Reflections on a Return to Vinyl (Side One)

My daughter handed me a large box.

“Dad, it’s time you returned to vinyl.”

I quickly agreed.

Then I heard the whisper from that dark spot deep in the back of my wounded psyche. I’d heard that whisper before. This wasn’t the first time I’d considered returning to vinyl.

She had been doing vinyl for a few years. My son soon followed suit. Being only 21 and 19 at the time, it was their first foray into the world of record collecting.

There have been unexpected benefits from them doing so. For example, selecting presents has become less stressful, more fun and infinitely more meaningful. When your children begin collecting albums, you want to be certain you help them get off to a good start. You provide the basics – the cornerstones – The Allman Brothers “Live at the Fillmore”, Hendrix “Are You Experienced?”, Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”, along with some Stones, Dead, Doors, Carlos Santana and Rickie Lee Jones. Fatherhood is about providing your children with the basics to give them a firm foundation from which they can create their own path forward.

Vinyl records were projected to sell 40 million units in 2017. According to Deloitte, that represents a seventh consecutive year of double digit growth. Clearly my kids were not alone.
I had been lead to believe that the crisp, clarity of digital music reproduction and music streaming services had relegated the vinyl album to the dustbin of recorded music.  Apparently not.

Why the migration of music lovers to vinyl?

Some claim that the faint sizzling sound flowing from the speakers validates vinyl’s authenticity and back to the roots credentials.

Others love the album covers, which are pieces of art with or without the music contained inside: the Andy Warhol “Banana Art” that graces the cover of the Velvet Underground’s debut album, The Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” and then there is the iconic 1972 Carly Simon “No Secrets” cover, which made a lasting impression on teenagers too numerous to mention.

Others love the liner notes. Dissecting the lyrics can take on the feel of deciphering an ancient Buddhist Sanskrit tome in an attempt to discover the true meaning of Life. An age-old function of music and musicians has always been to tell stories about what’s going on around them in the culture of their time. The poetry of Dylan and Springsteen or the revolutionary calls of Bob Marley will be referenced and interpreted centuries from now by scholars intent on placing ancient events into historical context. And many simply reminisce regarding the practical utility of the two-panel album being the perfect tool to clean pot.

There are no simple answers to what’s driving an increasing number of music lovers, young and old, to discovering or returning to vinyl. Perhaps it’s a reaction to a world that seems less personal, more disconnected and increasingly artificial. Maybe it’s a quiet call for a return to more authentic, ritualistic experiences. Or, in an age of automation, Artificial Intelligence and technological advancement, it could be a siren call for a simpler time. When people feel disconnected, real, authentic experiences assume more meaning and can be nourishing for a shaken soul.

In such a world there is value in the act of holding an album and fully experiencing not only the sound but the texture, weight and feel of it. And there is a greater connection to the music in the physical act of having to change an album or to flip it over to experience Side Two. Or, in the case of Joe Jackson’s “Night and Day”, to flip  from the “Day” side to the “Night” side. This, as opposed to punching a button to listen to a play list determined by a Pandora algorithm.
Regardless, my daughter’s gift forced me to confront the musical demons residing in that dark spot in my psyche for what I did was shameful.

Fifteen years ago, I gave away my 600 plus record collection.

I have no excuses. I was told that in the digital age, the album had become obsolete. And I believed it. But I take full responsibility. Most disappointing was that I had been unfaithful. I didn’t trust the time tested beauty and authenticity of the vinyl album. With every new story of another music lover raving about their return to vinyl, I’d experience another moment of well-deserved depression.

As children often do, my daughter taught me a lesson and did me a favor. She recognized that it was time for me to embrace albums again and intervened accordingly. And as is often the case, out of the rubble of pain and shame, comes a chance at rebirth.

It’s often said that you have to hit rock bottom before taking your first step on the path to salvation. Fortunately, I had, without realizing it at the time, laid the groundwork for my personal musical redemption.

I didn’t give all of them away.

There were several that I simply couldn’t bear to part with, regardless of whether they would ever spin on a turntable again. Out of the ashes, there were remnants upon which to rebuild.
Among the handful of survivors was Tom Wait’s “Nighthawks at the Diner”, Woodstock, the collection of Robert Johnson’s original songs, recorded in hotel rooms in Dallas in 1936 and San Antonio in 1937, Steely Dan’s “The Royal Scam”, Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” and the Kansas City Blues Shouter, Big Joe Turner’s “Greatest Hits”, with a cover photo that perfectly depicts just how big Big Joe Turner was.

