Workin’ Man: Check out my article in the latest edition of Spin Sheet

This morning, I got out of bed and strolled into town to Dunkin’ Donuts to get a hot cup of blueberry coffee. Right next door, at Scottie’s Shoe Store, there was a rack of magazines with the December edition of Spin Sheet, the free sailing magazine based in Annapolis. Open to page 36 and 37, and lo and behold, there I am. A very cool layout of a piece I wrote about winterizing tall ships after hanging out in Chestertown here during the Schooner Sultana’s Downrigging Weekend last month. Here is the article itself, courtesy of Spin Sheet’s website. Visit there, and you can read the whole issue in PDF format, or pick up a printed copy (my personal favorite, and still the best way to read) from any of their distribution points. Visit here to find one. Happy reading, digital or otherwise.

Published in: on November 29, 2010 at 1:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Jack White, The Internet and Public Discourse

So I’m tooling around the net the other morning looking for Jack White tour dates (unfortunately finding none scheduled) and I ran across this interview with the man himself, posted a few months ago on spinner.com. There are a few things that struck me in this piece, most notably the discussion of the impact of the internet on public discourse. But before I get to that, on another note, there was this quote that particularly appealed to me:

“Someone just asked me if I’m ever going to make (a solo album), and I said, ‘Of course I’m gonna make one one day.’ I mean, I never really plan that far ahead. My calendar is always open. Everything I do is something that just got decided a week before. Yes, I could be making a solo record in a couple months, or I could be making White Stripes record or maybe even a third Dead Weather record, I don’t know. I don’t tell the music what to do, I don’t tell myself what to do. That would be an injustice to what I’ve dedicated my life to doing. That’s the funny thing, most people go to work and say, ‘I’m going to do this from 9 to 5 and these are my goals, these are my short-terms goals, these are my long-term goals.’ I’ve never had that.”

And I thought I was the only one. It is a little bit reassuring that the complete lack of planning ahead more than a month or so can lead to success. I’ve always been much the same way; the things I do just sort of come out of thin air as opportunity presents. And 9 to 5 is most definitely not the way I want to live my life. It’s just so damned limiting.

Anyway, back to my main points. The discussion about how the anonymity of the internet breeds a certain kind of cowardice, particularly in the people who troll comment boards and spew harsh, venomous opinions, hit me.  His point obviously being that the detatched nature of communication on the internet allows certain people to say things that they would never dream of if they had to attach their identities to it, or condemn with a severity they would never use if they were to actually speak to the person being villified to their face. Here’s a quote:

“…we were having a conversation with some journalist about the way the Internet breeds cowardice nowadays — how everyone has a fake name, no one shows their face, everyone is extremely judgmental, extremely harsh to each other, commenting and blogging all this stuff. The world is their oyster now, they can type whatever they want, and they don’t present themselves as a human being, they present themselves as an avatar and as a screen name, and that’s cowardly.”

While it’s hard to disagree with what White has to say on the matter, what I found particularly interesting was to scroll through the comments section following the article, just to see what kind of response would turn up from the very people at whom White took his shots. I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s a sampling of some of the comments, each posted under an indecipherable screen name : (By the way, I cleaned up some of the ever-present typos that show up in these kinds of comments. If you’re going to rip someone, at least do it competently.)

“Oh, spare me the ‘Jack White is a genius’ crap. White is a 3rd rate musician. His music is largely derivative and immensely irritating to boot.”

“Never heard of this self-promoting jerk and couldn’t care less about him.”

“White stripes are just awful. I’ve heard their stuff , it’s really crap, I swear.”

“This is one of the sloppiest, untalented, overrated bands I’ve ever heard. A couple of 15 year olds in a garage band sound better than this rubbish.”

“This guy’s guitar playing is almost as bad as his singing. His songs are lame, too. How in the world did he get famous, anyway?”

See what I mean? Now, I’m not unfamiliar with criticism, sometimes a bit harshly, but usually I base my opinions on something more than simple insults and vague notions on someone’s capabilities. Then, there’s this guy. He actually posted under a name, which is more commendable, but is it a real name? Who can tell?

“There has never, ever been someone who has managed to make it despite having such utterly mediocre skills as this guy…. he excels in 1 way, greatly, & that is shameless self promotion… yeah, who wouldn’t be a “tireless” worker if you’ve fleeced your way into the game…. not a good guitar player, not a good songwriter, not a good singer, but made it anyway…. Completely clueless people made this guy, nothing more… Serious guys with serious chops laugh at this guy.”

