The Black Pastrami Reuben

It was the sauerkraut that put it over the top.

Don’t let yourself get too hungry, that’s what my nutritionist says. And I’ve been oh-so-good, avoiding carbs, last Thursday I was at a dinner party where Tom Windish and his bride-to-be brought a blueberry pie and a three berry cake from Sweet Lady Jane and I did not partake, not a bite, not even Rachel’s tiramisu, because I’m insulin resistant, and when I eat carbs my blood sugar spikes and after being wide awake I’m sleepy and then I feel like crap for two days and…like I said, I’ve been very good.

But I was hungry.

And I’m lying on the PT table in Century City dreaming of food.

There’s an entire stash in the fridge, if I can just make it back to the house, but I’m thinking of something savory, something that will hit the spot, like a burger from Five Guys or…

A hot pastrami sandwich.

Not that I’m that big on Five Guys. But at least there’s enough beef, but they play the music too loud, as if they want you to exit immediately, and the fries are tasty but there are way too many of them so…

I decided to go to Brent’s.

It all made sense. I had all three papers with me. It was gonna be a field day.

Now I checked Google Maps. Never use Apple Maps, the timing is way off. It said it’d be fourteen minutes beyond home. I could do that. Hell, I’d write off the entire afternoon, not even check my phone, this was gonna be FUN!

And with Howard on vacation I was switching back and forth between No Shoes Radio and the Highway on the satellite, but when I hit a bummer I decided to go all news, I was taking a break, I worked my way from left wing to right wing, from MSNBC to Fox, and ended up on some Sirius news program dedicated to tech, they were talking about AI, artificial intelligence for the uninitiated, and it rang my bell as I crested the hill, passed under Mulholland, and the temperature began to rise.

Instinct would say to take the 405 all the way to Parthenia.

But Google said to transfer to the 101 and take Tampa. And you should never argue with technology, it’s always right.

And when I got to Brent’s parking lot, it was 104 degrees. East coast hot. You know, where you don’t need a jacket at night. It’s rarely this hot in L.A.

And needless to say, Brent’s was empty. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. Well, not completely empty, but I could get a booth and not feel guilty for hogging it, being one person only, but I needed the real estate, to spread out my papers.

So I pointed out my place to the hostess, she exhibited no resistance, and I took the proffered menu. Many people don’t take a menu at a deli, they know it all, and what they don’t know the kitchen will make.

But I wanted to peruse the sandwiches, I wanted to drill down to the right one, I needed pastrami with Swiss cheese and Russian dressing, like they do it at Langer’s.

Yes, the pastrami is better at Langer’s. It’s the thicker cut, the twice cooked bread. And actually, they now imitate it at Brent’s. They’ve even given it a number, 13, to compete with Langer’s famous Number 19. But on the facing page…

I saw it. The black pastrami reuben!

Once upon a time reubens were only made with corned beef. And as much asĀ  I love pastrami, that’s how much I hate corned beef. But as the years have passed the rules have been bent, and in my salad days at Brent’s I tasted one of these reubens, and it was off the charts, that was what I was gonna get! Rule number one of eating out, get what feels right, not what you think is right.

But then it got better, the black pastrami reuben came with FRIES! it was my lucky day, that was one of the reasons I was craving Five Guys, I had a smile upon my face.

Which at first I did not, because I realized my chosen abode was so close to the kitchen, and my OCD was kicking in and I thought I was gonna have to move but then I realized that the shrink’s exposure technique would work, and it did, I got over it, it didn’t bother me a whit!

But as I unfolded the L.A. “Times” I realized the next table over had two little kids. Would this be trouble? No, they were very well-behaved, near quiet, the stars were aligning!

So I ordered my sandwich. Along with a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry, I mean you’ve got to go all the way, or don’t go at all. And I was intellectually saving room for a slice of carrot cake, but…

The sandwich came with so many fries, skinny cut, my preference, that there was no way I could eat anything after I devoured what was on this plate.

I ordered extra Russian dressing. The sandwich has to be wet.

And I was worried I was gonna run out of reading material, I’d covered too much of the “Wall Street Journal” on the phone the night before.

