Friday, August 31, 2007

Recreation or Self-Mutilation? You Decide!

I am a news junkie. RSS feeds are like crack to me, I gobble up news bites like that are those little doughnut holes. I have noticed a trend in the news this summer and I wanted to share it with you: the “normal” recreational activities we do are simply idiotic. Lets take a look a few of the headlines

Girl’s Maimed at Six Flags

Read the article here: Local News Report

So this pretty teenage girl goes with her friends to the local amusement park and WHAM her feet get sliced off on the Superman ride. It is a horrible thing and I feel so bad for this girl, but lets step it back: Why the hell are human beings strapping themselves into a poorly protected brace and allowing ourselves to be slung into the air at over 60 mph? When did this become a good idea? We went from Ferris Wheels (which can also be problematic) and Merry-Go-Rounds (got nothing bad so say about the MGR) to high-speed lines of death.

Lets take it back even on step further. You go to these amusement parks, pay $40 bucks to get in, get overcharged for food, and you have to stand in line (in the heat) for 2 hours to even enjoy the good rides (or pay extra for the VIP treatment). What the hell is wrong with us? When did this become a good thing to do? If we one working brain cell when we are in the “mass populous” we would avoid these places like a broke whore avoids her pimp.

US Beaches Pollution Report

Read the article here: MSNBC Article

I will completely and freely admit that I am a little biased on this one. I am not sure how it is in other states, but the South Jersey shore has been pissing me off the last few years. First, in order to get there, you have to sit in traffic with every other asshole that wants to spend the weekend on the water. A 50 mile trip can take 3.5 hours. Once you get down there you get privilege of paying on average about $200 per night to stay at a place that looks like it was decorated with bad 70’s porn as inspiration. On top of that we are now hearing that the water “may be dirty”.

May be dirty? Let me tell you something… we dump our shit in the water; every country dumps their shit in the water. I don’t care how much “treatment” we give it before we release it; it’s still shit water. The ocean is the world’s toilet bowl. Lets take feces out of the equation, you still have to content will all these corporations that are dumping their wastes into the water. Ok we regulate it, but not that much and there is always illegal actions that are happening all the time (Remember when Dave Matthews Tour Bus driver dumped shit into the river – you don’t think that doesn’t happen with all these assholes that drive around in RVs?).

Let me heap on more misery. Sharks. Before 1918, it wasn’t “popular” to swim in the ocean, I guess people just went to the beach and stared at the water. Since the 1920’s we have been getting stories of people being bitten or eaten by sharks. Ever wonder why before the 1900’s we weren’t afraid of getting eaten in the water? Fishing.

A little history lesson for you: American culture as a whole isn’t too big on eating fish. The Lewis and Clark were buying dogs to eat from the Indians instead of just fishing (the Indian tribes laughed at them). The influx of Irish that came into the US during the 1800 was also not to fond of fish (look at the European fishing records during the “great potatoes famine” – there was plenty to eat besides meat and potatoes). Once Mediterranean cultures entered the US in force, the American diet started to change and we started to fish heavily and not just for Salmon and Cod. Shrimp, Lobster, Squid all started to appear on American plates and guess who was going hungry… the god damn sharks. So now the sharks have to venture closer to the shore to find food. So then the US started to “keep the shores safe” from the creatures that live in the water so we started going after the sharks and then guess what happened? The jellyfish thrived because sharks eat the jellyfish and when the sharks are gone, the jellies float on over to your foot and sting you. Don’t worry; if you need someone to piss on you, just come find me, you deserve it for going “down the shore” in the first place.

Hot Air Balloon Accident

Read the article here: Forbes Article

You know what… I am even going to try hard on this one. Who the hell goes several hundred feet in the air in a BASKET containing a large furnace? What goes through people’s mind?

The point of this rant is that I think people are just accustomed to doing things and we have stopped asking why we do them. Sure there are people who really love roller coasters – but if I never saw one again in my whole life, I could care less (and I will tell you I probably won’t unless there is a damn good reason). I will admin, I do enjoy the ocean, but I don’t like swimming in shit, so I have some work to do there (PS – why go to the Jersey shore and drop 1,000 bucks for a hotel for the week when you can go to Mexico – three words kids – Swim Up Bar).

