Friday, June 27, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I usually avoid chain restaurants, especially for cuisines that are best done by mom and pop operations. Local chains can be an exception and a regional chain of burger shops, out of DC is my current fave for a burger and fries. But places like the Olive Garden or any chain pizza joint will never see me in 'em. Feh!
An exception is Buca di Beppo, a chain out of Minneapolis that serves above-average Italian food and has a terrific, fun and LOUD ambiance; ideal for large family gatherings.
I was impressed to receive this e-mail from them last night. (Of course I signed up to be a Consultivo. Why the hell not?) though I sure wish it had been signed by Chef Guiseppe or Baccigalu, rather than by Jim Macchitelli, the marketing VP.
Oh well, at least he's Italian.
Here's the text of the above e-mail:
I would like to invite you to be a part of the official
Buca di Beppo Council di Consultivo. This is the advisory
panel mentioned in our survey this past February. We are
currently putting the Council together and would like to
make sure you are still interested in joining us.
As a Consultivo you may be asked to try new dishes in our
restaurants, provide feedback on food and beverage items via
short surveys or share a meal and conversation with members
of our Buca famiglia. There are no specific requirements to
join, but my hope is that you will be willing to give us your
honest, constructive opinion so that we can serve you better.
Whether you are a frequent guest or someone who comes in only
occasionally, we are interested in hearing your feedback. The
amount and type of requests we send out will vary by location,
and participation will always be optional.
Thank you for your interest in helping us improve our guest
Vice President of Marketing
Buca di Beppo Restaurants
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
Miami Beach author Andrew Tobias, to me at least, is a pioneer. His writing on finance and investing was (and is) clear, human and humorous. Before Andy, it was ponderous, soporific and scolding.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him several years ago, just a few months after 9/11, when many of us, including Andy, thought G.W. Bush was doing a good job "fighting terrorism." Now we know better.
My interview with Andy and a review of the latest edition of his book — which I continue to recommend — follows.
ANDREW TOBIAS SHARES HIS IDEAS ON LIFE AND INVESTING
BY RICHARD PACHTER
Published 1/12/02 in The Miami Herald
Andrew Tobias is on top of the world in his tastefully appointed Miami Beach high-rise apartment, which offers a mesmerizing view of the bay and Intracoastal. It is one of several residences he shares with his partner, a fashion designer, whom he refers to as his "meal ticket.''
A successful author and investor for the last three decades, Tobias has just revised his perennial best seller, The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need. Mixing solid, conservative financial advice with warm wit and practical understanding and insight, Tobias has also written several autobiographical works. His 1997 book, My Vast Fortune, is a wry and often bittersweet memoir recounting his diverse investment experiences, including tales of attempts to develop residential properties in the changing areas adjacent to downtown Miami.
Tobias is as entertaining a raconteur as he is an author. He's also a surprisingly moral and customer-value-centered individual, especially considering the sea of sharks he swims in along with others who profess to offer financial wisdom.
Q: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I had no clue. I was competitive and ambitious, but had no specific career aspirations. When I was at Harvard, I kind of stumbled into a job at the university's Student Agencies for $2 a hour. I wound up managing a bunch of little enterprises. One of them, "Let's Go,'' a mimeographed handout, evolved into a series of paperback travel guides that are still in print. I had an enormous amount of fun. During my senior year, I was offered a job - with stock options — at National Student Marketing Corp. But that's another story.
Q: How did you become a writer?
A: Well, that's the other story. My experiences at National Student Marketing were pretty wild. The stock went from $6 to $140, then crashed; the president ultimately went to jail. So I went back to business school, age 22, but in the meantime I wrote an article about it. I sent it to 13 different magazines. I had no idea you weren't supposed to send to more than one at a time. And after receiving a dozen rejection letters, I sort of forgot about it. I hadn't kept a list, so I forgot that there was one that still hadn't said no. And then out of the blue I got a call from an editor at New York magazine who asked if the piece was still available. They put me on the cover and offered me a job.
