Dead & Company At Irvine Meadows

It was analog in a digital era.

Same as it ever was except the audience had mobiles.

To paraphrase that great philosopher Max Yasgur, it’s a great world where nearly ten thousand people can get together and have a night of fun and music and nothing but fun and music, and I God Bless them for it!

It was the eighties Deadheads. With a patina of oldsters and youngsters thrown into the mix. They were worse for wear, bodies were imperfect, hair was long but scraggly, but they were all smiling, bonding with their brothers and sisters, and enjoying the mellifluous music of the latest iteration of the Grateful Dead.

The Other Ones were good, ever listen to their double CD package from the nineties? It’s a keeper. But despite Fare Thee Well and the varying Furthur and Lesh/Weir combos touring this century, there was no path forward.

And now there is.

Credit John Mayer, for injecting vitality into the group, bringing the others along on this freight train to the future. Having blown up his own career and time passing him by Mayer executed a masterstroke by uniting with this entourage. He doesn’t look like Jerry Garcia, he doesn’t play like Jerry Garcia, but the assemblage with him included is much more together, functioning on a higher plane than the old Grateful Dead ever did.

You can’t replace Captain Trips, but you can fill the hole and march into the musical wilderness in pursuit of fulfillment and happiness.

Garcia was a passive leader. Mayer doesn’t really lead at all, but emits such sparks, such energy, that the whole enterprise levitates, as well as the crowd.

It’s not like other shows. It’s not about the hit. It’s about the experience. And isn’t that what it’s all about these days? Signifiers are less about what you own than where you’ve been. And if you were there last night you experienced a tribal rite so rare in today’s world, one in which the music mattered and everything else did not.

The Democratic Convention might as well have been held on Mars, this was the California of the sixties, disconnected from the rest of the country, on its own trip of freedom.

And rather than utilize your mobile to surf, you used it for pics. You wanted to document the experience. There was no crowd huddled with their faces down, mesmerized by their screens, this was about participation.

And participate they did.

With tons of bad dancing, inspired by the music. You could see all the way back to 1965, how the Dead got started. It wasn’t about hits, but party, vibe, letting the music take you away. And their tribe got bigger and word started to spread and suddenly, the Grateful Dead were a touring operation that turned into a juggernaut, all based on the show instead of the record. It got to the point where there were no records. New material existed on bootleg tapes at best. You see you had to be there.

And in this era of phony processed music, people clamor for authenticity, that which is real, that which is human, that which they can connect with.

Can you play?

That’s not even a question anymore. Someone else plays. And oftentimes it’s not guitars. Concertgoers expect perfection, it’s all shiny and impenetrable. But last night… A few bum notes were hit, the vocals weren’t always perfect, but sheer truth emanated from the stage. This is what happens when you get a bunch of people dedicated to the music, who follow it wherever it will take them, who are not looking to expand their brand, just to journey down the endless road.

And I can’t say everybody was in thrall the whole show. There was a constant buzz, of people talking. At some points the music was merely background to the party. It was so different from that overpaying prick who talks to his date the whole show, here it was about community, and if you asked someone to move, they did, and while some were speaking, some were singing and…

I don’t know where else you get this.

There was a jam band scene a couple of decades back. But whatever stars there were faded, and if they still exist play to a hard core audience and that audience only. Whereas the Dead is multi-generational with recognizable songs. I defy anybody to go and not know a few, whether it be last night’s encore “Johnny B. Goode,” “Fire On The Mountain,” “Jack Straw” or the Jerry Garcia classic “Deal.”

This is the new American songbook. These numbers have penetrated. They might not be Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” but they represent the heartland and the coasts and everywhere in between. Deadheads populate this entire nation of ours, and they’re all coming out to see the Dead & Company.

I know, I know, makes you wince. Weren’t the Chicago shows supposed to be the end?