I’d also kept a personally inscribed copy of Koko Taylor’s “From the Heart of a Woman”. “To Gerd: With Love, Koko Taylor”. Give away a love note from the Queen of the Blues? I may have been foolish in giving away over 600 albums, but I wasn’t delusional.

Experiencing the depths of despair can also open your eyes to new opportunities. I began to look at my Father’s album collection in a new light. In cleaning out my parent’s home after their passing, we came across a couple of boxes of albums. I stored them in a back room and didn’t give them much thought. But when you are back in the record collecting business, boxes of 100 or so slices of vinyl suddenly become of great interest.  Regardless of how old or the fact that some were recorded in “mono” or “DynaGroove”, was an entertaining bonus. According to the liner notes, “DynaGroove is a product of research and development assuring that this record is as modern as the latest advances in engineering and science.” And I imagine that back in the day, it was very comforting for listeners of another disc to know that is was “Electrically Recorded.”

Talk about a gold mine!

Lot’s of Al Hurt to scratch my New Orleans jazz itch, a few choice slices of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass for a Latin fix and some Benny Goodman Big Band recordings. Throw in a few choice tidbits like Jimmy Smith and Count Basie and the result is the making of a small, but solid foundation upon which to rebuild. It made me realize that maybe the “Old Man” was a bit more hip than I had imagined.

The path from my daughter’s gift and instructions to the boxes of my Father’s old records made me appreciate something far more important than the warm sound of vinyl. While my Dad is long gone, he did what Fathers do. He provided me with some basic building blocks – a good foundation upon which I can recreate my own musical path forward.

Despite having to once again experience the pain of the loss of a lifetime album collection, I am thankful to have been provided a wonderful opportunity to do the same for my children. 

Nick Bouniconti’s Most Impactful Play

Nick Bouniconti’s Most Impactful Play

Nick Bouniconti

Nick Bouniconti

Nick Bouniconti always had a big impact on the football field.

As middle linebacker, Bouniconti anchored the defense of the greatest football team in history, the undefeated 1972 Super Bowl Champion Miami Dolphins. Whether sacking a quarterback or tackling a running back short of a first down, Bouniconti always made his presence felt. And for so many fans in our football crazed society, what Bouniconti achieved is considered the highest of all sports pinnacles – Hall of Fame inductee and Super Bowl Champion on the only undefeated team in NFL history.  

But for a much of an impact he had on the field, that impact on the game pales in comparison to the impact and importance of his recent comment in an article, which appeared in a January 18 article in CNN.com, regarding youth tackle football.  The article quoted several former NFL players who are calling for an end to tackle football for kids ages 13 and under.

I beg of you, all parents to please don’t let your children play football until high school," said Bouniconti, 77, who has been diagnosed with dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease. “I made the mistake of starting tackle football at 9 years old. CTE has taken my life away. Youth tackle football is all risk with no reward.”

So while many of his plays on the field could bring a crowd to its feet, his comment is truly deserving of full-throated standing ovation.

Here are some links to the CNN article, as well as several essays I’ve written on the subject of youth tackle football.

"Former NFLers call for end to tackle football for kids" : Published on CNN.com | Jan. 18, 2018

"Why not flag football?" : Published in Philadelphia Inquirer | June 15, 2015

Published on JohnGerdy.com:

Why Not Flag Football?

Originally published in the June 15, 2015 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Why Not Flag Football?

It’s time for parents, school officials, the sports media, fans and anyone else who continues to resist the need to reconsider and re-imagine tackle football at the youth, junior high and high school levels to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves a question:

Why not flag football?

Consider how we have long justified tackle football at these levels. That justification starts with the emphatic assertion that the game is “about the kids”.  The narrative continues. Tackle football teaches things that cannot be taught in the classroom. The field and weight room are classrooms where coaches teach valuable life lessons such as discipline, teamwork and personal responsibility.  Tackle football also increases student “engagement”, making kids more likely to stay in school while keeping them out of trouble by giving them something constructive to do. There’s the notion that participation in tackle football contributes to personal fitness. And in an increasingly competitive world economy and global community, the competitive aspect of tackle football can serve as a teaching tool. It’s also widely accepted that tackle football serves as a valuable community building function as few things can unite a community more than a successful tackle football team. And finally, tackle football is very entertaining.

