My Week with Bruce, part 2

Angry White Men?

ImageIf you had asked me right after Springsteen’s December 6th Anaheim show to sum up the performance in one word, I would have said “exuberant.” Then I read the reviews the next morning, and everyone was talking about how “angry” the show was. The reviews I read attributed it to Tom Morello and Mike Ness, the guest stars of the evening. The guys gave added energy to the aging E Street Band, but their very presence, according to these reviews, left us with a more angry Springsteen, though it was a reference to the theme of the evening, not the actual emotion coming from the artist himself.

It wasn’t till I was in Phoenix and saw that show that I could see this more clearly. The joy I felt in Anaheim, was no doubt, the joy I felt seeing my favorite band, up close and personal in the pit. Still, I think it is a stretch to call the show angry, and to be honest, I really didn’t think in terms of a “theme” while I was watching the concert.

I see now, though, that you can’t have a show featuring “This Depression,” and “Ghost of Tom Joad,” much less one of my all-time favorites, “Adam Raised a Cain,” without feeling some anger slicing through the lyrics.

Then there were “Spirit in the Night,” and “E Street Shuffle.” Those are songs of Springsteen’s youth, and our youth. It’s easier to feel a bit grumpy now, whether it’s because we are beaten down by the economy or just beaten down by the years we’ve added to our lives. There has always been anger in Springsteen’s songs, which is one reason the faithful fans love him. He expresses the anger we feel when our lives have not gone as hoped. The other reason we love him, though, is the happiness and hope just at the perimeter of so many of those songs.

In fact, as mentioned in the last post, the show opened with “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Sure, it was a nod to Disneyland being down the street, but the song sort of sums up all the other songs and characters Springsteen has created. They are all about surviving in, or maybe escaping to, the place where dreams are made of.

Morello wasn’t just a guest. When the band walked out onstage, they walked out with him. No one was surprised that he was there, we were all a bit surprised to see him walk out like he was part of the band. This promptly started a rumor that if Steven or Nils, who are both getting on up there in the years, left the band, would Tommy join? Would Tommy replace Steven when the actor goes on to tape season 2 of Lillehammer? Really, I think it is nothing more than Morello performed on “Wrecking Ball,” so here they were in his hometown and it seemed only polite to bring him along for the ride.

If you want a blow-by-blow review of the show, read this one from Backstreets. If you want my review of the show, here’s what mattered to me: Bruce stopped right in front of us on the ramp and sang right to us four times. I touched his ankle and his calves, like a crazed fan would, I reveled in the feel of his drenched jeans, and I helped him as he crowd surfed over us. I helped Bruce Springsteen in a small way. Fitting, as his music has helped me numerous times.

Here’s the setlist, along with some of my commentary:

Land of Hope and Dreams (with Tom Morello)
Adam Raised a Cain
Streets of Fire–Yeah, maybe this was an angry show with this song following “Adam Raised a Cain.”
Hungry Heart —I touched Bruce and he sang right to me! Then he fell backwards on us to crowd surf. I held him by the ankle and looked up just to see his crotch right smack over my face. I resisted.
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown (with Tom Morello)
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
The E Street Shuffle–It was great hearing this song
Long Time Coming (solo acoustic)–he chose this sign over our inspired, “Burning Love.” But evidently on this leg, unlike others, he was not doing covers. Ooops.
Reason to Believe
This Depression (with Tom Morello)
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Bad Luck (with Mike Ness)
Because the Night
Darlington County–Bruce said, “Road Trip,” and brought Nils out the ramp. Nils looked like he’d rather be anywhere else other than a thin strip of ramp where crazed fans (like me) could reach out and grab him. Poor Nils.
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day–The happy song that makes his fans angry, because not many of them like it…yet he keeps on singing it!
Raise Your Hand–More of me touching Bruce
The Ghost of Tom Joad (with Tom Morello)
Badlands (with Tom Morello)–My anthem. I loved that Tom  Morello played on this. It was just perfect.
Thunder Road
* * *
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town–He told everyone wearing Santa hats to get on the ramp and dance. They did.
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Tom Morello)–I touched Bruce again and I think by this point, he was sick of my hands and considered me a pervert.


My Week With Bruce

Part 1
The ePITome of the happiest place on Earth.

The Pit and BeyondThere is not an inch of my body that is not sore. There is not a cell in my being that is not exhausted. This is not a complaint. This is the morning-after effect of a person who has spent the previous evening in a prime spot in the pit of a Springsteen concert.

