All posts by anthony

The Arts: Michael Douglas and Parallel Universes

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Having just finished Marc Eliot’s highly enjoyable book, Michael Douglas: A Biography, I had the thought that in the arts, we are all more or less in the same boat.  Even an iconic actor/producer like Douglas, I learned, dealt with countless setbacks during his amazing career.  For example, it took him years, when he was still unknown and languishing in the great shadow of his father, Kirk, to bring One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to the screen.  Were it not for first his father’s, then his own unshakable belief in the material, and the perseverence to weather many obstacles, the movie would have never even made it to the screen.

It got me thinking how a film, while it is usually the product of hundreds or thousands of people in the end, starts with a vision–one person has a belief… a burning desire to see that idea be manifested in the real world.  No matter how many people think the idea is dumb, impractical or otherwise ill-coneived, nothing can sway that person from taking the steps to see the project to completion.  It’s the same with writing a book, recording a CD, or anything else artistic in nature.  These types of endeavors take not only an original vision, but then the persistence and stamina to survive the invariable hurdles that lay in the creator’s path.

Anyway, I loved this book, and recommend it to not only fans of Michael Douglas (of which I am certainly one), but also anyone who loves film, and anyone who braves the creative arts, and might be empowered to read the tale of a fellow artist, who dealt with continued challenges throughout the course of his storied career.  It is never easy, even for those whose work enjoys the sheen of commercial success and universal validation.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A1K8HIHDYYEH83?sort_by=MostRecentReview&display=public&x=8&y=12

Tackling the Self-Publishing Learning Curve

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Okay, you wrote a book.  That much was hard enough.  You spent a year, maybe a couple years–in my case, I spent TEN YEARS writing, editing, re-writing, shelving, revisiting and finally finishing The Lizard Stays in the Cage, a creative non-fiction memoir or sorts, which focuses on the twenty-plus years I’ve spent in the trenches of the music business mostly, but also the arts in general.

Now, you’ve got two choices:  One, you can send out a bunch of query letters, pray to whatever god you worship, and hope that somehow, against astronomical, incredible odds, an amazing thing happens:  someone actually responds to your query.  Yes, you can send out two hundred query letters, and perhaps you will receive one or two curt replies which say, in so many words, “(sigh) Okay, go ahead and send a sample chapter… we’ll get back to you in a few decades.”  Is this cause for celebration?  Sure, you threw a bunch of stuff at the wall and something actually stuck… sort of.  Treat yourself to an iced mocha with whip cream.  Is it cause for quitting your day gig, sequestering yourself in the corner of your office and churning out prose like John Grisham?  Uh, maybe not.

Option two, you can say “to hell with the snooty, established publishing world!  I don’t need to be a part of their little club!  I’m gonna do it all myself!”  Yes, it’s liberating to take this leap.  You can in fact do it all yourself, and it is not entirely outside the realm of possibility that you will ultimately get a return on your investment of time and resources.

But let’s keep it real.  When you take this leap, you are signing on for a huge learning curve, which is going to entail literally hundreds of hours of your time.  First, you will have to figure out how to format your book (in both hard copy and e-book formats), you will have to either do the layout yourself or farm that out to someone (for a fee), create artwork for the front and back cover, which, as tempting as it might be to do it yourself in Photoshop, is probably a task best left to an expert, such as a proven graphic artist with experience and credits.

Then, if all that goes smoothly (haha), you now have to figure out where you can get the best price per book, and decide how you’re actually going to try and sell the thing.  Will you sell it exclusively via your website (yeah, you need one of those too), or in conjunction with Amazon or another major online distributor?  Or are you going to partner with a self-pubishing company and have them assist you in marketing and distributing your book?  This last option, of course, is going to cost you more money.

Okay, let’s say you figured all that out.  You’ve got your book, it looks good, it reads good, friends and family who have picked up advance copies are digging it and giving you positive feedback.  Great.  You’ve come to the juncture where this humble author currently is positioned.

I’ve got my book, I more or less am happy with its internal and external elements, and I believe I’ve got a product I can now market on more of a mass level.  But how?  If I don’t have a major publishing company backing me (I don’t, at this point), is it even possible to create national or international interest in my little book, given the deluge of product constantly saturating the market?  The answer is yes, it is possible, and there are people who have done it quite successfully, but in order to achieve it you need  to do one very important thing:  create a platform for yourself as an author.  This entails creating a presence within various social media outlets, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.  There are numerous others, but these seem to be the big three most people talk about.

