The Winner’s Circle

Much like the advertising world, the world of music is much more interested in what awards it has to offer and who wins. If music were more important than awards do you think we might hear better music?

Music is not a contest, but somewhere along the line somebody made winning something off some made-up list more important than how the music makes you feel.

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Millennials vs. The Cultural Creatives: They’re One in the Same, But Do You Really Know Them?

There’s a huge misnomer and gap marketers are missing when devising strategies to reach the Millennials everyone seems so urgent to reach. These are the children, and perhaps grandchildren in some cases, of the Cultural Creatives.

The idea and profile of the Cultural Creatives (CCs) was first introduced in the early part of the 21st century by sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson. The profile Ray and Anderson came up with matches fairly closely to Millennials in terms of values and lifestyle choices.

Perhaps the problem marketers are having is not so much in identifying general profile characteristics, but in reaching them. This is a certain segment of the population who do not want to be reached. It’s that simple. They are independent thinkers who rely on themselves, not what social media, new apps, or advertising and other forms of interruption marketing are telling them.

Cultural Creatives have always been a niche market and their children hold a similar position. They are already hip, they don’t need hip products. They are already on the cutting edge because they created it. They buy what they need, and they want things that fit into their lifestyle — not a lifestyle of things. Many of them eschew “things” altogether, preferring to live minimally, eat sensibly, aiming for a life of moderation over excess.

At the time Ray and Anderson released their findings in 2000, they estimated there were 50 million Americans who are Cultural Creatives, and approximately 80 to 90 million CCs in Europe. Combine that number loosely to the number of Millennials every advertising and marketing group on the planet thinks they understand, and it’s one huge number.

Here’s a list of characteristics that make up the profile of a CC to compare to Millennials:

  • They care deeply about nature
  • Are deeply aware of the problems that plague the planet
  • Would pay more taxes if assured the money would be spent on cleaning up the environment
  • Put a lot of importance on the development and maintenance of relationships
  • Value the importance of other people and invest time in bringing out their unique gifts
  • Value volunteerism and participate in one or more voluntary activities
  • Value psychological and spiritual development deeply
  • Are concerned with the presence of religious beliefs in politics
  • Want equality for women in all spheres of life
  • Are concerned with the well-being of women and children around the world
  • Want politics and government to focus on education, infrastructure, community development, and ecological practices
  • Are unhappy with a two party political system that is extremely left and right wing; and would prefer a third party offering that isn’t a mushy middle of the road option
  • Tend to be optimistic, and distrust the pessimism and fear mongering of media
  • Want to be involved in creating a better way of life
  • Are deeply concerned with the practices of big business
  • Have their financial lives in order and are not concerned with overspending
  • Dislike the importance of “making it” and obscenely decadent and luxurious lifestyles
  • Like people and places that are exotic; enjoy learning about and visiting other cultures

If you are a small business owner and entrepreneur, it would be wise to focus on, if not study, the list above and find a way to attract a very large portion of the world’s population to your door. It’s about a way to live, not a way to appear to live. While the Kardashins, Hiltons, Clooneys, Clintons, and Obamas attract media attention for their self-important opinions and lavish lifestyles, just remember the people you really want to reach don’t invest themselves in myopic foolishness, and neither should you.

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30 Years After — Part 14: A Loose List of Facts for History’s Most-Recorded Rock Song

In 2007, music historian, Peter Blecha documented, that simple little 3-chord ditty, “Louie, Louie” had surpassed Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” as the most-recorded rock song in history.

Richard Berry wrote “Louie, Louie” backstage while waiting to perform at the Harmony Club Ballroom sometime in 1955.

Berry recorded “Louie, Louie” in 1957 as the B-side to a cover of “You Are My Sunshine” with only a minor regional hit on the west coast.

Rockin’ Robin Roberts, the lead singer for The Fabulous Wailers, a Tacoma Washington-based garage band,  found a copy of Berry’s recording in a discount bin. Urban legend says he bought it for a dime.

Rockin’ Robin Roberts turned the tune into a rock-based R &B single from Berry’s calypso-styled sea shanty.

This line, “Let’s give it to ‘em right now!” a seven-word phrase changed the feel of rock to a more raunchy sound with The Fabulous Wailers release of the tune.

