A Regrettable Trend

A Regrettable Trend

My shoes have a few miles on them at this particular point in my life, and I’ve been noticing something, which I’m sure if you’re over the age of 27 you have too. And that’s the rapid decline of Americans’ sense of self-presentation. This may be the case in some other countries as well, but my concern is our homeland and how we’re representing ourselves and our families.

Kentuckiana-man

“Kentuckiana-Man” Lots of sighting of his species when it starts getting hot out. Notice underwear is hanging out but still doesn’t conceal his butt-crack. Perfect.

I suppose it was bound to happen. I’m not just talking about America’s obesity problem, which is far more problematic and noticeable than any opioid or gun-regulation issue on our hands. We live in the land of the free which I’m more and more thankful for, so if you want to treat your body like a trash can, go right ahead.

The problem I’m more concerned about is what is going on over and on the mesomorphic bodies that are on parade around this fine land. Just over the past few decades, the people in America decided that wearing what you had on when you just got out of bed is fine to go grocery shopping and do other necessary public tasks in.

I feel like I don’t need to post evidence of what I mean here because it’s so evident. Just Google “People of WalMart,” and there you go.

What I’m referring to is the fact that just a little over a half-century ago, men would wear hats, suits, ties(not to mention cufflinks, tie-tacks, and other finishing accessories), and ladies would wear hats, gloves, and dresses to go out in. They did so because there was a sense of pride in how they appeared and had some dignity. Apparently, the concept of keeping up one’s appearance for our own sake suddenly was a worry no more. God forbid we might put ourselves together for the sake of our fellow men and women that have to look at us.

Clearly, the days of taking our fashion hints from the military were over came to a crashing, fiery halt in the God-awful ’70s, where no unnatural synthetic material wouldn’t make the best choice of clothing material. Dakron, nylon, rayon, and any other plastic, non-breathable, flammable, itchy, double-knit atrocity was high fashion during my childhood. But to go from polished wingtips, suit and tie and hat to shower shoes, pajama bottoms and a tank top in a couple of decades is throwing in the barf rag. It’s not just saying “I don’t care what you think about me.” It says “I have no pride or self-respect.” That may sound harsh, but how could you argue that?  Even if you tried, you’d then have to consider the bodies being clothed these days which are larger than they should be, and tattooed as much as the family budget will allow for such important permanent graffiti. Tattoos are a whole different cultural phenomenon that should be discussed. It used to be the counter-culture that got tattoos. But now pure-skinned people such as myself seem to be the counter-culture. A lot of other cultural flip-flops have happened lately that make more conservative people the counter-culture as well, which is interesting to me from a psychological behavior point of view, especially when dealing with collectives.

But I have a theory. In a time not too long ago, most bedroom furniture, particularly chests of drawers and dressers, or whatever you want to use, came with mirrors attached along the back, vertically. I still have mine from growing up, and the ones in my house growing up all had them (admittedly, they were antiques, even back then and certainly now). And these days, if you look for that type of furniture for your bedroom, where most people get dressed and ready to go out in public, the units have none. You buy them separately to hang on the wall (or lean against it dangerously, as is often the case.)

I think that was probably for two, or more, reasons. One is that good mirrors are heavy and expensive and fragile. That means they add a lot of cost to the unit, but may, or may not, add as much or more value to the unit to the customer. For many people that buy furniture these days, it’s largely based on cost because furniture has become a commodity, unfortunately. That’s thanks to IKEA, flat-pack Indian operations and some good marketing. North Carolina used to be a hub for some of the best-made furniture around, but those manufacturers were largely washed away in the ’90s. And if you want to make a dresser a LOT less expensive, lose the mirror. The other reason I can figure, is that attaching it to the back of a dresser is a little tricky and you need to have A) A heavy, solid piece of furniture as a sturdy, immovable base (which most modern, common furniture isn’t these days) and B) A husband, friend or be able to hold up a 50+ pound mirror while screwing it onto the supports. Although I believe a lot of people ended up just leaning them against the walls in the end.

So, I searched around online and thought of the bedrooms I’ve seen in homes I’ve been in over recent years, which isn’t that many granted, but just for some empirical support. And I didn’t see any that had mirrors included as a piece of the furniture. You’d need to specifically look for something like that, or have it made, which hikes the cost, and quality, up a noticeable bit.

So, why was the mirror ever included? Well, there was a time when people cared about what they look like before leaving the house. That no longer seems to be the case with many Americans and visiting foreigners. For example, I have the mirror on the back of my dresser, which also has a box for my “manly” items such as cufflinks, studs, lapel stays, etc… and a great glass-topped monogrammed box which has my eyeglasses and watches and other stuff in it when I’m primpin’ to go pimpin’.

dresser box

A glimpse of my dresser top. Be sure to salute.

But removing that checkpoint is a reason for the noticeably relaxed fashions people choose to wear, and how they present themselves in public. I’m certainly not saying I’m a fashion model by any means, but I’d rather not go around looking like I just don’t care. Put yourself together somewhat, at least.

Want Your Startup to Fail? Then Don’t Do These Things.

Want Your Startup to Fail? Then Don’t Do These Things.

Successful Startup Tips

Everyone’s heard the line that half of all new businesses fail within the first 5 years, or whatever the made-up statistic is. To truly know what’s going on with startup businesses, it would be wise to narrow the discussion down to a segment, industry, geographical area, or combination thereof. So it doesn’t do much good to generalize, or even worry about what people say as far as that goes because what you should be interested in is what space you’ll be playing in. America’s business scene is too dynamic to make such generalizations, which is a great thing to be able to say, as an American. Who happens to be interested in business.

I’ve written enough business and marketing plans, interviewed enough business owners, and been in and around business at this point in my life to know why most businesses fail. And just as importantly, why and how startups succeed. 

The biggest mistake: Not making sure the numbers work.

What I see more than anything is an eagerness to rush to market before doing due diligence and research and working the numbers.

Is your product/service even marketable? Have you tested it out in the marketplace? How? There are lots of ways. But make sure people are even willing to pay money for your value proposition. And even if they SAY they would, that’s a lot different from actually laying their money down, so beware.

Trying your product out in the real world is a step to gather some numbers. Pricing is a tricky science/art. It’s helpful to know some finance and economic theory when pricing out goods. It shouldn’t be a guessing game.

A website I visit daily is Product Hunt. I was one of the early members way back when founder Ryan Hoover was rolling it out, which he did very responsibly, as a Y-Combinator project. And he’s continued to build it into a serious business that is widely used (and actually makes money!)

product hunt logo

But what Product Hunt does is introduce new products and services that are “hunted” down by early adopters, developers, designers, marketers, and other people that I like. Those goods and services are then upvoted by the public, and you can talk to the makers and discuss the products. It’s a great way to find some ways to work more efficiently and some nice design, development and writing tools.

But since it’s inception a few years ago, I’ve watched thousands of new products come and go on that site and read and talked to the makers/proprietors. And many of the products, when deployed to make money, fail as businesses. They didn’t do their homework, didn’t see if there was a marketable demand for their offering, and didn’t make sure the numbers worked. Many of the hunted products are side hustles developers and Silicon Valley types unveil there, who know a lot about programming, but nothin about business. So it goes.

But it doesn’t end there. That’s just the beginning. Forecasting sales and demand for new products is difficult. But with some hard work and smarts, you, or someone with an MBA, should be able to formulate some realistic scenarios. Work the numbers. Pay your taxes, your licensing, lease, vendors, employees, and throw in a realistic, workable marketing budget among all your many other expenses and see what your margins look like. (This is where a lot of people would/should go back to the drawing board when they see that their “Next Uber” idea may not work.)

The second biggest mistake: No Business Plan

Believe it or not, a lot of businesses start with no plan written out. Just some random goals and a pile of money and a lot of sweat, blood, and tears. If you don’t develop a plan, you don’t know where you’re going, or what to do if you get off course. You don’t know when you’ve reached important goals, haven’t set any goals, and have set sail into a stormy sea with no compass or guidance. It happens all the time.

Writing out a business plan, and it should be written, may sound like a chore, but it’s critical. If you can’t write out your business plan, then it may be worthwhile to reassess the idea.

A business plan doesn’t have to be a 300-page tome with illustrations, slide deck and citations.  It can be fairly simple, but it should be thorough and make sense. You should be able to show it to a banker and not be laughed out of the room.

There are a lot of resources for business plans. The SBA is a great place to start and more specifically, S.C.O.R.E..

The third biggest mistake: No Marketing Plan

Marketing plan? What’s that? I’ve worked for businessmen and women and companies that have been around for decades and are highly profitable that have never bothered to devise a marketing plan.

So, why bother, if they’re that successful, you ask? Because if they had bothered to either hire a marketer like me or produce a marketing plan themselves, their $100 million+ businesses very well could be $1 billion+ businesses. If that’s something they’d be interested in, and you have to assume that’s why they do what they do.

I’m not making that up, either. But strange things happen over time with privately-held companies. And the strangeness is fine. But if a marketing plan were in place and being followed and used as a guide, business owners wouldn’t end up with a profitable train wreck on their hands, which happens. A lot. It sounds like a fine scenario, minus the train-wreck thing, no? But what do you do with a business that might have 300+ employees that depend on you and no one wants to buy you out because it’s such a mess, and you have no one to pass the business on to?

In addition to serving as a guide, a well-written marketing plan also sets important goals and reigns in scope and scale. In this age of mega multi-channel marketing, there’s an urge to go haywire and position yourself everywhere possible. That’s not a wise tactic.

As with so much in life, preparation is the key to success. Please do yourself a favor and make sure that the energy, time and money you’re about to invest is going to the right places and doing the right work. It makes all the difference.

Want to Find a New Job? Brace Yourself.

Want to Find a New Job? Brace Yourself.

A job I had for about a year and a half while I was getting my MBA at The University of Alabama was working in the Graduate School of Business helping business graduate students find jobs. That included internships for MBA students during the summer between years in the 2-year program, and locating full-time employment upon graduating. The people I helped ranged between new graduates getting their Masters in Marketing, Finance, Accounting or whatever to experienced older students returning to get their MBA, such as I was doing and wanted to springboard into an executive corporate position or enter the workforce at a higher level than previously possible. Their fate, future employment, and livelihoods rested in my hands to no small degree, so I worked hard to learn how to network, craft resumes, and position oneself to land jobs. You’d think with that experience I’d be able to snag any job I want.

During that time I reviewed and edited several hundred resumes, working with the students to make them laser-focused on the work they desired at the companies they desired, many being Fortune 500 companies. I’m an English major, a former editor, and at the time a current editor, editing Ph.D. students’ and professors’ academic journal submissions and Ph.D. theses, which consisted of making the simplest of concepts as complex and magniloquent as possible. So I have some writing, proofreading and copywriting skills. I also helped them write scripts for video resumes. I love to write, so all this was right up my alley.

