Tuesday, December 12, 2006


It's the silly season, so why resist a bit of frivolity? Jeff Pulver has started an entertaining game of blog tag, and I have been tagged twice - once by Irwin Lazar and again in Dave Gale's blog. The challenge here is to bring out the human beneath the blogbot by revealing five things about yourself that not many readers may know. I don't want to name and shame anyone publicly, but if you are a reader of this blog and have your own blog, then consider yourself tagged. Anyway, enough about you, back to me and here we go:

1) The funniest/strangest moment in my career as an analyst: There are a number of strong candidates for this, including the fund manager who kept falling asleep during a presentation which a colleague and I were giving back in 1998 - we ended up taking turns coughing to subtly wake him up, while the other droned on. Or the other client who stared quite blatantly at the legs and cleavage of the saleswoman accompanying us, throughout the duration of the 60-minute presentation. But the winner comes from early 2004. From a historical perspective, it is important to remember that, while we all take Skype for granted as common currency here in late 2006, in early 2004 this was far from the case, despite the level of excitement already being felt among geeks and geek wannabes (including me). With that in mind I would like to stress that, in relating this anecdote, I am not denigrating the response of the investor in question - it was simply a wonderfully surreal sort of moment which deserves to be related. So, early 2004, I'm in Stockholm for a day of meetings with fund managers. The topic is, unsurprisingly, industry disruption, and my presentation has a long section on Skype. I arrived the night before and somehow came down with the flu, so I look and feel like absolute shit. In the first meeting, I work through the first part and move on to Skype. The fund manager says, "Sorry, I'm not familiar with this, what is it?" Being in Sweden, I figure I'll use shorthand. I answer, "Have you ever heard of a Swede named Niklas Zennstrom?" The fund manager perks up. "Yes, I played basketball with him in high school. What's he doing now?"

2) Back in Memphis I was an active musician, involved in a vast number of bands and projects. I started off playing electric guitar and bass, but after my younger brother got a drumkit I became an enthusiastic, if not entirely proficient, drummer. Late in my career I took on the tenor saxophone, playing in a manner most closely resembling a one-lipped Pharoah Sanders. My last sort-of official band, The Grundies, had a habit of rotating instruments, so in the course of a single show (or, as some in the audience referred to it, "an incident") I would play guitar, bass, drums and tenor sax - thankfully not at once. The bands I played/recorded with, in roughly chronological order were: Pseudobop, Kings of the Western Bop, Four Neat Guys, Panther Burns, Shock Opera, Possible Fossils, Harris and the Hepsters, Satan's Bedpan, Linda Heck and the Train Wreck, Hans Faulhaber, Big Mouth Bass, The Brewers, Slaw, Hot Joe, Compulsive Gamblers, Snakehips, Linda Heck and Her Yes Men, Skronkadelic, The Grifters, Bob's Lead Hyena, The Grundies, An All-Gourd Band (yes, all the instruments were made of gourds), and The Bum Notes. I once composed a sort-of three-minute thrash rock opera based on "The Elephant Man," of which I was very proud, though not many have heard it. I had/have a passable singing voice, though I didn't do it publicly very often - usually at paid gigs (weddings/corporate do's) with a jazz combo. I also taught myself to throat sing in a style known as Sygyt, though I don't do that very often these days. My final musical involvement before leaving Memphis was with a group of percussionists, just for fun. One of them was an amazing man named Jack Adcock, who made many of his instruments, including some which were totally original. As it happens, Jack is having surgery today because he is gravely ill with cancer, so even if you don't know him, spare a thought. Godspeed Jack, I love you.

3) Living in Memphis, because of its tremendous musical legacy, it seemed pretty normal to me back then that you should always be only one or two degrees away from greatness. It's only living in Europe that the full wondrousness of that sort of environment really strikes me, as I occasionally am able to tell music fans about the people I met/saw in the course of normal life in Memphis. My first experience with this was as a 12 year-old, not long after my family had moved to Memphis from New Haven, where my dad had done his doctorate. My sixth grade English teacher was named Barbara Jackson, a flamboyant and somewhat scary woman with an amazing collection of mid-1970's pimpette-wear (it was the mid-70's afterall). Her husband occasionally used to come to the school to visit her during breaks, and it was only several years later that I realized the significance of the fact that his first name was Al. I was similarly unaware at the time of the full identity of the person named Alex whom I first met watching TV in my high school girlfriend's living room in 1981, but we crossed paths and played on gigs together many times over the subsequent years. Our family house was about half a mile from the houses of both Sam Phillips, whom I occasionally saw out mowing his front lawn, and Willie Mitchell, and a bit further to the West was the heavily wooded home of the brilliant Charlie Rich, who used to come to the restaurant where I waited tables in college, steadfastly refusing to sign autographs, and politely, but firmly, sending fans away because they were disturbing quality time with his wife. Much later, in my late 20's I regularly used to see Isaac Hayes in a local health food restaurant (this was long before South Park and the Chef renaissance), and for some reason I also seemed to frequently find myself in the same drug store as Rufus Thomas. I also met both Paul Burlison and Roland Janes, perhaps two of the most incendiary guitarists of their era, but when I met them both were languishing in obscurity before once again getting some recognition. I met, and played with on a couple of occasions, the inimitable Cordell Jackson (now there's some Chaotica for you), and she was kind enough to invite me and some friends to her home for the Moon Records 30th anniversary party, where I also met Estelle Axton. One of the bands which I played with included as an occasional member the amazing Robert Palmer, who was incredibly charming. Even in London, I don't seem to be able to avoid the Memphis Mojo. Late last year, my friend Jim Spake came to London with a Stax review, and managed to get me backstage at the Barbican, where I found myself unexpectedly having dinner with Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Skip Pitts (who played the universally recognized wah-wah figure on Theme from Shaft) and Ben Cauley (the only survivor of the Otis Redding plane crash) later meeting Mabel John, and showing a somewhat bemused Booker T. and his wife to the courtesy room.

4) My father went to the same high school as Lee Harvey Oswald, though Oswald was a couple of years behind my dad and they didn't know each other. We have always suspected that Oswald didn't stick around for long (confirmed in this Wikipedia entry), and he apparently missed photo day, because my dad's annual doesn't have his individual photo in it. However, there is one candid group photo taken in a school corridor where he is identified by name, and it is unmistakeably him.

5) My paternal family history is largely a mystery, but it is quite conceivable that I may be related to Johann Franz Encke, which may explain a childhood obsession with astronomy. One connection we are sure of is that I am distantly related (by marriage) to Tex Ritter, which makes me an even more distant relative of John Ritter.

No comments: