Modern Concerts Are Big On Spectacle, Short On Feel

Once upon a time, I loved going to rock concerts.

It didn’t matter what the act was. Tickets were cheap in the 1980s: $15-$20; maybe $27.50 for fancy seats.

One week in the mid-80s I saw REO Speedwagon on a Monday night, and KISS that Thursday. I was at an Ozzy Osbourne/Metallica show where the crowd ripped open the seats and tossed seat cushions around the arena until a swirling cloud of cushions hovered over the arena floor. I thought there was a fire when Rage Against the Machine played the Lollapalooza Festival in 1993, but it wasn’t smoke; it was the mosh pit kicking up dry dust in front of the stage. A decade earlier Brian Johnson walked down our aisle with Angus Young on his shoulders during an AC/DC concert at the Brendon Byrne area. It really impressed my girlfriend at the time.

Back in the day, the Brendan Byrne Arena and Giants Stadium were the main concert venues for big touring acts. Both venues are still around but they’ve sold their names for corporate sponsorship; they’re the Izod Center and Metlife Stadium now.

Even though I haven’t been to a big rock concert in over a decade, I was happy to take my 10-year-old daughter and her friend to see One Direction at Metlife Stadium recently. Live music is awesome and I was eager to indoctrinate my daughter into the rock concert experience.

1D For Me

One Direction takes the stage.

Making our way into Metlife Stadium I noticed a trend; it seemed most parents were waiting in the parking lot, tailgating, while their kids went into the concert. Not me. I was there for the music, man! Plus, my daughter’s only 10, I wasn’t going to send her and her friend into Metlife Stadium by themselves.

One Direction played a fine set, though the emphasis seemed to be more on explosions, fireworks, streamers and balloons rather than the music. During the power ballad everybody held up the flashlight app on their cell phones and waved them back and forth. I wondered what happened to all the cigarette lighters, but then I realized that nobody smokes anymore, and lighters are dangerous.

The One Direction concert came off a bit impersonal, but I can’t blame the band. They’re just following a trend that began years ago, back when I was still a regular concertgoer.

Giant video screens have been around at rock concerts since the early ‘80s, and while it’s supposed to make big stadium shows feel cozy, instead they reduce live performance to a TV show. Why watch the little man with the guitar from 200 yards away when you can watch the video screen and get a close-up? Why even go to a live concert at all when you can watch the same video footage from the comfort of your home?

Cell phone flashlights have replaced lighters at modern concerts. Safer but boring.

Before the use of big video screens, bands used stage effects that enhanced the music rather than distract from it. From the mid-‘60s and into the ‘70s rock bands had liquid light shows or psychedelic light shows projected behind them while they played. The swirling, colorful amoeba shapes were eventually replaced by elaborate lighting rigs that synched with the dynamics of the music. The Genesis light show was a selling point for their live performances well into the 1980s.

Lost In Techno Translation

But as technology advanced, an intimacy was lost in the concert going experience. Giant video screens simultaneously brought audiences closer to the performers and reduced them to characters on TV. During the One Direction concert I saw several fans recording the concert with their camera phones, but instead of focusing on the members of the band, they were recording the images on the giant video screens. Why?

One thing that hasn’t changed about modern concerts is the energy created when fans gather together to celebrate the music they enjoy. This is the core essence of the concert experience, the same blueprint as religious gatherings. I saw many Grateful Dead concerts over the years, and the atmosphere was very close to a church mass. There was the same sense of reverence, respect, ritual, and release.

And hopefully that will never change. Long live rock-n-roll!

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, October 2014

The Mystery of Superstar Forgiveness in the Age of Apology

A trio of talented awful people: Woody, Bill, and Roman.
A trio of talented awful people: Woody, Bill, and Roman.

We live in the Age of Apology, where knee jerk reactions are the norm, and thin-skinned political correctness reigns. Politicians, pop stars, athletes, actors, comedians, talk show hosts, and church leaders are pressured into insincere public apologies if they “offend” some special interest group or another.

