Welcome to My Blog

After spending many years playing bass in the Boston Pops Orchestra, and even playing in the Boston Symphony here and there, there was this nagging question that would not go away: Why were a few rare conductors so much better at leading the orchestra than so many others? In particular, what was it that made Arthur Fiedler the most successful conductor ever, for 50 straight years? This last question was particularly vexing, given that Arthur was below average in almost every way, and possessed none of the attributes most people think a great conductor should have.

This cognitive dissonance led to reading up on Toyota Lean and Peter Drucker, trying to find answers.  While there are many conductors on the lecture circuit offering management and leadership advice, I offer books, articles, and live presentations with a very at different take on management, i.e., from a bass player’s perspective.

About me:  I grew up on a farm in Ohio, and my main claims to fame (along with playing bass in the Boston Pops for 18 years, and still working on the TV shows thereof), are my books:

Real Men Don’t Rehearse” — a humorous collection of gig disaster stories) and

Principles of Applied Stupidity.” This latter is an explanation of how the top conductors do what they do.

About the title of “Principles”:  simply stated, we grow up in school, learning the broad cultural dogma that “smart” is universally good, and “stupid” is universally bad. I challenge this concept. Many things that we label as “stupid” behavior in academic settings are actually extremely effective management tools, and are in fact what the top conductors all did.

A little podcast excerpt (thank you Chris Smit):

Then there are the “kid shows”– Peter VS. the Wolf and The Phantom of the Orchestra. These programs are performed by orchestras all over the world. Publishing them all these years has led to a lot of thought on the topic of “Arts education.”

And finally– my “speaking thing.”  I am always eager for any opportunity to stand up and tell my fun stories and share these unorthodox theories of management. So if you if you are casting about for guest speakers for your next management training session, and especially if you are looking for something different and unusual, here I am. (And of course, the stories from “Real Men Don’t Rehearse” are universally appealing– see below.) I am also happy to appear as a guest on podcasts.

So do feel free to call me at 781 330 8143 or email me at justin locke1@gmail.com!

Thanks for reading! – JL

PS

Some of my more popular blog posts:

The True Purpose of Arts Education

The Three Elements of Creativity

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Blame Stasis

I am always intrigued by predictable patterns of human behavior that are not catalogued elsewhere, and I have a new one to share: I call it “Blame Stasis.”

Simply stated, when a problem comes up, one of the ways we seek to deal with it on a purely emotional level is to find someone to blame for the problem. Once that person or entity is identified, and blame is assigned to them, we can stop thinking. We can go back to a calm state of emotional equilibrium, i.e., “blame stasis.”

To “show my work,” here is something odd I noticed a few weeks ago: Someone was writing an article about a recent school shooting.  The author implied that the reason a 13 year old boy had shot up a school was because some young lady had rebuffed his advances.  In other words, an attempt had been made to blame the female for the problems, as she was the temptress.

Then someone else shot back with another article saying no no no, the girl had every right to reject him, and the little boy was to blame for killing a bunch of his schoolmates.

So, whatever your gender bias, each article gives you someone to blame for the horrific tragedy. And once blame is assigned somewhere, this has a tendency to somehow resolve the problem, and we can sleep soundly.

You can see this same pattern happening on massive scale every day. Large numbers of people blame the democratic political party for any number of problems, and any number of people blame the republican party for any number of problems. And once that blame is assigned, we can go to emotional equilibrium, as though the assignation of blame by itself constitutes a solution.

Getting back to our young school shooter du jour, if we apply simple Toyota Lean 5 why’s analysis, we start to ask, why did he shoot up a school? Because he was emotionally upset. Why was he upset? Because his basic emotional issues were not being addressed. Why were they not being addressed? Because the school and community didn’t address them. And now we start to see that all of us are partly to blame for passively tolerating a system that consistently cultivates this kind of behavior.

Uh oh. Quick, how do we blame someone other than ourselves for this?

There is a bit of a management conundrum here, because we are so terribly eager to assign blame to someone other than ourselves and call it done, but at the same time, the only way to acquire any power is to take the blame on ourselves. If we assign the blame to someone else we are assigning the power to fix the problem to someone else.

