How I Fell in Love with Rock & Roll

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Led Zeppelin turned me on to rock and roll 40 years ago.

In 1976, I was 13 years old. My family had settled into a new home in Wheaton, Illinois, after moving from Battle Creek, Michigan, the year before. Music figured large in our lives. My older sister Karen enjoyed disco. I dealt with the loneliness of being a new kid in town by immersing myself in books and music. I was a huge fan of soul (especially Al Green), funk, R&B, and jazz (especially George Benson). Everything I knew about rock was based on what I could hear on singles-friendly AM radio, which meant a lot of soft rock along the lines of “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns.

I knew who Led Zeppelin was because my older brother, Dan, owned all their albums. But Dan listened to music in the privacy of his bedroom, lost in a world defined by his collection of rock albums, black felt posters, and books about World War II fighter planes, and, it seemed, secrets I would never know. We lived in the same house but in two different rooms on different floors of the house, our doors always shut to each other.

My life changed one day when Dan and I were the only ones in the house. I was in my own room reading a book about baseball when I heard this strange, exotic, powerful tune wafting up from our family room downstairs. It sounded as though a collection of Middle Eastern musicians had decided to entertain themselves in our home. I tried to focus on studying baseball statistics. But the song just kept rising into my room like a dust storm from the desert. The tension built with each refrain, as strings, guitar, and a distorted drum complemented a man’s voice crying with angst.

I put down my book and cautiously walked downstairs. With each step toward the family room, I felt the rush of drums, guitars, and strings engulf me. Dan stood before me, his eyes locked on the vinyl record spinning on our family console stereo, a monolithic beast that housed my dad’s collection of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

“What is this?” I asked.

Without turning his head, he replied, “Kashmir.”

We spoke no words after that exchange. We just stood together and immersed ourselves in the song.

Afterward, Dan wordlessly shared with me the album that had produced the song, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, which had been released the year before. I was accustomed to album jackets that contained one simple pocket. Physical Graffiti was something completely different: a sepia-tinged photo of a New York tenement building with the name of the album formed by die-cut letters peeking from behind different windows. The jacket housed two albums protected by their own sleeves fashioned to look like the cover. The tenement windows were adorned with a hodgepodge of images including band members, Queen Elizabeth, a bomb dropping, and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. And the music inside would turn out to be a revelation.

I began to explore the band my brother loved. Physical Graffiti was an excellent introduction because the album destroyed every stereotype I held about the band. I had assumed Led Zeppelin was a group of heavy metal rockers, and I was quickly disabused of that notion. “Custard Pie” made me want to dance. “In My Time of Dying” felt like gospel. “Trampled Under Foot” resonated with my love of funk and soul, and the bucolic “Down by the Seaside” was certainly nothing close to hard rock. Listening to “Kashmir,” on the other hand, was like journeying to another land and time.

As a showcase of the many sides of Led Zeppelin, the album opened up my eyes to the diverse nature of album-oriented rock in the 1970s. As it turned out, my brother’s world was not as private as I thought it had been. Although he did not exactly encourage me to hang out in his room, he didn’t discourage me, either. Crucially, he allowed me to explore his album collection, including all the classics: The Dark Side of the Moon, Sticky Fingers, Who’s Next, and Fragile just for starters.

Rock and roll would loom large in my life from that point forward. I got caught up in the Doors revival of the early 1980s and visited Père Lachaise Cemetery on the 10th anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death. The music of Pink Floyd helped me endure some of life’s ups and downs and created more moments of bonding with Dan, as I discussed with the leading Pink Floyd fan website, Brain Damage. I edited a book about the history of rock and roll and began writing about music extensively on my own blog. Rock has become a lifelong passion, and I can trace that passion all the way back to the moment when my older brother and I shared Led Zeppelin for the first time.

