Monday, January 20, 2014

Maybe You CAN Go Home Again

I went to see the Eagles at the newly renovated “Fabulous” Forum in Inglewood, one of a half dozen shows they are doing to inaugurate the new era of this venerable venue.  It was built by Jack Kent Cooke to be home to the LA Lakers basketball team, who were later joined by the LA Kings hockey team.  But it became the preeminent concert venue in town despite being built with sports in mind rather than optimum sound, and it always freezing cold because of the ice skating rink under the floor.  It fell out of favor when the Staples Center opened downtown, though many music artists refused to play Staples after playing there once because the sound there is hardly the best (Bruce Springsteen heading that list), and it eventually was sold to a church.  Last year, The Madison Square Garden company, in a surprise move, bought the Forum and put $100 million dollars into making it into what may be the best large concert arena anywhere.  They put the music first, how novel.


So it was with memories of concerts past, dating back to the early 1970’s, that I headed south to Inglewood.  The place was filled with people like me (old enough to have those memories) all reminiscing about the shows they had seen there and where they sat for them.  My first one was Santana in 1971 (I think).  I went with a guy from work who had done their lights when he lived in San Francisco, and we sat, on purpose, in the upper reaches right under the spot lights.  After that there was Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Elton John and Billy Joel (together), and the Genesis concert where my lighting director friend explained to me that they would go on to make more money from their investment in the company that makes Vari-Lights—the computerized lights that move in all directions and change colors—than they would from their music.  And then, of course, there was my life at the Forum with Fleetwood Mac, beginning with the first show of theirs I saw where they were second on a three-act bill headlined by Dave Mason who would later join their band.   They headlined six shows of their own there four years later, backed for the song “Tusk” by the USC Marching Band. 


The Eagles are calling their show the History of the Eagles tour (like their documentary from last year), and they are recounting their musical history pretty much chronologically.  I would think they are only doing this show here in LA, because Bernie Leadon (who hasn't played with them since before hell froze over) plays the whole first half and the encores with them.  They started with an explanation of how they got together and started writing songs, casually sitting on amps to replicate a $6 an hour rehearsal room somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. They opened with Whatever Happened to Saturday Night, and it evolved from there all the way to an acoustic version of Desperado, which is my all-time favorite Eagles song. In between they played every Eagles song anyone would ever want to hear  in a room where the sound was—in a word--perfect.   

Sunday, March 24, 2013


When an event occurs in Hollywood, and there are no photos, did it really happen?  That seems to be the burning question today.

I was standing on the side of the stage at Oakland Stadium in April of 1976 at what was called “Day on the Green” when it dawned on me that I should make the most of the extraordinary access I had the privilege of enjoying.  I had purchased my first SLR camera four years earlier for a trip to Kenya, learning how to actually use it while positioning it in front of moving targets like elephants, giraffes and lions.  Now I was watching moving human targets, Fleetwood Mac, up close and personal, and I realized that my vantage point was one I could and should document on film.  That a-ha moment was the beginning of my love affair with rock photography, and from then on, I was rarely seen without a camera around my neck.

There is something poetic about capturing a moment in a performer’s performance, a moment of unbridled passion, unassuming vulnerability or unfettered madness (or genius).  I believe that you view the world differently when you shoot photos because you observe things much more acutely, without so much background noise.  You follow the action and wait for it—that right frame, the right expression, the right light.   And sometimes you make magic.

From a rarified vantage point, I photographed the famous and the not so famous, like a fly on a wall who blended into the background.  I waited until my subjects forgot there was a camera in the room and captured my favorite images of artists, many of whom I also knew as friends. 

My years of access netted me boxes and boxes of slides and negatives (remember proof sheets?) and now a computer full of files and files of digital images.  And suddenly I’m discovering that my personal treasure trove may have value to others who bore witness to my obsession, so I’m revisiting my archive with a new sense of purpose, determination and responsibility.  Watch this space for updates on my progress.

Monday, July 2, 2012


My niece has a debilitating disease.  It’s not life threatening.  It’s best described as quality of life threatening, and it has become a recent source of fascination for me to watch her maneuver through its ramifications.  She claims she was always “the weird kid,” but my recollections of those sorts of symptoms are vague and fleeting, mostly due to the 1500 miles that separated us when she was younger.  I do remember her always scratching what I thought were mosquito bites until they bled, something she in fact still does, and that a fall at camp when she was 12 resulted in her wearing an embarrassing and uncomfortable back brace for an entire year.  That was just the beginning.

The back issue was diagnosed as the unpronounceable Spondalylisthesis, and, coupled with a pair of cracked vertebrae, led to much-delayed fusion surgery.  A year later, she was in at least as much, if not more, pain than prior to the operation.  A new set of x-rays surprised her celebrated orthopedic surgeon—the fusion had failed.  His first such failure.

There were many strange symptoms that seemed unrelated until a friend suggested she visit a holistic M.D. who specializes in diagnoses.  The conclusion was Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a little known but not so rare collagen disorder that impacts joints, bones, skin and so many other things.  Suddenly, it all made sense, so now she navigates a maze where one discovery leads to more research and several new phone calls before resulting in some useful resource or information, all very time consuming and energy draining.  I’ve always referred to her as nothing less than resourceful, and in these last several months since she has relocated here, she’s been the definition of the word.

The challenges (a favorite word) are endless because no two days are the same in terms of pain, symptoms and energy levels, and new things crop up unexpectedly.  This is not a condition with a well-defined set of symptoms and therapies.  There is nothing consistent about it other than it’s a puzzle that requires constant attention and flexibility.

Exasperation at constantly having to explain her condition led her to query the genetics department of a major local hospital as to whether they had a research project on her particular illness.  They not only do, but the team of researchers immediately wanted to meet her.  They, in turn, referred her to a team of local specialists, ones to whom she no longer has to explain, so now she has the qualified medical support she needs.

What strikes me most is her ability to soldier on despite the challenges.  The actual diagnosis was liberating—it said “I’m not crazy after all.”  It allowed her to make plans, and finishing college was one of those, which is why she is here.  Now, seeral months in, it seems doable though not at any rapid pace.  She has sought out help for even the simplest of tasks, but she has also done excellent work she can now be proud of.  The task ahead is to keep up the momentum of learning while addressing her health issues, which are two full-time endeavors.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

September 15th, 2011
The last place I expected to be on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was on an airplane, or even in an airport, but some times life has other plans. My best friend’s father passed away, and I’m on my way to his memorial service, and while it’s only a scant 500 miles to Tucson, it’s two short-hop flights away on a day when all eyes are on air travel.

I awoke this morning to listen to the solemn reading of the names of those who perished on that terrible day, something I have done before in the ensuing years. In fact, two years ago, I was there in person at Ground Zero on the anniversary date, looking at the eerie construction cranes as the rain poured down. Today, there is a new memorial on that hallowed ground where so many died. The years may pass, but the memories of that day are seared, permanently.

The phone rang. It was just before 6AM. A somber voice on the phone commanded “turn on the television.” My half-conscious response: “what channel?” The voice: “Any one. They’re all the same.” As I fumbled for the remote to turn on the TV, my friend Laura explained that her husband Ted had taken the red-eye to New York and was arriving at a hotel in midtown Manhattan when word came over the radio that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. He was standing out in the street when he phoned her.

I could see the billowing smoke on the TV screen while the news anchors tried to make sense of the image. Then, the unthinkable happened. 6:03AM Pacific time. While we were speaking, we watched the second plane fly into the second tower, and the world as we knew it was changed forever.

It was a day when no one could find the right words, a day when no one want to be alone, a day that redefined pain. Each day, from then on, became divided into pre- and post-9/11. Innocence, and innocence lost. But the earth continues to rotate around the sun, and life hurries by. My generation remembers where we were on November 22, 1963 when President John Kennedy was shot. In the blink of an eye, there will be a generation that doesn’t remember 9/11 firsthand, and yet that generation will have grown up understanding “red level terror alerts,” no liquids on airplanes, full body xray scans at airports and phrases like “let’s roll,” all as a way of life rather than the result of one fateful day.
Thunderstorms over the Arizona desert cause massive turbulence. The plane violently rocks and jolts, and I think about the four planes that were lost that day, and the people on them. Did they know? How much did they know? When did they know—for an hour or only for an instant? And, most of all, I wonder, what would I do?

September 15th, 2011

I had a farm in Romania. Literally and figuratively. Literally, it was three parcels of undeveloped land that my grandfather deeded to my father. Figuratively, it’s an invisible bond to a culture and a heritage I know little about and the inexplicable, unseen forces that seemed to be pulling me toward it.

The “undeveloped” part allowed me to make a claim for restitution on land that was nationalized in 1946 by the post-war Communist government of Romania. It began as a lark, but it became so much more.

