Living fast and dying young – a tribute to Peter Kinski

By Neil Patrick

I have a dream
To move in a forward motion
'Till I see the shape of my life
Start turning

(Lyric from 'Something to Live and Breathe By'. By James Maker and Peter Kinski. EMI Records, 1991)

Every now and then something happens in our lives which causes us to reflect, to take stock, to be grateful for what we have. This post is a requiem for one of my oldest friends. A story of how our career choices kept us apart but our love of music always brought us back together. It’s about friendship, fate, choices, commitment and rock and roll. It’s also a series of musical snapshots between 1975 and 2016. Forty years of my memories of how music made me feel.

There’s a lot of talk about the merits of following your passion, vs. doing what we are told. And you don’t get much greater opposites than banking and rock and roll. It's easy to be passionate about music. It's almost impossible to be passionate about banking.

My friend was a great artist, musician and a rebel to the end. I was mostly an obedient servant of whatever master dominated my life at the time. I doubt he ever envied me. But I often looked at him with admiration.

1975: School Daze

31 October 1975: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is released. It goes to No.1 for 9 weeks becoming the biggest-selling non-Charity single in UK history. I am furiously banging my head to the outro years before this same act becomes the most memorable clip from the movie, Wayne’s World.

I used the money from my Saturday job working on a fruit and veg stall in the local market to buy Queen’s fourth album, A Night at the Opera. I had been a fan since buying their first album in 1973. I absolutely loved Brian May’s storming rock tracks, but felt a bit queasy listening to the delicate and artsy musings of Freddie Mercury.

At the same time, I met Pete when his family moved to my town and he turned up at my school.

Pete was pale, thin and had straggly blond hair. His blue eyes had a gaze which was deep and knowing. He had a quiet voice and a sharp, acerbic wit. We got talking and it soon became apparent that we were both serious about our rock music. He loved The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Frank Zappa. I loved Thin Lizzy, Genesis and Queen. Lots of heated debates ensued about the merits of this artist or that album. These discussions bonded us in the way that men do by arguing about shared passions.

But we were also different. Pete was not one to compromise. He was quite definite and unnegotiable about everything he cared about. I was pragmatic and flexible. This difference would soon manifest itself in how our lives played out.

This was the age of the LP if you were serious about music. Poseurs and popsters bought little 7 inch singles of chart topping songs. To my pubescent binary mind, real men bought albums – 12 inch slabs of electric noise wrapped in some of the most evocative imagery to be seen anywhere at the time.

Today, the LP is an almost forgotten music medium. Back then, billions were sold. But they were more than just a music medium. They had a physical form which allowed teens to badge themselves and your choice of 12 inch heraldry determined who your friends would be. It was a form of personal branding long before the term had ever been coined. Carrying around a Jimi Hendrix or Deep Purple LP at school was pretty cool. Abba was absolutely not. Owning a Simon and Garfunkel LP risked getting a kicking.

Pete and I shared cigarettes, LPs and copies of Sounds magazine. Pete had started learning to play guitar and even though he could only bash out some simple chords, I was in awe. I wanted a guitar too and I badgered my parents for one to absolutely deaf ears. They thought it was waste of my time and their money. So I gave up asking.

1976: Music on the brink of anarchy

3 April 1976: Brotherhood of Man win the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK with the song "Save Your Kisses For Me”. I absolutely hate it and fear that rock music will die if this trite and pathetic pop junk gets any more airplay. Hearing it really does make me feel I want to strangle someone. Fortunately on August 25th,  Boston’s first album is released. Pete and I agree, it’s absolutely epic and will save the world with the power of its rock.

Punk rock is nascent and Pete is enthusiastic about The Ramones’ first album. I buy Anarchy In The UK, by the Sex Pistols but find it a bit ratty for my taste.

Whilst I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, Pete had a simple if ambitious plan for his. He was going to be an artiste.

Pete had already started and set up his first band. It was called Sticky Fingers - an homage to the Rolling Stones album of the same name. They weren't very good. But thanks to a couple of Marshall stacks, they were loud. And proud.

In the 1970’s, this was a form of cool that the footballers couldn’t begin to emulate. I hung out with Sticky Fingers’ at rehearsals and gigs, lugging drums and amps in and out of village halls and offering uninformed 'advice' about their songs and sound mix. Being part of this band of brothers meant something to me and gave me some much needed confidence that I was somehow more attractive to girls.

The band got better rapidly. Aged 16, we left school and went to the same college sixth form. We chain smoked during our breaks in the student common room. All the other band members were at the same college with us and we adopted a ‘cooler than thou’ attitude, which in hindsight must have made us look like complete pricks.