Just because you did something when you were a kid doesn’t mean it is still worth doing. It isn’t 1964 anymore, 50% of The Beatles are dead, you are old and wrinkled - time to change it up.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part Three - The Finale

So You Want to Start Your Own Business?
The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part Three – The Finale

Click Here for Part One

Click Here for Part Two

The first two chapters of this story recounted how I ended up owning and running a computer repair shop and the problems that went along with it. This chapter will tell you how I got out.

One major omission in the first two chapters that I really want to address is business clubs. A business club is a group that you pay money to join and the purpose is to give and receive leads. On paper it sounds like a great idea, but if you factor the prerequisites, they don’t work out for a lot of small business owners. The first issue is that you have to be an established business (I managed to get around that when I joined my first group because I knew somebody in the club). This in itself is a problem: there are a few foundation professions in each of these clubs – a lawyer, a realtor, an accountant, for some reason a chiropractor, usually some kind of printing press person, and then unique small businesses. You can be the only person of your profession in the club, so there is no competition within the club.

Here is the problem: if you are starting a business, you usually need a lawyer, an accountant, and probably have worked with a real estate agent already. You have the foundation of your infrastructure (and most businesses have a computer guy already that knows their set up). Matt and Anthony have a huge network of friends that are willing to do freebies or favors for them, this is a huge part of the reason we managed to stay in the black. They had a great network of people I started to consider friends; there was no way I was going to give someone else business over them. So I didn’t give leads and never got any, and I was getting charged 350 – 400 dollars per quarter (If you are curious, the clubs I joined were BNI and LeTip). They usually meet at a diner or small restaurant really early in the morning or for lunch which was hell on me due to my day job.

Leads not coming from the clubs were a source of frustration to Anthony. He questioned my “sales” ability at the meetings, but he never did come to a meeting when I asked him to go and see what it was like for himself. That caused a little bitterness because I think if he attended he wouldn’t have wasted any more of our money. After a year or so of fruitless meetings, we both agreed it was time to stop.

As 2005 ended and we entered into 2006, I started to have a renewed passion for my day job. I had finally gotten some backup and I wasn’t on call 24/7. This allowed me to do a little networking and figure out that I didn’t want to be technical much longer (working at the store probably had something to do with it as well). Meanwhile Computer Joey became more of a chore. Anthony was pushing me to build and sell computers on the cheap, but Dell was running a deal where you can get a computer, monitor, and printer for $322 (and there was support, sure it was in India, but if you wanted to call someone you would eventually get help, not the case if you bought a CJ special). There was no way in hell I could build a computer with a Windows Operating System for under 400 dollars and make a profit (raw materials cost me about 270 – I refused to buy total crap – and windows cost about 88 dollars – toss in shipping and you are at 380ish). At some point I gave up and ended up building 5 or 6 systems and Anthony built out a nice display area in the front of the store. They sold ok, but again, I made like 40 dollars on the computer and if the customer had an issue, I lost any profit we made.

My customers and pricing were always a soft spot for me. Berlin, NJ has a decent size elderly population and I guess they are technologically active. Quite a few old timers came into the store with their PC’s. Once I got talking to them, I knew they were on fixed incomes and would either drastically reduce the price or just do the work for free. Honestly, I wasn’t making any money at the store, so a good deed was about the only satisfaction I was getting.

Freebies for the elderly were one thing, but I had quite a bit of friend-of-friends that wanted their computer’s worked on and had ridiculous expectations. I can’t tell you how many times somebody I wasn’t very close with would stroll in and drop the computer off and say – can I pick it up later today? It was like getting kicking in the balls twice. If you were a friend of the store, I wasn’t going to charge and people definitely took advantage of that situation.

