Category: deep thoughts

New to me

Two of my favorite bands are no more. They have two things in common – at one time or another, both were the biggest bands on the planet, securing massive success off of seminal albums. They also lost their lead singers to suicide. One band hung it up immediately, while the other desperately tried to find a new frontman for a decade, but found it was a doomed effort to replace the irreplaceable.

(cc) pixxiestails on Flickr

We’ll start with Nirvana. The name itself conjures emotions and memories for anyone who hit musical puberty in the early 90s. Cobain’s lyrics intertwined with the force of nature drums bashed to smithereens by Grohl alongside the oddly hypnotic baselines laid down by Novicelic. It was pop with punk sensibility. Or maybe punk with pop sensibility. I guess it depends on your point of view.((My favorite Kurt story comes from the Nevermind sessions. He thought doubling vocals – layering a second track of his own voice with another to provide depth and sometimes a bit of harmony – wasn’t punk enough… too “produced” sounding. Nevermind’s producer, the legendary Butch Vig (You know him from Garbage) knew Kurt was a semi-closeted Beatles fan and only had to mention, “John Lennon did it.” to get Kurt rushing back to the mic to lay down the double tracks.))

But, let’s not forget the band was dissolving before our eyes as Kurt left us behind. Is there any doubt In Utereo was going to be the last Nirvana studio album? I can’t imagine the three had enough interpersonal goodwill left after that, even in the alternate reality where Cobain finds a way to get past his demons and grow into his 40s with the rest of us. But the tensions were too high and the musical paths were diverging. All it takes is a listen to the difference between Foo Fighter’s first album and Nirvana’s last to hear Dave’s direction was different. Not better, not worse, but different. We probably got all the Nirvana we were ever meant to.

Fast forward a few years after Nirvana’s sudden breakup and they gifted fans a gem… the previously unreleased single You Know You’re Right. It was almost as if the band reunited before our ears, letting us feel for those first three minutes and thirty-eight seconds that the rumors of Kurt’s death were exaggerated. For a moment we had Nirvana back, even though we knew deep down that wasn’t possible. That track was new to all of us and it brought us back. I had a similar moment the other day that was far more personal than Nirvana fans collectively had with You Know You’re Right. I found a track that was new just to me.

(cc) markhillary on Flickr

I may be the sole resident in the center of the Venn diagram((Of course Venn diagrams have three components – the third band is The Dandy Warhols, the psychedelic indie rock favorite from Portland. If there’s another resident in this teeny tiny overlap zone, we should hang out and interchangeably listen to Welcome to the Monkey House, then Bleach, then Shabooh Shoobah.)) charting Nirvana and INXS as personal favorite bands. Michael Hutchence’s death brought a promising comeback to a sudden, screeching halt. INXS started as the hardest working Aussie pub band of the late 70s, morphed into a classic New Wave 80s band and then took over the world with the rock-pop tidal wave Kick in 1987. No album could match that in sales, but I’ve always thought their best may have come ten years later with Welcome to Wherever You Are, which experimented with big sounds and strings in a way other bands hadn’t even thought about yet. I never bought their 1993 Greatest Hits album, mainly because I owned all the tracks on previous studio albums. What I didn’t know was there was a track recorded especially for the album called The Strangest Party (These Are the Times). Now, this song (apparently) was released as a single, did well and got some airplay. For whatever reason, even as a big INXS fan, I had never heard it until the other day. And it’s good! Fucking amazing actually. I’ve been listening to it nonstop, like you do when you find something that clicks with you and feeds your soul with every listen. This song is old hat to most INXS fans, but due to some odd, perhaps karmic, withholding The Strangest Party is truly new to me. For the last week it’s like Hutchence never shut the door to that Sydney hotel room for a final time. But we live in the real world and Cobain and Hutchence aren’t here. Their bands have disbanded, INXS much more recently – J.D. Fortune was not their only attempt to keep the flame lit, but it was easily the most unfortunate… pun intended.((I can’t articulate why, but I strongly feel it means I can personally declare the J.D. Fortune as lead singer experiment (remember Rock Star: INXS?) non-canonical and ignorable. Sure, as an INXS fan I religiously watched the show, but like I mentioned before… it’s folly to try to replace the irreplaceable. I think Grohl and Novicelic knew that.)) Nothing against him, but it never felt right.

