The organization Playing For Change has a great name and a great mission: “Connecting the World Through Music.” They have a cool song and video series called Songs Around the World — inter-cutting performances of a song by musicians across the globe — which includes this great version of the 1970 Grateful Dead song, Ripple. Enjoy.
Warby Parker is a great example of a brand created from an invented character name, similar to Pink Floyd and Humphry Slocombe. With this invented construction the brand perfectly evokes the milieu of 1920s-1950s history, literature and music, with many eyewear products named after historical and cultural figures: Crane, Chandler, Duke, Winston, Fillmore, Roosevelt, Beckett, Miles, Crosby, etc. But the extra special vibe that the name “Warby Parker” exudes is that of the incognito comic book superhero who spends half of his or her time as an awkward, nerdy dude or gal just trying to blend in with the crowd, though we readers or viewers know their true, powerful identity — think Peter Parker (Spiderman), Clark Kent (Superman), and non-superhero supporting characters like Snapper Carr (Justice League television news reporter) or Iron Man Tony Stark’s amanuensis, the brilliantly named Pepper Potts. And speaking of smart and sassy women, many were portrayed in such period films as His Girl Friday (Rosalind Russell as the feisty Hildy Johnson), Philadelphia Story (Katherine Hepburn as the regal and queenly Tracy Lord) or Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (the incomparable Jean Arthur’s Babe Bennett opposite Gary Cooper’s Longfellow Deeds), and are vitally important to the brand narrative of the unisex-named Warby Parker, making the name equally powerful for selling women’s eyeglasses as men’s.
On its website, the company directly answers the question, Why did we name our company Warby Parker?:
We’ve always been inspired by the master wordsmith and pop culture icon, Mr. Jack Kerouac. Two of his earliest characters, recently uncovered in his personal journals, bore the names Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper. We took the best from each and made it our name.
They did a great job. And of course Kerouac himself was a product of the generation that the name Warby Parker alludes and pays homage to, extending the brand’s metaphor range into the Beat era as well (think Allen Ginsberg with his iconic black-rimmed glasses, for example), perfect for a brand catering to today’s prep school iconoclasts and creative class hipsters. Somewhere out there in the cultural exosphere, Clark Kent is thinking, Peter Parker is slinking, Sam Spade is drinking and Pepper Potts is winking.
Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize today in literature. Think about that for a moment and let it sink in.
The final verse of Dylan’s 1965 song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” seen in the video above from an early performance, sums up his mood of the artist-rebel trying to stay alive in the mainstream culture:
And if my thought-dreams could been seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.
Dylan has proved, like many other artists before him — Van Gogh, Duchamp, Stravinsky, to name but a few — that if you live long enough and remain true to your vision, you might just take over the culture that you once felt alienated from.
But like the greatest artists, Dylan hasn’t just sat still for 50 years and waited for the mainstream to catch up to him. Instead, he continues to experiment, change, and evolve. As an example, compare this 1978 version of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” from the height of Dylan’s “Christian period,” which sounds like it could be coming from a rousing revival church:
Dylan’s continual reinvention continues to day, even at age 75. Here is a more recent performance of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”:
To further put Dylan’s achievement in winning the Nobel Prize into context — both the context of the 1960s and the context of what’s going on right now in the U.S. Presidential campaign — here’s a cheeky new meme flying around the Internet today:
I like to think that if Dylan’s current thought-dreams could be seen, “they” would probably still want to put his head in a guillotine. We need more artists like him.
On May 29, 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) premiered in Paris. The public hissed and laughed, and a riot ensued. Critics called it “the work of a madman.”
Less than one year later, on April 5, 1914, The Rite of Spring was performed again in Paris. It was a rousing success. After the performance the composer was carried in triumph from the hall on the shoulders of his admirers.