This week, my husband, Greg, and I did something we always wanted to do, and that was follow our Rock and Roll hero from one city to the next. More hard-core fans than the two of us have managed to do this dozens, if not hundreds, of times. While we are dedicated fans, hard core even, we are either not wealthy enough, too frugal or too lazy to travel city to city for Bruce. So we watch him live on the Ustreams that the more robust fans post, or follow #Springsteen on Twitter for a tweet by tweet update of the set list.  But this week, we managed a two-city trip, and drove to Anaheim, CA for his December 4th concert, then flew to Phoenix for the last show of his 2012 US tour.

The stars aligned and blessed us for both shows this week. We tried twice to get in the pit, and twice we succeeded. For the uninitiated, the pit is the area in front of the stage where anywhere from about 300 to 500 fans stand to see Springsteen and the E Street Band do the magical, musical voodoo they do better than anyone. To get in the pit, the fans arrive hours before show time,  line up to get numbered wristbands, and hope that their number is picked in a lottery. It’s like Hunger Games without death and with a big, emotional payoff.

If we sound like geeks, then get this: This is how we choose to spend our honeymoon. We even made poster board signs, requesting “Burning Love” in Anaheim, and “Drive All Night,” in Phoenix, and on both signs, we wrote “For our Honeymoon.” We were close enough that Springsteen got a look at both signs, but, being The Boss, had different ideas about which songs requests he wanted to play that evening.

It didn’t matter. When Springsteen took the stage in Anaheim, he asked in a sing-song, part-gospel, part musical-emcee greeting, “Gooood evening Anaheim! Are you ready to be transformed?” And, all of us, every person in the pit and in the seats, cried back, “YESSSSSSS.” By the end of the evening, many of us were–and those that weren’t? They were in seats, up high, away from the Pit.

To fully experience a Springsteen concert, you have to be in The Pit. It is the congregation. It’s wear you receive the Spirit in the Night feeling that you can only get from being strategically located at a Springsteen concert. A good rock concert can leave you happy for days. A great Springsteen performance can energize your soul. Yep, it can transform you; albeit, temporarily, until the normal drags of life start tugging and pulling again, and then, the only cure is, for someone like me, at least, another Springsteen show seen from the pit.

The pit is also the place where you meet friends and enemies. The enemies are the people who block your view. At 5’1 (after a lot of yoga and stretching) in my bare feet, tall people are my enemy. At my height, I have a lot of enemies in the pit. So I befriend them. A man who had to be 9’0 feet tall even though he was probably actually 6’5 stood smack in front of us before the show started. We had strategically planted ourselves dead center in front of the ramp, where Bruce walks out to sing a few songs. Giant guy, as Greg and I had started to secretly call him, stood between us and the center stage. There was no way I’d see–or Greg as pit people naturally move in their spot, whether dancing or trying to get a better view.

So I tapped the guy  on the arm. “Would you snap our photo, please?” Greg looked at me as I handed my iPhone to Giant Guy. He snapped our photo and we held up our Anaheim sign: “Burning Love for our honeymoon.” Giant guy handed my phone back, and we struck up a conversation. I learned his wife was my height, and didn’t like coming to shows because she, too, considered the tall folks of the world her enemy.

Hug a short person. We need it, especially if we love Springsteen.

Giant Guy became our friend and seemed determined all evening to never, ever, not even for a second, get in the way of our view. To the left of us was a friendly couple, to the right of us were two women. The women were chatty and through them, we got alerts on celebs in the audience, and even in the pit. Rob and Chad Lowe were braving the pit, and fans were polite enough not to bug them too much, though the brothers amiably posed for photos. We thought we saw Joel McHale, but none of the reviews of the show mentioned him among the many celebrities listed.

Around 8:00, the stadium was nearly full and the aisles were jammed with late comers getting to their seats. The hum and buzz of the audience was getting louder, and the excitement was building. It’s like any concert. In the pit, though, people seemed anxious. In part because they knew they were about to see their favorite musical artists, and honestly, the other part was because most of us had been standing since 4:30, if not earlier, having lined up to be one of the winning numbers that got to be right here. We knew we had three more hours, at least, of standing and dancing. At 8:25, the lights went out, and the audience roared. The time had come. We were ten minutes away from the happiest place on Earth, Disneyland, but the location had moved for one night only.It was fitting then, that as the band came out onto the stage, and the roar of the audience turned from loud to thunderous, Bruce and the E Street Band launched into “Land of Hope and Dreams” . . .