Q: Skipping ahead many years, you're now a very popular author, having published the wildly successful and irregularly updated The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need. Yet unlike other gurus, there are no Andrew Tobias tapes, infomercials, seminars or commercial websites. What's the problem, Andy?
A: Lazy. Well, actually, I don't think expensive tapes and seminars and all that are a good value. It's not like exercise tapes, where you need to see the actual exercise, and maybe get inspired by the trainer. Investment advice works best in printed form, so it can be read, considered, digested and referred to.
As for websites, I wrote a daily column several years back for the company that is now AmeriTrade. They paid me well and let me write about anything I wanted to. When my contract was up, we parted very amicably.
The website I have now (www.andrewtobias.com) is a real self-indulgence. Nobody pays me, so I don't have to worry about offending advertisers — or Republicans. I can say any dumb thing I want. And my friend Marc Fest set it up for me so it's a one-man operation. I can put up a column in the middle of the night.
My reward, besides being able to spout off, is the feedback from the readers. Some of it's nasty, but most of it is great, and much of it is a lot more interesting than what I wrote in the first place, so I quote it for my next column.
Q: In The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need, you suggest sitting down and putting a budget together — or at least a list of one's regular expenses and income. But everyone hates doing budgets, so what else can a person do to get started?
A: Hey, I show you how to make it fun! But if you're not buying that, a good start would be to cut up your credit cards, or lock them away someplace really inconvenient to get to, and get a debit card instead. Paying 18 or 20 percent interest on a credit card is tragic. With a debit card, you're only spending money you already have. Sign up for payroll savings deductions at work, a credit union, savings bonds — whatever forced savings you can do. Ten percent is a good figure to start with; more if you can. And if your company offers a 401(k) plan, sign up for that, too - especially if your employer matches part of your contribution. It's free money!
Q: What do you think of the Administration's economic stimulus initiatives?
A: President Bush is doing a very good job in the war against terrorism. You have to give him very high marks for that. But at home, it's a very different story.
At home, he and the Republican leadership looked around and decided that the most important priority we have to tackle is the plight of rich people in America. It would be nice to help seniors with prescription drugs, but a huge tax cut for the top 1 percent is more important. It would be nice to protect the Social Security surplus we were building up, or to renovate crumbling schools or help to lower class sizes for kids just starting out in life, but cutting the estate tax rate from 55 percent to zero percent for the estates of billionaires is more important.
And — hello? — we have an energy crisis and yet we cut the budget alternate energy research — in half? Shouldn't we be tripling it? The only people who could like this are the oil companies, who don't want us using alternatives.
Q: Do you give stock tips?
A: Not when I can help it.
TOBIAS AGAIN SERVES UP GREAT INVESTMENT ADVICE
BY RICHARD PACHTER
The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need. Andrew Tobias. Harcourt/Harvest; 272 pages.
People who buy stocks when they get bonuses and sell them when the roof starts to leak are entrusting their investment decisions to their roofs,'' says prolific author and investor Andrew Tobias in the latest and possibly greatest edition of his humbly titled book.
First published in 1978 and revised periodically, the guide is a welcome resource for people who shun anything relating to personal finance while simultaneously whining about their own powerlessness — and cluelessness.
Tobias is a witty writer whose healthy skepticism, common sense and diverse experience made him (at a very early age) one of the country's most popular and highly regarded personal business authors. His ability to cut through the inherent confusion and purposeful obfuscation accompanying personal finance issues makes Tobias a very valuable asset, indeed.
The new, updated edition provided very timely advice about the current state of the stock market and trading on (and in) the Internet, as well as the latest changes to the laws on saving for rainy days — if not monsoon seasons.
For example, here's what he says (in part) about retirement plans:
"As you doubtless know, the money you've been paying in Social Security taxes, lo these many years, has not been set aside for your retirement. Most if it has been paid out to people already in retirement (e.g., your parents or grandparents). It's gone. . .
