Friday, June 26, 2009

Me and Michael Jackson and the Summer of '71.

Sometime between the release of Jackson 5's first album (Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5) in late 1969 (coinciding with their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show) and the release of their Greatest Hits in December 1971, I became convinced that Michael Jackson was destined to be the greatest artist of our time... and I can prove it.

I can still picture this 11-year-old wunderkind in a purple velvet fedora performing "I Want You Back" like a seasoned professional. Who couldn't love that? Actually, a lot of people. Consider that it was not terribly cool to admire a young black male during the late 60s and early 70s. It was a time of civil unrest and protesting and drugs and rock and roll. And it all came to a head for me and Michael in the summer of '71.

Joe Snodgrass (his real name) was a Georgetown University bohemian (aka, hippie) spending his summer break in his mom's apartment in the building next to Lottie's Deli, where I worked for a $1 an hour stocking shelves, sweeeping floors and ringing up sales. Joe was a 6-foot something beanpole with horn-rimmed glasses, a quasi-perm, cut-off shorts and sandals who knew everything. And I was just a kid, 15, who knew absolutely nothing.

Anyway, one hot day during the summer of '71, Joe saunters into the store as he often did and begins his usual intellectual discussion about everything – the administration, Viet Nam, the toilet paper shortage. Lottie lets knuckleheads like Joe hang around because she is the greatest woman on the planet. And sometimes it is fun to have the company of these older guys around, but not today. Anyway, at some point, Joe hears me listening to the radio and not him, so he takes aim and fires.

"Jesus Christ, Sweeney, what is that bubblegum bullshit you're listening to on the radio?"

"Michael Jackson," I respond with disbelief.

"Fuck me; turn on WNCR and find some good tunes – Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, the Stones, CCR – anything is better than that pop crap you're listening to."

Here's the thing about me: I have always been a person of diverse tastes. Even at 15, I listened to my parent's Sinatra and Martin albums. And in my own collection I owned Cat Stevens, Four Seasons, Cactus, The Band, Elton John... I listened to both AM pop radio and FM rock radio. And I liked it all, so long as it was good.

But Joe was so smart and so annoying.

"Better than Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5?" I spit back.

"Sweeney, you know nothing... and you know even less about music," Joe calmly replied.

"Yeah," what a retort, "let me tell you what I do know. I know that Michael Jackson will sell more records than any of the stupid artists you listen to."

Now to this day, I can not say for sure if I was defending Michael or myself; maybe both. But it was out there now and there was no taking it back.

Joe laughed profusely. "How about the Beatles?" Wow, that question was so thick with sarcasm and condescension that you could chop it with a hand axe. "Do you think Michael Jackson will sell more records than the Beatles?" By now Joe was drooling in his own laughter.

"Yes he will," I stated with absolute confidence.

Egging me on, Joe asked: "How do you figure?"

"Well, in case word hadn't made it to DC yet, the Beatles broke up, so they won't be selling any new albums. And Michael Jackson is just getting started."

At that very moment, as if cursed by the gods, my older brother walked into Lottie's.

"Hey Junior," snaps Joe, "you've got to hear this. Your kid brother says that Michael Jackson will one day be bigger than the Beatles."

My brother Denny, who I always looked up to and admired, and who coincidentally was the person who told me about MJ's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show two years earlier, simply gave me a look and mocked me with sincerity: "What's wrong with you?"

That was 38 years ago, and it remains as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday.

Joe eventually graduated from Georgetown with a degree in Chinese linguistics and spent the rest of his life working in a county job. He is still a hippie and probably has no recollection of that special moment in time - partly because of his arrogance and partly because of all the weed.

My brother Denny is a retired Cleveland Detective. He still questions my sanity and I still admire him.

The Beatles never got back together to release a new album, but Michael Jackson eventually owned the rights to most of their music.

As for Michael Jackson and me, I stand by what I said in the summer of '71: Michael Jackson was destined to become the greatest artist of our time .

Thursday, June 25, 2009


According to a new study, CEOs are not wired-in to social media. Only two (2) of the 100 CEOs surveyed have a Twitter account and less than 20% have a personal Facebook page. Did I mention that these are FORTUNE 100 CEOs? Yeah, and not one of them has a blog!

No time left for you
On my way to better things
No time left for you
I found myself some wings
No time left for you
Distant roads are calling me
No time left for you

I guess I am just a bit curious what to make of this. Did the folks at the UberCEO blog really think that FORTUNE 100 CEOs had time for social media? Apparently they did:

"It's shocking that the top CEOs can appear to be so disconnected from the way their own customers are communicating. They're giving the impression that they're disconnected, disengaged and disinterested," said Sharon Barclay, editor at who runs executive PR firm Blue Trumpet Group.

Yes, and every time a FORTUNE 100 company prints an annual report the CEO shows a disdain for the environment.

Maybe, just maybe – in light of how the economy is going right now and what a poor showing so many FORTUNE companies are displaying – it would be best if we excuse CEOs from Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and YouTube and Wordpress... at least until they are showing a consistent profit.

Just a thought.

No time for a gentle rain
No time for my watch and chain

No time for revolving doors

No time for the killing floor

No time for the killing floor

There's no time left for you

No time left for you

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What Can Sirius XM Learn from Tiger Woods?

Sirius XM and Tiger Woods are a couple of very powerful brands. Brands that are constantly confronted with challenges and want to succeed at all costs. Brands that have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. Brands that have stumbled and fallen and got back up. But only one of these brands seems to get "it", and it's not Sirius XM.

After much anticipation, Sirius XM has finally released its new app for the iPhone and the iTouch. Here's the good news: you can dowload the app for FREE! Yippee.

