Seoul Searching Vol. 1

We’re in town prepping for a shoot this week. Yesterday we had a few hours in the morning to roam the streets and look around a little bit. While the air was chilly the skies were blue and the sun was out. Coming from Tokyo, I was struck by how the sunlight seemed more intense or direct in Seoul. It almost felt like a massive spotlight was lighting each street and alley we walked down. It felt like we were walking around a giant, open-world movie set. Even at night, it was interesting to see the types of signs and street lights. Even little alleys that seemed like they didn’t have anything going on were lit and highlighted in cinematic ways. I hope to find more locations that have this kind of illuminated magic to them. It was a very stimulating morning walk that gave my senses lots to feel.

Below are a few moments where the light was doing something special:

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The Mamba Mentality Reviewed

I just finished reading Kobe Bryant’s first book, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. In which he basically cements the late career caricature of Kobe Bryant that fans of the game know and expect by this point. These are the musings of Kobe Bryant as some kind of basketball playing Chuck Norris meme. Talking in the first person to make it feel conversational, but still having the egotism of an athlete speaking in the third person. The Mamba Mentality is basically the Nike #KobeSystem commercial, adapted into an ebook. It’s a funny schtick and vehicle for trash talk, but you know there is something deep and insightful lurking under the surface.

Where you want to find something revelatory, you are presented with vignetted takes that feel like rushed off afterthoughts between movie viewings on a long international flight. It’s like if Seth Godin wrote about basketball. The first half of the book speaks in recycled locker room talk that anyone who played high school sports will be well familiar with. It’s the rah-rah fare of “give your blood, sweat and tears to the game and the game will give back to you.” Where you are hoping for a deep cut or a behind closed doors anecdote of a private chat with Phil Jackson, you get a rearranged version of something your high school jayvee coach told you.

The most interesting part of the book is the second half which focuses on Kobe’s discussion of “his craft.” Core NBA fans will be familiar with most of Kobe’s inspiration and thoughts on his competition, but it’s still enjoyable to hear the specifics of how he approached particular matchups. He riffs on the career arcs of KD, LeBron, James Harden and others who came up behind him. There are some solid bits in their about how he led Team USA to gold medal glory.

The Shaw-Kobe “feud” is presented the way it’s been told ever since the two publicly reconciled a few years ago. Kobe goes on about how the “beef” was fabricated by Shaw and himself to keep the other players on edge and carry their weight. I always felt the alleged rift was more Hollywood fiction than the media presented it as. They were just too good and dominate together to believe that they would actually be warring. Needless to say, there is no shade thrown at Shaq.

The best anecdote for me was when he was discussing infamous and self-proclaimed “Kobe-stopper” Ruben Patterson. Of course he called out the red flag waving nature of Patterson’s claim, but he offered up an interesting counter. Kobe confessed that Patterson was making the claim in order to drive up his contract value heading into free-agency. Kobe said had Patterson approached Kobe privately and asked for him to make a statement along the lines of “Ruben is the best defender in the NBA,” he would have done it. However, Patterson’s mistake was in taking his “Kobe-stopper” moniker to the press before consulting Kobe. Hence the Mamba was intent on destroying him. That story alone probably adds the most nuance to the true psychology of the Mamba mentality. It’s a little bit Godfather and a lot of parts Kill Bill. Kobe wants to be remembered as the “thinking assassin.” Einstein with a silencer.

The books closing seconds feel rushed off. Kobe attempts a pivot and shot at the buzzer by hoisting the notion that his life and career in basketball was all one long runner to his future as a storyteller and writer. He holds his Oscar in the air, still obsessed with trophies and tells the world that he will bring the Mamba Mentality to his storytelling.

There is something overcompensating about Kobe’s whole late career bravado. His insistence on building up his own legend. His highlights, stats and championships speak for themselves. Perhaps it’s just his competitive spirit thirsting to campaign and win over the remaining doubters. Maybe it’s his reaction to the social media era of sports and especially the NBA now, where all the stars are living brands, crafting their own narratives at the height of their powers. It will be interesting to follow Kobe deeper into his post-NBA life. I can’t help but feel there is something fueling this Mamba Mentality that maybe Kobe himself doesn’t even understand yet. I hope he keeps trying to define it.