While getting these two post-mortem songs felt good, I think the loss of the lead singers may have played a role in cementing INXS and Nirvana in my top band list. Let’s wave a magic wand and pretend both lead singers were still with us. Would their more recent offerings have diminished what they left behind? Do I think more or less of bands that have continued? U2? R.E.M.? Honestly, I care a lot less about these bands than I did in the past in part because their music evolved away from me – maybe vice versa. I love their older stuff, but I still haven’t felt compelled to see U2 live and I missed the chance with R.E.M. before they called it a career last year.

Maybe, as perverse as it sounds, I enjoy Nirvana and INXS more because the lead singers died untimely deaths. Perhaps we never had a chance to musically grow apart. Perhaps it locks their music in the amber of time and my nostalgic side turns to Bleach, Nevermind, In Utero, Listen Like Thieves, Kick, and Welcome to Wherever you Are as an emotional link to the past. I’ll never know the answer, but I’m glad I got the gift of a “new to me” track from INXS the other day. For a moment, it was like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

Karl the Kayaker

What I really wanted to say about Karl Coplan

I just submitted a statement at my law school dean’s request to honor my former professor Karl Coplan for the Beckman AwardThe award is given to current or former academic faculty members who have inspired their former students to “create an organization which has demonstrably conferred a benefit on the community at large.” Great stuff, and I salute Wells Fargo for making this happen.

I co-founded Columbia Riverkeeper, and that may very well be my lasting legacy despite the fact I haven’t been involved with the organization since December 2000. Most of the great work, in my opinion, has been accomplished since I moved on to teach and further evolve from philanthropy to entrepreneurial endeavors with a soul. I’m proud of what I helped to build, but it’s really the current staff that should be celebrated.

That said… this was a really hard piece to write because of the (understandable) boundaries placed on the submission documents. Having helped give away grants through Tranquil Space Foundation, I know you need a streamlined process for applications, so I do not begrudge Wells Fargo for penning in my creativity. I spent a plane ride crafting a draft that was twice the length allowed with half the required inclusions. I want to share the longer (proper) version with the world here.

My original draft was a lot more about Karl than me. It also gets into rock history, because (a) that’s how I think sometimes and (b) the analogy of Karl Coplan as the drummer or bass player of a great band with a charismatic and celebrated lead singer was too obvious to pass up.  Sadly, this doesn’t fit into corporate giving submission guidelines, but that’s what having an open forum like An Uncommonly Silly Blog is all about.

And look, I get it. This is long. #TL;DR synposis? Karl Coplan is an inspiration even though he’s not Jagger or Cobain… and this is the thank you note I have been writing in my head since 1996.


Karl Coplan’s leadership, and perhaps the entire source of his inspirational force, lies in his quiet, unassuming demeanor. If he intends to inspire his students, it’s not directly apparent, but if you ask any of his students – current or alum – I have yet to find a person who doesn’t hold Karl in the highest regard. He leads by example, not rhetoric. He inspires through deeds.

It’s tempting to fill my testimonial about Karl with accolades about his intelligence, the fact he’s the most gifted attorney I’ve worked with in my entire career, and repeat the stories I tell all time time about his commitment to environmental causes and teaching the next generation of lawyers to take up the banner of protecting our rivers, lakes and streams. That’s the easy essay to write because it’s the biography of Karl Coplan – the legacy he’s left and the one he continues to craft.

