Fill and Content…….

Spongebob Ladybugpants (c)SFR

Ocassionally, when I want a few minutes of escape I will mistakenly turn on the television in search of relief. Instead, I find myself suddenly tossed into a fast-paced, high-energy loop, bombarded by the repeating messages: buy a cellphone now, talk on it in your new SUV and drive as fast as you can to the nearest fastfood resturant, which happens to be open all night.

I like watching television. I will stick my neck out further and suggest there are shows on which are imaginative and even inspired. So, program the VCR or PVR, rent the disc or buy the box-set, it is time to enjoy the fruit of the airwaves without the harrassment.

First up, SpongeBob SquarePants! SpongeBob is the rare pop-culture phenomen which deserves all the sucess it has received. The show is funny with a subversive edge. Case in point would be the episode, Sailor Mouth, in which SpongeBob and Patrick learn a dirty word and keep repeating it until Mr. Crabs sets them straight. If a cartoon can make an adult feel guilty about their own use of "sentence enhancers" there are gifted people working on that program.

Take a look. Part One. Part Two.

Ugly Dolls…….

Uglydolls Ugly Dolls are the creatures which live under little kids beds, in the back of their closets and in between the storage boxes down in the basement. All of the Ugly Dolls have problems. For instance, Ox is a kleptomaniac and his friend Wedgehead is a bit of a mooch. Ice-Bat freezes everything he touches. Babo is codependent. All of them seem to be extremely fond of snacks. Collectively the Ugly Dolls are the spawn of pure imagination and kids find them irresistible.

Run the Other Way…….

Kinky Friedman

Another election cycle is approaching and already my frustration level is at an all time high. Could political advertising be more vacuous and insulting? Really, Mr. Candidate, how stupid do you think the electorate is? Well, according to the ads you are running on television I would guess your opinion is rather low. Here, stop reading the latest polling results and I will try to help you out. This is the best your very expensive media consultants have to offer…… Hi, my name is Your Dreams Come True and I’m for everything GOOD and oppose everything BAD. My opponent is FOR everything bad and AGAINST everything good. Cut to voice over, "This message was approved by Your Dreams Come True."

Seriously, do you think this kind of horse shit plays at all in the real world? It wouldn’t get you elected fifth grade homeroom president. Now, I’m not suggesting any voter should cast their ballot solely based on viewing television advertisements, a decision which would be foolish and just plain idiotic. What I am suggesting is an advertising strategy which engages the viewer and builds enough excitement about a candidate or issue to pull the voter out of their living room and get them actively involved in the campaign. Is this too much to ask?

 

Bill Hillsman thinks the answer is "no". Bill has been the creative force behind some of the most innovative political advertisement in the last 16 years. He developed genre busting spots for Paul Wellstone, Jesse Ventura and Ralph Nader. Probably his most talked about spot was his advertisement depicting Jesse Ventura as an action figure bent on fighting special interests.

Here is a link to an interview Bill Hillsman gave in 2004 for Mother Jones which is worth reading and provides clips of his best know ads. A more recent article concerning his work for Ned Lamont and Kinky Friedman can be found here in this 2006 article for The Christian Science Monitor. More ads can be found here at the North Woods Advertising Agency.

Here is track eight for the playlist: Why Theory? by Gang of Four

Update: I just finished reading Run the Other Way and want to share my favorite passage.

Political spinmeisters and the two big political parties benefit when independent-minded voters who are not captive to any party choose to stay home. Consultants and pollsters know the buttons to push to motivate party regulars-especially the extremists and one-issue voters-and they always show up. Political parties also have greater influence in low-turnout elections, because their get-out-the-vote efforts are aimed at the party faithful-again, people who are sure to show up-and at voters who are leaning their way. In short, when the undecided choose not to decide and stay home, it puts political parties, political consultants, and pollsters in control of the election. Independent-minded voters are the voters who frighten these professionals and who act as the safety valve for the system. When independents show up to vote, they become the great unknown. They are dangerous. They have no fealty to the two major political parties or to Election Industry, Inc.

Science Verse…….

Science Verse I have read many children’s books and Science Verse is one of my favorites. The illustrations are bold and the layout is designed to break the rules in a fun, playful way. Jon Scieszka’s science poems are set to traditional rhymes and luckily, there are no clunkers. For instance, instead of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star there is Twink- about a twinkle-less black hole.

