The Emergent Miracle of 50

Were popular songs from 1918 played widely in 1968?

How about songs from 1928 in 1978?

Or songs from 1938 in 1988?

So how come songs from 1968 are still widely played in 2018?

Want to know why? Here are ten songs from the top of the charts in 1968, from the Billboard Hot 100 of that year:

“Hey Jude” by The Beatles (#1).

“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream (#6).

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel (#9).

“Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells (#13).

“Dance to the Music” by Sly and the Family Stone (#20).

“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf (#31).

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones (#50).

“Light My Fire” by Jose Feliciano (#52).

“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (#57).

“I Say a Little Prayer for You” by Aretha Franklin (#93).

I don’t think I need to write any more words today. The point proves itself. We don’t need to know why. The songs speak for themselves. They sing for themselves. Our attachment is primal, mystical, enduring.

Given the fifty years between the 1960s and the 2010s, not a day goes by that we don’t celebrate the 50th anniversary of something, for many of us our own time on the earth.

Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This year it’s The White Album.

The Rolling Stones already have a 50 and Counting tour on their resume. Last year Fleetwood Mac hit 50 and headlined The Classic West and East stadium tours alongside iconic peers the Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Journey, and Earth, Wind, & Fire.

Paul McCartney will likely tour until he can no longer stand on the stage. Ringo is still regularly on the road with his All-Starr Band.  You’ll remember that The Beatles led The British Invasion shortly after the Kennedy assassination. Yes, “all those years ago!”

So what is the endurance factor of what we now call classic rock? Is it simply that the baby boomers who shepherded these bands in youthful acts of defiance are living a lot longer? There might be something to that, but it doesn’t explain why so many millennials are subscribing to the same Spotify channels as their parents.

Certainly improvements in studio and consumer technology have made it easier to preserve and share high-quality recordings of later eras, but the conduit of access is a mechanical bridge, not an emotional path to replay. Variety shows on television in the 1960s and 1970s harkened back to songs of prior times, but not with the same urgency, devotion, or pervasiveness. The sheer volume of fifty-year-old songs populating playlists across age groups today tells us that “something’s happening here.”

Walk into a downtown bar or hotel lounge and you might be as likely to hear a cover band playing “Suzie Q” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, #97 in 1968) as you are anything from Bruno Mars or Beyoncé. I’m not suggesting every roadhouse on the highway basks in nostalgia, but when you walk into a live club and hear “Hello, I Love You” (The Doors, #14 in 1968) little about it seems dated or out of place. Of course there is an entire segment of the population who couldn’t care less about fifty-year-old relics, but the fans who forever revel in these not-so-ancient hits will stay up all night on the dance floor as long as the song list rolls.

It’s the music. It was good fifty years ago and it’s good today. For many who loved the music when it first hit the airways, this is the soundtrack of our lives. We love it, we love the memories that come with it, we love the way it makes us feel. We are silly enough to believe it keeps us young, and we want to share the beat with anyone who can’t sit still once the guitar licks begin pouring from the stage.

It doesn’t matter if that stage is a tiny corner platform in a pizza joint or a grand proscenium dragged into Dodger Stadium. We love the famous original acts when they are on the road, but we also love the young house bands who take the time to learn to play the hits well and then sneak in an original song of their own.

We love the occasional current star who braves an interpretation of a long-ago track (Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” covered by Devlin with Ed Sheeran is mighty powerful material). We love the new beside the old. We feel those classic rock tunes as part of our being, whether live, broadcast, streamed, satellite transmitted, or silently resonant in our minds.

Surely there is context to consider in a half-century of resilience, the voices of youth and diversity fighting for equal footing with established authority in the latter half of the twentieth century. Yet context doesn’t make a pop song last. Composition does. Performance does. Texture does. Maybe artists under contract just got better at the whole Tin Pan Alley game. Maybe they started to care as much about their legacy as their commercial acumen. Maybe connecting the generations came to mean more to them than the hunger for flowing cash. Well, maybe.

I’ve been thinking and writing about these songs most of my life, linking them to stories and plays, stitching their lyrics into the fabric of modern and historical philosophy. I’m never quite satisfied with the words I choose to explain why this music matters to me as much as it does. I suppose the songs are an organic whole without explanation. As so many of the young artists declared of their work when it was created, it was never meant to be analyzed. The songs were meant to be felt.

That doesn’t adequately address why this half-century is different, and why people like me believe so many of these songs are not likely to evaporate from the earth when we are no longer here to listen to them. The magic has emerged without anyone showing how the trick is done. That’s probably because the magicians don’t know how they did the trick.