Related:

The Golden Shaman: Robert Plant’s Journey,” September 28, 2015

Would Led Zeppelin Succeed Today? ” August 3, 2015

Three Lessons I Learned from Jim Morrison,” July 3, 2015

The Marketing Genius of ‘Led Zeppelin IV,'” August 29, 2011

How a Janitor and ‘Hotel California’ Shaped Me,” July 8, 2011

The Case for Remixing Your Logo

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For most brands, corporate logos are protected and revered. A business such as Disney invests substantial energy and budget into making its logotype a consistent expression of its brand essence, and for good reason: especially in the age of Instagram and Snapchat, a logotype is like a totem that instantly tells a story about your brand through repetition across the online and offline worlds. But Google is not like most brands. On a major occasion such as St. Patrick’s Day, you can always count on Google to remix its logo. And Google delivers through its Google Doodles, which re-imagine the Google logo on the brand’s website. On St. Patrick’s Day 2016, the multi-colored Google logo transformed into a dancing shamrock and turned green.

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GoogleDoodle

By remixing its logo, Google makes its brand culturally relevant.

Businesses can make themselves culturally relevant in many ways. One of Google’s most well known approaches is to remix its logo to celebrate cultural diversity around the world. As the Google Doodle archive demonstrates, Google creates different Doodles in different country markets befitting the interests and customs of those countries. On February 29, Google published a Doodle in India that honored classical dancer and choreographer Rukmini Devi on what would have been her 112th birthday. Google refashioned its logo as a flowing ribbon in a nod to Bharata Natyam, a traditional Indian dance form popularized by Devi.

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By contrast, the Rolling Stones remix their famous “rolling tongue” logo to immerse themselves in different cultures in a playful, even provocative way. To promote the band’s recent tour of South America and Mexico, the Stones have cleverly recast their logo in context of striking designs that pay homage to the countries where they are playing, as this example shows:

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Sometimes brands make themselves culturally relevant by making a statement about topical issues. For instance, the Honey Nut Cheerios cereal brand has temporarily dropped its bee mascot from boxes in Canada to draw attention to the declining numbers of bees and other pollinators worldwide.

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And of course many businesses practice cultural relevancy through their actions. But especially for large brands with high profiles, a logo remix is a powerful way to achieve instant cultural relevance.

If you are going to make your brand culturally relevant, it’s important to do your homework. There is a fine line between celebrating multi-culturalism and exploiting different cultures. And it’s not too difficult to find examples of businesses whose attempts to acknowledge different cultures have backfired miserably. Google gets it right through its logo mixes, which invariably strike the correct tone, being playful or reverent depending on the occasion. By making the Google Doodle a recurring practice, Google also makes its logo remixes feel less gimmicky. Google is and secure in its position as the world’s most valuable company. By remixing its logo, Google sends a message: we are part of the world, not the center of it.

My George Martin Memories

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Sir George Martin crossed paths with me twice during my career in marketing, and both times he left his mark. I remember those two moments clearly as I reflect on the passing of the Fifth Beatle:

A Personal Encounter

I first met him in 2000 when I worked on the Accenture global marketing team. Someone had the presence of mind to book him to speak at one of those team-building meetings that features a blizzard of PowerPoint presentations and character-building exercises. He was a welcome sight. Drawing upon his career with the Beatles, he spoke about the collaborative nature of creativity and the give-and-take that must occur with any productive partnership. Certainly he was one who could speak with authority on those topics.

Afterward, he hung around and chatted with anyone who cared to linger. Of course, I took advantage of the opportunity. He patiently listened to me blather on about the Beatles (why is it that when you meet someone as famous as Sir George Martin, you can’t think of anything meaningful to say?). When I was done reciting my favorite Beatles songs, he did something I did not expect: he asked me about me. What did I do for a living? What inspired me? He noticed I was wearing a wedding ring, and so he asked me about my family. I mentioned how I wished my wife, Jan, could have joined me for the occasion. He replied, “I’m sorry you have to travel alone for work and that your wife cannot be here with you. Why don’t I sign something for both you and Jan?”

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I still have that autograph.

