My Sweet George

Why are we sometimes moved to tears when famous artists die? I thought of this question while pondering the anniversary of George Harrison’s death today. I did not know George Harrison. I never met him. Yet when I learned of his passing on November 29, 2001, I wept.

Artists wield a ferocious power. Sometimes they shape your identity with their work. Sometimes they penetrate your soul. George Harrison created music that reflected an important part of my identity, especially the songs from his masterpiece All Things Must Pass. “My Sweet Lord,” perhaps Harrison’s best known work as a solo artist, expresses my own spiritual longing over the years. As a boy I sought spiritual comfort amid a traumatic childhood. As an adult I turn to God for wisdom and comfort, always seeking answers and guidance, but finding those things to be elusive more times than I’d like. As Harrison sang:

I really want to see you
Really want to be with you
Really want to see you, Lord
But it takes so long, my Lord

In the song “Hear Me Lord,” Harrison articulates the reasons why I often find spiritual fulfillment to be elusive: because I’m not listening to God. I become lost in the stress and worries of everyday life or my mind becomes cluttered by material things and worldly distractions:

Forgive me lord

Please, those years when I ignored you

Help me lord, please

To rise a little higher

Help me lord, please

To burn out this desire.

And in “All Things Must Pass,” I see myself on my best days, drawing upon my spiritual well to accept change and counseling others to do the same:

Sunrise doesn’t last all morning,
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day.
All things must pass,
All things must pass away.

These songs matter to me because I identify with the spiritual journey Harrison shares in them. But why did George Harrison himself become important to me? Because when someone creates music that moves you so deeply, you want to believe that the artist is worthy of the songs they create. I want to believe that the man who wrote “My Sweet Lord” was a profound spiritual seeker. And if you have never meet the artist personally, it becomes that much easier to create your own narrative about them.

In George Harrison’s case, I can certainly glean some clues about his life from his biographers. I cannot deny he often failed to live up to the noble sentiments expressed in his songs. History tells us he was an unfaithful husband and capable of childish, judgmental behavior. But he never claimed to be perfect. By his own statements and actions he was indeed a flawed seeker. He once said, “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot.” His search famously resulted in the Beatles traveling to India to seek enlightenment in 1968, which unlocked a creative lode of songs that made their way on to The White Album. George Harrison attempted to improve himself and the world around him. The fact that he stumbled makes him more relatable and personal.

When I look at George Harrison’s sober face on the cover of All Things Must Pass, I see myself — the part of me that broods, worries, and ponders matters of the spirit. Because I was not present when he was photographed for the album cover decades ago, I am free to construct my own narrative and identify with him, or at least the image of George Harrison as portrayed to me. And here is why the death of an artist you don’t know personally can move you to tears: because you do know them. They’ve opened themselves up to you with their art. You’ve bonded with their words and their music. And you’ve allowed yourself to internalize their art, to identify with it. When an artist you love passes away, they take part of you with them.

 

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Why I Listen to Bad Sinatra

On a cold November afternoon, I’ve immersed myself in a bad Frank Sinatra album from 1974, Some Nice Things I’ve Missed. Why would I do that? Because experiencing an artist’s lesser work helps you understand them better, like reading chapters of a revealing biography.

Some Nice Things I’ve Missed gives me a deeper sense of how Sinatra tried to remain relevant during his comeback following a brief retirement in the early 1970s. Sinatra, pushing 60, was recording less and performing more, especially in Las Vegas, where Elvis Presley had entered the final phase of his own career. On Some Nice Things I’ve Missed, Sinatra tried to capitalize on the popularity of several songs that were charting during his retirement. He covered everything from Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree” to Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” both of which were hits in 1973.

Here, Sinatra was attempting to force a sense of contemporary relevance by chasing popular tastes. And he failed miserably. The 10 songs he chose were unsuited for the orchestral treatment given to them by the album’s producer and arranger, Don Costa. And he interpreted the music with indifference, at best. For example, his phrasing on “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” sounded forced and rushed, lacking the warmth and humor of Jim Croce’s original.

The problem was that he allowed desperation to cloud his judgment. Instead of choosing songs that played to his strengths as a vocalist, he used a song’s proven chart position as the litmus test for covering it. As a result, to modern-day reviewers, Sinatra “sounds disinterested in the project, as if he can’t wait to leave the studio,” in the words of reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine.

