John Glenn

We were behind the Russkis.

While we were busy lobbing softballs into space, Yuri Gagarin circumnavigated the globe and turned the United States into a second class citizen.

And then John Glenn trumped him by making three circuits around this mortal coil and then everything was good again, for a while anyway.

The sixties started with the election of John F. Kennedy. This was a big deal, he was young and he was Catholic and he wasn’t supposed to make it but he did, and we immediately had hope.

Heroes. Our country needs ’em.

Ironically, our biggest hero today is an immigrant, Elon Musk. Damned if I don’t believe he’ll take us to Mars. Because he beat Detroit at its own game, even the Asians too. While Toyota was selling hybrids, while Nissan was selling the anemic Leaf, Musk came up with a purely electric car as fast as a Ferrari that didn’t pollute. How did he do that?

That’s what we wondered way back when, how they did it. There was one scientific breakthrough after another. Not just apps spewing cash, but great leaps forward that benefited society. And the truth is the space program delivered so many of them. Back when taxes were not a bad word and we were all in it together.

No, I don’t want to candy-coat the early sixties, it was tough to be an African-American, or a woman, but there was this belief…that we were going somewhere, that we could make it.

And the spearhead for all of this was NASA and the initial seven astronauts.

Today, we’ve got the Super Bowl.

Back then, we had Cape Canaveral.

Remember, this is when airplanes still crashed, when navigation was based on what you could see, when most people hadn’t been far from home base, when Florida was a country away and you tuned in on your black and white to see…was the rocket gonna blast off?

Oftentimes it didn’t. There’d be a countdown, and then it would be stopped. A delay. Could be days before the rocket ultimately went up.

And yes, there was the Apollo fire in ’67, but it wasn’t until the eighties that the Challenger blew up. We were on a winning streak, but success was not taken for granted. You could push a man up into space and he could come back? Really?

So on February 20, 1962, we were all watching. We were all listening. This was our chance, to reclaim our glory as a country. Could we do it?

And our faith was all placed in one man, John Glenn.

Forget the “Right Stuff,” the book and the movie, which made him out to be a choirboy disliked by his compatriots. To those of us at home, he was an All-American risk taker, the only man who could do the job.

AND HE DID!

And only seven years later we put a man on the moon. And watched from our living rooms. How great is that?

But that was an eon later in the culture. The youth had revolted, the old men were out of touch, the establishment was hated, funny how everybody wants to cozy up to corporations today. But the astronauts… No one had a bad word to say about them. They may have been in the military, but they were light years from Vietnam. They were cowboys, prepared for the mission…and the mission was to save America.

Oh, how far we’ve fallen.

We’ve given up the big dreams.

Problems are always extant. Solutions? The public wants to circle the wagons, keep the foreigners out, just so they can survive.

But survival is not enough. You’ve got to have hope. You’ve got to believe.

After the astronauts it was the musicians. They were the only ones left who believed the rules did not apply.

And then the bankers took over and America no longer made anything and infighting was the national sport.

But one man soldiered on.

John Glenn went to Congress. He went up in the space shuttle. He was living proof that…you could make it.

I want to make it, do you?

I want to believe if I put my nose to the grindstone things will work out. I want to live a life so full I have no regrets.

And John Glenn led a full life. Of which I can only be envious.

I actually had dinner with him a bunch of times, he was a friend of Felice’s family. He expounded upon politics, I didn’t ask him about the space race, but others did, and he told it like it was, straightforwardly, after all, he was from Ohio.

But even more than John I enjoyed his wife Annie. They were grade school sweethearts. They’ve been together this long. Now Annie’s alone.

There were kids. Who lived through the sixties and had the same issues we all did, it’s fascinating to talk to them, what was it like to have John Glenn as your dad?

Tough, as you can imagine.

Because he was everybody’s hero. Beloved by all. The guy with the can-do spirit who executed on his vision. He said yes when everybody else said no.

And it’s weird with all the icons dying. Leon Russell and Greg Lake just now. Bowie and Frey earlier in the year.

But those memories are personal. Of listening and being transformed.

But John Glenn’s success was everybody’s. He shot into space on a mission, showing the power of one man to transform society.

He’s gone now, but his legend lives on.

And his lessons too.