Really? No one ever has become successful in the music business with mediocre skills? Not that White’s skills are mediocre in the least. I completely disagree with the sentiments that his guitar playing and songwriting aren’t good. Both are distinctive, unique and exceptional, in my opinion. And I have a strong musical basis to back that up. But I guess I’m just clueless. And as for the self-promotion part, show me anyone in virtually any field who’s reached a level of success, and I’ll show you someone who is a self promoter, shameless or otherwise. You simply don’t get anywhere, particularly in a field of creative endeavor, without being so. But I suppose serious guys with serious chops are too busy laughing at those who do make it to promote themselves and their work.

And for last, my personal favorite, from a screen name of Hugh Jassol, which is likely fake given the fact when you say it really fast, it sounds a lot like this guy’s personality must be, huge asshole. He had two:

“That ‘distinctive sound’ is the sound of minimal talent. Actually, it’s the sound of suck.”

“What passes for talent today is a joke. Jack White isn’t qualified to carry Jimmy Page’s guitar case. His one hit, ‘Seven Nation Army’ is just one crappy hook, over and over, with some shi##y guitar playing and his singing sounds like a guy with a really bad sinus infection. The only reason he’s making a living in music is because of people like you who have tin ears and no taste whatsoever.”

To the first comment, I say maybe Jack White has a point. Even if you don’t care for his music, how many people are going to meet White and say, “Hi, you’re music is the sound of suck.” Sure, there may be some, but probably not many. The second comment is the more interesting for a couple reasons. One, in the interview, White himself references Seven Nation Army, even saying, “nobody thought there was anything interesting about that song when we recorded it.” Hits are subjective, having more to do with the opinions of people outside the group than the artist’s desire for a particular song to be a hit. Of course, Huge Asshole, er, Hugh Jassol covers this by writing off the fans, as well, as people with tin ears and no taste.

However, he also references Jimmy Page, which brings up an interesting example of just how off base this guy is. Go rent the documentary “It Might Get Loud” on the history of the electric guitar. In it, Page, White and Edge from U2 form a triumverate of approaches toward the guitar. It’s well worth a watch, or two, or three. There are several sections during the film where the three sit around together and jam. During these, White comes off as far from unable to carry Page’s guitar case. They appear almost equals at times, with Page absorbing and learning from White just as much or more than the reverse. In fact, It’s Edge that comes off as the wanna-be poser, clearly out of place in the company and confused on how to play with the other two.

Which doesn’t really surprise me. I’ve never much cared for Edge. I mean really, Edge? I understand Slash. That guy just looks the part. Wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley. And his guitar style suits the name, as well. But what about this guy says “Edge”? Maybe its a marketing ploy, maybe he uses Edge shaving cream to keep his goatee trimmed up nicely, I don’t know. What I do know is that a guy who has a neatly trimmed goatee, wears wool hats and fancies himself a guitar hero when 95% of his sound is coming from the fancy electronics he owns is kind of a douchebag. So again, maybe Jack White has a point, to a degree. Would I say that to Edge (gag) if we ever met? Probably not, but people writing things they wouldn’t otherwise say isn’t an invention of the internet, nor is it new. From Theater and book critics in the late 19th century, to the letters to the editor that were so prevalent before the digital age, to pamphelteers of all causes, and even a convention such as the Dear John letter, people have been writing things they wouldn’t say to someone’s face for as long as there’s been a written word and paper to print it on. What the internet does do is provide a much greater platform from which to throw it out there.

And as for the “hiding behind a screen name” part, I’ve got an answer for that. Edge, if you’re out there somewhere reading this, and you have a problem with my calling you a no-talent douchebag who can barely strum a few chords, my name is Dan Meadows, I live in Chestertown, MD, my email address is linked to at the top of this page. Drop by any time, and I’ll be happy to discuss my misgivings about your musical stylings. So much for anonymity.

To sum up, everybody has opinions, some of them well-founded, some off-the-cuff, some just flat out nasty for whatever reason. Putting those opinions in writing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even on a platform as broad and diverse as the internet.  People have been doing it for as long as there has been communication. I’m reasonably certain there were Babylonians laying down some smack in cuneiform. But if you’re going to criticize, stand by those opinions, don’t hide behind a fake name and an IP address. And to do that, it usually helps to have a foundation for those arguments.

I’ll make one more, much briefer point about the White interview and its reference to sensationalism. To quote:

“…people take things out of proportion all the time. I’ll say something like, ‘I don’t play video games,’ and the headline would read, ‘Jack White Hates Video Games.’”

