It’s time to move on, time to get goin’

So, readers know that I went out West this past weekend to visit colleagues at the University of Colorado, spend some thinking time at the southern Colorado ranchland endowed to us by the late PharmDad, and – most prominently – visit PharmMom and PharmStiefvater on the occasion of her 70th birthday. I’m extremely grateful to my wife, PharmGirl, MD, and the illustrious PharmKid for holding down the fort and handling the emotional and practical issues of the little genius starting 3rd grade on Monday.

When Mom told me she’d been following the aftermath of Pepsigate/sbfail, she asked, “So, what are you going to do about your blog?”

Yes, like Bora’s Mom, my Mom also reads my blog. And yes, my Mom is dialed into the unrest here at ScienceBlogs.

The weekend gave me some great opportunity to get back to my formative roots and have the clarity of the dry, high-country air where my brain seems to work a little better than the way it normally chugs along. I also won’t discount the soul-warming effect of sampling many bowls of New Mexican green chile.

As I watch so many of my friends leave ScienceBlogs, both for other venues and in holding patterns, I’ve asked myself about the purpose of remaining or leaving. One of the best parts of being at ScienceBlogs has been to form relationships with some incredible people, from great writers to great scientists, and often a mixture of the two.

My professional writer friends (you know who you are) were all uniformly kind in assuaging my concern that remaining here so long after the ethical breach of Pepsi buying their own blog did not necessarily mean that my own ethics were compromised. For your expert opinion, kind words, and supportive gestures, I am tremendously grateful.

And as has happened during much of my scientific career, some of the greatest guiding wisdom has come from a few British colleagues (I’ll name you if you’d like) who, again, I would not likely have come to know so well if not for writing at ScienceBlogs. The most useful advice was to not think about whether or not to leave ScienceBlogs but, rather, ask what I want the blog to be in a year or future years and where might I best achieve those goals.

Then my wife reminded me that she had been saying this all along.

Hence, the time has come for me to take leave from ScienceBlogs.

My reasons for doing so are manifold but you are certainly aware of my feelings regarding ScienceBlogs selling one of our competitive blogging slots to a multinational food and beverage company (here, here, and here).

I also won’t lie that while I was saddened to see all of my friends leave this network, it was the loss of Bora Zivkovic, PalMD, and Zuska that tilted me over the edge toward Bion’s Effect, so eloquently discussed the other day by Bora. Each of these people have become among my best friends – not just online friends but real life friends. Each has been a source of strength and encouragement and has in their own way helped me through various life challenges. They are not the only ones of my online community to do so, but their cluster of departures is a bellwether.

However, the primary reason for my leaving now is the thinking I’ve done about the future.

That future is not at ScienceBlogs.

I have to thank Katherine Sharpe because without her, I would not have been here for the last four years, one month, and thirteen days. Katherine was community manager of ScienceBlogs for the second round of bloggers who joined the original 14 hand-picked by Christopher Mims. After only five months of blogging at my old Blogger site, I received a letter of invitation from Ms. Sharpe (on my birthday!) to join ScienceBlogs. Others in that position have subsequently been a great influence – Virginia Hughes, Arikia Millikan, Erin Johnson – but Katherine will always have my gratitude, and respect for her own writing prowess, for seeing in my writing something that this larger audience might enjoy.

Even before the invitation, it was my surgical oncology colleague, Orac at Respectful Insolence, who encouraged me in this endeavor, gave me great advice on considering the invitation to join ScienceBlogs and, like Bora, linked to me very early at my Blogger site and gave me the early visibility that I believe caught Katherine’s eye. Orac has subsequently been a steadfast supporter with a multitude of links of a consistency paralleled only by the support of my family.

There remain today a core of people in whom I find mutual support and camaraderie both within and outside the ScienceBlogs platform (yes, outside SB who had never joined the network 🙂 ). The list would be too long to note here but the wisdom of Janet Stemwedel stands above all – and I think many of my colleagues would consider the same in their own cases. A member of the original ScienceBlogs class and my own daily read before the network existed, many of us considered Janet our den mother. As a fellow Garden State native, Janet was responsible for my Sb pledge name, “Exit 153A.”

