Observations and comment.

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Dealing with grown-ups

Folks often ask me what prompted me to start up this blog over 12 years ago. In keeping with the New Year I thought I would update my response.

Simple answer: I wanted to use this space to make my business-lessons-from-rock case—namely, that rock & roll bands (who are essentially small business teams) have much to teach us in larger organizations about innovation, style, attitude, and taking fun seriously.

But then folks would say, “Ok, but what got you going on THAT?"

Well, when I first began management consulting and training 35 years ago, I felt a tad dislocated in my new environment. I had played in bands for a living up until then and had avoided anything resembling a corporate life. So when I started working in business I just couldn't relate to the lack of play, humor, passion, engagement, creativity, personality, design, chutzpah, and free-thinking autonomy that were in abundant supply in the music world.

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Muddling through the holidays

In the spirit of the season, I often reminisce about great holiday songs that have interesting backstories, especially if they provide a business lesson or two.

Every time I pick up the guitar to play “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”—arguably the most popular Christmas classic of all time—I’m reminded of two things: the song has a “copyright question” and there are entirely different versions of it.

The ownership issue is small potatoes compared to many such controversies, notably who wrote “Jingle Bell Rock,” which I’ve previously written about here and here. (Singer Bobby Helm and guitarist Hank Garland may have lost $100 million in royalties on that one. And there was a possible murder attempt on Garland’s life to shut him up about it. But we digress.)

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Our better and worse angels

This period in time marks the 50th anniversary of two events that nearly simultaneously captured the national imagination—and hit close to home for me.

On the nights of August 8 and 9, 1969, Charles Manson’s communal family committed the most shocking murders in LA history—which included the slaying of Valley of the Dolls actress Sharon Tate and four of her guests (three of whom were shot as well as stabbed). The tabloids went crazy with the grisly details.

I was performing in a rock band that weekend on Sunset Strip, two miles from the first murder in the Hollywood Hills. Given the brutality of that crime and its tie to the entertainment industry, West Hollywood was in a state of shock. After the second murder the following night near Griffith Park, the condition became Code Red.

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The night the music died

It occurred 60 years ago. But it didn’t have to happen. Good management could have prevented it.

The Winter Dance Party of 1959 was the rock & roll “Tour From Hell.” It was a grueling excursion—11 dates in 11 days—through the Upper Midwest in sub-zero weather on an unheated school bus. (Actually it was five buses, because one after another broke down on the highway in the Arctic temperatures.) In desperation, three of the stars of the tour tried to escape the conditions for a day by grabbing a flight on a small plane to the next stop 400 miles away.

You know how this story ends.

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Send lawyers, guns, and money

“I went home with the waitress the way I always do. How was I to know she was with the Russians too?” That was the opening of Warren Zevon’s 1978 rock classic, "Lawyers, Guns and Money," in which an American rich kid asks daddy for legal help, weapons, and cash to bail him out of international crises of his own making.

Zevon’s gonzo verse—written during the Cold War—sounds strangely prescient these days, when Russian spying is a daily news event in the US. But his lyrics are not as shocking as the weekly accounts of Washington corruption, which remind us that the political swamp has been restocked in the last 18 months with ever more primitive life forms. A treasure trove for evolutionary biologists.

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Curdled Cream: lessons from Eric Clapton and associates

Cream-Psychedelic-Supermarket-Small I seem to be celebrating a lot of anniversaries this year, but today marks the quinquagenary of the most memorable event of my music career: opening the show for Eric Clapton’s Cream in New Haven, Connecticut, while they were riding high on the success of their Top 10 single, “Sunshine of Your Love.”

As I mentioned in a post ten years ago, my folk-rock band, The Morning, based in New Haven, jumped at the chance to be on the bill with the hottest (and arguably the first) “supergroup” of its day, featuring the most critically acclaimed rock guitarist in the world, Eric “Slowhand” Clapton.

But what I dimly grasped that night became a seminal insight later—and a core pillar of my business consulting today. I witnessed first hand what had been widely reported in the pop music press. Cream was a band riven by conflict. But, more importantly, that dissension was part of what fueled their greatness—as is the case with many creative teams.

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