29 March 2008

Customer Service Report

If you or a loved one are contemplating buying from Sears or sears.com, you might want to read this first -- and think carefully about your expectations for short- and long-term customer service.

Retailing must be a terrible business these days. I have written about book stores, and in general the issue of how small stores can and should compete with so-called "big box" super-sellers is a complicated one. But there is nothing like having a massive, nationwide retailer like Sears make such a hash of its own product sales systems that it cannot answer a question from the average consumer about which parts go with which products.


UPDATE: Sears responded to - and largely resolved - my issue.

26 March 2008

No R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The arc of my interest in Amy Winehouse was fairly straightforward, beginning with the elemental appeal of the songs on Back to Black, which a friend encouraged me to listen to; working its way through the news of her drug use and erratic behavior; using that news as a trigger to dismiss Ms. Winehouse’s broader musical relevance; and then an almost grudging acceptance that this album, those songs, and her voice are more than just the latest pop music phenomenon.

Or at least, I hope she’s not just a phenomenon. That same friend recently called Ms. Winehouse the “the Janis Joplin of our time” – and while the jury is still out on that statement, we should all hope for her sake that this was not intended to suggest an untimely, drug-induced death, a scenario still (sadly) imaginable.

Reading Sasha Frere-Jones’ recent piece (“Amy’s Circus”) in The New Yorker was another reminder to me of how pervasive is this grudging acceptance of Ms. Winehouse’s talent. Frere-Jones describes dropping Ms. Winehouse’s first album, Frank, into the trash after listening, to indicate (with what seems a dollop of unnecessary melodrama, if you ask me) distaste. I own Frank, too, and I would agree it lacks the intensity and energy that makes Back to Black so damn good – but I have hardly thrown away my CD.

The drug use and general craziness – the circus, to borrow Frere-Jones’ term – are perhaps not good indicators of musical longevity, especially if one judges Ms. Winehouse against the likes of Britney Spears or other pop music forces-of-nature who have managed to wind down their careers and music sales in a corrolary spiral of drugs, alcohol, and misbehavior. Except that comparing Ms. Winehouse to anyone else in that pop music crowd is unfair: where their songs (catchy beats notwithstanding) are mass-produced, lyrically light pablum ... Back to Black is a package of incisively smart, witty lyrics paired with an effective musical updating of older (but still very appealing) R&B and soul styles, and supported by a voice that is powerful, compelling, and capable of subtlety, too.

Ms. Winehouse’s future is her own to make – as is the degree to which she moves from phenomenon to permanent force in contemporary music.

18 March 2008

Winning Wine

Congratulations to Malcolm Nicholls and his award-winning Pinot Noir 2005 Santa Maria Valley: Gold medal winner in the San Francisco Chronicle's 2008 Wine Competition, $35-and-over Pinot Noir category!

Check out Nicholls Wine here: http://www.nichollswine.com/

More on the Wine Competition here and here.

And don't miss the great Kammy Roulner cartoon on the bottle!

16 March 2008

Murder Mystery

Need good new music? Take a listen to Murder Mystery's album Are You Ready for the Heartache Cause Here it Comes! (Downloadable through the band's MySpace page or on iTunes, or purchase the CD through Insound.com.)

In a review last month, the Village Voice called them "a pop band with a soul and a brain," which sounds about right to me. The Voice cites Nick Lowe, The Magnetic Fields, or the Talking Heads as influences; I also hear The Kinks and The Strokes. Maybe they're all in there - or maybe Murder Mystery is just very much its own thing. Either way, they deserve a hearing.

And for entertainment, you can also watch this kooky, not-authorized-by-the-band video of their song Love Astronaut on YouTube.