Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


And on a lighter note

Filed under : The Internets
On July 17, 2009
At 5:00 pm
Comments :Comments Off on And on a lighter note

Most of my readers are from outside the New York area, but even you, I know, visit. For you and for residents of the beautiful neighborhood I call home, the Upper West Side, please check out my friend’s new blog My Upper West. It’s full of the things people in other NY ‘hoods have been enjoying on their own local blogs for years: news, events, store openings & closing, real estate reports, star sightings, and so much more. He and his wife blog all day and night, just for us.

Seriously, this place rocks and now we finally have a blog! Woot!


There’s someone I forgot to be

Filed under : Life in general
On July 14, 2009
At 11:30 am
Comments : 26

I’ve been writing this post in my head for about six months. Now that I’m finally typing it up, I realize I should probably have written down a few notes. Oh well.

You know how people bemoan the humdrum, doing the same thing every day, no surprises lifestyle? I am not one of those people. I do not like riding rollercoasters or jumping out of airplanes, I like coming to work, the same job I’ve been doing pretty much my entire adult life, and doing the exact thing I expected to do. When I go on vacation, as you’ll no doubt remember (although it’s been a long time since I’ve been on a vacation), I like to have everything planned. No showing up and hunting down a hotel for me. I know what time the buses are leaving and where the station is long before I even set foot there. I never understood why Trent Reznor sings “Every Day is Exactly the Same” like it’s a bad thing.

I say all this to help you understand the momentous nature of the next thing I am about to say. I am chucking about 50% of my current life out the window. I am writing this at the weekend (or since January, depending on how you look at it) but by the time you read it, I will have quit my job. You know, the job that the sidebar box there makes clear to you is a large part of my identity. The only industry I’ve ever worked in since I started at age 16. I did four months of work-study in an accounting office and also clerked a Barnes & Noble alongside my record store gig one summer when there weren’t enough hours for me at the latter. But other than that, music is my life, and I’ve somehow parlayed that into a career. And it’s been a good one, for the most part. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have my hobby also be the thing that supports me. I not only get to help make bands successful and be part of the reason you hear the songs you do, but I work surrounded by music lovers in a poster-covered, pot-scented office where rock stars pop in, the CD’s are free, and concerts are part of the job description. I’ve met some of my heroes and some that are your heroes. I get to hear much of the music before it makes it out into the world. And when I do a spreadsheet, it’s about something that has interested me all my life, how much a record is selling and why.

You may have read that Kasey Casem retired from American Top 40 last week (I think he only did the Top 20 show these days) and I can trace this interest back all the way to my childhood and listening to him every single Sunday. To the point where I once had a fight with my Mom who wanted to take me to a warehouse clothing sale on a Sunday morning and I wouldn’t get out of the car till the countdown was over. As the songs would be counted down, I’d revise my estimates of what was coming by what had already been played and what hadn’t. Later, I caught on to the fact that Billboard Magazine listed them two days before but I couldn’t always get to the bookstore to see it. When I worked at Musicland, we had an instore copy and I’d read it from cover to cover. Exactly twenty years ago this week, Love & Rockets’ So Alive was #5 on the Hot 100. What’s significant about this is that I really remember the article in Billboard about this fact inspiring me to want to work at a label. That issue isn’t online, but I remember the record company executive saying something like, “when we decided to take Love & Rockets top 5….” This statement just blew my mind. The fact that a band which was a cult favorite without mainstream success in the US could by means of a “decision” make the Top 5 revolutionized how I had thought of the Top 40 all my life: as a list of the songs that people simply liked best. Not only did I want to find out how one could cause one song to do better than another, I wanted to be part of that process. Now I know it’s not as simple as that, but essentially, that’s what labels still do. And if you are a Twitter follower of mine, you know that every Wednesday morning, when the numbers really come out, I Tweet the top debuts of the week. Soon that will stop.