In addition to Janet, my colleagues who are also women – Zuska, Tara Smith, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Alice Pawley, Anne Jefferson – (as well as PhysioProf, remarkably) have helped me understand my blind spots as a white man and learn what it really takes to be an ally in promoting and sustaining women in higher education and the academy. Their continuing liberal arts education is deeply appreciated.

DrugMonkey and my other neuropharmacology blogger colleagues have also been remarkably supportive in my dabbling with CNS pharmacology as a function of my broad interests and sense of responsibility in serving as an ambassador for natural products and the field of pharmacognosy.

But the most numerous thanks go to you – The Reader. Without you, there would be no thanking of anyone else. The referrals from my friends probably got you here but I am grateful that you find it valuable to spend five or 10 minutes here everyday (or every few days). Your lurking readership and/or participation in the discussions on our comment threads is what has made the Terra Sigillata community one of few places where you can get what I hope is straightforward, objective information on drugs – botanical, non-botanical, prescription, and over/under-the-counter – that guide you through a world so fraught with market-driven information across the spectrum from dietary supplements to, yes, prescription drugs.

And at home, I really must thank my wife, PharmGirl, MD and the outcome of what actually began as a scientific relationship, our daughter, PharmKid. Besides supporting me in this hobby that has become more serious over time, my wife was the first to believe in my intelligence and capability to communicate, thereby cultivating the confidence I needed to open my mind and keyboard to each of you. In many cases, the topics you read about here were seeded by late-night e-mail referrals during her bouts of insomnia. She knows the topics that motivate me and, just as she can pick off a new restaurant menu what I will order, she knows what stories will coax me into a post for you.

While I am obviously grateful for my scientific colleagues and writers within and outside my field who come to read, I am especially indebted to those of you who are not scientists but who come here to learn and ask questions, maybe even be empowered in your own health or in pursuing your own future directions. Preaching to the choir certainly has value in galvanizing the science communication community. However, I can’t think of a single science blogger who doesn’t view this exercise as a form of outreach – to share and demonstrate to our constituents, the humble taxpayers, that what we are charged to do for world health is well-spent and communicated in an objective and approachable manner.

Come to think of it, my time at ScienceBlogs has been nearly the very same four-plus years it took to complete my Ph.D. work at the University of Florida, largely funded for by the taxpayers of that state. Gainesville was also home to Tom Petty and most of the members of his band even today, The Heartbreakers. Their song on Wildflowers was the inspiration of the title of this farewell post (but I prefer the version covered by my musical mentor I spoke of Saturday, Jon Shain, on his previous album, Army Jacket Winter.

It’s time to move on, it’s time to get goin’
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, grass is growin’
It’s time to move on, it’s time to get goin’

And, indeed, I have no immediate plans to do anything but take up a simple WordPress blog at So, please update your links and RSS feed accordingly as that’s where I have also archived all 1,167 posts written since 9 June 2006. I’ll also contribute on occasion to Science-Based Medicine but probably only on a monthly or bi-weekly basis.

Of course, venturing into the great wide open gives me the “nauseous adrenaline” Petty cites therein.

So if anyone wants to procure the services of an able farmboy, contact me via Gmail at abelpharmboy and we’ll set for a spell out on the front porch and discuss propositions over a couple of tall glasses of iced sweet tea.

In the meantime, I hope y’all will excuse me.

It’s time to get goin’.

07.17.10 Sunset on East Spanish Peak.jpg

The setting sun provides contrast on the faces of East Spanish Peak as taken from a little piece of heaven in Huerfano County, Colorado, 17 July 2010. Photo ©2010 by the blog author.

What does it take to knock off K2 Spice readership?

