Posted By on May 8, 2012

Last week’s blog was about a Facebook friend who posted a “billboard” likening President Obama to Ronald McDonald. Today’s Plain Dealer recounts a Romney campaign stop in which Ohio auditor Dave Yost makes the same comparison, quoting from the same playbook.

I didn’t argue with the Facebook friend, though that side of him infuriates me. Argument isn’t the point in Facebook postings; affirmation is, whether you’re on the left or right. But now that this message is spreading, it’s time to blast it, because all it does is polarize.

Polarization is all the rage in this year’s election, featuring a campaign between two very cautious candidates (Romney flip-flops; Obama hedges). Obama’s killing of bin Laden—which I applaud despite how uneasy assassination makes me—is one of the purest, most clear-cut actions this president has taken. I wish he were more forthright about same-sex marriage, a vexing issue on which he lags. But that’s another blog.

Despite Obam’s taking out of bin Laden, the GOP is bent on portraying him as weak on the military. I haven’t seen any proof of that, despite what my Facebook friend and the GOP’s hard right say. Proof doesn’t matter, however. All that does is the message, and if nothing else, the GOP has shown remarkable message discipline ever since Obama took office.

Too bad all that messaging does is polarize.

Seems To Be a Guy Thing

Posted By on May 2, 2012

Last night, an acquaintance posted a “billboard” on Facebook comparing President Obama to Ronald McDonald, the hamburger clown, saying Team 6 should get the credit for killing Osama bin Laden, not Obama. The post ticked me off. It’s another kneejerk, far-right attack on Obama, who has been far more effective militarily and diplomatically than his predecessor. These hostiles wouldn’t give Obama credit if he ended pollution, cured cancer or joined Israel and Palestine in a new, peaceful country.

Maybe I chickened out by not responding on Facebook. I still consider this acquaintance a decent guy, though I think his politics are bogus and narrow. There’s another guy who posts similarly right-wing political snark, along with questionable, soft-core porn that draws snickers and leers from other guys and quizzical responses from women. I don’t want to unfriend these guys, but some of their posts seem like a form of cyber-bullying. You can pick a fight on Facebook for sure, but it often degenerates into name-calling and too rarely resolves anything.

Which is why a blog can be useful. You can go longer and you can raise issues without stoking the temperature. As Obama proves over and over again, no drama is a virtue.

Format Frazzle

Posted By on April 25, 2012

My new acquaintance Alex Malkin, a recent attendee at the Bratenahl ping pong club I help manage, Friended me on Facebook after he saw my blog. He said he thought it was interesting but when I told him I felt sheepish about it, not having “fed” it for nearly five months, he agreed.

So this is my promise. I’ll write a blog entry once a week (I can’t commit to more just now) starting today. It’s a beginning.

The reason it’s hard to feed a blog is that a blog is more than casual. You have to have a topic; it’s not just enough to catch up or excuse yourself, as I so often have in the past.

God knows I have plenty to write about: the ongoing project I call Invisible Soul, a book about underground Cleveland soul music and rhythm ‘n’ blues from the late ‘50s to the early ‘80s (for a taste, visit my Invisible Soul story under The Story of Rock at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame web site) my travels, which have been amazing this past 12 months; changes in my household, like my wife’s imminent graduation from art school, and my daughter’s college search. And all this week, I’m covering the Tri-C Jazz Fest for Jazz Times. So I’m not lacking for material, verbal and/or visual.

But over the past year, I’ve been putting more and more on Facebook, mainly because it’s so much easier. It’s a bulletin board, it’s a conversation, it’s a market builder. But it doesn’t lend itself to depth. For that, you need this. Better yet, you need outlets in newspapers (endangered), magazines (hard to crack) and books (hard to write, especially when you’re like me, craving an old-fashioned publisher).

At the same time, my old book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories, continues to thrive. Tonight I’ll be touting it at a discussion of Cleveland rock ‘n’ roll with two other authorities, Michael Heaton and John Gorman. Should be lively.

Just giving you a taste of what I’ve been up to and hope to be up to. See you May 2.

Closing Out 2011

Posted By on December 31, 2011

It feels good to be working on Invisible Soul, my Cleveland soul music book, on the last day of a busy, fast year. I’m writing several chapters to send to a publishing house at a university in the south in hopes that citadel of higher learning picks up on the proposal and helps me with the research and funding. I’m cautiously optimistic.