But Phil’s 76 and been through the Big C and does he really want to traipse across the nation, visiting far-flung outposts to satiate the faithful? Better to visit them in Port Chester.

But what appeared a dash for cash at the outset has morphed into something completely different. The act is not stultified, nor are the shows, they live and breathe.

And they’re different every night. Which is revelatory in this world where the gig is synched to machines and runs like clockwork. It’s different in every city, and I lamented I missed “New Speedway Boogie” at the Gorge, made me want to go.

Everybody on stage was fired up. Oteil Burbridge plucked with a fire that transcended his work with the Allman Brothers. Jeff Chimenti smiled and tickled the ivories like the road would go on forever, that he was not destined to die in the chair like nearly all of his predecessors. And Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann… They definitely looked worse for wear, but their playing was solid and the drum solo segment was curiously intriguing, not a moment for a bathroom break. Watching them you could see all the way back to the beginning. When no one expected fame, when touring was an adventure without scrutiny, when you could drug and screw and nobody would know. This is the only thing they know, and they’ve ridden it for decades, ain’t that the American Way, where what you love fulfills you.

And then there was Bob Weir, the youngster of the group.

Now he’s 68. But he’s still the voice, he’s still the same person. His whole life has been consumed by rock and roll, we remember when we wanted to be him, when we all wanted to play in the band.

And when you’re on stage, looking out at the assembled multitude, you get a hit of energy and appreciation you just cannot get anywhere else. Write an app, make billions, fly around the world on your private jet. That doesn’t compare to the love and attention you get from a crowd of acolytes, who are there because of your rep and will go wherever you want to take them.

And where the Dead & Company go next I’m not sure.

John Mayer can return to pop, but I don’t see why. The scene has moved on, it doesn’t need him. And it’s so regimented, you can’t BREATHE! But unlike his brethren who are already in the rearview mirror, Mayer has found a way to wiggle out of the straitjacket. When it looked like he was through he found something new.

It wasn’t nostalgia.

It was more like a family reunion. But one in which not only did you catch up, but you marched on, to new places.

Things went down you won’t understand, unless you were there.

We spent a little time on the mountain, we spent a little time on the hill, the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre that’s about to be torn down.

But one way or another, this darkness has got to give.

It’s not so different from the sixties. You have great swaths of people who feel disconnected from and discarded by the mainstream. They’re looking for sustenance elsewhere.

And last night they found it.

You too can join Uncle John’s Band.

You can pick up an axe like John Mayer, and perfect your playing, see where it takes you.

Or you can be a listener, familiar with the material, wanting to get closer.

Everybody’s invited, everybody can come in.

But no one is better than their neighbor, we all look out for each other.

And we’re all subservient to the music.

You see the music gives us something to live for.

And the music sets us free.

The Democratic Convention

Do you feel left out?

I most certainly do.

I’m a rank and file Democrat who feels that so far this Philadelphia party has been a circle jerk wherein the usual suspects want to feel good about themselves. Reminds me of the cool people in high school, who wanted nothing to do with me. Does anybody there understand the real problems America faces?

And if I hear one more commentator, get one more e-mail about Michelle Obama’s speech, I’m gonna explode. Do these people live in such a small bubble that they don’t realize those who will decide this election don’t care a whit what the First Lady has to say? As for taking the high road… That didn’t work for Donald Trump, he rode the low road all the way to the nomination and it appears he’s gonna take it to the Presidency too, just wait until he lights into Hillary in the debates. If you think he’s gonna leave out Bill’s peccadilloes and the speech money and the emails…you live in a land of decorum where the women still wear garter belts and the men wear bow ties.

Elizabeth Warren had me fired up.

As for the rest?