Okay, makes sense. But consider, a goodly portion of this article is a discussion on how the net allows a certain type of cowardice to develop, the harshness of tone that comes with that, and how that contrasts with the positive aspects of it. It was a lengthy and well-developed point of view on a contradictory, and complicated, circumstance. So what’s the article’s title? “Jack White Doesn’t Suffer Internet Cowards Gladly” or, perhaps put more simply, “Jack White Hates The Internet.” Interesting, no?



Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sea Change: Things Keep Flowing In The Boating Market

A few months ago, I got a phone call from my friend Carolyn Crouch. She told me about a new boating magazine that was coming into being, and asked me if I’d like to write an article for the debut issue about my former boss, Ira Black. It would be the cover story, I was told, and the magazine would be unveiled during the U.S. Powerboat Show in Annapolis in October. I readily agreed, wrote the piece and recently received my copies of the first issue in the mail. As soon as I saw the cover, I had flashbacks. The list of names there was a veritable who’s who of people I’d worked with earlier with The Mariner, Nor’easter Magazine or both. There was the cover photo of Ira as he looks today (like he just stepped out of a ZZ Top video), Gary Diamond, Dick Greenwood, Whitey Schmidt, Bob and Pam Appleton, Paul Esterle and Carolyn herself. It was odd, to be honest, but somewhat gratifying to see that some of the things I helped set in motion a decade or so ago were still chugging along, albeit in a different way and under a new banner.

Mid-Atlantic Boating is the name of this new entrant into the boating market. As most people know at this point, the free-distribution portion of the boating publication market has fallen on hard times of late. Page counts, and the ad dollars that go along with it, have plummeted. Some publications, notably Nor’easter itself, have fallen to the wayside, finding Davey Jones’ locker earlier this season. For a new magazine to start up in this environment could be called crazy (honestly, that was my first thought). Or it could be perfect timing. Only time will tell on that score.

The new publication is a tab size, something in the neighborhood of 10 ” x 12″, and it sports a nice glossy cover. The interior is newsprint, but a little heavier and brighter than the standard variety, giving the publication a nice look, and a not-too-flimsy feel. The debut issue came out to 36 pages, with a reasonable array of advertisers. Not bad at all given that this is the first effort of a brand new magazine, opening at the end of a season in an historically down market. It will be available through bulk deliveries, as all publications in this region of that type are. My understanding is that, provided things go well, Mid Atlantic Boating will be a monthly magazine beginning in 2011. There is a reference to the January issue in the masthead of issue number one, so I take that as a good sign of continued publication.

Which brings me to a point about the wisdom of taking a chance in this market at this particular time. There are generally two ways to look at it. The first is that, because of the current fiscal problems, and significantly slower economic recovery than many people need or expect, it could be better to sit back and let things improve before taking the risk of jumping in. There may be merit to that point. Playing it safe in this day and age has become the mantra of many companies, understandably so. However, as Ira himself used to say, a down market is the perfect time to advertise and build your business because everyone else is sitting on their hands waiting for things to get better. I can attest to the “hurry up and wait” mentality in some of my recent experiences. And being that I’ve never really been one to sit by and not take a chance when the opportunity presents, it is pretty frustrating.

The second way to look at this is just that; this market, depressed as it currently is at this time, provides the perfect opportunity to make a splash and grow from the ground up as things improve, positioning yourself in a stronger place than the Johnny-come-lately guys who are afraid to take the risks today but try to snatch up the rewards when things are a bit safer. So let’s take a quick look at how things stack up competitively.

As I’ve mentioned before, Nor’easter Magazine is no more, ceasing publication in early July of this year. The Mariner is still in the field (I think–more on that later) but it’s in a severely weakened condition. And Prop Talk, the power boating sister publication to the long running sailing journal Spin Sheet, seems to be doing just fine. That leaves a potential opening for someone to step in, given an actual recovery in the boating market sooner than later. As for The Mariner, their case is a perplexing one. (Full disclosure: I was let go as the Editor of The Mariner in march of this year.) Since my involvement with them ended after the March issue, their publication schedule has been a bit erratic. The October issue, which is the final one of 2010, came out to 32 pages. Not exactly gang busters, but that’s not the really confusing part. For some reason, the U.S. Powerboat Show wasn’t exploited.

To me, having been through about a dozen seasons in the boating market market through the years, the October issue has generally been the most important issue of the year, not to mention traditionally the largest page count wise, and the biggest money maker, all because of its association with the Annapolis powerboat show. In fact, the decision to even print an October issue without using the show as a platform, both for coverage and ad sales, is a bit lost on me. The coverage of the show in the October Mariner amounted to a vague mention on the cover, one paragraph at the end of the editor’s column and a short listing in the upcoming events section. That’s it. In contrast, Prop Talk gets it, sporting their corresponding issue as the U.S. Powerboat Show Issue, and cranking out a nice 108-page effort. Mid Atlantic Boating gets it, as well, using the show as the springboard for launching their entire enterprise. And according to various reports, The Mariner didn’t even have a presence at the show. How does that bode for the future of the publication? I’m not sure.

