This conversation started on March 17th, 2018. Atomic corn for everyone.
Andre, how young are you?
I will have completed 56 revolutions around the sun as of early April.
Where we you born?
A small town on Long Island in New York State called Yaphank. My dad worked at the Brookhaven National Lab there for several years.
What did your dad do at the Brookhaven National Lab?
My dad is literally, and not figuratively, a genius. As a working man, his incredible gifts were in the sciences – anatomy, physiology, biology and (in particular) how they were affected by electro-magnetic fields. Much of what he worked on he could not discuss, though we know he rubbed elbows regularly with folks like Richard Feynman (amongst others). One thing I know he worked on was the development of what we now know as sweet corn – which is its own peculiar story. Up until about 50 years ago, the only way to enjoy fresh, sweet, corn was if you lived rural, and could pick and eat the corn quickly before the sugars became pure starch. Otherwise, you bought canned or creamed corn at the store which had been cooked within hours, or no more than a day of being picked.
My dad was on a team that discovered that through the use of targeted irradiation one could turn off the genes that caused the corn to turn to starch so quickly. The joke in the house was that we were eating “Atomic Corn” – which, in some ways it was.
Do you attribute your love of food and your physical and philosophical view of the experience of it in your life to your dad?
Not at all, actually. My father appreciates my cooking when I’m able to see him – and he will, at times, even compliment me on some technique that strikes him as “novel and successful”. But, food – in our home anyway, was the dominion of my mother – and, she playfully referred to her own skills as “cans like mother used to open”. However, when she noted in my late teen years that I enjoyed being in the kitchen – she never objected to it, and often encouraged my exploration. My real appreciation for cooking came within the final years of my first marriage. It was my escape. My salve, My way of finding me. I was married quite young – at 20, and was divorced at 27. Discovering the world through a fork was an amazing and inexpensive way to travel from an apartment in Powderhorn to… anywhere.
Did you learn from your father a philosophical and intellectual approach to life, that you’ve applied to food and other activities?
I would say, yes, certainly, but in ways that will seem upended. Let me explain. Intellectual geniuses, by and large, are not the happiest people to be around – unless they are fully engaging that gift that they have. He worked long, hard hours – smoked quite a bit, and was not particularly warm or interactive once he arrived home. Emotional and/or domestic complexities were beyond his scope – they couldn’t be put in a particle accelerator or placed under a microscope. He just struggled with being a parent. I can see, understand, and appreciate that fact about him now with a certain level of compassion that I could not as a child.
In terms of his career, even though he appreciated GE, as a company, he really wanted to take an opportunity that he had at The Cleveland Clinic and/or a major university who wanted him. Either opportunity would have allowed him to teach, get published and get something like a Nobel. He had several colleagues who achieved that because they kept to the path.
GE was an interruption due to the need to care for aging parents – it was simply the best opportunity in the region where we needed to be to care for them.
So, when I came along, he was already on a path that did not make him particularly happy. Though he has several medical patents to his name (through GE) and he is still “in the literature” in some places – and those are real successes – he chafes that his path was abruptly altered. Think Tony Conigliaro, by analogy.
So, while I marveled at how smart my father was, he was someone whom I wanted to be as different from, as possible. However, people who know us both, will offer that in terms of genetic similarities my father and I are remarkably alike – but, no, I don’t have an IQ near 200, as he does. I, by dint of pure exposure I’m guessing, have a researcher’s approach to problems; I’m unafraid of ideas that might be counter-intuitive to established norms, I seek, I challenge, I vet, I get lost in the process – even though my métiers and avocations have been in audio, food, sailing, furniture restoration, guitar playing and Red Sox baseball.
It has only been within the past few years that we have become friends, in a way. Perhaps, more like neighbors who finally appreciate each other and try to be polite and not “say the wrong thing”. This has been helpful. We are functioning, somewhat, as a team caring for my mom as she is clearly in the latter stages of her life.
If you feel comfortable can you share with us your emotions of watching your mom head towards her next journey?