But, when I bit into the black pastrami reuben…

How am I gonna describe this?

Brent’s is not exactly a dump, but it is a deli, with no atmosphere and a constant din.

And it’s not like I’m fine dining, not even slumming at a fast food joint. Rather, I’m eating the food of my people, my heritage, that heartburn-generating fare of my youth.

So you’ve got to picture it…

The bread is toasted very brown. You can barely see the white of the rye. This is a serious sandwich, not for wimps, not for the faint of heart.

And the cheese is gooey and they put enough Russian dressing on it and…

I can’t describe it! I can’t tell you how it all came together in my mouth, poured down my gullet and satisfied me in a way that I felt fully alive and life was worth living, if I didn’t die of a heart attack on the way out.

Yes, I had misgivings. Just before I sat down. What was I doing here?

What are we doing here, what are we on this planet for? To work, to achieve, or to EXPERIENCE!

You don’t have to be rich to buy Brent’s black pastrami reuben, you don’t need a graduate degree, you just need taste buds and a hand to lift it.

Yes, I ate it one-handed, my other arm is only just now coming back to life.

And there was enough.

The more upscale the restaurant, the smaller the portions. And the cheapie places don’t give you enough protein, that’s what my nutritionist says, it’s the protein that satisfies your hunger.

So the first half of the sandwich… The toast, the pastrami, the gooey cheese, the Russian dressing…and the SAUERKRAUT! That’s right, there was a taste of sourness that shot this sandwich into the stratosphere, a delectable delicacy you can buy all day long which most people never consume, even though it’s hiding in plain sight.

I started with the fries.

But when I switched to the sandwich I couldn’t let go. I dipped it in some of the extra Russian dressing, figuring if I didn’t partake of it the waitress would judge me for requesting it, stupid, I know, but that’s me, and when I finished half…

I just dug into the other half. I wasn’t gonna take it home. I was after the full effect, this was full on GLUTTONY!

To the point the mountain of fries left after the sandwich disappeared seemed way too much, but I consumed them anyway. Who knows, there might be an apocalypse on my drive home from Northridge, I might not be able to eat for days, I’m gonna DENY MYSELF??

And when I finished, I just sat there. No need to rush out, I’d already blown the afternoon. But when only the last pages of the front section of the “New York Times” were left, I sidled out of there.

That’s right, just me, anonymously. No one cared who I was and no one cared what I did. I was in charge of my own life, and I’d just had a peak experience.

I haven’t eaten anything since.

Although I did pound five Caffeine Free Diet Cokes. You see I’m dry, dry, dry. Reminds me of drinking back at Middlebury, when I’d wake up Sunday morning and go in search of Pepsi, which controlled the concession on campus. They didn’t refill the machines on weekends and sometimes I’d have to march through four dorms to quench my thirst, to survive, you’ve always got to have the effervescent elixir on hand.

And now it’s after midnight, I’m reading the CAA book about Tom Ross going to fat rehab and that’s when it hit me, the sauerkraut, how it put the black pastrami reuben over the top.

And I just had to write about it.

Because it’s these moments in life that really count, that make it worth living.

I cried when I wrote this down, sue me if I went on too long.

Just call me Deacon Pastrami, Deacon Black Pastrami Reuben.

“Brent’s Deli Presents: How to make a Pastrami Reuben”

“Brent’s Deli Makes the Meanest Pastrami Reuben in Los Angeles”

VMA Ratings Crash

“Ratings Are No Hit for MTV Video Music Awards”

It’s the content, stupid.

24 million people tuned into Fox last August to see the initial Republican debate. But only 6.5 million people tuned into a multiplicity of Viacom channels to watch the train-wreck known as the VMAs.

It was an unwatchable show. Unmoored from its previous iterations, wherein the audience was king and the acts were paying fealty, last night’s travesty was a mess wherein the acts got unlimited time to ramble and sing… Not only did Kanye get mic time, he got to debut his new video. I’ll argue the VMAs nosedived when Macy Gray advertised her new record was gonna drop on the back of her dress, but the lunatics have now taken over the asylum, it was all promotion all the time. And if Beyonce was that damn good, why were the ratings so piss-poor?

