An appreciation for the life of Stanley Seeger, rich enough to do exactly what he liked. Dead at 81, June 24, 2011.

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. You’re old enough now to know that life, for most of us, is a series of compromises. You get some of what you want… and lots of what you don’t want. You have to buss body parts for people who insist upon you bending the knee, the better to exalt them. And all the while you think “If only…” This is an article about a man who didn’t say “If only…” He did what he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted… and literally laughed all the way to the bank.

Frank Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board, knew something about this syndrome. He snapped his fingers at conventional behavior and did it his way. That’s why he was the perfect, entirely believable person, to sing one of his signature tunes, “My Way” (recorded 1968). You’ll find it in any search engine. Go now… and listen a couple of times to get yourself in the mood and mind-set for this tale of Stanley Seeger… a man you never heard of before and never saw a picture of… who, whilst you were following The Man’s instructions… lived your dream, and smiled.

Eccentric, idiosyncratic.

First, let’s dispose of a couple of silly words found in every obituary of and article about Stanley Seeger… “eccentric” and “idiosyncratic”. Like clockwork their writers unfailingly use these highly loaded words, pointing out that Seeger lived the exact life he and his life partner (since 1979) Christopher Cone desired. Such pedestrian writers clearly believe and want you to believe that if you live the life you want you are odd, peculiar; that the only normality is living the way everyone else does. The truth is, as soon as people have the ability to live life their way, they seize the opportunity and do. The eccentric folk are the ones who live by the dictates, orders and whims of others… and never know the thrill of the open road, the road that goes to where they want to go. But which you, only dreaming of freedom, will never see…

Seeger selected just the right parents.

I often wonder how smart babies got that way, for even before they are born they have shaped so much of the remainder of their lives, making it just so. When therefore I read how odd Seeger was, I laugh. Why, he had the tremendous good sense (for openers) to select a family rich from timber and oil, two commodities the world never gets enough of. Born in 1930 in Milwaukee; the city the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company immortalized in its long-running ad as the “beer that made Milwaukee famous”, Seeger wanted out of this beer-drenched paradise.

His first step out came when he was sent to boarding school in Arizona. There he went to a traveling exhibition of works from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. These paintings, dramatic, evocative, rule-breaking, challenging spoke to something in the boy. They had, as art and its masters will do, hooked him. The ramifications of this catch would be played out for the rest of his life.

Next, he went to Princeton, the most genteel of the Ivies. Like other boys of aesthethic temperament (Christopher Forbes comes to mind) he flowered at Princeton…from which he graduated in 1952 but stayed on as a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts composition. It was then he took the fatal step of beginning to buy his first serious acquisitions. Like all collectors he needed good advice; he got his from New York dealer Catherine Viviano, who represented a group of young British and Italian painters.

One fateful day, he bought his first ticket to Greece, like so many of us have. The cerulean Aegean… the riches of the Academy… the sharp taste of retsina on a beach too perfect to be true, worked together to capture him forever; it’s what Greece does best. So, he well and truly left Milwaukee behind by becoming a Greek citizen… while giving Princeton $2 million for their Hellenistic studies program. He put his money where his heart was; no one, especially no one at beautiful Princeton, thought that eccentric or idiosyncratic.

London

In the late 1970s Seeger settled, if such a peripatetic fellow ever really settles, in London. There he met Cone, a staff member at Sotheby’s Belgravia branch. There he had another “aha” moment… this time for Victorian art. He liked Fuseli and Turner… He also began to like moderns like Graham Sutherland, Ben Nicholson, Malcolm Morley, and Howard Hodgkin. Just where to put his burgeoning (and valuable) collection was always a challenge, for he not only collected fine art… but residences, too. He had a yacht enchantingly named “Rosenkavalier” and homes in Barbados… St. Moritz…in Berkshire… Devon…. then Yorkshire. Ownership bored him; acquisition did not.

Art needs a home, so Seeger got one… one of the best.