Here's the bad news: Unless you have a subscription to Sirius XM, the app is useless. Here's more bad news: Even if you have a subscription, you will have to pay more money to use it. And here is the worst news: If you don't have a subscription and buy one or if you already have one and pay an additional fee, you still only have access to SOME of the Sirius XM programming.

No NFL Play-by-Play
No MLB Play-by-Play
No Howard Stern

So, what is the point? And more important from a branding perspective, how many times does Sirius XM think it can unapologetically disappoint its customers and "fans" before they finally say enough is enough?

Which leads me to my other question and perhaps the answer to this question: WWTD?

Tiger is more than just the ultimate competitor, he is also smart. He is smart enough to realize that on his way to winning (and it is clearly not just about the money), he needs to be considerate of his fan base and the golf industry and the sports media and the communities he lives in. In other words, he needs to be the anti-John Daly.

Whether it comes naturally to him or not is irrelevant. Whether he believes in it is also irrelevant. What matters is that he is aware of it, understands it is important, and acts on it. Maybe Tiger has good advisors, maybe he has acquired wisdom from his parents and the natural maturing process, maybe his wife reminds him every day. Regardless, he gets "it". Which is why he can get away with bad days on the course when he is tossing both "F" bombs and golf clubs.

If Tiger were Sirius XM – aware of its questionable reputation and aware of the deep recession we are in – he would be giving away more than a free app. Tiger would allow FREE access to all of its current and future subscribers and charge only a nominal fee to non-subscribers in the hope that they would become engaged and perhaps buy a full subscription... by choice. And Tiger would probably fight like hell to provide access to the MLB, NFL, NASCAR and Howard Stern (even if mobile-performance rights don't allow it, you can still fight for it).

And maybe one day, everyone will rally: I am Sirius.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Blackbird Fly into the Light of the Dark Black Night

If you are young (as in younger than me), you may never have heard or even heard of Kenny Rankin. He was a singer-songwriter who floated quietly through the music scene for nearly 40 years. Cool and velvety, he was often referred to as a "singer's singer" and a "songwriter's songwriter."

His cover of Blackbird is nothing less than inspirational and was so impactful on Paul McCartney that Rankin was asked by the former Beatle to represent him and John Lennon when they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I happened upon Kenny Rankin late one night in a local Chicago jazz club in 1981 and was forever smitten. He is an acquired taste I suppose. For me, it was his ability to convey deep emotion in his words and his works that created an enduring bond.

Kenny passed away yesterday, leaving a small but indelible set of footprints in the sand. He will be missed by many, including me. You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

In the morning fun
When no one will be drinking any more wine
I'll wake the sun up
By givin' him a fresh air full of the wind cup
And I won't be found in the shadows hiding sorrow
And I can wait for fate to bring around to me
Any part of my tomorrow, tomorrow

'Cause it's oh, so peaceful here
There's no one bending over my shoulder
Nobody breathing in my ear
Oh, so peaceful here

In the evening shadows are callin' me
And the dew settles in my mind
And I think of friends in the yesterday
When my plans were giggled in rhyme
I had a son while on the run
And his love brought a tear to my eye
And maybe some day he'll up and say
"We had a pretty nice time", oh, oh, oh, my

'Cause it's oh, so peaceful here
There's no one bending over my shoulder
Nobody breathing in my ear
Oh, so peaceful here

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Heroes and Villains

Bing, in case you hadn't heard, is by its own description the "Official Site To Make Key Decisions Quick & Easy." Google is an advanced search engine and more (Preferences · Language Tools · Advertising Programs · Business Solutions).

Billy Mitchell, in case you hadn't heard, is by his own description the "greatest arcade-video-game player of all time." Steve Wiebe is a father and teacher who plays Donkey Kong in his spare time in his garage.

A lot of people - more than you might imagine - have a great deal of interest in the parties involved. And the outcome of the competition.

I've been in this town so long that back in the city
I've been taken for lost and gone

And unknown for a long long time

Fell in love years ago

With an innocent girl

From the spanish and indian

Home of the heroes and villains

Of course in truth it is more than a competition; it is a battle. And like all battles, it is about winning. Face it, competition makes the world go around.

In the battle between Bing and Google, I must admit that I am at a bit of a loss, but then again maybe not. Microsoft created Bing. And just as Microsoft invested cargo ships full of cash to out market Mac, it plans to do the same with Bing. According to Computerworld, "Microsoft plans to invest close to $100 million in an advertising campaign for Bing." But is there really a need? And is there really anything so significantly different to justify the huge investment - particularly in a bad economy?

I guess the answer is "why not?" It's their money. Plus, competition is good for the marketplace. It breeds innovation and progress. I have tested Bing side-by-side with Google and really don't see the difference - at least not enough of a difference to persuade me to make the switch. Of course, there is the muscle. Internet Explorer 6, in case you hadn't heard, is forcing users to use Bing. According to Cnet, "Microsoft confirmed on Tuesday that it is looking into an issue in which users of Internet Explorer 6 are forced into having Bing as their default search engine."

Hopefully, the ultimate winner in the battle of Bing and Google is us. So fight on.

Once at night cotillion squared the fight
And she was right in the rain of the bullets that eventually brought her down
But she's still dancing in the night

Unafraid of what a dude'll do in a town full of heroes and villains

In the battle between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell (aka, Silly Bitchell), it would appear that truth, justice and the American way are at stake. It is the classic battle between good and evil, angels and demons, heroes and villains.

In one corner, stands the villain, Billy Mitchell; classic evildoer. In the other corner stands the hero, Steve Wiebe; classic underdog . This is an epic battle that has raged on throughout this decade and continues to this day. So fight on, to the death if you must. It's a win-win for marketing.

Heroes and villains 
Just see what you've done