Wam Bam, Thank You Ma’am

I recently hired a new employee. In this job market, I expected to get flooded with a twenty-foot stack of resumes. I thought my phone would ring off the hook and that my inbox would crash from the cyber weight of every unemployed person in the city shooting me their resume.

As a pleasant surprise, that did not happen. However, the cliches and myths about what not to do in a job market exist for a reason. They are real. I was hiring a marketing person with graphic design, social media and html skills. I got writers, with no graphic design experience. That’s not as strange as the casino pit boss who applied, the school teacher, and the mom with no computer skills, who thought my job sounded fun, and wanted to give it a shot as she had decided to enter the work force.

I took the time to write polite rejection letters to those who didn’t make the cut. I put myself in their shoes and knew I’d want someone closing that loop for me. I never once got a “thank you for responding, keep me in mind if things change” email back. I’m sure they were hurt they did not get the job, but, that doesn’t excuse a basic lack of manners. More importantly, had I gotten a thoughtful response back, reminding me of what they can bring to the table, and thanking me for my time, etc, I would have remembered this person. Down the road, when I am ready to hire for a new position, I would have reached out to the candidates skilled in basic, run-of-the-mill manners 101.

What am I saying here? That a thank you can lead to a job hire? Perhaps it could, yes. To cinch a job offer, it takes the right set of skills, a connection with the key decision maker, the ability to articulate what you can do for the company (and how you’ll do it)—and more. But at the end of the hiring process, a thank you can make all the difference. I know. I speak from experience. I once got a job because I wrote a thank you letter. It was between me and another candidate. The other candidate didn’t follow-up. I did. I was told that by writing that simple note, I won the position.

Of course, it turned out to be a job I hated, but I’ll save that for another time.

Highlights of Springsteen’s SxSW Keynote

With apologies to Backstreets, I’ve copied their highlights of Springsteen’s SxSW keynote in its entirety. I cannot find a written transcript of the speech, so this is the next best thing, and it includes the closing of the keynote, which may be the best closing paragraph of any keynote I’ve ever heard. You can watch his keynote here; Here are the written highlights, courtesy of Backstreets:

There was an audible — and mass — gasp of disappointment on Thursday afternoon in Austin when SXSW managing director Roland Swenson announced that Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech would be done in an interview format. It wasn’t lack of respect for Dave Marsh, the eminent Springsteen authority, who’s more than up to the task. It was just that everyone was expecting… well, a speech. So there was relief when, with E Street Band members including Little Steven Van Zandt, Garry Tallent and Roy Bittan looking on, Springsteen strode onstage, in a blue shirt and dark jeans, with a sheaf of papers and a wide smile, asking why we were “up so fucking early? Every important musician in this town is asleep — or they will be by the time I finish this thing.” Hardly. Springsteen enraptured the packed ballroom at the Austin Convention Center with nearly 50 minutes of advice, anecdotes, reflections, and analysis, a fascinating and carefully constructed oral memoir that considered his career in the context of an event with some 13,000 registered attendees and 2,000 bands playing around town. Springsteen — who made a guest appearance at Wednesday’s Austin Music Awards and will be performing his own show Thursday night at ACL Live at the Moody Theater — also grabbed the acoustic during parts of the speech, connecting his doo-wop roots to “Backstreets” and The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” to “Badlands” (“It’s the same fucking riff!”). It was a speech full of genuine gems, but here are ten of our favorite moments from the keynote.

* No one really hardly agrees on anything in pop anymore. There is no keynote. There is no unified theory of everything. You can ask Einstein. You can pick any band — say, Kiss. You can go, “Early theater rock proponents expressing the true raging hormones of youth,” or, “They suck!” You can go, “Phish, inheritors of the Grateful Dead’s mantle, brilliant center of the true alternative community,” or, “They suck!” You go, “Bruce Springsteen, natural-born poetic genius off the streets of Monmouth County, hardest-working New Jerseyan in show business, voice of the common man, future of rock ‘n’ roll,” or… “He sucks! Get the fuck outta here!”

