Summer Song

May 31st, 2007

The teams were always the same: Sean and Chris versus Dusty and me.

I don’t remember meeting the Wells brothers, they just were.

My family moved from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Oak Park, Illionois, in the summer before first grade. Our mint green stucco house on Forest Avenue was just one block from architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, two blocks from Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary (where I would go on to perform “The Theme From ‘The Greatest American Hero'” at the 1981 Talent Show), three blocks from Peterson’s Ice Cream and Zender’s Pharmacy (location of my first and only petty theft), and about eight and a half miles west of Chicago’s famed Loop.

It was Heaven for a six-year-old.

Sean and Dusty Wells, two toe-headed brothers roughly the same age as Chris and me, lived just across the street. We shared every interest, from roller skating to baseball cards to lip synching to Billy Joel’s “Glass Houses” to the cast of “The Facts of Life.”

In the early weeks of June, as the air turned hot and thick, as Little League wrapped up another losing season, we raced around the yard capturing fireflies in Mason Jars.

We formed football teams to scrimmage adjoining neighborhoods, sold lemonade on the corner of Chicago Avenue (until the rope we used to haul the wagon tripped a septegenarian tourist), and spied on the David Wright’s older sister.

We skitched in the winter, played Wiffle Ball in the spring, kicked the can in the summer, hid and sought in the summer, and dragged our backpacks through the backyards come fall.

Through it all, Sean and Dusty were our constant companions. They were roughly the same age as Chris and me, lived just across the street.

When’s the last time your best friends lived just across the street?

The Wells moved to Nashville, Tennessee, a few years later. The neighborhood grew empty. The spring before my parent’s announced their impending divorce, The Wells’ home went up in flames.

My father still keeps up with Sean and Dusty’s parents, Ron and Judy. In fact, they’re invited to Abbi and my wedding. A few years ago, when I travelled to Nashville to meet Cameron Crowe, I had breakfast with Sean and his dad. Sean was huge: six two, at least. Ron told me he ate oatmeal religiously. Their smiles were identical, and infectious.

A few weeks ago, Sean sent me a photo from his cell phone.

“Stood at home plate this morning,” he wrote. “First base was blocked by a huge tree. And the home run fence looked awefully close. My kids could have cared less, but I knew you’d want to know.”

Like We’re Twenty-One

May 29th, 2007

You remember my pal Casey Shea, right?

Casey and his lovely wife Langhorne are on the road with Casey’s new band, Sundown: think Crosby, Still & Nash, but cuter, and way hipper (and none of that weirdness with Melissa Etheridge).

Well, they’re blogging about their adventures for MTV News. You can check it out at Sundown Blog Dot Com.

Of all the words Casey and the gang have written (and they’ve been massively prolific in their three week cross-country trek), these moved me the most:

I had been in New York for about a month and a half when I found myself at a small club in the Lower East Side for a going away party for one of Langhorne’s coworkers.

I had met Ben Wagner a few weeks before outside of the MTV building. I knew his name well because I came across a few of his albums when I was cleaning Langhorne’s apartment (my new home in NYC).

Ben treated me like a son. He had been in New York for years playing music, working a dream job, running marathons, running a successful website and blog… honestly, I think this guy has more hours in a day than the rest of us. We ended up getting into a long conversation about music, and I was all ears.

“If you’re gonna do it, do it,’ he said. ‘Don’t get the 9-5 day job, don’t be safe.”

That was all I needed to hear. For the next 3 years, I refused every promotion I was offered.

More like a brother, but either way, it’s always nice to be remembered. And I was right. I know this because I was giving him the very advice that I didn’t follow.

So anyway, the band’s made it to L.A., and has begun recording and hobknobbing and such. But what I wanted you to know is that they’re performing at The Troubadour Wednesday night at 8pm.

The Troubadour, people. The Troubadour.

James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Kris Kristoferson, Guns N’ Roses, and Pearl Jam all debuted there. Neil Young, Tim Buckley, and even Phantom Planet recorded live albums there. Janis Joplin partied there the night she died. It’s just down the hill from Laurel Canyon. It is the epitome of the L.A. folk rock scene.