Once, some friends and I were chatting about what people on an online forum had in common. I posited that what really unites all of us with our geographic, political, educational, ethnic, and religious differences is the fact that we’re all bored at work. How else would we have time to spend our days chatting away online? So, let’s revise my picture to say, I loved my job but was unchallenged by it and because of my “I don’t want to change” attitude, that only vaguely bothered me. I am not ambitious. Once I got out of the “So-and-so’s office, how may I help you?” part of my career, I never cared about titles or windowed offices. Plus, I don’t want to give my life to my employer, I want to go home and have a life. As long as I enjoy my job and can afford to live, that’s all I really cared about.

Then my job was changed and it took me until recently to realize why I dislike it now so much. It’s because now I really am selling stuff. And I don’t want your money for things that you may not really want. I am not a hyper – I like things that are so good they just speak for themselves. The hype makes me feel fake and a liar, even if it’s partially true. I found this out years ago at Musicland. I was great at showing you stuff you might enjoy and I was happy that you left with a great CD and I left with your money. We were both satisfied. But I was never the person to push stuff on you that you wouldn’t really enjoy just so I could “make the day” for the people at headquarters. And I don’t want to now either. I just want to help other people and have them be better off, all the while living on “enough” rather than a lot. I don’t need a lot. When I was little, I used to want to be a millionaire so I could afford one of the estates in the back section of the New York Times Magazine. But as an adult, I dress in jeans and t-shirts and the only thing I find myself wishing I had more money for is concert tickets.

There are other reasons I’m leaving and I won’t list them here but, as you probably have noticed, this industry is in a slow death spiral and it’s probably better to leave sooner rather than later anyway. I’ve had a good run and I’ll always have the memories.

As I mentioned earlier, the reasons people do things on the Internet interest me. So does computer stuff in general. Music is my first love but as the daughter of an IBM exec in the 70’s and 80’s who brought prototype PC’s home, that bug bit me early too. (One of the first things I did, on this computer, was make lists of the Top 40, naturally). So, as a person who really would like to live life in a non-profit environment, or at least one where people are the primary motivator rather than money, and someone who loves computers and the effect they have on society and cognition, what do you think I should do?

Good idea! I thought so too. So I’ve quit my job and will begin a Master’s program in educational technology at Columbia University’s Teachers College in the Fall. I may not become a teacher and, in fact, the degree doesn’t lead to certification. But there’s lots of things you can do with it and hopefully one of them will grab me in the same way the music industry did in the beginning. We’ll see!

And how will I live without that whole “job” and “income” thing? Good question! I’ve saved a bit, I plan on getting a part-time job, and I plan on opening an Etsy shop so you can buy my rugelach and other goodies year round! And, I intend to be very, very frugal. I already live on less than I bring in and my love of spreadsheets has enabled me to figure out how to survive on what I’ll have. It can be done. I haven’t been in school since 1993 (it was Teachers College, if you recall, and luckily, some of my work from then will count towards this degree) and I find the idea of being back in class scary, but hey, everything seems scary right now. And that’s OK! Because I’ve taken it all into my own hands and am making a proactive change where one is needed. So it will be all right, I know.

I am going to miss having long-lost friends on Facebook saying, “I knew you’d end up doing that!” and new people I meet telling me what a cool job I have. Once, after work at Musicland, I was waiting outside the mall for my ride home when some kids drove by, whooping and hollering. It was late and dark and deserted and I was scared. The car slowed and one guy yelled, “hey! It’s the girl from the record store!” Then they all started to wave and cheer. Yes, I’ll miss that. But Bob (remember Bob? She left our company a year ago) told me, “the only thing I miss about working at a record company is telling people I work at a record company.”

But I think I’ll miss more than that. I’ll miss having all the research websites at my fingertips so I can look up any song and what stations are playing it and how much it has sold. I’ll miss backstage passes. I’ll miss free CD’s. I’ll miss knowing why things happen in music and why they don’t. I’ll miss the community of people I now know and interact with. But I’m burnt out. I’m tired. I have no more energy and passion for this. More importantly, I wasn’t treated well and I spend my days doing work I don’t enjoy. There comes a time where you just have to walk away.

So, look for some different types of posts, posts by a blogger who is a poor student rather than a music industry executive, and after that, who knows? Because the only sure thing right now is that there are no sure things but the fact that taking a risk to get yourself away from an unhappy situation is always the right thing.