* So as the records that my music was initially released on give way to a cloud of ones and zeroes, and as I can carry my entire record collection since I was 13 in my breast pocket… the one thing that’s been constant over the years (is) the genesis and power of creativity, the power of the songwriter or the composer or, let’s say, the creator. So whether you’re making dance music, Americana, rap music, electronica, it’s all about how you’re putting what you do together. The elements you’re using don’t matter. Purity of human expression and experience is not confined to guitars, to tubes, to turntables, to microchips. There is no right way, no pure way of doing it. There’s just doing it.

* Remember, it wasn’t just the way Elvis looked. It was the way Elvis moved that made people crazy, pissed off, driven to screaming ecstasy and profane revulsion… When they made an attempt to censor him from the waist down, it was because of what you could see happening in his pants. Elvis was the first modern, 20th century man, he was a precursor of the sexual revolution, of the civil rights revolution, drawn from the same Memphis as Martin Luther King, creating fundamental outsider art that would be embraced by a mainstream popular culture. Television and Elvis gave us full access to a new language, a new form of communication, a new way of being, a new way of thinking about sex, about race, about identity, about life. A new way of being an American, a human being and a new way of hearing music…. Once he was heard and seen in action, you could not put the genie back in the bottle… there was yesterday, there was today, and there was a red-hot hot rockabilly forging of a new tomorrow before your eyes.

* Even before there was Elvis, my world had begun to be shaped by the little radio with the six-inch mono speaker on top of our refrigerator…. Between 8 and 8:30 every morning as I snowed sugar onto my Sugar Pops, the sounds of early pop and doo-wop whispered into my young and impressionable ears. Doo-wop, the most sensual music ever made, the sound of raw sex, of silk stockings rustling on backseat upholstery. The sound of the snaps of bras popping across the USA. Of wonderful lies being whispered into taboo perfumed ears. The sound of smeared lipsticks, untucked shirts, running mascara, tears on your pillow, secrets whispered into the still of the night, the high school bleachers and the dark of the YMCA canteen. The sound of your incredibly wonderful, limp your ass, blue-balled walk back home after the dance.

* Roy Orbison was the true master of the romantic apocalypse. He knew what was coming after the first night you whispered “I love you” to your new girlfriend. You were going down…. But he also sang that he’d be risen to the heights of near unexpressable bliss by these same very things that tortured him. Oh, cruel irony.

* The other thing that was great about the Animals was there were no good-looking members. There were none. They were considered one of the ugliest groups in rock ‘n’ roll… That was good for me, ’cause I considered myself hideous at the time… And they weren’t even nice. They didn’t curry favor. They were like aggression personified: “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want.” They were cruel, which was so freeing.

* Darkness was also informed by the punk explosion at the time. I went out and got the early punk records, “Anarchy…” and “God Save the Queen.” The Sex Pistols were so frightening. Literally, they shook the earth, which is different from shocking. A lot of groups manage shocking, but… there were very few rock groups that managed frightening. They were brave and they challenged you and they made you brave, and that energy seeped its way into the subtext of Darkness. Darkness was written in 1977, and all of that music was out there and if you had ears you could not ignore it. I had peers that did, and they were mistaken. You could not ignore that challenge.

* Woody [Guthrie]’s world was a world where fatalism was tempered by a practical idealism. It was a world where speaking truth to power wasn’t futile, whatever its outcome. Why do we continue to talk about Woody so many years on? He never had a hit, never went platinum, never played in an arena… But he’s a big ghost in the machine. I believe it’s because Woody’s songs… tried to answer Hank Williams’ question [about] why your bucket has a hole in it. That’s a question that’s eaten at me for a long time.”

* So rumble, young musicians, rumble. Open your ears and open your hearts. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have unclad confidence, but doubt. It keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town — and you suck! It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideals alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. And when you walk on stage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all we have — and then remember it’s only rock ‘n’ roll.”

The Magic in Marketing: Why We Need Balloons-in-the-Morning Moments

The other morning as I was pulling out of my driveway, I looked over to the South and saw two huge, colorful hot air balloons floating in the sunshine. I impulsively hit the brakes and just sat there for a moment, idling, looking at this unexpected oddity. I knew what it was: a real estate company used these balloons as a giant marker pointing the way to their new subdivision.

My first thought that the real estate market, despite reports otherwise, must be promising enough to warrant the promotional attempt—or maybe not. Perhaps this was just one last-ditched effort on the agents’ part to draw would-be buyers into their lair.

As I started driving off, my second thought was, “Damn, it’s wonderful when marketing is magical.”