I’ve also interviewed and hired countless candidates for all sorts of positions, from web developers to graphic designers, to counter help, to simply an endless list of positions and people. However, one thing I would never claim to be is a recruiter or HR expert. Evaluating someone for a specific position and coming up with a compensation package isn’t something just anyone can do, contrary to how a lot of people end up being hired. People generally aren’t very good at judging others and tend to look at superficial factors and elements that are irrelevant to the job. One look at our civil servants will attest to this.

Something that I believe would be useful for nearly every hiring manager that’s going to be working with the person they’re hiring is having all serious candidates take the Predictive Index. I’ve taken it, and it’s surprisingly accurate and immensely useful for people to get a grasp on what someone’s all about who they haven’t ever met before. It helps managers know what makes their employees tick as well. Useful information for effective management, for sure, especially when things might get sticky which, if you work hard and long enough with people, they will. People are variables, so knowing how to best help solve circumstances that may arise with and between them is valuable.

The concept of those doing the hiring not being as skilled at hiring as they should be is what I think a lot of frustrated job seekers overlook when they commiserate over not being able to find a job. I read a lot of posts and articles on LinkedIn and business periodicals about how companies won’t hire older workers, black workers, female workers, or whatever the discriminatory claim may be. In a sense, they’re right. But I don’t think the discrimination is as overt and blatant as alleged.

Please note, I’m not bashing the people entrusted to do the hiring on a personal level – it’s just what happens. I’ve been there. It’s just a poor longstanding management practice that can be improved upon and would make some extraordinary gains within the company.

Claiming bias is an easy thing to do. Talk is cheap, and it’s easy enough for me to see that as far as companies passing over older workers that are well-suited for positions, the issue is real. The investigations into and legal consequences stemming from proven cases are far less than racial and gender discrimination, however. It’s really just a hard thing to prove, even though I’ve personally seen some egregious fouls when it comes to hiring and asking about age. Papa John’s corporate website asks right off the bat how old you are when applying on their site, for example.  But is that illegal? Obviously not. Is it strange and off-putting to potential employees? Definitely.

I’m currently looking for work, and between a previous job search and this one, I’ve applied to well over 200 jobs. For a time I kept statistics on the results of my efforts, but after several months, it became an exercise that was more depressing than beneficial. However, I saw many patterns and learned a lot by going through the onerous steps and rings of fire that I went through during the search. Perhaps someone can learn some things from my work.

As I mentioned, I have some expertise in crafting resumes. Is mine perfect? No. But it’s pretty good and better than most. (When you’re unemployed, hiring someone to help you with your resume seems like a luxury, unless you’re really in dire need.) I hone my resume for each position I apply for. I write a customized cover letter for each position I apply for, and get the name of the hiring manager, if at all possible. Some companies want to keep applicants at arm’s length though and don’t provide ANY contact information, even on their website or LinkedIn. And some don’t want to be bothered by them at all, I’ve learned. There’s a Fortune 50 company in town here that set up an interview with me, and the telephone interview was pre-recorded and recorded my answers to a bunch of generic “tell me about a time you encountered a difficult situation and how you overcame it” type questions. I couldn’t believe it. By far, the worst experience I’ve had with interviews. You don’t get any feedback to your answers, and honestly, I was so shocked by the format, I had trouble concentrating on my answers for the first 10 minutes or so. Which supports my theory which is this:

The people doing the hiring have no specialized hiring skills or respectable level of experience hiring employees for the positions for which they’ve been tasked. They are typically just other employees within the department which has a position to fill. And when they’re choosing who to hire, they look for people that seem like themselves or they think they’ll get along with or enjoy working with. Not the person who’s best for the job, foremost. Personal traits are important — don’t get me wrong. But they shouldn’t be the priority. And even when that aspect is dismissed, the temporary “hiring manager” still doesn’t know what to ask, what to look for exactly, how to ask interview questions, or how to assess potential employees.

My evidence to support my theory is strong. Including my own experiences. When I was last hired, I was hired by a company that consisted of a lot of middle-aged white men who shared the same political views as me and we were part of the same “culture.” Nothing wrong with that, per se. There was plenty of diversity at the company, and there were more women that worked there than men and all races were accounted for. But the guys that hired me were part of my demographic. And I believe that’s why a lot of middle-aged men, and women, are looked over by those looking to hire, who these days are younger and of a different demographic group in a number of factors. Political ideology, number of children, marriage, (even number of tattoos in some cases.) I think race and gender play lesser factors in 2019 than age and political stances, personally.

I’m guilty of this as well. I’ve been put in positions to hire subordinates and it’s too easy to just toss a resume out of dozens or even hundreds in the “nope” pile or pass over someone for reasons that may or may not be appropriate. Instead of looking for factors that make a strong candidate and aptitudes we can build upon, we start looking for things that make them an unappealing candidate. It’s easy to do.

As an aside, I also believe this phenomenon to be a major reason our public schools are in such a mess. Where I live in Louisville, KY, which is one of the largest public school systems in the country, the school system couldn’t be any more jacked up. The state’s been trying to come in to take over the system because the people entrusted to run it have done such an abysmal job. The obvious reason to me is that the people running the massive operation are school teachers, not trained business, project management or operations experts whatsoever. The opposite experience, in fact. But they hire others like themselves and put people in positions they shouldn’t be because of superficial and political factors, not because they are qualified for the jobs, which are some serious and difficult jobs which require a lot of skill, experience, and training for. Not a teaching certificate and Masters of Education. They need MBAs, in fact.

But back to the job search. Modern job searches are far easier for the candidate and the employer than ever before. While the temptation to blast out a zillion resumes all over the internet is great, that shotgun approach doesn’t work. And, if you have a resume like mine that attracts recruiters that want to place high-income earners, don’t be surprised to be inundated by cold-calling recruiters that have all sorts of positions available. (That they can’t discuss or reveal, and look suspiciously like a lot of the jobs that are posted on Google jobs, Indeed, or any other number of job posting sites. Kind of a turn-off.)

Monster.com used to the go-to place for jobs. It was a terrible experience for years and as such, seems to have been put in its place. I don’t even see it mentioned anymore as a contender for job searches by anyone. LinkedIn, Google Jobs, Indeed, and Glass Door seem to be the hot spots, for the time being. And lots of niche sites for tech jobs, remote jobs, freelance jobs, etc… (None really for MBAs, which may be something to look into as a side project…) And then there are a TON of websites that scrape jobs from these sites and offer the chance to see postings, as long as you give them your personal information and sign up for their site to be spammed by them daily. Don’t do it. It’s a waste of time. Even state employment websites are nothing but the same scraping-type site with the same jobs free available with a google search.

But what about the jobs that aren’t posted? Well, I go to the company sites that I believe may have a need for the type work I do–marketing, marketing strategy, and advanced marketing with an MBA and some serious experience, which is comprised of a lot more than being able to manage social media accounts. I know advanced data analysis and project management and can manage a large enterprise with big budgets and P&Ls. And a lot more. I send LinkedIn messages to some people that might be able to help me, which is a premium feature. And I get no responses usually. Which just makes you wonder.

I don’t make excuses. I’m a problem solver and an opportunity-finder. I have a growth mindset. I’ve taught myself how to code and how to use Photoshop and Illustrator and InDesign and all sorts of software to stay relevant. I am a lifelong learner and love cutting edge technology and finding ways to use it. Every problem has a solution, and my job is finding the best ones available. So while an ongoing job search isn’t my idea of fun, it’s a numbers game. And persistence, and optimism, and strength and a test of one’s will.

Here’s been my experience with looking for jobs. While a lot of this is tongue in cheek, a lot of it is the truth and what I’ve actually experienced.

Jobs a-plenty out there! So what happens when it’s time to apply? You’ll fill out an application online usually, which consists of uploading a resume. However, that is a preface to filling in, line by line, your resume and all your personal information again. And then answering several pages of legal questions about your race, citizen status, sex, your veteran status, whether you have a disability, your blood type, your favorite food, music, movies, and so on. Then you’ll include languages you know and how well you can speak and write them. Then a list of skills you’ll need to provide for their job-search agent software. Then a list of certificates, additional awards, and other details that might be pertinent. Then all your social media links and a link to your online portfolio. (You do have a professional portfolio on hand, don’t you?) Then you can upload any other files that they might want. Then you can upload your cover letter, which should be customized and proofread. You can then review your information, and hit submit. Chances are 50/50 that you won’t get an error message or a notice that you’ve timed out and need to start over.

Once that has been submitted, you may or may not get an email that the company has received your information via generic “do not respond” email. Then you may or may not ever hear from them. If you do, it’s an invitation to interview over the phone with a preliminary person who takes notes on you to pass along to someone else that might want to interview you. If that decision is made, which usually takes a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to speak to an employee that may or may not work in the department you’ll be working in. They’ll ask you questions about your resume, your past and current interest in their company and chat about how desperately they need a person in the position, then inform you it’ll be 3 or 4 weeks until someone can look at the candidates and make some decisions. You most likely won’t hear from them again and will see that they’ve posted for the position again on Google Jobs. Or, a month later you’ll get another generic, “Thanks but no thanks” email from them.

Sometimes the interviews go really well, and you make it to round 4 or 5 and get to either speak with a decision-maker or go in for an in-person interview. For me, these usually go really well, and I leave very optimistically. I do much better speaking to people face to face than over the phone, and enjoy face-time rather than our cell phones going in and out while the interviewer is driving down the highway, which happens more than I can believe. When I show up and they see the amount of grey hair I have, however, things seem to change. Apparently, they think I’m some sort of wizard or sorcerer that’s come to cast revenue-decreasing spells upon their books, when in fact it’s the opposite.

And after that interview, as we part ways laughing and everything seems like it couldn’t have gone better, there’s no telling what will happen. I’ve had no follow up at all until I follow up and discover they’re hired someone else and forgot to inform me, or decided that even though it was once a life-or-death situation, they decided not to hire anyone and are just putting the decision off, even though what I offer the company on a silver platter directly and positively impacts the bottom line. I had one guy who was the partner at a local marketing/web-design-type company tell me I was the perfect candidate, except that I didn’t have agency experience. Apparently owning and running one while working within it doesn’t count. As well as working with agencies all the time. And then told me that was probably a good thing. But let the position sit open for months and months, and in fact, is still open. Apparently, their company isn’t the type that’s interested in making more money. My position pays for itself in spades. Letting it sit open isn’t smart and is bad business. But what do I know? Here’s a good article discussing three things hiring managers want to know in an interview.

