Howie Mandel’s Rules for Success

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

Since I started listening to podcasts regularly a year or so ago, I’ve heard interviews with practically every public figure imaginable. From the well-known to the relatively obscure, I’ve learned about the personal and professional lives of actors, writers, musicians and others. Some I forgot about practically minutes after I heard them; others lingered. But I can’t recall enjoying one more than Marc Maron’s recent interview with comedian and actor Howie Mandel.

Prior to hearing the interview I knew the basics about Howie Mandel. The shtick with the latex glove over his head. All kinds of emotional issues. Deal or No Deal Host. But I realize now that Howie Mandel is way more multi-dimensional and talented than his public persona indicates. I’ve come to respect and appreciate him quite a bit and believe many of us can learn from his perhaps unintentional rules for success. Such as:

Be Loyal
Howie Mandel has been married to the same woman since 1980 – an eternity by show businesses standards. His attorney to this day is a best friend from high school. Mandel clearly surrounds himself  with those he knows and trusts. And he sticks with them through thick and thin.

Embrace Your Vulnerabilities
During the Marc Maron discussion, Mandel describes how he came upon his signature bit where he places a latex glove over his head. Mandel had a latex glove with him while at a comedy club’s open mic night because he didn’t (and still doesn’t) shake people’s’ hands. Once the spotlight was on him, Mandel froze because he didn’t have anything prepared. He went with the first thing that came to him, leveraging a readily available prop.

Howie Mandel today is very open about his struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and, while he currently gets the help and support he needs, demonstrates how to manage challenges without letting them overtake him.

Say Yes
Realizing he’d been viewed largely as an 80’s-era celebrity, Mandel considered quitting the businesses in the early 2000’s and was then approached with an offer to host Deal or No Deal. He declined, realizing that throughout his entire career he’d said yes to basically everything. Finally, to hear Mandel tell the story, an executive from the show approached him at a Los Angeles-area deli, where he was having a bowl of soup by himself, and made an in-person pitch. Mandel acquiesced and the show turned his career around and established him as a go-to host and judge. As of this writing, our children, aged 14 and 11, enjoy watching Mandel on America’s Got Talent (“AGT,” as they call it). He’s culturally as relevant to them as the cast of Riverdale, and that’s saying something.

Enjoy What You Do
Reading between the lines during Mandel’s hour-plus conversation with Marc Maron, it’s clear that he has achieved financial independence and is likely long past the point of needing to work. But it truly seems as though Mandel thoroughly enjoys his work; pretty much feels as though he’s getting paid to do what he’d otherwise do for free.

We should all, as they say, be so lucky.

howie mandel

Image credit: Joey Carman Photography





Undoing Influence

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

Our daughter Sasha has been out-of-town on a temple sleepover since Friday night so it’s just been my wife Wendy, son Ethan and me. We spent the day yesterday making a round-trip drive to Mankanto, Minn., 90 miles away, for Ethan’s swim’s meet, so had quite a bit of time together. Knowing Sasha doesn’t much care for politics, we, probably consciously, doubled down, covering the government shutdown; in particular, the standoff between President Donald Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as rating the ever-expanding field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

Throughout it all, Wendy and I kept qualifying our comments to Ethan  with phrases like “Now, if these were normal times” or “If this was back a few years ago” or “Back when things were different.” As if we had to keep acknowledging that everything happening politically is all in uncharted territory. That we’re all kind of making it up as we go along.

Yesterday evening, after our trip to Mankato, Wendy and I watched the documentary Fyre Fraud, about the ill-fated April 2017 Fyre Festival. Entrepreneur and festival organizer Billy McFarland successfully leveraged the power of social media; namely, a series of “influencers,” to position the Fyre Festival as a once-in-a-lifetime experience for millennials, to play off their well-documented MOMO (Fear of missing out). The Fyre Festival turned out to be memorable, all right, but for all the wrong reasons.