The building frustration, lack of income, and time vacuum was coming to a head with Anthony. I was actively telling him I wanted out and was setting exit dates. First was March; it came and went. We all had a camping trip in April, I decided that weekend would be the end; Bill opened the store while we were gone. Anthony had formulated that we could potentially sell the business for some kind of profit. I was skeptical, but was all ears. After some mild inquiries, an elderly gentleman expressed interest. He came in the store and worked with me for a few days. I could tell he was a little overwhelmed and I was trying to coach him on some of my techniques and short cuts. After a week or two, he agreed to buy the business from us. I was overjoyed! I was finally free….

Two days after my exit, Anthony called me to tell me the guy backed out. I can say I was surprised but I wasn’t, and a part of me was glad that the guy didn’t pay money to figure out the lesson I had learned the hard way (there is no money in computer repair). The good thing was – I wasn’t coming back. We started to call our customer based and told them we were closing and to pick up their systems (some people would drop their computers off and leave them there for months or in some cases years – we put a sign on the front of the store and a note on the invoice that after 90 days it was our property – but it didn’t stop them from trying to reclaim their system 18 months later).

In the end, Computer Joey didn’t go out with a bang; it just faded slowly out of my life. To Anthony’s credit, once the business was out of our lives, he definitely went out of his way to show me everything was cool. It took me some time to get back to me pre-CJ grove with him, but now I call him every couple of days to check in. Shortly after the store shut down, Matt got engaged and moved to upstate New York. I am going to his wedding at the end of September and I cannot wait.

While I did not make much money from my entrepreneurial experience, I certainly did learn a lot. The first thing is how some clich├ęs are true: Don’t ever go into business with family (and I will add friends to that as well) – they know you too well and know how to push the right buttons. I can be the most ferocious person at my day job, but Anthony could make me feel like a clueless 11 year old kid in 15 seconds. I subscribe to the “always being a lion and never the lamb” philosophy, so don’t be meek unless you want to be. Accounting is so important. Anthony’s wife handled the books the first year and I just did not pay attention, she did a great job, but a business owner needs to understand his or her cash flow and what product is moving. I didn’t take the time to look for trends.

Coming out of this experience I will tell you that if I ever do go into business for myself again, I will never maintain another physical location. I could have done so much better working out of my basement and taking house calls at a higher rate. While I am burnt out on the computer repair scene, I can see myself being a private consultant at some point in my future (and get out of the tax-hell that is New Jersey).

If you are serious about starting your own business, the most important thing is to be passionate about it. That passion will infect your customer base (and if you aren’t, they will catch that too). One thing to remember: Hobbies are not passions, learn to tell the difference. Another thing I would recommend is to try to get a part time job in the business you are trying to start (if you don’t already work in it), you will see first hand what your customers expect and what the job entails. If you have a dream, try it out and go for it, just have an exit plan just in case. Set reasonable goals and if you don’t meet them, say goodbye.

On that note, I will say goodbye to you my readers. I hope you found this tale entertaining and at least a little informative. Good luck with all you plans and ideas and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty!

The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part Two – The Storm

So You Want to Start Your Own Business?
The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part Two – The Storm

Click here to read Part One

The car accident rattled me. I had gotten into other accidents before, but this was the first time I was hurt. The airbag burned my arms, chest, face and it was hard to bend and twist – but I knew I was lucky to get off with the injuries I got. As expected, I didn’t sleep much that night and had to ask my mother for a ride to the store the next morning. My mother is the extremely nervous type so she didn’t do much to settle my mood. I walked in to find Anthony, Heather, and Ryan decorating the store for the 4th of July. They were very concerned and went easy on me that day. Having Ryan around certainly made it better because he is the cheeriest kid there is.

The next week I had a vacation scheduled to Mexico (which was booked before the grand opening date was set). I was on the fence about going, but after the wreck, I needed some time to relax and I didn’t want to loose the money I spent on the trip. When I got back the sheer amount of work between the day job and the store was overwhelming. I could tell Anthony was pissed that I was gone (a recurring theme), and they couldn’t do much to dig me out of the hole because they were not technical.

