Graphic designers: we need your help to fight racism in Southeast Texas

“A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Graphic designers: Tracie and I need your help to design an electronic billboard to be displayed across from the newly erected Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas (on the Louisiana border) where Tracie grew up.

We first began protesting the site — which stands on the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. and Interstate 10, in view of the freeway — in 2017.

Last year, as part of our Martin Luther King, Jr. Day protest, we used a GoFundMe to raise money for an electronic billboard celebrating Dr. King and his quest to end racism in the U.S. The “ad” was displayed on a commercial billboard that literally looks down on the site from across the road.

You can see last year’s billboard artwork here.

And you can see images of the actual billboard here (on our GoFundMe).

Last year’s billboard was designed pro bono by a designer friend of mine. This year, we’re hoping that someone new will step up to help us with our campaign.

If you’re interested, please shoot me an email by clicking here.

Over the course of our efforts, Tracie and I have been threatened with physical violence, slandered via an anonymous “poison pen” letter, and told that “Jesus Christ [expletive] hates us.”

We stand undaunted by the cowardly efforts to silence us — yes, I’m talking about you, Sons of Confederate Veterans!

Click here to read more about our campaign.

Thank you for your support and solidarity.

Rock out with me, Tracie, and the girls this Sunday, December 29 at 13 Celsius wine bar

That’s one of my favorite photos from back in the day. Tracie and I had just met for the first time the month before (following a six-month e-mance). But I was in East Germany playing a gig with my band Nous Non Plus at a European Green Party retreat (no shit).

Dany Le Rouge (yes, Dany himself!) was dancing with a beautiful girl dressed in red in the audience at that show.

The year was 2008 and things were finally looking up after an annus horribilis in New York the previous year (well, honestly, looking back on it all, it wasn’t so bad, except for the financial crisis).

We had just sold a song to the TV show Girls on HBO and one of the producers featured us on his playlist (that was huge!).

And this beautiful woman from Austin, Texas had just come into my life — changing it forever and for better.

Today, nearly 12 years later, I’m a dude in his 50s who plays 70s and 80s covers at funky downtown natural wine bars. Who would have thunk it?

This Sunday, our band BioDyanmic (I know, right?) will be playing two sets at one of my favorite wine hangs, 13 Celsius (which is actually in midtown, equally funky).

AND… the amazing Thomas Cokinos will be sharing lead vox duties with me. He is not only a super talented player but a super frontman frontperson. Really great.

Click here for the details but all you really need to know is that we will take the stage around 1 p.m. and that me, Tra, and the girls (yes, it’s kid-friendly) will be hanging out afterwards to see the other bands and to enjoy some great wine (at discounted prices; they do this crazy “Sunday Situation” discount program there). The small plates are also excellent (the girls love the charcuterie).

I hope you can join us to end 2019 in bellezza as they say in Italian.

U.S. 100% tariffs will decimate the Italian wine industry (including people you love)

Above: empty picking crates waiting to be filled with grapes at harvest.

No two people could be more diametrically opposed in their sentiments and approaches to Italian wine than Ceri Smith, one of our nation’s leading wine retailers and tastemakers, and James Suckling, one of our nation’s leading wine critics and tastemakers.

But this week, the unlikely pair sent messages to their supporters in which their views seamlessly aligned: in urgent tones, both are asking their followers to register their dismay at the thought of 100 percent tariffs on Italian wines and other European agro products currently being considered by the Trump administration.

Read Ceri’s here (on Facebook) and James’ here.

“Proposed higher tariffs on expanded list of European wines could devastate business, say importers and retailers,” according to a piece published earlier this week by the popular wine trade-focused blog SevenFifty.

Michael Skurnik, a leading importer of Italian wines in the U.S., was quoted in the article: “If enacted, these tariffs could have the effect of essentially crippling the importation and sale of European wine in the U.S. This would mean a devastating loss of revenues, jobs, and taxes to many sectors of the U.S. economy.”

Trade wars like this are nothing new to the U.S. nor the global economy. Few in the wine industry are old enough to remember the Banana Wars of the 1990s. During that decade, the U.S. “imposed a retaliatory range of 100 per cent import duties on European products, encompassing everything from Scottish cashmere to French cheese” (the Guardian).