It’s all right to be a straight arrow. It’s all right to keep your eye on the prize. It’s all right to keep going after your big success. It’s all right to live to the ripe old age of 95 and look back and say…

I squeezed every single ounce out of life, I did it.

Shall you do the same.

Pandora Premium

We go where our friends are.

Spotify pushed the envelope, created the new paradigm, Apple broadcast that streaming music was safe and everybody else…

Can forget about it.

You’d think the press would say no-go. Say something critical about Pandora. But reporters’ powers of analysis are nonexistent, they just repeat the press release. And even the vaunted “New York Times”… Their number one reviewer, Michiko Kakutani (remember her from “Sex And The City”?) just gave a positive review to a book about the return to analog and the paper published a story about writers’ favorite bookstores… Where’s all the testimony about digital readers, those who use Kindles and iPads and even mobile phones to read books? Nonexistent because the industrial media complex is run by old farts inured to the past. They love physical books, they hate the fast-paced digital world where you own but do not rent, they haven’t been on trend in fifteen years. Quick, did you learn about Snapchat in the newspaper? Other than business stories after the fact, after the viral phenomenon took place, crickets.

Utterly frightening.

This is where we are folks. Our government has been hijacked by inexperienced wankers promising solutions as they jet us back to the past and all we’ve got is old school media which missed the election completely trying to keep them honest. It’s a new day, we are the line between them and us, you and me. When someone rants and raves about saving newspapers, know that they’re the same people who are not on Snapchat, the same people who don’t know that we need news, but we just don’t need it from the usual suspects.

So Pandora makes headway with a lame streaming radio service, that operates almost totally in the United States, and the press keeps paying attention to it, even as its stock sinks. Whereas Spotify and even Apple have gone worldwide. The digerati know that we live in a global village, but Americans believe they live in the only country in the world. Pandora is a zit on the ass of streaming music, certainly by a worldwide perspective. But there is story after story after story…

The CD is toast. The file is disappearing. But all we get are stories about the renaissance of vinyl. Do you own a rotary telephone? Do you even have a landline? Then what makes you think a non-portable format has any future, especially one with so many quirks and flaws. As for sound… Call me up when these kids investing in LPs get speakers worth listening to, never mind powerful amplifiers. You start with the end of the chain and work back, your system is only as good as your speakers. Does vinyl sound better than most streams? Sure! Assuming you’ve got the playback system to hear it, and most don’t.

So streaming has won because of utility, it’s easiest.

And it’s made serious inroads because of Spotify’s free tier. Where you try it before you buy it. And then Apple got into the marketplace and people believed streaming music was legitimate. Getting in now is like launching one of those me-too iPods, it’s too late. And don’t talk to me about features, Beta was better than VHS and it lost.

Furthermore, Spotify has gone nuclear on the tech/feature side. It’s got customized playlists and programs to promote records and saying you can do better is like believing that customers will buy your car because it’s got better a/c vents.

It’s over folks.

The real story is Apple is building a base on brand. And that brand is faltering. Cupertino is no longer invincible. But those still afraid of streaming music, they sign up for Apple Music.

But all the young ‘uns…

They’re on Spotify.

Could a competitor win?

Doubtful, but it would first and foremost have to start with a free tier and then find a way to go viral and build up its customer base and no one’s willing to lose that much money on free and buzz is nearly impossible to generate on a me-too product.

At least give Tim Westergren credit, he’s shooting low. Trying for 11 million subscribers by 2020. That’s like asking to be kicked out of the Premier League. That’s like asking to never make the Spotify Top 50! The internet is a winner take all world, and the only way to compete is on price, which is what is happening in cloud storage, where Amazon got the early mover advantage, but it keeps lowering prices, and Amazon started off at a low price to begin with! Because Bezos is smart, you ramp up immediately, you don’t skim only the early adopters. That’s the Rhapsody model. Rhapsody was there first, but it’s been overrun by Spotify and its free tier.

If you’re still using Pandora you’re the most casual music fan of all. And history tells us casual users don’t pay, we want the active ones. The Genome never worked and people listen passively and if you like Pandora I’m not looking to you for music recommendations, you’re CLUELESS!

But will some people sign up for Pandora’s premium service because they already like and use the radio service? Sure, why not, I’ll go for that, but there aren’t many of them. As for new features, give me a break, users thought Rdio was the best and it still failed.

