Sunday 28 July 2019

Hooked on your phone?

Last summer I was faced with an existential conundrum. It was a blazing hot day and I had left home without hat or cap.

This was far from a fashion problem. A doctor had recently warned me that being of a fair complexion I should protect my exquisitely delicate skin.

“To hell with it,” I rebelled. “I’d sooner end up the color of an Enniscorthy strawberry than go all the way back.

And then calamity struck. I had forgotten my cell phone. My heart leaped, a cold sweat broke out on my burning forehead, and I engaged in a fit of self-recrimination that would have done justice to Judas Iscariot.

There was nothing for it. I’d have to hoof it back the many blocks in the humid heat.

“Why?” A voice of reason inquired from deep within my psyche.

I stopped in mid-step. There was no compelling reason to retrieve my phone. I’d only be gone for a couple of hours. 

But it was obviously deeper than that. A wave of anxiety swept over me that brought to mind a hungover morning long ago when I didn’t have the price of a pint. I was hooked – to a bloody phone?

I paced to and fro on that narrow sidewalk blocking matrons with strollers, anguished hipsters, and the homeless before I bit the bullet and headed off phoneless into the great unknown.

I’ve been “clean” for a year now and often leave the house without my cell. As far as I know on those phoneless rambles no one has called to inform me of a lottery win, but I have missed many messages from mysterious Chinese women and emails from gregarious West African princes all of whom assure me that they have my best interests at heart.

Going cold turkey wasn’t particularly hard, but then I’m probably not hooked as most. I’m not a big texter and have never activated notification sounds.

So, what’s this smart phone addiction all about? Is it a need to be constantly in the mix? I have some rapper friends who feel that they need to be online at all times to see what’s trending.

For myself I’ve stopped even checking news online as I’ve found it ruins my appetite for the more in-depth analysis one might get in the Times, the Journal, or the sports pages of The Post.

Then again we live in exhausting times. We have a president who never sleeps and governs by tweet. 

Perhaps he’s trying to keep the rest of us awake and on our toes?  I recently heard a millennial friend inquire, “Has anything of value ever been tweeted?”

I couldn’t even hazard an opinion as I’m not a tweeter. The very thought of having one’s sleep interrupted by the random offended thoughts of our president is alarming. I know this might sound unpatriotic, and please don’t tell Ivanka, but I already find it increasingly difficult to think straight in a world tangled up in apps, memes and emojis.

Which brings to mind a 19th Century poem beaten into me at Wexford CBS.

“What is this life if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows…
A poor life this if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.”

I wonder what the Christian Brothers would make of President Trump or contemporary social interaction? 

In a restaurant last night I looked around during a break in conversation at the dozen or so other diners, all gazing raptly at their cells. For a moment I wondered if Wexford had beaten Kilkenny again or had another royal just delivered her baby. 

I have to confess there are times I long for old-fashioned answering machines and those long lazy afternoons spent on my couch wondering what I might do next – if anything. 

I had all day at my disposal, a six-pack cooling, and time to dig into that big volume of Proust or Steve Duggan’s tips from Belmont.

Those idyllic days are gone to be replaced by an ever present niggling anxiety that I can’t quite put my finger on. Excuse me while I check my cell.

Saturday 13 July 2019

The Boy From The Bronx

You can take the boy out of the Bronx but you can’t take the Bronx out of the boy. That thought struck me when I first met Elliot Rabinowitz back in 1992.

He was charming, intelligent, and hilarious but he had never lost his sense of the immigrant underdog going one on one with the system.

By then he was known as Elliot Roberts, one of the world’s most powerful talent managers.

Who had he not handled – Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Still & Nash, The Cars, Devo, Tom Petty? And now he wished to manage Black 47.

He loved our songs, the explosive stage shows, and the political beliefs that led Time Magazine to pronounce, “Finally, Rock ‘n’ Roll that means something again.”

Elliot and I shook hands on a very simple and fair management deal – “no need for a contract,” he said.  “That way either of us can walk without putting our lawyers in a higher tax bracket.”

Within a month the scouts from every major record company were lined up outside Paddy Reilly’s, for in our proletariat zeal we insisted that they pay admission like every other punter.

We eventually signed with EMI. Rick Ocasek of the Cars and I produced Fire of Freedom, and the world and her mother seemed to be dancing to Funky Ceili or pumping their fist to James Connolly.

It all came back recently when I heard that Elliot passed away.

What a character, as tough as barbed wire and yet with a degree of sensitivity and understanding rare in a man!

He was a joy to hang out with, he rarely gave any direction, and yet he could be lacerating if he felt you weren’t living up to the band’s talent and potential.

I once tried to explain that we played loud because it enabled us to jam better. He dismissed such twaddle with the cursory, “People come to hear your songs for the stories. If they can’t hear the words they won’t come back.”

Being Irish and a musician I’ve often felt that if you ignore a problem for long enough it may go away.

Elliot knew better. “Who do I call and what’s the number?” was his standard response to any crisis. Whereupon he would suavely fix the issue or engage in a blistering phone rant regardless of where we were or who might be listening.

He loved musicians, probably because he understood just how rigged the music biz is. 

There are no pensions or 401(Ks) in this game. There’s no longer even a Bowery to plant your butt on if all else fails. That’s why he treasured all our dreams and fought like a lion for his artists.

Lately, I’d often thought of calling him to get his take on Spotify, Apple and all the other “dot commers” who have finally beggared musicians in a way that the most cutthroat suits up on 57th Street never managed to do.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this issue was on his mind in his final days, for despite his battling soul and native optimism Elliot took things personally.

Losing Bob Dylan as a client was a blow that weighed deeply on him during our business relationship.

It didn’t surprise me for Bobby could never play second fiddle to any other artist, and Neil Young was Elliot’s main man. The affection and loyalty between these two titans was legendary. 

They once gave me a beautiful turquoise Stratocaster that Fender had made for Mr. Young. 

“Neil has hundreds of guitars,” Elliot waxed eloquently, “You only have one. What’ll happen if you break a string on stage? 

Neil winked at me. He’d obviously heard the line before but he enjoyed his manager’s Bronx shtick.

When it was time to end our business agreement, Elliot was as good as his word. We shook hands, called it a day and remained friends.

The boy from The Bronx traveled many roads and lit up the lives of those he loved and represented. I continue to learn from his example.