At the time, the U.S. was retaliating for an EU quota on bananas grown in Latin America but sold by north American companies. Today, the U.S. is retaliating for Airbus subsidies illegally doled out to European interests and for a proposed European “digital service tax.”

What do bananas have to do with cashmere and cheese? What do wine and cheese have to do with airplanes and online advertising? That’s how trade wars work.

Earlier this week, I spoke to one of the top sales agents in California for the largest distributor of fine wines and spirits in the U.S. Even his Trump-supporter colleagues share his fear that said tariffs would decimate their business, not to mention many of their suppliers’ and clients’ businesses. He told me that even his boss, an avid “Trumper,” recognized that many of his employees would have to be dismissed if the tariffs were implemented.

Think of your average Italian restaurant in the U.S., he said, where the wine programs are designed around Italian wines that land at “by the glass” prices. The industry rule of thumb calls for wines by-the-glass to be sold at the same price as the wholesale cost of the of the bottle. An $8-9 by-the-glass wine would now cost $16-18.

Would you pay $18 for a glass of Sangiovese that cost $9 the previous day?

The reasoning is oversimplified here for sake of argument but you get the picture.

According to some estimates, 70 percent of the wine grown in Italy is shipped to the U.S. In many cases, Italian wineries sell nearly 100 percent of their products to the U.S. If the Trump administration implements the tariffs, the entire industry would be disrupted — from top to bottom. The people in the middle would devastated as well (including me and my marketing consulting business).

Ceri and James included the following links where Americans can send messages to their representatives in congress and the U.S. Trade Representative to stop these tariffs from taking effect.

To your senators (via the National Association of Wine Retailers):

To your congressperson (via the National Association of Wine Retailers):

To the United States Trade Representative:

If you love Italian wine and the people who grow, make, and sell it, I encourage you to join Ceri, James, and me in taking action.

NEW Parzen Family Singers album: “Day After Yesterday” (+ CHRISTMAS VIDEO)

Happy Holidays, everyone!

The song in the video above is from Parzen Family Singers’ NEW album, “Day After Yesterday,” now out on BandCamp!

The girls and I co-wrote the first track, “Why Can’t It Be Christmas (Every Day of the Year).” I fed them the title lyric and a backing track. And then set them up with a couple of SM58s. They took care of the rest. I really love this year’s Christmas song (but then again, I love them all).

Lila Jane and I wrote “Paco Chihuahueño” for the newest addition to the Parzen Family Singers (it’s his growl at the top of the track). Our other chihuahua got a song on the last album so it was only fair that Paco get his. Lila Jane and I improvised the vox in one solid take. For real. I wrote the lyrics as the track was rolling and LJ was right there with me. I’ll never forget that moment. It was so cool and so much fun.

“Shut It Down” was inspired by a protest we attended outside a migrant processing center near downtown Houston. I made a few videos for social media at the protest and when I watched the videos back at home, I realized I could “sample” them and splice them back together as a track. The chants themselves inspired the groove. Like all of our songs, it captures a moment in our year, in our lives. The girls have been going to protests with us as long as they can remember.

The girls asked me to write “Day After Yesterday (Emilee’s Song)” for their cousin who was in a really bad accident this year. We’re happy to report that she’s doing well (just graduated from college, on track, as a matter of fact, cum laude). The title came from a favorite malapropism of Georgia’s. I’ll never forget writing the song and lyrics sitting in my F150 in a H-E-B parking lot. It just came to me, like I was channeling it. Lila tracked her vox like a pro, in just two takes. Her vox really take it over the top.

I wrote and sang “Ten Years Gone” for me and Tracie’s upcoming 10th WEDDING ANNIVERSARY! Ten years gone and you’re still turning me on/Ten years after and it’s still laughter and song. That’s the chorus. We’ve been planning our anniversary celebration and we both keep saying to each other: it doesn’t seem like 10 years have passed; it seems like yesterday! So true. If you listen closely you can hear one of the dogs barking on the slide guitar solo I played on my Taylor. I’m not sure what dog it was (I think it was Paco).

“The Mime and His Phonograph” is one of those songs that might have ended up on a Nous Non Plus record (if we were still writing and recording together). I’ve always been fascinated with the year 1888 (the year Nietzsche began to lose his mind). And so I tried to conjure images of what it might have looked and felt like when you wandered the streets of Paris then. To my surprise, I came upon a mime with a secret and special power.

