Dear Dad,

I keep meaning to write to you. Sorry it’s been so long.

Anyway, whatever, as they say. I woke up yesterday thinking about a question I meant to ask you when I was in kindergarten or first grade.

The question, as I remember it, is this:

When you’re looking at a blank piece of paper, and you’re holding a pencil in your hand, do you know which lines are going to come out of the pencil before they get to the paper? Or does the pencil have control, and you take what it gives you?

I remember imagining the pencil as being a fountain of infinite squiggly lines that I had little to no control over. The pencil was – and remains – something to wrestle with.

For example, if I wanted to draw a cat, I could make lines that would look the way a kid would draw a cat. Circle for a head, triangles for the ears, whiskers. Ovals with vertical slits for eyes.

I remember this though: if I set out to draw a cat – even accepting the fact that it would look like 6-year-old artist outline of cat – I would still be surprised by the results that the pencil would spew out on the page. Maybe the head would be too big, or the ears too small, or the eyes oddly placed.

Well, as they say, this is why you practice. You learn to coordinate the eye, the brain, the hand – and the extension of the hand, the pencil.

Let me jump for a minute to my work with the guitar. I think I’ve done a fairly good job of creating the same kind of flow, from ear to brain to finger to string. I like to say that it’s always a matter of shortening the distance between ear and string, and you have all this stuff in the way – brain, arm, elbow, finger. It’s a matter of making that intermediate stuff lightweight, seamless, transparent, invisible.

When I play a note, I react to it immediately. My reaction informs the way I play the next note. And so on, faster and faster, ad infinitum, until the end of time – which comes up fast in a piece of music.

I guess the goal is to make it all ear, with nothing in between.

Or for you, the goal would have been to make it all eye, with nothing in between. Pencil, brush, knife, piece of lumber, whatever. Tools. Not there.

But the point is – I wanted to ask YOU about how YOU wrestle with the pencil. I think I tried to ask you at one point, but I’m not sure you heard me right or understood me. After all, it’s a pretty complex question for a grown-up to confront. It might not have occurred to you what I was trying to ask when I was four or five.

After you were gone, I remember being in first grade, and the itinerant art teacher would come in once a week, and she’d hand out the blank paper and the crayons, and she’d put something on a table at the front of the room and say, “Draw this.” Pandemonium would usually reign for 45 minutes, the papers would get collected or simply sent home. The girls’ drawing were always very tidy, and the boys’ looked like nightmare recollections. I remember my reaction at the time to these “lessons” was that I was already indoctrinated to this world of art, that I had inside knowledge. But I was always horrified to witness what came out of my pencil, despite my greatest efforts at control.

Hey, I took a life drawing course last summer, Dad. I’m not Leonardo, by any stretch of the imagination. But I think I’d like to do it again. Just me and the charcoal and the model. It feels like facing a familiar opponent each time I look at that big empty piece of paper.

OK well, I’ll write you again soon. I love ya, Dad.

Your son,


Laurel Ann Bowman

I was devastated to learn this week that my pal, colleague, confidante and mentor Laurel Bowman passed away.

Wait a minute – weren’t we supposed to grow old together and sit around the Old Ad Folks Home and talk about how kids know nothing anymore and how it was back in the day? Weren’t we supposed to found the Geriatric Sound Museum where old rockers could wheel off and have another go at fame and ear drum damage?

So it’s only now dawning on me that this is the real deal and that Laurel has left us. I guess that means that I’m leaving Denial behind and about to experience Anger.

Laurel BowmanSo… I remember being introduced to Laurel at 855 Boylston Street, where i worked for IQ&J/121 Marketing. (“Help Clients Win.”) I worked for Jim Ricciardi at the time, managing computer art and layout in his studio. When Laurel came on board, Jim knew her from Arnold and I got the signal that she was good people, family. They shared laughs about folks they knew in common, and I could tell immediately that Laurel was somebody I needed to get to know.

