Sunday, February 7, 2016

Super Bowl 50

The Kickoff Show begins with the introduction of 49 Super Bowl MVPs. A rich way to walk through NFL history, or at least the last fifty years.

Observation: I couldn't help but notice that a number of the quarterbacks were limping as they walked to their places.

After a couple commercials, the teams themselves are lauded onto the field. First, the Carolina Panthers with the fanfare and wonder of flames and rockets. Next, the Denver Bronco led by a white bronc and more flames and rockets. The energy is exploding as the story unfolds.

In the pre-pre-game we were taken to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama and Michelle. America showcases it's president and its national pasttime. Just before the national anthem we're treated to a Captain America movie trailer... soon followed by the "America" presented by our joint armed forces choir, signed by Marlee Matlin and surrounded by the flags of many nations. The Joint Service Color Guard came forth to stand by Lady Gaga as she sang our National Anthem. The choreography of stars and glory and Navy flyover indeed achieved the emotional effect aimed for. Like, yeah.

Observation: In keeping with expectations, the commercials so far have been stellar.

This year's coin toss is by Joe Montana. Carolina wins the toss, choosing to kick so Peyton Manning will be first QB to take the field.

First commercial after the coin toss: Hyundai. "A dad's gotta do what a dad's gotta do." Funny. Carfinder.

First play, easy completion for 18 yards. Peyton on the move. And after a great run, they stall in the Red Zone. Field goal. First to score: Broncos.

Commercials after the score. Very good. Avocados from Mexico makes its first move. Kickoff. Fifteen seconds. More commercials. Hyundai funny one with bears... Followed by Jeff Goldblum playing a piano being lifted by crane. Mmmm, more celebs.  What next?

Cam throws a bit high in his first pass to a wide open receiver. Too much enthusiasm or energy to burn. Second pass caught a foot shy of a first down, so they will kick on fourth. Denver gets it back again.

More commercials. Mobile Strike. Then a hilarious Doritos spot. New Money and Old Money spot. Hmmm. PayPal is back.

Panthers show some D (3 and out) and we're backto the commercials. The Jungle Book trailer. And then that fabulous Audi spot, The Commander. Yeah. Never tired of this one. "Choosing the moon brings out the best in us." Nice tagline.

First play is a long pass, which is ruled an incomplete. Carolina challenges the ruling on the field, so we have still more commercials. In the end, the "ruling on the field stands." Hmmmm. The talking heads disagree with the verdict.

Wow... next two plays make it look tough. Running back stomped and limping off field. Then Cam hit in backfield, fumbling to produce a Denver touchdown. Here come the commercials.


More game, more commercials. More scoring, this time by Panthers. More commercias.


You get the picture.

Here is my favorite spot so far....

Enjoy the rest of the Big Show.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Get Ready To Watch "Brand Bowl 50"

In case you haven't noticed, today's wide world of sports is all about marketing. Marketing is at the center of commerce, and commerce is at the center of our way of life, at least here in the Western world of capitalist democracy.

One feature of modern marketing is brand building, establishing top-of-mind awareness or zeal for a specific brand. Hence we see an abundance of company logos on race cars, at sporting events and in television commercials.

Atop the endcap at a local grocery store.
The logo is the company's "mark" much like the iron brand used by cattlemen to mark their livestock in the Old West. It needed to be distinctive and definitive. So it is that companies strive to establish a "mark" that sums up who they are, or at least brings to mind everything they represent.

In tomorrow's game, you'll notice that the Denver Bronco and Carolina Panthers wear their logos on their helmets. It's their "mark." They also each wear their distinctive colors, another feature of a well-defined brand. Companies have logos and specific colors associated with them. They may not be as flamboyant as today's sports teams, but they're not random either.