It was around this time that I noticed suggestions and ideas that I had for the store were getting written off as impractical and Anthony was just making decisions on the fly. I really didn’t mind as the decisions were being made, but when I stopped to look at the actions as a whole, I could see we were just reacting and didn’t have a strategy. I understand their lack of patience (to develop a plan): Matt and Anthony were running three businesses and dealing with the property itself. I had my job and the store. There were no brain cells to spare and we just kept...reacting. A perfect example is when Anthony asked his super-talented artist friend to design a logo for us. Anthony had his heart set on a baby smashing a computer with a hammer. I didn’t like the idea, but I kept getting steamrolled. In the end I figured Marc would come up with something clever because the guy is a really good. What we ended up getting was a baby who looked like he shit himself. I was embarrassed at the logo but Anthony loved it and I was stuck with it.

Things continued this way for a while. I was getting accustomed to being at the store more and incorporated it into my life: "using it as a clubhouse" as Anthony used to say. We used the work space for business meetings, social functions, and even a few community gatherings. It wasn’t perfect, but everything was coming together. I started to detect things between Matt and Anthony weren’t right (I am not going to get into the whole story because that is their business). Needless to say, the split focus was taking a toll on their partnership.

In hindsight, it was clear we were trying to do things to make the other person happy instead of doing the right thing. There were a lot of small arguments about how things were handled, misplaced paperwork, misplaced computers, and vacation time. I would come up with improvement idea and it would get shot down – Anthony would always say “Show me first” and he was right to do so. Anthony would have an idea and I would say it wasn’t financially sound (buying equipment that my customers weren’t asking for, etc) and he would say I always negative about the business.

The reality of the computer repair business was starting to dawn on me. It is damn near impossible to make a decent living doing computer repair:
1. The big companies make computers so cheap it is almost pointless to attempt to repair them at a certain point.
2. My customer base had old systems that should have been replaced, not repaired. I had to constantly undercharge so they would use my service.
3. Selling equipment was hard: I could not make systems as cheap as Dell. Even coming close would cause problems because I used low grade parts that would require repairs (which ate into the bottom line).
4. On average we made $85 per PC that came in the store. I figured out I would have to fix about 600 computers to make 50,000 dollars a year. We had about 10-20 customers per week.

I tried to focus the store into more of a service-based enterprise, but time once again was not on my side. Service involved someone being at the store to provide the service at peak hours. I wasn’t able to do that. Over the next months we flirted with different people coming in to help: We had my friend Bill (who was going through some personal issues), my friend Mike (who just got laid off and realized there was no easy money so he quietly ditched us), a few local repair people that panned out to nothing, and then we hired Todd, a college kid who was great, but didn’t have a lot of time. My issues with finding reliable help pushed me into thinking that I couldn’t trust anyone but myself to get the actual work done.

By the end of 2004, Computer Joey had taken its toll on me. I was definitely not the same person I was getting into it. I was quick-tempered with just about everyone in my life. I didn’t like that I couldn’t make a decision stick with my own business (which prompted me to hire an artist to create a new logo which turned into a HUGE fight again). I could not stand the site of my customers. I was unfocused in every area of my life:
· Girls were coming and going at a rapid pace – I couldn’t even keep track of their names
· I just bought stuff without thinking – I didn’t have time to do the research which over time took a toll on my savings
· My relationship with Anthony was terrible
· My other career was suffering because I just burnt out

At this point we still were not making any money and the expenses of the building and keeping the store going were rising (oil heat was killing us), but we were still in the black. Matt and Anthony had an issue with someone renting the third storefront that added even more pressure on our already tense situation. Fights were breaking out between us more frequently and we would go for long stretches without talking to each other.

Early in 2005, I met my soon-to-be-wife Allison. When things starting getting serious with her, my mind started doing the math and I realize that something would have to go eventually because I could not keep all the balls in the air much longer. In November of 2005, I went to MCSE Boot Camp for my day job. I would be gone for 2 weeks doing hardcore studying and testing. This was good for my career and for the business because it opened up more consulting options. I left my friend Bill and Todd in charge of repairs while I was gone. Anthony and Matt kept the stress off me telling me everything was good. When I got home, nothing was done. By Christmas 2005, I had met with one of Anthony’s good friends (let’s say he is an productivity expect for lack of a better term). He suggested getting rid of the physical store, cut off the repair business, and focus on service only, my head started to spin.