Just the other day, I wrote about how DrugMonkey and I have experienced unprecedented and sustained blog traffic for posts we wrote in February on K2 Spice, one of a couple of marijuana-like “incense” products still sold legally in the United States.
Every morning, I dial up my SiteMeter blog statistics and take a look at what posts readers first land upon when coming to visit the humble world headquarters of Terra Sigillata.
Last week, 2,700 to 2,800 of the 4,000 most recent hits were landing on our February K2 Spice post. (You will also note below the sad state of my readership in that posts on Stiff Nights erectile dysfunction supplement and Horny Goat Weed products are the next most popular direct hits.)
Finally, one post has knocked it out of the top spot after nearly four months:
Monday’s post about the memorial unveiling of the gravestone for Henrietta Lacks this past weekend.
Henrietta Lacks knocks off K2 Spice.jpg
I have been completely overwhelmed by the interest in this story. This widespread attention would not be possible without the Facebook and blog referrals by author Rebecca Skloot, The New York Times Science page, and the enthusiastic Twitter referrals by other writers who I respect greatly such as David Dobbs, Sara Goforth, Mike Rosenwald, T. DeLene Beeland, Ted Winstead, scribbler50, Eric Ferreri, – as well as the dozens of you sci/med bloggers and folks from other walks of life who found this post worthy of recommending to your friends.
Please accept my apologies if you were not mentioned by name – I don’t have Bora Zivkovic’s flair for aggregating and linking to every referral but you have my gratitude for further popularizing the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family.
And for those of you so inclined, here are images of the memorial program that weren’t included in the last post:

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Postdoc precipitates DNA, exposes Colorado Rockies logo ripoff to Woody Paige

Last Monday marked 17 years since Eric Young led off the first Colorado Rockies baseball game with a home run that triggered a collective, mile-high orgasm for the 80,227 spectators gathered in the old Denver football stadium.

The advent of the expansion Rockies also launched a Pharmboy laboratory birthday celebration week tradition marked by two days off: one for a lab ski day in the high country followed later in the week with a Rockies game and the finest handcrafted ale offered by Denver’s Wynkoop Brewery. I was reminded of this by my Twitter buddy, Mike Smith (@M1k303) who taunted me a couple of days ago with this picture from Loveland Pass during his trip to Arapahoe Basin.

The beauty of Denver at this time of year is that many ski areas are still open and often get considerable fresh snow. However, the prices drop by 50%, enabling a then-young assistant professor to treat the lab to lift tickets. But down in Denver, one could often wear shorts for baseball’s opening week. Uhh, you still had to prepare for snow down there as well, but never mind.

The Youngstown Connection
In the summer of 1991, said assistant professor was still a postdoctoral fellow and the announcement of the Denver Major League Baseball franchise was tarnished by a bit of a pissing match among the ownership team that became known as The Colorado Baseball Partnership. In 1990, Denver voters had passed a 0.1 sales tax increase for construction of a new baseball stadium if the city was awarded one of the two new National League expansion teams first proposed in 1985.

But putting the money together to launch the team was a bit of a problem. Then-Governor Roy Romer called a meeting of parties interested in joining the leadership team and, if I recall correctly, said that he asked those gathered, “What’s your name and how much money do you have?”

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Barry Yeoman’s “Green-Collar Work Plan” excerpted in new issue of Utne Reader

Sitting back today looking at news and webcams in my former home of Colorado had me also reflecting on the events that conspired to put me in North Carolina. This unexpected turn in my life also opened me up to a local community of remarkably creative people with national and international reputations in their respective fields.
One of these people whom I am fortunate to call a local hero is journalist Barry Yeoman. Barry was described in the Columbia Journalism Review as, “(One of) the best unsung investigative journalists working in print in the United States…. Yeoman specializes in becoming a part of his subjects’ lives; he works hard to dispel the image of the parachute journalist who drops in, grabs the story, and runs.”
Utne Jan-Feb 2010.jpgConsistent with that description, Barry recently wrote an article for Audubon magazine on the real-life potential for economic and workforce revitalization by expansion of the green industry. “Green-Collar Work Plan” has now been picked up in excerpted form for the January-February 2010 issue of Utne Reader. Barry’s article is one of four focusing on the cover theme: how to benefit financially in the green economy.
The article describes the turnaround in Newton, Iowa, from loss of laundry appliance maker Maytag then expands to a cross-country assessment of reharnessing manufacturing and other blue-collar expertise for the renewable energy industry. For all the warm fuzzies many of us get about solar energy, windfarms, and biodiesel, folks with the big bucks are only going to invest in an industry that is economically viable. Yeoman tells an engaging story, with several cases where it is working, and weaves in facts of which I was previously unaware.