The ratio of workers to retirees is falling. In the early years of Social Security, way back when, there were 40 people working for each person collecting Social Security benefits. Now it's 3. By the time today's 45-year-olds retire, it will be more like 2.
What this means is that if we want to retire in comfort, we will have to provide, in large measure, for ourselves. Fortunately, there are a variety of tax-deferred retirement plans to help.
"The best retirement plans are the 401(k) and 403(b) 'salary-reduction plans' that tens of millions of employees contribute to. What makes them so good is that many employers add 25 cents or 50 cents or even more to each dollar you choose to save this way. This is free money. If your employer offers a deal like this and you're not taking full advantage of it, you're an idiot. Even if your employer doesn't augment your own contribution, you should fund your 401(k) to the limit, because:
- It is a relatively painless way to save.
- You avoid taxes on the money you contribute until, many years later, you withdraw it.
- In the meantime, no tax is due as it grows."
Similarly, Tobias demystifies a number of other topics, including stocks, mutual funds, insurance, real estate, tax strategies, online investing and more, with a minimum of technical nomenclature, condescension, smoke and mirrors.
Experts and professionals seeking more technical or highfalutin texts may prefer to look elsewhere, but for the rest of us, this may not only be the sole and complete repository of all required investment information, but also simply the best.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Sorry to report that the remaining members of my old shop, Herald Creative, The Miami Herald's in-house advertising and marketing department, all got their notices Monday as part of the McClatchy layoffs.
Art directors Ed Fiol, Mamie Lingo, Hugh Williams — longtime Miami Herald employees, each with over 20 years of service — will be gone at the end of the month.
I left two years ago when McClatchy took over. The previous owner, Knight Ridder, had funded several positions, including my own, so several of us were cut when McClatchy pulled the money.
It was a very cool place to work. The designers were among the best in the country and my fellow writer/producer/project managers were pretty hot, too. We did a ton of print ads, brochures, flyers, logos, presentations, radio and TV spots, videos, billboards, bus and bench ads, rate cards, direct mail — anything and everything. It was a great and talented group.
Before I get sentimental and excessively self-indulgent (it it's not too late), here's a link to photos of a Herald Creative party back in 2004, before things unraveled there. I'm not in any of the pix; I was on vacation.
One last thing: it was the coolest office job I ever had. It had to be; I commuted over 100 miles a day for seven years!
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Well, I mentioned this yesterday, so I though I'd better post it today: my first biz book review for The Miami Herald from back in September 2000.
I'd joined the paper's creative services department in June of the previous year and was prohibited by company policy from writing for the Sun-Sentinel any longer or for New Times, which had published my first piece a month before I my Herald gig began.
If my venues for freelance work were limited — and I really didn't think of blogging then — it only made sense to find a regular thing at 1 Herald Plaza. But Margaria Fitchner, the books editor at the time, said she didn't have the budget for me to write on a weekly or biweekly basis, and the music peeps weren't interested in anything regular from me despite my pitches — though I managed to get a couple of concert reviews in, anyway.
I really enjoyed reading and writing about biz books, so I pitched the executive business editor, David Satterfield (presently managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News), and he said that they were doing a re-think of Business Monday, the paper's weekly biz tabloid and wanted to include book reviews.
I submitted this one, he told me that "it read well," and I'm still reading and reviewing, almost eight years later.
AUTHORS REVEAL NET'S AFFECT ON WORKER-CUSTOMER ROLES
BY RICHARD PACHTER
published 9/11/00 in The Miami Herald
The Cluetrain Manifesto. Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger. Perseus Books. 190 pages.
When you're given a clue, it usually means you already know the answer. The clue helps you make the right connection.
The "cluetrain" in the title is a quote from an unidentified employee of a Fortune 500 company in free fall from its perch: "The clue train stopped there four times a day for 10 years, and they never took delivery."
If you think the value of the Internet is strictly "commerce, " the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto think you really need to get a clue.
