Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The culmination of my 15-year quest for Spin's Top 100 Alternative Albums

Out, foul temptress!

The year was 1995. I was a freshly minted CreComm grad trying to make my way in a world I didn't create.

Like that wasn't bad enough:
  • Coolio, Boyz II Men, and TLC ruled the charts.
  • Jumanji and Pocahontas made us wish that James Cameron would make a 3D movie about blue-skinned Avatars.
  • O.J. Simpson's glove fit, so we had to acquit (or something)
And...I bought the Spin Alternative Record Guide!

The great thing about the book is that it has a pretty loose definition of "alternative." So, we not only get reviews of alternative mainstays Ramones, Hüsker Dü, and Sonic Youth, but we also get the same degree of respect and analysis for ABBA, A Flock of Seagulls, Public Enemy, Neil Young, and modern-day star of the Celebrity Apprentice, Cyndi Lauper.

Hey, maybe punks just wanna have fun too!

But the thing that captured my imagination was a list at the back of the book, "The Top 100 Alternative Albums."
Spin 100

The first time I read through the list, I put a check mark next to the albums that I already owned: Ramones, Velvet Underground, David Bowie, etc.

I was shocked to find that I was missing well over three-quarters of what Spin considered to be the best Alternative Music of All Time: the Buzzcocks, Wire, Modern Lovers, Funkadelic, Flying Burrito Brothers, Brian Eno, Television, and Young Marble Giants among them.

And I had the gall to call myself a music lover?

Modern Lovers: driving faster miles an hour. Radio on!

I certainly didn't have any jazz albums at the time, so Sonny Sharrock, Sun Ra, and Ornette Coleman were new to me and even more alien-sounding than David Bowie, who as everyone knows, is actually an alien.

So, there began my quest to buy the Spin Top 100 Alternative Albums in all of their glory. Hey, how long could it take to buy 100 essential albums? If I've learned one thing about the Internet, it's that it's great for finding crap you've been looking for and buying it with the click of a button.

Wherefore art thou, Al Gore?

Trouble was, the Internet hadn't really been invented in 1995. Sure, there was "the Internet," but it was mostly being used by America Online subscribers to have online sex and talk about ALF reruns when they weren't having online sex.

In 1995, Napster was some weird place that Metallica hated, so - not wanting to raise the ire of one James Hetfield - I had no choice but to go for the albums in old-school CD format, which, coincidentally, was also America Online's format of choice at the time.

I snapped up the easy ones - the ones that were widely available, but I hadn't yet purchased due to some deep-seated and since-forgotten prejudices - Big Star, Pretenders, and Stooges, among them.

But then it started getting rough. According to the guide:
"The Go-Betweens are a band certain fans become obsessive for as they age, when the conceptual games of alternative start to matter less than music settling in upon a twentieth listen; 1978 to 1990 is the album that then never leaves their stereos."
Sounds good. Sign me up! Uh, not so fast: I found out that the CD was only available in Japan.

So, I did what any single guy with disposable income would do: I flew to Japan. Sure, I said it was to visit my cousin, but it was really to troll Shinjuku in search of that Go-Betweens' CD. Guess what: I found it on my first day!

That gave me the rest of my vacation to eat giant crepe ice-cream cones smothered in chocolate sauce. Japan rules!

"Crying all the time crying for you don't know what for."


Along the way, I picked up some key purchases at the late Let It Be Records in Minneapolis and the greatest record store on the planet, San Francisco and Berkeley's Amoeba Music.

So great is Amoeba Music, my friends still call me from there to leave messages mocking me because I'm not:


All told, I spent a good seven years of globetrotting to find the sacred 100 CDs "to put in a museum," as Indiana Jones once said.

Like Jones, I was rewarded by having my prize stolen by Nazis - or whomever it was who broke into my apartment and stole my entire CD collection. Nazis. I hate those guys!

But I learned that there's an old adage in the insurance business, second only to "God forbid!" It's, "When your crap gets stolen, you end up with better crap."

By this point, the heady days of 2002, the Internet was fully functional - the Chocolate Rain guy ruled the charts, the Star Wars kid ruled YouTube, and O.J. was living the good life before being jailed again for stealing back his Heisman Trophy, or something.

So, I took a long, hard look at the list. By this time it was dated. The Breeders might've seemed essential in 1995, but now?

Want you. Coo coo. Cannonball!

Funkadelic's "One Nation Under a Groove" better than the Sex Pistols? ABBA alternative? Bowie's best album is the "Changesonebowie" compilation? The Go-Betweens an "important" band? Sheesh!

Still, there they are on the list: the tried-and-true, yet forgotten, the Vaselines, the Clean, X-Ray Spex, and Pere Ubu. And Public Enemy in second place after Ramones? Cool!

"Screw it," I said to my imaginary manservant Gus. "I'll collect them all again."

And I did. And Amazon and eBay thanked me for it. My last, and final, shipment left today (containing Michael Hurley, the Indestructible Beat of Soweto, and Big Black). As of this moment, I'm missing just one album on the list:

Wanna Buy a Bridge by Various Artists.

The only problem: Wanna Buy a Bridge has only ever been available on vinyl and not CD and features 14 songs by various artists, only two of which I've got on other albums.

Gotta run: I've got another 12 albums to buy.

The leaning twin towers o' pleasure.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gusto chef wood-fired for saucy comments; dough and pizza puns to follow


Forecast for CreComm student Rheanne Marcoux's book is cheesy with a 90 per cent chance of dough:
Can I get a pizza da action?

Update, Saturday, April 3: today Rheanne's book made the Guardian UK blog. And I'm giving it to my dad for his birthday (the book, not the blog). Don't tell!

Friday, March 26, 2010

How to succeed in business without really crying

Follow the Tubes' advice: get out of the business, and into rock and roll. But keep the suit.

Corporate culture is one of my favorite topics, because the work environment is the wackiest place on planet Earth: no amount of talking or training or education or anything will ever be enough to get you ready to deal with it, because it's different everywhere.