With a few notable exceptions, rock bands are comprised of a lead singer and a bunch of other people who – often practically anonymously – back him or her up. The lead singer is the leader of the band with very few exceptions – the music press uses the term frontman as often as lead singer for a reason. These are the names you’ve heard even if you never listened to their music: Lennon, Jagger, Wilson (Nancy and Ann), Plant, Sting, LeBon, and Cobain. These are the names history and media pays the most attention.

But what of the supporting musicians? Fans of Zeppelin know the band would have been a pale imitation of itself without the drums of John Bonham – the remaining band members didn’t even bother continuing to make new music after his premature passing. Geddy Lee’s, shall we say, distinctive vocals are what most people hear when Rush is playing, but Rush is not Rush without Neil Pert’s rhythms. 

The Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic is the band I joined in 1995. Its indisputable lead singer is also a legacy of one of the most famous families in American politics. Robert Kennedy Jr. has overcome the burdens that come with that birthright and has separately established himself as one of the leading voices of environmental stewardship. He receives the accolades and attention, and deservedly so. But to those of us who’ve been members of this merry band, we know the bearded guy in the back office as the source of inspiration for what we’ve done with our lives. Karl Coplan is the one who is shaded in obscurity by the more famous Kennedy, yet he’s the one many of us emulate in the months and years after we move on from the Clinic.

The Clinic is a mini law firm led by Coplan, primarily serving Hudson Riverkeeper, an environmental organization dedicated to keeping the waters of the Hudson River Valley clean for the people who live there. Third year students make up the majority of the work-horses for the lead attorneys, learning real world application of the law while championing real people along the way against powerful entities that don’t act in their interests. It’s here where I learned to be a lawyer and a professional. I was lucky. Law schools without good clinical programs prove on a daily basis that they are the least efficient mechanisms to teach students how to be a lawyer or a professional, but for my entire third year I had Karl Coplan serving as the template on how to excel at both.

It doesn’t take long to learn Karl Coplan is the type of person you’d want to emulate. His talent, his demeanor, his patience, and incredible intellect ensures that you know he has other options beyond serving as an anonymous professor at a small law school many people haven’t heard of. As students we knew Karl left a successful private practice to lead the Clinic, but we always assumed he’s spurned dozens of additionally lucrative options with opportunities for personal glory. And yet he forges his own path, leading quietly behind the scenes.

When I think of Karl, I think of the winter of early 1996. It was a particularly brutal one in White Plains, New York. With an important brief imminently due, a blizzard dropped two feet of snow on the region, closing the law school campus. Undaunted, a group of us trudged through the drifts and jimmied open one of the ground floor office windows, lifting our lightest over the shrubs and into the building so she could dash around the corner to unlock the front door. We didn’t do this because we sought the kudos, or an easy A, or even a good story to tell after the snow melted. We did it because that was an important brief and we weren’t going to let a little thing like a crippling snow storm serve as an excuse to let Karl Coplan down. 

As spring warmed the Hudson Valley, Karl changed his commute from the other side of the river. Rather than join the throngs of drivers on the Tappan Zee Bridge, Karl built his own kayak and crossed the river under his own power. Although I can probably name twenty different things I learned from Karl, it was this simple act of unconventional living that resonated the most. You don’t have to drive across the bridge because other people do it. You don’t have to take a job at a law firm because that’s what everyone else does. You can follow your passions and if those things happen ton help people along the way, all the better.

Before I met Karl Coplan, I was a risk-averse academic overachiever who hadn’t taken a break since nursery school. After learning a journal full of life lessons in a mere two semesters under Karl, I was transformed. The person I was 9 months before before would have been horrified at the metamorphosis. I turned down interviews at law firms in Manhattan, packed up everything I owned in a late model Honda Civic and left New York. The only state I’d ever known disappeared in my rear view mirror as I drove to Portland, Oregon sight-unseen with no job, but with big ideas and a lot of passion. Within 6 months, I was meeting with community leaders that would join me in forming Columbia Riverkeeper.