So if you’re in the area, don’t be foolish. Go see the band. Buy ’em a beer. I’ll pay you back.

If you’re not in the area, read the blog. You’ll be glad you did.

Raise Your Hopeful Voice

May 28th, 2007

Like the film he was encouraging me to see, Ron’s email was short and sweet.

“Get thee to the cinema,” it read. “Like, tomorrow.”

Sunday, then, found Abbi and I reclining in the perfect optical and aural center of AMC Theatre #15 for the 7:05 screening of “Once.”

Like Ron’s subject header said, “Oh man!”

When the lights came up, Abbi (who knows me well enough to a) not ask me, “What did you think?” or b) stand up to leave before the credits rolled) and I eavesdropped on the couple next to us.

“What did you think?” the woman asked as she stood up to leave.

“I was expecting something… earth shattering,” the guy replied. “But, yunno, it was fine.”

I resisted the temptation to pop the guy upside the side of the head and say, “Fine? Fine!?! Dude, get over yourself. Embrace your inner romantic!”

Because “Once” is way more than fine. It is outstanding. It is the reason God invented celluloid… and the acoustic guitar.

You know the story, right? (The film is in limited New York and Los Angeles release, so you may not.) A Dublin-based busker (The Frames’ Glen Hansard) meets a Czeck flower girl (Marketa Irglova) who also happens to be a) adorable and b) transcendent pianist and vocalist. They fall in love, and record a demo. And live happily ever after.

Kind of.

Because, in addition to being one of the most independent looking films since “Clerks” (entire sections of the film were out of focus, but I didn’t care), “Once” is a note-perfect, most un-Hollywood love story. What happens in the end is what really happens in the end.

Life goes on.

Better yet, the film looks like real life. The actors (who aren’t even actors) are flawed. Hansard’s a bit cross-eyed. Irglova’s a bit dowdy. The film stock turns grainy at night. Some lines are indescernable.

Like real life.

Also, the film is a completely unconventional musical. This is no “Chicago” or “Dreamgirls.” The protagonosts are musicians. When they break into song, it’s in context. Like when Irglova walks down a dark street singing along with her Walkman to a lyricless song Hansard’s written.

Moreover, the film is loaded with excellent songs: “Falling Slowly,” “If You Want Me,” and “Fallen From The Sky” are all instantly hummable. Hansard’s voice is road warn, world weary, but invested with just enough hope. His melodies leap into falsetto more than most pop songs. And Irglova (who is nineteen-years-old!) sounds like a mixture of Karen Paris (of The Innocence Mission) and Bjork. Together, they gave me goosebumps.

There’s a passage in the film where the two are recording for the forst time with their ad hoc band. The engineer is dubious. He flips through Billboard while punching the record button. But as the song (the luminous “When Your Mind’s Made Up”) gains momentum, he can’t hide his enthusiasm.

Neither could I. I downloaded the album this morning. Brilliant.

So, like Ron said, get thee to the cinema.

Like, tomorrow.

Real life never felt so good.

The Fog Of More

May 25th, 2007

I’m as tired of writing about sleepless nights as you are of reading about them.

So I won’t even bother with the twitch I’ve developed in my left eye.

Instead, I’ll briefly regale you with an excerpt from an article I read in the New Yorker this morning.

In “At Lincoln’s Deathbed,” author Adam Gopnik explores the historical discrepancy between two accounts of the president’s last moment. Legend has it that Secretary of State Edwin Stanton said, “Now he belongs to the ages.” Other accounts, though, quote Stanton as having said, “Now he belongs to the angels.”

Gopnik’s cover story is a fascinating academic exploration of the historical context and implications around both phrases. But what struck me was his conclusion: an eloquent consideration of memory itself.

History is not an agreed-on fiction but what gets made in a crowded room; what is said isn’t what’s heard, and what is heard isn’t what’s repeated. Civilization is an agreement to keep people from shouting, “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, but the moments we call historical occur when there is a fire in a crowded theatre; and then we all try to remember afterward when we heard it, and who went first, and if we ever really smelled smoke, and what they said. The indeterminacy is built into the emotion of the moment. The past is often so befogged then, too, back when it was still the present.

