Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sporting News Goes Digital

The Sporting News, an American-based sports magazine which was established in 1886 and became the dominant American publication covering baseball so much so that it acquired the nickname "The Bible of Baseball" and it eventually covered MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, NASCAR, NCAA men’s basketball and football and occasionally other sports.

Today, Sporting News is owned by Charlotte– based American City Business Journals, a subsidiary of Advance Publications. However, after years of existence as a weekly publication, the magazine switched to a biweekly publishing in 2008. Then, in 2011, it was published in print  only monthly. December 2012 rolls around and the magazine announced it would go digital-only  in 2013.

The proud tradition that began in St. Louis and was nutured as a unique brand for 127 years, The Sporting News is now going digital. This, of course, is consistent with the overwhelming trend. Daily newspapers, magazines and printed material in general.    

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sundance on Track

“Quiet on the set,” the director calls out from behind the camera. “Now Sundance, I know it might feel awkward but I need full frontal nudity from Destiny, our pole-dancer in this tracking shot and therefore you cannot be so close in. The camera will naturally foreshorten things and you will only be in the frame for 4 seconds.”

Sundance was thrilled to get the call from the casting agent who pulled his 8X10 glossy and bio from the stack of local New Orleans characters. As an adult continuing education student at the community college, he’d been making straight A’s in Theater Performance Methods, Acting for the Stage and Improvisation. He was a natural and a character actor to be sure. It was one of his instructors who encouraged him to apply as an extra in this film.   

“And roll sound. Action.”

“Oh, for crying out loud Sundance, we can’t have you method-acting differently on each take. What’s your motivation? Puhhhhlease. Your motivation is to gently place the folded bill on the hip and allow Destiny the opportunity to turn, shake a little bit and smile. That’s it, for Christ sake! Now let’s see if we can get it right this time. Do you need anything from the craft service? Somebody get Mr. Sundance some peanut M&Ms before we roll again.”    

“Destiny, I know that’s not your real name but I like it. Are you getting tired?  Because you have been running through my mind all day. Ha Ha Ha. Are you from New Orleans? You know I have only a short list of credits since I started acting professionally. All this business of showing up at a particular place and time…And the waiting. My acting teacher, she’s a 35 year old version of Julia Roberts, only prettier. Well, she said I really need to treat this like a job. Maybe she’s right, the time I’ve spent with you today has been a real pleasure, I must say. Want an M&M? Never mind …the director and camera crew are coming back.”

“Oh Jesus. Can someone from wardrobe get Marlon here another T-Shirt. Is it that hard to eat M&Ms?”

Fictional account of something entirely possible in the world of Sundance Morgan.
Blog: Bunker Mentality
Post: Sundance on Track

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Truth about Your Business

Listen carefully to people around you. It is not always easy to hear the truth, especially when it seems like the obvious is obscured by a prevailing rhetoric in the organization.

Once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes. He changed clothes almost every hour and loved to show them off to his people. Word of the Emperor's refined habits spread over his kingdom and beyond. Two scoundrels who had heard of the Emperor's vanity decided to take advantage of it. They introduced themselves at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind. "We are two very good tailors and after many years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. As a matter of fact it is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."

The story of The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson goes on until the tailors' con is exposed by a child who blurts out the truth of things. The Emperor has no clothes! We should all be on the lookout for those situations where absurdity seems to thrive perhaps due to a miscalculation, a flawed premise, a bad strategy, poor planning or a some other presumed truth. The Emperor's New Clothes is a Danish fairy tale which was first published in 1837 but offers an enduring lesson: It reminds us to look at the world through the eyes of a child.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mencia in Joplin

Fri Jun 03, 2011, 12:14 PM CDT The JoplinI saw Carlos Mencia in Joplin after that devastating tornado tore that town appart. It was so great to see him doing the job that night (Wednesday June 8, 2011). This article in the Joplin Globe appeared prior to Mencia's show. He did not disappoint. Date: June 3, 2011 Headline: Carlos Mencia knows he has an important job to do by: Joe Hadsall, Globe Features EditorThe Joplin Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — Carlos Mencia is familiar with the job description of a comedian. He knows it’s his job to make people laugh, to take their sad and change it to happy.

His audience in Joplin won’t be any different once he gets behind the mic. But Mencia knows that Joplin is in need of some laughs.

“I’ve done a lot of amazing gigs in my life, important ones,” Mencia said. “But going to Joplin is way up there. It’s going to be, if not the most important, one of the most important shows of my life.”

Mencia will perform Wednesday at Joey Thumbs, at 716 Main St. The stop, booked before the May 22 tornado, is part of a nationwide, smaller-town tour that Mencia booked specifically to perform for different kinds of audiences, he said.

The star of “Mind of Mencia”, which ran for four seasons on Comedy Central before the network cancelled it, is preparing to record a new special for the network. In preparation, he booked a tour in smaller towns across the nation.

The new audiences have given him a completely different feel for his material and helped to hone his act, he said.

“I’ve never really done anything like this before,” he said. “When I’m getting ready for a special, there’s about 12 comedy clubs in L.A. that I would rely on. This time, I wanted to get a feel for what audiences are feeling while I’m on stage.

There’s also a tweak to his presentation, that success may have affected. His motivation to rise from the projects gave him an edgy, attack-mentality presentation that earned him and his show some notoriety. He also came under fire for some of his post-Katrina comedy, which offended some African-Americans.

Though his perspective and premises may be the same, Mencia said his delivery is a little bit different.

“Now, it’s more ‘Can you believe that?’ not ‘What the f*** is that all about?’” he said. “I’m a different human being now. I don’t get shot at anymore, I don’t hang around gang-bangers anymore. It’s a new part of my life, a different perspective.”

The smaller sets also let him get in tune with an audience, and which jokes they like better, he said. That actually complicates his writing process, he said.

And speaking of writing: Mencia still denies the joke-stealing charges of comedian Joe Rogan, who confronted him on-stage in a viral video. In fact, Mencia said his biggest writing problem is that too much is happening.

“In the next month and a half, I hope nothing else happens,” Mencia said. “I have an hour and 45 minutes to trim to about an hour. Others have problems filling it, but me, I’m thinking, ‘Which one of these babies am I gonna kill?’ And then Obama kills Osama, and I have to put that in there.”

