Archive for December, 2007

It appears that Pantone has been either listening to a lot of Billie Holiday since the new millennium or its members have spent large amounts of time on the water: 

Color of the Year (from NY Times sidebar), 2000-2008:



 Cerulean Blue: Chosen for the millennium for its calming zen state of mind. 



Aqua Sky: A cool blue meant to restore hope and serenity.



Blue Turquoise: Another reversal to a calming shade.



Blue Iris: A mix of blue and purple that suggests dependability and magic.  

On second thought, perhaps it’s better to just get what they’re on.



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John Coltrane, Coltrane Live at the Village Vangaurd Again!, recorded 1966, photo taken 3:27 PM, 12/26/07.

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            Times, they have-a changed since college.  During my four years of schooling, this time of year would mean me slaving over a copier or a cash register, cranking out photo calendars (for $24.99 for the first, but quantity discounts applied!) in addition to fulfilling the crazy orders of stressed marketing executives who needed those 25 presentations printed in color in 28lb bright white paper and finished with coil binding NOW, DAMMIT!  For whatever reason, though I worked at this store for many seasons (summers, holidays, the random winter season between marching band and indoor drumline), the most interesting customer stories seemed to crop up between mid-December and early January, and perhaps in the gods’ way of sending me out in style, no holiday season was quite as memorable as my final one, during my senior year: 

  • Silver “fox” (clearly a prematurely-greying man who decided to embrace his grey and try to be the silver fox, but not succeeding at it) stopped me en route to the copy center and tried to ask me out to lunch.  I had spoken maybe ZERO words to him, but he was so self-assured of his supreme sexiness that he couldn’t believe that I would turn him down.  Granted, I had/have a boyfriend, but the existence of one would not have changed my answer one whit.  He then went on to terrorize my poor coworkers in the customer service department, angrily complaining about a return.  Not seeing myself as a sacrifice, I was not sad with these developments.
  • About a week after this—after Christmas—a woman comes in during our slow period during the week, between 6:30 and 8PM.  The copy center is relatively quiet, but so is the rest of the store, so I can stay behind the counter and start my cleaning process.  She approaches the counter and hands me a picture, asking me to copy it for her.  As I’m looking at it, to figure out the best way to program the copier, she asks if I think the subject is beautiful.  I naturally say yes (honestly, the woman in the photograph was stunning).  My customer then begins to break down, telling me that I’m looking at her sister who had been murdered a day or two earlier.  She’s crying (understandably), I’m rushing to grab the tissues and tell her that we have a restroom that she can go to if she wants some privacy.  I work on making the copies the best I can fucking make them, and am shaken for the rest of the evening.
  • So shaken, in fact, that a kind gentleman who asks me to copy his screenplay for him engages me in conversation about topics including novels, narratives, and the like later that evening, and while I view this as a pleasant distraction from the distraught I feel from my prior customer, he sees as me flirting with him.  As I hand him his copies and check him out, he thanks for me being so nice and makes an insinuation that I should go out with him to dinner.  Fortunately, he was meek enough to know that I was going to turn him down, because he ran after he said this, so I was spared that embarrassment.

Reading this made me relive these mortifications, and I’m very thankful for not being in that position tonight, or any other night, for that matter.

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Or:  In Defense of Music in Commercials

            Commercialism and art have always had a symbiotic relationship mostly due to two facts:  people (in this case, artists) need food, water and shelter in order to live, and there’s always someone willing to pay for that (at least in part) if it will elevate their position in society (in this case, make them seem intelligent, or cultured).  It’s evident in the frescoes in churches and houses during the Medieval and Renaissance periods, the massive collections of art by titans of industry such as Frick, Barnes or even Annenberg, and in the outdoor statuary on PepsiCo’s main campus (just to name a few)—patrons made that art become part of the public consciousness that has endured for centuries.  Truth be told, for all you can say about art for art’s sake, the truth of the matter is commerce will always play some role in the life of an artist, whether it’s a job that pays the bills, a trust fund that allows artistic freedom, or people interested in buying the artist’s work.  Isn’t the latter considered the most desirable?

            It’s that point that forces me to question statements like Thom Yorke’s, captured from a YouTube interview:

“If you sell your music for a car ad, then you’re selling everybody’s memory of that music and robbing them of it.  Music is about triggering memories for a person; that’s what it does, that’s what it does for me every night.  If you rob people of that-if they associate it with Lexus-then what’s the point in being a musician?”

On the surface, Yorke has an excellent point—music lovers do associate memories to songs that can feel violated when they are inappropriately used in some creative director’s desperate attempt to feel hip:  see Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” (a song about suicide) in the VW Cabrio commercial, or the endless iterations of Modern English’s “Melt With You” promoting everything from Burger King cinnamon sticks to Ritz crackers, or the beauty shots of Sting sitting in the backseat of a Jaguar as “Desert Rose” wails in the background.