Somehow, as I finished the article and headed back to bed just before five, I found comfort in the passage. Lying there in the darkest part of night with a thousand memories swirling around my head — memories from the last twenty-four hours, and the last twenty-four years — there was a quiet peace in knowing that, at the end of the day, it was all unknowable anyway.

The Things You Want, And The Things You Have To Do

May 24th, 2007

I’m beginning to think I’m schizophrenic.

I’m sitting in seat 19C of US Airways Flight #61 en route from Las Vegas to New York City. My seatmate is the one guy on the plane who hasn’t lowered his blind, so not only is my enjoyment of the Cedric The Entertainer Nicollet Sheridan comedy vehicle, The Cleaner, diminished by the glare, but sleep is out of the question.

So I’ll tell you what brought me to Sin City for a whopping sixteen hours.

The Video Music Awards are the channel’s tent pole event. They’re Sony’s Spider-Man. They’re NASCAR’s Daytona 500. They’re NFL’s Super Bowl. But lemme’ back up.

Much as I like to think otherwise, all programming (or content, or art) exists to serve advertisers. Joseph Pulitzer’s Post-Dispatch was nothing without Sears Roebuck. “Your Show Of Shows” wouldn’t have existed without Kent Cigarettes. And “American Idol” would be a bare stage save for Coca-Cola.

Most media companies, then, have their workhorses, or, more aptly, their cash cows. For years, MTV’s has been the Video Music Awards. Historically, the star-studded show pulls huge ratings, aggregates a huge audience to which to sell Mountain Dew, Starburst, and Neutrogena, while affording the network an opportunity to bring its biggest sponsors (Pepsi, P&G) together with its biggest stars (this year, I’m betting on Amy Whinehouse and Fall Out Boy alongside staples like Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Ludacris).

It’s a huge, impressive event. I liken it (with all respect to our men and women in the armed forces) to going to war. Hundreds and hundreds of people spend hundreds of hours and millions of dollars putting the spectacle together. There are almost unlimited considerations. Red carpet arrivals: cars, boats, or helicopters? Talent flow. Press credentials. Step-and-repeat (industry speak for all those paparazzi poses). Interviews. Performances. Security. Fan casting (you didn’t think all those people in the background just showed up, did you?). And the show hasn’t even started yet.

Oh, And every year has to be bigger than the year prior.

My role (and Dot Com’s in general) has grown exponentially. At first, we weren’t even invited to the party. We watched it on TV like everyone else, reporting on it like any other event. Eventually, we got a reporter in the big house. Then backstage. And then a camera. And then a few small crews. And then a production trailer. This year, I’m one of a handful executives scouting the location some three months in advance.

This year, it’s my job to Executive Produce MTV News’ VMA Weekend coverage online (text, photos, and video), augmented by a small army of bloggers, plus a whole bunch of user submitted material. I’ve taken to calling it a “swarm” or “Matrix bullet-time” approach to news coverage (well, infotainment anyway). That is, we’ll be covering the event (and the events around the event) from a multitude of angles. Taken together, they’ll provide a richer tapestry of meaning.

On the face of it (and applied an event that actually means something), the concept that everyone is empowered to broadcast (or “personacast,” as Motorola CTO Padmasree Warrior calls it) their perspective is pretty darned democratic. And that’s exciting to me. But we’re talking Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera here. The world will not be changing axis even a little bit.

Which brings me to my schizophrenia.

For months now (years, really), I’ve been wrestling with the whole deep and simple vs. shallow and complex dilemma. Where meeting Mister Rogers put a
face and a name and a simple binary to my internal conflict, the truth is it’s been with me all along.

I met my former supervisor, Michael Alex, at the 1996 Democratic National Convention. A fresh-faced 24-year-old producer for Lifetime Television Online (yes, that Lifetime), I had just arrived at Chicago’s United Airline Arena (acing the secret service gauntlet despite a few skinny joints in my brief case) with a laptop and digital camera when I brushed past a bunch of cool kids with bad-ass Macs, walked up to a guy with longish hair and said, “Do you know where the ISDN lines are?”

Two weeks later he offered me a job at MTV News.

