Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Half-Remarkable Question

"The Sybil In Wonderland"
Philosophers and artists have this in common: they deal with the big questions. Post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin's wrestling with the big questions probably contributed to leaving the Paris arts scene to take up residence in Tahiti where one of his most significant works was painted, "Where Did We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" These really are life's big questions, and it is a good thing when they stir in us. Not so good when we lock them away in the recesses of our souls. (Some philosophical ponderers deny the existence of "soul", but that is another discussion.)

There are many ways of looking at the world. There is the scientific/objective method and there are a variety of mystical methods. For some reason, our schools favor the scientific, but it would be more honest to acknowledge that a majority of history has found humanity captivated by mystical interpretations of the nature of reality and the meaning of life. "Why am I here?" is a seriously profound question that no rock or plant or salamander or wildcat asks, as far as I know. Where does this question come from? And where does the idea of good come from? Or the idea of God? Rene Descartes, who himself did a lot of thinking about the big questions, stated, "The thought of God is the Maker's mark on us."

When The Incredible String Band performed at Woodstock--as foreign and original their sound--the Scottish psychedelic folk band made an impact.

I was introduced to the group by a friend who had been to Woodstock the previous year, and over the next few years acquired several of their albums including I Looked Up and Wee Tam and The Big Huge. "The Half-Remarkable Question" made an impact on me as an addendum to the other philosophical questions swirling through my head at that time. The questions remain good ones, whether posed by artists or philosophers.

The Half-Remarkable Question

Who moved the black castle
Who moved the white queen
When Gimme and Daleth where standing between?

Out of the evening growing a veil
Pining for the pine woods that ached for the sail
There's something forgotten I want you to know
The freckles of rain they are telling me so

Oh, it's the old forgotten question
What is it that we are part of?
And what is it that we are?

And an elephant madness has covered the sun
The judge and the juries they play for the fun
They've torn up the roses and washed all the soap
And the martyr who marries them dares not elope

Oh, it's the never realized question
What is it that we are part of?
And what is it that we are?

Oh long, oh long ever yet my eyes
Braved the gates enormous fire
And the body folded 'round me
And the person in me grew

The flower and its petal
The root and its grasp
The earth and its bigness
The breath and its gasp

The mind and its motion
The foot and its move
The life and its pattern
The heart and its love

Oh, it's the half-remarkable question
What is it that we are part of?
And what is it that we are?

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Bob Dylan Marketing Machine

Marketing, like every other endeavor in life, has its share of principles that have been repeated so often they almost become cliche. "Putting the right product in the right place, at the right price, at the right time" is one way it has been described. E.J. McCarthy's famous equation of the Four P's of Marketing -- product, price, place and promotion -- is another variation of the same idea.

How this plays out may vary depending on if you are selling cars or candy or a dining experience. Hollywood dominated the movie making business by establishing the distribution channel called movie theaters which made seeing films convenient, affordable and an experience. The record business got its power from the use of radio and television [look at what Ed Sullivan did for the Beatles], in conjunction with the local record stores. The road tour was another mechanism by which bands created new fans, and cemented the loyalty of old fans.

The internet age seemed to upend a lot of the rules of marketing, so much so that some people began to believe the old rules no longer applied, having gone the way of the buggy whip. And even though "Content is King" has become the coin of the age, once you get under the skin of what's happening out there in cyberspace you will see that when it comes to the Four P's... well, it continues to remain intact that you need a product people want at a price they're willing to pay whether they can afford it or not, from a place where they know they can get and they need to hear about it so they can want it.

Even a cursory examination of the Bob Dylan Marketing Machine shows you that he and the team he has assembled have become masters of the marketing tribe. And yes, to his credit he knows that although his name has become synonymous with the brand, that brand has the value it has because of the caliber of the team he's pulled together.