There’s one Amazon. One Google. One Facebook. One Snapchat. One Instagram. And you truly believe there are going to be multiple streaming music services? Then you must work for the media!

History, and it’s no longer brief, tells us one entity ends up with 70% of the market online.

History also tells us that if you’re not innovating, you’re dying. MySpace was replaced by the much more user-friendly Facebook.

But Spotify is innovating.

And we know how to share music on Spotify. Does anybody even know how to share music on Apple?

And because YouTube is the default video service, we point to it for music because everybody can go there, and to Spotify for the same reason.

However, having Pandora and iHeart in the on demand streaming market will increase the overall pool, it will get newbies to dip their toes. But they’re gonna go where everybody else does, Spotify or Apple.

You can’t break the rules of the internet.

And the internet was built on buzz. Sustain it and you win.

As for those bloviating about the bad economics of streaming music… Spotify and Apple would be making money today if they stopped expanding, stopped innovating. Amazon kept investing and losing…and now they own online shopping.

Oh, that’s right, Wal-Mart was supposed to give them a run for their money.

Disruption comes from outside. And innovation is constant. And the customer is king.

You can’t screw ’em and if you get it right they’ll tell everybody.

So, you can ignore Pandora on demand streaming completely. The people who are paying it mind are those who kept saying BlackBerry would survive, because people used it and it had a physical keyboard and it was so safe.

Hogwash.

The revolution happened. Streaming music won.

Ignore the musicians complaining.

Ignore the industry and the press trying to drum up competitors.

The next big move is consolidation. Spotify goes public and then…

Who buys it?

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

Steve Backer Dies

I don’t like it when people I know die.

I was just sitting in my car, checking my email to see who abused me. That’s the nature of life, being misunderstood. We yearn to be known, and the end result is we’re not, we pass from this life, vanish into thin air, but our presence, our identity, had an impact upon others.

Backer went to Camp Laurelwood. That was our connection. And Connecticut. After you graduate from college, after you leave your hometown, it’s threads like this that bond you. We weren’t there at the same time, but we shared the experience. And every time I saw Steve he mentioned it to me.

The nature of the internet is it’s addictive, so not being able to get off my iPhone, I decided to surf the web, to see what was up, and that’s when I saw Steve’s picture. He passed.

And suddenly there’s a vortex, all the air inside you funnels out and you’re confronted with your own mortality. Because if Steve is gone, I can be gone too.

And now
___________________________

And that’s where I stopped last night, fearful my screed would be more about me than Steve.

Fifty eight is not young if you’re twenty five.

But if you’re closer to the end of the movie than the beginning, fifty eight is way before your time. It’s after you’ve gotten comfortable in your skin, but before you’ve been able to lead the life you choose, which is what aging is all about, knowing you won’t be here forever so you might as well forge your own path, it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks, as long as you’re not breaking the law…

I hadn’t seen Backer recently. The last time was about eighteen months ago, in Steve Rennie’s backyard. At least I think it was there then, memories get hazy the more you have of them. And he was just the same, with that impish smile on his face, the intimate conversation, the feeling of camaraderie… That was the thing about Steve, even if you hadn’t seen him for a long time there was no uncomfortableness, he acted like you were in constant contact.

He rode the music business rails to the end, the major label gigs dried up, he went indie and then he went into real estate, because a great salesman can sell anything, and those who’ve worked in the promotion end of things…are playing a game of musical chairs, but if their seat is stolen it doesn’t matter, they’ll find another.

Not that Backer exuded extreme confidence. That’s what made you feel you knew him, the way he said he’d give it a shot. In Hollywood everybody’s overbearing. Their record is the biggest, they’re on their way to beating the world, they’re the toppermost of the poppermost. But Backer could express reservations, could wonder what the future held, which is why…

Whenever I saw him the conversation did not end. There were no moments of uncomfortableness, we just jumped right in.

Not that he was a saint, none of us are, he was just another guy on the golden road, bitten by the music bug, and now he’s gone.

And here we are left.

Time marches on, eventually you get back in the saddle, but the losses stay with you, the people who are gone live on in you mind in ways they cannot conceive. Think you’re irrelevant? Just wait til you pass, people are gonna think about you all the damn time.

