Bad Judgment

I went to Park City to go powder skiing. It started out as a group of eleven, all fired up to ride the cat in the backcountry, but as the temperature rose and the snow melted the participants dropped out one by one until there were only six of us left.

And five of them bolted yesterday, the designated cat skiing day, because with this heat it was a no-go.

Now when I lived in Utah, back in the dark ages, before many of you were even born, it never rained in the mountains. But Saturday in Salt Lake it was eighty degrees. In Park City it was topping out at sixty. So on Monday I made turns at Deer Valley with Toby Mamis, who decamped from the City of Angels for Utah thirteen years ago and is as happy as a clam. Toby says he never goes to a seder, but they’ve built a synagogue in Park City, along with a Catholic church, the mountain hideaway may be one of the only places in the Beehive State that is not LDS-dominant.

And on Tuesday, the aforementioned six returned to Deer Valley to cruise the groomers before the sun beat the slopes to shreds and after surviving our dash, when you get a group of guys together the testosterone flows, we partook of a bountiful buffet at the Stein Eriksen Lodge and the other five departed, to get earlier flights than planned so they could go back to their desks and earn their keep.

I take my desk with me. I can operate anywhere. And I was not going to give up a day of skiing.

This was a mistake.

I’m addicted to Dark Sky. Weather forecasting is notoriously dicey, but what’s great about the Dark Sky app is there’s no human involvement, only computers, and at this point I trust zeros and ones more than people and Dark Sky said it was gonna rain all day Wednesday, today.

And it did.

My plan was to get out at nine, hit it hard, get back to the room by noon and check out at one, the latest time available. Now if it had been midwinter, I would have stashed my bags and skied till the end of the day, but that’s impossible now, with the weather so warm, so…

I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof. No, John Sebastian and his fellow band members were not doing a gig in Utah, but the drops were literally bouncing on the balcony and my brain said no but my heart said go so I suited up. And when you do, you get into the groove. Pull on the long underwear, buckle up the boots…

And in this case I took my winter jacket.

Good move. But not enough to counter my bad move, which was to leave my iPhone in the room.

You learn your lessons. I learned mine today.

I’m thinking the rain will soak through my spring jacket and I’m feeling confident in my choice when I exit the hotel and the drops are a’flyin’, and I’m smart enough not to raise my goggles off my face, you don’t want to get the insides wet, and I’m laughing as I ride the Frostwood Gondola to the Orange Bubble Express and that’s when I noticed…

I was the only one out there.

Now normally one would be elated. But this had me wondering. Was I a dunce?

Yes.

But I’m still in a good mood as the rain is bouncing off the bubble, and I must say, I’ve never skied the Canyons side before but I’m good with a map and just before I get to the top…

It starts to hail.

Or maybe it’s graupel. I won’t walk you through the various types of snow but one thing was for sure, when my skis hit the ground on the exit ramp, there was an inch or two of new stuff.

Good call on the winter jacket.

Bad call on being out there.

Because visibility was bad and the snow was STICKY!

And there you have the essence of my problem, the snow snakes were out in force.

So my plan was to cover the entire mountain, get a peek at each lift, and I go off in a direction from which there is no return and there are huge clumps of snow in the middle of the slope and my skis are being grabbed again and again and that’s when I realize, I’ve got to go low.

You learn from experience. I knew that where it was raining it wouldn’t be sticky, but with so much snow having melted there was no way I could ski to the bottom, I could only go up. So I did.

Where it was a veritable sea of Maypo with Marky there to reach out for my skis and when I finally got to the next juncture, I decided to take the chair that went across instead of up.

But this took me to another chair that went straight up and it was snowin’ and blowin’ and I realized…

I’d made a big mistake. Skiing down from there could leave me in a cast.

And I didn’t want that.

So I took the road, which was completely unskied. And I’m going straight in fits and starts and I end up at the Quicksilver gondola which goes to the original Park City, which is higher in elevation, so I decide to ride it.

But it’s occurring to me, like that old Foreigner song, I’m a long, long way from home and I’ve got no PHONE! So not only can I not call my hotel to pick me up at the original Park City base area, if I fall on a slope and need to be rescued…

There will be no one there.

Furthermore, I’ve got an iPhone 7, which is waterproof, but my OCD makes me afraid to get it wet and the day is just a cornucopia of bad judgment.