Here’s a copied/pasted explanation from a company I recently sent an application to with the steps to be hired, as an example. I’ve deleted the company’s name because that doesn’t matter. But just to give you an idea of what awaits you, time-wise.

Candidates for this position can expect the hiring process to follow the order below. Please keep in mind that candidates can be declined from the position at any stage of the process. To learn more about someone who may be conducting the interview, find her/his job title on our team page.

  • Qualified candidates receive a short questionnaire from our Global Recruiters.
    1. What would differentiate you and make you a great marketing program manager for ACME Corp?
    2. What is your knowledge of the space that ACME Corp. is in? (e.g. industry trends).
    3. Generally, how would you describe the communication preferences of developers and technical IT management?
  • Selected candidates will be invited to schedule a screening call with one of our Global Recruiters.
  • Candidates will complete a take-home exercise preparing a spreadsheet of event attendees for use in a marketing program, and send the completed exercise to our Marketing Operations Manager.
  • Next, candidates will be invited to schedule a series of 45 minute interviews with our Marketing Operations Manager, Online Marketing Manager, and Content Marketing Manager.
  • Candidates will then be invited to schedule 45 minute interviews with our Senior Director of Marketing and Sales Development and CMO.
  • Finally, our CEO may choose to conduct a final interview.
  • Successful candidates will subsequently be made an offer via email

Additional details about our process can be found on our hiring page.

I think for the question “Why did you leave your last employer?” my response from here out will be “Nothing lasts.” Perhaps that’s too philosophical.

#gethired

 

 

 

The State of Children’s Media

The State of Children’s Media

As much as I’ve come to abhor the entertainment industry, I still have to participate in a large, lucrative segment of it, which is the part that caters to young children and their parents, supposedly.

As anyone with a three-year-old mind, my daughter is no different in being drawn to the marketers’ hooks and shiny, loud, flashing offerings put forth by Hollywood and skillful, data-rich marketers. As someone living in America, I have no way of possibly hiding her from the commercialism and larger than life promises made by the cabal of Hollywood elites that regrettably shape our culture, mesmerize young minds, lock catch words into place, and direct fashion, and incredibly, set which way the winds blow for much, if not most, of middle America. Those winds smell more and more like a train of greasy street food trucks rather than a field of lavender, unfortunately.

Rather than give in and relinquish my child’s mind to their ever-growing tentacles, I watch alongside and vet everything my kid absorbs and we talk about what we’re watching while watching it. That’s not to say I prevent her from seeing and hearing things I’d rather she didn’t. It’s simply impossible with the internet, even when many measures are taken to shield her from the mental dangers it presents. Even the most innocuous offerings would (or should) astound diligent parents. Hollywood is a deep cesspool rich with self-important people that seem to be set in arrested development from their prepubescent years, pedophiliacs, and mostly a bunch of older liberals that only strive to entertain each other, and think the rest of the world should follow in their short-sighted, culturally harmful, dysfunctional and fringe beliefs.

I have a Netflix subscription, had a Hulu subscription which was more for my own late-night entertainment for watching mindless 90’s shows I’ve seen a hundred times each whenever I can’t sleep, which is often. Amazon Prime gives me access to a lot of movies and shows for “free” and YouTube, of course, is an infinite trough of “entertainment” which I can cast to my televisions if needed. I have a giant Roku television for my daughter’s wants with a subscription which is affordable and convenient, especially with the app. I find that’s plenty. There’s also PlutoTV which offers free television shows, but the only thing I tend to watch if my daughter isn’t here is Mystery Science Theater, Key and Peele, and Flight of the Conchords. And that’s usually on my laptop while I’m doing work or writing or doing something else.

I watch a lot of home videos of girls playing with Barbie dolls, LOL dolls, and Anna and Elsa dolls from the Frozen movie. What it is about these homemade videos that absorb my daughter’s mind is beyond me. I suspect it’s more fun to watch other girls play with toys than always play with me, which we do, a lot. I’ve become better than I ever imagined at putting clothes on dolls and playing out an impromptu show with our array of dollhouses for hours with a cast of usually 4 or 5 dolls at a time all with backstories, names, and personalities I have to create at a moment’s notice. Sometimes it’s fun, being creative like that and playing with a 3-year-old on her level, through her eyes. Sometimes it’s rough though, being called upon to put on a Les Miserables scale production on a moment’s notice day in and day out with an ongoing plotline. Last week I found ourselves tricycling down the street chasing after an elf who ran down to the creek with a bottle of googly eyes that we had in our crafting closet that somehow disappeared. We were going to alert the police of the googly-eye larceny if we couldn’t catch the elf. All true, except the elf. I don’t know what happened to that giant jar of googly eyes, but I took video of the event and had to laugh imagining the officer’s response when we showed up at the police station on a tricycle, with my daughter dressed in her formal gown (Which she insisted on wearing. How many more times will she be able to wear it anyway?) and me trying to file a report to be on the lookout for an elf that stole our googly-eyes which had become a serious caper.

Searching for the elf that took our googly eyes

“YouTube for Kids” is an app that my daughter often fiddles around with, but most of the videos are nothing more than infomercials for toys. It’s criminal that they say they vet the shows but promote videos that are nothing more than long commercials for endless piles of toys that companies send to popular kids in the medium to unbox, unwrap and talk about how they’re all “SO CUTE and SO COOL.” Even though most of them are immediately tossed in a heap off the screen. I watch and worry about how the effect impacts my daughter, since the most expected response should be that she wants each and everything that’s presented with wild screams and overhyped kids (and often parents filming them that are obviously doing their part to keep the thrill level as high as possible. And they are VERY weak actors.) It’s a phenomenon that’s going to start causing problems, I assure you. It’s become too popular, and too much money is involved for it not to.

I try to keep my daughter interested in videos that at least have a storyline, like Peppa Pig and Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, both of which are some of my personal favorites. And I try to steer her clear of the interminable number of cartoons and puppetry shows that are nothing more than psychological trickery to teach kids what is right in life and what is wrong, in a Clockwork Orange fashion. Endless chants about brushing teeth, sharing, not fussing, not bullying, and concepts that should be parent’s duties, and not the television’s. I can’t imagine how watching show after show telling you how great vegetables are and taking turns could be remotely entertaining. Storybots comes close, but even then, enough is enough. And then there’s Calliou, who does nothing but whine about everything, Daniel Tiger and a plethora of other PBS-esque shows that are so overly PC, so unrealistic with their overwrought diversity, and so liberal that it seems Soviet Russia has taken over Sesame Street with attempts at controlling culture, shaping society and mind-control.

I receive warnings from other parents that state there are foul people that have the time and will to edit Peppa Pig videos on YouTube to contain bad words, or satanic characters, or something unpleasant and inappropriate which I’ve never actually seen, despite watching hours and hours of the show online, and would still be benign compared to the subliminal PC trickery most shows are inseminating into their children’s entertainment. Since I watch the shows with my daughter, instead of using them as an electronic babysitter, I’m not worried about them anyway.

Something that I have noticed as well over the years is that fathers have disappeared from the families portrayed in children’s media. Totally gone. No father at all. Or if there is one, he’s portrayed as a bumbling idiot who would forget to breathe if not for the overworked and frazzled wife. That scenario is old hat on television, however, and dates back to the dawn of the medium, a la The Honeymooners, Flintstones, and every commercial ever made. The idea: women smart and unappreciated; men bad and dumb. Lord only knows how that came to be and has been perpetuated for so long.

One of the most interesting evolutions of children’s media to me has been The Grinch. Since the original book by Dr. Seuss, to the cartoon made famous by the same animators, we can thank for Bugs Bunny et al., to the grotesque human-motion picture made by Jim Carrey, Ron Howard and of course Clint Howard, to the most recent Grinch cartoon, which was mostly made by black entertainers, and to me is the most successful and best version, and should be how it was made in the first place.

toadstools

Dr. Seuss’ book looks like a primitive cave drawing in comparison to the modern version. The cartoon which I grew up on with Boris Karloff and a Chuck Jones, Bugs Bunny flair which all kids recognized of the era has been documented well. Then in 2000 Hollywood decided it would have its try at it and made exactly what you’d expect: a terrible, dark, un-funny, creepy boring, ham-fisted, super-expensive, overwrought film that Hollywood slapped itself on the back endlessly with accolades, and the rest of the world shuddered and rightfully forgot about. I remember watching an interview with Seuss’s widow, who has a lot of say-so over his trademarks and estate, of course, when the Jim Carrey nightmare was in the works. She said she wanted it to be true to the original and be something like Theodore Geisel might have made. I think she failed and was strongarmed by executives, lawyers and gigantic piles of money, which resulted in the feature-length disaster.

I watched the Jim Carrey version with my daughter, and she was less interested in it than I was. The whole thing is set at night, contains prosthetics that are more creepy than whimsical, and the whole movie’s humor revolves around passing gas, which is among one of the first scenes and is a theme that lasts throughout. Har-har. The guys that put that atrocity together all walked away with 20+ million dollars for their work. There’s no mention that Christmas is anything more than getting presents, and if you don’t get presents, your life should be considered ruined. Jeffery Tambor’s casting was probably suitable, as we should remember how his career came to an ugly but predictable end. It seems to be written for other people living in Los Angeles, in that culture and mindset. That represents about .000001% of all humans, but much of the worst of the species.

The newest Grinch, however, does it right. It’s fun, bright, and believe it or not, even manages to (quickly) mention (via background song) that Christmas is about the Christian concept of Christ’s birth, and not solely giving and getting presents. Weak, but at least it’s in there somewhere, after 53+ years. I personally could do without the hip-hop soundtrack, but what should I expect? It is catchy. And it’s funny and entertaining with an optimistic message. The design is great as well.

the grinch and max

But it’s hard for me to notice, as a single father, that there’s no father present in the main family in the movie. No mention of one whatsoever, ever even existing. Just an overworked mother which Cindy-Lou Who’s only Christmas wish is for Santa to help her, doing noticeably less than I happen to actually do in real life. I’m not saying that for sympathy which is the movie’s writers’ motive. I mention that because it’s an observable and odd truth. And it goes along with a lot of what’s coming out of Hollywood and other “cultural” outlets — no father in the household. Netflix originals especially write out fathers. Llama Llama: Only mama Llama. Daniel Tiger, who seems to be the replacement for Mr. Rogers: Fatherless. Where have all the fathers gone?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who desired to compare the Grinch over the years.

 

 

Fake Service Dogs

Fake Service Dogs

Anyone who knows me or any member of my family knows we’re lovers of dogs. Actually, most of my family are lovers of animals. (Not literally; in a platonic sense.) I’m a HUGE proponent of animal adoption, the ASPCA, and hate the number of breeders that exist. There is no reason at all to buy a dog, with the number that is euthanized each and every hour of every day of every year. It’s tragic. And beyond dogs, there are few animals I haven’t had and cared for, including an alligator.