Even worse is when Mencia loves a joke, but audiences don’t like it as much as others -- and he doesn’t mind telling audiences that, he said.

“Stand up is for the audience, not for me,” Mencia said. “If you’re a comic that does jokes for yourself, just go in the bathroom and tell yourself jokes.”

That connection with a Joplin audience will be even more important, he said. Proceeds from the show will go to the American Red Cross, and he said he’ll come back to Joplin in the future.

He’s never done a show quite like this before, he said.

“I accept the responsibility of the comedian. My job is to make people laugh and forget the pain,” Mencia said. “I’m happy, proud, blessed and honestly blown away that I get to be the individual to do that. It’s gonna be great to see that audience and hear them laugh in the midst of the pain and the atmosphere.”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Eleventh Morgan Wedding

Greg and Ellen: Highlights of the Eleventh Morgan Wedding - July 5, 2003

Six kids in the Morgan Family from Lakewod, Ohio. On July 5th 2003, the wedding of Ellen Azar Yoho to Gregory Lawton Morgan brings the number of marriages in this generation to Eleven. (Still, I think under the national average for success of the institution I believe).

 Even though I have demonstrated a level somewhere between indifference and contempt for the celebration and family gathering for the purpose of witnessing the exchange of wedding vows… And in spite of the fact tha I routinely show up with an inappropriate apparel choice (red sneakers with a tux, no tux etc etc)… Or I arrive too late for timely photos or maybe even too late for the wedding service itself (as the reception is really the part I like best). ..

A long time ago – nearly 23 years ago – I married Lynn with the agreement that getting married was easy and no cause for celebration. Rather, staying married – that is cause for celebration.

Nevertheless, Greg and Ellen were determined to make a significant production of their merger. Both married once before – both with children from those previous marriages. Greg – son’s Wesley and Matt and Ellen – Michael and Lauren. A beautiful portrait of Greg and Ellen, Wes, Matt, Michael and Lauren was on display in the pre-convene area at the wedding. Lovely shot of the group in front of a beautiful seascape.

Lauren, received a song dedication during the wedding because “Greg never had a daughter ..and now he has Lauren.” Very touching gesture. The song “Brown Eyed Girl” was chosen for this “father – step-daughter” dance. Lauren calls my brother “Geggie”- (A little too saccharine sweet for my taste but an indication that Greg might actually get the respect of the step children as time marches on.) Michael is a little hyper – like kids can be…but apparently the family is ready to March into the future together likes millions of dysfunctional families in this country do.

I regard the job of Best Man as two fold (and said so in my toast): 1. Talk the groom out of it and 2) get the Groom to do something he’s not likely to do after he gets married – gamble, stay out all night, go to a strip joint …(I failed on both counts). My preparation for the toast included the selection of music tracts and a number of stories designed to illustrate and embarrass. I was able to edit about 90% or my intended material down to a kinder-gentler 15-20 minutes which was probably still a little too long – and more than Greg expected. I could see that both Greg and Ellen were on pins and needles through the whole time I had the mic – but were pleased that I showed restraint.

Here’s the toast (as closely as I can remember delivering it):

Greg and Ellen July 5, 2003
(edited to reflect actual comments on the wedding day)
Two Jobs of Best Man

  1. talk the groom out of it
  2. talk the groom into doing something he wouldn’t think of doing after he’s married  (stay out all night, go to a strip club, gamble… what-ev 

I have failed as a Best Man on both counts.

My brother is planning to go through with this thing.

So what can I do?…

So I decided to make a film about Greg.

But we ran a little short on funds…

Gonna need to borrow some money – what do you say Rob?

I only need about $2 Million to make this film.

so let me describe the Movie. (Let me pitch it to ya)…

…a movie about Greg in his formative years…that maybe helps shed some light on how he has come to this juncture in his life…

…this treatment includes some ideas for the Soundtrack for the movie as well…

Hopefully, this will help Ellen see what she’s getting into and maybe provide a little insight for all of you that wish them well in their marriage…

Opening credits and first scene:

Music: Father and Son – Cat Stevens

“You’re young, that’s your fault. Think of everything you’ve got. You will still be here tomorrow, though your dreams may not. Find a girl, settle down, If you want you can marry…look at me, I am old…but I’m happy…” 

Aerial  – Zoom in through giant picture window at Edgewater Drive House….

Here’s where we see Greg getting folded into his convertible bed...ya know one of those couches that fold out to a bed…well he was often folded into that bed as a part of his wake up ritual.

Greg’s muffled voice can be heard “Dad I’m up! I’m up!” 

Disolve to Lakewood High School graduation ceremony in progress…

Music: Oh Very Young – Cat Stevens

“Oh very young, what will you leave us this time. You’re only dancing on this earth a short while. And though your dreams may toss and turn you now …like favorite jeans they fade in blue….and the patches make the goodbye harder still.”

This song was playing in the Cutlass Supreme after the graduation ceremony is over. (This is an important “establishing shot” Greg and I put over 100,000 miles on that car)  

Cut to

Music Change: Radar Love

“Been driven all night, my hands are wet on the wheel….”

Wide Shot of the same Cutlass Supreme headed I-71 South/and eventually I-75    

This begins the segment of the film I like to call:

The Valdosta Incident

It’s approximately 1200 miles from Cleveland to Miami…That’s about 24 hours of driving

Greg was always convinced that was just a one day trip

Two drivers – 24 hours – no prob – except one of the drivers is a control freak and the other (me) would just as soon leave the driving to my brother…

Though we did that drive a number of times (at least twice a year for 4 years)

…on one trip…Greg, admitting a bit of fatigue after driving for about 16 hours straight asked me to take the wheel.  

We were in Valdosta, Georgia.

Now Valdosta GA is just North of the Florida border

…but it’s still 7 – 8 hours of driving to get to Miami. 

I wasn’t driving 10 minutes before Greg fell asleep

I wasn’t driving 15 minutes before I fell asleep

When we hit the warning track – the gravel on the shoulder of the road

Greg was awake and alert…and ready to take the wheel again.