But it’s only getting worse.

I get over to the original Park City and I see people! Two or three of them! This will solve my problem! They’ll tamp down the new snow!

But when I got off the lift the main way down was completely untracked. And with two inches of new snow, I could barely go. And when I did, it felt like the bottoms of my skis were made of sandpaper, and I never knew when they’d hit a knot in the wood and I’d grind to a halt, instantly.

Now I’m starting to lose it. I’m literally miles from my hotel. I’ve got to ski many slopes to get home. How am I going to do this?

Not easily

I make it back to the Quicksilver Gondola. I ride up.

But the map is confusing, I find the unskied slope that will supposedly take me down to the Canyons base but the truth is it’s bringing me back to the Quicksilver Gondola, I’m in a living “Groundhog Day,” and I’m starting to freak out, because it’s so flat I can’t go, and there’s not a soul in sight.

And then I grind to a halt and there’s a non-functioning lift that will take you across the flat so I’ve got to walk.

Now you’re never as alive as when your life is in danger. But then I realize I’m no longer twenty five and I could have a heart attack and I’m about to have a complete meltdown. I’m trekking across a hill, alone, in the snow, on March 22nd, and everybody else down in town is oblivious, but I could literally die out here, and they might not find me until…

At least the end of the day, when the patrol does its sweep.

So I decide to talk myself off the ledge. Since I’m walking, the snow snakes can’t get me, so why not just bask in the atmosphere, enjoy the landscape, or at least try, and, I know where I am, I’ll make it eventually.

To a lift that’s gonna take me up.

No f’ing way. As I told you earlier, I need to go DOWN!

So I take a road and it’s sticky and there are bare spots and rocks but I find the lift that went cross-country that got me into this mess and the signs all say it’s gonna take me to the Red Pine Gondola which will take me home and I’m starting to relax but it’s untrue. Just when I thought I was out of the woods, I had to go back up. And up. And up.

But it’s only one run down to the Red Pine Gondola. I can do this.

Well, maybe I can’t.

I get off the lift and there are all these signs saying not to take this way, to go on the road.

But the road is nearly flat and that’s where you can truly break your leg, with the stops and starts, better to be on a steeper slope.

Or so I thought, because skiing down this run was like skiing in molasses. I could barely move. And it was long and…

I’m freaking out all over again.

And now we’re at the part of the story where you think I protesteth too much. I mean hell, I’m back in Los Angeles writing this, how bad could it be?

Well, have you been out in the elements? Mother Nature cuts no breaks. One false move and it can be all over. And I didn’t think I was gonna die at this point, but the odds of hurting myself were extremely high. And I’m not even fully recovered from my shoulder surgery. You see my bindings are set to release at a value too high to eject me at such a slow speed. And they don’t release upwards at the toe, meaning if I fall backward, extremely rare in regular conditions, my leg is a goner. Or, I could fall sideways and still get hurt when the bindings don’t release. And the instinct in this situation is to sit back, but then you’re setting yourself up for instant failure, you can’t recover from a jolt. But if you lean forward, you could tip over your skis, and there’s no way my bindings will release at this slow speed, even though they have the theoretical capability, so I can snap a bone and…

It happens all the time. People get hurt. Because they do stupid things. They think they’re immune.

Like me.

I didn’t need to be out there. I could have said no, like everybody else. But I just couldn’t help myself, kinda like those wingsuiters competing in events where ten percent of the contestants die, they don’t think it’ll happen to them. But it does.

So I can see the shore, er, the Red Pine Gondola, but I’m far away and if I ski where everybody else has, the three or four people before me, hours into the day, I’m okay. But there’s a dad and his two kids trying to make it down in front of me, the only people I’ve seen on the Canyons side all day, which forces me to the side where the untracked new snow is and I grind to a halt and I’ve made it this far, almost all the way back, I’m in sight of safety, but I’m far from safe!

Needless to say, I made it. Got to the Red Pine Gondola as the snow turned to rain and when I got off at the bottom I felt like an idiot. A safe idiot, but an idiot nonetheless.

