Gallows Pole

I bought “Led Zeppelin III” the day it came out. I overpaid for it, by a dollar, when a dollar used to be a dollar, at the Vermont Bookshop in downtown Middlebury, I trudged up the hill and broke the shrink-wrap, put the vinyl on the turntable and dropped the needle.

Of course, you can’t mention “Led Zeppelin III” without talking about the cover. Sure, there was the rotating wheel inside of it, but also there was a brass rivet holding it all together and that brass rivet dug into all the other copies of “Led Zeppelin III” in the bin, leaving an impression, and it did so in my record collection, as did the zipper from “Sticky Fingers,” so I placed a cardboard spacer between these records and my others to prevent future damage.

Talk about OCD.

It had been a complete year since “Led Zeppelin II,” one in which so many acts broke, when the radio was overflowing with music, such that when “Led Zeppelin III” was released people weren’t salivating in anticipation, waiting with bated breath, then again, maybe I couldn’t accurately take the temperature of the collective mind, I was residing in the middle of nowhere, in Vermont.

Where I couldn’t quite relate to the people.

You go to college, you’re thrown in with a whole new group, you do your best to make friends, but you wonder…are those you left behind closer to your identity/mentality? After all, I grew up fifty miles from New York City, many of the Middlebury students went to prep schools, which were their own little environments, detached from reality, or students were from the hinterlands, music meant something to nearly everybody, but not as much as it did to me, I needed “Led Zeppelin III” to root me, to connect me to who I once was, in the maelstrom, where I belonged.

I’d seen the band in August, at the Yale Bowl, it was raining, but the show went on, but not forever. They began with “The Immigrant Song,” when the sound was not perfect, when the song was new to the ears of the assembled multitude, and from there they seemed to punch the clock. It was kind of a letdown. I hate to tell you this, but bands usually save their best efforts for the metropoli, like New York and Los Angeles, when everybody is paying attention, when the press is in attendance, when their entire tour will be judged by this one performance. Used to be bands saved New York and L.A. for last, when they got the bugs ironed out, when their chops were up, but in the era of modern day tour routing oftentimes they begin in one of these two burgs and that’s always a mistake, but if you want to see the band at its best go see them where it matters, especially today, when bands get overall touring deals and go on endless slogs of over a hundred dates, sure they’re well paid, but can you imagine doing gig two or six and seeing an endless road of dates in front of you, how do you do it, it’s disheartening, in the old days this was not the case, there were endless one-nighters, but you had to go back to the studio to cut another LP, and before the Police went everywhere almost nobody did, you toured America and England and maybe did a few dates on the continent, but most American acts left Europe on the table, because it was hard to emerge with a profit.

So, the first track I heard on “Led Zeppelin III” was “Immigrant Song.” I loved the line about the land of the ice and snow, but this was not “Whole Lotta Love,” this was not a monster that would dominate the airwaves instantly. And then the album turned into “Led Zeppelin III,” the album derided at the time and now embraced, because it was a left turn, into folk and experimentation, not obvious like what had come before. To tell you the truth, the folky song I liked first was “Tangerine,” the descending chord pattern, the picking, it was like a walk in the countryside, yet with more than a pinch of darkness, yet the chorus added a bit of optimism so you didn’t get completely bummed out. But that intro, that first verse, listening now it reminds me exactly of that first college semester, being off-kilter, studying hard, since all my high school teachers had said “wait until you get to college,” and interacting with others but wondering where my place was, this was long before I realized I never belonged there, that almost no one had relationships, since we were all in such tight quarters, because there were more grinds than hipsters, and the hipsters advertised their self-professed identity, wearing overalls, akin to farmers, and then everybody on campus embraced the look and I was never born to follow, I believed in going my own way, I was brought up to question authority, but this was not the educational institution of the suburbs, this was rigid, the professors demanded respect, and unfortunately it was hard to give it to most of them, they were too self-impressed.

And now you know why the intro to “Tangerine” resonated so, I could slip through the curtain and marinate in the sound, feel I belonged somewhere.