The discussions about music went on for hours. We’d travel to watch bands such as AC/DC, Hawkwind and Long Island, New York’s greatest rock prodigy, Blue Öyster Cult. The following days would be spent recovering from minor tinnitus and debating the details of every performance we had seen.

1980: Departures

4 December 1980: Led Zeppelin disbands following the death of drummer John Bonham. I am disappointed rather than distraught. Conspicuous compassion won’t be invented until 4 days later when, on 8 December 1980, John Lennon is shot dead outside his apartment building in New York City. I am completely bemused at the media circus and weeping fans. Lennon never even rocked a chair in my opinion.

The time came to go to university. Pete went to Middlesex Poly. I went to Brighton Poly. It seems odd today, but then there were just two ways to keep in touch – the telephone (more or less impossible when you have an itinerant student lifestyle) or letters (which were slow and tedious to write). Pete and I lost touch for what turned out to be the next nine years.

The dice were cast. Pete was staying true to his artistic temperament and studying at art college. I had decided I didn’t want to participate in that life lottery and would go after the money in business and chose to study business and marketing.

1989: Crises of confidence

9 April 1989: The Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman (53) announces that he will marry 19-year-old Mandy Smith, his girlfriend for six years. It doesn’t occur to me that this is immoral and possibly illegal. It seems rockstardom confers sexual super-powers. Confined to corporate conventionalism, I start to doubt the wisdom of my career choice. Only a very large home stereo, gigs and my growing guitar collection keeps me remotely connected to my rock and roll mistress.

By 1989 I had graduated and was in the early stages of my marketing career. I was doing okay I thought. I had been appointed as a marketing manager for a big UK bank and was always the youngest person at every management meeting I attended.

One day I had flu. I took a couple of days off work and lay in bed with a temperature and lots of paracetamol. My girlfriend went out and brought me back some medicines, the Financial Times and a copy of Kerrang! magazine.

From June 1981 right up to the present day, Kerrang! has been the bible of hard rock and heavy metal. I picked it up and looked at the cover. I almost choked. Staring back at me from the cover photo was Pete and the other guys from Sticky Fingers, now going under the moniker of RPLA. The article inside posed the question, “Is this the next Led Zeppelin?”

A three or four page article by editor Geoff Barton told the story of how Pete and the guys had spent the last six years slogging their way round pubs and clubs in London, playing to whoever was there. A talent scout from EMI had spotted them and they had signed a record deal shortly thereafter.

Whilst I was overjoyed at my old school mates’ success, I also had a feeling of remorse. Pete had stuck to his guns, believing in himself and his art. I had chickened out and gone after the security and safety of a conventional career.

I somehow got hold of a postal address for Pete and sent him a congratulatory letter. To my delight he replied and sent me a copy of the band’s new single:

I thought it was great and wrote back to tell him so. He wrote back and said he'd just got back from LA after shooting videos for their forthcoming EMI album. And he was not exaggerating:

Our worlds were now both geographically and occupationally about as far apart as you can get while still living in the same country. We lost touch again for the next 26 years.

2015: The final countdown

Adele's third album, 25 becomes the fastest-selling UK album of all time, beating a record previously held by Oasis' album Be Here Now in 1997. I am forced to buy a copy for my step-daughter although I know it isn’t good for her. Fortunately, I don’t have to listen to it.

In April I spotted on Linkedin that Pete had looked at my LinkedIn profile even though we'd been out of touch for a quarter of a century. I connected with him and asked where he was. He replied he had left London 10 years ago and moved to Wales. “Where in Wales?" I asked. It turned out he was living just 5 miles away.

So last year we renewed our old friendship with mutual enthusiasm. I discovered that in 1991, RPLA had gone very quickly from being media favourites and EMI recording artists, to being dumped in the trash can when internal politics at EMI, band squabbles and fickle media opinions about them killed their career almost as fast as it had begun.

Pete’s achievement had been the result of his total commitment. And in his world, that’s what it takes. In my world, there are few such one shot gambles. Some things go well. Others don’t. We learn our lessons and move on. But I couldn’t help but admire how he’d never compromised and never quit. And for a short moment in time, he had been vindicated.

Pete had spent the next 10 years or so in London attempting without success to rekindle his music career, but all the while lapsing into the underground scene of drugs and clubs. He had found odd jobs as a graphic designer, doing design work for top shelf magazines and the odd bits of session work.