P.S. If you’d like to play the home game, you can pull up the Park City trail map and visualize my trek here:

Park City Winter Trailmap

I started on the Frostwood Gondola. From there I went to the Orange Bubble Express. Then to the Sun Peak Express. And then I skied all the way down to the cross-country chair known as Timberline. From there I went up the Iron Mountain Express, down to the Quicksilver Gondola, over to the original Park City where I rode the Silverlode Express. Then back to the Quicksilver Gondola. Whereupon I got off in the middle and skied the Highway, thinking it would take me to the base, but instead I ended up back at the Quicksilver Gondola, and refused to go up on Flat Iron or Dreamcatcher, so I took the road, White Pine to Cascade, and got back on Timberline where I discovered I had to go up to get to the Red Pine Gondola, so I took the Tombstone Express and ultimately skied down Sidewinder to the Red Pine Gondola which took me to the main base and then I rode the Frostwood Gondola back to my hotel, where I stripped off my soaked clothing, took a shower and continued to question why I’d gone out in the first place.

Money

I don’t understand it.

Oh, I know it makes the world go-round, they used to say that about love but I know it’s about cash. And I know you need a job to pay your bills, that we live in an exchange economy, you use your salary to put a roof over your head and food on the table, but I just don’t understand how you make it, certainly not copious amounts, not the sums my brethren are socking away these days.

I get it. If you’re an entertainer, a musician or an athlete, you provide a show that the people want to see and cash rains down. But it’s all the other faceless people dropping dollars that I don’t understand. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a different era, where your mind was more important than your money and no one had that much, back when a doctor was a king and lawyering was a safe profession and no one flew private and you were lucky if you owned a vacation house.

Now multiple people own multiple houses and multiple cars and the accumulation is breathtaking and I believe if most of the public saw how the elite truly lived there would be revolution in the streets. The rich have done a good job of labeling the takers as the problem, when the truth is it’s really about them and they’re getting richer, Trump is enabling them after telling them he was out to help the little guy.

But the little guy’s been screwed.

It starts with education. And I’m not talking that marketing degree at the state school. Good if you can make a living, but the opportunities start much younger, in nursery school. You’re set up for success at age 5, it’s about who you know and who you hang around with and the truth is the rich earned their income, but I’m curious as to what they’re adding to society.

My father owned a liquor store. He wanted to be in real estate but he had no money, so he dabbled. Then in the sixties he became a real estate appraiser and with redevelopment he ended up making the income of a doctor or a lawyer, because the pinnacle of every field can triumph financially.

And he put three kids through college and graduate school paying the freight all the way.

But we never moved and the vacation home he purchased cost $14,000. Sure, that was 1968 dollars, but the same property is barely worth six figures today, just to give you an impression of the domain.

But for the last two days I’ve been skiing at Deer Valley in Utah, which is a glorified real estate development. There are hundreds of houses, one of the new ones they’re building is 30,000 square feet. And most are unoccupied most of the time. There’s Christmas and spring break and maybe a week in the summer and then the kids leave home and…

These houses are bigger and better than the ones almost everybody on this list resides in. They’re worth millions of dollars. Where did I go wrong?

Maybe I should have gone to business instead of law school. Maybe I should have gone to Wall Street instead of the music business. I can’t tell you how many people my age I know who are nearly broke. They made six figures in the music business and then they got too old and got squeezed out and then Napster hit and now they’re working retail jobs without health insurance, living in rental property, just hoping that social security will pay the bills, because they’ve got no 401k.

Things were different back then. We knew the future was coming but we thought we would live forever and you could always get a straight job and the company would look after you.

But then lifetime employment disappeared and you were too old to be retrained and you could label yourself an “entrepreneur” but the truth is you were a hustler, starting on the same line as everybody else. While the younger generation knew the score and bought insurance in education and safe jobs, we oldsters were screwed.

And now much of America is screwed.

But much of America didn’t jump through hoops. I did. Is the problem with me?

I don’t know how to work Excel. Oh, I can read a spreadsheet, but I can’t create one.

And I’ve never written a business plan.

And I know about margins from the Apple quarterly reports but I believed if you just did what you did extremely well money would rain down. But that’s patently untrue. All that b.s. about do what you love and the money will follow… No. Network aplenty and go where the cash is and it might work out. Come on, LinkedIn is more popular and exciting than iTunes. And MTV may air no music but “Shark Tank” slays the competition and although some musical acts win the lottery, most do not, which is why everybody with a brain now stays out of music. Only the great unwashed, uneducated and inexperienced, tread that path, whilst Daniel Ek who doesn’t play a note becomes a billionaire.