What you can count on is that you'll get to meet a diverse group of strangers, some of whom you'll like, some of whom you'll hate, and some to whom you'll marry and divorce. Then, you'll get to do it all over again.

My free advice about how to succeed in the workplace, based on years and years of practice and failure.

1. Memorize this: "You're the boss."

I realized early on that in advertising, nobody likes your work, least of all "the boss," who always thinks his or her ideas are better.

In my very first job writing ads for a magazine, my boss got me to rewrite an ad the way he wanted it. "Doesn't this sound better now?" he asked.

"You're the boss!" Respectful but non-committal. Perfect.  

2. Memorize this: "Guess I'll call it a day."

When I worked at a local TV station,  the crew would watch the news that we spent all day putting together, then sit. And sit. And sit. Some nights we'd all leave around 9 p.m., and the news was over at 6:30.

Although we weren't doing any work, the expectation was that everyone would stick around until the boss was ready to go.

One day, I couldn't take it anymore, so I said, "Guess I'll call it a day." Everybody happily waved goodbye as I walked out the door - a friendly way to say, "I've worked hard, and now I'm going home" if there ever was one.

3. Make a good first impression by blowing them away the first time you work on a project.

Is the first project due next Tuesday? Stay up all night and give it to them first thing the next day.

They'll never forget about how fast a worker you are, and that reputation will stick with you forever, even when you just meet deadlines after that.

4. Be friendly all of the time, but get mad at someone who really deserves it once a year, just to show that people can't walk all over you.

Is this a variation on "Walk softly, carry a big stick?" So be it; it's true.

5. Be funny and charming. Smile.

Never leave a meeting without a hilarious quip. Say it, and get the hell out, so people can talk about what a charming and funny person you are. 

6. Write fast and well.

Workhorse writers who "get it" are hard to find. If you're one, you'll be worth your weight in gold.

7. Work harder than everyone else.

When people are taking their kids to the Ice Capades, you're working for the weekend. Work is better than the Ice Capades!

8. Be smarter than everyone else.

Read everything you can, learn new media, be plugged in 24 hours a day. People start deferring to "the expert" pretty quickly.

9. Embrace what you are doing so that you love what you hate.

If I know I'm going to hate a project before I start, every step is torture. If I frame it as a challenge, it's amazing how much I can enjoy turning it into gold.

10. Network with people when they're on the way up.

A few years ago, you could've worked with Barack Obama every day. Now, not so much. Keep your eyes peeled for people who have got it going on and help them out. They'll get you on the rebound.

11. Donate to charities and political parties.

Not only does it instantly plug you in to what's going on, it sets you up for careers later on. Charities and political parties need communicators, and they actively seek them. Plus, this work looks great on a resume, and it's just a good thing to participate and contribute in your community and life.

12. Be polite. 

Say please and thank you.

13. Embrace the thing that makes you most uncomfortable. 

Are you afraid of the iPad? Buy it. Same goes for everything else.

14. It's not enough to learn about something, you have to do it.

Same deal: if I had a nickel for everyone I've ever heard say, "I'm not on Twitter, but I know all about it, and it's crap" I'd be a rich man.

15. Remember that it's only work.

Work can make you rich - yay! - but it can also screw up your life - boo!

Keep work in perspective. Some of the best days of my life are days that I was "a quitter" and went on to do other things. Don't be afraid to pack it all in for a cabin in the wilderness.

So what are you waiting for? Let's work!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What the blogging taught me: one year of the great blog experiment

The CreComm Blog Network: part of any great desktop.

The only writing tips I've ever got from a boss are how to convert passive sentences to active and that I'm "too clever by half."

"You should be so lucky!" I shouted back inside my head. Wah, wah, wah.

My point: I've learned more about engaging writing from blogging and reading blogs than I've ever learned from any authority figure, which - as a teacher - I suppose I've become. As Jesus Jones once sang, "The problem with success is you become what you detest." Geniuses, those Jesus Jones fellers:

 The great blog experiment

This year marks the first that we (being PR instructor Melanie Lee Lockhart and I) conducted our great blog experiment in which all first-year students have a blog and Twitter account, which we connected through the equally great CreComm Blog Network (links on the right side of the page) and, of course, Twitter (search #crecomm or #ipp10 for a sampling).

We didn't do Facebook, since everyone already has it and, let's face it: it's best left for drunken sailors and creepy stalkers. Sorry, didn't mean to leave you out, people from high school who were mean to me.

I've learned a lot from the process of bringing blogs to the academic environment. About me. About you. About them. Yes, this is my Mr. Holland's Opus/Dead Poets Society moment, where all the kids get up on their desks and cry because Robin Williams made a kid like poetry at a concerto for a deaf kid and...I dunno...aliens came down and took Richard Dreyfuss away in a giant shark? I'm a little foggy on the details...

What the blogging taught me

In any case, I've been keeping notes about this big experiment - certain to be replicated with next year's first-year classes - and here are the thoughts, questions, observations, and conclusions I've made in conjunction with researching, reading, 'rithmetic?

1. Wired's Chris Anderson is right: "A passionate amateur beats a bored pro."

Speaking of, Anderson was the inspiration behind this Vanity Validator, in which you enter your name to find out how Internet famous you are. Give it a shot, and I'll be here when you come back.

2. It's official: the audience is the media.

3. Do you have to be a pariah (rhymes with "Mariah!") in order to "tell it like it is?"

4. Say Everything is right: an "authentic blog" is one where the blog is the truth, and the person's life isn't; a "sincere blog" is one in which the person's blog and life are the same thing.

5. Neutral journalism may have been a "prerequisite for profits," but maybe it isn't anymore.

6. You can have editors, neutrality, and fact checking and be just as wrong as a blogger.

7. Journalism in the academic environment can be framed as an exciting opportunity or a history class.

8. Universities and colleges have traditionally put an emphasis on instructors getting their work published in journals that no one reads. How about online?

