Saturday, August 30, 2014

The First Gig: Being There

The strategy of taking this season on in little bites seems to be working.  My sense of where I am in terms of being ready to play has been one of weakness of performance.  I certainly know how and why but getting where, what and when has been challenging.   At core, I am a balladeer, a pretty voice, competent player and poetic writer.  I am not the act you hire for a sports bar or a room that caters to the very young.   Whatever work I've done with rock bands simply doesn't apply when I play solo.   It isn't that I can't play rock; it's that I won't.  

Some aspects of what we do are instinctive and emotional.  I am not a brand.   I am not a product.   If I can't emotionally feel satisfied by the music I play and particularly the songs I sing, I may as well be dry humping a banana tree.   Nothing happens.  It's a gluten free cookie; all matter and no taste.  So why bother?

I've been averaging one solo gig a year for the last few years.   Between day gig and church, there hasn't been time or incentive to do the work.   What people who don't do it don't know is a solo gig is a lot of work to prepare.  Yes, there are strummers who think they can learn the chords of a half dozen songs, sing ok and be worth an evening.   And in too many places I've been lately, that is common.  That is the trouble:  they are common.  They think the only music is blues and once they have those basic chords and rhythms down, they are ready.    An economy pack of Oreos; black outside, creamy white inside and every cookie is exactly the same as the last one.

When I was doing this for a living in the seventies, it was very competitive.   Only the best players and singers could hold on to a gig and they had to compete with duos and trios as well as everyone who picked up a guitar.   BMI and ASCAP weren't enemies closing small rooms for small mechanicals.   The profession and the scene made sense:  present with quality or disappear.   The money was decent and every where there could be music, there was.

We've come to a time again where the big rooms with the big bands have all but vanished and been replaced by DJs with laptops.   This is the cycle we saw when disco killed the rock and dance bands.   It will pass but for now, it's about small rooms and small acts, mostly acoustic, mostly guitar players.  And mostly, not that good.   That also will change as competition takes over.   With the push from BMI/ASCAP to recover mechanicals from the rooms lost to the web otherwise, there is more songwriting.   Also mostly bad but they'll get better.  I've heard some tres strange songs lately and we'll see how that works out.   Computer programmers in general aren't good lyricists.  They are a little self-happy and not nearly as well read as they need to write well.   But they may improve.

All of these things I observe, but I am past most of this.  I am OLD.  I've done this for a long time and the only habits that will change are the ones I am trying to change.   For one, I take a piano with me now.   Doing the entire night on the guitar is doable but I want to explore.   Last night I took Peter Gabriel's fantastic Don't Give Up, a duet with Kate Bush, and married it to Neil Young's Birds.   I am exploring more ambient playing, chordally sparse, rhythmically non 4/4 strict, pauses, hesitations, more focus on the voice and acting out the song as I sing, trying to feel each note, each pause, and let it sink in to me as much as the audience.   This is quite different from the rigors I used to attempt when playing solo.  I can take adavantage of  being the only person performing and let my inner eye wander around.

The down side of that is of course one needs a listening audience and that writes off the bars.   Drinkers are not listeners.  They need the thump thump of a  bass drum and snapping snare.   I had been filling this in with tracks and for a few songs that I've arranged such as Softly As I Leave You or Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas, I use the tracks.   I worked very hard on those arrangements and like to show them off.  I also like singing with those arrangements,   Otherwise, I am ditching the tracks and challenging myself to stay acoustic.   But it means finding rooms where a softer, gentler sound is accepted.  And that is the big challenge:  there aren't many rooms like that.

So having paid for my business cards with last night's tips, I'll be looking for the niches where what I want to do works.  That is the essential lesson for me:  better to find fit than to make fit.   If there really is such a quality as authenticity, it isn't the same as traditionalism.  A traditionalist works to imitate the original form.   Being authentic, in my opinion, is forming the original.  At this end of life, I find that an interesting challenge.  Art for the artist.  Enjoying it.  Happy to make happy but in no way interested in imitation.  Interested only in growth.  In being there.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Len Bullard Interviewed on Spice Radio

This was great fun.  I was interviewed about music, the local scene, etc. on a podcast.

Spice Radio!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Abusive Narcisisst As Boss

A big d'oh. This is how insecure or narcissistic managers create a following that emulates them and culls out those who are not "of the body" while telling the customer or other teams that those people are the "troublemakers" or "do substandard work". It is the main fake out game being played in companies where small groups want to

a) get rid of people not of their race or political persuasion
b) gut positions and replace them with people who are loyal to them personally.  

This is easy to spot but HR professionals loathe or are too afraid for their own jobs to do it. Over time it shows up as less quality in product deliverables but it can do substantial damage to a company until it is detected. And then the manager simply moves on and often to a better position. 
Things to look for:

1. Manager belittles last person who had the job in meetings with other staff nodding.

2. There seems to be an oddly high amount of turnover.  This one is a critical symptom because only a few possibilities exist to cause this.   a) Lack of skills given the tasks.  b) Lack of clarity in direction given the manager.  c) Talent is resisting the directions given.   All three speak to the competence of the manager and b and c act in combination.   a is possible but unlikely unless the task requires skills so rare as to be unlikely in commercial work.

3. Manager compliments himself/herself and distributes "words of wisdom", or Skills 101 papers that they authored while working at another company.