Music: She came in through the Bathroom Window – Joe Cocker’s version (Beatles tune)

“She came in through the bathroom window…protected by a silver screen…now she sucks her thumb and wonders…”

Cut to Mahoney Hall on the Campus of the University of Miami – bright sunny Florida day

Zoom into Dorm Room 234 Mahoney Hall (another expensive camera angle but well worth it)…you could hear our 8-track player blasting Joe Cocker …Greg is imitating the way Joe Cocker. 

Cut to Greg pulling into Mahoney Hall in a big yellow school bus as he crashes into the concrete canopy at the entrance to the lobby of the dorm building. 

(He miscalculated the height of his vehicle…fortunately the 20 mentally retarded kids he was transporting on a field trip were not yet aboard)

Cut to Greg singing along with the house band to:

Jumpin’ Jack Flash – The Rolling Stones

“(guitar riff) Jumpin Jack Flash it’s a Gas, Gas, Gas”

The Miami experience includes a number of diversions for the rigors of academia…the beach, the night life…the race track. A win at the track (Hialeah) is the reason that later that night Greg takes the stage for a rendition of Jumpin Jack Flash…This was not a karaoke night…Greg made himself part of the act!

Cut to the University of Miami Rathskeller…on a typical Friday Afternoon…It’s Happy Hour

Music: Free Bird – Lynard Skynard

“(guitar) ….I’m as free as a bird now….and this bird you’ll never change”

The drinking age was 18 then and the Friday Happy Hour tradition was a big part of our college experience…  

Free Bird – This song is 8 or ten minutes long…The stimulus/response mechanism that tells students that it’s about to be “last call”…Plenty of time to get at least one more beer.

“I’m as free as a bird now….and this bird you’ll never change…”

As the song winds down you see Greg Playing Air Guitar in a beer soaked Rathskeller …

Now flash forward about 20+ years.

Wes picks up the phone in St. Louis/split screen shot Greg’s on his cell phone in Tampa…He’s got kids in the background…they’ve rented a movie and the soundtrack is Julie Andrews… 

Sound of Music – Julie Andrews – from movie soundtrack …I called Greg on the phone … and I hear:

 “The hills are alive with the sound of Music.”

The audience is left wondering - What will become of the “Free Bird” and what kind of sequel can we expect from Greg?

Credits roll across the movie screen and the audience is left wondering how the story of Greg is going to play out…

I hope that the sequel is a happy one with Greg and Ellen.

Thank You. 

The band at the reception was flexible and was able to tolerate and support a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”  as performed by me…joined by Greg. A pretty fun little duet with my brother and I sharing the microphone and not really knowing the words. Pretty funny …”Regrets I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention….I’ve lived a life that’s full ….Much more than this…I did it my way!”

The rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding provided perhaps the greatest drama. The wedding party along with a number of out-of-town guests enjoyed a terrific meal in a place called Jackson’s Bistro. The private room provided a righteous view of the fourth of July fireworks on the Bay.

All seemed to be running smoothly until, after the dinner and fireworks the group began to disperse. Dan and Netti slipped away, the party was winding down… Mom and Dad left with Sully Barth (mom’s friend since they were little girls). Decending the stairs outside the restaurant, Sully took a nasty spill. Sully is 80-something and she got a nasty gash in the back of her head. The pool of blood at the base of the stairs and the Emergency Rescue People on the scene made it clear that something had happened. Kinda like a car wreck – you really don’t want to know….By the time I got to the scene…Mom was being a tad overly dramatic about insisting on going to the hospital with her friend Sully. Fortunately for me, Rob was on the scene too. He is a take charge Kinda guy - a real field general - and was able to bark out a few orders and make arrangements for advising Sully’s husband at the hotel (Bob Barth chose to skip the dinner, choosing instead to kick back in the hotel room).
Rob – God Bless Him – stayed in the hospital emergency room with Sully and Mom and Dad until Sully was released. Due to the heavy traffic from a variety of fireworks mishaps and routine holiday accidents the ER wasn’t able to release Sully until 7 AM! Ten stiches in the back of her head. Yikes!!!

Golf was a top priority for me for this trip. I was successful in playing 9 holes the day of my arrival in Tampa (by myself) and recruiting Greg/Wesley and Matt to play as a foursome on the 4th of July (with Rob and Kevin and Ellen’s borther-in-law Larry behind us in a three-some) and a round with Sundance on the 5th. 45 Holes of Golf!

I could write a book about what I observed through a variety of Morgan golf experiences. Especially the nature of playing with Morgans. Suffice it to say…Tempo is pretty hard to maintain when Rob is hitting into you….or when Sundance prefers your putter to the one in the bag you rented for his sorry ass. FYI scores to be added to my on-line handicapping calculation – 98 for nine at Babe Zaharias public course (rating/slope 68.4/117) and 103 at the Rocky Point course (rating/slope: 68.2/114 from the white tees) on July 4th…I am thowing out the extra nine at Babe Zaharias where my concentration fell off trying to keep Sundance happy – a 56 for nine.  Rob Claims a score in the low 90’s but refuses to show anyone his scorecard.

Shot of the round for Wesley (Greg’s Son) – a 40 foot pitch into the hole

Shot and hole of the round for Sundance – a 199 yard par three. A driver to the green – two putts for a par. Sheesh – this from a guy who hasn’t played in 15-20 years.

Overall, everything went smoothly and without any real crisis. A good time was had by all. (Net Net – Golf outing for Jim Varney and Uncle Wes will be better when we can concentrate on the important stuff – tempo, studying breaks on the green, keeping it in the short grass etc instead of wedding party photos and tuxedos).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Barb Flunker Art Show

How nice to be invited to someone’s home for the express purpose of art and conversation. The last time I visited with Barb was at the “Carts & Cocktails” fundraiser event at Laumeier Sculpture Park. She was the official docent outside the station featuring Jackie Ferrara’s site specific sculpture that night. She is a wonderful guide and loves to engage people in their impressions about art as they encounter it.

It turns out that Barb is an artist in her own right and the invitation was an opportunity to share her latest work. It was a sunny cool day in November. I arrived early and was treated to a docent tour of work that is strategically located outside and newly installed displays of recent work inside the home. The latest series of paintings features striking color of Printers Ink which is a tribute to her late brother. (He was a printer.) I can’t help thinking that he must be proud of his sister.  

