Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Randomonium

Watch the Republican convention tonight? Or floss? Choices choices.

Stevie Ray Vaughn died 22 years ago yesterday. He was an awesome blues man and had finally killed some drug and alcohol demons in his life and had recorded what some say was his best album ever. Then he dies in a helicopter crash. Sucks. I saw him at a bar in Dallas in the early 1980s and as B.B. King’s opening act on a riverboat cruise during the New Orleans Jazzfest in the late 80s. Awesome.

Hurricane Isaac made landfall tonight at the mouth of the Mississippi and as I write this it is dumping rain on New Orleans. So far my friends and family are safe there but the worst of the rain dump is yet to come. Could be 20 inches of rain in the next two days. Those incredible new post-Katrina levees and pumping stations will be put to the test. My prediction: most will pass but some will fail.

At this very moment I would rather be anywhere other than the room I currently am sitting in.

I got to do nearly every different part of my job during the workday today. I wrote two promos for a music festival, wrote and began to produce an hour-long radio special, mentored a new talk show host during her first interview, voiced and produced five commercials, solved a problem and shared some funny emails with my boss. It’s hard to believe that sometimes my job is very stressful. Today it wasn’t.

Back to Stevie Ray for a minute. It’s hard to pick a favorite song by him because I like nearly all of them. But this one is especially good. Enjoy.



Monday, August 27, 2012

Here We Go Again

On this date seven years ago I was watching The Weather Channel constantly and contacting family members in my home town New Orleans to find out what their hurricane evacuation plans were. Hurricane Katrina was heading straight for Louisiana and Mississippi on a path that had been feared for decades, one that could flood the whole city. As you know, that is exactly what happened and a combination of bad planning and inept government officials made a bad situation even worse.

Today I am watching The Weather Channel constantly and contacting friends and family to learn of their evacuation plans. Tropical Storm Isaac, soon to become a full-blown hurricane, is heading straight for New Orleans on a similar path. This time the whole region is prepared. Levees and pumping stations have been improved significantly and government officials seem to have learned their lesson and are taking the correct actions in advance of the storm.

This is a frustrating situation because the flood of memories associated with Katrina always returns during the days leading to Labor Day weekend. And here we go again. Worrying doesn’t help but it is what I do. I’ll keep you posted.

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See the dot on this picture identified as 8pm Wed.?  That's New Orleans.  Ugh.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Eagle Has Landed

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, died today at age 82. Forty-three years ago last month, he and fellow flyer Buzz Aldrin accomplished something kids like me had been dreaming about for years. I don’t really remember President Kennedy’s 1961 speech in which he stated his goal of “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” but I have heard the replay enough times to wish there had been a visionary President like that in the decades since; there has not been. I do remember watching live television coverage of Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface and the static-infused line “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” I took pictures of the TV screen and I know I still have them somewhere in my messy home office.

I was a space flight geek as a kid. I remember watching television coverage of the launches and recoveries of the earliest American space flights. At one time I knew the names of every astronaut, the year each flew and what their mission involved. I still know some of them … Alan Shepard was first, going up and down, John Glenn was the first to orbit (three times), Gus Grissom was another name I remember. I knew some of the flight trivia … Shepard’s flight was just a short few minutes up then back down so NASA didn’t design anything for, uhh, going to the bathroom, but there were hours of delays on the launch pad that morning. He peed in his suit, setting off all kinds of sensors. I’m not sure that trivia was mentioned in the TV coverage; it might have only been noted later during some retelling of that day.

Our country was in a state of turmoil during the eighteen months prior to Armstrong’s small step. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy had both been gunned down in 1968, there were numerous racial demonstrations and Vietnam War protests that often led to violence. The USA needed something positive and the Apollo 11 mission served that need.