Now let’s go back to 1967, when Sinatra, in his early 50s, was staring down the threat of rock and roll. Although he committed mistakes that he would repeat on Some Nice Things I’ve Missed, he also recorded a masterpiece, Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, that was unlike anything he’d ever done.

Jobim was a leading composer of the bossa nova style of music that had gained a global following of its own. On Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sinatra discovered a new direction with sensitive, nuanced performances on songs such as, “The Girl from Ipanema” (for which Jobim shared a composing credit). Sinatra sounded cool and relevant, because not only was the genre hip, but he also sounded hip. As biographer James Kaplan wrote in Sinatra: The Chairman, “Sinatra sang with an exquisite tenderness he hadn’t tapped since The Wee Small Hours, 12 years before.”

In fact, Frank Sinatra created a timeless sound that has outlived a lot of rock and roll from that era. I’ll take Sinatra singing “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars” over Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” any day. He didn’t try to compete with rock and roll. Instead, he explored territory that no rock and roller could touch.

Listening to Frank Sinatra at the top of his game is one of life’s great pleasures. But listening to bad Sinatra invites more inquiry into his life, too. Bad Sinatra makes me appreciate the insecurities and struggles of a man who fears being irrelevant as he grows older. If you’ve never felt that insecurity or fear that Sinatra experienced — trust me, my friends, that day will come. On your best days, you will respond with grace. But sometimes you will stumble, as Sinatra did. Listening to Sinatra struggle on an album such as Some Nice Things I’ve Missed makes him more human and relatable.

I love Sinatra when he’s brilliant. I get Sinatra when he fails.

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Walmart Promotes a Kinder Black Friday – and a Possible Future for Retail

After treating Black Friday like a cattle round-up for years, Walmart is finally injecting a little humanity into the year’s worst shopping tradition. On November 8, the retailer announced measures intended to make Black Friday shopping just a bit more pleasant:

  • Walmart is serving four million cups of complimentary coffee (courtesy of Keurig) and a few million free Christmas cookies from the Walmart Bakery.
  • Walmart will make it easier for shoppers to find top deals in-store via the Walmart app.
  • Check Out with Me store associates stationed throughout the stores and equipped with mobile check-out devices will make it possible for shoppers to purchase items on the spot, thus avoiding long lines.

These changes are long overdue. But why aren’t more retailers improving the Black Friday experience? For years, as part of my first-hand research into Black Friday, I’ve stood in long lines with shoppers in the cold pre-dawn of this massive shopping day. I have waited Continue reading

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Facebook Puts Content First with 3D Photos

 

Facebook created a stir recently when TechCrunch reported that the world’s largest social network is working on the development of augmented reality (AR) glasses. In 2017, Mark Zuckerberg had suggested that the creation of AR eyewear was on the horizon. In late October Facebook’s head of augmented reality Ficus Kirkpatrick seemingly confirmed the development of AR eyewear in a conversation with TechCrunch’s Josh Constine:

“Yeah! Well of course we’re working on it,” Facebook’s head of augmented reality Ficus Kirkpatrick told me when I asked him at TechCrunch’s AR/VR event in LA if Facebook was building AR glasses. “We are building hardware products. We’re going forward on this . . . We want to see those glasses come into reality, and I think we want to play our part in helping to bring them there.”

But for my money, Facebook’s launch of 3D photos is the far more exciting development.

3D for Real

I used to think 3D was a joke. I cringed at every 3D movie I’d ever seen with the exception of Avatar. Wearing ridiculous glasses to see Captain Jack Sparrow mug and stumble his way through the high seas felt like an extreme form of torture. I never took 3D ViewMaster photos very seriously. And I thought those 3D photo crystals of babies and smiling couples locked in an embrace looked flat-out creepy.

But then along came Facebook 3D photos. Boy, they changed my mind in an instant.

Continue reading

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Google Hits a Home Run with Roberto Clemente Google Doodle

The Google Doodle for October 12, 2018, honors the legacy of Roberto Clemente. Many remember him as a Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder. But his lasting legacy is his passion for doing good. If you were alive on New Year’s Eve 1972, you didn’t need to be a baseball fan to be moved by the news of his death in a plane crash as he was flying to Nicaragua to help earthquake victims there. Fortunately, Google has kept his memory alive for the digital generation in the best way possible, a Google Doodle.

