Sunday, March 31, 2013

tears of a clown

I've seen a lot of concerts and I've seen a lot of opening acts. I saw Kenny Loggins open up for Fleetwood Mac. I saw Duran Duran appear as the opener for a five-band, all-day festival. I saw Uriah Heep warm up the crowd for Jethro Tull (see how old I am?) I have also seen my share of unusual opening acts. In 1978, Elton John had a comedian open his show. I saw Tony Bennett's daughter warble out a couple of songs as preparation (and I suppose to form a greater appreciation) for her headlining father. But when it comes to really unusual opening acts, none compare to the ones lined up by Mark Everett.

Everett, who answers to the mysterious moniker "E.," fronts the eclectic band eels (spelled with a lowercase "e"). eels released their debut in 1996, following a couple of solo efforts under the name "A Man Called E." The band's (mostly Mr. Everett and a rotating group of players) songs offer a mix of pop melodies and melancholy, often painful, lyrics. So, with such a wide range of combined emotions, not just any opening act will do for their live shows.

The first time I saw eels, they performed at Philadelphia's First Unitarian Church. The church, which still holds regular worship services, offers its facilities to a local concert promoter. As anxious fans sat in the pews waiting for the music to begin, a large white bed sheet was lowered in front of the pulpit and a public television-style documentary about Mark Everett's father* was shown — uninterrupted — for the next hour. Needless to say, the crowd was bewildered and a little less than receptive.

For another tour, a rapper named MC Honky was billed as the opener, in support of his Everett-produced album I Am The Messiah. It is widely believed that MC Honky, in reality, is Everett himself in heavy disguise. Everett has denied this claim.

In 2010, as eels toured in support of their late summer release Tomorrow Morning, a ventriloquist telling corny (and decidedly risqué) jokes took the stage for twenty minutes before the band came out.

Last night, eels brought their current tour to Philadelphia's beautiful World Cafe Live. The lobby posters proclaimed "Puddles Pity Party" as the supporting act. Venue doors opened an hour before showtime and the room filled to capacity within ten minutes. With the house light still burning, the low murmur of the crowd was momentarily silenced as a hulking figure appeared and descended the stairs at the rear of the venue. Standing at well over six feet tall, a pancaked-white clown cut a path through the packed bodies. With a glowing hurricane lantern held at arms length and a large suitcase gripped in the other hand, he made his way to the stage. The lights dimmed and the clown hoisted his considerable bulk onto the stage from out of the crowd. He was dressed in a Pagliacci-style costume of shimmery satin with puffy black buttons down the front. A small bent gold crown was perched on his bald pate, held in place by a thin length of elastic encircling his skull. The crown was inscribed on the front with a large, hand-drawn capital "P." He deposited his suitcase and lantern on the stage floor and silently surveyed the crowd. Then, accompanied by the strains of a pre-recorded orchestra, the clown began to sing. The snickering crowd was immediately stunned and captivated by the rich, operatic tones emerging from his black lip-sticked mouth. His powerful voice and the gut-wrenching lyrics held the audience in bewilderment for a full three minutes. At the song's conclusion, the audience erupted in approving cheers. He produced a smaller suitcase from the original and placed it on top of the first one. From that one, he removed a comically large plastic flower and began the Leiber-Stoller tearjerker "I Who Have Nothing." Once again, the audience was perplexed by the dichotomy of this clown-suited vocalist. Suddenly, another figure moved in shadows of the darkened stage. An obviously female figure in a frilly dress maneuvered her way through the instruments and microphone stands on the pre-set performance area. The clown kept singing. The figure stepped into the spotlight. It was a girl, alright — but she was wearing a grotesque rubber chimpanzee mask and clutched a bunch of bananas in her curled fist. And the clown kept singing. The girl hunkered down simian-style and peeled a banana, tossing the peels into the crowd. Producing a third, smaller suitcase from the second one, the clown burst into "The Love Theme from Titanic (My Heart Will Go On)." His majestic voice soared. It was beautiful, despite being accompanied by a girl in a monkey mask. He ended his set with "Cry Cry Cry," during which he tossed sheet after sheet of Kleenex into the crowd after dabbing his non-existent tears. The Monkey Girl fondled a large inflatable banana which she had exchanged for her real ones. At the song's conclusion, the clown climbed off the stage and exited through the dumbstruck crowd.

My son turned to me and said, "I guess it's not good enough to just have a good voice."

*Everett's father was Hugh Everett III, a Princeton-educated physicist who first proposed the many-worlds interpretation (MWI) of quantum physics.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

you can't always get what you want

When I'm not drawing my silly little pictures of obscure celebrities who met some horrifically tragic demise, I am a graphic designer. I've been doing that job for nearly 30 years for over a dozen employers. (The drawings are just a way to relax, have fun and answer only to myself.) As a graphic designer, I have created brochures, advertisements and invitations. I have designed newsletters, textbooks and even store signage. And logos. I have created many logos. Many, many logos. And it ain't as easy as you may think.

A week or so ago, my wife's brother (No, not that one — the other one) called. He told me news of layoffs at the hospital where he is employed as a neuropsychologist. He was spared, but the ax fell on two veteran doctors with 50 years of practice experience between them. They were flatly informed by hospital administration that their particular areas of practice were not generating enough income. With that, they were unceremoniously shown the door. The two until-recently employed doctors decided to open their own private psychology practice. My brother-in-law who — for the time being — still has a job, decided he was interested in expanding his horizons. He unofficially committed to joining his former colleagues in their new venture. The principals of the newly formed business determined that they needed a logo and brochure to launch their project. This is where I come in.