There were questions then and even more today about whether or not money should be spent on human space flight. It does seem frivolous in light of crumbling infrastructure, huge Federal debt and other financial priorities, yet many innovations were the result of manned space flight: GPS, cell phones, computer miniaturization, digital mammography instrumentation and kidney dialysis devices, osteoporosis studies, better sunglasses, fuel economy, smoke detectors, cordless drills, ski boots, computer game joysticks, improved weather forecasting, international cooperation and incentives for children to study science.

But one of the single most significant milestones of space exploration came from one small step taken by a nerdy engineer test pilot from an Ohio town sixty miles north of where the Wright Brothers had lived, who landed on the moon a mere 66 years after their first powered flight at Kitty Hawk. Another bit of trivia: Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin realized as they got close to the surface during the landing that they were over a boulder field. Armstrong took semi-automatic control and safely landed a few miles from their intended target with less than 25 seconds of landing fuel left. The Lunar Module used the call sign Eagle, named for the American Eagle, and the crew ended their landing checklist with the words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

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The landing (slip ahead to about 6 minutes in):



The first steps:



Emergency

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Nerds Rock ... Sometimes

I'm a nerd about my work. I high-five myself when I produce a great promo commercial. Really. If you hear something on a country music radio station about a festival in Vegas, I probably wrote and produced that promo. That's not my voice on most of them (although I am on some).

The word 'nerd' is used in many ways in assorted contexts but I wasn't sure what it really meant, so I looked it up ... 1) a stupid, irritating, or unattractive person or 2) an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit.

So I will reject the first definition and modify the second. I am definitely obsessed with my work and I work best when alone in a room (mildly antisocial when working), staring at my editing software display on my computer monitor, trying different combinations of sounds until I get it the way I want it and … voila! Perfect!! And I high-five myself.  This picture is what I was looking at when I high-fived myself on Tuesday.

The funny thing is that others who do what I do for a living understand my reaction when an audio project sounds like I want it to sound. We are all nerds, I guess.

And you? Are you nerdy about anything? Nerd can be a good, endearing description. Nerds rock … sometimes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

El

Elvis died 35 years ago this week. His music was just a little ahead of my time (my older cousins liked him) and I was never a fan; but I believe he had a huge and lasting impact on music. He represented the best and worst of music careers and how fame can screw up talent.

Everything I have seen and read about him says he had a dream, followed it in the face of negative advice and lived the dream. He fell into the valley of personal excess as a result but he was also generous with some of it. Giving cars to his mother and friends is one example.

I have visited Graceland twice, one time while he was still alive and living there (you could tour the exterior then) and one time in the late 1990s. The inside of the house is frozen in time, a living monument to 1977. The place was state of the art for the era, including his TV room with three televisions. The color scheme is very green and yellow, popular at the time. The kitchen is huge for its time and kind of big for today too. The grounds are now part of a tourist empire, with the house and main property on one side of the street, fenced off of course. Across the street is a car museum, a private airplane named for his daughter Lisa Marie and a diner with some of his famous food indulgences on the menu. Admission tickets are sold for everything except the diner and gift shop. The whole thing is excessive and impressive at the same time.

Elvis changed the course of music, partly because of talent and partly due to good timing. His career spanned more than twenty years but the peak music years were closer to the beginning, from 1956 – 1958, then again in the early 1960s after a two-year break for Army service. Today’s music stars almost always use concert tours to build a recording career but Elvis performed surprisingly few concerts after his recordings became hits. He starred in numerous movies, then had several concert runs in Vegas. Televised concert specials from Hawaii and other locations keep his career alive but also showed the physical toll his excesses were taking. The last concerts during the year prior to his death were just plain embarrassing.

He is called the King of Rock & Roll but his music styles went from rock to pop to blues to country to gospel. He has been imitated and parodied but never duplicated. He sold more than a billion records, a record nobody has beat.

Some people, including me, believe his most powerful recorded performance was his 1968 Comeback Special. He had not performed live for seven years and was somewhat nervous, yet he looks and sounds completely comfortable. This was twelve years after his first hit and nine years before his career and life bottomed out with his death. This particular song stands out to me, partly because of its message and partly because the performance is so strong. Enjoy.



