Invent Yourself

Posted in Uncategorized on December 26, 2009 by Jeff Thompson

(these posts are the President’s Messages for the Advertising Production Association of Los Angeles. I decided to put them here so I could keep a concise record and in case any of y’all in cyberspace who find this blog did not get a newsletter!)

In tough times like these, people talk about being grateful for the simple things- for a job, for a home, for food on the table. For those fortunate enough to have an annual review in 2010, part of the conversation will be “at least we have jobs.” This is good, in kind of a “back to basics,” humble kind of way. But this approach doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity inherent in these times.

When times are not so tough, we raise our standards. When we are doing okay, it’s not enough just to have a job. When things are good, we evaluate our circumstances, and often realize things could be a lot better if a few changes were made. That’s not being ungrateful, it’s basic human nature. Two of the key advantages to being human are opposable thumbs, and being capable of dreams.

Sometimes I think of my first real advertising/marketing job. Interviewing for a large movie studio, I recall thinking, “Any crummy job at this place is better than the crummy job I have now.” And that launched my “professional” career. I was a lucky guy to get that job, for sure, but I set a trap for myself with that attitude. I planted a bad seed. Whenever times get tough, I can ratchet back a few steps to being okay with what I have. On one hand, an attitude of gratefulness is good. But not so much when I am settling for less than I could have if I worked at it.

I have read countless motivational tomes on achievement. I’ve heard everything from “Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow” to “Think and Grow Rich.” The secret ingredient of these books is that each one of them was written by someone using their experience, imagination and skill to build something unique and different. I can certainly learn from them, but as I go through life I find that there are unique voices that speak up from inside of me. They speak from different times and different experiences. They remind me of all the lessons I learned during trying times and how that the mettle I have was forged in great turmoil and pain. I didn’t get where I am today by settling. The courageous moments encourage me to continue on.

Let’s take a scenario many in our industry have faced. If you do a terrific job, and create great functional systems for someone else, there’s a good chance you will work yourself out of a job. The successful environment you have created will outlive you, much as a child outlives its parents. If I can face the results of what I have created, I can move on to the next challenge. Maybe I start a company that creates great functional systems, and I can use the experience I gained while receiving a paycheck to achieve results beyond my comprehension.

Okay, that’s a nice scenario, but how about this one. I have expended my productive years learning and practicing a craft and a trade that is highly regarded but rarely understood outside of its practitioners. My employers don’t really know what I do, and after years in this business I make a fair living, so they eliminate my job, give it to those younger and less experienced than me, and thank me for my contributions. For many in this situation, the uniquely rich environment they created cannot be recreated, or found elsewhere. It’s there that the imagination and intuition must come into play.

Maybe the experience I have wasn’t meant to lead me always on the same path. I haven’t worked for a movie studio for more than 10 years now. At this point, following the path as it appears before me would be a parlay of print marketing experience on a healthcare industry path. But that would be a relatively safe way to see things. Maybe the experience I have gained is handing me the opportunity to do that one thing I always dreamed about.

The lesson for me is that the edge of a cliff is a jumping off point. I can grab onto the last tree root to save myself from falling, or I can let go and just surf that baby all the way down. It might hurt some as I free fall, bouncing off the rocks, but at the bottom of the cliff I might just find my true upside.

Jeff “Bouncing Boy” Thompson

Clifton’s Cafeteria

Posted in Uncategorized on December 24, 2009 by Jeff Thompson

Speaking of the Christmas Spirit…I took the girls to Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown LA yesterday…a great anachronistic experience…they loved it. And when we walked back to the car, we walked by a man on the street who had no legs, and his pants were taped up with silver duct tape so that he kind of bobbed there like one of those bop bags…Isabelle walked by him, just at eye level, and after they both said “Did that man have no legs??” and I said “Yeah, isn’t that sad?” and they said, “Yeah!” and we talked about his pants. My little girls are growing up.

Americans and Christians

Posted in Uncategorized on December 24, 2009 by Jeff Thompson

Americans and Christians have a very interesting trait in common, two extraordinarily vocal factions. Half the American argument is to imprison or kill people who don’t agree with us, and the other half wants to give everything to everybody. Half of the Christian argument is that God can’t wait to kill everyone who doesn’t believe a certain way, and the other thinks God wants to love everybody to death. I’m hoping that there are enough of us in the middle who want what’s best for mankind and can love the dissident and the sinner, but not always condone his actions.