With over a quarter of a century of design, print and marketing experience, I was the natural choice for my brother-in-law. And being part of the family was a bonus. He proposed my services to his new partners. He explained my credentials and related a few of my past clients. They questioned my access to the proper tools (i.e. the latest computer software and a few random technology-sounding terms they may have overheard). My bro-in-law sarcastically countered that my submissions would be presented in crayon on the back of a used napkin. They were not amused, but after a little convincing, they conceded to giving me a shot.

Without revealing the secretive process of logo creation, lest I have my artist's license permanently revoked, let's just say I sent seven logo designs for the new partnership to peruse. Seven. SEVEN! I must have been out of my fucking mind.

Last night, my phone rang and it was my brother-in-law. He sounded very subdued and a little defeated.

"Hey, Josh," he began, "you didn't start working on that brochure, did you?" The tone of his question made me believe that he hoped I didn't start working on that brochure. Indeed, I had not and I told him so. He emitted a sigh of relief.

"Well, don't.," he said and he went on to explain about the endless conversation through countless emails regarding the whole brochure/logo request. They discussed, without including my brother-in-law (their potential partner), how they didn't like any of my logo designs. They relentlessly picked the designs apart like two vultures ripping into a rotting coyote carcass. Then, they presented my brother-in-law with a Southwestern blanket design that they hoped to incorporate into the logo, pointing out that they "really like it." They also inquired about seeing and reviewing my portfolio. Y'know, like an audition.

I laughed. I had heard it all before. Many, many times. Everyone's a fucking artist and everyone knows how to design. Garbage men, sandwich makers, window washers, cashiers at WalMart and now, apparently, doctors.

My brother-in-law apologized for roping me into this fiasco-waiting-to-happen and explained that they will be using another designer. One closer to their home. One who, he thinks, specializes in take-out menus.

And he also rethought his decision to join "these two nut jobs," as he put it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

chain chain chain... chain of fools has confused me ever since my friend (and one-time supervisor) Diane introduced me to it several years ago. I'm not sure what it wants to be. Does it want to be a networking tool for professionals? Does it want to muscle in on the social aspects of Facebook? Who knows? I don't think even LinkedIn is sure. What I do know is: when I asked my 25 year-old son if he has joined LinkedIn, now that he has officially entered the working world with his first real-live, full-time job, he said, "LinkedIn? LinkedIn is for old people." Out of the mouths of babes.

This past Thursday, as it turns out, was deemed "Josh Pincus LinkedIn Day." I had sent a message to one of my "connections" (as LinkedIn likes to have members call other members, much the same way that Disney insists on calling paying customers "guests") hoping to meet him for lunch. Based on his LinkedIn profile, I was under the impression that he worked not too far from where I worked. I found out that he does not, in fact, work near me, but would like to meet for lunch just the same. Thursday afternoon (actually into the evening) was spent in a rabid email frenzy, finally achieving success in our plans around 11 pm.

My Thursday correspondences for luncheon plans were interspersed with a few endorsements from another LinkedIn "connection" (if you were paying attention, you already know what a "connection" is in LinkedIn lingo). In its early days, LinkedIn allowed members to write recommendations for their connections. A member could sing the praises of a current or former business colleague in a few brief sentences. Now, it seems, that writing takes too much thought and time for the typical LinkedIn user. So, LinkedIn has introduced a system of easily clickable recommendations that take the place of that cumbersome, time-sucking, thought-powered writing! Want to tell the world about a connection's skills in... in.... shit! who knows what they are capable of?!? And what difference does it make anyway? Just click on areas of expertise as they pop up (it's sort of like a business shooting gallery!), whether your connection is qualified or not. No prospective employer is reading this crap anyway. My endorsement was in the area of "concept development," and it came from a guy I worked with for about six months at a job I had seven years ago. He was a real nice guy and we even attended the same art school, although I graduated when he was four years old. I sent him an email to express my appreciation for the kind endorsement:
I don't know what the fuck "Concept Development" is, but if you think I'm an expert in it, that's good enough for me.
He replied with:
Nice to hear from you too ass hole. Ok maybe concept development was a stretch, but there was no button to endorse you for "crazy off the wall sketchbook art".
I informed him that "asshole" was one word.

The highlight of my LinkedIn interactions came first thing on Thursday morning. I received a message through their system from Joe, an art school classmate of mine. Aside from an informal reunion six years ago, I haven't seen this guy in nearly 30 years. Despite being in a very small class, I wasn't very friendly with this guy. I knew him, but I wouldn't say we were close friends. Joe was an excellent caricature artist whose style was reminiscent of the great Mort Drucker of Mad Magazine fame. However, Joe's typography skills were another story. When I was in art school in the early 1980s (before computers), there was a thing called "prestype." Prestype was a system of lettering used to achieve a professional look in the creation of ad mock-ups (Ask an artist. I'm sure you know one). Prestype came on a translucent plastic sheet and, by means of vigorous rubbing*, the letters were transferred to your piece of art (like those PrestoMagix we had when we were kids... well, if you were a kid in the 70s and 80s). Prestype was an artist's dream, except Joe never had that dream. Everything that he did with type used his own shitty handwriting. He didn't even try to hide it or make it better. He would do a layout for advertising class and merely scrawl the headline across his page in the same black marker with which he sketched the image.

So, at 7 in the morning, Joe sends me this message:
hows bizzz?? hope all is good....if ya need an illustrator, let me know!
Bizzz with three "z"s? That was Joe. I replied to Joe, reminding him that I, too, am an illustrator and that we know each other from art school.

I guess my son was right. LinkedIn is for old people. Maybe one day, they'll even figure that out.

*sounds dirty, huh?