I’ve spent over 45 years now, usually with at least one dog around and often many more. I’ve helped care for 11 dogs at once, 8 being puppies, and if I could, I’d take care of as many as possible. I recently had a dog I adopted from the Asheville, NC animal shelter and she lived well past 16 years old – almost 17 years, which is uncommon for a Retriever/German Shepherd mix. I’m still trying to get over her passing and the reason I don’t run out and adopt another as people suggest is that dealing with her death was so difficult. I had to do it alone and it was awful. I can’t imagine going through that again.

Getting off topic, but I wanted to establish that I have a heart for dogs. And people that genuinely need service animals. But I’ve noticed as the internet ages, the number of “service dogs” has grown. And many of these dogs aren’t legitimate – people buy vests and obtain letters online for dogs that are not service dogs just so they can take them places they typically cannot, for good reasons.

fake service dog

Businesses and parks and airlines and other public spaces restrict animals for some common sense reasons. Uncertified animals can attack people, including children that might touch them and startle them, prompting them to bite. It’s how I’ve been bitten twice in the face by dogs as a child. They urinate and defecate on merchandise. They defy sanitation rules in restaurants. And on and on. Some people have allergies to dogs, so bringing them on an airplane to be nearby for hours is inconsiderate, to say the least. Some dogs attack other dogs, including actual service dogs, which are expensive, and serve an actual purpose, beyond a pet.

Training service dogs can cost up to $25,000. There are several types of “services” dogs may offer. Actual service dogs have been trained to do things for their disabled partners that humans can’t do themselves and they’re allowed, by law just about anywhere their handlers go with a few exceptions.

therapy dog, on the other hand, is trained to provide comfort to people, usually non-family members, in need of affection and interaction and is not an official service dog. There are specific certifications required for therapy dogs, but they are not entitled to any of the privileges of service dogs.

Somewhere between these two fall emotional support dogs (ESD), that provide comfort for their handlers with a disability by their mere presence. They have no training to perform tasks and don’t qualify as service dogs, but they still have some access rights. They must be allowed in all housing and in airplanes. However they aren’t entitled to enter businesses and other public places where dogs are usually prohibited, and owners may be required to present a signed note from a mental health professional stating a need for the ESD.

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) does qualify as a service dog. A PSD helps its handler cope with mental disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, anxiety disorder, and schizophrenia. They may alert panic attacks, help with mobility if the handler is dizzy from medication, remind the handler to take medication, interrupt self-mutilation, provide room searches or safety checks, or perform a variety of tasks specific to that handler’s needs.

This past week I took my 3-year-old daughter to a playground that also has a water facility, or “sprayground.” Kids love it and there were probably around 60-80 kids running around playing. No dogs are allowed in the fenced area, for good reasons, save service dogs. As we approached the playground, a family was leaving with their “service dog” which was some type of pit bull mix with another, much larger breed, producing about a 100-pound pit bull. With a service dog vest. 60-80 rowdy kids running around. A recipe for disaster.

I know it’s argued you can’t spot a fake service dog vs. a real one. But 99% of the time, you can if you know anything about dog behavior and watch the “service” dog for a while. You can tell if they’ve been trained to be service dogs or not. Most service dog breeds will be a retriever, German Shepherd, greyhound or a breed well-known for their gentle demeanor. (Not all, but the vast majority.) You can tell by their focus on their owner and on the tasks at hand, and not distracted by noises, children, or whatever most other dogs will be distracted by. They’re working dogs, at work.

I’ve even worked with a lady who claimed to have PTSD from some nameless event and desired to bring her dog to work. Her dog was very sweet, and I love having dogs around at work. So my point here isn’t that I don’t want dogs around. Personally, I’m generally more than fine with it. But there are employees who don’t like dogs, are allergic or have some legitimate reason to not want a dog there. And I was 99% certain the “service dog” was a fake and the vest was a costume purchased online. And her desire conflicted with certain other employees which caused an unnecessary personal conflict at work.

service dog

Entire websites are devoted to selling service dog identifications along with providing handy tips (once you’ve paid their registration fee) on what to say if confronted. The websites offer links to questionable psychiatric services that will provide you with a letter stating you need an emotional support dog pending your responses to an online test and a couple of phone sessions.

There are immediate problems I’ve stated about fake service dogs. But another more concerning problem is that the general public was once fine with allowing the few legitimate service dogs for the blind and serious needs. However, when fake service dogs begin to increase in number for less serious “needs” that dogs can’t even be tested to serve for, like seizures or diabetes, and untrained dogs attack people, other dogs, including legitimate service dogs, then the general public will grow more disdainful towards these people and their animals. Unrecognizable symptomatic conditions have been tacked on over recent years, while businesses have become (sadly) gunshy about questioning animal handlers for fear of lawsuits. They can legally only ask 2 questions:

1) Is the dog needed because of a disability?

2) What task has the dog been trained to perform to mitigate the disability?

Anything beyond that and you’re pushing your luck.

John Perry Barlow and Bob Weir Writing Cassidy

John Perry Barlow and Bob Weir Writing Cassidy

Cassidy is a great acoustic piece released on Bob Weir’s 1972 solo album Ace. It contains a lot of interesting bits and pieces, as it’s a tribute to Neal Cassady, who was buddies with Jack Kerouac, both members of the Beat Generation and artists of words, albeit more spoken than written. They let others do the writing and their use of the English language is loose and slippery and to me reflects the style of the time. Wildly imaginative and reflective of the Acid tests, open-mindedness and psychedelia that was popular around the Bay area where they dwelled around this time.

Cassidy is a beautiful acoustic number written by the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir with poetic lyrics complements of the incredible JP Barlow, who Weir wrote many songs with, as Jerry Garcia similarly paired up with Robert Hunter to write many of the Dead’s more notable and famous songs.

Cassidy
By John Perry Barlow with Bob Weir
Recorded on Ace (Warner Brothers, 1972)
Cora, Wyoming February, 1972

I have seen where the wolf has slept by the silver stream.
I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream.
Ah, child of countless trees.

Ah, child of boundless seas.
What you are, what you’re meant to be
Speaks his name, though you were born to me,

Born to me,
Cassidy…

Lost now on the country miles in his Cadillac.
I can tell by the way you smile he’s rolling back.
Come wash the nighttime clean,
Come grow this scorched ground green,
Blow the horn, tap the tambourine
Close the gap of the dark years in between
You and me,

Cassidy…

Quick beats in an icy heart.
Catch-colt draws a coffin cart.
There he goes now, here she starts:

Hear her cry.
Flight of the seabirds, scattered like lost words
Wheel to the storm and fly.

Faring thee well now.
Let your life proceed by its own design.
Nothing to tell now.

Let the words be yours, I’m done with mine.

An explanation by John Perry Barlow:

This is a song about necessary dualities: dying & being born, men & women, speaking & being silent, devastation & growth, desolation & hope.

It is also about a Cassady and a Cassidy, Neal Cassady and Cassidy Law.

(The title could be spelled either way as far as I’m concerned, but I think it’s officially stamped with the latter. Which is appropriate since I believe the copyright was registered by the latter’s mother, Eileen Law.)

The first of these was the ineffable, inimitable, indefatigable Holy Goof Hisself, Neal Cassady, aka Dean Moriarty, Hart Kennedy, Houlihan, and The Best Mind of Allen Ginsberg’s generation.

Neal Cassady, for those whose education has been so classical or so trivial or so timid as to omit him, was the Avatar of American Hipness. Born on the road and springing full-blown from a fleabag on Denver’s Larimer Street, he met the hitch-hiking Jack Kerouac there in the late 40’s and set him, and, through him, millions of others, permanently free.

Neal came from the oral tradition. The writing he left to others with more time and attention span, but from his vast reserves flowed the high-octane juice which gassed up the Beat Generation for eight years of Eisenhower and a thousand days of Camelot until it, like so many other things, ground to a bewildered halt in Dallas.

Kerouac retreated to Long Island, where he took up Budweiser, the National Review, and the adipose cynicism of too many thwarted revolutionaries. Neal just caught the next bus out.

This turned out to be the psychedelic nose-cone of the 60’s, a rolling cornucopia of technicolor weirdness named Further. With Ken Kesey raving from the roof and Neal at the wheel, Further roamed America from 1964 to 1966, infecting our national control delusion with a chronic and holy lunacy to which it may yet succumb.

From Further tumbled the Acid Tests, the Grateful Dead, Human Be-Ins, the Haight-Ashbury, and, as America tried to suppress the infection by popularizing it into cheap folly, The Summer of Love, and Woodstock.

I, meanwhile, had been initiated into the Mysteries within the sober ashrams of Timothy Leary’s East Coast, from which distance the Prankster’s psychedelic psircuses seemed, well, a bit psacreligious. Bobby Weir, whom I’d known since prep school, kept me somewhat current on his riotous doings with the Pranksters et al, but I tended to dismiss on ideological grounds what little of this madness he could squeeze through a telephone.

So, purist that I was, I didn’t actually meet Neal Cassady until 1967, by which time Further was already rusticating behind Kesey’s barn in Oregon and the Grateful Dead had collectively beached itself in a magnificently broke-down Victorian palace at 710 Ashbury Street, two blocks up the hill from what was by then, according to Time Magazine, the axis mundi of American popular culture. The real party was pretty much over by the time I arrived.

But Cassady, the Most Amazing Man I Ever Met, was still very much Happening. Holding court in 710’s tiny kitchen, he would carry on five different conversations at once and still devote one conversational channel to discourse with absent persons and another to such sound effects as disintegrating ring gears or exploding crania. To log into one of these conversations, despite their multiplicity, was like trying to take a sip from a fire hose.

He filled his few and momentary lapses in flow with the most random numbers ever generated by man or computer or, more often, with his low signature laugh, a *heh, heh, heh, heh* which sounded like an engine being spun furiously by an over-enthusiastic starter motor.

As far as I could tell he never slept. He tossed back green hearts of Mexican dexedrina by the shot-sized bottle, grinned, cackled, and jammed on into the night. Despite such behavior, he seemed, at 41, a paragon of robust health. With a face out of a recruiting poster (leaving aside a certain glint in the eyes) and a torso, usually raw, by Michelangelo, he didn’t even seem quite mortal. Though he would shortly demonstrate himself to be so.

Neal and Bobby were perfectly contrapuntal. As Cassady rattled incessantly, Bobby had fallen mostly mute, stilled perhaps by macrobiotics, perhaps a less than passing grade in the Acid Tests, or, more likely, some combination of every strange thing which had caused him to start thinking much faster than anyone could talk. I don’t have many focussed memories from the Summer of 1967, but in every mental image I retain of Neal, Bobby’s pale, expressionless face hovers as well.

