Tomorrow night, we unveil the rock majesty that is There Be Dragons, with a gig at the fabulous Bayou in the scenic Fleetwood section of Mount Vernon, NY. TBD, as fans call us for short, is a five-man group that has been steadily working on originals and a handful of covers for the last year or so, practicing above an auto body shop on Route 9A in Ardsley, next to the New York State Thruway.
The music is mostly avocation, but the ambition lurks in the breast of middle-aged rocks nonetheless. We named the band for that space on the edge of the map, the unknown regions beyond the familiar and the safe.
The band is Brendog Tween, Jason Chervokas, Steve Manzi, Mark Ursel and myself and we come from previous bands like Mephiskapheles and Shaved Pigs (the two bands Brendog toured the world with), Kool Moe Dee (Jason's credited on a studio recording), the Swingin' Philanthropists, the Grubbies, Self-Inflicted Wounds, Snot Varmint, Nonesuch, Los Gringos Perdidos and countless others.
And, I'm pleased to say, we're releasing our free 3-Song Super Single to coincide with the live debut tomorrow night. The songs are anything but similar:
Secrets of the Freemasons (Manzi) is the only 2-minute rocker you'll ever hear about Rem Koolhaus, Othmar Ammann, Buckminster Fuller and Paul McCartney. The tune nearly marries industrial design and the ancient story of love: "I'll build a coast to coast pan, from Oregon to Japan....I'll stand astride your sleek expansion joint...I'll live my life on top of you."
The semi-autobiographical Whatever Happened to the New Contenders (Chervokas) tells the story of an early 80s band and what happened to its members through the years. "At 22, the hooks just come...by 36 you just feel numb...at 40-something recommuning with the muse, playing Folsom Prison and James Alley Blues."
And then there's Infinity (Watson) an uptempo blues rocker about the rise of American terrorism....back in the 1860s, that is. But there are also ghosts alongside the modern highway: "By the strip malls and the movieplex the bones of hate lie still, and the spirits sometimes ride again for the kill."
You can download the tunes here - free of charge, but only if you act fast! Put it on your iPod! Annoy the neighbors' dogs! Email 'em to Pete Townshend! Use 'em in your favorite YouTube video! (Or just listen to 'em on the band site).
We hope to see you at The Bayou tomorrow night - or at Madison Square Garden in a couple of months (if all goes according to the master plan - are there any record label types or promoters reading this?) - the first set starts at 9:30.
UPDATE: It was a gas, gas, gas. Here's a video of one of my tunes, Scrapbook Love -
For the last month or so, my obsessive book-reading habit has taken on the glint of a platform shift. On the recommendation of other heavy-duty readers, I cut way back on print and paper in favor of a sleek new Kindle.
In truth, I was a reluctant convert for a simple reason: I love books. But the addiction was reaching the limits of our household budget and beyond; and the pile of books (most read once, then stacked) was clearly getting out of hand. Nonetheless, I was a hold-out - I use digital technology quite a bit, spend unseemly amounts of waking time in the wired state of connection, and always look forward each day to the darkened hours of print and paper and unplugged peace. Yeah, I'm an early adopter, but I'd opted out of the early Kindle craze.
So here's the quick review and a few thoughts on the business model.
The Kindle is for readers - This is not just a nice little device, and it's not (in my view) a multi-tasking platform for connected activities of all sorts. It shouldn't compete with smart phones and app stores; indeed, I view Amazon's plan to open the Kindle to developers with skepticism. The Kindle's simplicity is its strong suit - the best moments come when I forget I'm holding an electronic gadget at all, and am fully immersed in the 'book' I'm reading. This happens all the time.
So here's what I don't need the Kindle for: Internet surfing, email, texting, games, or social media. It's a book platform. It doesn't have an illuminated screen, and therefore, it relieves eye strain rather than adds to it. The grayish electronic ink system is beautiful in its "non-laptop" functionality.
