A Treacherous Precedent in Music

I’ve written here before, that music is one of the passions of my life, and waking up this morning to hear the news that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke are being forced by the courts to pay the estate of Marvin Gaye over $7.4M in damages for their song “Blurred Lines”.  A jury found that Williams and Thicke stole the song from a 1971 hit of Marvin Gay titled “Got to Give it Up” after being sued by Gaye’s children.

There is little to no question that Blurred Lines was the biggest hit of 2013.  Matter of fact, the YouTube video has over 370 million views.  On top of that, you have the supreme hit of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and Pharrell’s work on NBC’s the voice, has put him near the top of the list of songwriters who have proven that they can produce one chart topping hit after another.  There is no question that being found guilty will not only take a toll on Pharrell’s wallet, but sadly his reputation as well.

Here are both songs if you would like to see the similarities.

I’m no expert, I can hear some similarities between the two songs, but in my opinion, there isn’t enough there to hand down a judgment in copyright infringement.  Humans have been writing music for hundreds of years.  There are only so many notes on a piano, guitar, etc.  Millions of new songs are created each year, and with a victory in a suit like this, it could be a very bad sign for artists in the future.  When you sit down, let your juices of creativity flow, and construct what you feel is an outstanding piece of music, how are you going to be able to confirm that another artist didn’t already use those combination of chords or notes?

It was just last month that Sam Smith settled out of court after being accused of copyright infringement with his Grammy winning Song of the Year, “Stay With Me” was just about an exact ripoff of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”.  After listening to those two songs, its readily apparent that they are about the same song from verse to bridge to chorus.

Those two occurrences illustrate exactly what makes items like this so difficult to determine as to what was done maliciously and what was not.  We hear music all the times in our day to day life.  Whether it is a commercial on television, the background music in an elevator, or at our own doing.  Our ears and even are subconscious are constantly taking in information, and I have a hard time punishing someone for a creation.  Pharrell has even said, that Marvin Gaye has always been an influence on his writing style.  I share Pharrell’s belief that anything he would have done would have been in homage to Gaye, and not trying to take anything a way from him.  Its just a shame that the courts have to get involved to settle something like this, and sincerely hope it doesn’t curb creativity going forward.

 

Customer Service Top Priority

Choice Logo

At Choice Home Warranty, our top priority over the last two years has been to improve our customer service experience.  Its no secret that we are in a service industry and are dealing with people when they are upset.  If my furnace goes out, or the dishwasher stops working, I’m not going to be happy either, so our goal is simple.  To meet those customer’s needs, repair their damaged appliance, and get them back to their normal lives in as painless of manners possible.

Last Fall we completed a brand new customer service center which can accommodate over 150 representatives, we now have over 3,000 five star reviews on Consumer Affairs, and were recently given a ‘B’ rating by the Better Business Bureau.  While this is a great start for us, our job is never done.  We have meetings each and every week to better understand our client base, and strategize ways to improve their experience.  At the end of the day, its simple.  If you are not satisfied as a customer of Choice Home Warranty, we wouldn’t expect you to renew your warranty year after year.  It is our job entirely to meet the needs of our customers, and I give you my word that our entire staff is striving to do just that.

-Vic

Now its Bill O’Reilly’s Turn?

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As I wrote about last week, Brian Williams from NBC news has himself in some ultra hot water, due to being caught in the middle of a lie regarding his reporting of the Persian Gulf War.  Williams has now been suspended for six months by NBC and his career as a whole may be in serious jeopardy.  Due to the fact that this story stayed in the national media for quite some time, it seems as if it lead other news outlets to question the honesty and integrity of other well known faces of news.

They looked no further than controversial conservative Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.  O’Reilly was originally accused by Mother Jones magazine for false reporting saying he was in the middle of the Falklands ware in 1982, when actually he was in Buenos Aires which is over 1,400 miles from where the confrontation was taking place.

After some staunch denial from O’Reilly as well as Fox News, the New York Times also chimed in and did some reporting of their own.  In the midst of this reporting, they attempted to reach out to O’Reilly for comments on the issue.  Mr. O’Reilly was not exactly pleased regarding the line of questioning, and handed out a rather serious threat to the New York Times reporter.  Saying that if the coverage was in appropriate that he would

Come at you with every thing I have.  You can take that as a threat.