I am always amused that no one ever suggests that we unite into one political party in the United States. Apparently, we must always be in two pieces, so whatever group we belong to, there is another group (that we have nothing to do with), that we can conveniently blame for all our troubles, and thus feel terribly righteous while not having to do anything to fix them.

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Music, Inc.

Today’s top 40 music worries me.  It’s not that I just don’t like it.  It’s not about taste.  I am too artistically educated I guess, because I can plainly see the cheapness of it.  I think it has the same kind of dangers to our well being as industrialization techniques did to our food supply.

To illustrate,  well,  . . . most of you know the difference between homemade-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies, and a bag of cheap grocery store industrially made cookies that look like cookies but taste like notebook paper.

As you know, there’s a big difference between cookies made with Icelandic butter, and those made with hydrogenated vegetable oil, not to mention the other artificial flavors used in industrially made baked goods. Even so, a fair number of people still consume the latter.  And we see what it does to them.

Alas, I hate to be the one to say it, but the popular top 40 music we hear today is somewhat analogous to industrially made cookies.  There is not much in it.  The ingredients are the cheapest available.

This is not a discussion of taste, nor is it me being nostalgic for music of my youth.  It is not my imagination.  It is about actual demonstrable numbers.

The major record labels are run by corporations that are very much focused on the bottom line.  Musical ideas, like nutritious food, take time and effort to make.  But sadly, much of the music that is being presented to us these days is being produced on the cheap.  In case you think this is just a matter of opinion, here is how to tell the difference between industrial music and real music:

It’s actually very simple: the way to tell an industrially produced song is by looking at the amount of repetition it contains.  It’s a dead giveaway every time.  Granted, the performers are young and sexy, but that does not make the song itself any better.

Real songs contain melodies. Melodies are the musical version of sentences. They have an arc of a musical idea.  Standard “song/sonata” form includes at least two separate freestanding melodies, typically labeled A and B, and played in the form AABA.

Conversely, an industrially made song typically doesn’t have even one actual melody. In fact, technically speaking, industrial songs aren’t even songs. They are “chants.” Chants contain just fragments of musical ideas, and those fragments are repeated over and over.

Industrial cookies are all about making you think you are buying a cookie, rather than letting you judge for yourself.  Industrial Top 40 song/ chants are all about constant visual distractions from their lack of musical ingredients.

For example, after a sexy young singer repeats a single 2-4 note simplistic sonic idea for half the song, another singer, usually not even a singer but a rapper (who is mentioned in the title as “featuring xyz rapper”), will come in where you would normally have the “B” section.  But it’s not a real B section.  It’s just a guy speaking in sixteenth notes.  Once you become conscious of this technique, it becomes strikingly cliched.  Fully half of all Top Forty Pop songs use this structure to create really just an illusion of a song.

The lyrics, too, are often little just short phrases repeated over and over.

The role of an artist is to tempt us into broadening our perceptions beyond the norm. But listening to this bare minimum music can actually have the opposite effect, of numbing our emotions and lowering our expectations in terms of the spectrum of human feeling. For many people, industrial pop music songs are fabulous, because they are cheap, quick,  easy, and familiar.  They never challenge one with a political idea, or explore any new avenue of the human experience.  It’s vague issues of narcissistic teenage romance.

We often speak of “food deserts,” where is there is no nutricious food to be had, and “hostile food environments,” meaning, much of the food in grocery stores induces diabetes and nutritional imbalance by removing the nutrients.  I think this cheap industrial music is doing something similar.   But instead of corroding our bodies, it is doing something very similar to our souls.

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Emotional Cattle Prods

We are in a most interesting historical moment here in the United States. We have departed from sanity really. And so, like psychologists in 1946, I find myself asking the question: how could this have happened?

I have developed the answer which seems to satisfy my curiosity on this point. I call it the emotional cattle prod.

I have borne personal witness to seeing people that I’ve known for many years becoming totally irrational before my eyes. Bear in mind, these are people who, in many cases, possess exceptional intellect. They have ability to problem solve. They study human experience and history. They can do advanced math and extremely technical tasks. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with the conscious problem-solving frontal lobes of their brains. But even so, they have still been seduced into totally hysterical and nonsensical ways of thinking, and voting against their own personal self-interest. And it’s happening on a massive scale. How can this be?