Boy…. that is complex.
In the here and now, I must listen with trepidation for the ring of my phone. The calls I have gotten over the past year or two have consisted of emergencies, semi-emergencies, false positives, and other medical anomalies that…. require every effort from me to maintain a sense of calm neutrality – which can be in short supply when you’re under a state of heightened vigilance.
My mom is the third person with whom I’ve been involved intimately with a path toward the end. It is a strange process. I would love to say it is beautiful, though bittersweet – but the deaths in which I’ve been involved, have not been particularly graceful exits. I believe the path can indeed be, beautiful and bittersweet, but – like most anything – the situation and the people involved shape that storyline.
On my end, I’m doing what I can (with the help of others), to keep my mom on a glide path until she is ready. At the moment, she is not ready.
I, in my own way, am trying to be ready for the inevitable call that will come. I’ve mapped out in my mind what that might be like so that – when the call comes – I will hopefully handle it with some type of grace and equanimity that I’d like to believe I may possess. We’ll see. I mean… there really is no surprise to all this, right? – we each have a length of time here and must move on. But, as humans, we get attached, and so we grieve, barter and offer up storylines to satisfy our disbelief when we lose someone – even though we each know, intellectually, that impermanence is the way of the Universe. I’m guessing (probably like most people) I will behave in a way that is a blend of all this.
Does your impermanence inform how you live?
Most days, yes. When I can maintain the rhythm of my life, I study and play my guitar several hours a day before the work day begins, I get a walk of at least three miles at some point, and make a pointed effort to reflect during those times on that fact that I have been given opportunities and choices that I would be wise to embrace, as time is fleeting. The moment, is the thing. I strive for the same balance with the negative things that happen – I realize that they too shall pass and, when I’m present, understand that they can be powerful teachers.
When I’m not in the rhythm of my life, I try to take a step back… take a deep breath…and practice aspects of tonglen. For instance, for the past four months or so with everything going on with my mom, I have been working on remembering that what I’m going through is like so many others at this very moment. Extending my compassion for them extends my awareness and keeps me thankful. But, I won’t lie – that is work. And it is very difficult work during the times I’m fighting insurance companies, etc. Additionally, it is a practice that is relatively new to me and I struggle doing it with the ultimate transparency I believe it requires.
So, even though it is not a strength of mine, I’m able to say (after some deep breathing and reflection) “any step away from the cliff’s edge is a step in the right direction”.
Even in the rhythm of your writing you have a peaceful calmness. You mentioned to me a story about learning a lesson about staying calm while sailing through a lightning storm. Will you share that story?
I had just gotten my bareboat license and was itching to get out in some small sailboats to keep my skills sharp. There was a school on Medicine Lake that rented out boats by the hour for people who could show they had some form of certificate or validation – so, one late Summer afternoon, I got my wife to join me so I could get her into the sailing thing. I was going to teach her how to handle the sheets, read the sails, the water, get used to the heel of the boat, etc. The boat was… not in the best of shape and not particularly well-tended, but it was certainly “fine enough” for an afternoon of learning on the water. Things were going well, but I did not have a weather radio with me… and (as fate would have it) an unpredicted severe thunderstorm was in the works and moving fast towards the lake. A decent sailboat with all its lines in order and a full set of sails would’ve beaten the storm – but, this boat could not do so. We got pounded, pelted, there was lightning, loud thunder, and the boat began to swamp. Even so, I read the waves, the wind, kept my hand on the tiller and calmly stated that we would be ok, the boat wasn’t going to sink (even if it swamped) and that though this was understandably unnerving, we would be ok.
Well… she fell to tears and began to freeze up in all manner (who wouldn’t if this was your first experience?) – I could see that I was losing her to fear – I knew I needed to act.
So, In a forcefully direct, calm, serious tone I made it clear: “Panic kills. Stay with me. Use the bailer. Trim the sheets. Listen carefully. We’ll get through this”. To this day, we still discuss this moment, and she was very thankful that I “got her back in balance” at that moment. I’m not sure where my mettle came from that day, but I knew then, instinctively, that to give into fear would lead to potential disaster.
