Drag'”.

John’s face lit up – he was delighted. “Oh, that’s WONDERFUL! I’ll be in the music video, and we can do it on a speedboat in the middle of the ocean. We’ll make Howard wear a leather thong, and I’ll pierce his scrotum. Then I’ll attach the chain of the anchor to his scrotum and  throw the anchor into the ocean, so as the boat speeds along Howard is dragged overboard and submerged completely.”

We all cracked up hysterically, including Howard once again. I could not believe what I was hearing. I still envision that video concept fondly in my mind sometimes, and can not help but wonder if what happened next that evening may have killed the possibility of it ever happening (believe me, I was of the mindset at the time – delusional or not – that we could somehow actually pull something like that off).

After 4 shots of the straight vodka, I was feeling pretty drunk. John expected us to keep up with him drink-for-drink and I was not about to let him down. To be honest, I was AFRAID of letting him man down because of what he might do or say to me, and I didn’t want him to kick me out. I was having  way too much fun.

As the bartender teed up the next round of shots, I realized if I drank it I might actually throw up right there. So, as the other guys raised their heads to tilt back their glasses, I chucked my shot from the glass under the bar towards my feet. I slammed the glass down, pretending that I’d drained it, and the boys were none the wiser.

I repeated this “dumping the shot” for the next 3 or 4 rounds and all was good.

And then he caught me.

“You WANKER! HOW MANY SHOTS DID YOU NOT DRINK??”

“Uuuh, one or two”

“FOUR SHOTS FOR HIM! NOW!”

As she teed up the shots, I realized it was either drink or go home. I was never in a Frat before, but I imagine this would be the closest thing. Hazed by Johnny Rotten.

I used every ounce of self control I could to get the liquid past my throat and into my stomach. I felt the first contractions of vomiting but held my ground. Good. Bullet dodged.

“Alright, Howard, it’s time to get the band LAID!”

I am not now nor have I ever been into prostitutes – it’s something that I really can’t relate to. Especially back then when I was single. The chase was more exciting than the catch, and besides I don’t think I could ever have sex with anyone I hadn’t at least gotten to know a little. That and all the cooties of course.

Tim didn’t do the hookers either, so we politely passed and John and Howard went off to do whatever it is they got into the rest of the night. We never saw Johnny Rotten again.

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Cracked

I just spent 3 very long days attending the 2015 Adobe Tech Summit at the Moscone convention center in San Francisco. This was a rare opportunity for me, as I now am involved in something I like to describe as “Dark Ops” from outside the organization (if you want an explanation of what I mean by that, hit me up in the comments and we can discuss). Myself and my colleagues Joey Princz and James Begera were the only “outsiders” in this invited crowd of 3,000 brilliant and accomplished technologists, all current Adobe employees.

Due to the nature of the trust placed in me by my former employer and current client, I cannot reveal much of what went on there, but one thing I can do is share the following story that involves non-confidential, publicly available information.

I also need to state that this is provided for informational purposes only and I don’t’ recommend you try any of this at home as to do so would be highly illegal and could definitely land you in prison.

On the first night of the conference, there was a Tech Fair where many teams from within Adobe showcased various inventions and technologies they are working on. I saw a lot of mind-blowing shit there and I really wish I could tell you all about it.  You will find out about some of it eventually.

Part of the fair involved a “Hacker Village” where members of the Adobe Security team led hands-on labs in which you could learn how to perform common hacks so you could also learn how to prevent them from happening to you or your team. We read about how hacks can happen all the time, but for me, learning to do it hands-on, and then hacking my own Android Phone and Clipper card (SF Bay Area transit money card) with readily available, inexpensive components and software still has me shaken.

There were other labs which involved even scarier things like hacking passwords and entire websites. They were really crowded and I wanted to let the real professionals who really need to know this stuff have the floor so I didn’t do any of those. Security is a hot topic at Adobe, as there was a major breach there last year. What’s even more frightening, in a way, is that this is just the tip of the iceberg, just the things we know about. We should all consider that all information on the internet is fair game for anyone. That has become very apparent to me.

HACKING THE CLIPPER CARD

The Clipper card uses RFID technology, which is used by many other types of electronic key ID cards, garage door openers, Passports, etc. Basically, the card has a unique ID code that the RFID chip transmits.

Here is how I hacked my own Clipper card and basically stole it from myself:

  1. Using a very simple physical device, involving components purchased from Radio Shack, connected to a laptop via WiFi, I scanned the area for RFID signals. This device can detect any RFID within 2 feet. It detected the Clipper card in my wallet and displayed it’s unique alphanumeric ID.
  2. Using a blank card of the same variety, I used another simple and readily available device attached to the laptop to create a new card with the same ID.
  3. I now had an exact copy of my Clipper card. I could use it on any SF Bay Area transit and the money would be deducted from my account, just as if it were my own card. Since this card is linked to my credit card, just imagine the damage that could be done here.

What can be done to prevent this shit from happening to you? Keep those ID cards in a wallet that is designed to block the RFID frequencies. You can find them online and at the geek supply store nearest you.