I found myself strangely fascinated and repulsed by Fyre Fraud. As a marketer, I was very impressed at how successfully McFarland and his associates executed their social media strategy. But as a parent, I couldn’t help but wonder how something like the Fyre Festival, along with the behavior of our President, elected officials and celebrities, continues to have a corrosive effect on our society.

Now, I understand that the disruptive aspects of Donald Trump are very much part of his appeal and I’d imagine a key reason why his supporters stay with him. He’s promised to deliver on behalf of his core base of supporters. And, for a man who I’ve heard accurately described as a grifter, he seems ironically hell-bent to deliver on his promises.

I also get that in many ways, the notion of influencers; in particular, social media influencers, is nothing new. It’s really just celebrity endorsements using today’s available channels. Along with today’s very loose definition of a celebrity.

Further, I recognize that there’s always been anti-establishment forces in our society that we find appealing. The rebel, antihero, has always played a role in books, movies and television. Many of us will always enjoy rooting for the outcast, the underdog.

But somewhere along the way I believe we’ve lost the idea of modeling good behavior. Or, better yet, just being good because it’s the right thing to do. No matter if no one can see you doing it.

I’m picturing a world where a different kind of social media influencer prevails. Instragram posts noting how people contributed to their communities in meaningful ways. YouTube videos where the latest quasi-celebrity is instructing their followers on how to say please and thank you. Politicians championed for positive visions, for bravery, for thinking long-term.

Long-term? Heck, at this point I’d take a politician willing to think past tomorrow. I suppose you have to start somewhere.

billy mcfarland

Entrepreneur and Fyre Festival organizer Billy McFarland. Image credit: Eonline



They Say Goodbye and I Say Hello

Within the space of several months both Rush and AC/DC were scheduled to come through town and play at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center as part of their respective national tours. I had seen both bands before but thought seriously about buying tickets to each show. After all, I rationalized, each featured members getting on in age. I wasn’t sure how many concerts they had in them.

I vividly recall walking our dog Astro and running into a neighbor of ours, who had seen Rush. “Epic!” she described the concert (yes, a real, live woman, not an avatar, attended a Rush concert). Then, months later a friend posted a picture of AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson from the St. Paul concert on Facebook with the “Fire!!!” caption.

Fast forward to today. In the months and years following the Rush and AC/DC concerts, Rush drummer and lyricist Neal Peart announced his retirement from touring and drumming all together; the man supposedly no longer keep drums in his house. Founding AC/DC member Malcolm Young passed away and Brian Johnson was dismissed given a serious hearing ailment. I realized I missed my chance to see both bands for a second time. And it admittedly heightened this shallow, childish emotion I’d been sensing all along – Fear of missing out (FOMO).

Luckily for me, there are plenty of Classic Rock bands willing to exploit my FOMO under the guise of “Farewell” tours. Here’s a look at my upcoming summer schedule; all bands playing at the Xcel Energy Center.

Ozzy Osbourne and Megadeth – July 6
Growing up during the 1980’s I was simultaneously fascinated and horrified by the humors surrounding Ozzy Osbourne. Forget the well-documented stories about biting the heads of bats. I remember hearing urban myths about Osbourne sending small puppies out into the audience and refusing to start the show until the audience killed them. Listening to these stories, usually told by “older” kids who of course heard the  tales second-hand, I imagined going to a Ozzy concert as this scary, exhilarating smoke-filled affair. Today my expectations are admittedly lower and I hope Ozzy is up for a decent show.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO – July 25
Let’s be honest; legal naming rights aside, Jeff Lynne ELO always has been all about Jeff Lynne and I’ve been a fan ever since I heard “Livin’ Thing” during a commercial for one of those K-tel compilation albums back in the 1970’s. This is Lynne’s first Minnesota stop since 1981 so I figured I had to seize upon the opportunity.

