Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Employees (1)

Attached to this week's WSM "Market Messenger," the 'employee' newsletter which the WSM corporate office management team send to all WSM employees with their paycheck, is a leaflet reminding us that happiness is created in our workplace when we employee minions are respectful to each other.

I searched and searched, but could not find the obvious exemption which applies to interaction where the in-store College Basketball Bracket Competition is concerned ...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

POP VOX - A Journey Through Time ...

Since my first two gigs, which you guys (and gals) made such a huge success, I’ve been wrestling with how to make future gigs as fulfilling as possible for all of us – you and me, together.

Oh. And by the way. Mark the calendars. The next episode in this adventure in Reality Interactive Beach Party will be taking place on Saturday, June 1, back at The Cave. This time beginning at a more grandfatherly … I mean, amenable, 10.00pm.

So. Fulfilling. Wrestle. As of 10.00am this morning, my thinking was, I need to make the sound bigger, the act bigger, the whole impact bigger. For why? Because how can I be ‘credible,’ unless POP VOX is superlative musicianship, fantastic dancers, electrifying backing singers, and so on, and so on, blah, blah, blah.

But then, after a fascinating discussion with a workmate and fellow honky-tonk, I had me an epiphany. Mind you, after a couple of glasses of water, and a visit to the bathroom, that passed. And made way for an idea. The Idea.

The answer is actually in the struggle. And it’s been there all along.

It began when my head filled with tunes years ago. And I had no idea how to get them out, because I don’t play an instrument. It evolved as, over those same years, I was told time and again that my songs were all fine and dandy for the masses, but would never appeal to the poperazzi because they weren’t in this or that appropriate idiom. And it finally came to fruition when you and I together created magic down at The Cave. I just missed it.

POP VOX isn’t me. It’s us.

Maybe there was a reason that The Great Tulip put a bunch of catchy tunes in the head of a musical ignorant. Maybe there was purpose when that same head decided to call the act POP VOX. Voice of the People. Maybe it was no accident that I have wanted all along to get you folks as involved as possible.

Why do I need to surround myself with musicians, when you are the instrument? When you sing-a-long? When you perform the choruses as much as me? Why have backing dancers? When you do the dancing? And you come up on stage to do it. Who needs this so-called fuller sound, when you fill the venue with the loudest and most joyous sound imaginable? You.

This is an evolving concept. It most likely always will be. But I have the germ of a thought today. I will take the advice of me fellow honky-tonk. And the advice all the rest of you have been giving me over the past few months. And for which I am so grateful. And will remain grateful. Because I want you to continue offering it. Because this is not just my journey. It is our journey.

And that thought is this: I am a non-musician. I play no musical instrument. I have been blessed with a box of tricks which allows me backing tracks for the tunes in my head. Which I then use to allow others to give expression to the music, to the magic inside them.

POP VOX will be about giving that expression. Not about giving expression to me, on some remote stage, cut off from you. Not about making the best, most symphonic music possible. A music which excludes by making it exclusive only to the very ‘best’ dancers, singers and instrumentalists. But a music which includes by inviting inclusion with whatever you have to offer. Music which gives expression, not to me. Or to you. But to us.

It used to be called folk art. Art which required no skill other than the magic within finding a way to come out. That is what I want POP VOX to be. And I will strive to keep it as minimalist as possible. Me and my box of tricks, giving you the widest and most welcome permission to make magic together, in any way you see fit.

Now, that is not to say that I am not open to ideas to make our music more engaging. I am. But I will strive, as hard as I can, and you will need to keep me on track. I will strive to keep the resulting experience one that changes only to become more engaging.

And there are alls sorts of possibilities. Ok. For now. We have sing-a-long. And dance-a-long. Even “Missed Connections,” where I call out the dance steps. Which is really not all that original, when you think about Contra.

But what about ways for you to design the action? The set? You choose songs? Or verses? You come up and provide backing singing? You create dances? If “Harlem Shakes” can produce a 30-second App, which allows you to viral your own dance, why can’t we do this with “Kisses”?

When venues get a bit bigger, what about screens with the words? Karaoke-style? What about our own App, where you vote on what comes next, as we go along? Where you write the words as we’re singing? Where you submit tunes?

What about having instruments available for you to play? Not just ‘specialized’ instruments. But ones we can all play? Tambourines? Bongo’s? Castanets? A Kazoo or three? Frankly, the way my mind is thinking, I’m going, you may not be able to play the guitar, but you can play your iPhone. So let’s make it an ‘instrument’ of inclusion.

The essence here is that life found away for me to get my music out of me. A non-musician. I want to give back by helping all of us find a way to join in. Whether we are musicians or not. It should be about magic, not just skill.