I’ve spent the past few months writing a lot of hotel and travel stories, both for trades and for consumer. My package on Colombia, which I visited in early October, should be out in the Plain Dealer the second Sunday of January, and I’m eager to start assembling a similar package on Dubai (which I visited in early December for the second time) for the PD, too. I’m still writing book reviews for the Boston Globe, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Christian Science Monitor, but those have dwindled, just like bookstores.

Feeding time at the Rosario Islands Aquarium

A snapshot from a car of Calima Darien town center

The Dubai Mall from the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifah

Since I last posted at the end of August, I’ve also traveled to New York, drove with my friend Ron to Virginia Beach for the U.S. Nationals Table Tennis Championships in mid-December (don’t ask) and have written a gang of reviews for Jazz Times. My recent favorite jazz album is Andrew Cyrille’s Route de Freres, on TUM. I also contributed to the upcoming PazznJop poll in the Village Voice, though I was hard-pressed to come up with 10 memorable pop albums in 2011.

I’ve been reading Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian author whose Harry Hole books I recommend. Karen and I just saw the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a knockout as terrifying as but slicker than the Swedish version. We’re going to spend New Year’s Eve dining well at home, maybe watching a movie.

I predict 2012 will be bruising politically, pitting Church of Bob ringer Mitt Romney against Obama in high-stakes battle for the operation, if not the soul, of the country. I’m pretty sure whom I’ll support, if not with my original enthusiasm. The world gets grayer, it seems, along with my hair.

Happy New Year. I think and trust it will be an improvement on the shrill, murky one rushing into the past.

Goodbye to summer

Posted By on August 27, 2011

Last time I posted I was into writing for Lodging Hospitality again, in addition to writing occasionally for Hotelnewsnow. Since then, I’ve been to Dallas and reported my LH stories; vacationed on Cape Cod, where I spent some summer time with my parents when I was a little boy; continued to work on Invisible Soul, a challenging project; read a lot of books; re-encountered my first wife—digitally, of course; and bought an iPad.

Not much to this other than to bemoan the rapid passing of summer. July was beastly, but August has been nice, and I’m looking forward to pleasant weather through October (call me optimistic). Karen’s about to enter her last year at Cleveland Institute of Art, Katy just started her second year at Bowling Green, and Lylah’s now a junior at Beaumont—and working: She got a job at Chocolate Emporium, a kosher confectionery virtually around the corner from our house.

Off Provincetown, Mass. this August—whale watching is great!

Lylah, Karen and Katy: my beautiful household.

Read a great book: Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. Also reviewed a book of his travel writings for the Boston Globe, and for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reviewed Driving Home, a collection of essays and memoirs by the fine British writer Jonathan Raban. I’m still reviewing jazz CDs for Jazz Times and a little bit of rock for Hearsay.

Invisible Soul is vexing. I applied for a Creative Workforce Fellowship to the Cuyahoga Partnership for Arts and Culture and will know by Oct. 12 whether I got it. It’s for $20,000, which would help me a lot and pay for some research help. In the meantime, I already have an outline and am gearing up to just plain write the thing, or at least parts of it that I have under my belt. Poring over old newspaper stories and display ads is fascinating; there’s so much oddball, uncovered history here. In the meantime, I have another book out (sort of): WIXY 1260: Pixies, Six-Packs and Supermen. Published by a subsidiary of Kent State University Press, it’s credited thus: “Mike Olszewski & Richard Berg with Carlo Wolff.” Basically, I edited it. It’s fun.

One last item: My first wife contacted me through Facebook. I haven’t seen her/been in contact with her since 1983. Amazing how the lines of your life connect—far more easily than they used to.

The pressures of reinvention

Posted By on June 6, 2011

I’m in Dallas working on two Hilton hotel stories, occupying a lovely, 19th-floor suite at the recently refurbished Hilton Anatole. It’s nearly 100 degrees, so I’m staying in, thank you. A month ago, I was in Shanghai on another Hilton story: Profiling the first Waldorf Astoria in Asia, recently opened on Shanghai’s Bund. I’ve been working pretty hard on hotel stories, and happy for it. I still like to travel—especially to Asia.

