Friday, February 26, 2010

I stand corrected - records in cars

I got an e-mail overnight regarding my statement that "as wonderful as vinyl is, they never figured out a way to play records in the car." I guess I knew that — I always heard that Motorola's corporate name derives from "motor" and "Victrola" and the effort to create a practical car record player — but I have to believe the idea never caught on because of tonearms' tendency to skip when jostled, or maybe solving that dilemma was way too expensive. In any case, items like this make for fun speculation about what might have been ...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vinyl, eBay and the road to freedom

I've had some modest success as I start selling parts of my vinyl LP collection at eBay. No surprises yet — over the past 15-20 years I have been one of the last surviving people who preferred to buy records when available, and so as vinyl experiences a reawakening, I knew there would be a market for those limited-edition vinyl copies of albums produced over the last couple of decades.

As I suspected, Neil Young remains cool. I cleared out my collection of Neil's more recent stuff at prices that made me happy. And the recipients of the albums sound pleased, too. Ah, the free market at its best — when buyer and seller both gain something of value.

As much as I love music and vinyl, why am I doing this? Partly to pass along the joy. I've experienced the fun of putting a slab of vinyl on a turntable and the fulfilled expectations of the fresher, more real sound that comes out. Now it's time for others to enjoy it.

Mostly it's because I've finally learned there is no music so sweet as the sound of my voice saying, "No plastic, I'm paying with cash."

For the third time in my life, I pushed my cards to the limit, to the point where too much of my income was going to purchases I made a long time ago, and accumulated interest. In a sense, I don't own this collection; the agents of Visa, Mastercard and Discover do. And so, to pay off my masters, this debt slave is liquidating.

Don't feel sorry for me; I'm so happy about this decision I could bust. It's all about freedom. And passing on the joy of music ownership. (My favorite records long ago were transferred to CD anyway — as wonderful as vinyl is, they never figured out a way to play records in the car.)

So check out my stuff on eBay — right this moment I have only four albums up, including the immortal American III: Solitary Man by Johnny Cash, but I plan to be busy this weekend. And if you want some great info about getting out of debt, check out the work and podcasts of Dave Ramsey.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Uncle Warren's Review: American VI: Ain't No Grave

Johnny Cash was already a legend when he met producer Rick Rubin, but what the two of them did together is, well, indescribable. The last four albums Cash released in his lifetime are the best recordings he ever created. Tom Petty once said the best Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers album ever is Unchained, the second Cash album produced by Rubin where the Heartbreakers sat in as the backup band.

After The Man In Black died in 2004, Rubin released a fifth album that was very good but didn't quite live up to the previous standards. Tuesday the sixth "American" project arrived, with Rubin promising this is the last he'll be associated with. Amazingly, American VI: Ain't No Grave does not sound like the last decent scraps from the pile.

When the three then-surviving Beatles cobbled "Free As A Bird" together around an old John Lennon demo tape, a friend of mine said it was comforting to hear a new Beatles song again. That's the feeling that this new Cash-Rubin collaboration evokes.

The title song is perfect for Cash to release after his death, after a long and often defiant life: "Ain't no grave gonna hold this body down." And all of the tracks are about endings, most of them covers given the unique Johnny Cash treatment. From Sheryl Crow's "Redemption Day" to "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream" and including an original tune called "I Corinthians 15:55" ("O death, where is your sting?"), the album is a fitting valedictory. And "Aloha Oe" is a wistful and perfect song with which to close.

Johnny Cash was already a legend when he started working with Rick Rubin. But he could have become a legend just on the basis of these six albums (and don't forget Unearthed, the five-disk set that includes a few dozen great cuts that weren't quite great enough to make the "American" projects).

I had all sorts of ambitious plans for my day off Tuesday, but I spent the afternoon with Mr. Cash instead, listening to the new album twice and the first two American recordings in between. There never was an interpreter of songs like Johnny Cash, and no one brought out the best of Cash like Rick Rubin.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Secrets of rhinoceros success revealed

Oh — a rhinoceros!

Wally Conger is my best friend I never met. He and I "met" as teenagers in the late 1960s when he was putting together fanzines like Spidey Fan and Fantasy World from his parents' home in California. I was in New Jersey, which is why we never met. In those days people communicated by snail mail mainly because, well, there was nothing else. Seems to me we talked by phone once, which was kind of cool but expensive.

After 2-3 years we drifted off to live our lives until 2005, when a friend of mine sent me a pithy quote he'd picked up off the Internet that was written by "Wally Conger." Modern communications being a little more sophisticated and instantaneous than it used to be, I found this Conger fella within a few minutes and sent him an e-mail to the effect of "Are you the Wally Conger?" Kind of a silly question, really — how many Wally Congers writing about pop culture and anarcho-libertarian-type stuff could there be?

Turns out we lived semi-parallel lives in the media and corporate worlds until the last decade and a half, when he took off on his own to work on a variety of business projects. He was the guy who introduced me to Blogger, which has led to my so-far-not-so-vast podcast and publishing empires. He has lent his name to reviews of ventures like The Adventures of Myke Phoenix, and I've helped plug Wally's stuff when and where I can.