Barb explained that her journey as an artist was encouraged by her son about 11 years ago. “You should pursue this professionally,” he said knowing that her paintings are inspired with the natural and spiritual beauty of the world using oils, acrylics, and recycled and organic natural materials in non-traditional ways. Like so many artists, she had been doing this for years. It was this bit of encouragement that set her in motion. She visited galleries and art dealers in St. Louis. She recalls those early bold moves with samples of her work and remembers how the additional positive feedback at that time helped propel her forward.

It’s clear that her husband Ray is on board too. “Ray was very supportive in repurposing our family garage as several works were being created outdoors. I’m okay with natural elements, even light rain falling on my work but when higher winds and storms were forecast we needed to protect them while they had time to dry.” Ray fabricated a system for the larger format works to rest at that time and continues as a superb host at this private showing.  

Barb’s work has been shown extensively in the Midwest and has been represented by Denise Roberge Gallery, Palm Desert CA, and Mark Palmer Gallery, Paducah KY. Her work is currently shown at Niche, The Lawrence Group, St. Louis MO, and Brewington, St. Louis MO. Barb’s work is also included in numerous collections.

Visit her website at and you will see the work influenced by travels, nature, family and friends. Barb’s dynamic, textural, abstract paintings explode with the vibrancy of life itself. Thanks for including me Barb.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012



So, my son Ben mentions to me that J-Kwon is appearing at the Pageant. This University City Loup venue is the scene of the Ludacris performance a few months ago. Rap (or should I say Hip-Hop) is a cultural phenomenon and I have to say that I enjoy a lot of things about it. For my generation “Sex, Drugs. and Rock-N-Roll” was the rally cry. For my son, it’s not too different…only louder, and blacker and with no interference from musical instruments (just pre-recorded sound and one or two DJ-MC types behind a big electronic console in the middle of the stage).

J-Kwon was to be a part of Hoodfest. Which I didn’t understand, until attending the event, was a string of local wanna-be acts leading up to the featured performers. And as St. Louis (The Lou) has become somewhat of a hub for Hip Hop.  Murphy Lee and Ally were listed as hosts/presenters. And local hip hop hero, Nelly even made an appearance.

The station Q95.5 had a high profile throughout the evening with MC Chrystal on the mike between acts doing the introductions – usually nothing more than something like “Hey St. Louis, give it up for our next performers….”

I bought three tickets. This event was held on May 9, 2004, a Sunday Night. Ben and his friend Stephanie Paul were probably willing to tolerate me a chaperone because I made it easier for Ben’s mom and Stephanie’s parents to allow this on a school night.

Stephanie, Ben and I arrived at the Pageant and hour before the scheduled start time. (What was I thinking…of course Hoodfest wouldn’t start on time. And there was no real benefit to arriving early except we got a pretty decent parking space.) It was a beautiful night (Mother’s Day, in fact). To kill some time, we crossed Delmar and sat at a table stationed outside in front of Mirasol – a new restaurant (only open a few months). As the sun was going down, we felt a warm breeze that reminded me of being in Miami – South Beach or Coconut Grove. We watched the drama begin to unfold in front of the Pateant.

Hoodfest started at 8pm.     

Here’s what the St. Louis Post Dispatch had to say about Hoodfest in the newspaper on Tuesday May 11, 2004
Music Review
J-Kwon’s strong show
Deserves more fan support
By Kevin C. Johnson
Post-Dispatch Pop Music Critic
“Teen President” J-Kwon might need to campaign a little harder the next time he performs in St. Louis.
St. Louis’ newest rap sensation, dubbed the teen president by some, inexplicably and surprisingly failed to draw a crowd worthy of his newfound stature – a No. 1 rap single in “Tipsy,” a gold CD in “Hood Hop” – at Q95.5’s Hoodfest II concert at the Pageant Sunday night. The first Hoodfest in January with Murphy Lee was a sellout, the balcony was closed for this one.
Maybe hip-hop fans were too caught up in Mother’s Day. Maybe the Trak Starz-presented event at the Rum Jungle at the same time divided the crowd. Maybe the relatively late announcement of the concert hampered ticket sales. Or maybe the gunfire that broke out at J-Kwon’s recent video shoot scared people away.
And Maybe Nelly’s surprise guest appearance should’ve been promoted. Whatever the reasons, folks should’ve been packed into the Pageant to see a rapper big enough to serve as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” next weekend, when his audience will be in the millions.
J-Kwon came with attitude and was flanked by a supportive Nelly, Murphy Lee and Ali, who opened the set with “IC IC,” a track from “Hood Hop.” “Welcome to Tha Hood” and especially the personal “They Ask Me” were a pair of strong selections from J-Kwon. “Sow Your Ass” featured female rapper Eboni Eyes, who gave what was perhaps the nights breakthrough performance.  She’s a new act backed by production duo the Trackboys, who are also behind J-Kwon. The Sho-Offs, J-Kwon’s group, also made an appearance.
The boisterous “Tipsy” was followed by the guest laden “Tipsy” remix. Here, it featured Murphy Lee, Nelly and Ali, the recording features J-Kwon with Chingy and Murphy Lee. It ended a too brief set.
During his time onstage, J-Kwon came off as confident, unapologetically raw and almost humorously potty-mouthed, making it interesting to see how he’ll fair on “SNL” compared to recent polished “SNL” guests such as Usher and Avril Lavigne.
Before J-Kwon’s appearance, a number of rising local talents performed more than two hours of brief sets that, to their credit, moved along with barely a break in between. Several of the acts were from Nelly’s Derrty Entertainment label.
Ruka Puff was a standout. Just imagine three Bone Crushers  - complete with removal of shirts, exposing lots of excess flesh – and you get Ruka Puff, which performed its song “Angry.” Another standout was Jng Tru and Taylor Made of “Whirlwind” fame, whose set featured Nelly and other St. Lunatics.
Also good were Beano with “Skip to Da Lou” and “Act Bad,” the All Stars with “So Serious,” Xta-C with “So Heavy,” and Kin Jacob and Prentiss Church. Others who performed included Chocolate Thai featuring Z, Hard Knox, Potzie, 2 Cent, Mysphit, Arch Rivals, Ahmad, Lil Loui’s and the Young Boyz.
Critic Kevin C. Johnson
Phone: 314-340-8191


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Crystal Bridges 11-11-11/11-11-12

Crystal Bridges American Museum of Art November 9-10, 2012 - The Lauemeier docent crew, lead by Maureen Jennings, orchestrated a trip to Chrystal Bridges. I was delighted to be among the forty or so people on the overnight bus trip to Arkansas to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by the only daughter of Sam Walton (Alice) and designed by internationally renowned architect (Moshe Safdie).