Etiquette Records, the first indie rock label, released “Louie, Louie” in 1961 under Rockin’ Robin Roberts name instead of The Fabulous Wailers, as the Wailers were legally bound by another record contract.

The Kingsmen are credited with creating a national and international sensation with the song, though Paul Revere and The Raiders recorded the same song in the same studio the day after The Kingsmen recorded it in 1963. Both bands were based in Portland, Oregon.

There was widespread misinterpretation of the song’s lyrical content. Parents became very concerned the song contained profound obscene language.

Radio stations across the country banned the record.

Indiana’s governor, Matthew Welsh, personally banned the record.

The FBI was called upon to lead a 31-month investigation into what many  believed were indecent lyrics on The Kingsmen recording. The investigation was eventually dropped without any sort of prosecution, penalties or prejudice.

Due to The Fabulous Wailers’ influence in the legacy of “Louie, Louie,” there was an unsuccessful attempt to make it the state song of Washington in 1985. Washington’s governor at the time, Booth Gardner, said he’d never heard it.

In 2007, there were 1,600 known recordings of “Louie, Louie.” Here is a short list of some notable names associated with releasing commercial or bootleg versions of the timeless ballad that became the anthem for a generation; a much bemused 3-chord powerhouse of a song.

Otis Redding

The Beach Boys

The Sonics

The Troggs

Jan & Dean

The Byrds

Floyd Cramer

Motorhead

The Clash

John Belushi

[Bootleg versions]

Led Zeppelin

The Beatles

John Lennon

Patti Smith

Lou Reed

Blondie

The song’s author, Richard Berry, sold the rights to the song in 1959 for $750 to pay for his wedding and never saw a penny of the royalties until the 1980’s. California Cooler wanted to use the song in a marketing campaign but needed Berry’s signature to do so. A lawyer talked Berry into taking action to regain the rights to his now world renowned tune. The publisher settled out of court, and Berry became a millionaire before he passed away in 1996.

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30 Years After — Part 13: What Do John Kerry and The Fabulous Wailers Have in Common?

[Over the span of three decades, once in a while you can forget the sequence of certain unforgettable events. The summer of 2004 was a doozy and I lost track of which year it occurred.]

In early August 2004 a call came into my office regarding a local festival that could have historical importance, and if I wasn’t busy, they could sure use my help –for free. So I listened to the rambling pitch on the other end of the line, and decided I could at least look into helping promote LouieFest, a music festival in its second year celebrating the much bemused 3-chord sensation, ” Louie, Louie, ” a song that became an anthem for the Baby Boomer generation.

There’s hardly a person on earth who’s never heard the early rock version of this tune, one that set a new, somewhat raunchy standard beyond what Elvis was doing in the early 1960s. Fewer still are there guitar players who didn’t teach themselves this tune early on when they were learning to play.

At the time this whole concept was being pitched I didn’t know too much about the history of the song, or any of the sordid details, of which there are many. So I went to a meeting and became familiar with the ragtag team of players who were putting together a two-day event to commemorate the song’s legacy; establish a music education program; and ultimately set a Guinness World Record featuring the most guitar players ever assembled playing the tune simultaneously. The initial world record was set in 1992 with 1,342 guitarists playing Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business.”

All in all it was a down and dirty, get ‘er done situation under the direction of two members of the group who helped make the song famous: Bass player Buck Ormsby, and keyboard player/vocalist, Kent Morrill.

The Fabulous Wailers – not to be confused with the Jamaican reggae group who played with Bob Marley—were local boys from Tacoma, Washington, with a long and somewhat checkered past in rock and roll. More than anything they had a dark cloud hanging over nearly everything they did; a cloud they’d never escape, and for the life of me, one I’ve never figured out. What they contributed to the beginning of the rock and roll era is staggering.

Originally they were The Wailers from as far back as 1958 when they were all still in high school, and released what is thought to be history’s first rock instrumental, “Tall Cool One,” written by Kent Morrill. In 1961, they launched the first rock indie label, Etiquette Records. Their first release was “Louie, Louie,” a version of Richard Berry’s 1955 calypso sea shanty, a B-side recording they found in the discount bin of a local record store.