And I think that requires me, for my part, to continue to keep it simple upfront. Not look for ways to become more ‘professional.’ Whatever the music industry may say. This is our adventure. Not theirs. Well. It can be theirs. But not until I see Paul McCartney on Kazoo, doing the “Kisses” dance.

I know I’m going on a bit. But I do. When I get excited. And I have a vision.

It’s Rio. It’s 2016. It’s the Olympics. We’ve got on a bit. POP VOX is going to do Copacabana Beach. As part of the Olympic celebrations. 3 million folks, from all round the world (that was the number at the last Copacabana Rolling Stones gig). Singing-a-long to “Caribbean Sunrise.” Performing the steps to “Missed Connections.”

It’ll take some logistics. The Beach is several miles long. People are going to see, before they hear. How to keep ‘em all together. Plus, folks will necessarily separate into their own ‘communities.’ How do we honor that safety of separation, while allowing all to feel they are part of a common experience?

But that’s one night. What about the remainder of the two to four weeks? What of those who cannot get there? What of those who cannot afford?

Rio has some of the most extensive slums in the world. There is probably a more appropriate word for them. Shanties? But I say it like I see it. The mountains which backdrop Rio are carpeted with layers of favela, which the pop world passes by, save for the radio.

I want to perform with them also.

How can I, if I have listened to a music industry which tells me I can only spread my magic by having a gazillion dollars worth of sound equipment, and the massed ranks of a thousand musicians, dancers and technical personnel?

I’ll tell you how. Because POP VOX will still be able to pack up the Casio and a mike, hop into a car, set up on a barrio street corner, borrow a speaker, and put on a show after siesta. Where the moms play the Kazoo. The kids do the “Kisses” dance. And Pops never misses a beat to the “Missed Connections” jig. That’s how.

I want to do it every night. On a different street corner. All through the Olympics. And the Paralympics. In addition to Copacabana Beach. I don’t want ever to lose that immediacy. That access. I want to make POP VOX available to everyone. Not just the initial few at The Cave. And not just the exclusive few, with the bucks.

Why should that not be possible? Why? What is wrong with that as a dream? As an ambition? What?

Work with me, my friends. My fellow popsters and popsicles! Please. Keep the interaction alive. In which regard, as rude as I think it sometimes can be, I have Facemailed a bunch of you, to encourage that interaction. Let me know what you think. And please forgive me if I am being too intrusive. Or outlandish.

We’re either at the beginning of something new. Well, maybe not so new. It used to be called vaudeville. But something different for our times. Something exciting and inclusive. Or, that chocolate ice cream will settle. And I’ll learn to play the acoustic guitar, instead …

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The New Sensibility ??

I’m bound to say I’m curious about the seemingly honest, unrestrained and intense interest in my music. Delighted. But curious.

Most of my songs have been written at stolen moments throughout my life. And owe no special allegiance to any style or idiom.

Because of which, or indeed in spite of which, they are adaptable (and are adapted) to any and all idioms, ranging from electro to rock, from latin to pop, from dance to indy-acoustic – and back again!

I wish I could claim to be a slave to the keyboard. Sweating angst, as the nobility of my purist enterprise flows like life’s blood, drip, drop, onto the music sheet of my soul.

Er. Nope. Tunes appear in my head, like a precious gift. And the only angst has been to work out how to move them from brain to soundbox, since the only instrument I play is the drums. Enter the Casio 3800.

I am blessed. Yeah. I know it’s old-fashioned to say that. But that is actually the essence of this Saturday morning’s offering. Not my music. Per se. But old-fashioned.

So. I’m blessed. The tunes that enter my head are fully-formed when they arrive. And they arrive naturally catchy and lyrical. Folks seem to remember them and hum them. And that appears to give pleasure. The magic I’ve been given, allows others to create their own magic. And share it, in turn.

When I ask those who have attended my gigs, friends who range across the spectrum in age and musical taste, why they like what we produce together (the emphasis being on interaction, not solo performance), the answer comes, well, we get to leave our hang-ups and our musical tastes at the door, and just enjoy and have fun, dancing and singing-along.

Hmm. I’m actually seeing quite a lot of this as I look around. Well, not so much the dancing and singing-along. But a new yearning for comfort and safety, as opposed to challenge or irony.

We’ve spent the past 30 years and more breaking down social barriers, recreating political norms, exploring financial excess, testing all manner of styles and idiom.

So much so that, a few years ago, nostalgic irony became the accepted meme of the hipster generation: we’ve tried all there is to try; now we just make fun of all that has gone before.

I think The Great Recession brought an end to our toying with nostalgia as irony. We now no longer have time to make fun, either of ourselves or others. We need comfort. We long for certainty. The touch of material that is safe. A sound that soothes, rather than grates. A taste that brings back fond memories.