It’s probably better that way. It keeps things authentic.

Keep listening. Keep embracing the beat. Feel young and stay young. You know I will—with any luck for another fifty years.



Records So Good We Bought Them Again (and Again)

Fleetwood Mac - RumoursI guess for me this is turning into The Year of The List! Earlier this year, inspired by a Writers Guild initiative, I catalogued a suggested collection of the Funniest Screenplays of All Time. Right around that time, inspired by the Fleetwood Mac reunion tour, I found myself thinking about musical recordings so beloved I had purchased them multiple times on replacement platforms. While the records stayed largely the same (yes, I will keep calling them records as long as I am listening to them), a series of innovations in consumer technology offered us relatively inexpensive access to personal libraries of vinyl, 8-track tape, cassette, reel-to-reel, DAT, CD, DVD, and MP3-like digital hard drive storage along the lines of iTunes. Here I am considering what I would call three-buy and above purchases for personal use, which of course live alongside AM & FM radio broadcast, satellite play, streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, and any number of less legitimate ways to file-share.

While I was pondering all thatand readying myself to attend Fleetwood Mac’s current reunion tour at the recently refurbished concert-only Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles (remembering I had attended in 1990 what I believed was the final performance of the farewell Fleetwood Mac Word Tour)what should be playing in our living room but Rumours. Yep, at home in 5.1 Dolby Surround played an album so impossibly fantastic I had bought it at least five times with each subsequent technological improvement, including the remastered scratch tracks on the latest Expanded Edition, which chronicled the development of each song. I sat there listening again to this marvel, no regrets of any kind for the many dollars spent. I have extracted so much entertainment value from this record I would gladly purchase it again. And again.

Thus it occurred to me that Rumours was not alone, and that I was not alone in the three-buy, four-buy, and even five-buy serial record purchases. Rather than pencil out my own list, I went to my social network and asked friends where they had repeatedly dumped their dough buying the same thing over and over. Below you will see an unedited list of those records, some of which I also bought a bunch of times, others of which I have never heard but may sample now. Rather than allow this list to expire in the ephemeral Facebook news feed, I decided to recreate and share it here. I think it’s a cool list, one you should feel free to expand upon in broadening our spirit of sharing.

There is definitely a late Baby-Boomer Bias to these confessions of multiple repurchase, represented no doubt by my circle of social media friends, along with our age and taste. I think you will find the publishing dates stamped for the most part between the mid 1960s and the early 1980s, when the formative years of my contemporaries had disproportionate influence on our modest discretionary spending. Not surprisingly, in the “nifty fifty” albums reported here entirely unscientifically and in no particular order, multiple appearances are logged by the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, and Elton John.

If you’re looking for any connective tissue in all these, I think you’ll need more than the music to draw a speculative conclusion. Here is my one linking observation to the extent that I recognize most of the titles: they are in one way or another albums, curated collections or song cycles of various sorts that weave into and around themselves. Much has been written about the demise of the album in this day of pop streaming shuffles. For a while when we were younger, there was a wild notion that a record album could be something of its own as a form of, dare I say it, art.

I’m not sure I have the intellectual fortitude to plow through the art manifesto, but let me just say that when I play Abbey Road I don’t skip tracks, I play it through beginning to end. Okay, on The White Album I do skip “Revolution 9” most of the time, you got me there. But Dark Side is beginning to end, Hotel California is beginning to end, and Rumours is beginning to end. Remember, when these were vinyl, that meant getting up and switching to the flip side—yes, getting up physically to hear the rest!

There is a “something of substance” in these picks that a lot of us find missing in contemporary LP equivalents that don’t even try to compose, let alone somehow unite, a dozen or more flowing songs. I think that’s why a lot of us miss the days of AOR—album oriented rock—and why we’re willing to spend anew when landmark records with recurring motifs and thematic resonance repeatedly make their way back to the virtual shelves. These albums age well, a bit like fine wine, and seldom seem dated. Absent historical and social context, most of these carefully crafted works could just as well have been recorded today and simultaneously sound modern and classic. They were expertly written, performed, and engineered with creative courage that resulted in textured, lasting impact. Good is good, great is great, and unforgettable is, well, just what the word says.

