November 29, 2007

Do Not Go Quietly Into that Good Night

Another rock icon is dead. Kevin DuBrow, 52, lead singer of eighties metal band Quiet Riot, was found dead in his Las Vegas home on Monday. The cause of death has not been released, but perhaps a clue lies in the name of Quiet Riot's last album -- Rehab.

Quiet Riot, and DuBrow in particular, was part of a group of "hair bands" that included Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt, Twisted Sister and many others, who perfected that combination of spandex, big hair and brutal guitar chords which attracted so many teenage boys and girls and sold millions of albums in the 1980s. Quiet Riot is most famous for their monster hit, "Cum on Feel the Noize," and for being the first band to have a heavy metal album reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts -- in this case, Metal Health, the album that contained "Cum on Feel the Noize."

Farewell, Kevin, we will raise our devil horns to you today -- at half mast.

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November 28, 2007

Writing Right and Writing Wrongs

A second member of my former Washington, DC writing group has come down with a brain tumor. In Cay's honor, and in honor of all the writers out there, I would like to share my response to a member of a Southern California writer's organization, who asked for suggestions on how to run a writer's group:

1. The host should supply and the participants should bring snacks and beverages, especially ones from the two largest food groups in the Writer's Food Pyramid -- Coffee and Cookies. If the group meets in the daytime, then items from that other large group in the WFP --Alcohol -- probably are not necessary, but that depends how many Hemingways and Faulkners are involved in your group.

2. Constructive criticism is key, and indeed, the main purpose of participating in a writer's group. Some participants might be inclined simply to be cheerleaders for their colleagues and friends. This does a great disservice. If it happens, the person whose writing is being reviewed needs to press the others for their honest opinions as to what worked in the piece, what didn't work, and what could be done better. Editors, producers and agents are not shy about bluntly telling us what's wrong with our work. Therefore, it's better to hear the bad with the good, in a polite way, beforehand, so that we can submit our most polished work to those gatekeepers.

3. The group should have a leader or a couple of co-leaders, to manage the list of participants, arrange get-togethers, and to keep things moving at each meeting. For instance, after everyone first shows up to a meeting, they will want to catch up socially, share their tv show and movie reviews, talk about politics (at least in DC), etc. This banter is lots of fun. Some lifelong friendships will be formed in your writer's group. No one wants an anal-retentive Nazi to run the group and ban these fun conversations, but, unchecked, they could take up the whole gathering. After some reasonable period of time, the group leader needs to nudge the group into getting into the writing material at hand.

4. Invariably, one member will want to hog the entire time having his or her work reviewed. To avoid this, the group needs to agree in advance on the rough amount of time spent reviewing each writer's work, especially if a good number of writers have brought fresh material to review. This might just be a simple formula of length of meeting left over after initial chit-chat (see why that's important?), divided by number of works. The group leader will probably have to play the heavy and try to keep to the time limits. While you don't want to cut anyone off in mid-sentence, one way to place gentle limits is to tell the writer that, while the 6 new chapters of their novel look really interesting, let's limit ourselves to one chapter or a certain number of pages, so that we have time to get to the other writers.

5. Did I mention the coffee? And the cookies?

Have fun!

And good luck, Cay!

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November 21, 2007

L.A. Car Porn

If you are looking for porn in Southern California, you go to the Valley. If you are looking for car porn in Southern California, you go to Los Angeles. And nowhere is there more car porn in Los Angeles than at the annual Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. I went there on a relatively quiet Day Before Thanksgiving, and saw some interesting sights.

My all-around favorite car is the new BMW 135i. It's small and lightweight, with a big engine. You do the math.

The Mini Cooper interior has more plastic knobs than a ghetto blaster. In such a tiny car, why did the designers insist on a speedometer the size of a dinner plate?

For sheer open-air fun at a low price, the Pontiac Solstice is tough to beat, as long as you don't mind sitting at floor level.

My favorite American car is the Cadillac CTS, Motor Trend's 2008 Car of the Year. With a 3.6 liter engine and 306 horsepower, a six-speed manual transmission, and tight dimensions, this is no sofa on wheels.

The best-looking American car at the show was the new Chevy Camaro, scheduled to go on sale in 2009. Look out, Mustang!

The models came in a variety of colors, including blonde.

However, some used models with high mileage were also on display.

Green was a big theme this year, as many companies release hybrid passenger cars and even SUVs, all of which attain pretty impressive gas mileage.

Speaking of green, the exhibit for the Smart Car, which is about the size and weight of a golf cart, was mobbed. Can you say, four dollar per gallon gasoline?

At the other end of the spectrum, the Hummer exhibit looked like a bunch of sad, lonely dinosaurs who are destined to become extinct.

Another way to get good gas mileage without sacrificing driving fun is to purchase a "pocket rocket" such as the new Subaru Imprezza WRX STi. 21 year-old guys will eat this up.

Ferrari always treats auto shows as museums, placing its cars at a distance behind velvet ropes. Keepa you hands off!

Finally, no Southern California car show would be complete without a bright red Porsche. This 911 Turbo Cabriolet, sitting pretty in the large, crowded Porsche exhibit, costs well over $100,000.

At this year's Greater Los Angeles Auto Show during Thanksgiving week, there was truly something for everyone's taste.