Friday, August 17, 2012

Comfort Zones

Where do you go for comfort during troubling personal times? What is your ‘happy place’? When you’re looking for comfort, do you seek it in someone’s loving arms, do you pour a glass of your favorite wine, do you listen to specific songs, do you drive somewhere? No matter how stable our lives might be, there are always times when things get shaken up and we have a need to find comfort and security.

All things considered, I had a decent week, but on my drive home tonight I found my ‘station changing’ finger restlessly hitting ‘seek’ on my car radio. I stopped on a satellite radio channel that plays music from my youth. Unlike many of my age peers, I do NOT think music from my youth is better than what’s out now. Some music from back in the day is good, as is some music today, but my music taste is definitely not stuck in my past and I often avoid the oldies. Many of those old songs sound silly now and, well, they make me feel old. But I found myself listening to songs from the 1970s and 1960s for about thirty minutes because they felt comfortable, like an old worn out blanket. Some music from that era sounds stupid now but some of it is so familiar that I can sing every word and hum every catchy note. Music is a major part of my life so it makes sense that music is my comfort zone.

Comfort zones involve the senses. A sound, picture or scent can instantly take you to another place in your life, ideally one where things made more sense than they do now. A comfort zone can conjure up a certain pleasant feeling or memory. For a few minutes your whole being is back in that place and whatever is bothering you now is temporarily gone. One song took me back to my first car, another led me to a kiss with my high school girlfriend, another took me to my first dance. Those were powerful milestones in my life and it felt good to visit them tonight. Somewhere near my exit I snapped back into the present reality.

That’s it. No profound ending to this post, just sharing an observation.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Martians

Humans are always reaching for the unknown, sticking out hands, feet and brains into uncharted territory trying to learn what’s out there. The names of some explorers are recorded; Columbus, for example. There is no record of others, such as whoever first found and populated the places Columbus “discovered.” Our own country’s expansion was made possible by people like Lewis and Clark, whose trek into the ‘wilderness’ was recorded. Of course the people they encountered on their exploration were already there but in the absence of recorded history their own history remains a mystery to us.

This week humans from Earth landed mechanical emissaries on Mars again. We seem to have populated most of the acreage on our planet so now we are sticking out mechanical hands, feet and brains into uncharted space beyond our atmosphere in search of whatever we can find out there. Common sense tells us if there are billions of planets we can’t be the only one with life.

Mars seems like a good destination for our exploration. There is evidence that it could sustain some form of life similar to ours. The moon, the closer celestial neighbor we’ve already walked on, cannot. Or so we think. Remember, we once thought the earth was flat and if you reached the edge you’d fall off. We also thought the Earth was the center of the universe.

If there IS life on Mars or the moon, what does it look like? Is it flexible and fragile like Earth life forms? Or are Martians metallic like the devices we sent there to explore. Maybe what we call artificial intelligence, computer bots that think for themselves, aren’t artificial at all. Maybe metal is a living thing elsewhere. But our robots are mostly built to resemble human forms. What if intelligent life forms on other planets aren’t ambulatory like us; what if grains of silica, as the latest rover found on Mars this week, are thinking beings? It looks like wind moves them along but maybe grains of silica move on their own.

Another thought spelled out by some sci-fi writers is that life forms on other planets might live beneath the surface. Humans couldn’t live on the surface of Mars because our fragile bodies can’t survive those meteorological extremes but maybe Martian humanoids live miles below the surface.

I love that the current Mars rover is named Curiosity. Our human desire for exploration is rooted in a curiosity about how things work and a desire to understand why we exist. Maybe discovering life on Mars would help us find meaning in our own lives. It parallels another human characteristic: a search for God. Some people believe they find God on faith; others want physical proof of God’s existence and definition. Maybe one day we’ll discover that God is a Martian. You never know what you’ll find when you reach for the unknown.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Assorted Unconnected Observations

I regularly listen to an XM channel called the Spectrum. It is like some FM stations called the River. Tonight every song sounded like Coldplay. One of the songs actually was by Coldplay.