9. CreComm grad Dustin Plett is right: when people first start an online blog, they're afraid that someone might notice what they're doing. One year later, they're waving their hands and yelling, "Hey, come check out my blog!"

10. People who love writing will continue to update their blogs, even in the absence of an audience or instructor forcing them to do it.

11. "Publishing" is no longer a limitless resource in which the published is beholden to a gatekeeper.

12. You need an RSS reader on a mobile phone app in order to keep up with 150 blogs. Thanks Mobile RSS!

13. The best blogs are the ones that get updated.

14. Getting interviewed for local TV on camera for half an hour only to be condensed to 30 seconds and misquoted is less satisfying than just writing for as long as you want online, and having access to a worldwide audience.

15. The iPhone is an integral part of tweeting, blogging, and following the online world - though I do detest cell phones and the people who use them (see the Jesus Jones quote again, above).

16. It takes between eight and 12 hours a week to do your blog properly and update it every day.

17. The natural enemy of blogging: homework and/or marking, as the case may be.

18. Blogging and tweeting make attending events and watching TV more fun. And there's a written transcript after the fact.

19. Writers, designers, programmers unite: you have nothing to lose but your iPad.

20. Marks don't matter. Lou Reed, John Cale, and Andy Warhol are right: all that matters is work!

 "Bring home the bacon? Someone's got to bring home the roast!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The first CreComm student to publish a book on Kindle

Congratulations to Janet Adamana, who is believed to be the first CreComm student to ever publish a book on the Amazon Kindle - because she is!

The Kindle edition of her book, Rice & Mashed Potatoes, is available for download on for the low, low price of $3.99.

Janet's book is about a quirky, 72-year-old Filipino farmer, who renovates his house with his 20-year-old accident-prone daughter.
"A humorous and heartfelt true-life story about the obstacles in life, the relationships we often take for granted and the things we ultimately learn about ourselves when we pay attention to the ones we love."
Can't wait to read it! The book holds a special place on my Kindle, right above the New York Times, Lucky Jim, and Scientific Advertising:

Great job, Janet!


Janet will be on CBC Radio One, 89.3 FM, 990 AM, at 6:45 a.m. Monday, March 29 to talk about her book.

Ten great things about going to a Winnipeg social

Here's a conversation stopper: I went to my friend's social on the weekend.

Wait, come back! My friend is none other than local funnyman Jason Beck, who is marrying his child bride after years of keeping her hidden in a creepy room of Yoda collectibles. See, I told you it would be worth the wait.

It's been about five years since I was last dragged kicking and screaming to a social, but - I'll be damned - I actually had a great time.

Here's why:

1. Laughing and dancing!

This video is having trouble, just like the guy in it. Visit the YouTube link here!

2. Air punctuated with the very real possibility of winning a Domo baseball cap.

3. Cold cuts and KUB bread at midnight. Perfect for throwing at dancers.

4. All the coolest dudes go to socials (see below).

5. That moment at 2 a.m. when you're drunk, hot, and sweaty, making out with someone you don't know, and the lights come on. Thank you ladies and gentlemen: the comic stylings of Jason Beck!

6. The slow dance where the bride and groom promise each other a lifetime of dancing round and round in circles in a luke-warm puddle of beer.

7. The only chance a guy has to polka with his mother.

8. "Don't Stop Believin'," "Old Time Rock and Roll," and "Mony Mony" in a row.

9. Raising money for a good cause: two people who have been living together for 13 years and already own a house.

10. Can't think of number 10. Still loaded.

Monday, March 22, 2010

They're great, they suck: reviewing the 2010 IPP presentations

Actually, "great" and "suck" are closer than you think.

As any good event planner and crime scene investigator knows: you can't have a great party without an equally great post-mortem.
"The purpose of the assessment is not to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the function, but rather to make it more effective, coherent, and cost-effective," says Leonard Saffir in the book, Power Public Relations.
Thanks for talking us down from the party, Leonard, not to mention the post-mortem.

So, it was with this in mind that I recently sat down with my first- and second-year students and a smattering of instructors in crime to pick apart this year's IPP presentations, which were held from March 10 to 12 at the Park Theatre.

As the entire world and anyone who's ever lost a job to a CreComm grad knows, the IPP is a mythical, year-long course at Red River College in which CreComm students develop an original and meaningful project that they propose, complete, and market on their own in order to graduate.

Two weeks ago, this year's graduating students made their 10-minute presentations on the outcome of their work. Projects included promotional, creative, documentary- and research-based stuff in the form of video, audio, print, performance, and new media.

Here is some of the feedback; I have not named names in order to protect the guilty and punish the innocent. Of course, these are just individual opinions, and not everybody in the room agreed with every one of these comments. And neither do you!

  • The event feels like grad.
  • Great visuals during presentations.
  • Musical IPPs rocked.
  • Video interviews with students at the beginning of each presentation block were a nice touch.
  • The Park Theatre is a great venue.
  • Got to know fellow students better.
  • Fun.
  • Hosts were great.
  • Presenters who delivered their presentations with minimal use of notes.
  • Presenters who weren't shackled to the podium.
  • "75 per cent of the projects were awesome."
  • Question period.
  • Nearby parking.
  • Nearby restaurants.
  • Theatre accessible by bus.
  • Theatre has a backstage area.
  • Selection of food, beverages, pizza at the Park Theatre.
  • Nice people working at the Park Theatre.
  • The Tweetpit: Tweeting live from the event.
  • Parents in the audience.
  • Grads in the audience.
  • Communications industry in the audience.
  • Media coverage.
  • Relaxing break from usual breakneck pace.
  • Great to see camaraderie of students in second year.


