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Let us illuminate you. In our Dog Eat Hog challenger article series, we shed light on paradigm-shifting innovations and actions from long-shot brands and out-of-nowhere idea-makers. Mind, prepare to be blown.

Rosetta Tharpe

Before There Was Rock and Roll, There Was Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Imagine an alternate universe without the frenetic fretwork of the late Eddie Van Halen, without Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page. How about a world without the King of Rock and Roll replete with his unruly pelvis and whiplash grin? Sure, other musical greats like Bo Didley and Muddy Waters played a part in the sound we now call rock and roll, but it was a black woman born Rosetta Nubin, later known as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who now holds the undisputed title of The Godmother of Rock and Roll. Let’s have a look at her influence in six parts, like the strings of a guitar.

 

Early Years – String Number 1

Rosetta (Nubin) was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas to a family of cotton pickers who were faithful churchgoers. By the time she was four, Rosetta had begun playing the guitar in her church and was considered a musical prodigy. By the age of six, she became a part of a traveling evangelical group. At 19, she had a short-lived marriage to Thomas Thorpe. A corruption of his surname became a part of her new identity, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

 

Breaking Out – String Number 2

In 1938, 23-year old Sister Rosetta made her first recordings with Decca. All four songs became instant gospel hits. The song “Rock Me” has been acknowledged by rock and roll greats such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard as having a profound influence on their music.

 

Going A New Direction – String Number 3

It was her performances at the iconic Cotton Club with contemporaries like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, where Sister Rosetta began to experiment and step away from her gospel roots. She began to fuse gospel music’s expressive qualities with greasy Mississippi Delta blues and the free, improvisational swing of New Orleans jazz to create a racy, new brand of raucous vocals and distinctive guitar picking and aggressive distortion.

 

Doing the right thing – String Number 4

Touring was a necessary and ongoing part of Tharpe’s 40-year career. Long before the Civil Rights Act of the late 60s, the ugliness of segregation was in full effect, making food and lodging challenging to come by for Rosetta and her crew. While not officially credited with having the first tour bus emblazoned with her name, Sister Rosetta was most certainly one of the first. She needed a place where she and her tourmates could sleep and eat. What has become the standard milestone for rock stardom was once a solution borne out of necessity. Despite being treated so poorly based solely on her skin color, Tharpe reached out to white gospel singers, The Jordanaires, and invited them to tour with her. Throughout her career, she continued to make an effort to bridge the gap with her music.

 

A New Beginning in the Old World – String Number 5

In the late 50s, as modern rock and roll had gone mainstream with white bands, her career began to wane. Rosetta received an invite from musician and fan Chris Barber to tour England with his band. In the U.K., she found renewed fame from an audience enamored with Americana music’s rootsy, original sound. Her most notable performance took place at a train station in Manchester. The mostly white audience was on one side of the railroad tracks while Rosetta and the other acts performed on the other side. Symbolically the music became the bridge to bring both sides together.

 

End – String Number 6

As with many artists who were ahead of their time, her brilliance went unrecognized until long after she had played her final note on this earth. In the early 2000s, a couple of documentaries garnered attention for Tharpe’s story. What seemed an apocryphal music myth became an incredibly real story about a charismatic, musically-gifted black woman whose spirit, vision, and perseverance gave her a wildly successful career that spanned forty years. She achieved fame, wealth, and opportunities that other black women of the time could only dream of attaining. In 2018, nearly 50 years after her death, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Today, we can still hear traces of Sister Rosetta’s musical DNA throughout rock music of the past 70 years. Elvis emulated her picking style. Chuck Berry admitted that he’d made a career out of aping her sound and her moves. Sister Rosetta challenged her audience and preconceived notions about music with a new sound. She drew on her musical experience and fused it into a vibrant blend of expressive melodies filled with wails, shrieks and heaping helpings of soul.