Needless to stay, that comment fanned the flames of the media firestorm.  Soon to be retiring John Steward of the Daily Show came up with an incredible quote.

 Let’s face it, nobody watches Bill O’Reilly for the truth.

Of course, once the first allegations came out, there were plenty more to follow.  Not only does Mr. O’Reilly have his own television show on Fox News, but also has written plenty of best selling books regarding the deaths of famous people, including Lincoln, Kennedy, Patton and even Jesus.  I can say that I have read them all, and especially enjoyed Killing Lincoln, his first in the series.  Why this is important is that there was a part of Killing Kennedy in which O’Reilly states he was there in person for the suicide of George de Mohrenschildt, who was known to be friendly with Kennedy’s killer, Lee Harvey Oswald.  O’Reilly stated in the book that he was there in Florida knocking at the door when the man committed suicide.  The site, Media Matters, after some investigation speaking with many colleagues came to the conclusion that it was impossible that O’Reilly was in Florida at the time as he was working as a newspaper reporter in Dallas at the time.  It is thought that O’Reilly did travel to Florida after learning of the suicide to attempt to come up with some information, but that goes directly against what O’Reilly stated in his book.

What will come out of this, who knows?  However, taking such an offensive stance and threatening reporters probably isn’t the best strategy.  It makes you wonder if the floodgates will now open with other stories, not just about O’Reilly but other members of the news as well.  I will say that it causes me to want to question just about everything I see on the news at this point.

 

SNL 40 – An Incredible Trip Down Memory Lane

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I’ve been watching Saturday Night Live for as long as I can remember.  In all honesty, probably longer than my parents should have allowed me to.  Sunday’s three and a half hour spectacle was something I have been looking forward to for months.  To have a television show evolve over 40 years, and still stay relevant is quite the accomplishment.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect on the show, but when I read that it was going to be 3.5 hours, I knew I was going to be in for something special.

I honestly can’t think of another situation, in television, sports, or entertainment that could something like this could be accurately compared to.  You can people from the first cast in 1975 performing along side current cast members in skits and it just worked.  Its hard to even comprehend how difficult it must have been to write and produce not only a show of that length, but of that star power.  Afterwards it was said that Lorne Michaels continued to call all the shots, even on the 40th anniversary episode.  Even after 40 years, it seems as if Michaels is becoming more powerful with age.  He helped create the sitcom 30 Rock, and now produces both Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show, and Seth Myers on his Late Show as well, with each of those men being SNL alums.

The special aired on Sunday, February 15.  It went up against the NBA All-Star game, as well as The Walking Dead, was over three hours in duration, and still manage to draw in 23 million viewers, a truly staggering number.  There are many theories out there as to the reason behind the rating.  I like the thought of multi generations of people being able to sit in front of the television and remembering characters that were part of their youth.

As I’ve said in previous posts, my favorite part of Saturday Night Live has always been the music.  It seems as if SNL always seems to catch musical acts at the perfect time when they are just about to take off.  I’m sure it is more than difficult to try to cover 40 years of a television show, but I thought they did themselves an injustice by not showing some of the seminal music performances.  Whether it was the Rolling Stones in the 1970s, Nirvana, Sinead O’Connor, or even the Ashley Simpson lip syncing debacle, music has played such an integral role in the show that it would have been great if there was a bit more focus on it.

The only other downside of the evening was what took place with the long awaited return of Eddie Murphy to the SNL stage.  Eddies hasn’t been back in over 30 years, and when he agreed to be on the show, he was the most anticipated return.  Nobody knew if he would do one of his old characters, some standup jokes, or what.  After an amazing introduction by Chris Rock, Eddie seemed uncomfortable, said a few ‘thanks’, and quickly went to commercial.  News ended up breaking Thursday that Eddie was offered to play the Bill Cosby role in the ‘Celebrity Jeopardy’ skit.  This would have absolutely brought the house down, but you have to give some credit to Murphy, as he was quoted that he “didn’t want to kick a man while he was down”.