Our trip to the museum unfolded as first anniversary celebration rapidly approached that weekend (11-11-11/11-11-12). Our trip included viewing the premiere of a documentary film directed/produced by Larry Foley; touring the collection of more than 400 works (which are well organized into colonial, 19th century, modern and contemporary gallery spaces); a special extra-curricular experience of James Turrell’s The Way of Color - Turrell is primarily concerned with light and space. He was once quoted as saying: “I saw the Mona Lisa when it was in L.A., saw it for 13 seconds and had to move on. But, you know, there's this slow-food movement right now. Maybe we could also have a slow-art movement, and take an hour.” I love that idea!); a morning hike covering miles of beautifully landscaped trails; a bonus visit to the quaint downtown area of Bentonville (featuring Sam Walton’s original retail store location).     

Alice Walton likes to challenge visitors to recall three things. Indeed, with the sensory overload that begins with the magnificent architecture of Moshe Softe and continues with the art, the sculpture, and the trails it is pretty hard to settle on just three. So I won’t. Here’s a list of some of things I remember seeing (and hope to revisit):
George Washington (portrait by Charles Wilson Peale, 1780-82); Winter Scene in Brooklyn (by Francis Guy, 1819); Kindred Spirits (Hudson River School painting by Asher Brown Durand, 1849); The Reader (by Mary Cassatt, 1877), Jeanne (by Alfred Henry Mauer, 1904), Hall of Mountain King (by Marsden Hartley, 1908-1909). Rosie the Rivetter (by Norman Rockwell, 1943); Jackie Ferrara (1980); Jenny Holtzer (1990); Lowell’s Ocean (by Mark DiSuvero); Yield (by Roxy Paine); LOVE (by Robert Indiana)… Add works by Thomas Hart Benton, Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, Alexander Calder and clearly it is the sort of place of which you might like to return.

All in the peaceful and unassuming Ozark regional setting, in year one, the museum has already attracted over 600,000 visitors and has an 800 million dollar endowment. In case you are tempted to think of Art in Arkansas as an oxymoron – think again. Thank you Alice Walton – for your courage and your leadership! Wow.       

Monday, November 5, 2012

Self Criticsm and Getting Canned

Dallas  Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones was livid Sunday night, and not just because his team had just lost to the Atlanta Falcons on national television. Jones was locked out of the Cowboys' locker room following his team's 19-13 loss in Atlanta on Sunday Night Football. Earlier that night, Bob Costas interviewed Jerry Jones, who stated that he would have fired himself as general manager if he could have but he couldn't because it's impossible to fire yourself because you can't separate yourself from yourself so you just have to learn to live with yourself ... or something like that.

"I've always worked for myself and you can't do that," Jones said of firing himself as general manager. "You basically have to straighten that guy out in the mirror when you work for yourself. But certainly, if I'd had the discretion, I've done it with coaches and certainly I would have changed a general manager."

How funny is that? Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. It’s not the same thing. Sure successful owner/entrepreneurs often put a lot of pressure on themselves but it ain’t the same as fear of being canned. The irony is the double standard that exists here.

A few of highlights from my career journey:

Fred Kummer at HBE once opened a sales meeting with the declaration, “Someone in this room should be fired.” And after s brief pause delivered the punch line. “That person is me…but since that isn’t gonna happen…” He went on to make that group of sales people sweat-out the rest of the meeting.  

Steve Rose who was President of a newly merged advertising agency. AC&R/DHB & Bates in New York offered a similarly awkward assurance to the employees of the newly merged agency. “The view only changes for the lead dog,” he said to a movie theater full of merged employees.

More often than not, employees gather for town hall meetings or company-wide announcements to get a sense of how the leadership feels about the company’s progress only to leave with only a hint of how secure their positions in the organization might be.
So, boss, go ahead and fire yourself. We might be able to get something done around here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Guardian Angel

Lucas, 26, of Tampa, passed away suddenly on October 7, 2012. He is survived by his Mother and her husband; his father and his wife; two sisters; a maternal grandmother. Lucas was a 2005 graduate of Plant High School and attended Florida State University for two years. He had a creative spirit, a love for art and extreme sports. Prior to his untimely passing, he was a barista with Starbucks in Tampa. By all accounts, he had an amazing smile, a big heart and a zest for life. He was a loving son, brother, grandson, and friend who will be forever missed.

When we lose our parents we are orphaned. When we lose a spouse we are widowed. There is no name for what we are when we lose a child. On my own son's 26th Birthday I learned of Lucas’ death. He was a close friend of my nephew. My son and his cousin (my nephew) are the same age. There is no measure of the sadness and pain of losing a child. There are no words. He will be remembered with joy and smiles always.A friend of the family offered this in Lucas’ virtual guest book: “You all have a special guardian angel!” What a beautiful thought.

Sometimes something happens in our lives that just gives us pause. And so a moment of silence… 

Song for Lucas

You are gone.
It isn’t about you.
We are Young.
A popular song plays;
So let’s set the world on fire;
We can burn brighter than the sun.

But you are gone.
We feel sorrow and pain;
For you made an impression.
A creative spirit;
A barista with a big heart
and amazing smile.

You are gone.
We will remember you always.
Our denial doesn’t bring you;
Anger emerges and subsides.
No bargain can be made;
You have gone home.

You are gone.
Out of this deep sadness we recall you;
Dancing for a short while.
And yet, until we die we cannot know
That death is not the greatest joy.
You are gone.

