Sunday, September 25, 2022

turning of the tide

I was much younger when I discovered the music of Richard Thompson. So was Richard Thompson.

In 1982, my future brother-in-law (no, not that one... the other one) introduced me to the newly-released Shoot Out the Lights by British folk-rock troubadours Richard & Linda Thompson. The album — comprised of eight heartfelt, sometimes gut-wrenching, songs — was a sonic chronicle of tension, specifically tension in a marriage and tension with colleagues. The married duo was without a record contract and had recently toured as a support act for Gerry Rafferty (of Baker Street fame). Rafferty offered financial assistance to the Thompsons, and expected control in the recording process. Richard and Rafferty butt heads often. At the same time, the Thompsons' marital union was crumbling. The album was released and was lavished with critical acclaim. However, it would be the Thompson's last effort together. Although they continued to tour, they would divorce by year's end. 

Shoot Out the Lights was, honestly, like nothing I had heard before. Granted, at the time, I was a rabid Queen fan and had recently latched on to the ubiquitous New Wave sounds emanating from every FM radio. Richard Thompson was a singer with roots in the English countryside, evoking visions of a guy in a colorful doublet and tights, strumming a lute and serenading the townspeople. He was pretty cool and his style stood out among the trendiness of Adam Ant and A Flock of Seagulls. My brother-in-law praised Richard Thompson's work, and in between Grateful Dead shows, managed to see him perform live quite a few times.

I, however, did not.

I've been to a lot of concerts over the past half century. I've seen big names and small names at big venues and small venues. I have missed the opportunity to see a few of my favorites over the years. Although a fan, I never got to see Billy Joel. Sure, he tours regularly now, but I want to see 1975 Billy Joel, not forty-seven years later Billy Joel. I missed seeing Pink Floyd on their Animals tour due to a miscommunication in my desire for tickets. (That's a long story for which I have since forgiven my brother.) Alas, Pink Floyd are no more, but I'll be goddamned if I'm going to give irrelevant loudmouth Roger Waters a dime of my hard-earned pay to see him croak out his racist, out-of-touch politics. I actually haven't listened to Animals in years.

But Richard Thompson is different. At 73, he's still got it. He still writes good songs. He still is pretty handy on the guitar and he still releases good albums. And I finally got the long-delayed opportunity to see him live.

And it was a somewhat rude awakening for Josh Pincus. 

Richard was scheduled to play at a small outdoor amphitheater in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, a typical "green-lawn and backyard-swing set" suburb, sitting just outside the city limits of notorious Camden. After a rain-out the previous week, Richard was kind enough to take the ninety-minute drive down to Haddon Heights from his Montclair, New Jersey home and perform seven days later.

I arrived nice and early and found a wide choice of seats among the permanent benches facing the small stage. I sat at the rear of an open lawn, using a stone wall as a little table to eat the salad I brought with me. As I ate, more folks began to file in. Some were carrying folding camp chairs. Others toted blankets. Most hefted some sort of paper bag emblazoned with the familiar "Whole Foods" logo. Just about everyone (except me) arrived in Subarus. Oh.... and everyone was old. I mean really old!

For reference only.
The men were bent over, a supporting hand offering comfort to an angled lumbar region. They wore ill-fitting clothes, the uniform of the day either being a Hawaiian shirt (to show they were here for a good time), a weathered concert T-Shirt proclaiming their love for The Grateful Dead, Bonnie Raitt, a recent tour of an ancient band or some annual blues festival dated 1980-someting in the year of Our Lord. A small smattering wore the same clothes they wore while seated all day behind their desk at the law firm which employs them. A lot of these guys looked like Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil. None of these guys had enough hair to drag a comb through, and those that did couldn't possibly complete the task, as it was gathered together in a ratty, gray ponytail. The women wore ensembles available on page 47 of the latest LL Bean catalog or some handmade peasant dress that they have worn to every concert since high school. Some wore that battered, floppy cowboy hat that is standard issue for concerts among this particular age group. You know the one I mean.

I was lucky enough to overhear snippets of conversations around me. "My kids are seeing Pearl Jam tonight. I can't even name a Pearl Jam song!" "I sat right over there last month to see Kathleen Edwards. Right over there. You see? Right there... in the middle. Right where I'm pointing. Right there! Right there!" "That Jenny Lewis is from that Rilo Kiley band." When I turned my head to see the source of each of these conversations, I felt as though I was sitting in the courtyard of a retirement community — you know, the ones that are advertised during afternoon reruns of Wagon Train and Perry Mason.