And I played “Led Zeppelin III” over and over again, I know every lick by heart, but mostly it didn’t satisfy, it was a bit of a dud, back when you could still say that, before poptimism, when you must laud everything by an artist, everything on the charts, otherwise you’re not only a naysayer, but an ignorant naysayer. Let’s take “Friends” for example… It sounded like it was cut in Eastern Europe, that the boys had gone on an hejira to the hinterlands and they wanted to express the feeling they experienced, and it might sound good lying on your bed, listening on headphones, maybe stoned, but this was not the celebration of “Led Zeppelin II,” all comers were not embraced.

But “Gallows Pole”… That was the one track that stood out, that captured the essence of what had come before, even if it was essentially a cover.

It started with the pregnant poignant acoustic guitar intro. As if you were on a midnight ride, evading Jack the Ripper.

“Hangman, hangman”

This was the Robert Plant of 1970, not the Robert Plant of today, Jimmy was the leader, the dark force, but Robert was the singer, with his shirt open to the navel and the long blond ringlets, from the country, not London…talk about locking up your daughters. Today Robert Plant is seen as soft, an international treasure, he’s hiding in plain sight, he’s not Jimmy Page locked up in a castle with Aleister Crowley.

“What did you bring me my dear friends

To keep me from the gallows pole”

The onus was on us, the listeners, what could we bring to Robert to save him from hanging. Yes, Led Zeppelin were pied pipers, in their own space, there was not a similar band, on “Led Zeppelin III” they were not playing to casual acolytes, but true believers, what did we have to offer?

“I couldn’t get no silver, I couldn’t get no gold

You know that we’re too damn poor to keep you from the gallows pole”

Most of our English musician heroes had come from nothing, this was not America, where you could depend on Mommy & Daddy, where you watched the NFL on your color television, in the U.K. you were flying by your wits, wide awake.

And now Robert and the band are on the horse, you can feel the tension, they’re trying to escape the noose, Robert’s mind is racing. You know, when everything is at stake, when you’re contacting everyone you know, wanting someone to SAVE YOU! You’ve exhausted all of your own personal powers, you’re caught, your back is against the wall, and someone might save a damsel in distress, but a long-haired rocker?

And now it’s pure rock and roll. They’ve torn the roof off that sucker, even though you get the impression they’re out on the tiles, but there are no longer any limits, Robert is screaming, he can see his fate right before his eyes, his demise is imminent, his voice is rising, it’s almost like he’s crying WHO IS GONNA SAVE ME!

And then I dropped the needle and heard it all over again. Because I wanted to hear it, but I also needed to learn it on the guitar. Sure, by this point a lot of people had given up, after picking up axes after seeing the Beatles, but then there were professionals, and then there were the rest of us, that’s how we got closer to the music, by learning it, so I sat by the turntable, dropping the needle again and again, figuring out the key, the chords, and ultimately getting to the point where I could jam through this number and feel good, even though nobody else in my dorm owned “Gallows Pole.”

Now we all know Led Zeppelin returned to dominate the charts with “Stairway to Heaven” and the rest of “ZOSO” or “IV,” whatever you want to call it, killed, fired on all cylinders, “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll” hit the notes that “The Immigrant Song” just could not, and “Battle of Evermore” was superior to all the acoustic stuff on “III,” as was “Going to California,” and the reworked cover, “When the Levee Breaks,” finished the LP as if you were the mole being whacked over the head, it was so heavy, nothing else mattered, Zeppelin dominated your mind and the airwaves. And people forgot about “Led Zeppelin III.”

And, to be honest, to a great degree so did I, I knew it, but I rarely played it. I’d been there, done that, back when you could only afford one album at a time and played it to death and waited to scrounge up enough money to buy a new LP.

And when I listen to “Gallows Pole” now, I’m brought back to the fall of freshman year, it captures my mood, my environment so well. I might have been off-kilter, but I was game, I was not giving up, I retained my identity, and ultimately I escaped Middlebury College without my neck in a noose, but barely…

Your Desert Island Act-SiriusXM This Week

You can only take the work of one act to the desert island.

This idea was e-mailed to me by reader/listener Steve Langford, here’s what he had to say:

You’re going to a desert island alone for 1 year. The only music you can listen to (and there is no TV or internet) is the artist you choose. If you choose a band you don’t get their solo stuff. If you choose Paul McCartney you don’t get his Beatle stuff.

Tune in today, December 1st, to Volume 106, 7 PM East, 4 PM West.