Even then, in the days after being offered a job doing one of my three dream jobs (in order of preference: 1) rock star 2) Rolling Stone contributing editor 3) MTV News producer), I was torn. I loved MTV’s anti-institutional irreverence, but worried about it’s existential import. Even then, when Choose Or Lose was galvanizing a generation, the network’s primary cultural contributions didn’t seem to be elevating dialogue. They were churning out quick cuts, pithy sound bites, and scantily clad models gyrating on the hoods of cars.

Not that I’m not into models and cars, or gyration for that matter. But I wanted to be Michael Stipe, not David Coverdale. I wanted to be Walter Cronkite, not Kevin Seal. I wanted to be Tobias Wolff, or at least Tom Wolfe.

So I was torn. So torn, in fact, that I spent a week weighing the pros and cons of what I knew even then would be a life-altering decision. I spent three days fasting and meditating at 15,000 feet, there just below the ridgeline of southwestern Colorado’s Sneffels Range. Then-MTV News correspondent Allison Stewart (who I’d met through my brother’s work on MTV News Unfiltered) came to me in a dream and said, “You can always do something else later.”

Fast forward some twelve years later. Location: The Palms, Las Vegas, Nevada. Its midnight on a Tuesday. I’ve been upgraded to a suite located just two floors below one of the casino’s newest clubs, Ghost Bar. I step into an elevator packed with twentysomethings straight out of an Axe Deodorant Spray commercial. They’re carrying drinks and smoking in the elevator. One guy turns to a brunette reject from The Hills and says, “I have to warn you, I’m ticklish.” And even as I step into my suite, a one thousand square foot, two-bedroom, two bathroom, oak and leather appointed absurdity fifty floors above the sprawling lights below, I think, “I just wasn’t made for these times.” I pop a six-dollar can of Heineken, an eight-dollar tin of cashews, and crawl under the covers just as Sin City is getting started…

This morning, though, touring the facilities with Palms staff, I began to get excited. The place — from the 2200 seat Pearl auditorium, to the notorious Rain nightclub, to it’s numerous Fantasy Suites with outdoor hot tubs five-hundred feet in the air — is spectacular, albeit in a way only Las Vegas can be spectacular. Standing on the terrace of Moon, the casino’s newest nightclub complete with retractable roof, looking out over city whose massive construction projects are second only to Dubai’s, I think, “This is what The End of Days looks like: a desert full of hundred story, gold-tinted, glass buildings.” And despite myself, I am excited — voyeuristically, pruriently — at the prospect of taking a front row seat on it all.

This afternoon, on the way to the airport, I spotted an African American woman in short shorts, sequin a spaghetti-strap top, and silver high heals sitting on a cement barrier between six lanes of interstate. I shook my head, turned to a colleague and said, “I’m just a kid from Iowa. I really dunno’ what to say to that.”

An hour later, speeding into the dark, eastern sky some 33,000 feet over North Texas, I’m speechless still.

Wasting Away (Again)

May 22nd, 2007

Jimmy Buffet’s personal chef bought me shots last night.

“Pick the place,” I told Chris. “I’ll meet you in fifteen.”

Bar 9,” he said haphazardly.

I stepped out the door just before nine o’clock.

“Be home in an hour,” I told Abbi.

Some 900 seconds later, I saddled up to the bar. The Yankees were on the big screen. An urban kickball team was celebrating its victory. A hand-scrawled sign just above the Triple Sec read, “WiFi Available.” I flagged down the barkeep (Thor Fields, a dead ringer, Chris later pointed out, for Center Square Bruce Vilanch, and lead guitarist, we would later learn, for the Zeppelin cover band Led Blimpie), and ordered a Bass Ale.

Moments later, Chris joined me. We toasted the imminent release of my 25-song rarities collection, “Besides Volumes I & II” (which I picked up from The Engine Room after work — more on that later), and settled into conversation about our declining rock ‘n roll careers (well, mine is, anyway) over the din of The Arcade Fire and gray t-shirted corporate types in cheap crepe paper leis knocking back tequila.

When it came time for the second round, I reached for my wallet, grabbed a wad of ones, and tossed ’em down on the counter.

“Dude,” a voice behind me said. “This isn’t a strip club.”

I turn around and spot a bald, bespectacled, mid-thirties lookin’ guy in a jean jacket.

