Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen

Being The Boss

It’s TunesDay, and as I mentioned yesterday I saw a concert the other day which prompted our music/business thought for today.  It was the final show of the Springsteen tour and having been at one of the first shows 26 months ago it was a nice way to close the circle.  The video below is from the show and while it’s not of the best quality it is the only time the song – “Seven Angels” – has ever been performed live:

You might notice that during the introduction Bruce brings Garry Tallent, the bass player, front and center.  The song featured him and some great work on the bass.  Later in the show, the band did four songs in a row that were, in my mind, very deliberately chosen.  “High Hopes” featured Tom Morello‘s guitar work.  “Youngstown” featured a long, sizzling Nils Lofgren guitar solo.  That was followed by “Murder Incorporated” on which Steve Van Zandt‘s playing was featured.  Finally, “Johnny 99 let each member of the horn section stretch out and shine.  Only “High Hopes” is performed regularly on this tour so what Bruce did is instructive for all of us who have or will manage people.

Bad managers let their team do the work and take all the credit.  Great managers help their team to do the work and then let each team member stand up and stand out.  By letting each member of the band stand in the spotlight and receive the roars of the crowd he was recognizing their contribution to the two-year tour as well as showing that while it’s The E Street BAND, every member of that team is a star, not just the guy whose name goes in front.

The men and women on that stage are professionals. They’re in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.  I’m sure each of them appreciated Bruce’s gesture in choosing the set list to feature each of them.  That’s why he’s The Boss.  If they still enjoy those kind of strokes, don’t you think the people who work with you might as well?

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Your Own Worst Enemy

I can see in the analytics that many of you skip our little TunesDay celebrations each week.

Springsteen Tour, Album, and Free Single

(Photo: Brian Sawyer)

Maybe you’re still recovering from the previous day’s post (Mondays can be hard, I know) or maybe you don’t care for the song analysis.  Since I’m rather insistent in this space that we all listen to our audiences, I’m going to do less song analysis and take a more thematic turn this week.

The song is from The Boss and is off of the “Magic” album (2007) and is called “Your Own Worst Enemy“.  This is an acoustic version:

I’m not going to get into the lyrics which you can read here because it’s the notion of being our own worst enemies that’s the business point this week.  I’m as guilty of this as anyone – just ask my golfing buddies.  I know – he’s off the track again and wandering to the golf course.  Not really.  You see once one has learned the basic skill of the golf swing the game becomes incredibly mental.  People who are successful can ignore all their bad shots and “get out of their own way” as golfers describe it.  Then there are folks like me who make several excellent shots in a row, hit a bad one, and allow that one bad shot to be a distraction for the rest of the round.  we become our own worst enemies.

Business is the same although in a less physical way.  Once you’re past entry-level jobs, you’ve learned the basics.  While the learning needs to continue, most of the negative things that occur are due in part to us getting in our own ways.  You might be reading this thinking “oh not me.”  Hopefully not.  But if you negotiate against yourself, talking yourself out of making bold proposals because “they’ll never go for that,” then look in the mirror to find your negotiating opponent.  We all talk to ourselves even if it’s only internally.  If that conversation contains statements that aren’t helpful to the situation (“this guy hates me”) or are actually inaccurate (“there is no way I can handle this job”), the only one with whom you’re fighting is yourself – the enemy lies within.

Next time I see my own worst enemy coming to town, I’m putting him on the next train out.  You?

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Turn Turn Turn

I woke up to the sad news that Pete Seeger has passed. He was a giant of American music, influencing and inspiring many music greats. In the case of Bruce Springsteen, that influence was so great The Boss recorded an album of songs Seeger made popular. It seems appropriate that this TunesDay, we look at one of Pete’s most popular songs. Here is the version most of us know:

For Turn Turn Turn, Seeger often said all he did was write some music and six words (actually, one word repeated) since the lyric is from the Book Of Ecclesiastes.  That sort of humility (and humor) extended into his sense of community.  You never went to a Pete Seeger show unless you were prepared to sing, and I can’t remember ever not knowing many of his instantly familiar songs – If I Had A Hammer, Where Have All The Flowers Gone and many others.  While The Byrds made today’s song a hit, many others recorded it as well.  I think that’s so in part because of the music and mostly because of the message which is one of those universal truths that apply to business as well as to our non-business lives.

