Of Adele’s show-stoppage, Recording Academy racism, and the time I threw my own NARAS board election

Two nights after the Grammy Awards—which I reviewed negatively at Centerline.news—and I’m still seeing new articles centering on Adele, whose Song of the Year-winning “Hello,” by way of its horrendous video, I trashed here way back in October, 2015, when it came out.

Of course everyone’s creaming over her George Michael tribute, particularly the way she stopped her performance, cursing as ever, to start over after realizing she was singing off-key. So here’s my two cents: Forget about what was really the most stunning stopping of a song in TV history—Elvis Costello’s all-guts 1977 Saturday Night Live cutoff of his Attractions after starting up “Less Than Zero” and firing them into “Radio Radio” thereby biting the hand that fed him and keeping him off an angry SNL for many years. Many years ago, at the Bottom Line, I saw Jane Siberry, sensing something wrong in her performance that no one in the audience did, stop after the first few notes of “The Valley,” declare “I can’t live with that!” and restart it. It was a truly wonderful club performance, which I italicize to set it apart from Adele’s comparably bizarre TV stoppage.

For the self-absorbed drama queen, on the other hand, took up a big chunk of valuable TV time in an interminable (over there-and-a-half hours) show—no doubt cutting into acceptance speeches of other artists while prolonging the misery of at least this one viewer. And I know I’m likely the only one who cares anymore, but on a national prime-time show that is musically geared toward youngsters, Adele’s foul mouth makes for what I’d hardly call a positive role model.

But wait! There’s more!

The big fallout from the Grammy show, as predicted and certified by The New York Times, at least, is race related. Per the Times‘ headline, “#GrammysSoWhite Came to Life. Will the Awards Face Its Race Problem?”—meaning to suggest that the Grammys, “like America,” has “an inclusion problem—or more to the point, an exclusion problem.”

Translating further, the Times said that Adele won all five Grammys she was nominated for (also including Album of the Year and Record of the Year) with an album (25) that is her “least impressive,” but with “pomp-and-circumstance soul belting [that] is the sort of classicism likely to appeal to the Recording Academy voting members, who tend to skew older and more traditional.” Beyonce’s Lemonade, meanwhile, “is musically provocative and wide ranging, and rife with commentary about the meaning of blackness in the United States.”

Be all this as it may, my first question, when it comes to music, is always, Forget race. Forget age. Forget even genre. Do I want to hear it?

In regards to Adele, again, I always felt that “Hello” is a lousy song, and I’ve never cared much for her overwrought performance while granting the obvious–she is indeed hugely talented, as is Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, both of whom I also have little affection for. As for Beyonce, Lemonade for me is so conceptually pulp that I need a lyric sheet to fully grasp it. Not that I have a problem with that necessarily: My No. 1 album last year, after all, was Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution, which had more going on musically and lyrically than Lemonade but was way more listenable, that is, again, for me.

But that, of course, is really what it’s all about, that is, subjectivity. I felt that Katy Perry topped both Adele and Beyonce with her performance of new single “Chained to the Rhythm,” which I’d only heard twice before, but had already been hooked by. So for me, obviously, the hook is King Bee; simplistic, yes, but hey, what can I tell you?

I think my friend Roger Friedman laid it out pretty well yesterday in his Showbiz 411 post, where he maintained that Adele won because she currently has four singles on iTunes, whereas Beyonce has none, also that 25 far outsold Lemonade.

“That’s it,” wrote Roger. “That’s what Grammy committees and voters look at. Is it right? Nope. But that’s what it is.” I’ll add that he also correctly noted that not only did Lemonade have no hit singles—the No. 10 “Formation” notwithstanding–Beyonce’s marketing efforts, while attention-grabbing, have “kept her out of the mainstream,” while her much-ballyhooed Grammy performance was a “self-indulgent crazy piece” that Roger likened to “The Last Supper,” I to Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra.

A lot of things are wrong with the Grammys, as I’ve been saying forever. But I’ve served on Grammy nominating committees and as bad a job as they so often do, I can say they bend over backwards to try to please everyone, which, of course, is impossible. Hence the separate Latin Grammys—and if you want to further the racism discussion, there were no Latin performers Sunday night. But really, it’s just another beauty contest, as all award shows really are. And beauty, as Kinky Friedman likes to say, is in the eyes of the beerholder.

