Everyone is doing the whole AMA (Ask Me Anything) thing, so I thought I’d join in. I’m now on Ask.fm, and you can “AMA” here: http://ask.fm/JosephcDickerson

Some of my answers so far:

How often do you listen to the radio? What is your favorite radio station? The voices in my head usually drown out the signal. I thought the tinfoil would help, but, alas…

Shall we look for love, wait for love or forget totally about it? You should look for love in all the wrong places, get addicted to it, have the look of love, and then ask our friends, “what about love?”

What magazines do you read? Wired, Popular Mechanics, Consumer Reports, Women’s Day.

Do you prefer to be alone or around people? I like to be around people who are alone.

What makes a person “good”? The amount of seasoning applied and being cooked at the proper temperature… Oh, wait, I think you were asking about something else.

Photos: The Toonseum Museum

Recently took a lunch break from work to go visit the Toonseum Museum in downtown Pittsburgh – They have displays on comic books, cartoons and comic strips as well as wall where artists who have visited add their sketches and signatures. Their current featured exhibit is on Big Little Books, with a lot of original art from some famous names. Here’s some pics:

What story are you telling?

I had a great conversation with my new friend Yoshi last week about journalism… specifically, music journalism. He asked me my opinion of this piece that claims that modern music journalism isn’t about the music anymore… it’s lifestyle journalism, covering the artist more than their craft and output. The article’s writer says that it’s because the writers aren’t qualified to write about music – they don’t have the understanding and training on music – so they write about the easier topic.

This article – and the ensuing conversation – got me thinking about storytelling, agendas and personal narratives.

One thing I always emphasize is how important storytelling is in life. We are wired to listen and respond to stories, and telling stories help you engage with people in a real and (sometimes) intimate way. The best stories have a point and a purpose – to entertain, to make people laugh, to sell in idea or a product. It’s powerful, and there’s a reason Don Draper focused on telling stories during his pitches. It works.

To respond to the point of the article cited above, the reason why music journalism has become lifestyle journalism now is for more reasons than just a lack of music training on the part of the writer – it’s because it works. Lifestyle journalism works because people love stories and want to read about popular figures they admire. We want a glimpse into that life. Another case in point is NBC’s Olympics coverage – the sports are often secondary to the athlete’s stories, because that is what draws the audience in.

What amuses me about all this discussion is that the best songs ARE stories – they evoke a mood, and have a point. Yes, even music such as jazz that has no words. What has happened has music journalists are jest talking about a different story now.

Additionally, it’s easier to frame a narrative and a thesis around a person – Developing that for an album or a musician’s body of work is much harder. A lot of people will be more comfortable and confident in writing about, say, how Myley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball video isn’t as good as Ron Jeremy’s parody than analyzing the chord progressions or lyrical structure . You may have more prestige analyzing the musical choices that Miley made when she created Wrecking Ball, but what audience size will such an essay have?

(Quick sidebar: I studied journalism, many many years ago… and one of the things that was taught was the importance of objectivity and how bias was bad. The thing is… it’s a bunch of baloney. I’m not talking about political agendas, but the most obvious form of bias – selecting what to cover and write about. The line of “what is newsworthy” is never clear cut, and the decision is driven by management. What to showcase, what to report on, what to bury…. bias is part of the process, and it cannot be avoided as long as human beings make these decisions.)

The way we live and present ourselves are also stories, but many people don’t pay attention to this as much as they should. These personal narratives are the stories that people conjure in their minds and they can make or break you. Another words that is used to define this is “reputation.” It proceeds you, and that story is hard to change once its told by your actions and activities.

Personal narratives are all about you deciding the story you are telling, through deeds. What are your actions telling the world? It’s an important thing to understand. What is the point of what you are doing? What is your purpose?

What story are you telling?

Photos: The Computer History Museum

Another week, another cool sightseeing destination. This week was the Computer History Museum, in the heart of silicon valley. If you are a geek, then here’s pictures from the museum covering the gamut of computing devices – from slide rules to smartphones. If you are not, there’s plenty of other sites on the Internet.

Here’s some pics (and a lot more are here):

A visit to Southfork Ranch

I’ve been visiting a lot of fictional places lately.

Last week, I was in Cleveland, where I visited Ralphie’s house from A Christmas Story. This week, I was in Dallas… and my destination was one I always wanted to visit.

Southfork Ranch.

Yes, the home of the Ewings, the oil-barons of the TV show Dallas. I had watched the show when I was younger, rewatched it with my wife… and I was a fan. Not as big a fan as Twin Peaks or Star Trek, mind you… but I was a fan nonetheless.

I even had the opportunity to meet Larry Hagman, JR himself,  a few years ago. His autographed photo hangs proudly in my man cave along with an autograph of Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie).

Well, the visit to Southfork was a must-do, when I realized I had some extra time to kill this week (I’m in Dallas on business). I spent a couple of hours exploring the Dallas museum, the gift shops, the grounds, and (of course) the house. I was amused by the “delta” between the real world and the show (the producers built sets that don’t really “fit” into the floor plan of the actual Southfork home) and I was impressed by the owner’s attempt to make the house as “authentic” as possible.