Phone #: 844-6-VOLUME, 844-686-5863

Twitter: @lefsetz or @siriusxmvolume/#lefsetzlive

Hear the episode live on SiriusXM VOLUME:

If you miss the episode, you can hear it on demand on the SiriusXM app:

All The Nasties


I have a scratch in my copy of “Tiny Dancer.” Which was never a hit. Cameron Crowe shot “Tiny Dancer” into the stratosphere with that scene in “Almost Famous,” but you’ve got to know, if you wanted to hear “Tiny Dancer” back then you’d better have purchased the album, “Madman Across the Water,” which was seen as somewhat of a stiff, as it didn’t contain an AM radio smash, as a matter of fact many people were overloaded on Elton, with four LPs in a year, they didn’t want him to succeed, they thought he was overexposed, but then he had his comeback hit, “Rocket Man,” in the spring of ’72, from “Honky Chateau,” and then it was an endless streak of successes, one of the greatest runs ever, up there with those of Stevie Wonder and the Beatles, he didn’t release a stiff until ’76’s “Blue Moves,” and starting with “Honky Chateau” that’s six albums in a row, before “Blue Moves,” all containing tracks that are embedded in the culture.

Okay, everything’s relative, “Madman Across the Water” was not a disaster, but at that point to get into the economic/mindshare stratosphere you needed to cross over to AM, like Neil Young with “Harvest” in early ’72, otherwise you were just another album act, putting out records, sustained by the road. But, despite Elton’s pooh-poohing it, saying it was just a blip on the radar screen, his coming out as bisexual did ultimately hurt sales of “Blue Moves,” it did not live up to the prior double album, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” artistically or commercially.

But this is about “Madman Across the Water.

But you can’t tell this tale without mentioning what came before. Not “Empty Sky,” no one in America had it, no one knew it, I ultimately bought it on import, but the American debut, the eponymous “Elton John.” Sure, today the story is all about the Troubadour shows, and if you were an insider, a rabid fan, you knew about them from the rock press, but it was “Your Song” that instantly put Elton on the map. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who needed to change their sound to cross over to AM radio, Elton was built to straddle AM and FM, which is one of the reasons he became so gigantic, as for “Your Song”…you only had to hear it once to get it, if only today’s acts had such chops. But “Your Song” was never my favorite cut on the LP, which is the album I play most these days, for decades now, because of the sound, it’s dark, it’s just for you. And I’ll tell you the track that reached me first, that I could not get out of my head, that I had to play every day after coming back from skiing, and that’s “Take Me to the Pilot.” Elton was spitting the lyrics, he was truly rocking, he grabbed you by the throat immediately. And then came that pre-chorus and ultimately the chorus itself, which you could not help but sing along with. This is rock and roll, because it squeezes out every other thought when you listen to it, and Elton’s piano flourishes between the verses, and the strings…positively MAGICAL! And the other hit from “Elton John” was “Border Song,” but once again it was not the one I preferred on the second side, it could never adequately follow “Sixty Years On.”

“Who’ll walk me down to church when I’m sixty years of age”

When I first heard this I was eighteen. Sixty was way off. But now I’m past it, Elton too. And I hope you have a great stereo, or great headphones, so you can listen to “Sixty Years On” in high quality, to hear the strings, this is why we bought big rigs, component stereos, to get closer to the music.

And at this point “Sixty Years On” is my favorite cut on the LP, but it used to be the closer, “The King Must Die.”

“And sooner or later

Everybody’s kingdom must end”

If you’re my age in the music business, you’re running it, you’re the head of the label, a bigwig at the touring company, otherwise you’re out. But you’d be surprised who is out, in many cases still alive, they were giants, we hung on their every word, they were starmakers. But those days are through, there’s not a single act in the charts today who is anywhere near as big as Elton was, he was worldwide famous, everybody knew him and his music.

But back in ’71, when Elton was dominating, the album that got all the press, that I thought was the best, was “Tumbleweed Connection.” And my favorite track at the time opened the second side and no one ever talks about it, “Where to Now St. Peter?” Elton took that blue canoe and floated downstream like a leaf and you were another leaf beside him in the water, just the two of you, it was so enchanting.