“Though I gotta’ give you props for wearin’ your hat straight, unlike that hipster wanna’ be at the end of the bar.”

Now, I’m not the least gregarious person you know, but I don’t chat up strangers. I tend to keep to myself. But in one of those cheetah-like fight-or-flight instances, I sized him up, and decided he was ok. So the three of us started talkin’.

Ends up the guy — let’s call him Jeff, ‘cuz that’s his name — lives on 51st and Ninth, and works in the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle where, we come to find out, he’s Jimmy Buffet’s personal chef. We don’t come into this information directly, but rather via a follow up question to his statement that he only lives in Hell’s Kitchen in the summer.

“Where are you in the winter?” I asked.

“West Palm Beach,” he says.

Hmmmm.

Truth is, Jeff’s a little bit of a toolbag. Just a little loud, declarative, kinda’ blustery. But he’s from Toledo, and keeps tellin’ me I’m allright because I’m from Chicago (that’s the beauty of living a bunch of places; you can be from anywhere).

And then he buys us shots of vodka. And one for his bartended buddy, Thor — the guy who sings in the band that makes a pun out of the similarity between a derigable and a sandwhich.

And the whole time I just wanna’ tell him to tell his boss that, just a few months ago, I spent six hours in the Tenth Circle of Hell at a ratty Margaretville (“Where the fun never ends!” Or, apparently, starts) in Montego Bay’s Sangster Airport and that he really ought to consider a paint job at the minimum.

But, being that I’m from the Midwest and all, I kept it to myself, and stumbled home.

Imitation Of Life

May 20th, 2007

I am almost certainly losing my mind.

I’m sitting on the terrace with a cold beer and a bowl full of imitation crabmeat drenched in malt vinegar and Old Bay Seasoning. The imitation part withstanding, it is a flavor ripped straight from my childhood.

Though I play up my Iowa roots, the truth is that — though most of my family is from there, most still reside there, and it is the only place I have consistently visited throughout my life — I only lived in Iowa for a few weeks.

In fact, some 24 hours after I was born (induced, actually), my father returned to his brand-new teaching gig at Charles County Community College in La Plata, Maryland. A few weeks later, my mother packed up my three-year-old brother and me, and followed him there.

We lived in a modest brick colonial in Waldorf, Maryland, for five years. The once sleepy burgh is roughly halfway between Washington, DC, and Baltimore. It is tobacco country where, some 100 years prior, before 7-11 and Starbucks, Dr. Samuel Mudd harbored Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. There were brambled train tracks down the quiet gravel street, a swing set in the backyard, and a plum tree with a bluebird nest in the front.

On weekends, when we were a bit older, mom and dad would take us to Captain Pete’s, a battered old crab shack on the edge of the Chesapeake. The place was nothing fancy: newspaper for tablecloth, a roll of paper towel for napkins, and bushels of Old Bay caked crabs some two dozen deep. I learned my taste for seafood there, and ever since, have smothered my shrimp, crab, and lobster in malt vinegar and Old Bay Seasoning.

Moreover, though, trips to Captain Pete’s constitute some of my first memories: cracking crab shells with wooden mallets, skipping stones in the brackish backwaters just off the parking lot, and a basket full of stray kittens beneath the steps. We took one home and named her Sunshine.

It’s little wonder, then, that today I should unconsciously seek that sensory memory, just moments after telling Abbi, “I feel like the little kid in me is dying.”

Dramatic, I know. Hyperbole, probably. But it’s how I feel.

I have spent the balance of the weekend on the couch, reading, watching TV, and staring out the window at the Eastern Block looking apartments across Eleventh Avenue. Until this afternoon, the gray drizzle supported — endorsed, even — my melancholy. But the sun has broken through, and Abbi thinks I can use some. So here I am.

It’s a conspiracy of things, really, that finds me feeling this way. I’ve come to call it, “The Triple Whammy.”

First, my boss was laid-off in the midst of a company-wide (natch, culture-wide) paradigm shift.

Second, I got engaged and embraced a previously unfathomable level of commitment.

Third, I moved in with my intended: my space became ours, my time became ours, and my stuff became ours.