The Best Christmas Ever

Posted in Uncategorized on December 20, 2009 by Jeff Thompson

Christmas is an event full of hidden meanings for me. There are the rudimentary experiences as a child when it was about the excitement of Christmas presents, but I think really it was about the celebration with family and the rituals our family developed and practiced each year. There was the gathering in my little sister’s room before our parents woke up, and the dare to look through the ventilation slats of the door that separated our bedrooms from the living room, to possibly discern what was waiting for us under the Christmas Tree. There was the countdown to the time when we could wake our parents up, and following that we opened presents with hot chocolate and coffee cake. Surrounding that day, there were the Christmas parties, when anything could happen, when I might actually have a conversation with that little girl I had a secret crush on. There were the family dinners at our house, when we pulled out all the leaves for the table, set it with linen, the day when all the relatives came over, the ones I saw once or twice a year. There was Dad Moore who passed away many years ago, and Rockwell, the slightly-off, unknowable relation who lived by himself and went to the movies every day. He was later killed in a mugging, and despite not knowing much about him, I still remember his shy smile when he came to our house for the holidays.

The spiritual aspects of the season were mostly practiced in this pagan sense, an understanding of a universal love for everybody on earth that descended on my world at this time every year. There were a few references to God in my childhood, there was the Christmas play I was in when I was about 5, I was a shepherd. The way I recall it my mother asked me when the play started and I said 7 pm, but it actually started at 6. So my family arrived at 7 and missed the whole thing. I recall the look on my mom’s face- not disappointment in missing it so much, but pissed off that I told her the wrong time. I have never relied on a five-year-old to know what time anything starts, but whatever. I believe that was the last year my family went to church. The other God reference in childhood was the desire my mother expressed every year to take us all to a Midnight Mass sometime. I don’t know that my mother ever attended a midnight mass, and we certainly weren’t Catholic, but I am sure it was an idyllic thought to her, something that would give us all a “Christmas Hit.” We never went to Midnight Mass, but like many things, it was the thought that counted.

Later, at around age 15, my family started to dissolve. My parents divorced and my Dad no longer lived with us. I don’t actually remember any Christmases over these few years. There was a distinct sense of brokenness for me, and somehow I started losing my communication and relationship with my family. I was 17 when I left home, without much more than a nod, and breakfast with my Dad before I left. In this new life I started, I had the sense that once again, anything could happen. Life was again an exciting adventure, not a sad place and time.

I had joined a ministry, to pursue what I saw as the most important thing I could do, develop a working relationship with the God of my experience. These were heady times, life was full of newness and of challenges. And I lived in Oregon, what a place! I did not visit my family during holidays for the next 7 years. I barely acknowledged them. I see now that this was a result of an immature sense of my responsibility in life. True, there was danger out there- any sense of comfort could draw me away from the work God intended for me! I might get lazy, munching on chocolates by the fireplace in Southern California, while my calling to the streets populated by the lost would become a vague sense of what used to be. A lot of growing up was needed, and in those 7 years a lot of growing up occurred. The converse response to my actions by my family was to keep me at arm’s length. After all, their Son and Brother had become a Jesus Freak!

It was during this time that there was a renewal in my sense of Christmas and the wonder that surrounds it. Sure, we discussed the intellectual facts that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, and that the holidays had been combined with pagan celebrations in order to convert those celebrations to Christian experiences, but it was still Christmas. And it had more meaning than ever. I now celebrated the event that created Christmas, regardless of the correctness of the date. The Christmas Carols held more meaning. New tradition was being created in my life, and it did not focus on gift giving or parties. It focused on the love of the people I shared my life with. It focused on the love I had discovered in a relationship with God, through that baby Jesus, and the love I shared with all these whom I considered my family. One Christmas morning in Dexter, Oregon was celebrated with Christmas songs, banana bread, and gifts of Sock Monkeys that Christine and Carolyn had sewn for a few of us once-lost-but-now-found boys. I had never seen a sock monkey before. It was a most meaningful gift. We had very little money, no means to buy gifts, and that relieved us of terrible burdens. The only thing we had to share was the love we experienced among ourselves.