Amazon should improve the Kindle store - Strangely, given how much it's invested in the Kindle universe, the online store linked the machine isn't particularly strong. In a month of usage and some pretty heavy browsing and purchasing, the store still hasn't changed its personal recommendations for books I should buy. And the categories aren't all that easy to get around; searching isn't intuitive. The store that appears on the Kindle screen is poorly laid out and non-intuitive.
Indeed, I've taken to using my laptop to research purchases. Amazon has done the integration between my longtime account and my new Kindle account quite well - so I shop on the regular website and specify delivery to my Kindle. Speaking of delivery: it's quite brilliant. Within a minute or two of buying a book, the file pops up on the Kindle's home screen. Even better - you can quickly download a sample of any book you're considering, to see whether it passes the "first chapter test" before buying. I find that I now read three or four first chapters for every book I buy.
Forget the Apple tablet as a Kindle-killer - Unless your eyes are as strong as Superman's, you're not going to read books on a regular basis on a backlit screen. The real competition in the e-book device niche comes from other e-ink devices like he Barnes and Noble Nook and Sony's readers. To my (tired) eye, this will always remain a real readers' niche - not a path to another big wired platform.
Publishers don't get it - I'm not sure why book publishers don't see the kindle as more of an opportunity, instead of a threat. Don't they understand that Kindle owners are the ones who buy the most books - the obsessive readers who don't have enough space on their shelves for more printed tomes? The current practice is to hold big new books back from the Kindle platform for a few weeks to give bookstores a head start on best-selling sales. This is patently insane. They should be releasing books on the Kindle first, for the hard-core readers. Now that I've got the Kindle, I'm perfectly happy to wait for a book like Game Change to come out for the device. I'm not racing to get it in print. And if, by mid-February when the trashy political tell-all is finally due to be released for the Kindle, I just happen to forget to buy it - well, whose loss is that?
To my publishing friends, I have a message: I'm buying and reading more books now. You need to understand that, and start to aggressively market to the e-reader audience with loyalty programs and exclusives - rather than punishing Kindle readers. [As the Times pointed out today, some publishers do get it].
In any case, I'm a convert - I dig this little white machine for its ease of use and simplicity and for the amazingly quick access to a library of great books, many of which are free of charge (public domain classics are a huge Kindle segment).
Can the Kindle go social? I'll leave this with a question: wouldn't it be great if Kindle used its built-in connectivity to link readers to a system of mini-reviews and ratings via some simle social media tools - perhaps connecting reading lists to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the Amazon Kindle store? My guess is that's coming, and that social media-driven best-seller lists will begin to drive sales. Something else for 'print' publishers to pay attention to.
Take Elizabeth Edwards, dying of cancer and the target of the post-2008 whisperings of campaign aides eager for revenge and an off-the-record chat with political Dirt Devils Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. For a while on what passes for the public commons in this country, Edwards was the Mother Theresa of the Democratic Party, holding on her illness-ravaged shoulders the shame of her husband's infidelity and the progressive dreams of followers who judged her calls for public healthcare to be legitimate.
No more. Cheered on by a Washington media rooting section that could only be portrayed by a cackling Heath Ledger brought back from the dead and replicated to fill every seat at Politico, Edwards is now caricatured as a shrill, unhinged she-devil rending her garments in airports and slicing the Achilles tendons of underlings with the vicious alacrity of a demanding hellcat.
I haven't read the apparently juicy Game Change yet, but I read the breathless excerpt in New York Magazine - which felt it necessary not only to carry the take-down of Edwards, but to cartoon the imaginary scenes as well. Yet reading all those juicy details about this supposedly evil woman merely provided a somewhat sad insight into a complicated and painful life lived during the glare of a national political campaign. There is nothing shocking in the one-sided Elizabeth Edwards portrayal in the book - indeed, it's as believable as her sainthood story...or Barack Obama's salvation myth concoctions. Which is to say, a bit but what does it matter.
