Lost My Driving Wheel

September 27, 2009

It’s amazing, how quickly our daily routine can be interrupted, or worse, shattered by a significant event. We are often forced to be strong when we are actually at our most vulnerable, such as in cases of loss or grief, where we need to support others and postpone our own inevitable mourning.

The words to this haunting song sound as if they could have been written a hundred years ago. Like Hank Williams’ “So Lonesome I Could Cry,” from earlier in the century, the evocative and solitary lyrics of “Driving Wheel” are undeniably American, despite its writer’s British roots. So literate, you find yourself listening intently. So sad, you find yourself sobbing for this person as if he were sitting in front of you.

With a steam locomotive, a driving wheel is a powered wheel which is driven by the locomotive’s pistons (or turbine, in the case of a steam turbine locomotive.) It is used in the song as an analogy that most of us can easily identify with.

Tom Rush (1970), Roger McGuinn (1973), Cowboy Junkies(1993) and Jayhawks (2000) are among the artists who have performed this song, originally written by Canadian singer-songwriter David Wiffen in the late 1960’s.

Wiffen originally released it on his early 1970’s album. The Cowboy Junkies’ version above is great, albeit a little sleepy. Vinyl collectors are encouraged to hunt down Wiffen’s original 1971 LP…


Lost My Driving Wheel
Well I just came up on the midnight special how about that
My car broke down in Texas she stopped dead in her tracks
Just called to tell you that I need you
Just called to tell you how I feel
I feel like some old engine lost my drivin’ wheel
Feel like some old engine lost my drivin’ wheel
Took my money on the night train what a terrible fight
I gave my promise I would be there with you by Saturday night
I wanna tell you that I need you baby
I need to tell you just how I feel
I feel like some old engine lost my drivin’ wheel
Feel like some old engine lost my drivin’ wheel
Can’t say much in a phone call baby you know how it is
I have to tell you one short thing oh won’t you listen to this
I want to tell you that I love you baby
I want to tell you just how I feel
I feel like some old engine lost my drivin’ wheel
Feel like some old engine lost my drivin’ wheel

-David Wiffen


Magic and Loss

September 11, 2009


When you pass through the fire
you pass through humble
You pass through a maze of self doubt
When you pass through humble
the lights can blind you
Some people never figure that out
You pass through arrogance you pass through hurt
You pass through an ever present past
and it’s best not to wait for luck to save you
Pass through the fire to the light

As you pass through the fire
your right hand waving
there are things you have to throw out
That caustic dread inside your head
will never help you out
You have to be very strong
’cause you’ll start from zero
over and over again
And as the smoke clears
there’s an all consuming fire
lying straight ahead

They say no one person can do it all
but you want to in your head
But you can’t be Joyce
so what is left instead
You’re stuck with yourself
and a rage that can hurt you
You have to start at the beginning again
And just this moment
This wonderful fire started up again

When you pass through humble
when you pass through sickly
When you pass through
I’m better than you all
When you pass through
anger and self deprecation
and have the strength to acknowledge it all
When the past makes you laugh
and you can savor the magic
that let you survive your own war
You find that that fire is passion
and there’s a door up ahead not a wall

As you pass through fire as you pass through fire
trying to remember its name
When you pass through fire licking at your lips
you cannot remain the same
And if the building’ burning
move towards that door
but don’t put the flames out
There’s a bit of magic in everything
and then some loss to even things out

Written by Lou Reed

An Irish Funeral Prayer

August 28, 2009


Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Everything remains as it was.
The old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no sorrow in your tone.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting, when we meet again.


This story comes from an online friend of mine, from a few years back. The local waitress still tells the story…

Keith Richards lives a good part of the year in Weston, CT, next to the town of Westport. There’s a mom-and-pop coffee/donut shop in town. Everybody goes.

One day around opening, like 5:30 a.m., Keith ambles in and orders takeout coffee and donuts. God only knows what he did the previous night, but he was bleary-eyed and dressed in his usual rags outfit. A local sitting at the counter noticed and insisted on paying. “Thanks mate,” said Keith, obviously thinking it was a Stones fan.

The exact same thing happened a week later. Same guy, same thanks from Keith. The owner goes over to the guy after Keith leaves and says something like, “Ya know, he can afford to pay his own way. The Rolling Stones make millions.”

