His dance music will kick your dance music's ass

Ralf Hütter of Kraftwerk revisited London in the early summer, and found it wanting.

"...Politely mortified by the soft, hands-in-the-air atmosphere of the first few clubs we visited, he wondered ruefully what had become of the “hooligan energy level” of London. We finally found some for him at a club called Rage. “You know!” he shouted, gesturing around at the flickering television monitors and oblivious trance-dancers, “if people had been making a film about hell 20 years ago, they would have conjured up something like this. We were doing things like this early on, and one reviewer wrote that 'Kraftwerk is the death of music.’ ” ..." (The Telegraph)


Smooth Silky Bacon Hot Dog

Our obsession with wrapping things in bacon is long standing, and has certainly peaked with the arrival of bacon-only blogs and bacon memes. John T. Edge (whose writing on Southern food is fantastic and mouth-watering) examined the origin and popularity of Mexican-style hot dogs in the NYT last week.

"... By 1953, Oscar Mayer was running print ads, selling American consumers on the virtues of bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Perhaps Mexican consumers, inspired to emulate American dietary habits, took Oscar Mayer at its word, wrapping American-made hot dogs in American-made bacon, and claiming the resulting construction as their own ..."


Storage units: A moment in transition

One observation about storage units: they can appear anywhere. Alongside rail yards, behind motels, cleverly disguised as yet another building in a suburban office park, wedged in the strangest shaped lots. This Sunday's NYT Magazine discusses the link between self-storage units and the culture of consumption.

" ... The truth is, there is no typical storage customer. As facilities crowded into the landscape, storage units became incubators for small businesses and artisans; warehouses for pharmaceutical reps, eBay merchants or landscapers. One unit at Statewide, the Doparts told me, functions as a kind of regional distribution center for Little Debbie cakes. I met a few homeless renters, who sometimes choose to pay to put a roof over their possessions instead of their own heads (living in units is not allowed); I met working-class renters using units as closets and safe-deposit boxes while serially couch-surfing or living in multifamily homes. I heard of a martial-arts instructor in Hawaii who trained clients in his unit, and a group of husbands in New England who watch sports in one on weekends. More than one operator told me they have a unit where, every morning, the renter goes in dressed as a man and comes out as a woman ..."

in the NYT Magazine, The Self-Storage Self


Disco Trade Routes

Will Straw offers up an examination of the migration of disco trends, effects and artists between cultures and communities in the 70s and 80s:

" ... overlapping cycles that sent highly synthesized disco tracks by the Montreal group Lime to southern European discos and Italian-produced electronic tracks to the gay clubs of Montreal. In the interaction of these cycles, both Hi-NRG dance music and Italo-disco worked out the terms of their commonality and their distinctiveness. More generally, Quebec disco records of the early 1980s were caught up in cycles that led to Italian remakes, Quebecois remixes or remakes of European dance tracks, and to the constant reinscribing of a well-entrenched line of passage between Quebec and southern Europe ..."

Music from the Wrong Place: On the Italianicity of Quebec Disco, Will Straw, Criticism, Winter 2008

What sort of disco, you ask? Straw cites "World Invaders," by Pluton and the Humanoids, as part of the canon of Quebec and Italodisco.

" ... The use of synthesizers and vocoder in “World Invaders” has let that track slip seamlessly into the canon of Italo or Eurodisco music that has taken shape over the last decade. The widespread recourse to distorted, machinelike vocals in Italo/Quebec disco was, at the simplest level, a way of using English that displaced the question of base-level linguistic ability onto that of the novelty of vocal effects. The processing of vocals was also a partial resolution of the inevitable illegitimacy that haunts the use of English lyrics in popular music, particularly if these are sung by non-English speakers with accents that might betray their origins ..."


Orwell on Consumer Culture

" ... It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come around with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: '2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits." ... "

" ... [Being a bookseller] is a human trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman ..."

- "Bookshop Memories," 1936, George Orwell

Ah, the comfort and security that used to accompany topical expertise and local presence. And then someone had to go and invent punchcards, databases, and recommendation engines.


More shaggin wagons than you can shake a stick at

1977. Wing collars. Rayon shirts. Dozens of  Cargo vans with outrageous panel art. Handlebar mustaches and fat rural cops. These two video clips from promise you all this ... and more! Supervan, the story of a plucky Dodge and her owner, converted to crime-fighting superheroes despite the objections of his traditionally-minded dad.


