Thursday, July 3, 2008


I know that I had good history teachers, but it wasn’t until recently that I finally understood why a person should study history. You study history so that you can cheat, at least it feels like cheating, it feels that easy. That is, if you can know the future, then making decisions, complicated decisions, decisions fraught with uncertainty, isn’t all that difficult if the decisions are much less complicated and much less uncertain. Mark Twain said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. So, although I cannot tell you who will win the Super Bowl next year, I can tell you that there isn’t any mystery to history.

History comes at us in waves—from behind, so all of that gibberish about looking forward into the future should be rephrased into ‘wise statements and knowledge gleaned from studying the past’. Because if you can catch one of these historical waves and surf it, you’ll be just fine, certainly more fine than getting caught in the undertow. And as a result, life can be all or nothing at all.

We are at one of those wave moments right now. The waters of time are just starting to churn. So, let’s look back into the future and try to see what’s going on.

I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and my parents had me late in their lives—so my parents are the age of my peers’ grandparents. That means that my parents lived through the Great Depression, and it also means that they thought, for most of their lives, that I was nuts. Why was I nuts? I was nuts because I paid attention to what other people owned. I was nuts because I compared my toys to their toys, and I was concerned that I was using the right shampoo, that we had the right kind of car, that my parents weren’t as cool as others. I was, in short, just like everyone else in my generation. We were the first generation born and bred to be consumers, we lived to be the first one on our blocks to own, or the one’s to go tell Mom and Dad to buy.

All of this came naturally to us. There wasn’t one single moment of coercion forming what we considered to be our common sense. Of course we want the best one available and will accept no imitations. The newest model? Put me down for three. Because of our insatiable desire to buy love in a can, the US economy boomed along with us babies.

And that wave is about done. It is about done for the same reasons that there is no longer an aristocracy—and I don’t mean rich folks. I mean Dukes and Lords and Barons and Counts. There aren’t any more vassals and serfs, done, over, kaput. Industrial revolutions have a way of going through society like a tsunami, or a really cool wave, depending upon your decisions as the churning begins.

My generation looked to buy anything that sparkled or had marshmallows. We talked about the new models of cars, new toys, new anything—that’s how we socialized, that’s how we tied ourselves to one and other. My Dad’s generation didn’t do it that way. They didn’t even think the same thoughts—and their way, to them, was just as natural as our ways were to us. What they talked about—how they socialized, how they formed their society—they were all looking for an angle. Remember that phrase? Every conversation I had with that generation came back to the same things—looking for an angle, finding a gimmick. In other words, they were all poor, and they ‘kept their eyes open and their mouths shut’, looking for the crack, the opportunity to move up in society, to gather the wealth that now pays for their stays in assisted living and nursing homes. Their friends became friends not by what they owned, but by whether they shared the same angle. It was a completely different way of socializing—it was a completely different society.

Now we have factories sitting on the top of our desks, and we can communicate instantly with anyone anywhere in the world. This is a new industrial revolution, and once again, society will change completely. So why don’t we, as jazz people, pick up the surf board. Record companies no longer want us—but it doesn’t matter because we can make our own recordings. We can distribute them ourselves and reach just as many people as Warner Bros. could reach on a good day. Today, anyone with any artistic inclination can become their own studio mogul. But—and here’s the kicker, this is it, right here, right now—we have to relate to each other differently. We have to become as nuts to the Baby Boomers as I was to the Greatest Generation. We have to think and relate to each other in completely different patterns. That’s because we not only have the factory in our home, but we carry the outlet store in our telephone, in our pocket. You don’t go to the store, the store comes to you with each person that you meet.

Right Now, let’s call it the Factory in Our Pocket Generation, after hello, things are going to change, because it's another Industrial Revolution: What do you have? How can I connect you to what you are looking for? Can we trade links? We should help folks find the websites they need, buy the small wares that we produce—we should do after every hello what could only be done in board rooms and country clubs. And so when we build a website or write a blog, we should trade links, we should look to make a small transaction of five or ten bucks, buying or selling, or helping someone else find the music or book that they would love. This is the new society, this is our sociological future, and this is how we can revive this almost corpse of jazz.

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