Their proximity owed partly to Weir’s diet. Each meal required hours of methodical effort. First, a variety of semi-edibles had to be reduced over low heat to a brown, gelatinous consistency. Then each bite of this preparation had to be chewed no less than 40 times. I believe there was some ceremonial reason for this, though maybe he just needed time to get used to the taste before swallowing.

This all took place in the kitchen where, as I say, Cassady was also usually taking place. So there would be Neal, a fountain of language, issuing forth clouds of agitated, migratory words. And across the table, Bobby, his jaw working no less vigorously, producing instead a profound, unalterable silence. Neal talked. Bobby chewed. And listened.

So would pass the day. I remember a couple of nights when they set up another joint routine in the music room upstairs. The front room of the second floor had once been a library and was now the location of a stereo and a huge collection of communally-abused records.

It was also, at this time, Bobby’s home. He had set up camp on a pestilential brown couch in the middle of the room, at the end of which he kept a paper bag containing most of his worldly possessions.

Everyone had gone to bed or passed out or fled into the night. In the absence of other ears to perplex and dazzle, Neal went to the music room, covered his own with headphones, put on some be-bop, and became it, dancing and doodley-oooping a Capella to a track I couldn’t hear. While so engaged, he juggled the 36 oz. machinist’s hammer which had become his trademark. The articulated jerky of his upper body ran monsoons of sweat and the hammer became a lethal blur floating in the air before him.

While the God’s Amphetamine Cowboy spun, juggled and yelped joyous *doo-WOP’s,: Weir lay on his couch in the foreground, perfectly still, open eyes staring at the ceiling. There was something about the fixity of Bobby’s gaze which seemed to indicate a fury of cognitive processing to match Neal’s performance. It was as though Bobby were imagining him and going rigid with the effort involved in projecting such a tangible and kinetic image.

I also have a vague recollection of driving someplace in San Francisco with Neal and a amazingly lascivious redhead, but the combination of drugs and terror at his driving style has fuzzed this memory into a dreamish haze. I remember that the car was a large convertible, possibly a Cadillac, made in America at a time we still made cars of genuine steel but that its bulk didn’t seem like armor enough against a world coming at me so fast and close.

Nevertheless, I recall taking comfort in the notion that to have lived so long this way Cassady was probably invulnerable and that, if that were so, I was also within the aura of his mysterious protection.

Turned out I was wrong about that. About five months later, four days short of his 42nd birthday, he was found dead next to a railroad track outside San Miguel D’Allende, Mexico. He wandered out there in an altered state and died of exposure in the high desert night. Exposure seemed right. He had lived an exposed life. By then, it was beginning to feel like we all had.

In necessary dualities, there are only protagonists. The other protagonist of this song is Cassidy Law, who is now, in the summer of 1990, a beautiful and self-possessed young woman of 20.

When I first met her, she was less than a month old. She had just entered the world on the Rucka Rucka Ranch, a dust-pit of a one-horse ranch in the Nicasio Valley of West Marin which Bobby inhabited along with a variable cast of real characters.

These included Cassidy’s mother Eileen, a good woman who was then and is still the patron saint of the Deadheads, the wolf-like Rex Jackson, a Pendleton cowboy turned Grateful Dead roadie in whose memory the Grateful Dead’s Rex Foundation is named, Frankie Weir, Bobby’s ol’ lady and the subject of the song Sugar Magnolia, Sonny Heard, a Pendleton bad ol’ boy who was also a GD roadie, and several others I can’t recall.

There was also a hammer-headed Appaloosa stud, a vile goat, and miscellaneous barnyard fowl which included a peacock so psychotic and aggressive that they had to keep a 2 x 4 next to the front door to ward off his attacks on folks leaving the house. In a rural sort of way, it was a pretty tough neighborhood. The herd of horses across the road actually became rabid and had to be destroyed.

It was an appropriate place to enter the 70’s, a time of bleak exile for most former flower children. The Grateful Dead had been part of a general Diaspora from the Haight as soon as the Summer of Love festered into the Winter of Our Bad Craziness. They had been strewn like jetsam across the further reaches of Marin County and were now digging in to see what would happen next.

The prognosis wasn’t so great. 1968 had given us, in addition to Cassady’s death, the Chicago Riots and the election of Richard Nixon. 1969 had been, as Ken Kesey called it, *the year of the downer,: which described not only a new cultural preference for stupid pills but also the sort of year which could mete out Manson, Chappaquiddick, and Altamont in less than 6 weeks.

I was at loose ends myself. I’d written a novel, on the strength of whose first half Farrar, Straus, & Giroux had given me a healthy advance with which I was to write the second half. Instead, I took the money and went to India, returning seven months later a completely different guy. I spent the first 8 months of 1970 living in New York City and wrestling the damned thing to an ill-fitting conclusion, before tossing the results over a transom at Farrar, Straus, buying a new motorcycle to replace the one I’d just run into a stationary car at 85 mph, and heading to California.

It was a journey straight out of Easy Rider. I had a no-necked barbarian in a Dodge Super Bee try to run me off the road in New Jersey (for about 20 high speed miles) and was served, in my own Wyoming, a raw, skinned-out lamb’s head with eyes still in it. I can still hear the dark laughter that chased me out of that restaurant.

Thus, by the time I got to the Rucka Rucka, I was in the right raw mood for the place. I remember two bright things glistening against this dreary backdrop. One was Eileen holding her beautiful baby girl, a catch-colt (as we used to call foals born out of pedigree) of Rex Jackson’s.

And there were the chords which Bobby had strung together the night she was born, music which eventually be joined with these words to make the song Cassidy. He played them for me. Crouched on the bare boards of the kitchen floor in the late afternoon sun, he whanged out chords that rang like the bells of hell.

And rang in my head for the next two years, during which time I quit New York and, to my great surprise, became a rancher in Wyoming, thus beginning my own rural exile.

In 1972, Bobby decided he wanted to make the solo album which became Ace. When he entered the studio in early February, he brought an odd lot of material, most of it germinative. We had spent some of January in my isolated Wyoming cabin working on songs but I don’t believe we’d actually finished anything. I’d come up with some lyrics (for Looks Like Rain and most of Black-Hearted Wind). He worked out the full musical structure for Cassidy, but I still hadn’t written any words for it.

Most of our time was passed drinking Wild Turkey, speculating grandly, and fighting both a series of magnificent blizzards and the house ghost (or whatever it was) which took particular delight in devilling both Weir and his Malamute dog.

(I went in one morning to wake Bobby and was astonished when he reared out of bed wearing what appeared to be black-face. He looked ready to burst into Sewanee River. Turned out the ghost had been at him. He’d placed at 3 AM call to the Shoshone shaman Rolling Thunder, who’d advised him that a quick and dirty ghost repellant was charcoal on the face. So he’d burned an entire box of Ohio Blue Tips and applied the results.)

I was still wrestling with the angel of Cassidy when he went back to California to start recording basic tracks. I knew some of what it was about…the connection with Cassidy Law’s birth was too direct to ignore…but the rest of it evaded me. I told him that I’d join him in the studio and write it there.

Then my father began to die. He went into the hospital in Salt Lake City and I stayed on the ranch feeding cows and keeping the feed trails open with an ancient Allis-Chalmers bulldozer. The snow was three and a half feet deep on the level and blown into concrete castles around the haystacks.

Bobby was anxious for me to join him in California, but between the hardest winter in ten years and my father’s diminishing future, I couldn’t see how I was going to do it. I told him I’d try to complete the unfinished songs, Cassidy among them, at a distance.

On the 18th of February, I was told that my father’s demise was imminent and that I would have to get to Salt Lake. Before I could get away, however, I would have to plow snow from enough stackyards to feed the herd for however long I might be gone. I fired up the bulldozer in a dawn so cold it seemed the air might break. I spent a long day in a cloud of whirling ice crystals, hypnotized by the steady 2600 rpm howl of its engine, and, sometime in the afternoon, the repeating chords of Cassidy.

I thought a lot about my father and what we were and had been to one another. I thought about delicately balanced dance of necessary dualities. And for some reason, I started thinking about Neal, four years dead and still charging around America on the hot wheels of legend.

Somewhere in there, the words to Cassidy arrived, complete and intact. I just found myself singing the song as though I’d known it for years.

I clanked back to my cabin in the gathering dusk. Alan Trist, an old friend of Bob Hunter’s and a new friend of mine, was visiting. He’d been waiting for me there all day. Anxious to depart, I sent him out to nail wind-chinking on the horse barn while I typed up these words and packed. By nightfall, another great storm had arrived. We set out for Salt Lake in it, hoping to arrive there in time to close, one last time, the dark years between me and my father.

Grateful Dead songs are alive. Like other living things, they grow and metamorphose over time. Their music changes a little every time they’re played. The words, avidly interpreted and reinterpreted by generations of Deadheads, become accretions of meaning and cultural flavor rather than static assertions of intent. By now, the Deadheads have written this song to a greater extent than I ever did.

The context changes and thus, everything in it. What Cassidy meant to an audience, many of whom had actually known Neal personally, is quite different from what it means to an audience which has largely never heard of the guy.

Some things don’t change. People die. Others get born to take their place. Storms cover the land with trouble. And then, always, the sun breaks through again.

Give it a listen:

HumbleBrag

HumbleBrag

I don’t post much about my daughter where it can be seen publicly a lot. That’s for her protection and privacy reasons, mostly. I have thousands of photos and hours of video of her safely stored from before her birth through a few hours ago, but try to keep it archived for my own use. I don’t trust the internet enough to put photos of my child everywhere and write about her endlessly online because I just don’t trust the general public or even certain people enough.

But I have to brag about her and give her credit when it’s due. She’s about to turn four years old in July, and the past four years with her have really been a blur. I look at photos of me holding her as a newborn little worm and can’t believe it’s the same creature crawling all over me talking and running amok and laughing and playing in front of me now.

She’s so much more than I or any parent could ever ask for in a child. She’s so smart and well-tempered and creative and funny and thoughtful and on and on and on. It’s amazing. I don’t have a lot of experience being around many small children other than what I see in public and what random “family” has brought around over the years. When compared to them I have to believe I hit the jackpot. She’s simply a dream come true.

Cecelia never has temper tantrums or is fussy. She’s logical and respectful and has manners and I can’t even remember the last time she cried about something. She’s curious about everything and finds creative solutions to solve problems, rather than rely on me to help her with everything. She’d rather try herself first and prove she’s a “big girl” than have me do everything.