So here is a compilation of fifty records my friends found so remarkable they bought them on three, four, or even more platforms (not to mention extended or remastered versions), and will probably continue to play until their last days on the planet in whatever form they may become available:

1) Abbey Road by The Beatles

2) Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles

3) The Beatles (The White Album) by The Beatles

4) McCartney by Paul McCartney

5) Band on the Run by Paul McCartney & Wings

6) All Things Must Pass by George Harrison

7) Imagine by John Lennon

8) Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

9) The Wall by Pink Floyd

10) Exile on Main Street by The Rolling Stones

11) Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones

12) Madman Across the Water by Elton John

13) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

14) Hotel California by Eagles

15) Quadrophenia by The Who

16) Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder

17) Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan

18) Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

19) What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

20) London Calling by The Clash

21) The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie

22) The Joshua Tree by U2

23) Led Zeppelin II by Led Zeppelin

24) Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin

25) Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen

26) Silk Degrees by Boz Scaggs

27) The Point by Harry Nilsson

28) After the Gold Rush by Neil Young

29) John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic

30) Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show by Dr. Hook

31) Running on Empty by Jackson Browne

32) Cheap Trick at Budokan by Cheap Trick

33) Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath

34) Candide by Leonard Bernstein

35) The Lady and the Unicorn by John Renbourn

36) Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Manuel de Falla

37) The Remains of Tom Lehrer by Tom Lehrer

38) The Doors by The Doors

39) Tapestry by Carole King

40) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

41) Berlin by Lou Reed

42) Wheels of Fire by Cream

43) 21 by Adele

44) Crime of the Century by Supertramp

45) Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel

46) Graceland by Paul Simon

47) Dreamboat Annie by Heart

48) Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

49) Something/Anything? by Todd Rundgren

50) Rumours by Fleetwood Mac

Which “greatest albums of all time” did we miss? Probably a lot. Add your favorites in the comments below and if there is anything you discover new in the suggestions provided, let us know what it sounds like no matter the player you choose as a conduit.

My Second Book

As noted by the title, tEE Coverhis post is meant to announce the forthcoming release of my second book, Endless Encores. It will be published by The Story Plant on September 22, 2015 in hardcover and as an eBook. Since that is still several months off and I have at times already mentioned the book is coming, let me come back to that in a moment.

I often get into the discussion of whether corporate mission statements matter.

I also wrestle with people on whether we are blowing hot air when we say we want to hire the very best talent we can.

Then there is the loaded question of whether bringing a true “change agent” into a company suggests an oxymoron.

The answer to all three of these questions for me is quite simple: It depends whether your answer is cursory or heartfelt, pat or authentic, expository or evangelistic.

You’re likely quite familiar with the expression Don’t Be Evil. It was the rallying cry of one of the most successful digital companies of our time in its offering prospectus. Here’s a tangent to that declaration I’d like to offer that can put to rest most questions around an empowering mission statement, talent that matters, and harnessing a change agent: Don’t Be Cynical. Today let’s call that DBC.

If you DBC when you speak to mission, you will find nothing more powerful to inspire people to do the best work of their careers. If you DBC when you speak to the impact of extraordinary talent, you will surround yourself with the real deal and reap the rewards. If you DBC when you identify a human change agent, you will open your doors to innovation and allow change to happen.

Fall back into corporate-speak on any of these borderline-highfalutin ideals, and you will suck all the life out of the room. No question. The spread between demoralization and inspiration is just that wide, but the line separating them is micropixel thin. Walk that line carefully. Fall to the wrong side of the balance beam and you lose; to the correct side, and you win.

That’s why I wrote Endless Encores.

What is cynical? Cynical is a poster in the lobby that reads “Our people are what we value most.” Then earnings are announced and miss expectations. Wall Street punishes your company’s stock. There is a layoff and a thousand people see that poster as they are walking out the door carrying boxes of work mementos.

What is DBC? DBC is the same lobby, same poster, but an announcement that because of a soft quarter, all senior management team members are deferring annual bonuses and taking a voluntary pay cut of 10% to cover the shortfall in earnings until the company regains growth momentum. No one walks out the door. The mementos stay on the desks. The boss holds a pizza party to reset the year’s goals. Everyone recommits to achieve growth together.

DBC can be extremely hard to master, mostly because we usually don’t set out to be cynical; we sadly roll ourselves into the muck tub. It’s great to say galvanizing words, but they inevitably have to be followed by felicity in our actions, and that’s when it becomes the greatest of all possible business challenges: to marry the power of intentions with the expectation of outcomes. Said another way: Can our delivered actions live up to our rousing words?

It’s not Utopian. It happens. It’s what matters. If you say it, mean it. If you mean it, do it.

