Rock & Roll, show us your birth certificate!

rock music98 I’ve been enjoying my deep dive into rock history of late, especially the golden-oldie glory days. Last week I wrote about the mid-50s tech innovations that helped rock & roll achieve lift-off. This week: the political and religious opposition that nearly grounded it.

Unless you lived through—or heavily researched—those early days of rock, you may be unaware of the distraught reactions that entertainers like Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry drew from morality’s gatekeepers. As mentioned in an earlier post, rock & roll was a “communicable disease” (according to at least one respected American psychiatrist) and a tool of Satan (according to hundreds of religious authorities, including Cardinal Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XV). Another critic railed against rock’s “deafening, dope-ridden, degenerate mob scenes.” More alarming to me, a research study purported to show that overexposure to rock beats “causes homosexuality in mice and deafness in pigs.” (As if we don’t have enough problems.)

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Symbiotic synchronicity

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Major innovations often occur in the same time frame as related innovations (as is happening now in computer software and home electronics) which enable them to rapidly build on each other’s success.

In the mid-50s, there was a batch of breakthrough technologies of mutual benefit to each other—a veritable hi-tech hit parade—that brought to life a brand new musical form: rock & roll. The rapid rise of rock is a dazzling illustration of the power of symbiotic innovation.

Here are four of the most important inventions that helped rock & roll in its early days—and which were helped by rock & roll.

• The transistor radio. Developed in late 1954 (just in time!) and made possible by the invention of transistor-based circuitry, this pocket-sized, battery-powered “mobile device” enabled teens to listen to the music of their choice by themselves. (No more crowding around the big RCA Victor console in the living room!) Young folks could listen to that crazy jungle music in their bedrooms, unsupervised. A “teen empowerment” tool if there ever was one.

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Time for women to rock the house—part one

Whenever I look at the history of rock—as I frequently do to harvest lessons for mainstream business (and especially for business teams)—I’m always struck by one disconcerting detail: the early years of rock & roll featured few women.

Yes, there were plenty of successful female pop singers—and soulful “Girl Groups”—in the 50s and early 60s, but rock & roll was primarily a men’s club for a full decade after Little Richard and Chuck Berry first lit up the charts in 1955. (Just as true on the business side, where female record producers, business managers, and music promoters were virtually non-existent.)

Starting around 1967, rock bands with female vocalists began to emerge on the national stage—e.g., The Jefferson Airplane (with Grace Slick) and Big Brother & the Holding Company (with Janis Joplin). By the 70s there was no shortage of top women rock singers, appearing solo or in bands—from The Ike & Tina Turner Revue to Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie in Fleetwood Mac to Deborah Harry in Blondie to Pat Benatar to Patti Smith and many more. Today there are dozens of female rockers—like Hayley Williams in Paramore—fronting top-selling bands, and living their “daydreams.”

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Answering the call

Phone When my home phone rang yesterday, I had already decided I was too busy to answer, but I glanced at the Caller ID anyway (as we all do). To my surprise it showed the call was coming from ME, listing my telephone number.

I’ve heard that techno-savvy telemarketers can make it appear that their calls are originating from the number they’re calling into, but I was caught off guard for the moment and I had an odd notion: this call might actually be coming from me—from my higher self (or the voice of my conscience)! Perhaps it had a message I needed to hear, a message I had been ignoring too long.

In nanoseconds my mind raced through the possibilities. Perhaps I was going to admonish myself for being too insensitive in this blog—for my choleric blasts against toothless, unimaginative, pop music pablum (as I did here for instance) and my defense of all-things-Beatles. Or for never passing up a cheap laugh at the expense of beleaguered financial institutions (as I did here when I referred to every big Wall Street investment bank as a “special snowflake” that needed affirmation and support). Or for savaging the benign patriarchy and “Father-Knows-Best” autocracy that masquerades as “servant leadership” in too much of the business world.

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The open office

talking horse The “open office environment” is everywhere these days.

No private space, no closed doors, everyone working side by side in a collaborative utopia. Coworkers can see/hear what each other is doing and spontaneously contribute insights. New ideas, models, and projects are hatched on the spot. It’s amazing how this approach has caught fire. (70% of offices use it now!)

It’s amazing because it’s a dopey idea.

Wait! I know what you’re thinking: you can’t overlook the benefits of people constantly peering over your shoulder, loudly interrupting your work, and offering unsolicited judgments. Besides, what are stairwells good for, if not for holding private discussions?

As it turns out, evidence abounds that productivity suffers when people can’t find private space. A New Yorker article convincingly makes the case here that open office layouts destroy job performance. The predictable results are: reduced creativity, concentration, sense of control, motivation, and job satisfaction; damage to interpersonal relationships; and increased stress and sick time from noise, commotion, and interruption. (Other than that, it’s a nifty idea.) Articles in Fast Company here and The Huffington Post here confirm this.

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Not so happy together: business lessons from turtles

You think you’ve had problems with managers? Check out the clip below, which hilariously illustrates the problems that rock bands have had with their management.

In this short video, Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman & Howard Kaylan) of the Turtles lament the fact that their battles with seven managers kept the band from being financially successful—despite many chart hits, including “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Happy Together,” “You Baby,” and “She’d Rather Be With Me.”

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John Lennon, American immigrant

[Given that October 9 is the 74th anniversary of Lennon’s birth I thought I would reprise this post from 2010. It's worth emphasizing here that innovators attract innovators. Lennon chose the US for his home—and notably NYC—so he could get close to the most creative hearts and minds in his field. Not limited to the US of course, the innovation cauldrons of our great cities beckon to us all.]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This week marks another anniversary of the birth of John Lennon, arguably the most influential rock musician of the last century (a proposition I’m happy to discuss in the comments page).

Lennon of course was the founder of The Beatles and, in its early days, its leader and most prolific songwriter. The Beatles, as you may have heard, were the most successful pop music entity in history—a daringly imaginative British rock band that hit artistic and commercial peaks that have never been matched, in part because of Lennon’s disruptive creativity.

Lennon was also an international peace activist who generated headlines of his own with his anti-war protests and performances, before and after the Beatles’ dissolution.

But Lennon, like so many larger-than-life pop personalities, was a bundle of contradictions. This peace advocate was a brawler in his youth and, at times, an abuser of friends and lovers alike. (He was not a pleasant drunk.)

He could write the most sublime acclamations of the human spirit (“Across the Universe,” “Imagine”) and the most sentimental of love songs (“This Boy,” “If I Fell”), yet also the harshest put-downs (“Sexy Sadie,” “How Do You Sleep?”).

But his biggest contradiction has been overlooked by critics and fans.

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