Cutting the physical connection to the store opened questions around the partnership I didn't care to answer. If we didn’t have a store and rent, what does that do with the partnership? I wanted to avoid the discussion so I tested the waters and asking Anthony questions to see how he would react, the tests failed. Looking back I was mentally and emotionally preparing myself for the hard questions and talks that would need to happen, but it would be another 6 months before it all came to a head.

(To be concluded...)
Click Here for Part Three

The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part One - The Origin

So You Want to Start Your Own Business?
The Rise and Fall of Computer Joey: Part One – The Origin

Have you ever said to yourself “I would love to work for myself”? I know I used to think that in high school and college, but the day I was offered the chance to actually do it, a little tiny voice in my head said “RUN!” I didn’t listen and the result is the story you are about to read. If you are someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, don’t take this as discouragement, take this as a “what not to do”.

This story begins with an ending. It was June of 2003 and I had just broken up with a long time girlfriend. The weeks after the breakup resulted in me moping around and hanging out at my cousin Anthony’s business (he was a headhunter). Anthony and his partner Matt had just purchased a large street front property in South Jersey and they were thinking about how to fill the available spaces. Anthony had the idea to partner up with friends and family so they won’t just have rent income, but backend on a few businesses.

For the sake of you readers at home that don’t know my cousin Anthony, he has always been like a protective older brother to me. He is 14 years older than me and gotten me out (and sometimes into) trouble many times. Anthony will save your life, but if the mood is right, he might shit on you a little while he is doing it (hey you got yourself into this mess and if he is going to bail you out, he is going to do it his way). He is like the very best kind of sweet and sour sauce.

Matt and Anthony asked me several times over the next month and each time I said no. I was 23 years old and my job had me supporting 35,000 email users in a large corporation, I was constantly getting called on problems and I was going a little nuts (85-100 hour weeks were the norm). I had just found the new religion of physical fitness and was in the gym 2 hours a day and didn’t really want anything cutting into the little “me time” I had. Anthony’s sales pitch was there was no real expense or risk to me since I wasn’t investing any real money (just for startup hardware) and it would only be costing me my time. This was like a punch in the stomach… I didn’t have enough time to begin with, how could I run a business?

Anthony had an answer for this as well: I was fixing 3-5 computers a week for free for friends and family (or friends of friends), and Anthony knew it was starting to get a little out of hand. His solution was “charge them for it!” His theory was that if you are wasting 15-20 hours a week doing that for people on your free time (I used to fix computers while I was on emergency all night conference calls for work), if you had a lab or could do multiple systems at once, you could make some side money. He had a good point and he started to win me over. The plan was for me to keep my job, but work 3 days a week at the store after I got done working at the corporate job. Matt and Anthony would deal with the customers during the day and take phone calls. The idea was that it would be a fun relaxing environment and we would make a few bucks… damn we were all in way over our heads.

By September I was on board. Anthony’s adorable son had come up with the name Computer Joey (there are like 50 Joeys in the family and this is the only was the poor kid could keep things straight) and there was no looking back. The boys had settled on the building and immediately started on updating it and getting a huge section that was one storefront split into two. As they rebuilt and repaired the building, Matt and Anthony also attempted to keep their headhunting business afloat, this of course added tension because there wasn’t as much money coming in as they would have liked. They turned to me: it was decided that I would start making house calls until the store was ready.

My first few house calls were comedic. Anthony and I really didn’t hammer out a pricing structure and I was terrified to give someone a bill. Anthony even came with me on my first house call because I felt so weird just going inside someone’s house. Let me tell you something… although it gets better, it never goes away; the next few years I walked into my fair share of creepy places.

