Thinking

Remembering Jack Ramsay

My dad died a week ago. We had a com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship.

What can I say about him? He was a mys­te­ri­ous man. I have few specifics. What I have are some details that paint a gauzy pic­ture of whom I under­stand him to be, or to have been.

I know that his child­hood was fraught. That his father was abu­sive. That his moth­er was abu­sive. He grew up in West Philadel­phia at 61st and Girard. He had a guardian angel in his aunt Helen, who was also his par­ents’ land­lord. I knew her. He loved her very much.

While details of his boy­hood were scarce, he told amaz­ing sto­ries about his ado­les­cence. As I’ve heard from many Philadel­phi­ans his age, every­one seemed to fight con­stant­ly. The vio­lence was spon­ta­neous and intense. A neigh­bor­hood goon would ter­ror­ize the trol­ley. The plot of land that became Samuel Gom­pers Ele­men­tary School was a Gangs of New York-esque bat­tle­field where my dad punched the lead singer of the Dovells in the nose, or so he claimed. They beat each oth­er with spin­dles from stoop stair­cas­es. Philadel­phia in the ‘50s was wild.

He loved bas­ket­ball and played at Over­brook. The team was led by Walt Haz­zard. My dad told me that the top eight play­ers went on to play pro­fes­sion­al­ly. He was not among them.

To hear him tell it, Philadel­phia was so dan­ger­ous, he felt com­pelled to enlist. He claimed that going into the ser­vice saved him from Grater­ford. He joined the Navy and was an air­plane elec­tri­cian aboard the U.S.S. Ticon­dero­ga. I only recent­ly real­ized he was aboard dur­ing the Gulf of Tonkin inci­dent. He wit­nessed a pilot be butchered by a plane pro­peller. For all the sto­ries he would tell about surf­ing through­out Asia, the war deeply affect­ed him. He rarely spoke about it and was sharply crit­i­cal of those who reimag­ined them­selves as war heroes.

There’s anoth­er ellip­sis after he returns home. His dad — a WWI vet born in 1899 — dies in 1963, I think. He mar­ries my mom in 1974. He gets his degree in food mar­ket­ing from Saint Joe’s in ’75. He went at night. They moved to a farm­house in Gabelsville, PA that was built in 1760, where they raised sheep and hors­es.

I arrived in ’77 and my sis­ter in ’80.

He worked at GE, then Mar­tin Mari­et­ta, then final­ly Lock­heed Mar­tin for 40 years in Val­ley Forge. He wasn’t allowed to talk about what he did, but he brought home amaz­ing sou­venirs that his col­leagues got for him. I have a t-shirt from the Yeltsin coup. I have a Sovi­et offi­cers hat and a KGB watch. I got a t-shirt with an ele­phant that just said “Africa.”

He was an amaz­ing provider. He cared very deeply about us kids hav­ing a bet­ter child­hood than him. His abil­i­ty to cre­ate a life for us is unde­ni­able. He want­ed so bad­ly to take us to Hong Kong. We nev­er made that trip.

While our rela­tion­ship grew com­pli­cat­ed as I got old­er, I ulti­mate­ly under­stood that he was doing his very best. I hope he knew that I knew that, even if nei­ther of us was able to say it to each oth­er.

Love you, Dad. Give Aunt Helen a hug and a kiss for us.

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Thinking

Finding the Good in 2016

2016 was a tough year. I broke my leg. My base­ment flood­ed. Rather than dwell on the bad, I took the start of 2017 to think about the things I enjoyed and be thank­ful for those expe­ri­ences.