What is amazing, besides the caliber of the work he has produced, is the volume (as in quantity) of quality material that has been created. The Never Ending Tour not only became a never ending promotion of the songs and albums, it became a means of creating new content that could be turned into marketable products, or material for marketing existing products.

One of the most powerful marketing weapons is word of mouth so that in the era of social media we have a whole cadre of Dylan evangelists sharing their enthusiasm for Dylan, his every move documented, dissected and disseminated. Dylan websites, Dylan blogs and Dylan Facebook communities abound, all of them serving to promote the artist and his music.

Since the beginning of November I've been listening to The Bootleg Series Volume 12, Bob Dylan 1965-1966: The Best of the Cutting Edge, waiting to weigh in on some of what I've found here. What I've found is that there's really no other artist that could have done this. Where are the bootlegs and outtakes from the Beatles? The Stones? Yes, the music (product they created) was great, but the factory shut down.

The Dylan machine is still rolling on... like a rolling stone, with a lot of nerve, and verve and never ending fan delight.

Next May Bob will be 75. Whether the train will continue to roll after that is anyone's guess, but I can tell you this.... Here' in Duluth at our annual Dylan Fest we'll be celebrating for  week with music, poetry, art and everything Dylan that we can think of. Maybe you can join us here in the Northland. Consider yourself invited.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Dylan-Woolson Connection

The Albert Woolson statue in front of the Depot.
For years I've been going to events at the Duluth Depot that houses the Duluth Art Institute, Historical Society, Train Museum and Playhouse. It's strange to think that all this time I've walked past this statue that sits out front without ever wondering who it was or why it was there. This summer I decided to check it out and learned that it's a Duluthian named Albert Woolson, who at the time of his passing was the last living veteran of the Civil War.

He was young when he entered the service, only 15, as a drummer boy in Company C, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment. When he died in 1956 Life magazine ran a seven-page story about our last connection to that war between the states. (You can read more at Wikipedia.)

This summer I took photos of the Woolson statue intending to write a blog post about this man when Saturday, at the 100th anniversary of the Duluth Armory, Don Dass of the Dylan Way Committee told me the most fascinating anecdote about how the kids in the Central Hillside would parade past the elderly Woolson's home each year. What makes it intriguing is that young Robert Zimmerman lived just a couple houses down the alley from Woolson and had almost certainly been part of that children's parade. Here's Don's account along with a map showing the Zimmerman home and its relation to the Woolsons:

Hand-drawn map shows relationship of the two homes.
"A few years ago during Dylan Days I heard a story from a woman who owned an art gallery in Canal Park. She had gone to kindergarten with Robert Zimmerman at Nettleton and she said it was the tradition for students to parade past Albert Woolson's house on either Veterans Day or on his birthday. (She couldn't remember which it was.) I thought that was a remarkable coincidence even before I read the November 11, 2015, article about Woolson in the DNT and noticed a picture of him standing outside his home with a lot of small children gathered before him. I thought of that story I'd been told and realized that here was photographic evidence of those occasions. In reading the piece I came across the address where Woolson had spent his later years -- 215 5th Ave. E. Close to Nettleton and even closer to the Zimmerman home at 519 N. 3rd Avenue E. I had to make a little sketch so I could verify what was just coming together in my mind. Dylan and Woolson lived on the same block, shared the same alley, scarcely a stone's throw apart. I find it almost beyond ironic that the last officially documented survivor of the Civil War and Bob Dylan lived not only in the same smallish city, but apparently actually lived almost next door to one another."

Young Robert Zimmerman lived upstairs here till age 6
Now here's something cool. If you use Google Maps here's what you will see when you do the "Street View".  (Mr. Woolson lived on the East, or right, side of the brick duplex.) Now, if you turn to the right and go to the end of the block, then make a left, go up the hill to the alley and look left, there's the house where young Dylan lived the first six years of his life. The alley referred to above is on the left side of this house.