The list of historical details is really long and twisted as most incredible stories in music are. So I was treading lightly in this situation working with people who had a shadowy presence in the local music scene. The event deadlines were approaching fast, and of course, not enough time to get it all done. The week prior to the event was a powwow with the ragtag team and the confirmed news that a rally for John Kerry’s presidential campaign was being held in the same facility as LouieFest.

Kerry’s team and an expected 10,000 supporters would be on the grounds of the Tacoma Dome on the opening morning of LouieFest. In one fast jab there was good news and horrible news. The horrible news: How could a facility like the Tacoma Dome double book two (potentially) enormous events for the same day? The good news: During his high school/college years Kerry was in a rock band that performed an early Wailers’ tune called, “Shanghaied.” Instantly, thoughts went to Bill Clinton’s campaign when he played his sax on a late night talk show. Ten thousand Kerry supporters would surely stop in to hear some music at LouisFest. What will happen to parking? How will we handle all those people?

Talk about throwing a monkey wrench into an already stressed out understaffed group of folks who had no idea how to approach this situation with so little time. Fast forward a few days, an emergency powwow was called and there were rumors the Kerry team was bringing a high profile rock group with them. The Wailers still wanted to approach him about playing “Shanghaied” with them to kick off both events, but who was going to do the talking? When all eyes in the room focused my way…I was like, no, no, and no!

The ring leader for the festival’s PR and promo, I knew, was totally ill-suited for a chat like this, so I gathered all my courage after a while, and finally agreed to interface with Kerry’s team. The conversation was very brisk, patronizing, and who the hell did I think I was asking John Kerry to perform with The Wailers.

They said they were still considering flying in either Carole King or The Black Crows.

Mr. Kerry had absolutely no interest in kicking off the event on the LouieFest stage, or performing. I could have politely excused myself from that conversation, but instead, I explained I was not prepared for the idea of someone like Carole King or The Black Crows competing with our festival. Would it be possible for The Wailers to greet John Kerry on his stage? It was possible and they’d get back to me.

Suddenly my phone was hotter than a pistol and the flurry ended with the local media calling asking for a quote about The Wailers supporting John Kerry. New problem. I knew from talking with Kent Morrill this would not be possible. Kent’s religious beliefs would not allow him to support a political candidate. So I had a go round with the journalist who was writing what she believed might be the biggest political story of her career.

Until that very moment, I’d always been wearing the other shoe when talking with journalists, trying to get something included in a story. This time I had to fight like hell to keep something out. And I won just before the story went to press and appeared on the front page of the News Tribune the next morning, the opening day of LouieFest.

We all arrived bright and early at The Tacoma Dome ready for whatever might happen that day. There was only one thing we weren’t prepared for: Nothing. Kerry was to take the stage at 10:00 a.m. and The Wailers decided everyone in the band but Kent would go over to greet him.

By 11:00 a.m. traffic reports of gridlock along Interstate 5 cautioned people to take alternate routes. The Tacoma Dome was empty and cavernous, while thousands of Kerry supporters were lined up in droves just outside waiting for him. Secret Service was strategically placed at every doorway. Sharp shooters were positioned along the perimeter of the dome’s roofline as a fairly intimidating sign to anyone who might be planning to attend a music festival. And the gridlock continued along the Interstate all afternoon.

From inside the dome we could hear the rally in full force, and by early afternoon, I surmised Kerry’s staff was totally blowing hot air about Carole King and The Black Crows. They had no musical guests.

About the time I was leaving someone came to me and said, “The Wailers would like to speak with you,” in a fairly ominous tone. They had all kinds of questions as if I might have a crystal ball I hadn’t shown them. Why had the media tried to keep concert goers away from the festival? Who was in touch with the media all day? What was going on? Why is this happening to us? After explaining I had no idea what was going on, I told them I would go home and contact the media and let them know there was a festival indeed, and could we get some coverage to help this group recover what was lost after months of planning in one fell swoop.

This was Labor Day weekend, and finding someone in the news room who could handle this situation was going to be tough. But it worked out. The top news station in the area sent a crew out the next day to film all the guitar players who’d registered to play “Louie, Louie” in unison for the Guinness World Record. They fell short of breaking that record, but no one knows for sure by how much.