We will go on.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Gardener and the Bernoudy House

After a visit with local artist Juan William Chavez on St. Louis Avenue in the neighborhood of Old North St. Louis, I found myself in line at Crown Candy Kitchen with my friend Ann Bauer, her husband and son Nick (visiting from Washington DC). The restaurant, founded in 1913, is a Saint Louis landmark. Ann is a patron of the arts and shared stories of recent events at Powell Hall, the Sheldon Concert Hall and travels around the world.

Over sandwiches and a handmade malted milkshake (shared) the four of us were seated at a booth where we could take in the atmosphere. The conversation moved from families, to art and on to architecture. Ann talked about touring a home built by William Adair Bernoudy (1910-1988) an American architect born in St. Louis who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s. He is noted for the many modernist homes and public buildings he designed (mostly in the St. Louis area). Funny how people are connected by art, architecture and commerce.

“My former boss lived in a Bernoudy house,” I shared, remembering this fact about HBE CEO Fred Kummer’s home on Squires Lane.

“I’ve seen that home,” said Ann. She went on to tell me that the day she visited that house she engaged in a conversation with a woman gardening outside the home. Ann learned that the gardener owned the house and was an architect. Ann regretted what she blurted out next. “How can you as an architect afford a house like this?”Ann admitted she was embarrassed by the question, especially when she learned that the woman she met was June Kummer.

I promised Ann I would have to share that story with others. A case of mistaken identity and/or faux pas…nevertheless a completely innocent case of making incorrect assumptions. The Kummers have enough for that home and then some. (And incidentally, June is an active leader in garden clubs and the Kummers are generous contributors to the Missouri Botanical Gardens.)   

Monday, October 8, 2012

None of your bee’s wax

If you visit Laumeier Sculpture Park this week you will see the gallery is hidden behind curtains and an installation will soon be under construction. On the south lawn there are telephone poles marking an area but you only get a hint of what’s up. Visit and you will find this description: Juan William Chávez: Living Proposal Pruitt-Igoe Bee Sanctuary, Kransberg Exibition Series 2012 October 27, 2012 – January 20, 2012.

Juan William Chávez (born in Lima, Peru ) is an artist and cultural activist whose studio practice focuses on the potential of space by developing creative initiatives that address community and culture issues. The Pruitt-Igoe Bee Sanctuary is a proposal for the City of St Louis to transform the urban forest where Pruitt-Igoe housing development once stood into a public space that cultivates community through urban agriculture.

Drawing parallels to the depleting population of bees and shrinking cities, this interdisciplinary project-in-progress has the unique opportunity to reignite the conversation about urban abandonment and creative strategies for addressing it. The Laumeier Sculpture Park plans to dedicate the museum gallery and significant area of outdoor space to the Chávez work. My guess is that people will be buzzing about it soon enough.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What does it all mean?

This is a collection of Reflections I compiled in May of 2009. Maybe it's something I do around the anniversary of my birth. I don't know. I know I am not along is wondering about life and death and what it all means.  

Did you ever think when a hearse goes by...
that you might be the next to die? 
They wrap you up in a dirty sheeet ...
and bury you down about six feet deep.

The end of life is the natural conclusion of things. If you are religious, you take it on faith it’s part of God’s plan. If you are more of an agnostic, you just wonder.

Grammy Morgan

My father reports that on her deathbed, his own mother asked the question:  “What’s it all about Jimmy?” She was a strong woman who lived into her 80s. She lost her husband too young – before he reached his 60th birthday. (My father lost his dad when he was only about 23 years old. I never even met my Grandfather – but I know he was a great man.)

I remember reading somewhere, “Until we die, we cannot know that death is not the greatest joy.” It’s a comforting thought for survivors. I think it might have been in the memoir Death Be Not Proud. It was a high school reading assignment. It was a loving story of a father dealing with the death of his son at age 17 of a brain tumor.

Death Be Not Proud was published in 1949 and written by John Gunther. It takes its name from the
Divine Sonnet X” by John Donne is one of his best-known religious poems. It famously begins “Death be not proud” and advances a stream of arguments to prove that man’s greatest fear has no power over him.

Grammy Lawton

When my maternal Grandmother died at age 86, I was in fifth grade. (I never really knew my maternal Grandfather, either.) I stayed home from school that day and worked on a report on the great state of Alaska. I remember the house on Edgewater Drive in Lakewood was full of people just after Grammy Lawton died. Those people were there for my parents – my mom in particular. Before she died, my maternal grandmother suffered a form a dementia that might today have been diagnosed as Alzheimer’s.    

Phil Lawton

I was with mom at Uncle Phil’s graveside in Hartford, Connecticut. He died of prostate cancer. She spontaneously burst into tears saying, “I miss him so.” That was more than 20 years ago. I was a young man at the early part of my quest for a career in advertising in New York. I was moved by her outpour of emotion. My Dad stayed in Miami. This was one of those rare times she traveled alone. She wanted to be there and I was proud to be by her side and offer a hug. 

G. Albert Lawton

My Uncle Albert Lawton is ninety five and it’s clear his children are bracing themselves for his passing. They’ve already written his obituary.   

George Albert Lawton, a man who had a gift for friendship, died peacefully on [date] at his home on Peachtree Road.  He donated his body to Emory University Medical School.  A memorial Mass will be celebrated at the Cathedral of Christ the King on [date] at [time].Born in Boston on Good Friday, April 10, 1914, Albert was the first of George and Mary Anne Newman Lawton’s three children.  His brother Philip predeceased him and his sister Mary Morgan survives.  The family moved to Cleveland in 1924 where Al attended Cathedral Latin before entering Notre Dame with the Class of ’35.  On New Year’s Day, 1937, he married Mary Patricia Walsh, a westerner from the State of Washington and a graduate of Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame.  The couple had three children—Paula (Bevington), Elena (Torruella) and Jorge—all of whom survive.  Mary Pat died in 1990.  In June, 1991, Al married Nadine Herrmann Jones…

I opened this e-mail just after 5:00 p.m. on May 11, 2009
Al (Albie to his children, Lelo to his grandchildren, Albit to his parents) died this morning at 9:00.  I had been there a little after 5:00 and again about 7:40, when it was clear that not much time was left, but we thought it would be a few days.  He was comfortable.  Nadine is being very brave, but she is exhausted after this last month, a tough one.  He made it to his ninety-fifth birthday on April tenth.  He was responsive yesterday.  There will be a memorial Mass on Friday at 1:00.  Please be with us in spirit.  It’s times like these when I wish we all had private jets!  Please let your dad know and Lynn as well. 
 Love to each of you,

Center Stage Mary Lawton Morgan

Mom is 87 now and suffering from Alzheimer’s. She always said she’d do anything for her kids as long as they just remember. For a long time I sent her flowers on my birthday with a note saying “Thanks for having me.” She liked that. The sad irony here is that she would not know who I was if I sent flowers to her in the nursing home this year. When Rob told here that her older brother died all she said was “oh.”

