Yearly Archives: 2019

Mr. Jimmy

One of the highlights of SXSW 2019 that I want to expand on a bit was seeing the premier of Mr. Jimmy, a documentary film about the Jimmy Page tribute artist, Akio Sakurai.

The film is a loving appreciation of Japanese attention to detail and craft. In much the same way that Jiro Dreams of Sushi introduced the world to the lengthy apprenticeship and dedication of the world’s best sushi chefs, Mr. Jimmy dives into Sakurai’s singular 35-year devotion to replicating the lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page.

Sakurai’s intimate knowledge of all phases of Led Zeppelin’s musicology allows him to recreate any song from any era exactly matching the phrasing, pace and tone. He can even play entire solos from specific concerts that he has collected in the bootleg CD shops of Tokyo’s Shinjuku 7-chome neighborhood.

If you want to hear the famous 30-minute version of No Quarter played on June 21, 1977 in Los Angeles, Sakurai can play it for you, note-for-note. In order to capture the exact sound, Sakurai insists on using the same (now vintage) equipment that Jimmy Page used. The same guitars, amps, cables and even pick-ups. He plays the acoustic portions of Stairway to Heaven on the same guitar used by Mr. Page. The exact same one. He spares no expense in his pursuit.

Before the screening of the film, the director (Peter Michael Dowd) told a story of when he first heard Sakurai play. As a Led Zeppelin fan himself, he understood the time it must have taken to get the sound just right. Sakurai told him it took him 30-years to learn that particular song to his satisfaction. Dowd could tell from the look in Sakurai’s eyes that this was not just a term of expression. It really did take Sakurai thirty years.

There are wonderful snippets of dialog with the constellation of craftspeople who support Sakurai’s quest for perfection. They each have a gleam in their eyes as they know they are working for someone who notices every detail they put into their work. From Shinji Kishimoto makes Sakurai’s pickups to Rie Nakahara, the costume designer, who pours over concert footage with Sakurai in order to capture and recreate the stitching and creasing of the custom shirts worn by Jimmy Page.

It’s this pursuit of the pure experience that has attracted a devoted fanbase in Japan that is equally obsessed with the church of Zeppelin. His fans in Japan study his every move as if they are experiencing the band for the first time. Most of them have never seen the original band so a Mr. Jimmy concert is their only experience of a live Led Zeppelin show. It all comes full circle when Jimmy Page attends one of Sakurai’s concerts while visiting Japan. After the show, Page compliments Sakurai and they exchange a moment when Page recognizes a telltale lick that reveals which era’s style he was playing. The master giving an approving nod to the apprentice.

The film follows Sakurai as he leaves his family and steady job (at a kimono maker) in Japan for the United States to follow his dream. We see him struggle with his Western bandmates who are more realistic about playing the hits, selling tickets, and having fun. “No one wants to hear an 8-minute guitar solo, even if it is faithful to the time period.” they say to Sakurai. They are not used to getting post-show pages of feedback on their performances – criticisms about how they sang or placed their hands. Sakurai and Led Zeppagain eventually went their separate ways and Sakurai seems happy to leave the “jukebox band” behind.

But true artists eventually find each other and we see Sakurai form another band, joining together with Jason Bonham, the son of the late-John Bonham (drummer for Led Zeppelin) for a world tour. It’s a dream come true.

Please see this movie. It was a labor of love (the director sold his car to make a second trip to Japan) that investigates Japanese otaku culture through one person’s journey, a hero journey but with a twist. Sakurai can never truly become Jimmy Page but instead the audience has internalized a bit of Sakurai’s obsession. I have been listening to old Led Zeppelin bootlegs for the past week.

After the movie, we were treated to a few songs played by Sakurai himself who was in the audiences. Here’s a clip I filmed of him playing The Rain Song which we were told was written on a dare by George Harrison who complained that Led Zeppelin never wrote any ballads!