You don’t want to be the last to go. I’ve seen that movie. You’re ninety five, all your friends are gone, no one’s around who experienced what you did…

But you don’t want to leave the party early.

That’s star talk, people who believe they’re leaving a legacy, who think life is about image.

No one cares. No one. Scratch the surface of a famous artist and you’ll find someone riddled with loneliness. Your heroes are the most confused.

But the everyday people, the unheralded ones, they keep this country going, they’re the fabric of it. The ones you’re relaxed around, that make you feel like you belong.

The emptiness is palpable. I’ve been off-kilter since getting the news.

Because we’re a tribe, and every member counts, and when one disappears, you know eventually your turn will come.

But what will the fade-out look like? When will you give up running? When will you give up working? Will you don the hearing aids, will you struggle to stay hip and au courant, or will you accept your fate and fade away.

These are the questions baby boomers are now confronted with. They thought they’d live forever. But now the ranks are thinning, the baton’s being passed, and they feel uncomfortable, they don’t know what to do with themselves. They can go to Desert Trip to reconnect with what once was, then they look at the Grammy nominations and just don’t care, it’s an alternative universe. They remember when everybody listened to the radio and everybody knew the same songs and having a hit was anathema.

But maybe everybody believes they lived through the golden age.

Steve Backer was stopped too soon. He won’t experience the twists and turns of aging. Which is a crime, even Pete Townshend really didn’t hope to die before he got old.

But that’s what’s happening. We’re gaining weight and shriveling with wrinkles.

But when we talk about what once was, whether it be Woodstock or Watkins Glen or WNEW…

There’s a spark in our eye and a lilt in our voice that’s infectious.

Steve Backer had that spirit.

We all do.

Keep yours burning, the light will go out before you know it, don’t hesitate, follow your dream, keep on keepin’ on.

It’s all you can do.

Attacking Trump

It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.

Makes me want to give up my membership in the card-carrying elite, the educated members of our society who can hold two opposing thoughts in their brain at the same time who just can’t fathom that Trump won and want to keep focusing on his inadequacies. Just because you worked hard to get where you are that does not mean the less fortunate are ignorant people who should pay fealty to you. You rail against the corporations who whipsaw this country without acknowledging that they depend upon the purchases of the rank and file, why do you have no sympathy for the service workers who grease the skids of your life, the barista, the waitress, the street sweeper, the gardener, the nanny…the list goes on and on of people who can no longer make it here.

And you keep talking about your feelings. The microaggressions, the rights of African-Americans, women and every oppressed minority extant.

Enough with the feelings, IT’S MONEY THAT PEOPLE WANT!

Sure, the trauma your people experienced in the old country, the burden of the color of your skin, these are real problems that need to be addressed, but not now.

Trump won by appealing to those who felt screwed by the present administration.

Oh, that’s right, Obama couldn’t do much because of an intractable Republican Congress.

That’s true! But that fact does not help the disadvantaged.

When is the left wing gonna speak to the Trump voters instead of deriding them. Try criticizing your spouse, telling him or her they’re clueless, let me know how that works out, when he or she comes around to your way of thinking.

The left wing disconnected from its traditional base, all caught up in the successes it earned, and now that base has given it the middle finger. And what do the entitled and the powerful do? Cry all about it, as if they’ve got no powers of reasoning, never mind powers of cash and relationships.

Let’s start with the news media. Making fun of Trump tweeting.

First of all, I’ll agree with the Donald that SNL hasn’t been funny for years, ever hear of a punch line? But reporting on his thin skin is not gonna bring his acolytes to your side, no way.

And the Carrier debacle, wherein Indiana gave financial incentives to save some jobs… Do you really think gotcha is gonna grab the right wing right now, when they didn’t care that Donald grabbed so much and was revealed to do so during the campaign?

Business as usual is not going to solve our problems.

And you can start with the media. Scolding Trump and wagging its finger over his appointments. They’re no better than the Republicans who never proffered an alternative to Obamacare. Don’t like what’s going on, work to change it!

But the left won’t do this, no way, it’s too entrenched in its lifestyle.

While the Republicans started the Federalist Society, to move jurisprudence to the right, supported gun rights and decided to focus on the states to restrict abortion…

The Democrats were asleep at the wheel. Saying most of the public was with them.