  • The Felske Files: when the Phillies were good, there was lit­er­al­ly a brack­et-full of Phillies blogs com­pet­ing for atten­tion. Then 2012 hap­pened. It’s been a slog ever since, but last year a light switched on. The first full year of the Felske Files, a Phillies pod­cast host­ed by John Stol­nis, was one of my favorite things in 2016. As the Phillies rebuild, he’s brought in smart guests and great insights to the con­ver­sa­tion about the future of my favorite fran­chise. The Felske Files is the sports pod­cast the world’s been wait­ing for.
  • Iggy Pop at the Fox The­atre: I’m not some­one who ghoul­ish­ly tries to check box­es on leg­endary artists. I’ve nev­er seen Neil Young or Bob Dylan or Dol­ly Par­ton or Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin. But after Bowie’s death last Jan­u­ary, I felt com­pelled to see Iggy Pop when he came to his home­town. I wasn’t dis­ap­point­ed. The band, led by QOTSA’s Josh Homme, was impos­si­bly tight and they stuck to a setlist that not only high­light­ed Iggy’s clas­sic work, but com­ple­ment­ed the new mate­r­i­al per­fect­ly. The crowd was amaz­ing, too.
  • Bruce Spring­steen at the Palace at Auburn Hills: con­sid­er­ing I once wrote a piece called, It’s Time to Fire the Boss, I found myself enjoy­ing every minute of his tour behind The Riv­er. Every­thing every­one loves about Bruce is true and, see above, I’m glad I got to see him live. A few weeks lat­er at a Par­quet Courts show, I found myself tap­ping my foot wait­ing for the band to come on stage at 11 pm. I men­tioned to my neigh­bor that Bruce had been on stage for 3 hours at that point.
  • Char­treuse: is it pos­si­ble that one of Detroit’s best restau­rants is under­rat­ed? If you’re vis­it­ing Detroit in 2017 — and you seri­ous­ly should; the New York Times says so — Char­treuse is can’t miss.
  • LVL UP — Hid­den Dri­ver: it was an anthem for me all year.
  • Pitch­fork Fes­ti­val: I hadn’t been to a music fes­ti­val in 20 years until last sum­mer. Pitch­fork Fes­ti­val was worth the wait. Not only did the line­up keep me engaged and enter­tained — Blood Orange was a per­son­al favorite — the weath­er was com­plete­ly beau­ti­ful and the peo­ple were friend­ly and fun to be around. Bonus: meet­ing mem­bers of Super Fur­ry Ani­mals made my day.
  • My neigh­bors: when Grosse Pointe Park was hit by sew­er back­up on Sep­tem­ber 29th, we weren’t the only fam­i­ly affect­ed. 200–300 homes were hit! We were over­whelmed by the out­pour­ing of sup­port from our friends and neigh­bors, who helped us clean up and get back to nor­mal.
  • My fam­i­ly: when our base­ment flood­ed this sum­mer, we lost every­thing in a del­uge. 3+ feet of water wipes out a lot of mem­o­ries in the blink of an eye. It was a chal­leng­ing time, but we all pulled togeth­er and looked for­ward to the future, rather than dwelling on what we lost. We were safe and had only lost things, pre­cious though some of them may have been. My sev­en year old remains the most resilient, lov­ing kid I know and his spir­it real­ly car­ried us through.

As I wrap up this list, I find myself reflect­ing on oth­er moments and expe­ri­ences I omit­ted. It’s reas­sur­ing to know that 2017 is a new year and a fresh oppor­tu­ni­ty to make new mem­o­ries.

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Thinking

#PublishADraft

Here’s a lit­tle secret to kick­start your per­son­al blog: pub­lish a draft. Sure­ly, you’ve been ago­niz­ing over some post for ages. It’s right there in Drafts. Pick one, clean it up a bit and pub­lish.

In fact, I pub­lished one last week. It was there the whole time!

 Stop being such a per­fec­tion­ist. Let Twit­ter be your chan­nel for #hot­takes. Let the world know you can be thought­ful again and #Pub­lishADraft. If you do, you’ll feel amaz­ing. Promise. 

Use the hash­tag #Pub­lishADraft and let’s see if we can’t reboot a per­son­al blog or two.

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Thinking

Fixing a Hole in the Social Web

Last sum­mer, my friend Karl Mar­ti­no shared this post from Scott Rosen­berg on Face­book some time ago and I got a lit­tle excit­ed. Could blog­ging real­ly be back? I’ve writ­ten about the death of music blogs and Jere­mi­ah declared the gold­en age of tech blog­ging dead back in 2011. What Rosen­berg hit on in his fol­low up — the migra­to­ry pat­terns of the “hive mind” — made me think less about plat­forms and more about the sin­gu­lar tool that enabled blogs to real­ly become pop­u­lar: RSS.

Google Read­er rode off into the sun­set back in 2013. Noth­ing real­ly replaced it, despite a race to rebuild it. Before any­one declares blogging’s back, let’s be hon­est with our­selves: RSS made the blog­gy core of the web pos­si­ble. Right now, I have a bunch of tabs open and I’m click­ing through to addi­tion­al posts and form­ing thoughts and respons­es. This was only pos­si­ble using “read it lat­er” tools.  In the blog­gy hey­day, I would sub­scribe to count­less blogs and refresh Google Read­er end­less­ly to keep up as they col­lect­ed through­out the day. You’d think I was describ­ing Twit­ter or Tum­blr or Face­book, but these leaky net­works are sieves com­pared to the net RSS pro­vid­ed.