Columbia Riverkeeper fights for the rights of the people of the Columbia River basin – one of the largest in the world – to ensure their communities have clean water. The early days of Columbia Riverkeeper focused on merging two regional organizations, fighting the continuing environmental debacle that is the Hanford Reach nuclear contamination and a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent an ill-advised dredging operation in the lower portion of the river near Portland. Since then the organization has been embraced in communities up and down the river, from the headwaters in British Columbia to its dramatic collision with the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, Oregon. Its mission – unchanged since we formed it – is to protect and restore the water quality of the Columbia River and all life connected to it. The organization has blossomed in the decade since I turned to new opportunities and it is now the most important voice representing communities in the basin. The torch was taken up by others, but Columbia Riverkeeper’s unique blend of community connection and unapologetic advocacy on their behalf may not have been established if it weren’t for the lessons I learned from Karl Coplan.

Lead singers get all the glory, but every once in a while it’s the drummers that leave the biggest legacy. Although John Bonham was not nearly the front-facing key to success for Led Zeppelin as lead singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page, drummers for two successive generations have been inspired by his powerful contribution to the art. One of those drummers inspired by Bonham lent his skills to a small band from Seattle named Nirvana, which managed to become the voice for an entire generation within three years. While Dave Grohl toiled in obscurity begind the larger-than-life Kurt Cobain as they became the biggest band in the world, he became the one that ended up inspiring the next generation. When Nirvana left the world along with Cobain in the spring of 1994, Grohl stepped forward and became a frontman in his own regard, guiding Foo Fighters to become one of the best selling acts of the 2000s. Bonham inspired a novice, and that novice continues to create waves in three decades of music.

And so it goes – Karl as the ultimate supporting act has inspired countless numbers of students through his quiet, consistent leadership through the years. Each one of these students have in turn been supporting acts for a variety of organizations and causes. Some of those supporting acts have become part of bigger things, even going on to lead bands of their own. I’m privileged to have played a part in the creation of Columbia Riverkeeper, but I never saw myself as a frontman because, like Karl, I’ve seen the importance of being a supporting act. It’s not important that I never led the band that has grown to be such an important voice in the Northwest. It’s important that the legacy remains and the work continues. If it weren’t for Karl Coplan, it’s entirely possible things would be different.

Philip Seymour Hoffman



I’m perhaps the 800,000th person to publicly mourn the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. We grew up in the same town, went to the same high school (“Once a Raider, Always a Raider”) and walked a similar path in theater and drama, until mine led away from New York and more towards… well, dramatically different things.*

I never knew Phil, so I hesitate to even use his first name in such a familiar way. That said, I know a lot about where he came from, because frankly… I came from the same place, offset only by about 4 years. We never met, but many people who helped shape who I became did the same for him. Maybe that’s why his death matters more to me… more than just being a fan of his work over the course of his vast and diverse career.

Of all the things said since his passing, Aaron Sorkin’s words have rung the most true to me:

Phil Hoffman, this kind, decent, magnificent, thunderous actor, who was never outwardly “right” for any role but who completely dominated the real estate upon which every one of his characters walked, did not die from an overdose of heroin—he died from heroin. We should stop implying that if he’d just taken the proper amount then everything would have been fine.

He didn’t die because he was partying too hard or because he was depressed—he died because he was an addict on a day of the week with a y in it.

Heroin has stolen yet another artist who had years left in the tank, and that larceny includes all of his performances that will never be.

PSH painting courtesy of Xpectro on Flickr

*Not to mention I don’t have one millionth the talent he had. Although it might be the one thing Google fails to confirm, I understand he won the Scott Buckingham Memorial Award, Fairport’s version of the Tony, for his legendary performance in the 1985 FHS production of Death of a Salesman. I won the same award in 1989 for Romeo and Juliet. It’s one of my prouder moments because my friend Mike killed it on stage in that year’s The Sound of Music and was as deserving of the award as anyone that year.