But I was so overjoyed to have my old friend back. We’d chat on the phone, have dinner together, go to the pub. All the while enthusiastically discussing music, guitars and reminiscing.

This went on until last autumn. My summer had been busy and I’d had little contact with Pete. I dropped him an email. The reply that came back paralyzed me. It said he was in a hospice with a rare form of cancer and had been given a few months to live.

I would never see him again. A few emails went back and forth. But he couldn’t easily write anymore and he didn’t want me to visit him in his fast deteriorating condition.

Pete died early this year with no media attention at all, and this is partly why I wrote this. I want him to be remembered. To me he’ll always be the swaggering guitar hero I knew and admired. Rest in peace my old mate. You lived the dream without ever compromising your ideals. You achieved greatness even if it was momentary and fleeting.

You did something everyone should do, but rarely does. You understood your deepest talents and used them to live a life which had meaning to you and those around you. You built your City of Angels.

And this is how I’ll always remember you:

Boomer career reinvention - an interview with John Tarnoff

By Neil Patrick

Back in 2012 I stumbled across a wonderful TEDx talk by John Tarnoff, which simultaneously amused and informed me about the critical difficulties facing baby boomers today in the second half of their careers. I liked it so much that I asked John if I could share it here and he happily consented.

Because it’s such a good watch, here it is again:

Since then, John and I have kept in touch and pursued our individual yet broadly parallel paths in trying to help people tackle this issue. We picked up again recently and I was intrigued to find out what John had been doing. He’s certainly not been idle!

So I chucked a few questions at John and he provided me with his answers which we’re happy to share here.

NP: What have you discovered are the biggest problems boomers are having with jobs and careers?

JT: Many people are shocked at how challenging it is to get a job after they've been "downsized" or forced into an early retirement "buy-out." During the Recession that we are still recovering from in many ways, it took boomers on average twice as long as younger generations to find jobs.

Companies go to a lot of trouble sometimes to wash their hands and alleviate their guilt by including out-placement counselling through large HR firms that specialize in helping workers transition to new jobs, but many boomers I've talked to find these counselling sessions and classes depressing and overwhelming​.

For people who have worked in one job or in one company for ten years or longer, it is extremely disorienting to be let go from what has become a second home, and a virtual family. Recovering from the initial shock can take time. One woman I interviewed pretty much stayed inside and slept for two months after she was let go.

The longer-term question, even for people who are able to weather the transition, is: what to do as a second-act career? Few of us can afford to completely retire. Many of us are going to need to keep a full-time income going for as long as we are able. Fewer jobs are available for older workers, a phenomenon that has something to do with ageism, but I think also simply reflects an outdated cultural norm, which is this assumption that people stop working at 65. If you ask younger recruiters and HR people, they just accept this as part of the way things work, and don't really stop to think about what a multi-generational work place would look like.

The reality of 21st century careers. 

NP: How are you helping people deal with this?

JT: My mission is to help boomers take a more entrepreneurial attitude about work, and to think more expansively about the kinds of businesses they could launch, and services they could provide, in what is now known as the "gig" economy. I believe that after so many years in the work force, we do indeed have the experience, wisdom and understanding to be successful. There is a new job or calling that is inside us, and we just need to do the introspective work, and the external networking and interaction, to figure out how to manifest it. This is not about "follow your bliss." If that were a viable strategy, every contestant on a TV talent competition would be a superstar. Rather, this is about "follow your usefulness." Particularly now, after so many years, we know where we can provide value. We know what we're good at, and what we like doing. That's how we should be proceeding.

NP: What are the most alarming stats you have come across about this subject?

JT: I never think of stats as "alarming" per se. Stats are valuable information​ ​that present us with opportunities to act constructively, or to complain and point fingers. Yes, currently the retirement picture here in the U.S. is not pretty, with 25% of those 55+ having no retirement savings, and no company pensions. Another 25% have some kind of company pension, but still no savings. For the 50% that have at least some savings, and some form of company pension, the average savings account has around USD 100,000 in it. For most people, this means that they are going to have to continue working after "retirement" in order to make ends meet, as their Social Security government pension will not be sufficient.

I'm actually optimistic about the future for this generation, because I think it is going to make better business sense to retain us in the workforce, than to keep us out. There are some small indications that this is happening. Some companies and government agencies are instituting "phased retirement" plans to keep people in their jobs at reduced hours while they build a bridge to a second-act career.