In addition to this step, you will need to figure out how to get your material reviewed by credible sources.  This doesn’t have to be the New York Times (although that would be nice!).  You can turn to smaller magazines, even local ones in your area, as well as a plethora of online sources, be they magazines, newsletters or blogs.  There are also a number of Amazon top reviewers who seem to yield power and influence in the self-publishing world.

I am telling you this not as an authority, which I am not at this point, but as a fellow writer who is just starting to wrap his mind around all of this, and slowly make some moves to build an author platform and create demand for not only my current book, but hopefully many more to come.

As I said, the self-published author faces a serious learning curve, and many will fall by the wayside because, well, the challenge is a daunting one.  I plan to stick it out–I’m in it for the long haul.  I’m stubborn and I believe in my work.  I believe I have something worthwhile to say to the world.  I can only hope that this resolve–which nobody can teach you, by the way… you either have it or you don’t–coupled with a continuing self-education in all things related to self-publishing, marketing, and social media presence–will get me to the place I want to be:  a self-contained, media and marketing-savvy writer who understands his audience, and has figured out how to reach people all over the world.  Of course, once I get there (if I do), that will be the point at which a major publishing company will materialize, offering to catapult my career to the next level.  Those opportunities come along when you no longer need them… but that’s the way the game seems to work!  Good luck, fellow writers.  I will be blogging many more of my thoughts, as well as ideas and strategies as I figure them out and hopefully master them!

 

Twitter: My First Take

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For a long time, Twitter was something that barely registered on my radar… yet another annoying medium churning out a lot of noise, crowding the information landscape with meaningless “jibbety-jabber,” as my friend Karl Denson would say.  I think I was turned off long ago to the micro-blogging mecca, when I saw the predictably vapid (imho, at least) Ashton Kutcher flapping his gums on some national TV talk show, boasting about how he had just topped a million followers.  The whole thing seemed rather dumb and pointless.

I stuck to this conviction for  several years… that is, until last week.  I  recently braved the world of self-publishing–currently in the process of releasing and attempting to market my first book–and became convinced that since I wasn’t going to a) be spending money on advertising or b)have the help of Penguin or Random House hawking my wares, I’d better start taking advantage of free social networking outlets.

Well, here  I am a week later.  I’ve got over 400 followers on Twitter, I’ve “tweeted” almost 500 times, and I’m engaging in chats with fellow writers, political pundits, entertainers and famous filmmakers.  I have to say, I vastly underestimated the power of Twitter.  Now, I am quickly coming to believe that it has greater potential as both a networking/community and marketing tool than Facebook, which I have been using regularly for the last couple years.  While Facebook offers one the constant opportunity to stay connected to friends and acquaintances, Twitter opens up a whole new world.  You have the potential to attract the interest of others in your field, through effective “tweeting” (140-character-or-less messages) and persistence.  I also find that Twitter plays to my personal strengths, such as basic writing ability, wit, and a broad range of interests.

Of course, this is just my initial take.  I’m still on my Twitter honeymoon, and the bubble very well might burst in the near future.  Just as it is in our society itself, the world of Twitter is filled with lots of noise–millions competing for attention, everyone selling something, much of the content intrinsically worthless blabber about mundane, inane topics.  I’m already seeing that the whole thing can be a bit overwhelming and, if you’re not careful, a monumental time-suck.  Nonetheless, I’m going to trudge forward and attempt to methodically build myself a Twitter “platform”… whatever that means.

I’ll check back in soon for a Twitter update, perhaps when I hit the 1000-follower mark, or I finally get Ricky Gervais to respond to something I’ve tweeted (I’ve sent the guy several tweets I thought were fairly clever, but so far not a peep!  I thought for sure he would retweet my suggestion that he is a cross between Robin Williams and Christopher Hitchens… oh well)

Time to get some tweep… I mean sleep

Thoughts on Art Tatum

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Thoughts on Art Tatum

 

My Dad was jazz pianist Art Tatum’s biggest fan in the fifties.  He followed Art around the jazz clubs in Los Angeles, sitting next to the large, blind man as he played solo versions of standards that, in many cases, remain the definitive jazz interpretation the material (for example, check out Art’s still jaw-dropping arrangement of Yesterdays).  Dad was a boxer growing up in Chicago, and a big jazz lover from a young age.  When he moved out west with his family and started frequenting the vibrant West Coast jazz scene, he had little patience for people talking while the musicians played.  While sitting near Art listening to the genius at work, he would not think twice before turning to some rude patron and saying, “Hey, can you please shut up?  Do you know who this is playing here?”  Art, of course, appreciated the support, and got along well with Dad.  They would have little conversations in between songs, or at the end of a set.