Most people don’t care.

The VMAs used to be a tribal rite for not only the younger generation, but the country at large, the world at large, we lived in a monoculture and MTV was the heartbeat. If you made it on MTV you could tour the world, everybody knew your name.

Today, pop is the dominant format, but most shrug their shoulders. What’s a poor boy to do? What’s a poor industry to do?

Never has it been this bad, never has the industry lost touch with the mainstream to this degree since the Beatles. I’m not saying all the wannabes fighting on YouTube for attention deserve it, but I am saying the nation hungers for music with a bit more gravitas, a bit more quality, a bit more there there. Dancing is not music, and lip-synching is not vocalizing.

Meanwhile, Adele reached everybody. On “21.” Before she made a dash for cash with “25” and marginalized herself. That’s the Adele story, not how much money they made selling albums, but how she lost touch with the audience, went from being a cultural icon to a niche player. Remember, the Dixie Chicks sold out arenas after Natalie Maines’s faux pas and even went to number one and then they couldn’t get arrested. Just because you’re big today, that does not mean you’ll be big tomorrow.

But “21” was ten times bigger than anything else. Why?

It’s not like Adele played the game. Appeared everywhere and did endorsements. Rather, the music stood on its own, and appealed to a broad swath of human beings as opposed to the pop and hip-hop niches of today.

No, this is not a racist rant. No, this isn’t even anti-pop. It’s just pointing out a giant hole that someone could drive a truck through if they just made music most people wanted to hear!

A certain segment of the population will never listen to hip-hop, never ever.

As for rock… It’s so far from classic, it’s laughable. Bad voices with unmemorable tunes…

And pop can stagger us, listen to recent Bieber hits, those of Major Lazer and DJ Snake. But most is exactly what it appears, lowest common denominator tripe constructed for a young audience that doesn’t seem to care, otherwise they’d have tuned in to this broadcast.

We need a reset. We need bold actors who truly embrace artist development. We need to emphasize skill and talent, developed via practice. Enough with the youngsters propped up by old men, those whose vocals are fixed in the studio, raw talent alone can wow us, assuming people have got it.

And songs have umpteen writers and lose their soul in the process. They’re like Doritos or some other snack, cooked up in a lab to titillate your taste buds but they leave you wincing over the empty calories. Fast food tanks, replaced by fast casual, the Food Network trumps MTV, but we’re still selling crap music to a young audience of ignoramuses.

We’re ripe for a revolution.

We’re ripe for someone to sign acts whose success is not dependent upon radio. To care about radio is akin to placating physical retail, both rearguard enterprises thrown over by the public. You can’t let the tail wag the dog.

So, what do we know?

MTV is history, extinct. You can’t read the obit in the paper, the nitwits are too busy fawning over the “stars,” but Philippe Dauman wouldn’t have lost his job if there was anything left, and there’s not.

People love music, they’re hungry for it.

We live in an era of blockbusters, how come today’s musical stars are so niche?

Disruption comes from outside, from those who don’t see the game the same way. Major labels only sign that which they can market via traditional channels. Innovators break rules, they don’t adhere to them.

But anybody with a brain neither makes music nor markets it. There’s just not enough money in it.

But money isn’t everything, power is. And nothing is as powerful as a talented musician playing and singing from the heart.

You can win, if you pay your dues and speak your mind, do it your way and not theirs. We’re hungry for that which satiates us, not music we need a manual to understand, but that which we get on the first listen. We used to have the formula, but now we’ve lost it.

Once again, it starts with songs. And the scene is healthiest when those who perform them write them, because it adds a layer of credibility, of authenticity, which is key to lasting stardom.

And then comes skill. Practice. Ability. If you can’t wail, on your axe or with your voice, if you can’t improvise, if you’ve got no facility on your instrument, you’re a momentary player waiting to be thrown upon the scrapheap.

And then comes vision.

It’s not hard to out-Kanye Kanye, you’ve just got to believe in yourself.

Something the music business gave up on years ago.

More Frank Ocean

Apple is not threatening Universal.