The Who – September 6
The irony of The Who is that I first became exposed to the band nearly 40 years ago – during the publicity around their 1982 farewell tour. And I only really became a fan of The Who and especially, Pete Townshend a few years ago when I read his autobiography and sampled his highly underrated solo work. The Who has a new album coming out this year and I believe they will play quite a bit of it during the concert. I have mixed feelings about this as a concert-goer but it absolutely enhances my respect for the band.

Of course, KISS is undertaking another farewell tour this year and scheduled to play the Target Center in Minneapolis on March 4. I’m tempted but, for a band as commerce-driven as KISS, am even more cynical about the notion of a farewell tour. Yes, even FOMO has its limits.

The Who

Image credit: WireImage



My IKEA Workout

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

I’m sore right now. My gluts hurt and my knees are banged up. My upper body aches just as badly and I’m taking the stairs gingerly. I’m still recovering after spending a few hours uesday evening assembling our daughter Sasha’s IKEA desk.

My journey began over the weekend when my wife Wendy and I took Sasha to select the desk for her room. It wasn’t in stock so we had to order it online and it arrived on Tuesday. And I was faced with assembling it.

If you’re reading this post and relatively handy, you might be groaning or rolling your eyes. Why am I making a big deal out of an IKEA desk? Aren’t the instructions totally idiot-proof? Well, not exactly. Or, I’m an idiot.

Kidding aside, I’m not what you call mechanically inclined. I don’t have much ability and never had an interest to match it. So I’ve never pursued any type of DIY activity outside of absolute necessity.

But what I lack in ability or interest I make up for in stick-to-it-ive-ness. In short, I’m a stubborn SOB. I was determined to assemble the desk correctly for Sahsa, even if it took me all night.

So, Tuesday evening, after dinner and taking our dog Astro for a walk, I got to work. I opened the box and tried to organize the various wooden pieces, parts and tools. Then, I selected two deliberately long and intricate albums on Spotify – Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, a True Star. Minutes ticked by as I paged through the seemingly thick booklet with stark drawings that mocked me with their Scandinavian practicality.

Eventually, I found a rhythm that will be familiar to any of you reading this post who have assembled a piece of IKEA furniture. You match the piece up with the drawing and count the requisite holes.  You put in the screwy thing in that never seems to fit your screwdriver. Then you put in a wooden peg. Do the same for the over side. Combine them and force a fit. Then you put those faux metal things into the holes and turn using a screwdriver, trying to ignore the sound of the wood splitting as you secure the furniture.

After a while I realized that I was sweating, really sweating, and drinking a ton of water. Also, I was engaged in a range of movements outside of my regular daily activities. I squatted, knelt and twisted as I assembled the various components.

And throughout it all, I was existing entirely outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t have a range of experience to fall back upon. Rather, I literally thought step by step. I studied a step carefully until I understood it. Then I executed it and moved unto the next. Until I was finished, feeling like I had run a figurative marathon.

The thing is; I exercise regularly, swimming and running two days each week. And for me it’s all about the discipline, the routine. Waking up and not wanting to do something. Yet doing it anyway and feeling a sense of accomplishment.

But yesterday evening, after I said goodnight to Sasha and paused to admire her newly assembled desk, I felt a broader sense of well-being – one that went beyond my physical health. I really liked how I felt on multiple levels. And, one day in the very near future, might try building a model kit or assembling a puzzle, to supplement the running and swimming.






Grounds for Engagement

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

I started using social media 10 years ago. Facebook marked my first foray and those early days were an absolute blast. I connected with old friends from school, camp and different points in my life. I posted what I thought of course were adorable pictures of our two kids doing cute kid type of activities – hayrides, frolicking at playgrounds, playing in the sand. LinkedIn and Twitter shortly followed. They were significantly less fun but I figured them out as I went, charting my own path.

Of course, 10 years is a lifetime in social media terms and today’s landscape looks quite different, and, depending on your point of view, ominous. Many consider social media a disruptive force in our society. People ranging from public figures to those within my close personal network have noted disengaging from social media apps and networks as key New Year’s resolutions. I won’t use this post to challenge their way of thinking. But I will share some recent examples of how social media has served as a positive force in my own life.