In 1993, two years after our father had passed away, my sister and I took our mother on a roots trip to Eastern Europe. We visited Budapest and Vienna, and included a trip to Mom’s hometown of Munkacz (formerly Czechoslavakia, now Ukraine) and a side trip to Livada, just over the Hungarian border into Romania, where my father had been born. Crossing the border, you arrive in Satu Mare, a bustling city with still-beautiful gardens and buildings. As you drive up the country road toward Livada, known to my father by the Hungarian name Sárköz, time stops, and you’re transported back to the Romania my father left behind in 1938. No traffic lights, bicycles and carts drawn by horses.

Finding someone of a certain age who still spoke Hungarian led us to what had once been the family farm. Curious, the locals began to fill the quiet residential street. There wasn’t much to see, just a mill that was processing grain that grew somewhere in the distance and a house that was being used as an office—was that the family house? No one knew for sure. A woman came forward saying that she owned the mill and wanted to buy the land from the government. Could we help? She carefully wrote out her name and address. Then an apple-cheeked old woman wearing a babuska on her head came up to me and said in Hungarian, “I knew your grandfather, I prayed for him.” That was it, and even while I doubted that what she said was true on the day in May, 1944 when the trains deported the Jewish community of Livada and the surrounding areas to the camps at Auschwitz, I did know that I was not done with this place.

It was the Austro-Hungarian Empire when my father was born. I used to love to tell my friends that my father was from Transylvania—which is where Livada really is—because of the legendary Count Dracula. Fast forward to 2005, and there I was again as part of a tour group that was exploring Romania by bus. I noticed a lunch stop in Satu Mare on the tour itinerary and asked the tour leader if we could drive past my family’s farm.

In preparation for the trip, I went through a file of my father’s papers and found fragile documents on thin, onion-skin paper, type-written and embellished in fountain pen. I also found years of documentation of his and my uncles’ efforts to make restitution claims through both the U.S. and the Canadian (where my uncles lived) governments. I made copies of the papers that looked important, and one night during the trip I asked our guide, Catalin, for his translation skills. What he translated were deeds to specific parcels of land.
So there I was holding the piece of paper on which Anna had carefully written out the address in 1993. This time I found a bustling business that made building supplies like decorative cement blocks to make fences and curved roofing tiles. It was not lost on me that I come from a long line of architects and home builders on both sides of my family. Once again, I was asked about making a claim so that the owners of this thriving business could buy the land from me.

The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest forwarded a list of recommended attorneys, but none were based in the region where my claim would need to be made. One actually asked for a retainer of $10,000 in U.S. dollars for what I still considered a whim!
The return visit to the family farm fueled my interest in claiming the land, so when I got home in early November, I hit the internet in earnest. Two weeks later, I hit paydirt—a law allowing foreign nationals to make claims for restitution on “undeveloped farmland.” This law in question had already expired on September 30, 2005, but in the small print I found that it had been extended to the end of November. I now had two weeks.
Then the inexplicable, unseen forces began to work their magic.

During the trip, our group met members of a youth organization called Oter, which is dedicated to bringing Judaism back to Romania. The parents of these young people grew up under Communism with no religion, but their children are determined to reinstate their Jewish culture and its customs. On our last night in Bucharest, the president of the organization joined us for dinner. Online I discovered that Oter had a chapter in Satu Mare, so I sent an email, and within minutes, was connected with that chapter and an email with the name of the head of the Jewish community in Satu Mare: a lawyer. He was, and is still, not internet savvy, but he did have a cell phone, he spoke English and he has a sister in San Diego. Unseen forces converging.

I called him late at night, which was the start of the day his time. By the time I got to my office that morning, he had faxed a handwritten document in Romanian that I needed to have notarized giving him power of attorney to act on my behalf in making the claim. It took an entire day and nearly 100 miles of driving to get all the documents together, and on November 29, 2005, one day before the law expired again, my claim was entered for three parcels of undeveloped farmland at the office of the magistrate in the town of Livada, county of Adrian, Romania.
Time passed, to the point where I pretty much forgot about the claim except when someone asked for an update. And I would tell them there simply wasn’t one. Until one morning in May of 2010 when I received a phone call the sister in San Diego relaying a message. The title to the land was mine, and the land was being sold.

After much prodding, I finally received an email answering my question about what I could do for the Jewish community of Satu Mare that would be meaningful, using the money. The Decebal Street synagogue, built in 1893, needed a parochet, the curtain that covers the Aron Kodesh that holds the Torah scrolls. Apparently, there once was one but it was gone, stolen long ago. Would I like to take care of this?
I was referred to a company in New York to make it with a dedication to my father and his family embroidered in the cloth. I placed the order, and it hit me that I didn’t want to ship it to Romania. Rather, I wanted to bring it there myself.

I also researched programs in Romania that would benefit from a donation and was referred to Children in Need, a program of the Social and Medical Assistance Department (SMAD) of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania, based in Bucharest. After much correspondence, we identified a program that aids students who have aged out of the organization’s youth programs and are pursuing university studies despite financial hardships. Ten university students were selected from the program, each with their own unique story, who would receive a small windfall to continue their education. It made me wonder if they would feel like they won the lottery. I certainly would.
My lawyer wanted to hold a celebration in the synagogue and bring in a rabbi and a klezmer band for the occasion. I told him I would like to bring the parochet personally and attend the event, mutually settling on October 3, the Sunday following Sukkot. This dedication would take place in the synagogue which is not used very often (for one thing it is very costly to heat in the winter). In fact, the last time it was used in earnest was in May of 2004 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the deportation of the Jews of the area to Auschwitz. As part of that commemoration, a Holocaust memorial on the grounds of the synagogue was dedicated. My grandparents and my aunt and her husband and son were among those remembered that day. How fitting that the next such event would memorialize them all. On May 19, 1944, six trains with approximately 3300 persons departed for Auschwitz. In total 18863 Jews were deported from the area. A total of 14440 Jews from Satu Mare were killed during the war.

On September 29, 2010, I took off for Europe, carrying the curtain with the dedication in memory of my grandparents, father, uncles and aunt in my very overweight carryon. I arrived the next morning in Frankfurt where a client was performing in a club that evening. The next morning, I flew to Bucharest and on to Satu Mare, arriving at the tiny airport in the early evening.
Following the subdued Shabbat morning services held in a small prayer room, we repaired to the main sanctuary to hang the parochet. It was very moving to see the large curtain I had carried dwarfed by the height of the room.

Then I was taken on an excursion into the countryside. First stop was Livada, aka Sárköz, which in the Hungarian of my father means “between the mud.” The Romanian translation is more sublime: Livada means “orchard.” While the streets seemed more even and paved, the town looked essentially the same to me as it did in 1993 and 2005, though the building products factory appeared to have grown into a cottage industry. This time, I didn’t knock on the door because I knew I couldn’t claim the land that had their factory on it, and they seemed to be doing well without owning the land on which they are operate their business.

The next day, the entire community came to the celebration. The gentleman from the Children in Need program came in from Bucharest and presented me with a list of the students that are being endowed with a little background on each of them. There were speeches and blessings and prayers from the Rabbi—after being acknowledged as the “sponsor,” I was coaxed into saying a few words too—followed by an hour of joyous music from a seven-piece group comprising five siblings called the “Is…Real Klezmer Band.”
The next morning I flew out by way of Bucharest to London, and as I got on the plane in Satu Mare, two women came up to me to thank me for the wonderful concert they had attended the day before. Just recently I received letters from two of the students telling me what the money they received will mean to their education and their lives.

I hope my father is smiling. I certainly am.


August 18, 2011

I have been in mourning. I now recognize the stages. I’ve already passed through the anger phase and moved on to denial. Now I’m hovering somewhere between bitterness and resentment, waiting and wondering when the churning in the pit of my stomach and the dull ache in my heart will subside into numbness and, finally, resignation.
At least no one died, nothing like that, except for that part of my soul that tried so hard to find the good in every bad situation.. It got damaged irreparably when it was savaged along with the notion that “this time” would be different.

That’s apparently not the way of the world. The sharks still sense the blood in the water and circle for the kill. My blood, and the blood of others, formed a fluid target.

Is it wrong to care passionately for something you believe in? I guess so because it makes you appear vulnerable to people who approach life as blood sport instead of team play, and it sets you up for annihilation. I’m not naïve enough to have thought we would all sit around the campfire with arms linked and sing Kumbaya, but I did believe in a moment when we would all share with great pride in what we would ultimately accomplish together.
That was not to be. Some people don’t subscribe to those notions learned in the kindergarten sandbox: Play fair. Share. Instead, I realize now that the swirling vortex that swallowed me whole did the same to others who aren’t equipped to share and also have the power to systematically eliminate everything and everyone that crosses their path so that they are the last ones standing. They drank the Kool-Aid, and it made them feel invincible. Me? It nearly killed me.