  • Not enough time for Q and A.
  • Presenters who went past their allotted time.
  • Too many inside jokes.
  • Video interviews didn't include a diverse enough group of people from the program.
  • You can't bring in your own sandwich into the Park Theatre.
  • Small bathrooms at the Park Theatre.
  • Not enough questions from first-year students.
  • Too many questions from second-year students.
  • Too many shout-outs in lieu of actual questions.
  • Lame questions.
  • Unclear communication, re: length of presentations, due dates.
  • Volume of work that constitutes a project differs depending on one's advisor.
  • Moving chairs out at every question period - presenters should have just stood.
  • Presenters who had critical words for others and expressed them from the podium.
  • Weak projects stood out like a sore thumb.
  • Backstage area was cold.
  • Slow service at the Park Theatre.
  • Presenters' professionalism seemed to get worse as the day wore on.
  • Too many thank yous.
  • Too much advice for first-year students that never changed from presenter to presenter.

Ideas for next year

  • More free food.
  • Screens inside the foyer showing the presentations going on inside the theatre.
  • More rehearsal time.
  • Set up the podium in the TV studio, where people could go get the feel for it before presenting at the theatre.
  • When presenter's time is up, mic cuts out, everyone applauds. Done.
  • Get RRC and the IPPs onto the Park Theatre's marquee.
  • Have IPPs the last week of the semester.
  • Put a merch table in the foyer.
  • Introduce a dress code.
  • Get a spotlight that follows the presenters.
  • Incorporate design elements within the theatre to "dress it up"
  • Send questions to the host by text/email/direct message - have the host choose the three best questions.

Unanswered questions

  • If someone fails the project, should he or she still be allowed to present?
  • Should the animal rights presentation happen the same day as the cooking demonstration?
  • If an IPP falls in the forest, and there's no one around to hear it, does it still need to be approved by a panel of three instructors?
See you at next year's big event!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Big Star's big star dead at 59

Alex Chilton's dark night of the soul.

The big star of my all-time favorite 70s band is dead.

Alex Chilton, the lead singer of Big Star, has passed away at age 59 of a heart attack.

Despite its name, Big Star is most famous for not being famous, though thanks to That 70s Show, everyone knows the band's "In the Street," for which Chilton was paid the ironic sum of $70 in royalties each time the show aired.

Give yourself bonus points for resisting the urge to yell "Hello Wisconsin!"

I'm partial to "September Gurls" - its plucky guitar and bittersweet lyrics make it one of the rare songs that has the power to make you happy and depressed at the same time:

I saw Big Star play in New York in 2004 at Little Steven's Underground Garage Festival and loved 'em, though the indifferent, jaded New Yorkers paid them little heed. I missed it, but Alex Chilton also played Club Regent in Winnipeg in 2001 with his first band, the Box Tops.

Their albums, #1 Record (which never actually got close to number one), Radio City, and Third/Sister Lovers are required listening, and no iPod can live and breathe without "Nightime," "The Ballad of El Goodo," "Thank You Friends," "In the Street," Thirteen," "Daisy Glaze," "When My Baby's Beside Me," "My Life is Right," "Back of a Car," "Dony," and "September Gurls."

Bands as diverse as REM, Cheap Trick, Wilco, Teenage Fanclub, and the Replacements owe them their careers; the Replacements' tribute song, "Alex Chilton" is a particularly poignant tribute to their hero:
“Children by the million, Sing for Alex Chilton/
When he comes ’round, they sing, ‘I’m in love/
What’s that song?/
I’m in love with that song.’”

Thank you, friend, for making this all so probable!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What's in your junk drawer?

Is it rude to show your drawers in public?

What's in your drawer?

I came across a cool idea today on Rob Walker's MURKETING website. It's the art of Paho Mann, who photographs people's junk drawers and medicine cabinets under the banner of "high-concept art."

I'd probably leave it at that, being the uncultured boor that I am, but Mann explains:
"My work explores the persistent mark of individuality in a culture that brands, packages, and relentlessly promotes conformity. Even among those who attempt to fit into society, there is an amazing wealth of information each individual reveals in near-privacy, spaces such as junk-drawers and medicine cabinets."

"The near-private nature of these spaces force the viewer to contend with the natural desire of humans to collect, categorize, and by doing so, manage to give clues about their personality and identity."
If that's true, then what does that say about my junk drawer, above?

In the picture of it, above, you can clearly see:
  • Two CDs, one featuring my stand-up publicity photos (oh, God), and the other a CD-ROM to accompany "Advertising & Promotion" textbook (circa 2005 - they still made CD-ROMs then?!).
  • My button collection, including "Take Off" (Bob and Doug!), E.T., Tears for Fears, smiley face, Bullwinkle For President, I heart London, and Mork and Mindy.
  • Nerf darts.
  • A box of Parker pens from an ex-girlfriend's dad, engraved with my name, and a second box of pens, engraved with my late stepdad's name.
  • An old wallet containing an old Costco and KLM frequent-flier card.
  • A soft cloth for glasses.
  • A King's Head membership, back from when you needed one.
  • Coasters.
  • A memory stick.
  • The wooden handle to the drawer itself.
Clearly, I'm an egotistical, sentimental, alcoholic prankster who likes to have clean glasses. Any questions?

Hurtin' for a blog idea? Well, what's in your drawer, then?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Live from the IPPs: last day!

And on Friday, the party continued.

Tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., this Tweetwally wall will be active one, last time as the Independent Professional Projects 2010 come to a close.

Of course, you're also invited to attend the presentations in person, tomorrow at the Park Theatre from 9 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. Admission is free.

About the IPP

The IPP is a year-long course in Creative Communications at Red River College in Winnipeg in which students develop an original and meaningful project that they propose, complete, and market in order to graduate.

This week, students make 10-minute presentations on the outcome of their work. Projects are promotional, creative, documentary- and research-based and in the form of video, audio, print, performance, new media, and more!

Follow our first-year tweeters

And, if you haven't done so already, why not follow these first-year students tweeting live from the tweetpit on their iPhones at the big event (hashtag #ipp10)?


Minneapolis StarTribune doesn't want to be promoted

Stop the presses: the Minneapolis StarTribune doesn't want readers.

I recently posted a TV spot on YouTube that featured journalist Aimee Blanchette promoting the Minneapolis StarTribune, which I thought was an interesting promotional direction being taken by a newspaper to get readers in an age where they're hard to come by - especially for a bankrupt newspaper like the StarTribune.