"Networked markets are beginning to self-organize faster than the companies that have traditionally served them. Thanks to the Web, markets are becoming better informed, smarter, and more demanding of qualities missing from most business organizations, " the authors say.
Begun as an e-mail round robin among four Web-savvy marketers (for lack of a better term), The Cluetrain Manifesto evolved into a website with their 95 theses, and into a book expanding upon their ideas.
Once past its self-evident pomposity and glibness, The Cluetrain Manifesto makes some serious connections on how the Internet has subverted and undone the corporate construct in particular, and business in general. Its gist is that worker-customer roles created by the Industrial Revolution are unraveling.
E-mail, chat, news groups, official and unofficial websites democratized, if not "anarchized, "the old model. Traditional marketing tools — and the concept of marketing, for that matter — have been superseded by the one-on-one communication (or the illusion thereof) engendered by the Net.
Public relations, advertising, organizational charts and anything else that blocks, controls or distorts direct communication between company and customers (or, as the authors call them, "human beings") are now obsolete, or soon will be. Businesses that fail to adapt to this new reality are doomed.
Much of this may be painfully obvious, but there's still a fair amount of compelling stuff here. The authors' self-deprecating style underscores the issue at hand: the restoration of humanity to commercial relationships.
Where does the clue train lead? To the reinstatement of older business models; the bazaar for example, where buyers and sellers can question, haggle and relate — now on a virtual and global basis. It's like coming home, they say, which is the logical destination of the journey we've embarked upon through the Internet.
Monday, June 16, 2008
The first biz book I reviewed for The Herald was The Cluetrain Manifesto, which I'll have to post here soon. It was a joint effort by several writers, including David Weinberger. I liked this follow-up, too.
Internet chaos brings choices, opportunities
In 'Everything is Miscellaneous,' David Weinberger shows how the old order is giving way to a new system of organizing and disseminating information.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
published in The Miami Herald on 6/4/07
Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. David Weinberger. Times Books. 288 pages.
If you go to a store to shop for an item, assuming that you are doing so on purpose and not just to kill time, you have already limited your search to a specific geography and the set of things that are in that building. Once you enter the store, a variety of other factors come into play that affect your choices and decisions.
Though in some cases you can also request things that are not on hand for delivery at a later date, the same limitations apply when you visit other brick-and-mortar places full of stuff, like the library, for instance. The items are organized in a rather linear fashion, to use the space efficiently and for the sake of finding and retrieving things easily.
But author, consultant and Harvard Law School Fellow David Weinberger points out that the Internet requires a redundant type of sorting that would simply be impossible in the physical world. It not only requires it, he says, but by allowing items to be ''tagged'' with a seemingly endless variety of labels — including inexact, inaccurate or misspelled ones — a larger and wider audience can find an endless array of information. This, in turn, allows the spread of knowledge, ideas and opinions (more about that later) and enables commercial opportunities that were previously impossible.
He writes: "We have entire industries and institutions built on the fact that the paper order severely limits how things can be organized. Museums, educational curricula, newspapers, the travel industry, and television schedules are all based on the assumption that in the second-order world, we need experts to go through information, ideas and knowledge and put them neatly away.
"But now we — the customers, the employees, anyone — can route around the second order. We can confront the miscellaneous directly in all its unfulfilled glory. We can do it ourselves and, more significantly, we can do it together, figuring out the arrangements that make sense for us now and the new arrangements that make sense a minute later. Not only can we find what we need faster, but traditional authorities cannot maintain themselves by insisting that we have to go to them. The miscellaneous order is not transforming only business. It is changing how we think the world itself is organized and — perhaps more important — who we think has the authority to tell us so.''
Indeed. In addition to being able to buy almost anything from anywhere, almost anyone can express an opinion or ''report'' news, though it is worth pointing out that many of the sites and blogs that purport to present journalism are actually a collection of links to content created by print and broadcast journalists on other sites. But some critics and pundits are distressed about the democratization of their heretofore-privileged domains by fans and informally trained (if at all) bloggers. In many ways, the conflict is analogous to the battle between established retailers and online merchants — and we know how that's working out.
