RIP Mary Travers 1936-2009


I was saddened to hear that Mary Travers died yesterday. As Mary in Peter, Paul and Mary (or PP&M as they usually get referred to), she enthralled a generation with her voice and her attitude.

I was six years old when I first heard Mary sing, and I’ve been hooked ever since, to her voice and to the sound of the band. In The Wind remains one of my all-time favourite albums, and PP&M one of my favourite groups, something I’ve written about here, here, here, here and here. Rocky Road has lifted my spirits on so many dark days when I was young. [Intriguingly, I can only get to the song samples via the US Amazon site, they’re nowhere to be seen on the UK site].


PP&M were an integral part of my childhood and youth, and continue to be an integral part of my life: they’ve influenced me in my attitude to life, my beliefs, my musical tastes, even my vocabulary. I think they’re way underappreciated for who and what they were: they were in Washington on the day of Martin Luther King’s incredible I Have a Dream speech, playing on that same stage. They had 3 albums in the top 10 the day that Kennedy was assassinated. They pretty much introduced the world at large to Bob Dylan, with three different Dylan songs on the album In The Wind. Two of those made the top 10. From Puff The Magic Dragon to Leaving on A Jet Plane (where they introduced John Denver to many of us) they enthralled a world in ways that folk groups rarely do, with their values shaping their music and their lives. A protest group from start to finish.

PP&M was a rare group, one where all members contributed. Mary didn’t just sing, she wrote as well; just do a Google check on “stookey okun travers” and you’ll see what I mean.


One of my favourite Mary Travers songs, poignantly, is Laura Nyro’s And When I Die (a song I will always associate with another seminal group and eponymous album, Blood, Sweat and Tears).

As and when you get the chance, do watch/listen to Mary singing it on the Mama Cass TV show, with Cass Elliott and Joni Mitchell watching. Or just visit YouTube and choose from a plethora of tracks. Because you can.

Mary Travers, thank you for all those sunshine moments in my life, listening to you sing. May you rest in peace.

…. And when [you] die/ there’ll be one child more/ in this world/ to carry on.

Crowdsourcing crowds


Image credits Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

A few days ago, I noticed a comment that a friend had made on Facebook; he said “My friend ——-‘s wife is in Woodstock” and proceeded to link to a still where she is shown as a 14-year-old at the event at Max Yasgur’s farm forty years ago.

And it made me think. Wouldn’t it be fitting, in an ironic kind of way, to crowdsource crowds? What do I mean?


Well, let’s take Wembley, 30th July 1966. The FIFA World Cup Final. There’s been an apocryphal tale going around that if you counted all the people who say they were there to watch England win, it would be many multiples of the actual number at the ground: the official attendance was 98,000.

Wouldn’t it be an interesting experiment to start a wiki page, perhaps on Wikipedia, allowing people to name people they knew were at the game, slowly building up to the 98,000? A virtual gathering of event-alumni, as it were.

Wembley and Woodstock represent different challenges, but perhaps none more so than Dealey Plaza, 22nd November 1963. I don’t mean this to be a Warren Commission or any sort of conspiracy theory resuscitation, just an attempt to form a historical record of who was there.


I may be blowing smoke with my three examples above, but the principle is all I wanted to establish. Using crowdsourcing to annotate and confirm the attendance at historical events where no other form of attendance verification is possible.

People tend not to go to such events alone. People tend to notice who’s next to them, who else they spoke to. And we now have the tools to collate that collective knowledge.

I see a number of benefits:

  • First and foremost, by identifying those present, it is possible to create first-hand and then and share eyewitness accounts for momentous events, perhaps again using Wikipedia
  • Secondly, researchers will have a well-defined base of people to talk to; this is particularly important for those events where the participants are approaching the end of their lives
  • Thirdly, I think there is some inestimable value in bringing together these event-alumni, even if only vicariously and virtually. Friendships could blossom, support groups could emerge, new facts could see the light of day.

This isn’t necessarily going to happen without some catalysis. For many historically important events where we still have eyewitnesses, the clock is ticking; so we may need volunteer grandchildren and great-grandchildren to collect and collate the information. But I think it’s worth it.

What do you think? Worth doing? Please comment away.

The Death of the Download?

I woke up this morning with blepharitis in both eyes. Not sure how it happened, but there you are. A considerable inconvenience, having to reschedule everything, go to the eye hospital, queue up, get seen and diagnosed, pick up the prescription, get the medications from the pharmacy, then go home. Start applying the stuff.