Where do you live, and why?
I live in Minneapolis and have been here now for 32 years. I didn’t think I’d even be here 32 months given my natural disdain for severe cold. But, I fell in love with The Cities, the people, the active arts culture, the neighborhoods, the distinct change of seasons, I could go on and on. I proudly (and, self-effacing) refer to myself as a MinnieApologist as I try to explain to people how someone from New York would decide to live here – and want to stay here, for so long. Truthfully, as much as I’ve had the opportunity to see a large swath of the US and snippets of the world… I still love living here. It’s been a thrill, as well, to see the food scene come of age in the last 15 years or so – it was not as cosmopolitan when I came here in the late 80’s, by any means.
Why did you come to Minneapolis 32 years ago?
I was in broadcasting at the time working in Lansing, MI. I answered a blindbox ad I saw in a trade publication called Radio and Records and applied to be the production director at one of the Malrite Communications Properties – which one, I didn’t know. At the time, Malrite was a huge hitter in Radio Broadcasting, with stations in many of the largest markets, and a national reputation as being far and away the best in the industry. When I got the call, I was shocked. And, the interview process was… bizarre. But, I got the job, and it allowed me to really develop my writing, voicing, recording, editing and mixing skills. When the industry went into tumult in the early nineties, I got into recording studio work.
Could you share your path from getting into recording studio work to owning your own business?
I knew, in ways that some people just know about themselves things that cannot be easily explained, that I would want – actually need, eventually – to control my own path. It was innate from the time I first started working for other people and I realized that I could be subjected to the whims of others whom… I may not have fully trusted. This was always true despite having an excellent boss in my last job prior to going out on my own. And, truthfully, it was probably a further way of separating myself from my father who was not the most sanguine about my education history, choices of careers, or belief in my capacity to handle the stresses and responsibilities.
So, pride – though I’m not proud of it, played a role.
Your father had an impact on your life. Why are you not proud that pride played a role in your success?
If pride were a light – it’s sole focus would be to illuminate the ego. I’ve worked very hard to find a level of humility and acceptance for all things – even on those things that I screw up. Now that I’m older, I no longer try to take pride in my successes, but see them as what they really are – a combination of events in which I’ve had some authorship, a lot of luck, and fortuitous timing. Seeing it any other way, for me, is potentially delusional and diminishes all the other factors and people who were instrumental in achieving that success.
How long have you had your company? And what has been the biggest obstacles you have faced on this journey?
I started the company in 2000. Like most business owners, one of the biggest obstacles I’ve had to face is overcoming any doubts and fears about what might or might not happen. I’ve had to learn to just “do”, embrace what is there, not fret about what isn’t, and make every effort to be my best at any given time. 2014 was a huge obstacle, as the building I was in was sold, we got evicted, and… we were forced to accept (under duress) that realistically, there was no feasible way to rebuild the business from scratch to the level that we, as a team (I refer to my employees, here), had built. It was very humbling. In fact, it was a bruising important lesson in learning to appreciate the moment you’re in before it is gone. I know there were times I failed to really soak in some truly magical things during those 15 years – as I assumed everything would go on as it had been. Hard way to learn.
However, if I weren’t open to learning what I was supposed to learn from that – I’m sure things would be worse.
I’ve managed to rebuild, (on a much smaller scale) the business from scratch – in a way I’ll be able to more effectively manage going forward. It has its obstacles too – but, in most instances, I’ve recognized them and seized those roadblocks as opportunities. Now, without employees, I need to understand more, research more, and be more patient with vagaries that were once the domain of others. Frankly, it has made me better, quicker, more nimble and creative. I had rarely (if ever) worked on podcasts, audiobooks, advanced field recording, detailed corporate explainers, etc. while I was downtown – but, now, they are in the mix with all the radio, TV, Film work I’ve always done.
Why did you name your company Babble on?