The other killer was the second cut on side two, “Come Down in Time,” which people talk about today, but it took decades for people to recognize how great it was, kind of like Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys’ “‘Til I Die.” But the most famous songs were the long ones, especially the two ending each side, “My Father’s Gun” and “Burn Down the Mission,” however I can’t leave out “Amoreena,” and can I be sacrilegious here and admit I prefer Rod Stewart’s version of “Country Comfort”? Then again I heard it first. And no, I don’t prefer Spooky Tooth’s version of “Son of Your Father.”

Then came “11/17/70.” This was long before the release of radio shows was de rigueur. Actually, it never really was. Music was scarce back then, acts dribbled their tunes out, it wasn’t until Napster that all those live radio shows really surfaced. And what made “11-17-70” was the energy, the sound put out by this three piece band. Now the version in circulation today has bonus cuts, but on the initial release the keepers were the new, unknown cuts, “Bad Side of the Moon” and “Can I Put You On,” the latter of which is my favorite from the LP, actually one of my favorite Elton John cuts, that to this day most people still don’t know.

“I work for the foundry for a penny and a half a day

Like a blind street musician I never see those who pay

It’s dirty work in Birmingham

Better deal for a Sheffield man

If he can rivet then his kids can buy

Candy from the candy man”

It was so PERSONAL! It was an aural movie, you could see the images in your mind, and this was just for dedicated listeners, not everybody, but the definitive version was on Elton John’s fourth album in less than a year, the soundtrack to the movie “Friends.”

“I hope the day will be a lighter highway

For friends are found on every road”

“Friends” is one of the best tracks Elton John has ever recorded, but it was not a hit, and most people didn’t hear it…most people still have not heard it. Actually, I had a scratch in “Friends” too, that was the problem with the turntables of yore, they had arms to steady a stack of records, and I never used it, but still, removing the LP occasionally the edge of the record, the opening cut, would get caught on the edge of the arm and you’d end up with a scratch. And I OCD’ed over that for decades, on my copy of “Friends” the track actually skipped, whereas on “Tiny Dancer” there was just a pop every time the vinyl circled, but finally in the CD era “Friends” was released as part of a boxed set.

“Elton John” was released in April of 1970, but the truth is no one really heard it until October of that year. And just when everybody became conscious of Elton, he put out “Tumbleweed Connection” at the end of October of that same year. And finally, in March of 1971, both “11-17-70” and “Friends”…and now you know why some people were burned out on him


But then came “Madman Across the Water.” Which was released at the beginning of November 1971.

There’s nothing like breaking the shrinkwrap and dropping the needle on an unheard record. I bought “Hotel California” on the day it was released, do you know what an experience it was dropping the needle on my new Technics SL1300 and hearing the music emanating from the JBL L100’s? It was godhead, it was a private experience, I needed to tell everybody about it. Same deal with McCartney’s “Band on the Run.” And “Tiny Dancer,” I loved it from the very first note, and it was a long number not obviously made for the radio, but for fans, you could feel Elton and Bernie reaching for the brass ring, trying to lift their work one step higher.

But it was the second side I preferred at first. I liked “Razor Face” better than “Levon,” the cut that was played on the radio if any was at all, and the title track closer of the first side was melancholy but…it was “Indian Sunset,” the opening cut on side two, that truly resonated, maybe because I’d heard Elton play it at Carnegie Hall the previous spring, before it was released. “Indian Sunset” has the feel of “Sixty Years On,” it’s haunting.

But then the record switches gears completely, into “Holiday Inn,” which has the swing of “Take Me to the Pilot,” albeit slower and less bombastic.

And after that came “Rotten Peaches,” another magical cut.

The second side closer was “Goodbye,” almost an afterthought, barely exceeding a minute, but what came before was…ALL THE NASTIES!

“If it came to pass

That they should ask

What could I tell them”

Elton’s vocal is exquisite, it’s hard to believe someone has a voice this pure, it’s positively angelic and then…all of a sudden they throw in everything, including the kitchen sink, and then there’s a retreat to the quiet of Elton and his piano.

“All the Nasties” is really the final cut on “Madman Across the Water.” And I’d never heard anything like it other than “Tea for the Tillerman,” the title number, the closing track of the album, just over a minute long, which starts off with just Cat and his piano and then…he too throws in the kitchen sink, the assembled multitude is singing and the effect is so joyous you want it to continue…but it doesn’t.