At dusk, Richard Thompson took the stage. Bathed in lavender lights, he tore through song after song, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. His between-song banter was brief, though, at times, humorous, displaying the same sardonic wit featured throughout his compositions. Culling from his vast career, his song choice included a few cuts from his time as guitarist with Fairport Convention, a couple of tracks from the "Richard & Linda Thompson" years and, of course his prolific solo output. I was familiar with a handful of tunes. The ones I didn't know sounded like typical Richard Thompson songs, so.... 

About three-quarters into the show, as it neared to its palpable conclusion, I spotted a guy — in my peripheral vison — making his way down the aisle to my right. Dressed head to toe in tie-dye and sporting a birds'-nest-like beard, he looked like he just wandered over from wallowing in the mud on Max Yasgur's rain-soaked farm. While Mr. Thompson was introducing his next selection, "Mr. Woodstock" began to yell at a young man seated at a long table a few feet in front of me. The fellow — in his early 20s — was checking over a few open laptop screens that were arranged across the table's surface. He wore headphones and one hand was resting on a computer mouse. He was — obviously — an integral part of the technical crew. "Woodstock" raised his voice and screamed "Hey! Sound Guy! Sound Guy!" The young man's gaze never waivered from the screens. "Sound Guy! Hey! Sound Guy!," he continued, "Turn it up, man! The people across the street can't hear, man! Turn it up, man! Hey! Sound Guy!" (The venue was so packed, that some overflow of fans  had taken to parking their blankets across a street that bisects the park. A distance away from the stage, but still within reasonable proximity to enjoy the performance.) "Woodstock" was relentless. "SOUND GUY!," he blared. Finally, the young man removed his headset and calmly addressed the angry hippie. He spoke just four words. He said, "I'm the 'lights' guy" and turned his attention back to his work. 

A look of confusion spread across "Woodstock's" face. It was as though he had just been answered in the dead language of Aramaic. He was speechless for a moment, his head cocked to one side like a dog trying to figure out where in the backyard he hid that bone. Then, he continued right where he left off. "Hey! Sound Guy! Sound Guy! Turn it up!" By this point, the 'lights' guy didn't care.

Mrs. Pincus was out of town on this day. When I got home, I called to tell her about the show. I related the anecdotes I just told you, driving home my point about the advanced age of my fellow concert-goers. "Are we that old?," I asked.

"Well, you are.," she replied.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

end of the line

I work for a commercial printer that produces advertising circulars for retail stores — mostly supermarkets — across the country. In addition to guys that run the actual printing presses and folks who design and layout the ads (like me), my employer also employs a team of salespeople to acquire more business. It appears to work. In the short time I have worked there, we have picked up several new clients. Just this past February, we began producing circulars for a small chain of gourmet supermarkets whose locations spread across northern New Jersey and into Long Island, New York. Without mentioning them by name, they operate on a similar level as the famed D'Agostino's, the popular chain that has served Manhattan since the 1930s. I have done advertising work for a lot of retail customers over the past 40 years. While I can't make a fair comparison to D'Agostino's (because I have never done work for them), in comparison to other retail chains, our newest customer is unorganized, scatterbrained and chaotic. In other words.. typical.

In an effort to conceal any identifying 
characteristics of the company in question,
here is a picture of a duck.
When we began our business relationship, my boss and I got on a Zoom call with members of their marketing team. Through the magic of the internet, we "met" the inhouse design staff at the chain's headquarters. There were two guys — a talkative fellow named Michael and a quieter guy named Kevin. Michael explained that information, comments, instruction and the electronic delivery of specific artwork would be made via an online tool called Ziflow. Through this ingenious tool, we were sent fully-designed pieces of art and copy that could just be dropped in to the ad we were working on. These little images were created by either Michael or Kevin. They could be a banner offering a sale on deli meats or a larger image announcing a special in their seafood department. Bottom line, the more pre-composed art we were supplied with, the less composition work I had to do.

We received comments regarding placement of ad elements, product substitutions and other pertinent information from someone named Emily in their Marketing department. Until we didn't....and we were informed that Emily was no longer with the company.

After a month or so (that's six weeks of ads), we stopped receiving art or any type of correspondence from Michael. Everything came exclusively through Kevin. One afternoon, we learned that Michael had been fired. "Oh well," I thought, "Things happen." 

Kevin stepped up his game and supplied us with art, required product photos and other information. After two weeks of Kevin flying solo, another Zoom meeting was scheduled so we could "meet" Will, who would be Kevin's assistant. Our virtual meeting lasted just a few minutes. We greeted Will and offered a friendly "Looking forward to working with you" to our new contact.