There is a time to every purpose; everything has a season but that time will come and go.   That’s the song distilled down and it’s something we often overlook in business.  If you don’t actively embrace change, you probably have very little chance to do well.  It’s not particularly difficult to look around and see those industries with outdated business models and those which have sprung up to fill the voids left by those businesses not moving forward.  The music business itself is still struggling to turn, as is any content business that clings to the old ways and sues their customers.

Change isn’t something to be feared in business.  New markets emerge, new product categories are developed.  It’s something that, as the song points out, is GOING to happen.  Change is the catalyst that moves business forward.  We can choose to embrace it or to resist it.  Your call.

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The Life In Your Time

I know it’s not TunesDay but today’s screen has a bit of a musical bent.  As Robert Hunter wrote: “Once in a while you get shown the light/In the strangest of places if you look at it right.”  That’s what happened to me the other night and I thought it would provide some food for thought today.

English: King of the Castle Living life on the...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My enduring affection for The Boss is no secret to any of you who read this mess regularly.  He was on the Jimmy Fallon show and at the very end of his interview he said something that resonated:

It’s not the time in your life, it’s the life in your time.

Coming from a musician, that can mean a lot.  After all, Janis, Jimi, Kurt, and too many others put a LOT of life into their brief time and one wonders how much more great music they would have created had they not done so.  As it turns out, Bruce‘s quote wasn’t quite original.  In fact, a similar saying has been attributed to everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Adlai Stevenson:

“However else you live your life, live it freely. It is not the years in your life that count, it is the life in your years.”

That was to a group of students in 1952 and he used it repeatedly thereafter.  With whom the saying originated is unimportant.  What is says is.  Stop and think about the last time you put down the smartphone, turned off the computer and had a meaningful conversation about something other than work.  Maybe you love and feel passionately about your work and that’s great but perhaps that passion should be spread out a little to give you a break?

We’ve all had friends and others we’ve known die young (and as I get older “young” is an evolving concept).  I doubt any of them wanted another day at work or to play a video game or to post silly photos to the web.  I suspect they’d all want the time back they wasted worrying about things that didn’t matter or holding grudges or being afraid.  We all know people who live their business lives that way and it may extend beyond business.  Too bad.

None of this is news, I know.  We’ve all been told to come up for air, to live in the moment, and to participate in our lives instead of being a spectator.  As with most things in life and in business, the challenge isn’t to identify the things we ought to do; it’s to do them.  Do you agree?

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Tell Me A Story

This TunesDay, I’m not really going to focus on any one song but on a number of them that make a great business point. If I were to ask you about “The River” (Bruce), “Cats In The Cradle” (Harry Chapin), “The Edmund Fitzgerald” (Gordon Lightfoot) or “Tangled Up In Blue” (Dylan), assuming you were familiar with them, you’d answer with two points. First, don’t I know any music from this century (I do!) and second, each of those songs tells a great story.  The list could go on and on and I’m sure you can add 5 or 6 of your favorite musical stories to the list.

The best of this genre actually give the listener a double benefit.  First, great music.  It may be an unexpected chord twist or an unusual arrangement but they’re out of the ordinary and immediately recognizable.  Second, the story.  Imagine if the obsessed fan in Eminem‘s “Stan” was the fan in the movie “Misery”.  The latter took an hour and a half to say what Slim does in 6 minutes yet the story is just as compelling.

That’s what we need to do as business people.  We need to tell stories that compel people to listen and do so in such a way that they leave us singing them again in their heads.  Listen to Dylan:

I’ve taken the most stripped-down version of this I could find and yet the love song sung by a troubled man is clear.  That’s how our messages need to stand out.  Connecting with people on an emotional level is far more effective than a bunch of statistics.  Take a good look at some Powerpoint you’re currently using.  Does it tell a memorable, coherent story or does it lay out a bunch of statistics?  Does it sing about solving problems or is it just more blah-blah-blah?