But the Age of Apology has little to do with true forgiveness. Forgiveness in the court of public opinion serves another function altogether.

Send In The Creeps

Exhibit A: Woody Allen. Woody Allen was in a relationship with Mia Farrow for years, helping raise her adopted daughters. But in 1992 Allen separated from Farrow and began a romantic relationship with her adopted daughter, Soon Yi Previn (when Woody was 56, and Soon Yi was 19.) Recently, Woody Allen’s biological daughter with Farrow, Dylan, accused him of molesting her when she was a child.

Woody Allen is a creep.

But he’s also a brilliant artist whose career spans over 50 years. Critic Roger Ebert called Woody Allen “a treasure of the cinema.” Woody’s latest film, “Blue Jasmine,” is amassing award nominations. Audiences and actors alike look past Woody’s personal faults and continue to enjoy his art.

Roman Polanski is despicable, too. In 1977 he admitted to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. He worked out a deal that would spare him jail time, but when that deal fell apart, he fled the country and hasn’t set foot on American soil since.

But Polanski still makes great films. In 2002 he won the Best Director Oscar for “The Pianist.” Actors are eager to work with Polanski, and producers finance his films. Evidently his crimes can be overlooked, too.

Mel hates Jews, but makes awesome movies!
Mel hates Jews, but makes awesome movies!

Despicable Hollywood Creep #3: Mel Gibson. Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic rants, and hate-filled voicemails to his ex-girlfriend show serious personal problems. Mel Gibson isn’t on Woody Allen or Roman Polanski’s level (either as an artist or a criminal) but — for whatever reason — he DOES NOT get a pass. Nobody wants to work with old Mel anymore … at least not at the moment or for the foreseeable future.

Why are some loathsome artists forgiven while others aren’t? Why is Alec Baldwin A-list and Mel Gibson on the blacklist? They’re both entitled jerks with explosive tempers. Why can we separate the man from his art in one case, but not the other?

Time heals wounds, and public perception and political climates change. Death helps, too. When an artist is long gone, his work can finally be viewed objectively, apart from the way he lived life. Charles Dickens was a terrible husband and father. Pablo Picasso was a philanderer. Writers Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot were anti-Semitic, as was composer Richard Wagner.

“We Forgive You, Rock Star!”

Today we forgive Chris Brown for beating up girlfriend Rihanna, though a generation ago we couldn’t forgive Ike Turner for doing the same to Tina. We absolve Marv Albert of sexual assault and Michael Vick of animal cruelty, but come down hard on Paula Deen for racial slurs she uttered decades ago.

There are parallels in the world of sports. Alex Rodriguez (baseball cheat) is on brink of flushing his legacy down the toilet. Lance Armstrong (cycling cheat) already did, along with Barry Bonds (baseball cheat), and Aaron Hernandez (serial killer).

Others athletes are forgiven. Tiger Woods (adultery), Pete Rose (sports gambling), Kobe Bryant (sexual assault), and Ben Roethlisberger (sexual assault) have all outdistanced their checkered pasts.

My job as a journalist is to try to make sense of things, to look for repeating patterns, find consistency in apparent chaos. But I can’t find any logic or order in Public Forgiveness. Apparently it works on a sliding scale based on the severity of your crime versus the magnitude of your talent, but as Woody Allen and Roman Polanski show, the scale is far from accurate.

He may have been a kid toucher, but that didn't stop people from loving the King of Pop!
He may have been a kid toucher, but that didn’t stop people from loving the King of Pop!

Forgiving celebrity sins isn’t about true absolution anyway. It’s a plot device to move stories forward. People love familiar stories, and we look for them in the lives of wayward actors and athletes. We love to see the mighty fall. We love even more when they get back up and keep fighting, battling against the odds. Everybody loves an underdog. Forgiveness is the device that allows our heroes to rise from the ashes.