Dad knew that he was in the presence of something very special—an artist with a rare, incomparable gift.  He passed on his love of Tatum to me, sharing various albums of Tatum’s work with me when I started to learn to play the piano myself.  It was clear to me that Art Tatum possessed an other-worldly level of virtuosity, so much so that great classical pianists of the time, such as Horowitz and Rubenstein, would show up to hear Art, leaving with mouths agape at the astonishing pianistic ability of the man.

According to Dad, Art was a nice guy to talk to, but he was well aware of his ability.  He once said to Dad in a one-on-one conversation, “You know, man, I’d like to get all the best jazz pianists together for a concert somewhere, a summit…”

“That sounds great, Art,” Dad offered.

“… and once they’ve all played, then I’ll cut ‘em all to shreds.”

Bud Powell, who was a bit younger than Tatum, worshipped the older player along with all the pianists of his generation.  There are a couple famous stories involving the two men, which I won’t repeat here.  Within the jazz orthodoxy, Powell’s legacy is mentioned more often than Tatum, and Powell is considered the Charlie Parker of jazz piano; but Tatum was an innovator as well, far ahead of his time in a harmonic sense, and arguably the greatest stride pianist who ever lived.  Without Tatum, there could have been no Oscar Peterson, although Peterson was ultimately recognized more as a group player, Tatum a soloist.

(to be continued)…

nun

Quotes: I Could Get Used to Your Bacteria!

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Quotes are a fun, easily digestible form of entertainment.  Everyone says something funny, outrageous or occasionally even profound at some point, whether consciously or unwittingly…

“It’s not every day you see a nun aggressively driving a Hummer.”

“I repulse women.  They find me grotesquely unattractive.”

“Mark my words.  They’re gonna make a mortar out of this guy.”

Please post any funny quotes you’ve come across lately, either via the written word or directly from someone you know’s mouth!

(I Could Get Used to Your Bacteria is a collection of quotes contained within The Lizard Stays in the Cage:  Music, Art, Sex, Screenplays, Booze and Basketball)

Bathing: The Realities of Road Life

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“Hey, man, I’m really digging the music and the vibe. Thanks for the opportunity… and by the way, at what point are we going to actually bathe?” the bass player wondered.

bathing

 

One of the things we take for granted in life is the freedom to wash ourselves on a daily basis. Back when I had a band on the road, we hit a stretch on the East Coast where nobody had showered for several days. We were holed up at some crazy jam band festival with a bunch of partiers, young hippies and various freaks, and needless to say, the RV was starting to get a little funky. Everyone had multiple layers of dried sweat caked on their bodies. The newest band member finally spoke up and asked the obvious question! There weren’t any public showers, so we had to wait until we left the festival and hit the next gig. Five days without any type of bathing. I hope I never have to do that again.  This is but one small glimpse into the realities of road life, as detailed in The Lizard Stays in the Cage.

What sacrifices have you made for your craft?

The Lizard Stays In The Cage

Here We Go…

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Friends, I thought this day would never arrive.  I just ordered a bunch of copies of my “long-awaited” tome, The Lizard Stays in the Cage, a project that has been ten years in the making.  With the help of my lovely and supportive wife, Teena, I have started a publishing company called Next Reinvention, and Lizard is our first product!  It comes in at 711 pages, and covers a wide range of colorful experiences dating back to my childhood in Northern California.  It takes a great deal of patience and perseverance to bring a creative endeavor like this to fruition, and this is one of the themes I explore in the book:  how can artistic and creative people find their way in the world?  What are the challenges, what are the rewards?  I believe wholeheartedly in this product, which I can guarantee you will find entertaining and thought-provoking.  I hope you will support our cause and pick up a copy (or two!), if and when you are able to do so.  Thanks to all the friends, family and colleagues who make an “appearance” in the book… it has been a colorful life thus far, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue what I love doing for all these years:  making music, writing, and doing anything that involves creativity and originality.  I will frequently be posting new blog entries that relate to various passages or topics from the book, so keep your eyes peeled for new stuff!  And remember… the lizard stays in the cage.

Order Now!