To be fair, there is a starburst on the cover that touts the next issue being January 6. But not taking advantage of the most obvious sales tactic of the season, and not going to the show at all, makes me wonder. There are currently no salespeople listed in the Mariner staff, and a good friend of mine who was handling all of the ad design for the publication was given the, “we don’t need you anymore,” speech immediately following the October issue’s completion, much as I was given after wrapping up the March issue. There may, in fact, be a January Mariner, but if I’m looking at this from a competitive standpoint, I’m encouraged. With Nor’easter already gone, The Mariner possibly following suit, or at least needing a significant  change in effort to become a player again, someone like Mid Atlantic Boating could sneak in and give Prop Talk a run for its money. After all, they’ve only produced one issue and they are already in a better position than The Mariner heading into 2011.  Maybe the idea isn’t so crazy, after all.

As it stands now, no one really knows what kind of market the boating industry will see next year.  There are a lot of hopes, and the only thing that is certain is that all of those won’t be fulfilled.  But it is nice to see someone taking a chance on something for a change.  If nothing else, that alone may be a harbinger of positive things to come for all of us.  If one company is willing to take a risk and put its money where its mouth is, can others possibly be far behind?  That’s how recoveries get started.

Talkin’ Post Election Day Politics

So, being as yesterday was election day, I figure it’s a good time to talk a little politics. On the National level, as expected, the Republicans gained massive ground on the formerly Democrat-controlled Congress. The GOP now has a significant majority in the House of Representatives, and the Dems still maintain a hair-thin majority in the Senate. With a Democrat in the White House, this is a recipe for gridlock for the next two years. To this I say, “Right on!”

As I get older, the more I see very few actual differences between the parties. To me, it’s a six of one, half a dozen of the other type deal. To be certain, on various issues, there are vast differences between the two sides, but is one really better than the other? Pick your poison isn’t exactly what the founding fathers had in mind, I don’t believe, yet that is consistently the choice we’re faced with at the ballot box every year. A split government that can’t agree on a lunch order, let alone far-reaching legislation is the best of all possible worlds in my mind. The less they can intrude, the better off we all are.

The best economic period in my working lifetime was during the Clinton administration when we had some of the worst Federal-level gridlock on record. It’s not lost on me that the prosperity that occurred then happened with little influence or intrusion from government. Since then, we’ve had a Republican controlled Federal government under George W. Bush, and we all know how well that worked out, and we’ve spent the past two years under a Democrat-controlled Federal government, and that, truthfully, hasn’t been any better. In fact, a lot of people are of the opinion that it has actually been worse. The two lynch-pin “accomplishments” of the Obama administration are, in fact, massive failures that look a lot like big business, pro-corporate decisions that the GOP are frequently ripped for. The Trillion dollar bank bailout hasn’t achieved anything but allowing the very financial institutions that screwed us all to save their own bacon on the taxpayer’s dime, and the universal health care plan essentially amounts to forcibly throwing big chunks of our money, under penalty of law, at an insurance industry that, again, is a major part of the problem with health care costs. Not exactly what I would call positive developments for the little guy, unless you’re defining “little” as seven- or eight- figure corporate CEOs.

My point here being that Federal level gridlock isn’t only not a bad thing, it may well be the best possible thing that could happen to us at the moment. A genuine economic recovery in this country will not happen because of government assistance. In fact, much like the recovery from the Great Depression in the 1930s, the more government gets involved, the longer any recovery will take to happen. We, as individual citizens, are what makes the economic engine of this country tick. It’s not the government, it’s not the corporations, it’s not the banks; it is us and only us. And the less interference we have from legislators, the quicker it will occur. The only problem here is that there is another election in two years and, as things look right now, there is a distinct possibility of one-party control over both houses of Congress and the Presidency. Let’s not make that mistake again. We should make it a general rule to never, and I repeat, never allow Congress and the White House to be controlled by the same party again. Only catastrophe results from that. In-fighting, political mudslinging and gridlock are good things for this country as it means our elected representatives have less time and ability to pass endless legislation that only serves the ends of the people paying their bills–the lobbyists, campaign contributors and their own political parties. Always vote No for one-party control.