My conclusion is this: there are certain areas of the mind that, if stimulated, become the dominant force in the mind, completely overwhelming any calm objective logical streams of thought. Machiavelli talks about this technique in his discourses. He explained that if a given ruler of the city was having difficulty with dissident factions rising against him, all he had to do was somehow create the illusion of an impending attack from neighboring city, and all the people who were against him within the city would suddenly come to his aid, because no matter how awful a ruler he was, they would prefer him to the threat of an enemy attack.

So we now hearken back to Lee Atwater and his Willie Horton ads, and before that we can hearken back to that famous ad with the little girl pulling petals off a flower, turning into a nuclear holocaust. Now we have extreme claims of all kinds, to energize a given right or left by creating fear of attack. This includes vague concepts of non threats, like the War on Christmas. These images overwhelm most people’s logical thought. They are emotional cattle prods. You just go down the chute without thinking.

We can become so taken up with fear or racial hatred that we never stop to think that maybe we are being played and given hyperbole and stereotypes that prey upon our deepest fears, and have virtually no relationship to objective facts.

This is a weakness in the human mind that has nothing to do with intellect or education. Hitler understood this weakness, and was able to exploit it to its extreme conclusion. This was done in what was, at the time, the most culturally and technologically advanced nation on earth. If it could happen there, it can happen to us. And it is.

Prior to the Lee Atwater era, we had social codes and taboos that were in place for the purpose of recognizing that we need to limit certain kinds of inflammatory speech, because it crosses a line and actually removes our civil behavior. This is why we had to create the Geneva convention– even when we are trying to kill thousands of people, we collectively agree to limits. This is not the case in our emotional news cycle lives. Anything goes.

We used to understand that our collective discourse should not include certain kinds of rough language or imagery. Instead, we have taken this carefully designed social structure for granted and are failing to understand the need to maintain it. When we take away those restraints and allow anybody to cross these lines and exploit these deep dark weaknesses of the heart, it’s like not recognizing that nuclear weapons are dangerous and might explode. We are are failing to understand the larger danger that faces us if we don’t keep these dark animal survivalist emotions in a glass jar, with signs saying do not touch.

Fringe elements and Russia are using this technique, because otherwise their arguments would be exposed as fallacious and would be rejected by the majority. They have removed our sense of decency. And it is historically inevitable that without it, we will eventually be driven to destroy ourselves.

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Economic Sadism

At the time of this writing we are watching the Republicans in Congress trying to pass a tax law that, to this writer anyway, seems like one more chapter in the story of the rich getting richer.

We tend to think of such plays for greater power as simply an exercise in greed, but I think there is something more sinister afoot.

It is not greed. It is sadism.

A psychologist friend of mine once told me, when a human being becomes socially disconnected, they seek solace in seeking a state of relative superiority to others.

For example, if no one loves you and you aren’t invited to any parties, you might seek solace in the thought that at least you are either intellectually or morally superior to these people that do not offer you the golden goal of love and social acceptance.

The trouble with having a lot of money is that, it creates a kind of social isolation, as you no longer share in the common experience of most of humanity. Sure, having all that money is fabulous (I assume), but beyond a certain point, it loses its meaning. Once you have enough money to eat in the best restaurant and drive the best car and fly around in a private jet, what’s left? If you have these material goods but you are starved for the most precious and valuable things in life, i.e., a sense of purpose and a feeling of connection to other human beings, what do you do?

If you lack connection and thus, like my psychologist friend says, you are forced to seek the second best option, which is a feeling of superiority to others, how can that consolation prize best be achieved?

Well . . . since having more becomes meaningless after a point, the next obvious step is to see to it that others have less.

It is rationalized as a logical action of increasing wealth, but it’s really just a wounded soul falling down the rabbit hole of sadism, i.e., achieving a sense of connection by being the cause of pain in another person who otherwise does not respond to your presence. The pain you cause them forces them to acknowledge your existence. It is a state of connection, albeit one based on pain. Better than nothing.

I don’t want to point too many fingers here, because this is something that any one of us is susceptible to. Having a lot of money is like being a prison guard in a Stanford prison experiment.  Possession of power is delicious, and what’s the point of having it if you can’t exercise it over another human being now and again, and maybe take out some of your general anger by dumping some of it onto someone who has to take it?