I just want to take a few words to thank people who really helped me in this endeavor. Sarpon, who helped me write my grad school essay which my adviser told me was “intriguing,” and talked me through moments of self-doubt. Lisatagio, who gave me great advice on the teaching profession and even let me observe tech classes at her school, a private academy with such smart, motivated students they ought to use it to advertise education as a career. And several other people who have read and listened to meandering tripe on mid-life crises and career change for the last six months. You know who you are! And someone, who I don’t know if she’s reading this, but helped me realize the confidence to do this. I miss you! But as you can see, I am A-OK. Huge heartfelt thanks to everyone.

Title comes from:
George Michael – Freedom


iPod song of the week – Fleet Foxes

Filed under : iPod Song of the Week,Music
On July 12, 2009
At 5:30 pm
Comments :Comments Off on iPod song of the week – Fleet Foxes

Hey, it’s “when I was a kid” week on JBall! But this one’s only tangentially related. In fact, this song’s really about the present. I had a really tough year. I don’t mean the calendar year. I mean Summer 2008 to Summer 2009. First there was losing the place where I was born and grew up, then it was the kitchen ordeal (and I recognize that I was lucky to get to remodel, but it was a horrible, soul-sucking experience that I entirely regret and still isn’t over), and then there was some other stuff beginning in January. I’ll talk more about that later this week.

But this song was a balm to me, so soothing as to still make my troubles dim when I hear it. I’ve listened to it a lot this year. The “when I was a kid” part comes from the fact that I think some of the appeal to me stems from the sound of the song, which reminds me of the sort of music my older siblings were listening to in the mid-70’s. I was lucky enough to have the sort of childhood where being reminded of it makes me feel safe, secure, and worry-free. Listening to this makes me think of my sister driving me down a dirt road in Dutchess County to get late night ice cream at the Red Rooster. But even if that’s not what soft 70’s music represents for you, I think you’ll still find this song peaceful and mind-resting.

And if you don’t usually bother listening to the iPod Song of the Week because my taste is not your taste, give it a try, This one’s different.

Streaming audio:

Fleet Foxes – Blue Ridge Mountains


A lane for the rest of us

Filed under : New York City
On July 10, 2009
At 5:30 pm
Comments : 2

Earlier today, I responded to a Tweet by the creators of my favorite podcast, NPR’s Planet Money, about why people walk in the bike lanes when there are “perfectly good” sidewalks to walk on. They posted a picture on the associated blog post of Times Square to illustrate it (we have lots and lots of new, green bike lanes here). I already answered them with my opinion but I really needed more than 140 characters. Especially after I had to navigate the Columbus Circle area this afternoon on my way to to Best Buy. (Please don’t think I am a fan of Best Buy, I was buying competitive product from their stock of 20 CD’s).

Around the curve of Columbus Circle near the park, I had to make my way through the following:

1. At least 15 different people holding “Bike Rental” signs. I guess they go along with the bike lanes but they seem to have proliferated overnight into an army. I have no idea if they are all one company or competing places or each one guy with a bicycle, but they are everywhere near the park. One enterprising guy had laid the sign on the sidewalk with 3 bikes “parked” against it. Fabulous.

2. At least 5 different sets of tourists stopped, looking up, looking at maps, snapping pictures, stopping to gawk at an office building and calling it a nice hotel, etc. Bottom line, not moving.

3. A woman with a Fox News mike and her cameraman interviewing a quintessential “man on the street” about the NY Post article featuring a photo of Obama and French president Sarkozy ogling a lady’s fine, fine ass at the G8. It goes without saying that a group had gathered around. Duh, there was a camera!

4. The usual sidewalk vendors of framed pictures of New York, such as a sign that said “Gay St.” (look, says the gay guy, I brought home a picture of a sign that says Gay St!), or John Lennon in his New York shirt next to a photo of the Imagine mosaic in Central Park ($2 with frame).