 

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SOURCES:

“The Story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe,” PBS
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00xf8k7

“Forbears: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Godmother of Rock ’n Roll,” Jessica Diaz-Hurtado, August 24, 2017
https://www.npr.org/2017/08/24/544226085/forebears-sister-rosetta-tharpe-the-godmother-of-rock-n-roll

“Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Gayle Wald,” 2018
https://www.rockhall.com/inductees/sister-rosetta-tharpe

“She Can Make That Guitar Talk,” Caryn Rose, September, 24, 2019
https://www.npr.org/2019/09/24/759600717/she-can-make-that-guitar-talk

 

Nov 18, 2020


Staying Indie

Star Wars and Staying Indy—From a Certain Point of View

The release of Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker in late 2019 marked the end of an era. That first film in 1977 was a panacea for the times, and the pioneering innovations in special effects and CGI spawned spinoff companies that changed the aesthetic of science fiction films for generations. We owe it all to the man with the vision and determination to make his “galaxy far, far away” a reality for us all, George Lucas.

Before shifting gears to filmmaking, he spent his teenage years cruising the streets of Modesto, California in a souped-up Fiat—not unlike a desert planet protagonist who liked to thread the Stone Needle of Beggar’s Canyon in his T-16 Skyhopper. It was a near-fatal car crash that would steer Lucas away from becoming a race driver and toward a new adventure in filmmaking.

After a brief stint of film courses at a community college, he enrolled at UCLA film school, where he achieved notoriety for his science fiction film short, Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB (1967). Through a scholarship with Warner Brothers, he was introduced to UCLA grad, Francis Ford Coppola, who was directing Finian’s Rainbow. The two young filmmakers quickly became friends and soon after formed Zoetrope Studios to make Lucas’ first feature film, THX 1138, an adaptation of his UCLA short. They set up offices in San Francisco, far from the established filmmaking mecca. The film was a flop at the box office leaving Lucas and Coppola in the red. Fortunately, Coppola picked up a directing gig with a “small film,” The Godfather, and they were able to clear up their ledger.

The two remained friends, but Lucas decided to set off on his own and start his namesake studio, Lucasfilm. Lucas attributed the failure of THX 1138 in part to the re-edit of the film by Universal Studios before its release. This learning experience may have had a big influence on the way Lucas approached future projects with big movie studios. The words of Master Yoda, “The greatest teacher, failure is,” come to mind.

His next film, American Graffiti, was written and directed by Lucas and inspired by his teenage years of cruising and drag racing Modesto’s avenues. This nostalgic movie featured a small cast of aspiring talent who have since become household names, including Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfus, and Ron Howard. American Graffiti was made for $780,000, grossed more than $100 million domestically, and earned five Academy Award nominations.

Now a proven commodity, Lucas set about writing his space opera, styled after the afternoon cliffhanger and swashbuckler serial matinees of his youth. But making an ambitious sci-fi film with space wizards and renegade, nerf herding smugglers was no easy task at the time. With the exception of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the science fiction genre was wrought with heavy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic themes. For the studios, this particular genre was a high-risk endeavor, typically with minimal ROI. Science fiction was usually reserved for B-movie status.

But culturally, the world was primed for Star Wars: A New Hope. The reputations and traditional ideals of institutions and leaders had been destroyed. The United States was mired in the Vietnam War, and back home, Nixon’s Watergate occupied the airwaves. If ever there was a time for a Joseph Campbell hero’s journey epic, this was it. In 1977, Star Wars debuted to universal acclaim. The film was made for $10.5 million and grossed $400 million worldwide.

The conflict between good and evil in an escapist setting brought much welcome relief. However, getting to that point of success required resilience, persistence, and a little rebellion too. Let’s break down some of those essential lessons using the sage wisdom of the Jedi.
 