Nowadays, the terrible burdens are upon me. I celebrate a Christmas that does focus, to some extent, on the presents. I do experience the anxiety that comes with too many plans and too many commitments. But it is also filled with the knowledge that God is with me, and that a wonderful love has descended on me. I experience this with my entire family of humanity. I am free of the feeling that Christmas is out of my control, that getting to an event does not make or break the holidays. And that among all the events and presents, I experience a love between my family and friends that is not threatened by mistakes or misunderstandings. And best of all, it doesn’t have to end on December 26.

The Bob Dylan Thing

Posted in The Bob Dylan thing on December 3, 2009 by Jeff Thompson

People are either fanatically for, or against, Bob Dylan. One either likes the way he sings or hates it. He is either an advancing comic satire of himself, or an eternal changeling. I am one of those who love Bob Dylan. It’s not that I want to be his friend, or that I love the human that is. It is his music and his life path that has been a spirit guide for mine from about age 13.  The imagery and landscape that “Blonde on Blonde” has had on my life from the first listen is no reflection of the apparent chaos of that album’s production. I discovered his music after his switch from pure acoustic to electric music in 1965, and as a clean slate I was able to absorb both ends of the music he had and was then producing.

The First List- The First Decade, 1953-1963

Posted in The Soundtrack of Your Life on November 24, 2009 by Jeff Thompson

I don’t really know how music interconnects with my being, but it’s like gravity or magnetism- it affects me in ways I am aware of without really being able to explain how.  It is about me and my level of comfort in this world, and the need to escape from,  or face, its reality. Music has always made a path for me that transcends life and its discomforts, and celebrates its victories. So I offer this up as the beginning of the timeline of the soundtrack of my life.

Musical life in this decade is really divided into two periods, 1953-1961 is “In The Womb,” made up of influences from children’s television and records. Musical birth occurs with my discovery of Rock and Roll in October, 1961. While Rock and Roll became a shamanistic pathway to spiritual understandings, my early life was patterned with musical influences that occurred in the air around me.

I remember commercial jingles from my early “In the Womb” days, including “Dr. Ross Dog Food” and “Thriftimart.” I still remember all the words.

Feed him Dr Ross Dog Food, do him a favor
It’s got more meat, and it’s got more flavor
It’s got more meat to make him feel the way he should
Dr. Ross Dog Food is doggone good- Woof!

Every day’s a special day at Thriftimart
Every day’s a special day for you
Whatever you put in your shopping cart,
You save and save at Thriftimart
‘Cause every day’s a special day at Thriftimart!

Now THOSE are jingles! Also the Rice Krispies theme, it was very hip. That song is like Madison Avenue meets Tin Pan Alley. I can see the guys on “Madmen” pitching this to their client. “Nice, huh?” And since my Dad was in advertising, I could own this.

“Snap- What a happy sound! Snap is the happiest sound I’ve found. You may clap, rap, tap, slap, but Snap- makes the world go round!”

Kid’s television was big too. I used to watch Captain Kangaroo, and they would stage these songs using puppets or primitive paper sculpture. I remember two specifically, Herkimer the Lonely Clown and I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch. Why the emphasis on the lonely characters? I never noticed that before.

Herkimer was an ugly toy clown who no one liked or wanted to buy. When there is a fire in the toy store, Herkimer saves the day and becomes popular, kind of like Britney Spears with a hit song on a good day. He could seriously carry his own movie, like he goes up against Chuckie, who probably started that toy store fire in the first place.

I have it recorded on 8mm film, the day I received a record player for my birthday, at age 3 or 4. I had these kid’s records, and a little mirror thing you put on the spindle which operated sort of like a zoetrope, animating Heckle and Jeckle or some other characters printed on the record label. I was enthralled with Disney’s version of “Peter and The Wolf,” and I had a set of five records and a book with images from the “Make Mine Music” short subject.

Mad magazine used to parody popular songs, and I memorized all of them, and still remember some of them. A particular favorite was “It’s a Grand Old Bag” sung to the tune of “It’s a Grand Old Flag.”

“But should old acquaintance be forgot, keep your head out of plastic bags.”

The earliest Rock and Roll song I remember is “Hit the Road, Jack,” recorded by Ray Charles, written by Percy Mayfield, released in 1961. It hit #1 on the Billboard 100 for two weeks starting on October 9, 1961, and is #377 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

I first heard this in the Thriftimart parking lot, in the back seat of my parent’s car. I couldn’t stop moving to the music. I thought of it first as one of my Dad’s jazz records, but it was different, it was Rock and Roll. I was eight years old, a pivotal year in my life. Hence 1961, my birth year for music.