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November 19, 2007

There's Green in Green

My motto about "going green" has been: you don't have to believe in something to make money off of it. It so happens that I believe in both kinds of "green." Apparently, others do as well. A few days ago, I attended a major business conference entitled "Opportunity Green." The tag line for the conference was "Being Green + Being Profitable."

The like-minded Opportunity Green crowd included the heavy hitters of green business: Live Earth founder Kevin Wall, "The Lazy Environmentalist" Josh Dorfman, Ethos Water co-founder Jonathan Greenblatt, TreehUgger founder Graham Hill, Pangea Organics founder Joshua Onysko, and many others who have become extremely successful while doing the planet some good.

I learned some interesting things at Opportunity Green:

1. Aside from the founder of TreehUgger, there were few stereotypical treehuggers in the bunch. I did not spot a stitch of flannel, a whiff of patchouli or a glimpse of underarm hair. This was a very professional and very good-looking group. "Green business babes" might have to be a new category of babe.
2. We are still in the beginning stages of "the largest financial opportunity of the century," but the green movement in business already cuts across every sector, from home building to renewable energy to consumer products. For example, recently Colgate-Palmolive purchased independent organic toothpaste maker Tom's of Maine for $100 million. Likewise, Clorox just announced a deal to purchase Burt's Bees for a staggering $925 million, equivalent to one-fourth of Clorox's entire market value. And Method Cleaning Products, with a tiny advertising budget, was the nation's seventh fastest-growing company last year.

3. In order for green products and services truly to go mass-market, however, green businesspeople will need to lose the attitude. I was taken aback by the level of snarkiness in nearly all of the Opportunity Green panelists and moderators. One of the conference leaders even referred to the crowd there as "the wicked funny cool people." This is the exact same attitude of elitism and invincibility that these hipsters' forbears exhibited at the beginning of the dot-com boom fifteen or more years ago. And we all know what happened to them.

At any rate, when it comes to green and business, my biodegradable chips are on the table, and I'm going all in.

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November 14, 2007

The World's First Blogger

Does this sound familiar: thirty year-old single guy, grossly overweight, lives at home with his mother, walks around in his underwear, flatulent, dyspeptic, paranoid, writes daily misanthropic screeds?

The average blogger? Almost.

It's Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist of the early 1960's novel "A Confederacy of Dunces." Other than Reilly's Big Chief writing tablet and Venus Medalist pencil instead of the not-yet-invented personal computer, the similarities to members of today's "pajamas media" seem eerie.

Too bad "Dunces" author John Kennedy Toole offed himself back in 1969 after failing to get his book published. Once it was published in 1980, "Dunces" won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, as well as countless accolades for its humor, its themes of race and class, its political incorrectness, and its description of the seamy life of New Orleans. If Toole were around today, however, he might notice something even more important -- that, in Ignatius J. Reilly, he may have created the World's First Blogger.

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November 11, 2007

The British Are Coming!

A new British invasion is about to hit U.S. shores, and it could be almost as significant as the first one.This Tuesday, Led Zeppelin is coming to iTunes. Zeppelin's entire released song catalog (shockingly, it only numbers 165) will be available, either separately or in new collection matter-of-factly entitled "The Complete Led Zeppelin." A new greatest hits retrospective with two dozen songs, "Mothership," will also be released. Then, Led Zeppelin (with Jason Bonham replacing his late father John Bonham on drums) will reunite for a special concert in London on December 10 (postponed from November 26) to honor Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records, which was Led Zeppelin's record label home for much of the band's career.

This publicity punch by Led Zeppelin is highly unusual. Zeppelin has always been a phantom rock group when it came to promotion. They didn't do interviews. They didn't release singles. They earned their fans one at a time, or, in the case of their record-breaking stadium shows, tens of thousands at a time.

Led Zeppelin has also been persnickety in releasing their live performances. They were one of the few killjoys who refused to allow their performance at 1985's Live Aid concert to make it to the dvd, saying that it wasn't one of their stellar shows (supposedly, Phil Collins, who had just arrived in Philadelphia via the Concorde to drum for Zeppelin after playing earlier that day in London's Wembley Stadium, was, even with the assistance of another drummer, just too tired to keep up with the band). Thus, it should not have been too surprising that, like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin had not permitted their songs on iTunes.

For many of us, Led Zeppelin's release on iTunes comes not a moment too soon. I can still remember the first time I heard "Whole Lotta Love" in the schoolyard, when my best friend Billy played it on his transistor radio. I was floored by the inexplicable raw power of the song, a blow to the guts that bands like the Beatles simply did not deliver.

I suspect that there are a lot of us out there, of all ages. In fact, I predict that this Tuesday will be the biggest download day in the history of iTunes. I'll be part of it.

Paul and Ringo, are you listening?

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November 05, 2007

The Mullet is Back!

Or so says the chick who cuts my hair. She should know -- she's about 25, Japanese, with starkly chopped hair and big black boots. She cuts the hair of movie and television actors, models and musicians. She also does some modeling.

If Sashumi is correct, then the mullet has gone through major rehab. A staple among guys in the Eighties (including me) who thought they looked cool, the mullet eventually became a joke, a default setting for Southern rednecks, many of whom suspiciously were named Randy and whose follicular role models were Billy Ray Cyrus and John Daly .

It may well be that the mullet is making a comeback. Maybe we will soon see the stars of the entertainment world and others sporting the wooly, neck-shielding mane whose clarion call is "business in the front, party in the back!" If so, this time you and Sashumi can count me out.

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