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Interview with Dr Ada Yonath, a 2009 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry

Last week in Stockholm (and Oslo), the 2009 Nobel Prize winners were gloriously hosted while giving their lectures and receiving their medals and diplomas. In Chemistry this year, the Nobel was shared by Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A Steitz, and Ada E Yonath for their studies on the structure and function of the ribosome, a remarkable nucleoprotein complex that catalyzes the rapid, coordinated formation of peptide bonds as instructed by messenger RNA. My post on the day of the announcement in October was designed to counter the inevitable (and now realized) criticisms that the prize was not for “real” chemistry.
Thumbnail image for BallE09_5253g.jpgOnly ten days later, we in the NC Research Triangle area were very fortunate to host Dr Yonath at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center for the Symposium on RNA Biology VIII, sponsored by The RNA Society of North Carolina.
Among the many noteworthy speakers was Dr Greg Hannon from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a scientist who some feel was overlooked for the 2006 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology, one where Andrew Fire and Craig Mello were recognized for RNA interference and gene silencing.
NC Biotech’s Senior Director of Corporate Communication, Robin Deacle, kindly invited me to an audience with Dr Yonath and two science reporters following Dr Yonath’s lecture. As you might suspect, I was quite honored to visit for awhile with the woman who defied the naysayers and successfully crystallized a bacterial ribosome, then used X-ray crystallography to determine its structure below three angstroms resolution. The fact that she also used natural product antibiotics to stabilize ribosomal structure added to my magnitude of admiration.

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ScienceOnline2010: Be there or be rhomboidal

A couple of four years ago, a few dudes I just met around town had this idea to bring together a few bloggers who write about science. One was Anton Zuiker and the other was Bora Zivkovic, also known as Coturnix or He-Whose-Mind-Teh-Intertubes-Pass-Before-Going-Out-To-The-World. Anton also has a title, bestowed upon him by News & Observer columnist Dan Barkin back in 2007:

He’s a quiet visionary. He’s a low-key doer. He’s a let’s-get-together-and-see-where-this-goes guy. It’s the Zuikers of this new, interwoven world who may play a significant role in determining how far Web 2.0 goes from being a sociable network to a social force.

With two other visionaries, Paul Jones and Brian Russell, the tradition began in 2007 of gathering on a chilly North Carolina January weekend to talk about all things online in science communication.
I had no idea that these four boys are known internationally for their work online, especially Prof Paul Jones for his founding of as an offshoot of UNC SunSITE, “one of the first electronic repositories on the Internet to incorporate emerging networked information discovery and retrieval tools.”
I, on the other hand, just stumbled upon these guys in coffee shops and grocery co-ops around town. If Sedona, Arizona, is thought by metaphysical folks as dense with energy vortices, then the Research Triangle area of North Carolina is some sort of bloggy, online vortex.
As a result, I’ve come to know literally hundreds of you all around the world who share the enthusiasm and gifts for using these media to promote various professional activities, secondary and higher education, and the general public understanding of science. For this, my life has been enriched immensely.
Brother Coturnix has now put up information that we’re about to do it again. Go forth and read as he surprisingly has all the links to pertinent information. I’ll be there and am working on a session to honor Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, on whose weekend of honor this conference has been held – we’ll do something along the lines of online communication about health disparities, bioethics, and social justice.
I hope to see you there.