One of the great failings of the progressive movement is a general lack of understanding of the nature of the opposition. It is naive to think we are dealing with mere greed. Greed actually has a grain of rationality to it. It’s not about getting more, there is no systemic economic logic to it.  It’s about miserable people who want to make themselves feel less bad in a purely relatively way, by making other people even more miserable than themselves.

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My Philosophy Can Beat Up Your Philosophy

Societies are very much like cities, in that, they are not inevitable results of nature; they are products of human design. And while we often feel helpless in the face of current reality, designs– of both cities and societies– can be changed. But doing so requires analysis and understanding of the current design.

That said,

While it is tempting to just “jump in” and participate in the emotional cacophony of our current political discourse, my studies of history make me pause and wonder why the sad unhappy things I see around me are happening. I can’t help but wonder of there is some efficacious way to quell the emotional violence that I see every day, on the news and on social media comment threads.

My grand conclusion du jour is this:

As primates, we are, like all other social animals, terribly aware of pecking orders. For examples, look at our fascination with rankings of everything, from sports teams to high school test scores to universities to restaurants . . . how many top ten lists are there?

It is this pecking order instinct, and the abuse of it by various people to further their own agenda, that is the cause of so many of our woes.

Pecking order issues are a little like salt in the diet. If you remove pecking order issues from a discussion, suddenly it gets very arcane and dull.

For example, if we are discussing philosophy in a civilized manner, that is, if we are not trying to establish relatively higher social standing, our pecking order relationship is politely set aside.  Once that is done, now we might actually make some progress in mutual understanding.

But . . . if we are NOT being civilized, then, well . . . HEY– my favorite philosopher can beat up your favorite philosopher.

In a pecking order contest, we are now highly motivated to just defend ourselves.  No consensus is reached.  No enlightenment or teamwork occurs.

Incidentally, when this level of pecking order conflict occurs, this is when suddenly everyone else tunes in.

Pecking order conflicts are great for TV ratings, as primates are fascinated by pecking order battles. Who will get voted off the island next? Who will win the championship?  Who will get dunked on?  Who will get humiliated at a congressional hearing?

A major contributing factor here is the loneliness and disconnection that so many of us suffer from. A psychologist once explained to me that people in disconnected “shame” states will seek to make themselves feel better by at least making themselves feel that they are superior (read higher on the pecking order) than other people as a replacement for their lack if connection. It has become a broad social phenomenon, and it gets worse as we get more and more digitally cocooned and isolated.

If you dispassionately sit back and watch our so-called political discussions, you will see that most of the time, it is just a pecking order conflict. It’s rarely about actual policy, or even facts; it’s about saying that my candidate / political “tribe” is of a higher social rank than yours, and thus, any amount of invective is fair game, because after all, this is not really about policies– it is the human version of a cockfight.

It is very easy to take people out of calm civilized behavior by creating a threat, real or imagined, to their ever so precious sense of social rank. Thus, conversely, if you seek real consensus, it is key to make yourself unthreatening to that person you are trying to reach. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (For more on this, see my Principles of Applied Stupidity.”)

– JL

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Delusions Are Delicious

As an author, artist, and speaker, one of my grandiose ambitions in life is to make some kind of contribution towards making the world a better place. I don’t mean band-aid fixes either. I mean making real systemic changes.

While I have had a fair number of small successes, I have found that making broad changes is vexingly difficult. And so, instead of trying to make change by the standard approaches of offering criticism or new ideas, I am pondering the science of change-ology generally, and here is the big discovery:

The real issue is the prevalence of  . . .  delusionism.

Delusionism– that is, the terribly common tendency to believe things that just aren’t true– is generally impervious to logic.

One can make all the logical arguments in the world, and they have actually been made, but they all result in the identical feeling-superior-to-those who-disagree-but-nothing-ever-changes result. They are ineffective because we have a delusion that logic is an effective approach to dealing with delusionism.

We all like to think the problem lies in the delusions of others, but with the possible exception of Mr. Spock, every human being is delusional. Using myself as an example, as a child I thought Santa Claus existed and was capable of amazing feats that transcended the laws of physics. You may call that childlike innocence, but it’s not; it’s delusionalism.