Does that sound angry? Bitter? Resentful? Perhaps. But it’s also profoundly sad to realize that the more you think things are changing, the more they remain the same. The more I strive to be kind and to work hard, the more I become a target for those who don’t understand that you can thrive on passion and even inspire it in others, all without hurting anyone. I am now just that much diminished for it.
The thing is that I know I will put myself out there again, and possibly even get kicked in the teeth again, because it’s what I do—it’s like breathing out and breathing in—and to do otherwise would force me to lower myself to the same level as the black-hearted perpetrators. It would be something like letting the terrorists win, and I just cannot do that. After all, they will inevitably be judged by powers higher than me, and I will only get to stand by on the sidelines and watch. Helplessly.

                I’ve been afraid of changing
                 'cause I built my life around you,
                 But time makes you bolder, even children get older
                 And I’m getting older too
                Take my love, take it down,
                Climb a mountain and turn around
                And when you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills,
                The landslide will bring you down.”

I learned to drink coffee at the Troubadour. That’s the thought that popped into my head as I recently watched the film called “Troubadours” about the singer-songwriter era of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Much of the film was set in that hallowed venue, and I couldn’t help thinking about the coffee.
There was a two-drink minimum at each show, and coffee was the least expensive drink on the menu, cheaper than Coca Cola and the alcoholic beverages I was way too young to drink. So when you were spending your hard-earning money amassed from some menial summer job, coffee it was.

And while nursing two cups of pretty vile brew—it was a long time before I realized that coffee could taste way better than the stuff they served—I watched performances by the likes of Arlo Guthrie, The Byrds and Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys.
Imagine my surprise when I looked up at the stage and realized that one of the members of Linda Ronstadt’s Stone Poneys was my next door neighbor while growing up in suburban Los Angeles. I used to hear him play his guitar long into the night when our bedroom windows faced each other without ever giving a thought to whether he played music to make a living or for the fun of it. To me, music was already synonymous with life. I slept with a transistor radio under my pillow and played my growing collection of vinyl albums long into the night.

The venerable Troubadour was also the first place where I saw a man who would go on the change my life–the Canadian poet named Leonard Cohen (see earlier blog entry….) In the audience that night in 1972 was a man seated alone on what was then the elevated VIP section at stage left. As I recall, the room was half-filled, and he was the only one seated in that special section. Fearing that I might compromise his anonymity that night, he glared at me when my eyes caught his. The look said “don’t you dare look at me.” It was Bob Dylan. And I’m pretty sure he too was drinking the coffee.

January 3rd, 2011

There’s a book I’ve read about called The Tyranny of Email: The Four-Thousand-Year Journey to Your Inbox. It details how electronic communication has taken over our lives, for better or worse. Sure, it’s a major time saver and allows for prompt, efficient dialogue, but that is only true when the people you are reaching out to are willing to respond.
As a public relations professional, it has been my job (and curse) to contact people I don’t necessarily even know and convince them they should care about the client/event/subject I’m contacting them about. “Back in the day,” it was easier to ambush someone on the phone, politely convince them to give up a minute or two of their valuable time and let you state your case. It was pretty easy to determine if the outcome was positive, negative, on the fence or required more information to be sent along subsequent to the conversation. When you hung up, you were clear as to whether the inquiry fell into the category of “yes,” “no” or “maybe,” and you could move on from there.

Today, email is stated as the preferred method for such communication, yet for something based on instant gratification, in my world it’s far from instant. As one who receives at least 100 emails a day, I can only imagine how many a journalist who openly solicits such communication must receive, and I can also imagine how many of them go undigested or even unread altogether. But my biggest frustration is the lack of common courtesy that could be resolved with a selection from a list of “three little words.”

They don’t have to be the same three little words for everyone or every time, but three little words would let me know that I could put my outreach into one of my own three little categories of “yes,” “no” or “maybe,” and be able to move on.
For those who can’t come up with three little words, here are a few suggestions by category that will suffice in getting me off your back for at least awhile:

Works for me.
Set up interview
Is he/she available?
Got it, thanks (or the even shorter, tnx)
Not right now.
Send the CD.

I’m not interested.
Not for me.
No go, sorry.
Too far away.
Or even more succinct:
Moved to Fiji.
Out of business.
Go to hell.
I’m sure there are more, but you get my drift. This is the least I would hope for to replace that direct communication I once enjoyed on the phone (or even longer ago in person over lunch or drinks), getting to know the likes and needs of the person I’m pitching the story to. Now I’m at the mercy of the tyranny of email, and it rules my life and makes me profoundly sad as I watch the “relations” portion of my work diminish while I yearn—with great anticipation—for just three little words.

July 14th, 2010

This post was inspired by a magazine article I read on an airplane.

I love to travel—more than most anything else—and the more remote and exotic the location the better.

I was born on the Jersey Shore—a great place to be FROM.

The first concert I went to was The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. A friend of my parents took me and his own kids because it was decided we were too young to go alone. I saw the Beatles every year for the three years they played in Los Angeles.

Photography is my favorite hobby. Politics is a close second.

I took the photograph of Leonard Cohen holding a banana on the cover of his “I’m Your Man” album. Leonard has referred to it as my “most famous photograph. Millions of people have it in their homes.”
I designed and sold a line of anti-Bush teeshirts to support John Kerry’s campaign for President in 2004. When Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, I was one of the millions of people freezing their buns off on the Mall in Washington, DC.

Fleetwood Mac named their album “Rumours,” British spelling and all, during an interview that took place in my office. A photo of me is in the collage on the sleeve.
I’ve become addicted to Sudoku. Thank you Brianna.

I make a really great chicken chili.

I love to needlepoint.

I play a mean tambourine.

I should have been an interior designer.
I graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a degree in “Individual Field of Concentration.” Depending on who I’m talking to, it’s in either in nuclear physics or basketweaving.

My boyfriend in college left me to marry Diana Ross.
I took the exam and got a radio operator’s license from the FCC so that I could become a disk jockey.

The late Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys was my friend.
I once attended the International Television Festival in Monte Carlo as the guest of Prince Albert of Monaco.

I co-produced the Hear ‘n Aid project, the heavy metal recordings, video and line of merchandise that raised $1.2 million for famine relief in Africa.

I was kicked out of the sixth grade choir for singing flat.

Movies I’ll always watch in the middle of the night: “Singing in the Rain,” “Field of Dreams,” “Oceans 11” (the Rat Pack version). Favorite author: Isabel Allende. Favorite Beatles song: “Things We Said Today”

My hair really does grow this way.

May 17th, 2010

I’ve found solace in writing, dating back to college when a journalism professor introduced me to stream of consciousness journal writing. Today, as I drove back from a weekend away from home, I was desperate for my computer, or even a piece of paper and a pen to put down my thoughts on the sad passing of a great artist and good friend.
Ronnie James Dio died today. He had fought stomach cancer valiantly for the past six months, and now he is at peace. I consider myself one of the lucky ones who have many wonderful memories of times spent together, memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I met him when his wife Wendy contacted me about representing a new project Ronnie was putting together while on tour with Black Sabbath. It was 1981, and she invited me to attend an upcoming Black Sabbath concert at the Forum in Los Angeles that was scheduled for some months away. In the interim time, I expected she would forget about the invitation, but not Wendy. She phoned periodically just to stay in touch, up until the week prior when she confirmed that tickets and backstage passes would be awaiting my arrival.

I looked up the tour schedule to get an idea of what sorts of venues they were playing and noticed that they were appearing in San Bernardino the night before the Forum show. In my experience, bands that live in Los Angeles would do their show in San Bernardino, do their required after show meet and greet and drive back to LA, returning at 2AM in the morning or later. To my surprise, I arrived at my office at 10AM the morning of the Forum show to a ringing phone and Ronnie James Dio on the other end. He was warm and friendly and told me he was looking forward to meeting me that evening. When I asked him what he was doing up so early, he answered: “I’m wallpapering the kitchen.” I responded: “Ronnie, I’m really looking forward to meeting you.”
And so began a friendship and an on and off working relationship that spanned so many years, working with Dio, the band Ronnie formed in 1982, and with Ronnie and the band on Hear ‘n Aid, the fund-raising effort that raised $1.3 million for USA for Africa’s famine-relief efforts as well as other projects. And throughout it all, there was warmth, laughter and great Indian food. Ronnie had a wicked sense of humor and an amazing memory. Many a time I was a witness when he met a fan and actually remembered where he had met them previously, even if it was many years before. He always made time for people he cared about.