But wait! There’s still more.

Adele made a big show out of apologizing to Beyonce for beating her for the big awards. Well, she must have seen this coming—or at least the not unlikely possibility—and if she felt Beyonce deserved them so much, and wanted her to win them so much, she could have just withdrawn her releases from competition like a Grammy-resistant Frank Ocean did and in effect ensure Beyonce’s victories, though, that might have opened the door for at least an equally deserving Sturgill Simpson.

All this reminds me of my own Grammy-related mishap, when for wanting someone else to win, I essentially voted myself out of the Recording Academy’s New York chapter’s Board of Governors. This must have been sometime in the mid-1990s, when I’d been encouraged to run for a two-year term, and after winning and serving, a second two-year term, which I also won and served.

But in all honesty, I won because I was put in the all-inclusive “At Large” category, I think it was called, meaning there were 10 names listed, if I remember right, and you voted for eight of them. Now I’d had at least a good 15 years of experience in New York as a music business trade journalist/reporter, and knew a lot of people in all areas of the industry. So not to boast, but I had at least enough name recognition to make me a shoo-in to win one of the eight out of 10 slots in the category, like me or not–familiarity here being as big a factor for success as it is at the Grammy ballot box.

Once elected, about the only requirement for serving on the board was attending the meetings, and since I was a freelance writer then and now, the promise of lunch pretty much guaranteed my presence. I don’t think I missed a single meeting in my four years. But I was probably the only one there who was hungry, the other governors being mostly successful record and music publishing company executives along with creatives—name producers like Russ Titelman and Phil Ramone and artists like Gary Burton, Nile Rodgers and Sharon Isbin.

It’s no surprise I was probably the least effective governor. First of all, no artist I ever voted for won a Grammy. And if you ever read any of my Grammy Awards show reviews, you know that only on the most rare occasions did I give as many as two out of five stars.

Then there was the chapter’s pet project, a program called “Grammy in the Schools.” Now I could understand reading, writing and ‘rithmatic being in the schools, and English, social studies and gym. But Grammy? What the fuck?

I could understand, maybe, if it was about the music, but you and I, we’ve been through that. Even with the steep decline in music and arts education in public schools, what with budget cuts–not to mention a reduced value in this country placed on anything culturally edifying–the Grammy in the School focus, as with the Grammy Awards show, was strictly mainstream commercial, hence of little interest to me and what should have been little NARAS interest in promoting to school kids. Making it worse, I felt, was that we weren’t so much promoting music as music business, that is, explaining music industry jobs to kids—not helping them learn about music.

And this sums up my big gripe about NARAS and now the Recording Academy: It cares more about the business than the art, in reality, the business of the Grammys. As I said in Centerline, the show is about the show, not the music.

As you can guess, I sat pretty much alone. But I did make one positive, if failed contribution. Some years earlier, the chapter put on what it called the New York Heroes Awards, which I always thought was a great event honoring deserving New York artists or music business people. The event had been discontinued due to costs, I suppose, so I suggested it be revived, maybe under a different name, and at a not-so-fancy venue with a not-so-fancy production at a not-so-fancy price. I wanted to honor CBGB’s Hilly Kristal, and we had made some headway into establishing it, but it never happened.

Otherwise, like everywhere else in my career, I promoted, and defended, the non-mainstream noncommercial music that NARAS only paid lip service to. Sure, they instituted a polka Grammy, but there I was, on more than one occasion, sitting at the governors table while the chapter president, who I will only say was one of the most famous record producers for one of the most famous artists, made stupid, predictable and uneducated putdowns of polka—prompting me to write him a personal letter virtually accusing him of racism against Eastern European ethnic musics–this, I remind you, many years before the current Adele-Beyonce controversy.

Sure enough, the polka Grammy was later eliminated, as were, among others, the Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album, Best Hawaiian Music Album, Best Native American Music Album and Best Traditional Folk Album. (Pop quiz: When’s the last time you heard zydeco, Cajun, Hawaiian, Native American and traditional folk music on the Grammy Awards show? Better yet, when’s the first time you heard zydeco, Cajun, Hawaiian, Native American and traditional folk music on the Grammy Awards show?)