And just as we use the delusion of Santa Claus to make kids behave better, adults are quite susceptible to it as well. Many a person has been convicted because a witness was totally convinced they had seen them in their apt that night, when in fact that witness was totally delusional. “Fake News” is all about telling us an appealing delusion that serves the teller’s purpose.

The United States Constitution recognizes delusionalism, and tries to keep us honest by allowing freedom of the press. But it can only do so much. Delusionalism can overwhelm even the best written legal documents.

Delusionalism is rampant and here to stay. It is this inherent flaw in our biological design that we must recognize and be aware of. Merely making contemptous judgements of others in its grasp IS NOT EFFECTIVE if you truly want to make actual changes.  In fact, thinking that making logical arguments against their beliefs will be effective is itself delusional. (Although doing so does serve the delusion that one is inherently superior to another group– yet another popular delusion.)

Delusionalism has to be treated like water-born diseases such as cholera. We are all susceptible to it, it can’t be entirely prevented, but we can make sure the water supply is clean enough so it doesn’t get out of hand and destroy us all.

Anyway, if you seek real change, it is my contention that the quickest path forward is to recognize how trauma, fear, ignorance, and anxiety, as well as corruption of social and legal institutions, can exacerbate the tendencies towards delusionalism, the same way contaminated water spreads disease.   If you do not reduce delusionism first, all the other tools you have– like, say, logic– simply will not work.

When people are damaged, frightened, lonely, abandoned, or the waterways of their communication get contaminated with vitriol, they start to imagine grandiose alternate realities in order to cope with their actual existence.  People who are given too much power can be taken up in grand delusions as well.

Debunking the delusional fantasies of others has proven to be almost totally ineffective, so the fix lies elsewhere, upstream, in the systemic problems that lead to emotional and physical trauma . . .  that lead to heightened delusionalism in the first place.

There will always be demagogues, i.e., people who benefit mightily from the delusionalism of others, so like fighting cholera, it will be a long and never-ending battle. But we are suffering from delusionalism on a grand scale here, and if we do not face it and fix it, it will be, as it has been for so many others, the cause of our destruction.

JL

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Externalizing Evil

So I always hesitate to mention anything Hitler because he garners such immediate gut level responses, but bear with me for a moment.

As we struggle now with Russia meddling with our elections, to be fair, Hitler also saw Russia and the Bolsheviks as a major threat to his vision of civilization– so much so that he attacked them in spite of all military logic.   He was so obsessed with the threat Russia posed, Hitler actually thought that once he attacked Russia, Britain would see his point and become his ally in facing the threat of Russia and Bolshevism.

By the way, the day WWII ended, we took over Hitler’s project of fighting Russia.

Now I am not for a moment trying to support or justify anything Hitler did. My point is, that in is own mind . . . IN HIS OWN MIND . . . he saw himself as a “good guy.” And he saw the evil in himself as something that existed in others, outside of himself.  This is very common.

Now . . .

I am reading digital hand wringing all over today as people ask “How could Neo Nazis still walk among us?” This completely ignores what is really going on, which is,

We human beings are wired, by default, to externalize our feelings of shame and evil.  “The problem is not ME– it’s THOSE PEOPLE over there.”  And it is this propensity that is the problem, assuming you want to try to fix it.  And because projecting our deepest shame and fear onto others is so popular, I question whether anyone really does.

You see, just as we see Hitler as this terrible person, he saw Russia as terrible people.  Can you step back for moment from your own hard wired need to be part of a morally superior group, and see that the group that you feel morally superior to looks at you in the EXACT SAME WAY? And, by the way, perhaps not without basis and justification for at least some of their complaints?

(And do you really think you can go around saying to somewhat ignorant people, “Your great great grandfather, that you have been taught all your life to honor and revere, was a traitorous scumbag,” and not encounter some pushback?)

The folks that carried torches in that parade don’t see themselves as evil bad boys. They see themselves as heroes, marching to save something dear and noble, protecting it from, well . . .

. . . you.