I agree with that, but it’s IRRELEVANT! Who cares if Hillary won the popular vote, by the rules that are written Trump was victorious. What next, challenging the outcome of a football game, claiming that in certain burgs you get five downs? Then again, that’s the left wing for you, believing it can bend the rules. Scratch a rich person and you’ll find someone working the edges, while simultaneously boasting how honest and ethical they are.

People need jobs. And in the future more are going to disappear. Where is the left wing plan?

It’s not only minimum wages, although that’s a good start, it’s also the fact that technology is eliminating so many roles. But the bleeding heart liberals want to get rid of trade agreements and bring manufacturing back to America. First and foremost, turns out the public doesn’t care about TPP, more people are for it, but they do care about working. Sanders said the game was rigged, it is, but not in the way he said it was, nor in the way Trump does either. But at least they both speak the truth, as opposed to Hillary who spoke to Goldman Sachs.

Dishonesty… Not a feature of the poor. The poor are honest and compassionate. They can’t cheat on their taxes because they don’t get to itemize deductions. The poor are more charitable than the rich, you can look it up. But the left wing keeps looking down on people working, or wanting to work for a living, using their hands.

What did Depeche Mode say? People are people? Well, somehow the left has decided everybody who does not agree with them is not a person, rather a blob of ignorant protoplasm. Makes me want to throw in with the disadvantaged, they may not be educated, but they’ve got feelings, and you don’t need to go to Harvard to become wise, I’ll argue you’ll learn more going to the school of hard knocks, as opposed to spending daddy’s money so you can get a job at the bank.

It’s been going on for thirty five years, ever since the election of Reagan, the left wing boomers have been decoupled from the love your brother ethos of the sixties and have become all about self-satisfied greed. Just because you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps doesn’t mean everybody else can too. Ever see how the elites treat workers? Just board a plane, this entitled mass is hatable, no wonder the service people reacted.

The Democrats have to be a party of ideas. And should be less about inclusiveness than hard core solutions. Hillary thought she had the Latinos and the women and the blacks and she could not lose, the “New York Times” said her odds were greater than eighty per cent, the Republican party was supposedly in shreds, with no future, but we woke up to find the Republicans controlling everything.

And we can wait for them to screw up, and they will, but in the meantime they’re gonna appoint Supreme Court justices and we’ll have the usual suspects in Congress, labeled as irrelevant hacks by the right, making no progress at all.

We need more leaders. People willing to speak the truth. People who have priorities. Who know that food on the table is more important than any hurt feeling. That compassion far outstrips derision. That solutions are better than pointing fingers. That when you lose the game you don’t continue to keep playing it the same way, you shake it up.

Like I said, for eighteen months the left wing and the media played a game of Gotcha! with Donald Trump. But he steamrolled everybody. First the right wing clowns, then Hillary, the left wing hope. And he did it not by being politically correct, by kissing the ring of the movers and shakers, but by speaking to the disadvantaged, the left behind, people who are being ignored by the other side as they keep complaining about who’s in the cabinet and who’s calling who, all protocol.

Rock and roll was based on breaking protocol. And then punk stood up to classic rock. And in politics all we’ve got is the usual suspects doing the same damn thing. Hillary Clinton was Freddie Garrity, insisting that you dream of a better of America. When the truth is dreams’ll get you nowhere. And your word is your bond, and Hillary kept flip-flopping.

But she’s in the rearview mirror. Good riddance. She lost, next.

But who else has to be put out to pasture?

A left wing intelligentsia which believes since it beat the odds in America everybody else can too?

A media that plays to these same types, as it not only cozies up to them for quotes but sells wine and conferences to make ends meet at the same time begging for financial support?

And at the ground level, the reporters getting the story…

Turns out some right wing agitators at Breitbart were more in touch with the pulse of America than all the Northwestern and Columbia journalists with their notepads and laptops.

Because sometimes the story is hiding in plain sight.

And sometimes the game changes.

And the game we’re playing now is one of emotion, not fact.

Hell, the entertainment business specializes in this, knowing it’s all about perception.

And the perception is the Democrats are so worried about offending anybody that they end up standing for nothing.

And the press is so busy trying to be at arm’s length and fair that it ignores the truth.

And I’m stuck in the middle with you wondering what happened to this country.