In the U.S. by 2022, 4​0% of the U.S. population will be over 55.​​ This means that to avoid economic collapse, as well as the default of the Social Security government pension fund, the retirement age will need to rise (it's currently 66). To avoid being a burden on the economy, boomers will need to continue to work, and businesses will ultimately recognize that there is a lot we can still do. Every day, I see another myth about aging getting debunked, whether it's about brain function or physical condition. The truth is that we are all living longer, and largely more capable lives. 40% of people who are 65 years old today will live past age 90.

So I like to play around with positive stats that paint a more positive picture, and then do my best to see that this picture becomes a reality.​

NP: What news can we report about your development of the Boomer Reinvention program?

JT: As you know, this all started because I was asked to give a TEDx talk on the subject of transformation. Realizing that the retirement story we were raised to believe has turned out to be a myth, I started to look into what means we could use to transform ourselves in order to keep working.

I'm finishing up a book that lays out the program called: "Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50" which goes into my five reinvention steps. The program is based on my crazy career as an entertainment business executive in Hollywood, and also draws from my Master's degree in Spiritual Psychology.

NP: Do you have any success stories we can recount?

​JT: Well, I'll share part of a story of a gentleman who I profile in my book. This is a guy who worked for decades as a sales executive for a handful of companies, and had risen to very senior positions. But he became very disillusioned with the way these companies were being managed, and found the lack of integrity and short-sightedness disturbing. He knew that he was going to have to figure out a different career solution for himself and his family, but he didn't know where to turn. To make a long story short, this guy had always been a savvy investor, and had learned the investment business by trial and error through trading on his own account. He never thought of this as a business until a friend suggested he look into registering as an investment advisor (a much easier process in certain U.S. states than becoming a broker/dealer). The timing worked out because he was fired from his job soon after, and in the few years​​ has built a lucrative - and very personal - business managing the investments of a small group of clients.​

John Tarnoff

What John's and my own work has confirmed I think is that despite working more or less independently on this issue in different ways and on different sides of the planet, we have both found more or less the same thing; boomers have immensely valuable skills, but they are struggling to figure out how to manage their careers in an age where job loss isn’t a risk, it’s a certainty. And once they fall off their ladders, they can find it very difficult to get back on.

John’s a master of reinvention and in his own words he’s had to be, because he’s had no fewer than 18 jobs in his 35 year career! There’s nothing like experience to teach us how to solve a problem!

If you recognise or are struggling with any of the issues touched on here, then John is a great guy to have in your network. John will be launching his book before the end of 2016. You can register your interest on his website. Please also feel free to connect with John on Twitter or LinkedIn.

My thanks go to John for this update and for sharing his findings and thoughts. Boomers can get back in the game, they just need to know how to do it – and the first step is knowing the right people who can help.

Discover the secrets of career suicide for yourself today!

By Neil Patrick

Are you the CEO of a global advertising business? Are you feeling out of step with the 21st century and in need of a career change? Well I have great news for you. You could transform your career faster and easier than you ever thought possible. Thousands of old white guys know this secret to career transformation. And you could too. Just follow our FREE step by step guide below! Act now before it’s too late.

Offers subject to status. Results may vary. We assume no liability for anything you say do or think which you may find has unexpected consequences. Your personal credibility may be at risk.

If there’s one thing that is guaranteed to get business leaders into trouble these days, it's trying to deny a problem exists when all the evidence points to the contrary. Whitewashing the truth might be the essence of what  advertising companies do, but in an age where media is more democratic than ever before, it's also dangerous and potentially career terminating.

And one group of people are especially vulnerable to this; people stereotyped as ‘old white guys’. I am sensitive to this because I am more or less one myself and it dismays me when I see my demographic peers damaging our increasingly fragile standing in the world.

Last week, via an interview on Business Insider, an old white guy who ought to know better, Chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi, Kevin Roberts got into a spat about his views about women’s careers in advertising and for expressing his opinion that the issue of gender was “done and over.”

He was confronted by Business Insider with the challenge that the advertising industry is sexist because not a single CEO of the six largest advertising agencies in the world is female.

You'd expect that a man at the head of a large global business whose very nature revolves around communication, persuasion and sophisticated messages, would produce an elegant, visionary and inclusive response.

But he didn't.

Having spent about 20 years of my career working almost daily with advertising firms, I've observed at close quarters that the advertising industry is sexist for many reasons, not just its attitudes to the women it employs.

Moreover, its ‘creative’ output for clients is often ageist, elitist, patronizing and worst of all, frequently devoid of any sort of moral compass. Changes to the law have been necessary to stop tobacco advertising and control advertising to children. Basically, provided your business isn’t illegal, almost any advertising company will gladly take (a lot of) your money and spend some of it to promote and lavishly entertain you whilst pocketing the rest.