We don’t want to be clever. We simply want not to want. Not to have a great gaping hole in our psyche. Not to be sad and alone. But rather, to be with others, sharing a common experience. Able to associate with what is going on around us, by being a part of it.

We want a culture that we can understand. Not one that confuses us. So now, we don’t make fun of the past. We embrace it.

We’re scared of the reality of the modern austerity. So, we no longer scoff at that which allows us to imagine more than bare boards and empty pockets. We don’t wear the unicorn T-shirt as irony. We wear it because we want to believe.

We’re finding we like the old and the trusted. We see sense in traditional. And I’m not talking the faux values of the arch right. I’m talking grandma’s kitchen table common sense.

Suddenly, fashion isn’t what’s new. It’s what works. What looks good. Sounds fun. Treats people fairly. Involves them. Let’s them participate. Be it the clothes we wear. The co-op we work in. The political system we’re reforming. Or the music we pay to listen to at a gig.

I don’t ascribe any special nonsense to myself. I’m not one for airs and graces. I’m just grateful that someone put some tunes in my head. That others seem to enjoy them. That something, somewhere, put me in a particular place, at a particular time. Which allows me and you to create magic together.

A magic which is real. And fun. And honest. And intense. Which cares not a wit abut idiom. Or place. Or time. Which was old when it was written. And is still modern today. Because we like it. It’s as simple as that. And I’m truly grateful …

Thursday, March 14, 2013

2013: My Candidacy for the WSM Board of Directors

After eight years of working with the co-op I love, Weaver Street Market/Panzanella Co-operative, and trying to make its governance structure more responsive to the workers and consumers who are supposed to own and run it, I have discovered that there is an immense gulf between the promise and the implementation. Especially when it comes to meaningful communication, interaction and empowerment.

It is for this reason that I have decided to put on the ruby red slippers, dust off this co-op blog and stand again for the WSM Board of Directors this coming Fall, as a Worker-Owner Candidate.

For example, last evening, some workers and owners had a quite useful discussion with the WSM Board, before its regularly scheduled monthly Board Meeting, about Goal 4 of the corporate office-proposed WSM Vision 2020 – zero waste and zero net energy consumption.

All fine and dandy. Up to a point. Because, as always, the proof will be if any of our ideas and suggestions ever see the light of day. Amy Lorang, Kristina Janson and others have made a wonderful start in our Food House with their Sustainability Committee. But the sadness is that this is a terribly isolated instance of genuine empowerment.

Especially when it comes to really expensive and far-reaching proposals like 2020 Goal 2 – the suggestion from the corporate office management team that we build three more stores, at a time when we are struggling to cope with the last expansion from 2007/2008, and when we are still paying off $6 million in debt from that expansion (on which we have to pay $500,000 in bank interest each and every year).

Year after year, I hear that those in ‘authority’ within our co-op fully intend to devolve, empower, include, interact and communicate. And year after year, the center accrues more power to itself, as it hides away behind a combination lock in the carpet-lined corporate offices in Hillsborough.

I have written at length on my co-op blog about how WSM could be more efficient, profitable and successful, not to mention happy, joyous and a place we would merrily skip down the Yellow Brick Road to every day, if only we behaved more like a co-op, and lived up to the admonishment of the International Co-operative Alliance, that, like all other authentic co-ops, we be democratically controlled by our owners and workers, and to our own WSM Mission Statement that we be Inclusive, Interactive and Empowering.

But, at the end of the day, you don’t need lectures from me, any more than you need presentations from Ruffin. You all know. We all know. Deep in our hearts. That we do not behave like a real co-op. We are not empowered. And we want to be. On both counts. Because that’s why we work and shop here. And not at Wal-Mart or Whole Foods. It’s as simple as that.

So. I am standing for the Board of Directors. First, to explain, on all of our behalves, why we want more democracy within our co-op, and how we can introduce it, in a way that does not diminish our profitability. And secondly, and more immediately, to request that we hold a vote of all workers and owners before we move any further forward with plans for new stores.

Um. It’s as simple as that. More to follow …

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

VOTING NEWS -- Real, and Unreal ...

**BREAKING NEWS** -- "Taking a leaf out of the Falkland Islands' book, and looking for at least one issue upon which they can all unite, the Vatican has just announced that, in its first vote, the cloistered Conclave of Cardinals voted 114 to 1 to remain Catholic ... "

[The one 'No' vote came from the Archbishop of Palermo, who said he wanted the Ham on Rye instead ... ]

I sense a trend here. On how to get good turnout. And an even better result. So, tomorrow evening, at the Owners' Discussion before the Board of Directors' Meeting of the Weaver Street Market Co-operative, I will be announcing my intention to run for the Board this Fall, as a Worker-Owner Candidate, on the platform that we workers would, yes, like to continue getting paid.