After all, it’s just business. And in business, you protect your turf.

Prognosticators are saying this is the end, that since Frank Ocean’s second LP of last weekend was independent, not under contract to Universal, we’re at the advent of a new era wherein power shifts from the label to the distributor and the majors decline.

Don’t hold your breath.

Let’s assume “Blond” was truly indie, no one knows for sure. Let’s even assume Frank Ocean played his cards correctly, that he read his contract and saw an escape clause, which is dubious at best. But, if so, don’t expect it to happen again. Read a recent recording contract? Used to be rights were for the world, in physical formats. Now they’re for the universe in all formats now known and to be discovered, usually for the life of the copyright. Those twenty five year reversions that allowed acts like Aerosmith to get another bite at the apple? Pfft…, they’re gone.

Of course if you’ve established independent success you can cut a better deal, with more revenue and a shorter term, even with rights reversion. But if the label built you, it not only wants a pound of flesh, but your whole body.

We’ve been hearing that the major labels are going to be disrupted for fifteen years. Hasn’t happened and still won’t in the foreseeable future. Because of rights, i.e. the catalog, which labels wield like a parent corralling an unruly child, and relationships. Just try getting on terrestrial radio without being on a major, it’s nearly impossible.

It’s always those far from the center, usually not involved in the day to day business, who prognosticate about change and evanescence. Those inside know it’s a fight for survival, and you circle the wagons, load up with ammo and fight back to protect what you’ve got. And the majors have done this oh-so-well.

As for playing out your contract and going indie… Just ask Trent Reznor, he hated Universal but then moved on to Sony after his indie interlude, because running your own ship doesn’t scale. You’re in charge of only one project, a major can spread its costs amongst many acts, furthermore, you can’t staff up in every area. Sure, you can hire indies, but after they get the check don’t expect them to deliver. You’re one of many, you might not have another project for years.

Which is why the majors continue to triumph. Their lunch was eaten by Napster, they got snookered by Steve Jobs and iTunes, and now they’re partners with Spotify. Literally, they’re investors. Which is why when you hear that Spotify is out of contract you should not waste time thinking about it. The majors want Spotify in business. And they also want a free tier, they want their new projects heard, especially at a site that pays better than YouTube, one upon which they can exert their leverage.

But along comes Jimmy Iovine, friend to all.

But Jimmy’s history is winning for himself. Where is Ted Field today?

And the majors granted licenses to ensure competition, but they’re not about to let Apple run the table.

That’s right, Apple was complicit with Frank Ocean, and for that it must pay. Not with a check, but remorse. Lucian Grainge took its golden ticket away, no more exclusives. Jimmy didn’t fight fair and now Lucian is showing his armor.

Very interesting.

But even more interesting is that Apple provides little beyond cash. You get placement on its service, where most people aren’t. Success is about exposure which leads to ticket sales and endorsements. Reduce exposure and you’re collapsing the enterprise. Sure, Frank Ocean is swimming in media today, but the lion’s share of the public either doesn’t care or stole the product. Is this any way to run a business?

And if you want to do it yourself, you fail. Remember the saga of Garth Brooks, who refused to embrace the new paradigm and did it himself? Garth is clueless and lost. His last project failed miserably and he’s missing out on streaming revenue, believing the disc will come back and files will have a renaissance. Might as well invest in BlackBerry while you’re at it. The biggest name in nineties country music has to play by today’s rules, or be relegated to the dustbin. Sure, he can sell concert tickets, but so can Def Leppard and Styx, and you don’t see them anywhere on the chart. Which is fine if you want to ride the road to retirement, but if you’re young you’ve got to still put points on the board, via recordings.

Money changes everything. It’ll get people to work against their interests. Exclusives may put cash in your pocket, but they hurt your career. Music is a mass medium, and if the masses are left out, you’re toast.

So, Apple knows how to distribute. But it is not the dominant player. The majors saw the MTV movie, which is why they invested in Spotify and wanted a competitor to it at the same time. But MTV faded away and the majors remained. Because distribution is not enough. It’s about investing in acts, developing them, exposing them. Sure, you can take the cream off the top. But there’s very little cream and then the froth evaporates. The music landscape is littered with that which hit today and is forgotten tomorrow. Lucian Grainge and his merry band of executives have longer careers than almost all the acts Universal has ever signed, remember that.

