“You Read Personal Ads In The Village Voice”

Fitting that the story begins within a lyric, as many of Tim’s lyrics were his interpretations of things that actually went on in our lives, of people we knew — tales of funny, strange, and sometimes horrible events.

In 1988 New York City, if you wanted to join a rock band, or were a band looking for new members, you placed and read ads in the “Musicians Wanted” classified section of the Village Voice weekly newspaper (which was the de-facto bible of the local rock scene at the time). Have a listen:

[Side note: You can also hear a bona-fide mellotron in there if you listen closely, performed by Nick Sansano.]

I had begun following the music pages of the Voice since the age of 15, when I met my first bandmates Pete Glasser (son of former head of the ACLU Ira Glasser) and David Goldfarb through one such ad. We formed “Spectre” which played our one and only gig together — an audition night set at CBGB (sensing a pattern here?)

spectreThat’s me on the right, with my hair (which was later removed and taxidermied, and is now on permanent display in the Co-op City hall of fame). Pete is playing guitar on the left, and you can barely see a bit of David off to his left. I don’t remember the drummer’s name.

I’d been an avid music listener and performer since the age of 5, and when I was 12 the bass chose me (I was a tall kid and was thus handed the upright bass when it came time to assign instruments for the school orchestra). I’d been playing professionally since the age of 14 when I did my first 2 paying gigs as a bassist while attending high school at the School of Performing Arts in Manhattan (yes, it’s the “Fame” school).

I got recruited for my first job by classmate Jay Rodriguez, who I think had been playing professional club gigs since he was 7 or 8 years old (or at least it seemed like it to me at the time). Jay is one big-time monster of a sax/flute player these days, he plays all over the world with everyone. We had a science teacher, whose name escapes me (I know friends are going to help me out with names as I need them, right???). This teacher had a side-racket going, selling shopping malls in places like Katonah New York and Paramus New Jersey on a show featuring “The Kids From The REAL Fame School.” I was the bass player in the band, and there were dancers who did ballet & modern numbers, actors who did scenes from Shakespeare (including classmate Esai Morales who had just enjoyed major success in his role opposite Sean Penn in the movie “Bad Boys”), and other various shenanigans and goings-on to keep the people in the mall entertained.

The year was 1982, and “Fame” had just been a major hit film, with the spinoff TV show enjoying major success globally. Needless to say, these shows brought in huge crowds of excited and adoring teenage girls. I instantly realized what an incredible aphrodisiac being on stage with an instrument can be. Especially an instrument that’s held so close to one’s “junk”. I had fans . . . FEMALE fans! If I had any doubt at that point about my future of being onstage with an instrument, it was crushed that very moment. I was in.

I have no idea how much money Mr. Whatshisname pocketed on these shows (and there’s definitely no way this whole enterprise was kosher at all — he would’ve gotten fired and probably sued if the school administration ever found out) but we kids had an awesome time, were treated like rock stars, and got a few dollars in our pockets to boot.

My second gig was given to me by my classmate Holly Bartlett, whom I also had a major crush on. Her mother was Doris Bartlett, nee D’Jamin Bartlett, the Broadway actress. D’Jamin had been given a contract to produce and star in a monthlong-run of cabaret show called “D’Jamin Sings Lennon And Sometimes McCartney” at the Vineyard Theater on the East Side of Manhattan. We did 8 shows a week for a month — I went to the theater every day after school and did my homework then puttered around until curtain. The band consisted of her pianist,  daughter Holly on flute, and myself on upright bass and bass guitar. Some instrumentation, eh? The show consisted of campy versions of Beatles tunes, and I looked exactly like a young John Lennon at the time which is why they had hired me in the first place. It was weird. The show got an indifferent review from the NY Times and we enjoyed marginally full houses until the end of the run when the house manager was basically begging me to bring friends in to watch the show, even offering up free bottles of wine to anyone who’d come and tolerate it.

I had already gone through a whole career as a professional musician at age 20 when I met Tim and Gregg through a “personal ad in the Village Voice”. In addition to supporting myself with gigs, I was continuing my “serious” music studies fulltime as a Junior in college at SUNY Purchase. There are loads of stories around my musical adventures during this time, but they are being put aside now so I can turn to how The Rake’s Progress got started. It never, ever, in a million years would’ve happened without this:

I was sitting in the TV room of my place of residence in London England (where I lived for part of 1986) watching the performance above, live on television. I’d never seen or heard anything like it, and rewatching it now for the first time ever (which goes to show pretty much everything that ever happened will wind up on the internet eventually) I’m once again struck at how surreal it all is, the 2 dudes up front spastically “arm dancing” while perched atop their friend’s shoulders, while a coiffed crooner sings this sweet buttery melody of morbid lyrics, the restrained and simple instrumental arrangement sitting above the evidently expert musicianship beneath, and a driving melodic bass line which has always been my thing. I was stunned, my musical world shifted.