She’s willing to try all types of food and trusts me to not give her anything I don’t think she’d like. If she doesn’t like it, that’s fine; I’m not going to force her to eat something she doesn’t like. But she will actually at least try it first. She’s trustful of me, which means a lot. I value that trust and protect it. It’s why I don’t lie to her about Santa Claus, only to prove I was lying to her the whole time later in life. I believe in mutual respect and trust, and it’s working out very well for us.

I just can’t say enough good things about Cecelia. She’s mature, and thoughtful and considerate. She worries about me eating enough when I’m worried about feeding her. She worries about me getting enough sleep, even though she hates going to sleep. She’d rather play until she drops, which is a trait she, unfortunately, got from me, I believe. She’s also very patient, most of the time, which isn’t a trait I had when I was young.

She has an eye for detail and can pick things out from a mile like a hawk. It’s uncanny. She remembers things that I forget, which could speak to my poor memory, but I prefer to believe it speaks more to her uncanny memory. She knows where we left some little item weeks ago. She’s a great sidekick and helper. She really wants to help and can help, which is amazing considering her age. She’s brave and willing to take risks, and trusts me to allow her to take them and protect her from a disastrous failure when I’m around. I’m always by her side ready to save her and she knows it. It’s a reason I’ve watched her balance and coordination improve so much on the playground and she’s becoming a pretty good little athlete. We went and played soccer on a real field today and she picked it up like it was second nature. She kicked the ball all the way down the field into the goal, which was something to behold for such a little person.

She declared today that her professional goal is to be a ballerina doctor. (That is, a medical doctor who performs ballet, not a doctor that performs medicine on ballerinas.) But I believe she’ll have many options available to her when the time comes.

cecelia musgrove

 

 

 

Learning Guitar

Learning Guitar

My introduction to guitar was around age 12 or 13 when I won a classical Yamaha guitar from a radio promotion I’d entered. I remember my mother driving me to the radio station to pick it up and then me sitting on my bed in my bedroom wondering what in the world to do with it. Little beknownst to me, or my parents, a classical guitar isn’t what most tweens aspire to play and is quite different from a steel string acoustic guitar most people are familiar with. It has thick nylon strings on a much wider neck, which isn’t suitable for kid’s hands, and produced a plunky sound most people probably associate with Flamenco, or Andres Segovia if that cultured. I was determined to learn it, so my mother signed me up for guitar lessons with a man named Mr. Foley who lived in the next neighborhood, and was around 95 years old and I remember really liked to suck on his dentures and make a distinctly froglike sound. I remember sitting in his bedroom with him and his acoustic guitar, while his wife cooked supper in the kitchen next to the bedroom, strangely, and him writing out musical notes on special musical papers while trying to teach me such popular hits with the teens such as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore.” I stuck that out longer than anyone should have thanks to my mother being determined not to waste the entire $50 or so she spent on the ten lessons we’d signed up for. I immediately hated the guitar.

I pawned that guitar as soon as I was old enough to do so, but was eventually struck with the desire to learn to play again, hitting my teen years and realizing boys that played guitars attracted pretty girls. I failed to realize the important part, which was that the boys had to play with some proficiency. That was the untold trick. In any case, I managed to get my hands on a steel string guitar, which I probably begged my mother for until blue in the face, and in return, received a bottom of the barrel, piece of junk guitar that sounded awful, even for the 1 second it stayed in tune, and I’m not sure if it ever was put in tune, since tuning it requires at the minimum, a note to tune it to and some knowledge of doing it. Back then, tuning forks were the norm, not even electronic tuners, which can be bought for a few dollars today.

That guitar was also a flop, needless to say. Thinking the problem was that I was thinking acoustic, which was out of style even to Bob Dylan at that time, I soon got my hands on an electric guitar, bought for a small sum from the local pawn shop that I had become acquainted with. Not in the best part of town either, thinking back on it.

I actually managed to learn some chords on that guitar, which I don’t remember the make of, but still have the Crate amp I bought to go with it. I remember the strings getting very rusty very quickly, not surprising considering our proximity to the Atlantic Ocean where everything rusts within minutes. But not having the inclination to or budget to change my strings each week, I eventually sold that guitar for money to buy a surfboard, which was a much more used and enjoyed item during my teen years. Also, I bought a black Fender Squier Bullet electric guitar for about $100, which was the going rate back then for one at an actual music shop, which I graduated to.

I learned more and more on that and even landed a Fender acoustic guitar, which I hated. It was a piece of junk, but I didn’t really know it since I didn’t know much about guitars at the time. It was never properly set up, and the action was terrible, and it didn’t stay in tune, and just wasn’t a quality instrument in any way. I often bought Guitar Player magazines and learned to read tab, and learned to exchange riffs and scanty musical knowledge with friends, but it was still a frustrating experience. And remained so for a long time. I taught myself to play lots of Beatles tunes and riffs from magazines that had tablature. And so it went for a long time. I eventually sold all my guitars and was without one until I received an all-maple Ibanez dreadnaught for a birthday present my sophomore year in college. And I played and had that for a very, very long time until it was broken by a pack of 8 crazy puppies I was looking after who knocked it off its stand and broke the headstock beyond feasible repair. I still have it, however, nested in its case.

I could go on from there about every guitar I’ve owned, but I’ll fast-forward to present day because this post is about “learning to play guitar” not “Michael’s uninteresting collection of guitars over his life.” But hopefully it shows some dedication to the instrument and what a lot of people I think go through before deciding to either part ways with the notion of ever learning to play it, or actually becoming proficient with it, which I believe anyone can do, if they really want to. Especially with the resources available these days, which are light-years ahead of anything imaginable when I was a kid. And what I intend to discuss here.

Learn Tablature

You don’t need to learn how to read sheet music to play guitar. I’d argue few guitarists actually can, and those that do know it came from a piano or keyboard background before learning the guitar. The guitar is considered a keyboard instrument, and if you hold it the right way you can see why. Your fretting fingers are akin to the string lengths on a piano and your right hand provides the keystrokes, while the body of the guitar acts similar to the construction of a piano. I took a course in college that was “Physics in the Arts” which was sone of the most interesting classes I took. In it, I learned how instruments and sound work, as well as our ears and brains,  to process the sounds, and my “thesis” project was demonstrating how guitars produce sound and work, complete with a demonstration of putting sand on a soundboard of a guitar and playing it to the class to watch how it creates different patterns from the vibrations.

But one activity that pays dividends, and is pretty easy, is to learn tablature. Tablature is the visual representation of the guitar fretboard with keys as to where to place your left-hand fingers(or whichever hand you use for fretting) and which fingers to use for plucking, or upward or downward strokes. It also uses some more involved graphics to illustrate bends, slides, pull-ons and offs, harmonics, and other subtle fret-hand techniques you should know. It’s easy to pick up and read, relative to sheet music, however. There are lots and lots of websites and apps that use tablature extensively, which I’ll list below in the TOOLS section.

Online Instruction

The biggest help in the last 20+ years has been the adoption of the internet to help people learn to play the guitar. Youtube itself must have millions of videos and billions of hours dedicated to it alone. Guitar manufacturers like Fender have made lessons available to complement their guitar sales. And above all else, there are tons of free videos by people who just like to teach others that have spent no small amount of their own time producing some incredibly-high-quality videos to do just that.

A word of caution: with so much material and so many videos, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with material that isn’t helpful and isn’t structured in a way that’s optimal for a beginner, or anyone, to just jump in and start learning. I’ve spent hours watching (mostly) guys that have thrown up (almost literally) videos that aim to teach you something about becoming proficient playing the guitar. Don’t just jump in.

Finding someone online that teaches songs and artists that you enjoy listening to certainly helps. As I mentioned above, when I began and was forced to learn “Twinkle Twinkle” instead of James Talyor or Jimmy Buffet, I became immediately discouraged. While it’s important to have material you can at least tolerate, I urge you to view learning as something more important than ONLY learning the songs you like. The goal is to play guitar, any artist or song, not just a couple of favorites. It won’t take you long to learn that many of your favorites are composed by using just 3 or so chords, and after you perfect those, you’re on your way.

Two people I’ve found that teach better than anyone else, are on YouTube. The Stitch Method, based in Sarasota, Florida, USA and Paul Davids, from the Netherlands.

Ian Stitch caught my eye because he teaches a lot of the material I love: The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, and others, and really digs down deep in some of their most amazing works. He teaches the theory, which I believe is important. Learning the chords and scales is vital- don’t get me wrong- but the theory and how it all works together is equally important at a near point to learning the basics. Otherwise, you’ll plateau and become disinterested, if not frustrated. I’ve been there. Many times. I’m writing this all out to save you the years I learned by trial and error.

Paul Davids caught my eye because, well, he’s eye-catching. His videos are top-shelf in terms of production value, and every other type of value you can think of. He’s a top-notch educator, knows what he’s teaching backwards and forwards and presents it as if he works for Pixar. His videos are entertaining, well-done, and I can’t say enough good things about them. Everything is meticulous, which is one of the reasons I think I like them, even his hipster appearance is military-level. He’s kind of a perfectionist, as am I.

Fender has done an exceptional job with onboarding people to guitars with their lessons. It’s a marketing initiative called Fender Play. This is a great example of how marketing guitars well can help a business, help an art form, help people create, and generate interest in their products while genuinely teaching people how to play their instruments. It’s a situation where everyone wins.

Watch Videos

As mentioned above, videos are a great visual and auditory way to learn. Most internet formats are even interactive so that you can chat and interact with the teachers one on one, in fact, for free. They’ll hold AMA (ask me anything)sessions that can be useful when you hit a snag.

But above that, you can watch your favorite players play their songs and dissect how they’re doing it. If you’re interested in traditional players like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dickey Betts, Johnny Marr, or whomever, there is goldmine after goldmine of them playing live where you can watch, pause, rewind and study just how they’re doing it. And if you’re into non-traditional players like the guys on Radiohead, there is still a treasure trove of videos where you can see how they create their sounds and get inside their heads and learn about the gear they use.

This is a video by the awesome and humble Alex Lifeson of Rush teaching how to play the songs he’s helped write, for example:

Or Johnny Marr playing “This Charming Man:”

Or this incredible video which is a talk with Ed O’Brien from Radiohead discussing his approach to playing guitar and his experience. It’s an amazing look into the backstory, and a non-traditional guitarist who’s become a master of his art:

Practice

The fact is, if you don’t play consistently and diligently, you’ll never get better. That’s just a fact. With anything. The best players do nothing but play and have spent days locked up in hotel rooms and elsewhere just playing and studying and teaching and learning. Fortunately, practicing the guitar isn’t as hard as, say practicing football or tennis where you need a lot of space and equipment.