Tom Levenson Fan Boi Day: Hear Him With Ira Flatow On ScienceFriday

Levenson Newton bookcover.jpgJust a quick note to dial up Ira Flatow’s Science Friday show on NPR today at 3 pm EDT. Supporting information and the archived show can be found here.
Guy-who-I-would-kill-to-be, Tom Levenson, will be on with Ira to speak about his new book, Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist.
Here is also a link to other appearances Professor Levenson will be having related to the book.
For those of you who don’t know Thomas Levenson, he is currently a Professor, Interim Program Head, and Director of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But he is much, much more than that:

Professor Levenson is the winner of the Peabody Award (shared), New York Chapter Emmy, and the AAAS/Westinghouse award. His articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe, Discover, The Sciences. Winner of the 2005 National Academies Communications Award for Origins.

Among his lesser known honors, Dr Levenson’s essay, Chateau D’Yquem: Because It’s There, was selected to appear as a Friday Fermentable feature at the Terra Sigillata science blog. And, in all seriousness, Tom writes his own always-excellent musings at The Inverse Square Blog.
Finally, there is no other reason for the following photograph other than my pitiful need to associate with extremely accomplished writers:

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WSJ Health Blog and NYT ‘Well’ Tie for 2nd Place in AHCJ Excellence Online

Just a quick note of congratulations to friends of Terra Sig (FOTS, if you will) on earning 2008 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism from the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ).

FIRST: M.B. Pell, Jim Morris and Jillian Olsen, Center for Public Integrity, “Perils of the New Pesticides”
SECOND (tie): Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, The “Well” blog
SECOND (tie): Scott Hensley, Jacob Goldstein and Sarah Rubenstein, The Wall Street Journal Online, The Wall Street Journal Health Blog
THIRD: Randy Dotinga, Voice of San Diego, “Suicide Magnet” [Part I, Part II]

You’ll recognize Scott Hensley as the subject of my post the other day on his departure from the WSJ for greener pastures (I almost spelled it, “pasteurs.”), leaving the blog in the hands of Jacob and Sarah.
Tara Parker-Pope, formerly of The Wall Street Journal and now at the NYT, is an avid reader of many blogs in the network and has linked to us on occasion – even responding to comments.

The awards will be presented at a luncheon April 18 at Health Journalism 2009 in Seattle. Princeton University health policy expert Uwe Reinhardt will be the keynote speaker.

Continuing in the “I Can’t Believe My Life Happens to Me” files, I ran into Uwe Reinhardt at Duke two years ago when he was trying to find a Board of Trustees meeting – we ended up sitting down over coffee where he gave me a personal tutorial on health care economics and the quality-adjusted life year (QALY). A complete gentleman and amazingly clear instructor of this health policy-challenged blogger who had no idea who Reinhardt was until I Googled him afterward.
Back to the matter at hand: I congratulate all of our online health communications colleagues, of course, but especially those who have been our supporters through the years.
h/t @ivanoransky

Science Blogger Panel in Duke’s “Science in the Media” Class

I had the happy pleasure of visiting on Friday with Sheril Kirshenbaum and Bora Zivkovic for a panel discussion in a course at Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy.
Sheril and Bora laugh.jpg
Directed by Dr Misha Angrist, PubPol 196S “Science in the Media” is described in the course catalog as follows:

Those who write about science, health and related policy matters for a general audience face a formidable challenge: to make complex, nuanced ideas understandable to the nonscientist in a limited amount of space and in ways that are engaging and entertaining, even if the topic is far outside the reader’s frame of reference. This is even more difficult in a time when acute financial and political crises tend to dominate the ever-shrinking print journalism universe. What, if anything, can writers do to get people to care about science? What does good science writing look like and what can we hope to get from it as readers and as citizens?
We will examine different modes of science writing, different outlets for publication, and the peculiar editorial demands each places on the writer. We will consider multiple narrative approaches and various traps into which science writers may fall. Our first goal is to read broadly and deeply with particular attention to science stories as told by the best practitioners in the field. Our second goal is to write: about what we’ve read, about scientists we’ve talked to and the science they do, and about the meaning of it all to a public that is simultaneously bombarded by, fascinated with and alienated from science.