Jimmy Sakurai plays for the audience after the premiere of Mr. Jimmy

SXSW 2019 Highlights

It’s been twelve years since I last was at SXSW – time flies – I wrote about it then so for continuity’s sake I might as well share some highlights from this year.

What I learned

Following the success of the New York Times’ The Daily podcast, the Grey Lady will dip its toe into broadcast TV with a weekly show called, you guessed it, The Weekly. Following the same formula, The Weekly will go deep on one story and, in 30 minutes, bring viewers the broader picture of how a news article comes together and convey things via video that cannot be expressed in print. The Weekly will air sometime in June on FX.

I saw Senator Amy Klobuchar expertly deflect a pointed question about her comb/salad incident, brushing it off as, a mom thing and moving on to a broader point about expecting the best from herself and her staff.

I saw the intersection of two writing cultures in the The New Yorker but Make it Internet panel. I learned that while you “post” something online, you “close” it in print. The young writers who post regularly online shared their experiencing getting edited for longer pieces in print where they still use words such as “teen-ager” and “web site” is written with two words.

Lots of talk about Artificial Intelligence and how it will impact journalism and storytelling (film). Sony demonstrated software that can write music. Many media outlets admitted to deploying AI to write summaries of high school sports or financial earnings reports and some are using AI to look for anomalies in large datasets for primary investigation. Several funny stories shared of flat-footed AI recommendation systems, “You’re here for the parenting, stay for Iraq!” and how one-dimensional AI can be (intense interest in how to raise a baby does not evolve into how to raise a child).

This reminds me of what Kathy Sierra said about apps in 2007 at my first SXSW,

All apps have a Asperger’s Syndrome.  They cannot pick up on visual queues from their users such as when someone is angry, frustrated, or confused. If a user has these reactions to software, they quickly fall below the suck threshold.

Kathy Sierra, SXSW Keynote, 2007

We must always remember that any Artificial Intelligence was born in the mind of someone, somewhere and has the biases of that person or team of people baked right into it and remains static, not taking in the inexplicit contexts of its environment,

What I experienced

SXSW is much bigger than it was 12 years ago. While I was last in Austin for the annual Online News Association meeting which took over the JW Marriott, SXSW sprawled over not only the JW Marriott but also the Austin Convention Center and Fairmont Hotels with pavilion and bar takeovers all across town. I don’t think Rainy Street was a thing back in 2007. It is not only the Interactive festival but also gathering for music and new film releases which I was somehow oblivious of the last time. I thought I could plan ahead and pick and chose what I wanted to see but soon realized that would be an exercise in frustration and that it was better to just have a rough idea of a few things you wanted to seek out and then let the winds of chance take you from one thing to the next.

Using Foursquare in Austin during SXSW unlocked a preview of their Hypertrending map

I wandered into the Japan pavilion where the Japanese comedian, Yuriyan Retriever (ゆりやんレトリィバァ) narrated a guy who was creating a stop-motion video on his iPad in front of the most-patient audience I had ever seen. I’ve written about her before, she’s got a great bit on the Oscar’s acceptance speech.

Framed “covefefe” tweet at The Daily Show’s Presidential Twitter Library
Late-night on Congress Street

SXSW with your son

Tyler had the week off from college so I suggested he come down from Boston to Austin and take advantage of the hotel room and get to know the city and take in the festival. Unfortunately he came down with a nasty cold for the first two days but we did get a chance to walk (and scooter) around a bit on Monday and Tuesday. I loved just walking around and experiencing things through his eyes.

SXSW Hacks

While Twitter and Foursquare famously launched at SXSW – this year was the coming out party for electric scooters. The grab-and-go rentals were everywhere with competing pods from Uber/Jump, Lyft, Bird, Lime, and others. In my unofficial survey, the late-model Lyft scooters had the most “umph” to them.

The Interactive badge got me into all the media sessions that I wanted to attend and they had this new SXXPress system that, like a Disneyland FastPass, let you jump the line and grab a guaranteed seat. Also discovered a hack to get into the more popular talks was to attend the talk in the time slot prior and squat in a seat and make small talk with your neighbors. This hack probably won’t work next year as many were catching on to this as the festival went on.