So, today, I received this lovely email from the newspaper:
You are in violation of copyright law by uploading this video to YouTube; the video is copyrighted material owned by the Star Tribune. Remove it immediately.

We have also contacted You Tube regarding this violation.

Sandy Date
News Research
Star Tribune
So, let me get this straight: a spot being run for money on commercial TV in order to get readers isn't allowed to be broadcast by anyone on YouTube...for free. Now there's a really interesting promotional strategy!

OK, Sandy, I'll give you your wish: I'll never promote your newspaper ever again.

Love, Kenton

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tweeting live: the 2010 IPPs

Live from the tweetpit: it's the IPPs.

Starting tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., this Tweetwally wall will (say fast, 10 times) spring to life with the sound of happy tweeters, reporting live from the Independent Professional Projects 2010.

Of course, you're also invited to attend the presentations in person, this Wednesday to Friday, March 10 to 12 at the Park Theatre. Everyone is invited to attend, and admission is free.

About the IPP

The IPP is a year-long course in Creative Communications at Red River College in which students develop an original and meaningful project that they propose, complete, and market in order to graduate.

This week, students make 10-minute presentations on the outcome of their work. Projects are promotional, creative, documentary- and research-based and in the form of video, audio, print, performance, new media, etc, etc, etc.

Our tweeters in arms

And, for the first time ever, we will have these first-year students tweeting live from the tweetpit at the big event (hashtag #ipp10):


(Right) Jeff and Jasmine...get set...tweet, tweet like the wind!

On March 31, we'll gorge ourselves on beer and chips

I love go-o-o-o-o-olllllddddd!

It's like they've created two contests based on my diet.

Yes, it's the time of year that Doritos and Big Rock decide that, after the holidays, we're not eating and drinking enough.

So, in the sales-promotion circle of life, they roll out their big contests to give out cash, while selling chips and beer by the chipload and barrelful; their sum: a metric shitload!

1. Big Rock "Eddies" contest

We've already given the Big Rock campaign contest - the Eddies - a shot in my first-year ad classes.

In this contest, you have a choice between print and broadcast. Kind of old school: could viral be far behind?

Top prize is $1,500 in the print category and - gulp, gulp, glug - $10,000 in the broadcast category. I love go-o-o-o-o-olllllddddd!

It's an exciting time of year at school, because this is when it's like a light switch goes on and the ads suddenly start getting crazy and clever - the two Cs of advertising (says me).

The irony is that it's because, sometimes, the less you think about writing, the more impactful and emotional it is. Our first-year students are especially overwhelmed at this time of year: IPP proposal, PR proposal, ad campaign, magazine project, shovel snow in my yard (sneaked that one in) - in a delightful twist, there's no time for contemplation.

Let's hear it for being overworked!

Deadline for the contest is March 31 at 4:30 p.m. Click through on the above link to find out more.

2. Doritos "Viralocity" contest

Doritos has its crisp and tasty feet planted a little more firmly in the present day.

Its contest involves naming the flavor of its new mystery chips (see above photo - I got the last two bags at Foodfare yesterday), and making a viral video to to promote your name.

At the above link, Doritos helpfully provides a playlist of greatest viral videos of all time.

But, even cooler, Doritos breaks down how it will calculate the winner. It's truly an awesome primer about how to measure online success, an elusive concept at best:

  • Unique views (five points)
  • Facebook views (five points)
  • External embeds (five points)
2. Share
  • Shares, posts, bookmarks (one point)
  • Unique referring websites (one point)
  • Retweets (one point)
3. Feedback
  • Favorites (five points)
  • Ratings (one to five points)
  • Diggs (total Diggs)
4. Bonuses
  • Biggest, mostest, highest of the week (1,000 points!)
  • Exotic referring countries (100 points each)
  • Top five for Google search (1,000 points)
Thanks, Doritos, for showing me how to weight my evaluation of an online ad and PR campaign. You rule!

The prize structure must be seen to be believed. Top prize is $100,000 and "a potential" $250,000. For me, Moneybags Larsen, that's one week's supply of Doritos.

Deadline is also March 31.

And now I shall eat and drink my weight in chips and beer.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Knorr Sidekicks promo exposes tensions between sodium, peppercorn

Can't we all just get along?

I have a dream that, one day, all races, colors, creeds, sodiums, and peppercorns will get together, hold hands, and sing kum by yah in harmony.

Case in point-of-purchase: this Sidekicks cardboard display at Foodfare on Lilac, showing pepper reaching out a helping hand to salt.

Perhaps it's not surprising that salt is reluctant to accept pepper's advances, given that he's being forced to be part of a campaign to reduce "his own kind" by 25 per cent. Is that any way to encourage world peace?

The themeline, "Almost everyone's happy about it," really just rubs salt in his wound. Thank you very much.

So, in the interest of human relations and worldwide peace, love, and understanding, tonight I put a hearty helping of salt AND pepper on my meal, blood pressure be damned.

There, if only for a moment, salt and pepper lived happily together in perfect harmony, side by side on my plate like McCartney and Stevie. Oh Lord, why don't we?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Three new affronts to decency, good taste, and advertising everywhere

1. John Lennon for Citroën DS-3 (European TV spot):

"Baby you can't drive my car."

So, Lennon tells us we shouldn't look backward for inspiration and...the ad looks backward for inspiration? "How is that rock and roll?"

2. Solid Gold Winnipeg (Winnipeg Sun - thanks to Jeff for the tip!):

This clinches it: I'm having my next divorce party at Solid Gold Winnipeg! But do I first have to buy and wear these one-piece panties in order to party them off, like the ad suggests?

3. Alice in Wonderland on yesterday's front page of the Los Angeles Times:

Johnny Depp crashes the front page in typically, wacky fashion. Behind him: actual articles about health care and an Afghan insurgent. Tasteful!