My favorite photo that I took of Ronnie.

My heart went out to Wendy when she recently detailed Ronnie’s diagnosis and the ensuing battle against his cancer. As is her way, she made everything sound upbeat and positive, and quite frankly, she succeeded. That’s why today’s news was so difficult to bear. I’m so sad, but I feel privileged for having had the opportunity to call him my friend.

Ronnie, Wendy & me last summer.

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April 20th, 2010

So I’m travelling with a client back east when my cellphone rings. It’s a call from Los Angeles, so I think it might be important. The voice on the other end informs me that I’m overdue for an appointment with the dentist.
Taken aback, I begin to consider when I will have time to schedule an appointment before I realize that this is not my current dentist’s office on the line, but the one I fired more than two years ago and from which I even had my records transferred. Perturbed, I demand to know why they are bothering me, wasting both my time and theirs. There’s no satisfactory answer really. I guess they thought they could trick me into coming back, so the only explanation is “it’s the economy, stupid.”

It’s hardly the first time I’ve received a random call that encourages me to spend money on things I either don’t need or don’t need right now. Recession inspires us to put off purchases that are not urgent in order to keep up with the ones that are, and yet you can’t blame them for trying. But at least they should be coming at you with offers you can’t refuse—a better deal on something you would eventually buy anyway might inspire you to fork up the money sooner rather than later—rather than a ploy designed to create confusion.
A friend recently pointed out the new sections at the market that contain markdowns—usually at least 50% off—for quick sale. These are mostly items with imminent expiration dates, which make for good value if a ham sandwich or a box of donuts is in your immediate future. There used to only be a section with day-old bread and baked goods, but now you can find these sections in the deli and meat departments as well. Why? Well, it’s the economy, stupid.

So now I have a dilemma, the opportunity, er, necessity to spend some money in order to keep an airline miles account—with enough miles already in it for an actual airplane ticket—from expiring. I’m overwhelmed with a surprising variety of possibilities for qualifying purchases, but while I feel like a kid in a candy store, I really don’t need any of the things I can buy, at least not at the moment. I think the state of the economy has left me with a new definition of the word “need.” In the not so distant past, this was hardly an issue to dwell on. The credit card came out, and it was all done with very few brain cells expended. But in this economic climate, it will take all the conviction I can muster to decide what makes the most sense to spend money on this week. And oddly enough, it doesn’t feel like fun. One thing I know for sure though: it’s the economy, stupid.

January 31st, 2010

I have started several blog entries that remain unfinished, perhaps a reflection on the general melancholy that is permeating everything. I did write one that looks back on the year—2009—that began with such promise and ended like a deflated balloon. I suppose I could continue that theme into these first few weeks of the new decade, which appears to be coated with a thick malaise. I’m beginning to think that the devastation in Haiti is a clear message to the rest of us that we don’t have it so bad, but so far it’s not registering. Now I’m looking at the images from Peru, where I visited last summer, and seeing the devastation of the streets I walked in Aguas Calientes, the town below the sacred ruins of Macchu Picchu, I wonder if the world is actually coming to an end.

The orange building with the red roof on the right is (or maybe was) the hotel where I stayed in June.

For my part, I’ve become a Sudoku addict. I admit it. It’s my coping mechanism. I used to stare at these jumbles of numbers with the simple instructions to fill in each line with numbers 1 through 9 in squares, clueless as to how to solve these puzzles. There is no obvious strategy, but after solving my first one, I was hooked. Now I just can’t get enough. They make my brain feel like it’s on speed, and they force me to concentrate and focus and even relax. I can feel the wheels turning in my mind, like the hamsters are actually pedaling. And there are many days when a little mental exercise can be really important. Completing a puzzle before heading for work can make my entire day, and I’m a sucker for that kind of ego boost.
I was travelling recently, and they sell dozens of Sudoku (and other puzzle) books at the airport. I couldn’t resist. I’m working on my second paperback book of puzzles. I do them in ink. I can’t help it. There’s only one correct answer, so when I screw up, there’s no going back to fix the mistakes. I just leave it and go on to the next one, like that proverbial pile of crumpled papers I pitch into the wastebasket. Being able to start all over is essential to the process.

Which brings me to Conan O’Brien, who is figuring out the starting over process. After weeks of constant scrutiny and upheaval during which time he may have done the best and most creative work of his career, I know he will land on his feet because, as he said on his last broadcast of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, “if you’re willing to work hard and you’re kind, good things will happen to you.” I’m making that my motto for 2010.

My very tall inspiration for 2010

I’m looking back on a year that began with such promise. Hope and anticipation were palpable commodities. There would be a new administration in Washington and a new attitude on every street corner. So now I wonder: what the hell happened?

As it has come time to review what there is to be grateful for, it’s a tougher sell than usual. Last year ended on such a low note that there appeared to be nowhere to go but up. Instead, the decline got worse, more bad news, more job losses, more desperation. So many empty storefronts, For Lease signs on office buildings and going out of business sales. It was Bill Cosby who used to say “don’t challenge ‘worse’—it will turn around and bite you on the ass,” and, in this case, he was prophetic.
Personally, I awoke in 2009 (in what feels like an eternity ago) in the South Asian country of Myanmar where tyranny and oppression are a way of life, but the people there still hold out hope for a better tomorrow. If that isn’t reason enough for optimism, there was that inauguration of Barack Obama, where three million people stood as one on the frozen mall in front the U.S. Capitol to witness history in the making. Perhaps I was in the minority of those who knew that eight years of mistakes would not be undone in eight (or now 11) months, but I guess there are more of those than I thought who expected major change for minor effort. So hope has gone out the window, squandered by promise that didn’t materialize in so many ways, and was replaced by a new brand of cynicism. And I’ll admit it—I’ve bought back in.

After all, this has been the year of deficit spending, and the few highs now appear to have been nothing more than distractions from the pervasive realities of a world that is changing faster than I can ever remember it doing. There are things I barely recognize, like my newly-minted dependence on my Blackberry and the fact that my landline telephone rarely rings except for automated solicitation calls. The lovely, colorful holiday cards with the hand-penned signatures that used to decorate my mantel this time of year have been replaced by E-Cards that talk and sing in the most annoying fashion (easily becoming one of my top five pet peeves) and disappear at the mere click of “delete.” Even the invitations to infrequent holiday gatherings have been delivered via Evite rather than a simple, written email or (OMG) a personal phone call. And—don’t get me started—even socializing with friends and dating itself have been relegated to the impersonality of the internet. If there are no longer attendants in parking lots, is there a reason to expect that there should be anyone at the other end of the telephone either? And if I succumb to the temptation of working from home, what will keep me from answering my emails all day while never getting out of bed? Certainly not the chance of running into anyone I know while still in my pajamas.
Everything is continuing to become computer- rather than human-driven. It isn’t enough that jobs have been eliminated by the ailing economy, so many more of them have been eliminated by building a seemingly better mousetrap, putting human contact at a premium on so many levels. And I fear the consequences.

So what is there then to look forward to in 2010, the start of a new decade? I wish I had a list, a really long list. It’s really sad to me when the most upbeat, positive thing I can say going into this new year is “at least I have my health,” but at least I still do (while health care for all is still being debated and negotiated and compromised on). And if I should fall ill, I can always look forward to the comfort of my day being brightened by E-Card or two. Cynicism delivered at the touch of a button as I click ‘post.”


October 29, 2009

Bobby Long is the real deal.  I’ve been hearing that a lot lately, but I remember saying it myself during the second song I heard him perform at a club in Los Angeles in April.  I don’t remember which of his many songs it was because the titles are not always obvious, but I’m certain I now know the words to it.  It was sort of like that famous line Cameron Crowe wrote in “Jerry Maguire”:  “You had me at ‘hello.’”  What I heard that night spoke to me in a way that I remember music only used to do.  To say he rocked my world is an understatement.

He got on stage with only an acoustic guitar and began to sing finely crafted songs with intricate, affecting lyrics—no la, la, las for this guy—and he transported me to a time when singer-songwriters had something to say to me, and their songs were actually about something.  Some of his remain a mystery, but he’s getting there, and fast. 

He is a commanding presence, tall with brooding model looks, a preference for vintage clothes and a mop of hair with a life of its own.  He seems completely unaware of his effect on people.  The voice is at once haunting and heartening, sad and sweet at the same time.  On stage, he speaks in non-sequiters, often mumbling with self-deprecating humor, laughing softly at his own jokes, and telling lies.  Off, he favors superlatives—most, least, best, worst, always and never are his favorite words.  The accent is distinctively British.  His smile can light the world.

