It is dark and it is cold in January in Detroit. Darker and colder than you’re imagining now. And you are broke. You’ve been amicably tossed, but tossed nonetheless, from your railroad flat in NYC because your childhood buddy, Mark the Shark (he of later Studio 54 celebrity), who more or less owns the place, wants his girlfriend to move in. Actually, she’s in already — they just want a little privacy. Besides, you are a few months behind on the rent, as dirt cheap as it might be, because you are really broke.
And here you are. Detroit in the dead of January.
You know John Morthland from Sausalito, where you lived for ten months, on a lark, after abandoning New York the first time and whom you had met through Ed Ward, the ex-Rolling Stone writer (now “rock historian” on Fresh Air), who gave you your start with an assignment to review Thomas McGuane’s 92 in the Shade. John Morthland’s a really good writer and editor and an amazingly prescient musicologist who was first to discover a lot of things pop-cultural that eluded most rock critics, or at least white ones. Things like rap music (before it was hip hop), Sacred Steel and Moe Bandy. He’s in Detroit to be interim editor — interim, because John is strictly freelance or die. And you know him, it should be clarified, only pretty well, though that may be as well as most anyone knows silent, staring, inscrutably smirking John.
You don’t know Lester.
You know of him, but barely, and as much on the strength of that seemingly concocted name — Lester Bangs — as his writing.
The Western Railway Museum, located near Fairfield, CA, is dedicated to preserving the heritage of, specifically, electric trains — the big ones, not the mini-replicas from Lionel — which, as some lucky local kids know, you can actually ride at the museum’s scenic property.
To spread the news about this Bay Area jewel, the folks at AC Transit, responsible for East Bay bus service, offered the museum 300 free bus ads. That’s when Executive Director Phil Kohlmetz turned to D/C for creative. And when AC Transit saw the work, they upped the donation to 900 ads, in order to run all three versions on every bus. And now, Kohlmetz reports, other local media vendors are clamoring to get in on the giving. All aboard.
Infinity is the name of the new top-tier condo complex in San Francisco’s SOMA district from mega-developer and D/C client Tishman Speyer. And “Nothing Less Than Infinity” is the name of the complex’s new campaign. In a single, hard working photograph, each of the handsome D/C-created ads manages to simultaneously celebrate both the luxe interiors of the curved, green-glass towers and the deluxe exteriors of its neighborhood, home to some of the city’s great restaurants, shopping and bay views. The campaign, for which D/C is also handling media, has just launched in Bay Area newspapers, magazines and out-of-home.
“It’s huge,” one senior member of the 4A’s told ECD Parker Channon at the organization’s recent annual conference. “You guys are one of the three best small agencies in the whole country.”
Well, when you put it like that, aw shucks.
And while we’ve talked here about Duncan/Channon being a finalist for the prestigious O’Toole Awards for Creative Excellence, presented by the American Association of Advertising Agencies for a body of work over a year, we just received the statue. And it’s cool. And so is the honor.
Thanks again to the good clients who are essential to any good work — in this case, they were Hard Rock, Birkenstock, ZoneAlarm and Vertigo. And congrats to our fellow finalists, Taxi (who took top prize) and the Arnold Worldwide office in Washington, DC.
This is the full — really full — text, with notes for slides and music, from my, ahem, lecture (see News section) to Smolny College of the State University of Saint Petersburg in Russia on April 17, 2008. Keep in mind that it was geared for Russian students who, I was told, might not know very much about rock ’n’ roll (and if you do, don’t tell them where I lied). Anyway, I spent so much time working on the damn thing I couldn’t resist re-purposing it as a column. The complete, killer playlist follows the text.
My name is Robert Duncan, and I’m from San Francisco, California. I’m definitely not a professor, and I’m not entirely sure what I have to offer you. But I have been listening to, playing, loving, hating and writing about rock ’n’ roll for more than 30 years.
I played guitar in a band when I was 12. I left college to be the singer in a band professionally, with some minor success and mostly frustration. At 21, I started writing about music. At 22, I became managing editor of Creem magazine in Detroit, Michigan, where I worked with the famous rock critic Lester Bangs, who became my close friend. If you’ve seen the movie Almost Famous, you’ve seen the great Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing Lester.
After Creem, I went back to New York City to be a freelance critic, writing hundreds of stories for Rolling Stone, Circus and just about every music magazine there ever was. Among my quote-unquote “accomplishments,” as you may have seen on that lovely flyer, I’ve interviewed Bruce Springsteen, Freddie Mercury, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ted Nugent, War, ZZ Top, Kraftwerk, and many others I can’t remember or you’ve never heard of. I’ve flown on a private jet with Keith Richards, jammed with Blue Öyster Cult, sung to Sammy Hagar (accapella) and Liza Minnelli, but not at the same time, and have witnessed Phil Lesh, the famous bassist of the Grateful Dead, in his underwear. I’ve seen the Yardbirds when both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck were in the band. I’ve seen Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, in 1969, when they were cool. Dylan, though not in a particularly good phase. Hendrix, several times, and he was too cool. I saw the Ramones at Max’s Kansas City, before the album, and Talking Heads at CBGB’s when there were about 10 people in the room. I’ve also written three books about rock ’n’ roll.
Which is where I want to start today.
To signify dorkishness, the 2001 movie Ghost World, set among contemporary twenty-somethings, clothed a character in a Hard Rock t-shirt. One measure (you surely have your own) of how far this 30-year-old brand had fallen. So D/C’s work, in close collaboration with Hard Rock’s new management team, started by clarifying and then communicating a new brand strategy to a confused rank-and-file. It continued on through revising the menus (graphically and otherwise), reviving merchandise sales and, through advertising, promotions and events, re-connecting the brand to contemporary culture and contemporary customers. Along the way, the agency completed a comprehensive, top-to-bottom design overhaul, which has now been awarded top honors from the prestigious REBRAND 100 competition, a worldwide contest that recognizes excellence involving both design and strategy.
View the full case study.
After years of “temporarily” working in Marin County, Duncan/Channon has now occupied its beautiful new top-floor offices at 114 Sansome Street in downtown San Francisco. D/C’s world headquarters encompasses the entire 14th floor of the Roaring Twenties -era Adam Grant Building, as well as a smaller 15th floor penthouse, accessible by private elevator, that is being converted (god help us) into “The Tip,” a fully operational lounge, complete with wet bar, wine cellar and rooftop cigar salon.
The agency plans to celebrate the grand opening of The Tip, as well as the epochal move to San Francisco, at a sedate and dignified D/C soiree on Friday, March 28, from 5 to ???
By the way, opening day at the new space, March 3, saw the return of the D/C bunny, first sighted skateboarding through the agency’s Bad Decisions holiday party in November. Other than that, the transition has been exceedingly smooth — well, except for phone numbers not getting transferred, the building manager questioning the movers’ insurance and the ultra-cool, custom-built, orange and white Steelcase reception desk not showing up.