Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bobby Jindal - A Star is Stillborn?

Bobby Jindal is supposed to be the front-running Republican for the next Presidential election? Couldn't prove it by his response to President Obama's address to Congress and the nation. Yuk! What an awful piece of oratory. What was that opening? A looooooooong discourse on how his parents emigrated to America from India and how his father took a part-time job to pay for Jindal's delivery? What did that have to do with anything? Then there was his patronizing reference to an African American addressing Congress, blathering on about how proud we should all be. Seems we've had this discussion, and I think it's time to move on, Attorney General Eric Holder's recent remarks notwithstanding.

Jindal's rejoinder was brimming with bromides and filled with saccharine stories, all told in a sing-song and inauthentic manner that stood in direct contrast to Obama's address. As I often say, the purpose of this blog is not to make political statements. Still, it is safe to say that the President's address was confident, commanding and skillful. (It was certainly NOT the buzzkill that Jindal tried to make it out to be.)

I've come to comment on Bobby Jindal, not to bury him. I'm not saying he is done. After all, if Bill Clinton could overcome his deadly 1988 nomination speech for Michael Dukakis, anyone can. But he is off to a shaky start. It will be interesting to watch.

Monday, February 23, 2009

EVENT Lessons from Oscar and Friends

I love awards shows. The pomp! The flair! The organization of it all! People asked me over the years where I picked up the flourishes that have added to the corporate events that I've successfully produced, and I have been inspired by several sources: rock concerts and television events, specifically award shows and variety programs. I recorded last night's Academy Awards for posterity, but here are some quick takeaways:
  1. EVERYONE LIKES TO FEEL IMPORTANT AND RECEIVE AT LEAST SOME RECOGNITION -- In the past, an award presentation consisted of naming the nominees, possibly with a clip of their performances, and the winner is called. That was all the attention the nominees got. The producers of this year's show started what I hope is a new tradition. Five previous winners in each acting category gave a tribute to each nominee, calling out the uniqueness of the performances and praising each person's overall contribution. It was obvious that the nominees were genuinely moved. I mean, really, how proud must Anne Hathaway have been to have Shirley MacLaine spontaneously compliment her singing voice? When it was over, each actor, who had come a long way to reach that career point, felt rewarded. Think of that when planning your next recognition event, and consider those in your organization who made a genuine contribution, even if they didn't end up as number one this year.
  2. RESPECT THE AGE AND LEGACY AVAILABLE TO YOU -- So the first person to honor that supporting actress nominees last night was Eva Marie Saint. What a dignified presence! What a strong clear voice! Oh, did you know Ms. Saint will be 85 this July? What a shame it would have been to overlook her had she been deemed "too old."
  3. TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OF YOUR PEOPLES' RESOURCES -- He sings. He dances. He's charming. Thank goodness someone thought of using Hugh Jackman as the host last night. At the relatively tender age of 40, The Sexiest Man Alive could contribute to the Oscar ceremonies for a long time. But this decision cam after spending several years going outside the film industry to find a host for the show. I suggest we all look for our own homegrown talent when planning our own events and create more pleasant surprises as we saw last night.
  4. MAKE ENOUGH OF YOUR MOMENT -- It was terrific to see Jerry Lewis receive an overdue award for his charitable work. But I would like to have heard more from a man who has made films for 60 years, influenced an entire generation of directors (his book, The Complete Filmmaker, was the standard text at USC), and who patented the video assist system that film most movie makers take for granted. Yes, he appeared to be ill, but he is not likely to get such an opportunity again. I hope last night's event makes him more accessible to us.
  5. USE YOUR TIME WELL -- How tedious it has been over the decades to introduce a couple of stars just to present one, two at most. Last night it made a lot of sense to present like categories together, such as all the music, the costuming and set direction together, et cetera. Nice plan, although I admit that it didn't have the effect it should have, as the show ran long anyway.
A televised awards ceremony may not seem pertinent to your own event. But consider that the Academy Awards are a global phenomenon that has survived for decades. This long-standing record of success offers some insight into what works and what doesn't.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

We Should Be Outraged at Shepard Fairey

Pablo Picasso once said that artists borrow, but great artists steal. For a great artist, Picasso could really be full of crap sometimes, spouting baloney like that. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I respectfully disagree with the greatest artist of the 20th century. And now I must assert that the corollary of his statement is not true. Stealing someone else's work does not make you a great artist.
I submit to the jury Exhibit A - the work of Shepard Fairey.

The first time I saw Shepard Fairey's Obama poster, which a graphical artist just RAVED about to me, I had two reactions. First, I did not find it all that impressive or groundbreaking. It looked like a poor man's Andy Warhol to me. Second, it looked, well, familiar. Like I had seen it before. LIKE IT WAS PLAGIARIZED!