Here’s what I think happened. Note for a moment the dual meaning of the word culture: it is both a set of ideas, beliefs, and ways of behaving of a particular society, and a group of bacteria or other cells that have been grown in a scientific experiment. We are, all of us, participants in our culture, part of a vast group experiment in our orbiting petri dish earth. The Rite of Spring, when it was first performed, was a hostile bacteria invading the culture of the day. Parisian society was mentally sickened by the performance the first time around, because it had been so new, so different from anything anyone had ever heard before. It literally drove people crazy. But after hearing a few performances, the audience adapted to this threat by developing cultural antibodies to prevent them from getting sick again. So next time they heard The Rite of Spring, in 1914, they no longer got sick in the head, and could appreciate the music; and by 1940 The Rite of Spring was so safe for consumption that it accompanied a large section of Disney’s animated film Fantasia. The work of a madman had become the work of a genius and then a work of pop culture, same as with Van Gogh and countless other artists.
That, more or less, is the standard telling of the tale. Madison Mainwaring makes the case, in her excellent article about this event, The Riot of Spring, that it was the ballet aspect of the work — choreographed for forty-six dancers by Vaslav Nijinsky and performed by the Ballets Russes under impresario Sergei Diaghilev — that is what really drove the audience insane (aided and abetted, of course, by Stravinsky’s radical score):
The riot is often discussed in relation to the ballet’s modernist score by Stravinsky. Its dissident chords went against every precedent of melodic harmony, while a beat captured the inchoate rhythms of the “scratching, gnawing, and wiggling birds and beasts.” Stravinsky upended tradition so completely that The Rite almost exceeded the limits of musical notation— when he first conceived of the sounds for the finale, the “Sacrificial Dance,” he did not know how to write them on paper.
At the time of the ballet’s premiere, critics didn’t pay so much attention to the music, giving it brief treatment (“deformed,” “demented”) before moving on to the first offense of the evening: the dancing. This was likely due to the frenzy of the audience noise, which reached such a pitch that it probably drowned out the ninety-instrument orchestra. The forty-six dancers on stage, deafened by the mass chaos in front of them, had the impossible beats of the score shouted to them from the wings.
In any event, this “a musical-choreographic work,” as Stravinsky described it, had succeeded in exploding the culture one year and beginning its journey into the classical canon only a year later. Mulling this over today, over a hundred years removed, prompts an interesting question: Does this sort of thing still happen in our contemporary world? Does art or literature, music, poetry, or dance still have the power to be new and strange enough to turn our world upside down with confusion and make us sick in the head? I keep an open mind that it’s still possible, but I don’t see many examples of it. No riots at the ballet, or at art galleries, or at poetry readings.
Unlike art, Science and Technology dramatically affect the lives of nearly everyone alive today. The primary result of true disruption is change, for after such an event, you can never go back to how things were before. In today’s culture, then, art is rarely disruptive, because it isn’t a primary driver of change. It can be a disturber, influencer, annoyer, irritant, motivator, gadfly, or provocateur, but rarely does it cause a fundamental shift in the culture.
In this light, the right wing forces of anti-science, seen most flagrantly in the denial of climate change, is manifestly hypocritical. You can’t pick and choose your science, or your preferred disruptor. Computers, the Internet, digital technology, the smartphone, wearable tech, the Internet of Things – you cannot accept these technological marvels – and by extension the science that begat them – and simultaneously deny the science of evolution or climate change or anything that contradicts your personal or religious worldview.
Science and Technology disrupt the culture, causing irreversible change. Art and marketing do not. Can you name a single contemporary artist who has impacted the world as much as the Internet, smartphones, or social media have? So when we hear companies claim to be disruptors, we need to know: are they unleashing the next truly disruptive scientific or technological breakthrough, or are they merely a cultural ripple aided and abetted by PR, marketing, clever branding — even, alas, naming? This makes all the difference where adaptation is concerned. Adaptation to true disruption is necessary for survival, and leads, through evolution, to the advancement and improvement of the organism or culture. False disruption – non-science-based cultural irritation – can be fought off with marketing expenditures, Congressional spending cuts and other counter-distractions. Such tactics will never work against true disruption, and will ultimately fail. [Read more…] about Bacteria, brands and ballyhoo: the culture of creative disruption
J. G. Ballard created a series of four graphically experimental text collages in the late 1950s. The work was later titled Project for a New Novel. Read more about them and see the other three images in the British Library post, Text collages by J G Ballard, c. 1958.