Friday, March 5, 2010

IPP presentations next Wednesday to Friday at the Park Theatre

Legend has it that CreComm students past, present, and future cower in fear every time someone mentions the letters "IPP" on planet Earth.

Find out why at the Independent Professional Project presentations next Wednesday to Friday, March 10 to 12 at the Park Theatre.

Everyone is invited to attend, and admission is the low, low price of free.

About the IPP

The IPP is a year-long course in Creative Communications at Red River College in which students develop an original and meaningful project that they propose, complete, and market in order to graduate.

Next week, students make 10-minute presentations on the outcome of their work. Projects are promotional, creative, documentary- and research-based and in the form of video, audio, print, performance, new media – and more!

IPP, tweet, repeat

And, for the first time ever, we will have first-year students tweeting live from the big event (hashtag #ipp10). The Tweetwally link of their reports will be embedded here on my blog and on this site.

This year's program:

IPP Program 4

See you at the big event!

I'll be the guy tearing up at the very sight of the second-year students almost-last hurrah at RRC. Sniff, sniff.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The curmudgeon dungeon: a nice place to visit, but...

Andy Rooney: poster child for being curmudgeonly.

Every time a bell rings, a curmudgeon gets his wings. Ding!

Quick quiz - answer yes or no:

  • Do you feel ill-tempered much of the time?
  • Are you full of resentment?
  • Are you stubborn?
  • Do you disagree with others - a lot?
  • Do you think that you're being funny and honest when suddenly others accuse you of being negative?
  • Does it feel like fingernails on a blackboard when you hear someone say, "It's all good!" or "I'm having a yes year!"?
Well, welcome to the world of being a college student and instructor, my child, and the larger world of being a curmudgeon.

Loosely put, a curmudgeon is a more endearing version of being an arsehole, though the line is admittedly fine.

I first started questioning my curmudgeonly ways - and the number of young curmudgeons in my classroom - when I saw Alan Zweig's great documentary, I Curmudgeon. It's a crime that this film and his first and even better film, Vinyl, are next to impossible to find anywhere in any form.

In the film, Zweig confronts his negativity - literally in the mirror, like the Green Goblin in Spider-Man! - and tries to get at the heart of why some people feel (or are) socially outcast. They sit at the back of the arena at a Bon Jovi concert thinking, "This is shit" while others around them dance, clap, and love every moment of it.

Take Seymour in the great film, Ghost World, as he confronts mainstream culture and doesn't like what he sees or hears:

Ding! Maybe it says something about my friends and I that we screamed with laughter at this scene in an otherwise very silent theatre.

Just being "funny"

One of the things I love and hate about myself is that everything I say sounds sarcastic.

When I do stand-up, I like to use the example of saying, "I love you." For most people, you say these words, and doors open around you, like you're the Maxwell Smart of the romantic set. When I say them, it sounds like a challenge and thinly veiled attempt at getting something, and I usually have to follow them with, "No, really."

If it means anything, at least my sarcasm comes from a good place. When I was a kid, I used to be sarcastic to make people - my parents, friends, and family - laugh. It was also a defense in grade school against the larger people who wanted to punch me or shake me down for my lunch money.

Old joke:
"I'm not known for my boxing skills. In school we used to have to take it in phys ed, and the boxing teacher said, "Remember: whoever controls the breathing controls the fight." And he was right, because before every match I'd pass out."
So, like those terrible rap-offs in the Eminem movie, I'd give my would-be schoolyard opponents a verbal dressing down and - surprise - it always worked! It was almost as though they couldn't bear to punch a little guy with a big mouth any more than they could a baby seal with a cute face. It would just be cruel.

How to be a socially accepted curmudgeon

Of course, there's a fine line between "sarcasm," "honesty," and "cruelty," right? Right! So, you've gotta be careful. You don't want to spend your whole life hurting feelings wherever you go. Or maybe you do, but you'd better get comfortable with being a pariah.

That's sometimes the problem with my beloved bloggers: the person who is so self-satisfied with his or her rightness and truth-telling that "just telling it like it is" becomes "being mean," all justified under the banner of "self-imposed ostracism."

"I'm alone because no one can handle the truth!" is a depressing place in which to live to say the least.

So, how do you become a socially accepted curmudgeon? Mostly by holding it in, being successful, and then letting it out later after people have grown to like you and appreciate your hard and creative work.

My sarcasm was rewarded - dangerous! - as my ad campaigns and stand-up got better; it was like people were willing to wade through your crap most of the time in order to get to the gold once in awhile.

A key sign that you're in this boat is that after a crazy rant, people are still smiling or say something like, "He's creative!"

Red River Curmudgeonly College

In a 2004 interview with the Projector, Zweig says that it's becoming more common to find young curmudgeons:
"(Students) start to realize the huge gap between their idealism and the realities of the world. You know, I think that when I was younger and reading books about civil rights and the peace movement and all that, I sort of thought that there were these evil people in the world perpetrating evil things."

"I thought it was limited to those people. If we can defeat those people, we can change the world. As you get older, there are examples of "the evil" everywhere you look: there's complacency, crowd mentality. There are people working for selfish motivations."
And maybe that's why the profession that usually gets smeared as having more curmudgeons than any other is "journalism."

Imagine the depression that must take hold when your vision of becoming your generation's Woodward and Bernstein becomes writing a story about how much it snowed and someone else's headline - on your story - includes the phrase "the white stuff."


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The best list on my list of 10-best lists

So many lists, so little time...

Famous composers? Why, I have a whole Liszt of them! Wah, wah.

I was thinking of this "hilarious" old joke recently when facing the daunting task of keeping this blog updated on my self-imposed goal of "every day."

But, as every blogger knows, keeping your site updated and readable takes time - between eight to 12 hours a week to do it properly, by my estimation.

So, it's not surprising that every blogger has, at some point, thrown his or her arms up in frustration, curled into the fetal position, and shouted, "The hell with all of this blog writing - from now on, I'll just make lists!"