  1. Remember, the Force will be with you always. Filmmaking of the 70s was ripe for disruption. Big budget films were overdone and overthought. In spite of the naysayers, George Lucas pushed forward, maintaining his indy mindset, pushing ahead with a powerful belief in his idea. He enlisted the talent of a futurist illustrator Ralph McQuarrie to give people a window into his ambitious vision. He found allies in other filmmakers, like Spielberg and Coppola, and a young producer at 20th Century Fox who believed in him and defended his work—despite not really understanding what he was doing.
  2. Size matters not. Even though Master Yoda was vertically-challenged (and sounded a lot like Sesame Street’s Grover), he was one of the most powerful Jedis in the universe. Lucas and the crew he assembled to make his film approached their task with a rebel spirit and a scrappy start-up mindset. Many of the practical and special effects that fledgling Industrial Light and Magic created had never been done, and many of the ILM crew, by their own admission, did not know what they were doing. On the other side, but not necessarily the Dark Side, there have been plenty of rebels that have become empires. The trick to staying relevant is to continue to keep that rebel spirit.
  3. Reach out with your feelings. George Lucas had a vision of how he wanted to make his films. To protect his artistic license, he needed financial independence. By letting go of the customary director’s fee in exchange for merchandising rights, by maintaining the rights to future sequels and taking a 40% share of the box office, he ensured that his “empire” would endure.
  4. Do or do not. There is no try. Anyone with ambition knows there’s no halfway. What most people think of as edgy, soon becomes the middle of the road, so one must continually innovate to hold the higher ground. Creative people tend to draw upon what they know. So it’s fair to assume, whether consciously or not, that George Lucas’s hero, Luke Skywalker, represents a desire to reach for more. By listening keenly to our instincts and feelings, we can bravely seek out a greater destiny. Having a wise old Jedi for a friend never hurts either.

For over 40 years, this saga of the Skywalker line has been strong with the Force. For some fans, Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm in 2012 has been fraught with Dark Side angst. Still, the franchise continues to capture the wonder and imagination of audiences, old and new. Skywalker Ranch, Lucasfilm, LucasArts, THX Sound and Industrial Light & Magic are all entities that were established through the creation of this blockbuster film (even the original tech for Pixar’s early 3-D rendering can trace its roots to this picture), and their legacy continues to have a lasting impact on the way we experience entertainment today on many levels.

Word has it that Disney is going give their lightsabers a rest for a while, at least on the big screen. For now, there’s plenty to binge on Disney Plus like The Mandalorian, Star Wars Rebels, The Clone Wars, a rumored Kenobi series with Ewan McGregor in the works, and much more. Rest assured, it’s not time for Jedi to die any time soon.

 

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SOURCES:

“Empire of Dreams: The Story of the ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy,” Prometheus Entertainment,
Fox Television Studios (in association with), Lucasfilm (in association with), 2004
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0416716/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

“The Documentary Podcast: Living With Star Wars,” BBC, Dec. 22, 2019
https://lucasmuseum.org/about/george-lucas

https://www.biography.com/filmmaker/george-lucas

https://www.notablebiographies.com/Lo-Ma/Lucas-George.html

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000184/bio

ADDITIONAL MEDIA:

The Toys That Made Us, Star Wars, Season 1, Episode 1, Netflix

Wookiepedia, Star Wars Fandom

 

Jun 25, 2020


The Quest for Fire and Food for Thought

The Quest for Fire and Food for Thought

Some modern-day diet trends might have you believe that early man sustained itself on an endless buffet of fire-roasted animal flesh. In reality, our nomadic forbears were more likely omnivores of the opportunistic type than they were mammoth-herding ranchers. They hunted. They gathered. They ate whatever they could find—the majority of which was lacking any redeeming nutritional value, and scientifically speaking, barf-tastic (look it up).

Scientists hypothesize that it was our human ancestors’ culinary exploration that sparked the progress of early civilization and the evolution of man. Possibly the most pivotal piece to this development was the ability to harness the power of fire. This changed the way people ate. It impacted the way humans socialized, improved their health and nutrition, and empowered them to explore regions of the world that were yet unattainable for humans.