Let’s make it harder. Can we do it consistently? Can we do it again and again? Can we have careers that span more than a single triumph, encompassing values that become us, delighting customers with outrageous excellence in good times and bad?

To invoke another catch phrase, Yes, We Can.

Speaking of catch phrases, if you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, or even if this is your first visit, you’ll note in the blog’s description the words “People, Products, Profits—in that order.” Those are the business words I have tried to live by these last three decades, part rallying cry, part personal philosophy, part sanity meter. If you’ve worked with me you’ve heard those words way too many times and possibly even begun to repeat them. When I’m called to look at a creative company and I don’t see those words at play, they flow freely from my lips. There’s a reason. They work.

This book is about those words. It’s about how to have a career that matters, how to infuse those around you with passion, how to love your customers, how to innovate and reinvent without fear of failure, and how to avoid the trap of the one-hit wonder. That’s a lot to cover in so few words, and yet, the book is not a very long one (those who might have been concerned another volume like This Is Rage was on the way can breathe easy). Strangely, the book took me just as long to write, because as my wise editor, Lou Aronica, warned me in advance, writing simply about immensely complex ideas of discipline is no small trick. If you want to get people fired up about something that can change their lives without sounding like a soapbox pundit, you have to pick every word carefully, and that takes time.

Why condense a lifetime of highly personal learning into a book and share it with people I may never meet? I want you to succeed, over and over, and I know you can. I want you to understand why it will make you more productive to embrace the notion of DBC. I want you to master this framework, become a mentor, and pass on your good fortune to others. I want People, Products, Profits to be the worst-kept secret on the planet. I want you to take this little business parable, the story of Daphne Lonner and Paul Beckett, read it all the way through, and then keep it near your desk when you need a hit of pure oxygen.

You can repeat. You should repeat.

A few years ago I wrote a post called Dodging the Great Hits Graveyard. I had been at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert with my wife, sitting down front surrounded by fans who had come to hear the familiar tunes of their Christmas show. In the middle of the second set they stopped playing familiar tunes and introduced something completely new. There was an awkward pause, and it would have been easy to assume that the band had taken an immense risk and bit off a raw chunk of failure with the lost energy. Three years later, that song became the tent pole of a new album and tour, joyously celebrated by old fans as well as new. Somewhere in that window I knew I had to turn the fear of the new into a story of returning triumph, even if every triumph wouldn’t be a foregone conclusion. That’s when I knew I had to write about DBC. That’s when I knew I had to write Endless Encores.

I hope you’ll follow some of my recurring themes in the months leading up to publication, and once you have the book in your hands, please let me hear from you. Missions matter. Talent matters. Change agents matter. Don’t Be Cynical. Surround yourself with People, Products, Profits—in that order. You too can have a shot at a lifetime of repeat success, letting the moments of failure become learning opportunities, not endpoints.

Come meet Daphne and Paul. If innovation and reinvention are in your sights, their story might be your story. You can pre-order a copy of Endless Encores so it is sent to you on publication date. Below is an excerpt to give a sense of where this tale wants to take you. See you on the winning side of the balance beam.

♫ ♫ ♫

“Do you like music?” asked Daphne. “Contemporary bands, classic rock, pop tunes from various times?”

“Sure, of course,” said Paul. “Who doesn’t have a favorite band or two?”

“Those bands that are your favorites—did they have one or two hits, or a pretty decent run over the years?”

“You mean like the Eagles? The Rolling Stones? The Beatles? Obviously they had a string of hits, sometimes one after another.”

“How hard do you think it was for them to keep trying to top themselves?” asked Daphne.

“Hard,” conveyed Paul. “Very, very hard. In my business, hardly anyone repeats.”

“More like the one-hit wonders on the pop charts from the sixties, seventies, and eighties,” noted Daphne. “‘My Sharona.’ ‘Tainted Love.’ ‘Kung Fu Fighting.’ ‘Video Killed the Radio Star.’”

“You’re dating yourself a little,” chuckled Paul. “But yes, you nailed it. I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. I don’t want to be like Friendster or Pet Rocks or the Cabbage Patch Kids. I want to make lots of hits, like you said, an endless series of hits. I want to be that guy. How do you make hits time after time after time?”

“A lot of us ask ourselves that question,” shared Daphne. “I wish I could tell you the answer. What I can tell you is that luck is not such a bad thing. It’s okay to embrace it.”

“Yeah, but can you repeat it?” asked Paul. “Can you make it happen again and again, predict it, make it repeatable?”

