“There is an inner restlessness; an existential “itch” that desperately needs to be scratched. Each of us is at the epicenter of a potential personal crisis of epic proportions. Most Americans hate their jobs and are holding on by their fingertips trying to survive each day at the office. A recent Gallup poll produced the alarming statistic that almost 70% of those surveyed either hate their jobs or are completely disengaged from the work they do. Our ability to grab onto the inner passion of our being and pull ourselves out of this career quicksand will determine the quality of our existence.” (from the forthcoming book by Garrison Leykam and Christopher Leykam)
American journalist George Ames Plimpton is my hero. In fact, I’ve modeled much of my own life after his. Plimpton’s concept of “participatory journalism” combined with the diversity of his experiences brought to life for me Anne Frank’s belief that, “life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Plimpton’s palette of pursuits included competing in professional sports, acting in a Western film, performing a comedy act at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and playing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
George Plimpton was the first editor-in-chief of The Paris Review, he pitched in the 1960 baseball All Star Game (Out of my League), sparred for three rounds with boxing greats Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson, he attended preseason training with the Detroit Lions of the National Football League as a backup quarterback running plays in an intrasquad scrimmage (Paper Lion), joined the Baltimore Colts and played against the Lions in an exhibition game (Mad Ducks and Bears), trained as an ice hockey goalie with the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins and appeared in a preseason game, played professional golf on the PGA Tour (The Bogey Man: A Month on the PGA Tour), attempted stand-up comedy, played tennis against Pancho Gonzalez, wrote the libretto to a new family opera-musical “Animal Tales,” and appeared in a number of feature films as an extra and in cameo appearances such as a small role in the Oscar-winning film “Good Will Hunting.”
Taking my own Plimptonian approach to personal reinvention, I have been inspired by him to participate in my own life by:
Becoming a singer-songwriter and performing at Nashville’s legendary Bluebird Café.
Opening for the Four Tops and the Beach Boys at college concerts.
Producing and engineering for London Records, Inc. during the height of the British Wave, working with such artists as The Moody Blues, Dave Edmunds, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, VanMorrison with Them, Al Green, ZZ Top and others.
Appearing with the self-named rock band, The Garrison Project, at New York City’s iconic CBGBs and other Big Apple venues including DownTime and the C-Note.
Starting my own record company and producing, performing and writing the songs for The Garrison Project CD.
Hosting and producing my own AM news-talk radio show at WSTC/WNLK for which I was featured on the nationally marketed Pepsi refresh Project which was promoted on the Super Bowl XLIV National Football League website.
Hosting and producing the “DINERS” TV show on Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) and being featured in the AMA’s “MotoStars: Celebrities and Motorcycles” exhibit and book along with Brad Pitt, Carlos Mencia, Keith Urban, Peter Fonda and other celebrities and bands including Journey, Rush and Foreigner.
Leading business professionals on an extreme leadership and team building expedition in the White Mountains which was filmed for ESPN2’s “Extreme Magazine” TV program.
Studying with award-winning director Stephen Rosenfield (“the best-known comedy teacher in the country,” The New York Times) to become a stand-up comedian and appearing at Manhattan’s famous Gotham Comedy Club, host to such comedy legends as Robert Klein, Jerry Seinfeld, Lewis Black and Jackie Mason and producing and hosting a TV documentary about my experiences (“Comic on a Half Shell”).
Holding senior-level leadership positions for such notable corporations as MCI Telecommunications, DSL.net and Grand Circle Travel.
Eating and motorcycling my way across the Nutmeg State, chronicling my favorite eateries in the book, Classic Diners of Connecticut.