Twink-

Twinkle-less, twinkle-less Spot of black, In the starry Zodiac. Sucking in all Matter and light. Turning sunshine Into night. Twinkle-less, twinkle-less– LOST CONTROL! Now we’re trapped in the black hole.

Since this is a concept driven book there is a real danger of the creators being clever for no other reason than to prove they can. Kids are generally not impressed by this and it gives adults cause to cringe when they read the book. Thankfully, this is not the case. The rhymes are fun and stand up to repeat readings.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess my deep respect for science. It is one of the most powerful tools humanity has invented to better understand the physical world. The thought of a return to the dark ages holds no romantic appeal for me. I would much rather risk having my feeling hurt over a factual disagreement than be burned at the stake as a heretic.

Studs Terkel…….

Studs Terkel is living a rich life which few can match. I think in a way he is an embodiment of Alvin Toffler’s Cognitariat. Studs is an unapologetic intellectual who belongs to the working class. His business is information, innovation and the human spirit. According to Toffler, knowledge is the ultimate power. It has the highest quality, the most flexibility and in a sense is inexhaustible. If this is true, than Studs is the irreplaceable, autonomous employee.

Mr. Terkel is an author. His two finest books, in my opinion,  are The Good War: An Oral History of World War II and Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. As the titles imply, he is a great talker and better listener. Nowhere is this more evident than in the 6 CD collection Studs Terkel, Voices of Our Time:The Original Live Interviews.

His books are based on thousands of interviews with ordinary Americans who survived extraordinary times. The Voices of Our Times collection spans four decades of conversation which Studs recorded with the great thinkers of their day. The list includes: Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, Mel Brooks, Maya Angelou, Dr. Oliver Sacks and Laurie Anderson to name just a handful.

For me, the hidden joy of this collection was the opportunity to listen to some of the less famous talents from America’s past.  Each new individual becomes a jumping off point for further research and exploration, a chance to connect more of the dots. It’s what learning is all about.

Forgotten Musical Gems…….

Bngwater

Lists are just fun. They are a slick way to present new information in user friendly chunks. With that in mind, I would like to introduce a new category to shiftingheat. I recently read a list of the top albums of the 1990’s and that got me thinking about the CDs I bought during that period. Instead of rehashing the greats, why not latch onto the long tail and give some attention to the remarkable albums which were overlooked.

 I now present for your consideration BongWater’s fantastic work, The Power of Pussy. Have you ever head a song for the first time on the radio and you suddenly have your mission for the day– buy this album now! Well, Folk Song did it for me. I could not believe something so smart and wickedly funny would ever be played on the radio. In fact, I was just as shocked when I heard it again.

BongWater is the creative duo of Ann Magnuson and Mark Kramer. Ann wrote and performed the lyrics. Kramer composed the music. The Power of Pussy is the master work of two artists on the top of their game. These two inventive forces complement the other perfectly on The Power of Pussy.

Together Ann and Kramer have fashioned an album which approaches a work of art. Ann is the lord goddess of the expansive narrative packed with cultural references and outrageous situations from the American fringe. This type of musical monologue is very risky and often comes up short. Generally, these stories are unfocused, lack a larger meaning or worst still are down right boring. Offenses which usually irritate the listener and send the CD off to obscurity without a second listen.

As amazing as it may be, Ann nails it every time with The Power of Pussy. Over time each one of Ann’s many riffs on the album becomes your absolute favorite and you can’t wait for her to deliver the punch line. Kramer is Steve Stevens to Ann’s Billy Idol. He takes lyrics which on their own seem silly and ridiculous and forces you to raise that lighter above your head and sign along. Who else gets a rational person to sing:

she said chimmijangas, chimmijangas, (chimmichangas) chimmijanges, she said chimmijangas, she said, chimmijanges she said, chimmijangas, she said she said she said

In addition to his catchy melody, Kramer strings each of the songs together using found recordings, snippets from answering machines and everything in between put to work in the style of a home tape collage. Each of the bits are funny and stand up to repeat listening. My personal favorite is a recording of an older man hopelessly stuttering over the name of the band. After all of that trouble, he announces, "The name of the band is BongWater."

What I like best about BongWater’s The Power of Pussy is the assumption that music is an important part of our culture and albums could be made to provoke thought and be the topic of adult conversation. Who does that anymore?

I, Aggregate…….

food

There are two businesses that I miss from the dot com days, Kozmo and Home Grocer. Both specialized in home delivery of goods.