“From my experience, I think the best you can do is increase your odds. To build a career that allows for Endless Encores, you can never stand on your laurels. You have to be innovating all the time, not just when the clock is ticking against you. You do a little crowd pleasing with what they know, then a little thought leading by showing them something new.”

“It would be difficult to think about Endless Encores with a limited repertoire,” noted Paul.

“The only sure path to a limited repertoire is not to push yourself beyond the familiar. Your range is only gated by your courage to pursue the unknown, despite the doubters who relish the false safety of narrowing your path. You risk, you stretch, you can’t know what’s going to stick. No matter how much you know the familiar will carry you, you navigate the balance of old and new, constantly committing to reinvention. Repeat success is getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, knowing that luck will shine again, but never knowing when or how.”

Let’s Argue About Something

The way to read the title of this article is “Let’s Argue about Something,” with the emphasis on the final word—as opposed to Nothing.

But now for something completely different. Remember this bit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus:

MPFS ArgumentA: An argument is not the same as contradiction.

B: Well, it can be!

A: No, it can’t! An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a definite proposition.

B: No, it isn’t!

A: Yes, it is! It isn’t just contradiction.

B: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position!

A: But it isn’t just saying, “No, it isn’t.”

B: Yes, it is!

A: No, it isn’t! Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

B: No, it isn’t!

A: Yes, it is!

B: Not at all!

Excerpt from Argument Clinic, Copyright 1972 Python (Monty) Pictures. Here’s the full video clip on the official Monty Python YouTube Channel:

What’s my argument here? There are some things I am not going to argue about anymore.

I am not going to argue about whether global warming is real. It’s real, and it’s a problem we need to address. This is settled science. If you haven’t bought into the settlement, I am sorry for your inability to grasp facts.

I am not going to argue about basic vaccines and immunizations for preventable diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella. Unless your doctor specially tells you your child must opt out for a clear reason, I believe you have a moral obligation to your child and an ethical obligation to society to get this done as soon as practicable.

I am not going to argue about who has a right to marry whomever he or she may select (absent DNA concerns around family history). This is a civil right. Civil rights are inviolable.

I am not going to argue about evolution and natural selection. I am not going to argue about the age of the Earth or the number of years human beings have been inhabiting it. I am also not going to argue that the science here is incompatible with religion, because many of the distinguished scientists who have proven these case studies have been profoundly religious people who aligned their faith with their findings. I have. I believe you can, too. If you don’t, I am not going to argue the point. It, too, is settled.

Why no more argument from me here? Because there is no point. These are not arguments. We have data at more than sufficient scale to make the findings. Thus these become matters of contradiction. If we don’t agree, there is nothing you can say to me to get me to change my mind, and I know there is nothing I can say to you to change your mind. Remember, for a few centuries now we no longer debate whether the Earth is flat or the sun revolves around it—there was plenty enough data collected to make those arguments moot. Likewise on the other referenced topics. I am moving on.

Want to argue? Cool, then let’s focus on subjectivity.

I will argue with you about tax policy—who should pay and how much. That’s a great argument to have.

I will argue with you about allocation options within the federal budget—entitlements,  debt, defense, infrastructure, social programs—we can have a great debate about that! If it turns into an argument, maybe we’ll learn from each other as long as we both commit to 50% talking and 50% listening.

I will argue with you about which wars can be justified, and which wars can’t. Yes, I think that is subjective, and people do change their minds about this over time.

I will argue with you about whether there will ever be a band as magnificent and important as the Beatles, whether Beethoven is a better composer than Mozart, and whether I am missing the point entirely on Katy Perry.

Essentially I will argue with you about any subject where I think by investing the time, passion, and energy, at least one of us might come away with even a slightly altered point of view. If I can learn from you by hearing you construct a reasonable case, I am open to it. If you can learn from me by believing there is a possibility I could construct a reasonable case, I will share it with you. I will spend as long with you on the argument as we both deem it interesting. Should we continue to disagree at the conclusion, as long as you have not lambasted me with an ad hominem attack, I promise to respect your opinion, however wrong you may be. Yet if you sneak back into emotional ideology that is not grounded in reason or supported assessment, I won’t argue with you again. Lucky you.

Now the ground rules. I promise to read widely about subjects of interest and study them before I subject you to my argument. I expect that you will do the same. If you don’t read much or challenge your own thinking before you subject me to it, let’s not bother. We can only do each other some good if we do ourselves some good as well. That means preparation. That means readiness. That means a serious consideration of the point at hand. That means caring enough to study and be well versed on a topic before passionately expressing a strident point of view. It worked in college. It will work in the real world.

