A Living Legend

Back in 98 and 99 when we had the studio at 1650 Broadway going, we worked on a wide variety of recording, engineering, and writing projects. Some of those were klunkers, which we were doing just to get established, but one or two were sheer gold. The best example of the latter category was the work we did with a super talented young R&B singer named John Stephens. DC, our studio mogul and musical genius in his own right, had known John through a vocal jazz group they had both directed back in Philly. So we worked with John on a four-song demo CD. My contribution to the project was some mixing, engineering and a few guitar tracks. On top of everything else, it was great fun since I had never worked in the R&B genre. We knew John was destined for big things, and he was already hitting it big, playing some piano tracks on the critically acclaimed and smash debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. On top of all that, John was just a nice guy to deal with.

In the next few years, John was taken under the wing of Kanye West and given the kind of visibility he deserves. You started seeing him everywhere, on Gap ads, on TV shows like Leno. And hearing his songs, too. I knew that he had made it when I heard one of his tunes boarding an American Airlines flight last summer. Oh, and by this time, he had been re-christened John Legend! Which seems fitting, because at the last Grammys, John walked away with three awards, for best new artist, best male R&B performance, and best R&B album! So, to that, we at cyberkrunk say congratulations! (And would you mind putting those four songs on your next album?)

More good things from Austria

“I never knew the old Vienna before the war, with its Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm.” So begins The Third Man (ranking high on my ten great films list), in which the city itself fills out the ensemble cast. It occurs to me just now that in the course of the film, we travel through this meta-character, enter its mouth, see through its eyes, travel to the brain, to the heart and then finally, and most famously, end up in its guts, after which Harry Lime tries in vain to escape through a small circular opening.

That’s all well and good, you say, but what does Wien have to do with Wein? This, mein freund, Austria is the land of not only fine audio (Germany is no slouch, either), but also the finest wine glasses on planet Earth. Here’s the thing, though, not only are these glasses the finest, they are also the best, an important distinction. Wine glasses are functional devices and the great majority of them fail to deliver. People have caught on to the fact that for serving good red wine, you need a glass with a large bowl for swirling, and a concave shape for capturing the bouquet. And yet it’s still common to see good whites served in tiny glasses, filled to the brim. Until yesterday, that had been the case at our place as well, but no longer. We’ve added a set of the Vinum Extreme Chardonnay glasses to the collection. The first test drive took place last night with the lovely Joseph Drouhin Meursault 2003, pictured left.

First off, like the other glasses in this collection, these are beautiful, and perfectly balanced. The extreme collection has sharper angles than the more traditional glasses. As you can also see in the picture, they are enormous! When I swirl, I mean business–think Pete Townshend–and these glasses are up to the task. The upper part of the bowl perfectly focused the Drouhin’s honey and light citrus notes. Drinking out of traditional “white wine glasses” is like trying to drink with your nose plugged, with these, it’s like you’re wearing a super deluxe breathe-rite strip. And that makes all the difference!

Ignorance and certainty

Quote from Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Quote from Bertrand Rusell: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

Rings true? Then you may be interested in this study: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.

Two neo-noirs from unlikely sources

When you think of directors Harold Ramis and David Cronenberg, film noir is not the first genre that pops into your head. Cronenberg likes to blow things up good, real good. And come to think of it, so does Ramis. Well, at least that would apply to the Stay-Puft marshmallow man. But both directors turned out nice little neo-noirs last year.

Cronenberg’s History takes up one of noir’s primary themes: our inability to escape from our past. For most of this translates into a desire to embellish, to create interest where none really exists, to move ourselves out of mundane trajectories. But for, say, an ex-mob-hit-man, this can mean the very opposite. When they have had enough of the crime and killing, they try to escape into dull normality, to conceal themselves in the persona of a small-town schmo. In classic noir at least, this gambit never works. The past always finds you, claims you and sucks you back in. It happens in The Killers, it happens in Out of the Past, and it happens here. Throughout the film, Cronenberg has us pondering some interesting moral aspects of identity. For example, if a small-town everyman acts out of character and bravely takes on and defeats two random thugs, he is seen by the townfolk as a hero. But what if the same acts are performed by a trained killer, a virtuoso of violence? With exactly the same intent, our perception of his actions are utterly changed. It’s a quiet movie, dismally scored, punctuated by brutal violence, and it’s in those moments that we remember, “ah yes, Cronenberg.”

Ramis’ Ice Harvest on the other hand, is simply a straight-up neo-noir. With a femme fatale, a double-crossing partner, a sack of money, and corrupt-but-likeable protagonist, all the classical elements are present. The movie was marketed as a dark comedy, which may have left much of its audience unsatisfied. And indeed, there are a few Fargo moments here, but you can see why some movie-goers would have felt a little misled. No greatness here, but certainly enough for fans of the genre, or John Cusack, to latch on to. With its anti-Christmas themes, would pair nicely with Bad Santa.

Stonewalled again, or Erin go brouhaha

This year’s award for embarrassing public behavior at the St. Paddy’s day parade goes to none other than parade chairman, John Dunleavy. I’m not sure how many green pints he had downed before offering this explanation of why an Irish lesbian & gay organization is always denied permission to march in the parade:

“If an Israeli group wants to march in New York, do you allow neo-Nazis into their parade? If African-Americans are marching in Harlem, do they have to let the Ku Klux Klan into their parade?”

And moreover, “If we let the [Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization] in, is it the Irish Prostitute Association next?”