Trekking across Egypt by motorcycle and writing about my experiences in a two-part feature story in New York rider magazine.
it’s dreams, no matter how grandiose or seemingly silly, that hold the seeds of our own greatness as defined by our personal meaning of success, so long as we relentlessly and uncompromisingly go after them. We owe it to no one other than ourselves to listen to the whispers of our own inner voice reminding us of our dormant passions that yearn for self-expression and the ultimate prize of being able to say, “I did it.” Life is not about how much money you’ve got, what kind of car you drive or what you look like. Life is about going to bed at night being able to say, “I did it” and waking up in the morning wanting to experience more of what life has to offer and saying, “I want to do it.”
It is a sad irony that shortly after praising David Bowie’s career as being hallmarked by reinvention and visual presentation, we should lose yet another music icon who epitomizes reinvention: Prince.
I’ve heard it said that our immortal soul is the legacy we leave for others to remember us by, Prince’s gift for generations to come is that he truly lived and breathed his musical talents; never letting himself be walled in to any genre. For those who are reinventing themselves so that their lives align with their true passions, Prince’s presence within the world and within himself serves as a beacon of light for how to be true to your unique gifts and talents so that you can bring value to your own life and to the lives of others.
When will you realize the full potential of you?
Have you set a date?
Are you going after a goal?
Tomorrow may never happen. What are you doing today to realize your dreams and aspirations? You don’t want to hear yourself lament, “Say say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time.”
Prince made many stops along his reinvention road to greatness: from Little Red Corvette, one of the first videos by a black artist on MTV, to his Academy Award for Purple rain, to his creation of The Family, to Nothing Compares 2 U made famous by Sinead O’Connor, to his name and wardrobe changes and everything he created inbetween.
Practice your craft, embrace diversity, become an expert of you, improvise and make the cream rise to the top of your dreams.
“This is it It’s time for you to go to the wire You will hit ‘Cause you got the burnin’ desire It’s your time (Time)
Never, ever go by the letter (Never ever) You’re so cool (Cool) Everything you do is success Make the rules (Rules) Then break them all ’cause you are the best”
English singer, songwriter, actor and record producer David Bowie’s influence on pop music spanned over five decades. His legacy of work during the ’70s, the decade I was fortunate to be with London Records, is considered by critics and musicians as showcasing the seeds of his genius which would sprout record sales of 140 million worldwide. David Bowie received five platinum and seven gold certifications here in the States and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
David Bowie’s self-named debut album on the Deram label of London Records was released on June 1st 1967, the month and year of my graduation from high school. Three years later I would be overseeing the mastering and production of re-releases of that first album. Ironically, David Bowie and I met one day at the studio when he was working on Space Oddity shortly after Deram Records had dropped him due to poor sales in 1968. Somewhere between conversations about his first album and what fans deem his first masterpiece, Space Oddity, we talked about his lyrics; a conversation I will never forget.
In 1973, London Records repackaged the album “David Bowie” and combined it with various singles and B-sides to create the compilation album “Images 1966–1967” (London Records BP 628/9). By then I had become an avid listener of his music so when I had to listen to test pressings from pressing plants across the country there was no reluctance on my part; only joy. David Bowie’s career was marked by reinvention and visual presentation, his music and stagecraft significantly influencing popular music.
Although London’s compilation album gained Bowie a significant 1973 hit, “The Laughing Gnome,” “There Is A Happy Land” lyrics play to my passion for reinvention and the need for each of us to push back the voices of what others would have us do versus what we need to do to find and live our own true passion. We need to be open to reinventing ourselves to be who we are meant to be by listening to the music of our own inner voice.
“There is a happy land where only children live
They don’t have the time to learn the ways Of you sir, Mr. Grownup”
If what you want means following your true passion…
If what you want brings value to you and others…
If you’re willing to totally commit to achieving what you want and overcoming all obstacles…
Yes, you CAN absolutely and always get what you want.
Among my many musical influences was The Rolling Stones when I was performing solo and in bands during the ’60s. The albums The Rolling Stones, 12 x 5, The Rolling Stones, Now!, December’s Children (And Everybody’s), Aftermath, Between the Buttons, Their Satanic Majesties Request, Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed were my treasure chest of musical inspiration. So, walking through the doors of industry giant London Records at 539 West 25th Street in New York City for the decade of the ’70s and past the Rolling Stones gold records hanging on the walls of the hallway to my office was living the dream.