So, Frank Ocean is not a harbinger of what’s to come. No more than acts doing direct deals with Wal-Mart were last decade. He’s an outlier. A momentary blip. And to the degree “Blond” punched a hole in the dam, it’s being plugged as I write this.

As for disruption…

It’s about music, not systems. Want to own the world, change the landscape? Write a hit tune that sounds nothing like what’s on the chart and then dominate. That’s the story of the Beatles, that’s the story of classic rock. It wiped the deck clean of the old players, not only acts, but executives. And then Peter Grant employed his leverage to make live a 90/10 split, in favor of Led Zeppelin. All the change came from young ‘uns, not the established players. Kind of like music discovery lives on Spotify, with its algorithms, Discover Weekly and Release Radar. Jimmy pays lip service to discovery, doing it the old way, via hand, but Spotify wins, it’s running circles around Apple because it’s run by the young not inured to old ways.

The enemy is not the major label. And it’s not the streaming service either. The enemy is you, your brain, which prevents you from thinking different, which believes doors are closed and you’re constricted. The music business has been and forever will be one of leverage. He with hits writes his own rules. And he who controls more hits changes the game.

Don’t bitch about minor skirmishes, don’t fight wars that cannot be won or are irrelevant. Spotify payments suck if you’re no one, they’re gargantuan if you’re someone.

So be someone.

That’s your challenge. If you’re trying to win via subterfuge, via contracts, you’ll never succeed. But if you’re emerging victorious via art, you write your own ticket.

Virtual Reality How To

You’re gonna want to be sitting down.

Daniel Glass wanted to know if I’d seen the “New York Times” VR video of the retaking of Fallujah. Alas, I’d thrown the viewer out when it came with the paper way back when. Didn’t know I was doing that, but realized it after the fact, when the “Times” kept advertising its content and I couldn’t see it.

I don’t know whether virtual reality is the future or the next Google Glass. I do know all the techies are talking about it and most people are left out. So, I want to give you a primer, a little help.

You need a viewer.

I assume you’ve got a smartphone, Apple or Android, doesn’t matter.

So, go to knoxlabs.com Not to Amazon, it’s actually more expensive there.

Click on “Products” on the top line.

You want the Knox V2 on the resulting page. Buy it, it’s only ten bucks, they’ll charge you another $2.65 for shipping, but that’s a bargain, to get in the door, to see what’s going on.

Everything has a hurdle. And those who’ve jumped it care not a whit about those left behind. If anything, they ridicule them. Most people still don’t seem to know that you can synch streaming tracks for offline use. Every day I get e-mail from people decrying data charges and complaining about lack of coverage, they want their music 24/7, and you can have it, assuming you pay the $10 a month, just synch it to your handset and as long as you have juice, you can listen.

But this is about VR.

I didn’t dip my toe. I was turned off by the hype. I followed the stories, about Oculus Rift first and foremost, raising money on Kickstarter and then selling to Facebook, but I could sit on the sideline just fine.

Reminds me of the first computer era, back at the turn of the decade, from the seventies to the eighties, when the Apple II was infiltrating law firms and I was still using pen and paper, believing the IBM Selectric with memory was good enough.

But when I started my newsletter and loaded up on Apple equipment I was stunned, I entered a whole new world with tons of functionality.

But that was back when there were still manuals, instructions. I follow orders, I’ll take the time to read.

VR comes with no instructions. Which is why I’m helping you out here.

So, you’ve got your smartphone. And you’ve ordered your viewer. Do this, please. So we’re all on the same page, so we can talk intelligently, it’s less than the cost of a movie, and the unboxing and first experiences are worth the price of admission.

So, it’ll take you a week to get your Knox viewer.

And when it comes, you’ll be excited and flummoxed.

Be VERY careful opening the box. Because this thing IS cardboard and you can ruin it quite easily.

