Maybe they should have called it “The Art of Postponing Your Retirement”

Got $1,295? Then I’m sure you’ll eagerly pay to hear “the world’s most informed, most influential investors” teach you the art of successful investing at a conference advertised in the September 30 Wall Street Journal (between pages analyzing the largest Dow point loss on record). “The Art of Successful Investing Conference,” October 20, is sponsored by RBC Capital Markets and Wilmington Trust. So make sure you drop all your plans — “Reserve your seat today!” — and head to New York. Oh, and you better make sure you show up to get your money’s worth. A portion of your fee is nonrefundable. Boy. Can’t wait to hear what Wall Street can teach me.

They’re tearing down Mount Rushmore

Jacques Barzun once famously wrote, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” On September 21, one of the baseball’s great ballparks, Yankee Stadium, hosts its last game. Ever.

Yankee Stadium isn’t just the House That Ruth Built. It’s not just a symbol of baseball. It is America, like Frank Sinatra or Mt. Rushmore. St. Patrick’s Cathedral was once described (by Mel Allen) as “the Yankee Stadium of churches,” which sums up Yankee Stadium’s cultural significance perfectly for me.

But all things must pass.

Note: check out Tom Verducci’s excellent article about Yankee Stadium in the 22 September 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Do you remember the John 3:16 guy?

The dude was a crazy fixture at many nationally televised sporting events in the 1970s, bobbing his rainbow colored hair behind home plate until you wished someone would plunk him with a fastball. But, somehow he obnoxiously burned his way into our collective memories like “The Macarena.” I wonder what conclusions we should draw from the fact that this pioneering guerrilla marketer is now serving three consecutive life sentences in prison? Just wondering.

Let us now praise old rock and rollers

On September 16, B.B. King turned 83, just weeks after releasing his latest recording, the well received One Kind Favor, and on the same day, 59-year-old Lindsey Buckingham blessed us with Gift of Screws, thus continuing a run of great music created by rock, country, and blues musicians who could qualify for the senior citizens discount.

Today’s older generation of pop and rock stars — the Bob Dylans, Patti Smiths, and Al Greens — have lived, lost, and flourished. They come from diverse backgrounds, but I believe these traits unite them:

  • Adventure. Robert Plant, now 60, could have rested on his laurels after Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980. Instead, he embarked on a solo career that established him as one of the most inventive musicians in rock history, not “the ex-front man for Led Zeppelin.” His work, especially in the 1990s and beyond, has explored the rhythms of North Africa, rockabilly, folk, and a dash of electronica. He doesn’t need the primal scream of Zeppelin days. On the CD Dreamland, he practically whispers folk covers, and he quietly explores blue grass with Alison Krauss in Raising Sand. Could it be that the established rockers like Plant are in a better position to take these kind of risks because they have nothing left to prove?
  • Perspective. When Paul McCartney was 24, he could only ponder turning 64 some day. In Memory Almost Full, McCartney, his 60s, could speak from experience. On his best recording in decades, he accepts his mortality but revels in the fact that his life has room for whimsy and joy. Perspective, however, also means pain. In the poignant “Mama You Sweet,” Lucinda Willaims, in her 50s, learns to say goodbye to her mother, who died in 2004. In “The Long Goodbye,” Bob Seger, in his early 60s, ruminates on the ravages of Alzheimer’s (which his family has experienced first hand). Lucinda Williams and Bob Seger have experienced the kind of loss that comes with growing older. I want to know how they feel about that.
  • Passion. I don’t particularly care what Kid Rock believes about the war in Iraq. But when Neil Young and John Fogerty vented their anger about Iraq in Living with War and Revival recently, I listened. In particular, Young has seen it all (and protested against it all) from Vietnam to Iraq. He’s earned the right to be a conscientious voice. The older rockers (especially contemporaries of Bob Dylan) came of age at a time when rock and roll meant having a point of view about society and politics. And boy, are they pissed off. John Mellencamp rails against racism in “Jenna,” and the Eagles take on empty consumerism in “Long Road out of Eden.” Whether you agree with them is beside the point. Their passionate social commentary is something sorely lacking today with the exception of rap muscians like Dr. Dre and rock bands like Radiohead.