The songwriting is superb, not just for someone of his age (now 24), but for any age.  “I exchanged the dark for the darkness and hung the belt on the wing, So the traitors may part with their malice, but I’ll remember everything.”  There are lyrics that stop you cold.  During his performances, he appears to transport himself to a place where no one else can dare go and makes his (mostly female) audiences feel as if they’ve been granted a voyeuristic view of an ominous and scary place.  Very powerful stuff.

While Bobby’s fans arrived at his music via a non-traditional route (i.e. a song he wrote—but doesn’t sing—in the movie phenomenon “Twilight”), they are happy they travelled that road.  They haunt his MySpace page (it surpassed one million views during his summer tour) to check for news updates and the new material he posts there, resulting in shouted requests for specific songs and audience singalongs to complex lyrics. 

Bobby Long Telling Lies
  In true 21st century fashion, the internet is his friend and conduit to the legions that have discovered him.  It has allowed him—along with his tenacious manager Phil, who has an equally wry sense of humor and a story of his own—to successfully tour North America for months on end, aided and abetted by a network of
fans that offer venue suggestions in their hometowns and communicate with each other to consistently deliver appreciative audiences to his shows.  It harkens back to the days when the circus came to town, and the performers passed out their own handbills.  But in the case of Bobby Long, it’s the fans who do that legwork.  He’s the Pied Piper—where he goes, the audience follows.  Perhaps this unusual paradigm warrants more scrutiny.

He asks to hear my rock ‘n’ roll stories, but, as I tell them to him, I know that HE is a story of his own.  So for me, it’s really simple.  Bobby Long restored my faith in the power of music to affect the human spirit and reminded me why I wanted to work in the music business in the first place. Because of him, I may never question that again.

June 17, 2009
To sum up the six weeks of information bombardment, I will continue to explore the various social media marketing opportunities that were discussed in class— the recurring prime choices are MySpace (now passé), Facebook (the world leader), YouTube (to post videos), Twitter (which doesn’t fit my needs for much of anything) and Linked In, which is geared toward professionals who want to network.  I will work to build up my existing LinkedIn network, but I have come to the conclusion that I will continue to avoid Facebook as a marketing tool for my business (and for me personally) until it finally gets around to addressing the anti-Semitic pages from Holocaust deniers that the company has allowed to remain posted under the guise of some sort of perverted free speech.  I don’t need to be associated with an organization that knowingly allows the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington to be mocked on its site.  So here are my thoughts:

I’ve spent the last six weeks attending a class on Social Media Marketing at UCLA.  For me, the recurring theme of the course has been “my head is going to explode.”  I’ve come out of it with a good overview of what’s out there currently, not to be confused with what will be there in the blink of any eye, and still have not totally wrapped my head around what it means to me personally or for the my clients of my company in particular.  I do know there is no ignoring this aspect of marketing and that it will only grow from here.

The following blog entries were part of a class assignment to start a blog—a different one from this one—and write something every week.  I had a great time creating the blog on and choosing from a lovely array of color.  The end product was pink and magenta.  After all, it’s a Technicolor world, isn’t it?

My First Post on Social Media

Three summers ago, my niece, then-18, came to stay with me and introduced me to a thing called Facebook.  She was about to begin college at the University of Arizona, and with her new university email address, she registered for a Facebook account.  At the time, that was the only way to sign up for Facebook, the newly-minted rival to MySpace that was determined to carve out a niche that was slightly older and more sophisticated than the young teens that populated MySpace. 

So in my head, Facebook was designed for kids so they could stay in touch and share photos and other experiences of college life.  Nothing that had to do with me.  I was so wrong.

Fast forward another year or so from there, and Facebook is open to all comers.  But what to do with it?  I don’t want to spend me precious free time updating my profile and posting my latest photos, and quite frankly, I don’t want to look at anyone else’s either.  It’s like being trapped with a slide projector, watching someone’s summer road trip to the Grand Canyon. 

So imagine my surprise, read shock, when I’m told that Facebook is a great marketing tool.  Like for whom?  I can’t relate.  I still see my niece hightailing it for my laptop the minute we would arrive back at my house so she could check her Facebook messages.  Last fall, one positive use for the site was revealed when she celebrated her 21st birthday in Las Vegas, and no less than 10 of her “closest” friends came from all over the country.   Some she had met during her year abroad, and they all had kept in touch over the ensuing two years via Facebook.  I guess that is the definition of social networking.

Ah, but what does that have to do with me?  I’m actually taking a class at my alma mater, UCLA, just to find out the answer to that question.  And when I do, I’ll be sure to share.

My Head Is Going to Explode!

My head is going to explode.  My Social Media Marketing class at UCLA is a wealth of information, so much of it in fact that I can’t process it all.  When you’ve spent so much time trying to, and smugly feeling like you actually have, kept up on the latest technology tools and, instead, you’re made to feel like a dinosaur, it’s a mind-altering experience.  Hey, I was the first one on my block to actually own a computer “back in the day,” and, yes, I remember DOS and 5” floppy disks and 3” floppy disks and the early pre-cursor of the internet that was an imaginary super-computer run by British Telecom that you accessed using a rudimentary laptop device sold for a couple hundred dollars (a lot of money in those days) by Radio Shack.  It came with this rubber coupler into which you put the HANDSET of your telephone (landline, of course, because there were no cellphones yet), and, voila, you were connected.  And I also remember that it was fun, while considered “cutting edge.”

That’s the problem for me, I think, that it’s no longer fun.  It’s necessary, and therefore, less creative.  I’m still resisting the Facebook account, though I came “this” close back in December when I was travelling in Myanmar (also known as Burma), and the police state there had blocked access to email on most internet service providers.  Imagine the frustration of being able to access your email account to the point of seeing how many new messages were in your inbox, and then getting a message that said ACCESS DENIED.  The ironic thing was the discovery that the government didn’t know about or understand Facebook and didn’t get around to blocking it.  So there I was in Bagan trying to set up a Facebook account to communicate with the outside world, only to find out that in order to complete the process, they sent a confirming email to the very email account that was marked ACCESS DENIED!  So much for that.  I think the email confirmation is still buried in my inbox.  Ah, the joy of free internet access in Singapore Airport on the way home.

I started to read Groundswell, the recommended textbook for the class, and felt somewhat heartened to read in the very first chapter about Kevin Rose and Digg giving away the processing code for DVDs two years ago.  I remember reading about it on the front page of the LA Times one morning, just a week or two after meeting and hearing Kevin Rose speak on a panel conducted by my cousin Erick, the guru of all things dealing with the intersection of media and technology.  Erick was then editor-at-large of Business 2.0, and was conducting a series of panel discussions that were videotaped for on “the new disrupters.”  As he explained it, the telephone disrupted the telegraph, the internet disrupted the telephone, he was looking for the next big disruption.  The discussion, to which he invited me as an observer, was the first time I thought my head would explode. 

Business 2.0 subsequently went under, and Erick has gone on to become an editor for Techcrunch, an online newsletter that arrives in my inbox daily (even Sundays and holidays like today because technology never sleeps), bringing me the latest news on technology and social media sites with really weird names that will eventually impact my life, if they don’t lose their venture capital funding first.

This now goes way beyond Facebook to a myriad of other social media sites that are becoming a big blur.  I’m still working on the burning question of how this will be important to my life and my work.  I have one young client who has been on Twitter since early this year, documenting the recording a his album and preparing for a tour.  While I don’t “follow” him, I do access his tweets and read them in succession, 10 or 12 at a time.  In my mind, all he has revealed is that he is borderline illiterate, can’t spell and he drinks too much.  So I can’t help but wonder—how will this help his career? 

New Adventures in the Mundane

Suddenly, it’s 3PM, and I’ve been hunched over my home computer for most of the day.  And it’s the weekend.  How did that happen?  There is no “homework” this week from the Social Media Marketing class, though I’m still trying to get my head around how Twitter might be important to my life (Al Roker certainly had an interesting experience with it this week), my next order of business is the efficient dissemination of information from my PR company. 

I’ve long resisted moving entirely into the realm of email blasting, partly because I don’t like receiving them myself, and partly because having witnessed how many pieces of snail mail in the form of press releases and press packages an average music writer received weekly, the idea of now sending that electronically and having it actually viewed is becoming pretty unlikely.  At least with physical press releases, I envisioned that the interesting or important ones would remain in some sort of “possibility” stack, while the rest were recycled in the circular file.  With electronic versions, it’s just so easy to press “delete” and never have the information penetrate the radar.

And as more and more of my “targets” become people I’ve never spoken to or communicated with in any way before, it becomes less and less likely that they will read my email blasts just because they know the (reputable) person they are coming from.  I once asked a colleague to put what should be in the subject line to make a writer pay attention and open an email from me.  He suggested:  “Britney Spears’ Panties”--that around the time of her very public meltdown.  I never did try that one specifically, but I did try to be more creative with the subject lines.

