Monday, November 4, 2013

Album review: “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You,” by Neko Case.

Live and Learn: "The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You." How appropriate.

“When you catch the light, you look like your mother. It crushes me some, just right from the sight.”


Holy shit.

The very first line of Neko Case’s sixth full-length studio recording indicates to anyone familiar with her work that this record is different. No fantastical storytelling via non-human mammals or meteorological events. No cover nods to other great artists. This time it’s personal. It immediately reminded me of the first earthshaking bars and lines from “Set Out Running” on “Furnace Room Lullaby.”

Side note: I do not believe it is a coincidence that “Set Out Running” made the cut for performance-ready songs on the ongoing tour supporting the new record.

“…Would you like to be the king’s pet or the king? I choose odorless, and invisible, but otherwise, I would choose the king. Even though it sounds the loneliest. There’s no mother’s hands to quiet me.”

For someone who lost both her parents (with whom she was not close) and a very dear grandmother in the years since the release of her last studio record “Middle Cyclone,” this seems like too much to bear, even for the listener. Just where is this thing going?

“Night Still Comes” owns the second slot on the recording - a slot I’ve always believed should be reserved for the definitive song on any record. It is the “troop leader” as Ms. Case described it to Jian Ghomeshi during this Studio Q interview.

Like the whole of the record, it is textured, and layered, deeply. It rivals any of what fans might consider her best songs ever: “I Wish I Was the Moon,” “Hold On, Hold On,” “Guided By Wire,” “Vengeance Is Sleeping,” take your pick.

“I’m a man. You’ll have to deal with me. My proxy is mine. You’ll deal with me directly… ‘Cause you didn’t know what a man was until I showed you.”

Ok. Heard.

“You’re right. I’m from nowhere.”

We understand.

“They won’t believe you when you say, ‘My mother, she did not love me.’ … You’ll hear yourself complain, but don’t you ever shut up. Please kid, have your say. Because I still love you. Even if I don’t see you again.”

Oh good grief. Here come the tears.

“The Worse Things Get…” plunges and climbs through the registers and the arrangements, rich and sparse. Horns and distorted guitars. Keyboards and melodies and harmonies and lyrics bold as crimson and some so emotionally fragile they teeter on the edge of shattering like an heirloom vase perched on the mantle.

Who’s on the other end of the phone on “Calling Cards” or the subject of the pop-tinged “City Swan?”

“I can’t look at you straight on. You’re made from something different than I know.”

What? Really? Who carries that kind of gravity and how do they survive it? Who on Earth would NOT want to be either of those people? Don’t lie. You know you wish it were you.

“Cease to know or to tell or to see or to be your own... You are beautiful and you are alone. Banish the faceless, reward your grace.”

Go ahead. Shed another tear or two.

“God damn the time and God damn the miles that take me away from you. And change the way I love you.”


I hope, lady, you left the stranger who found your fire something nice.

Find me a more richly, heavily, complexly layered three minutes of music than the last half of “Ragtime.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

“I’ll reveal myself invincible soon.”

I think you just did.

P.S. If someone can tell me, definitively, what the rounded lyrics at the end of “Ragtime” are, a beer or two (or a cup of coffee or tea or a fucking chai latte or whatever) on me.

Is it ok to expect continued excellence based on occasional moments of genius? After 30 minutes or so chucking this around the campfire with a good friend of mine, we concluded the answer is “No.” And when it comes to art, preference and beauty and genius are highly subjective.

An artist doesn’t give a fuck about what one audience member out of hundreds of thousands wants. And that’s as it should be. And moments of brilliance are rare. Which is also as it should be. Just because I didn’t really dig “Middle Cyclone,” and “Fox Confessor Brings The Flood,” doesn’t diminish their value.

That said, “The Worse Things Get…” is Ms. Case’s greatest work entire to date. (Oh yeah, she’s its executive producer, too.) It’s intensely personal, which helps explain its power. It’s deep. It’s honest. It’s a roller coaster. It is sonically layered and diverse. It is what everything she has done up until now has led to.

