Burn, Baby, Burn…

As I type this, we are winding down yet another year. And that can—at least for me—give me a bit of pause to try to make sense of things.

I am a big fan of Steve Jobs and was pretty heavily affected by the commencement speech he gave at Stanford a few years before his death. If you have never seen it, you can check it out HERE

So let me tell you about a friend of mine who has nothing at all to do with the audio business but who has had way more influence than he realizes on my life. His name is Mark Sedenquist. You know how every once in a while, you’ll meet someone who may not say a ton but what they say is generally worth listening to. I refer to these folks as “not full of shit. And Mark is not full of shit.

I actually met Mark through his wife Megan Edwards. I was the editor of a weekly arts/entertainment newspaper in Pasadena CA and Megan and Mark were readers. At one point Megan reached out to me about the possibility of writing a column for singles. I know it was weird to have a married woman writing for the unmarried, but she’s a really good writer and I have to admit to being intrigued from the first time I met her. And she did a great job and grew way beyond just that singles column.

The first time Mark rattled off something profound in passing, it had a big influence on my family and I moving to Las Vegas.

Linda and i were still living in the L.A. area and we had come to Las Vegas for a Prince concert. I think it was our anniversary or maybe her birthday.More on how Mark and Megan ended up in Las Vegas in a minute…

They had been living here for a few years and had a great place on the far south edge of town. We were hanging out by their pool on Sunday afternoon. The show had been the night before and we were driving home and had not seen Mark and Megan in years. Linda and I have always been drawn to this place and had spent many a celebratory weekend going to Las Vegas. I told Mark how much we liked his adopted town and made a flip comment something like, “But i like booze and gambling and naked women way too much to live in Las Vegas.”

And Mark replied that there is going to Vegas and there is living in Las Vegas and the two things are not the same. He went on to explain that living here was really just like living in any small city except this one is built on gaming. And that if one tried to live in Las Vegas the way people stereotypically GO to Vegas that the town would chew you up and spit you out in a month.

We have now lived here for real close to 10 years. And Mark nailed it. Like him and Megan we live on the far outskirts of town. We are close enough to “go to Vegas” anytime we want to. But far enough away to not be part of the whirlpool of craziness that is the resort corridor known as The Strip.

About five years ago came the second nugget. Those of you who know me well know what kind of hell I was in about 5 years ago. I am not going to revisit any of it. It took me a long time to get past the anger that was poisoning my life. So for those of you not hip to the history, let’s just say that i was in a difficult work situation. We’ll leave it at that.

Once again i was talking to Mark and giving him a blow by blow of the knockdown drag-outs with my boss at the time. When i got done venting, Mark said, “Well, it sounds like you are looking for your own personal wildfire.”

I was taken aback. Because Mark and Megan know a thing or three about wildfires. In fact a wildfire is why they eventually ended up in Las Vegas. In the mid ‘90s there was a huge wildfire in Altadena, CA where we all lived. The fire moved very fast. And it took out more than 230 homes. One of those homes belonged to Mark and Megan. They literally got out with the clothes on their backs.

I was focused on that part of the the story when i should have been focused on what happened after the fire if i wanted to understand. 

They used the horrifying event as a reason to totally remake their lives. Mega wrote a book about it called Roads From the Ashes. They bought a totally custom four-wheel-drive RV dubbed Phoenix One and hit the road. The became pioneering Internet entrepreneurs with a site that still runs 20 years later called roadtripamerica.com. They still do that one and a couple of others including living-las-vegas.com where Linda developed her whole Photo Diva schtick. They travel all over and write about it. After about 7 years on the road they decided they need some kind of actual home base and that is where the cool house on the south end of Las Vegas came into the picture. That fire changed everything about their lives. And what Mark was saying was that in the way i was fighting with my boss I seemed to be seeking out my own version of that fire. And, while I did not know or understand it at the time, he was 100% right.

It’s like this. There are huge swaths of land in the U.S. that are not what they are supposed to be.  And we only discovered what they are supposed to be when we allowed them to burn. We managed land by putting out fires that occurred naturally. And so stuff that is supposed to be cleared out by fire took over the landscape. but when the land was allowed to burn? Foliage that had not been seen in a century or more reappeared and the land totally changed. And it is not just the obvious--that the fire got rid of useless undergrowth. There are some seeds that are only activated by fire. It turns out that the land burning—an event that modern man in our supposed wisdom calls a tragedy—is an intregal part of that the land is supposed to be.

Yep,  Mark was right. On some level i knew I NEEDED a major change. But i did not know that it could only happen via the pain of a “personal wildfire” both to clear out the crap that had built up over half a lifetime, but also to activate seeds i did not know existed.

I was inspired to write about this because in the past year—and especially in the past month—I have talked to a bunch of people in every part of the live audio biz who are watching a business and existence that they have known and been successful and comfortable with for decades… burn…

We are in the midst of a hugely disruptive period in history in general, never mind our little industry. It is not an overstatement to say that almost everything we know is changing. From tech to work to social mores to, well, you name it.

My personal wildfire at least appears to be burning itself out. And my life looks a lot different than it did when the flames first started. Is it better? So far it looks like it might be. But i’ll have to get back to you because some of the growing stuff is still in the beginning processes of taking root and there are still embers that could flare up at any minute. Stay Tuned…