HACKING THE MOBILE PHONE (or any other device that uses WiFi to connect to the Internet):

This lab also involved a laptop, a $30 scanner purchased from Best Buy, and an application readily available from many online hacker communities.

Here is how I hacked my own phone in order to steal everything I am doing on the Internet via that phone, including my logins, passwords, account information, and all the rest. The whole shebang:

  1. With the scanner attached to the computer, and the software app running, I pressed a button to scan for WiFi connection requests in the area. This might not be the proper technical terminology for this, but the general gist is the following:
    1. When you connect to any WiFi network, your phone remembers it. Let’s say for the sake of this example, I had connected about a month ago to a WiFi network with the SSID “SFO FREE WIFI” when waiting for a flight at San Francisco International Airport.
    2. Whenever my phone is on, and my WiFi is on, and I’m NOT currently connected to a WiFi network, the phone is looking for “SFO FREE WIFI” along with any other networks I had previously connected to. The phone remembers EVERYTHING including any previously used logins/passwords associated with those previous connections of mine. (This goes for any WiFi enabled mobile phone or tablet, by the way. iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, whatever.)
  2. I could instantly see that my phone was searching for “SFO FREE WIFI” amongst other various previously used WiFi SSIDs.
  3. I then used another readily-available app to create a new WiFi network called “SFO FREE WIFI”.
  4. My phone connected to this bogus “SFO FREE WIFI” network instantly, assuming it was the one I had previously been connected to at San Francisco International Airport a month ago.
  5. Via this app, all my information was now passing through a “trap application” (also not a true technical term) in which everything was being captured.

How can you prevent against this? Keep your WiFi turned off on your phone whenever you are not in your home or office or any other place where you are connecting to a trusted network. It also saves your battery.

In fact, don’t connect to ANY WiFi network until you’re completely convinced that it’s a reliable and trustworthy source.

When you do connect to a trusted public network such as an airport or hotel, uncheck the “remember this network” box if it exists on your device.

That is all the scaremongering I have in me for today. Carry on.

Edie Le Dee Dee

Edie died over the weekend. She’d found out that she had it bad with lung cancer last summer, and kept us up to date on Facebook on all the goings on with her state of mind and body. As was her nature, Edie maintained a positive, grateful, and joking attitude to her very last post Feb 9, 2015, on the day she was admitted to the hospital and subsequently diagnosed with pneumonia. The next thing you know, her husband Eugene told us she was gone.

I haven’t seen Edie since 1991, when she performed with me in a number I put together for a show at the Comic Strip in NYC. I was doing my own hacked-up and decidedly subversive version of “PDQ Bach”-like classical music parody in live shows and on the radio at the time, and the program director at classical station WQXR invited me to perform on a “Classical Music Comedy” bill that ironically included Peter Schickele himself, the man behind “PDQ Bach”. The show was MC’d by Bob McGrath from Sesame Street and Elliot Forest, the WQXR morning DJ. A morning  DJ on a classical station. Nice guy, but dry, dry, dry, dry, dry.

Bob from Sesame Street was a sweetheart, by the way, just like he is on the show.

The number I decided to perform is one of the stranger things I’ve ever recorded, and one of the only things I’ve ever recorded “lead vocals” on. A goof on a “renaissance” minstrel tune, probably the closest thing I can compare it to is Sir Robin’s minstrels in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Edie was one of the background singers at the live WQXR performance of that number, as was the late, great Michael Klausner (a SUNY Purchase classmate who was funny and talented beyond measure and died way, way too young). I had decided that the punch line for the live act would be me getting clocked in the head from behind with a “stunt” breakaway wine bottle prop by Michael,  then falling to the ground unconscious and getting dragged off the stage. Michael had humiliated himself in a similar fashion for me when he played the lead role in my composition “Drunk Tenor Cantata” a couple years prior, so I wanted to return the favor.

The song, which I had been told by many people was the funniest bit on the radio show, did not work so well as a live act. There were eight or so of us dressed in renaissance garb on the cramped stand-up comedy stage with our instruments. An audience of mainly older classical music fans who had no idea who the fuck I was just sat there and stared. On the last beat of the song when Michael hit me on the head with the bottle from behind, the prop that I’d bought from a specialty prop house for fifty bucks and then lovingly shielded from harm’s way for weeks somehow ricocheted off my head and landed 10 feet away in the lap of a horrified lady in the 2nd row.. I was dragged through the room of silent, confused, and borderline hostile onlookers by Michael and Edie through the packed comedy club to the lobby. My shirt had become an ashtray.

I hid until after the show, when I went up to Peter Schickele because I just had to meet the man. He indulged me in a chat, but I know the entire time he was thinking “wow, you really sucked the wind out of the place tonight, didn’t ya, rookie?”

Edie thought the whole thing was great. She thought it was SPECTACULAR. “Bob, we did it! We performed at the Comic Strip!” The fact that it was a bomb did not cross her mind in the least.

We will miss you, Edie.