I’m still not sure I’m ready for another live show, and that’s ok, too. Don’t worry. I’ll see you when I’m ready.

Bravo, lady.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On To The Next

Two weeks ago my boss asked for a meeting. “Certainly,” I replied.

“I’m up here delivering employment renewal letters to the staff,” he said. “I don’t have one for you.”

Cue the stunned silence and queasiness.

It appears two officials to whom I did not report directly mandated this. It does not appear this was my boss’ decision. Regime change at many levels can precipitate internal changes anywhere. While I am certain this was somewhat emasculating and clearly upsetting for him, it was the first time a new dean and the provost had exerted such influence over the senior vice president for university advancement: a position that purports to report directly to the president of the university, just as my position purported to report directly to the senior vice president for advancement. I hope that the institution (and others) will provide full disclosure that this is possible when recruiting new hires in the future. Important note: my relationship with my boss was always excellent. He has always been and will continue to be a very decent and noble gentleman.

So here we are: two weeks’ severance and a modest amount of vacation “buy out.”

I had been dabbling in a return to my area of excellence, external communication and media relations, for the better part of two years. This very nearly came to fruition twice, but no dice. Regardless, this transition was going to be necessary, and this just happened to be the catalyst. It may be the best thing to ever happen to me. It just doesn’t feel that way at the moment.

After more than ten years in public relations and three years in higher education I have a small handful of warm leads for “good fit” positions and even an advocate or two on the inside. I have been doing a little side work for a client in the political arena and have recently had several articles published in an outdoor online magazine. I will be reaching out to some folks with whom I have spoken previously about a direct client engagement as well as to some trusted colleagues who I believe can provide sound counsel and possibly some direct assistance.

If you, or any of your colleagues, can use someone with high levels of external communications proficiency (including social media), project management and media relations experience, please let me know. If you have some writing that needs to be done and no one, or no time, to do it let me know. If you or your organization feel you have something to say, but are not quite sure how to say it, let me know.

Unless the opportunity demands that I postpone, I am still going to be in Idaho and Montana July 3rd through July 16th to test new gear for publication, pitch some client work, visit a company I would positively love to work for and to try to enjoy some of the restorative qualities that trip always provides.

Now, on to the next! 

I’m on Instagram here:

I’m on Twitter here:



Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Tiger Woods won't win a major championship in 2012

In early March, I made a made three “friendly” wagers that Tiger Woods would not win a major in 2012. Admittedly I was less confident about winning those after TW won at Bay Hill (again) and showed up near the top of the leader board at Augusta.

One club-kicking week later, my wagers still look good and the logic behind what I started writing a month ago still holds true.

Why Tiger Won’t Win a Major in 2012.
At least part of Tiger Woods’ mystique is that for the first 33 years of his life, he was always been the best player among his peers, by far. I’m not a stats guy, but I doubt anyone could refute that statement if they chose to try.

Further, Tiger won an obscene percentage of the time when it mattered most (read: majors and big tournaments like the Memorial, World Championships, etc.).

During those three decades, he never, ever doubted his abilities on the course. The result of this is that Tiger hit shots few, if any, players thought possible. The result of that was a level of disbelief among and intimidation of every other golfer on the planet that led directly to the massive gulf of separation Tiger put between himself and everyone else. The result of THAT was Tiger’s holding of four majors simultaneously in 2000 and 2001,  72 tour wins (third behind Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead), 10 Player of the Year awards, eight Vardon Trophies, and the kind of endorsement deals that could secure Woods and his progeny (and a few nations) for eons.

Tiger had been rightly recognized as the best player at every level in which he played. In light of his astonishing achievements and charisma, he was the most recognized, and arguably the most universally loved athlete on Earth. Ever. He never doubted himself, either on the course or off, until the harshest self-inflicted fall from grace in the public eye since … well since you tell me when because I can’t think of an appropriate comparison. Why would he have doubted himself? He had no reason to until Thanksgiving weekend 2009.