I somehow had possession of my parent’s collection of Rock and Roll 45’s and a record player with that big spindle in the middle for single records.I had two favorites, one was “Hot Rod Lincoln” recorded by Johnny Bond in 1960, and “El Paso” by Marty Robbins.

“Hot Rod Lincoln” was cool, but almost cooler was the B-side- a song called “Five Minute Love Affair.” A guy tells the story of vying for the attention of a woman, and how “I stood up so straight and tall, she knew I was the best.” When she takes him by the hand, he sings, “Oh how she set me on fire, I knew I’d never be the same again.” the kicker and punch line was at the end, “You think I have no feelings, ’cause I’m just a cigarette.” Ah, my love of novelty songs was born.

I still listen to “Hot Rod Lincoln” on my iPod, recorded by Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, who rescued many rock and roll country-swing songs from obscurity. Hats off to the Commander!

“El Paso” hit me right in the emotional breadbasket. In that bittersweet song I could imagine myself as the cowboy in love with “Felina,” a dark and mysterious girl working in a bar in El Paso. I see myself racing my horse back into town, only to get filled full of lead over the love of this woman. Tragically, my affair with Felina met a tearful end when someone sat on my vinyl 45. But today, Marty and Felina are alive and well on my iPod.

I also had “Gee” by the Crows, and “Oh Boy” by Buddy Holly in my little collection. As a kid, I was painfully shy around girls, but once I got neighborhood girls in my “den,” the wolf could do his thing. Well, I could play records for them anyway. I don’t think anyone in my neighborhood knew more about Rock and Roll than I did, except my older brother Steve.

My Dad was a big influence on me as a kid. He was an artist and loved Jazz music. He played  drums, guitar and C-Melody Saxophone, and could play just about any instrument you handed him. To me he was a magician. Ask him to draw anything, he could draw it. Ask him to play any instrument, he could play it. More later on my Dad, and another Commander Cody relic, “Bennies and Beer.”

Rock and Roll became more important when I was 9, as a certain furry foursome from Liverpool England crossed the pond in 1962. I remember being in the grocery store with my mom, buying a Beatle’s magazine right after they came out. I remember thinking that I really liked this group, from the music to the whole look and societal deployment. I enjoyed their position as something new and different, and I think my rebellious nature was budding, right there in the safety of my Mom’s oversight and under the comforting spell of the Thriftimart theme song.

Follow Up Comments, from Steve Van Zant’s interview with Esquire (“What I’ve Learned,” August 12, 2008)

February 8, 1964, there was not one single rock ‘n’ roll band in the country. February 9, The Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show. February 10, everyone had one. In the garage. “Garage Rock” is traditional rock ‘n’ roll. If you think of it as the early Stones, you’re fine. My life began on February 9, 1964. The history of rock ‘n’ roll is the history of America in the twentieth century.

The Soundtrack of Your Life

Posted in The Soundtrack of Your Life on November 24, 2009 by Jeff Thompson

I’ve seen this credited to many different people, but I first heard Mike Bloomfield say it on his CD “If You Love These Blues…” The quote is “The music you grow up with becomes the soundtrack of your life.” I think that there are basically two types of music appreciation, two types of Music People, if you will- those who listen to it in the background, and those to whom music has a profound, visceral effect, on the emotions, on the psyche; acting as a muse in life. “Background Music” people don’t tend to listen to words or concern themselves with the origins or instrumentation of the music, they just need it there to hang overhead, much like Muzak in an elevator or a grocery store. “Foreground Music” people attack and are attacked by music, it will change their mind, influence their actions. “Background Music” people have this experience when a song comes on from an era they lived through- children of the 70’s and 80’s tend to love disco, while children of the 60’s tend to dislike it. It’s a function of how well the music of a particular era fit into the life experience. “Foreground Music” (or FG’s and BG’s, as we’ll call them for sake of brevity- but no relation to the BeeGees, who happened to get through two eras rather heroically) appreciators tend to mine music for deeper meaning and relevance, especially as time goes on. It becomes a “needle drop” into the emotions of a time, often with colors and memory of certain places and people. I will be posting my lists and adding to them as time goes on, I welcome you to do the same.