Click here to listen and download now!

Happy holidays and thanks for the support, solidarity, and friendship.

Rock out with me in Houston: Hanukkah first night house party and Sunday Dec. 29 at 13 Celsius

Houston friends: I’ll be playing two shows with my 70s and 80s cover band BioDynamic later this month. Please come rock out with us!

On Sunday, December 22, Parzen Family will be hosting a blow-out house party and open mic, featuring kids from the Suzuki program at our school and anyone who wants to perform solo or sit in.

Kids will start playing around 1 p.m., followed by adults and our band (around 4 p.m.). At sundown, we’ll take a break to light candles and Tra will be making her legendary latkes.

If you already know where we live, just come whenever. And bring your favorite pot luck dish or bottle of wine (not necessary but welcomed).

If you don’t have our address, ping me. ALL ARE WELCOME!

And then on Sunday, December 29, we’ll be playing two sets at one of my favorite Houston wine bars, 13 Celsius in Midtown. It’s part of the their end-of-year celebration, “The 13th Hour.” Party starts at 1 p.m. and we take the stage at 2 p.m. There’s no cover and it’s family friendly. And of course, the wines will rock as well.

Click here for details and the complete lineup of Houston bands.

I hope that everyone is having a great holiday season and that you can join us for one of the shows/events.

And thanks to everyone who wished Georgia a happy birthday on social media.

Rock on and drink great wine! Hope to see you soon!

Please stop calling my Brunello “normale”!

Above: the classic “blue label” Brunello di Montalcino from Fattoria dei Barbi. There’s nothing “normale” about it (full disclosure: I consult with Fattoria dei Barbi on media and marketing strategy).

    normal, adj. and n. Constituting or conforming to a type or standard; regular, usual, typical; ordinary, conventional. (The usual sense.)
    Etymology: < classical Latin normālis right-angled, in post-classical Latin also conforming to or governed by a rule (4th–5th cent.) < norma norma n. + -ālis -al suffix.
    Oxford English Dictionary

Let’s just get this straight for once and for all: there’s nothing normale about Brunello di Montalcino.

Nor is there anything normale about Barolo or Barbaresco.

Ever since Italian wine began “trending” in the U.S. in the late 1990s, wine professionals have been faced with a linguistic conundrum: if the “single-vineyard” or “reserve” bottling of a given wine is considered to be superior in both quality and value, what do you call the “blended” or non-designate wine?

Unfortunately, many American tradespeople adopted the practice of calling the latter categories “normal” or — or even more regrettably, using an erroneous and misguided cultural (mis)appropriation from the Italian — “normale.”

There are two major issues with this convention.

Above: the single-vineyard designate Brunello di Montalcino “Vigna del Fiore” from Fattoria dei Barbi.

The first is that normal means, quite literally, conventional or ordinary, as in doesn’t stand out in a crowd.

Brunello, like its northern counterparts Barolo and Barbaresco, are not “conventional” or “ordinary” wines. In fact, they are illustrious, exceptional wines, even when not accompanied by a cru or aging designation.

The second issue is that historically, the Italians who make them consider the blended wines to be the more expressive and reflective of the appellation where they are produced.

The same holds for the “riserva” or “reserve” designation. It’s not that it’s a better wine from better fruit. A riserva wine is a wine that was conceived, through vineyard selection and vinification techniques, for longer-term aging.

Many Americans will be surprised to learn that the cru-designate trend in Italian wine is relatively recent. And in many cases, the single-vineyard designation was added to appeal to American consumers who assume that the single-vineyard expression is superior de facto. The same could be said of vintage-designate wines in Champagne where the non-vintage, vintage-blended wines are considered (by the people who grow them) the more indicative of the domaine’s style and tradition.

Calling a classic Brunello (or Barolo or Barbaresco) “normale” is demeaning not only to the wine but also the winemaker and the people who live, work, and grow grapes in the appellation of origin. And it also creates confusion for the consumer.

And that’s why I encourage my wine trade fellows to call wines blended from more than one vineyard “classic.”

Whether classic, cru-designate, or reserve, these categories are simply different expressions of the appellation and the winery’s style. When it comes to the top wines for which we use them, there’s nothing normale about them.