Which brings me to the local level. Local politics are a very different animal from the National level, primarily because of the fact that you are far more likely to get actual people running for office that truly believe in what they are doing, as opposed to career politicians that essentially are shills for their parties. Certainly, you get some of those, locally, too, but they are generally ladder-climbers who won’t be in local office very long anyway, always looking for the next best office to run for. But there are, at least, a few people out there locally worth voting for in any given election. Having only recently moved to Kent County from Cecil County, I’m not totally up on the political maneuverings down here as yet. But I feel obligated to comment on something from my former county.

I was sad to see that it looks like Cecil actually passed charter government this time around, after nearly 40 years and five previous efforts. One of my main reasons for relocating away from Cecil was the increasing size and cost of government, and the tax burden to go with it. Charter government will essentially convert the county from a five-commissioner system to one with a County Executive and a 12-member board. There is simply no way that this isn’t going to become a massively more expensive proposition. If you all in Cecil think your property taxes are high now, just wait till this system is in place. And we all know how smoothly and efficiently boards of directors operate, right? This is a nightmare waiting to happen. I wonder sometimes, exactly what voters are thinking when they pass things like this, but then it dawns on me. Cecil has become a bedroom community that’s future is largely being determined by people who have just moved there in the past decade or so. I doubt there’s any real way to find out, but I’d be willing to bet that long-time Cecil residents of two-decades or more were likely against this, with the relative new-comers putting the initiative over the top. But whatever system of government is in place, the problems with Cecil go far beyond any particular structure.

Cecil is a bedroom community. The job base is not where it needs to be and is shrinking. There is very little manufacturing base. The sales tax, perched as it is right beside tax-free Delaware, will forever limit any significant growth in retail business, and most of the residents here collect paychecks from some other place they commute to. And on top  of that, regulations make it prohibitive for small businesses, and extremely difficult to get through the first few years as a new company.  That means that the only ways to raise money here are basically the property tax and the local income tax, both of which take advantage of essentially a captive audience.  I’m not exactly sure how to fix this without major changes in regulations and a serious slashing of tax rates across the board, and that is simply not going to happen, especially not in this environment.  Charter government is going to be a much more expensive and convoluted system that will, ultimately, make it more difficult for the average citizen to stay abreast of what their representatives are up to.  But, hey, that’s what free elections are all about.  Everyone is free to make their own mistakes.  And this one may turn out to be a whopper.

A Few More Pics from Sunday in Chestertown

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On Halloween, Sunday, Oct. 31, the ships were offering deck tours, as well as trick or treating for kids in costume. This slideshow of pictures were taken during my tour of the vessels.

Published in: on November 1, 2010 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Yacht Elf and the Return of Gentlemen’s Racing to the Bay

The Elf at the Downrigging Weekend in Chestertown on Oct. 30, 2010.

Walking around the docks in Chestertown this past weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to run across the Elf, the oldest small yacht in the country. She was originally built in 1888, and was recently completely restored by Rick Carrion and the Classic Yacht Restoration Guild (CYRG), who, coincidentally, was one of my teachers in high school. I hadn’t seen the yacht since her restoration was completed and she was releaunched. In fact, the last time I saw her, she was still in relative pieces in Carrion’s barn in Earleville, MD. It was nice to see the 30-ft. vessel finished and in the water for a change.

The Elf during her restoration in Earleville back in 2002.

Over the years, I had written a few articles for both The Mariner and Nor’easter Magazine about the yacht and the effort to restore her. I even attended a benefit crab feast for the CYRG one year that featured what still are the tastiest crabs I’ve ever picked, right out of the Bohemia River. I spent some time catching up with Carrion, docked as the Elf was right beside the Kalmar Nyckel, making her actually look tiny in comparison. Of course, the dock itself looked tiny with the 140-ft. long, 100-ft. tall vessel parked there. He told me about the next big thing involving the Elf now that she’s had a couple years in the water under her belt; a recreation of the Gentlemen’s Yacht Races of the 1880s, the era in which she was originally launched.

It’s going to be called The Elf Classic, and is scheduled to go off on May 21, 2011. The race will travel from the Eastport Yacht Club to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. According to Carrion, the race will not be a simple, line the boats up at a starting point and go kinda thing. It will begin on shore, with the boats at anchor. Competitors will row from shore to their waiting vessels, make sail for the destination, anchor and row back ashore to the finish line. The finish for the race will actually be a signature on the race log at the Tolchester Bandstand on the museum grounds. A true throwback to the way things used to be.

Before her new decking was in place.

Anyway, Carrion and the CYRG are looking for yachts to take part and sponsors to help support the event, the Elf and the museum. If anyone out there is interested, you can visit the Guild’s website here, or email elf1888@earthlink.net.

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