By popular demand, more banjo picking

Here are three cuts from my bluegrass past. These were made circa 1975 and feature my older brother Jim on the guitar. I wasn’t playing in a band, but I had been practicing a bit. It shows. Enjoy.

Cripple Creek     Doug’s Tune     ???????

Per request, me and my banjo

The Heaton BrothersAt the request, or challenge of Rex Hammock, I’m putting up an MP3 of myself and my two brothers, Bob and Jim, from a tape made in our basement in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1965. I was 18. My younger brother Bob was a a virtuoso mandelin player at the age of 16. Older brother Jim played guitar. He was 20. We performed as “The Heaton Brothers” on television and on stages around Michigan in the mid 60s. Vietnam broke us up.

We performed this song, Rawhide, for Bill Monroe in his hotel room, and Bill tipped his hat to my little brother.

We were really quite good, and although this recording is pretty rough, I think you’ll agree. We were certainly a novelty in the Midwest, and I’m pretty sure my life would have been very different were it not for Vietnam. Enjoy.

Rawhide

Rawhide, by The Heaton Brothers.

The Feds and the new Prohibition

Torrent Freak is reporting this morning that the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security are — without due process — seizing domains of sites involved in the practice of bit torrent distribution of copyrighted material, namely music. In seizing the domains, they effectively shut down the business of the sites, although it’s likely they’ll just move elsewhere.

Here’s what it looks like when you go to torrent-finder.com, one of the domains seized.

torrent-finder.com page

This makes me wonder why. Why would our tax dollars be used to help the music industry stop what it believes is killing its business model. Why is this a matter of “homeland security?” Why would the U.S. make such an anti-freedom move on the world stage that is the Internet. Why? Why? Why?

The simple answer is it’s all about money, but like so many other things, this one is actually complicated.

Long ago, when this first began, I wrote a letter to my congressman in Tennessee stating my protest of the federal government’s involvement in such things. He wrote back that copyright is, in fact, America’s biggest export and that we had a duty to protect it. Basically, we entertain the world, and that’s the justification given from Washington.

(I’ve not been able to subsequently document that claim, but let’s just take the congressman at his word. And sorry, but I don’t have the letter and can’t remember his name.)

In the name of a global economy, we’ve let many real value markets slip from our shores, and so the government feels duty-bound to step in and protect this one.

This is, IMHO, horse crap. First of all, Hollywood and its copyright cartel are deep into the pockets of the very legislators who are now helping them, so politics is a big part of it. Secondly, the shotgun approach noted in the Torrent Freak report is distinctly reminiscent of the tactics of the RIAA in suing mom and aunt Sue for downloading music illegally. It’s not so much about actually doing something as it is about scaring everybody while making life difficult for a few. We’ll never know for sure, but you can bet the ranch those same lawyers are advising Uncle Sam. Thirdly, didn’t we form the Department of Homeland Security as a response to terrorism? It takes some serious distorting of reality to turn bit torrent into a form of terrorism.

Folks, we’ve got to do something about this and do it fast. We’ve already proven that prohibition doesn’t work, and we need to have the balls to go back and ask ourselves honestly why people are unbundling and redistributing music. This is something the cartel refuses to examine, because they are solely driven by the goring of the poor ox who’s pulling their money train.

Music led the cultural revolt against “the man” during Vietnam, and it has always been on the cutting edge of change. Some writers are the prophets of today, and rather than listening to them, we’re too busy making money off of them to care. So big is was the money, that those in charge have systematically tried to remove the prophets and replace them with guaranteed, albeit homogenized, hit makers, whose sameness is a pathetic ghost of music past. And, of course, a part of the hit making recipe is to package one decent tune with 11 pieces of garbage, and demand we buy it that way.

So the music industry must look itself in the mirror, if it wants a real seat at tomorrow’s music table, for even now, writers, singers and musicians are finding alternative paths to fame.

I voted for Barack Obama, because I felt a real need for change, and that’s what he promised. That this is happening on his watch isn’t so surprising (the campaign contributions) as it is just plain sad. I don’t blame the music industry for its complaints, but I do blame our government for its complicity in this unAmerican activity.

Finally, here’s a warning from an old guy to all of you young people. If this is allowed to continue, the law of unintended consequences will some day rear its ugly head. If the government is permitted to tamper with the essential structure of the Web — as in the seizing of domains — where will it stop? Human greed of one form or the other will take over, and all that we hold dear will be at stake. I’m not advocating chaos; I’m merely stating that when we take such drastic legal steps against anybody for anything, they must be granted due process. Otherwise, we’re a nation of jack-boot wearing automatons serving at the whim of our master, the guy or gal with the guns.