But consider this.

It can be argued that football is so popular and entertaining because it satisfies a deep human attraction to, for lack of a better term, “bloodlust”. Like a moth to a flame or the rubbernecker to the auto accident, we are attracted to the crunches, crushes, mayhem and carnage. Let’s be honest. The violence and sheer brutality is a big part of tackle football’s entertainment appeal.

As evidence regarding the link between football, concussions and lasting brain damage mounts, there has been increasing attention to and dialogue surrounding how the game can be made “safer”. As if a game that, at its’ core, is predicated on inflicting bone crunching, brain rattling physical punishment on opponents can be made suitably safe. Let’s say that football’s damage quotient is at 9 on a scale of 10. Even with great effort, the most that could be expected would be to nudge that needle back from nine a bit.  Would that be safe enough? The fact is, the game is inherently, fundamentally violent. It is what it is, a brutal game. Instituting a few rules that will only marginally improve player safety and launching glitzy public relations efforts to sell those rule changes as having a meaningful impact won’t change that reality.

So, how about Flag Football?

Other than the bone crunching hits, blocks and tackles and the gladiatorial (and expensive) equipment required to “survive” those brain scrambling hits, blocks and tackles”, 95% of the two forms of the game yield essentially the same benefits for participants. But rather than having to literally sacrifice your body to tackle a ball carrier, in flag football, a defender must grab a ribbon from a belt attached to the ball carrier.  The essential elements of the game remain, including the grace, beauty and athleticism, albeit without the bone crunching, brain scrambling hits, blocks and tackles. And if you don’t believe it, go back to paragraph two and substitute “flag” for “tackle”.

You will find that all of the justifications that apply to tackle football can apply equally to flag football.

So why the resistance from the supposed “adults” in the room: parents, school officials, the sports media and fans?

We say that the game is “about the kids” and that it’s about teaching valuable life lessons, developing healthy bodies and competitive instincts, building community and providing entertainment. But if that were the case, rather refusing to consider a switch from tackle to flag football, we’d embrace the change. To do otherwise is to enable the continuation of an activity in which our children have a reasonable chance of sustaining life long brain damage. Why would we not embrace such an activity when a significantly safer and less expensive, alternative exists?

Some will cite a lost “benefit” of such a re-imagining of the game to be the loss of the extremely physical nature of it. Without that raw brutality, the lessons learned from getting up after being knocked down may be lost. This is nonsense. I played basketball professionally. I got knocked down hundreds of times and had to pick myself up and get back in the game. Basketball, and plenty of other sports, including flag football, can teach that lesson.  In short, tackle football does not have the market on teaching that life lesson.

The fact is, virtually every benefit that can be derived from tackle football can still be taught and absorbed through participation in flag football. Players will still be on teams to learn sacrifice, personal responsibility and teamwork. They’d still be actively engaged in a physical activity. They’d still compete for starting positions and against other teams. And the game would continue to be wonderfully entertaining, but in a different, less brutal (and expensive) way.

If all of the potential benefits for the participants remain, why not seriously consider it? If the game is truly about the kids as we claim, why not flag football? It offers the same benefits without the potential life long damage to the brain.

Are we so selfish as to refuse to reconsider and re-imagine football’s format to make it significantly safer for our children simply because it will be less entertaining for us?

It’s time to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask:

Why not flag football?

College Coaching Salaries: A New Level of Absurdity

I’ve participated in, worked in, studied, researched and written about college athletics for over 40 years. It’s not often that I see something that makes me sit up, take notice and say “Are you kidding me?” Last week I had such a moment when LSU announced that it signed its’ defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, to a four year, $10 million contract. All of it guaranteed. An assistant coach? Seriously?

For an educational institution? That’s absolutely absurd!

Of course, paying head football coaches exorbitantly is not new news. According to USA Today, in 2017, 78 college head football coaches and 41 head men’s basketball coaches earned at least $1.0 Million per year. Alabama’s Nick Saban heads the list at just over $11 Million and recently fired head basketball coach of Louisville, Rick Pitino, earned just over $7.7 Million. And in 2016, in 39 of the 50 states, the highest paid state employee was either a football or basketball head coach. (Business Insider, 9/26/16). 