Two reflec­tions:

  1. the social web cre­at­ed the sense of FOMO that keeps us refresh­ing feeds cease­less­ly so we make sure we don’t miss a thing. It’s impos­si­ble to be a part of the dia­logue if you miss it com­plete­ly.
  2. The notion that “if news is impor­tant, it’ll find me” is true only if you hope to cement your solip­sism.

In many respects. the social web has evolved into the online equiv­a­lent of Jacques Lacan and Judith But­ler cor­re­spond­ing in pub­lic via aca­d­e­m­ic jour­nals. We can all read the arti­cles, but they’re not real­ly talk­ing to “us.” Sure, the social web enables us to par­tic­i­pate, but that par­tic­i­pa­tion too often feels like tweet­ing at celebri­ties, in the hopes of the odd fave or retweet.

I’m not sure any­thing can be done about that last bit. Part of the prob­lem of say­ing “blog­ging is back” in any mean­ing­ful way ignores how the scope and veloc­i­ty of infor­ma­tion online with­out new ways to cap­ture a dai­ly digest of what hap­pened. Remem­ber when you’d check Google Read­er and it would be loaded with updates from every blog you fol­lowed that reflect­ed the lat­est press release hit­ting the wire? Now the social web is the same echo cham­ber that rever­ber­ates to reach every time zone online. What’s miss­ing from the social web today — and what made blog­ging in the ear­ly days so great — was that peri­od where it felt like you “knew” “every­one” online. To bor­row from Bene­dict Ander­son, we can’t recap­ture those “imag­ined com­mu­ni­ties” that cre­at­ed a sense of inti­ma­cy and shared under­stand­ing on the web.

The clos­est I’ve seen any­one come to acknowl­edg­ing this gap is ThinkUp, which takes stock of your activ­i­ty in the social web. But quan­ti­fy­ing activ­i­ty isn’t the same as chang­ing behav­ior. Bene­dict Evans tweet­stormed about “dis­cov­ery” and I think it sums things up nice­ly as it relates to how con­ver­sa­tion has evolved online. I’ll end here.

 

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Thinking

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Playlist

When Music 2.0 first arrived on the scene, it treat­ed users like data entry clerks. Sure, every­one dressed it up as “user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent,” but it all hinged on some moti­vat­ed indi­vid­ual updat­ing a data­base for a ser­vice that wasn’t pay­ing them. Those ser­vices most­ly died out, either because peo­ple lost inter­est or some­thing new­er and shinier replaced them. In any case, they asked way too much of users.

The music ser­vices that sur­vived from that era under­stood fun­da­men­tal­ly that their users chose their ser­vice because they want­ed to lis­ten to music. Beats Music takes that a step fur­ther; rather than focus dogged­ly on “dis­cov­ery,” Beats recon­tex­tu­al­izes the music you love. For me, that means Beats rec­om­mends artists whose albums lan­guished for too long at the bot­tom of a box in a clos­et. Now I can fall in love with them all over again.

But that on it’s own isn’t enough to dis­tin­guish a music ser­vice from the rest of the pack. Curat­ed playlists and push noti­fi­ca­tions do. Plen­ty of ser­vices offer the same library, give or take, but none were espe­cial­ly good at antic­i­pat­ing what I want­ed to hear. You could go search­ing for things, but that’s over­whelm­ing. Beats Music makes it sim­ple and offers sug­ges­tions. Instead of search­ing end­less­ly for a par­tic­u­lar album, I just dive into an intro­duc­to­ry playlist of an artist I’ve over­looked.

Best of all? They hired real­ly out­stand­ing crit­ics to pull togeth­er fan­tas­tic playlists. Beats didn’t just hire them to cre­ate playlists willy nil­ly; there’s real strat­e­gy at work. Try as I might to lis­ten to every­thing, I still sought crit­i­cal short­cuts or a point of entry into an artist’s body of work. If you’re a recov­er­ing com­pletist, you can famil­iar­ize your­self with Luke Vib­ert one moment and Way­lon Jen­nings the next. It doesn’t hurt that most playlists were curat­ed by the same crit­ics I came up with in the Augh­ties.

