Lazy or Respectful?

Dobie GrayThere was no reason for me to think that while on a cab ride going through the heart of Downtown Nashville on Tuesday, that Dobie Gray would breathe his last breathes on that same day and in that same city.

But that’s exactly what happened on that cool and damp day as I went past the famous Ryman Auditorium and saw endless pedestrians with cowboy hats and guitar cases probably sharing the same hopes and dreams, but unlikely to ever find their way into the major leagues of obituary pages, The New York Times.

Other than introducing the song “The In Crowd”, which was a bigger hit when Ramsey Lewis covered it, you may know him for his continually popular “Drift Away.”

I don’t really know him from any of his other works, but I found it poignant when after today’s closing bell, where the market dropped an additional 100 points in the last 45 minutes, Bob Pisani on CNBC referred to the market as just having “drifted away.”

Maybe Dobie was on his mind.

I’ve been a Bruce Springsteen fan for nearly 40 years and have seen him in concert a number of times and cities over that time. Along with others, I grieved when the Big Man died, but it was clear at a concert in Baltimore a few years ago that the body was a shell, while the talent and dirve were undying.

Dobie Gray just quietly drifted away.

Springsteen is an original and rarely covers other artists.

When he does it’s an indelible stamp for those that typically need no such approval or recognition.

Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Elvis and Pete Seeger, of course come to mind.

And Dobie Gray. 

Covering an artists work can be interpreted in two different ways.

For some, it is a sign of laziness and lack of creativity. The fear of relying on your own talents to please the ultimate judges who decide your professional fate. It is often a sign of low confidence and playing it safely.

Or, performing a cover can be the ultimate sign of respect that one artist can pay to another.

Although the cynics will also say that performing a cover version can also be the ultimate expression of self-importance as someone tries to put their own spin on a classic. It also may be an expression of opportunism, as I doubt that Ramsey Lewis covered The In Crowd as a tribute to a then small player, Dobie Gray.

Sometimes you just know a good thing when it comes along and you have to act.

But I’m not the cynical kind, unless you’re talking about life and the people who populate the environment in which the world exists.

No doubt that in Springsteen’s case he didn’t really need to draw on anyone else’s body of work. But when he did, they were doozies. Always respectful and always faithful to the vision of the artist honored.

As with Dobie Gray.

In much the same vein, I know that my approach to investing and trying to make my portfolio grow is the ultimate in laziness.

I buy the same stocks, over and over again. I call the list of stocks that I choose from my list of “Old Reliables”. No doubt that each of them was at some point put on my radar screen by someone on TV.

In all likelihood, I then followed and watched for cyclicality and the size of the reward for selling options.

In the case of Ricky Nelson, who put out the hit “Garden Party” in response to the booing he received at a concert in Madison Square Garden where he didn’t play the “old reliables” and got booed, I also only have to please myself.

No, I’m not talking about some kind of investing self-gratification, but I am talking about investment and gratification. The singles gratify me, even if they come at the expense of the homers.

I gave up on trying to be creative. Not only do I have a bad voice, but I can only barely play the accordian, so I know that I won’t be filling any auditoria on my own.

I gave also up on trying to pick stocks and certainly gave up on trying to time purchases to maximize profits.

I recognized, before it was too late, that I was never going to be anything but a cover artist.

Like some Elvis impersonator, I make believe that I know what I’m doing, but in reality, I don’t.

I knw that and so do you.

I don’t really understand fundamental analysis and that probably explains why I don’t have the patience to even attempt to learn. I probably am subconsciously avoiding putting myself into the situation where I would have to admit that “I just don’t get it.”

Except for the fact that I’m fully and consciously now aware of that denial and avoidance strategy.

But like that aging Elvis impersonator, you can make a comfortable, maybe even a very comfortable living without ever coming up with a single original thought.

So I just copy what I’ve done before and then hedge those totally creative lacking decisions by, wouldn’t you know it. covering.

I cover myself and my holdings because I know what my audience wants.

Sugar Momma and I are that audience and like that immortalized Garden crowd of a generation ago, we want safety but we don’t want boredom.

There’s not much respectful about what I do. It’s predominantly laziness and trying to sense opportunities.

Most of the time those opportunities are just the taken from the sense that everything you see, at least when it comes to the shares of solid companies are just part of a trip up or down a sine curve.

I say “solid companies” because I don’t like to think about micro-economic or industry specific issues. I certainly don’t want to get involved in company specific issues.


Except when there’s an opportunity. Oh Ramsey Lewis, how you’ve molded me.

I look at opportuinities as being on the speculative spectrum and with speculation comes undue risk, which more often than not dwarfs the chance of reward.

I prefer probability over possibility.

Most of the time.

But lately, there’s been opportunity whenever a Chinese company gets maligned. At least when the darts are being flung by Muddy Waters.

In those cases, there’s been nice opportunity, such as very recently with Focus Media to take positions after the big price hits have occured and the  s**t has cleared the fan.

Even when the accusations may prove to be acuirate, there seems to be a calming period when there’s opportunity to sell puts or buy shares and write covered calls. Just like Ramsey Lewis did, sometimes you take advantage of a good thing when it comes along.

I’m not proud. I don’t mind saying that I know nothing of Focus Media, did no independent research and have no real strategy. I would be happy to toss it out next week, when the options cycle ends.

In the case of Focus Media, which was up today to $21.50, despite the 200 point plunge, I sold puts at $15 and $16, back when the stock was at $16, barely 10 days ago. Since then, I also picked up shares at $20.71 and sold $20 calls.

Wow. That’s all over the place.

Maybe the lack of coherency is a sign of creativity or maybe it’s just a sign of situational opportunism.

Either way, I’m covered.

Today’s drastic drop in the market was related to a slew of disappointments with regard to reaching financial, fiscal and policy agreements by the members of the EU.

Then, a slew of all new and unrecognizable acronyms hit the same fan that everyone had thought the s**t had  already cleared.

But in the meantime, I’m looking at the possibility of buying back some of those shares that were assigned from me just a few days ago, this coming monday.

The shares that drifted away may be drifting back. Too bad Dobie Gray never found the opportunity to record that obvious follow-up tune.

The best part about all of this is that I did nothing. Talk about laziness. I respect the art of laziness as I spend my day resting in the aptly named La-Z-Boy and let the Dobie Grays of the world do the hard work while leaving a legacy behind for the less talented and knowing, as myself, to avail.

As I listen to someone talking about things “going more pear shaped,” it continues to crystallize.

At this point, I’m even too lazy to Google that expression.

 I increasingly realize that I need to stay lazy and avoid cluttering my mind with confounders. I can’t compete with those that are actually trying to move forward. I’ll just happily thrive in their wake and smile on their way down and again when they bob back up.

I’ll stick with the tried and tested lazy man’s way.

Thank you to the Dobie Grays of the world. You’re appreciated for having paved the way.

And for “The Dobie Gray,” you gave the world one of its most hummable songs, which is just the lazy way for us untalented sorts to make it our own.