Don’t like the rules? No worries. We don’t have to argue at all. I know lots of people who like these rules. I learn from those people every day. They make me a better person because they care about ideas. I trust them to stretch my mind and to prompt me to reconsider anything that can be reconsidered.

No, they don’t.

Yes, they do.

Are you contradicting me or seeking an argument?

Let me know before we engage.

The Beatles at Sea

I don’t think I am likely to run out of things to write about The Beatles.  Scratch that.  There is no chance I will ever run out of things to write about The Beatles.

How about The Beatles on Norwegian Cruise Line making our away around the calm summer waters of the Hawaiian Islands?  That’s about as magical a place for The Beatles as I can imagine, beyond the Sea of Holes and across the Sea of Time.  Toss in a set list that spans the entirety of Beatlemania performed by one of the most gracious husband and wife musician couples I have ever met — now you’re talking magic, an experience so utterly perfect it’s hard to believe it’s even real.

TobyBeauBeatlesToby Beau is the joyous source of this sound celebration, a rock band with Texas roots dating back three decades, now performing on the main stage and in cabaret surroundings of the Pride of America.  It’s not the usual kind of place you would find me, nor where you might expect to be sharing in the sing along chorus of Hey Jude.  I think that was a big part of what made it all so wonderful, it wasn’t the expected in any sense of manner or place, and yet it all just clicked the way brilliant music and expert performance always succeed — pleasing the mind, pleasing the senses, creating realtime context that is both Yesterday and Today.

Last week my wife and I spent a week island hopping in my home state of Hawaii with about 2000 fellow NCL passengers.  No, it was not a normal thing for us to do, but playing tourist can be fun if you do it right with plenty of time for snorkeling, hiking, biking, and kayaking.  We didn’t spend much time at the buffet, but we did catch all of the live music.  Vacations can be an amazing time of discovery, where you can relax and float downstream, and whenever we hear there are Beatles tunes in the house, well, we just go check it out.  About midway through our week we ventured to the main showroom and met ax man vocalist Balde Silva, who performs every single week of the year beside his sometimes lead, sometimes harmonizing wife Rennetta Dennett Silva, the two of them still the core of Toby Beau.  Their biggest hit, My Angel Baby, came in 1978, around the time they were touring with such high power acts as the Doobie Brothers, Bob Seger, and Steve Miller.  Balde and Rennetta are music industry survivors who have reinvented themselves any number of times over the years, not only proudly still playing live music, but playing it together, having a blast, and obviously forever in love.

That brings us full circle, back to The Beatles, at sea, and the kind of love that lives forever in a set of songs that work no matter where they are played, that prove themselves over and over again precisely because they take on new meaning when bounced off new walls.  Music veterans like Toby Beau evidence what it means to play flawlessly, inserting subtleties that are different each night, reflective of the experience that unexpected places can offer, reverberating off audience participation, taking in the physical moment and replacing it with a memory.  It takes a truly inventive catalogue to pull that off endlessly without becoming rote.  Musical excellence is one part material, one part craft, one part passion, and one part ethereal.  A cruise ship is just a venue, a stage is just a platform, but layer in the mystical concoction of the lads from Liverpool with a pair of performers determined to inject love into the tunes, and the formula becomes fully extemporaneous in the emotions that swell.

Balde and Rennetta take it a step further, offering the story of The Beatles through bits of spoken history, stitching together the songs as a real life fairy tale.  This is not impersonation but tribute, commencing with the earliest days of I Want To Hold Your Hand and A Hard Day’s Night, winding the road to Yesterday and Nowhere Man, then reaching with bravado to We Can Work It Out and Back in the USSR.  We get Something by George, then we Get Back, then we Let It Be.  Hands wave in the air for Hey Jude, and then the band covers a Beatles cover with the dance floor encore, Twist and Shout.  It all takes less than an hour, less than a dozen cuts, but once again we have taken the journey anew, heard it differently, felt it reimagined, shared it somewhere we probably won’t return but can carry with us forever as its own idea — an interpretation shaped by its circumstance, constant in its creative rejuvenation.

The Beatles stayed together less than a decade, an incomprehensibly brief interlude that resulted in a body of work that remains inexhaustible in inspiration.  Balde and Rennetta have stayed in the game as long as they have because of their love of the music, their love of the art form, and their love of each other.  The combination of all that love and craft and chemistry just got added to my canon of musicality, new energy flowing through time-tested lyrics, new theater emerging from a bit of the acoustic and a mastery of the electric.  We didn’t go to sea to find it, we found it by chance, spontaneous discovery — and because we shared it, once again it is ours.