Humphry Slocombe is a unique, “adult oriented” ice cream shop in San Francisco’s Mission District that makes quite possibly the best ice cream on the planet. If you’ve ever had their “Secret Breakfast” flavor ice cream, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Humphry Slocombe is an ice cream pioneer, mixing unusual flavors to great effect, using ingredients such as bourbon and toasted corn flakes (the aforementioned Secret Breakfast), Huckleberry Crème Fraîche, red wine and Coke (Jesus Juice), or Boccalone Prosciutto. They have over 100 flavors that rotate every day, sometimes 2-3 times throughout the day.
As incredibly good as this ice cream is, however, we wouldn’t be talking about it here if the company didn’t have an amazing name, a name that sets this shop apart from all other ice creams and magnifies their social media draw. Founder Jake Godby worked as a dessert chef at several outstanding San Francisco restaurants before opening the store, honing his craft as a crafty experimentalist. According to a profile in the New York Times (I’ll Take a Scoop of Prosciutto, Please), “With Humphry Slocombe, Godby continued pressing food buttons, beginning with the name, which is aggressively obtuse. (Mr. Humphries and Mrs. Slocombe were characters on the bawdy old British sitcom ‘Are You Being Served?’ Godby insists that if Alice Waters could name her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, after a highbrow French film, he could name his ice cream store after a lowbrow British farce.)”
In our opinion, the name Humphry Slocombe is not so much “aggressively obtuse” as it is strange, distinctive, memorable and totally original, just like their ice cream. It is a name with attitude, a name that establishes a character, with a handcrafted, old-timey feel that plays perfectly against the avant-garde nature of their ice cream. It is also similar in its construction to the name Pink Floyd, creating a new character out of the recombinant parts of old characters. As a testament to just how good and unique are Humphry Slocombe’s ice cream AND brand name, ask yourself how many small, one-store ice cream parlors are there with nearly 300,000 followers on Twitter? With an unbelievably great company name and product, and some brilliant flavor names, imagine how far they could go if only they would just address the issue of their graphically-challenged logo and website.
Humphry Slocombe is a company that has created the perfect brand name to represent the very unique thing that it does. A name with character for an “ice cream with attitude.” And that’s just aggressively brilliant.
Whatever you think about their music, past or present, the band Pink Floyd has an amazing, enduring name, with a subtle power that reveals itself gradually over time. The name was created on the spur of the moment by early member and “crazy diamond” troubled genius Syd Barrett, by combining “the given names of two blues musicians whose Piedmont blues records Barrett had in his collection, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council” (Wikipedia). The unique combinations of strangeness and familiarity, modern (“Pink”) and retro (“Floyd”), young and old, have led to this being an enduring name still vital nearly 50 years after it burst upon the London music scene in the mid-1960s. Contradiction and simplicity combine to form one of the greatest band names of all time. And it only works because “Pink” can be a name and not just a color, which is only the case because “Floyd” is a name; note, for instance, how much less interesting is the contemporary band name Pink Martini.
The band wouldn’t have been in the pink without the influence of Syd Barrett, however, as a look at the names of their previous, pre-Barrett incarnations reveals: Sigma 6, The Meggadeaths, The (Screaming) Abdabs, Leonard’s Lodgers, The Spectrum Five and, finally, The Tea Set, a name they would have stuck with had there not been another local London band with that exact name. A great example of viewing a name or trademark conflict not as a problem, but as a blessing in disguise if it leads to a much stronger name.
In a world where too many bands try too hard with their name to be different, the name Pink Floyd is one that, with seemingly little effort, stands out clearly from the pack. Shine on.
Many are familiar with the composer and artist Brian Eno. But did you know that Brian has a younger brother, Roger Eno, who is also an accomplished composer, musician, and sound installation artist? Here is a beautiful piece, “Fleeting Smile,” by Roger Eno, from the Brian Eno compilation album of various composers’ work, Music For Films III (1988). It evokes for me a mashup of Erik Satie and Nino Rota, and is wistfully beautiful, like a fleeting smile.