You’re either a have or a have-not.

But everybody’s on their own. They’re dismantling the government that looked after you. For fear of takers you lose much of your safety net. And god forbid you get sick, even if you have insurance it could bankrupt you.

But the problem is less with the system than me.

I’m not a networking bro. To tell you the truth, I’d much rather hang with women and artists than the He-Men of the Universe jockeying for position, elbowing ahead. Women talk about feelings, men talk about achievements. And artists see the world in a different way, they question the proposition, but there are few artists left, they’re all just entrepreneurial business people trying to become brands so they can align with the corporations.

Did time pass me by or did I never have the juice to begin with?

I think both.

People have no idea what it costs to stay in a first class hotel. The cost of transportation. They’ve never been on a private jet. They truly don’t know how the other half lives. But the broke can see they’re losing so they put a stick in the spokes and elected Trump. But now the joke is on the educated non-strivers, who did not wake up and smell the coffee and realize you’re either a winner or a loser, and if you’re not on the path to one you’re on the path to the other.

I think I need a remedial education, in how to navigate the planet and make bank.

I also think I’ve lived long enough to see the landscape change. Life is much harder and coarser. Used to be you waited in line all night to buy a ticket for five bucks, now that seat is bought for five hundred bucks by someone who cares not about the cost but just wants to be inside.

But you want to be inside too. And you can’t find a door. Not only are they locked, they don’t even exist. Upward mobility is for very few, with education connections and wherewithal. And they earn their living, sometimes by screwing others and creating nothing of value, but they’re working damn hard. And are pissed they’re supporting the rest of us.

But the rest of us are dazed and confused, broke down and busted by the side of the road, wondering what the hell happened.

Drake’s Playlist

He knows there’s no rulebook.

Whilst wannabes record albums and record labels sell CDs and the newspapers print the inane “Billboard” chart, Drake decided to innovate.

Ain’t that a concept, ain’t that what an artist is supposed to do.

But don’t think you can extrapolate a trend from his behavior, don’t think you can follow in his footsteps, for Drake is a party of one atop the pop/urban heap and he’s the beneficiary of attention, people are interested in what he does, they’ll spend time checking it out, and they’ve got almost no time for anything else.

The dirty little secret of streaming services is most people don’t even finish a song, they skip around. They’re looking for that hit of dopamine that satiates, and if they don’t find it immediately, they’ll move on. They’re especially interested in the work of stars, and this has less to do with the stars and their work than the society we now live in. Stars are rallying points in a Tower of Babel society. No one has seen the same niche movie as you or listened to the same niche song, but if you listen to the work of a star you can participate in the discussion, you can belong, and the truth is although the internet has provided endless verticals, we want to be in the big horizontal, we want to be a member of the club.

Drake got there by knowing what the classic and MTV acts did not. That dedicated fans want more. If you’re making an album and dribbling out tracks over years you’re missing the point. You speak to your core and your core testifies and your core wants more.

So Drake gives it to them, with an endless slew of product.

And if something doesn’t work, YOU JUST MAKE MORE!

This is contrary to the old ethos, where you spend hundreds of thousands of bucks to perfect a product for a museum. Drake knows that today’s music is evanescent, and the most important thing is to stay in the game, which he does.

And he doesn’t care that the global release date is Friday, he doesn’t care about physical formats, he knows it’s all about on demand access now. People expect to click and hear when the hype begins and then they move on and sometimes don’t come back. You don’t want a long buildup promoting a single product, that’s the movie business, you want an endless slew of music some of which makes it and some of which doesn’t. Remember when Bieber was releasing singles every few weeks that got no traction? That didn’t prevent him from coming back and triumphing with hit tracks later.

That’s what artists do, EXPERIMENT!

They take chances, risks. If you want everything to succeed, you’re not gonna be in the game.

So Drake has an instant success evidencing culture. It’s not only about him, but the scene he’s into. We’ve never experienced that before. But that’s what streaming services and instant distribution allow. Artists use the new tools to bend not only the rules, but our minds. What did McLuhan say, “The medium is the message?”

You can cut a track one day and have it released the next.

And you can make it about more than you, you can make it about your scene, your buddies.