On another front, Invisible Soul, the Cleveland soul music book project I’m developing, is moving along. I’m encountering some resistance—some key figures are hard to reach and/or simply don’t want to be—and there might be competition. If there is, I hope it turns into coopetition. Seems I’m treading sensitive waters; meanwhile, I’ll continue to post occasional, Cleveland soul-related stories on ohioauthority.

The book reviews are dwindling, probably because a) newspapers continue to cut back, b) bookstores are dying and c) book publishing is shrinking—or at least morphing. Such change is the reason I want Invisible Soul to be a book, an e-book, a soundtrack, a DVD, and maybe more. Gotta be multimedia these days; it’s the only way to market to a wide audience.

On the home front, Katy got a 4.0 in her first semester at Bowling Green and Lylah won high honors for her academic and artistic work in her sophomore year at Beaumont.

Karen’s working hard on updating her book, “Thick Through the Middle,” as a senior project.

A year from now, Karen will be a Cleveland Institute of Art graduate, armed with a whole new skill set. Reinvention is challenging and continuous.

Signs of spring

Posted By on March 30, 2011

It’s March 30, and it snowed. Just a few inches, but still. Goes against what I’m doing, which is reviving, getting a full head of steam: writing for Lodging Hospitality again, rejoining the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra board (there are some wrinkles to work out) and producing a lot for ohioauthority. I’m also developing a proposal for a book on Cleveland’s hidden music: the soul, jazz and blues of the ‘50s through the ‘80s, when it was still a big city. True, it may have stood in the shadows of Motown. But Cleveland had its own style. Still does.

The heart of the book will be East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue, what we now call University Circle. At the time I’m looking at, 105 was home to a gaggle or bars/entertainment venues where in the late ‘50s you could hear Chuck Berry, Bill Doggett, Johnny “Hammond” Smith and Billie Holiday within the same week. I want to recreate those black-and-white times before the people with the right kind of memories pass. Those people are largely black, and it’s a sensitive project.

So starting in April, I plan to devote more and more time to this. I want it and all its ancillaries—it’s a multimedia era—in stores and online by Christmas 2012. Something big to work toward. It’s exciting. Now if only it would warm up…

Getting better all the time

Posted By on January 29, 2011

I went to a show at Beachland Ballroom Jan. 22 that made me think there are second chances, ways to start all over again. It starred the Hesitations, a nine-piece soul group from Cleveland’s 1960s. The singing Hesitations are in their 60s and are prime exponents of Northern Soul, a variant of Motown with a sweeter top end. They’re really good. The five musicians who back them are younger but in the same groove.

The weather sucked. Except for one day when it crept near 50, the temperature in Cleveland has been zero to 30 and there’s been snowfall virtually every day for the past six weeks. That might explain why the Hesitations drew only about 150 despite major publicity.

In any case, the Hesitations were just fine, living proof of the second chance. They recorded for Kapp in the late ‘60s and hit the charts with such tunes as “Soul Superman,” “Born Free” and “The Impossible Dream,” speaking to the rise of black power. Those songs, along with such chestnuts as “Stand By Me” and “Mustang Sally,” still have the power, though whether they relate to today’s young people is a question.

Red becomes the Hesitations

It was great to see and hear a group with harmonies and choreography, a group that plays real instruments and tells real stories through their music. Makes you think getting older pays dividends after all.

Music 2010 and before

Posted By on December 30, 2010

I didn’t want the year to end without mentioning the Horse Flies, an upstate New York band I’ve been following for 20 years. The band played at Beachland Ballroom Dec. 17 and generated a gang of encores. They worked through material from “Until the Ocean,” their latest album, and they’re beginning to focus on a follow-up. Don’t miss them if they come anywhere near you. A great, string-based band whose show I previewed, the gig led to lots of ecstatic dancing, including mine. Too bad “Until the Ocean” was released in 2008; it was one of the best albums I heard in 2010.

Which brings me to my top 10 lists. I wrote one for PazznJop, the annual Village Voice poll of 1,500 critics; it focuses on pop and will join 1,499 others in the Jan. 19 issue. I wrote the other, exclusively on jazz CDs, for Jazz Times, the monthly magazine I contribute to.