“Overall, Zinzin was very easy to work with and collaborative, which I’ve found is not common in this space. … We were very pleased with the process and the result. We’re very happy with the name. I feel like I developed a friendship with Jay and the rest of his team. We definitely stay in touch, and we’re inviting them to our launch party.”
—CEO, Éclair Naturals (case study here)
In case you have not yet heard of it, Clutch, a company that we named (case study here), identifies leading software and professional services firms that deliver results for their clients, through the process of conducting extensive research interviews with the clients of said professional services firms.
Seven of our fantastic clients have been interviewed so far by Clutch researchers for reviews about their experience working with Zinzin, which you can read in full on our Clutch profile page, or download a nicely-formatted PDF of all our client Clutch reviews on our Resources page.
Peter Greenaway. John Cage. Indeterminacy. What more could you want? Not the greatest video quality here in YouTube video form, but still. Not easy (impossible) to find this film series of films on an American format DVD, so this will have to do. Enjoy.
For no rational reason, I stumbled upon this particular Robert Frank photograph from his famous 1955 book, The Americans. Ordinary Americans drinking soda at a Detroit drugstore soda fountain in the mid-1950s. But I was struck by the incredible display of advertising overkill going on for a drink called “Orange Whip” — only ten cents a glass! The air is thick with Orange Whip signs, and the man in the foreground seems to be enjoying a glass of this marvelous elixir.
Wikipedia provides an succinct overview of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of Orange Whip:
An Orange Whip is a sweet cocktail, made with rum and vodka, containing the base alcohols mixed with cream and orange juice. It is typically blended to a froth like a milkshake, and poured over ice in a Collins glass.
“Orange Whip” has also been used as brand name for non-alcoholic drinks. In the 1950s, the Tropical Fruit Company marketed an “Orange Whip” concentrate to be served as a fountain beverage. Jeanne Carmen, an actress and pinup model from that period, was once dubbed “Miss Orange Whip”. The US Patent and Trademark Office lists various applications for the “Orange Whip” trademark to be applied to drinks and a chain of juice stores.
Jeanne Carmen (1930-2007) was known as the “Queen of the B-movies” back in the day. Here’s a picture of her, ostensibly in her official capacity as “Miss Orange Whip”:
Apparently Miss Carmen was also a virtuoso foot pianist. Who knew?
The non-alcoholic version of Orange Whip enjoyed one last hurrah in the Blues Brothers movie of 1980. Again, I’ll let Wikipedia tell the story:
The drink had a resurgence after the release of The Blues Brothers. In that movie, John Candy’s character, Jake’s parole officer, attends the film’s pivotal fund-raising concert in order to arrest the performing band, but decides he wants to see them perform first and orders drinks for himself and the uniformed state troopers he is with, saying: “Who wants an orange whip? Orange whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips!”
The drink was not in the original script. The costumer on the film, Sue Dugan, is the daughter of the late Kenny Dugan, Director of Sales for the Orange Whip Corporation. Mr. Dugan had been providing refreshments for the cast and asked if “Orange Whip” (the non-alcoholic beverage product) could be mentioned in the film. John Landis, the director, mentioned this to Candy, who improvised the exchange.
Here’s the “Orange Whip” clip from The Blues Brothers movie:
Sadly for fans of the soft drink, that particular Orange Whip is no more. But now you can groove to “a bounty of booty-shakin’ bliss” by the Minnesota cover band Orange Whip — who may or may not have recorded at Orange Whip Recording — while working out with your Orange Whip golf swing trainer. Another example of namevolution, I suppose, with new Orange Whips taking the place of the vanished Orange Whip soft drink brand that was.
- Road Show: The journey of Robert Frank’s “The Americans,” by Anthony Lane. The New Yorker, September 14, 2009
Images from top to bottom: 1) Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Monolith with apes; 2) John McCracken, Nine Planks IV (1974), with viewer; 3) Led Zeppelin, Presence (1976) album cover; 4) a Nothing object (2013-present).