Top athletes have never been great at framing up and putting their mentality into perspective beyond the cliches. So here is my challenge to Kobe the storyteller: Tell us something we don’t know. Tell us something that only you could tell us. Find your voice beyond the meme. It was a pretty funny character and we all appreciated it. I know your competitive spirit will keep haunting and driving you. I hope it drives you to write something that surprises you. And scares you even. And when that day comes, I hope you will dare to expose that truth to the rest of us.

You’re welcome.

Thank You Geoff Emerick

I was saddened to hear of the passing of legendary Beatles recording engineer Geoff Emerick last week. I was lucky enough to work with him one time and I wanted to share a few memories I had.

I was working on a commercial with film director Tony Kaye who reached out and pulled Geoff in to help us with the music and audio of the spot. One night, Tony and I were talking about the Beatles. At the end of the conversation, it seemed like Tony had some kind of lightbulb go off in his head. We went our separate ways and met back at the studio for the shoot the next day.

As we were shooting the next day, I noticed a gentleman show up on set at one point. We were shooting in a large warehouse in Hollywood and there was a lot of activity going on with the crew. I recognized the man to be Geoff, as I had seen his picture in articles and books over the years. Tony was busy talking to his lighting team, so I went over and introduced myself to Geoff.

We talked about Tony for a little bit and then Geoff asked me about my thoughts for the music and sound of the commercial. I was immediately struck by how passionate he was talking about work. You wouldn’t think the man responsible with helping the Beatles find their signature sound would be that enthused doing anything else, let alone talking about a commercial aimed to sell computers. But Geoff immediately got excited talking about the possibilities of a sound concept for the spot.

Tony, Geoff and I huddled over the next week throwing ideas around. It was a treat to hear stories about being in the studio with the Beatles by a character who was intimately involved. 

Geoff mentioned how he tried his best to never be in a room alone with John Lennon. He respected Lennon, but not surprisingly, Lennon had bullied Geoff around. He said Paul McCartney was like an older brother to him. Often standing up and defending the teenage Geoff from Lennon’s scrutiny.

At one point we were recording cast members audio for the commercial. Geoff really got into it. He obsessed over the pronunciation of every syllable. He made the actors say their lines over and over again. He squinted and listened to their performances through headphones and held them to the highest level. He moaned that he had the same problems with “the Lads,” especially Lennon who was always singing the wrong lyrics or swallowing certain sounds.

During a break one day, I was fiddling around with a song of my own in GarageBand. Geoff came over, sat next to me and leaned into the interface. He was fascinated by the simple recording program. He had me show him different features and how you could basically adjust the audio. He marveled at how portable and instant it all was. He said it would have been perfect for John and Paul to put their ideas down in.

I played a couple of my songs, extremely self-consciously to Geoff. He kindly replied “This is brilliant.” He called out one lyric in particular and said that it was the kind of songwriting John Lennon would do. Everything had a tie back to the Lads. We all loved hearing every anecdote he freely shared.

Another night, we were in Tony Kaye’s home recording studio, just noodling around with Tony’s instruments. I was playing chords on some sort of portable organ. Geoff came over and kept adjusting the settings as I was playing. Making the archaic machine change tones and pitches. It was musical collaboration. I imagined him making the same adjustments with Sir Paul manning the ivories.

One day Tony, Geoff and I were talking about “modern music.” I remember Geoff specifically calling out Kendrick Lamar and Justin Timberlake. He went on and on about the recording fidelity of Timberlake’s latest album. “Every sound is utterly perfect. Nothing else should come close for the Grammy.” Again, I was struck by how generously positive he was. He definitely held his time and contribution to the Beatles in highest regard, but in my short time spent with him, he openly embraced and acknowledged the creative efforts of others.

Geoff’s legacy will live on for his contributions to the most revolutionary band in music history. I am personally grateful for the kindness and he showed in our short time working together.

Time to go put Sgt. Peppers on again and pay special attention to those non-traditional sounds that Geoff found and engineered into the album.

Below is the commercial Tony, Geoff and I worked on together.