We’ve got to have a little faith

We must have faithIn 1988, my news team at WDEF-TV in Chattanooga did something that no one had ever done before. We produced a month-long series on religion in the Tennessee Valley called “I Believe.” The project doubled our ratings and was the talk of the town.

I had just come from my days overseeing the top religious program on television, The 700 Club, so I knew things that my contemporaries didn’t, including that religion was a really, REALLY important topic that was ignored in the news. That news team — working for a third-place station with no hope of really being competitive — totally kicked the snot out of our competition, and to this day, it remains my favorite group.

One of the many items produced for that series was a documentary on snake handling churches in North Georgia. The practice of snake handling began in the region, and this documentary was fabulous. We got permission to videotape during a service at one church, and I’ll never forget a sound bite from the pastor. “You’d better have faith,” he said, “if you’re going to stick your hand into a box of rattlesnakes.”

And so this day before Thanksgiving, 2010, I want to write a note about faith, because it’s missing in the discussion about change today. It’s missing, because it’s one of those words you just don’t talk about, if you want to be taken seriously, and that’s a shame. It may be politically incorrect or, gasp, unprofessional to talk about faith, but I have no doubt that more people are with me on this than against me, so let’s talk about faith.

First of all, its place in our history is unmistakable, although those who make a living out of rewriting history spend a lot of time refuting it. I don’t blame them, because we’ve made a mess with our religions, and they want nothing to do with that. However, it’s intellectually dishonest to deny its role in history, so let’s assume it has a place. The pilgrims headed west in search of religious freedom and the freedom to profit, but to paraphrase that snake handler in Georgia, “you’d better have faith, if you’re going to get on that boat.” The founding fathers found the courage to rebel against the King through faith, be it in their God or themselves. Filled with faith in the rightness of their cause and in their God, the men who died so bravely on Omaha beach moved forward against machine guns and the high likelihood of death. Those who sit atop rockets built by scientists say a prayer and believe they will return safely. That’s called faith.

When you pull out a chair from the kitchen table and sit down, you do so with the faith that the chair will not collapse. But, Terry, that’s faith in science, not God. So what? It’s still faith, and we need to include it in our discussions during times of great change. Why? Because faith is a weapon against fear, and I see a lot of terrified people out there these days.

We need to talk about our faith, mostly because we never do, and because we don’t, we have so little of it at a time when we need it more than ever. People view faith as associated with religion, and that’s why we don’t talk about it, but even at the heart of the West’s most prominent religion, Christianity, is a view suggesting that faith has more to do with our day-to-day behavior than what we believe in our religion.

When I think of the red words in the Bible, I don’t think of the guy who said them as a religious fellow. Jesus wasn’t a wizard or magician, although that’s what a lot of people think. He was a human being, just like us. He spoke in parables, but that’s what people do who are beyond the norm in all ways. I also think of the Disciples as guys who tagged along, because they were fairly impressed with what was going on around them. I mean, why not? These are people we’re talking about, not some form of cosmic “chosen ones” with halos around their heads. Believers can look back and say they were, but I’m talking about in that moment.

So when they asked him about this thing called faith, they were parenthetically saying they wanted to be cool, like him. They’d heard him talk about faith, and they knew it was important, but they simply didn’t get it. They assumed that, whatever it was, if they had more of it, they could do magical things, too. So they asked him to “increase our faith.” His response, however, didn’t help.

If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed,” Scripture quotes him as saying, “you could say to this sycamore tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.”

Holy crap. Sounds like “the force” from Star Wars. I can imagine the looks on the faces of his audience.

But faith isn’t some wizardry that involves moving heavy objects with a pointed finger to impress your neighbors. It’s much, much more basic and simple than that. He was talking about what human beings can accomplish.

The first thing to understand is that the mustard seed has faith. Since it has no consciousness, faith isn’t some mysterious force that you can conjure when you need it. It’s your fundamental behavioral pattern, and it’s based on who or what you are in nature. With its faith, the mustard seed grows into a giant plant. How? By doing what it’s supposed to do. That, more than anything else, describes tree or mountain-moving faith. Human beings lack faith, because we’re in it for ourselves, and that’s what Jesus was saying. If we simply did what we’re supposed to do, we could do anything.

What compels a bird to first jump into the sky? Faith.