Colin McKay: Gov Web 2.0 Communications Pioneer

Reposted from John Cass' PR Communications, and one in a series of reminisces about Global PR Blog week, which was published five years ago this week.

Colin McKay was an early Canadian pioneer in blogging and social media, but also in the Government use of social media. In my continuing series of interviews with Alumni from the Global PR Blog week, I ask Colin questions about the conference.

John: What did you learn from the Global PR Blog Week?

Colin: Global PR Blog Week was my first real opportunity to work with like-minded people from around the world. Collaboration, community and crowd sourcing are words that are thrown around quite easily today: just five years ago, it was unusual to pull together virtual teams working to a common agenda. YoungPrPros and other listservs were the most similar beast.

John: What did you learn about blogging, if you learned anything about blogging, from the blog week?

Colin: By July 2004, I had been blogging for nearly a year. I had been posting short observations, longer analytical pieces, and even commentary. I didn’t, however, truly realize the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience that could be shared if bloggers pulled their resources together and focused on a common series of topics.

John: Did the conference give you any new insights into PR, and if so what were they?

Colin: I had been aware of the different fields of PR and communications, but hadn’t really spent much time really thinking outside my own day-to-day work. PR Blog Week really demonstrated that there were inspired and influential bloggers who could bring insight to issues common across all these fields.

John: What were the lasting effects of the Global PR Blog Week?

Colin: Personally, I am still in contact with many of the contributors. Participating encouraged me to write longer form posts and articles on my blog and elsewhere, and to consciously look to other bloggers and online sources for inspiration and ammunition.

John: How did the Global PR Blog week influence you and the industry?

Colin: I’m not sure how influential PR Blog Week was for the industry. We’ve certainly seen an explosion in the number and quality of PR pros expressing themselves online. I’d hope that PR Blog Weeks 1 and 2 demonstrated that sold, well-reasoned and influential work could come out of blogging, and that blogging was not just a distraction for disaffected employees.

Interestingly, I look back at the list of participants, and I notice many names that are still influential in the field – personalities that have remained consistent and have continued to contribute, often without a care for being identified as influential, or a guru or a thought leader.

Reviewing the post(s) you wrote for the Global PR Blog week what has changed? What has not changed, since you wrote your post?

Colin: In year 1, I covered crisis communications. I notice that I didn’t cover online tools in any detail. That would definitely change today, but my advice on the preparation, attitudes and approaches to a crisis would not.

In year 2, I focused on the intersection between online communications and the development of government policy. For the longest time, that article remained current – it seems that the ground has begun to shift over the past nine months or so. #Gov2.0 has taken a great leap forward with the arrival of the Obama administration and the experimentation of the Labour government in the UK.

John: Give an update on what you've been doing in the last five years, and what you are doing now?

Colin: Well, canuckflack is still well and alive, although it has received greater and less attention over the years. I continued as a communications manager at the Department of Industry until 2007, when I joined the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. At the moment, I’m the Director of Research, Education and Outreach, and have been able to launch some fairly novel outreach tools that draw from my experience blogging and fooling around with social media: http://dpi.priv.gc.ca, http://blog.privcom.gc.ca and http://youthprivacy.ca. Not to mention our fledgling Twitter account http://twitter.com/privacyprivee.

John: Thank you Colin. Great insights into the virtual event, how PR has changed and not changed. Also I think your point about the faster pace of change in Government is very true.


the country pop crossover chit chat

Ah. The country/pop combo. I forgot how much I missed the forced bonhomie and idle chatter that usually opened the videos for these early 80s crossover hits. Here's uncomfortably aged Kenny Rogers weavin' the sweet sweet talk with Sheena Easton.


Knitting sucks and other thoughts about activism

Billy Bragg on the death of Steven Wells, poet, activist and erstwhile music critic, who died last month.

" ... If there is anyone out there who wishes to take up his mantle, they’ll need more than just a snarky sense of humour and a potty mouth. The comment sections of every website are full of posts from cynical jerk-offs who get their kicks from upsetting people. Swells could be hurtful in what he wrote, but his contrarian stance was never mere posturing. It was underpinned with an unswerving belief that things could be better – culturally, politically and globally. He just wanted people to feel like he did at the paucity of talent on display - outraged to the point of engagement. To that end, he was willing to take it further than many of us are prepared to go – in your face, down your trousers and up your arse like a shit-eating rabbit on speed."