Disgraced actor Shia LaBeouf  (drunk/violent/plagiarist) is reinventing himself while begging Public Forgiveness. LaBeouf recently did a live performance piece called “#IAMSORRY” wearing a paper bag over his head with the phrase, “I’m not famous anymore,” written on it. LaBeouf sat silent and alone at a table full of props while art goers milled around him. Props included an Indiana Jones whip, a Transformer toy, daisies, a ukulele, a bottle of Jack Daniels, a bowl of nasty Tweets, a bowl of Hershey’s Kisses, and a book by author Daniel Clowes, whom LaBeouf was accused of plagiarizing. One reviewer of “#IAMSORRY” said, “it was apparent LaBeouf had been crying, and the experience was surprisingly touching.”

Maybe turning apology into performance art is the next evolutionary step in the Age of Apology.

If so, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen need to put on Oscar-worthy performances.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, February 2014

Modern Junk: Buy the Best, Keep Getting Less

You’ve heard the old adage – “It pays to buy the best.”

Well, it’s a lie. Maybe it used to be true but it’s not anymore.

Here’s another ancient un-truth: “You get what you pay for.” That’s true sometimes, but not always.

I’m a cut-rate guy. I know this about myself and I accept it. I rarely pay full-price for anything. I rarely buy top-of-the-line merchandise. I look for deals, sales, “gently-used” items – anytime I can pay less, I’m in.

Cheese Factor

My wife calls this the “Rob Errera Cheese Factor,” but I resent that. I’m not just being cheap and cheesy. I’m being frugal and wise. I’ve been an “educated consumer” for more than 30 years now and the more shopping I do the more educated I become. In my experience I’ve found you have to strike a balance between cost vs. functionality and items that are marketed as “the best” are rarely worth the extra money they demand.

Case in point – my new headphones. For the past year I’ve been using a $10 pair of earbuds. They sound okay, but they’re “entry level” earbuds. I decided to treat myself to a fancy pair of ‘buds. Hey, I’m a music lover — it’ll be worth the extra expense, right?

Well, there are lots of choices. Earbuds range in price from $5 to $500. I settled on fairly upscale $100 pair. I was impressed with them – the sound is much fuller and rich. I can hear more detail in the music I listen to. I can hear the squeak of the violin bow during classical pieces, the creak of the drummer’s throne during a quiet moment in a jazz set. Yeah, these new earbuds sound good.

Wish I'd read this article before I bought my crappy earbuds!
Wish I’d read this article before I bought my crappy earbuds!

But they don’t sound ten times better than the $10 earbuds I was using, you know? They sound maybe, three times better. If these earbuds cost $30 I’d feel I got my money’s worth. But they cost more than three times that, and, as a result, I’m left feeling I overpaid for a “better product” that failed to meet my expectations.

Cost vs. Function

This whole “cost vs. quality” issue is something I encounter all the time when shopping. During these tough economic times you have to question the price of everything and ask, “is it worth it?”

A better question might be “Who decides what this is worth?” I’m sure there’s an elaborate science to “consumer price points” and figuring out how much to charge for various products. But the numbers they’re crunching don’t add up.

Why does a BMW SUV cost $40,000 and a Hyundai SUV cost $20,000? Is it really “twice the vehicle” as the Hyundai? Will it look and drive twice as nice? Will it only cost half as much to maintain? Will it last twice as long?

Apply this formula to all of your purchases. Is that $3 loaf of Wonder Bread three times tastier that the $1 store-brand bread? Is Poland Spring water 50-percent better than generic spring water?

Sometimes the answer is yes. (I’ll buy store-brand bread, but I won’t cut corners on paper towels or toilet paper — you’ll end up with a mess on your hands…literally.)

I’ll spend top dollar on something I feel is important. I bought my wife’s engagement ring from Tiffany’s in New York. Yeah, I could have gotten a bigger, better ring down in the Diamond District, but this one came in a swanky “little blue box.” My wife seemed impressed. She agreed to marry me so the ring fulfilled its desired function.

But if you ask yourself “is it worth it?” about the products you buy you’ll probably find the answer is often “no.”

So what are you to do? Just buy cheap stuff all the time?