So what has the Super Bowl become at age 50? It's not just about a game. We can't deny that it's a big deal for the teams who are playing, and their fans. A Super Bowl title is a major achievement for any franchise, and those rings are worth more emotionally than the bonuses paid to the game winners. For a lot of people it's the commercials that entice us to stay to the end. And for quite a few it's that over-the-top extravaganza known as the Halftime Show. And what is the Halftime Show? It's something akin to the Bowl itself, as various stars and performers vie for contention to have their "brand" selected as the feature billing on the world's largest stage. Isn't that what celebs are these days? They're brands. When you say Springsteen, Madonna, Dylan, you're no longer talking about persons. These are franchises. This year's winners were Bruno and Beyonce.

The price tag on this year's Super Bowl spots is five million for each thirty seconds. That's just air time and doesn't include production costs. For a 55 billion dollar dollar company like Audi a Super Bowl spot is chump change, but their presence in the Big Game sends a clear message that they are a player. Their 90-second spot is worthy of getting listed as a contender for any top ten list of Super Bowl commercials. My opinion. Titled "The Commander" it carries added emotional punch by use of the recently deceased David Bowie's "Starman" as soundtrack followed this past week by Apollo astronaut Ed Mitchell's passing Thursday.

How do brands measure success for a campaign like this? To some extent it's measured in buzz. Their aim is to move the needle with regard to sales, but is that the only measure? One key measure in our internet age is brand engagement.

Here's a cool website that is measuring how many times people post something about a brand on social media, measured by hashtags. It's a dynamic infographic in the shape of a football field, a real-time hashtag tracker for the Super Bowl ads. They're calling it the #BrandBowl. According to the microsite's developers, "Hashtags have become the defacto call-to-action over website urls so we decided to track the hashtags to see which ads resonated with TV watchers the most. For marketers who are more interested in the commercials than the game itself, the BrandBowl is a great way to follow the social action throughout the game."

If you've got your laptop with you while watching the game Sunday, The Brand Bowl will help you keep in touch with all the action.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Local Art Scene: February Twin Ports Arts Happenings

We're only five days into the month and three art openings are already behind us. Monday Zeitgeist Cafe hosted Carolyn Olson's opening reception. Wednesday you may have enjoyed Nissa Wick and and Eric Archer's opening at The Red Mug. If you missed it the two paired up to do an interesting blend of photography and painting, pairs of the same images in two different media. Last night, if you weren't there, you missed Dale Lucas's opening at Beaners.

"Have You Seen My Marbles" by Eris Vafias
Tomorrow night Studio 15 (15 N. 3rd Avenue W.) is hosting Eris Vafias' Collection of Chaos. The opening reception is slated for 6:30 - 9:00 p.m with special guest musicians: WWP Acoustic Trio (Willie Waldman: Trumpet, Mark Joseph: Guitar, and Jim Britt: Percussion.) This collection of work created by Eris Vafias will include paintings, photography and assemblage/conceptual art.

Next week there's plenty more in store with no serious snow in the forecast. Thursday is the opening reception for two new exhibitions at the Duluth Art Institute, 5-7 p.m. Shawna Gilmore's "Land of Wonder" will be on display in the John Steffl Gallery from February 4 - April 2. Gilmore describes her work as "exploring edges of wonder and reality... These surreal scenes convey other worlds where I can escape to process experiences, observations or obsessions."  Then, in the Morrison Gallery you will find a photographic exhibit by Tweed Museum director Ken Bloom titled Public Domain who in his adventurous youth bought a one-way ticket to Japan to begin three years of cultural immersion, capturing something of a vision along the way with his one luxury, a Leica camera.

Friday the 12th is once again the annual Love Your Local Artist event at the Superior Library. Not often do we get to drink wine in the library. In years past we have seen as many as 30 artists' work while enjoying a string quartet accompaniment. It's a great way to experience a variety of work and especially gives an opportunity for emerging artists to show and share. A good opportunity to purchase last minute Valentine gifts, too, in the event you've been neglectful.

Here are some additional upcoming arts events and happenings gleaned from Esther Piszczek's column in the Budgeteer.