Serpentine belts are important

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By now you may have heard about the mechanical issues we’re facing with the busted serpentine belt. I thought I’d share what I learned in the moment and afterwards…

The serpentine belt runs everything that matters in a vehicle. If it goes, the click starts ticking on a few things…

– power, because you’re running purely on the charge in your battery. The alternator isn’t recharging without the belt! If your battery is old, the second you do t have enough juice to spark the spark plugs, you stop.

– heat buildup, because your water pump doesn’t cycle coolant into the engine. This is the number one issue because an whine that gets progressively hotter will eventually damage beyond reasonable repair. Pay attention to your heat guages!

– some things go away right away – power steering, AC… All the good stuff.

So, you hear a flutter and a snap like we did? You can drive a bit further… But I wouldn’t recommend it. We had 4 miles coming off the highway and getting “home” to the campground was such a compelling thing we risked it. If you’re not in a similar super close place, pull the heck over. Call AAA or roadside service of your choice… The belt is pretty easy to get and replace. Some savvy car types (cough cough not me) carry an extra one and are skilled enough to put one on. The things the belt loops around (tensioner and pulleys) are often to blame though, so a new belt can only get you so far.

Driving a vintage RV means parts aren’t always on hand – the dealer near here can get them all tomorrow but first appointment is Wednesday… So, we wait.

Super close to NYC.

Boo hoo, right?



When I left DC, I knew it was possible Kimberly’s beloved “first born” might not be there when I returned. We’ve known for months that he’s got a bad case of the big C, and I also know he’s burned through 8 of his 9 lives a few times over through hard living. At his peak weight, he was the equivalent (we were told) of a 400 lb. man.

And although he doesn’t care for me (at all) and although he definitely tried to kill me in my sleep once (suffocation, in case you were wondering) I’ll confess I’m going to miss the little devil. He was part of the package deal that came with Kimberly and I don’t know a day with her that doesn’t include her mean ol’ cat.

We’ll bid adieu to Bonnard this weekend, but oh the stories… we have enough to fill three lifetimes. Bonnard’s ghost will be with us through those.

Take care buddy…


Wildlife + Ghosts

Yesterday I ran into two creatures that I shot…. with my iPhone camera:



I also biked past a “ghost bike” for a guy who may very well have been struck on that spot:


Very sad, and as you can see by the date, the incident probably happened since I was last biking here. I think bike touring is fundamentally safe, but like all things in life, there’s always a risk.

If you want to destroy my sweater

The title of this post comes from a Weezer song which has very little to do with sweaters. The post itself has very little to do with Weezer. So there’s that.


Yesterday I lost my wool sweater. It fell out of my bags about 10 miles short of camp just over the California border. When I realized it was missing, I went through the seven stages of grief, sliding into acceptance. So be it. The bike tour gods willed it so.

Then something remarkable happened.

A guy from Utah piped up… “Hey, what color is it? I think I saw it.”

“Dark Green.”

“Yeah, that was it – it’s by the lilly farm about 10 miles back.”

“Ahhh, yeah.” Acceptance stage was already cooling. “Well, losing things happens on tour. It is what it is,” I said with a casually dismissive tone.

“Oh, I’ll go get it.”


“I’ll go get it.., it was only about 10 or 15 miles back!”

After several minutes of profusely thanking him for his (batshit crazy) notion, I thought all was settled that he would not go bike 90 minutes and 20 miles to rescue a sweater for a guy he hardly knew.

About 87 minutes later, the group du jour sitting around the fire were enjoying a beer when someone asked where the guy from Utah went.

“No. No, he did not.”

“Didn’t do what?”

I explained the sweater rescue plan that was scuttled – or so I thought.

On cue, in the finest tradition of stage and screen, my sweater rolled into camp securely bungeed to the rear rack of a very, very crazy dude’s bike.