Be sure to check out a film or band in the evenings. While the Interactive lanyard will not give you first dibs or get you into the big name premiers, it will get you in for free if space is available. I caught the premier of the excellent documentary, Mr. Jimmy and the Welsh band Novo Amor.

I booked my hotel very late but was able to score a room at the Marriott Residence Inn at The Domain which has a Costco-sized Whole Foods which is a wonder to behold. The Domain is way out of town and costs $20+ in a Lyft but discovered a tram station 10-minute’s walk away that only costs $3 and takes you right into town, next to the Convention Center. Riding the tram I learned:

  • West Austin is where rich housewives gather for yoga sessions an Kombucha exchange parties,
  • People in Austin get discounted passes to SXSW, many also volunteer which gives them access to events when they’re not working,
  • The Domain is a soulless retail development and signaled to many locals the end of Austin

Yeah the BBQ is awesome. Iron Works, Coopers and all the other places – there are tons of places to eat. If you’re looking for something else, Gus’s Chicken (it’s world famous ya know) is good for lunch and the Texas Chili Parlor is a must do when finishing out a night on the town.

The week that was (Ides of March)

Fed chairman Jerome Powell used a piece of fine art to illustrate how too much focus on the details can sometimes obscure the bigger picture.

“We have artificially created a state that evolves in a direction opposite to that of the thermodynamic arrow of time,” said Gordey Lesovik, a quantum physicist from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. In other words, his team has figured out how to reverse time.

A crematorium in Germany caught fire.

A suspected burglar broke into a garage in Indiana and was crushed to death by the 900-pound safe he was trying to steal.

Police in a small town outside of Denver posted a selfie of a suspected shoplifter discovered on a phone he left behind. “Please contact the Lakeside Police Department for your cellphone and your Shoplifting Charge. Hope to see you soon,” said the caption.

A Florida man dressed as Spiderman robbed a Winn-Dixie Wine and Spirits Store.

A trio of scientists realized the planets are not consistently on the same side of the sun so if you calculate average absolute distance from each other, it turns out Mercury, not Venus, is closer to Earth.

New research suggests changes in diet from agriculture lead to an evolution of the human jawbone and allowed for new sounds that require the lower lip to touch the upper teeth such as v and f.

Photo credit: Reddit user AhsanXD

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The week that was (03-08-19)

I’m in Austin at SXSW for the next few days so hit me up if you want to meet.

The Israeli Ministry of Health approved the use of MDMA to treat symptoms of PTSD.

North Korean chefs visiting Vietnam for the Trump – Kim summit were intrigued by several dishes being prepared by chefs of the Metropole Hotel. Shrimp Cocktail and Thousand Island dressing was something they had never seen before.

A snowbound Oregon man survived for five days by eating taco sauce packets. “Taco Bell Fire Sauce saves lives!” said Jeremy Taylor, 36, of Sunriver. “We know our sauce packets are amazing, but this takes it to a whole new level.” said a Taco Bell representative, “We’re in touch with Jeremy and getting him some well-deserved tacos and a care package.”

Jeep announced its first plug-in hybrid car.

Jetpack Aviation is taking orders for its flying jet motorcycle. At $380k they stress that this is not a toy. Only 20 will be made available for for recreation. “Future production will be dedicated to military and government.”

Former American pro-wrestler The Destroyer “slipped peacefully away” at his home in Buffalo, NY.

A psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital finally got his wish when CVS changed their staticky, scratchy piano hold music which had been driving him crazy.

Photo credit: Reddit user lysolmax

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Serena Williams is Crazy

For me, the highlight of this year’s Oscars was the new Nike commercial.

This piece is the latest in their campaign celebrating 20 years of Just Do It and setting the company up to lead the charge US Women’s Soccer heads to France to defend the World Cup.