PazznJop was tougher. I’m of a generation out of step with a lot of current pop, so I suspect my list reads dated. Jazz is easier, now that I’m in the current of jazz recordings. Anyhow, I’m sharing:

For the Voice:
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Mojo, Reprise
The National, High Violet, 4AD
The Deadbeat Poets, Circustown, Pop Detective
Tom Jones, Praise & Blame, Island
Roky Erickson, True Love Cast out All Evil, Anti
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Good Music
Dan Auerbach, Keep It Hid, Nonesuch
Bettye Lavette, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, Anti
Taylor Swift, Speak Now, Big Machine
Eminem, Recovery, Aftermath/Interscope

For Jazz Times:
Sarah Manning, Dandelion Clock, Posi-Tone
Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green, Apex, Pi
Dave Morgan, Way of the Sly Man, Being Time
Danilo Perez, Providencia, Mack Avenue
Nik Baertsch’s Ronin, Llyria, ECM
Metropole Orkest/John Scofield/Vince Mendoza, 54, Emarcy
The Nels Cline Singers, Initiate, Cryptogramophone
Stephan Crump With Rosetta Trio, Reclamation, Sunnyside
Charles Lloyd Quartet, Mirror, ECM
Cassandra Wilson, Silver Pony, Blue Note

Discovering Japan

Posted By on November 28, 2010

A week ago tomorrow, I returned from four full days in Tokyo thanks to Hilton, American Airlines and Japan Airlines. Hilton invited me, American Airlines flew me there and partway back, and Japan Airlines got me from Tokyo to San Francisco, where I met a very old friend and lost my cell phone (that incident might prompt another blog very soon; the phone, which my friend retrieved in his car, is in the mail and better get here tomorrow).

Tokyo is Blade Runner scale, but much friendlier. The streets are broad, the scale unexpected. Tokyo itself is said to have a population of 29 million, Metro Tokyo 35 million. Unlike New York, while it’s similarly tall and skyscraper-heavy, Tokyo is layered. So the subway stations lead up to multi-leveled commercial complexes byzantine to the point of bewilderment. Even after four days, I had a hard time ascending from Shimbashi Station to Shiodome, the gigantic structure cluster housing the Conrad Tokyo, the four-star hotel where I commanded a gorgeous suite overlooking Tokyo Bay.

It’s not just the scale that overwhelms, it’s the civility. Tokyo is quiet and clean. While it’s packed with cars, one rarely hears a car horn. And while it’s overrun with people, the crowds, even in Shibuya, the city’s retail heart, are polite. Crossing an intersection with a good 5,000 people in it involves a kind of social ballet, a grace unimaginable in western cities, most of which are much smaller.

Seating sections with orange straps and signage are reserved for the elderly on Tokyo’s efficient subway. People are friendly, if reserved. Thanks to Daniel Fath, a fabulous public relations person who squired our group around Tokyo, we learned how to stand in the train, how to give way in a crowd, how to say thank you. Civility is critical in a region in which space is the primary, most priceless value.

The first day began before 5 a.m. with a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market for the tuna auction. Cold, wet, enthralling, it took two hours and was an appropriate introductory immersion in Tokyo. Some fish were enormous; the auction decides the volume and quality of tuna distribution in the area. Word is local titans of industry want to move the market from its present spot on the Sumida River to make way for casinos and condos. There is resistance. The market is very much worth visiting.

A riverboat ride brought us to Asakusa, a tourist town where I encountered the Buddha I’ve always visualized and ate a fabulous rice cracker. Fatigued and jet-lagged, I nevertheless enjoyed the first day.

The day I remember most vividly was the third, when Daniel and I walked all over Shibuya, the most vibrant area I saw. Highlights were visits to Tower Records and Tokyu Hands. Americans would recognize Tower—Tokyo’s is the only extant one—but would find Tokyu Hands a very different kind of department store. It sells all kinds of cell phone accessories, wacky games, tchotchkes, clothing, kitchen ware. It’s a smorgasbord pulsing with animation and the exotic. Tokyo teen boys took pictures of us. We took pictures of them. That night, I took pix of the Ginza, a shopping district crossing Times Square and Madison Avenue. Lotsa fun. More soon.

About the author

I'm a veteran critic and business writer who reads and listens and writes about music, books, hotels and travel. I've been in the business for many years and still enjoy it. My pride and joy is my book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CarloWolff