When it was all said and done, it was amazing show.  Many say the after party was even better.  It could be the best thing to happen to the current staff, as I know I’m hungry to build up new memories with the show in the now, that can maybe be relived at the 50th Anniversary Special.

Lifetime of Success Thrown Away?

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I have been quite intrigued by this story of Brian Williams from NBC Nightly news.  While everyone will agree that we absorb our news much differently now than we did 20 years ago, its no longer Walter Cronkite or Peter Jennings, but the person who reads us our nightly national news has always been the cornerstone of integrity.  For that reason, this story is just bizarre.

Brian Williams is a well put together, articulate cornerstone of the news for decades.  He is also quite funny.  What other news anchor has ever hosted Saturday Night Live?  He also hits the late night talk show circuit.  That is why it is mind blowing that he has now been suspended for six months by NBC due to fabricating a story regarding an helicopter attack in Iraq in 2003.  Williams claimed he was in the middle of an attack, and that his Chinook helicopter was shot multiple times.  In reality, his helicopter arrived after the fight was over.  When he said this in 2003, nobody thought too much of it.  However, he repeated the story on the David Letterman show in 2013, and then made reference to it early this month on the Nightly News.  The reference this month caused some people involved in that mission to come forward to state the story that Williams was putting out was inaccurate.  After that took place, the floodgates were opened.  It seemed that everything Williams has said his whole life has been questioned.  Whether if it was being robbed while selling Christmas trees, or seeing dead bodies in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, everything is now under scrutiny.

Williams did take the accusations head on and apologized to the viewers on the Nightly News on February 4.

It was only a couple of days later, that he decided to step away from the news desk, and Lester Holt would take over those duties.  Then just last night, it was announced that NBC has decided to suspend Williams for six months without pay for the “misremembering”.

The question now is whether or not this is the end of his career?  Let’s face it, our country is quite forgiving.  Whether it is Michael Vick with his dogfighting, or even former President Bill Clinton has his infidelities in the White House, if you show true remorse, our society has a tendency to grant forgiveness.  In this case however, I don’t see that happening.  People, rightfully so, take their news very seriously.  If you have someone delivering that news to you, and you are not sure what is coming out of their mouth is the actual truth, it is not only going to turn people off, but cause them to turn the channel.  This puts NBC into an interesting dilemma.  Brian Williams is the most well known working newscaster in the country, and a real asset to attract viewers and important advertising dollars.  When this six month suspension is over, will that asset have lost all of its value?  To say the least, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Free Speech Eroding?

Last week I wrote about considering getting a puppy.  I did finally decide to get a lab and have put down a deposit to get a little guy later in the year.  I couldn’t be more excited, and am reading plenty of books.  Even though I don’t have a pet right now, I would consider myself someone who likes animals.

I had to get that statement out of the way, because for the life of me, I cannot figure out the uproar of the Super Bowl commercial that GoDaddy was set to show this Sunday.  Budweiser has been teasing having a commercial this year featuring a puppy.  GoDaddy has always been edgy with their commercials.  Including two years ago when Bar Rafaeli passionately kissed a nerdy looking guy.  This year, GoDaddy wanted to poke a little fun at Budweiser and also feature a puppy in their commercial.  Here is the commercial below.

 

The commercial is obviously a satire making fun of the Budweiser campaign.  The amount of negative feedback online has caused GoDaddy to pull the commercial from their Super Bowl ad spot in which they paid millions upon millions of dollars to reserve.  Now, in no way shape or form do I support the idea of puppy mills breeding dogs in an inhumane manner.  Much has changed in the dog breeding business over the past 10-15 years.  No longer do you see the cute little puppy in the window at the pet store.  I respect that the SPCA wants all animals protected, but to cause so much of a stir online to force a company to not run their commercial seems to be a bit over the top.  In our new era of 24/7 news coverage, and user generated content like Twitter, FaceBook, or even this blog, if anything happens that strays from the status quo, the vilification begins almost immediately.

It worries me that because of the immediate feedback that now exists, if it may hamper new and exciting ideas.  I saw another Super Bowl commercial featuring Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel.  It pokes fun at them showing the pair in 1994 as to how naive they were as to what “the internet was”.