The artist John McCracken (1934–2011), who I had the privilege to know and work with as an undergraduate art student, began making his famous leaning “plank” sculptures and freestanding “monoliths” in the mid-1960s, before Stanley Kubrick’s famous monolith appeared in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). McCracken apparently didn’t care for the connection, as noted here in this William Poundstone review of the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), November 1, 2012–June 30, 2013, which made the connection by including one of McCracken’s iconic planks:
LACMA has added a few more generally related works by better-known artists. A John McCracken plank sculpture, Nine Planks IV (1974) appears in the 2001 gallery in lieu of a monolith. McCracken produced his first planks at just about the time that Kubrick and sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke were adapting Clarke’s 1951 story, “The Sentinel,” into the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey. In Clarke’s original story, the alien artifact is a tetrahedron. In the screenplay it became a black monolith of 1:4:9 proportions. It’s unlikely that Kubrick/Clarke knew of McCracken, or vice-versa. For years afterward, McCracken was annoyed by comparisons of his art to the 2001 monolith. He was not the first L.A. artist to feel steamrollered by the movie business.
He may have been annoyed with the 2001 monolith comparison, but McCracken was very much into such topics as space and time travel, extra-terrestrial beings, and psychic phenomena. In his 2011 obituary of John McCracken, the art critic Jerry Saltz wrote:
[McCracken’s] remarkable exhibition at David Zwirner in 2006 consisted of tall, black, shiny columns that had the presence of sentinels or guideposts and seemed to mark some kind of landing strip for extraterrestrials or UFOs, both of which he spoke of often. These almost-perfect freestanding keepers-of-metaphysical-secrets and celestial-navigation devices made Chelsea slip away and other worlds seem possible, even probable, as I entered a blessed-out dimension where these obdurate things, with the bearing of basalt Egyptian columns, became abstract angels in the architecture. I thought of Wallace Stevens’s writing about “a geography that would be intolerable except for the non-geography that also exists.” A physical fullness filled the almost empty room.
McCracken kept what he called a diary of “Remote Viewing & Psychic Traveling,” in which he recorded contacting “aliens,” “high-minded beings,” “the ghost of my grandfather,” and of being “in a spaceship with a female copilot…approaching earth,” seeing “huge, spider-like creatures.” He concluded that these creatures were “expressions of fear coming from the human race.” All this, he wrote, had “the feeling of home, a good feeling.” It’s no wonder that many thought that the monolith featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey was a McCracken sculpture.
Eight years after 2001 came the Led Zeppelin album Presence, with a cover by Hipgnosis, the art-design collective that created the cover art for many rock albums from 1968-1982, including the Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side of the Moon album. The Wikipedia page for the Presence album tells the story of the album design and the mysterious “object” featured in multiple tongue-in-cheek photographs:
The cover and inside sleeve of this album, created by Hipgnosis, features various images of people interacting with a black obelisk-shaped object. Inside the album sleeve, the item is referred to simply as “The Object.” It was intended to represent the “force and presence” of Led Zeppelin. In the liner notes of the first Led Zeppelin boxed set, Page explained:
There was no working title for the album. The record-jacket designer said ‘When I think of the group, I always think of power and force. There’s a definite presence there.’ That was it. He wanted to call it Obelisk. To me, it was more important what was behind the obelisk. The cover is very tongue-in-cheek, to be quite honest. Sort of a joke on [the film] 2001. I think it’s quite amusing.
The background used in the cover photograph is of an artificial marina that was installed inside London’s Earl’s Court Arena for the annual Earl’s Court Boat Show that was held in the winter of 1974–75. This was the same venue where the band played a series of concerts a few months after the boat show, in May 1975.
In 1977 Hipgnosis and George Hardie were nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of best album package.
Ultimately, this scenic detour into the world of the monolith arrives at Nothing, a smallish, nicely-finished black rectangular block of sculpture, with a perfect name. The promise of presence has arrived at the evocation of absence, of Nothing.
Let’s conclude this journey with another Kubrick-McCracken pairing. Top: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Monolith in the Louis XVI-style bedroom in space; Bottom: John McCracken, three column sculptures, from left to right: Luster (2006), Stardust (2006), and Ring (2006), installation view of the 2009 solo exhibition John McCracken at Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh; image courtesy David Zwirner gallery.