(We featured Misha Angrist here last November when the local press covered his participation in George Church’s Personal Genome Project.)
Sheril cracks us up.jpg
Bora 145 px.jpgAbout a dozen students, many on their way to graduate school asked us questions ranging from how Bora got started blogging and developed such a comprehensive handle on the science blogosphere to how Sheril uses her scientific training to communicate policy and write books. Bora tells a moving story of how he left a warring Yugoslavia and translated his equestrian expertise into a career in research and, now, science communication.
Other areas of focus were how one develops a voice and reputation in the blogosphere, with or without a pseudonym (including how a pseudonym might have helped Sheril when an overzealous reader showed up at her building). The discussion also touched on whether practicing scientists have an obligation for public outreach about their work, perhaps via blogs, especially given the accountability expected with NIH stimulus grant funds. We were even fortunate to have Isis (On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess) join us online to discuss how important it is to be voice and role model for others “managing to do bench science when you’re too pregnant to approach the bench.”
The most interesting question I received from the awesome students we met was about how personal do I think is appropriate on a science blog. The questioner had read my post eulogizing my Dad and there had been notable discomfort among the class when they learned that despite all the care I put into my science posts, I am best-known for liveblogging my vasectomy.
I hold that I am a blogger who writes mostly about science – I’m still not sure what is a “proper science blogger.” One could still see that even my personal posts have scientific content: my post about my Dad talks about his influence in how I became a biologist and the realities of living with substance dependence; my vasectomy post was to get men to sack up and stop depending on their female partners for pharmacological or surgical contraception and provide a forum for men to talk candidly about the procedure.
In the context of the class and in answering Angrist’s course question of, “what, if anything, can writers do to get people to care about science?,” I feel that close personal experiences engage the reader in learning about science or expanding their worldview about scientific topics.
But even without intentional science content in our personal posts, I submit that we as scientists, and our trainees, can benefit from readers seeing us as just like “real people” with fears, sadness, anxieties, triumphs, deaths, flooded basements, births, worrying about balancing families and work, managing breast pumping and lectures, and everything else that everyone else does.
Many thanks again to Misha for inviting us and to the Duke students for engaging us.
[See this Q&A with Misha Angrist in last week’s Duke Chronicle on genomics and privacy]

What’s your favorite MTV memory? (redux)