Its a neat commercial, but interesting how closed minded they were back then, and looking at our society today, I’m a bit worried that revolutionary ideas could be shot down because of someone on Twitter saying how terrible the idea is.  Let’s face it, America is the best country in the world.  We are given the right to free speech, and should respect people who may have different opinions from our own.  Humor is also an important part of our daily lives.  What GoDaddy did could be seen as controversial, but that is always the style of their advertisement.  The commercial was obviously done in jest, and to needle Budweiser while they were at it.  Its a shame that there solid attempt at humor was met with such harsh feedback that they had to pull the commercial.

 

Considering Getting a Puppy

I’ve never had a dog before, but I’m finally at a point in my life where I would like to have someone to jog with, play in the yard, and basically be a buddy.  I’ve been doing some research over the last few months at the various breeds, and since it would be my first dog, I want something not super powerful, but more mellow, happy go lucky.  As of today, I think I’m pretty set on getting a labrador retriever.  In researching, I’ve also found that there are now different colors of labs other than the standard black and yellow labs.

It seems there are now, chocolate, silver, charcoal and champagne.  Below is a good picture showing various colors.

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From left to right, the colors of the pups are chocolate, charcoal, black and silver.  From everything I have read, they all have the same labrador type attributes, its simply a cosmetic difference, but something that you don’t see very often.  Obviously bringing a puppy home would be a huge undertaking, and I work plenty of hours at Choice Home Warranty, but I have a great family who can keep an eye on the guy while I am at work.

Even though I haven’t pulled the trigger yet, I’ve spent way too many hours watching episodes of The Dog Whisperer.  If you haven’t seen the show, a Mexican immigrant named Cesar Millan helps out of control dogs.  Well, he actually says, ‘I rehabilitate dogs, I train humans’.  Training humans is right because its taught me how important it is to walk a dog to drain their energy.  A dog with drained energy is much less likely to misbehave around the house.  I’ve also read a few of Cesar’s books, so I think I’m just about ready to make a decision.

When looking for these interesting colors of labrador retrievers, I came across what appears to be a great breeder in rural Ohio.  The place is called Silver Mist Labradors and they have shipped their labs all over the world, so having one sent to New Jersey wouldn’t be the end of the world by any means.  Unfortunately it seems the wait time is pretty long to get a puppy from them right now.  Within the next 30 days, I am going to try to make a decision.  They say that dogs are a man’s best friend.   I am excited to find that out for myself.  I will update on the situation if I’m finally able to to take the plunge into the responsibility of owning a dog.

Updating Music Taste to the Present Millenium

In previous posts, I spoke of how I enjoy listening to older bands, such as Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam.  One thing I like to do on Sunday mornings is watch Saturday Night Live from the night before.  The show is now on its 40th season, and it has been a constant in my life since I was a teenager.  Yes, it has had its ups and downs, but at the same time, even when the sketches don’t work, you have to respect the cast doing everything they can to make it a success.  SNL also seems to introduce new music acts that go on to success each season.  I remember when Nirvana was on the show, I couldn’t wait to see them perform.

This past November 22, Bruno Mars performed with Mark Ronson (Ronson was announced first).  At the time, I didn’t quite understand it, as Bruno Mars recently hosted the show himself, and now he is back performing with someone I had never even heard of.  Well, they played a song called “Uptown Funk”, and it was one of the more original things I had seen in a while.  Mars danced and sang as if he was transported back to Motown, while Ronson stood to the side and beat on his guitar.  It was such a odd pairing, but the performance was electric.

After watching it, I wanted to figure out who this Ronson guy was.  He didn’t look like the standard 22 year old boy band type kid.  Turns out Ronson is pushing 40, was from the UK and has been a DJ, music producer and produced the late Amy Winehouse’s break through album “Back to Black“.  The guy has really worked his way up the ladder, the song, Uptown Funk is now #1 on the Billboard Music Chart.  He is on quite a roll, and the album that “Upton Funk” appears on, came out this week and is called “Uptown Special“.  I’m not one for new music, but I downloaded it on iTunes, and have listened to it at least five times since.  It contains a harmonica piece from legend Stevie Wonder, as well as many other artists and is overall a great listen.  What is even stranger to me is that this is not the type of music I listen to at all.  However, its encouraging to see someone a little later in life, at least in the music industry, break through and be recognized for creating something amazing.