This went on for a few months and the boys got the store presentable enough so we could accept walk-ins. This is around the time things started to change. I was going to the store every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday (and in the beginning on Sundays to, just to help out and get stuff together). Matt and Anthony grew increasingly frustrated with taking in calls and my method of dealing with things when I got into the store. To make it short: I didn’t like calling customers until I looked at the computers and knew what was wrong with them. Anthony thought it was best to call immediately upon entering the store to let the customer know they were in good hands. I tried it his way but I kept getting burned: customers would ask me how much it would cost to fix and I hadn’t even turned the damn thing on yet. Let me tell you, we had A LOT of fights over this. Matt was generally in the middle playing both sides to keep the peace (The other side of the building was a furniture consignment shop run by Matt’s mother; that was his little project to deal with).

I got more frustrated as the questionnaire for incoming computers that I wrote wasn’t being used, and I had no information besides a customer’s name and a phone number. Eventually Anthony got some tags and did write some more information down, and that kept up both happy as we got used to each other’s styles. We had a great deal of growing pains over invoicing and keeping track of customer information and billing. Eventually, Heather (Anthony’s wife) showed me how to use Quickbooks and I started putting everything in there and doing invoices. It saved a lot of time and trouble and I suggest you use it if you are running a small business.

Our business was starting to grow and get good word of mouth, I had customers who liked us and kept coming back. Anthony was making friends with the local business council and committees and things were looking good. We weren’t making any money, but it wasn’t expected yet (the important part was that we weren’t in any debt).

Anthony and Matt had finished the store remodel at the end of June and we decided we would have our official grand opening during the town’s Fourth of July parade. The day before grand opening was a long and rough one. I had gotten paged around 3 AM for an email issue and never went back to bed, the day was long and full of troubles and then I got out of work to go and prepare the store for the grand opening. My buddy Rob, who was getting married in a few weeks, invited me over his place for some reason and since I felt I hadn’t spent that much time with him (I was his best man) I went over there after I got finished up at the store. I spent about an hour at his house and left. I should also mention at around this time, I was dating 2 or 3 girls at any given point and they were a late night drain on me as well – so I was running on fumes to begin with. I was tired getting into my car and the main road by his house was very dark. As I ventured toward the main road over the 35 mph speed limit, but not excessively (I swear), I guess I blacked out because the next thing I knew I was flying over the median strip on Rt. 45 and going into the opposite lane of traffic. Long story short – I totaled my car and I busted myself up pretty good.

My physical concerns had to be pushed aside, I had a grand opening the next day and I needed a ride…

(To be continued...)
Click here for Part Two

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Customer Service Showdown: Blockbuster vs. Netflix

On Friday night, I received an email from my Blockbuster rewards account informing me that my subscription plan would be ending at the end of the month and I would have to choose a new one. The email then states that the most similar plan to the one that I had is $7.00 more per month and I would not be able to exchange mailed movies in-store in an unlimited capacity. After I did some digging, I found this to be a mistake and the $25.00 subscription is for unlimited in-store rentals but I was pissed nonetheless because I had to look...

My issue is that Blockbuster’s online service is terrible (although I will say that the in store staff in Glassboro is excellent and friendly – consistently). A returned movie may get back to the processing hub within 24 hours, but it takes several days to ship new movies to you, their online queue robot is buggy and gets confused if the movie you want is in waiting status (it doesn’t skip to the next one). In store movie selection usually sucks: old movies are quite limited, and the newest movies are always out (it takes about three weeks to snag them). In the last month, their online queue has been getting backed up for movies that you would never guess would have a wait (Karate Kid, North by Northwest). Blockbuster’s direct competitor Netflix online service is much better although they don’t have a store to go in a get movies, but you can watch movies on demand online as part of your subscription process. Netflix recently reduced their subscriptions by $1.

Bottom line: I am going to let my remaining 44 movies in my Blockbuster queue ship and then I am canceling the service and going back to Netflix unless I see a massive improvement with their online service.

I just dropped off movies at blockbuster and wasted 40 minutes due to their crap selection in store. When I got in line, I heard the gentleman in front of me asked the staff (who is newer) about the change in the program. The manager made it seem like nothing is different and I open my mouth and say that they are taking away the unlimited in store movies for the current price ($18) he was paying or you get to pay an addition $7.00 per month for the same service.