Kevin Kelly on Mirrorworld

Kevin Kelly is the master of optimistic projection. Drawing a line Just as VR and AR start their decent into the trough of disillusionment, Kevin Kelly and Wired comes out with a cover story that looks beyond the immediate applications and imagines the opportunities in the great beyond.

The first big technology platform was the web, which digitized information, subjecting knowledge to the power of algorithms; it came to be dominated by Google. The second great platform was social media, running primarily on mobile phones. It digitized people and subjected human behavior and relationships to the power of algorithms, and it is ruled by Facebook and WeChat.

We are now at the dawn of the third platform, which will digitize the rest of the world. On this platform, all things and places will be machine-­readable, subject to the power of algorithms. Whoever dominates this grand third platform will become among the wealthiest and most powerful people and companies in history, just as those who now dominate the first two platforms have. Also, like its predecessors, this new platform will unleash the prosperity of thousands more companies in its ecosystem, and a million new ideas—and problems—that weren’t possible before machines could read the world.


AR WILL SPARK THE NEXT BIG TECH PLATFORM—CALL IT MIRRORWORLD

Information – People – Places & Objects. Who is going to figure out search on the mirrorworld? The social graph was the innovation that organized the social web. What will be the innovation to organize the world of places and objects? Voice UI?

The week that was (03-01-19)

Scientists are trying to figure out how an 8-foot humpback whale ended up in the Amazon jungle.

Harvard University wearily denied published rumors that Rapper Lil Pump was replacing German Chancellor Angela Merkel as this year’s commencement speaker.

A brewer decided the world needed a Lucky Charms-flavored beer. Morning Marshmallow IPA goes on sale on March 2nd.

DC bars opened early Wednesday morning for “watch parties” of Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee. Missed opportunity for the afore-mentioned Lucky Charms IPA.

I learned earlier this week about Andy Warhol-branded skateboard decks you can buy at the MoMA store for $1650. Not to be outdone, Chanel announced a $7,700 skateboard.

We learned that Stevie Nicks has a “temperature-controlled” vault for her thousands of shawls.

Kalashnikov, makers of the AK-47, machine gun of choice of terrorists and jungle guerrilla fighters, announced a low cost drone that can deliver, “three kilograms of explosives and detonate on impact.”

Boeing announced an unmanned fighter jet that has a range of 2,000 nautical miles and, “designed to fly alongside crewed aircraft in combat for a fraction of the cost.”

A Florida man was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend with a cookie.

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We’re better than this

Elijah Cummings implores the United States to, “get back to normal”

I know that this has been hard. I know that you face a lot. I know that you are worried about your family. But this is a part of your destiny. And hopefully this portion of your destiny will lead to a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America, and a better world.

Elijah Cummings closing remarks, House Oversight Committee hearing of Michael Cohen

Amen.

Let the healing begin.

Contrasts

Tomorrow morning Michael Cohen will give public testimony that, at least according to his written opening statement, looks to be pretty historic. Cohen paints a picture of a selfish and narcissistic megalomaniac. Sprinkled throughout are vignettes such as these.

When telling me in 2008 that he was cutting employees’ salaries in half – including mine – he showed me what he claimed was a $10 million IRS tax refund, and he said that he could not believe how stupid the government was for giving “someone like him” that much money back.

Michael Cohen’s opening statement

Contrast this with the selfless and generous actions of Hall of Fame basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who announced that he’s gone all Marie Kondo and is clearing out his basement of all his old sports memorabilia including his four NBA championship rings in order to raise money for his charity that helps kids learn about science, technology, engineering and math.

So, when it comes to choosing between storing a championship ring or trophy in a room, or providing kids with an opportunity to change their lives, the choice is pretty simple. Sell it all.

Looking back on what I have done with my life, instead of gazing at the sparkle of jewels or gold plating celebrating something I did a long time ago, I’d rather look into the delighted face of a child holding their first caterpillar and think about what I might be doing for their future. That’s a history that has no price.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on why he’s auctioning off his sports memorabilia