In 1980, Seeger bought one of the most famous estates in the realm of Britain, fabled Sutton Place. It was a red-brick manor house built in the 1520s. Among its celebrated owners was J. Paul Getty, oil magnate, then the richest man on terra firma. Getty got irked by servants and visitors using his phone to rack up huge long distance charges. When he installed a pay phone, the world ridiculed… but the world always expects rich people to cover their tabs. It’s most irritating…

Sutton Place, at the time of Seeger’s purchase, was grand, very grand indeed… 14 bedrooms, large banquet hall, 100 foot library, and more than 700 acres of grounds. But even this was not quite good enough for Seeger, who to the intense irritation of certain British critics who think foreigners should buy but never change these historic properties, started re-modeling. He modernized the decor and, imagine, hung paintings from his avant-garde collection, which hadn’t a Holbein or portrait of Queen Bloody Mary, favoring instead the bold Francis Bacon triptych of contorted nudes he had acquired for $8.5 million in 1979. This was not merely a painting; it was a bold declaration of who Seeger was and what was important to him, let the consequences be what they may. In 6 years he got tired of the effort…. and profitably sold, as usual.

And so this whirligig of a man kept collecting, enjoying, selling and acquiring some more, rich, restless, living out his dream… endlessly searching for a beauty which may only have existed in his mind. Now he’s passed on… and wherever he has gone, I feel sure he is, this very moment, focused on its enhancement… and having achieved that, be it in heaven itself, will pursue the even more perfect and desirable. It is his still unfinished destiny.

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About The Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is , where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at http://homeprofitcoach.com/associates

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An appreciation for the turbulent life and undeniable talent of Amy Winehouse. Dead at 27, July 23, 2011.

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Amy Jade Winehouse was exactly the woman your mother was terrified you’d become… and nagged at you to avoid. She covered her body with old-time sailor tattoos… had a beehive style hair-do that looked like it was construction art… popped pills like juju beans… drank like a fish and then became a “bad drunk”… found men, let them abuse her, then ditched them… to do it all over again. And, if this were not enough, she experimented with every drug her international contacts could get her… then went through some more.

Yeah, she was a mess alright… but there was one redeeming grace… and that was the lady had talent… and an outsized personality that enabled her to showcase her works… and (when she was at her best) wow the folks… while changing the outmoded verities in the musical world… where she was a seismic force smoking out hypocrisies, superficialities, and any hint of silly sweetness. She was authentic to her fingertips… and that made a lot of people — including mothers with young girls — plenty nervous.

Now this volcanic force is dead, aged just 27, and we are left to wonder at why she gave up everything she loved — including her very life — to feed her destructive passions. A good place to look for clues is in her prize-winning 2007 tune “Rehab”. Go to any search engine now. Play the song once or twice, and pay particular attention to the lyrics… “They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’.” And then the kicker we all knew to be true, “Yeah, I’m outta control.” She was right… and it was the tragedy of her life.

She did what she wanted… with whom she wanted… where she wanted.. when she wanted. She knew what was acceptable behavior… she ignored it to achieve who she was. If that upset others, too bad. Her need to behave in ways you found selfish, reprehensible, ridiculous made her maddeningly impossible to be around; you never knew what was coming next… because she never knew what she’d be doing next. It was an exhausting way to live…. and no one knew it better than she did and in moments of clarity she screamed for help “I don’t ever wanna drink again”. But she did drink… and smoke… and shoot up… and inhale… engaging in every form of abuse she could think of, devise or learn from her cadre of fellow travelers, each going to hell in their own fashion….

But through it all there was the music and the talent that produced it. And if we must condemn her, let us do so for this reason: that she abused her talent, wasted her talent, insulted her talent, and treated her talent with contempt, with every injection risking it, threatening it, threatening all. For this she deserves the strongest possible condemnation…

…. Amy Winehouse knew this. But as time went on, it didn’t matter anymore… she knew she was on the road to oblivion. “Can you blame me for being a slave to my passion?” Yes, most assuredly we can… because her passion was not ingestion and self abuse (though it seemed so)… her passion was the music she created… the sound she shaped… the impacting words… these things were her passion and she squandered these with too little remorse and regret. Damn her.