Kozmo served the uber-geek niche with speedy home delievery of the nerdy essentials like snacks, solid and liquid, plus movies, music and the critical toiletries. Home Grocer was the supermarket of the future straight out of the propaganda spewed in the 1950’s.

Here is how it worked. You had a standing order for delivery which could be modified anytime from the website. Deliveries were on time and free if you ordered 50 dollars worth of goods. The eager Home Grocer delivery person arrived in a crisp uniform reminiscent of the service stations attire of the golden age of driving. The uniform matched the truck, the bags and the boxes. This wasn’t some subcontractor with your groceries rolling around in the trunk of a 1985 Toyota mixing it up with the greasy spare tire and jumper cables.

The Home Grocer employee carried your order into the kitchen taking care not to make a mess. If there was a problem a friendly customer service representative would call you before the order was filled to work out a solution. This extra care was free of charge. Oh, the produce was excellent. It was one notch below farmer’s market fresh. After all it had avoided sitting on a table at the supermarket getting picked up and poke by numerous hands while waiting to be taken home. Most importantly, you were treated like a god.

Alas, the dream is gone. Instead, we have value and reward cards. A plastic card symbolic of the arrogance of the grocery business.

Mr. Grocer, I know the information you have been gathering about me with your ubiquitous UBC codes has made you extremely powerful. Frankly, this power has gone to your head. Your card is no value to me. In fact, I was more than a little insulted when you tried to force me to sign up. Did you think I would not notice when you jacked up the prices and then required the rewards card to bring them back down to the original level?

Seriously, did you also think I harbored some secret desire to scan my own groceries? Shame on you.

Honey, you have changed. If my personal information is fueling the service economy then I expect to be service when I give it away to you. I want to be treated like a geek diva with time to burn at the Googleplex. That’s right, a free hair cut, manicure, pedicure plus a personal assistant to run up and down the isles gathering my groceries. I will also require a second assistant to take care of my kids. If one child wants to color while singing the songs from Chicken Little then damn it, it shall be done. Oh, if the baby decides to make that face, you will be there to make everything all right. You get the picture.

Here is track seven for the playlist: Fairytale in the Supermarket by The Raincoats

7/4…….

Happy Fourth of July! Here are a few ways I plan to celebrate my independence during this extended holiday.

  • fly the flag
  • listen to The Who
  • read Harry Potter to my kids
  • play wiffleball
  • eat strawberries
  • watch the World Cup Semifinals
  • have a second iced Americano
  • dig in the dirt
  • find Henry Rollin’s Love Letter to Ann Coulter on YouTube
  • mix Mentos and Diet Coke
  • eat a burger with lots of ketchup and extra pickles
  • walk to the park
  • finish the laundry
  • avoid driving
  • read the headlines on The Huffington Post
  • make Rice Krispy treats
  • finish Alvin Toffler’s Power Shift
  • learn the words to Elton John’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Have a safe and memorable Fourth. Here is track six for the playlist: Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who

The Ultimate Anti-Environment…….

"We have now become aware of the possibility of arranging the entire human environment as a work of art, as a teaching machine designed to maximize perception and make everyday learning a process of discovery." –Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage

Pee-Wee

I love Pee-Wee’s Playhouse so much that I just might want to marry it. The show, which is now available as a DVD box set, is a creative powerhouse. If you are lacking inspiration or feeling drained of your creative mojo help has arrived.

There is so much to love. The show is bursting with a campy exuberance which unifies all of the other elements. The eye-popping set is a perfect shrine to 50’s Americana. The retro musical sensibility further transports the viewer into the land of play and possibility. Name another tv show which has its credits open to a re-worked Quiet Village courtesy of Mark Mothersbaugh and the theme song belted out by Cyndi Lauper?

Cleverly, the story and characters are a mix of imaginative play. Something you would expect to see if you found a child playing alone with her toys.

The human actors interact with inanimate objects which have feelings, hopes and dreams. The furniture talks. Toys feel left out and at times the puppets seem more real that the humans they share the playhouse with.

If this wasn’t enough, the show is overflowing with talent. Laurence Fishburne plays Cowboy Curtis. Phil Hartman does a terrific job as the crusty Captain Carl. Miss Yvonne done by Lynn Marie Stewart is a perfect blend of naughty and nice. Finally, S. Epatha Merkerson provides the ideal straight woman as Reba the mail lady. What’s not to love?

Playlist track four: Cyndi Lauper with Girls just want to have fun from Twelve Deadly Cyns