Working on the mastering and production of Hot Rocks 1964–1971 moved the dream from real to surreal. Released December 20, 1971, the double album compilation was The Rolling Stones’ biggest-selling release of their career spending 262 weeks on the US Billboard 200 chart and peaking at #4. The album sold in excess of six million copies and was certified twelve times platinum.
Among the gems on Hot Rocks 1964–1971 was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” from Let It Bleed. Like most music from that era, when I listen to the songs today they take on new significance, especially the lyrics.
Author and speaker Jim Rohn: “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.” Negative self talk like telling yourself that “I can’t have what I want” is a guarantee that either you don’t want the right things or that you’ll never realize your true passion. And, the more you tell yourself these messages over and over and over again, echoing what your parents, teachers, coaches and significant others told you, the more likely you will live your life unfulfilled and longing. You might “get what you need” but surviving is not living in the truest existential sense of the word. The price will be living a life of repeatedly lamenting, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” So, better to send messages to your inner negative voices and tell them, “Hey! You! Get Off of My Cloud!”
Symbol of the strength and values of the Vassilaros family is Stefanie Kasselakis Kyles who traded her high heels as a very successful investment banker to run the family business. Driven by incomparable talent and 5 cups of black coffee a day, Stefanie is the intersection of old world core values and new world entrepreneurism.
Listen to Garrison’s interview with Stefanie:
The story of Vassilaros & Sons is about an institution that’s served all five boroughs with high-quality, hand-blended coffees, for nearly a century. 5 million cups a day of Vassilaros’ coffee fuels New Yorkers with the spirit that they need to build today and tomorrow, each and every day. But, the little coffee company that could is more than just a business that has weathered the economic storms of almost a hundred years. It’s about a business that’s been built on immigrants helping immigrants and values that stand the test of time like serving customers, gratitude and community.
Photo of Stefanie by Buck Ennis from the article Where Have All The Diners Gone by Aaron Elstein in Crain’s
One of my rock & roll influences growing up was listening to Fats Domino’s 1961 hit cover of the Dave Bartholomew and Earl King penned, “I Hear You Knockin.'” Although Fats drove this song on his keyboard, my parents didn’t have the money for a piano so I learned the chord progression on my guitar and played along with Fats endlessly.
You can imagine my thrill in 1970 when I worked with Welsh singer, guitarist and record producer David WIlliam “Dave” Edmunds at Media Sound Studios in New York City to master his version of “I Hear You Knockin'” which reached #1 on the UK singles charts and #4 here in the States. The unique guitar sound meshed incredibly with his voice effects and that augmented piano chord strike on the turnaround never fails to grab me.
Today, when I listen to the lyrics of “I Hear You Knockin,'” entirely new thoughts come to mind. How many people have had dreams growing up and into young adulthood of what they wanted to do in life; not jobs but real passions that got squelched because of what their parents, teachers and mentors told them they “should” do. And, even when that original passion creeps into their consciousness later in life, that super strong superego pushes it back down and doesn’t let it come to fulfillment. These lyrics strike a chord, don’t they:
You went away and left me long time ago And now you’re knocking on my door I hear you knocking But you can’t come in I hear you knocking Go back where you’ve been
(Dave Bartholomew and Earl King)
Just like “resolution,” the move of a note or chord from dissonance (an unstable sound) to a consonance (a more final or stable sounding one), needs expression in music so, too, we need to give our dissonant, repressed passions full expression if we are to live fulfilling lives and give value to ourselves and others. Make sure you follow your passion when you “Hear it Knockin.'”
"You've had such a varied and impressive career. It's awesome to read about your adventures and reinventions and how you're now helping others do the same," branding expert Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You, Stand Out and Entrepreneurial You