Most­ly, I’m just jeal­ous of kids who get to expe­ri­ence music like this. For more, here’s Eric Harvey’s essay on the devel­op­ment of stream­ing music over at Pitch­fork.

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Thinking

The Art of January Releases

Malkmus and Jicks

It’s March and SXSW is wrap­ping up in Austin, which is the kick­off to the spring push in the music indus­try. What am I still pay­ing atten­tion, too? The lat­est Jicks record, Wig Out at Jag­bags. What else? The Against Me! album, Trans­gen­der Dys­pho­ria Blues.

Why? The answer is sim­ple. Both are Jan­u­ary releas­es. Jan­u­ary is a great month for media Mon­ey­ball. The owned the media cycle for a qui­et month and noth­ing real­ly rose to dethrone them in Feb­ru­ary, at least from a cov­er­age per­spec­tive in the social streams I fol­low. Will these albums be over­looked or giv­en short shrift come year end? Sure, but who cares? How much are year end lists worth in 2014 any­how? (Could be a lot; tell me if I’m wrong.)

Jan­u­ary is the per­fect month to release an album. Ever since LCD Soundsys­tem released their debut in Jan­u­ary 2005, I’ve asked why more bands don’t do this. Break away from the March and Octo­ber cycle, make as much noise as pos­si­ble and then tour if you can. This is espe­cial­ly genius with a “lega­cy” artist like Malk­mus, who has a pret­ty well-defined fan base. Maybe this bought him some addi­tion­al expo­sure. Jan­u­ary offers more “run­way” for an artist than the com­mer­cial claus­tro­pho­bia of March.

But why is it so smart to push an album before March rolls around?

A few rea­sons:

  • Crit­ics are just like us! They make res­o­lu­tions! Things like “I will lis­ten to more music this year.” Put out an album in Jan­u­ary and you’re the sole ben­e­fi­cia­ry.
  • There is no oth­er news. I must’ve read 4 or more fan­tas­tic, gen­er­ous inter­views with Malk­mus and prob­a­bly twice as many with Against Me!‘s Lau­ra Jane Grace.
  • Release an album in Jan­u­ary and you get expan­sive “nar­ra­tive space.” Malkmus’s sto­ry is nowhere near as grip­ping as Lau­ra Jane Grace’s, yet the nar­ra­tive that he’s been with the Jicks longer than Pave­ment shone through and the cov­er­age human­ized him unlike ever before. The inter­play with his kids’ lis­ten­ing habits was fan­tas­tic and the image of him singing to Avicii in a mini­van amazed me.

If you still think release dates are mean­ing­ful inas­much as it allows you to pre­pare for a news cycle, break free of the old meth­ods. To apply some busi­ness speak from Havard Busi­ness Review, adopt a blue ocean strat­e­gy and get your client out there in the open. To bring it back to Bil­ly Beane, find the mar­ket inef­fi­cien­cy and take advan­tage.

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Thinking

How to Use Twitter Like a Human Being

I love Twit­ter. It’s my favorite social net­work. I start­ed using it in 2008 when I went to SXSW Music. I imme­di­ate­ly saw its val­ue for cov­er­ing live events. That fall, I used it exten­sive­ly dur­ing the Phillies’ post­sea­son cam­paign. Twit­ter is a great plat­form for your pas­sions. Except when it isn’t.

Some­where along the way, Twit­ter changed. My friend Mark cap­tured one key dif­fer­ence in his tweet below.

For all the talk about being authen­tic and engag­ing on social, you’ll often find that the most fol­lowed accounts are noth­ing more than linkbots with a human face. It’s a head-scratch­er. At a time when peo­ple com­plain of infor­ma­tion over­load, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple will fol­low accounts that recy­cle memes and oth­er online flot­sam.

If that doesn’t depress you, A Tale of Two Twit­ter Per­sonas will. MG Siegler writes:

For me, giv­en my back­ground and line of work, that’s obvi­ous­ly tech­nol­o­gy. But I too have oth­er inter­ests — shock­ing, I know. Film is def­i­nite­ly one. Beer is def­i­nite­ly anoth­er. And sports is way up there. Yes, some peo­ple in the tech indus­try are as obsessed with sports as any­one else in the world. Blas­phe­my!

What does per­son­al brand­ing mean when the most pop­u­lar social media accounts lack per­son­al­i­ty?

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