I feel better than I did when I wrote the depression post a few days ago. Just taking things one step at a time.  I'm a snail.

One of my favorite TV shows is Criminal Minds. It is well done but also hard to watch. Creepy.

Music is my favorite drug. For more than two and a half decades it has been my only drug, other than aspirin and caffeine. Music soothes, arouses, calms, excites and relieves pain. No prescription required.

Politically conservative boomers must be very frustrated right now when they see that their VP candidate is a Gen-Xer who wants to dismantle some government programs that even conservatives are counting on. The programs aren’t the problem, the bureaucracy that has been running them for decades is the problem. Both political parties share the blame but neither wants to work with the other to fix the problems.

I can’t believe it’s August already. During the past thirteen months I have dealt with skin cancer, cataract surgery, a mysterious neurological issue that is mostly fixed now but still not completely understood, personal issues at home, blah blah blah. Is it any wonder I’m a little ‘troubled’ right now? I’ll get through this because I always do but I haven’t had this much stress since the month I moved from Texas to Maryland twenty-eight years ago. I’m out of practice.

On the brighter side, I have awesome friends and an exciting job. During the same thirteen months I just whined about, I’ve had paid-for business travel to Vegas, L.A. and New York City and personal travel to North Carolina, Virginia and Louisiana. I have made decisions and taken active steps that will move my life in some new directions and as slow as that progress had been it is still progress.

Enough about me; what’s your story? Thanks for visiting. Cheers.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Depression Ain’t Fun

I know a guy who is going through a rough patch right now. Normally he is one of the most optimistic people I know. His friends and co-workers love spending time with him, sharing stories, laughs, drinks and conversation. Most of them would be surprised to know that he is depressed right now. In fact some amount of depression has been in his life for a long time but it is usually in the background and he is pretty good at masking it. He is the guy people turn to when they’re depressed and need a sympathetic ear but his ridiculous pride usually stops him from seeking other people’s help.

This friend had an especially bad few days this week and really needed a good cry, but that damn pride got in the way again. He got a little teary-eyed around his boss for a minute the other day but he survived that encounter, although I doubt she’ll say the words ‘are you OK?’ around him again any time soon. He has several close friends who he can count on for a hug, a hand shake or a smile but most of them live hundreds of miles away. I am one of the few people he can be completely himself around but it even makes me uncomfortable when he is in that much of an emotional state; at least he had me around when he let loose for a few minutes today.

Part of his current depression is related to his over-scheduled life and part is the result of a bad procrastination habit. He often lets things pile up or waits too long to take action, then pays the price when everything piles on at one time. That seems to be his situation right now. He knows he could benefit from a little professional help to navigate his current emotional state but he had been down that road before and believes he already knows what a therapist would say. And he doesn’t have time anyway.

I gave him three pieces of advice today that he would normally give others. First, break down the seemingly huge problems into small pieces and tackle each piece one at a time. Two, do something fun, like go to a concert with friends. And three, write out the story and share it with someone, either a professional or a friend. Or just write it and read it back; maybe seeing it as if it’s someone else’s problem will help.

He took the advice well, by the way, and is feeling slightly better tonight than he was this afternoon. He thought through the big pieces/small pieces scenario, he confirmed concert plans with friends for tomorrow and he wrote out the story. I think he should still see a pro but meanwhile telling and sharing the story helped. He is me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Failure and Success

I'm not in much of a writing mood today, so I'll post someone else's observations.  This is worth contemplating, especially any time you feel like you don't have your shit together in some part of your life.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Monday, August 6, 2012

Question of the Day

Today’s question: why would you want to get married?

On the surface, that question packs a cynical punch, doesn’t it? The way I phrased it implies something like “why the hell would you want to get married, especially because half of all marriages end in divorce.” But that is not what I mean by my question. When two people get married they have reasons and my question seeks those reasons.