The old (and new) show shots exteriors at Southfork, and the new show has taken advantage of the grounds a lot more than the original (they even shot the Mexican hotel room that JR dies in IN Southfork, so JR technically ‘died at home’).

Here’s copious amounts of photos taken as I was geeking out over the whole thing. With all these visits to fake/real locations recently, my perspective on things are getting a little blurred…

 

The day I saved Timothy Leary’s life

I realized a few days ago I had a couple of pretty good stories that I had never written up. One, involving Richard Simmons, I will not recount until he passes away (dead people can’t sue). The other, involving the time I saved Timothy Leary from grievous bodily harm… that one I can recount here.

It was many many years ago, at Atlanta’s DragonCon convention. Way back in the early 1990s I was a volunteer providing video production services to the convention (If you have ever attended the convention, you may have noticed they have dedicated TV channels in the four main convention hotels that rebroadcasts panels – that was my idea, way back in 1991). I helped setup equipment, run cables, and basically do lots of grunt work video recording panels. I only did it for a couple of years, because A. I was young and B. I enjoyed it. Once I realized DragonCon was exploiting volunteers/slave labor so they could make a pretty profit, I stopped doing it.

One year (I think it was 92) a big guest was Doctor Timothy Leary. I had read a lot of Leary’s work and by that point he had become a living legend of the 60s and 70s counterculture movement. I was excited to see him, and was thrilled to have one of the best “seats” in the house.

I was on an elevated platform manning a video camera during his panel – it was in one of the big rooms, and for Dr. Leary it that was standing room only. He spoke eloquently about how humanity should evolve, should be open to all possibilities… and how LSD was just one of may ways that we could reach higher forms of consciousness. Though I had never done drugs before (or since), his inspiring words made me consider taking that step. He was a great salesman.

And that lead to what happened when his panel ended.

Leary, who was by that point in his late sixties/early seventies, walked down the stairs to the left of the stage and talked to several people who lingered around. One of those people was a long-haired man from England whose intentions were not honorable. From my position I read the body language instantly – this guy was angry, and was charging towards Leary.

By this point, Timothy Leary and the crowd had moved, and he was standing right next to my platform, and his back was to me as the young man shoved past the person Leary was talking too and started screaming at him.

“YOU KILLED MY BROTHER WITH DRUGS YOU SON OF A BITCH YOU DESERVE TO DIE”

And with that I lifted Timothy Leary up and pulled him up to my platform. I’m 6 foot four, and lifting him up was an easy effort. He didn’t know it was coming, obviously, and as I set him down turned to me, shocked, he smiled. I got a sense that this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened.

I grabbed for my walkie-talkie to call for security as the man continued screaming from below, but before I could get a message out two other volunteers bolted over and pulled the young man away. Found out later they guy had a knife on him.

Timothy muttered “Well, that was interesting. Thank you.” Then he walked down the steps off the camera platform and apologized to people for the interruption. Amazing. HE apologized.

I exhaled, thinking that what happened was interesting in the worse possible way. I went about my business, thinking that was the end of it. A couple of hours later a man came up to me and quickly said “Mr. Leary really appreciated what you did early. There’s a get-together in his room after 8 tonight, and he’d like to invite you to attend.” He handed me an index card with a room number and walked away before I could respond, “You bet.”

When you volunteer at a convention like this, getting to engage with a celebrity guest is one of the big (usually unfulfilled) opportunities. And here I was, getting invited to a private party because I had man-handled a 60s icon.

I was there at 8, right on time.

I was let in, and as I entered I saw that the party had started early. In the very large suite were many of the other convention guests – some big names in TV and film. I also smelled a distinct odor – they were enjoying a little weed along with their cigarettes.

I quickly sat down at a couch in the living room, and there – sitting across from me, on the couch opposite mine – was Timothy Leary. He recognized me, and smiled. He looked like… well, I hate to say it, but… Yoda. He looked like Yoda. Smiling, wise… peaceful.

And then he looked down. At the coffee table between us. I did, too.

There, on a dish, were four sugar cubes.

I looked at him, and he looked me. A moment of decision had arrived. And then…

There was a loud knock on the hotel room door.

Police.

I looked over, and saw someone had opened the door to one of Atlanta’s finest, who did not look interested in joining the party. After he introduced himself, he quickly declared “There’s been numerous complaints about noise in your room, and if you people are going to have a party you need to keep it down.”

I turned back to the table and… the sugar cubes were gone. Leary had snagged them off the table in a moment, like a flash. He’d done this before.

I laughed, quietly – the moment had passed.

 

For a while, I wondered… would I have done it? Would have gone on a trip with Timothy Leary? For many years I shook my head at the possibility, thinking “absolutely not.” That was my conservative upbringing talking. Now… Now, I smile ruefully at the lost opportunity.

Ah, well. Such is life.