Tag Archives: Michael Wolfe

Michael Wolfe’s Top 10 Time Machine

Like many kids growing up in the 1970s and early ’80s, Casey Kasem was part of Michael Wolfe’s life.

But the teenager did not just listen to “American Top 40.” He was obsessed by it.

And when WNEW-FM did its annual countdown of the 1,000 greatest rock songs of all time, Wolfe sat in his New Rochelle home and followed it with “uncommon interest.”

He is not a musician. He did not become a DJ.

But — 4 decades later — Wolfe’s fascination with countdowns remains.

Thanks to the wonders of podcasts, he’s sharing it with the world.

Wolfe — now an 18-year Westport resident — spent more than 2 decades as a publisher or assistant publisher of consumer magazines like GQ, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone. When the media landscape changed, he developed his own marketing and content business. He does PR consulting too, and is working on a documentary film.

For even longer, he’s known David Yas.

Michael Wolfe (left) and David Yas.

As undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania, they bonded over their shared “strange, pathetic passion for music trivia.”

A couple of years ago Yas — who has a law degree, worked as a financial advisor and, most recently, founded the pod617 podcast network in Boston — and Wolfe started talking about ways they might share their love of countdowns with the world.

“We’re fans. We’re not music journalists or ultimate authorities,” Wolfe explains. “We wanted to talk about the songs that worked, the ones that didn’t, the ones that embarrassed us. We’d do it with an educational element, and we’d dive deep. But we’re not academics.”

The result is “Past Tens: A Top 10 Time Machine.” Once a week they post the Top 10 of that same week from a randomly generated year — any one from 1960 to 2000. For over an hour, the old friends count the songs down, and riff on both the music and the era.

The other day for example, they explored 1978. The podcast’s title was “Best Music Week Ever? Bee Real.” (’78 was the height — or depth — of disco. “Bee Real” is a nod to the genre’s icons, the Bee Gees.)

Other recent years include 1973, ’87, ’80, and “The Head-Shaking Music of 1992.”

The podcast is sometimes taped in Boston, sometimes here.

Wolfe takes care of the research. He unearths plenty of interesting information. (Who knew that Joe Walsh played backup on many Andy Gibb hits?)

But he’s always learning. After hearing “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” on the 1969 countdown, for example, I told him the song had been recorded in Bridgeport. That was news to him.

Yas handles the production end. Yet nothing is planned. Yas hears the countdown for the first time — just like the thousands of other listeners.

“Our discussion is truly live,” Wolfe says. “We just turn on the music, talk and laugh. That’s why listeners like it.”

The chat veers between songs they love and hate; those that have stood the test of time, and those that haven’t. Occasionally they take heavy detours, like debating whether Michael Jackson’s music can be separated from his actions.

(Wolfe and Yas agreed: His songs may mean something different now, but they are always part of the place they occupied in our own personal histories.)

And boy, do listeners provide feedback. “How could you not love ‘Brandy’?!” one woman complained, after Wolfe and Yas trashed the tune that everyone else on the planet adores. Of course, arguments about “Brandy” are part of the fun.

“There’s so much angst and anger in the podcast world. Pop culture keeps us light,” Wolfe says.

Standing out in the podcast world is not easy. Wolfe says there are 700,000 or so out there. Right now they’re doing that by work of mouth. But they’re looking at marketing plans, and talking to networks to expand their reach.

The countdown concept is scalable too. Wolfe says they could look back at the Top 10 TV shows of a given year, or People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People.

For now though, he and Yas are concentrating on music.

Hear, hear!

(“Past Tens: A Top 10 Time Machine” is available on Spotify, Adori, and pretty much everywhere else you find podcasts. Or you can click here for the website.)

Dream On: A Better Chance Changes Lives

Five years ago, Michael and Karen Wolfe were invited to A Better Chance of Westport‘s Dream Event.

They knew little about the organization, but were happy to support their friend. Michael expected a typical charity night: a fun cocktail party, silent auction and dinner.

Then the speeches began.

Two seniors were graduating from ABC — the program that brings academically gifted, economically disadvantaged and highly motivated young men of color to Westport. They live in Glendarcy House on North Avenue, attend Staples High School, and take full advantage of the opportunity. But they give back to this community at least as much as they get.

That night, the young men spoke passionately about their 4 years with A Better Chance. Ruben Guardado talked about growing up in the San Diego barrio, and how coming to Westport opened his horizons to new worlds.