In fact, I am going to be announcing my intention to stand. And it will be about the issue of voting. As in, I think all owners and workers of WSM should be allowed to vote on the decision to spend millions of dollars on building three more stores, and not just the few people on the Board. But that is another post for one of my more 'serious' days ...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

POP VOX: Authentic Interaction

POP VOX is not only fun. It's also a democracy! Yup. You get to help frame how the show develops and evolves and is presented next time (late May-ish). And how YOU are able to interact.

Gigs aren't just about my self-involvement. They are about all of us creating a fun atmosphere of energy and participation. So, please take a moment to answer the following questions - or offer comments of your own. Don't make me get the Van Halen!!

And to help the interaction along, you can view edited videos of the performance (Part I and Part II), shot and edited by POP VOX fan and Weaver Street Consumer-Owner, John Paul Middlesworth:

1) Which evening of the week is best for you?

2) What time?

3) What venue would you prefer?

4) More interaction, or less?

5) More sing-a-long, more dance-a-long?

6) What works best for you - the songs themselves, or the participation (be honest!)?

7) Longer show, shorter, or much the same?

8) Just high-energy songs, or breaks with more lyrical songs?

9) What style of backing track - electro, dance, latin, rock, country (or current mix)?

10) Do you like the Beach theme? Do you want others?

11) Why did you like POP VOX? What would you change (again, this only works if you are honest!)? Will you come again?

Many thanks. Onwards!!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

More Weave Stores - Trust, But Verify

I trust the motives of the Board of Directors of Weaver Street Market Co-operative and their corporate office management team, when they assure us that building three more stores is necessary, as they did today in the employee 'Market Messenger,' and as they have done in the reported Highlights of the recent owners' discussion [scroll down to Goal 3].

But in any democracy, including a democratic co-operative, trust requires verification also.

The fact is that we were given exactly the same assurances before the last expansion of our co-op, back in 2007/2008. That operations could cope, and that all funding would come from the community.

Yet, we in operations are still having trouble coping with the last expansion. And far from that expansion being funded by the community, we had to borrow some $10 million. $6 million of which is yet to be paid off. Which $6 million is costing us $500,000 a year in bank interest - on a turnover of some $27 million.

Before we proceed with any new stores, I would like us to consider three stages of 'verification':

1) Verifying that we all understand each other -- there needs to be much more discussion among owners and workers than the two-hour discussion we had a couple of weeks ago.

2) Verifying that we are all on the same page -- we only proceed with building more stores once a vote has been taken of all consumer-owners and all workers.

3) Verifying that we will definitely avoid the mistakes of the last expansion -- I have already written to the Board with some suggested safeguards and an idea for having a community fundraising web-site based on the Kickstarter model.

If the Board are unwilling to indicate that some sort of verification along these lines is going to be followed, to allay what even they have described as the concerns expressed to date, then I will consider standing again for the Board of Directors as a Worker-Owner Candidate this coming Fall, to ensure that the Board does heed those concerns.

[As always, and as required by the new Employee Policy, I state that these are my own views, and are as likely to be mistaken for the official policy of the Board or corporate office management team of WSM as the latter are likely to turn up to one of my POP VOX gigs.

More suggestions as to how WSM could be a stronger business and a better co-op can be found elsewhere on this blog.]

Friday, March 1, 2013

POP VOX: Thank You, From Me To You ...

Well. We had a blast at the POP VOX Beach Party/Gig last evening. Wow !!

All I'm going to say is, if you Missed the Connection, then boy, you Missed the Connection
!! The 10-minute high-energy dance-a-long to "Missed Connections" was sublime 'group consensual electro' !! Beyond that, can't describe it. You had to be there. And next time, you should be ... !!

There were a bunch of new folks there. Didn't get to meet you all. But I will. As we evolve this concept of interactive, fun escapism. But there were loads of 'already' friends, and I thank you all for your support and collaboration. Won't name all of you, 'cos I'll only go and miss someone. And then I will become the 'creeper' from "Missed Connections"!

But a huge 'thank you' to Kelly Bell, the Queen of Glad-Handing Promo; Aleesa Allie SanFilippo, the Queen of Social Media Promo; and Steve Carter, ever the gentleman, and the King of Sound Checks (many thanks, Steve, for the gift!).

Thanks again to The Cave for putting up with us. POP VOX will be back. With the concept a little more evolved. Probably in late May. And. I will be looking to y'all to help develop what we do. Be looking for feedback posts over the next few days. And thank you all - not for the last time ... !!