Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Led Zeppelin Warms to the Media, Becomes Legends

Journalists were often downright hostile to Led Zeppelin when the legendary rockers were starting out. And the band reciprocated, rarely ever letting reporters close to them.

This changed a bit in 1975. Zeppelin carefully selected a handful of writers, editors, and photographers from the mainstream media and even courted the hated Rolling Stone Magazine.

They had plenty to cover on this tour too. When the box office failed to open in Boston, fans caused $50,000 in vandalism. And a Bruins hockey game had to be canceled because the rink was damaged.

These tales are told in the new book LZ-'75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour by Stephen Davis. It's a good read, but for anyone who wants the definitive account of Zeppelin, Davis' Hammer of the Gods is the really essential launching point, and perhaps the best rock biography of all time.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Keith Richards' Life in a Flash

The Rolling Stones' lawyer Bill Carter had warned them not to drive through Arkansas. They should have flown to the next gig. After all, he reasoned, the state had recently tried to "outlaw rock and roll."

And although the band was nearly thrown in the slammer for an outrageous trail of behavior across the state on their 1973 tour, the fact that Carter traveled with them and had friends in very high places all the way up to Capitol Hill was the only reason no charges were ever filed.

In fact, you may recall that when Mike Huckabee was Arkansas governor 30 years later, he pardoned guitarist Keith Richards. What was less reported at the time was that Richards had never been charged with anything. But Huckabee pardoned him anyway. I guess it seemed like a pretty good PR move for Huckabee's presidential campaign.

In his wonderful new autobiography called Life, Richards says: "For many years I slept, on average, twice a week. This means that I have been conscious for at least three lifetimes."

The book starts with an hilarious photo of his mother walking him through town on a leash. It then goes on to describe his hometown, a miserable place called Dartford, England which was dotted with smallpox hospitals, leper colonies, gunpowder factories, and lunatic asylums.

There was also the Wells fireworks factory, which produced "jumping jacks" and exploded in a flash one day. Not exactly what I had envisioned for what surely must have been the origination of the masterful Stones' tune "Jumping Jack Flash."

Friday, December 24, 2010

The History of the Pittsburgh Steelers and "Mob Football"

My favorite NFL team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, were purchased during the Depression for $2,500, money earned by Art Rooney's betting on horses and promotion of local prize fighters. They got their name because the "Steelers" was chosen by fans in a contest.

This was the beginning of many years of a hard-working but pathetic football team. One of many low-lights was when Johnny Unitas, who went on to become perhaps the greatest quarterback ever, was cut. But when "The Chief," long-time beloved owner Art Rooney (who sometimes treated the Steelers as an amusing hobby), stepped aside to let his son Dan take over in 1969, the team would slowly take a path to becoming the greatest football franchise.

Although Dan Rooney wanted to hire Joe Paterno of Penn State, Paterno wanted to stay in college. So the next choice was Chuck Noll, a former assistant at San Diego under West Coast Offense creator Sid Gillman and defensive assistant under Don Shula in Baltimore. Noll was a master of precision, detail, and studying the game.

This is one of the stories in a book I'm reading called The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the '70s, and the Fight for America's Soul, by Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne. Another story is about how football is "as old as community." Villages in medieval times had bloody battles in which a pig's bladder served as the ball and with no rules beyond "no murder and no manslaughter." The game was called "Mob Football" and it evolved across Europe, with working men typically playing it on one of the few days off they had each year, on the day before Ash Wednesday.

In the mid-nineteenth century, "American football rose from this primal tradition and took hold at eastern college campuses." Then the first professional player took the field in November 1892, in Pittsburgh, of course.

Friday, December 17, 2010

An Insider's Account of the Final Night of Global Climate Negotiations

This was originally published at Planet Change.

I’ve now experienced four of these annual UN climate talks and it’s a great feeling to finally wake up at the end of one of them with a “win” instead of a disappointment.

The Washington Post had a wonderful “color” piece the other day on how the whole fascinating process works. It’s well worth reading. But outside of the 20,000 climate geeks (I mean that lovingly, being a bit of one myself) who wait at the “document stand” with bated breath for every new version of the prized “text” of the deal, all you really need to know is:

There are delegations from each country that are assigned by their governments to attend and refine a deal over two weeks. There are ministers of environment and forests and finance who also join at some point. And then presidents and other heads of state sometimes join at the very end.

Then there are also lots of public groups who want to influence the process. The Nature Conservancy has its own delegation (of which I was a part) and is one of the important non-profit organizations (NGOs) in the climate talks because we work on so many of the issues chiefly discussed by the negotiators: forests, adapting to climate change, finance, and others.

Because the talks were headed into the wee hours last night, much of our delegation headed back to the hotel quite a ways from the main conference venue. Those who stayed were camped out on the most comfortable chairs they could find. They couldn’t get up because they would lose those chairs. Some were watching on big screens outside of the massive main negotiating room.

We also had a meeting room in our hotel. So those of us who came back to our home-away-from-home for the past two weeks watched the webcast on our big screen there. I had mentioned to a colleague Friday morning that I had a strangely positive feeling, even though at that point many of the journalists were reporting that Cancun would fail. My optimism received a boost when the lead negotiator from the historically bristly U.S. more or less said he was ready to commit to a Cancun Agreement. It was the longest applause I’ve ever heard for the U.S. in this setting.

I finally went to bed. Then I was pinged with a text message from one of our media-relations experts and alerted that we had a deal. At 3:30 a.m.! So I got up and helped make sure everything was in place as far as telling the world what The Nature Conservancy thought about the done deal.

After working much of the morning, I’m exhausted. But I’m also excited. Not only does the global community have a way forward towards solving climate change, but I’m going to swim in the turquoise ocean for the first time since I got here two weeks ago.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Daryl Hannah Talks Climate at Nature Conservancy Event

It's been a while since I've done a major movie-star interview. I did meet George Clooney and play an extra in an episode of his TV show K Street. But that performance was left on the cutting-room floor. And when I interviewed Dom DeLuise, that was just for a newspaper.

So here's Daryl Hannah, talking oceans and climate, in video. It was fun to meet her. She's nice, and that's saying something, because we could have both been a little tense after not getting served much food at the otherwise excellent event we attended at the UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.

Oh, and I also blogged about the event over at Planet Change.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hola, From Sunny Cancun and the Climate Change Conference

You may have suspected I fell off the planet. Well, I sort of did. I'm in Cancun, Mexico for 18 days for the UN climate change conference. I've done nothing but work for many, many hours each day.

But that doesn't mean I haven't been blogging. (I have consumed zero pop culture. Hence, no Pop Culture Lunch Box posts in a week.) I have instead been blogging and filming short videos like a mad man for work.

Check it out. I'm really proud of The Nature Conservancy's Planet Change blog. New York Times? Hah. Come to Planet Change for your news of record on global warming!