Approximately three weeks after "meeting" Will, my boss got a strange email from Kevin. It originated from a domain that was not the supermarket company's. Kevin explained that he no longer had login credentials to the Ziflow account and that he would be sending all correspondence through this email. Later that very same day, my boss was informed that Kevin had been fired and we should cease all interaction with him.

Will was now supplying graphic that had once come from Kevin and Michael before him. Will's work suitably mimicked the company's branding, however, Will's spelling was atrocious. We regularly received replacement art for graphics downloaded only minutes earlier because of a spelling error. Sometimes the same graphics would be replaced three or four times because of typos. Will also was very lax in his response time. Often several hours would pass before he would answer a simple question. Other times, his answers were incoherent and didn't apply to the question being posed. 

A week of "Will on his own" passed when we were told about Jake. Jake would be assisting Will. Efforts to schedule a virtual introduction with Jake never came to be, and although Jake was CC'd on all correspondence and  emails, he never responded to anything. We couldn't actually be sure that there was a Jake. We continued to work with Will — struggling with direction, frustrated by lengthy response time and replacing and re-replacing mistake-ridden artwork.

On Friday morning before the long Labor Day weekend, I was finishing up a list of corrections I received for the supermarket ad before its scheduled print date on the Tuesday we would return to work. Will sent me a requested photo of a pumpkin pie for the "Bakery" section, as well as a few price changes to items already appearing in in the ad.  Somewhere around 2 PM on Friday, as my workday was drawing to a close, my boss informed me that Will was no longer with the company. I had just sent a proof to the Director of Marketing hoping to get an "approval to print" before the day ended. Instead, the director told me (via email) that he would spend the weekend studying the ad and offer his approval on Tuesday.

He never mentioned Will. Or Jake.

If there even is a Jake.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

everything is awesome

I went to a concert. It was amazing! It was the greatest performance I have ever seen! All the songs were incredible! The band is the greatest band that was ever formed. The original members were the most amazing musicians until the ones that left the band were replaced by even more amazing performers. Of course, I don't play an instrument myself and I have absolutely no qualifications to make such a definitive statement, but they are the most amazing guitarists, bassists, keyboardists and drummers that have ever graced a stage or recorded a song. They make the most amazing music and all of their songs are perfect. This show was the most amazing show I have ever seen since the last amazing show I saw which, coincidentally, was the actual last show I saw.

I ate in a restaurant. The meal I had was life-changing. Upon the first bite I took, my life actually changed. I believe that just after my salad arrived and that first mouthful of lettuce and dressing was going around in my head, my life was changing. When the main course was brought to our table, I couldn't imagine that my life could change anymore, but, surprisingly, it did. And it was amazing. And my life changed again while I savored.... whatever it was I ordered. I think it was salmon. Yeah! That's it! It was life-changing salmon! And it, indeed, changed my life. The peas that were served with the salmon were life-changing as well. As I consumed each individual pea, my life continued to change. It was the greatest, most amazing meal I ever had... since the last life-changing meal I had.... which, I believe, was on Wednesday. You should go to this restaurant, because I said you should and it will change your life.

I went on a trip to a place that was amazing. Everything we saw was amazing. Everything we did was amazing. Everything we ate was amazing. And life-changing. And incredible. And awesome. And the greatest experience. We will never forget it and remember it forever. Just like that time we went to.... to... well, where ever it was, I will remember it forever. Because it changed my life and it was amazing.

Once I saw a thing that was amazing. After that I did something that was life-changing. These things were awesome and perfect and you should do them because — trust me — your life needs changing. Oh, and it's incredible... and amazing. I saw more things that were amazing and I did more things that were also amazing. That's just amazing. 

Wasn't this post amazing? It changed your life, didn't it? Although I don't know you very well and I don't really know what you like and dislike, I think you should read this post again because I like it and everyone likes what I like. Isn't that amazing? 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

overture! curtain! lights!

Remember that song? If you're around my age, you probably still know all the words. I know I do. When I heard those magical opening lines, I knew the Bugs Bunny show was starting. And, boy, did I love Bugs Bunny.