The Red Herring Lounge, Robert Dewitt Adams, new paintings and collage, "In Site: Twin Ports labor History", Friday, February 12, 5-8 p.m.; 208 E. 1st Street; Robert Dewitt Adams: A Multi-Media Artist on The Playlist.

Shawna Gilmore's paintings on display in the John Steffl Gallery at the DAI
Duluth Art Institute's Design Duluth Series, a year-long series that explores Design in Duluth: Gimajii American Indian Center, "How is Duluth Home?", Thursday, February 18, 5:30 p.m.; 202 W. 2nd Street Featuring: Gimajii Artists.

Twin Ports Student Art Show Holden Fine Arts Center, Kruk Gallery, University of Wisconsin. February 1-25; Open Monday thru Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closing Ceremony: February 25.

Benchmark Tattoo, apprentices Jeremy Souders & Kyle James, tattoo flash paintings, Counterculture, 1831 E. Eighth Street.

Pizza Luce, Employee Art Exhibit; 11 East Superior Street.

Zeitgeist, 222 E. Superior Street Café: An exhibition of paintings by Carolyn Olson continues through March 2016.

Atrium: Sue Rauschenfels' nature watercolor paintings on display through end February 2016.

Recommended: Stay current on Twin Ports arts and Zentangle artist Esther Piszczek at her Facebook page here and the Twin Ports Arts Align page.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Current and Recent Readings: Too Many Books, Too Little Time

There really are so many good books out there. We read them for different reasons. Some serve as simply a diversion. Others provide nutrition for our souls. Still others give our "brain muscles" a workout. Here are a few books that I've been enjoying right now or recently completed.

Symmetry by Marcus du Sautoy
I picked up this gem after recently re-reading my interview with Portuguese artist Margarida Sardinha regarding her 2015 project Symmetry's Portal which led me into revisiting (via books) the remarkable features of The Alhambra.

The Red Book by Carl Jung
The Amazon listing about this volume calls it "the most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology." My friend Dan introduced me to this hefty volume so I could see the illustrations, more than 200 in all. But the substance is Jung's private wrestling with the meaning of Self, consciousness and universal truths about who we are. Four decades ago I read Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections and was impressed with his candor.

50 Philosophy Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon
I finished the audiobook in December. Having found it to be such a valuable resource I purchased the paper version to use as a reference. A great thought-stimulator. Useful tool for stirring up themes to cogitate upon so you can produce the illusion that you're a deep thinker.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Exceptionally insightful.  Listened to the audiobook this past month and will do it again. Utilizes insights from the latest research in neuroscience. Compelling stories bring home essential truths. Yes, we're creatures of habit, and when those habits are bad ones we need to apply ourselves to cultivating new ones. We begin by becoming aware of our triggers.

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
Duhigg's book uses stories from a variety of sources. One of these sources was Claude Hopkins, an influential ad man from the first half of the twentieth century. I'd read Hopkins many years ago because my own advertising guru, David Ogilvy, consider Hopkins his own shining light. Were you aware that it was an ad campaign by Claude Hopkins that prodded a whole nation of people to regularly brush their teeth?

Illustration from The Red Book
The Light on Synanon by Dave Mitchell, Cathy Mitchell and Richard Ofshe
Current bedtime reading. When I read it in the early 1990's it triggered an idea for a story which later became an unproduced screenplay. Still gonna try to resurrect that project if I live long enough.

Rocket Men by Craig Nelson
Currently reading this one as I commute. Absolutely compelling thus far. Reminds us of the context when that first moonshot took place, during the Cold War. The Russians had already embarrassed us with Sputnik and other achievements. A moon landing would be a major PR coup, which really amounted to a "puff our chests out" opportunity to gloat. Had the Russians been first on the moon would that have meant Soviet communism was superior to our democratic capitalism? Rocket Men is an excellent addition to the many other books about the story of NASA. An good follow up to Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. (EdNote: A few reviews on Amazon indicate that this book may not be entirely reliable in all its facts, though for now it's been a good read.)