So, next time someone asks why I like bike touring, I’ll show them my sweater. Because there’s no way I can in good conscience lose it again…

Five takeaways from WDS2013

Another year, another batch of inspiration from World Domination Summit. Check out some of the pics from day 1 and day 2. Here are five of the things I’m taking away from this year:

Size matters… One of the first things past attendees seemed to mention was how much bigger WDS has become. From about 500 in Year 1 to 1000 in year 2 to nearly 3000 this year… it’s bigger. I overheard many people lament the size, and I suspect those comments worked their way up the food chain to Chris Guillebeau, because he addressed it on the second day.  At the yoga studio we hear comments from some yogis that classes are too crowded, and some suggest it’s a clever ploy to earn more profit at their expense. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We do it to minimize the chance we have to say, “sorry we can’t let you in because we’re sold out.” In my experience that level of disappointment is far higher. I think Chris sees that and has acted.

Just do it… No, there was no Nike sloganeering at WDS (in fact, it is proudly and deliberately sponsor-free). One of the great themes (intentionally or not) amongst all of the great presenters is a variation on carpe diem. Seize the day. There is nothing to stop you… even fear of rejection is less of an issue than you’d think. Seriously, check out Jia Jang’s attempt to learn from rejection… and learning how little one actually gets rejected! One of my favorite speakers (he also got the elusive full standing O).

Tell better stories... the key to connecting with people is tell your story in a way that resonates. Don’t be afraid to share the low points on the path to the high points and aspirations. One of the best speakers was the first one: Nancy Duarte. She charted famous speeches throughout history and showed how there was literally a resonance curve that can be plotted from the telling of how things are now and how they should be. Check out her TEDTalk – the secret structure of great talks. In fact, just watch it now. What’s stoppin ya?

Amazing, right?

Rock 9 holes of glow in the dark mini golf when given the chance… seriously. Don’t pass that up. What the hell else are you doing for 30 minutes that’s more important?

glowing mini golf

Once you get a taste of unconventional life, you won’t want to go back… Having lived a less-than-conventional life of an entrepreneur (my stuff and Kimberly’s incredibly scaled up compared to mine stuff), I literally cannot conceive going back to a traditional 40 hour work week with expectations of cubicle sitting and meetings for the sake of having meetings. WDS reinforces that because there are thousands of others at different points on the same path, and seeing that makes you realize that while Kimberly and I may be amongst a handful of “those crazy people” in DC, there’s a lot more out there. and in that way, there’s a sense of community to reinforce my feelings.

Big thanks to Chris Guilliebeau and his team of volunteers and staff that make WDS happen. They offered the pioneer ticket rate again for next year, and I didn’t hesitate. I’ll be back next July.

WDS 2013 sketchnotes and the trip in by Mike Rhode. Amazing work!
WDS 2013 sketchnotes and the trip in by Mike Rhode. Amazing work!


Thoughts going into WDS 2013


We’re about an hour away from our scheduled pickup to the airport, for a trip about a year in the making. Last year, Kimberly and I attended our first World Domination Summit and came away inspired enough to commit to tickets to this year’s affair.

WDS is difficult to describe, but I’ll give it (yet another) whirl. The heart of the conference is entrepreneurialism, but not necessarily sticking to just that. It’s the melding of living your life on your own terms through lifestyle choices that include how you work and how you play. Chris Guillebeau organized the first WDS two years ago and it’s doubled each year. Clearly the message resonates! I definitely recommend checking out his book The $100 Startup… it’s one of the few business startup books that have resonated with me. Maybe it was the bike on the cover 😉


Last year’s WDS gave me the germ of an idea that is eventually going to become PedalShift, a bike touring lifestyle site that I’ve been working on in fits and starts for the last few months. I hope to launch it later this summer, and I suspect this year’s WDS will fuel some inspiration.

So… off to Portland!