Monday, December 16, 2019

The Swamp Fox, Dizzy Gillespie, a young writer and me.

A young writer, a future star I predict, came up to me in the hallway the other afternoon. 

About the last remaining joy in the ad business today--for someone who's been in it for 35 years and who knows he is lurching to the point of playing out his string--is talking, teaching, working with and learning from young people. 

For all the doom and gloom about the industry, yes, it is not what it was, it continues to draw wonderful young people from all over the world with different points of view and backgrounds. 

Sure, I wish the ad schools, or the training they get from the 82 or 90 agencies they intern at included more of a background into the "fundament" of the business, but maybe that's just Old Testament George, able to see a New World only through very cataracted, very dogmatic eyes.

Nevertheless, this young lady came up to me and said, "I've been devouring your blog. And I notice you post at 4:30 in the morning or at 5, or at 5:15."

Politely, she waited for my explanation.

Like my father before me, I have the gift of the quip, and a snappy rejoinder ready for almost any remark. Take my blog...please.

"I like to say," I told her, "I have the sleep habits of a Gloucester fisherman [beat] and the stench."

She laughed at that and we talked about something we both seem to abide by. 

I'm writing this now at 7 in the morning on a rainy Saturday. In the city that purportedly never sleeps (or is it sweeps?) my wife is sawing wood in the next room. I've been up for two hours.

Despite the constant rain, the gloom, the dark, the muggers and the drunks, I've walked my dog for an hour, had my breakfast, listened to some music and now I write this. Here's what we connected over.

For all the modern-day bs about collaboration, and brainstorming, and writers' rooms and a good idea can come from anywhere, they usually don't.
Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. Considered the progenitor of modern guerrilla warfare.
Which he used to harass British troops during America's insurgence against Great Britain.

They usually come from the person who's found an hour or two or 30 minutes of quiet. She and her keyboard. Time to take the stray ideas, the conversations, the laughter, the agendas, and wade through them like Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox.

This is so much missing in our "Amusing-ourselves-to-death" culture.

No one single person is in charge of the last round. No brutal coalescing editorial voice that says "this belongs, this doesn't." Or in Hebraic parlance, "who shall live and who shall die."

Today, we blabber blabber blabber about "curation." But curation doesn't mean collection--it means selection.

Too much in agency life today seems afflicted by everyone-has-a-voice-itis. We seem to have forgotten that communication isn't about pleasing the creators--it's about reaching people.

The great Creative and Creative Director Roy Grace (who no one has heard of today--and everyone should have) once defined his job as creative director this way: He said, "I take out the garbage."

The best garbage disposal, I think, happens when writers get in early. 

When the blare of the fucking agency's sound-system isn't alienating the people its meant to anesthetize. When the only other sound's the sweep of the seven burly men and their nine spindly ladders changing a fluorescent bulb.

It's that time when we think. We focus. We excise. We clarify. And by that, we heighten.

In 1964, Dizzy Gillespie ran for President as a write-in candidate. 

He promised if he were elected, the White House would be renamed the Blues House. 

His cabinet? Duke Ellington (Secretary of State), Miles Davis (Director of the CIA), Max Roach (Secretary of Defense), Charles Mingus (Secretary of Peace), Ray Charles (Librarian of Congress), Louis Armstrong (Secretary of Agriculture), Mary Lou Williams (Ambassador to the Vatican), Thelonious Monk (Traveling Ambassador) and Malcolm X (Attorney General). He said his running mate would be Phyllis Diller

Or as Dizzy Gillespie once said, "It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play."

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