Anyway, my two terms came up, and because of term limits, I was out—but not before I encouraged a fellow governor to run for chapter president, which he did, and won. Two years later when I became eligible he came back to me and asked me to run again, to which I said I’d do it, but only if I was again placed in the “At Large” category, which he said he’d do. Except he didn’t.

When I received my ballot, I was horrified to see that I’d been placed in the writer’s category—I don’t remember the exact name of it—and worse, that I was up against a woman whose name I don’t remember, but I do remember what she did: She wrote for the New York Philharmonic, as a historian. To me that was way cool to begin with, but making it more so was that not only was she very nice, she shared my lack of excitement for the board and the meetings. At the next one, after we’d received our ballots but before the voting deadline, I told her how unhappy I was that I was running against her, and that I fully intended to vote for her, which in fact I did.

Of course I didn’t think my vote would matter. I mean, like me or not, I still had name recognition, and really, after all I’d done for so many people in the industry for so many years as the champion of all music, major label superstar or indie label unknown, well, again, I was bound to be a shoo-in–especially against a gal who worked for the New York Philharmonic! I mean, no one, besides me and her and a major label classical music producer who was also a board member, gave a shit about classical music! Certainly not the Grammy Awards show producers–not then or now. And even if every member of the symphony was a NARAS member and voted for her, I had to have many more hundreds who knew me and appreciated all that I’d done.

Or so I thought. I lost, and I still miss eating those monthly lunches. A few months later I ran into Jon Marcus, the chapter’s executive director, who ran the meetings with the chapter president. Jon was a great guy who died, sadly, last year—so I can reveal what he told me then not to tell anyone.

“You know,” he said, “you only lost by two votes!”

Do the math: I voted for my opponent—and didn’t vote for me.

I replied: “And both those votes were mine!”

1/14/2016 Award-winning producer Scott Sherratt brings musical touch to audiobooks

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Scott Sherratt and Elvis Costello (Courtesy of Scott Sherratt)

If it’s Grammy season, it’s a given that Scott Sherratt has a vested interest.

High on the list of “first call” producers/directors of audio and video specializing in the publishing industry, Sherratt has helmed seven Grammy-nominated titles, including this year’s Best Spoken Word nominee Yes Please by Amy Poehler. His productions have won over 20 Audio Publishers Association Audie Awards and more than 60 Audiofile Magazine Earphones Awards for Excellence.

Since commencing his audiobook production career, Sherratt has worked on over 600 titles, written and/or recited by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Billy Crystal, Rachel Maddow, Elizabeth Warren, Kim Kardashian, Gene Simmons, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Colin Powell, Mitt Romney, Ted Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Michael Chabon, Harper Lee, John Waters, Robert Ludlum, Poehler and most recently, Carly Simon, Chrissie Hynde and Elvis Costello.

“I work with people for days and it’s a very personal experience for them,” says Sherratt of his award-winning methods. “I take their trust and confidence very seriously: It’s all about showing a side of them that’s best in telling their story.”

He distinguishes between the “producer” and “director” credit as applied to his niche in the recording industry.

“As they relate to standard music recording terminology they are essentially the same,” says Sherratt. “There is a lot of overlap and blurred lines between these job descriptions—meaning that the director is the person in the recording sessions guiding the performance just as a producer does in music sessions. I am most often producer and director–booking studios, contracting talent, directing sessions, and supervising edit, mix, mastering and delivery.”

Each project is unique and presents it’s own challenges and opportunities, he notes.

“It often comes down to communication. I am very comfortable speaking with performers, actors, narrators, and authors and helping to develop a vibrant, energetic, comfortable, and collaborative environment in which to create something amazing. I absolutely love working with creative people–brilliant actors, personalities, and fabulous writers. It is really thrilling and I find the whole process to be tremendously rewarding.”

Sherratt says he always looks to bring added value to his productions, “so each audiobook I produce can stand on it’s own as it’s own creative work rather than simply being a companion to or alternative way of consuming the printed version of a book.”

The audiobook, actually, “often kicks the crap out of the print version,” he adds.

