Observations and comment.

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Without a doubt

question-606955_1280 Back in my rock & roll days I spent more than a few late nights in gin mills and honky-tonks, downing beers with world experts on economic policy, foreign relations, and national security issues. Well, they sounded like world experts.

I was always impressed with the certainty and assurance with which these self-ordained authorities offered solutions to every societal problem imaginable. (I also wondered how these barroom denizens found the time to do the exhaustive research upon which their confident pronouncements had to be based.)

Likewise, in the public square today I am struck by the fact that candidates (at least one, anyway) for the highest office in the land can expatiate with total certainty on solutions to decades-old issues—without any apparent education in them.


Innovation on the cheap

As Paul Newman said in Cool Hand Luke, "Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand." The band Walk Off The Earth seems to know how to do something with nothing.

Business leaders have said forever that a creative team on a tight budget will often out-innovate a team that has all the bucks it needs.

Take the music videos that WOTE effortlessly cranks out every month. The following clip of a popular James Bay song—performed in a bathroom!—shows what they can do on a zero budget. (This certainly raises the bar for singing in the shower.)


Front-stabbing: a cool new management trend?

scream-307414_1280 Hey, check out this new workplace practice. It involves giving people very direct, negative feedback unsparingly, as mentioned here in a Wall Street Journal article.

Front-stabbing, as it's called, is apparently the reasonable alternative to backstabbing. By this logic, blunt criticism, even of the harsh variety, should be delivered to employees or managers whenever it’s warranted—without any social niceties or face-saving gestures.

Now if we’re talking about the value of honest feedback, who can argue with that? Whether it’s peer to peer or manager to employee, people have to find a way to communicate the truth, especially when there’s a performance problem. And honest communication is doubly needed in an organization that promotes “niceness” at all cost, where no one wants to upset anyone else and mediocre work is tolerated.

But HOW you deliver that honest feedback makes ALL the difference—at least if you’d prefer to not have a resentful or traumatized workforce. It’s not difficult—and it doesn’t take much time—to deliver candid input that will not insult, humiliate, or abuse a coworker. (If that’s not important to you, you can go now and close the door behind you.) If the feedback is skillfully delivered, it will usually be appreciated.


Keeping It Simple

record-33583_1280I came across something I wrote years ago about early rock records that seems even more relevant today, given the ubiquity of computer-generated robopop...

I was prompted this weekend to take a fresh listen to Ye Auld Hit Parade, so I could hear how those rock & roll classics stand up, almost 60 years later. (Is rock that old??)

Well, after listening to a sample of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley tunes, I'd have to say I'm a tad disappointed. Disappointed that so little of that pure, unadorned rock & roll feel has survived into the present, where complex arrangements and overwrought production can stifle the simple rhythm and primitive back beat that characterize great rock & roll.

But if you want to hear the real thing, just fire up your iTunes and sample Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," Richard's "Keep A-Knockin','' or Presley's "Hound Dog." (Go ahead, do it!) If you haven't heard these songs—or heard them lately—you'll be in for a surprise. Anyone with a pulse should be bowled over by the energy, power, and clean simplicity of these hits.


The prophetical Prince

We lost another great one with the passing of Prince Rogers Nelson last week. This diminutive dude of outsized talent was an uber-creative alchemist of funk, soul, pop, and rock, which he delivered with lustful bravado.

He was also a guitar master—as amply displayed in the second half of this must-see video from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductions in 2004. (The Beatles' George Harrison and Prince were both inducted that year.)

With the world’s attention now focused on Prince, this would be a good time to make sense of the cultural impact he’s made. After all, this is the performer who so offended the white bread sensitivities of the reactionary 80s that his Purple Rain album drove Tipper Gore (wife of then-U.S. Senator Al Gore) to successfully lobby for “Parental Advisory” labels on CDs.


Who owns that stairway to heaven?

Love those rock & roll lawsuits! Here's a fun one: Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are being sued for copyright infringement for the opening guitar line on their overwrought classic, "Stairway to Heaven."

The plaintiff is the estate of Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California) of the band Spirit. The estate alleges that Page and Plant—as composers of the song—stole the guitar intro from a Spirit song, "Taurus," that California wrote.

Zeppelin as a band has reportedly made over a half billion dollars on "Stairway to Heaven" and Page and Plant have probably made even more from songwriter royalties, so what's at stake here isn't chump change.

Listening to the opening of the two songs back to back, I think Page's guitar intro may qualify as a lift. [The video I linked to is no longer available.] Page even plays it in the same key (A minor) that Spirit used. Zeppelin was likely exposed to the song when the band opened for Spirit in the late 60s. And the fact that Zeppelin has a history of losing plagiarism lawsuits won't help the case—assuming it makes it to trial without a settlement.


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