Yes. You should buy the cheapest product around that meets your needs.

And once you do, you should immediately accept the fact that you’ve just brought a cheap product and it will not be as good as other products on the market (those products that cost twice as much but are not twice as good.) And when your cheap product breaks – which it will, soon – you won’t get it fixed. You’ll trash it and get another cheap product.

Built To Fail

Sound sad? It is. But that’s what manufacturing has evolved to. Everything’s disposable. Everything’s junk. Even “quality merchandise” has a limited lifespan and may not be worth fixing once it breaks. Nothing is built to last anymore.

A better plan is to bring your broken piece of junk back to the store where you bought it for a refund. Perhaps the store will exchange it for a working piece of junk of equal value. If there are enough returns, maybe manufacturers will stop building products so cheaply. I’m sure a lot of price points are based on consumer demand. If we all demand better stuff maybe we’ll get it.

And if, on your travels to over-priced stores to buy/return poorly produced junk, you should happen to see something shiny lying on the ground, stop and take a closer look. It might be the stone from my wife’s engagement ring, which fell out of its classic “Tiffany setting” years ago. The diamond might be in our house, or in our car, or anywhere else in Northern New Jersey.

If you find it, you can thank me for buying the best.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, May 2009

Curtain closing on cursive writing

maxresdefaultThe written word is dying.

Like dodo birds and dinosaurs, handwriting is facing extinction. Approximately 46 states have adopted the new Common Core Standards, a set of educational guidelines that do not require cursive writing as part of the school curriculum. Many school districts around the country are already starting to phase out handwriting courses.

Some argue this is a natural progression in educational instruction.

Everybody uses computers now, so it makes more sense to teach kids how to type on a QWERTY keyboard, right?

My gut instinct is no, handwriting is still important.

Writing in longhand connects you to your words in a way typing doesn’t. Pushing ink over paper with a pen is a unique sensation, a singular pleasure. There’s nothing quite like it.

But I honestly don’t do much handwriting anymore, and, from what I gather, neither does anyone else.

I still sign checks, but most payments are made electronically.

I write to-do lists by hand, and shopping lists. (Then again, the last two times I went to the supermarket I forgot the list, so my wife texted it to me. I shopped with phone in hand instead of a crumpled Post-It.) I handwrite thank you notes and greeting cards, and sometimes I’ll leave a dirty note and/or crude drawing in my wife’s purse for her to find later.

I edit with a pen, and make lots of handwritten notes (like this one!)

And I’ll still use pen and paper when I need to write something with a certain shape or rhythm. Sometimes I’ll write magazine coverlines by hand if I need to see how the words stack up. I write song lyrics longhand. Poetry, too (hey, no giggling!)

Ol' Honest Abe was down with cursive writing.
Ol’ Honest Abe was down with cursive writing.

I’m old enough to recall how important penmanship was in grade school.

It was never my best subject.

I remember my second grade teacher pacing the room while the class worked on cursive writing.

“Good, Sally!”

“Nice job, John!”

“Robert, your Cs are so sloppy! Stay in the lines!”

I tried, but my penmanship hasn’t improved much beyond grade school level. My mother says I have a “doctor’s signature.”

Evidently my horrendous handwriting is now in style.

Autograph seekers have found that younger stars like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, have barely legible signatures, while older celebrities have a more practiced hand.

“With stars ages 30 and above, they generally have a much more full, legible signature,” says Justin King, a Toronto-based paparazzi and independent autograph seller. “When you deal with these new people like Elle Fanning, you’re lucky if you get an E an F and a heart for her signature.”

My script is sloppy, but I write fast, a skill I acquired covering town council and school board meetings as a Today reporter.

You had to get the quotes right, along with the facts and figures. I even know a bit of shorthand.

Not too long ago my wife and her sisters were cleaning out their deceased father’s old office records, boxes upon boxes of ledgers filled with neatly-scripted dental records.

That’s something you’ll never see again. I felt a bit strange feeding the pages into the shredder, like I was destroying a bit of history.