My Roberto Clemente Story

When I was 12, a friend of my dad’s invited me to spend a week with his family in Puerto Rico. So my mom dropped me off at O’Hare Airport one spring morning, and I flew down to San Juan by myself with in-flight music (mostly tunes culled from the Eagles Greatest Hits) to keep me company.

For a week, I lived in the San Juan area and got a feel for how residents lived as opposed to how tourists experienced the area. Every night, I fell asleep to the sound of kids playing basketball deep into the evening, and during the day, I wandered around the crowded neighborhood watching people live their days. Roberto Clemente’s presence was everywhere. He had been dead for four years at this point, but he was very much alive in Puerto Rico. Not a day went by without someone bringing up his name, perhaps when kids were playing catch in a park, or old men were drinking coffee in a cafe.

What I remember most: he was talked about, but his likeness was not branded on clothing, as if he were more like a god than a rock star. And no one discussed his achievements on the field. Instead, he was remembered for his compassion — the same compassion that inspired him to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve of 1972.

Well played, Google.

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How Walmart Is Shaping the Future of Virtual Reality

To understand the future of virtual reality (VR), take a close look at Walmart. On September 20, Walmart announced it will ship 17,000 Oculus Go VR headsets to all its North American stores to give more than 1 million employees access to virtual reality training.

The news marks an expansion of a training program in which Walmart has used VR headsets at its U.S. Academies to help new employees learn what it’s like to work in a Walmart store, including how to handle surging Black Friday crowds. Walmart has worked with training company STRIVR to develop the curriculum using STRIVR’s VR training platform and will continue to do so.

Andy Trainor, Walmart’s senior director of Walmart U.S. Academies, said, “The great thing about VR is its ability to make learning experiential. When you watch a module through the headset, your brain feels like you actually experienced a situation. We’ve also seen that VR training boosts confidence and retention while improving test scores 10 to 15 percent – even those associates who simply watched others experience the training saw the same retention boosts.”

Walmart’s use of VR meets four essential requirements for VR to take hold, namely:

1) An Addressable Market

Corporate training is a priority. According to separate research from Deloitte and Gallup, 84 percent of executives and 87 percent of millennials believe that learning and development is important. In 2017, corporations spent an estimated $360 billion on employee training around the world. On average, companies spent $1,075 per learner in 2017, with manufacturers spending $1,217 per learner, followed by services organizations ($1,157), according to the 2017 Training Industry Report. Employees received 47.6 hours of training per year, nearly 4 hours more than in 2016. It behooves corporations to maximize the efficiency of that spend.

2) A Compelling Reason to Use VR

Corporate training also leaves a lot to be desired. According to the Deloitte 2016 Global Human Capital Trends Report, only 37 percent of executives believe learning and development is effective; and 40 percent of employees believe they are not trained to do Continue reading

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How HBO and Netflix Differ

HBO no longer stands alone. After consistently racking up more Emmy awards than any other network year after year, HBO found itself tied with Netflix for most wins for the 2018 Emmy Awards. And going into the ceremony, Netflix gained more nominations than HBO, with 112 for Netflix, 108 for HBO. Of course, Netflix is not the only rival to HBO’s dominance of television – Amazon and Hulu belong in the same class albeit as challengers, and traditional network television, while fading, is still alive, if not completely well. But the conversation about the future of television begins with HBO and Netflix. As HBO and Netflix shape the entertainment landscape, they reveal four crucial differences that help explain how they ascended to their elite levels:

  • HBO is a media company. Netflix is a technology powerhouse.
  • HBO changed how TV is made. Netflix changed how we view TV.
  • HBO creates game changers. Netflix makes crowd pleasers.
  • HBO is run by a captain of industry. Netflix is run by a digital celebrity.

For all the money that Netflix invests into content creation, it has never delivered anything like The SopranosDeadwood, or Game of Thrones – entertainment landmarks whose influence, like that of the Beatles, will be discussed many years from now. But perhaps Netflix doesn’t need to. The Emmy Awards continue to reward HBO for its blockbusters. But Netflix is now demonstrating that you can be a crowd pleaser and gain critical acclaim – not bad for a company that started producing content only six years ago. So far, there is one clear winner of the HBO/Netflix rivalry: the audience.

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Easy Rider

When I attended Southern Methodist University in 1981, I was an outsider. I did everything wrong. I wore a beard, long hair, and earrings. I studied a lot and wore dirty jeans. You just didn’t do these things at a preppy school in Dallas in 1981. So I hung out a lot alone.