Hosting Sir George

Years later, when I ran marketing for Razorfish, it was my job to plan the annual Client Summit, which was conceive to inspire clients and employees to celebrate the state of the art in digital marketing. I thought it would be a great idea for Sir George to speak at the 2008 Client Summit, held in New York — not just because of his musical legacy, which was patently obvious, but because of that gentle warmth and charisma he’d displayed years before. After negotiating with the agency that represented him, I landed him as our closing keynote.

At this point in his life, he was in his early 80s, and it was public knowledge that he was hard of hearing and a bit more fragile. More than once, I was asked by colleagues, “Do you think everyone will know who he is?” and “Has he been in the public eye recently?” which were polite ways of asking whether he was too old for our event.

Fortunately, my boss, Darin Brown, and our CEO, Clark Kokich, were not among those asking those questions. With their support, the moment happened.

His handlers were very protective of him. They gave me strict instructions on details such as where to position him onstage so that he could listen to the audience properly with his good ear. His team inspected every element of the room including the event A/V system. Their attention to detail was understandable because his presentation relied on audio and video, including the use of different versions of “Strawberry Fields” to demonstrate the evolution of the song.

When he took the stage, all of his elegance and warmth were immediately evident. He spoke fondly not only of his experiences as the world’s most famous producer but also of his love for his wife and children. He discussed his career producing classical music and comedy records long before the Beatles came along; later in his presentation, he demonstrated how he applied that background in shaping the sound of the Beatles.

For instance, he applied his classical music background often. He played the baroque piano solo on “In My Life,” and it was his idea to use strings in “Yesterday.” And, of course, he also famously corralled the orchestra that plays on “A Day in the Life.” He drew upon his work producing comedy albums in some unexpected ways, such as digging into his catalog of ambient crowd noises to create the audience laughter that occurs in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I learned a lesson that day: there is no such thing as a wasted moment when you do the things you love, and if you have vision and patience, you can apply your skills and passions in unexpected ways throughout your life. Little did Sir George Martin know it when he was making comedy and classical albums in the 1950s and early 1960s, but those experiences helped prepare him for the most fruitful musical collaboration in modern music history. (Similarly, little did I know it, but getting a journalism degree in college prepared me to become a blogger years later.)

But most of all, I remember that personal warmth and grace shining through. He spoke with obvious pride when he described the work of his son Giles on the Beatles Love remix for Cirque du Soleil. He ended his presentation by sharing a memory about learning of the death of a good friend and realizing how happy he was to be a husband and father during a time of loss.

Ironically, I could not enjoy his company personally as I had done at the Accenture meeting. I had an event to run, and a million demands to address seemingly every minute. As he was speaking, I was in the producer’s booth, making sure the sound and video elements went off without a hitch. For instance, before Martin came onstage, I had instructed the sound engineer at the Client Summit to program “Revolution” to play when Martin left the stage. But as Sir George closed with a tender, personal memory, I turned to the engineer and said, “We can’t play ‘Revolution.’ It’s too harsh. We need to change the song to “All You Need Is Love.”

The engineer gave me an “Are you freaking crazy?” look. “I can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t have the song programmed in the playlist, and I can’t start searching for a digital file while I’m managing the sound for his talk.”

“Here,” I said, waving a CD of Magical Mystery Tour in the air. “The song we need is Track 11 on this disc. Let me do it.” So I opened a compact disc tray, inserted the CD, and queued up “All You Need Is Love.”

“But I can’t test the volume while he’s speaking,” the poor engineer replied. “How do you know the song won’t skip?”

“It will work,” I replied. “Just turn the volume up high. Trust me.”

And so we swapped “All You Need Is Love.” Everyone in the control panel breathed a sigh of relief when the opening chords of the song played while Sir George left the stage. And by the way, no one ever asked me why I had chosen Sir George after he enchanted the audience with his journey.

I cannot add anything to his musical legacy beyond what you’ve probably read already. My lasting impression of George is of warmth and love — warmth to strangers in a conference room, and love for both his family and his music.