Overall, the festival and all the goals they tried to reach were mostly a huge failure. Several phone calls came in over the next few weeks about how to resolve the situation, none of which were easy solutions to unraveling the rope that brought down the albatross. Kerry and his team came and went like thieves in the night. Imagine that.

And so, a seven-year long relationship working with The Wailers, The Fabulous Wailers began until early 2011 when the last original member of the group, Kent Morrill, passed away.

*As a side note, this entry is being finalized just as news that Paul Revere of Paul Revere and The Raiders has passed away. The Raiders played a big hand in the legacy of “Louie, Louie,” and helped contribute to the song’s legacy of the most recorded rock song in history.

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30 Years After — Part 12: Strategy, It’s All About Strategy

The beginning of 2005 was just as dismal as the last week of 2004. The Indian Ocean tsunami continued to dominate the news. Traditionally, and well it should be, when there is an historical event with global impact, the entertainment industry in all its various forms, grows pretty silent. For example, late night talk shows are careful to be relevant without poking fun. Many will remember after 9/11 radio put out a list of songs that could not be played as a sign of respect.

Things moved relatively slowly until the day of the Grammy Awards, February 13, 2005. Two big contenders had been the focus of a campaign since the beginning of December. Will Ackerman, the founder of Windham Hill Records, had never won and this was his third nomination. The first Hawaiian Grammy would be awarded, and Charles Michael Brotman , producer of Slack Key, Vol. 2, was on one hand, a dark horse. On the other, the probability he would win was pretty high. A lot would depend on the strategy we used.

That year, the Grammys were held in Los Angeles, the same time zone I was in. Hawaii was a few hours behind, and Ackerman’s home in Vermont was a few hours ahead. I was prepared for everything and prepared for nothing at the same time. Again, I wouldn’t write a press release about a win ahead of time due to that silly little superstition.

Finally, the phone rang sometime around 2 PM and the head of Brotman’s record label was on a cell phone that continued to cut in and out. I could not hear for the life of me what Jody was saying. So I had her repeat it several times. I was pretty sure due to her excitement they’d won Hawaii’s first Grammy Award, but I had to be sure. And sure enough that was the case. Their press release was easy to put together and send off to a gazillion media outlets. The state of Hawaii had retained a separate PR firm to handle all the press for the 5 nominees, so I was in touch with them for the remainder of the afternoon.

Will Ackerman wasn’t attending the awards show, so I had to rely on Grammy.com for that news. I continued to check the site until his category came up and his was the only name in the slot. I scrolled the site up and down to make sure that only the winners were named in each category, and Ackerman had won. Since he didn’t go to Los Angeles, I told his assistant I would call her, and we’d take the situation from there – regardless. So I called her. No answer.  I called Will’s office, then his studio. No answer.

About every 20 minutes for three hours I called the same three numbers over and over again. I didn’t want to leave a message really – but finally I did leave a voice mail with Will saying, “Well, it looks like you’ve won a Grammy. Call me as soon as you can.”

About two hours later he called and said he was standing in sub-zero weather in Montreal so he could hear me. He said, “What do you mean it looks like I won a Grammy?”  My reply, “You won! You definitely won the Grammy!” It was a bit of a surreal experience, as I absolutely could not be in touch with media until I’d let him know. By this time it was probably six in the evening, and all music journalists knew everything I knew. But I put a press release together and sent it out far and wide until the televised portion of the Grammys was shown Pacific Time.

I stayed up til 3:00 a.m. sending the news out about our two wins and slept on the couch near my office in case the phone rang. Will called at 7:00 a.m. and we talked briefly, then off to work again for me for about a week. It was tricky this time due to working across five different time zones, and after 72 hours passed with only 7 hours sleep, things began to slow down.

The Hawaiian win had the most traction just because there was so much attention on the state for their inclusion by the Recording Academy after many, many years. Brotman had lived in Hawaii for several years but he is not a native, so there was a little dust up over that. The Hawaiian press took umbrage with the fact Brotman is Caucasian, though many slack key players on the winning album are Hawaiian natives. All in all, things worked out fine, in spite of a few altruistic opinions. It was an historic win in more ways than one!