I was spending a lot of time flipping between the Photoshop/Quark workflows that fed the print production beast, and writing HTML and figuring out this new dealy-o thing called The Web. There were like maybe two other computer geeks in the building who got it (Lee Stanford and Bill Fanning), but for everyone else it was a mystery – in fact almost nobody had heard of it. So a skunkworks task force formed, and Mark Wilson came on board, and we decided to go to Management (Bink and Tom) to show them what this new medium could do and to get buy-in that we should take the agency in this direction and pursue work. Mark selected Jay Bernasconi as his art director, and Laurel as his writer.

We landed work, thanks in no small part to the fact that when Laurel entered a room, things lit up. She was a force to be reckoned with. There was no denying her presence.

Clients loved Laurel. They believed in her, because she made it clear that she believed in them. She was their partner. We got repeat business, from clients who would leave their company and brings us along to their new employers. We started to grow.

There was a period of time when it was sort of like we were moonlighting – direct ad spreads by day, interactive projects by night. At one point, Laurel and Emily Gallardo went to the Kwajalein Atoll. on a project for Raytheon. They came back jetlagged and exhausted and filled with stories. I still have a little wooden Buddha that Laurel gave me from that trip.

Ingalls moved to the Design Center in South Boston and rebranded itself. I almost got myself fired, I was so angry over the move. For the record, and to clear the air, I want to say this to Tom Block: I am sorry I was such an asshole. Now that I am older, I understand what you did, and I know my words and actions must have really irritated you. I apologize, once again.

You see, Laurel and Tom had a great rapport. Of course! Laurel and Mark helped me through that rather bleak moment in my life. I owe you guys still for that one.

But back to Southie, and the freshly-minted Ingalls Interactive. Mark brought Katie Fitzgerald on board, and we started pulling down business for real. We were full time interactive, and we became a component in most new business pitched for General and Direct – especially Direct.

You must think that all we did was advertising. Not so. Here’s the heart of the story for me.

Laurel had her band, Lumen. Through her gigantic magnetic field, she managed to pull me away from the desperate orbit I had fallen in to and helped me achieve enough velocity to rejoin the world of the living rockers. I dusted off my keyboard gear and found myself playing with Jack Frosting. I hung out and took in the local rock scene. I felt my fingers thaw and I got back into action.

One time Laurel had a gig or something and she asked if I would come along and maybe just help out a little. I said sure, of course. So we’re riding along in Walter, and we get to TT’s or some place, and we’re getting out of the car, and Laurel leans over and in a confidential voice she says to me, “You know, I’m not as butch as I look. Would you mind grabbing that amp out of the back seat?”

We went to each others gigs. We listened to each others studio roughs. We celebrated each other’s CD releases. When her copy of CMJ would come in, she’d drag me into her office and play me the cuts she thought were worth anything.

Laurel used to dog sit for my family. She took the Baby Dog when we went out of town. I recall also having Bailey come and live with us for a week at one point. What a sweetie Bailey was.

Simone glommed on to Laurel. It was sort of like watching two atoms fall into orbit and bond to form a bigger molecule. Simone insisted on being dedicated at the Theodore Parker Church and on having Laurel as her godmother. At work, Laurel was always asking about Simone.

We grew and grew. Sichon, Mel, Michah, Anthe, Jill (“SHAPIRO!!!!!!!”), Johnny Figs came on board. We landed a whopper from John Hancock and Matt Warren and Ryan McDonough joined the family. And we were a family, with Laurel as den mom.

Comedy was a central part of our daily rituals. We usually had a Howard Stern debrief around 11 am every day. Me and her, we did Jerky Boys routines. We traded being “Sizzle Chest” and “Liver Lips”. That’s where the concept of the Hot Mop came from, a Jerky Boys call that had us on the floor laughing. Laurel turned it into a verb, so when she indicated we should hotmop something, that meant climb up on the roof of it and fix it pronto, bud. No excuses!