In the same fossil record where larger, modern skulls have been found, archeologists have also found evidence of fire-making, which has led some to speculate that fire changed more than the way we eat. Bigger skulls meant bigger brains. Bigger brains required more calories.

Modern-day human brains burn about 20 percent of our caloric intake, even though brains make up just 2 percent of our body mass. To evolve into the brains we have today, cooking animal- and plant-based foods with fire was essential for the nutritional support brains and bodies needed. Before humans could control fire, they probably spent the majority of their time rooting around for food which burned off some serious calories. Most likely, they followed weather patterns for thunderstorms and the migrations of foraging animals, possibly even eating their leftovers. Fire making put humans in control. Instead of relying on foraging for seeds, eggs or the happenstance discovery of a charred animal carcass (yum) found underfoot in the aftermath of a forest fire, they could have a hot meal on demand.

Upping their caloric and nutrient intake worked wonders for the health of early humans. High-temperature cooking could kill deadly microbes in food, especially meat. Cooked food was also softer, reducing the number of calories needed to chew and digest while making nutrients easier to absorb.

With less hunting and gathering going on, people could pursue romantic interests/biological imperatives, increasing the odds of contributing to the next generation’s gene pool. Better nutrition also meant stronger immune systems, reduced morbidity and mortality rates, and fewer trips to the urgent care shaman clinic. People had more leisure time, not the “Maybe I’ll try pilates” kind of leisure time, but people undoubtedly had more time to ponder and solve problems. To develop new and improved hunting and building methods. To be creative and make art. To develop language. And to explore the meaning of life and find their place under the cosmic canopy of tiny, twinkling balls of fire glowing from afar in the evening sky.

With the power of fire to bestow seemingly mystical gifts upon primitive man, it’s no wonder that there are so many ancient myths about the origins of fire and the gods who wielded this elusive element.

With the power of fire, people had become liberated. They could quit the hand-to-mouth, hunter/gather gig economy, and start to put down some roots, grow crops, and create more permanent dwellings. And with more established communities came a need for order, division of labor and the rule of law. With fire and a little bit of layering up, humans were ready to take on the world. They could roam with confidence and live in places where the climate was once too cold for people. Fire also provided protection from animals or hostile neighbors who might steal their food.

In our electric age, the vestigial embers of fire continue to endure. Although more tame than the fire of our prehistoric cousins, we still rely on its power in its various forms for sustenance, comfort, communication, travel and community. But despite all of our modern conveniences, there is still great value in detaching our faces from those glowing, mobile torches in our hands to spend some time outside gathered around civilization’s first social network, bonding with real people over good food and drink.

It might just be the spark we need to figure out where we’re going next.
 

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SOURCES:

When Fire Met Food, The Brains Of Early Humans Grew Bigger
https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/10/24/163536159/when-fire-met-meat-the-brains-of-early-humans-grew-bigger

Hunter-Gatherers
https://www.history.com/topics/pre-history/hunter-gatherers
https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/inventions-fire?rebelltitem=5#rebelltitem5

Mar 19, 2020


B-Team Superheros

How B-Team Superheroes Saved the Box Office Day

For more than a decade, the holidays and summer have been the season of the superhero with Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe consistently knocking it out of the galaxy. Before we arrived at this new golden age of superhero films, there was an endless run of really lame films and TV shows. If you’ve seen the re-runs or actually suffered through the Incredible Hulk or Spiderman of the 70s, you can appreciate how technology has transformed an army of Supers, Amazings, Incredibles and assorted superlative prefixes into convincingly realistic characters.

pull quoteIt seems to have been an otherworldly combination of factors that raised the standard and the box office draw for the spandex-laden misfits, assorted demi-gods, and alien refugees. Historically comic superhero popularity has thrived in challenging situations like wartime, human rights, and most recently, our post-911 world.