My initial reaction to his gated community driveway mishap, within minutes of the details-poor news crossing the wires, was, “Man, this story STINKS to high heaven.” As for how that went, if you don’t know, you’re doing it wrong. Go look it up.

Prior to that mess with the Perkins waitress, and scores of other women with whom he consorted (read: adulterated), and hundreds of millions of dollars in divorce settlement and endorsements lost, Tiger’s body was starting to show the limits of what humans can endure. The violence of his swing required four surgeries or procedures on his left knee. In one of his two most impressive major victories, Tiger won the 2008 U.S. Open in a 19-hole playoff over Rocco Mediate on a broken left leg. Yes, really.

(Tiger’s remarkable physical prowess and endurance begs the question of “performance enhancing drug” use tied to his previous physical training regimen and recovery from those procedures, but that is another story. Suffice it to say it is reasonable to suggest a cause for the acceleration of his game and his physical condition’s demise is the spotlight now on performance enhancing drugs and questionable, though not illegal, related practices. Do remember the allegations of strange blood treatments and the connection to a Canadian physician reported in 2009.)

The golf swing and the ability to compete at the highest level of the game decrease by several orders of magnitude when this occurs. It is undeniable that the torque generated by the violent nature of his swing for two decades has contributed to his game’s deterioration. Even when fully “healthy” in 2012, Tiger has no distinct advantage in distance with the driver or any other club over the field. I would suggest, however, that if he can win the U.S. Open on a broken leg, the mental toll taken by his self-doubt and self-loathing has been a much larger factor in his relative ineffectiveness as a player.

Quickly, let us give a nod to a few of his tour competitors. His competitors have risen while he has fallen and now they have been ahead for three years. I often give PGA Tour players crap because of the inflated prize purses and comfortable livings they make while happily languishing in the middle of the pack. But to the handful that painted the target on TW and the #1 world ranking (most publicly and notably Ian Poulter – even though he didn’t get there and most remarkably Vijay Singh who accomplished it well before TW’s decline in physical and mental health), I say well done.

Which brings us to where we are at the moment. None of the world’s top players (Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and the like) live with the specter of a failed marriage and the associated embarrassing infidelity publicly splashed across the globe floating around in their brains. This frees them up to focus all of their capability on the task at hand.

I always believed very strongly that a free mind and vivid imagination are two highly underrated assets to athletes.

Every poor shot Tiger hits brings new doubt in his game, which can fester quickly (if not immediately) into thoughts about personal shortcomings, which occupy the mind in a cancerous way to which few of the top players in the world are subject.

How large of a change between self-confidence to self-loathing and self-doubt can humans overcome?

For nearly a decade after I quit playing professional golf I could not enjoy myself on the course in a casual round. I refer to this as the “damn I used to be good at this” level of frustration. I simply could not adjust my expectations enough to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to be nearly as good without committing the required time and other resources, which I was not willing to do. It took me 10 years to do so. With every single lousy shot TW hits it is possible his frustration in this regard increases.

The wow, “I used to be good at this,” leading to “I used to be loved by EVERYONE,” to “I don’t really need to do this anymore if I don’t want to,” is the most insurmountable obstacle to Tiger surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ 18 professional major mark since Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mt. Everest.

His figurative “drive” to excel that used to be a key part to his advantage over other players is weak. Despite all of his financial losses, his life remains and always will be comfortable beyond what anyone save royalty will know.

But for now, Jack Nicklaus’ 18 professional major tournament wins record remains safe (Tiger has 14).

The massive pile of karmic crap and self-doubt coupled with the “I used to be good at this level of frustration” and physical deterioration Tiger has brought upon himself translates very simply into the near certainty that I win those three friendly wagers.

Thank you for playing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On apologies: making peace with Neko Case part II

On Apologies: Making Peace with Neko Case, Part II

Dec. 20, 2011

Months ago I published a rather critical review of a concert I attended in my much neglected blog. My intentions for the blog are for it to be as much a journal as anything and also a forum for items about which I feel particularly strong. This may not always be the case, but for the moment, it’s true enough.