There are two ways of analyzing the first statement. Perhaps he really means to compare gays and lesbians to nazis and the KKK. But I think not, and that his point is rather to make an analogy between two groups with opposing goals, like letting a pro-arsonist group march in the fireman’s parade. Unfortunately for Dunleavy, both interpretations are evidence of a troubled, confused mind. Assuming Dunleavy is not a huge fan of prostitutes, his second statement just seems to imply that he thinks gays and lesbians are, well like prostitutes, I guess. Which is funny considering how many politicians make a point of being seen marching every year. I wonder, did mayor Bloomberg have no misgivings about marching this year, given Dunleavey’s comments.

Demics Rule!

The Cedar Lounge–every city, big or small, must have had its own CBGB’s in the late ’70s and early ’80s. This was London, Ontario’s punk rock incubator. It was already closed down, and a legend, by the time I got anywhere near old enough to go to a bar or a rock club. And of all the rag-tag (sorry for the Battlestar Galactica reference, but it seemed right) groups associated with that London Aunt punk scene, the marquee band has to have been The Demics. “Demics Rule!” was spray-painted, I think, on the same downtown alley wall as the more cryptic invocation, “Wet Dog Fur.” Could it be this song that programmed my young, malleable brain with the mission to move to NYC? Well, let’s just say that it was a further data point. Thanks to CHRW, you can now listen to that whole album here.

What was the punk club in your home town that you were too young to frequent?

Lars von Trier

Dogville is the kind of film which leaves you completely bowled over, in that “wow…” state. Especially the “…” part. When Lars von Trier engages you, you feel it, viscerally, of course, but you are also left with many things to ponder. A heated coffee-shop philosophy chat that ends with chairs being smashed over heads. Or a few kidney punches. Some bruises at the very least. And as much as I would love to get into the ideas of this picture, I wouldn’t dare to give away a word of it. So please, everyone, once you’ve seen it, let’s talk. We’ll try to keep the violence level down, I promise. In the meantime, I’m going to see more of LVT’s flics.

The L-train word

Hopped on the L train last night and wound up at Pete’s Candy Store. We’re still trying to figure out the whole Williamsburg thing–like where everything is and why you have to go to the back of the room to order a sandwich, or get funny looks if you ask if the red cab is any good. No matter, it’s for the youngins anyway, and they seem to enjoy it all right.

We were there to check out Alessandro & Bando, packed into the Candy Store’s tiny, railway-car-like back room. Guitarist and composer Alessandro Ricciarelli was joined by guitarist and bassist Jerome Harris and percussionist (and fellow Berklee alumn) Satoshi Takeishi for an acoustic set. The Bando played a few traditional numbers alongside some of Ricciarelli’s own tunes, which I liked. Ricciarelli was born in Milan, grew up in Munich, studied jazz at Berklee, is a music therapist by trade, and also, I’m told, is a very good writer. He has a very understated vocal style, and ended the set with a very convincing Jobim impersonation. A nice set. And tho Bourbon Princess, the next act, looked & sounded interesting enough, we didn’t dally.

Clickradio back in the news

How does that song go, “Do you remember rock-and-roll-Clickradio?” Maybe not quite. Clickradio may have died young, but the fight over the beautiful corpse it left behind continues. The New York Post (ick) reports that a trial opened April 5th in Manhattan Supreme Court to settle whether the company was scuttled to allow a group of investors to buy its assets at firesale prices. The piece goes on to tell the story of the rise and fall of our little startup:

Clickradio was founded in 1998 as a free, advertiser-driven, digital radio service that played over the computer and downloaded programming from the Internet.

The company held licenses from six of the seven largest record companies in the U.S. and several independent labels. Before it went under, Clickradio had signed potentially lucrative distribution deals with Kmart and Wal-Mart, and its software was being bundled with new Gateway computers, according to the suit.

Sensing Clickradio’s promise, Drazan’s firm Sierra Ventures invested about $8 million and took a stake in Clickradio in 1999. Baystar pumped more money into the firm in 2000. The investments gave Baystar and Sierra majority ownership of Clickradio and two seats on its four-member board of directors.

Philips Electronics also put $8 million into Clickradio and Merrill Lynch threw in $2.5 million.

When they took control, Syncom claims, Goldfarb and Drazan conspired to oust Williams and Clickradio co-founder David Benjamin, repeatedly lashing out at Clickradio’s Williams in meetings, calling him “a moron” and working behind his back to kick him out as CEO. An e-mail from Goldfarb to Drazan read: “I would like our first action to be to fire Hank and David.”

By May 2001, Goldfarb had installed himself as chairman of Clickradio, as the company added new subscribers and geared up for a massive distribution campaign.

All the while, Drazan, Goldfarb and Hicks were consolidating control and scheming to sink Clickradio and buy its assets out of bankruptcy, the suit alleges. This time they would own the firm outright, dispensing with other shareholders and minority investors with whom they might have to share profits.

In August 2001, Clickradio’s board notified other investors that the company needed an immediate infusion of cash to stay alive and recommended the company try to secure a $5 million bridge loan. Hicks, who had not invested in Clickradio, was asked to provide cash for the bridge loan but passed on the chance.

And we all know what happened right after that. Suddenly, after September 2001, investors, some of whom had just had their offices blown up, were in no mood to re-up their investment in a risky start-up. A handful of us kept things running, pro bono, right through the first three weeks of October.

A request from Bay Street

Phil writes, “Hey Ches,

greetings. Hope all is fabulous in your world. Just was dropping in on the Cyberkrunk world as I am inclined to do and thought “I wonders what Ches is listening to these days?”. Then I thoughts, ” If I’m wondering this, then chances are others are wondering the same.”

Perhaps an everchanging top 5 section of what’s on yer turntable that is making you shake yer tailfeather type of thing. Perhaps I should mind my own business.

Love Phil

Well Phil, if that is your real name, it’s funny that you mention this, because it’s been something I have been planning for quite a while. Hopefully, your note will prod me to actually do something about it this weekend. In the meantime, keep watching the skies!