If there were ever a time to look for an escape and bury your head in the panels of a more perfect world where justice prevailed over the dark forces it would probably be the Great Depression, a time of great loss and despair when the hope of brighter future was looking pretty dim. Despite all of this, Superman emerged from the pages of Action Comics, issue number one.

The Man of Steel was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, the sons of Jewish immigrants. When Shuster was a young boy, his father was gunned down by a thief, which gives his creation of a crime-fighting, bullet-proof immigrant from the planet Krypton an even more poignant origin story.

That first comic went for 10 cents in 1938. That’s $1.87 in 2019 currency and back then that would have bought a lot of beans and rice.

For the record, Superman is a DC creation, but he was the first superhero comic and without him, we wouldn’t have the superhero films we have today. DC did manage some success with the Christopher Nolan trilogy, but it was Disney’s partnership with Marvel that raised stakes and took superhero films mainstream.

The stars in the superhero universe aligned around 2008 with Iron Man. Someone must have been relying more on their Spidey Sense rather than just the pre-release stats because before Iron Man was even released, Disney announced that they would make four more Marvel films. Disney’s partnership with Marvel raised stakes and took superhero films mainstream.

To date, Disney-Marvel has made 13 superhero films in 11 years, pulling in a spectacular $21.4 billion worldwide with more projects in the works, for the theater and their new streaming service, Disney+.

The secret to the success of these films lies in part to their accessibility. The stories weren’t largely centered around A-list superheroes so there was less canon and plenty of room to expound upon less popular characters. It wasn’t until 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” that Disney was able to come to an agreement so that Spidey could join the ranks of the Avengers. By then the B-team popularity rivaled, if not exceeded, the cache of Spiderman.

To get a sense of how a brand might learn a thing or two from Disney-Marvel and the characters of the MCU, let’s get super-listicle.

#1…Use the element of surprise to advantage.
This is even easier if no one expects anything from you in the first place. Most of the characters either had cult figure fandoms or they were considered B-listers (Scarlett Witch, Black Widow, The Vision, Hawkeye, War Machine). The only true headliners were The Hulk, Spiderman, and Captain American. Thor? Sort of, but the God of Thunder was still kind of niche at this point. By developing a larger narrative around predominantly unknown characters, audiences could be introduced to these characters and their stories with little or no preconceived notions, and very little backlash from superfans.

#2…Hire superfans to champion your story.
The assorted directors and even the majority of actors hold one common thread, their passion for comics and the characters that they portray.

#3…Empower your team.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go as a team. No single Avenger could make it happen. It takes the superpowers of each member of the team to get it done. Give them the power to make choices – and even fail. The faster you fail, the faster you learn to succeed. For an established brand like Disney, the idea of them letting loose of the reins with so much at stake is astonishing, but it has proven to reap equally astonishing results.

#4…Do “whatever it takes.”
We’re not saying you need to jump off a cliff to get what you want, but if it’s worth going after, it’s probably going to take some degree of work and sacrifice. Find your power in your passion.

#5…You’re worthy.
Even “PTSD-bro” Thor found greater power in being himself rather than trying to be what he thought he should be. Sally Hogshead, legendary copywriter turned author and public speaker says, “Being the best is good. Being different is better.” Eating a salad once in a while is probably not a bad idea either.

#6…Story rules all.
As we’ve seen from other franchises that have failed on the big screen, you can’t simply dazzle an audience with special effects. You have build characters that people like, love even, so much they’ll cry their eyes out when they die. That is, well, some people cried when certain people died. Not only did each of these films stand on its own, but they were also masterfully woven together to build to the biggest superhero throwdown in the universe. Every scene, every character, every line has a reason and intention behind it that drives the story forward.