Ackerman didn’t have any performance dates lined up around this time, which didn’t give the press much reason to keep the story moving forward. So I called a booking agent familiar with his work, and got that ball rolling. George Winston who is really responsible for reviving interest in slack key guitar worked extensively with Ackerman in the early days of Windham Hill Records, and for many years after that. Though we tried to make that point relevant within the Hawaiian community, it was all just a little too late. They were celebrating their win on their terms.

In spite of my relative novice experience in this realm of music, I discovered that strategy is most important. The few things I can say about any given nomination are:

  1. Hire an independent publicist to handle whatever kind of campaign you decide upon. A record label is really in no position to handle a campaign especially if they have more than one nominee in any given category.
  2. Over the top campaigning is frowned upon by the Recording Academy. Follow their rules.
  3. Assess strengths and weaknesses for your nominee and compare those facts to everyone else nominated in the category.
  4. Once a nominee, that will always remain on the record. It is among the highest honors in a musician’s career. Over the years I’ve seen people stretch that truth beyond reasonable limits. If someone submits an album for consideration, it is simply a submission. Anyone is welcome to do so within the timelines and guidelines set forth by the Recording Academy. By no means does submitting a recording mean anything more than that. There is no such thing as “almost a nominee or making it through the first round.”
  5. Be prepared for anything – good, bad, indifferent. My experience is proof positive Murphy’s Law doesn’t care who you are – if it can happen, it very well might.
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Head’s Up Nashville – A Game Changer Is Just Around The Bend

Every working class musician owes a debt of gratitude to Adam Gold and D. Patrick Rodgers for writing Club Land (Nashville Scene Sept. 18-24). They are among a small percentage of journalists who are telling the story just as it is without a lick of candy coating. Gold and Rodgers have drawn a map of the road ahead, and it looks like a bumpy ride for local indie artists, promoters, booking agents – anyone who makes a living by promoting music as art.

It’s important to understand the scenario Gold and Rodgers illustrate isn’t isolated to the here and now; nor is it exclusive to Nashville. It’s happened before in different markets and regions around the country, albeit not on this particular scale. But this is here. And this is now.

The good news and the bad news Gold and Rodgers painstakingly address is Nashville is suddenly a huge market for live performance – if you happen to be a big name artist, and especially in country music. Meticulously they address the politics of the music landscape and how it affects those on the admin side of the whitewash, which in turn affects the efforts of indie musicians in this market.

Of explicit concern for many deeply entrenched in the local scene is whether or not the monolith, Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter, will return to Music City after they hastily dumped the Starwood Amphitheatre when it no longer suited their purpose. Rumors Live Nation is bringing House of Blues to town with an elitist cookie cutter model is the chagrin of many local promoters.

It appears the fear stems from an absentee promoter (Live Nation is based in Los Angeles) who will have immeasurable influence over what happens in a city brimming with potential touring talent due to the sheer size of their checkbook and global influence.

Risks are taken and reputations are put on the line every day by independent promoters, agents, and freelancers for the sake of art. They work hard for unsigned artists every day of the week. For them, this story is personal. It’s their livelihood. It’s their reputation.

For companies like Live Nation, it’s just business. If they lose money, it’s not coming out of their personal pocket. Hence, the too big to fail politico mentality is as biblical as David and Goliath. (As an aside, Live Nation CEO, Michael Rapino, hosted a fundraiser at his home earlier this year for Barack Obama.)

So what can you do if you’re a touring musician when your fate seems to be in the hands of so many others?

Devise a long-term strategy and pour every spare nickel you have into marketing. Build value in your name. If you don’t know how, hire someone who can, and don’t balk at the price.  If you knew what the competition was spending on marketing you’d see why they get the lion’s share of media space, air time, and sales numbers, even when the quality of the music isn’t stellar.

If you don’t know exactly who your competition is, then consider the numbers. In a meeting with a Music Row exec not long ago, he flashed this stunning factoid: In 1999 approximately 10,000 new titles were commercially released. In 2012, 110,000 titles hit the market. Eleven times more music is being produced commercially, which in turn means at least 100,000 more musicians are looking for touring opportunities. If you can’t play where you live, something is terribly wrong with the equation.