Warren knows it’s a knife fight. She’s sharpened her shiv, she’s going for the jugular. As a result, her speech was pooh-poohed as one note. The soft and spurious focused on Michelle, while the left wing media couldn’t stop falling on its own sword. The “Times” coverage of the convention reminds me of the Jayson Blair affair, wherein the Grey Lady was so busy making apologies that it doomed itself to irrelevance. Today’s paper is so filled with analyses of problems, who won’t vote for Hillary, what wealthy donors got, Bernie’s travails with his supposed supporters, that you’d think the Democratic party was a coalition of disorganized upstarts who had no chance of success.

Maybe they don’t.

They’ve got too many celebrities to appear, but all those Trump voters are not, celebrities that is. I’m sick and tired of the rich and famous telling me how it is, how the hell would they know? As for Hillary herself, every word is vetted to the point there’s no authenticity left, and authenticity is everything.

I’m looking for some sharp elbows, some visceral attacks.

Oh, that was the Republican convention, the one all these people made fun of. Holier-than-thou crap if I’ve ever heard it.

Who checks out your groceries? Who cleans your house? All these people without a voice, I didn’t get the impression they were inside the arena last night. The gulf between us and them was vast.

I don’t want to hear how great America is, I want to hear how you’re gonna solve my problems. Otherwise it’s like going to a celebration where there’s nothing to celebrate. One where only the positive is postulated and everything negative is swept under the rug, like those financially-challenged.

On one hand it’s like 1968 all over again, with Hubert Humphrey unable to solidify the Democratic party.

On the other hand, it’s positively the twenty first century, where modern polling methods now declare Trump to be ahead. Sure, it might be the convention bounce, sure, Hillary might get one too, but never forget, Obama aced out Clinton in 2008 and Bernie put a big dent in her campaign here. So, she’s the lesser of two evils, is that really a convincing argument? Many would rather abstain than marry someone with no love, they’d rather dream of great sex instead of having mediocre coitus with someone they’re not really into.

The twenty first century is littered with the stories of those who played it safe and were then discarded onto the scrapheap. Hillary’s playing it safe via the old rules. Not only cozying up to fat cats, but focusing on the ground game… Trump is ignoring data and all the supposed magic for a message. And the message is…something’s gotta change, we’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore.

And in Philadelphia all we’re hearing is things are good and you should just accept that.

A winning message?

I don’t think so.

Yahoo Lessons

1. He not busy being born is busy dying. That which is high-flying today might crash tomorrow. Always be looking in the rearview mirror, especially in tech, where everybody has the tools and the barrier to entry is low.

2. Don’t take on an undoable task. Where does Marissa Mayer go from here? Probably home, to take care of her children. Everything can’t be saved. Despite the compensation and the accolades, you’re better off passing if it’s a Sisyphean task.

3. Do due diligence. As in the board should have found out that despite all the press, Ms. Mayer had been pushed aside at Google. There’s the media story and the real story and they frequently don’t align. Beware of the publicity hog, running the gauntlet of news is very different from running a company.

4. Know what you are. I’m not sure what Yahoo is, are you? Is it a content, search or e-mail company? And it’s not number one in any of those fields. Online, second best is not good enough, you’ve got to be primary in one profitable field or you die. For information we go to the source or to Facebook. Gmail is good enough, it superseded Yahoo mail. People don’t come back, when the tide turns you move on. Furthermore, Mayer fixed Yahoo Mail and ruined it.

5. Today’s breakthrough is tomorrow’s antique. Yahoo made sense of the web via curation. The concept of searching and getting the result you wanted instantly was a pipe dream. But once you could do that, search, you no longer needed the directory. And search today is so good, you rarely look past the first hit.

6. Machines do it better than humans. No one wants to hear this, it’s disturbing. But Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist is better than any hand-curated recommendations. And Amazon fired its editorial team when it found out computers recommended book titles better and got better financial results. Yahoo was a brand built on people in a world dominated by machines.

7. Beware the flip. Yahoo focused on content when all the money turned out to be in advertising. That’s why Google and Facebook dominate, they have the best advertising platforms. Mayer tried to catch up, it was too late.