It was an inspired whim… a lark? Truthfully, it was (as I said at the time) “that name is just dumb enough to work”. So many recording facilities had names like “audio such n such” or names that used the principles of the company ”Larson and Hutchinson, etc.. studios”. It just seemed that there were a lot of clichéd and tired sound studio names that… I just wanted something completely different that reflected spoken voice and a place where people could feel loose, free and creative. It stuck. Even now, we still get many compliments on the name and what it appears to say.
For those who don’t know you or are not in the business can you explain what you do?
I’m primarily a voiceover recording engineer, editor, sound-designer, mixer – as well as a voice actor. So, on a typical day (with folks from the ad agency by my side), I record actors reading their scripts, which I then edit to time, place against picture, add music and sound effects, etc. Additionally I record authors and actors for audiobooks, I work on some radio shows and a few podcasts – one of which I’m in the process of creating and developing for myself that is centered around food. But, that is in its very nascent stage.
I know you love food, tell us about that passion?
To me, it is the ultimate art form. A consumable Zen Garden, if you will. Food is tactile and interacts with all our senses – even our hearing – that sizzle on the grill isn’t “just a sound” – it wakes up something ancient in us. Food is social, universal to us all, necessary, and its permutations are endless. And, what fascinates me most is that… no dish can be preserved – it is “art of the moment” in its purest sense. The act of destroying it, is the ultimate act of taking it in and enjoying it – you must be in the moment with it. Think of it: all these ingredients, from places all over the world, picked and procured by people you will likely never meet – get combined, chopped, liquified, hydrated, dried, steamed, broiled, etc. until “the piece is achieved” plated, presented and shared. And then… within another hr or so, over conversation (hopefully), it is all gone – a memory. Never to be perfectly replicated. This “art” then moves through you, gives you life, strength, vitality… and then it is returned to the soil to begin the process all over again of becoming food as it moves back up the chain. It’s pretty remarkable, I think.
Often, while I participate in getting dinner ready, I try to remember to reflect on this. It’s humbling.
It wakes up something ancient in us. Can you explain what that means to you?
Humans have a remarkable capacity to look at the past and scoff – as if to say, “whew, I mean, what were they thinking back then? I am so glad that such ’n such awful thing is no longer true for us now – they were really backward”. Well, to me, there is hubris in assuming we are so evolved that we are somehow no longer tied to certain things. I try to be aware and appreciate any stimuli that arrives that might seem “primitive” – that could be feeling fear, anger, passion, and/or uncertainty without having any really good explanation for it – it is the early brain speaking. And hearing food on the grill – be it meat or vegetables (this is my interpretation, anyway) takes our brains back to when we were first discovering fire and associating it with sustenance. It sounds distinct from a structure burning, or a campfire, or a wildfire. Note your own salivary experience at the sound.
What other ancient teachings are you interested in? Be it philosophy, religion, art, literature?
I’m an omnivore of information, a non-traditional learner and an autodidact by preference (I know it’s an annoying fifteen dollar word, but it is accurate). I read a lot of… everything, frankly. I consume a fair amount of history, I’ve studied quite a bit about the world’s religions (though that was decades ago), I’ve dabbled in philosophy enough to actually read books like The Emile by Rousseau (again, decades ago), and I’m continually fascinated by the progression of music through societies and time, in general. Jazz, though not “ancient” per-se, occupies a lot of my reading, research and head space these days.
You used the word humbling. How does that idea impact and inform your life outside of the food experience?
Every aspect of life is humbling if you allow yourself access to it. For instance, while typing this, I’m looking at my hands fly on a keyboard (designed by someone who came before us with great insight) while I communicate a language agreed upon by our ancestors (whom we didn’t know), in an effort to answer questions on a screen that is tethered to a network of other similar devices that can send and receive messages at the speed of light – over air. How do I control my hands like this? How did I assimilate this language? How can all this be…. just dismissed as ordinary and unremarkable? It’s… humbling. Y’know…. reflect for a moment. Stop being “elsewhere”. Right now, you have access to indoor plumbing, heat, a refrigerator, electricity – perhaps a dog (a whole separate species!) pawing at your leg for attention. It would be hubris to say, “well, yeah, everyone has that”. Well, okay, if everyone has that… that is even more incredible and humbling. Think how it would be if it were all gone? THAT is humbling to think about.