Figure out the story you want to tell then write a memorable tune to carry it forth.  Got it?

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Ready for a two-fer TunesDay? Today I have two songs that deal with the same issue – our approach to the world and, therefore, how we’re likely to approach business as well. The first is from The Kinks, who are probably better known for Van Halen‘s interpretation of one of their songs (You Really Got Me) then they are for creating some of the most innovative music of the late 60’s and the 70’s and 80’s.  The second one is from The Boss, mostly because it hits on the same theme, I love his music, and its my screed!

First The Kinks:

If you’re ever feeling a little down, this might just be the uplift you need.  I don’t know of a more positive song.  The core of it is contained in these lines:

Be an optimist instead,
And somehow happiness will find you.
Forget what happened yesterday,
I know that better things are on the way.

And that’s really the business point as well.  Unsuccessful people tend to look externally, in my opinion.  The market is bad, a competitor cut prices, a key employee just left, what can we do?  There are always things out of one’s control that are the root of the problems the business is having. As the song points out, a positive attitude lets happiness – which in business is often measured by success – find you.

The Boss weighs in:

What’s so interesting about this song – one of Bruce‘s most positive – is that it was written when his life was kind of confused.  He had dissolved the E Street Band and left New Jersey to live in California.  He had gotten divorced and had changed the style of his music and none of this was well-received by his legion of fans (me among them!).  In the midst of that time, this:

These are better days baby
These are better days it’s true
These are better days
There’s better days shining through

Maybe it’s a lost soul trying to convince himself that everything is fine or maybe it’s a man who faces each day sounding a positive note on whatever may come.   It’s the same point Ray Davies is making in our first song – being an optimist at heart leads one further along in life and in business because, as Bruce puts it “it’s a sad man my friend who’s livin’ in his own skin/And can’t stand the company.”

Make sense?  Oh – extra credit:  In September 2010, Ray Davies released “See My Friends”, an album of reworked classic Kinks songs, which contains a duet of ‘Better Things’ with Bruce Springsteen.  The streams converge!

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When I’m 64

I was not quite twelve years old when The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper. On that groundbreaking album was “When I’m 64“, which you might think is the topic of our TunesDay screed. Not so fast, dear readers.  The song is a young man wondering what his life will be like when he’s 64 and will he and his lover still be together. I remember thinking at the time that 64 was VERY old and picturing two old folks walking hand in hand slowly down a boardwalk someplace.

Let us now turn to the real subject of the screed this TunesDay:  a guy who turned the aforementioned 64 yesterday.  Here he is performing about a week ago so you can see what 64 looks like:

I know you’re probably tired of me writing about Bruce so let’s think about what the reality of him at 64 is vs. the mental picture of someone at that age most of us might have had when we were in our 20’s.  It’s a good business point too.

We can’t let our perceptions get way out of touch with reality nor can we let our prejudices about an age lead us to market our brands ineffectively.  How customers see them selves as they age is kind of counterintuitive.  In fact a Pew study shows that:

the older people get, the younger they feel–relatively speaking. Among 18 to 29 year-olds, about half say they feel their age, while about quarter say they feel older than their age and another quarter say they feel younger. By contrast, among adults 65 and older, fully 60% say they feel younger than their age, compared with 32% who say they feel exactly their age and just 3% who say they feel older than their age.

Moreover, the gap in years between actual age and “felt age” widens as people grow older. Nearly half of all survey respondents ages 50 and older say they feel at least 10 years younger than their chronological age. Among respondents ages 65 to 74, a third say they feel 10 to 19 years younger than their age, and one-in-six say they feel at least 20 years younger than their actual age.

The Boss is nearly 64 and Mick Jagger is 70.  So while they (and we) might be “older, losing my hair, many years from now,” if you talk to us that way you’re missing the boat.  Got it?

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