Our culture was built on faith. It’s what has always separated us from other cultures. After due diligence, what compels the investor to sign the check? When the artist finishes her work, what gives her the courage to put it out there and risk embarrassment? When the explorer sets his sights on the undiscovered, what’s the final nudge he needs? What makes inventors climb aboard their devices in the face of crowds who insist “it’ll never fly?” Again, you can trust your measurements and your science, but remember the words of that pastor in Georgia when risk is involved.

Today, I see media companies everywhere afraid to pull the trigger on tomorrow. Everybody seems bound by invisible chains from taking a risk. Everything about our businesses, including our compensation systems, seem to discourage innovation and encourage safety, and that can be dangerous when the chair on which you’re sitting is about to collapse. It’s okay to believe in yesterday. It’s okay to wait until somebody else takes the chance. We can manage our way into the slow decline of the last buggy whip makers, but why not take the lead? We can be smart about it, but leadership is in our veins, and lead we must.

If faith means doing what we’re supposed to do, what we’re capable of doing, then let’s bring that to the table. We’ve got mountains to move, but we’ve faced them before. We know we can do it, so let’s get busy.

It could be worse. We could be staring at a box of rattlesnakes, and that’s my Thanksgiving message for 2010.

How to “be somebody” on Twitter

The 10 rules of TwitterTwitter is a marvelous innovation that I both use and believe in strongly. I think if you don’t have Tweetdeck on your desktop, you’re really missing what’s happening in the real-time world of news and information today.

Twitter’s beauty is in the conversation that takes place within its walls, so it’s really about who you follow, not about how many tweets you send or how many people follow you. You can’t participate in the advancing of ideas and memes unless you follow those who are talking about them in the first place, and long after its personal branding attributes have done their thing, the ideas advanced will be Twitter’s greatest accomplishment.

Media people, however, are more into its marketing value, as are a great many of its more famous users. Tiger Woods joined Twitter last week, for example. Already, he has 251,944 followers. He’s on 3,955 lists. He follows only 11 people. Clearly, he’s in it for the ability to reach fans directly. This is what I call a media 1.0 usage of a media 2.0 tool. Tiger Woods doesn’t want to interact with anybody. He’s interested in its one-to-many (broadcast) facilitation.

Celebrities, athletes and media people all use Twitter this way, because of its unparalleled ability to get a message out in a really short period of time. Those 251,944 follows all have followers, too, so in a retweet frenzy, Tiger can get his own words out to most of the world before anybody can sythesize them or analyze their meaning. This is a power that is most definitely new, and we don’t even begin to understand where it’s taking us culturally.

Not everyone is Tiger Woods, though, and so Twitter is home to a new form of personal brand management that’s known only to the experienced users. The thing about Twitter, however, is that this behavior is hopelessly transparent and, therefore, a bit off putting. So, with sarcasm on my mind and my tongue firmly in cheek, I offer ten rules that you must follow if you want to “be somebody” on Twitter.

  1. Retweet any tweet that mentions you. Your followers might not be their followers, and you always want to show your followers that you’re important enough that people tweet about you. Always include humorous things, because it makes you more human and approachable, even though you probably aren’t.
  2. Tweet links of articles that are controversial in your space. Read only enough to provide a statement that proves you read it and think it’s relevant. This way, you’ll be known as one who watches the space and are “in the know.” The more links you tweet, the greater your presumed knowledge of the topic. “Gosh, she must know EVERYTHING!”
  3. Make sure you tweet links of articles that prove or validate your point-of-view. In so doing, don’t forget to take credit for creating or advancing the idea. Remember, it’s all about appearances.
  4. Retweet tweets that reference articles that prove your point of view. This gives the impression that the original tweeter of the article accepts that you are the person responsible for creating or advancing the idea.
  5. Follow the people in your space who are retweeted often, and do likewise. However, try to retweet their thoughts before anybody else to prove you’re on top of things. It also might get their attention, so that they’ll follow you.
  6. Repeat your best tweets late at night “for the Asian or European crowd.” This makes it appear you actually have a lot of followers in different time zones who may not have seen your earlier tweets. You’re all about them, right?
  7. In Tweetdeck, make sure you set up a column searching your name, so that you can see what people say about you that don’t refer to you properly through your official “mention” name (hint: it begins with @). Retweet those tweets so that people know you’re important (see #1).
  8. When someone with a lot of followers retweets something of yours, thank them with a tweet of your own. It makes you look important in the eyes of your followers, not all of whom follow the guy who just retweeted you (see #1). It also makes it look like you know these people, which may or may not be true.
  9. Be careful not to respond to somebody you’ve never heard of, because you might accidentially advance their brand and make yourself look bad in the process.
  10. Never jump on a bandwagon, especially hours after it was started. It’s too easy to get lost in the crowd, and it looks like you’re just jumping on instead of leading the band. If, however, the situation demands that you jump on, draw attention to the fact that you’re late and make up some excuse. It’ll make your followers feel better.