Clearly the big boys are there to make mega bucks. Their one size fits all model creates a predictable situation for the concert going public. Every show they put on is standardized. Indies on the other hand have the distinct opportunity to create a unique experience for their audiences. A happening if you will.

If this business was so damned easy, more people could make a decent living. It wasn’t designed like the corporate ladders we’ve been taught to climb. In fact, as Gold and Rodgers brilliantly illustrate, as soon as you get your ladder solidly against a wall ready to take the next step, someone will move the ladder or take down the wall.

Over the three decades I’ve worked in this business when the big boys see an opportunity they take it, regardless of the consequences to anyone. And when they do, they change the rules in their favor to keep all the minions at bay. About every 10 years — anything from changing formats to developments in technology —  the modifications almost always come from the top and the grassroots movements must adapt or fade into obscurity.

Now it’s your turn to take the info Gold and Rodgers mapped out and find a way to get up the canyon wall and across the great divide. When you come to a fork in the road, put your name on it.

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30 Years After — Part 11: No. Guarantees.

And so it went. Things in music do not always go as they should for anyone. Even with the best intentions, practices, discipline — circumstances, like boulders, tumble down the mountain you just climbed. No matter how cool the past has been, the present and future have NO. GUARANTEES.

So I surfed for a while. The big waves weren’t coming along until another dark December morning a call from Hawaii asking for help with a Grammy nomination. I’d worked a mainland project for Palm Records a few years earlier and now the Recording Academy had created an entire category for Hawaiian music after some diligent effort. Again, five nominees in the category, all tied to the heritage of Hawaiian music.

Charles Michael Brotman was a nominee for a compilation CD,titled Slack Key Vol. 2 on his label. There were a number of well-known slack key players featured, but they were mostly known among the Hawaiian population. And then a wonderful realization hit me. After asking who the other nominees were and connecting some dots it was a pretty sure bet this album was a major contender to win this Grammy. So a deal was made and we were off to the races.

In the meantime I looked up all the 2004 nominees and noticed Will Ackerman had been nominated for his release, Returning. He had been the main contender we had to get around during Tingstad and Rumbel’s nomination/win a few years earlier.

After a few emails of congrats and pleasantries, I told Will if there was anything I could do to help, it would be a pleasure. I’d talked with him a few times, and since the onset of my career everyone spoke about him in glowing terms. He had the midas touch. He had a successful solo career as an acoustic guitarist; but primarily he was legendary as the founder of Windham Hill Records — perhaps the most successful indie label of the 20th century. You can read his bio here: href=”http://http://www.williamackerman.com/contact-will/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=109″>

Will’s a wonderfully playful kind of guy, and after about three emails, he said, “why should I hire you?” My reply, “I’m the person who kicked your butt on the last nomination.” I’m not taking credit for Eric and Nancy winning, but they did, and Will was a mighty opponent in that Grammy race. So we made a deal, and got off to a bit of a late start, all the while I was working on a pretty powerful strategy for the slack key album.

The window of time between the nominations and the time ballots are cast is pretty small. And it happens during the holiday season. The campaign is merely to get Academy voters to listen to the nominated CDs. There is no pressure or big media push. But there is strategy and a whole lot of work.

There was also a lot on my plate with family coming for Christmas, and a houseful of company. We got through it all, and then the day after Christmas, 2004, there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean and tsunami that took many, many lives and destroyed scores more. It was an unbelievable tragedy that shook the world.

Every major media outlet ran continuous stories about the devastation. Getting through to any media over the holidays is a miracle, but combined with this, there was global gridlock like I’d never seen. There was essentially no movement as the world watched in grief and amazement what Mother Nature was capable of doing.

So you see, there really are NO. GUARANTEES. OF. ANYTHING. Even with great stories, great news to share, and the means to do it.

All in all it was devastating, and of course, we were all very empathetic. At one point I’d sent an email “apologizing” I wasn’t able to get more done. I do remember Will writing back to say, “there are more important things in the world to worry about.”

Feeling very badly about the whole thing, I’d hired a friend to help me, and we continued with the Hawaiian strategy and changed gears on everything else. It wasn’t total failure, but I didn’t sleep very well for the next two months.

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