In the last year he's launched, a place devoted to "smashing wage slavery one job at a time. Starting with his free e-book Fire Up Your Cash Flow Over a Donut and Coffee in 10 Minutes ... or Less!, Wally has been providing regular advice about how to move out on your own with Web and/or other businesses.

His newly released project is a fun conversation preserved in black-and-white and audio called No-Nonsense Damn-the-Torpedoes Jungle Rhinoceros Tactics to Flatten the Crap Outta Fear, Worry & Doubt (apparently he can't name something in fewer than 12 words). It's an interview with Scott Alexander, blogger, entrepreneur and author of three motivational books starting with Rhinoceros Success. What's rhinoceros success? Here's Scott talking to Wally:
The rhinos are guys like you and me. We're out there having fun. We enjoy life. We're charging. We're building businesses. We have dreams. We have goals. We wake up in the morning and we want to get going on stuff. Now I know you like to enjoy your cigars and stuff, and that's part of your adventure, is doing what you want to do. But the thing for rhinos is, they're out in the jungle and they're having fun. They're pursuing what they want in life.
And they don't let anything get in the way of their success, growing a tough hide and charging through setbacks to victory ...
... you hear these success people say, "Well, success is easy if you think it's easy." But I totally disagree with that. I think success is difficult; it's radically difficult. Think about it. If success were easy, if anybody could automatically become a success, it wouldn't be success, right? It'd be mediocrity. It's easy to be mediocre, but if you want to be successful, you have to charge harder, you have to do things that the cows aren't willing to do. You have to get out there and charge and expend some energy. So, yeah, the chips are always down, and fortitude and charging is the most important thing.
Along the way in a 45-minute conversation, Wally and Scott share some valuable insights about what it takes to get up some momentum and keep charging — and they have fun along the way. The podcast would make a nice package on its own, but Wally took the time to transcribe the whole gorram thing into an ebook — with a short bonus anecdote — and he throws in some worksheets designed to help you start your rhino life. So you can take your time perusing the words, take the conversation with you in your car or iPod, and scribble out your own plan for rhino success.

This is definitely something I'm going to keep close at hand in the Attic, and I heartily recommend it to the dozen of you who visit here regularly. [Full disclosure: I've signed up for Wally's affiliate program, so I'll get a piece of the action if you buy the package after clicking "Click here to view more details."]

Go ahead. Take a look. Click here to view more details.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Knowledge overcomes fear:
The scary sign in the window

I hadn’t been alive for very long, and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to die yet. The little poster in the front window of the barber shop in Little Falls, N.J., told me it might not be long.

In stark bold letters, the poster announced “The 7 warning signs of leukemia.” I didn’t know exactly what leukemia was, but it sounded scary and in the late 1950s it was almost always fatal. The poster said it was cancer of the blood.

I did an inventory for the signs. “Change in a mole or wart” — well, my little body was littered with moles, but I was pretty sure they all looked the same as the day before. “Fatigue” — no, I had plenty of energy; I was a kid after all. “Hoarseness” —

I cleared my throat.

Was I hoarse? I did have a little bit of a tickle there, a small frog perhaps. I tried a few words.

“Hello? Hello? Oh no.”

My voice was a little ragged.

I might have leukemia! It was a real possibility. The poster said so. My voice was hoarse.

I squirmed my way through the haircut, panic rising in my soul at every clip. Why waste my time with a haircut when I might have so little time to spare?

Afraid to say anything out loud, I was quiet on the way home, and the next time I was with my mother without the brothers around, I approached her and said solemnly, “Mom, I have to talk to you.”

She could tell right away that I was a tad distraught. No doubt she looked around the house to see if anything else was broken, but the look on my face told her this was different from guilt. I led her into a bedroom and closed the door.

“What? What is it?” Now she was starting to get anxious herself.

I threw myself against her apron and hung on for dear life.

“One of the symptoms of cancer is hoarseness and today I’m hoarse!!!” I wailed.

For just a moment there was no sound in the room except for my terrified sobbing.

And then, a soft laugh.

You know the scene in the movie A Christmas Story where Ralphie gets in a fight and afterward his brother, Randy, hides under the kitchen sink? When Mom asks what he’s doing there, he screams, “Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!”

Mom gives a soft chuckle and says reassuringly, “No, Daddy’s not going to kill Ralphie.”

Every time I see that movie, I laugh out loud because Randy’s fear and Mom’s reaction are so real. I know, because that’s exactly how I sounded that day and exactly how my own mother sounded when she said, “No, you don’t have cancer.”

Patiently, she told me I needed to have more than one symptom before I needed to consider the most dire diagnosis. I realized I probably was going to live. The fright eased its way out of my tiny frame.

Lesson learned: Wait until you have all of the facts before jumping to conclusions. So often we become afraid because we only understand part of the story. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” says the old proverb — but the emphasis is on the word little. If you don’t have full knowledge, you can make a dangerous mistake: such as being paralyzed by fear.

The leukemia society didn’t mean to frighten a little boy that day, but planting a little fear in your mind is a common motivational tactic. The idea of the poster was to get you to a doctor, but it also works for product advertising and politicians.

When I sought more information from the closest trusted source at hand — my mom — the fears were dispelled.

Are you scared of something you don’t fully understand? Get more information. Most of the time, the situation is not as dire as you fear. And even more often, as I learned by discovering I didn’t have leukemia, the situation is not even a “situation” at all.