Let the music wander where it will, infuse it valiantly with love, the world is at your command.  What we discover in the familiar is the awakening of the imaginative, the surprise of the open-ended revitalized by care and intension.  You can hear it differently if you allow the phrasing to bend here, there, and everywhere — the artists’ touch a composite of admiration and trust.  Thank you again, Balde and Rennetta.  Thank you again John, Paul, George and Ringo.  The music is perfect.  The music is forever.  The music is a gift to be celebrated and loved.

Let It Be

I write this evening from London on the last day of a short business trip.  I am pounding this out on an iPad so it may be a bit less polished then some of my posts, but I want to share the passion with you somewhat unedited, while it is still fresh and resonating.

While here I enjoyed the tremendous experience of seeing the new Beatles revue, Let It Be, at the Savoy Theatre.  The experience was full of wonder and magic, precisely the way music and theatre can touch your heart when you least expect it.  The Savoy Theatre is an especially magical venue, one of the oldest working stages in London and the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity in the late 19th century.

imageYes, it’s another Beatles cover show, like Beatlemania, like Rain, like so many appearances of The Fab Four.  The lads appear in multiple costumes from the Beatles era, but are not allowed to call themselves The Beatles, nor use the names John, Paul, George, or Ringo.  They refer to each other as The Bass Player or The Singer or The Drummer, and of course Billy Shears gets an appropriate shout out since he is a character of fiction.  They start in black suits and thin ties, then put on Nehru jackets, then some colorful hippy fabrics, then the Sgt. Pepper Uniforms, then wilder hippy fabrics, then the John character in the white suit and long hair followed by the John character in the shoulder length hair, military shirt and sunglasses.  You know the drill.

We open with I Saw Her Standing There, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand, then we’re off to Shea Stadium, then the Rubber Soul period, then Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, Abbey Road, and we round it out with Get Back, the title number, and Jude.  They don’t exactly go in order, more a thematic pastiche.  There are television bits in the background showing black and white commercials of the nice lady in awe dropping the pearl in the Prell shampoo bottle, occasional blasts of Jimi Hendrix over Vietnam bombings, the marches, the flower posters, the peace signs, the weeping teens falling over each other in the stadium crowds — all of the familiar nostalgia that we have seen so often but still celebrate as boomers.  No creative breakthroughs, no big picture inventions, no stagecraft of staggering originality.  It was a concert of Beatles songs, two and a half hours with a break, four guys who didn’t look like The Beatles absent the various wigs, and the Paul character even played a right-handed (gasp!) Hofner bass.

So why was this show so different, so memorable, so moving, so unforgettable, so touching?

Two reasons.

For one, at half a century I might have been the youngest person in the audience.

The other, the audience was almost entirely British.

You might expect at a West End Beatles revue in London-town the show goers at a Saturday matinee might be mostly tourists.  They were not.  They were locals.  They came to relive their youth, if only for an afternoon, and they loved every second of it.  They were on their feet, they were twisting and shouting, they were dancing in the aisles, they clapped and sang along word for word, they echoed the chant: “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”

No one in that room felt they were 60, or 70, or 80.  You could not tell anyone in that room that this was a 50th celebration of anything.  This was real, this was vital, this was now.

And this was British.  Very, very British.  Lovely, as they say.  Brilliant.

Yes, the image of John in Central Park is literally chiseled in Strawberry Fields.  Memories of George in Los Angeles recording studios are etched in our minds.  Ringo and Paul sightings in the Hollywood Hills have become as natural as any other celebrity on the west coast.  We share the music with the world, but somehow we came to sense that The Beatles adopted America, and Americans unofficially adopted The Beatles.  Yet they are British, beloved here in a way I never before fully understood or felt until I spent this joyous time with their countryman.  Their fans here are perpetual, like those who have shared Shakespeare and Dickens and even Lloyd Webber with the entire world.  The creativity and inspiration that has flowed generation after generation from this island in the North Atlantic never ceases to blow my mind.  The impact is astonishing, the consistency in trendsetting almost baffling.  The people here are exceptionally proud that so much of what has touched them has touched so many others all over the world.  The Beatles are a part of them and carry their love to us in ways that words cannot convey.  You simply have to be on your feet in the crowded room feeling the music penetrate your bone mass to get it.  You say you want a revolution?  That’s a revolution.