Facebook: Part of the Problem or the Solution?

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Let’s talk about Facebook.  It seems like not a day goes by lately without having a conversation that, at some point, references the social networking titan.  But is Facebook really a titan, an impenetrable force that will shape the lives of generations to come, or is it a paper tiger—an Internet bubble heading for a burst of epic proportions, a fall from grace to rival Tiger Woods (an Applebee’s server, Tiger?… really, man?)

I’m not exactly a techie.  My wife isn’t standing over my shoulder as I write this, but if she was, she would be nodding her head in vigorous agreement.  I don’t have the chops to dish on the subtle details of Facebook’s construction, basic interface, usability, or any stuff like that.  But I don’t think that’s necessary for the discussion I have in mind here.

Let me cut to the chase:  I have my suspicions that Facebook is going to have a limited shelf life.  The obvious thing would be to compare it to Myspace, which was once every bit as promising a social hub as Facebook.  According to the book The Accidental Billionaires (from which the movie The Social Network was closely based), Myspace might have been Facebook, had it not been for crucial mistakes the company made at various points.  That’s not how it worked out, of course, and many would argue that Myspace would never have attained the critical mass of Facebook, because the latter is more able to meet the needs of the general public.  For various reasons, Myspace became marginalized to the point that it is now a fringe destination, largely occupied by bands and people looking to hook up with the opposite sex.  Facebook has avoided such pigeonholing, of course, a fact evidenced by the zillion Facebook accounts currently in existence.

I understand why Facebook has been so phenomenally successful.  I think we all do.  It has proven it has the power to transcend not only individual lives, or at least the way individuals communicate, but also society itself.  But here’s the thing:  just because Mark Zuckerberg and his crew tapped into something new, synthesizing ideas that were already in existence to create something powerful and previously unavailable, does that mean Facebook will always have an unchallenged monopoly on the idea of Internet-based social networking?  Is Facebook not at risk, like any and every other entity of its nature, of being ultimately replaced by something newer and “sexier?”  If a major scandal was to occur at Facebook, in which the credibility of the company was suddenly called into question, would that not have a serious impact on their current, global stranglehold on the social networking masses?  This could be a scandal involving high-ranking members of the company (perhaps along the lines of the trouble that befell the Murdoch clan recently), or even more destructive could be a major controversy involving privacy issues.  Let’s face it, this is Facebook’s Achilles heel:  there is a lot of gray area regarding how Facebook infringes (or does not, depending on your take) on people’s privacy; and anywhere there is gray area, there is the potential for problems, in both a legal and moral sense.  My understanding is that many teachers and people who otherwise work with minors are highly encouraged by their employers (or unions) to NOT have a Facebook account, at least not one to which their name and personal identity are attached.  The reasons for this are fairly obvious.

I see the merit in Facebook.  I have an account, and I appreciate the convenience it affords me in keeping in touch with people, or in getting out the word about something I’m doing at a given moment.  I’m not a FB hater, like some people.  But what Facebook sells, or at least offers, doesn’t strike me as a commodity the company will be able to control forever.  Apple survived, and ultimately dominated, in no small part thanks to the genius of Steve Jobs.  Yeah, yeah, everyone throws around the word “genius” to the point that it loses its value—but based on what I’ve read and otherwise gleaned about the Silicon Valley visionary, Jobs had an amazing sense of creativity, prescience (ability to predict the future), and sheer chutzpah.  Now that he’s gone, one can only wonder if Apple, long-term, will remain on the cutting edge of cell phones, computers, music, and every other aspect of technology they have affected.  They might be able to ride Jobs’ coattails for a while, but ultimately, someone will have to assume his role, not in a managerial sense but in a creative, innovative sense, or Apple will lose its standing as the world’s leader in their given field.

In order to stay on top, Facebook will have to reinvent itself from time to time, in a way that is still satisfying to its customers.  People always want something new.  Also, people have a tendency to get tired of something that has been directly in their face for a long time.  Let’s face it… pun intended… Facebook, like it or dislike it, is up in all of our faces.  There is no escaping it; and anything to which there is no escape, in my estimation, is a thing which people will eventually try to escape.  Because something as ubiquitous, as wide-reaching as Facebook, while it might currently be thought of as cool and progressive, is going to eventually be lumped in as part of the Establishment.  The masses, at some point, are going to demand an upheaval of the status quo.