Making it all work is a post-production team made up of editors and other crafts people around the country.

“We live in an exciting time where transferring large files is easy and fast, allowing me to hire the absolute best people in the business regardless of where they live,” Sherratt explains. “I am a bit of an audio nerd, and it is truly important to me that everything sounds great. The mastering legend Bob Ludwig recently complimented some of my productions, and that in itself makes all the extra effort feel worthwhile.”

Being an “audio nerd” comes natural to Sherratt, who brings his extensive background as a musician to his audiobook projects. A guitarist, bassist, vocalist and composer—as well as studio engineer and producer—Sherratt has also acted on stage, film and TV; he has managed stages and tours, and produced live shows in addition to albums and audio books. And he’s toured and recorded with various rock bands for years before settling into his current vocation: He toured with and produced three albums of music for experimental theater playwright/director Richard Maxwell, and produced The Lonesome High album with Willem Dafoe.

Sherratt has since composed and performed music on many of his audiobook productions.

“It’s the most fun when I can call upon some of my favorite musician friends to help out with music for a particular project,” he says. “Last year Rodney Crowell—for whom I produced the audiobook for [his 2011 memoir] Chinaberry Sidewalks–gathered some musicians together in Nashville and wrote and performed some terrific music for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which I produced in L.A. with narrator Reese Witherspoon. Rodney also wrote and performed a perfect guitar piece for Sissy Spacek’s memoir [My Extraordinary Ordinary Life] that I produced a few years ago.”

Music artists frequently provide or perform exclusive material for their audiobook projects with Sherratt.

“[Sonic Youth’s] Kim Gordon gave me a track I loved for her book Girl in a Band and I was thrilled to record Elvis Costello playing guitar for [his new memoir] Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. It is, of course, perfect, and we also recorded some pieces for a track we included on the companion soundtrack album released by Universal Records.”

Observing that it’s a “golden age for audiobooks” in that “more audio is being produced than ever before,” Sherratt has a hard time naming favorites.

“I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities and recorded many amazing people in their homes, most notably Oprah,” he says. “She drove us around her unbelievable California estate in a golf cart and had her private chef prepare delicious meals. I even got her to sing on the recording—and yes, she can really sing! I also recorded Jennifer Lopez at her house last year—also fun.”

Poehler’s Yes Please was “a true production standout” in that Sherratt not only recorded Poehler in Los Angeles along with Michael Schur, but Carol Burnett in Santa Barbara, Patrick Stewart in New York, Poehler’s parents in Boston, and Poehler with Seth Meyers and Kathleen Turner at Saturday Night Live.

“I also produced and recorded a live show with Amy at The Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in Hollywood, which we included on the audiobook. Add to that terrific music by Freddie Khaw, and a track from Steve Albini, and it’s a one-of-a-kind, fabulous item.”

But working with Costello “really was a dream come true,” says Sherratt. “I have been a fan for so many years, and it was such a treat to go to Canada and lock myself in the studio with Elvis for a week. He is every bit as brilliant as I knew him to be.”

Besides working with all the major publishers and numerous independents, Sherratt is additional dialogue replacement (ADR) and casting director for the U.S. version of the animated U.K. TV series Chuggington, and produces and directs other TV and video projects.

Sherratt will stay in Los Angeles after the Grammy Awards to produce a project with X’s John Doe and music publisher/former A & R rep Tom DeSavia. “They’ve written a fabulous personal history of the L.A. punk scene called Under the Big Black Sun—named after an early hit by X.”

But he now laments the one that got away.

“My ‘Great White Whale,’ the long-rumored autobiography by David Bowie!” says Sherratt. “But even if it happened now it wouldn’t be the same: Every author should narrate their own memoirs while they can, because every autobiography that is not read by the subject is less than it might have been.”

Tales of Bessman–Alan Vega, Suicide and The Blind Man in the Bleachers

Alan Vega’s death on July 16, and being back in Madison, Wis at the same time, brought me back to when I first heard Suicide’s self-titeld 1977 debut album, and The Blind Man in the Bleachers.