Khaliq Sanda spoke directly about overcoming metaphorical walls, and how ABC allowed his parents — immigrants from Cameroon — to fulfill their dreams of providing an excellent education for their son.

Khaliq Sanda, speaking at the 2014 A Better Chance Dream Event.

Ruben was headed to the University of Southern California, Khaliq to Duke. The Wolfes were in awe, hearing how one organization touched and changed two lives, on such profound levels.

Almost immediately, Michael and Karen decided to become more involved. Fortuitously, Diane Johnson sat at their table. She ran the host family committee. (Each ABC scholar is paired with a Westport family, with whom they spend every Sunday and one full weekend a month. The broadening experience often leads to lifelong friendships.)

The Wolfes’ own children — Jacob and Rachel, twins about to enter Staples themselves — were all in.

Over 4 years, they watched Jarod Ferguson blossom from a shy freshman from Philadelphia into a strong, capable young man, now proudly attending the University of Pittsburgh.

Jarod Ferguson (far left) with the Wolfe family.  They had dinner together every Sunday. This was their final get-together, at Compo Beach.

Last year, Michael introduced Jarod at the 2018 Dream Event. He said, “All we did was share our home over the weekend. But Jarod was willing to share his heart, his mind and his dreams with us. For that, we’re eternally grateful to him, his amazing mother Angela, and to A Better Chance of Westport.”

Michael — now ABC’s vice president of fundraising — is getting ready for this year’s Dream Event. It’s set for Saturday, March 30, at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton.

As he learned 5 years ago, it’s far more than a charity fundraiser. It’s a inspiring, remarkable evening. And it can be as life-changing for attendees as ABC has been for the scholars.

Once again, 2 graduating seniors will speak from the heart.

David Li and Darby Aurelien, A Better Chance of Westport’s 2 graduating seniors.

Since joining ABC 4 years ago from Queens, David Li has been active in basketball, rugby and track. He excels in art, which ABC helped facilitate.

David says:

ABC has been very helpful in my growth and development as a person. Not only have I been able to mature and better myself, but I had the opportunity to continue to pursue my interests and further my creativity.

Since sophomore year I have taken art lessons with Roe Halper. She has helped me immensely, guiding me to perfect my craft and exposing me to new styles and techniques. I am very grateful for everything that ABC and the Westport community have offered me.

“Woman,” an ink drawing by David Li.

It’s hard enough for most ABC scholars to leave their homes in 9th grade — but at least they start as new freshmen with their peers. Darby Aurelien made the transition from Teaneck, New Jersey as a sophomore.

But he too has thrived. Staples fostered his passion for music and public service. Last year Darby traveled to the Dominican Republic with Builders Beyond Borders, where he helped build classrooms. Next month, he heads to Guatemala.

He says:

My time in ABC has been filled with action-packed and memorable experiences. What was once a yearning attempt to just attend a new high school has turned into amicable relationships, wholehearted support, and a growing maturity.

The ABC program provides lots of opportunities to volunteer and give back. With B3 I bond with other students, learn to immerse myself in a community culture, and adapt to living conditions. It is a delight to see what we accomplished as a team to better the lives of others — as A Better Chance of Westport has done for me.

Every year Westporters head to their first Dream Event, expecting just another charity fundraiser.

Like Michael and Karen Wolfe, they never dream of the impact it will make not only on the very special scholars’ lives — but on their own.

(A Better Chance of Westport’s Dream Event is set for Saturday, March 30 at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. For more information and tickets, click here.)

Dads And Daughters Make “Nutcracker” Sparkle

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

You know that, because this weekend “The Nutcracker” dances into town.

The Westport Academy of Dance‘s 36th annual production is set for tomorrow and Sunday (December 2 and 3) at Staples High School.

It’s an area-wide show — but Westporters figure prominently. Staples seniors Julia Rosier, Rachel Wolfe, Kelley Flynn, Jessie Parker and Izzy Chun are featured performers. They and their 120 fellow dancers began rehearsing in August.

Izzy Chun takes the spotlight.

It never gets old: This is the 12th “Nutcracker” for Julia and Rachel.

It’s also the 6th — and last — year that Rachel will dance with her dad.

In 2012, Michael volunteered for the role of “Father.” (The dance role, that is. He’d already fulfilled his biological and emotional roles.)