The man wasn't happy and the store manager proceeds to tell us both that Blockbuster was doing us a favor before by giving us the service at that price. I THEN find out that they are doing away with the free monthly gaming coupon as well. The manager asks me if I am really unhappy with the change. I replied to him with "you are charging me 25% more and giving me less services, what do you think?" The guy says you can always cancel.

What an asshole.

The website makes it seem that the $25.00 plan allows you to rent unlimited games, but the guy in the store said that isn't the case. I must verify.

Update to follow

Not getting free game coupons anymore. You get a "discount" which as of yet seems undefined (probably $3.00 off the $6.00 game rental).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Music Review: Neil Cleary - I was thinking of you the whole time

Jack deLaurentis gave me a CD on Friday and I have been enjoying it so much (I actually can’t get the songs out of my head) I wanted to share it will my loyal three readers.

Jack passed on Neil Cleary's "I was thinking of you the whole time". The album is a poppy and bright but the lyrics run deep and echo with sentiment. There are quite a few musical influences that I picked up on – there are shades of Elvis Costello, Matthew Sweet, and even The Beatles (although I hear that Neil isn’t the biggest “Fab Four” fan).

Neil does a nice job blending all the styles together but definitely has his own sound. I recommend you take the chance and listen to his music right now. AND HERE’S THE PLUG:

Buy his music on iTunes
Neil's Myspace Page

Simply put - Neil's music is exactly how pop music should be. Sounds great with a hint something else going on in the words if you listen hard enough. I suggest you do.

Reflections of the Bar Crawl

When socially drinking with Nate, it can really go only two ways: You want to kill him or you want to kiss him(or lets just say hug, he smokes too much). Last night was the kissing kind. Not to minimize everyone else’s participation in the first (probably not) annual “St. Patty’s in the Summer” bar crawl – but Nate appearances have become rare this year, and Nice Nate appearances when the agenda is drinking are all but unheard of. Last night Wagner came through.

Like last year’s TDP Bar Crawl (organized by Tom McCabe), we did the old college bar scene. The drinks are cheaper and so are the women. Allison, Nate, and I arrived first at the Mad Mex on 32nd and Samson and enjoyed a lovely meal outdoors. It is great to be able to eat outside of a college hot spot – all the kids trying to make their personal statements about life… Loudly. We just laughed our asses off as we saw people being “caricatures of themselves” (good one Jack – thanks). After three or four 22 oz margaritas Tee showed up and things took a raunchy turn that the night never recovered from. Tee is the nicest, most virginal girl there is, and of course I take great pleasure in trying to come up with the dirtiest statements possible to shock her (and Nate has no problems tagging along). Eventually Bill and Amani showed up and had another drink before moving on to our next destination.

Cavanaugh’s was the second choice and the bar was surprisingly well lit and quiet. The summer time really takes its toll on these bars, but it is welcome for us old timers who just want a place to sit down. After a few minutes, Mr. Sean Anderson showed up to complete the cast of characters. We made nice with one of the bartenders who was willing to make shots of a drink I invented a few years ago called the “Horny Leprechaun”. A few more drinks later it was time to move on to the Blarney Stone.

I should have known the Blarney was going to be a problem when I saw the karaoke monitors. Of course Nate and I were going to make the audience suffer through a drunken rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama” as we always do. After a carbomb, Nate submitted the paperwork. As we waited for our turn, a group of young drunk college girls did “Man I feel Like a Woman” – it was terrible, but thankfully short. We get called up, and about 30 seconds into the song and one of the young ladies informed us that we sucked. I proceeded to improvise on the lyrics and “give back”. While the audience enjoyed this improvisation, her boyfriend did not and decided to have a few words with me. I talked him down but decided that it would be best to split as he was giving Nate the dirty eye and Sean was looking ready for a throw down.