Where other movie studios have been less successful at the superhero genre, Marvel has defied the laws of the cinematic universe. They put their faith in the hands of directors and writers who were long-time fans of comics, people who understood the characters and would protect the characters from the evil overlords of bureaucracy. The alchemy of CGI melded with visionary direction, writing, stellar talent, and creative latitude combine to create an epic entertainment enterprise for the ages.

Jan 8, 2020


Man on motorcycle in shop

How to Ride Ahead of the Pack (Without Selling Your Soul)

In January 2019, Harley-Davidson marked an infamous anniversary, that of its 1969 sale to “leisure time and industrial products” giant AMF. Six months after the sale, on July 1969, “Easy Rider” debuted in movie theaters. The timing could not have been better for the H-D brand. The true stars of the counterculture classic are motorcycles – Harleys, specifically – and “Easy Rider” cemented the motorcycle’s place in popular culture as a symbol of escape, liberation and freedom.

There was only one problem: AMF spent the next decade ruining the Harley. A series of product development and manufacturing decisions resulted in poor-quality bikes and, coupled with the rise in popularity of imported Japanese motorcycles, a public-relations nightmare. After buying the company back in 1981, H-D launched a comeback and managed to reclaim its status as an American icon, but it took a considerable amount of time and money to get there. This was one long and winding road Harley did not want to ride.

For others, the Harley-AMF gaff is a cautionary tale, and it’s one Deus Ex Machina dares not repeat. From its inception in Sydney, Australia, in 2006, the custom motorcycle manufacturer espoused an experiential philosophy in its approach to creating and selling its products, the scope of which has greatly expanded in part through Deus’ reciprocal relationship with its customers.

pull quoteThis mantra has helped the company organically grow into a massive recreation brand that touches nearly every corner of the world, even if most Deus disciples have never even touched a bike. In addition to its wildly-creative, hand-built custom motorcycles, the Deus name can be found on surfboards, snowboards, bicycles, apparel, and luggage. The company is big into film, runs a boutique vinyl record label and operates Deus retail shops and cafes on four continents. Its advertising aesthetic is a contemporary take on open-road-freedom tropes with just the right amount of grainy-photo retro appeal. All of this resonates with the company’s heavily-Millennial fan base, and its 500K+ Instagram followers regularly evangelize the brand.

Such brand loyalty is nothing new – Nike started out making innovative running shoes for competitive racers and now sells joggers to career couch potatoes who haven’t run a mile since their sixth-grade Presidential Physical Fitness Test – but the depth and breadth of Deus’ interaction with its audience, online and in realtime, is. The company hosts art exhibits, DJ nights, and bike rallies from Venice Beach to Ibiza and everywhere in between, all of which are thoroughly reported via social media and the extensive Deus blog. Fans flock to them religiously. Says Deus Galleries featured photographer C-Reel, “Deus is now a culture, an attitude, a way of life.”

The same can be said for Harley-Davidson – even if these days H-D is less ruggedly-handsome-Peter-Fonda-in-Easy-Rider and more suburban-Baby-Boomer-with-handsome-stock-portfolio – but this was accomplished only after a timely and expensive restructuring. AMF made one thing clear during its ill-fated run with Harley-Davidson: all it cared about was building bikes, and lots of them, and it nearly killed a classic American brand in the process. Deus Ex Machina, on the other hand, puts as much care into building a culture around the brand as its builders put into their custom bikes, and it has helped the company build a loyal global following and expand its offerings. All while staying on brand.
 

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SOURCES:

From the Archives: The AMF Purchase, harley-davidson.com
https://www.harley-davidson.com/us/en/museum/explore/archives/did-you-know/amf-buyback.html

Deus Ex Machina makes high-end motorcycles and loses money on each one, by Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2015
https://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-deus-motorcycles-20150124-story.html

Indonesia: We’re all ‘natural breathing’ in the Deus Gallery, Deus blog, September 9, 2019
http://deuscustoms.com/blog/natural_breathing/

Oct 24, 2019


recording studio console

Smells Like Analog Spirit

“In this age of technology where you can simulate or manipulate anything, how do we retain that human element?” – Dave Grohl in “Sound City”

There’s no understating Kurt Cobain’s role in the musical paradigm shift that Nirvana initiated with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but sonically speaking, it’s Dave Grohl’s monstrous four-beat drum intro that kickstarted the revolution.