5. A scene out of the movie Airplane where people from at least three different charitable organizations tried to stop me and ask me for such things as “a moment of my time for the environment.” Also one from a comedy club where the guy actually addressed me by the color of my shirt. What a comedian!

I ask you, dear reader and NPR, where the hell am I supposed to walk?

NPR Planet Money Blog: Why Do People Walk In Bike Lanes?


When we played tag in grade school

Filed under : Famous People,Life in general,Music
On July 5, 2009
At 8:30 pm
Comments : 8

I actually wrote this a few days ago and then didn’t post it, mostly because of the holiday. A few days later it felt a little late. Then I watched tonight’s Simpsons, and Fox replayed the 1991 episode where Michael Jackson, er “John Jay Smith,” guest-voices (except for the singing, but the speaking voice is him and apparently he was actually very keen on doing it) and then I really wanted to post this.

I know, you are utterly exhausted by the glut of Michael Jackson “news” on TV and the Interweb and wish we could get back to serious coverage of Iran and Jon & Kate. You wonder to yourself, what sort of backwards, brainless yokel is still sopping this stuff up to such an extent that they have to concentrate on this one story? Who are these idiots they cater to?

The answer dear reader, is the person in that photo on the right in the striped pants, or, more precisely, who she grew up to be. Because I, personally, cannot look away. When they get past the Michael news, I pretty much turn the station unless they’ve teased a later story. It’s not so much that I am interested in the stuff that’s coming out (oooh, he couldn’t sleep! The ex “wife” might want the kids!), it’s simply that that keeps him in the news. Because I’m not done yet. There’s a Hebrew expression, “l’havdil” which literally means, “to differentiate” but when used in the beginning of a sentence means “I am totally not comparing these two things, please don’t think I am, but this example is so useful so indulge me.” I wish there were an expression like it in English but there isn’t so here we are. So I say here, l’havdil! But what this reminds me of is shiva, the Jewish mourning period where you sit for seven solid days receiving guests and all you really do is talk about the dead person. If that’s what you want to do; it’s up to the mourner, but if you’ve sat shiva, you know, that’s kind of all what you want to talk about. You’re in a sort of shock and you’re trying to process and if maybe we keep talking about it, something will get clarified and you can move on. You want to sort through all the facts and details of the person’s life and how you related to it so you can decide what it all meant to you. Maybe some new fact that you forgot or never knew will turn up. I don’t care what they say, I just want to talk about Michael Jackson. Please?

I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think I actually miss Michael Jackson, because, you know, I didn’t know him and hell, I couldn’t name you one song he put out in the last ten years. But back to the girl in the striped pants. It’s hard to get a handle on her, she lives way in the past. I guess she liked to play in mud puddles and not so much with the hair brushing. But this week, when I heard lots of songs she used to listen to, for just a few moments I was inside her head, sitting on the floor in her parents’ bedroom (the only room in her house with a TV) with the lights off watching variety shows. And I realized that when they replayed all those interviews of Michael saying he’d had no childhood that suddenly, I could remember mine, like some sort of time-travel serum. And I knew why he missed it, because it was really happy and carefree and sweet like nothing feels like when you’re an adult. That feeling. That’s what I can never seem to access. Being an adult is pretty kickass but when you can feel for a minute what it felt like as a child, you realize what’s changed and what you’ll never feel again. And it’s nothing I could possibly put into words but the music, well, the music… it transports you.

When I was growing up we didn’t have air-conditioning. My parents worked at a Summer camp so we were away during the hottest time of the year. And if it got hot before or after that, we’d turn on the attic fan and open all the windows and the breeze would come on in. Sometimes, if it’s hot and I just have the window fan on, I can feel it. But not as much as when I hear music like this (and title comes from).

Jackson 5 – The Love You Save


I’ve watched and read a lot about Michael Jackson this week; I think his story is really fascinating, the fantastically-talented kid who was forced to become an adult at eight and then never grew up and never wanted (literally) to be in his own skin. But if there’s one piece that really nailed why I want to remember him the way I do, it’s this one from Josh Tyrangiel at Time Magazine. They won’t let me embed it but here’s the link if you are something like me and want to see it.