Why do you think as humans we don’t embrace humility and presence more?
A tragedy of being human is that we bore way too easily. Well, at least in this century we appear to be going that way. Reality is no longer enough to amaze us – we need “augmented reality”, “artificially intelligent devices” and “virtual reality” to fill in the spaces of what, since the dawn of time, was “enough”. This is not to say that boredom is new – it isn’t, but going outside to play stickball seems quaint, now (Xbox, anyone?). That is a loss. We rarely converse on the phone or in-person, now (too much effort) – we text. That is a loss. When we go out for a jog, we put on headphones to shut out others and the sound of our natural world (I need my space). That is a loss. I am humbled and saddened by this influence of technological “progress”.
So, with simple reflection… if one is willing to take the risk… one can realize that there is a lot in our everyday, hum-drum, quotidian experience that is undeniably exceptional and humbling. You just have to shut off the machine thrumming between your ears.
First I love this answer. Thank you. It’s absolutely beautiful. What informed this awareness for you. Did you arrive here on your own or did you have teachers, and who were they?
I’m very sincere when I say this – my teachers are everyone with whom I’ve ever come in contact. I truly believe we can learn something from any individual – even if it’s only that we don’t wish to be like them. I’ve yet to meet anyone who isn’t fascinating on some level.
How do you shut off the machine thrumming between your ears?
Y’know, I don’t know if I have ever fully “shut it off” – like any chronic condition, I do my best to manage it. The best I’m able to do for myself is to acknowledge, “Oh, I’m in that non-stop intense thinking mode, right now. Ok, good to know. Let’s accept that it is there. Don’t ignore it. Don’t engage it. Just…accept that it is there and let life occur”. It is similar to what I have gleaned from meditation studies – where one just tries to be the quiet observer of what is going on – neither interfering, or engaging – just being still. Think of it as, I suppose, knowing that the electricity is flowing through the house – just because it is there, doesn’t mean you have to turn the lights on. It’s enough to know that you can tap into it if you choose to do so, and that it is a choice to “hit the switch”.
You are 6 years into your 50’s. What are your thoughts from that vantage point?
Someone once said, in reference to health – “The first fifty years are free”. I find that to be accurate. And, of course there is the old bromide, “Life Begins At 50” – There is much true about that as well. In reference to the first, I can’t run as fast as I once did, my back is a little stiffer, I need glasses, but… I actually appreciate more, now, that I can run at all, that I can easily touch my toes and that glasses can even be a fashion statement. So, though there are changes – they bring forth an awareness that would be difficult to know otherwise. It reminds me of another phrase – “youth is wasted on the young”. Which, is a bit snarky for me, actually. One cannot be wasting what one is not aware of. Age, if we’re lucky, gets all of us. Not to age – to die young, is the real tragedy. And, aging without appreciations and reflection, might be the real waste.
In reference to the second quote, there is a lot there to untangle. However, there is something about entering what people might assume are the “post-reproductive years” – even though people are still capable and even do have children at this age. Also, it is compelling to note, that once one turns 50, how advertising… doesn’t seem to target you like it used to. You don’t see yourself reflected on the screen in the same way. Well, you’re no longer in the coveted 25-54 demo – so, advertisers of cool things don’t really need to talk to you – unless, it is for eyeglasses, hearing aids, will planning, cruise ships, Viagra and assistance with incontinence. Now, at first, I found some of this off-putting, and then I realized… it is actually liberating. If you don’t have to keep up, and nobody wants you to keep up, that whole FOMO thing goes out the window. Big pressure release. So, my biggest challenge (I will offer with embarrassment) was I think, accepting that… I am 50. And, now…. 50 +10%.