Because history is written in longhand, from the Declaration of Independence, to the old tax records down at town hall, to the love letters your grandmother keeps in a box in the attic.

I suppose there comes a point when a culture needs to let go of an old-fashioned way of doing things to make way for new technology. Cave walls gave way to stone tablets, which yielded to paper, the printing press, and now, the computer screen and memory chip.

But if schools decide to no longer teach cursive writing, I hope they still teach students how to read it.

History depends on it.

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Digitize Salinger and Other Literary Pursuits

JD Salinger
The elusive J.D. Salinger

I was going through a “Why Didn’t I Read This in High School?” phase, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was up next on my reading list.

I was eager to download a copy of Salinger’s classic novel onto my Kindle. I’m a firm backer of the digital publishing revolution, since ebooks let you:

  1. Change the size and style of the text.
  2. Look up word definitions and background info on the spot.
  3. Highlight, makes notes, and export chunks of text.

These features are incredibly helpful when I’m writing book reviews (bobsbookblog.com), and must be a major timesaver for students working on school essays. (Back in my day we had to write out notes and quotes by hand on index cards, whippersnappers!)

But The Catcher in the Rye isn’t available on Kindle. You can’t get it on your Nook or iPad either. J.D. Salinger never allowed any other editions of his novel other than the one published by Little, Brown and Company in 1951. The breakout success of The Catcher in the Rye spooked Salinger, and he retreated to his rural Vermont home after the book’s publication. Salinger produced three additional books, but didn’t publish again after 1961.

Salinger died in 2010, but his estate still closely guards the copyright on his work, and had never allowed any adaptions. Film directors from Elia Kazan to Steven Spielberg have been turned away, and the Salinger Estate still hasn’t sanctioned audiobooks or digital editions.

If you want to read The Catcher in the Rye (or Salinger’s other work) you have to order the same Little, Brown and Company mass market paperback (now in its 98th printing) that’s been kicking around classrooms since forever. It’s got the original 1951 orangey cover art by E. Michael Mitchell — an ink sketch of a carousel horse and the NYC skyline — on both the front and back. Besides the title and “a novel by J.D. Salinger,” there is no other cover text, no sales copy, no About the Author copy, no blurbs from other authors or academics, and no “New York Times bestselling author.” Nothing.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

The interior of the book is equally sparse. There is no forward or afterword. No advertisements for other books, no offers to join Little, Brown and Company’s Readers Club. There is no About the Author page here either. The Catcher in the Rye is 214 pages of Holden Caulfield’s inimitably cranky narrative, presented exactly how the author intended, and it’s been this way, unchanged, for nearly fifty years.

Salinger’s over-protectiveness guarantees his work is uniformly consumed. I experienced The Catcher in the Rye the same way, in the same font and format, as nearly everyone else who ever read the book. I dog-eared pages, underlined in pencil, and scribbled notes in the margins, the same way lit students have for decades. Salinger’s format constraints demand it.

According to a new documentary on J.D. Salinger, the late author left specific instructions for five books to be published between 2015 and 2020. I don’t know the Salinger Estate or Little, Brown and Company’s publishing plans, but launching new Salinger titles is an ideal time to bring all the author’s work into the digital realm. Contemporary literature should embrace contemporary formats, and ebooks are here to stay. Salinger’s work needs to be readily available, brought into the digital realm, and forever preserved in binary code.

Digitize Salinger! And Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, too!

Check out my review of The Catcher in the Rye here.

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WTF happened to my site! or Why am I a douchebag?

website crash
I love the new WordPress and Genesis Updates … just wish they hadn’t wiped out my entire website.

Thanks to the always helpful Genesis update and WordPress update, my site has now disappeared from the Internet! Hey, thanks guys.

Truth be told — and it always is here on RobErrera.com — I screwed up and lost the encryption key to my online backup service.

I have a backup of my entire web site from last Sunday morning … I just can’t access it!

I’ll continue to hunt for a solution. In the meantime, the other option is rebuilding this site from the ground up.