Rock and roll still means decadence and rebellion. But “hope I die before I get old,” as Pete Townsend once famously wrote, is more myth than reality. The Bob Segers, Lindsey Buckinghams, Lucinda Williamses, and Robert Plants show us that rock also means passion, beauty, loss, adventure, and gowing old. Gracefully.

For further listening, I’ve listed below a partial roll call of excellent music from veterans since 2006:

Continue reading

Let us now praise old rock and rollers

On September 16, B.B. King turned 83, just weeks after releasing his latest recording, the well received One Kind Favor, and on the same day, 59-year-old Lindsey Buckingham blessed us with Gift of Screws, thus continuing a run of great music created by rock, country, and blues musicians who could qualify for the senior citizens discount.

Today’s older generation of pop and rock stars — the Bob Dylans, Patti Smiths, and Al Greens — have lived, lost, and flourished. They come from diverse backgrounds, but I believe these traits unite them:

  • Adventure. Robert Plant, now 60, could have rested on his laurels after Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980. Instead, he embarked on a solo career that established him as one of the most inventive musicians in rock history, not “the ex-front man for Led Zeppelin.” His work, especially in the 1990s and beyond, has explored the rhythms of North Africa, rockabilly, folk, and a dash of electronica. He doesn’t need the primal scream of Zeppelin days. On the CD Dreamland, he practically whispers folk covers, and he quietly explores blue grass with Alison Krauss in Raising Sand. Could it be that the established rockers like Plant are in a better position to take these kind of risks because they have nothing left to prove?
  • Perspective. When Paul McCartney was 24, he could only ponder turning 64 some day. In Memory Almost Full, McCartney, his 60s, could speak from experience. On his best recording in decades, he accepts his mortality but revels in the fact that his life has room for whimsy and joy. Perspective, however, also means pain. In the poignant “Mama You Sweet,” Lucinda Willaims, in her 50s, learns to say goodbye to her mother, who died in 2004. In “The Long Goodbye,” Bob Seger, in his early 60s, ruminates on the ravages of Alzheimer’s (which his family has experienced first hand). Lucinda Williams and Bob Seger have experienced the kind of loss that comes with growing older. I want to know how they feel about that.
  • Passion. I don’t particularly care what Kid Rock believes about the war in Iraq. But when Neil Young and John Fogerty vented their anger about Iraq in Living with War and Revival recently, I listened. In particular, Young has seen it all (and protested against it all) from Vietnam to Iraq. He’s earned the right to be a conscientious voice. The older rockers (especially contemporaries of Bob Dylan) came of age at a time when rock and roll meant having a point of view about society and politics. And boy, are they pissed off. John Mellencamp rails against racism in “Jenna,” and the Eagles take on empty consumerism in “Long Road out of Eden.” Whether you agree with them is beside the point. Their passionate social commentary is something sorely lacking today with the exception of rap muscians like Dr. Dre and rock bands like Radiohead.

Rock and roll still means decadence and rebellion. But “hope I die before I get old,” as Pete Townsend once famously wrote, is more myth than reality. The Bob Segers, Lindsey Buckinghams, Lucinda Williamses, and Robert Plants show us that rock also means passion, beauty, loss, adventure, and gowing old. Gracefully.

For further listening, I’ve listed below a partial roll call of excellent music from veterans since 2006:

Continue reading

Farewell to the great gig in the sky

As my family ate dinner on a quiet Sunday night, the psychedelic sounds of Pink Floyd circa 1968 wafted into the dining from from the living room, evoking some puzzled glances from my wife and daughter. Quite by accident, I had loaded the Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets into our CD player, which isn’t what anyone would expect to complement chicken and potato salad on a warm September evening. Everyone went along with the moment, though, even the self-conscious “freak out” parts of the title track.

Eighteen hours later, a good friend notified me of the news that Richard Wright of the Floyd had just died of cancer.

If you grew up believing in rock — in its power to influence your life, not just provide a passing moment of entertainment on your MP3 player — then I don’t mean to explain why the loss of someone like Richard Wright saddens us. Through his songwriting and keyboard playing, he contributed to some of the most powerful artistic expressions in the Floyd canon, including the songs “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Us and Them,” the centerpiece of the epic The Dark Side of the Moon.