The Confederate flag is a symbol of hate. Don’t believe me? Ask your black friends.

Above: A protest of the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange, Texas, where the Sons of Confederate Veterans have erected a monument celebrating Confederate battle flags. The conspicuously displayed banners include the “Confederate Flag” that Nikki Haley has praised as a symbol of pride and heritage. The monument stands on the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. and Interstate 10 in a city where an ongoing legacy of racial violence has stained the community for generations. See the Sons’ rendering of the site below.

Rising Republican star Nikki Haley’s recent claim that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of white supremacy is as egregious as it is dangerous.

Egregious because — I’m sorry to break it to whitewashed, “snowflake” Republicans — the Confederate flag is a symbol of the white supremacist movement in our country.

Don’t believe me? Just ask your black friends how they feel about conspicuous displays of the Confederate flag. And ask them about their own experiences with the Confederate flag and the people who wave it.

Your white friends who belong to the Sons of Confederate Veterans will tell you that it’s symbol of “pride” and “heritage.” And they are right: it’s an expression of their pride in white supremacy and their ancestors’ belief in and support of apartheid in this country — otherwise known as poll tax, Jim Crow, and the “Southern Strategy” of the 20th-century Republican party.

Just have a look at the flier (below) that the Sons of Confederate veterans circulated as they gathered money to erect their “Memorial of the Wind,” a celebration of Confederate battle flags including the Confederate flag, in Orange, Texas where half the population is black and where there is a searing legacy of racial violence and Jim Crow.

Her assertion is dangerous because it’s the latest example of the Republican party’s defense, validation, and propagation of the flag itself.

Just as the leader of her party and her close political ally Trump claimed that there were “some very fine people” carrying tiki torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Haley contends that the flag is conspicuously displayed by a mere handful of bad actors.

Evidently, she hasn’t visited the South lately. Here in Southeast Texas, the Confederate Memorial of the Wind (depicted in the flier below) stands at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. and Interstate 10. And all you have to do is meander through the residential streets of southeast Texas and you’ll find Confederate flags displayed conspicuously on houses and cars.

In our own neighborhood in Houston, I’ve spotted a Dodge Charger with a Confederate flag painted on it.

But in recent years, I’ve also seen countless Confederate flags displayed in my hometown of San Diego, California. I even saw more than one prominently displayed Confederate flag when I visited Oregon wine country earlier this year.

To embolden white supremacists with morally bankrupt rhetoric like Haley’s is to euphemize a growing and increasingly violent group of hatemongers who embrace the Republicans’ historic and well-documented subjugation of people who don’t look like (or vote for) them.

Don’t believe me? Just ask my friend in Orange, Texas who drives down Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. every day, traveling beneath the Interstate 10 overpass to take her daughter to elementary school.

On a mission from G-d: when a winery isn’t just a winery but a vital cultural institution and resource

Full disclosure: I consult with Antica Casa Scarpa on media and marketing strategy.

Last month, I spent the better part of a week “working the market,” as we say in the wine trade, with my friend and colleague Riikka Sukula, director of operations for Antica Casa Scarpa — or Scarpa as it’s known — in Monferrato.

Market work entails visiting current or prospective clients (known as “accounts”) accompanied by a locally based distributor and/or agent for the winery’s importer. It’s sometimes called a “ride-with” or “work-with.” And it can be as fun and exhilarating as it can be disappointing and monotonous.

As Riikka (above) and I made our way from wine shop to wine shop, restaurant to restaurant, to taste and chat with wine buyers, wine directors, and sommeliers, I had a light-bulb moment as I listened to her deliver her spiel about the winery and the wines.

Yes, Scarpa is a winery, a commercial enterprise, and the purpose and objective of our ride-with was to convince people to buy the wine.

But Scarpa is so much more than just a winery that merely grows, vinifies, and sells wines: as one of Italy’s oldest continuously running estates, it’s a genuine cultural institution and resource, a part of what the Italians like to call their “cultural patrimony” or heritage. Riikka and her colleagues, some of whom were my students at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences, aren’t just making and selling an agricultural product. They are protecting and giving new life to a cultural icon and benchmark that would otherwise be tragic to lose.
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