The night ended at my personal favorite, the New Deck. We enjoyed cheese fries, beer, and peanuts as our merry little crew disbanded one by one for the evening. Nate, Allison, and I walked back to my car to find that Philadelphia had given me a present – a parking ticket (apparently I was 20 minutes off on the meter). Oh well – got to fund the corruption somehow. Nate gave back to the city by pissing on the nearest building and we were on our way. Allison graciously volunteered to drive earlier so Nate and I could do our best impressions of 20 year olds throughout the night (remember kids don’t drink and drive).

While I have cut down on drinking for health and financial reasons, evenings like this are always good for the body and soul – a little excess hasn’t killed anyone – well at least not many. As my vision goes back to singular view and my stomach settles I laugh knowing that Nate is probably slobbering all over my bed right now cursing to himself that he should have stayed home. Sleep well sweet prince, sleep well.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Concert Review: Crowded House @ the MANN

In my early college years, it was a guarantee that a Crowded House or Neil Finn CD wouldn’t be too far away from me; they were and remain one of my favorite bands. Most people would remember them for their big hit in the 80’s “Don’t Dream its Over”. America may have forgotten about Crowded House, but the rest of the world continued to enjoy their brilliant output for many years. In 1997 they called it quits seemingly for good. Neil Finn went on to make two excellent solo albums and did a few projects with his brother Tim Finn as well. Last year, Paul Hester passed away and Neil and the boys got back together for a handful of benefits that ballooned into a new record and tour; tonight I got to see for myself what makes Crowded House one of the best bands of our time.

The evening started off by Finn’s son Liam who has been putting together a career for himself as a solo artist and with the band Betchadupa. The younger Finn steals a page from Howie Day by utilizing looping effects to make his solo performance sound fuller. I would be lying if I didn’t say that Liam sounds just like his old man vocally, but has a brasher, younger sound (without totally forgoing his father’s melodic sensibilities and ability to write interesting analogies). Finn switched between guitar, drums, and a variety of electronic devices during each of the songs – the kid definitely worked for his paycheck. Overall I was impressed with his performance: He bantered with the crowded with ease (something more seasoned performers have issues with), his looping\multi-instrument approach was a treat to see, and he didn’t squander my pre-good will since I was pumped to see his dad play.

Pete Yorn quickly followed Finn and played a quick set. Yorn has lost a lot of credibility in my book for his last album which I found to be simply terrible. He opened with a song from that album, so I decided it was good time to buy Liam’s CD and take a piss. When I came back I was amused to find a totally zoned out lady in her late 40’s doing the “white girl dance” (reference: Chappelle Show episode with John Mayer - Click here to see it ). I could not take my eyes off this train wreck and then her two buddies came over to join her (they were from Pittsburg BTW - I hope they read this). To be fair to Pete, he sounded good but his band was stepping on each other a bit (I thought he had too many musicians on stage – 2 guitar players, himself (playing guitar), a bass player, and a drummer). He ended his set strong with “Life on the Chain”, “Strange Condition”, and a Neil Diamond cover (the name escape me at this late hour).

After a long wait, Crowded House finally took the stage immediately going into “Locked Out” which charged up the already excited crowd. Afterwards Neil retold a story about Nick (Seymour – Bass) being locked out his hotel room last night in Philly. The banter between Neil and Nick was outstanding throughout the evening. I was pleasantly surprised to see Liam Finn playing acoustic guitar in the background. I am not going to rifle through the entire set list, but they played all the classics and they knocked them out of the park. I was especially pleased with “Distant Sun”, “Recurring Dream”, and “Pineapple Head”.

The band’s performance was definitely enhanced by the fantastic MANN music center. This was my first time at the theater and this is hands down the best music venue I have been to in the Philadelphia area. You can actually get decent food, the atmosphere is pleasant and clean, the acoustics in the theater are excellent, and the stage allows the band members to move into the audience. It was an absolute joy to see a show there.

If you read this and still don’t know who Crowded House is, do yourself a favor and pick up an album I suggest “Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House” for beginners and “Woodface” once you get to know them). If you do remember Crowded House but for “Don’t Dream its Over” and “Something So Strong”, do yourself a favor and checkout their other albums. Crowded House was and is a fantastic band that never got their proper dues in America, see them live if you have the chance, they won’t disappoint.