Now to this week’s dilemma.  I’m nearing the end of a 60-day trial of Constant Contact, an email marketing program that lets you enter your mailing lists and create visually attractive emailable press releases (and newsletters, etc.)   I spent four hours creating the first one--that’s not including actually writing the sucker—and I still haven’t sent it because it remains a work in progress.  I’m hoping they will take less time with more practice, but who knows?  Now I understand why “computer whiz” and “techno geek” are becoming real job descriptions, but as a one-man band with part-time help, there’s no room in my budget for such luxuries.  Therefore, I need to know how to do this stuff myself.

I can’t say it’s all been a pain.  I at least love playing with the colors and the fonts.  There was a free two-hour seminar offered this week and, because I had invested the four hours in trying to create a visually appealing press release, the information imparted was not totally in Greek.  In fact, there were a number of great tips and shortcuts imparted along with a couple of great (free) tools, my favorite of which is a software application called ColorCop.  You place its little tool over some graphic you have in your computer—in my case a CD cover perhaps—and you can pretty exactly match the color used on that graphic to now use in the document you’re creating.  If I can do that, hey, anyone can. 

I will be signing up for my paid subscription next week and sending out my first blast, worrying all along whether it will be headed for that cyber-trash bin in the ether.  Film at 11.

Further Adventures in Electronica

So another week, another technology adventure.  Now I’ve sent out my very first press release via Constant Contact, and I’ve spent much of my week trying to figure out why certain ones bounced back.  Certainly, in this tenuous economy, journalists have lost their jobs right and left, so people I’ve communicated with as recently as last month are no longer employed.  Just this past week, two publications with which I’ve worked completely closed down, but, oddly, those were not the returned emails in question.  The alarming thing is the number of people I’ve spoken with whose emails DID NOT bounce back who claim to have never received my missive.  So the research process and the one on one contact continues unabated.

Last week’s presentation in Social Media Marketing class covered uses for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter in business situations.  Just as I was pondering the possibility that a Facebook PAGE (not to be confused with a PROFILE, which is personal) might be a good thing for my company, we were shown Ning, and I’m back to being confused.  I do see how I could use it for client updates and to post photos relating back to clients and/or events, but, then again, I already do some of that on my website.  Or I should say that I have someone else do that for me on my website.

I can see how this stuff can definitely become a full time job, which is not something I personally want to be doing with my time and something I can’t afford to hire someone else to do.  The manager of Britney Spears’ web presence spoke to the class, and I had the opportunity to ask her how one would deal with an artist who is not a household name.  She stressed the idea that you have to cultivate a community with information and communications coming back to the website/myspace/facebook etc. rather than only information going one way in the form of press announcements and news items.  She’s big on interaction, contests, and other ways to engage people, which certainly makes sense, but we’re back to the dilemma of that possible full-time job of creating this community.

It also seems to me that this new full-time job applies to my clients as well because none of them are in the position to hire others to do this stuff for them.  So it means shooting videos to put up on the internet and constantly updating their MySpace pages with news and music.  It also means responding to any incoming comments from their “community” on a regular basis.

I thought that all this new-found information would make things seem clearer to me (as well as easier), but instead I’m more confused than ever about how to make all of this work for me.  When the lightbulb finally goes off, I’ll be extremely relieved.

Welcome to the 21st Century

While I have been immersing myself in the ins and outs of Social Media, this week I decided to actually enter the 21st century by getting a Blackberry.  I’ve never before felt compelled to have email access whenever and wherever I go—though there certainly are times when it comes in handy—the decision was prompted my the volume of international travel I have done in the last several years.  Therefore, my first choice was a phone that I could use to make calls from outside the United States.  (NOTE:  If you need to rent such a device, Travelcell is really great.)  But I digress.

I was also limited by my stubborn insistence on keeping Sprint as my cell service provider because I think they have the best phone coverage in Los Angeles, and, after all, that’s where I spend 90% of my time.  I know the two small dead zones that I periodically traverse and try not to be on the phone when approaching them.  One of them is right outside my office building.  Otherwise, I just listen sympathetically while my friends and colleagues complain about constant dropped calls on their I-Phones (ATT) and other mobile services.  But I digress.

I considered for a moment getting the new Palm Pre that Sprint is offering, that is until I took a good look at it and passed.  So I went back to my desire for an international-enabled phone from Sprint, and the only one they really have is a Blackberry World Edition.  Armed confidently with my decision, I went to my nearest Sprint store only to discover that they would have to put me on the phone—to India no less—to order it, something I could have done from my home or office, but I had been happy to go the extra mile to avoid speaking to someone in India, and failed.  Of course, they connected me with a woman in Chennai with a piercing accent who proceeded to try to sell me a different phone!  But I digress.

Once ordered, the phone actually arrived the next day, perhaps a comment on the sad state of our economy or a positive comment on Sprint’s service (though I doubt that).  So now I’ve entered the world of 24/7 email access, but I can’t say it’s going to change my world.  It does have an “off” button.  The learning curve is always the thing that throws me because I’m allergic to instruction manuals, but I guess I should feel comforted that all the questions I’ve had so far have not been covered in the manual.  Plus I’ve had some very supportive friends who’ve been willing to show me the ropes.  I’m still learning the quirks of the phone (like all your messages—voice and email—are in one place rather than separated), so I’m feeling far less stupid about how it all works.  Onward!

April 14, 2009

Leonard Cohen changed my life.  From the electric moment in 1986 when I met the man, I’ve had a profound awareness of the higher powers that surround me.  Whether that is Leonard, God or my imagination is not important.  That meeting at a Valley recording studio during an interview I had set up for Jennifer Warnes regarding her “Famous Blue Raincoat” album of Leonard’s songs led to my chauffeuring him back to our common neighborhood that Friday afternoon and to his request that I perform the fundamental mitzvah of Jewish woman—to light his Sabbath candles.  As I fumbled through the ancient blessing, I became acutely aware of my heritage and my lost ancestors, and I left his home vowing to become a better Jew.  I kept that promise, starting with carefully studying the Jewish imagery in Leonard’s own work.
Another chance meeting with Leonard Cohen came a few months later at a video shoot for Jennifer’s album.  I had my camera in my hand as Leonard approached me, slowly peeling a banana.  I pivoted from my position shooting photos of Jennifer and reeled off one frame of Leonard and the banana, making the photo that would become the cover of “I’m Your Man,” his most perfect and timeless album.  He once referred to it as “my most famous photograph.  A million people have it in their homes.”   (Many of those people live in Norway.

My most famous photograph

The photograph became the catalyst for our working relationship that was born of Leonard’s desire to navigate the minefields of the dreaded record company.  Signed to Columbia Records International, his deal gave Columbia Records in the U.S. the right of first refusal on his recordings, and Columbia had passed on his previous record, the ubiquitous “Various Positions.”  While they had accepted “I’m Your Man” for release, he felt they did it less out of enthusiasm and more to save face after the previous rejection.  So we set out to get them to pay attention.  Me and Leonard, against the world.

His lengthy concert tour took him all over the world, but pales in comparison to the tour he’s on now, at the age of 74.  Midway between some 200 shows, he performed at the Nokia Theatre downtown last Friday, a show that was perfect from start to finish.  While I found it difficult to resist singing along to most of the songs, my mind wandered to some of my most precious, firmly etched memories of the man.  The letter we composed offering a bribe to the members of the promotion staff of Columbia to promote “I’m Your Man” (each came with a crisp new $1 bill with the promise of “more where that came from”).  The critically-acclaimed concert at Carnegie Hall that—had a bomb been dropped on the building that night—would have meant the end of rock music journalism as we then knew it.  The friendly arguments over wood stains and shades of gray paint when I redecorated his duplex while he was on tour that summer.  So many cups of tea, served with oranges that came all the way from China.  The smoked meat sandwiches and Montreal bagels.  Oh, and Montreal for the hometown concerts.  There was the Leonard Cohen tour of Montreal conducted by his sister and brother-in-law and the unexpected backstage introduction to “my friend Pierre”—Trudeau, no less.  

Yes, Leonard Cohen changed my life.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Leonard Cohen in his kitchen.

March 26, 2009

Lately, I’ve been hearing John McVie’s words ringing in my ears.  Whenever some catastrophe or cause for panic would arise within the Fleetwood Mac entourage, he would say to me:  “Remember, in the grand scheme of things, what we do for a living is not very important.”  Occasionally, he would add the codicil, “after all, we’re not curing cancer here.”

me and John on 'Rumours' insert

Those words have brought me comfort recently as I lament the fact that what I do for living isn’t as much fun as it used to be.  It once was a job that was predicated on personal contact—mainly with strangers—that, over time, became relationships and even friendships.  Now, it’s become endless, mindless typing on computers or tapping on devices with little in the way of return.