How much of a loss is this? Depends if you read British music magazines in the 80s and 90s. Or appreciated a voice that didn't hesitate to cut through the bafflegab and call out the pseuds.

Here's an excerpt from a piece Wells wrote last year:

"... So this is how punk ends - not with a bang but with a jumper. Today, all over the world, thousands of punks, goths, emos and other ferociously tattooed, face-pierced miscreant bastard folk-devil scum will take to the streets to protest their disgust with war, oppression and bourgeois conformity by crocheting hideous green twat-hats with stupid ear flaps.

I'm talking about World Wide Knit in Public Day. Which, by its very name, suggests that knitting is a sordid and disgusting practice best done behind locked doors and drawn curtains. Which it is ... If you need a hobby, take up spitting."


Belinda Carlisle has my head - maybe

I think I've narrowed down a new hairstyle - to that of any of the 1984-era GoGos. At the moment, I HAVE the Jane Wiedlin, and if it goes any longer it'll be a Charlotte Caffey (keyboards - I had to look it up).

I figure I could go for the longer Kathy Valentine (bass), and cut it back to a Belinda Carlisle if the summer gets warmer.

I'm going to reserve the Gina Schock for a sudden desire to look like any of the cast members from Less Than Zero or Some Kind of Wonderful (see exhibit "A")


Forget grinding it out - just drown them out

How have the tough slogging mechanics of political campaigns turned into the petty victories of follower counts and poor graphic design?

" ... As Newsom returned to his S.U.V., Ballard made sure to tell me how many Twitterers would already be able to see photos of the mayor on the backhoe. He derided Jerry Brown’s campaign Web site and ridiculed Villaraigosa’s “totally pathetic” Twitter following .." (NYT Magazine)

That's Nathan Ballard, the communications director to Gavin Newsom, the current Mayor of San Francisco and competitor for the job of Governor of California.

I found this moment almost repulsive: in a state where the economy and political life are near catatonic, the battle for political leadership is being framed in part by photo ops, unattributable and unreliable Twitter follower levels and poor web site design?

Is the political process at all dependent upon policy proposals anymore, or can a candidate gain a lot of ground simply by picking the right font, a sympathetic palette and an easily navigable design grid?

Oh - and a monkey to tweet?

After all, limiting your literary masterpiece to 140 characters significantly increases the odds that you can defeat the infinite monkey theorem - that an infinite number of monkeys, banging on typewriters for an infinite amount of time (while assuming there is no evolution in cognitive capacity) would not be able to reproduce Hamlet.

In fact, they're more likely to smash the keyboard, mark their territory, and then engage in repetitive behaviour.

Wait a minute ... I guess someone better get that monkey a Brooks Brothers suit and a BlackBerry.


the threads that link you and The Economist

You could say the wire walker in this short film has intense short term focus, but is easily distracted by new opportunities. You could say that he is agile enough to react to changing situations, but acutely aware of the many competing interests around him.

If you've met me, or know my job, you could see why I feel some affinity for that wire walker.

In fact, if I was the type to build some sort of horribly overextended and barely consistent business talk out of the correlation between my personal life, professional life and this wire walker, I could type out three or four overwrought and barely personal posts meant to inspire you and increase my subscriber count. After all,  I AM a capable strategist and thoughtful person.

His name is Florent Blondeau, and he wants you to "let your mind wander" - or at least that's what The Economist magazine would like. This 70 second clip is the centrepiece of a new campaign that hopes to remind Brits that The Economist covers topics they seem to be interested in: domestic politics, world affairs, business, and travel. Apparently, surveys have identified 3 million of them as flighty, brainy or shifty enough to be targeted as potential readers.

I've read the magazine for nearly 25 years. Strangely enough, I appreciate it most for it's dry and sometimes wry sense of humour. That's hard to accomplish while discussing Indian economic reform, you know.

The campaign, to be launched on July 3, will play primarily in theatres. I have to imagine the clip will play much better on a large (or as large as a multiplex will allow) screen. (Faris has added his own thoughts about this and past campaigns.)

