THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Ben & Jerry's

Greetings from Vermont! Today’s plan was to jump on the Long Trail and

hike to the top of Bromley, but Mother Nature messes with the best of

intentions. We woke up and it was me and Felice and rain on the roof

(although John Sebastian was nowhere in sight…) After cruising the

outlet shops, we entered the Northshire Bookstore and Felice noticed a

sign pointing to an area for laptop users, and upon confirming there was

free wi-fi, I scooted back home and picked up my laptop (Felice was smart

enough not to travel without hers…)

Actually, it’s not our house anymore. My mother sold it. To a gentleman

who agreed to let us continue to use it. And despite my mom telling me

he’d made the house his own, this proved to be untrue. When I entered

the storage closet and saw my father’s Rossis, my heart sank. He loved


Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

this place. Moe Lefsetz, the least handy man to ever set foot on this

earth, used this Vermont domicile as his playhouse. I remember

encountering him sawing wood with a mini-chainsaw atop the marble

doorstep. Cancer got to him first, but I was always wondering if a home

improvement project would do him in.

Monday we drove around the Magic Triangle, the Hub, two appellations for

the Bromley, Stratton, Magic area that were heavily used in the sixties

but have since been abandoned. Like so many of the chalets on Stratton.

That was the pinnacle, the height of affluence, a home on the access

road, just beneath the base lodge. But those edifices now seemed puny in

comparison to those constructed by today’s he-men of the universe, the

big swinging dicks who raped our financial system and built temples to

themselves. All my memories, of playing bumper pool and throwing

freezer-burned ice cream outside of Sally Jayson’s window, were minimized

when I confronted the palace in my mind. It was small. The years had

taken their toll. I realized ashes to ashes, dust to dust was true. It

wasn’t only people, but our structures. We were only here for a limited

time. To be replaced by worldbeaters whose efforts trumped ours and then

too were replaced. It was depressing.

Tuesday we drove up to Middlebury. I felt strangely

disconnected from the college. Enough years had gone by that I’d

emotionally detached. Everything was familiar, but I now lived in

California. But when we dropped over the mountain via the scariest road

in Vermont, the fabled Route 17, and were confronted with Mad River Glen,

I was stunned how steep it was. Trumping almost all of Vail’s slopes. No

wonder I became such a good skier. The slopes, never mind the

conditions, in Vermont are hard!

After spending the night with my old college roommate Lyndon and his wife

Joanne in Waitsfield, we drove north on Route 100, stopping at legendary

Small Dog Electronics. Funny how a local Apple specialist can become a

national business via the Internet. Small Dog used to only service the

Mad River Valley. Now I’ve purchased an extra hard drive from the

comfort of my home in Santa Monica.

Then we followed some school buses through Waterbury, scooted under Route

89, and came upon one of Vermont’s most famous tourist attractions, the

Ben & Jerry’s factory.

I’d been twice before. The memories were exquisite. Of the tour guide

dropping a bucket to the production floor, where people dressed like the

sperm in that Woody Allen movie poured in butter pecan ice cream via a

giant fire hose and when we finally tasted the retrieved, not yet frozen

elixir, we were in heaven. Truly the best ’scream I’ve ever tasted.

But that was twenty years ago. Today, Ben & Jerry themselves are gone,

made redundant by Unilever, the conglomerate they had to sell to in order

to maintain distribution, and the factory has turned into a Disney-like

attraction, where they even charge you, although they did give us a free

scoop of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.

Before we shot over to the dip shop, where I concocted a Core Sundae

comprised of Chunky Monkey, Phish Phood and hot fudge, I went to the

history wall, where the story of Vermont’s most famous concoction was

revealed.

They learned how to make ice cream from a five dollar correspondence

course from Penn State. Doesn’t matter if you went to music school, if

you’ve got a Ph.D., how does your music sound?

Ben & Jerry’s music, their ice cream, was damn good. They had immediate

success. If you don’t have immediate success playing music, maybe you

need to give up, view it as a hobby. Anyone can tell when something is

great, and most things aren’t. There aren’t numerous Ben & Jerry’s, only

one. An innovative team who did everything in their power to make it.

They needed to make it. Their education left them no other

opportunities.

They gave away free cones on their birthday. And every dip shop still

does.

They started showing movies on the side of the gas station that was their

original facility. Eventually tying in other Burlington merchants and

decamping to an even better, rooftop location.

And speaking of the gas station, they had to move. That’s what happens

when you’re a success. Your customers drive you to expand. This was

after Ben & Jerry ran out of ice cream, the demand being so high.

The innovative marketing. Driving a converted bus cross-country and

giving away free samples. Said bus eventually burning up in Ohio.

Making a flavor, their best selling, named after a Grateful Dead member,

an idea that was proffered by a customer. Yes, a great band listens to

its audience. Fans believe, they only want to help.

But worldwide domination wasn’t instant. It took nearly two decades to

literally encompass the globe. This was after David Letterman did a top

ten list of the least popular Ben & Jerry’s flavors. This was after the

President named them Small Business Persons of the Year. Honors are

nice, but they’re only a step along the way.

Ben & Jerry were rock stars. Men who didn’t believe in the system, who

needed to do it their own way, who could only do it their own way. They

gave back, eventually making an ice cream bearing the moniker of

Vermont’s most famous band, which gave its share of the profits to

charity. Ben & Jerry were in bed with their customers. They sold stock,

the proceeds of which were badly needed for expansion, to Vermonters

only, who wanted to help their own, who were giving back by only using

the milk of Vermont cows, keeping the local farmers in business.

Don’t listen to Mr. Big. Telling you to put on nice

clothes and play the game. Create something great. And once you get

traction, utilize your most innovative, left field ideas to spread the

word. There are no rules when it comes to a music career. Other than

that your music must be great. No amount of innovative marketing can

cover bad music up.

After the Ben & Jerry tour we stopped at the Cider House, partaking of

the divine nectar and some cider donuts. Then up to Stowe, passing

through the Notch from Mt. Mansfield to Smuggler’s. We poked around Lake

Champlain, and as the sun set over the Adirondacks, we took that ride

down Route 7 from Burlington, through Middlebury and Rutland, all the way

back to Manchester, mountains on the left, possibilities to the right.

I left Vermont for those possibilities. And I’m not complaining, I’ve

got no regrets. But part of me is still here, part of me belongs in

Vermont. It’s great to be here.

Factory tour

History

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