Commenting on Roberts' fall from grace, CEO of 20-first, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox pointed out in her Harvard Business Review post that:

“Roberts’s kind of willful blindness (in Margaret Heffernan’s wonderful phrase) is widespread. Those who explain the dominance of men in leadership by citing women’s “personal choices,” which of course they respect and have no wish to influence. Others who make a fuss of visibly promoting alpha females (usually without kids) to prove their gender neutrality, while alienating the next generation of women. Those who proudly say they hire the best candidate regardless of gender, without ever considering that their definition of “best” might be rigidly male.”

This blindness and denial is not only unconscionable, it's harmful to business effectiveness. Avivah goes on to say:

“That’s where many managers still are, mostly unconsciously. Denying differences. Some, like Roberts, use the differences to rationalize the gender gap. But without understanding all the issues that affect, influence, and irritate women, it’s pretty hard to create gender-balanced workplaces or to connect with female consumers sustainably.”

“Rather than ignoring gender issues, it’s increasingly important for 21st–century leaders to understand them — deeply. When you can speak to both men and women, without alienating either, that’s “gender bilingualism.” It has nothing to do with Men Are from Mars–esque stereotypes, and everything to do with embracing gender differences along a whole range of masculine and feminine career cycles, communication styles, and differing attitudes to power. And in the world Roberts describes, “a world where we need, like we’ve never needed before, integration, collaboration, connectivity, and creativity,” gender bilingualism is increasingly a leadership skill.”

This is the first reason that Roberts got it so wrong. He didn't just suggest it is not an issue, he clearly stated that the problem is solved, because he believes that women who think and behave just like the worst kind of stereotypical old white men, are doing just fine in the advertising industry.

Mainstream and social media were quick to cotton on to Roberts’ expressed views in the interview and he was promptly suspended pending internal disciplinary processes. He resigned on 3rd August.

Advertising agency creative work is collaborative, fast paced and can be great fun. Agency leadership roles managing business and people usually isn’t. But this is hardly solid grounds to conclude that no women really want to make this transition.

Historically, the principal measures of career success have been rank and pay. The default generalisation is the higher we climb on these particular ladders, the more successful we are assumed to be. And the more fulfilled and happy too.

But this is a way too simplistic view. Reality is different. It is nuanced and often it is entirely the contrary. I know a lot of other old white guys who hold senior positions and would gladly give them up if they knew how to survive without them. They are tired, disgruntled, cynical and burned out. They have little or no fun at all in their work. They’d gladly hand their jobs over to another man, woman or hermaphrodite if they were given half a chance.

This disengagement is because too many organisations have retained cultures which place a premium on Alpha-male competitiveness. Cultures where only lip service is paid to collaboration and inclusivity. Cultures where there is tokenism. Cultures where a winner takes all mentality prevails.

Why do we continue to define success simply in terms of positions on an org chart and pay scale? The millennials have it right. Success is about doing the things at work from which we derive most satisfaction. Whatever those things are and whatever gender we are. But implicit in Robert's comments is that connectivity, collaboration and gender appreciation might be useful for his staff but are not terribly valuable characteristics for industry leaders. It reflects an old world view, not the reality of 21st century business leadership.

He said:

“So we are trying to impose our antiquated shit on them, and they are going: ‘actually guys, you’re missing the point, you don’t understand: I’m way happier than you.’ Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy. So they say: ‘We are not judging ourselves by those standards that you idiotic dinosaur-like men judge yourself by’. I don’t think [the lack of women in leadership roles] is a problem. I’m just not worried about it because they are very happy, they’re very successful, and doing great work.”

And this is where Roberts committed hara-kiri; he asserted that there is no problem, because women are choosing to work to different definitions of success. Not that these definitions are essential to everyone at all levels of the organisation.

The thing that astonished and disappointed me most though was that a man who is (was) at the very top of a huge global business which specializes in media and communications somehow thought that he could express these opinions and not get killed for it. He more than most people should understand how the media, his peers and the public would be likely to react to any statement of denial on this topic.

It seems to me that the real issue for organisations in the 21st century isn’t how to make organisations blind to gender, measuring 'equality' using old world metrics of  pay and seniority; it is how to harness and fulfill the unique talents and aspirations of all employees regardless of age, gender or race. And to recognize that leadership teams exclusively reserved for alpha men are at a serious competitive disadvantage in the digital age.

But then I’m an old white guy, so what do I know?