Yeah, you probably have heard me gush and profess my love and admiration for all things Disney. But, my infatuation with The Walt Disney Company and its all of its offshoots didn't come into being until I was nearly out of my teens. When I was a kid, I loved to watch Bugs Bunny and his animated pals. Even though the cartoons I was watching were from my parents' era, they were timeless... except, of course, when they made topical references to World War II. But, Bugs Bunny was clever and sassy. He was a schemer and a loveable jerk. He was sort-of the "anti-Mickey Mouse"... and that aspect of his rascally (or "wascally" as Elmer Fudd would put it) personality was purposely exploited in his cameo appearance alongside Mickey Mouse in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 

The Bugs Bunny Show (with its catchy theme song) premiered in primetime in October 1960. The show served as an anthology of theatrical Looney Tunes shorts, originally produced in the 1940s. Under the supervision of veteran animators Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, the cartoons were trimmed for time and fitted with new title cards better suited for television. A brand-new introduction was created featuring Bugs Bunny and his long-time adversary Daffy Duck along with that memorable theme composed by the prolific team of Mack David and Jerry Livingston. (Gosh! Even Jerry Seinfeld knows it!) The Bugs Bunny Show ran on Tuesday evenings for three years until it was moved to its familiar spot on Saturday mornings where it stayed (in one form or another on one network or another) for four decades. 

It was in the middle 1960s that I became an avid viewer. Plopped in front of the Pincus family black & white TV set, with a big bowl of sugar frosted somethings on my pajama-clad lap, I was hypnotized by the animated antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester & Tweety, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote and even the one-joke premise of Pepe LePew. And when the opening fanfare of that infectious theme song started and Bugs and Daffy (in their vaudeville finest) took the stage, I was right there... singing along.

.... but, about that opening sequence.

If you recall, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck kicked off each episode in yellow jackets, red bow ties, straw hats and canes (curiously, no pants). After the first verse of the song, a parade of familiar and beloved Warner Brothers characters would enter silently from the wings and march across the stage. 
There was Tweety and Speedy Gonzales and... wait..... just wait a second.... who the fuck is that kangaroo?

Yes, even as a child, this didn't sit right with me. There was Yosemite Sam and Sylvester the Cat and Elmer Fudd — all getting the ass-end of this buttinsky marsupial. How on earth did this Outback refugee get third placement? He even has the nerve to take the stage before Wile E. Coyote and Foghorn Leghorn make it into the shot! (Foghorn Leghorn, is last... I say, I say last!!) This was an outrage! Where was Porky Pig or the Tasmanian Devil or Road Runner or even Granny? What was this nondescript kangaroo doing rubbing elbows with these...these... stars! I never saw this kangaroo in any cartoon. I had no idea who he is or what he does. And I was especially irked that he was being treated like cartoon royalty among this actual cartoon royalty.

This has bugged the shit out of me for fifty years. Half a fucking century!

Retro TV network Me-TV has started showing cartoons on weekday mornings and I watch a good portion of the program before I leave for work. Bookended with corny schtick by the host and a puppet, an assortment of Warner Brothers cartoons are presented along with a smattering of background trivia. I don't pay very close attention to the show, as I have seen these cartoons countless times in my life. However, every so often, they slip one curiosity in that makes me take notice. Once they showed Horton Hatches the Egg, a 1942 cartoon that was the very first animated adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book. Around Christmastime, they showed a particularly gruesome take on The Little Match Girl from Columbia Studios in 1937. But, just recently, I saw a cartoon entitled Hop, Look and Listen from 1948. It was a vehicle for Sylvester the cat and featured one Hippety Hopper, a kangaroo that escaped from the zoo. My kangaroo. I sat up and paid close attention. It was the usual fare of "mistaken identity." Sylvester thinks the kangaroo is an overgrown mouse and attempts to catch and eventually eat it. Of course, if cartoons have taught us anything, we understand that all kangaroos are expert boxers and poor Sylvester has the shit kicked out of him several times over the course of seven minutes. But now, I had a starting point — a name.

A quick "google" search resulted in enough information to satisfy me. Hippety Hopper appeared in 14 Warner Brothers shorts between his debut in 1948 until 1964, when Warner Brothers gave up trying to endear him to its audience. Also, as fate would have it, Warner Brothers pulled the plug on its animation studio in 1964 with the decline in demand for theatrical cartoons. The plot of Hippety Hopper cartoons did not vary from the "escaped from a zoo/circus/pet shop and is mistaken for a giant mouse" premise. I guess Pepe LePew pulled the "one trick pony" act off better.

Still, I cannot understand how this minor, almost forgotten character from the annals of Warner Brothers' storied history, pushed himself between the "Fastest Mouse in all of Mexico" and the "Rootin'est Tootin'est Orneriest Cowpoke this side of the Pecos" on a show that ran for four decades and no one seemed to notice or care.

Just me.