What will stop some savvy group of individuals/company from creating something that, while in the same vein as FB, is perceived as more cutting edge, attractive and cool?  Has Facebook achieved such critical mass that it is invincible, immune to any and all challenges from competitors for the massive global social networking community that is growing every day?  I don’t buy it.  I say no.  I don’t see what’s so unique about Facebook.  Yes, they got their first, but why should I turn to them for my social networking needs for the rest of my life?  Why should you?

Here’s another thought:  Many of us paid at least passing attention to the Facebook IPO (initial public offering) last week, and many of us were in turn surprised that the stock didn’t have a more impressive beginning.  I heard one pundit on TV say that the reason for the less-than-spectacular opening was due to concerns in the financial community about the Facebook’s longterm viability as a profit-making company.  This makes perfect sense to me.  What exactly is the product?  It’s an interface, and a brilliant one, yes.  But is it anything more than a mere website, really?  Could any website ever be viewed as a concrete commodity?  Microsoft makes operating systems, Oracle (yes, a brief shout-out for my wife’s company!) creates software… Facebook is an idea that pretty much everyone has embraced, but is it a product?

If Facebook’s only way to ever make profit is through advertising sales, is that not a precarious foundation upon which to build what is supposedly a multi-billion dollar corporation?  And here’s another thing:  Facebook will never be able to charge a subscription fee to its users.  The whole culture Facebook has supposedly created is hinged on its accessibility to all people around the world, for FREE.  The minute Facebook tries to charge people money for anything is the minute you will see a mass migration away from all things Facebook.  In fashioning its product as something every human being has an inalienable right to access, utilize, leverage, consume, or otherwise take advantage of, has Facebook not put itself behind the eight ball, at least as a money-making enterprise/corporation with a major upside in terms of long-term profitability?   In other words, by capitalizing on and reinforcing the Internet’s maverick/countercultural spirit and general vibe (at least in its current, still-evolving stage), which stresses abundant, cost-free availability of information and intellectual property, is Facebook, which is going to have to show its teeth in terms of being a money-maker, now that it’s a publicly traded company, going to fall prey to the old Biblical adage, live by the sword, die by the sword?

I’ll say it again.  I’m not a particularly savvy Internet guy.  I’m writing this and asking these questions as a humble layperson, someone who has only the knowledge I have accrued by being a Facebook user myself.  Also, let me say that I’m not writing this with any kind of anti-FB agenda.  I would imagine Mark Zuckerberg and his crew encourage such open discourse, and if were so inclined, would be able to articulately counter many of the points I’m making here.  Any takers, Facebook staff and loyalists/staunch defenders?

Perhaps I’m mistaken.  Perhaps Facebook will be able to charge for various services.  Maybe it won’t be their basic service–which allows you to create a profile/homepage, and connect with people all over the world—but other services, ones that perhaps you are currently getting from other sources.  For example, what if Facebook somehow is able to start getting their paws on other profitable niches, such as digital music, movies, etc?  In other words, what if Facebook decides to give Netflix a run for their money, incorporating video rental services within the overall FB package?  I know, I’m reaching, and maybe this sounds ridiculous, but I just don’t see how Facebook can survive in the long run, unless they start dabbling in other markets.  What they sell, ironically is free.  Their viability is solely quantifiable in terms of their attractiveness to advertisers… at least in the company’s current incarnation.  Unless I am mistaken…

Here’s another question:  Why is Facebook a company-for-profit in the first place?  Why doesn’t Mark Zuckerberg just run the company as a non-profit, with humanity’s over-arching needs and concerns as its primary motivation?  (Other than the little fact that it has made him and some of his colleagues into billionaires).  If the mission is to create a new paradigm in human communication, which many would argue Facebook is indeed doing, is a project of that magnitude something that should be dictated by a company that is for-profit?

Like many aspects of the Internet, Facebook seems like an experiment—an idea that is still in progress, which is developing and evolving on a daily basis.  It’s like medical research; we all agree that it’s a good thing, a necessary thing, but certain pursuits within the overall movement carry moral and ethical ambiguity, uncertainties, concerns, red flags…

In an age when one of our primary concerns is an ever-increasing diminishment of our privacy (Big Brother is watching), a fact which has been brought about by new technology, as well as the culture of post-9/11 fear which led to such things as the Patriot Act, is Facebook part of the problem or part of the solution?  This is a fair question, when we’re talking about a website that essentially serves as a inter-connective hub breaking down the barriers between all people (at least all those who choose to participate, and that is most of us).