4. Manager distributes work tools or other artifacts that come from a prior company.

5. Manager gives technical explanations that you know are technically incorrect or very shallow, uses their own buzzwords for items that have standard terms, insists that the standard terms or technical approaches are incorrect or "snake oil".

6. Manager insists all work be inspected by an individual who is actually seldom in the work area and when is there is insufficiently prepared or also technically inept.  Manager never inspects work performed in process but makes broad comments about it based on opinions of this individual usually in meetings with staff rather than in private.  Actively humiliates individuals while lavishly praising others.

7. Manager refers to customers disparagingly with names such as "Captain Meathead" and occasionally rants about how the customer or government should not be interfering with "free enterprise".

8. Manager insists on people working free overtime, makes remarks about people who don't and often disappears early saying "Well, I've put in my forty".

9. Manager schedules away from work team meetings at local watering hole.

10. Manager sleights contributor work by insisting on rewriting it but failing to name the critical technical issues (smoking the expert).

11. Manager produces schedules and technical approaches that are full of faked numbers (the so-called spreadsheet manager).

12. Manager blames other departments for failing to meet schedule or going over budget.

13.  Manager is obsessed with monitoring systems for productivity that add considerable overhead to tasks but do not improve the product.

14.  Manager promotes inappropriately.  This one is often seen among those who look for outside the office relationships with co-workers.   It takes two to tangle and in the era of Title VII one might think this is easily handled but it is surprisingly common as salaries are being forced down and the majority of the team consists of temporary contractors trying to go direct and easily dismissed.  Right to work states are notoriously bad.

See these and prepare to move on.    The ship is headed for the 'berg. 

Systems theory: to adapt to a changing environment or to adapt rapidly to new requirements a system must have effective measures for initiating affective means. The signal to action latency is the fog of war and business. There are symptoms of such that are easy to detect up close but easy to disguise given local autonomy in hiring, budgeting and determining technical direction. Some businesses do not understand or ignore such but there are a few symptoms that are easy to see at a distance such as rapid turnover of key staff positions. Others such as abusive remarks which some would use in a Title VII action take a long tedious process and much documentation, often come down to he-said-she-said and don't create affective change past a few HR posts on the walls admonishing via published policy.

Direct actions are rare and usually after damage has to be hidden to protect higher levels of management that could and should have acted but didn't. Usually it is a combination of measures that produce an unignorable pattern and then the actions are predicated on least damage to reputation even if the effects have damaged work on existing contracts. Then if the customer is aware, those contracts evaporate.

We laud local control but local control is the best ally of the abusive narcissist because this type typically controls the flow of information, the contacts and thus is always in a position to change outcomes with a single display of flatulent dismissal. The damage accrues and when the change comes, it is violent loss of opportunity or income.

The problem of the fit of a model tends to be replicated socially across other power domains and this is how business culures rot. It is the lemming march of organizations even as a local community will detect it and begin to cooperate to remove the abuser through out of band signals labeling them as such.  Once the abusive narcissist loses control of the narrative because they can no longer control perceptions by controlling information flows, they are done and must move on to another.

Should The Prosecutor Recuse Himself?

If a public prosecutor can't be trusted to perform his duty in pursuit of justice because his police officer father was killed by a black man, can those protesting because a white officer killed a black man be trusted to recognize justice?

Rodney King was filmed being beaten by the Los Angeles police. OJ Simpson was provably guilty. When race becomes a part of a case in America, all too often, facts don't matter and we should be as concerned about that as any other social context. Justice is blind but not deaf, dumb and stupid and this cuts all ways or it isn't justice.

Consider that highly litigated processes tend to drive out competent people because the risks of becoming collateral damage are too hgh. If we continue on the path we've been walking, there will come a time when there are no competent professionals in the justice system and the only recourse will be mobs driven by social media and ratings seeking mainstream media. The talking heads will be both judge and prosecutor and every day will see a new Ox Bow Incident.

Then if you are a minority, your chances of being fairly treated go to zero quickly.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Music Is Conversation

Music is conversation or rote.  How well and understandably we converse limits or extends the quality of conversation.   There is an ancient idea one finds in belief systems around the world parphrased as "every uttered word is registered for eternity on the invisible air."  Regard them as a prayer without regard to perfect knowledge but to perfect love and hope, the engines which power our evolution made to the intelligence that guides them.  

From the first cave painting, from the first cantus firmus, the eye sees form and the ear hears motion and from these conceives patterns and in these creates a mirror of self, knows self and becomes a higher self.   If the drum is silent, reason speaks.  The drum is ego, the craving for power, it is not power.  A lively conversation does not put the mind to sleep.   It engages it, makes it aware of itself and in it finds the next lesson.   This is emergence made of the joy of discovery. 

Scales or RGB are fundamental to be learned by disciplined repetition but are not themselves, thoughts.  They are linens, light without a reflective surface.  Harmony binds melody to color and time makes the canvas on which worlds are made but the intellect that chooses a mode or mixes a color, the chooser of choices, this is the highest art of all.   Our melodies fade like water on sands, our colors fade into the sunset of our lives, but the thoughts made and impressed into living flesh shine on illuminating self for the eye that sees above and below

Comment Policy

If you don't sign it, I won't post it. To quote an ancient source: "All your private property is target for your enemy. And your enemy is me."