Random ruminations

Tree in Winter

Maybe it was the ice chopping I had to do to get to my car. (Will it ever stop snowing?) But all week I've been thinking about hacking. And how rock & rollers are essentially, fundamentally, necessarily hackers!

We’re always banging up against some limitation—while composing, arranging, recording, or gigging—trying to find a solution to a musical problem of some sort. But with enough fiddling and diddling we often discover a way out of the box. As Andrew “Boz” Bosworth of Facebook says: “A hacker is someone who finds ways around the constraints placed upon a system ultimately redefining what is possible within it.”

The great bands have “redefined what’s possible” with some amazing work-arounds—The Beatles in recording, the Grateful Dead in live performance, Walk Off The Earth in music videos. Something we can chop away at in future discussions.

***

I got spoiled playing in rock bands for two decades because I never had to endure the excesses of top-down management. In fact the only time I ever worked for someone who had any resemblance to a traditional boss was when I was a paperboy, delivering the Boston Traveler and Boston Evening Globe. (I know I’m dating myself—but I save a fortune on weekends that way.) My boss was a cigar-chompin’ troglodyte who introduced this innocent 11-year old to a wonderful new lexicon of adjectives to describe disagreeable customers. But, thankfully, even he didn’t tell me how I had to deliver the paper.

As Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith wrote in their brilliant tome, The End of Management and the Rise of Organizational Democracy: “[Top-down] management…downplays the creative ideas of employees, imposing external responsibility and infantilizing and humiliating the very people they ought to be…encouraging to act as adults.” Indeed.

Not to be confused with management, leadership has its own set of challenges. Whether in business, arts, or affairs of state, people demand things of leaders, then complain when they get what they ask for. When Barack Obama was first campaigning for US President, people were saying, “We want a government that will LISTEN to us.” Then he gives us a government that listens to every word (on every phone call)—and folks are complaining about that. The poor guy can’t catch a break. Meanwhile I’m developing a serious crush on metadata.

***

There is a now a cornucopia of books drawing business lessons of some kind from the world of rock & roll. (At least eleven I know of, and several quite good.) Fortunately—for me—most are about marketing wisdom or leadership nostrums, while mine is about team lessons. But lest I be accused of jumping on the rock bandwagon (or the rock-band wagon), these books were published AFTER I started blogging on this topic on different sites and began working on my book, beginning in 2003. But such are the perils of being a slow writer. (I started this post in November.) Fortunately, the book—all 200+ pages—is basically done, and I’m exploring publishing options.

***

Ken (on right) and I plotting world domination a few years ago
Ken (on right) and I plotting world domination a few years ago
I was shocked to hear that my best friend from childhood—Ken Melville, whom I lost touch with as a teen but reconnected with via email a few years ago—passed away two weeks ago in California without warning. He was a regular contributor to the BLFR comments and did a guest post here last year. Ironically, I was about to interview him on his colorful career as a musician, record producer, and game designer. He would never crow about his achievements but I know he opened for, played in the same band with, and recorded with some top-tier rock artists. (I’m also told he was the writer and designer of the Sewer Shark video game.)

Ken was a more naturally gifted musician than I, and he took up the drums and guitar with astonishing ease. (A true hacker, he jury-rigged a drum kit from spare parts, just as he created sports games from sticks and brooms.) He was also a fierce critic of musical mediocrity, religious fundamentalism, laissez-faire capitalism, and MOR politics. But despite his flaming keypad he was a softie at heart with a Proust sensibility and an astonishing recollection of detailed childhood memories (which he would love to share at great length with me). His remembrances of Christmas past in Arlington (MA) were pure poetry. I'd love to do an eBook some day on his correspondence with me. I hope he knew the difference he made in my life in the last few years of his. I’ll miss the guy big-time.

Eco-friendly wooden cars, made in Finland, may soon hit the market. But Ken was onto this over a half century ago. Here he is, partially hidden, hacking at the final touches on this prototype while I preen for the press. Brakes would be added later (which he informed me during the test drive).
Eco-friendly wooden cars, made in Finland, may soon hit the market. But Ken was onto this over a half century ago. Here he is—partially hidden—hacking at the final touches on this prototype while I preen for the press. Brakes would be added later (which he informed me DURING the test drive).

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4 Comments

  1. I had utter (and ignorant) disdain for this Jack White guy, until I saw "This Might Get Loud."

    What? Drums and guitar, with no bass?

    More than one clip of the same setup during that movie. So much guitar there's no room for bass.

    And then he brings is "make it hard on me and I'll try harder" sensibilities to country, and anywhere else they'll take him.

    Never knew a rule he couldn't stomp to the floor like he does with his plastic JC Penney guitar.

    The Cocteau Twins sing without words. The Moody Blues blew off every instruction they were given, everything implicit or explicit in their contract with the recording studio and the orchestra at hand, and instead, blended rock and classical music into something bizarre, and wholly natural. Dylan intentionally puts himself in a box and says look at me look at me so when the box suddenly disappears, we're all confused, and he walks off laughing, musically and otherwise.

    Musical hackers are worth a book of their own. We could crowd source it.

    * * *

    I wish I'd had a chance to meet Ken.

  2. Yes, Jobs loved many things about the Fabs, including their radical innovation and their ability to create a whole larger than the sum of its parts. No wonder he named his business after the Beatles' record company.

    I love his quote: "My model for business is The Beatles...Great things in business are never done by one person, they're done by a team of people." Many folks over the years have misunderstood the Apple culture and underestimated the role of "team" in it.

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