Things change, the world turns, people get new jobs. Katie went to iXL, I followed about six months later. Laurel and Robert Guay peeled off and formed Red98 – a whole ‘nuther story that I really don’t know much about, since I was already drinking iXL’s Coca-Cola. Laurel and I kept exchanging dog sittings until she moved to Ipswich and I moved out and got an apartment of my own.

Laurel, Mary, I’m sorry I never made it up to Ipswich to visit. It’s totally my lack of initiative that’s to blame. But then, I guess we take each other for granted sometimes, don’t we?

Back in the old days, when I was pounding out HTML for Ingalls Interactive, I’d run across situations where the copy needed an edit or tweaking – or there was just no copy outright. So, I’d supply my own and run it past Laurel in an email. She’d either tweak my tweak or tell me “Rock on!”. The greatest honor Laurel gave me was to tell me I was an honorary member of Local 855, her pet name for her club of copy writers at the agency.

Laurel, as I write this, they’re laying you to rest. I’m glad I was with you and Mary and your mom and dad and uncle and family last night. I’m glad I saw all our family from back in the day. I love you all.

I love you Laurel. I can’t tell you enough.

Trouble in Narnia

Usually, NPR stimulates my ears in the morning in order to get me up and out the door for work. Often, it also stimulates my brain and I dash out thinking, “I should write about that”. No time, gotta catch that train.

The case today is one such moment. I heard the NPR film critic review today’s release of “The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian”. The sound bites were filled with the predictable, horn-heavy sword battle type of film score and clashes of metal on metal. Ever notice the choir of women singing indistinct syllables in the background of these scores? They must be the heavenly host, bearing the fallen warriors off to Valhalla or Burbank or someplace.

The reviewer then mentioned that this is all PG fun, and that not a drop of blood was shed.

Excuse me?

I guess that when you’re run through with a sword and die but you don’t bleed, that’s PG fun. But if you’re run through with a sword and blood spatters all over the screen, that’s another story.

Take for example another film I haven’t seen, “The 300”. I’m pretty sure that’s not “PG fun”, and I’m pretty sure my man Mr. Rodriguez didn’t spare the buckets of gore. I’ve seen “Sin City” and “Planet Terror”, so I know what to expect when I’m going to sit down in front of one of Bobby’s films.

But I did see all three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, and there are hangings, shootings, swordings (?), broken-bottles-over-the-head, cannibals, and a gargantuan, hungry squid. And a frightening monkey. We laugh and squirm as Ragetti can’t keep his eyeball in his head, a schtick that got tired in the first one. Okay, so it’s PG-13, but still, the idea is fun. Death is a fun loving guy.

Disney has built its empire on scenes of violence without consequence. In every animated feature the Magic Kingdom has ever produced, there’s always been scenes of gratuitous, Punch-and-Judy slapstick between two supporting characters, usually one tall and skinny, the other shorter and plumper, both without the wits to extinguish a candle. The formula extends to the live-action films. It’s a staple, like Cheerios in the kitchen.

We’ve been brought up with this stereotype branded into our thought, the idea of violence without blood or consequence. At least Indiana Jones gets all sweaty, bloody and painful when he gets in a brawl. So, as with the last one, I’ll give this trip to Narnia a skip this time. Kill a few bad guys for me, Peter. In the name of Aslan.

Grind House, a little late

Dear Quentin Tarantino,

I recently saw your latest locally available DVD, “Death Proof”. I missed it in the theaters. Hey, for the price of admission, I can own it forever. Or at least for the next few years, until on-demand or BlueRay kill the DVD format for good. Lucky me.

My reaction to your film: you’ve jumped the shark, man. You’re now making parodies of yourself. I bet it’s fun, lots of laughs, yuk yuk. Wish I was on your crew, bet it’s a blast. (I’m a hard worker, I’d give it my all. And I’m clean. Go on, make me an offer.)

Please make another “Jackie Brown”. The world needs it.

Your pal,