The next day I went down to the HMV on Oxford Street and bought a cassette of “The Queen Is Dead” which as it turns out had just been released the day before. I played it constantly, obsessively, in my walkman for months, walking around London. Every song on that album was a masterpiece as far as I was concerned. A few days after seeing that performance, my girlfriend back in New York sent me a letter in which she notified me that she’d been sleeping with other guys and she thought we should break up. That album and “Avalon” by Roxy Music got me through it.

So, getting back to the ad in the Village Voice. As one does when looking for bandmates, one cites one’s musical influences in one’s ad. The Smiths was the top of the list in Tim & Gregg’s ad, along with some others like Lloyd Cole and Prefab Sprout whom I’d never heard of before (but would quickly come to get to know and love and still do to this day). The ad said they had guitar, drums, singer, and had written a bunch of original material. They were my age. I dialed the number in the ad.

NEXT->> Without David Letterman, There Would Be No Rake’s Progress

 

What’s This Thing Sitting In The Corner?

This is like wiping layers of dust off old record album covers.

The inevitable happened and someone put “Cheese Food Prostitute” and “Altitude” on YouTube. These are the 2 “major releases” by The Rake’s Progress, which is the band that I co-founded and was part of from 1988 till things fizzled out in 1995 or so.

I have all of the recordings in my house, of course, but for whatever reason I hadn’t given those particular tracks a listen in years. For whatever reason, I decided to go ahead and thus simultaneously delighted and tortured myself by listening to the whole shebang at one go on a flight back to SF from Florida on Wednesday. Memory lane syndrome got me. It got me thinking about everything. Everything that happened, a thousand triumphs and a thousand humiliations. Playing to millions of people on a TV show one day, then driving 16 hours in a van to play to 3 people the next. Near-arrests in Dallas. Blocking out the sounds of your bandmate geting it on in the next bed with his girl while you were getting it on in your bed with yours. Tours interrupted by births and deaths. Alot went on.

There were 5 core members of the group, and there were a few others that came and went at the very beginning (including myself — the other guys chucked me out briefly at one point because I was being a dick and was also butting heads with this engineer/producer we’d hired — more on that another time…).

Those of you that read this who know the band, know of myself, Tim Cloherty, Gregg Lapkin, Pete Klinger, and Stu Klinger. There was also our first drummer Tim Curry, who we did our first ever public performance with (a memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons “audition night” set at CBGB). It was also our last performance with him as while he was a very friendly guy and certainly loved to party as much as we all did, he was not such a great drummer and was also clearly troubled. We recently learned he died in his early 30’s from liver failure.

There was Arthur Bacon, a thin, fey black-turtleneck-wearing blonde keyboardist with an asymetrical haircut. I think he did maybe 3 gigs with us, including the one at Lismar Lounge that introduced us to Roger Davis, who became one of the central figures in the history of the band, and without whom we never would have “made it”.

There were others that came and went, both on stage and in the studio, all of which had an impact in one way or another (or not,. I’m just being kind in lieu of a 100% clear memory at this time of the evening).

I think a good place to start this story where it stands today. Tim and Stu still soldier on as professional musicians in NYC, and I have a deep respect for them for that. I wish I had the balls to have stuck to it as a profession as these guys have. Tim leads his band Booga Sugar (which Pete and Gregg were also in at the beginning) that specializes in disco/soul/R&B dance music, and he also writes and performs his original stuff in various incarnations. Stu does a wide variety of performance, recording, teaching, and also runs the Bandwriting Collective summer music camp for kids, which he founded. He put out 2 albums with his band Barnacle Bill  and also performs with his irish music band Streams of Whiskey. Getting back to the topic of people who were in the band briefly, the lineup of Barnacle Bill includes bassist Yianni Naslas who played in the “Bedspins” incarnation of the Rakes for a couple shows towards the end when I took a powder and went on a tour with another band.

Pete lives in a very hip college town in New England with his family and works as a Park Ranger. He has a band called Small Parade that just put out their first album.

Gregg lives in Panama. He founded and runs a backpacker’s hostel called Bambu, in Panama’s 2nd largest city David. He recently wrote and recorded material with Nate “Baby Bam” of the Jungle Brothers, whom he met when he was a guest at the hostel.

