Friday, February 07, 2003
Corporate Music Criticism: Send in the Clones

Two weeks after an interview I had with a particular "celebrity" was published, my publisher forwarded an odd e-note from a person I don't know who said he'd read the article. Why that person felt the urge to write to me was not easily understandable, as the article itself was genuinely forgettable. But his tone was phoney-friendly on the surface like a telemarketers, and soon became superior and quibblesome. While that reader wanted to strut his stuff and joust intellectually [maybe even be a smart ass] over word usage, it was obvious he took real offense in some way.

He said he thought I had done the interview subject a great disservice by not mentioning all the early buzz that publicity engines had generated that had him labeled as the hottest thing coming out of England [this was back before fifty percent of the world's current population was born]. And then, like an overtorqued control freak, he went on to tell me what I should have written instead, how exactly I should have said it, and quite naturally concluded that would have made for a good article. He closed his email by saying he didn't understand anything that the interview subject had gone on about, either.

[I must say here, that last complaint is not my fault, that's how the guy talked and there simply weren't any nuggets in the pan.]

As that reader was also moaning I hadn't provided adequate coverage of the new record, I emailed him back and invited him to write a review.

Well, obviously the fellow who wrote in to complain regards himself as a smart and seasoned cookie [clue: he quibbles about definitions when he begins debate] and frankly a humble hack such as I should be honored he deigned to send me his comments at all. Because his considered email was like "free advice" coming from a person of professional standing, assuming of course someone wasn't actually paying him for his time, that is. He works at his own "image consulting" firm, one that at the time he wrote to me had some corporate arm (leg, foot, or other appendage) of United Way as a client. If a client has an image problem, he can fix it.

Understandable, that, as United Way in general is in serious need of an image uplift even now, years after their chairman was caught with his, um, hand in the till. United Way I suspect would prefer everyone forget about that particular incident, which dragged their carefully crafted corporate-philantrophic image straight into the sewer with him. During the course of responsible reporting about that noxious event, which after all only exposed the seedy underbelly and mindset of some cultural subsets, the press among other things revealed the overblown extravagant salaries and pension funds these people granted themselves.

I happened to remember I've only mentioned United Way once in a public way; my comments were posted in a forum that deals with media issues [I'll update the sidebar soon].

United Way also happens to be a charity the celebrity (see above) had loaned his own image to during the years of the playboy philanthropic chairman (see below), but such coincidence is rampant in the world of some corporate music management houses.

I'm sure glad now I didn't mention the other articles about the United Way chairman in my original comments, the ones that alleged he made use of hookers, uh, models in Florida to soften up prospective corporate donors. I mean, I could have rightly been a lot more honestly outraged and vicious in my direct remarks, and totally unlike corporate cloneboys, hiding their marble sized mouse balls behind layers of corporate veils to toss oblique lobs.

This is exactly what I said about United Way in print:

the benefit of local charities

Any individual loss can be disastrous to a family or a community. When many people are lost, this has a tremendous longterm impact on the community. Almost everyone can imagine what would happen to our town or city if 4,000 people were suddenly swept away. That in part might be why so many people responded so generously.

Of course it can be disheartening when looking at the way that major charities malfunction when they promise so much. That's true even in the best of times. United Way, for instance, is quite adept at soliciting funds in major drives from large groups of people -- employees in unions, universities, corporations, municipal and state bureaucracies. United Way in being designated an approved charity makes donations easier for the worker through automatic payroll deductions.

People enter into this with the best of intentions. Remember that Americans are very generous people and 90% give to some form of charity yearly. The majority of the people donating are on the bottom of the pay scale pyramid because that's the nature of the economic pyramid. Nevermind the fact that most people don't qualify to even deduct their charitable expenses on their state or federal income tax forms.

I remember seeing some paycheck stubs from a lowly clerk who because of the high cost of living in that area donated what she could actually afford -- $3 deducted from her takehome pay and donated to United Way coffers each biweekly pay period. Multiply that $3 by 26 weeks and she had donated a sizable amount to a single charity that year, a form of giving which she may have continued. Somehow that adds up to more in my mind than the donation from those mid-level employees with much higher earnings, who would offer a splashy single check of $50 or $100 as a one time deal.

The United Way national chairman within a few years was prosecuted for stealing, embezzling, skimming, um, misappropriating some $600,000 that year (all that could be traced and accounted for) to pay for lavish resort condos, liquor, and a mistress. To justify all that highscale living he might not be willing to pay for from his own six digit annual salary, he claimed these were necessary expenses in order to soften up prospective corporate donors. The United Way chapter in the state where I lived sued to have their 10% administrative fees returned.

Soon, a Good Will manager in California was exposed for skimming for just a year or two, and had walked away with close to a million dollars that was never recovered. There are sadly more stories like that, and they are always shocking and outraging when the people get found out. That's because most people are honest. When the people in charge of the charities forget their real duty -- they've betrayed everyone. This is in no way meant to bash the real do-gooders. But who can't help but remember the times when the charities were less than golden in their actions, especially when they ask us to give again. Once bitten, twice shy. And the truth of it is, a lot of these major corporate charities are much less than gracious when either on the receiving or giving end.

I find myself believing the old saying that charity begins at home. Lately, I like the idea of giving to the charities that have a tried and true record in my area. I'm lucky to have a decent press in town that keeps track of such organizations, and I trust what they have to say about this. These groups get either none or are allotted a very small amount from the big charities like United Way for example because United Way has so many charities to support under their umbrella. I feel my charity dollar here in the community has more strength.

I also remember a great story about someone who grew up in a struggling household many years ago and would not have eaten were it not for the bags of groceries delivered by a charity. He grew up to become a business executive, making a bundle when he sold his business. He created a charitable trust and now runs a philanthropic foundation, where he personally reads every request that comes in and they give out many millions every year on a case-by-case basis. If he hadn't learned about the goodness of giving early on, he might have turned out differently. In other words, you never can tell who might be on the receiving end this time around.

11-26-2001 01:08 AM [date and time of post]

Reading through that again, now what was so bad about what I said?

Yes, this is a long and boring post, if you've got this far, but that's what it's like dealing with any aspect of the corporate world, especially corporate music criticism.

Late Breaking News: 2/9/03, the United Way Polo Pony Scandals and more

Sounds like this year's United Way Robin Hood ad campaign has really backfired. Wow, I didn't know the national CEO and two other officials stole from the charity to finance their trips to exotic foreign places, too, like "boat rides down Egypt's Nile River, and assorted other high-living -- some with teenage female companions." Did you? Sounds like whoever dreamed up that trip watched too many '80s music videos.

Unbeknownst to me when I made my original post, another United Way official just had a day in court for embezzling millions of United Way's dollars to buy herself a string of polo ponies.


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