Tale Of Two Charlies

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Tale Of Two Charlies

I listen closely to two Charlies.

Born three years and two hundred miles apart.

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A Tale Of Two Charlies

Charlie “Bird” Parker of Kansas City, Missouri (1920-1954), greatest saxophonist of all time—the “GOAT”---whose jazz transformed music forever.

Charlie Munger of Omaha, Nebraska (b. 1924), legendary investor, polymath, educator, philanthropist, named “the broadest thinker I have ever encountered” by Bill Gates.

Both Charlies earned legions of devotees who mine and sift their every note and every word.

Both Charlies endured life’s blows, terrible blows, unfair blows, to paraphrase Charlie Munger.

Both rebounded, worked tirelessly and triumphed.

Both Charlies applied Charlie Munger’s “Fundamental Algorithm of Life: Repeat What Works!” to make it all happen.

Charlie Parker was cut down at 34, an incalculable loss.

Charlie Munger will soon be 98, a wondrous gift.

As informed investors, readers know Charlie Munger’s story.

Here is Charlie Parker’s:

Bird in Flight

In 1936 sixteen-year-old Charlie Parker, budding saxophone virtuoso, ventured on stage at a jazzfest in Kansas City, to the crowd’s delight.

But as Charlie played delight turned to disgust.

For in fright and anxiety Parker lost track of the chords, ran ahead of the band.

Until veteran drummer, Joe Jones, flung a cymbal at him.

Young Charlie Parker was booed off the stage.

“Life will have blows, terrible blows…” - Charles T. Munger

“The best thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.” - Warren E. Buffett

Humbled and humiliated Parker retreated from public performance, beaten but unbroken.

He practiced for months, learning chord changes, improvisation and inversion, relentlessly repeating what works in jazz.

And what always works in jazz is “cool.”

 “The best thing I did in life was to choose the right heroes.” - Warren E. Buffett

The Birth of the Cool

The embodiment of cool in the 1930s was Lester Young, saxophonist supreme.

Ninety years later Lester Young remains the iconic cool jazz artist.

Dubbed “Pres” by the great Billie Holiday, Young was known for his effortless, elite air.

Where Parker had been over-anxious, Young was ultra-cool.

Totally relaxed and confident: the Dean Martin of instrumental jazz.

Emulating his hero, Parker returned to the jazz scene.

And in a slow, compounding storm Charlie Parker rose to reign as the most renowned, innovative and beloved saxophonist in jazz.

The Fundamental Algorithm: The Corollary

There is a corollary to Charlie Munger’s Fundamental Algorithm of Life.

It is implicit.

But given human nature it must be made explicit:

Repeat What Works AND Stop What Doesn’t!

For in that formative year Charlie Parker suffered another terrible blow.

Passenger in a caravan of cars headed for a Thanksgiving performance,

Charlie’s car crashed.

A fellow musician was killed.

Charlie escaped death with three broken ribs and a spinal fracture.

His agonizing recovery lasted a year.

In the medical wisdom of the day opiates were routinely prescribed for pain control.

The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” - Warren E. Buffett

When Charlie Parker’s prescriptions ended, as with so many exposed to long-term opiate treatment, street drugs ensued.  He had dabbled in the past, but with daily pharmaceutical-grade opiates the greatest saxophonist of all time had become hopelessly addicted.

Detox and treatment failed, again and again.

Unable to stop what no longer worked, living in a jazz world that esteemed illicit drug use as a ticket of admission, a badge of courage, despite unrivaled artistic success and what would prove to be everlasting fame, Charlie “Bird” Parker died of complications of his addictions at 34.

The medical examiner took him for nearly double his true age.

Bird Lives!

Charlie Parker fans have long since proclaimed, “Bird Lives!”

Through recordings: live, studio and bootleg, and rare videos.

The briefest fragments of Bird are treasured as sonic gold.

Here he is, with string orchestra, musically assuring we will never lose him:

Gershwin brothers’ “They Can’t Take That Away From Me:”

Charlie Munger on Addiction

Careful observer and deep thinker, the morbidity and mortality of addiction have not escaped Charlie Munger.

Speaking to the 1986 graduating class of Harvard-Westlake, a private secondary school where he is a longtime trustee, Charlie warned of the profound dangers of addiction:

“The four closest friends of my youth were highly intelligent, ethical, humorous types, favored in person and background.  Two are long dead, with alcohol a contributing factor, and a third is a living alcoholic, if you can call that living.  And I have yet to meet anyone, in over six decades of life, whose life was worsened by over-fear and over-avoidance of such a deceptive pathway to destruction.”

Well-versed in math, his undergraduate major, Charlie Munger has also framed his admonition in probabilities, courtesy of Tren Griffin in “Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor”:

“Why play dice with something that can ruin your life forever?”

Iatrogenic Addiction

But not every addiction is a choice.

Many addicts begin innocently enough, with exposure to pain or anxiety-relieving drugs used for legitimate medical, surgical or psychiatric purposes.

Well-meaning caregivers can unwittingly fire an addiction that mires or, worse, extinguishes a life, taking down career, family, reputation and good name, leaving nothing to live for.

Gratefully, American healthcare, after long emphasizing pain relief over addiction risk, has now awakened to the dangers of addiction by prescription.

The pendulum has swung and restrictive prescriptive practices for controlled substances and preferred use of nonaddictive treatments are now de rigueur in modern healthcare.

It is part of Evidence-Based Medicine.

But listen closely to “Evidence-Based Medicine” and hear Charlie Munger’s Fundamental Algorithm of Life, and its Corollary:

                     “Repeat What Works And Stop What Doesn’t”

See also, “Charlie Munger and the Fundamental Algorithm of Life"


About the Author

Mark Tobak, MD, is a general adult psychiatrist in private practice. He is the former chief of inpatient geriatric psychiatry and now an attending physician at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, NY. He graduated the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Columbia University School of General Studies. Dr. Tobak also has a law degree from Fordham University School of Law and was admitted to the NY State Bar. His work appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatric Times, and American Journal of Medicine and Pathology. He is the author of Anyone Can Be Rich! A Psychiatrist Provides the Mental Tools to Build Your Wealth, which received high praise from Warren Buffett.

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Mark Tobak, MD, is a general adult psychiatrist in private practice. He is the former chief of inpatient geriatric psychiatry and now an attending physician at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, NY. He graduated the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Columbia University School of General Studies. Dr. Tobak also has a law degree from Fordham University School of Law and was admitted to the NY State Bar. His work appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatric Times, and American Journal of Medicine and Pathology. He is the author of Anyone Can Be Rich! A Psychiatrist Provides the Mental Tools to Build Your Wealth, which received high praise from Warren Buffett.
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