Drums play a starring role in the legend of Sound City, the famed studio where “Nevermind” and more than a hundred other gold- and platinum-selling albums were recorded. In Grohl’s “Sound City” documentary, he’s one of several musicians, producers and recording engineers who wax philosophic on the rhythmic alchemy witnessed inside this unassuming studio on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Yet pinpointing what, exactly, is responsible for the “Sound City drum sound” eludes them all.

Sound City Studios opened in 1969. Its original owners, investors Joe Gottfried and Tom Skeeter, were new to the music industry. Admittedly, they were only in it for the money. And it showed. The ramshackle studio, located in an aging business park in the patently unsexy neighborhood of Van Nuys, was behind the times and, figuratively and literally, outside the L.A. fast lane. Business went more thud than boom. But rather than cut their losses and move on to other ventures, Skeeter dug in and purchased a colossal state-of-the-art recording console — one of four in existence – recently developed by British electronics engineer Rupert Neve. The price tag was $75,000, more than double that of Skeeter’s latest home purchase.

Credit the analog Neve 8028 console – “The Facilitator” as it’s referred to in Grohl’s documentary – for transforming Sound City from a floundering upstart into L.A.’s hottest studio, with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, and the Grateful Dead flocking there to cut records in the 1970s. But the building itself deserves some credit, too. When the Neve arrived, a symbiotic relationship quickly developed. Rock music, as filtered through the Neve, comprehensively rocked inside the former warehouse’s crumbling walls, particularly the drums, the instrument most impacted by the environment surrounding it.

pull quoteYet even Sound City’s reputation as one of those rare-air studios with an intangible “feel” could not protect it from the march of progress. When digital technology started infiltrating music-making and studio recording in the 1980s, the all-analog Sound City once again struggled. But then in 1991, three underground musicians from Seattle with a new major-label recording contract trekked down the coast to Sound City for a 16-day session. Nirvana chose the studio more for its affordability than its reputation, but the Neve board was a key selling point. No one at the time had any inclination of the impact “Smells Like Teen Spirit” would have on the music industry, but the session ultimately provided a boon for Sound City. Once Nirvana broke, everyone wanted to record there. Albums by Blind Melon, Rage Against the Machine, Tool and Rancid, among others, followed in the footsteps of “Nevermind.”

But then, Pro Tools. By the late ’90s, the digital recording software had improved enough to be taken seriously by professionals, and the music industry was seriously into it. Musicians could now make albums in their bedrooms. Producers and engineers could mix and edit in a fraction of the time. Record labels no longer had to front six-figure studio budgets. The traditional recording studio suddenly seemed like a quaint, archaic notion, and several studios disappeared. The casualties included Sound City, which, despite selling off equipment in an attempt to stay afloat (Grohl himself bought the Neve console), closed its doors to the public in 2011.

Two years later, Grohl’s “Sound City” documentary hit theaters. Analog was already in revival mode thanks to the vinyl resurgence and the back-to-basics ethos of labels like Jack White’s Third Man Records and Brooklyn’s Daptone Records, but Grohl’s film spurred renewed interest in the old-school, put-everyone-in-the-same-room recording studio. This led to a reopening of Sound City in 2016 by Skeeter’s daughter Sandy (Tom passed away in 2014, Gottfried in 1992). While this new version of the studio includes a Pro Tools rig, vintage analog gear still provides the framework, and the main studio looks the same as it did in 1969 – all the way down to the peeling paint and cracked linoleum that remains for fear of altering the space and losing its signature sound.

