Music – The Jersey Connection

The Gaslight Anthem

I’m not sure whether it is fate, a pure coincidence or the influence of Little Steven’s show, but some of my favourite musical influences in recent years have been from New Jersey. There is much more to the state than The Sopranos and Jersey Shore.

Little Steven

I got to Little Steven via Javi, a Spanish friend. I was crashing at his place for a week and The Underground Garage show was running on one of my friend’s favourite radio stations. Little Steven was a guitarist with Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street band. He was replaced by Nils Lofgren (another one of my favourite artists) on the band in the ’70s but nowadays he has one of the best rock’n’roll radio shows available. You can listen to the show on a weekly basis on his site. You need to register, but it is completely free of charge and gives you access to all the shows in the archive (about 500 of them!) They offer an insight into music like no other. This guy was there when music was still at its rawest. He hung out with legends and manages to secure interviews with the Gods of music on a regular basis.

The Gaslight Anthem

If there is one thing I am eternally grateful to Little Steven for, it is The Gaslight Anthem. He played American Slang in two consecutive shows, and I looked them up but thought nothing more of it. The next week I was researching a festival I was going to (Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park, London). I saw they were playing there and was over the moon. I wasn’t disappointed – in fact I now listen to all their material a couple of times a week at the very least. They are currently recording their fourth (full-length) album, which should be out this year.

The Gaslight Anthem: American Slang

Bruce Springsteen

The Gaslight Anthem hit the big time when The Boss unexpectedly joined them on stage at a concert. He loves their music and has supported them heavily along their way to success. I, on the other hand, arrived at Bruce Springsteen via The Gaslight Anthem. I was always aware of his music, but was never a big fan. I could not see past a couple of his big hits. When I got into his albums, however, I found that there is a lot of depth in his lyrics.

The Horrible Crowes

The Horrible Crowes are the dark and mellow side-project of Brian Fallon, the Gaslight Anthem’s front-man. They take the emotional side of The Gaslight Anthem and remove the punk-like riffs and upbeat music to produce music which is drenched in emotion. Forget liking them on your first attempt at listening to their music. You will need to take it in slowly – one song at a time – to fall in love. Once you do, however, I can pretty much guarantee they will haunt you forever. Elsie, their debut album, was my favourite album from 2011.

The Horrible Crowes: Behold The Hurricane

And that, my friends, is the end of our short musical tour of New Jersey. That is what you get for living in the shadow of New York City and having your name shamed by crass TV shows.

This article is (#17 of 366 X 2012 project)

Vida – The Long Kiss Goodbye

A couple of weeks ago I wrote my last editorial for Vida, a magazine I set up in June 2009 and published first in January 2010. Those 30 months were one heck of a roller coaster ride in which I learned a lot from every person I came in contact with.

Vida was an ambitious project by any standard, and the only reason I felt I could leave it peacefully because I had accomplished what I had originally set out to achieve. The brief from my employers in the very beginning seemed simple enough: to create a medium which can be accessed by everyone in the country. 162,000 copies were to be distributed for free to every household monthly – but getting it through the letterbox was the easy bit. We had to make people pick it up, read it and engage. We wanted readers to love it and look forward to the next issue. We had to transcend the (virtual) barriers of age, education, social standing, religion and politics.

In the first year I met a lot of people who told me they thought we were doing a good job. I was always happy to hear praise for the publication, however I always had my doubts about it since all the kind words were coming directly to me. People tend to be too nice that way, and there were issues I could have pointed out myself that few ever commented about.

I was creating a product with which I also had to attract people who do not buy (or read) magazines usually, people I had so very little in common with. Truth be told, by the end of it I was creating a magazine that I wouldn’t have picked up myself. A magazine that even had to captivate the portion of the nation which is usually glued to the TV. This was the hard part.

There is much more to it than choosing the right variety of subject matter. You need to write in a language that will not be missed by casual readers but at the same time it had to be one that would not alienate people who wished to dig deeper.

In the six months I spent researching before coming out with the first issue I looked at a lot  of the more popular magazines out there and analysed what made readers tick. I also tried to imagine what kind of reader would most likely pick our magazine up and did my very best to create a setup that would cater for the main groups of readers we would most likely have.

We did it without selling our souls though, and together with my colleagues I made a promise not to “buy” attention by going down one of the two easy routes. We committed ourselves to avoiding stories which were sensational for the sake of it, and to never cover gossip stories about personalities or celebrities.

Did we really make it interesting? We found out in December that year. We printed the first twelve issues of Vida in Italy because there wasn’t a web-offset printer set up in Malta at the time. December 2010 was the month in which most of Europe froze over, our truck missed the collection of the magazine by a day, which in turn meant we missed the next ship to Malta and received the magazine a week late. We could not handle the phone calls we received that week. People from all over the island were calling us to ask why they had not received Vida. Sometimes you just need a mini-tragedy to realise what a good thing you have going on.

A year later I wrote my farewell editorial. It might seem strange to many that I left my post so quickly, however there were a lot of personal reasons to do so. First of all I had always worked in publishing and it was time for a change. I am now working in marketing with GFI (a US software company).

The number of things I have learned in the past six months has been mind-boggling. I am working in a job where I have quite a few amazing people to look up to for directions, which means I can learn much more in the long run. Working at Vida for the foreseeable future would have been the easy option, but it would have meant that I would eventually get stuck in a rut – something I want to avoid at all costs. In publishing I didn’t have a boss, I learnt everything by trial and error and had no one to refer to when I had a dilemma.

Saying bye is never easy, and the fact that I was leaving something I created from scratch made it even harder, however now I am in a situation where I earn my keep working in a job where I have so much to learn and I can further develop myself in while writing and photographing whatever I feel like in my spare time. I can’t complain.