And why the sheer mean-spirited style of the whole sorry mess? What's the point? I caught a minute or two of Halperin and Heilemann on Imus this morning. Halperin looked dizzy with the rush of attention, giddy with his well-publicized takedown. Heilemann, a good reporter whose work I've admired, looked apologetic and downcast. And as the dearth of sourcing becomes apparent - the book has no notes, and there's already budding controversy over direct quotes from people like Bill Clinton that are now characterized as paraphrases, and second-hand ones at that - I suspect a guy like Heilemann (who appears to have a soul) will become more dispirited. Because Digby has it right:
Sweet Jesus, I hate this goddamned Halperin/Heilemann tabloid atrocity. It's got the villagers so excited I fear they are going to literally orgasm on camera -- and that's something I just don't want to see. A book based on backstabbing gossip from disgruntled campaign aides and pissed off rivals is about as reliable a six year olds playing a game of telephone. When you combine these nasty little tidbits with the Villager sensibility and biases of the writers, you end up with a docu-drama rather than a work of non-fiction.
Over at the Daily Beast, Lee Siegel takes the Elizabeth Edwards reporting apart, bit by bit. And it's not so much whether the stories are true, but whether they amount to anything at all:
According to the book, Elizabeth called John’s campaign manager an idiot. Maybe he was. She accused David Axelrod of lying to her. Maybe he did. At one point during the 2004 presidential race, she “snarled” at the people who were scheduling her appearances: “Why the fuck do you think I’d want to go sit outside a Wal-Mart and hand out leaflets?” Well, why the fuck would she? Halperin and Heilemann are veteran political reporters. Surely they know that such language and tantrums are as common in political campaigns as their opposite: sheer, calculated niceness.
You can't help but feel that the "crazy woman" character is so easily applied to females on the political stage - their anger is never contained, rarely effective, and almost never portrayed as just. It's usually just crazed, unhinged, pre-menstrual or menopausal. Glancing through the New York cartoons is a trip through that little garden of American political sexism so beloved by the mainstream media.
If Game Change (from what I've seen so far) is at all a reminder of the 2008 campaign, it's a reminder of that prism that existed then - and, God help us, exists now - that distorts the lives of public women and creates the kind of monsters that, I guess, sell books.
There's a moment in Sherlock Holmes when the great detective's love interest, chestnut-haired Irene Adler, emerges from a chase in the sewers and passages under Parliament and Whitehall into the construction site of Tower Bridge, built over the Thames in the years between 1886 and 1894. The problem is, the Tower Bridge is more than two miles - and one hellacious river bend - from Big Ben. It's a bit of Hollywood short-cut drawing, like that time in the Seven-Ups when Roy Scheider hangs a left on Madison Avenue and turns up on a Pelham Parkway side street in the Bronx. The discontinuity serves the action, I guess - but it's vaguely similar to the strange wrinkle in the space-time continuum that was the first decade of the second millennium.
I'm not a big fan of list-making or instant history in general, but I had to laugh the ironic middle-aged laugh of the scarred and experienced at the usage of "Suckade" by persons unknown on Twitter over the last couple of days. Le mot juste for the 140-character crowd: the whole damned decade had that "did that just happen?" quality to it.
Yet, as we begin the next decade - and really, what humans "begin" decades, after all - things look bleaker than they did at our big 2000 moment ten years ago. The economy has no super-charged second wave Internet explosion in the offing, no more tech-fueled productivity to be wrung from the working class - which can now safely be defined in basic American terms as the plutocrats and everyone else in the country. The wealth gap hinted at a decade ago has metastasized to threaten the foundations of the republic, and our national government is ever more in thrall of the "too big to fail" ethic of the elite and their lobbyist grunts, a strange and deeply un-American spell that shuts out the traditional source of growth from coast to coast: small businesses and people with big dreams.
Nonetheless there are no pitchforks down on Broad Street south of William, no torchlight parades, no barricades. Nary a protest echoes on Wall Street's granite facades, and the NYPD riot shields gather dust in storage. This despite thievery on a grand and arrogantly public scale. No one seems to care. So much of what politicians are fond of calling "the American people" lolls in a media and product-induced narcotic coma of disinterest and ignorance. The polity rots around us.