My days were once filled with long hours on the phone, conversations that blossomed into brainstorms and explosions of creativity that ultimately benefited my clients and made me smile.  I knew many of the journalists I spoke with personally, having taken them to lunch or hosted them at an event or met them backstage while on the road with one of my artists.  Some of those same people have been doing their jobs as long as I have, so those personal relationships were long-standing. 

Now things are so different, and I can’t help but feel wistful about the “old days.”  I had a young client recently wonder aloud how we survived back then “without GPS and cellphones.”  Quite well, actually, as I recall.  We knew how to read road maps—I still do—calculate estimated arrival times and make arrangements for people to find us.  All without benefit of a cellphone.  And I remember carrying around lots of quarters and, eventually, telephone credit cards when I traveled to use in pay phones.  It wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t inconvenient.  It was just the way it was.

I remember the pre-cursor to today’s laptop computers—a clunky, portable computing device whose name escapes me that basically did word processing electronically.  I wish I had kept mine, though there’s probably one in the Smithsonian.  It was sold at Radio Shack, and it came with a clunky rubber “coupler” into which you could place your telephone handset to connect to a very early version of the internet.  I imagined this monstrous British Telecom computer—the size of Nebraska—somewhere in outer space to which the messages I would type out were sent and then relayed to their respective recipients (the subscribers numbered only in the hundreds at first so you could actually look up most anyone’s address).  And the best part was that I could send out a piece of information or a schedule before leaving the office at the end of the day, and, in the morning, I would receive a confirmation that my message had been received and opened.  How civilized.  None of the “sorry, I didn’t get your (300th) email” crap I listen to when I finally catch someone on the phone.  There were no such excuses.

Now I send out hundreds of emails a week and receive replies to only a small percentage of them.  And yet I know they rarely go astray because when I place a phone call to follow up, I get an apology for the lack of response.  They’re just not being read. 

So why bother?  Well, I for one actually enjoy the process of writing, and I don’t mind being one to try to keep this dying art alive.  Just read some of the drivel exchanged by way of Twitter, and you know that writing has reached a new low.  And I’ll even admit to owning a typewriter.  I use it to quickly type up mailing address labels and Fed Ex forms.  It gets more use than that exercise machine in the garage that has laundry hanging on it.  And I finally learned how to text the day after the November election when I couldn’t find my friends at the election night celebration at Democratic headquarters because there was no cellphone service.  That tool came in very handy on Inauguration Day for the same reason.  Oh where oh where have the pay phones gone?   

January 25, 2009

Washington, DC:  the happiest place on earth.   At least for this week.  The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States brought hundreds of thousands of people to our nation’s capital to bear witness to history, and they all have smiles on their faces.  Disneyland is hard pressed to compete.

Neither the unseasonably cold temperatures (if one more person tells me they’ve never seen it so cold in DC…), which are even colder for this LA girl, nor the humongous crowds and line for everything, have dampened the spirit of those who have waited a very long time for change to come to America.  For me, it was since getting screwed by the Florida recount after working on Al Gore’s campaign.

My friends Julie and Siona and I were bundled layer upon layer against the elements when we arrived at the water taxi dock in Alexandria, Virginia at 5AM on January 20.  It was so early and so cold that the boat had to break through a layer of ice on the Potomac River, making a loud crunching noise.  It was still pitch dark outside, spawning a number of Titanic jokes.  At the suggestion of the friends with whom we were staying, we had booked the first vessel headed to the DC waterfront at 6AM, figuring that the metro would be packed beyond capacity.  That assumption proved correct, and the water taxi was an inspired idea.   It also had a bathroom that became the last pit stop before the National Mall.  It would be 10 hours before there was another one in sight.

Siona, Julie & me crossing the Potomac at dawn
on Inauguration Day

It was still dark when the boat docked at the Waterfront at 6:45AM, and we began to follow the throngs already making their way to the Mall.  The Capitol, in the distance, was eerily illuminated by the dawn’s early light.  At the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum, we found the end of the line for our silver tickets—obtained from the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein—and miraculously also found our friend Molly in the crowd. 

From that point on, the term “go with the flow” took on new meaning as the crowd moved as one, with each individual hoping that some unseen someone actually did know where we were going.  Then suddenly, the sea of humanity parted revealing daylight as we were ushered toward dozens of security checkers, most of whom were more interested in opening our coats and bags than looking at the precious tickets that put us a quarter  mile away from the Capitol, but way in front of over 1.5 million other people.

We positioned ourselves in front of the first Jumbotron behind the Reflecting Pool, so we actually got to see and hear the swearing in.  But once you staked out a spot at 8AM, there was no moving from there unless you wanted to risk never getting back.  Therefore, the 7000 advertised port-a-johns became irrelevant. 

Washington, DC by the dawn's early light
January 20, 2009

It’s funny how people constrained in a small space for a common reason can quickly become friends or even family.  We met people from everywhere, some that came in buses from Dallas or drove in from South Carolina.  It was an exhilarating feeling.  Shots of President Bush prompted spontaneous choruses of “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, good bye.”  Laura Bush received cheers only because she was standing next to Michelle Obama when she came into the Capitol.  The crowd made its feelings known about most everyone whose image was projected on the big screen, but they fell silent when the actually swearing-in ceremony began, erupting in huge cheers when it was over.  And suddenly, after standing in one spot for 4-1/2 hours not being able to feel your feet, it was over.  A moment suspended in time, committed to memory and history.  Once again, the crowds began to move as one, stopping for a moment to gaze upward and cheer in unison as the helicopter bore the former president away.

December 4, 2008

My friend Harlene died yesterday.  She succumbed to the cancer she had valiantly battled for more than two years since it recurred.  She always put on the brave face as she went through one more treatment, one more chemo, one more medication that was supposed to prolong her life.  But it was less than two weeks ago that she was told there was nothing more that could be tried, and she had three months left.  Instead, she slipped quietly away.

I met her more than 20 years ago through work.  She had already survived a double tragedy, the loss of her then-16-year-old son to a drunk driver and the loss of her husband to a heart attack in front of her eyes, both in the same year.  She had taken over the running of her husband’s small record company, and I represented its public relations interests for some five years.  During that time, we became
real friends, the kind that go on vacations together, get together frequently and chat regularly, sometimes until the wee hours.

There was less of that in recent months, as her cancer treatments left her exhausted and somewhat flaky.  I would tease her about her “senior moments,” but we both knew what was causing them.  We watched the early returns come in for Barack Obama on election night while she was hooked up to a chemo drip.  That was before this latest new clinical trial proved not only ineffective in slowing the cancer, it appeared to raise her markers.

I will miss her so much, and I will never forget the grace with which she fought for each additional day.   She is my hero.

in better days

November 8, 2008

Been there, done that.  It’s a favorite expression that covers a myriad of experiences.  For me, it speaks to doing things once, well, at least once anyway.  I’ve been to the Academy Awards once, and the Emmys once, and the Grammys, well, more than once, and I’ve been to the Democratic National Convention, once.  So as this year’s election events come to an end, I can nostalgically look back at my souvenir laminates from 2000 when I heard the roll call of the states up close and personal and witnessed both nominees on the ticket accept the nomination of their party a festive sea of red, white and blue.

That year, the Democratic National Convention was coming to my hometown—Los Angeles—and I felt I had to be part of it.  The last time the Convention had been in Los Angeles was 1960.   I, however, was a child living with my family in Canada where we moved that year in search of more opportunity.  Unrealized, we were back in LA the following summer.  I passed my year in Canada being defiantly and obnoxiously American, and that election year served to fuel my interest in politics.  I wore a button to school every day that read “If I Were 21, I’d Vote for Kennedy.”  If I only had that button now to sell on Ebay for major dough.  I begged my mother to let me stay up late to watch as much of the Convention as I could keep my eyes open for, which was the first time I heard the roll call of the states.  “The great state of Alaska—home to moose, caribou and endless frozen tundra—casts its 3 electoral votes for the next president of the United States (fill in the blank).”  I was hooked.   Back then, candidates didn’t arrive at the convention with the nomination completely sewn up, so there was a degree of anticipation and real excitement in the roll call process, and for all those subsequent years, it’s been the best part for me.
In the spring of 2000, I checked out all paths that led to the convention, filling out forms online that I hoped would lead to some interesting assignment during the convention week in August.  I was giddy when I was summoned to an “orientation” held at the Department of Water and Power building downtown.  We were told that there would be many volunteer opportunities, but left without any specific assignments.  That’s when I realized that our convention was pretty much being run by students on vacation from high school. 