My older brother introduced me to the Floyd in the 1970s (seems like everyone I know learned about the Floyd from their older brother). I never stopped listening. Today the band’s music, especially from the period 1968-1979, feels more potent on repeated playing. The song “Time” by its nature becomes more personal as I grow older (“Every year is getting shorter/never seem to find the time”). “Wish You Were Here” resonates as we begin to experience the loss and grief that middle age visits upon us.

Richard Wright was to Pink Floyd what George Harrison was to the Beatles: not the principal songwriter by any means, but an essential contributor who helped define its sound. To really understand the Floyd, you need to listen to its music the way the band meant it:on albums all the way through from start to finish. Try Meddle, Dark Side, WIsh You Were Here, Animals, or The Wall for starters, and then dig deeper.

Go ahead. Any color you like.

Farewell to the great gig in the sky

As my family ate dinner on a quiet Sunday night, the psychedelic sounds of Pink Floyd circa 1968 wafted into the dining from from the living room, evoking some puzzled glances from my wife and daughter. Quite by accident, I had loaded the Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets into our CD player, which isn’t what anyone would expect to complement chicken and potato salad on a warm September evening. Everyone went along with the moment, though, even the self-conscious “freak out” parts of the title track.

Eighteen hours later, a good friend notified me of the news that Richard Wright of the Floyd had just died of cancer.

If you grew up believing in rock — in its power to influence your life, not just provide a passing moment of entertainment on your MP3 player — then I don’t mean to explain why the loss of someone like Richard Wright saddens us. Through his songwriting and keyboard playing, he contributed to some of the most powerful artistic expressions in the Floyd canon, including the songs “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Us and Them,” the centerpiece of the epic The Dark Side of the Moon.

My older brother introduced me to the Floyd in the 1970s (seems like everyone I know learned about the Floyd from their older brother). I never stopped listening. Today the band’s music, especially from the period 1968-1979, feels more potent on repeated playing. The song “Time” by its nature becomes more personal as I grow older (“Every year is getting shorter/never seem to find the time”). “Wish You Were Here” resonates as we begin to experience the loss and grief that middle age visits upon us.

Richard Wright was to Pink Floyd what George Harrison was to the Beatles: not the principal songwriter by any means, but an essential contributor who helped define its sound. To really understand the Floyd, you need to listen to its music the way the band meant it:on albums all the way through from start to finish. Try Meddle, Dark Side, WIsh You Were Here, Animals, or The Wall for starters, and then dig deeper.

Go ahead. Any color you like.

What marketers can learn from an Elvis impersonator

Elvis Himselvis gyrates his round body on a simple wooden stage and belts out “Suspicious Minds” to a small crowd of men and women dressed mostly in T-shirts and jeans, many of them with skin made leathery red from cigarettes. Shut your eyes and you can imagine the king himself has returned to the building, not a pudgy man wearing a cheap imitation Elvis Las Vegas suit.

If you call yourself a marketer, you should worship at the feet of Elvis Himselvis. For he is the walking essence of brand authenticity.

I’ve been watching Elvis Himselvis play the Illinois State Fair for a few years, and he’s not just making a buck off the memory of a dead rock star. On this particular day, he works through Elvis Presley’s catalog with more polish and passion than Presley himself possessed later in his career, when he stopped caring. The audience sits at rapt attention on benches, folding chairs, and a cement floor. They represent the aging American heatland, most of them probably old enough to have seen the real Elvis in his lifetime, including one chunky man sporting black pants, long-sleeved black shirt, sunglasses, and thick black hair combed doo-wop style.

They sing every song with him, too — “Steamroller Blues,” “Kentucky Rain,” “One Night,” and a “An American Trilogy,” among the highlights. In effect, Elvis Himselvis redeems the Elvis who fell into decline during their lives.

But what makes Elvis Himselvis transcend the “Elvis impersonator” category — what gives him a stamp of authenticity – is his undeniable love for everyone in the room. He radiates joy when he tosses free stuffed animals to children watching from the fringes of the tent. (Sometimes lets them sing onstage with him.) He hugs and serenades the women, whether they look like Jessica Simpson or Marge Simpson. I have seen him dance with children. I have seen him kneel on the floor and softly sing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to a woman bound to a wheelchair and afflicted by palsy, then plant a kiss on her forehead.