Well, say I blinked and call me Malcolm Gladwell. It turns out my instincts were correct. Seems the Artist Fairey made his so-called "iconic" art from a photograph by one Jim Young, a freelancer for Reuters. Now I understand, according to a Reuters article, Mr. Young doesn't care that Fairey used his photograph without permission. Okay, that's fine, and I respect his forgiveness. However, I care. I care that so-called artists are taking the work of others, altering it and passing it off as their own. I don't know how anyone can rationalize this. If someone took a novel, changed some of the words and passed it off as a new work, where is the creativity? Where is the justice to the original artist?

Apparently, I am pretty much alone on this issue. I have been reading posts on a variety of websites, and it seems to me that Fairey is getting overwhelming support. The sentiments fall into several camps:
  1. Fairey changed the photograph, so it is a new work.
  2. All artists do this. All art is derivative. There is nothing new under the sun.
  3. Anyone who deigns to write against Fairey is a failed artist him/herself, and the ranting is just sour grapes.

Let me respond specifically.

  1. There is little new about what Fairey did. The image barely changed. I recognized it. Even the color wash he used on the stolen photograph was derivative of other works. Furthermore, those with far greater knowledge of art that I have demonstrate that Fairey has a long history of plagiarism without citing his sources. See this devastating analysis by Mark Vallen, and please explain to me how Fairey is anything more than a copycat.
  2. No, "all" artists do not steal. Truly influential artists break ground. Who did the aforementioned Picasso copy? Stanley Kubrick? Stravinsky, who outraged people with the newness of his compositions? I don't believe that every artist can be a genius, but neither should they build heir careers on the efforts of others.
  3. The people -- the true artists -- who are commenting are hardly failures, but instead have reputations built upon their own works. The Bad Shepard can't make that claim. I refer you back to Mark Vallen above.

Once when asked in an interview about people stealing his jokes, Rodney Dangerfield said with disdain, "Unimaginative people think everything is in the public domain." He was a funny man, but even he couldn't laugh off plagiarism. I hope someone is on our side when someone tries to steal our work as Jim Young's photo was taken.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

For Marie, Who Has Heard My Voice for 30 Years

Have you ever found yourself out of tune with your own dreams? I did, but I didn't know it. But, thanks to my wife, Marie, I found a dream I had forgotten had.

On an ordinary Sunday about 15 years ago, I was working on an electrical outlet in the bathroom, and I was singing to myself. Marie came in and said to me, “You have a nice voice.”
I didn't believe her. In fact, I knew she was wrong, so I responded automatically with, “Oh, I can’t sing.”

Marie's not usually given to confrontation, but those were fightin’ words to her. She grabbed my collar, looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You listen to me. My whole family sings. I’ve been around singers all my life, so I know a good voice. I’m telling you; you should think about singing in a group.”

She was right. Her sibs are all good singers, so she really did know what she was talking about. And I had always wanted to sing when I was younger. But people wouldn’t listen to me. Instead, they would ask me questions. Questions like, “Why don’t you shut up?”

But Marie inspired me to at least try singing. But where — and how — does one start to sing? Luckily a group at work gave Christmas concerts. And ANY one could join… without auditions. It was a great place to start because their standards were so low that even I could get in.

I practiced for months for the Christmas concert. By Christmas, I was singing “The Hallelujah Chorus.” Hallelujah indeed! I was finally singing! It opened up a whole new world for me. First Christmas. Then, the national anthem at ball games… and of course, the four most terrifying words to music fans everywhere: “Who’s up for karaoke?”

The amazing thing was…people now wanted me to sing. I was even invited to join a different vocal group named A Cappella Pops — 40 men and women whose only sound are their voices — a vocal orchestra. For this group, I had to audition… and by this time, I was good enough to be accepted on the spot.

This was singing on the next level. We sang across the United States. I’m on two CDs. We sang at the White House for Christmas. I even sang at Carnegie Hall. Now there were more of us on-stage than there were people in the audience… But I still sang at Carnegie Hall. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Look, I have no pretensions about my voice. I really don’t sing like Frank Sinatra. But so what? A minister once said that the forest would be a quiet place if only the best birds sang. Sometimes, the only voices we hear are from the people who delight in telling us everything we can’t do...the people who tell us we can't sing, or paint, or play sports, or work on cars. These are the people in our lives who, for some reason, want to keep us down. But if we're lucky, someone cares enough to grab us and shake us until our dreams are revealed like the prizes in a pinata.

That is what Marie did for me with this simple gift of encouraging me to sing.

Today is our 30th wedding anniversary. The occasion inspires me to ask all of you to learn to hear the voices of our loved ones and to help them follow those voice, like Thoreau's "distant drummer." If we aspire to be better communicators, as well as the best friends, lovers, spouses and significant others we can be, then we should not express ourselves so often as we should listen to the people around us.

Thank you, Marie, for hearing me for 30 years, dreaming the same dreams and singing together to form a unique harmony. I love you.