I followed up this meeting with many phone calls and was eventually invited to the Library Tower downtown (the same building that Al Queda later targeted on a confiscated laptop) to do some real volunteer work.  Presenting myself at the appointed hour, I was promptly assigned to file volunteer applications, hundreds of them that had never been viewed.  Perhaps mine was among them.  I’ll never know.  Mentioning to no one in particular that I have a public relations background, I was told there would eminently be another orientation upstairs regarding manning the convention press room and that perhaps I should check that out.  I was allowed to sign up for two possible shifts in the convention media center during the convention week in hopes of having one confirmed.  I thought I’d found my dream assignment until I discovered that the press room wasn’t in the Staples Center where the convention would take place.   Oh well, it still looked to be the closest I was going to get to the actual event.
Returning to my filing, I signed up for a Saturday shift back at the Library Tower so that I could at least say I did my part.  Then the fun began.  Accompanied by my friend Julie, we were instructed to meet at Piper Tech, an anonymous concrete and steel building near the old downtown post office and Union Station.  This maze of ramps and open floors serves as the helipad for the Los Angeles Police Department and one of the places where ballots are actually counted on election night.  That hot day in August, 2000, it allowed me to realize one of my great dreams:  to work on an assembly line.  We had been recruited to help stuff 15,000 registration bags for the delegates to the Democratic National Convention. 

Next, it was Julie’s turn to intervene.  She told me she had answered an email requesting volunteers to man the phones at a Democratic committee office near Century City.  Our shift was the next day, Sunday, the day that essentially changed my life.  We arrived at an office building near Century City and were given phone lists and a brief synopsis of our mission—to sell tickets to the concert at the Shrine Auditorium featuring Barbra Streisand that would follow Vice-President Al Gore’s acceptance speech on the final night of the convention.  It was pretty easy to stay cheerful and upbeat, especially because we were mainly leaving voice mail messages, but when I told our supervisor that I assumed she didn’t want me to call Marvin Davis at his home, she asked when we were planning to come back.  And come back we both did, every free moment for the next three months.  The day I sold an entire package of concert tickets to one donor, I was hooked.  I put my real professional work on hold so I could devote my time to raising money for the Democratic National Committee.

Meanwhile, I had been anticipating my one confirmed shift at the media center—which was actually during the week before the convention opened—until I picked up a message telling me it had been cancelled due to security concerns.  I would have been bitterly disappointed if I wasn’t now doing my part down at the DNC finance office, but I still called back to protest.  That’s when I was asked to help out at the pre-opening celebration.  Sure, why not.  Once again, I got Julie involved, and we participated in an early morning walk-through around the pavilion of the Music Center to get the lay of the land.  That night, the Saturday night prior to the opening of the convention, the City of Los Angeles hosted 30,000 delegates and visitors for the biggest street party I’d ever seen. 

Hill Street
between the Music Center and the Department of Water and Power was closed down, and there were food stations with music that corresponded to the cuisine served, e.g.  Mexican food and salsa music; Japanese food and Kodo drummers; etc.  After dark, wonderful photographic images of the many faces of Los Angeles were projected onto downtown’s many skyscrapers, and I don’t remember ever being so proud of my city.

Back at DNC-land, a huge white eraseable board was set up in a vacant office suite on which the seating assignments for the Barbara Streisand concert tickets was done, and redone, up until the last moment.   We worked crazy hours, never noticing how late it was.  Empty pizza boxes lined the floor.  The key staffers were down at the Staples Center, and I brought in a small television so that the volunteers could watch the opening of the convention and hear President Clinton and other key speakers address the floor.  On Day 3 of the convention week, I was helping with the distribution of the concert tickets when one of the staffers said to me, “You haven’t been down to the convention yet, have you?”  I hadn’t really thought about a perq like that—I thought this was my mission.  He handed me two sets of credentials and advised me not to park near the Staples Center.  Before I could respond, he said to hurry or I’d miss the best parts.

My first thought was Julie, how to find Julie.   I began calling frantically, work, cell, friends, friends of friends.  It was 4PM, and the events began by 6.  By some fluke, I found her in her car on the freeway heading east, and we agreed to meet at the Bonaventure Hotel downtown and catch a cab.  With the extraordinarily large police perimeter, the cab could only get us within about eight blocks of Staples, which made for an heady walk through the area cordoned off for and filled with protesters.

Once inside the Staples Center, which had opened the year before with a series of Bruce Springsteen concerts, we peeked through curtained entrances to get our bearings and breathe in the colors and the spectacle.  We were actually there, inside the arena, wending our way to a vantage point where we would sit and watch Senator Joseph Lieberman accept the nomination for Vice-President.  We found a section with empty seats and drank in the view, the delegations, the television news suites, the people. 

from the upper reaches of the Staples Center
at the Democratic National Convention,
August, 2000
And then it began, the roll call, the one I had watched on television so many times before, and now I was watching it unfold, up close and personal.  We got all the way through Pennsylvania before Julie convinced me we had experienced enough history for one night.

The next day I was back at my post at the DNC office, fielding messages and doing whatever was needed on that last critical day.  At about 2PM, we were called in for a briefing and, it was only at that moment—to my great surprise—that we were told we each had assignments for the evening’s events.  Julie’s and mine would only begin as the Al Gore’s speech ended, and we were, once again, handed convention credentials.  In a daze of excitement, we made our way downtown and retraced our steps through the process of getting into the Staples Center.  We already knew the drill, so we felt like seasoned veterans when we went through the parking, taxi, walking and security processes, and I can safely say that being in the room while the Al Gore accepted the nomination for President remains among the most exciting moments of my life.  It took days to get the image of the red, white and blue balloons falling from the ceiling out of my mind or the confetti out of my hair.

As the balloons fell to cue the end of the convention, we raced for the exit to take up our assigned post on a corner on Figueroa Street, directing convention delegates with tickets to the concert onto dozens of buses that would take them to the Shrine Auditorium.  There were delays because the police had extended their security perimeter, leaving many of the buses unable to enter to pick us up.  Ultimately, the delegates dispatched, we boarded the last bus for the ride to the Shrine, where we were put to work escorting some of the big donors to their seats. 

The concert was almost anticlimactic after the whirlwind week.  There were the usual complement of speeches mixed with high-end entertainment, the introduction of a new young singer named Josh Groban, and the appearance of Barbra Streisand herself.  The evening ended with a search for a taxi at 4AM to return us to the downtown parking lot where we had left our car, but the memory of convention week never faded.

October 30, 2008

I’ve inaugurated this blog, not as a forum for the free exchange of ideas—though it may someday become that—but rather as way to expound on a number of subjects that come to mind. 

I have never been one to shy away from technology, but when I reflect on how it’s changed my life and the way I do business, I’m simply astounded.  Certainly, the hours now spent daily communicating via email is the new normal, but I’m shocked when I quantify those changes. 

I ran out of stationery—letterhead with my company logo emblazoned in a favorite shade of magenta for contrast.  I love that stationery.  I used to go through it like crazy, but I recently realized that since moving into our new office and printing up a batch with the new address over two years ago, I’ve only used up a scant 500 sheets.  500 sheets.  That’s it.  That’s less than one sheet of stationery per day.  Confirmation that letter-writing is a dying art, dying along with so many other things.

Being a public relations professional, I am still committed to writing of all kinds, especially letters, but now they mainly take the form of emails.  Emails where grammar, spelling and punctuation are another lost art.  Emails that go into that black abyss.  I don’t know exactly what happens to them, but I do know that I am constantly writing missives in email form that nobody seems to read. 

How do I know that?  First, there’s the lack of response to the first one, then the second one, and possibly even a third one, all evenly spaced to give plenty of time for the rare possibility of a reply.  Then, there are the phone calls to follow up on the unacknowledged emails, the voice messages that receive no response, and then, when miraculously the party is reached, and the subject (all contained in the myriad emails) is discussed one on one, I’m asked (politely, of course) to send yet another email so that they have the information they’ve had in front of them all along.   

I’m in a business that, at least until recent years, was predicated on personal contact and personal relationships, but now there is no easy way to create that atmosphere.  There is so little direct communication that it becomes impossible to develop real relationships that can be mutually beneficial in a business setting.  Call me crazy, but I still do like to talk on the phone and find I can much more readily seal the deal in a one on one conversation.  Or at least get a definitive “no” that leaves the door open for the next time around.  But actually “meeting” someone on the phone is increasingly more rare.  I’ve taken to calling repeatedly and hanging up before the voicemail kicks in, hoping to catch the person I’m trying to reach during an unguarded moment.  I worry that with the advent of that other technological breakthrough—Caller ID—there are some who’ve noted the Los Angeles area code and will never pick up the phone when it’s me on the other end.   But that’s the chance I take in pursuit of human contact.