Next May if you're in town for Dylan Fest, and the celebration of Bob Dylan's 75th birthday, you might enjoy taking a side trip up the hill to this house and that alley alongside it.... remembering that the oldest survivor of the Civil War lived his last years "a stone's throw away."

Is it possible these early memories of the old Civil War veteran played a role in Dylan's writing Cross the Green Mountain for the Civil War trilogy Gods and Generals?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Few Anecdotes About Charlie Watts Including the Time He Punched Mick in the Face

I don't like drum solos, to be honest with you, but if anybody ever told me he didn't like Buddy Rich I'd right away say go and see him, at least the once. ~ Charlie Watts

I was a Rolling Stones fan very early on, in part a over-reaction against those moptops so idolized by the girls in my junior high school (i.e John, Paul, George and Ringo). At one time I had all their albums from 12 x 5 through Goats Head Soup. I remember the impact 12 x 5 had on me, especially the opening cuts on each side, "Around and Around" and "2120 South Michigan Street", an instrumental jam set in motion by a Bill Wyman bass riff. The title of the song is drawn from the address of Chess Records where their favorite blues music was recorded.

The frontmen for the group were such that many people may have underestimated drummer Charlie Watts. Unlike the insane antics of drummers like Keith Moon, Watts was simply smooth.

Charlie Watts isn't someone I really knew much about, though 25 years ago I discovered he was more than just a drummer for a major rock band. In the library I found a CD featuring the Charlie Watts Orchestra, Live at Fulham Town Hall. Though the one customer review on Amazon gave it two stars, I personally enjoyed the album quite a bit.

This summer while reading Keith Richards' autobiography Life I relished hearing a few anecdotes about the Stones' drummer that I hadn't known before.

The manner in which Mick and Keith discovered each other is the stuff of legend, each being unaware that anyone else besides themselves was as intensely into the Chicago blues as much as they were. When they teamed up to form the seminal band, they entire lives were devoted to listening to and learning the music. Dating girls was off limits in the beginning. The only thing that mattered was the music.

In the beginning they had no gigs and to get a gig they needed a drummer. They had so little money they shoplifted food so they, along with bass player Dick Taylor, could spend their time practicing and not having to get jobs. The drummer they wanted was Charlie Watts, but Watts had paying gigs with two bands and wasn't about to give up his income to join these newbies. Richards knew Watts was the guy they wanted. He was the real deal and they achieved their aims, acquiring Watts and assembling the core of one of the great rock and roll bands of all time. (Yes, Brian Jones was abducted into the band around this time as well.)

Stories about the Stones are legion, from the massive drug use to their exile from England to the Jagger-Richards separation in the 80s. Charlie Watts as a professional drummer kept himself out of the maelstrom, living apart from the band as they were recording Exile on Main Street in the south of France. Like many musicians it's a night owl life. On one occasion, according to Richards, Mick was in the mood to do some recording -- at five in the morning -- so he called Watts on the phone and said, "Where's my drummer?" Says Richards, these were the days when Mick's ego had gotten onto everyone's nerves, that it seemed all was about him.

Watts got into his car and 20 minutes later arrived at the place. When Keith opened the door Watts walked right past him, went over to Mick, picked him up by the lapel and slugged him in the face. "Never call me your drummer again." Here's an excerpt from Life with Johnny Depp narrating how Keith remembered it.

Whether this happened the way Richards described it in his book may or may not be entirely accurate. In fact, the way I remember reading it this summer may also be suspect. Bill German, who produced a Stones fanzine called Beggar's Banquet, wrote that it happened like this.

Here's The Charlie Watts Quintet on Dennis Miller's show in 1994 and here's an interesting Boogie Woogie in Barcelona:

 And so it goes.

Photo credit:Poiseon Bild & Text (press photo by a photographer of the consulting company Poiseon AG in St. Gallen, Switzerland)) - Flickr: The ABC & D of Boogie Woogie (Herisau, 13. Januar 2010)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Design Duluth #2 Is Rich With Insights from Local Designers

Thursday evening HTK Marketing hosted the second of six Design Duluth events, with Cody Paulson, Matt Olin, Joe Gunderson and Tommy Kronquist as this edition's guest presenters. It was another stellar turnout with muchos kudos to the Duluth Art Institute staff for conceiving this series of events.