That particular post percolated for months (yes, really) before I started writing. Once I started clicking the keys, I went through several drafts and periods of letting it rest. I wanted very much to capture precisely what I felt and meant without being too harsh or too soft, which I actually thought the piece achieved at the time.
I published the animal and tagged the subject in the interest of full disclosure.

That the subject, Neko Case, took the time to actually read it was quite a compliment. That she took the time to share it with her thousands of followers was simultaneously satisfying and horrifying. The backlash was immediate and a little nasty, which I expected. I went a few short rounds with a couple of particularly nasty respondents then let it go completely. (Pro tip: engaging in the comment section of a blog with rabid fans is the ultimate Danger Zone destination. Enter at your own peril.)

Fast forward four months and low and behold I meet someone who actually knows Ms. Case. They’re not “besties” or anything, but suffice it to say they’ve hung out and worked together on more than a few occasions. So I shared the post in question with him, thankful again that he took the time to read and consider it.

His reaction was complementary of the first few paragraphs and downright scathing of assumptions I made later, followed by rather insistent advice that I apologize.

At this point it bears repeating that I considered every word of that post carefully before publishing it. It is also noteworthy that I am both a musician with more than 100 paying gigs under my belt, a bigger than average fan of Ms. Case’s work, and worked as a booking agent for a stable of touring and recording artists for six months in 2005 during which I negotiated and executed scores, if not hundreds, of contracts.

Therein lies my quandary. Do I stand behind my statements or do I owe Ms. Case an apology? I feel like I’m wading into dangerous waters of integrity and morality here.

Although my assumptions about the production and booking arrangements were informed by experience, it is entirely true that I did not see the contract between the producer, the performer (or the booking agent) and the record company (if indeed the record company had a say in the concert contract, which I doubt, but could be true). I also believe it is true that the vast majority of touring artists, especially the backing band members, subsist on the razor thin margin of what they require to live combined with whatever value they assign to the satisfaction of loving what they do to eek out a living.

Ms. Case, in a tone that was quite frankly pissed in nature, replied that there was indeed a radius clause in the contract with the promoter that prevented an Atlanta play on the next night, an item that I identified as “bullsh*t.”

Ummm, yeah, oops.

Our mutual friend further suggested that my condemnation of the absence of a keyboard was equivalent to suggesting that the artist was basically stealing from the paying audience.

Ummm, uh oh.

“Don’t you think if she could afford to have a keyboard and someone to play it on tour she would,” Bob asked? “Don’t you think she probably said to herself, ‘God damn I wish we could have it! But if we add this, everyone’s pay decreases by [X] and that’s not acceptable based on what we’re projected to make,’?”

A fair point, especially if the collective performers’ pay rates are as skinny as they could be. Counterpoint: how much does it cost the producer to provide a keyboard and couldn’t the artist play the thing on the tunes that need it most without adding another member to the band?

I suppose there won’t be clear answers to any of this without dialogue with the artist, which would also require some detail that I’d bet my monthly bar tab she wouldn’t be particularly interested in sharing.

That said, I suppose an apology is in order for the following:
  1. The front of house sound engineer: “sophomoric” was too harsh a word. I’m sorry for that. You’ve got a tough job.
  2. Ms. Case: the audience is only one of what I’m certain are dozens of entities (not to mention the individuals that rely on those entities) to whom or for whom you feel responsible. I’m sure that’s quite the burden. I’m sorry for making statements based on questionable (and in some cases erroneous) assumptions that were hurtful.
I hope the artist will accept this fan and fellow musician’s apology. And tour with the Sadies soon. And stop in Atlanta.

P.S. Ms. Case, my neighbor Bob P. says, “Hello.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Doppelganger du jour: @andishehnouraee and ...

I just couldn't keep this to myself, and maybe I'm late to the party, but wow, has this occurred to anyone else?