The tricks I’ve found to practice – to MAKE yourself practice, even when you don’t feel like it – is to have your instrument available as much as possible. If you work at a desk all day and can do it, keep your guitar right next to you so when you need to take a quick break from work, you can reach over and play a little guitar. It’s great for bouncing between brain hemispheres, if you do a lot of quant work, I’ve found and can take you to another place, even if momentarily, so you can dive back into work refreshed.

Something else that helps immensely, which I’ll discuss next, is keeping your equipment in tip-top shape. It’s no fun to want to play/practice and realize you only have 4 strings because you didn’t feel like replacing that string you broke. Or your strings are dead or even rusty because you don’t keep them fresh and clean. Even trying to keep your guitar in tune at all times is a good idea. It should always be in tune when you play, but it’s just a nice favor to do your future self to tune it up when you can.

Learning open-ended chords, then barre chords, then scales and how they create those chords is the usual way to learn. And it works. But make sure you’re learning the right thing. I learned lots of scales but never how they fit together or formed chords, so I had to go back and un-learn everything ad re-learn it correctly. Music theory is important as well. If you’re serious about being good at playing, I’d advise learning theory as you go and applying it to what you’re learning. And learn to listen to music differently. Pick out the guitar parts and really listen to what’s going on.

Learn to play in-time. There are metronome apps and backing tracks to help with this if you don’t have an actual metronome. But you have to be able to play in a groove or else you’re playing it wrong. Tapping your foot may look goofy to some people but there’s a good reason musicians do it.

Equipment

Having a guitar you like is essential to learning to play one. I say that as someone who, as discussed in great length above, spent most of his life with the wrong ones. It’s exasperating. They don’t stay in tune, and no matter HOW good you are, you will never sound any good on an out-of-tune guitar. And even when in-tune, it’s not really fulfilling to play on one that just doesn’t sound good. No deep lows or bass you can feel in your chest. No mids at all. O high treble notes that don’t ring and sound tinny or buzzy or just hurt your ears. No good.

There are resources online and apps on your phone these days that do nothing but help pair you up with the right instrument. Price wise, size-wise, intonation-wise, and every other way. Use them. But also be realistic about what a good instrument might cost. While you don’t need a gold-top Les Paul or Taylor Grand Pacific to learn on, I’d plan on getting a guitar you not only can learn on, but will grow into for the intermediate times and beyond. You may find yourself learning pretty fast and wanting to upgrade faster than later. Just be sure to take very, very good care of your instrument, because they aren’t toys. A nice guitar was (mostly these days) handmade and inspected by professionals to provide a consistent, beautiful experience, to the ear, eye, and hand.

There are some pretty good acoustic guitars that can be found these days for $300-$500. $750 can get you a nice used one and $1000 will get you a very nice one indeed, used or new. Keeping it in a hard case is a good idea, and if you live in a humid or dry area, keeping a close eye on the humidity level is another good idea. You don’t want to be taking it from a very humid environment to a very dry one suddenly because it will damage it, no question. Keep your strings clean and wipe them down before and after playing, or even during if you’re really putting in some intense time.

Finger-Ease is a spray and wipe-on product I and many guitarists use for strings, despite the toilet-humor giggles the name often provides. I use Elixir strings because they live a lot longer than others. Keeping the fretboard clean and free from oil and dirt is essential. If you buy a used, or even a new guitar, having it set up by a professional luthier is a good idea. Most mid-size cities will have a couple. Be sure to vet them and know that they have a lot of experience. I use Bill Barney here in Louisville, and I have another guy I haven’t used but plan to in the future since I have the need. Frets become worn with use, and I recently had an electric pickup system installed in a Talyor 414 acoustic. Not a job for an amateur. Even though I’m great with my hands and a very competent woodworker with endless tools available, I resist the urge to work on my guitars myself because they are such delicate, precision, finely-tuned and made pieces of playable art. And I’ve learned the hard way grabbing a wrench and screwdriver and going to town on the truss rod and electronics or tuners of a guitar is the best way to ruin one. Again, the reason I’m writing this is that I’ve done the try-and-fail method so you don’t have to.

Having a travel or parlor-sized guitar to take on the road with you is also a good idea if you can swing it. Camping, or going on trips where you know you’ll have some downtime in the hotel room are great times to get some practice in. You can find nice travel guitars on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Craigslist, Reverb, and elsewhere. They don’t really pass for the real thing in my experience, and a cheap travel guitar is asking for frustration. Get one of the better travel guitars, like Taylor’s Babys, Martin’s weird shaped travel thing, or one of the other better guitars. Expect to spend about $300-$400 for a new one, and a little less for a used one. Buying a used one with some cosmetic blemishes at a discount is no big deal since they tend to get banged up anyway. Just make sure it hasn’t had a real serious bang-up and has structural damage or is on the edge of falling apart or has been damaged and poorly repaired. I’d personally steer clear of one that’s been repaired at all at this price range since the cost to repair it usually would outweigh the cost of a new one, so it’s probably been done by a novice, rather than a qualified luthier.

Tools

I played acoustic guitar exclusively for a loooong time. I love woodworking and can appreciate the work that goes into making a guitar. And I like the organic sounds and simplicity that an acoustic guitar provides. I’ve always liked the sounds stringed instruments make like violins and cellos, and even woodwinds, over brass and percussion. I like the earthiness over the screeching spit-valve blurts, I guess. Personal preference, of course.

Some essential tools for changing strings is a soft piece of leather or cloth, some little wire clippers and a guitar string winder, with a built-in pin puller. The link I just provided is a three in one that goes for less than eight dollars.

Learn to change your strings properly. There’s little worse than excitedly putting new strings on a guitar, working your way up to the high b and e strings, and popping one, without a backup. The reason strings break usually is because there is something up at the nut where the string crosses to be wound that isn’t smooth. Keep the grooves that the strings rest in smooth, and even lubricated if necessary. Check the bridge at the saddle to make sure there’s nothing that might cause a string unnecessary wear down there as well. Then, when changing your strings, make sure you don’t crease them and be sure to insert them into the post and wind them correctly. Here’s a video that shows how. It’s simple but the devil is in the details.

Keep your guitar in tune. You can be the best guitarist in the world but if your instrument is out of tune, you’ll never sound any good. It can’t be overstated. A good guitar should stay in tune but getting it there and making sure it stays there is easy. If you have a good ear you can learn to tune it by ear and by using harmonics and as long as one string is in tune, you can tune the rest around it. But a cheap electronic tuner can save the day and you should have one.

Recently I bought some electric guitars for a diversion. I got a Les Paul, and two Telecasters. Two of my acoustic guitars have pickups installed, a Taylor 414 and a 1977 Guild Bluegrass Jubilee but that doesn’t make them electric guitars, of course. I don’t play gigs or in front of audiences, so I don’t need a lot of equipment, thankfully. I recall going to a friend’s apartment in college who played, and still plays, in a regionally popular band in the South, and nearly every square foot of his place was black boxes housing musical equipment. It was a maze to navigate.

I have a Yamaha THR10C which I’ve written about before on this website and is a great little personal amp. It’s just loud enough, with no buzz or hum, and emulates tube amps perfectly via technology, to use a vague term. It has a built in tuner, 5 memory buttons you can set your favorite settings to, and the ability to play using a number of vintage tube amps within a small box, with carrying case. It recreates the sounds of those amps perfectly and impressively. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a USB port that lets you pull up an interface to fine tune everything, with about 20 or so preset effects already built in and about 20 more spots where you can save your own. It’s really easy to use. Ports for headphones, an Aux jack for your phone to play along with backing tracks or music, and it even looks cool. My only very minor complaint is that Yamaha decided to put the settings indicators in a dark-colored typeface, on a dark background, so it’s nearly impossible to see where or what you’re doing in dim light. The knobs themselves are clearly marked, but what they point to is invisible. A good reason the THR Editor app is useful.

yamaha thr10c

Another piece of equipment that’s useful is a looper. You can make backing tracks to play along with and entire compositions if you’re clever enough. I have a Boss RC-30, which is great, although I’d admit has a steep learning curve. But there are looping apps you can find on your smartphone and online.

When you begin to get into electric guitar playing, I’m seeing that there’s a rabbit hole to easily go down, which is labeled pedal effects. There are hundreds, if not thousands of pedals out there, and used in conjunction with one another, can absorb a lot of your time. Same with MIDI tinkering. This is where a musician who’s a gearhead is in heaven. There’s no end to the equipment you can try out to get that gnarly sound you’re after. Hopefully, your recording deal gave you a large advance to buy it, because you can also spend a fortune. And you have a lot of time, because this is where you never knew music could get so complicated and complex.

 

Marketing Guitars

Marketing Guitars

Guitar Marketing

Two things I know about really well at this point in my life are marketing and guitars. And one of the hardest jobs there is must be marketing guitars. At least, marketing them successfully, which means increasing ROI, sustaining (if not growing)margins, decreasing costs, maintaining if not improving the target market segments’ perceptions about them, and the rest of the duties product managers, marketing managers and directors, VP’s and the other roles tasked with the job have.

I would love such a challenge, incidentally if anyone wants to put me up to it.

But guitars are similar to motorcycles, or at least some makes of them such as Harley Davidsons, certain high-profile custom bikes and a small list of other brands like Triumph, Indian, and others that have gone in and out of business due to the challenges I mention here. The main problems are saturation, limited room for product innovation, and being chained to cyclical and fickle target markets that come and go with generational tastes, fads, cultural trends and external forces such as media involvement, since a lot of what compels people (a lot of males for both, coincidentally) is the whole “image” owning and using guitars and motorcycles conveys. Or, at least what their perception is of what they convey to others, mostly fawning ladies that like guys with motorcycles and who play guitar, which is a study left to another time. Machismo is connected to motorcycle ownership, and no small number of guitars have been sold in hopes of being the next teen idol on a stage with an army of attractive roadies backstage waiting to spend time with the next Peter Frampton. Even though I’m sure studies will reveal the results are far from what someone would consider successful.

Back to marketing the things though, particularly guitars. Acoustic guitars have been around for approximately 370 years in modern form. Since 200BC if you want to consider the lute a type of guitar. Electric guitars have been around less time, understandably, for ~90 years. The number of manufacturers has been in the hundreds, if not thousands, with only a few remaining, and even fewer remaining profitable. Most makers have been absorbed by corporations, mainly buying the badge and reissuing cheaper models made in Mexico or other cheap labor markets. Some makers have used technology to make instruments at a lesser cost, by using laser cutters and robots. I’ve seen new guitars as cheap as $20 made in China, that are playable.

acoustic guitar timeline

The big names in the space worth discussing are Gibson, Fender, and Taylor. There are a lot of other brands, like Guild, Paul Reed Smith and Washburn, but they are owned by Gibson and Fender and large corporations, and not really independent luthiers of magnitude. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of worthy brands to consider – there are – but they aren’t giant global guitar shops. Recording King is a small batch shop, which I own an instrument from, in fact. And small boutique luthiers exist all across the world and make incredible instruments. But they are specialty makers and command large commissions. They aren’t the people I’m talking about having to market either.