            But for every example one can pinpoint in some commercial, can’t the same be said for selling song rights to a television show or movie that will then be used in some overwrought, melodramatic scene?  I won’t judge the Garden State soundtrack here because I haven’t seen the movie (but the fanboy/girl squeeing over it is enough to make me flinch a little), but a particular ABC drama is a repeat offender in this practice—the histrionic Grey’s Anatomy.  I’ll admit that I watch it—the first season used songs really well to help narrate each episode, and this stayed true through the first half of the second season.  But the second that the powers that be moved to Most!Dramatic!Episode!Yet! tactics usually found on shows like The Bachelor, the songs that have accompanied these heart-wrenching scenes are tainted with those less-than-pleasant associations.  Though I’m generally not a fan of the estrogen-fueled songs about respiration that the music supervisors usually gravitate to, I do like Damien Rice, and the inclusion of “9 Crimes” felt a little out of place when they used it last Thanksgiving as Sandra Oh gets covered in blood and rats out her boyfriend.  To quote my future brother-in-law, it kinda tainted it.

            Furthermore, just as there are plenty of directors and showrunners that get how music can amplify a plotline (see:  Scorsese, Martin; Coppola, Francis Ford and Sofia; Chase, David (of The Sopranos), King, Michael Patrick (Sex and the City), and Anderson, Wes) there are commercials that transcend their purpose of selling and are small masterworks in themselves:

Gerber commercial using DeVotchka’s “The Winner Is” from Little Miss Sunshine:  a sweet commercial where the music choice perfectly matches the depiction of the emotional bond between mother and child without being cloying or, God forbid, cutesy.

Wes Anderson’s AmEx commercial featuring George DeLerue’s Day For Night chorale:  Anderson wrote the commercial to be a tribute to Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night, and captures the spirit elegantly by using the bright score

M&M’s spot featuring Iron & Wine’s cover of “Such Great Heights”:  I know some people hate this ad and hate that this song was in the ad, but everything about it screams “AESTHETICALLY PLEASING” that it’s hard to hate for long.

So how can critics so summarily dismiss song usage in commercials when all too often uninspired pairings occur in film and in television?  Sure, the musician is contributing to an artistic piece, but that artistic piece is there to generate money for someone (namely the studio/network and its advertisers, which in turn keeps the show on the air/generates revenue for more movies, which then allows for more music promotion, etc. etc.) but a poor artistic association is just as much an act of selling out as a poor commercial association.  Both are just as capable of ruining a personal memory or connection to a song.  As for Thom Yorke and Radiohead, while they have chosen wisely when picking what projects to be associated with (an acoustic “Fake Plastic Trees” appears on the Clueless commercial soundtrack—as well as “My Iron Lung” in the movie—and of course “Radio Talk Show Host” appears early in 1995’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet), their hands are hardly clean from the stain of greenbacks.  Glass houses, stones, throwing, etc.

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Arial is not Helvetica;


 Newburyport, MA, November 4, early afternoon (exact time unknown).

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I love the eyewear in Martin Scorsese’s films so much I drug Michael to the South Norwalk American Apparel to buy me vintage sunglasses as my Christmas present: 


(Robert DeNiro in Casino, 1995)


(Cybill Shepherd in Taxi Driver, 1976)

 I’m really excited to wear them.

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As it’s now December, I’m seeing evidence of the annual addition of passengers on my morning commute:  day trippers.  A few joined me on my shuttle ride back to the garage on a handful of evenings, and this morning a small coterie of women with young children thought it would be a lovely idea to spread out their group among the two sets of seats that directly face each other—there were maybe four women in the group (including the one child I could see), but they initially stretched across seating meant for nine (four in one, and five in another).  Fortunately they figured out that this wasn’t their private railcar and squished together rather quickly.  This leads me to a non-design-related PSA re:  traveling the Metro North during the busy holiday season (especially if you go during rush hour periods, which I really don’t advise as it’s much more crowded and expensive):

  1. Go online to www.mta.info and look up the damn train schedule, and maybe even the fares.  It’s not hard, I promise.
  2. Get to the station early, and buy your tickets in one of the booths.  You will spend significantly less money doing so, and won’t aggravate the conductors when you ultimately exclaim how much those tickets cost on-board.  They make announcements about doing this, it’s printed on the train schedules, and posted everywhere on the website—on-board fare prices are always higher.
  3. Squeeze into a seating arrangement that can accommodate you all but doesn’t waste seating—if there’s only two of you, take a two-seater.  Don’t be a douche and take a three-seater, then shoot the commuter who will ultimately take the third seat in the row (because that’s what they have to do) dirty looks.  Because they won’t give a shit what you think.
  4. Talk in reasonable volumes to your companions—the train isn’t that loud, and no one cares about which crap Broadway show you’re going to, or which H&M you want to visit, or what you’re going to do in Times Square, or that your kids are really excited to go to American Girl Place.
  5. Just because you can tune your kids’ screaming out doesn’t mean we all can.
  6. The closer you are to New York, the harder it is going to be to find a seat, because trains fill up.  Of course, people get off at various stops to some degree before New York (in which case be ready to move quickly to unoccupied seats), but just realize that your train ride is significantly shorter than one coming from New Haven which is why they are able to get a seat and you can’t.
  7. If you do end up near the doors of the train, don’t sit on the floor where the doors open.  They only open on one side going each way, and believe me, no one will want to step over you (especially coming home during a regular workday).
  8. In addition to picking which time to leave your home station, figure out what your options are for going home—give yourself a little time to get through the maze that is Grand Central, and you’ll be rewarded with an empty seat. 

Just a little something from me to you to help keep those evil eyes away from you.

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