“Ohmigod,” says the customer. “I thought he was homeless.”

Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette is a great, but I think we can all agree that her career would have benefited from a lethal overdose after her 1995 debut album.

In addition to Morissette, Michael Penn (Aimee Mann’s husband) is a very talented and busy singer-songwriter who has had one hit with “No Myth” but is otherwise missing in action from the mainstream.

Which one-hit wonders are some of your favorites who never really went beyond one song or album?

Goodnight Saigon

July 10, 2009

Obit McNamara

Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, died this week at 93.

When McNamara served as the “architect” for the Vietnam War as secretary of defense from 1961 to 1968, he was considered one of Kennedy’s “best and brightest.” He let it be known that he had all the answers, and that those who didn’t agree with him were simply not as well informed as he was.

After being forced to resign in 1968, McNamara refused to discuss the Vietnam War until his 1995 book In Retrospect, was published. In that controversial book, he acknowledged that he “made mistakes” in Vietnam, but reminded the readers that every other top official in Washington did as well. In the book as well as in Errol Morris’ Oscar-winning 2003 documentary The Fog of War, McNamara argued that he based his policies on incorrect information supplied by the military.

In the Morris film, which I highly recommend, he reflected on the decisions he made, from World War II through Vietnam, and the consequences of those decisions.

Those decisions would prove him to be more of an accountant than a strategist or visionary. It is a painful irony that the man who preached the gospel of cost-effectiveness for the nuts and bolts of military hardware failed to realize soon enough that the Vietnam police action would become the least effective and most costly military venture in American history, spending on the Vietnam War escalated from $1 billion to over $20 billion between 1965 and 1967. Then there were the nearly 60,000 dead Americans who never came home.

He deliberately misled President Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin crisis in 1964. He also cost the lives of three million Vietnamese military and civilians through the military action and contamination from Agent Orange.

McNamara spent his later years as a vocal critic of nuclear proliferation and doing other planing and sanding work on his legacy.

His trademarks were his rimless glasses and slicked down hair and his reliance on quantitative analysis to reach conclusions.

McNamara is the best example of how intelligence alone will never guarantee success. The dangers that come from expecting victory through supreme competence may be lessons that Obama himself will want to study.

One of McNamara’s own painfully learned lessons was not to know yourself, or even to know the group you are leading; in his own words, the main thing is to be smart enough understand and to empathize with your enemy.

“Perhaps rationality isn’t enough,” McNamara says in one of Morris’ most memorable scenes from the film.


Rest in peace.

When the bubble bursts

June 26, 2009


“What are you going to do when the bubble bursts?” was the question – a running gag, really – that the Beatles would often field from reporters at press conferences in the early days. “We’ll burst with it, ha-ha,” the boys would sometimes sarcastically reply. John once replied with “I haven’t a clue, you know. I’m still looking for the bubble.”

With Michael Jackson’s death this week, the bubble is back in the spotlight and apparently alive and well. While Marilyn, Elvis, the Beatles and many others have resided in the celebrity bubble, Jackson may have been the only modern day celebrity so popular or prolific, to still be there. (Just think of the current crop of celebrities whose photos are taken as they run out to the supermarket for some Ben & Jerry’s at midnight in sweatpants and Ray-Ban’s.)

Plastic surgery made him a bizarre laughing stock for the final years of his eccentric adult life. At the same time, his wealth allowed him anything he wished, giving way to the “Wacko Jacko” persona which was reinforced by the later interviews with outlets such as ITV/Martin Bashir and CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes.

Jackson and many other of the ‘usual suspect’ dead celebrities may have been born to be great, but at the end of the day they were still human and flawed.

This leads me back to the bubble of my first paragraph. With all drug-related celebrity deaths, from Marilyn Monroe to Elvis Presley to Heath Ledger, the news media always locks in on the question of why these people couldn’t simply “see all of this coming.”

I always laugh at this assertion. (“Hah!” I say) If humans were only wired that way! If we only concerned ourselves with the far-reaching consequences of our actions as easily as that so we could “see it all coming.” But, of course, we cannot.

Most non-celebrities, including myself, are in self-imposed bubbles of their own. Whether it is being oblivious to our own bad health habits, or other behaviors or simply failing to see things that are right in front of our own eyes, it is often difficult for many of us to see beyond our own bubble.