Elton just released “Jewel Box,” a collection of demos and unreleased tracks, and as I scanned the song listing what intrigued me, what I had to hear first, were the demos from “Tumbleweed Connection.” They’re shocking, so good, they could have been released by themselves back in the heyday. But then there are two demos from “Madman Across the Water,” the title track and…ALL THE NASTIES??

It was like coming across an unexpected piece of gold. Of all the cuts to include there’s a personal favorite, a track it seems only I know??

“If it came to pass

That they should ask

What could I tell them”

It’s the same, yet different. You truly feel you’re in the room with Elton, maybe with your elbow on the piano. It’s completely different from today’s music, it’s rich, it’s made to be heard in pristine fashion, it’s anything but a throwaway, it’s the essence of what attracted us to Elton, to music, back in the early seventies.

Today they do it with tricks, auto-tune, hard drives, but it used to be you had to be able to do it all by your lonesome to even get a deal, never mind make it. There was no lip-synching in concert. This is truly Elton John’s voice, you can only bow down and pay fealty.

We used to want to know how these records were made, to be in the studio, a fly on the wall, would be a wet dream, truly, it would be an explosion of inner goodness, the nougat inside the chocolate, something you looked forward to that was even better than your preconception. You have that experience listening to the demo of “All The Nasties.”


“Oh, my soul

Oh, my soul

Oh, my soul

Oh, my soul”

That’s what music does, touch souls. When it’s done right. And nothing can touch souls as much as wooden music, real people playing and singing, the humanity shines through.

“But I know the way

They want me”

They wanted us a certain way, they wanted us to be doctors and lawyers, professionals, but we couldn’t do that, because we’d heard this music.

It’s hard to jump the rails of your parents’ expectations. I even went to law school. But I never wanted to practice law, it didn’t interest me whatsoever, what I needed was to get closer to this music.

Forget the badge of honor of going to a show, back then there was no internet to publicize your attendance, and oftentimes people had no idea who the acts were that I went to see.

But in music you could be accepted. You’d be at the show, sitting in your seat, because back then all venues had seats, and you sat, except maybe for the encore, and you’d turn your head and look at the person next to you and you’d be singing the lyrics and they’d be singing the lyrics and you felt like you…


Uncanny Valley

I spent all day Thursday, i.e. Thanksgiving, finishing John Boyne’s book “The Heart’s Invisible Furies”: It’s not new, as a matter of fact it came out in 2017, but it was rated one of the best books of that year and I’m all about research and I discovered it and reserved it at the library. I’ve seen the light, Libby is a great resource. Not for new books, not usually anyway, I’ll get to that, but for the old. Sure, you can’t get every book immediately, then again how necessary is instant gratification when the book’s in the rearview mirror anyway? And a few months after I reserved “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” it became available, and I started reading it and loving it, told Felice she had to dive in, and then I got to the dinner party scene and I was wondering… But then the book picked right up again and I was caught up in its world, I could see why it had a four and a half star rating on Amazon, with 3,271 reviews. If you’re on the fence, if you’re not sure, the number of reviews crossed with the star value is a good indicator of whether something is worth reading. For the record, most books are not worth reading, even the vaunted ones. And I won’t say everything popular is worth your while, but if you’re interested, data is helpful. Once again, I don’t want to waste any time with substandard fare, ergo my research re books and streaming series. I’d like to say the same thing about music, but that doesn’t square, maybe because the barrier to entry is so low, you can hear songs in a matter of minutes and everybody has an opinion and few can articulate it eloquently.

So, if you’re looking for something to take you away, remove you from this rough and tumble world, with insight and fun and even gravitas at times, check out “The Heart’s Invisible Furies.” But it is not a must-read, whereas “Uncanny Valley” is. After completing the Boyne book I picked up “Uncanny Valley” and read it in a day, could not put it down, not that I believe everyone else will feel the same way, because if you’re not part of the educated elite, or the tech-driven dropout cohort, if you don’t follow the Silicon Valley comings and goings on a regular basis you will not know what Anna Wiener is talking about. But ain’t that today’s America, a dividing line between those who know and those who do not. But in this case, those who do not are employing all the tech Silicon Valley and its ilk are purveying, so…

“Uncanny Valley” came out nearly a year ago, January 14, 2020. And it was reviewed everywhere, but I wasn’t sure I needed to read it, because the premise was not new, woman in tech world tells her story. But for some reason, newspapers are now releasing their Top Ten book lists, even though there’s a month left in the year, then again what books are yet to be released, and the “New York Times” put “Uncanny Valley” in their Top Ten.