Last week a friend of mine sent me a link to a New York Times article, “The 10 Best TV Dramas Since ‘The Sopranos'” via Facebook Messenger. After some virtual back and forth, the two of us scheduled a time to meet for coffee where I’m sure we’ll exchange book, television and podcast recommendations, and generally catch up on life. I should also note that the Times article also inspired a recent blog post of mine on Tony Soprano and a series of fictional antiheroes.

Yesterday I received a notification via Facebook that The Who announced a September 6 concert in St. Paul. I texted a friend and former colleague who I know is a fan. We’re having coffee on Friday.

And later this morning, after this post goes live, I’m meeting a friend and colleague for coffee. He works remotely and, although I’ve known him for more than three years, he and I only have met in person one other time. Much of our correspondence, when we’re not on a work project together, has occurred via LinkedIn.

Please note I’m not trying to insinuate that we should brush all of social media’s ills under the proverbial rug. But I will say that, at least in the very early part of this year, I’m seeing how social media can lead to real, in-person engagement. And I will gladly raise my coffee cup to that.

Oh, and please send me a note if you’re reading this post and would like to grab coffee. We’ll definitely make it happen.


Image credit: CNN


When the Hero Takes a Fall

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

It’s easy to forget what television was like before The Sopranos , which debuted on HBO 20 years ago this past week. Sure, there were great shows, good shows and quite a bit in between, just as today. But, new delivery mechanisms like digital streaming notwithstanding, television today has an artistry, a respectability I don’t believe it’s ever had, at least in my lifetime. And I believe we largely have The Sopranos to thank.

Of course, no reference to The Sopranos would be complete without mentioning Tony Soprano, expertly portrayed by the late James Gandolfini. Tony Soprano was a fascinating character and a bundle of contradictions – sweet, endearing yet absolutely horrifying. But, despite all his flaws, I constantly found myself rooting for Tony Soprano, wanting him to succeed. Tony Soprano was an Antihero, in the classic sense of the word.

I naturally didn’t realize it at the time, but when my wife Wendy and I would sit on the couch back in 1999 and laugh, and wince and cheer during Tony Soprano’s trials and tribulations that he was paving the way for what I see as the Golden Age of fictional television Antiheroes. Here is an unofficial sampling, in chronological order.

Jimmy McNulty, The Wire (HBO – 2002-2008) – Portrayed by Dominic West
It’s hard just picking on as The Wire featured a few Antiheroes but Detective McNulty remained consistent through all the excellent seasons of the show that revolved around a police department in Baltimore investigating drug dealers. Detective McNulty, in another era, would be called a cad, a ruffian. He drinks too much, doesn’t follow the straight and narrow either personally or professionally, and pretty much makes a mess out of any situation he faces. But he had this lost puppy dog way about him that makes us hope he can pull out of it if he just finds the right figurative home.

Vic Mackey, The Shield (FX – 2002-2008) – Portrayed by Michael Chilkis
I would say Vic Mackey, who led a specialized unit of detectives out of a Los Angeles police department is more “anti” than “hero.” He would just assume feed his friends and partners to the wolves than offer life and limb to protect them. As a viewer, you’re left with the constant sense that Mackey is becoming the bad guy to catch the bad guy. Yet you sense his ambivalence in almost every action, and that makes him fascinating to watch.

Walter White, Breaking Bad (AMC – 2008-2013) – Portrayed by Bryan Cranston
Among all the fictional characters I have listed here, Walter White follows what I believe is the most fascinating arc. He begins as a terminally ill history teacher, a seemingly meek man who would easily blend into the background. He ends as up as a ruthless drug lord. In between we as the audience see him get addicted to the power. It’s easy for use to judge but of course we can’t help but think what we’d do in the situation.