8. Vision is everything. And usually the founder has the best one in tech. Kinda funny if you think about it, this has hurt music, there’s too much executive meddling. You’ve got to pick the best talent and invest in it. The Yahoo founders were the best people to run the company, it’s just that their vision was superseded, like hair bands in the eighties. Their replacements were a joke.  Does anyone remember the Terry Semel era, when the Warner Brothers bigwig tried to turn Yahoo into a content platform? That’s like Michael Jordan trying to play baseball, only worse. More like an automobile designer trying to run the space program. They’re different worlds.

9. Lack of reinvestment will kill you. Yahoo skated too long on what was, Mayer tried to shift the emphasis to advertising, but it was too late.

10. Don’t take the check. David who? That’s right David Pogue, then one of America’s highest profile tech scribes, ensconced at the “New York Times,” jumped to Yahoo and was instantly forgotten. As for Katie Couric…one can argue her career was already in the dumper, but Yahoo did her no favors.

11. Don’t sell to the highest bidder, but the best fit. Tumblr was the new Facebook, a social media/blogging platform ready to eclipse Facebook and Twitter, remember when John Mayer jumped from Twitter to Tumblr saying that was where the action was? It isn’t anymore, Tumblr is moribund, great for porn, nearly useless for everything else.

12. Don’t sell out for short term money. Yahoo outsourced search to Bing. Got a check, but gave up its future. Furthermore, Bing is seen as second-rate and in-the-know surfers refrained from using Yahoo search. But this lesson is not limited solely to tech. Cities have outsourced/sold their parking meter business. And no one is happy. You balance the books today, you give up revenue tomorrow, and the for-profit enterprise jacks up rates and takes away rights, like the ability to park for free at night, and citizens are enraged. Judgment day comes, eventually. It came for Yahoo. But Marissa Mayer made triple digit millions in the interim, the company should have been sold eons ago.

13. Take the money. Microsoft offered so much, Yahoo said no. Don’t get emotionally attached, sometimes it’s right to sell, when you’ve run out of runway, and the people running Yahoo should have seen that they were gonna hit a wall. Kinda like Nokia. The Finnish icon sold its device business to Microsoft, it had already lost in smartphones, it’s nearly nonexistent now.

14. Deep pockets will overpay because they’re scared of the future. Not only Microsoft above, but Verizon, the highest bidder here and now the owner of the moribund AOL. Come on, Tim Armstrong couldn’t make his vision come true, remember Patch, and you hand him the keys? I guess in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, Armstrong knows more about ads than those running Verizon, so he got his way.

15. You can’t stand still. Verizon was known as the Mercedes-Benz of cell phone companies. It’s still the best, but its competitors are creeping up behind it. But, once again, the visionary/builder is long gone and the present management team is flailing. Suddenly Verizon, a company with too much cash, is in the content and advertising businesses? Give ’em credit, they’re moving forward, could work, but one would feel better about the company if it merged with one that was already a high-flier in the space. Verizon and Facebook, Verizon and Google… Then one plus one equals three, maybe. But adding the minuscule advertising footprints of AOL and Yahoo to a company that doesn’t do that? Kinda like adding Skrillex and Diplo to En Vogue.

16. Common decency counts. Showing up on time and giving respect is key when you’re the CEO. The stories of Marissa Mayer’s faux pas superseded her efforts to turn the company around.

17. Kick the tires first, spend later. Mayer spent so much on new hires so early, many of whom washed out, that she looked amateurish and tainted the company.

18. No one likes a downer. Our nation runs on optimism. The media wanted to believe Yahoo could be resuscitated, but sometimes a mercy killing is the best way to go.

The Tony Schwartz Story

“Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All”

The problem with Americans is they don’t read.

We live in a visual society. Once upon a time we thought the written word was returning, via the internet, where typing was king. But not anymore, Instagram blew a giant hole in that paradigm, and Snapchat came driving through thereafter. It’s all image all the time, all sound bites, and he who is not hustling, moving his piece further down the board, is falling behind.