In 2008, Blondeau and some colleagues from the French wire walking fraternity (apparently, there's a close kinship between the wire walking fraternity and the clown school alumni) showcased their skills in a regional performance called le fil sous la neige - a brief excerpt can be found just below.

Le fil sous la neige by contactvillette


The hardships and amusements of travel

Anne Engright, tired from months of book tours, provides some wry observations on international travel:

" ... And this perhaps needs to be said: the amazing thing about hotels is that nothing happens in them. Lights get left on, taps drip, trays are left in hallways, and the cleaners make their sad rounds every morning. You hear them as you open the door and scan the room one last time and wheel your bag down to the lift, the sour whine of a distant hoover, as you approach and then pass the stainless steel trolley that waits outside some non-medical non-emergency, the abandoned sheets of an uninteresting night; rumpled, bare, slightly stained. What did they get up to in there? Murder? Sex? Organising their receipts? ...

But, you know, you take a shower and nothing happens. The endless corridor is often empty. The men in suits with conference lanyards nod as they get in the lift and, in Toronto, one of them said: ‘Great shoes!’

...  Hotel bathrooms are highly fetishised, with their rows of toiletries, and the possibility of a sewing kit. I love the showers and have a faint, geological interest in the tiling (so much marble!), but I hate the toiletries, most of which could strip paint ... "

- Anne Enright in the London Review of Books


Why Endicott NY is Interesting

underpassnyEarlier this week, I had a chance to walk through an exhibit of art commissioned under the Public Works of Art program - a 1934 initiative meant to get artists to work during the Great Depression. One painting, Underpass -- New York, was especially compelling. A rather routine urban setting, with clear and precise composition, but not a jaw dropping work of art like many of the others found at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Still, I was drawn to it. The scene seemed awfully familiar.

Reading the adjoining plaque, I realized why. I had seen this underpass. In fact, I had gone out of my way to look at it. It was/is in Binghamton, New York.

I've had reasons to visit Binghamton and the adjoining towns of Endicott and Johnson City over the past few summers. During one of these visits, I realized that the area housed some remarkable architecture from the early 30s, largely due to the influence and investment of the International Business Machines Corportation.

Endicott, you see, is where IBM printed the punch cards for its growing line of computers. It later built the IBM School and expanded its research facilities in the town.

Even seventy years later, the buildings have their clean white modernist lines, embedded International Business Machines logo, and soaring yet thin windows. They've managed to retain the sense of optimism, inspiration and ambition first articulated by their architect and the commissioning executives.

Much like this underpass.


Retail casualties of the Recession

Over the past fifteen years, I've had an offhand awareness of the seeming abundance of ketchup, relish, flavoured water, detergent, cleansing auto fuel and Moleskine notebooks. But I HAD NO IDEA of the true plague of brand extensions and varietals that had been conjured up by test labs, anonymized focus group meetings, data-fuelled marketing meetings and retail executives looking to populate their planogram. According to the WSJ, the number of products in the average grocery store jumped 50% from 1996 to 2008.  Retailers and manufacturers have been trying to pare back those numbers over the past few years, but were wary of consumer backlash. The recession has provided a perfect opportunity to begin some gentle trimming.

Jimmy Dean, for instance, now ly offers 14 types of frozen breakfast sandwich - down from 25!

" ... Pharmacy chain Walgreen Co. is cutting the types of superglues it carries to 11 from 25. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has decided that 24 different tape measures is 20 too many.

... A typical Target store has 88 kinds of Pantene shampoo, conditioner and styling products. A Target spokeswoman said the chain has "slightly reduced" its hair-care offerings this year ... "


Wonder Woman Debra Winger Remix

Wonder Woman. Bill Maxwell. Wonder Girl. Who even remembers that Debra Winger was Wonder Girl? What was that about Bill Maxwell? That's right. This is a remix with "Greatest American Hero."

The moment when Wonder Woman deflects bullets with her wrist bands? Almost as priceless as Linda and Debra flying around in a plastic jet plane.

Oh - and doesn't Queen Hippolyte look like Lindsay Lohan - in about 15 years?


Markets in everything Dora edition


Sometimes, you just have to teach these kids that life is a hard, brutal and sometimes heartless world, where even your Dora the Explorer bike could get stolen.