Weinberger also presents an interesting history of the Dewey Decimal System (really!), its relevance to contemporary culture and commerce, as well as other historical and philosophical asides in this imaginative, provocative and expansive book.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Thursday, June 12, 2008
My weekly Miami Herald business books column gets picked up by newspapers and websites all over the country — and the world. Unfortunately, I don't get a dime for this as it's part of the paper's deal with the syndicate, but I'm happy to inflict my opinion on unsuspecting readers outside of Dade and Broward counties, so no worries.
The recent review of the book about media conglomerate Clear Channel ran all over the place, but I was tickled when an old colleague e-mailed to tell me that he saw it in the Los Angeles Daily News. It wasn't online, so he forwarded a jpeg. I think the review is worth posting here, too.
Author argues Clear Channel destroyed radio.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
Right of the Dial: The Rise of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio. Alec Foege. Faber and Faber. 320 pages.
The name ''Clear Channel'' became shorthand for everything wrong with terrestrial (nonsatellite) radio: Lack of diversity, repetitious music, boring programming, too many commercials, censorship, jingoism, ad nauseam.
In a previous life, I was very familiar with radio, first as a record promotion man and later as a marketing executive at a trade publication for radio managers. Initially, I encountered a variety of stations, mostly independently owned or part of small chains. Few companies held more than a handful of stations, due mainly to the limitations imposed by federal law. But that all changed with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which lifted most limits for corporate acquisition of broadcast properties and allowed ownership of multiple stations in a single market. In the industry, the resulting change was called "consolidation.''
Writer Alec Foege's interest in the subject of radio in general and Clear Channel in particular was piqued when he became aware of the uniformity of radio stations' programming during a longish family car trip. He wanted to know why the music was so bland and over-familiar.
He begins with a brief history of Top 40 radio, the company that later became Clear Channel, and its founder, Texan Lowry Mays. He knew nothing about the broadcasting business, according to Foege, but was a shrewd and opportunistic businessman who viewed radio as a unique industry with unparalleled potential for growth.
As the story continues, Mays builds his business and is poised to take advantage of the sweeping pro-business trend toward deregulation. Acquiring numerous stations, he seeks efficiencies by eliminating various redundancies. Among them were physical facilities, so Foege writes about how, in markets where the company owned several stations (as in South Florida), all are based in a single building, sharing a common management team as well as administrative and engineering staff.
But the downside became apparent as the cost cutting continued. Indeed, the company's nickname of ''Cheap Channel'' was earned by their elimination of incumbent talent and the promotion of lower-paid employees. At the same time, through automation and other tools, live local announcers were replaced by pre-recorded programming or ''voice tracking,'' with the on-air content for a multitude of stations originating in a remote studio from a single announcer. The same voice and personality hosts a show in Orlando, for example, yet she's really sitting in a studio in San Antonio or Omaha.
And the local news component of most Clear Channel stations had also been reduced or eliminated, with several striking examples of the absence of reporting during local disasters cited in the book.
Foege also writes about other issues, such as the company's corporate culture, with the controversial practices and behavior of managers, including Randy Michaels, who came into the fold as a result of Clear Channel's purchase of the Jacor chain (owned by Sam Zell, who bought the Tribune Co. last year).
This book covers a lot of ground, including the company's politics, which are more expedient than ideological, according to Foege. But ultimately, media consolidation has been a disappointment, as evidenced by AOL Time Warner and other failed mega-mergers. Clear Channel is already starting to disassemble, though as a result of this exercise, the vitality of radio as a local medium will likely never return. Right of the Dial explains how this precious cultural and economic institution was exploited and destroyed.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Though my old friend Don Lesser raved about his first novel, "Setting Free The Bears," it took another pal, Steve Rubin, to turn me on to the writing of John Irving.