It makes me wonder, with so many choices out there, whether music, movies, or any other form of entertainment, if we sometimes pigeonhole ourselves too much based on previous things we have enjoyed?  I certainly wasn’t seeking out music like this, but it struck a nerve with me and I think it is going to cause me to wipe the dust off of my old guitar this weekend, and see if I can figure out some of Marc Ronson’s great new songs.

 

Holiday Season & The Boss

The holiday season is now in full swing. It seems as if it really snuck up on my this year. Last week we had our annual holiday party for Choice Home Warranty.  Its always refreshing to see our team outside of their normal environment at work. Let’s face it, work can be hectic, stressful, and while it can be rewarding, its also great to see people let their guard down. I also love hearing what people are up to when they are not in the office, and learning about their families. It was a great time, and already looking forward to planning next year.

There is one situation that I wanted to discuss. I’m not sure how many people watched the RED concert in Times Square on the first of the month, where U2 (minus Bono) came out and they had Chris Martin from Coldplay, and Bruce Springsteen front the band due to Bono being injured in a bicycle accident. I love music and and big fans of both U2 and The Boss, but I have to say, I wasn’t uber impressed with the results.

I’m not sure what to make of the performances.  You would think it would be a huge deal to have two of the biggest singer songwriters of the last 30 years come out and sing for the band that has probably had the most world wide appeal since the Beatles.  All that said, I think I probably have more respect for Bono after this.  While Bruce has a very distinctive voice, it just didn’t seem to mesh with the songs they picked for him.  Bono is an amazing performer, and was interesting to see both Martin and Springsteen not quite live up to Bono’s stage presence.  I can’t exactly remember seeing anything quite like this before.  I know at the Grammys they often put stars together to play a medley of sorts, but a full set of someone singing another band’s music, is rather unprecedented.  I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t a larger deal, but hopefully we will see more experiments like this in the future.

Happy Holidays to everyone and their families!!

Fun New Project

As we go through life, we have our jobs, our family, as well as everything else, and sometimes things pass you by.  I thought it would be fun and rewarding to create a blog of sorts where I could write about present activities and look back years from now to see where I was at that time in my life.

To give a little background, I am Victor Mandalawi, and am the President of Choice Home Warranty, here is Edison, New Jersey.  It has an exciting last few years for CHW as we have been listed by Inc Magazine as part of their Inc 5000 over each of the last three years as one of the fastest growing small businesses in the country.  We recently just expanded our call center, and are quickly approaching 100 employees.  I can say with complete certainty that we wouldn’t have even been in consideration for for Inc. Magazine list if it wasn’t for the unbelievable staff we have put together.  I can’t thank them enough for their tireless work day in and day out.

Besides putting time in at work (of which I unfortunately put too much), I love rooting for my favorite hockey team, our New Jersey Devils.  After winning the Stanley Cup in 2000 & 2003, we are ready for another one.  We are having a rough go of it this year, but it is something special to go see a game this year.  The look on the face of everyone on the new introductions before the puck drops is amazing.  They are able to use imagery in a way where it appears as if the ice breaks apart, turns into flames, and many other things.  Its worth even looking at a video of it.

New Jersey Devils: 2014 Pre-Game Projections from Quince Imaging on Vimeo.

I know they are working hard to put a team in place to relive those glory days of ten years past.

I also enjoy cheering for the Rutgers football team.  Its going to take some getting used to watching the Scarlett Knights in the Big 10, but I know its a good home for them.

I’m also a big music fan, but prefer older bands, such as the Rolling Stones, Metallica and Pearl Jam.  I was fortunate enough to see Pearl Jam this year at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and it was an incredible night with the boys playing for over three hours.

Over the next weeks, months and hopefully years, I will continue to add to this blog with my thoughts on any subjects that I have interest in, and hope you come back for the ride.

-Vic