Marty Byrde, Ozark, Ozark (Netflix – 2017-2018 (third season TBD) – Portrayed by Jason Bateman
I see Marty Byrde, a Chicagoland financial planner, who moves his family to the Ozarks in order to launder money for a Mexican drug cartel, as the mirror opposite of Walter White. While White gets pulled in more and more with each taste of power, Byrde becomes increasingly conflicted with each action. Bateman is perfect as Byrde and presents a not so much likable but incredibly empathetic character.

Last night Wendy and I started watching NBC’s This Is Us on Hulu. I definitely can see why it receives the praise it does. All the characters, in at least the first two episodes I saw, are kind, sweet, supportive, and of course, attractive. There’s enough conflict and drama to keep you interested but resolution is right around the corner. It’s the entertainment equivalent of eating bowl after bowl of vanilla ice cream.

Hopefully Marty Byrde and his family, or a new fictional Antihero, will be available when we’re caught up on This Is Us. I can already sense myself missing them.

tony soprano

Tony Soprano Image credit: The Street









Diary of A Journeyman

Editorial note: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the blogger

I’ve been listening to a weekly podcast hosted by rock journalist Eddie Trunk during the past several months. Trunk’s guests include names familiar to music fans of a certain age, including Ace Frehley, Geddy Lee and Joe Perry. Yet what I appreciate about the podcast is that Trunk also interviews countless lesser-known musicians who have made significant contributions.

During Trunk’s recent interview with Geddy Lee, the legendary Rush founder promoted his new book, Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass. Lee mentioned personally interviewing bassists, including a trip he made to Sydney, Australia, just to meet Bob Daisley. I had never heard of Bob Daisley but you could bet that if Geddy Lee would go to these lengths to speak with him, than he is pretty important.

Fortunately, Eddie Trunk interviewed Bob Daisley in the most recent installment of his podcast. Daisley is a true journeyman who has played with Rainbow, Uriah Heep and the late British guitarist Gary Moore, whose name I’m starting to hear more frequently. Bob Daisley, however, is perhaps most widely known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne as a bassist, and yes, lyricist.

In the Eddie Trunk interview Daisley recalls how he met with Osbourne in 1979 , soon after he was fired from Black Sabbath.  Osbourne, bereft and drinking heavily at the time, was looking to form a band and enlisted Daisley and an unknown-at-the time Los Angeles-based guitarist named Randy Rhodes. By March 1980 Daisley and Rhodes were sitting in a recording studio, building the structures of what became Osbourne’s debut solo album, Blizzard of Ozz.

The way Daisley explains it, he and Rhodes would jointly write the music, Osbourne would come in and contribute the melody, which, as a non-musician, I interpret as humming over the music. Daisley would then go off and write the lyrics. In the Eddie Trunk interview Daisley provides background stories for iconic songs such as “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley.” As I writer I find this absolutely fascinating, not to mention inspiring.

Unfortunately, the album became a source of controversy and years of legal battles. For starters, Daisley and Rhodes were never given proper songwriting credits, which impacted royalties. Then, in 2002, supposedly prompted by wife and manager Sharon Osbourne, Daisley’s bass tracks were removed from Blizzard of Ozz altogether, replaced by Robert Trujillo, now with Metallica.

Despite his various battles with the Osbournes, Bob Daisley would interestingly continue to play bass and provide lyrics on many of Ozzy’s albums, up to 1991’s No More Tears. One might at first wonder why he stuck around but most of us who work for a living can empathize. It was a great opportunity to get exposure, to provide an outlet for his hard work. And I’m sure he wanted to put food on the table.

Bob Daisley kept meticulous diaries throughout his career and in 2013 published his own book, For Facts Sake. I hope to read it. And learn more about his significant contributions, even if they weren’t properly credited.

ozzy osbourne and bob daisley

Ozzy Osbourne and Bob Daisley. Image credit: iHeartRadio