And, yes, he cares about the music. You can see it in the way he confers with his band about the song line-up or carefully navigates the tempo changes of “An American Trilogy,” phrasing his words with care. Frankly, he looks nothing like Elvis. But that’s not the point. He is here to interpret music and make people happy, not to mimic songs.

So what can a marketer learn from Elvis Himselvis? My friend and fellow blogger Steve Furman summed it up best once when commenting recently on brand authenticity: “So is it authentic people that make authentic brands? Today’s marketers try so very hard to manufacture brands . . . But try as we might, a brand’s authenticity is in the hands, hearts and minds of the people who greet you at the door.”

Next time you want to discover some authentic brands, try exploring the county fairs, neighborhood festivals, and other places where obscure entertainers share their passion. For real.

By the way, here are some other images from the Illinois State Fair where Elvis Himselvis performs — a little late in coming, but they resonate for me still:

Continue reading

What marketers can learn from an Elvis impersonator

Elvis Himselvis gyrates his round body on a simple wooden stage and belts out “Suspicious Minds” to a small crowd of men and women dressed mostly in T-shirts and jeans, many of them with skin made leathery red from cigarettes. Shut your eyes and you can imagine the king himself has returned to the building, not a pudgy man wearing a cheap imitation Elvis Las Vegas suit.

If you call yourself a marketer, you should worship at the feet of Elvis Himselvis. For he is the walking essence of brand authenticity.

I’ve been watching Elvis Himselvis play the Illinois State Fair for a few years, and he’s not just making a buck off the memory of a dead rock star. On this particular day, he works through Elvis Presley’s catalog with more polish and passion than Presley himself possessed later in his career, when he stopped caring. The audience sits at rapt attention on benches, folding chairs, and a cement floor. They represent the aging American heatland, most of them probably old enough to have seen the real Elvis in his lifetime, including one chunky man sporting black pants, long-sleeved black shirt, sunglasses, and thick black hair combed doo-wop style.

They sing every song with him, too — “Steamroller Blues,” “Kentucky Rain,” “One Night,” and a “An American Trilogy,” among the highlights. In effect, Elvis Himselvis redeems the Elvis who fell into decline during their lives.

But what makes Elvis Himselvis transcend the “Elvis impersonator” category — what gives him a stamp of authenticity – is his undeniable love for everyone in the room. He radiates joy when he tosses free stuffed animals to children watching from the fringes of the tent. (Sometimes lets them sing onstage with him.) He hugs and serenades the women, whether they look like Jessica Simpson or Marge Simpson. I have seen him dance with children. I have seen him kneel on the floor and softly sing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to a woman bound to a wheelchair and afflicted by palsy, then plant a kiss on her forehead.

And, yes, he cares about the music. You can see it in the way he confers with his band about the song line-up or carefully navigates the tempo changes of “An American Trilogy,” phrasing his words with care. Frankly, he looks nothing like Elvis. But that’s not the point. He is here to interpret music and make people happy, not to mimic songs.

So what can a marketer learn from Elvis Himselvis? My friend and fellow blogger Steve Furman summed it up best once when commenting recently on brand authenticity: “So is it authentic people that make authentic brands? Today’s marketers try so very hard to manufacture brands . . . But try as we might, a brand’s authenticity is in the hands, hearts and minds of the people who greet you at the door.”

Next time you want to discover some authentic brands, try exploring the county fairs, neighborhood festivals, and other places where obscure entertainers share their passion. For real.

By the way, here are some other images from the Illinois State Fair where Elvis Himselvis performs — a little late in coming, but they resonate for me still:

Continue reading

Google Chrome and the art of storytelling

Google has taken a clever approach to explaining the technical architecture of its new Chrome web browser. Instead of describing the details in dry terms, Google tells you the story of its development through a comic book available here. The characters are Google’s own developers discussing Chrome in their own words. This is smart, useful marketing that reveals a playful side to Google’s personality. Thank you to Eric Hansen for sharing.