There are many other rules, of course, but if you practice these, you’ll be well on your way to establishing your brand via Twitter. Be careful, though, because the Web has a way of seeing through disingenuity, and with Twitter, trying too hard stands out like a fat, naked guy on a stage.

Go forth and be known!

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)

The Velvet Rope and Fox News

courtesy C. S. Lewis Society of CaliforniaIn the only speech to college graduates in his brilliant career, C. S. Lewis spoke of the “inner rings” of culture and the problematic quest to gain entry. “The Inner Ring” was the Memorial Lecture at King’s College, University of London, in 1944. The C. S. Lewis Society of California has preserved this wonderful piece of prose for all generations to explore.

This “inner ring” is the carrot at the end of ego’s stick, and, according to Lewis, once entry is gained, it becomes a shallow victory.

Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humour or learning or wit or any of the things that can really be enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow’s end will still be ahead of you. The old ring will now be only the drab background for your endeavor to enter the new one.

And you will always find them hard to enter, for a reason you very well know. You yourself, once you are in, want to make it hard for the next entrant, just as those who are already in made it hard for you

…The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.

I have tried to follow this advice for many years, and it’s very difficult in the world of personal branding made available by social media, especially Twitter. I don’t retweet things people say about me, because, well, who cares? Yet, the desire to be “in” is powerful, and fighting it takes conscious effort.

When I refer to this “ring,” I call it the velvet rope, and I’ve found that even mentioning it in the company of those who are within some form of its plushness brings anger and character assault. Defensive are those, who by fortune, fate or otherwise, find themselves with the “in crowd.”

I’m thinking about this today, because I just watched Jay Rosen’s “late night chat” about Fox News, and it raised the matter of Fox playing revolutionary to the cultural élite. Jay feels that Fox is exploiting the resentment that those outside the rope feel towards those within (Many thanks to Balloon Juice for the quotes).

On Fox, the news exists in order to generate controversy. Controversy exists in order to generate resentment. And the resentment is what generates ratings. […] Resentment of whom? A cultural élite that is corrupt and maneuvering and manipulating behind the scenes to exercise power. It’s resentment against this élite that provides the motion, the passion, the commitment, the fireworks at Fox.

…Many provocations, one lesson: the liberals, the cultural élite, are at it again. This is the essence of myth. No matter what happens, the story stays the same. This is one reason why the whole notion of Fox as a news channel is a little dubious, because nothing ever changes in Fox land.

I put these two together, because resentment is, indeed, a reaction to those inside the velvet rope who work so hard to keep others out. You can argue that this is justified or not, but my own life experience confirms my intuition and that the words of C. S. Lewis about this are true. Once becoming a member of any élite, it becomes the duty of that individual to keep others out, ‘lest it not be known as an élite.

I think this does engender resentment, and resentment is the energy behind any social movement. In that sense, Fox is indeed tapping the energy of this resentment. You can also argue that this is disingenuous, that the use of the word “resentment” is a convenient jab at people merely trying to attain access to a life they view as being inside the velvet rope, the one they see on TV every night.

The view that there really is no cultural élite, no “inner ring” whatsoever, is naïve. The view that it isn’t largely on the left is one that is seldom discussed, because those complaining about Fox’s bent to the right come entirely from the left. If it isn’t so, explain it.

And the view that Fox isn’t trying to change things for those outside the rope, is dangerous, because it underestimates its power and influence. The mainstream press and social commenters — by dwelling primarily on the perceived intelligence level of Fox’s viewers — does a vast disservice to reporting on the culture war itself, and that, more than anything, assures a close race for political power in 2012. Mockery fuels the resentment, and so it goes.

Our culture’s most visible elitist bigot is Bill Maher, who noted that the Comedy Central rally at the mall in Washington had twice as many people in attendance as Glenn Beck’s rally, but that “they weighed about the same.”

In the view of C. S. Lewis, none of this matters anyway, for no inner ring anywhere can bring true joy and happiness in this world. That’s left to the bonds and kinship found in a human experience that pursues work as an end to itself and not a means to some higher goal. This is important; the other, not so much.

The “inner ring” of which C. S. Lewis spoke to those college graduates so long ago is a big part of all that’s taking place today in our culture. Read his speech, and you’ll find the dynamics at play in your own life, the lives of those around you, and in our national and international lives as well.

Wisdom is like that.