The thought itself nearly made me slam on my brakes again. I’ve been a marketer all my life and yet have ignored that marketing at its very best, can actually seem magical when it strikes the right person at the right time.

For whatever reason, I needed those balloons that morning. I was half-asleep, it was the beginning of what I knew would be a long work week, with meetings at work, and obligations after work, and the start of several large projects. Those balloons reminded me that life is full of beauty and the unexpected, and if I want to get through the day feeling creative and energetic, I need to remember that.

Now. . . did I go over and buy a new home? Hell no. Is a balloon enough of a powerful statement to persuade anyone to buy a home? No, but it’s daylight’s equivalent of the Sunset Boulevard flood light marking a red carpet event. It’s one that is more welcoming and more peaceful, too: great feelings to invoke if you are trying to entice a would-be homebuyer.

As I went about my work that day, crafting a press release, ghost-writing some speeches, and fine-tuning a social media strategy, I kept thinking back to those balloons, and the feeling I had pulling out of the driveway. I don’t expect that every single thing I work on needs a Balloons-in-the-Morning moment, but when there is the opportunity for it, I hope to seize it.

Whether it is marketing, writing, or whatever it is we do with our work, we need our own personal moments like this. And when we can be responsible for giving those moments to someone else, it’s even better. We’ve created magic, and, hey, creating magic? That’s not bad work if you can get it.

Seth’s List

I’m one of those marketers who tends to hold my breath and lean in when Seth Godin talks. A business leader that I admire very much recently told me, “Seth is just a little too-out there sometimes for my taste.” Yeah, I know. And that’s why we love him and that’s why he’s great.

Today, Seth has spoken again–actually, he blogs daily it seems, so this is no surprise. But today, I’ve leaned in again, and I’m listening, and I’m pulling my credit card out. Without further ado, Seth Godin’s top reading list (so far) for 2012. Enjoy.

Lovers Give Diamonds. Dog Owners Give Harnesses.

My Boston Terrier, Winston, is zealous about his daily walks. Despite thousands of dollars on private training for this pup, he insists that strolls are for geriatric dogs and an Alpha like him needs to seize the path. He is an explorer, a canine Lewis and Clark. He is incapable of walking a straight line, and he pulls to lead the way, then stops abruptly to sniff some grass or inspect a tree. To get him back on track, I have to tug on the leash.

He is such a rambunctious, erratic walker, that it took a toll on my hands, and I ended up with something called “trigger thumb,” which basically meant my thumb squeaked when I bent it, and it throbbed considerably. I was able to fix the pain through the help of a doctor, but, the saga with Winston and his walks continued. My main concern was that he would break free of the harness.Thankfully, he never did, but the fear lingered.

He was running through harnesses every three months. They would stretch out and the rapid aging reminded me of the before-and-after photos of presidents at the end of their term.

I took Winston to my favorite dog store in Studio City, Maxwell Bark, and the sales lady, after taking one look at him, pointed me in the direction of some dog harnesses made by Puppia. I have not looked back since, except when I’m having to pull Winston on a walk. His Puppia harnesses, tough as they are, lasts about a year before I start feeling like it needs to be replaced.

Being a fan of Puppia, I Liked their Facebook Page, and as I scrolled down the wall, I realized something: I have never seen such passionate brand advocates on any Page. I am the primary social media person for my company, and I wish I had the raving lunatics they have.

So what is the lesson learned here? If your product solves a problem, people will love you. Sure, but why does this page have fans taking the time to upload shots of their dog, wearing Puppia clothing and harnesses, and saying things like, “I will NEVER use another brand”?

I think its the combination of solving a problem and love. Dog owners love their dogs, some of them as deeply as others love a child. I haven’t investigated any children product sites, but I wonder if there is a great brand, that solves a problem for moms and has them raving?

Being in the jewelry industry, I think of jewelers, and how many of them desire that level of brand advocate that Puppia has. You would think that a diamond ring would engender the same kind of ardent appreciation, and it comes close, but not quite. Diamonds represent love. A dog harness represents keeping a loved one safe. Maybe it’s not a stretch to say that a harness is a dog owner’s version of a diamond. It’s what we give our dogs to show love. Puppia has pulled off the ultimate sales and marketing trick and built a better mouse trap.

This reinforces a lesson taught in any Marketing 101 class, but is often overlooked: The very best marketing concepts fail when the product doesn’t live up to the hype. Let’s face it, without a great product, you’ve got one out-of-control dog with a weak harness.