Not that I wanted to buy it. So I went to Libby and I could download it IMMEDIATELY! That confounded me, wasn’t this a hot book? Or was it that readers hadn’t caught on to the “Times” endorsement yet or..?

And on really hot books, you get a week, but I could have “Uncanny Valley” for twenty one days. But, needless to say, I didn’t require that entire window.

So, Anna Wiener is in book publishing. A more backward, self-righteous entertainment enterprise you cannot find. And what immediately endeared me to this book was that Wiener admitted it! She and her fellow liberal arts majors had moved to Brooklyn where they were employed as assistants in publishing, an industry which felt it held the moral high ground, which felt felt superior to the moneygrubbers, where paying your dues was seen as part of the process. However, Wiener was broke, and there was no upward mobility on the horizon, she’d been an assistant for three years already, so, she decided to dive into tech. “Uncanny Valley” is her story.

At times I was prepared to wince, because it seemed Wiener was about to embrace the highfalutin’, elitist attitude of those who work in publishing in New York City, wherein their suffering is admirable and their viewpoint is superior to everyone else’s and tech is the devil. But she never quite fell off the precipice. This was very much a personal journey, Wiener was giving her own personal perspective…was she fulfilled, was she missing out on life working so hard, BUT SHE DID LIKE THE MONEY!

Bottom line, do you sacrifice your powers of soft analysis, about people and feelings, to get on the tech gravy train, to have disposable income, to feel part of something?

And Wiener acknowledges that the tech peak is past. But she also delineates all those from other walks of life, like lawyers, who took entry level jobs just to get in the door. Then again, who wants to be a lawyer?

But Wiener has no technical skills, she doesn’t know how to code, so she constantly feels like an impostor, and is seen as a second-class citizen by the tech bros.

Not all of them are bros, Wiener makes this clear, but most of them…

For about ten years there, especially after the launch of Apple’s App Store, everyone felt like they could do it, they could create something that would lead to endless riches. But Wiener talks about how hard it truly is. Most of the tech leaders decided on their path in high school and have been following it ever since, working nearly 24/7 and not always succeeding. The CEO of one of the companies she works for, who is a soft-voiced Vince Lombardi, ultimately walks away from the company he started as a result of burnout. Oh, did I tell you the VCs who invested in his company also invested in a competitor? Talk about loyalty.

So, Wiener starts on the east coast. At a startup, she’s one of the earliest hires. But she doesn’t get it, at this level the honchos expect you to create your own job and execute it. For those used to education, jumping through hoops, this is a challenge they can’t even see. Work is different from school. Those people with all the money without college degrees, never mind graduate degrees, have something special that too often the highly educated do not. You can’t teach entrepreneurship. And if you don’t know how to pivot, to sacrifice sunk costs, you’ll have a hard time running a tech business. Students invest in their education, it’s a timeline for a resume. Then again, entrepreneurs need no resume, they’re starting from scratch, operating by their wits.

And Wiener moves to San Francisco and is coasting. Making that buck, primarily providing customer support. But you have to be DWTC at the company, or you’re gone. DWTC is “Down with the cause.” If you’re not committed, 110%, if you’re not willing to work on the weekends, sacrifice your personal life, there’s no room for you. So Wiener keeps working harder and harder until she jumps.

Meanwhile, she lives the life of a twentysomething. She has a boyfriend, in tech too, she does Ecstasy, she attends raves…if you’re not willing to test limits, you probably shouldn’t live in San Francisco, California at all.

And her friends back in Brooklyn are still broke, cheering each other on in their low-level arts endeavors. Then again, so many are living on the dole, daddy’s money, that income is secondary, it’s hard to compete with those with endless unpaid internships.

So Wiener keeps questioning herself. Is this life working for her or not? Are the people involved good or bad? One thing’s for sure, most of the tech bros are one-dimensional, they can do this and little more. But they believe they’re well-rounded and know everything.