So, our society is either self-promoting with sharp elbows, employing manipulation, or passively consuming content made to keep citizens in their troughs, the pigs getting fattened on government subsidized corn for the slaughter.

I ain’t never gonna vote for Donald Trump. But I did think he threw a needed monkey wrench into the Republican primaries, he dismantled political correctness overnight, yet I thought he had knowledge, ability, skill, that he earned his status and was wise under the surface.

I don’t think that anymore.

I was duped. I too believed those who are rich and famous have substance, especially if you went to Wharton, Penn’s an Ivy League school, and there were no dummies at Middlebury, then again, the degree doesn’t have quite the same cachet, it only means something in ski country, a subset of a subset of a subset of society, which when I wandered into the mountains way back when was not a moneyed class far removed from the rank and file, that came with income inequality, that came later.

And the truth is everybody poor reveres everybody rich. That’s reality, that’s the American Dream. Despite right wing carping, there is no more safety net, Bill Clinton got rid of that in the nineties, when our entire nation moved to the right, leaving liberals on an ice floe far from land while Republicans not only took over the judiciary system, but defined the debate, that’s what right wing talk radio and Fox News and Frank Luntz are all about, changing our perception. The truth is they’ve done a good job of labeling the imperfect Hillary Clinton as a crook sellout, someone unfit for office because she’s skilled at playing the game and shades the truth, sound like Bill O’Reilly to you?

But Bill O’Reilly is not running for office, he’s on the side of the people. That’s what he says on television, on the fair and balanced station. He’s got the best ratings, he’s got a burgeoning book career, he’s got acolytes, who are vocal, those who just don’t like that change has happened and they’re getting the short end of the stick.

The rich don’t bother with O’Reilly. The rich have disconnected from society, they don’t bother to debate. If someone supposedly wealthy is getting down in the pit and pontificating they’re either not that wealthy or they’re dumb. You can’t win with the public, because it’s not about you but people’s frustration. You want to keep your distance from the hoi polloi, unless you’re selling to them.

And that’s what the media does, sell advertising.

And Trump sells himself.

They’re made for each other. Without the former there is no latter. The media loved the Trump story, it sold ads at high prices, and ever since Larry Tisch ran CBS television news has been seen as a profit center, less about doing right than making money.

But the country runs on “The New York Times.” Because it’s got boots on the ground. But the “Times” is living in the twentieth century, it doesn’t know how to capitalize on its power, and its owners and employees find the power game abhorrent, they just want to push out the news…

And then Fox and the right wing employ the “Times”‘s reporting to set their own agenda, their talking points. The left wing too, but the left wing doesn’t get a voice, because of gotcha politics, working the refs, if you’re on the left and you say anything about raising taxes and the safety net you’re shouted down, made fun of. Taxes are a dirty word, but our nation runs on them, think about that.

So it’s bite-sized chunks of info all the time. The details are papered over, if they ever see the light of day. Hillary isn’t an experienced pol, she’s the woman who let our men die in Benghazi! That’s like criticizing the home run hitter for kicking the water cooler. Oh, now I’m gonna get e-mail from the right, I equated human lives with inanimate objects, that’s how it works folks.

So, if you’ve got an HBO subscription, if you’re a fan of Bill Maher, you saw Tony Schwartz on TV, decrying the Trump campaign, insisting he wrote “The Art Of The Deal” and the Donald has never read a book in his life.

The online buzz has been about “The New Yorker” article, which delineates all this.

I didn’t think I needed to read it.

But I just did, and it’s horrifying.

You can read it, you should read it, but the point is most people WON’T read it!

They don’t have the time, they want to vote on emotion and likability, that’s how George W. got into office, because he was more fun to have a beer with than Al Gore, supposedly anyway.

