Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bark and bite

In all the jobs I've had, I'm sorry (but not that sorry) to say I've never had much time for the marketing department.

Exhibit A, the marketing team for a small Scottish legal publisher who regularly rushed out leaflets without consulting the legal editors, with resultant howlers like "an excellent guide for practicioners" and "a vade mecum for the tyro" (who even knows what that means? They certainly didn't).*

Exhibit B, the same team, when asked to produce a cover for a book on medical negligence. Their suggestion? A picture of a wheelchair.

Exhibit C, the much larger marketing team for a major London-based publisher. Said publisher's offices near Canary Wharf had been blown up by the IRA and all but destroyed. Two people lost their lives. So when, not long after, we published a book on buildings insurance, what did an inspired marketing team come up with as cover art? Why, a photograph of the bombed-out building.

Exhibit D, any marketing person asked to produce promotional materials for the legal services market. The gavel is not in use by judges in any jurisdiction I've ever worked in. In fact, it's not in use anywhere except in some courts in the US. So what always appears on marketing literature in every jurisdiction? It's a gavel!

Exhibit E, the trailer for a US show on FX called Terriers.

What does the name, and the above picture, which was on billboards promoting the show, tell you? It might be about dogfighting. It might be about... dog shows? It's definitely not a comedy drama with noir undertones, about two mismatched, likeable private detectives. Which it, in fact, was. No matter, the show has now been cancelled after its first season because it didn't get the viewing numbers, presumably, and at least in part, because of the terrible marketing campaign.

In any case, the show's theme song, by Robert Duncan, turns out to be much better than the series, which starts well but peters out somewhat, and is certainly no Breaking Bad (if you have never seen the latter, do yourself a favour and find a way to see it). But the marketing department torpedoed any chance of it finding an audience and finding its way, thus proving that my wild prejudices are in some small way justified.

* "An indispensible beginners' guide" would have sufficed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Second that emotion

The FEAR remote control (which I thought might have a corresponding concrete TV somewhere, which no one can turn on) is not alone: there are more tiny sculptures scattered around Chippendale. My neighbour Michael Mobbs pointed out the first one to me when I met him in Myrtle Street yesterday: ISOLATION at the foot of a paper bark tree in Pine Street. Then there's a NUMB mobile phone next to the Peace Park in Myrtle Street, and another remote control, HATE, close to FEAR in Pine Lane. I'd never even noticed any of them before I spotted FEAR; it now appears they have been there for some time (and there are more, which I haven't spotted yet). Michael said a local sculptor was responsible, but he didn't know any more than that. Another urban mystery.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Urban mysteries

Walking home from lunch in the CBD today, I heard a strange, insistent noise as I came along Balfour Street in Chippendale; it almost sounded like a dentist's drill. Drawn by the sound, I slowed as I passed a terraced house and glanced in the window: this is what I saw.

It felt so intrusive that I didn't want to linger, so the shot isn't great: a man with bright blond hair is lying on his side, in someone's front room, and another man is tattooing his back. There was something strangely graceful and compelling about this scene; the sound carried all the way down the street, but as I stood there, the tattoo artist didn't even look up, so absorbed was he in his work. I felt privileged to have been part of this moment, in my tiny, nosy way.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Hope that something pure can last

It may seem strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive
In old news: Arcade Fire promoted their most recent record via a near-ubiquitous website which invited the viewer to insert their childhood postcode and experience the video for the song "We Used to Wait" in the context of completely familiar streets, fields and houses. The song is insistently catchy and the marketing concept is unbeatable: here the sound is stamped on your brain along with the poignancy of ancient memories.

The song itself is about the letters we used to write when we were kids; that for me is the most resonant part, because in my teens, living in a cottage in the countryside, lonely and alienated and feeling as though I was a long way away from everything, the letters I received from my correspondents, many of whom I'd never met, were desperately important to me: Brian in Blantyre; William in Glasgow; Tony in Dundee; Lorna in London. Some have died, and some have faltered; some of them I met, many of them I didn't; some of them I'll never speak to again (for reasons that will become obvious if you read that post); some of them (the lovely Brian) are still amongst my dearest friends.

Arcade Fire occasionally appear to tread that fine line between mawkishness and meaning that Coldplay always fall emphatically on the wrong side of (superficially it may sound like they're attempting something profound, but the lyrics are utterly inane: for the best example, look no further than Speed of Sound). But Arcade Fire are real, and interesting, musicians, and sometimes they seem to be able to meld their music with words in a way that seems truly insightful.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

We walk backwards, say nothing

I've written before about the first band I ever saw live, Japan, at the Edinburgh Playhouse in 1982. How exotic they seemed to a 14-year-old: a wicked combination of accessibility (there they were, just a few feet away on the stage) and unbreachable distance, the halo of fame and their sheen of otherness: people I recognised, because I'd seen their pictures in Smash Hits, but could never know. I thought my heart would burst with this new understanding, and the music seemed to swell around me. Ryuchi Sakamoto joined them for the performance; he was doing a strange, balletic tiptoe dance and seemed to glide across the stage.

Although my favourite was, of course, David Sylvian, I was keen on the drummer, Steve Jansen, who played an electrifying solo on Visions of China. The most exotic band member was Mick Karn: with his hollow cheekbones, dark eyes, and enigmatic expression, he didn't seem to need the make-up the others all wore – he already looked strange enough. His is the distinctive, muscular bass sound that is the essential infrastructure of every Japan song.

It sounds silly, but it scarcely seems possible that he should be dead – any more than it would seem possible that any of the other members of Japan should die, because the memory of that night is still so vivid to me.

Mick Karn, 24 July 1958 – 4 January 2011

Monday, January 03, 2011

Faded glamour

Yesterday's Observer published some incredible photos by two French photographers, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, from their book, The Ruins of Detroit. Their observation was that in Europe, generally old buildings are picked over for their antique fittings so nothing much remains; in Detroit, the original 1920s art deco chandeliers in the Vanity Ballroom, where Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey one played, remain in place, the ballroom crumbling around them.

I took some photos at Sydney's State Theatre in November. Marchand and Meffre's picture of the United Artists Theater, closed since 1974, is in terrible synchronicity with the State Theatre's gleaming auditorium, of which Sydney is justifiably proud.

Third image ©Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre, 2010