You can say it began in Florida in year two of the decade past. You can argue that Americans were more involved and informed during the 90s, that politics was less polarized and more serious. That the Bush years were the moldy core of political dry-rot in the double-zeros. And some of that is valid. But I've slowly come to realize that we place far too much of our capital - emotional, social, political - in the persons of those who would govern. A year of Clinton, eight of Bush, and a year of Obama creates a neat political pattern in the Washington of the decade just past - and it's so tempting to just pick door number two, the dishonest Republican swath between two thin Democratic stripes on either side. Bush sucked. The decade sucked. Analysis over. Plenty of columnists and bloggers from the center to the left have that little thought well-covered. Yet it doesn't ring true if you reject, as I do, the pervasive key man theory.
Frankly, it's too easy to blame George W. Bush for the lost decade. Just as Bill Clinton's presidency seemed that much greater after he'd given way to Bush, so does Bush's presidency rise to the level of at least the unimportant when viewed in the light of Barack Obama's well-meaning but very difficult first year. The President matters, just not as much as we thought. Call it the Ben Bernanke theory: the key man's just not that crucial. (Note for purists: this used to be called the Jack Welch theory).
No, the first Obama year proves - to me at least - that we're all fools for investing so much in the person at the top of the ticket. I was talking to my friends Ben and Charles about this last night, as the clock ticked toward midnight. We talked about the sheer size of the Federal government, with two million employees, and the limits on any President's time in both decision-making and management. The most President Obama can do is set the general agenda, appoint managers, react to national emergencies, and focus on several key issues per year - in addition to running for re-election and leading his party.
So I try to temper my keen disappointment in Obama's passive-aggressive tactics on healthcare - slow out of the box, tepid use of his former grassroots army, generally empty bully pulpit, pre-compromising with big insurance, and the lack of a principled stand on public healthcare - with the knowledge that his power is limited. I was younger in the 90s for the Clinton presidency, and spent much of those eight years angry at a Democratic commander in chief. I'm not making the same mistake twice. I was never on the hope and change bandwagon - I'm old enough to know they were marketing slogans - so I don't have any sense of personal betrayal toward the President, who was, after all, my second choice for the Democratic nomination. Obama gives himself a B-plus; I give him a B-minus. Which is fine - I was hoping for a B presidency after eight years of D-minus.
But enough of the big man in the Executive Mansion. What's coming from below? To me, that's what matters. Every study shows that this next generation is more active and more liberal in their attitudes than the one before it. I can see that in my own kids; they're pretty well-informed. Then too, the young social entrepreneurs I've had the chance to meet and work with are bright harbingers. To them, the old models don't necessarily matter - nor do the old barriers. I've spend the last year talking about my book, CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World (Wiley) and I'm encouraged by the people chronicled in its page - they're still out there working. Moreover, they're organizing from below - connecting people to causes and ideas and small organizations.
That organizing power is real, but it's also fragile, I think. Without encouragement and real success - beyond a glitzy political campaign, that is - young people will get discouraged. And we've built our modern society to discourage the dreamers, the gadflies, the activists, the iconoclasts. Oh, they're welcome as fodder for reality TV, alright - but they're generally not welcome in public life. And that's got to change. The decade just past knocked off too many corners and streamlined the handles of power, concentrating economic and political power in the hands of the few.
And so, with the last New Year's sip still on my lips, I'll kick off this year's playlist with some lyrics from the great Patti Smith, from a song that's now 22 years old, amazingly enough:
People Have the Power
I was dreaming in my dreaming
Of an aspect bright and fair
And my sleeping it was broken
But my dream it lingered near
In the form of shining valleys
Where the pure air recognized
And my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
That the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools
Upon the meek the graces shower
It's decreed the people rule
The people have the power
The people have the power
The people have the power
The people have the power