Academic, right? Guy gets married, and sweats growing up. Elementary. Universal. Simple.

I’m not sure it’s that simple, though.

I loved being alone with my thoughts as a kid. I loved construction paper, finger paints, and paste. I loved sketchbooks, watercolors, and craypas. I loved my Fisher Price record player, my Radio Shack transistor radio, and my mother’s Baldwin piano. I loved reading, and writing, and hosting tea parties for my stuffed animals.

As an adult, that love have manifested in these journals, songs, photographs, and videos.

Now, though, feels like, though, is a crossroads. No, it feels like an interstate cloverleaf, where highways and byways, roads traversed and considered, taken and not, intersect and overlap and offer a myriad of options and outcomes.

Example. I got home at eight thirty Friday night, shattered from a nearly two hour meeting with the president of the network (saying nothing of the week spent prepping for said meeting). I fell onto the couch, and only rose from it just now. This is the new normal. Nine o’clock in times. Mountains of anxiety. Sleepless nights. Sound and fury signifying nothing, with only U2’s “The Joshua Tree” as some sonic, restorative multivitamin.

The sky is growing dark now. The breeze has gained a chilly bite. Bono is singing, “And you give yourself away, and you give yourself…”

And I do.

All weekend long I have been paralyzed. All weekend long I have looked out my window at the rain, and the clouds. All weekend long I have wondered, ‘What comes next? What will it look like? Who will I be? And where did that litte kid go?’

I need to close the laptop now. I need to step outside. I am ready to start my weekend…

Alas, it is Sunday night. I have come to just in time for another week of soul crushing uncertainty.

Benjamin Wagner 2.0

May 17th, 2007

I need a new website. And I need your help.

I launched my first web presence in 1996, a clunky looking site called ubiquityltd.com (thusly named after my boutique record label, Ubiquity Ltd. Records — a pun — that I was later forced to cede to its rightful copyright owner, Ubiquity Records). I tried to make it look like any other indie label website with streaming audio (remember that?), photos, and tour dates. There was no ecom (this was pre-Pay Pal). Worse, I wrote about myself in the third person as if there was a small team of A&R, publicists, and general infrastructure supporting my fledgling career.

And my career was fledgling. “Bloom,” my debut CD, cost roughly $5000 to record (at a time I was making about ten grand a year). I made a thousand copies and sold them at gigs, and via mail order. Now — even at a time when I was performing sometimes two and three times a week — I was lucky to sell a handful at each show. It was a losing proposition.

A few years later, I read something about a guy named Derek Silvers and his new company, CD Baby. I wasn’t nuts about the name (I’m still not), but liked what he was offering: for a roughly 25% cut of the gross, CD Baby would act as online distributor for my CDs. So I signed up.

CD Baby now generates $25 million a year in revenue and is the single largest digital distributor of music in the world. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Derek — who still responds to my emails personally — likes to send out advice. And his advice is usually pretty good. In fact, way back in 2000, his advice was spot on, and a few years ahead of everyone else. His advice was revolutionary.

Don’t try and be a huge corporation.

Connect with people as an individual.

Create and cultivate a community.

So in 2000, years before Facebook, MySpace, The Long Tail — all of it — this weird lookin’ bald dude with a pony tail in the back was talking about social networking and niche marketing. Which seemed to make some sense. Moreover, it was a relief; I could stop faking it.

And so, in November, 2000,as I began recording what would come to be “Crash Site,” I began writing a Studio Diary (which is where the photo associated with this entry comes from). I began posting daily shortly thereafter, calling it The Daily Journal in February, 2002. Mostly, I was trying to give people a reason to stay on top of what I was doing day to day so that they would know when new records were coming out, and want to buy them (which is still part of the equation).

Unbeknownst to me, there was a small revolution in personal publishing going on. Through search and aggregates and links I found sites like Gothamist (which has gone on to some fame: founder Jen Chung was in Wired last month) and Laraland publishing in my own back yard (though Lara’s moved back to her native London). I met some of these people (I distinctly recall my mother, who now blogs, telling me she wasn’t sure it was a good idea to invite “strangers from the Internet” to my parties), and learned about this “blog culture,” and made some friends (like Heather and Stephanie) which came to bite me in the ass a little bit. But overall, it became a great way to grow an audience, a — moreover — great creative outlet.