A common answer to the question is “we love each other.” Other answers might include companionship, children, tradition, building a life together. Our parents or grandparents might have wed so they could have guilt-free sex; you weren’t supposed to have sex with someone unless you were married to them.

In the year 2012, however, you can have sex, children, companionship, a life together and love without getting married. So are there deeper reasons why people get married?

My friend CJ announced today that she is getting married. Again. She has been married as many times as I have so she and I will probably share a laugh about that soon. I have met one of her ex husbands, a few ex boyfriends and the man she now lives with and will be marrying. This guy is definitely the best and I am truly happy for them. He has known her a little over one year; I’ve known her a dozen years. I mean no disrespect by what I am about to say, but … well, she is a destination dater. She specifically dates men with the idea that she might marry one. She wants a husband. That might fall into the ‘tradition’ category I mentioned in the first paragraph. Marriage completes her.

There is nothing wrong or unusual about that but I know from doing this three times (and she does too) that the wedding day is not the finish line it is the starting line. People who look at getting married as the ultimate goal often don’t think through the reality of what is hopefully a lifetime commitment. In the middle of the romance, it is easy to forget about things like attitudes toward family and friends, how to spend time, who does which household chores, whose career gets priority, how is income and spending divided. None of that is very romantic. All of it is very important to a successful marriage. “It’ll all work itself out” is not necessarily true. Communication and day-to-day compatibility are the two most important factors, in my “expert” opinion.

CJ and her man definitely get along and they are compatible in many ways. They have shared an address for awhile now so some of those realistic ‘roommate’ issues have probably worked out fine. They have a lot in common and, of course, have separate interests too. I have seen them in social settings with her friends and he gets along with them quite well. He treats her like royalty, which is something she craves.

But I wonder why they want to get married. Yes, back to my question. They already have everything a married couple has except the legal document and pictures of the ceremony. They have been together a year; is that enough time? For some people (me, for example) a year is definitely not enough time. My own pattern has been similar to hers and I can tell you that in every case, had I waited long enough to explore the non-romantic stuff I would have called it off. The breakdown usually involved communication, or rather lack of deeply effective communication. Problem resolution. Learning how to talk about difficult and sensitive issues.

My parents had the ‘perfect’ marriage, which is probably why mine have not been. Whenever I tell people theirs was perfect I am told it probably wasn’t but they just hid stuff from their children. I disagree. They got testy with each other sometimes but they respected and loved each other a lot and always resoled disagreements. We lived in a very small house and I know I would have heard arguments if there were any. They were in sync with each other, agreed with each other on most things and agreed to disagree on the rest. They each had their own interests but also shared a lot. They liked each other’s friends and relatives. They lived by their generation’s gender roles most of the time but they weren’t always locked into them. The irony is that they probably never discussed that stuff in advance; it ‘just happened’ for them. They had synergy, at least by my definition of that word. They could often anticipate each other’s reactions to things and often gave each other that knowing ‘look’ simultaneously.

I’ve never had that with a wife and have rarely had it with a girlfriend or female non-girlfriend friend.

Certainly a marriage doesn’t have to be perfect to be successful, but it is so easy to get caught up in the magical part and to ignore the practical part. Attraction and chemistry often fade over time; it’s the deeper connections that determine whether a marriage will last. It is impossible to predict or anticipate every possible problem and unrealistic to expect a mate to possess every perfect characteristic; but paying attention to those things in advance increases the chance for success. I think.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Unlikely

The song below is a very sexy song from a very unlikely source. Most of what the Zac Brown Band records falls into the country music genre but they are not locked into one specific thing. I heard an interview with Zac in which he says he and his band members are influenced by many styles of music. Most of us are. He calls their latest album a "country-Southern rock-bluegrass- reggae-jam" record.