I live in San Francisco with my wife and kids, and run the West Coast ops of a small creative agency. I get to be involved in alot of cool stuff and work with great people. Occasionally I kick out the odd music or film/video thingy.

Stu and I also are in a band together at the moment, a project that involves 2 of my friends from high school that is progressing very slowly, since we collectively live in 3 different cites and have our grown-up lives of families and careers to tend to. I think we’ll have something out a year from now. We’ve written and recorded something like 8 or 9 songs I think.

Life is good for all of us today, we’re all happy with our lives. Most of us are parents (Gregg is the lone holdout). I think we’ll get together and play a show at some point in the next few years. We’re all still friends which is the best part.

I’ll try and go back to the beginning next.

NEXT->> A lyrical reference to how some of the band members first met

The Best Teams are Gangs

Let’s see . . . what do teams and gangs have in common?

Members of great teams and great gangs tend to:

1)  Enjoy each other’s company
2)  Share a common vision
3)  Respect and treat each other like family
4)  Hold up their end of the ship, without fail
5)  Not back down from mixing it up in the schoolyard if that’s what it comes down to
6)  Suffer some heavy consequences if items 1 thru 5 aren’t lived by

96% of TV Watching Isn’t Purposeful. Will That Ever Change?

As a kid I spent a lot of time in front of the TV. A LOT OF TIME. That was a cheap, cheap cliché way to start a post so I’m not going to go into the rest of “we only had 6 channels back then and, and, and . . .”

I’m just imagining myself back then if I’d been told “and when you’re a grownup, you’ll be able to watch ANY TV SHOW OR MOVIE EVER MADE, WHENEVER AND WHEREVER YOU WANT TO WATCH IT!!!!!”

I guarantee I would’ve invented time travel and gotten my ass to 2015 or so. We’re almost, but not quite there yet with the promise of the ALL CAPS statement above. But, before I go any further, I must disclose that I haven’t had a TV in my home since at least 5 years ago (aside from monitors used for production work which I don’t use for entertainment). All video content watched in my home is watched on a laptop or iPad.  My wife grew up without a TV, and won me over eventually regarding how we wanted to raise our own kids.

I personally don’t miss the experience of watching things on a big screen. That’s just me. But the majority of the world sure ain’t me, and so with deference to those of you that want to watch TV on a TV but think that cable/satelite pretty much stink (relative to the money you have to pay and the customer service received – or not received) there are plenty of ways to get what you can get “on TV” via the internet in some way, shape, or form. You can also get your local TV channels for free, by purchasing an antenna (which is the top selling item at Best Buy nationwide).

WAIT A SECOND, WHERE ARE THESE STATS COMING FROM?

OK, I’m not pulling them out of my ass — the 96% and “top selling” claims were made by the gentleman Andrew Kipen, VP of Marketing for Boxee at a demo I watched at the Streaming Media East conference last week. Where he got them from I don’t know, as he didn’t cite a source in his preso (so consider that a disclaimer, but I have no trouble believing it regardless). Anyhow, Boxee is one of a number of products on the market that basically do the same thing: connect to your TV set much like a cable or satellite box would, and offer a (varying degree of) user interface not altogether dissimilar from what you might use to navigate and play the content on your cable or satellite box, but provide the content that is available on the internet instead (to be blunt many of these products user interfaces stink, but I thought Boxee looked pretty good for the limited amount of time I got to look at it). Some products in this space will also take the input from your cable/satellite so you can get everything from a single UI (have only heard negative reports about the experience of using these).

What our friend from Boxee also demoed was how you can attach a TV antenna to the thing, and get over-the-air (OTA) TV signals as well. If you’re in a metropolitan area with good signal, the picture and sound quality can be BETTER than what you get on cable or satellite for channels broadcast OTA. So for the ever-shrinking variety of what you can get on those channels, it’s free for the price of the top selling item at Best Buy nationwide.

With all this content, why NOT “cut the cord” and kick cable/satellite to the curb? After all, you can get something quite close to a “TV-like experience” with one of these products, and save quite a bit of money at that.

Well, first, let’s get to the bottom of what “watching TV” means. And remember, 96% of that “isn’t purposeful,” meaning 96% of the time, the majority of Americans turn on the TV with nothing particular in mind to watch. Therefore, the traditional model of TV watching goes something like “just entertain me and let me forget my problems.” We flip through the channels and find something to watch. Or not, just flip through for awhile, it really doesn’t matter sometimes.

There is no product on the market today that gives you that experience other than cable/satellite. Not a single one.