Analog isn’t easy. It’s painstaking work, and when a mistake is made, a computer can’t repair it with a few clicks of a mouse. Sometimes being disruptive means resisting innovation rather than embracing it, and Sound City’s second life is proof of that. In his film, Grohl concludes that Sound City “represents integrity.” In the 21st century, the studio has found a way to use technology as a tool while staying true to its analog roots and retaining its mystique. When the creator and the consumer demand authenticity, that’s the symbiotic space where a challenger brand can make its mark.
 

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SOURCES:

Sound City, directed by Dave Grohl, January 31, 2013
http://www.soundcitymovie.com

Q&A: Dave Grohl on His Sound City Doc and Taking Risks in Music, by Katie Van Syckle, Rolling Stone, January 25, 2013
https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-news/qa-dave-grohl-on-his-sound-city-doc-and-taking-risks-in-music-242976/

L.A. Grapevine, March 2009, by Bud Scoppa, Mix, March 1, 2009
https://www.mixonline.com/recording/la-grapevine-march-2009-367413

Sep 30, 2019


child receiving medical care

Wash. Rinse. Save Lives. Repeat.

Lifehacks, they’re definitely a thing in our culture. But the word seems to have lost a bit of its luster through overuse. The minutiae of everyday life appear to have become one big lifehack leaving a truly awe-inspiring life hack to become a footnote in a sea of shoelace hacks and moustache hacks. Not to discount the overwhelming sense of enlightenment upon unlocking the secret of how to fold a fitted sheet (earth-shattering stuff), but there are some life hacks that transcend convenience. They are simple, clever, elegant even, solutions that in some cases can actually save lives.

According to the World Health Organization, 2 million infant deaths a year are caused by pneumonia. So when a young doctor, Mohammod Jobayer Chisti, was confronted head-on with the senseless deaths of infants due to respiratory complications, he became driven to find an affordable and accessible solution.

For infants with a respiratory illness such as pneumonia, the air sacs in the lungs become inflamed making it difficult for them to stay open between breaths, causing oxygen debt. With the right equipment, successful recovery is possible. However, as a physician in a third-world country, Dr. Chisti, neither had the funds or the immediate access to these devices.

After two decades of experimentation, Dr. Chisti arrived at an affordable and simple solution using a tube and a shampoo bottle partially filled with water. When the infant exhales into the tube, it creates water bubbles in the bottle. The bubbles produce enough opposing force to gently keep air sacs in the lungs open and allow the infant to properly exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen. Within hours of first testing this device on critical care infants, Chisti witnessed dramatic recoveries.

Dr. Chisti and a team of doctors continue to research and refine their solution. In the near term, his device which costs around $1.25 has replaced a $15,000 ventilator device and reduced the mortality rate by 75% for infants with pneumonia.

For Mohammod Jobayer Chisti, finding a way to do more with less seems to come as naturally to him as breathing. From adversity, he discovered that limitations are tools, and challenges are opportunities to learn and grow. By approaching his challenge from a unique perspective, he bravely discarded traditional methods to explore the unknown and uncover an innovative solution, a real lifehack that saves real lives.
 

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SOURCES:

Tackling the Main Causes of Child Mortality in Developing Countries Evidence from Non-clinical Interventions, by Miguel Niño-Zarazúa, October 30, 2013, https://www.wider.unu.edu/publication/tackling-main-causes-child-mortality-developing-countries

If Your Baby Has Pneumonia, This Doctor’s $1.25 ‘Shampoo Bottle Trick’ Is a Life Saver, by Li Yen, Epoch Times, May 29, 2019, Updated: June 4, 2019, https://www.theepochtimes.com/if-your-baby-has-pneumonia-this-doctors-1-25-shampoo-bottle-trick-is-a-life-saver_2748187.html

The World Health Organization, 10 facts on health inequities and their causes Updated April 2017, https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/health_inequities/en/

Aug 13, 2019