As with the first event held at Cirrus Design, Annie Dugan played the role of MC and moderator, introducing speakers and leading us through the evening's activities, which included a creative team exercise at the end. But to start the evening off Annie read from Barton Sutter's Cold Comfort: Life at the Top of the Map.

Bridges are to Duluth what skyscrapers are to New York. They define the place. We've got the Bong. We've got the Blatnik. We've got trestles and docks and piers. We've even got a road called Seven Bridges. But the queen of them all, without doubt, is called the Aerial Lift Bridge. Neither the longest nor the highest bridge in town, the Lift is merely the oldest and the loveliest.

The four speakers were each assigned fifteen minutes to present, the first being Joe Gunderson, Director of Visual Identity at HTK, one of the older and major ad agencies in the Twin Ports.

Gunderson began by stating that there are three kinds of identity: Corporate Identity, Cultural Identity and Sensory Identity. After showing examples of corporate indentity, he addressed cultural identity which includes the beliefs, customs, arts, history, architecture and geography of a city or region. Sensory identity consists of textures, touch, sound, taste, smell and emotions. He shared, as an example, the feeling one experiences when they drive over Thompson Hill and see the city spread out before them.

Gunderson had us play a game called "Name That City" in which we were to identify various places, except with their identifying icons removed. What is Paris without the Eiffel Tower? This put things in perspective for our own town, for the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge is the most photographed icon in the Northland.  But there are other things that define us including landmarks, heritage, history, people, businesses, events, outdoors and our potential. We were encouraged to take a moment to consider Duluth through a new lens.

Tommy Konquest, founder of The Medium Kontrol, made the second presentation. Konquist presented two videos, the being about how he met his wife Kristi and their move to Duluth from St. Paul. Komquist, a designer and screen printer, showed some of the cool logos he has created. The highlight was a logo he created for his son Holden Kevin and the process he went through to get there.

Annie Dugan then introduced Cody Paulson, Senior Design Director at Swim Creative who had a show at the DAI earlier this year. "I love seeing the way Cody engages with this post-industrial landscape that we have here," she said. The result was his Port City Supply Co. brand.

Paulson's discussion revolved around identity and brand design. He also has a small business called Jambox Shred Gear which he briefly shared. After outlining the five elements of a great brand --
Honest, Compelling, Substantial, Engaging and Authentic -- he presented some thoughts about how to create a brand by sharing what went into the development of the logo for the Park Point Art Fair.

UMD Professor of Graphic Design Matthew Olin made the fourth presentation. In a humorous vein he presented logos from the dozens of local companies that incorporate the aerial lift bridge into their logos.  (See examples here on Instagram.)

Whereas Duluth does have a keen affinity for "Old Lifty" Olin noted that at least one local company that abandoned this local symbol was happy to have done so when their market expanded to national reach.

The evening's theme was "Iconoclast: Breaking the Lift Bridge Icon-Hold" and what a beautiful setting for this event with the lift bridge directly across from us on the 8th floor of the Dewitt-Seitz offices of HTK. We ended the evening by breaking up into groups for four or five in order to design a new logo for our region using toothpicks and marshmallows. Many designs were quite inventive.

The next event will be January 9, with the suitable theme of "How Do We Embrace the Cold?" It all begins at 5:30 p.m., a form of business after hours. The location for this January event will be Bent Paddle Brewery on Michigan Street in West End. Hope to see you there.

Matthew Olin 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Armory Celebrates 100 Years of Making History

Will we see you there?
Saturday, November 21, 2 - 4 p.m.
Armory Annex, 1325 London Road, Duluth
Here's a map so you can find us.