I admit to having this thought frequently. A list is just so much easier, and maybe makes more sense, given that my daily unique visitors keep growing, but the length of time they spend here keeps getting shorter - down from 2:33 minutes last week to 2:09 this week, according to Site Meter.

Is it wicked to love lists?

Not only that, I actually like lists. I love nothing more than to add things I've already done into a to-do list, so I can cross them off instantly and feel smug and self-satisfied with everything that I've accomplished.

I also admit that I live for year-end top 10 lists, and make many of them myself. For some reason, the year just doesn't seem to make sense without them.

But as the Internet continues to make niche audiences ever-nichier (Nietzscheian?), list making has become the domain of the criminally insane. Instead of a list of "Top 10 bands of 2009," we now need lists for:
  • Top 10 Techno-Punk
  • Top 10 Alterna-Country
  • Top 10 Christian Rap
  • Top 10 Heavy Metal Bands With One-Armed Drummers
  • Etc.
When we make lists, we also assume that we're doing "our readers" a service by wading through reams and reams of information - movies, albums, singers, whatever - so that they can cut to the chase and start loving what we love, right here right now.

It's kind of the digital equivalent of "Olivia's picks" at Music Trader, though it may be a bad example, because I actually like her picks, unlike "Drew's picks" at Movie Village. Just kidding "Drew," whomever you are.

But, here's the problem: if anyone can have a blog, and anyone can make a list, has list-making become obsolete? I mean, who care's what your favorite music of last year might be, when I just gave you my list of favorite music?

The politics of dancing

It's impossible to make a list of 10 best anythings without getting political. On my list of Top 10 Albums of All Time, for instance, the Clash's London Calling would be right near the top, though I might actually play Men Without Hats Rhythm of Youth more.

When this happens, am I just making a list that I think positions me as a "happenin' dude" or am I listing what I think is actually good?

The best lists show a tolerance for art and box office and contain at least one surprise. So, yeah, rank "Zooey & Adam" as one of your Top 10 films of last year, but include "Avatar," just to show that you're not an elitist snob.

Conversely, love the Hollywood movies, but include at least one foreign film to show that you're not beholden to Michael Bay.

One on hand, no one wants to read a list in which nothing's new, but on the other: is there anything more depressing than finding out this year's Oscar nominations and realizing that you've seen none of them?

Lists of lists

I've noticed that list-making is being taken to extremes lately, not only online but in magazines, where "service journalism," like 10 WAYS TO DRIVE YOUR LOVER CRAZY IN BED! tends to thrive.

Number one, by the way? "Call out another person's name." Number two: "Whisper in her ear, "Yousa thinkin' yousa people gonna die?" I could go on...

The trouble with listing everything is, of course, that lists stop mattering, and you might as well list nothing. For instance, the New York Times publishes seven, separate best-seller lists for books a week.

Entertainment Weekly's yearly Best Of issue is cover-to-cover lists, featuring everything from entertainers, DVDs, TV shows, trends, and breakout stars; even more counter-productive is that they have a list and then a "second-opinion."

So, Lisa Schwarzbaum's list of best films is "the list" and Owen Glieberman's list is "the second opinion" for no other reason than, presumably, one has seniority and/or gets paid more than the other.

Last year, Schwarzbaum and Glieberman only agreed on three of the year's best films. By proving that two people who love and review films for a living can't agree on what's "best," isn't Entertainment Weekly undermining their authority by splitting their votes and allowing them to contradict one another?

The secret: authority and argument

Given that, maybe the perfect lists have some authority - you know the critic or the person and respect their finality of judgment - and something worth arguing.

Back to the Clash example: a good friend of mine constantly argues that London Calling isn't punk, it's pop. Good! It's now number one on my list of Top 10 Punk Albums of All Time.

Please submit all other complaints in writing, and I will compile them into my Top 10 List of People Who Hate My Blog, 2010. Should be a barn-burner.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I Believe - that there is no more Olympic merch left at HBC

Ka-ching! This way to Olympic merch.

Let's hear it for the Bay.

After years of stagnant sales and ill-advised marketing strategies, HBC finally struck gold with its Olympic merch: its red, wool mitts are selling for $30 on eBay, its website crashed from user overload, and the low supply is making demand grow, even after the Olympics have ended.

The success is due to the collision of pent-up patriotism and cool designs that celebrate the Olympics, but feature enough of HBC's classic heritage to avoid just being a souvenir. These are clothes that can be worn all the time, not just on Canada Day.

I'm glad for the Bay, because I've always been a fan. Every time a girlfriend dumped me - and that's hundreds of times, people! - I'd go to the Bay downtown for a malt and hot dog in the basement, and it made everything better. You hear that ex-girlfriends? I'm betttteerrrrrrr! Waaaah!

I'll have a malt and more, please.

I visited the Bay downtown today for a malt and a dog and - I admit it - I wanted to buy one of those kick-ass reindeer sweaters Team Canada was wearing at the closing ceremonies.

CreComm student Greg Berg tells me that the sweaters go for about $350, but since I'm Moneybags Larsen, no price is too high to be on the forefront of Canadian chic.

But when I arrived at the store, I was greeted with this, a pathetic display that still pleaded with me to "Believe" in light of all evidence to the contrary:

Even sadder was this baseball cap sitting atop these empty shelves, just begging for someone to add an apostrophe T to the end of CAN. I didn't - but I almost bought it to rescue it from its loneliness.

A lovely store employee named Louise told me that most of the Olympic merchandise sold out daily within about half an hour of the store opening.

"I got myself some of the mittens," she said. "But I had to do some sneaking around to get them."

More maple syrup, more often

Apparently, HBC gets it now. It's intending to launch a permanent Olympic-style fashion line and Canadian shop featuring maple sugar, syrup, trapper hats, blankets, coats, and canoes.

It's about time. I used to use the Bay as a rebranding assignment with third-year Graphic Design students, mainly because anyone who cared could tell that the Bay was headed down the wrong path and just begging to be fixed.

It didn't help that I could never tell that the "B" in the Bay logo was actually a "B." Just looked like a ribbon to me...