Plus, Derek’s business model (especially the deal he struck with iTunes, et all) made it possible for me to stay in the music making business. I mean, I don’t make much from it (about $3k last year), but it’s enough to keep doing it. And that’s enough for me.

Problem is, my “Daily Journal” isn’t really a blog (as you know). Because I got into it by accident, and did it myself, it’s a hand-tagged, manually updated HTML page. So there are no distinct entries, and there is no RSS feed. So basically, it’s black hole in terms of search engines. It’s completely un-Diggable, and un-commentable, un-sharable, and all of the things that have come to define the Internet, and web 2.0. Here I am banging on podiums at The MTV and I’ve got the most old school web site ever.

And that’s not to even speak of the aesthetic or functionality.

I’ve (obviously) been thinking quite a bit about how to leverage this continuing shift away from Big Media and Mainstream, Blockbuster culture towards niche audiences and “personacasting” to enable me to remain in the creativity business. An excellent article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (“Sex, Drugs And Updating Your Blog”) really drove the point home. I keep saying that it’s “go time” at work. Well, it’s go time at home also.

If I’m going to stay in the micro-niche singer/songwriter business (which I need desperately to do for my sanity alone), I need to overhaul Benjamin Wagner Dot Com, which also means finding a way to retrofit five years of Daily Journal posts into a new, more turn key (as they say) blog.

Which is where you come in.

Know any great web developers? Better yet, know any great young people who wanna’ work with me on this project for, yunno’, not an arm and a leg?

If so, please drop me an email. And if not, well, stay tuned…

Sky Blue Sky

May 15th, 2007

I’d been out of bed just three minutes, but already I’d dropped a ten spot.

Sleep was fitful again, at best. Maybe it’s the loratadine. Maybe it’s the blue agave. Maybe it’s all this change I keep talkin’ about. Either way, I was wide awake and clock watchin’ at three o’clock. I lay there tossing, turning, and trying to blot out the clamor of traffic and the din of my worries. I even turned on Abbi’s white noise machine. Nothing worked.

So, at 4:38 this morning, I poured a glass of water, sat down on the couch, and began reading John Sellers’ “Perfect From Now On.” The memoir is something of a Chuck Klosterman David Eggers mash-up. It’s intensely readable, even at 4:38 in the morning. Sellers is almost exactly my age, so our reference points are the same: from John Denver to Star Wars and Duran Duran. Like me, he remembers a time before email, and iPods. Unlike me, he’s a bit of a grouchy Luddite, but it makes for some funny stuff.

I sat there eating grapes and reading until about 5:30. The lights in the surrounding apartments were snapping on one by one. The sky was growing slowly brighter. My usual wake-up time edged closer and closer. My eyelids grew heavy. So I walked back into the bedrrom, climbed beneath the sheets, and slept for exactly ninety-minutes more.

I woke to the sound of the shower, and lay there planning my day. I told myself that I’d get out of bed as soon as the water stopped running (the kind of bargain I strike with myself all the time). When it did, and I heard the telltale sound of the ball bearings on the shower curtain rings sliding across the rod, I popped my legs over the side of the bed, and touched down on the floor.

I stepped right to my Mac remembering that I hadn’t donwloaded the new Studio 360 and This American Life podcasts. I’m a pedestrian for at least forty-five minutes most days, more on Tuesdays. I like to maximize my time with the wise and humorous companionship of Kurt Anderson and Ira Glass.

Launching iTunes, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if that Wilco album’s out yet?’

Not only Wilco’s “Blue Sky Blue,” but also Rufus Waineright’s “Release The Stars.”

You’ll recall that I’ve recently pruned a healthy amount of books, CDs and clothes. I’m a reluctant consumer these days. I don’t want more stuff. We have plenty. And nowhere to put what we already have. Anyway, media consumption feels like a treadmill of diminishing returns. I can’t tell you the last time I purchased a mainstream record that knocked my socks off. (Come to think of it, maybe neither Wilco nor Rufus are mainstream. Discuss.) Moreover, Abbi and I are supposed to be saving. And heck, I can usually find every damned record ever released at my office.