She snores well into the mid morning. She was never fond of the early part of the day. If this was an improvisational skit designed to test acting chops while casting for a community theater project at Lakewood Little Theater or Clague playhouse she might be accused of being too over-the-top or maybe trying to steal the scene. It’s funny in its pure genuine reality. She’s still a star. As Aunt Eller in Oklahoma, as a num in the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, as the wife in The Deadly Game, as Beck Center’s best actress in the lead role in Veronica’s Room or rehearsing her part in a reading of The Women for the Three Arts Club or as the keynote speaker at the Rose and Crown Inn before a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival she always knew how to work a room. Dad visits her often looking for that sparkle to come back.     

60 Minute Morgan

At 91 my Dad is swimming two or three times a week. He doesn’t drive anymore and he needs help but he’s clinging to independent living with every ounce of his being. Good for him. He lives in Texas near my brother Rob (the best) and his family. My parents moved to the Dallas to be close to Rob. Rob and Joy have been handling elder care chores for more than 10 years now. But Rob’s career may very well result in their relocation. Enough already. Time marches on. You have go where you can make a living. (Ironic.)

My Dad is going to live forever. “Low man wins.” He’s a great man and he looks better than I feel. He doesn’t need a driver’s license. There will always be someone around to take him to church, the grocery story and Rotary Club meetings. And maybe he doesn’t need or want Rob monitoring his bank accounts anymore. He’s got Esther living in with him these days and if he can find a way to be nicer to her they can live together in a kind of truce. I’m the best football player in the family. That’s enough validation for me. That’s no small praise coming from 60-minute Morgan.


My full name if you can count my confirmation name is Wesley Alan John Morgan. I chose the name John because he was the apostle who was always pictured closest to Jesus - like in the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. My dad’s dad was John Benjamin and my son’s name is John Benjamin. (Both are more commonly go by the name Ben.) The circle of life.    

You know what the priest says as he spears ashes on your head on Ash Wednesday? “Remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” Well I’ve got that to look forward to, anyway.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Viva Miami!

Chapter Seventeen
Lessons from Miami

The Miami Ad School
While at Crispin Porter + Bogusky I became aquainted with The Miami Ad School. The Miami Ad School is a unique phenomenon in advertising. It is one of a handful of places students can take time to build a portfolio of creative samples that they can leverage in interviews with the nation’s top agencies, and get a start in this competitive business. Miami is an unlikely hub for advertising. Unless you want a base of operations for international marketing communications. The tropical climate and the constant influx of tourists from around the world make it a vibrant and cosmopolitan place though. While working in Miami I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with Ron Siechrist, the founder of the Miami Ad School. Ron was instrumental in building the Portfolio Center on the same premise in Atlanta. (Legend has it that Ron had to turn over the keys to that successful business to his wife as part of a divorce settlement.) Ron Siechrist managed to start all over in Miami’s trendy South Beach with the Miami Ad School. The work produced by his students has captured the attention of Advertising Award Judges and Advertising Annuals and has resulted in some pretty impressive placements so far.

Hispanic Marketing: Like it or Not
I took High School Spanish. I took Spanish to meet the language requirement in college too. I know about enough Spanish to order coffee at the Versailles restaurant in Miami and that’s about it. I’m committed to lifelong learning but I’m afraid it would take me several lifetimes to learn to speak Spanish well. Some people have a gift for foreign languages. I’m not one of those people. Miami’s Dade County is more than 50% Hispanic. South Florida like Texas and California has areas with high Hispanic populations. Like it or not, you cannot expect to make a living in the communications business, especially in these parts of the country without learning the language they speak. Without a doubt, there are huge opportunities for advertising and marketing specialists who can speak Spanish and become experts in Hispanic Marketing. I know because I was there trying to drum up business for a hot shop. Even with a limited Spanish speaking staff, I was able to help Crispin Porter + Bogusky create advertising for The South Florida Mercedes Benz Dealer Group. (We produced advertising in English and Spanish).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Let it Rain.

Chapter Fifteen
There’s No Business Like New Business

The agency, I think, felt somewhat responsible for recruiting me to join the firm, at a reduced salary. They could have asked me to work on other accounts. But, even at a reduced salary, I was the highest paid account manager in the place. The other accounts in this shop were staffed adequately, they thought. They needed new business. I needed a job. By default, I become the new business guy. The fine art of “rainmaking” at an advertising agency (of any size) is a mysterious mix of responsibility, consensus building, relationship building and public relations. It’s also, in spite of its importance, the most uncomfortable of chairs in the advertising agency game of musical chairs.

The Rainmaker
After working in advertising agencies all of my adult life, I have come to realize the importance of business development. Maintaining existing accounts is, of course, paramount to financial health of any advertising agency. Acquisition of new accounts is always costly. But there’s this thing called the “leaky bucket” theory that says that you’re always losing customers no matter what you’re selling. So in advertising agencies, as in other businesses, you have to do two things: 1. Plug up the holes where you can and 2. Keep filling the bucket. Enter the rainmaker. He comes to a dusty town in the middle of a drought and promises a badly needed downpour. Burt Lancaster played this role in the movie in 1957, The Rainmaker. If Burt worked for an advertising agency he’d inspire confidence and faith in the future. On the other hand, he’s also be accused of being an imposter and a scam artist. Really the hardest part of being the new business point man is building consensus. What do we really want? What kind of accounts will help us get there? There are big accounts that wouldn’t know a superior creative solution if it hit them over the head. There are small accounts that will always be small accounts. There are accounts who say they want great creative but also insist on a laundry list of mandatories. There are only about 600 agencies billing over $25MM in the U.S. Available advertising dollars are not infinite. The leading expert on the subject says about $162 Billion dollars was spent on advertising in 1995. More than a third of that is hoarded by big monolithic agencies headquartered in places like New York, Chicago and LA. Technology is making it possible to create and place advertising from anywhere. So agencies can pursue business anywhere they have FedEx, phones and fax machines. You can pursue big time clients where-ever they live. We simply can’t grow and continue to produce the kind of work we want to produce for a hundred small accounts. Remember a Rainmaker is paid for thunderstorms not squalls. So scam artist or not, the rainmaker reminds us to “keep the faith” and be very very patient. The Rainmaker is one of the most sought after hired guns in the advertising business. In reality, you need to be much more than a confidence man to be successful at the game of bringing in new business to an ad agency.