I started with "Garp," and worked my way backward and forward, then stumbled over "Son of a Circus" and didn't finish it. But when "A Widow For One Year" came out, Chauncey Mabe at the Sub-Sentinel gave me an uncorrected manuscript and requested a review.
Irving is working on his next book, Last Night In Twisted River, scheduled to be published in 2009.
COMPLEX TALE OF A WOMAN'S INVOLUTED LIFE NOT UP TO AUTHOR'S STANDARDS
By RICHARD PACHTER
published Sunday, May 3, 1998
A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR. John Irving. Random House. 608 pages.
The novels of John Irving have been popular successes and for the most part critical triumphs, despite their old-fashioned demands on readers' intelligence and literacy. Irving is rare among contemporary writers for declaring his intention of writing long books with multiple characters and story lines in the unfashionable tradition of Charles Dickens. He makes no concessions to the shortened attention spans of a public conditioned by television and movies.
A Widow for One Year marks both a departure from and a return to form (if not substance) for an author celebrating the 20th anniversary of The World According to Garp, his most celebrated novel. His last, A Son of the Circus (1995), sold moderately well and was kindly reviewed, but anecdotal evidence suggests it was not a hit with Irving's audience and does not seem to have won him many new fans.
Last year's collection of short stories, criticism and miscellania, Saving Piggy Sneed, was weighted down by an interminably boring paean to collegiate wrestling, a fatal imbalance in so short an anthology.
The new novel exhibits Irving's expansive manner of spinning a tale that ranges through decades, hitting the major events in the lives of several characters. As always he foreshadows — if not telegraphs — many plot points, revealing perhaps too much information through chapter titles, as well as the title of the book. And he jumps around in time, as usual, which does create some extra interest: You may know what, but not quite how.
That kind of craft is hardly seamless, however, and Irving's trademark Single Horrific Violent Event, a feature of most of his works, occurs before the novel begins, though it is a critical defining element of the story.
When the story opens, Ruth Coe is 4 years old in 1958, born following the accidental death of her twin brothers, an event that catalyzes the disintegration of her parents' marriage. Her father, Ted Cole, is a serial adulterer and a successful author and illustrator of children's books. Marion, her mother, still numb from the death of her sons, is conducting an affair (arranged by Ted) with Eddie O'Hare, the father's 16-year-old assistant who resembles one of the dead boys. She is preparing to abandon husband, daughter and lover.
This affair is the defining element of Eddie's life. Later, as a moderately successful novelist, he recapitulates the older woman-younger man romantic motif endlessly, carrying a torch for Marion for the rest of his life.
Ruth becomes a writer, too, as are most of the characters, except for one who is her editor, and another, a reader who is a fan of all but one of the characters. So Irving writes about what he knows: writers, editors, readers — and as characters these are probably preferable to wrestlers.
After this set-up, the story moves 32 years forward, then ahead another five, to follow the fates of Ruth, Ted, Eddie and Marion.
While A Widow for One Year boasts the characteristic touchstones of Irving's best novels, it lacks the gravity and substance of Irving's better works. For example, in The World According to Garp, the inclusion of the title character's own writing works to marvelous effect. In this case, however, several passages composed of the writer-characters' "fiction'' bring the proceedings to a leaden halt.
Where A Widow for One Year most departs from the rest of Irving's oeuvre is in its characters, none of whom is very likable. They all have their reasons, of course, and loads of justifications for their motives, manners and actions, but any attraction this novel possesses is more a function of Irving's style rather than of any resonance arising from the characters and their situations. Irving has always featured complex, strong, even heroic women in his books, but Ruth Coe is the first female to take center stage as title character. Yet this is no cause for celebration, since she is set on a hapless and involuted path. Furthermore, the choice of title is puzzling, since the marriage it refers to is not nearly as significant as other events in Ruth's life.
The tale's inevitable conclusion elicits some strong emotions, but its willful sentimentality and cheapness is unmatched in any Irving novel.