So Wiener doesn’t excoriate the tech business, she just wonders if it’s for her. Does it fit her needs and desires. But, and here’s a big but, MOST PEOPLE DON’T GET TO ASK THIS QUESTION!

I’m not putting Wiener down for this whatsoever, I’m just drawing a line between those highly educated, the so-called “elite,” and everybody else. Once again, I don’t think everybody else can even read this book, they won’t get the references. For whatever reason, Wiener doesn’t name names. Probably for fear of lawsuits, as a result of NDAs and such. And even if you’re paying attention to techworld, you still might not be able to figure out what companies she’s actually talking about at times. In other words, “Uncanny Valley” will go over most people’s heads. But never forget, these are the people creating modern America. The government is truly clueless when it comes to tech, even candidates, all these years on many Democrats still don’t know how to employ the web to get their message out, never mind get ahead of the curve and regulate it.

I don’t want to tell you the entire story. Then again, “Uncanny Valley” is less about facts than feelings, in a world where you’re supposed to stuff your feelings down and follow the money. Of course there are those who do the opposite of this, reject technology in general, but they’re just taking themselves off the game board of life. If you’re not familiar with the landscape, you have no impact upon it.

And, of course, as you read the book you start to wonder, to what degree are you caught up in the techies’ web.

Let me give you some quotes.

“‘Look up sick systems,’ said Noah. ‘Look up trauma bonding. It’s the culty thing: keep people busy until they forget about the parts of their life they left behind.'”

One of the best parts of the book is when Noah stands up for himself, tries to get what he deserves. But his point here is you can drink the kool-aid and feel good about yourself as part of the cult, but in the end is that all you have, your role at the company?

“‘…all the money from the internet comes from surveillance.” 

And there you have it folks. You surf, anywhere and everywhere, and people get rich by hoovering up your movements and slicing and dicing and selling the data. Forget entering your credit card info, all the stuff you think is personal, you’ve already sacrificed your IDENTITY by going online.

“The endgame was the same for everyone: Growth at any cost. Scale above all. Disrupt, then dominate.”

Domination doesn’t get enough ink. If you’re not dominant in tech, you’re about to be disrupted, overthrown. Apple built its colossus by owning the portable music player sphere. Google owns search. Amazon owns commerce. Try and compete with them and they’ll either buy you or shut you down. This is not art, this is a zero-sum game.

“People whose default conversational mode was debate.”

This is what I miss in life, especially in a world where money trumps all. Wiener attributes this to males, but I attribute it to elite education. Anyone can know the facts, but what do you have to say about them?

“The internet was a collective howl, an outlet for everyone to prove that they mattered.”

BINGO! Never articulated better. There used to a higher class, those above you, but the internet flattened society and gave you access and everyone is pissed and taking others down.

“Everything was simultaneously happening in real time and preserved for posterity, in perpetuity.”

That’s the internet, there’s a permanent record. Most people never check it, but if they have a need or desire to, there it is.

“My brain had become a trash vortex, representations upon representations.”

We surf endlessly. The apps are created to maintain our attention. We can’t resist. We’re collecting info 24/7, do we need to know all this, will we fall behind if we don’t, are we addicted?

“I was always looking for the emotional narrative, the psychological explanation, the personal history.”

That’s me! I want to gather the facts, but then I want to create context, how did this happen, what does it mean, where do we go from here? Once again, they teach this in elite institutions, that’s all they’re about. Most of America is never exposed to these concepts of analysis, and pooh-pooh them when the arrive. But, in a world of zeros and ones, soft skills like this are sidelined, they’re seen as having little value.

“The person with the yearning was me.”

Can you stifle it? Your feelings, your needs, who you are? Do you have the courage to jump ship?

That’s what “Uncanny Valley” is ultimately about. Sure, you get an inside look at tech startups and how they work, in detail, but now that you’re in the belly of the beast you must ask yourself, is this where I want to be, are these the people to be lionized and followed?

So, once again, this is not a beginner’s book, this is not “Tech Startups for Dummies,” this is not a 101 class, but more like a 301. You don’t have to be an expert, but to fully appreciate it you must have some miles under your wheels. And if you do, reading “Uncanny Valley” will be a very rewarding experience. If you don’t…I advise you get up to speed and read it, because it’s these people who are steering not only our country, but our entire world.