The beginning.

Winehouse was born September 14, 1983 in the Southgate area of north London to a Jewish family whose inclination to jazz later influenced her work. She was the younger of two children (older brother Alex) of Mitchell Winehouse, taxi driver, and Janis Winehouse (nee Seaton), pharmacist. Mitchell often sang Frank Sinatra songs to young Amy, who took to a constant habit of singing to the point that teachers found it difficult keeping her quiet in class. Even then it was clear she had talent… Like other young artists there were many false starts… she got her first guitar at 13 and began writing music a year later. She also began working at this time, for openers a showbiz journalist for the World Entertainment News Network, also singing with a local group the Bolsha Band.

But her passion was the all-girl groups of the ’60’s, particularly The Ronettes, her favorite; it’s where she got her “instantly recognizable” beehive hair-do and Cleopatra make-up.

Break-through.

Just 20, her debut album “Frank” was released October 20, 2003. Produced mainly by Salaam Remi, many songs were influenced by jazz and, apart from two covers, every song was co-written by Winehouse. The reviews were good and brought comparisons to Macy Gray and Sarah Vaughan. In due course, “Frank” garnered a host of awards and honors… and reached platinum sales levels. The little Jewish girl from north London had her foot on the ladder… but as usual did it her way. Instead of engaging in the usual puffery, she said of this album she was just “80 percent” behind it. Her producers fumed… but the world smiled; here was a person who told the (often inconvenient) truths… and we all liked her better.

International success.

In these days, Winehouse was a prodigious worker, an artist who never tolerated the second rate in herself, or anyone else. She knew what she wanted from herself… and from you. “Back to Black” was the result, released in the U.K. October 30, 2006. It became the best-selling U.K. album in 2007, selling a staggering 1.85 million copies over the year. The money guys heard the clink of coin… and were willing to tolerate Winehouse’s often eccentric behavior because she delivered the bucks.

The most influential song on this album was “Rehab”. “Time” magazine called it the “Best Song” of 2007. Interviewer Josh Tyrangiel praised Winehouse for her confidence, saying “What she is is mouthy, funny, sultry, and quite possibly crazy,” and “It’s impossible not to be seduced by her originality.” The world agreed; prizes and honors were showered upon her… and, of course, money, lots and lots of it. All she had to do was keep her demons under control. But who can promise so much, even with the entire world and its golden prizes at stake? She still had higher to fly… the farther to fall when her punishing descent began. Let’s stay a little on the lady still ascending, for her fall is painful, distressing, the stuff of agony and dismay.

In 2008 she won Grammy Awards in the categories for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for the single “Rehab,” while her album “Back to Black” was nominated for Album of the Year and won Best Pop Vocal award. She was now well and truly at the top of the world… for an instant, until the contrary forces she had kept in balance, began pulling in opposite directions she could no longer control. Thus did mighty mayhem break loose… and Amy Winehouse lose her ascendancy in the world… and, far too soon, her life.

She was drawn to, loved, married, dallied with and tolerated, all the wrong people… the weak men who pandered to her vices and abused her body, her weaknesses and kindness; the ones who fed her pills and substances of every kind which she never needed and was unable to resist. Thanks to the constant lurid tales in the tabloids, we all saw it. Hers was a tragedy occurring before our eyes, an irresistible inevitability which at last on July 23 bore its strange fruit. The scene was dirty, squalid, disgusting… with honors, awards, trophies strewn about the place, indicators that life was vanity, all vanity. Short, ironic, painful, pride abashed and all alone.

So did Amy Winehouse kill herself, her talent and her many dreams… but she could not kill her music, rhythmic, honest to a fault, intriguing, bold. Here was the woman at her best… and now this best must stand against the ages, to remind us of her integrity and audacity, for she had these in abundance, and so should we remember her.

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About The Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is , where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at http://homeprofitcoach.com/associates