Ultimately, A Widow for One Year is bound to disappoint those who have experienced the author's better novels, while new readers may wonder what all the fuss was about. They would best be directed to nearly any of Irving's earlier works.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
...while he grew up treating an album like a novel, younger listeners, freely downloading music and setting their iPods on shuffle, are more likely to treat it like a magazine.
From the NY Times article on Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails
Interesting metaphor. I think some albums may, indeed, be novels: Supertramp's Crime of the Century, the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies, Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix, Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall by Pink Floyd... but The Beatles ("White Album") is surely a magazine as is The Who Sell Out.
Some albums are open to interpretation: Kind of Blue anyone? Who's Next?
Also interesting are Reznor's methods of distributing his music; free, with several choices (Apple Lossless? I am so there!). While it's the perfect way (or a perfect way) for successful artists to go their own way upon completion of their recording contracts, it's not for everyone. New artists, in particular, might not be able to pull it off, BUT... if I were advising a baby band, I'd say, "Go for it."
Why the hell not? Other than an initial advance (of their own money), bands typically get little or no royalties, so why not use the Web to market music? It's a pretty inexpensive way to find an audience without having to deal with all sorts of filters and intermediaries.
Of course, for established acts, there's always Wal-Mart. Perhaps not for Nine Inch Nails, though you never know.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Contract and freelance work for the last few months has been fine, but I'd prefer a job.
Some people hate sports metaphors, but here's an apt one: I like being on a team.
I was reminded of this on Saturday, listening to Johnny Damon's post-game interview. The Yankee outfielder had just gone six for six with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth that won the game.
Starting pitcher Andy Pettite had a rocky outing, got better, then got bad again. In the interim, the team scored runs and kept pace with their opponent. Damon said that teamwork involves different people doing different things at different times, picking each other up along the way.
Right! I also enjoy the creativity of collaboration. Diverse strengths and weaknesses come into play at various times. It's a great process; sometimes frustrating, often exhilarating. Always creative.
Working alone or by phone and e-mail is fine, but not all the time, y'know?
Friday, June 6, 2008
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Here's another aggregator of online television. Of course, many individual TV networks provide streams of their shows, and Hulu.com is a nice repository of programming from a variety of sources. Archive.org is a giant storehouse of audio and video material as well as documents and other content.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Posting video is great, but how about your own network?
Throughout its history, the Sci Fi Channel has been an approximation of a real science fiction network. In addition to the inevitable infomercials, there'd be cheesy "reality" shows and other crap. Instead of super-serving — and building — its audience, they aim low. Going for a mass audience, rather than programming to its natural constituency of fans, geeks, nerds and the rest of the audience who loves science fiction and fantasy, has diluted it to the point of being a joke, despite Battlestar Gactica, Doctor Who and Stargate, and all the crappy self-made monster movies.
Could you imagine if someone who really loved the genre (and its variations) programmed it? Ron Moore. Joss Whedon. JJ Abrams. Chris Carter. Warren Ellis. Me.
A resourceful but frustrated fan aggregated a bunch of links to old SF movies and shows, and created his own "network." He could have gone even further, having a page embedded with each episode of each show, if he wanted to, but this is pretty damned good as is. And perfectly legal.
Of course, in a few years (or months or weeks), this may be be obsolete, like dial-up. But it's a wonderful illustration of how marketing is a democratic exercise.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Monday, June 2, 2008
Like many Beatles fans, I have ambivalent feelings toward the music of Paul McCartney. Regardless, he's had a remarkable life and when this all-but-authorized biography came out, my Sun-Sentinel editor, the formidable Chauncey Mabe, assigned me to review it.
KNIGHT'S GAMBIT: SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY CONTROLS NEW VERSION OF THE RISE AND FALL OF THE FAB FOUR
By RICHARD PACHTER
Published Sunday, November 23, 1997 in the the Sun-Sentinel
PAUL MCCARTNEY: Many Years From Now. Barry Miles. Henry Holt. 654 pp.