But after you unbox it you’ll be too scared to make your next move, which is why I point you to this YouTube video,

“Hands-On with Google Knox V2 – Google I/O 2015 – I AM CARDBOARD 2.0”

This will teach you how to extract the viewer from its case, which is intuitive, yet it’s in its sleeve so tight you’re afraid you’ll break something removing it.

And then…

You’re at the mercy of the instructions on the viewer itself, which are poorly done and might as well be in Greek, despite being pictures. Bottom line? Fold the flaps back towards the lenses and then secure them with the Velcro tabs. I wish I could be more explicit, if you’re confused I’m sure there’s a video for it.

And then…

You need content.

The Knox viewer comes with a little pamphlet and implores you to download an app. DON’T DO THIS FIRST! I did, and was mightily confused.

So then I went searching on the “New York Times.” I discovered you’ve got to download a virtual reality app, search on “NYT VR” and download it. But don’t do this first either!

No, what you want to do first is download the Google Cardboard app, even if you’re using an iPhone, it’s platform independent.

So now, after you’ve downloaded Google Cardboard…launch it and click for the demo.

If this is the future, Google owns it, because at least they give a few instructions, like where to put your phone in the viewer and how to close the cardboard to hold it in place. (Just to be clear, you put your phone into the viewer on the backside of the lens holes, close the cardboard flap and secure the Velcro tab to hold the phone in place, or you can do this with your hands for easy, ongoing accessibility, which you’ll need.)

Now, for you oldsters out there…

You’re gonna need your reading glasses to download and launch the apps, but you’re not gonna use them when looking into the viewer. Got that?

Oh crap, I can’t get back to where I started, and I’m trying to tell you how to do it!

Bottom line, first I saw birds and… There was a white dot and I couldn’t figure out what to do with it.

Turns out the Knox cardboard box has a button, on the upper right side, you push down to select, this is everything, try it!

And then, to go to different VR movies in the Google app you turn the cardboard box sideways and click on what you want.

Now this is getting too complicated, but it’s somewhat intuitive, I know you can do it and…

I didn’t do it this way. I started off with the Knox-approved app and couldn’t make anything work.

And then I went to the “New York Times,” and I knew enough to know that you turn your head to see multiple views and I wanted to see behind me and got up and promptly lost my balance, which is not good, I’m still recovering from shoulder surgery.

So, like I said up top, you’re gonna want to be sitting down.

And you’re gonna want to use the Google app first, because when you fly like a bird…IT’S VERY COOL!

So then I jumped back to the “Times” and the movies kept stalling.

I’ve got a speedy connection, but it turns out you’re best off downloading movies in the “Times” app.

And the “Times” app is not quite as intuitive as the Google one. You download it, launch it, click on a movie and employ the option to download it and then you’re confronted with two choices, two pictures, one for “GOOGLE CARDBOARD” and one for “SMARTPHONE,” choose “GOOGLE CARDBOARD,” that’s the one that works with the Knox viewer. Otherwise, you can just watch the movie on your phone and pan…but it’s not the same thing.

So now I’m thinking I’ve overloaded you, confused you, you’re throwing your hands up like you don’t care.

But you do. And you will get the hang of this. You’ve just got to take the plunge.

So, once again, go to knoxlabs.com and buy a viewer, it’s easy, go for it.

And then, when it arrives and you’ve unboxed the viewer and installed the apps you’re 90% there, you’re on your way home, it’s only then you’ll have to fumble a bit, but by this time you’ll be excited, you’ll see stuff through the viewer, you’ll be part of the new paradigm, on your own adventure into the future.

Oh, one more thing!

Use headphones. Preferably Bluetooth ones, but any old wired ones will do, even the pods that came with your phone. It’s not necessary, but it’s a much better experience.

P.S. Once you’re up and running you can go to the App Store and search on “Paul McCartney” and download the app to watch his VR movie, along with one about Jack White. However, it worked at first for me and now the content won’t download. I just checked the speed in the house and it was 100 Mbps down, so who knows what’s going on, maybe it’ll work for you, but it’s glitches like this that hold new technologies back, we need an AOL for VR, then again, do we really need VR? I’m still not sure…