But I dropped ten bucks on the Wilco album anyway. And here’s why.

At that conference I went to last week (and keep writing about), everyone was talking about giving music away for free. They say that young people don’t want to pay for it, that they’re used to Napster and Kazaa. And they say that copyright is dead, that DRM is totally 20th Century.

But here’s the thing. Without iTunes, I have no music career. I don’t play a ton of shows (and they’ve never been lucrative for me anyway), I don’t sell much merch, and I’m certainly not liscencing anything to anyone.

I’ve always said you have to vote with your wallet. That’s why I go to Paul Thomas Anderson movies on opening weekend. That’s why baught Stephanie’s book the day it came out. And that’s why I dropped a ten spot on “Blue Sky Blue” this morning.

It’s already been money well spent. I stepped onto Tenth Avenue, kissed Abbi, pushed play, and headed to work. Midtown glistened beneath a sky blue sky, and Jeff Tweedy sang.

Maybe the sun will shine today
The clouds will blow away
Maybe I won’t feel so afraid
I will try to understand
Either way

I will. Either way.

2:1:1

May 14th, 2007

In logic normally reserved for toddlers and college sophomores, the decision to whip up and consume two pitchers of margarita was based solely on one fact.

I woke with the typical dread I’ve come to associate with Sundays. Behind me, the brief flash of joy that is the weekend fades into rear view. Before me, work looms like some decreasingly distant, semi-dystopic Oz.

Abbi bound from bed, and leapt into her running shorts. I tucked my head beneath the pillows in a futile attempt to block the rising din of Tenth Avenue and the cloying sun spilling through the blinds. In the forty-eight minutes I spent tossing and turning there, my ears rang with the clamor of the usual suspects — work, rock ‘n roll, the film, parents, and plans — like some anxious Greek chorus.

The New York Road Runners were sponsoring a series of races: four miles for the men, ten for the women, and shorter runs for the kids. I washed down a healthy dose of antihistamine with a stiff cup of coffee, and set out for Central Park.

The Park was an explosion of deep green and blue. Azalea, dogwood and tulips were in full bloom. Spring leaves fell from the treetops like snow. The air was crisp and cool.

We had just waded into the sea of runners when I heard Chris’ telltale whistle. The family was all there: Jen in her race bib, Ethan and Edward swaddled in their fleece blanket in the running stroller. We met up with Abbi’s sister, Pembry, in front of Bethesda Fountain, and loped off towards the start.

Every once and a while, my sweet nephew, Ethan, develops this look. It’s a faraway look, a glazed thousand-foot stare. Try as I might, I can never shake him from it. I’m never sure what’s on his mind (if anything at all), and try as I might, no amount of questions, teasing or tickling can break through. He had this look Sunday morning, but instead of trying to disabuse him of it, I settled into it with him.

The ladies set off for their run, while Chris, Ethan, Edward and I walked around Sheep’s Meadow with my mother. At 9:45, Ethan competed in his second ever road race, running 100 feet with a small gaggle of three and four-year-olds. Afterwards, he was moderately animated, but I held his look — and its associated silence — as I broke free of my family, ran solo through The Ramble, around The Reservoir, and back home to cook breakfast for the racers.

But not before stopping of at D’Agastino’s. There, tucked nonchalantly in the shadows of the produce aisle, I spotted a pile of perfectly ripe, two-for-three-dollar avocados.

‘Hmmm,’ I thought. ‘We should make guacamole. And margaritas.’

Fast-forward eight hours. Abbi, Pembry, Pedro and I have knocked back our first round — rocks, no salt, served in Tiffany crystal — on our twenty-seventh floor sun terrace, and repaired to our private fifth floor patio for our second. The iPod is on shuffle, blaring from the apartment. We are laughing and dancing and making a racket for the entire building to appreciate. The thousand foot stare has been shattered, and replaced by squinty eyes and a wide smile.

And in the morning, as I sort through the recyclables (one empty bottle of Petron, one empty six pack of Tecate), take out the trash (lime rinds, coffee grinds, Healthy Choice chicken and bow tie pasta), and step off to work, I smile still — if only to keep the nausea at bay.