In March of 1997, with a tap on the shoulder by Queen Elizabeth, Paul McCartney became Sir Paul, the only Beatle to be knighted — though in 1965, along with John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, he received the Member of the British Empire honor.
The long and winding road that led to this occasion is the oft-told tale of the formation, success and dissolution of the Beatles, the best, brightest, most famous and successful popular musical aggregation in history.
With scores of biographies, reminiscences and memoirs already available, what, then, does this new book offer that is unique?
With the exception of Hunter Davies' authorized 1968 Beatles biography, all the others lacked the active participation of Paul McCartney. This book, Many Years From Now (a better title would have been Yesterday), is essentially the official McCartney version of events.
Written by Barry Miles, co-founder of International Times (a British underground publication from the '60s) and former Apple employee, with the active participation of Sir Paul, this lengthy tome uncritically presents Paul's version of the story of the Beatles' pre-Fab Four days, their early struggles, later successes and eventual excesses.
Given McCartney's unique perspective, his first-person recollections are invaluable and highly worthy of preservation and dissemination. Harrison already has written his autobiography, I Me Mine, with longtime (and recently deceased) Beatles confidante Derek Taylor. Unfortunately, Lennon never wrote his memoirs, though numerous interviews, especially the one given to Playboy's David Sheff, published shortly after his assassination, were sometimes painfully revealing and always enlightening. Even Ringo's memoirs would undoubtedly be interesting, though of limited reliability, perhaps, given the subject's persistent alcoholic haze.
But Miles' book is not labeled "authorized" or "as told to," so the reader assumes some degree of objectivity. Without impugning his motives, there is scarce presentation of anything negative on McCartney's part throughout the book. Indeed, the agenda here is the rehabilitation of McCartney's image. His role as a progressive force on par with Lennon is a constant theme throughout the book, which is puzzling and unnecessary given his prolific accomplishments.
Miles also takes his cue from the works of one of Lennon's most notorious detractors, Albert Goldman, and his infamous The Lives of John Lennon biography which presented Lennon as a hopeless drug addict and his wife, Yoko Ono, as an artistic fraud and a manipulative, self-serving, opportunistic shrike. In fact, given the nature of the characterization of the Widow Lennon in Miles and McCartney's book, it's doubtful that she will be inclined to cooperate and collaborate with McCartney on many future endeavors.
Regardless, Miles does give McCartney's insatiable curiosity, enormous creativity and vast achievements ample coverage. His sprawling narrative, which concludes with the Beatles' breakup (with a brief coda updating Sir Paul's recent accomplishments), covers most significant events in the former Beatle's life in exhaustive detail.
Miles also provides a thoroughly authentic whiff of '60s countercultural earnestness and idealism, as well as its tragically sleazy underbelly of hard drugs and the resultant emotional wreckage. He consistently (and disconcertingly) speaks of himself in the third person through the book and extravagantly recounts his own activities in the context of his subject's life and times. But the bygone era of grooviness and good vibes is recounted with genuine affection absent undue sentimentality, a major achievement given the author's clear attachment to that era.
Considerable space is given to McCartney's recollections of songwriting sessions and his collaborations with Lennon. Beatles fans will especially treasure these bits; in each case Paul recalls the context and content of each member's contribution, graciously allowing Lennon the benefit of any doubt as he soberly but warmly dicusses each tune's origin and the creative dynamics therein.
McCartney's recent foray into the world of classical music is mentioned in Miles' addendum. His first work, the Liverpool Oratorio, was well-received by fans, though the reviewers were less kind. His new piece, Standing Stone, is set for its U.S. debut shortly.
At 654 pages, including index and bibliography, Many Years From Now is best enjoyed by devout Beatles fans or researchers seeking McCartney's take on a particular event. It's difficult to recommend to the uninitiated or casual reader. In addition to its exhaustive text and exhausting prose, the book contains several minor factual errors, as well as the usual first-edition typos. For general readers — or the less fanatical fans — other Beatles-related books may be more rewarding.