You could say that I was a bear with a sore pair of eyes. I spent most of the day in bed with my eyes shut, willing the infection and inflammation to go away. [Which has begun to happen, thank God.]

Anyway, there I was with my eyes wide shut and nowhere to go and nothing I could usefully do; I had the opportunity to do something I rarely get time for, but which I enjoy greatly. I just let my mind wander.

It wasn’t long before I settled on a subject close to my heart, the whole issue of “content” and its associated awfulnesses, “audiences” and “digital rights”. That was probably triggered by a number of serendipitous events:

Firstly, I received my limited edition book and CD-R of Dark Night of the Soul (or DNOTS, as it gets called), the latest work by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse.


My copy came all shrinkwrapped, with a sticker on top. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw what the sticker said:


I heard about it. I paid for it. Yes, I paid a premium price for the book and the blank CD, the same way I paid for Arctic Monkeys (who started experimenting with the marketing process) or Radiohead (who tried to change how prices are discovered) or Prince (who really understood the Because Effect; he knew that digital copies of his music were essentially infinite, and that he personally represented the most valuable scarcity). [I’ve always felt that the only way I’m going to learn about how value is forming and morphing is by taking part in the process]. It didn’t take a degree in rocket science to figure out that digital downloads of DNOTS were going to be abundant, and that the physical book was likely to be scarce.

As Doc Searls taught me many years ago, Because Effects are all about abundances and scarcities; you make money with scarcity. You make money because of abundance. I’ve written about this repeatedly over the years; if you’re interested, take a look at this or this or this. And while you’re at it, you should probably re-read Kevin Kelly’s Better Than Free, which I refer to here.


Secondly, while in ruminative mood yesterday, I read the Guardian article referred to above. Headlined Collapse in illegal sharing and boom in streaming brings music to executives’ ears, the article is well worth reading. [Don’t worry about the gratuitous use of the word “illegal” before the word “download”, that’s just a generation thing. Like saying “social” before “media”.]. The key takeaway from the article is that teenagers are beginning to move away from downloads and towards streaming.

Thirdly, no story is complete nowadays without a Twitter angle. As I said earlier, I spent much of the day with my eyes closed thinking about things. It takes a lot of effort to do very little, so I was hungry by the late afternoon. Waiting for an early dinner, I checked Twitter out and came across Tim O’Reilly’s RT of an excellent post by Andrew Savikas:


This is a very important post. Andrew Savikas, you have made my day.

People don’t buy LPs or tapes or CDs or even downloads in order to own anything. What they want to do is to listen to music. The business of the musician is to make that music, in ways that only musicians can.

Some people seem to have forgotten that.

As Andrew says:

Whether they realize it or not, media companies are in the service business, not the content business. Look at iTunes: if people paid for content, then it would follow that better content would cost more money. But every song costs the same. Why would people pay the same price for goods of (often vastly) different quality? Because they’re not paying for the goods they’re paying Apple for the service of providing a selection of convenient options easy to pay for and easy to download.

Many people, from Rishab Aiyer Ghosh through to Larry Lessig and Terry Fisher, keep drumming this point home in their different ways. This is not about content. It’s about culture. The food and cooking pot analogies are very important. Again, Andrew Savikas makes that point very well in his post.

Read Andrew Savikas’ post. Then go and read Kevin Kelly’s Better than Free. Then come back and read Andrew Savikas’ post again. All this is a simple variant of Peter Drucker’s “People make shoes, not money”.

We should concentrate on giving customers what they want to pay for, rather than trying to force them to pay for what they don’t want to pay for. Artificial scarcities lead to artificial abundances.

An aside: For some time now, I’ve been researching and writing a book on information as seen from the perspective of food, unsurprisingly called Feed Me. Watch this space.

There’s a child in me somewhere, a child I encourage the existence of. And that child began giggling when the thought occurred to me:

What if the troglodytes finally began to realise that customers were scarce and digital music was abundant? What if they finally began to realise that downloads were an excellent way to advertise scarce things like concerts and physical memorabilia, as Prince figured out?

And what if the customers have given up and moved on, from the download to the stream?

It was never about owning content. It was always about listening to music.

It was never about product. It was always about service.

The customer is the scarcity. We would do well to remember that. And to keep remembering that.