Why does this matter? Why should we care whether LSU, Alabama or Penn State pays its football coach crazy money?

“I love my state and my state university and want them to be good in football,” is a common response. “It’s a point of state pride. And it’s far more fun and entertaining when they win. You need good coaches to win. Besides, the football program generates enough money to be able to afford it.” Others argue that this is simply an example of what the market will bear and that being able to have a quality coach is a sound investment.

But those who make these claims miss the larger point. American higher education is playing in a much bigger and infinitely more important “marketplace”. And spending that much money on a football coach undermines higher education’s ability to succeed in that larger marketplace.

That larger marketplace relates to higher education’s role in our society. From teaching to research from spurring economic development to being an agent for social change, the mission of higher education is many things to many people. But when you boil it down, it’s mission is to serve the public by helping to meet the many problems, needs and challenges that face society, including the role that sports plays in relation to education. And the effectiveness with which higher education responds to those needs will define it in the future.

It is no stretch to say that our country has lost perspective regarding the role of organized sport in our culture. We have come to glorify athletic accomplishment far more than academic achievement. Our colleges and universities, have, in large part, been responsible for allowing this culture to evolve. This is so, because in the case of the cultural subject matter of athletics, American higher education has failed in its public mission. Our colleges and universities have not provided the necessary leadership in establishing a healthy societal attitude regarding athletics. The result has been the grotesque distortion of educational priorities through the disproportionate resources and attention devoted to athletics. Aranda’s salary is simply the latest example of those skewed priorities.

While some may consider it a stretch, the fact is, the way colleges and universities conduct their athletic programs greatly influences higher education’s ability to fulfill its mission. Whether right or wrong, the fact is, major college athletics are the largest and clearest window through which the public views and interfaces with higher education. With such high visibility comes tremendous influence.

That being the case, as the public comes to view the hypocrisies and excesses of major college athletics with a more critical eye, higher education pays a price, specifically in the form of declining credibility, moral authority, and public trust. If universities cannot conduct their athletic programs in a way that makes it clear that while athletics are important, educational and academic excellence are paramount, how can it be expected that the public believe in its ability to effectively address issues such as poverty and illiteracy and to provide an education worthy of the twenty-first century?

Our colleges and universities can no longer afford to engage in practices that display for all to see, such skewed priorities. If there is any American institution that absolutely must stand up and demonstrate that academic and educational excellence are far more important than football or men’s basketball, it has to be our colleges and universities.

The values that are projected by college athletic programs are critical for another reason. What we do in our college athletic programs; the behaviors we condone, the messages we send and the “investments” we make, filter down to all levels of education. If our institutions of higher education tacitly endorse activities that undermine educational priorities and achievement in the name of athletic glory, it provides an example for all to emulate. In short, the public looks to higher education to provide educational leadership, including leadership regarding the role, importance, and purpose of sport in relation to education. Given its traditional role in our culture, it is clear that if we are ever going to begin the process of restoring our cultural consensus regarding the proper role of sport as it relates to education, it is up to the higher education community to initiate it.

It’s hard to see how paying $2.5 Million per year to an assistant football coach helps in that regard.

Music, Creativity and the 21st Century Workforce  

In our increasingly fast paced, interconnected global economy and world community, every issue we face is becoming more complex. Whether these issues are local or global and regardless of whether they relate to health care, the environment, governance, poverty, science, technology or international relations, the challenges we face in this increasingly interconnected and multilayered world are becoming more complicated. That being the case, the only way to effectively address these increasingly complex issues is to develop in our populace, a corresponding increase in creativity. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, if we are to solve the problems we have created, we must think at a higher level than when we created them.

John Kao, in his book Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, sums up the notion of the importance of creativity in the business world: “This is the age of creativity because companies are increasingly obliged to rapidly reinvent themselves to achieve growth.” (Kao, 1996, p. 10)

He elaborates further:
All this is risky. Unavoidably so. When the alto sax player starts a solo, he doesn’t know where he is going, let alone how far and for how long. His inner voice to which the music, other players, the setting, and even the listeners contribute-directs him. That’s the nature of improvisation, and companies that aren’t willing to take risks are not long for this fluid, protean, constantly changing world. Companies that shun creative risks may be undercut by competitors not only with better products and services, but also with better processes and ways of perceiving new opportunities. Escaping the stagnation of the status quo, of the risk free life, is part of the exhilaration of jamming-in music and in business. The choice is stark. Create or fail. (Kao, pp. xix, xx)

