"Humor Me" says Robert S. "Bob" Wieder

Friday, April 22, 2005


It was probably just a couple of months, but seems like a hellish eternity ago, that SBC, the uber phone company, rolled out its new ad campaign, whose theme seems to be, "We paid Eric Clapton an absolute goddam fortune for merchandising rights, and by heaven we're going to wring our money's worth out of the man, his image and his music, even if we have to provoke music lovers to mob violence in the process."

In empirical terms, this means beating us--and "us" evidently includes the entire U.S.--absolutely to death with the same three or four radio and TV spots featuring references to Clapton and snatches of a couple of his signature compositions, repeated endlessly in the local and national electronic media.

Specifically, they only sample two of his songs, at least so far. On the one hand, I always considered "You Look Wonderful Tonight" to be a marginal and forgettable little ballad just a few notches above waste-of-good-vinyl. But I really liked "Layla," and I use the past tense deliberately, bitterly, and unhappily.

SBC has effectively ruined "Layla" for me, and I suspect for thousands of others, as only TV and radio advertising can: by hammering us with it, besieging us with it, playing it O-ver and O-ver and O-ver until even if it had been my all-time, far-and-away favorite piece of music (there really is none, but "Come Go With Me," "Turd On The Run" and "Scheherezade" are all contenders), I would by now have come to hate it, or at least dread and cringe at the sound of it.

You know what I'm talking about, and the truth of it. United Airlines and "Rhapsody In Blue," hey? I rest my case.

And like United, SBC would ruin a delightful, even transcendent piece of music for me for one purpose only--to try to sell me something. To curry my favor. To cast themselves in a positive light.

Why and how they thought this would work is a mystery to me. What exactly was the marketing logic here? "If we can so relentlessly and shabbily exploit something that he values that he he actually finds himself detesting it and the process that debased it for him, he will want to do business with us"?

And while we're on the subject of Raging Irrationality, here's another question: Why Clapton?
What the hell does Eric Clapton, the man or the musician, have to do with telephone service, or high-speed cable, or electronics of any kind? If you want to peddle your ringtone downloading or video streaming capabilities, any music will serve to illustrate the features. There's no need to befoul genuine greatness while making your point. If you have to reduce a popular piece of contemporary music to the level of commercial irritant, why couldn't you trash out Toby Keith or 50 Cent or, if you're dead set on taking down a piece of classic rock, the Electric Light Orchestra, one of whose songs actually opened with a ringing phone?

Or "Beechwood-45709," for God's sake: there's your natural hook, your lyric tie-in, your logical play.

And whatever possessed Clapton to go for this deal? He had to know how they were going to flog his music until it was brutalized, transformed from iconic rock classic into annoying branding jingle. I can't believe he needed the money, although I suspect, based on the recent spike in assorted Service Charges, Regulatory Fees, and a veritable serpent's nest of Surcharges on my phone bill, that the amount was gargantuan.

Still and all, I prefer to think that Clapton wouldn't sell, almost literally, his artistic soul for any amount, especially when he's probably still drawing royalties from The Yardbirds. My guess is that he was sold this bill of toxic goods by some business manager or licensing agent who stood to rake off a tidy 10 to 15 percent commission.

So. SBC harvests the alienation of multitudes of potential customers, and Clapton inherits a disillusioned and jaded fan base. Only the Philistines come out ahead.

Monday, April 18, 2005


April 14 was the 13th anniversary Gloria's and my marriage. It was also the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Anything further I might say of a humorous nature regarding this coincidence would not only make me feel like Alan King or Jackie Mason, or even worse, Jay Leno, it would also be irrelevant, given that my point has nothing to do with any similarity between my marriage and a disaster that would cost the lives of over 1,500 people.

My marriage has killed 300 people, tops, most of them unimportant.

Okay, maybe 500 people, but only one of them an Archbishop.

The thing is, I learned of this coincidence because Gloria and I were celebrating with a couple of nights at a very nice lodging in Carmel that (1) has a heated pool and (2) takes dogs, the two qualities that, among world travelers the globe around, separate accommodations fit for a caliph from squalor scarcely distinguishable from Indonesian prisons.

And on one of the mornings of our stay, I was up early, as is our habit on the road, we being inclined to hit the highway before the motel management has run our credit card through the American Hoteliers Skipper Check List and found to its dismay that our last name is not in fact Framsylwagensvoldt, and I was watching "What A Great Goddam Morning!" or whatever ABC or NBC calls their grievous wake-the-poor-slavish-bastards-in-the-American-workforce-to-your-advertisers programming.

I'll let you catch your breath deciphering that.

And they mentioned on the AM TV show that April 14 was the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and then they offered what I gather--because I am not ordinarily a viewer of this crap in the morning--is a regular feature, a little daily-topic trivia question.

Which was, in this case, "What year did the Titanic sink: 1912, 1922, or 1932?"
Well I, of course, immediately wanted to call whoever was doing the polling and cast my lot with 1967.

But it struck me that the sinking of the Titanic, which occurred in 1912, was a story of epic proportions, some 1,500 dead, many of them renowned personages, such as John Jacob Astor, an industrialist on a par with Bill Gates at the time, and Benjamin Guggenheim, of whose museum you may have heard, and Major Archie Butt, a luminary in the War Department back when they called a spade and spade and not a Defense Department, and Isidor Straus, and others of America's brightest and best-heeled, not to mention members of British royalty.

It was, both figuratively and for all practical purposes, the 9/11 event of its time. A HUGE deal, worldwide. But a deal whose time of hugeness has clearly passed.

And reflecting on this caused me to wonder, Will they be tossing out a similar trivia question some 80 or so years from now, along the lines of, "Did the terrorist attack known as 9/11 take place in 2001, 2007, or 2011?" I also wonder what percentage of the American public will know the answer. I'm thinking it won't be a prodigious number.

In the humor trade, there is the saying that Tragedy plus time equals comedy. But there is evidently a shelf-life factor at work there. Tragedy plus some time may equal comedy, but it seems that Tragedy plus a lot of time just equals trivia.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Twelve words or phrases you don’t want to use in a redneck bar:

Bling bling
Group hug
Shizzle my kizzle
Trailer trash
Oy vey
Tippy toe
United Nations
Here’s to Hillary

Sunday, April 03, 2005


AP--Washington--4/3/05--Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R--Tenn.) at a press conference today announced that he had viewed a videotape of Pope John Paul II made in 2002, and, "Based upon what I observed as a physician, the pope was clearly as fit as a fiddle and by no means anywhere near death. To those who would embalm and entomb the Holy Father, I can only say that what you propose is little more than cold-blooded murder. I am asking the president, the Supreme Court, and our nation's highest moral authority, Tom DeLay, to intervene to save John Paul."