While we all may not have habits and behaviors which include ingesting enormous amounts of pharmaceuticals, the basic premise is the same – each of us is essentially a cigarette smoker. We aren’t bad, mean, selfish people. We just have a bad habit or three.

So, what about you and your bad habits?

What are you going to do when the bubble bursts?



In 1997, several executives at McKinsey & Company, America’s largest and most prestigious management-consulting firm, declared what they termed the “War for Talent.” So began the current era of talent management.

What exactly is “talent”?

The recent return of American Idol , and the dreadful Susan Boyle on the UK version, has me thinking about the word ‘talent’ lately.

Dictionary.com describes it as ‘a special natural ability or aptitude.’ Some people are talented athletes; others, gifted artists. I, on the other hand, pride myself on my ability to help people better perform their jobs. It’s probably not what my mom had in mind when she had me taking lessons in everything from the clarinet to karate to computers, but you have to make the most of what you’ve got, right?

To put in another way, talent is something that produces value that is meaningful for our organization’s results. Let’s look at this definition in respect to sports: World class organizations from the New York Yankees (or the Boston Red Sox : ) to Olympic skating teams to regional bowling leagues are constantly out there scouting for the best talent. Why? For the same winning results that all organizations work toward.

While this talent mindset is the new to many American managers, most agree that an organization is considered only as strong as its stars. In the past few years, the talent management message has been promoted by consultants and management gurus all over the world with some arguing that it is the organization that “raises up” an employee and not the other way around.

Even the goings-on in the financial sector and the turmoil created over some less-than-honest companies hasn’t confused the message that the best talent has to be recognized and cultivated.

Simply put, talent is each of us delivering on our own unique capabilities every day.

So, while I may not have become the world class jazz musician that my mom was hoping for, I do contribute in a meaningful, worthwhile way to my organization’s results. (While drinking a great deal of coffee!)

What about you? Why is your organization better because you show up there every day?

What’s your talent?

Mommy's little angel

Whatever happened to manners and common courtesy?

Whatever happened to ‘thank you’ and similar polite phrases?

As children, most of us had manners drummed into our heads, but somewhere along the line, people have grown to consider it optional. Back then, were seen, not heard, and all it took was the “look” from a parent to get us in line. These days, the parents seem to be afraid of the children. There are exceptions, but so often it seems that the children feel entitled and have no fear of consequence.

Whether it is buying some groceries, dealing with a company over the phone or just plain being civil to a fellow civilian, I often fail to hear the familiar phrase.

At first, I thought that I was getting old. Being in my late thirties (forty-one actually), I felt that I may have been becoming a curmudgeon. But, no! Expecting to hear a ‘thank you’ or sincere ‘have a nice day’ is not only polite, it is what I am programmed to hear!

Case in point: The other day, I remained standing at a pharmacy counter for a minute or so after I’d been given my prescription and receipt. Why? Because I hadn’t heard a ‘thank you.’ I assumed that there was something else I must have been waiting for. Maybe the pharmacist needed my advice on something? I don’t know.

Last week, I saw a teenage boy, fifteen or sixteen, throw a tantrum on the street because his mother didn’t walk fast enough from the restaurant they had just eaten dinner. He was cold, or to use his words, “suffering.”

So, why are we becoming increasingly selfish and without manners ?

Has the gluttony and sense of entitlement of the parents simply spilled over to the children ?

Thank you for your time and attention.

Industrial evolution

January 29, 2009

Recession-era Dilbert

Recession-era Dilbert

As the Republicans continue to be frustrated with the size of Obama’s package (ahem) and the country at large continues to grow frustrated with leaders in the private sector, the stress has even trickled down to Dilbert, who lost his job in this past week.

Above is Dilbert from earlier in the month, trying to remain relevant around the office before he loses his job. Hits a bit too close to home for some of us.

Unemployment is about more than just losing one’s job. It diminishes some people, but can devastate others.

For many, work defines them and gives them a sense of purpose.

Other words that come immediately to mind are dignity, relationships, structure and respect.

We all need to be loved, accepted and respected and –whether we admit it or not– our jobs takes on a huge part of that role in our lives.

How has unemployment in this economic downturn affected you and your loved ones?

It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose your own. ~Harry S. Truman