“The Blind Man in the Bleachers” was a No. 2 country hit in 1975 for Kenny Starr, a cover of the Top 20 pop hit that year by David Geddes. It really was one of the schmaltziest country hits ever, about a blind man in a high school football stadium bleachers who longs to hear his second stringer son’s name announced, but doesn’t show up for the season final. Turns out he died, which is how he gets to “see his son [finally] get in the game” and lead the team to victory.

I was working at the State of Wisconsin at the time, a typist-receptionist in the Department of Administration Bureau of Personnel, in a federally funded program called Project Skill, which was designed to give physically and mentally disabled people job opportunities (myself included, having–get this–earlier worked as a reader-typist for a blind man in the same old downtown State Office Building in the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation). One day this blind guy came in to work, but he wasn’t a client. I can’t remember what his exact staff position was, but Dennis in fact became one of my best friends—thanks largely to his wife Maddy.

Maddy, you see, was a great cook. She used to pack the best lunches for Dennis every day, and me being hungry, well, I stole them. Incredulous people would always ask, “How could you do that?” “Easy,” I’d answer. “He was blind.”

Not that Dennis didn’t try hard. He’d hide his lunch in the closet, in his desk, in places I can’t remember, but to no avail. I’d watch him fumbling around for his lunch and his eventual realization that it wasn’t where he hid it, and cover my ears for the inevitable “FUCK YOU!” that followed. Actually, “FUCK YOU!” was our mutual greeting: Every time he’d call me on the phone, either at home or in the office—and my desk wasn’t more than 20 feet from his—there’d be a pause after I answered, then a loud “FUCK YOU” (if in the office, a loud whispered “FUCK YOU”). I, of course, always responded in kind.

It wasn’t long before Maddy started packing a second lunch, and Dennis and I would walk the couple blocks from the State Office Building on 1 West Wilson Street to the State Capital Square, walking around the Square while eating—that is, when I wasn’t trying to push him into the street or he wasn’t trying to hit me with his cane. At least once a week or so he’d come over to my place a few blocks East of the Square on Hancock Street and listen to records, or I’d take the bus with him to the West Side for dinner followed by Crazy Eights, which, somehow, he invariably won amidst ceaseless gloating.

This had to be around 1977-78–the advent of punk and new wave, which is when I went back to listening to rock after having immersed myself in country music around 1970 when prog-rock and pop-rock replaced ‘60s Top 40 radio and underground rock FM stations. Hence, I knew of “The Blind Man in the Bleachers”–a hit that understandably hasn’t withstood the test of time. As for my Blind Man in the Bleachers, well, Dennis shared my love of ‘60s rock, but pretty much hated punk and new wave. To this day the only time I ever sat through an entire Saturday Night Live was the landmark one on Dec. 17, 1977, when Elvis Costello & the Attractions filled in for the just disbanded Sex Pistols, and it was over at Dennis’s with several of his and Maddy’s other friends. I think there was only one other person there who thought Elvis was incredible–let alone had any idea who he was.

But I played everything for Dennis—Elvis, The Ramones, Blondie, Television, Sex Pistols, Clash, Talking Heads. I don’t recall that he liked any of it, but he did have an assistant who was also a big punk fan, who actually saw the Pistols when they played the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas on that ill-fated U.S. tour.

And, of course, Suicide. I went back to that first Suicide album right after the death of Vega, whom I met many years later in New York when I interviewed him for Billboard. Even now the minimalist album is gripping from instrumentalist Martin Rev’s “Ghost Rider” techno-electro get-go and Vega’s “America America is killing its youth” lyric proceeding into breathless abandon.

And how about “Frankie Teardrop,” which inspired Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper”?

It had an insane electronic beat and a fundamental keyboard grind that heightened the tension in Vega’s tale about the downtrodden psycho killer/suicide Frankie Teardrop (“Let’s hear it for Frankie!”), which erupted into a frantic screech as the subject exploded.

But it was “Cheree” that really set Dennis off. He’d goof on me non-stop for Vega’s “Cheree Cheree, oh baby,” mercilessly exaggerating Vega’s already exaggerated delivery.