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What are you reading these days?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sometimes Even When You Don't Understand a Dylan Song You Can "Get It"

“I don't like the idea of 'understanding' a film. I don't believe that rational understanding is an essential element in the reception of any work of art. Either a film has something to say to you or it hasn't. If you are moved by it, you don't need to have it explained to you. If not, no explanation can make you moved by it.” ~Federico Fellini

There it is. This is what some people mean when they talk about art, whether music, poetry or a painting. It's like a joke; you shouldn't have to explain why the punch line was funny.

To this day I don't "get" Dylan's "Changing of the Guard," but it moves me every time I hear it, and remains one of my favorite Dylan songs. What's it all about, Alfie? The images connect with something inside like a series of dreams, rising up from a subconscious sea teeming with shimmering mysteries.

In his book The Dylanologists David Kinney devotes one chapter to the Lyrics Dissecters. These are the ones Fellini is calling out above. It's like Dylan's lyrics are a secret code to be cracked, if only we had an Enigma Machine.

People have the same problem with abstract art. "I don't get it" has been exclaimed in art museums and galleries all over the world.

"Ballad of a Thin Man" is another song that falls into this category, difficult to apprehend but one that definitely haunts. The opening bars on the piano send a chill through the room and the confounding imagery shocks and frightens. Something's happening, even if you don't know what it is. "You try so hard, but you don't understand," Dylan hisses.

The words and images can confuse, but when ignited there can be light, revealing the outlines of shapes and scenes that darkness conceals.

* * * *

For what it's worth, Duluth Dylan Fest is just around the corner. May will be here faster than you know it. The events are slated for May 22-29 this year. If you want to celebrate with us here in Dylan's home town, mark your calendars. There will be a birthday celebration on his 75th, May 24, in front of the house he grew up in. And there will be plenty of music... some of it you'll "get" with your head and some with your heart.

Meantime life goes on all around you. Be a part of it. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How to Develop the Habit of Writing Every Day

“This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.”
~Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit

Having recently finished reading The Power of Habit (one of my habits being a habit of listening to audiobooks) it caught my attention this past week when I saw an article about a man who has been writing daily for 52 years, mostly in journals. Near the end of this Wall Street Journal piece was a sidebar on how to build a daily writing habit. The title of Clare Ansberry's January 27 story was 52 Years and Counting: The Power of Daily Writing.

I've been writing daily myself for many decades, with the exception of my most productive "artist years" during college. I often try to help young writers as much as I'm able, and this sidebar was by far one of the most concise set of instructions on how to develop the habit of writing. My definition of a writer is one who writes. If you've had trouble lighting the spark, here's a pretty good regimen to get you going.

How to build a daily writing habit.

One. Write 500 words every day for 28 consecutive days, preferably at the same time and same place, to create a routine.

Two. Don't worry about grammar or punctuation. Be willing to write badly. Authenticity is more important than excellence.

Three. Use prompts to get you going. Make a list of six of the stories you commonly tell. Get a photo and tell the story of that picture.

Four. Keep it private. If you show it to others, you might worry about what they will say and never start.

Five. If you can't think of what to write, describe the room you're in it you are in, what you are wearing, or a room from your childhood home, or what it felt like to brush your teeth.

Six. Carry a notebook to jot down ideas or a recollection, conversation or image.

Sidebar Source: Narrative Journaling: 28 days to writing more or less happily for the rest of your life, a workbook by Charlie Kempthorne.

* * * *

I myself have written a manuscript for parents who homeschool to help them teach writing. The approach I offer is both original and effective. The appendix includes 100 writing prompts. The book is tentatively titled Writing Exercises: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else. If you have suggestions regarding a potential publisher or agent, I'd be most appreciative.

Meantime, if you're a writer, write on.