The assignment:
Rationale Assignment 2

Having traveled through Japan, I can say that having the Bay's maple syrup on your person is better than having actual currency. You can use it to get rides in cabs, stay at people's houses, and, I presume, to have anyone whacked that you like. When the syrup runs out, so do the favors, so if you're planning on doing the same: trade wisely.

The long-term impact

The Globe & Mail reports that HBC's Olympic sponsorship is expected to have a long-term impact on the brand. It says that consumer awareness of HBC is higher than any other Olympic sponsor, and the goodwill toward the games and Olympic paraphernalia appears to be rubbing off on the store and other merchandise.

Yay! But, more fundamentally - and as a lifelong Bay shopper - here's what I think the Bay should do to keep the momentum going:

1. Change its name back to the Hudson's Bay Company. C'mon: HBC is soooo KFC.

1. Stop hiding the checkouts. That cash register stencil on the floor with an arrow leads nowhere.

2. Stop understaffing the checkouts. Louise can't do it all, you know.

3. Stop the sales staff from telling me that the product I'm buying is cheaper elsewhere.

4. Stop the sales staff from telling me to come back on Saturday - "Bay Day!" - when the product will be cheaper.

5. Stop the sales staff from giving away the merchandise when they're not sure if an item is on sale.

6. More Paddlewheel Restaurant on more floors selling more chocolate pie.

7. More sweaters with more beavers, hockey players, trappers, mounties, and Neil Young.

Hockey: as Canadian as a $5 bill

In hockey we trust.

As a casual sports fan at best, it's interesting that hockey has permeated our nation's life so fully, completely this week - thanks Tragically Hip! - I'm noticing hockey where I've never seen it before: in the eyes of small children, the mirror, my forehead, and our currency.

It's fitting that, on the night my first-year students are covering the Moose game for their journalism class, I happened to notice and actually read the back of our $5 bill - and not just because I was dining alone at Pony Corral and looking for something to do. Just kidding: I wasn't alone. I was with my imaginary manservant, Gus.

While the US famously has "In God We Trust" all over its currency, the Canadian $5 bill features my favorite Wilfred (Laurier!) on the front and, on the back, kids playing pond hockey, a sweater bearing number nine (Rocket Richard!), and a quotation from "The Hockey Sweater" by Canadian novelist Roch Carrier.

His words celebrate hockey at the same time they stick it to God and education. No kidding! They read:
"The winters of my childhood were
long, long seasons. We lived in
three places - the school, the church
and the skating-rink - but our real life
was on the skating-rink."
A fitting tribute to the game the same week that Sidney Crosby saved our nation's virtue by putting the puck in the net when the US wasn't looking. Hey, that sounds dirty!

Unlike the Rocket's hair on Grecian Formula (see below), more people should take note of this little story more often. Hey, $5 bill: two minutes for looking so good!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Larsen predicts the Oscars, '10: this time it's personal

Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter does hilarious iPhone/Oscar shtick.

It's with much pomp and circumstance every year that I predict the Oscar winners.

Because, as I shamelessly brag every year, I once won Movie Village's big Oscar contest grand prize by correctly choosing every, single Oscar category correctly, including the short-film and animation-no-one-saw-nor-will-ever-see categories. No small feat, if I do say so myself.

True, I did win so long ago that movies were actually called "talkies." So, you wanna make somethin' of it?

For my success, I won a free movie every day for a year, which is how I became the quivering, naked, light-deprived mess of a man who now stands before you. Have you got that image? Good, let's move on.

In recent years, I haven't done so well. Last year, I got 72 per cent correct, moronically selecting Batman and Mickey Rourke for Oscars that weren't to be, making the classic mistake of choosing with my heart instead of my mind.

Vanity Fair Oscar app

This year, Vanity Fair has made it easier for me - and you - to make our Oscar predictions and find out how we stack up against each another with its free iPhone and Facebook Hollywood app.

The app is a high-quality affair, sponsored by L'Oréal and featuring Oscar-related news, trailers, chat, a link to Facebook, a chance to enter your Oscar picks and, on the big night, track the leaderboard to see how you stack up.

After getting my best movie buddy to go over my picks this morning and provide me with some feedback, I'm ready to make this year's picks public. As well, I'm including the degree to which users of Vanity Fair's app agree or disagree.

In short, I'm predicting an Avatar sweep, with some exceptions. If Avatar does what I think it will do, all will be right with the world. If not, I'm throwing my iPhone into the Assiniboine river and putting a curse on Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, and L'Oréal.

Ready? Let's party!

Best Picture
Avatar (52 per cent of people using the app agree with me)

Kathryn Bigelow - The Hurt Locker (22 per cent agree)

Lead Actor
Jeff Bridges (38 per cent agree)

Lead Actress
Meryl Streep (17 per cent agree)
(No, I cannot select Sandra Bullock for the Blind Side. No, no, can't, can't, won't.)

Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz (45 per cent agree)

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique (51 per cent agree)

Art Direction
Avatar (81 per cent agree)

Avatar (72 per cent agree)

Costume Design
Coco Before Chanel (26 per cent agree)
(I haven't seen this film, but how can it lose with that title?)

Star Trek (80 per cent agree)

Food, Inc. (66 per cent agree)

Foreign Film
The White Ribbon (62 per cent agree)

Animated Film
Up (74 per cent agree)

Avatar (66 per cent agree)

Avatar (44 per cent agree)

The one from Crazy Heart (44 per cent agree)

Sound Editing
Avatar (64 per cent agree)

Sound Mixing
Avatar (64 per cent agree)

Visual Effects
Avatar (89 per cent agree)

Original Screenplay
Inglourious Basterds (52 per cent agree)

Adapted Screenplay
Precious (28 per cent agree)

Live-Action Short
The Door (63 per cent agree)

Documentary Short
China's Unnatural Disaster (64 per cent agree)

Animated Short
French Roast (64 per cent agree)

See you on the red-carpet app!