That being the case, a major focus of our education system must be on instilling in the populace a greater sense of, and capacity for, creativity. A creative mindset is not something that you either have or don’t have. Creativity can be developed and nurtured. Kao concurs: “Like jazz, creativity has its vocabulary and conventions. As in jazz, too, its paradoxes can create tension. It demands free expressiveness and disciplined self-control, solitude in a crowded room, acceptance and defiance, serendipity and direction. And like jazz, creativity is a process, not a thing; and therefore you can observe, analyze, understand, replicate, teach, and, yes, even manage it.” (Kao, 1996, p. xix)

In short, people who are never encouraged to “think outside the box” will not be inclined to do so. Similarly, nurturing creativity requires the courage to question pre-existing assumptions and models. If children are never challenged to “break the mold” or question existing paradigms, they won’t.

If the development of a creative workforce is key to our nation’s future economic, scientific and geopolitical success, then educational and community leaders must consider which subjects and activities are best suited for encouraging and developing the creative potential of students. And by all indications, the most effective tool in our educational arsenal to teach creativity is music. If that is the case, why is it that when school budget cuts are necessary, music is often one of the first activities to be cut?

Clearly, we must, in the spirit of Albert Einstein, begin to think at a higher level when it comes to school funding and program priorities.

Creating a Football “Safe Space” for Kids and Parents

When football legends Bo Jackson, Harry Carson and Mike Ditka say it, it’s a big deal. People pay attention to what athletes of their stature say.

The “it” is that they would never let their sons play football.

With increasing revelations regarding the link between tackle football and brain trauma, this should come as no surprise. If anyone knows the extreme violence and physicality of football it is those who have played it for a living.

It’s difficult to say exactly what sort of an impact their statements have had on the participation levels of tackle football. Regardless, their comments have raised eyebrows and generated dialogue. When a football legend makes such a statement, it opens the door for other players to offer thoughts on the subject. Every time another NFL star joins the chorus, the impact is compounded.

One important impact they have had is that it is helping to create a football “safe space” for kids who really don’t want to play. Far too often young kids feel they are expected to play and thus, believe they have little choice in the matter. They don’t want to disappoint their father, friends or community. That’s a lot of pressure on a 10, 12 or 15 year-old, particularly in communities where football is considered very important.

I was one of those kids.

I loved the game early in childhood. One of my earliest childhood memories is at age five, discovering a new football under the Christmas tree. Soon thereafter, I was fully decked out in my football “uniform” kicking that football all around the snowy, empty side lot next to our duplex apartment. I was “all in” on football.

But by the time I was in sixth grade, I realized that football was not for me.  I had fallen hopelessly in love with basketball and wanted to play it year round. I came to dread the arrival of football season because it meant that I wouldn’t be able to play much, if any, basketball.

As a very athletic son of the high school football coach, I felt that pressure. By the eighth grade, I actively tried to gain the additional weight needed to put me over the community league-mandated limit.  I was relieved when I weighed in well above the limit. I quietly celebrated with my Mom.

While the fact that I no longer wanted to play football created ample friction and angst in our household, my Father, to his great credit, understood and respected my love of basketball.

My guess is that had there been a prominent and growing list of football legends talking about not letting their children play the game back in 1971, it would have been much easier and more acceptable for me and other kids to opt out of playing football.

“If Troy Aikman, Adrian Peterson and Terry Bradshaw say they wouldn’t let their sons play football, why do I have to play?”

If that isn’t enough impact, here’s an even bigger one. The impact on parents and in particular, Fathers. Kids aren’t the only ones who feel peer and community pressure to play football. Parents often feel community pressure to have their sons be a part of the team. Having NFL legends say that they would not allow their kids to play football makes it easier for a parent to say the same thing.

“Your boy playing football?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“If Bart Scott, Brett Favre and Jermichael Finley all say that they won’t allow their sons to play because it’s too dangerous, why would I allow my son?”

The impact of the comments of these football legends should not be underestimated. For in making them, they have provided “cover” for kids who don’t want to play to declare without risk of ridicule or having to face the prospect of undue peer pressure that they aren’t going to play.
And perhaps even more important, it provides similar “cover” and “safe space” for parents to support their child’s wish not to play or to simply prohibit their son from playing even if he wants to.