Well, there is no shame in that age or distinction. But, in a youth-obsessed culture, it can be difficult to give 50 a firm handshake and be happy about it. But it’s doable. You learn to let go. That wasn’t easy. But, I’m there now. Most days.
What have been your biggest challenges and successes since that day you crossed that milestone?
I think my biggest success is that I’m more patient, more forgiving, more understanding…. of most things, anyway. I’ve seen enough to know that, all the negativity society projects on younger people about what they “don’t appreciate” is only temporarily accurate (at best). They, like us, will likely have kids, lose jobs, have their assumptions exposed as fraudulent, lose relationships, take jobs they hate, see cancer up close, and marry someone who will perhaps seem to them to be a stranger at some point. It just happens. Until you experience any of that… and that takes time – years of time – it’s easy to be young, carry a certain temerity about you, and exude an inability to see past yourself. It is what youth of any generation do – despite any older generations quibbling about it.
You are trapped on the moon. There is no way you can get back to planet earth. Your time is short. You are looking at earth from that vantage point. What will you miss the most about living on this planet?
There is a sensation, tied to two pieces of music, that puts me in a place that confirms for me that there is the capacity for humans to either connect to, and/or to create and touch the sublime. That sensation of actual transcendence that comes over me, is what I would miss most – and it is what I would try to take comfort in as that last breath passed. The first piece is the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony – which always moves me to tears. The fact that it is so dynamic, emotional, plaintive, gorgeous and conceived in the mind of a man who was tortured by being deaf and misunderstood is… beyond comprehension. As a side note, my understanding is that the piece was used in the movie “The Kings Speech” a few years back. This seemed to introduce the piece to a whole new generation of people. Here it is conducted by Bernstein – his last public performance (though he would not know that at the time). At Tanglewood.
The other piece is by Rodrigo. It is the 2nd movement (the adagio) from his master guitar work, the Concierto De Aranjuez. Mythology says that it was written in the wake of a miscarriage by his wife – although this appears to be difficult to confirm and is the subject of much debate. However, given the depth of the emotion of the piece, (the steady “heartbeat” in the guitar at the top speaks to the baby, apparently) it would not be a surprise to me if it were true. The work is remarkable on so many levels – the marriage of guitar (a small voiced parlor instrument) with an orchestra capable of great volume and dynamics is in itself a compositional feat. Combine that with the realization that this piece was conceived in an era before modern amplification and microphone techniques and the fact that the piece holds together at all is amazing. Another side note (I can’t confirm this) Apparently Rodrigo (who was blind) wrote the first manuscript in braille. Here is a Performance by the great John Williams. Skip past the first 28 seconds of tuning up.
If you could be reincarnated, what would you come back as?
Some type of analog stringed instrument? An acoustic instrument is a very personal thing. It must fit the performer in countless ways. It asks nothing, yet is very demanding and is capable of delivering things that are more than just musical notes. It can be a source of pleasant distraction, comfort, solace, power, dedication – and, yet, an instrument is nothing without human contact.
It is one of the very few inanimate things that can actually animate us, make us better, help us communicate more effectively, give us “meaning”.
If you could lose one bad habit for the rest of your life what would you pick?
If you could write the first 3 sentences of your eulogy what would you want it to say?
The word that most optimally defined whom André was would be something with which he actually struggled: Passion.
He was perpetually restless, determined, intellectually and artistically insatiable, curious to a fault… and …it would be fair to say that the majority of his faults were when those passions consumed him to the extent that he would forget others and their needs while relentlessly pursuing his own path – something he regretted.
So, in reflecting on André, he would ask you to be honest about him fully this evening – share what you liked and disliked, things you admired and admonished, pour out that which was commendable and contemptible in order to see him as he was – as we all are – a person, like any other… who struggled to be real, fair, honest and kind despite the ineffable flaws of being so ordinarily human.
This post was previously published on over50badasses.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
Photo credit: Istockphoto.com