I began my writing career in the Project Skill office, when Steve Tatarsky, who worked in the Bureau of Personnel and had earlier worked at The Milwaukee Sentinel, complained how he had to write the Department of Administration newsletter, titled–get this–D.O.A. Today. I offered to help Steve out, even though I had no writing experience outside school–and I’d flunked out of high school.

The only article I remember writing for D.O.A. Today was a somewhat investigative piece on the remodeled men’s room down the hall. Being an old building, it had these beautiful marble walls, institutional gravel floors, and big wooden doors in the stalls–also beautiful. But for some stupid bureaucratic reason, they decided to replace the doors with some kind of hideous orange formica, and I think they covered up the marble as well. It took a long time to do, and when it was finished, the modern upgrade looked awful.

I quoted an unidentified source who used the facility regularly, but as this was all almost 40 years ago, I don’t think he’ll mind if I reveal his name now.

“It looks like a Burger King!” said The Blind Man in the Bleachers.

Lesley Gore

I was on the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for several years before being unceremoniously dumped, ostensibly because they were looking for people who were more knowledgeable about the 1970s (that I wrote the first book on The Ramones, apparently, was of no consequence), but I like to think that it was because every year at the nomcomm meeting I would put up Lesley Gore for nomination.

So it’s not my fault that she’s not up where she belongs, though when I started my own Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantheon, she was one of the first inductees.

Lesley was also one of the first stars I met when I moved to New York in 1982. It was at the Chem Bank at 57th and Broadway, where the Cash Box office was–where I worked. I’m sure I was the ultimate geek when I went up to her and introduced myself and then started slobbering all over her—as well I should: After all, “Judy’s Turn To Cry” was one of the first records I ever bought. I still remember the great B-side, “Just Let Me Cry.”

It remains one of those wonderful things in my career and in my life that I got to know her so well as the years went by. But I didn’t know she was sick. I should have figured it out when she stopped responding to phone calls and emails the last few months, but no, I just figured she was busy and gave her space.

I really should have figured it out last month at APAP—the Association of Performing Arts Presenters annual trade conference at the Hilton, where she was scheduled to showcase. I tweeted my excitement and got there early to surprise her—but she wasn’t there, and no one knew why.

I emailed her again, no response. And then I got carried off with work and whatever else gets in the way of the important things in life.

I’m thrilled to see so many wonderful tributes to her now on Facebook and Twitter. My tweets followed Mark Lindsay’s tweet announcement in the middle of the afternoon. I was at Toy Fair at the Javits Center, the annual toy trade show full of thousands of toy manufacturers and dealers, a business centering on fun and joy and happiness, and suddenly, incongrously, I was fighting back tears.

“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Lesley Gore in rock ‘n’ roll history. That she’s not in the Hall of Fame is true travesty,” I tweeted. When I got home I called Lou Christie, who knew Lesley since 1963, when she had “It’s My Party” and he had “The Gypsy Cried.”

“We stayed friends for all these years,” Lou said, fielding the calls we make at such times. “She was hard and tough, baby. She’d want me to tell you that, too! And she knew she was very talented and very smart and had a great sense of humor. I loved the sound of her voice, and she was a better singer than most people knew. And she went out there and put it all on the line.”

I’ll have more to say about Lelsey shortly and not so personal at examiner.com. I just wanted to get this up now quickly, and with a couple videos. But first I should say that although I knew her very well and loved her very much, I’m not at all alone in either regard. As I told a Facebook friend who offered condolences after reading my tweets, while it surely is a personal loss for me and more so for Lou, it’s personal for anyone who feels it. Lesley touched us all, and we’re all the better for it. And sadly, Lesley was hardly alone among female rock artists (Connie Francis, Nancy Sinatra, The Marvelettes, The Shangri-Las, etc., etc.) in suffering unforgivable neglect by those who should most know better—The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominating Committee.

So here’s video of two legendary rock ‘n’ rollers and longtime friends and contemporaries who aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

And while there are so many Lesley Gore hits to remember her by—most obviously her proto-feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me”—here’s one to help us smile through the tears:

Finally, big thanks to Chris Matthews, who an hour or so ago on Hardball, amidst all the overblown coverage of Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special and the pseudo-singers and celebs it honored, saw fit to run an old Lesley clip and simply, succinctly state, “A loss for the world.”