To all you rainmakers out there. You know who you are. Let it pour.

This article was prepared in 1995 and included in the book Plan. Design. Execute. Naturally the numbers are different today as the world is changing rapidly. However, the point is still relevant – to make it rain you need to be prospecting all the time.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Band Gets Back Together

September 13, 2012 at Forest Park Golf Course

“Where are we going lads?”

“To the toppermost!”

The Beatles were just at the beginning of their journey in Liverpool when they seemed to know they were going to achieve notoriety. Don’t we all feel this way early in our careers? That optimism is always there when the future looks so full of possibilities.

It’s already September and it has been too long since Tom, Dave, Rowdy and Wes have assembled to play 18 holes. Years ago we had the ambition and energy to plan golf junky weekends in the Ozarks that were packed with 36 holes a day. More recently our lives have settled into a preoccupation with kids in college, business prospects and navigating a dicey economy in the midst of an election year.

Our 7:30 a.m. tee-time at Forest Park (Hawthorn and Dogwood nines) is set, Dave is already putting when I arrived at 7:00. Pretty soon Tom joins us and in the parking lot with a box of donuts is Rowdy. We are back! We like to reference the Beatles because we all remember a time when that historic magical musical four-some started to move in different directions. It ain’t London’s Apple Studios’ rooftop but we’re are calmly ready to perform. Game on!

That first hit always sets a tone (but it is almost never a good indicator of how the whole round will go). Rowdy is ready and hits a perfect drive into position A. Tom tops his drive and accepts the less than optimal start (followed by an incredibly smooth a 18 holes afterwords). Dave is long – almost too long to make an easy angle approach shot. (He’s rusty and preoccupied with business that will resume with a conference call this afternoon). I am short but in the “highly overrated” fairway short grass.

 As the round unfolds: Tom is completely relaxed. Dave’s eagle putt opportunity is spoiled when somehow his drive on Dogwood #4 is friek-ishly knocked off the green. (After that, Dave finished the final 5 holes with with marginal concentration.  Rowdy is not 100% happy with his game or his weight. (In spite of the donuts, he’s planning to lose about 20 pounds). I’m humbled as I consider how my game measures up to my pals. (Secretly, I’m delighted breaking 100 and not embarrassing myself too badly.)

Leave it to Tom to put the day in perspective. His e-mail the very next day:

Every once in a while, sometimes around my birthday, sometimes not, I wonder how
many more days I have, how many more times I might get to be with my friends.

Yesterday, when I saw the sun rising, I just knew the day was going to be very

I'm very grateful to you three. Very, very grateful.

Tom Shaughnessy

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Prestige Pour

Chapter Five
The war in the store - Soft Drinks

The War in the Store is the constant battle for shelf space and consumer attention. Retail grocery stores are forever making deals with companies to feature their products. There are dozens of ways that retailers have to get “calendar marketing” funds from soft drink companies. Brand loyalty is pretty fickle and the sales tend to swing back and forth with the brand that’s on sale. And since consumers are so used to price promotions, they simply wait it out and stock-up when their preferred product is on sale. If they are indifferent they simply purchase the cheaper product. Pepsi and Coke are as near as you get to parity products. That’s why the advertising is usually designed to position the product as a badge that says something about the consumer. Pepsi has had a lot of success over the years suggesting that it is a product for those who are part of a generation of younger, active, energetic people. 

I joined Tracy-Locke, a division of the giant agency holding company, Omnicom. Omnicom also owns BBDO. Tracy- Locke and BBDO shared the Pepsi account under a pretty clear division of power. BBDO did the high profile stuff like featuring Michael Jackson in Television ads. Tracy-Locke was more likely to do a promotion (sometimes supported by television advertising) where consumers could enter to win tickets to see Michael Jackson in concert. I learned even more about sales in this job than I did observing buyers at Toy Fair. I was actually invited on sales calls to present the advertising/promotion/marketing support components. I was there to take some of the heat off price. But grocery chain buyers know as well as anyone that advertising is more likely to result in brand loyalty long term. They were interested in promotional pricing and marketing dollars they could get to promote Pepsi products as loss leaders, short term. How many Michael Jackson tickets did you say we could give away? Will you pay for the newspaper ad we would run to promote this event? How about the cost of some banners in front of all of our stores?

The Prestige Account - “I don’t want that shit on my shoes.”

My responsibility included support of both retail (bottle and can) and fountain sales at Pepsi. Another important part of brand building for soft drink companies it the “prestige account.” If you can be the exclusive beverage poured at a theme park or sports venue, you’ll sell a lot of product and get a lot of exposure on cups and signage. There is, of course, an incalculable advertising value to these placements. The theme parks and the venues know it full well. They use that advertising value as a hammer in negotiating price. Pepsi and Coke are always locked in these battles for prestige accounts. One of my Pepsi clients was responsible for area marketing in New Jersey. Steve was soon to move up in the organization to a bigger and better spot at Pepsi’s Somers, New York Headquarters. He was on the fast-track However, just before he was about to leave for his new position, it was time for one of those prestige account to re-negotiate its deal with Pepsi. Vernon Valley ski resort was not Vail. But it was important to Steve. He didn’t want to lose this account on his watch. It was on his turf. His goal was, at the very least, to avoid this prestige account decision to move before he moved. He candidly stated his feelings in a way only Steve could: “I don’t want that shit on my shoes.”

Fortunately for Steve, the ski resort postponed their decision to pour brand X until after he moved to Somers.