P.S. I wish the new (acting) editor, Sarah Micallef, the best of luck – Vida is lucky to have such a formidable person replacing me.

(#2 of 366 X 2012 project)

366 X 2012

There are quite a few daily photography challenges going on around the interwebs. I know that there are quite a few writing ones too, but I have never seen a hybrid. This year I want to force myself to publish a photo or a proper blog post/ article at least once a day. Sometimes I might even do both.

Practice, they say, makes perfect – and I need lots of it for my writing and photography if I am ever to be considered decent in any of the fields.

I find it easier to write than take (good) photos, so I am going to have a hard time convincing myself to keep a healthy ratio going. To balance this out I also aim to be stricter on my written contributions than I am on my photography ones.

I earn my keep writing, and have done so for years – so I will need to push myself to improve my grammar and style, but the real challenge is to inject a viral aspect. The target is to write content that is worth sharing and commenting on.

Initially I thought of setting myself a minimum word count, but even though I have a target in mind (around 400w,) I will not commit to it for one simple reason – I want to experiment with more condensed writing too.

Just because I have done so forever, I shall write about anything that comes to mind. There are a few topics that are closer to heart than others, however I have a wide range of interests and like writing about any of them at any given time. I might write tutorials, interviews, opinion pieces and reviews. I have a particular affinity for travel writing, so that will feature quite heavily too.

Photography is a passion that I have had for years. I have had quite a few photos published in print, but that was mainly in publications I was involved in – which, to a certain extent, means I was cheating. I want to take photos that are impressive enough to stand out in their own right – and for them to stand out on Google+ they will need to be truly spectacular. If I manage to get just one amazing truly spectacular photo out of this challenge I will be satisfied.

I can sometimes go through very busy periods, so I am building in a loophole – I don’t need to create something new every day, but instead I will commit to creating something for every day, and every one of them must have been created in the year 2012. I will do my best to publish something every day though, and even when I’m abroad (and with no internet access) I plan on scheduling my blog to publish something daily. Publishing to my blog on schedule does have one drawback – I can’t link the posts to Google+, but it’ll have to do.

I have quite a few other targets for 2012, so let’s hope I can keep up with everything. I know I will give it my best shot.

This post officially counts as the #1 of 366

Photo of myself with the ever-so-lovely wife as we moved into 2012.
Photo of myself with the ever-so-lovely wife as we moved into 2012.

Stepping into the unknown

One of the things we tend to underestimate most in life is the importance of the people we have around us. There might be the obvious people who you find overtly rude and irritating, but it is far more dangerous when you are in the company of people who try to see the bad side of things, even if they themselves are generally nice people to be around.

I don’t know how to explain it – someone might be good fun and seem to be a generally happy person, however in the long run you realise that everything they touch must be approached from a negative aspect.

I had better move on quickly since I don’t want to be one of those people myself. Recently I have made some changes in my life which for a very long time seemed to be quite scary. I was not scared of the new challenge, however it meant moving out of my comfort zone by venturing into relatively uncharted territory.

My only regret now? Not having taken the leap of faith earlier.

The result is that I am spending much more time in a friendly atmosphere, learning new things and improving in various aspects of my life.

In reality it is similar to life on Google Plus. Even though it might seem stupid, the difference it has made to my life in its short history has been spectacular, and for this I would like to thank +Vic Gundotra, +Vincent Mo +Sergey Brin & the rest of the team for making it possible. It would also not be fair not to also show appreciation for +Trey Ratcliff +Mike Elgan +Guy Kawasaki +Tom Anderson+Angel Leon & +Jody Swaney (amongst many others) for making my stream so engaging.

Unfortunately a public forum is not really the ideal place to get into specifics about the other change, at least not yet, however I must thank one of my friends who told me something which resonated in my mind when taking the decision:

“The biggest risk in life is not taking any risks”

Even though it might sound like an idiosyncrasy, I believe that it is actually very true. I am still too conservative a person to take real big leaps into the complete unknown, however I really believe that if we take the plunge and push ourselves (even just slightly) beyond our comfort zone, we are usually rewarded.

Sailing trip results

The market at SiracusaNothing like a couple of days on a sailing boat to really set your mind thinking. Thanks to a very kind boss and by putting in a lot of extra hours in advance, I managed to take a day off work (in a very busy period) and spent four days on the family sailing boat (by combining the day off with a weekend and a public holiday).

In addition to visiting a city I considered to be a second home for most of my childhood (we had a sailing boat and used to spend most Summer weekends there), I also had a lot of time to sit and think – a luxury I do not really afford in day-to-day life.

The result should translate into a flurry of blog posts (I’ve neglected my blog for months) and a couple of long term projects to work on. The major challenge will now be to find the time to work on the long-term challenges. I can’t really make them public, however it should suffice to say that they could be life changing.

One (or a series of) the blog posts will be about the trip itself. Syracuse (in Sicily, not the US) is a city which oozes character and depicts life in Sicily wonderfully. I carried my camera constantly and the resulting photos seem promising.

Now I just need to keep the commitment to writing out the blog posts I have so well laid out in my mind – so I had better get cracking before I settle back into the daily routine which leaves little room for anything else.

Rightly So!

Welcome to this blog – I have no particular theme in mind for it, so for the time being I shall be writing about anything that catches my fancy. I’m a person of many interests – from photography to music, TV series to movies, books to magazines, cars, boats, pretty women and travel. Insert a healthy dose of fashion of sorts, football (soccer), dining out and financial news and you can already see that this blog will be all over the place.

Somewhere in between I might also be posting updates from my life at work, which includes photography, writing and meeting some very interesting people.

I shall not take any commitments with regards to frequency, so if anyone is actually reading this, please do not really worry when I go for months without writing a thing.