We live in a factless society. That’s what the information revolution has delivered, everybody gets their news from their own sources, and if you’re not biased in your position you’re losing. That’s right, cede an inch and you’ve given away the store.

So there’s gridlock.

And not only a lack of compassion, but a complete lack of understanding.

So, we spend time polishing our image on social media so others will think well of us. Come on, that’s why you post, otherwise what’s the point? I mean you can share birthday pics once a year, but every day? It makes you feel good, it makes you think you’re getting somewhere.

And the Donald makes some people feel good. Because he’s not like them. You know, the people who actually know stuff, who’ve done the hard work. Despite all this hogwash about putting in the effort to get ahead the truth is America is lazy, it doesn’t want to do what it doesn’t want to do. Math is too hard, lower the standards, I don’t have to know how to think, I’m just gonna be selling or becoming a reality TV star or online influencer, I don’t need no stinking basics, and you wonder why Trump can triumph with no basics in evidence.

All you people who put in your time, to get advanced degrees from renowned institutions, who can keep two opposing thoughts in your brain at the same time, the joke’s on you. You still think it’s the old days… Hell, PhD’s can’t get professorships and professors are barely middle class, what makes you think you’re so special? What kind of car do you drive, where do you vacation, what’s your favorite club in Vegas? I don’t want to hear your opinions, everybody’s got ’em, the fact that yours are informed and mine are not…WHO CARES!

So all of you intellectuals who read the paper and analyze, the truth is in getting ahead you’ve been left behind, you cooked your own goose. You’re guilty, of course, of not pulling the great unwashed along with you on your journey, but you thought they would stay in their ignorant hole causing no trouble.

Not anymore.

It’s entertainment 24/7.

It’s about fame.

Ask Taylor Swift, ask Kanye, they’re in the news all the time.

But they’re not on TV, which despite its denigration, despite all the talk of cord-cutting, is still the big kahuna, television rules, it shapes minds, it drives our country and…

Donald Trump had his own prime time show for years!

And if you think you know the actors in sitcoms, what makes you think people don’t believe they know Donald Trump?

It’s all an illusion folks. But the idolmakers lost control. Roger Ailes may have lost his job, but before that he lost control of the narrative, Donald Trump brought him and Megyn Kelly and Fox News to their knees.

And even the “Times” lauds Kelly, it’s afraid of excoriating her, for fear of right wing backlash. But tell me again, what exactly are her news chops? Was she embedded in Iraq? Did she bring down Enron? She might be educated and able to think on her feet, but there’s no there there, only image.

Our whole nation is in thrall to image. From nincompoops like Gigi Hadid to…

Donald Trump.

He’s gonna win folks. Michael Moore said it on that same Bill Maher program and I’m starting to believe it. Especially with the DNC e-mail leaks. They kept Bernie down, now they want his supporters to be with her? I don’t think so.

And she is part of the elite establishment.

And never mind going to Wellesley or Yale, if you didn’t even go to college, if you’re sick and tired of being mistreated by those who think they’re better than you…

You’re never gonna vote for her.

This is about mass ignorance.

This is about pulling the wool over our own eyes.

This is about giving respect to the unrespectable.

And if you think a Clinton victory will make it all go away, make everything right…

You’ve got no idea that most colleges are paper mills. And despite billionaires walking the earth, it’s hard for most people to pay their rent, especially in the city, where what opportunity is left survives. Hell, there’s even revolt in San Francisco, one of the most liberal municipalities in America… Where is everybody gonna live when the techies take over? Kansas, where the public schools have been stripped and business has gotten tax relief to the point where the government can’t make ends meet?

Don’t be smug. If wrong wasn’t right how would Scott Walker have survived his recall election and gotten re-elected in what was previously seen as one of the most liberal states in the Union?

It’s time for desperate measures.

It’s time for truth.

And that truth is America is stupid and until we correct this, agree facts rule and education and experience count, we’re screwed.