Taylor is an interesting case study because they’ve been around since the 1970s, in California, still headed up by Bob Taylor. Thanks to a reemergence in acoustic music in the 1990s with Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, et al., Taylor saw a surge in popularity and expanded their operations considerably, as they also began manufacturing instruments in Mexico and cutting costs while increasing margins by increasing their lines and prices. Rather dramatically in some cases. The US made models that use exotic woods can be near $10,000 apiece these days. Most domestic acoustics hover in the $3,000-6,000 range and aren’t for the average plinker.

rosa lee mcfall

My Taylor 414 acoustic

But each year, if not a few times each year, Taylor introduces new models, new innovations, and new marketing strategies that keep the cash coming in. It’s impressive, and I’ve studied it carefully over the years.

There are a few ways they stay competitive that should be noted. Some are very good and some are sort of weak, but I’m sure they are still effective or else they wouldn’t be employed. (The tactics, that is, not the people.) Incidentally, Fender has caught onto some of their strategies and has done a great job themselves of keeping themselves relevant through technology. Specifically, their app, YouTube presence and lessons they offer, focusing on the new player.

Taylor sends out a Wood and Wire magazine to people that own their instruments, which is a high-end publication as far as marketing materials go. Taylor also has an app that has the usual tuner, metronome(in FourTrack), videos, and a way to store information about your Taylor guitars, but they also have come up with an innovative service called TaylorSense™.

TaylorSense is a trademarked ability to remotely and electronically monitor everything about your instrument to keep it in top condition. Specifically, humidity, temperature, battery life and impact(when it’s dropped, not how hard you’re shredding). Taylor owners typically take very good care of their guitars, and they should considering they cost more than a lot of people’s cars. Humidity control is very important for wooden instruments, there’s no denying, but most guitar owners aren’t likely to be able to have a humidor for their guitars or the technology to keep instruments at a desired humidity and temperature.

You have to have a guitar that has the sensors installed, of course. And that means….buying a new guitar! Why not!? A built-in hygrometer is a must! These features actually are useful for the gigging musician, who are putting their guitars in the back of hot cars, vans, and airplanes and carting them across hill and dale. Having your guitar in Charleston, SC for a week and then toting it suddenly to Sedona, AZ, for example, isn’t a good idea.

Fender introduces new models all the time. And a lot of the time they’re “new” just like the old ones. A reissue of 1950’s Les Pauls for example. A gold top! New flaming! There’s not a whole lot to jump and down about unless you have lots of money and collect the things, in my opinion. And even then, it’s dubious to me. Taylor does the same thing, a twist here and there to the cosmetics, a new bracing that “redefines” guitar playing, using a “new,” limited stock of wood, or whatever. But there have been few real breakthroughs when it comes to creating an awesome guitar, either electric or acoustic. Mostly gimmickry and marketing hype. Which is still effective. I have to believe the big guys have MBA types that can run tests and validate the effectiveness of the strategies, rather than just winging it like a lot of businesses do, incredibly.

If you look on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Craigslist, Reverb, or a gazillion other places where there’s a used guitar marketplace (and new guitars as well) it’s easy to see there’s no shortage of guitars in the world. Just like motorcycles. Nice ones, too. So, how does a company get people to shell out $1000+ for a new guitar?

jessica

My Gibson Les Paul

With the methods above, like the nice onboarding job Fender’s doing with their YouTube videos, creative placements, like within Youtube videos like this one with Ed O’Brien of Radiohead fame, talking about his Stratocaster offering with Fender, or Rush’s guitarist Alex Lifeson discussing his namesake gear in other very interesting and genuine interviews/lessons. Authenticity is a big deal in marketing, and using it is effective with this type of product, and companies. If you look in the comments on the “That Pedal Show” video, you’ll see many people wanting to go out and buy that guitar of his just from watching the video. Or this one. Myself included.

offset telecaster

My offset Limited Edition Fender Telecaster

Another effective tactic is to grow your target market. Women and guitars haven’t traditionally been one in the same, save for but a few creative, explorative, adventurous types. And of course in guitar advertising, with half-naked women draped over guitars, or holding one without even pretending to know a single chord. How they fit in playing guitar is an interesting topic in itself. However, there is a recent noticeable surge in interest by women and acoustic guitar ownership, which is successfully being seized by manufacturers, if not helped greatly by guitar marketers.

If you join some of the many guitar-related groups on Facebook, you’ll notice how many fantastic ladies post videos of themselves playing, and singing, pieces they’ve learned or even written. It’s impressive. I’d argue women should be able to equal if not surpass men with acoustic guitar proficiency. I base that on the fact they’re generally better with small tactile tasks with their fingers. They can do fast, accurate motions better than thick-fingered gorillas men can, like sewing, embroidery, knitting and lock-picking. Just kidding about that last one; I have no idea. But it makes sense. They are no less creative when it comes to writing music, and often are more naturally adept at converting passion and feelings into works of art. Music itself has lots of mathematic undertones to it, which is one of the few reasons that may deter females. I’m not saying that to be masochistic – it’s just a natural fact, which some people refuse to believe despite evidence as long as humans have existed to the contrary. It’s why women are having to be coaxed, unsuccessfully I might add, into engineering and computer programming fields, as well as mathematics and other highly quantitative areas.

When scouting out marketing tactics for this piece, I noticed Fender marketers decided to take the safe route and inject an androgynous female with a man’s haircut, but with tattoos and rings and edgy clothing with their acoustic and electric models on display. It’s as visually neutral as possible.

Fender Play

Although you can, and should use effects pedals and loopers with acoustics, they generally are gear for electrics. And this type of gear that men can spend a fortune of money on as women can shoes, and days playing around with, is just something that doesn’t interest the softer sex. It’s like guys like remote controls and lots of knobs on things, and women want it simple and “just done.”

effects pedals and looper

My effects pedals and looper

I don’t seem to notice more women adopting electric guitar ownership, which is also understandable for the above-mentioned reasons. Electric guitars don’t offer the natural, soft, organic tones and typically the same level of visual artistry as acoustics do, with their exotic woods and finishes. Electrics are made from driftwood and anything you can think of as well, sure, but they just don’t add up to acoustic instruments in terms of sheer beauty. The electronics, huge fingerguards, tremolos, knobs, and other onboard instrumentation detract from the luthier’s work on an acoustic. Some don’t, like Taylor’s electrics, but generally, they’re night and day visually. The pricing on visually beautiful electrics also set them in another league in terms of price from the everyday Stratocaster/Telecaster/Les Paul type guitars. You’re looking at several thousand dollars just to get an entry-level Taylor. You can get an arguably decent, yet totally average-looking and constructed electric for a few hundred.

red fender telecaster maple neck

My Red Telecaster

Something guitar marketers are smartly doing is making guitar ownership something personal, and something that is enjoyed on a level that is enjoyed as a passionate hobby for self-improvement and recreation. That’s opposed to years past when guitars were bought to become the next rock-god, usually even just in the owner’s mind.

The evolution of electric guitar ownership typically goes: air-guitar to tennis racquet to Harmony garage-sale acoustic to Squier Strat to used bottom-level Les Paul or Mexican Made Telecaster to new Strat, Tele or Les Paul, to collecting dozens of vintage collectible Les Pauls, Strats, Teles to collecting all sorts of exotic, weird, vintage makes.

Rock and roll music was what kept people, mostly teenage boys and middle-aged men, buying axes from pawn shops and lusting after shiny new ones. But over the past decade or two, rock and roll has taken a backseat to hip-hop and more electronic music, instead of wannabe Stevie Ray Vaughns. Cultural trends have had an impact on the industry which has been brutal.

electric guitar timeline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Simple Egg Salad Recipe

A Simple Egg Salad Recipe

Perfect Egg Salad

The egg salad sandwiches at The Masters are among the best in the world. But egg salad isn’t hard to make if you know how. Here’s a simple egg salad recipe that’s probably just like the ones at The Masters. I make it and a variation which is egg and tuna salad all the time, which I plan on one day putting a how-to with photos here for reference. Not all recipes have to be Chateaubriand, you know.

ingredients:

  • 6 hard-cooked eggs, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 2-1/2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Cooking hard “boiled” eggs are something most people seem to think involves tossing some eggs in a pot of boiling water for a while, then drain rinse & peel, but to make good hard-cooked eggs, which should be the goal if you actually are going to make your own or feed this to others who may care about what they eat, isn’t difficult. Or shouldn’t be, but it sort of is if you don’t know the science behind it. There are a lot of ways to mess it up, with off-colored yolks, overcooked, rubbery eggs, or ones that are difficult to peel. The worst thing ever is to make egg salad with a shell in it to break someone’s tooth on.

I’ve tried tons of different ways to do it, including Alton Brown’s and Cooking Illustrated‘s methods, which I usually trust to be the “best” way, since they go through the time and resources to test and scientifically examine the science behind cooking, which is all cooking is. Alton got his method from Shirley Corriher of Cookwise fame, who is an expert on such things. When you’re applying some type of heat to food, you’re performing science. And science is something that should be able to be repeated on a consistent basis by anyone with the right tools and ingredients.

egg cooker

Send your egg salad into space with a UFO. Or the useful Dash egg cooker.

What I’ve come to use, however, is something I found on clearance at Target, which is a steamer by Dash for about five bucks. I also tried using a microwave steamer that looks like a chicken, and another that cooks one egg at a time in the shape of an egg. The best, by far, is the Dash steamer. The one egg at a time plastic gizmo wrecked the eggs, and cooked them inconsistently. It wasn’t good for either recipes or just making a single egg to serve to my daughter, who loves to eat lightly salted hard-cooked eggs. Just the whites, though.

chicken egg cooker

Eggs are interesting things, scientifically. A marvel of nature. Honey is another marvel of nature. I only recently learned, or should say realized, that farm fresh eggs don’t need to be refrigerated. If you wash and chill them in the refrigerator, though, you need to maintain the temperature. But eggs have a protective coating that keeps bacteria out and you can just keep them on the counter or wherever until needed. This is an article that explains it in some detail.

Some things I know about eggs that I find to be valuable knowledge: the base of the egg has an air pocket. And fresh eggs should have yolks that stand up tall when cracked into a pan, not flatten out. If the yolk just collapses, you have some not-so-fresh eggs. And I think the difference between whether the chicken egg is white or brown depends on the type of bird laying it. Also the opaque slimy thing in eggs is called the chalaise(sp), which is fun to say.