Saturday, August 4, 2012

To Take or Not To Take, That Is the Question

When someone gives you advice, do you take it? Do you take a mentor’s lead? Are you a mentor yourself?

I was thinking about mentoring and career advice today as I scrolled through a Facebook site made up of past and present media people in my hometown. The site has 700 members, including me, and I scrolled through the entire list to see how many I knew. It turns out I only know about ten of them but I am familiar with at least fifty more. Some are DJs I listened to or TV reporters I watched growing up in New Orleans.

A common theme of comments is ‘corporate media ownership has destroyed radio’ and most of the negative comments are posted by people who no longer work in radio. Some of those people lost their jobs because they got stuck in a style and attitude that worked for them when they were at their peak; the business changed and they didn’t. I will not say either side of that equation is right or wrong but I will say that to stay employed, you have to balance your attitude with your employer’s attitude. That is the advice I give but it was not the advice I was given.

My interest in radio goes all the way back to 1st or 2nd grade and I was always curious how it worked and what went on inside. What did a DJ do and how did he learn how to do it? I played radio contests and occasionally won stuff. Sometimes when I went to the station to pick up a prize I would ask for a tour and sometimes I would get one (we almost never do that these days, by the way).

Then around 7th or 8th grade my Dad took me to a radio station where you could sit and watch the DJ work (that also never happens now, by the way). I eventually went there so often that I got to know three of the DJs. Two of them were very helpful when they learned of my interest but the third said if he ever caught me working in a radio station he would shoot me. He discouraged me from even thinking about it because he said it was a cutthroat business with no job security and too much competition. His advice was to forget about it and try something else.

My Dad was also pessimistic about media as a career and advised me to study something secure (and boring) like economics. I did give up my dream for awhile and started to pursue a business degree. My college sweetheart/first wife got so tired of hearing me talk about radio that she advised me to try it. I did, and more than thirty years later I am still in it.

So what would I be doing now if I had followed the majority of advice I was given? Most likely I would have had a boring government job. On one hand, I might be able to retire now like some of my high school friends have (the ones who worked all those years in boring government jobs). On the other hand I would never have left New Orleans. I would not have met all the wonderful and unique people I met along the way and I would not have experienced the diverse lifestyles of the five cities I lived in since. I still have a fairly low-key personality but I have led a rich, exciting life filled with thrilling and unique adventures. I do what I love and get paid well for it. I am at my peak NOW … more accurately, at another peak. Things have not always gone so well but each time I hit bottom I learned how to recover and climb to the top again.

Back to advice … the guy who told me that radio is a cutthroat business with no job security and too much competition was absolutely correct! And that was decades ago. Today the business is much bigger yet it works with about 70 percent fewer people. So there is even less security now than there was then and even more competition. What I learned from other mentors, however, is that somebody has to have those jobs and I should take steps to make sure I am one of them. I guess that means I turned bad advice into good; so maybe I did take his advice.

I can still name those three DJs. All have since died so I cannot get in touch with them to tell them how they helped me. I have had many mentors since and in most cases they didn’t know they were mentors. I observed how they handled things and learned from my observations. I have been told by others that I am sometimes a mentor; I am usually surprised when I hear that, but I am also pleased. Everything in life is a learning opportunity.

So I have some advice for you (and you can take it or leave it): follow your dreams. If people discourage you, try to see why and learn from it or modify your dream a little if necessary; but don’t let negative advice stop you.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Quotes on Change

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
- Lao Tzu

“Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.”
- Thomas L. Friedman

“Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing to the whole woman.”
- Maya Angelou

“If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door”
- Milton Berle

“You can't stop the future
You can't rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
...is to press play.”
- Jay Asher

“The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”
- George Bernard Shaw

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”
- Martin Luther

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
- Eric Roth

“Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby- awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.”
- Lemony Snicket

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
- Andy Warhol

“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”
- Ovid



Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When in doubt ...

... post a picture.  I don't have anything else tonight and this made me laugh.  Enjoy.