Thanks to all for coming over and sharing your MTV memories earlier this week. Our SciBling editor and cat-herder, Katherine, came across with a very vivid list of great memories and Orac was able to bitch about being ever so slightly older than me. Then, Karmen surprised me by intimating that cable TV actually existed in Colorado in 1981, at least at her Grandma’s house.
I said I was going to tell you some of my general recollections of MTV, but I have very specific memories of this very week 25 years ago thanks to my personal archivist, number one fan, and all-around keeper of my life story, PharmSis:
This week 25 years ago found me playing a final, two-night stand in a rock band headed by my high school history teacher, my guidance counselor, and three other friends (including my first real girlfriend).
The Beatles, Springsteen, Blondie, and The Kinks pretty much says it all.
I ran the following picture by PharmPreSchooler to be sure that it wasn’t recognizable as me today. She did not know this was a picture of her Daddy:
Yup, that’s the Pharmboy at age 17. From the key in which I appear to be playing, I can tell you with 99.9% certainty that I am playing and singing, “Just What I Needed,” by The Cars.
And what vehicle would have been suitable for a budding Pharmboy to carry his gear:
A 1973 Dodge Dart Sport, Dodge’s version of Plymouth’s legendary Duster. Purchased for $850, it served me through almost all of college and my pharma internship until Mom and Dad bought me my ‘Vette for graduation (a Chevy Chevette Scooter, the economy version of the Chevette – with no A/C, of course, to wisely go off to graduate school in the American South.)
The summer of 1981 was a heady one, indeed. I was about to be the first in my family to embark on a bachelor’s degree program. I recall a musical friend and pizza delivery dude who helped me buy my first electric guitar castigating me for going to college by saying, “So, I guess this mean you’re not going to take your music seriously.” I believe I responded by saying, “No, I’m going to take my life seriously.” (This paragraph standing as the justification for posting this on ScienceBlogs.).
I spent the entire summer celebrating the joy of life between playing bars and dances in Bergen County, NJ, trips to my buddy Joe’s aunt’s house at the Jersey Shore (now an advertising exec), the Sumner Ave parking lot at Seaside Heights with Tommy (now a premier mechanical engineer), and working as a prep cook in a local pizza place. My Mom and Dad had given up on expecting me home at any certain time in the evening/morning and I had begun to taste real independence for the first time in my life. I hope that I am as trusting and confident in the judgment and maturity of my daughter when her time comes.
An incredible and now-historic inaugural stand by Bruce Springsteen in the newly-finished Meadowlands Arena (named after then-recently-departed NJ governor, Brendan Byrne) served as the benediction for the next part of my life.
This ticket stub from the 19th row floor of the Byrne Arena is the only documentation I didn’t have to scam from PharmSis. I recognized its timeless significance and stored it in my personal archives. (BTW, Denise, did I take you to this concert? I think so. If I did, I hope I was a gentleman.)
I recall being a tad hungover the day of the launch of MTV and our lead singer, Eric (whereabouts unknown; update: Eric is a schoolteacher in Vancouver, BC), staying at my house overnight because it had been unwise to drive him home. I distinctly remember five videos: “I Got You” by Split Enz, “Let My Love Open the Door” by a then-solo Pete Townshend, and the holy trinity of “Gloria,” “I Will Follow,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2, the latter of which was recorded from a concert at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre on a not-so-unusual blustery June night that I had thought mistakenly was being filmed at some Druid worshipping ground in the UK.
But what I remember most about MTV came from grad school in the late 1980s. Tommy and my brother, John, a Merck chemical engineer, took to visiting me regularly in grad school and treated me like royalty since they had real jobs and I, well, was in grad school. Their generosity and camaraderie was instrumental in helping me through grad school, emotionally and financially. John’s constant urging to “live your life like it was your own video” brings back very clear memories of Dire Straits’, “Money for Nothing” with Sting, and countless hours examining the purpose of life in oyster bars across North Florida. I can remember only one of the liver transplants, and even that one was foggy.
Most vivid about MTV was their Sunday evening shows, the revolving broadcast of twelve episodes of the British college comedy series, “The Young Ones,” followed by “120 Minutes,” probably the last real contribution of MTV to improving the musical literacy of us American lemmings. Sundays then consisted of going into lab in the afternoon to start some plasmid preps, pour some gels, and plan experiments for the week, followed by $1.00 Bloody Marys at the Purple Porpoise Oyster Pub and the rush to get home for two-and-a-half hours of MTV, sitting with papers that need to be read for various classes and journal clubs. My appreciation for the British new wave, ska, and reggae is linked directly to 120 Minutes.
Somewhere along the line, MTV stopped playing videos and I was no longer part of their target demographic. My SciBling, Prof Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles, has his own survey on when readers think MTV jumped the shark.
Still, I am amazed to have been present at a time when bands changed their thinking on how to write songs, often thinking what the video would look like before focusing on the integrity of the sound.
But, then again, popular music has always been a truly multisensual experience, at least since the folk, blues, jazz, and be-bop of the first half of the 1900s. It’s really only the media of expression that has changed along with technology. We just watched a lot of Jaime Foxx playing Ray Charles in “Ray” while on vacation; I am reminded that even before music videos, music was always about a look (Elvis (both), the Beatles, Bowie)…an attitude (Jagger, Lou Reed, Bowie again)…the sight, sound, and feel of a classic guitar, whether it be B.B. King’s Lucille, Springsteen’s bastardized Fender Esquire Telecaster, or the last guitar bought by one’s dearly-departed Dad…the smell and feel of your girlfriend or boyfriend…
…and a bass riff pounding through your chest.
(Hat tip: PharmSis, Sue B., Eric, Carl, Andy, Louie G., Tommy, J.G., Jonah-man, Schneider, O’D, Griff, Bob, Rueben, Don Roger)