So, if 96% of people today consume TV this way, those of us in the “online video business” might be coming at this from only one angle. Yes, the reality is the 96% number will shrink over time. The kids today will never know life without a TiVo, Netflix subscriptions, YouTube, and the rest of what comes down the line in the future (which will evolve faster than we can imagine — one of the reasons why I love working in this biz). But the question I now find myself pondering is will “just entertain me and let me forget my problems” prove to be too strong of a human trait to change people’s viewing habits the way we all think it will? How does that inform the decisions of those of us pushing the envelope in the world of online video?

Best Practices: Morning Focus

The most focused my mind has ever been was the moment I unloaded 6 bullets from a .38 revolver in rapid succession. It was also the only time I’ve ever fired a gun — Howard Thompson the A&R man who signed my band The Rake’s Progress years ago had taken us to a gun club 3 basements below a non-descript building in Tribeca, NYC, for a little “bonding exercise.”

The focus came from being forced to be focused. No other thoughts in the mind but handling the deadly firearm. Anything less could lead to tragic results.

One of the reasons busy people love to play golf is it forces you to block out all the noise in your head and focus 100% on the task at hand. When you’re preparing to take a swing in golf, anything less than 100% focus leads to failure.

This helmet literally saved my skull when I got "doored" back in February.

Personally, I transition daily from the early morning cacophony of my 2 small children to the intensity of a long and challenging work day. I need that transition time to clear my head, to quiet the noise, to hit the “reset” button so-to-speak. For this, I ride my bicycle through the streets of San Francisco.

My morning bike ride requires 100% focus. SF might be “bike friendly” but it is still a dangerous place to ride. I won’t get into the details, but let’s just say anything less than 100% focus could be fatal. Any mental drifting off needs to be identified and stopped immediately.

It’s really not that different from the concept of meditation. In most meditation traditions I’m aware of, the idea is to block out all thoughts and just be present. There are myriad devices to achieve that, whether focusing on the breath, repeating a mantra . . .

My mantra when I ride my bike is “keep your mind in the ride.”

It’s a daily challenge to maintain that focus, but the benefits are twofold:

1) I get to my destination intact
2) I get to my destination with a clear, focused mind

That bike ride FORCES me to stop the rest of the noise in my head. It hits the reset button, so to speak. When I get to my office, I get to start with a clean slate.

If riding your bike to work is a practical option for you, I highly recommend you try it. If not, a “walking meditation” works really well. Get off the train/bus a stop early and walk the last 15 minutes to work. Or figure out some other way to get 15 minutes of time before you start your work day. Leave the phone behind. Be outside and focus on your senses, what you see, smell, hear. Be 100% “offline.”

I once got to do a brief walking meditation with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, right before he gave a talk in NYC many years ago. Later that evening I shook hands with Rudy Giuliani and the next day found myself being wheeled on a gurney at high speed into an operating room in order to receive an emergency appendectomy. The world is a funny place.

Deadline or Die

Deadlines are good.

Deadlines keep your clients, your employees, and yourself honest.

Deadlines light the fire under your ass when you need it.

Deadlines let you position your resources where you need them, when you need them.

Some deadlines can be re-negotiated. Some can’t. Make sure you know which ones are which.

Made deadline? You’re a hero and will get hired again. Didn’t make deadline? You might be shown the door instantly.

That is all for now. Must go. Am on a deadline.

Stand and Deliver

Hard cost = $200. Soft cost = fighting your way through Ikea to buy it.

I’ve been using a “Standing Desk” for about 5 years now. The reason why I tried it in the first place was I was starting to get back pain for the first time in my life, and a colleague recommended it to me as a solution. My office at the time had fancy desks whose surfaces could be raised and lowered at will with a little internal motor, so I tried it out and have not gone back to sitting since.

In addition to no more back pain, I find it easier to maintain the proper ergonomic technique on the keyboard & mouse. I find being able to move around when I’m on conference calls keeps my energy up. I also don’t get fat. If I sat all day I would probably be fat now.

“Real” standing desks like the one I started with are really expensive, like $2k and up.  I found mine (pictured here) at Ikea for $200.  It’s technically a “bar table” but who cares. It’s the right height and is actually made of metal, not their usual particle board BS. It should last a really long time. There’s also enough room underneath to install a very nice fish tank or a hamster cage.

Having a place to sit down is important too, especially when clients come by for a chat. Today my office has a conference room for that, but alternately you can put a small round table with 2 or 3 chairs near your desk and use that for meetings. It also keeps your work clutter separate from your “meeting space” to keep it more tidy and inviting.

Next step is to figure out how to easily create a trap door to have at the meeting table for those moments when a quick escape is necessary.