We love you, Andy! Mmmmhmmmm.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ultimately, additional road capacity does nothing to alleviate congestion.

Due to the absurdly parochial and arcane manner in which transportation issues are addressed and discussed in Georgia, I have stopped paying attention to the regional T-SPLOST voters in the state will decide in June. Until the final project list comes out in a few weeks, I remain solidly on the fence when it comes to my position of support, for or against.

That said, if I had the undivided attention of every voter in the state, this is the message I would deliver. Adding capacity in the form of new roads or expansions does nothing to ease traffic congestion in the mid-to-long term.

From "The Economics of Traffic Congestion," by Richard Arnott and Kenneth Small as published in American Scientist, Vol. 82, "Any reduction in congestion resulting from capacity expansion encourages others to drive during hours on routes they ordinarily would not use. So measures to relieve congestion are at least partially undone by latent demand.

"The other  reason capacity expansion alone does not work is that congestion is mispriced. Because drivers do not pay for the time loss they impose on others, they make socially-inefficient choices concerning how much to travel, when to travel, where to travel and what route to take... The combination of latent demand and mispriced congestion may be so perverse that an expansion of capacity brings about no change in congestion, or even makes it worse."

If you're a real transportation wonk, here's the link to the rather complex article.

There's also this little gem about "induced congestion" from researchers at UC Berkeley who found considerable empirical evidence that showed every 1% increase in new lane-miles generated a 0.9% increase in traffic in less than five years (emphasis added).

So dear reader, whenever our transportation "leaders" roll out the project list for which they will ask us to decide whether or not we want to foot the bill, please, please, please remember that ultimately building new roads or adding to existing ones doesn't do a damn thing to relieve congestion.

Pauly D

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The top attribute in a new hire: keep calm and carry on.


How do you define a crisis? How do you respond to a crisis? Do you create them or tend to make them worse?

Those were the first questions that came to mind when my compadres with Soccer in the Streets (Twitter: @soccerstreets) posed the question, “When you hire new employees, what do you look for other than experience?”

After a decade in the public relations industry, and countless disappointments in junior new hires with PR or communications degrees, I’ve about given up on the skills element. Those are learned on the job, not in the classroom. Additionally, experience seems to be worth less because a lousy supervisor will put up with a great deal that a good supervisor will not. This can reinforce and exacerbate poor performance thus significantly devaluing a candidate’s experience line on his or her resume.

So what do I really want to know? How do you respond to a perceived crisis, and are you more likely to make it worse or better? Consider this:

Is your first reaction to a potential crisis (either via breaking news, a phone call, email from a client or partner, etc.), “Oh. My. Gawd!!!” Or is it something less reactionary? “Ummmmm, uh oh. This could be a problem.”

Who wouldn’t prefer a cool, non-reactionary, thoughtful reaction?

The truth is there are very few real crises in a given day, week, month, or year for that matter. My contention is that our reactions to perceived crises are more likely to create a crisis than the original situation. And given the immediacy with which we all demand information, benign situations can often spiral out of control quickly by an excitable, reactionary response.

High volume, reactionary responses raise the level of anxiety among the entire team especially in a form of open office environment, which causes the performance of all to suffer. Of equal import are the parties the “first responder” engages. Does the person carbon copy the entire agency or team (or worse, the client) on a forward or reply email unnecessarily consuming billable hours at high hourly pay rates as the branches of the correspondence multiply exponentially? Or do they calmly engage their immediate supervisor?

Really. With which would you prefer to work?

So, dear reader, my advice to you regarding new hires is find out how your candidates define and respond to crisis, either perceived or real. In most cases the skills required to do the job especially among junior candidates and new hires will be acquired by training the employer provides and on the job experience. But a generally calm demeanor and sound judgment in response to a perceived crisis may be the most valuable attribute a new hire can bring to any organization.

In the sagacious words of my friend and RedSky PR co-founder Jess Flynn, “Keep calm and carry on.”

Photo credit: RedSky PR

Pauly D.