You can argue who has the moral high ground til you are blue in the face.  And please don’t think I am taking their side– I know what they are doing is wrong.  But if I join a group of people who hate them, do I not then belong to a hate group?  Much as I love feeling morally superior to these people?

The problem is, nobody wants to admit that maybe we are not as noble as we think, and we are very eager– some might even call it a social necessity– to assign our sense of shame to someone else in order to cope with it.

Until we get away from allowing ourselves to always immerse ourselves in a belief that we are automatically morally or intellectually superior to some other group, we will inadvertently create those groups, and this process will repeat and repeat without end.  Condemnation will not solve this problem– it’s actually a symptom of it.  It feels good but . . . Until we recognize the shaming exclusionary rival tribe trauma that results in this counterbalancing behavior, of seeking solace in a sense of moral superiority (that is the basis for taking extreme actions against perceived enemies with now justified violence), we are not looking at the root cause.  Does anyone want to fix this problem, or do we too much enjoy having someone to feel morally superior to?

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

–JL

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The Melting Pot Is Cold

If you go to Italy, you will find all kinds of evidence of the Roman Empire. There’s the Colosseum of course, and the Pantheon– certainly must sees– and any number of Roman temples and ruins of this and that all over the place.

Before the Romans took over, for hundreds of years much of Italy was run by the Etruscans. But, unlike the many Roman remains and ruins, it is tough to find any Etruscan buildings.

This not an accident. It’s not because the Etruscans built their houses out of sticks. It is because, as Machiavelli explains, when the Romans first took over the joint, they did not want there to be any competition for their ideologies. They did not want the various local tribes to have a choice of maybe going back to worshipping the Etruscan gods.  So the Romans very methodically went around destroying anything Etruscan, and that’s why there are so very few remnants of the Etruscan society.

Similarly, when Cortez arrived at Mexico City, he found fabulous buildings and temples– and he had them all taken apart. Of course, there are still Aztec and Mayan temples out in the boonies, but in Mexico City they only recently found the remains of the massive temple that once stood in the center of town. He wanted the locals to be Catholic, and not have some other temple to go to.

The point I am making here is, when new cultures or centers of power take over, one of their first orders of business is to get rid of the competition, and this includes history and traditions of the people they are trying to take over. So it always saddens me a little when I encounter people whose American cultural awareness is, in terms of time, very shallow. They know all the current top ten hits, but if I ask them if they have ever seen “On the Town” or “Roman Holiday” or even “Casablanca” . . . their eyes go blank. Their own rich American cultural heritage is not something they are aware of. Never mind Gershwin or Aaron Copland, we’re talking fabulous pop culture like Rocky and Bullwinkle, and in some cases, even Bugs Bunny. I was amazed in talking to some millenials last week that they had no idea who Tex Avery was, and had never seen “Red Hot Riding Hood” or “King Size Canary.” These are timeless masterpieces of unadulterated fun that, like the monuments of the Etruscans, have been systematically erased by the modern pop culture machine that seeks to establish its own pre-eminence, and to do so it has to erase collective knowledge of competition from the past that far exceeds its own relatively poor quality.

Something else that is becoming painfully clear is that the kind of all inclusive, we-are-all-in-this-together kind of movie and song is no longer preeminent in our culture. They are being erased– and this is much easier than taking down stone fortresses– by an ever increasing volume of mass produced pop culture pushed hard by individual corporate interests. The nation, its cultural monuments, things that are collectively ours, are being taken down and replaced by things that are owned by smaller entities that have their own individual, not national, agendas. We ignore this at our peril. Singing the national anthem at ball games is not enough. Maybe making every kid say the Pledge of Allegiance every day was overkill, but something like that is necessary to maintaining national cohesion, especially in a melting pot like America. You have to keep the heat on to make things melt together. We all lettings things separate, and while this is profitable for some, it is not good for us as a whole.

–JL

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Latest podcast –Break the Business

I am always eager to be a guest on podcasts.  To me, it’s the new borscht belt, a place to try out new material and just polish and reach new audiences.  to that end, I just appeared on a really interesting podcast done by entertainment lawyer Ryan Kairalla, called “Break the Business” . . .  Very professionally done.  My part starts at 19:45.

LINK TO BREAK THE BUSINESS PODCAST

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