One thing’s for sure, we know the old paradigm is history.

Music comes without advance notice and it sinks or it swims.

Drake knows this, how come the gatekeepers don’t?

Rag’n’Bone Man’s “Human” was a hit last year in most of the world, but U.S. radio is only going on it now. We need records to move faster, we have to hook the public on the great new stuff and then move it out and make room for new stuff. We’ve got to make music and the scene exciting again. We’ve got to forget the codification, the aged concepts the boomer-controlled business runs by, and build a whole new world.

Drake is in the construction business.

Kudos to him.

Chuck Berry

He was the father of rock and roll.

Oh, don’t talk to me about Bill Haley. Boomers were barely conscious at the time “Rock Around The Clock” was a hit, if they were alive at all. And Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were vastly influential, especially in the U.K., but the progenitor who pushed it over the top, made rock a staple, was Chuck Berry.

Not that we had any idea who that was either.

But we knew the songs.

“Tutti Frutti” was already in the rearview mirror.

But not only did the Beatles cover “Rock And Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”…

But the Beach Boys ripped Chuck off for their gargantuan hit “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” which was really “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

Chuck’s got a bad reputation. As being an ungrateful SOB who demanded cash upfront and played with unrehearsed pickup bands. Keith Richards tried to give him a victory lap with that movie, but thereafter the Glimmer Twin testified as to Chuck’s bad behavior and I’m not sure if Berry’s reputation ever recovered. You usually only get one shot at a second chance.

But you’ve got to cut the guy a break, he was there at the beginning!

He was punk before punk. As in he did it his own way with the basics, with no trappings. Every band in a garage owes a debt to Chuck Berry.

And for years the road was a cash business. Even at this late date if you haven’t been ripped off by a promoter, you’re not in the business.

And until Peter Grant flipped the script, the act got the short end of the stick, the promoter made all the money.

And it wasn’t until the seventies that sound systems were any good, people basically cheered over the music, did it make any difference whether the band was tight, it was more about the experience, being there, in the presence of a renegade. That’s right, once upon a time rock and roll was dangerous.

But that time is long gone.

Don’t hate Chuck Berry. The truth is most performers are mercurial jerks. Do you know how hard it is to make it? DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO WRITE A HIT SONG?

When everybody else was using the usual suspects, Chuck composed his own hits. That’s the mark of a genius, when you can channel greatness out of thin air.

So by time the British Invasion happened, Chuck was mostly done, he only ended up having one more hit, the novelty “My Ding-A-Ling.” But at least that’s more hits than today’s classic rock acts manage to eke out.

And talk about influence…

ELO’s cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” jump-started their career.

And Brian Wilson testifies about the Four Freshmen, the vocal groups, but the band from Hawthorne, California was not a cappella, it needed a soundtrack, and not only were they influenced by Chuck Berry, as I stated above, they ripped him off.

So this is not the twenty first century. Wherein acts have hits and then fade into obscurity along with their music.

And it’s certainly not the twenty first century where everything is niche. Berry’s hits were not only huge, they’ve sustained! Even little kids want to know if Maybellene will be true. And “Johnny B. Goode” is a bar band staple.

We know all his songs by heart. Even though most of us were not around when they dominated the hit parade.

And he was a black man in a white man’s world. And he refused to accept second-class status. Chuck Berry was a beacon, an artist, who felt if he walked into the wilderness following his own muse the people would come with him.

And they did.

So at this point they die and we shrug. After all, Mr. Berry was ninety and no one lives forever.

But the truth is an era is disappearing in front of our very eyes. One in which experimentation was in music, not tech. One in which people were enthralled by the radio, not their mobile handset. One in which there was television, but if you really wanted to know what was going on you listened to the radio.

And the fuel was rock and roll.

And it was a big tent. Didn’t matter how you looked, attitude was key, and Berry had that in spades. Along with talent and inspiration, what a concept.

It was simpler back then. The lightning bolt hit and you tried to capture it in a bottle, get it down on wax, distribute it all over the country, will it into a hit. It was less a battle plan than a skirmish, we were developing it as we went along.

To the point where the highest goal in America is to be a rock star.

People label bankers and techies and athletes, winners in all walks of life, rock stars. It means not only are you rich and successful, but that you’re doing it your own way, beholden to no one, forging your own path.

Chuck Berry was there first.