Now back to a few words on age, which I think is what really brought that tear to the corner of my eye.  When that Yellow Submarine on the scrim behind the band sails through the Sea of Holes and past the Sea of Time to the Sea of Green, something enduring becomes clear, almost too real.  John was taken from us, and hasn’t been here since I was a freshman in college.  I still feel that loss.  George has left us, and my guitar still gently weeps.  We graciously do have Paul and Ringo — Ringo is even opening an exhibit this summer at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.  Two Beatles no longer living, but all four Beatles somehow alive.  And the fans, The Boomers born between 1945 and 1964, each day a few more slip away.  At the end of that tail, I have the least gray hair, some have all gray hair, some have no hair at all.  When the Paul character sings, “When I’m Sixty-Four,” it’s the midrange of the audience.  He was in his 20s when he wrote it.  They were all in their 20s when they created that vast catalog of songs — not a bad one to boot — all in less than a working decade.  Those songs remain as vibrant and relevant today as they were when we bought the singles on vinyl 45s.

How does that work?

The music keeps us young.  The music compels us to stay young.  When we hear and feel the music we have no ailments, no doctors to see, no life letdowns or shortcomings or missed opportunities.  We are optimists with our lives entirely ahead of us, just as we were when we first heard the needle hit the record, pops and hisses, mono and stereo.  We remember all the lyrics, every guitar riff, where the drumsticks hit the cymbals, and when it’s time to harmonize on the refrains.  We hold onto this because it keeps our youth, our joy, our hope.  When you see an aging couple set aside their walking canes, swaying their hands in the air left to right and right to left on the final chords of Hey Jude, you know magic is happening.  Time travel is indeed possible.  You are transported in mind and in toe-tapping body.  The music is that perfect, that potent, that mystical, that important.  It just feels that good.

We boomers didn’t get everything right.  We know that.  We know that peace and love and world harmony are still elusive dreams.  The Beatles make it possible for us to feel those dreams anew, to be young in a way that is transformational, a dream as only it can be, a perpetual time to Imagine.

You can always see the clock ticking.  You can always know what time it is.  You can’t take away youth.

16 Things I’m Thankful For Right Now

Last year approaching Thanksgiving I reprinted an oldie which I had sent to a former office team a while back.  Your reaction was kind, and I don’t think I can do much better than that at the moment, but perhaps there is merit in sharing some items that are currently giving me reason to smile.  Here without extended preamble is the short, unscientific list:

1) We live in a representative democracy where the peaceful and orderly handoff of authority is presumed.  As an aside, call me an optimist, but I’m spiritually betting we don’t swan dive over the Fiscal Cliff.

2) I get to write and publish this blog.  I can pretty much say anything I want without fear of disappearing into the night.

3) Diversity is cool, and increasingly, the law.

4) This year I got to celebrate my Dad’s 75th birthday with him, something he didn’t get to do with his father.  And I got to write about it.

5) My brilliant wife’s magical work teaching English as a Second Language and helping immigrants prepare for their American citizenship exams endlessly reminds me that one person can make a difference.

6) I have never run out of reasons to listen to The Beatles, and each one of their songs still makes me wonder how they pulled off that catalogue in less than ten years.

7) Yosemite, just Yosemite.

8) My dog may not see as well as she used to, but somehow she still has plenty of puppy in her.

9) The Giving Pledge will not only fuel a previously unimaginable wave of charity by choice of living billionaires, it can inspire everyday people to give what they can and know each dollar matters.

10) Frank McCourt has been extracted from ownership of The Dodgers and Chavez Ravine has survived as sacred ground.

11) Good health for those who have it.  More help for those who need it.

12) I received a generous inflow of emails this past year from former employees telling me how they are still making People-Products-Profits-In-That-Order work hard for them.

13) There is little chance I will run out of interesting stuff to read in this lifetime, new modes to ingest it, or social sharing networks to circulate my discoveries (the trick is not getting distracted by dreck).

14) I have completed a working draft of my novel, which a few of you have even read, and at last connected with a brilliant editor who totally gets it and can help me get it in front of more of you.

15) With modest prodding, yeast consumes sugar in harvested grapes, and with a few artisan touches the juice becomes wine — so much so that two glasses are never the same.

16) The candle count on your birthday cake may be daunting, but the brightness created by all that light does make it easier to see a bit better.

Happy Thanksgiving 2012.  Celebrate the joys that are yours.  Earn Each Moment.