Might take a while, folks … please stand by …

Follow Me! Like Me! Friend Me!

Happy new year! I have joined the world of social networking!

Does my butt look big in this blog?

Check out my Facebook page and my Twitter feed! (@haikubob). There will be exciting updates! Stimulating information! Thoughtful messaging!

Thanks to everyone who has supported Autism Dad and my other work in 2011. Lots of exciting things planned for 2012. Joining the ranks of social networking is just the beginning!

In the meantime,enjoy this column from August 2010 about how much Facebook, MySpace and Twitter suck. and why I’ll never use them. Ha-ha, I’m a douche bag! But I’m learning to be a better douche bag!

Anti-Social Networking: Off-Line and Out-Of-Line

I was at a bar recently, watching an old friend’s band play, when I ran into a bunch of other old friends, people I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade.

There were well wishes and fond-remembrances all around. But then some of my old chums chided me for my reclusive lifestyle.

“Why aren’t you on Facebook?” one friend asked. “Are you, like, morally against it?”

No…not really. Well, maybe a little.  I see the benefit of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. It’d be nice to keep in touch with friends, share info, photos, video, etc. But I have some reservations. Here are a few:

Time Sucker – Like anything worthwhile, social networking sites are only as rewarding as the effort you put into them. That takes time, and who has that to spare? If I had an extra hour a day, I’d spend it working on projects I already don’t have enough time for. I wouldn’t spend it sending messages to an old grade-school chum, filling him/her in on everything that’s happened in my life since kindergarten. Sorry if that makes me a bad person, but time is precious. I’ll catch up with old classmates at the next reunion, or the next time a friend’s band comes to town.

What if you don’t respond to an old chum’s request to be added to your buddy list? Then you’re a big jerk. Suddenly you’re saddled with a social responsibility you didn’t ask for, and if you’re not careful you can turn an old friend into a new enemy.

False Friends – What is a friend, anyway? Social networking sites produce a new kind of friend, the “cyber-friend.” A main goal of social networking seems to be amassing a sizable friend-list, and getting “added” to the friend-lists of others.

It’s cool having “hundreds of friends” on your page, but if you never interact with these people beyond a few text exchanges are they really friends? A friend is someone you spend time with, share experiences with. Good friends are often those you’ve shared a particularly bad experience with. A friend is someone who helps you, whom you support in return. It’s more than clicking “Add A Friend”.

I worry young computer users have a different definition of “friend,” and may find themselves lacking the social skills to form rewarding relationships with real people. I’m old school. I made friends the old fashioned way, pre-Internet, when you had talk to people, look, listen and form a bond. You had to make friends. It took effort, but it was worth it because you found people who liked you for you, not because you lengthened their buddy list. Computers make our lives easier in so many ways, but I’m not sure making friends is one of them.

The Many Faces of Rob Errera – Like most people, I’m a different person at different times. I’m an Editor-In-Chief sometimes, a columnist others. Sometimes I’m a property manager, landscaper, Ebay reseller, musician, writer. My kids see Daddy, their teachers see Mr. Errera. In the privacy of our bedroom my wife calls me The Gangster of Love (and, on occasion, The Space Cowboy).

Who gets represented on my Facebook or MySpace page?  And do I really want all those various facets of my life commingling? We’ve all been to weddings, funerals, or some another big event that produces an awkward moment, like your poker buddies chatting with your boss, wife or mother. A social networking page creates this powder-keg of awkwardness 24/7.

I have friends who shut down their Facebook/MySpace accounts after a few months for one or more of the reasons listed above. It’s easy to join a social networking site, but difficult to un-join, from what I’m told – yet another reason I’m hesitant to enter the social networking fray.

Starting a blog is on the to-do list, however, since, unlike most bloggers, I’ve got plenty of rich content to share. More than two decades of TODAY columns await worldwide exposure. It’ll be an awesome blog.

Of course, I’ll need a FaceSpace page to promote it…

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originally published in Wayne TODAY, August 2010