During one night of solitude, I walked nearly two miles to the Highland Park Theater on Mockingbird Lane to watch Easy Rider. I’d never seen it before. The parking lot was teeming with bikers from all over Dallas dressed in denim and leather. Although I was not one of them, I felt more comfortable here. Together we watched Captain America and Billy drive their choppers across America. I don’t know the bikers felt about them, but I identified with the outsiders onscreen and the price they paid for not belonging. I identified the most with the quiet, introspective Captain America and his inner conflicts.

After the movie, well after midnight, I returned to campus, which required walking past wealthy homes on Mockingbird Lane. I didn’t very far before a police car pulled up to me, and a cop go out. I knew what was going on. He knew I didn’t belong, and he wanted to make sure I wasn’t a threat. He asked for my ID, and I produced a student card. He looked at me incredulously, as if to say, “What the hell are you doing here?” I was wondering the same thing. He drove off and left me alone in the dark.

Decades later, I still watch this movie about once a year. I’m sure I will when Easy Rider turns 50 in 2019. Although everything has changed for me since 1981, I still see myself in Captain America even though I don’t always know why. I don’t know the first thing about motorbikes. I stay away from drugs. I’m not into sleeping outside on the hard ground. But I understand the outsider.

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Deeper Magic

This summer, I forged a deeper spiritual connection with the Bristol Renaissance Faire, where I act on the weekends. The Faire, located just north of the Illinois/Wisconsin, recreates the city of Bristol in 1574. As I have discussed on my blog, Bristol is a place of strong magic, like Middle-earth, possessing a powerful spiritual force. Throughout the summer I commented on Facebook about Bristol’s spiritual pull even though I don’t expect everyone to understand what I’m talking about. Here are some of those posts culled from my Facebook page. I hope the words inspire you to find your own place of magic.

Diving into the Abyss (July 31, 2018)

Portrait credit: John Karpinksy

It’s one thing to get comfortable being uncomfortable, but quite another to dive into a terrifying abyss. On Sunday, performing as my Sir Nicolas Wright, I jumped up on a small stoop in the crowded Sun Garden of the Bristol Renaissance Faire with absolutely no game plan. I did so to force myself to get better at onstage improv. (I am far more comfortable with improv on the street in small groups.) I felt several eyes staring at me with “What is this guy doing?” looks. With the help of castmate and friend Kendal Monaghan, I just started riffing by reading people in the audience and reacting to their reactions. We ended up putting one patron on a mock trial for the crime of dragging a dead whale down the streets of Bristol. There is strong magic in Bristol that makes us do crazy, fun, and challenging things that reverberate in our souls, but the magic dust floats through the air for only nine weekends. We need to make each one count.  Continue reading

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Apple Flexes Its Healthcare Muscle

At Apple’s September 12 Special Event, the company continued to show off its growing healthcare superpowers with the release of the Apple Watch Series 4. The latest iteration of the Apple Watch, available September 21, unleashes new features designed to help people manage wellness. Those features include:

  • Creation of an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram. Using a new ECG app, watch owners can take an ECG reading from their wrists and receive heart rhythm classifications. The Apple Watch can classify if the heart is beating in a normal pattern or whether there are signs of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). In addition, the data is stored in Apple’s Health app in a PDF that can be shared with physicians. In Apple’s words, “It’s a momentous achievement for a wearable device that can provide critical real-time data for doctors and peace of mind for you.”
  • The ability to detect when a person falls and report a falling incident to a designated emergency contact. Analyzing wrist trajectory and impact acceleration, the Apple Watch sends the user an alert after a fall, which can be dismissed or used to initiate a call to emergency services. If the Apple Watch senses immobility for 60 seconds after the notification, it will automatically call emergency services and send a message along with location to emergency contacts.
  • More fitness features. The Apple Watch already gamifies healthcare by rewarding users with special badges for completing fitness tasks such as walking. Now the Apple Watch allows users to challenge other Apple Watch wearers to complete fitness tasks. In addition, the device provides other features such as prompting owners to start workouts and accurately tracking active calories burned for activities such as hiking and yoga.

With the Apple Watch Series 4, Apple extends its reach into healthcare, following a strategy that the company has been pursuing for years.

The Data Backbone for Patient Care Continue reading

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