Michael has been all-in, doing something most fathers never think about — let alone follow through with. Two years ago, he wrote about the experience on his blog.

Michael and Rachel Wolfe.

But they’re not the only Westport father/daughter team. Jessie’s dad Greg has worked backstage for 7 years. Like Michael, he wanted to do what he could to share his then-little girl’s passion.

Everyone knows “The Nutcracker” story. But there are always stories behind the story.

For the final time this weekend, Michael Wolfe and Greg Parker will enjoy theirs.

(“The Nutcracker” will be performed tomorrow [Saturday, December 2] at 3 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, December 3 at 2 p.m. Click here for tickets.)

Michael Wolfe: Westport’s Budding Baryshnikov

If it’s Christmas season, it must be “Nutcracker” time.

As regularly as its clock strikes 12, Westport’s Academy of Dance ballet starring toy soldiers, mice and a Sugar Plum Fairy pirouettes onto the Staples High School stage this weekend (December 5 and 6).

Ah yes: Westport's Academy of Dance performs "The Nutcracker." (Photo/Kerry Long)

Ah yes: Westport’s Academy of Dance performs “The Nutcracker.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Michael Wolfe’s daughter has performed in it for years. So have countless local kids.

But Michael has too. That’s not something many longtime Westport dads can say.

Or if they did, would say publicly.

But Michael — a former publisher of magazines like Men’s Journal and GQ, now CMO of a small financial firm — is proud of his “Nutcracker” life.

In fact, he recently wrote about it in his blog, “Too Lazy To Write a Book.”

It’s a long story. Then again, so is “The Nutcracker.” (Particularly the 1,728,596th time.)

Nutcracker poster

Here’s the Spark Notes version:

Four years ago, the guy playing Clara’s father had a conflict. Michael’s wife Karen told him: “You’re doing this.”

Michael says, “I am not a graceful human being. I am lucky that I stay upright for long periods of time. I bump my knees into walls, chairs and various kitchen appliances at least 3 times a day.”

But his daughter Rachel loves ballet. She dances 6 or 7 days a week, with time off only to “eat, study, and threaten to kill her brother while he’s sleeping.”

Michael’s involvement with her passion had consisted only of dropping his daughter off at rehearsals, and watching her performances (which “take place in the dark and practically demand a good nap”).

So Michael signed up. He passed some kind of audition. As easy as that, he was cast as Clara’s father.

Michael Wolfe's role in "The Nutcracker" was not as demanding as these.

Michael Wolfe’s role in “The Nutcracker” was not as demanding as these kids’.

Rehearsals were tough. Michael describes himself as “a drunk Muppet in the midst of a seizure.” Fortunately, the teachers focused on the girls, and did not worry about “the hapless and possibly spastic adult.”

At the dress rehearsal, he was fitted with a costume at least one size too big. While he knew he was a “glorified extra” — not someone dancing “Baryshnikov’s Greatest Hits” — he still felt out of place. “Joe Cocker dancing with a team of Beyonces,” he writes.

The day of the show, Michael met the professional ballet dancers playing the larger male roles. Changing into his oversized costume in front of those “impossibly muscular physical specimens of human perfection” hardly improved his confidence.

Nor did watching them pull on their leotards, whose only purpose is to make their genitals “appear to be the size of basketballs, and on the verge of bursting through their thin fabric at any minute.”

But his daughter — “ethereal in her wispy snowflake dress, her face in angelic makeup and hair tied tightly in an elegant bun” — thought he looked “awesome.” Then she sat and put makeup on his 19th-century aristocratic face.

Somehow, the shows went off perfectly. He hit his marks, bowed at the right times, and danced decently enough, considering his age and “suspect abilities.”

Michael Wolfe: "Nutcracker" star.

Michael Wolfe: “Nutcracker” star.

For the next 3 years, he reprised his role. And he’ll do it again, today and tomorrow.

But there’s no rush to see him, he says. (Anyway, only a few tickets are available at the door.)

He plans to play his part for a few more years — until Rachel graduates.

Besides, he says, “my daughter’s got this amazing new blush she can’t wait to try out on me.”

(Intrigued by Michael’s story? Click here to read it all. For more information on this weekend’s performances of “The Nutcracker,” click on Westport’s Academy of Dance website.)

Michael Wolfe and his daughter Rachel, backstage last year.

Michael Wolfe and his daughter Rachel, backstage last year.