Selling Out Before You’re Even a Hit

The popularity cycle is the shortest it has ever been.

Because you're not sure who he is, either.
Because you’re not sure who he is, either.

Pop culture used to live according to The Five Stages of Life As An Actor, credited to Hugh O’Brian. 

(1) “Who is Hugh O’Brian?”
(2) “Get me Hugh O’Brian!”
(3) “Get me a Hugh O’Brian type.”
(4) “Get me a young Hugh O’Brian.”
(5) “Who is Hugh O’Brian?”

And whether it was an actor, a TV show, movie franchise, book, or pop star, you could pretty much count on that progression playing out over a number of years.

But the kind of rapid rise and fall that we used to associate just with One-Hit-Wonders or Flavor-Of-The-Month teen idols is now the rule for everything in entertainment.

The handicapping of a movie’s performance takes place the Monday after its release, and woe to the turkey that doesn’t debut at Number 1.

An author blogged to his fans that the most important thing they could do to help his new book was to buy it on Amazon the day of release. “First week sales,” he said, “are the only ones that count.”

And don’t even get me started on technology, where it is perfectly OK for an Apple or Google to quit supporting a phone or computer that is less than two years old.

It’s also happening in in pop music.

I’m not talking about chart life. I haven’t researched average life span of a pop hit, although I bet it’s a good deal shorter than in the past.

No, it’s the licensing of current songs for commercials.

Remember when letting a song be used in advertising was the worst kind of selling out, or the final refuge of a artist at the end of his or career, who needed the money?

Today, songs pop up in ads while they’re still on the radio as a current hit.

And even stranger, it’s now not uncommon to sell commercial rights to more than one company at the same time, so you can hear the same song a two or three times during a commercial break.

Sometimes you hear the verse, other times just the “hook,” that twenty or thirty second chunk that defines the melody.

Do you suppose it’s cheaper to just buy the instrumental part?

I started thinking about this because Good Morning America has pretty much co-oped Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” as their new theme song. It’s on all their promos and pops up three or four times in every show. It first popped up in “Despicable Me 2,” but Williams hasn’t even released it on an album yet.

Other recent offenders:

  • Phillip Phillips’ “Home.” I swear EVERY TV commercial for months used this as its backing track.
  • Ditto for Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” two or three years ago.

But on the up side, it used to take me months to get well and truly sick of a song.

Now I can do it in about twenty days.

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Richard Matheson Wrote Everything You Like

I was listening to The Writers’ Almanac for February 20, and Garrison Keillor noted it was the birthday of Richard Matheson. He passed away in June 2013.

Matheson is a writer I’ve known and admired for many years, but the show caused me to dig into his work a little.

I soon discovered he was involved in just about all of my favorite sci-fi stuff.


The first exposure I remember to his work was the 50’s sci fi movie classic, “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

I later read “I am Legend,” far superior to any of the three, count ’em THREE movies based on the novel. (Personally, I am partial to the one with Charleton Heston.)

And that’s just the beginning. Here a FEW of his other credits:

  • The Twilight Zone:  Not only did he write “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” but he also wrote Rod Serling’s opening and closing narration!
  • Star Trek: Wrote “The Enemy Within.” (which also earns him a “Six Degrees of Shatner” notation.)
  • Bid Time Return: Filmed as the classic time-travel romance “Somewhere in Time.”
  • Duel: Steven Spielberg shot to stardom after directing a TV movie version of this story.
  • Anne Rice and Stephen King cite him as influences.

And there’s more. Check out his article on wikipedia.

What is your favorite project of his? And did you know it was him?

The First Rule of Travel

No matter where you travel, you will always bump into someone from astonishingly close to home.
-Green’s First Rule of Travel

Rare indeed has been the trip where The First Rule never came into play. But on a recent trip to Arizona I mentally lifted the rule because:

a) I was attending a University of Iowa alumni event. And,

b) It was Phoenix in February, for cryin’ out loud. This time of year, there are more Iowans in Maricopa County than there are in Grundy County.

Iowans everywhere, not even a challenge.

But then, I was checking out the celebrity photos of the hotel where we were staying and right, alongside pictures of the resort’s founder, one Robert Foehl, posing with celebs like Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis, I came upon one with baseball greats Ted Williams and Bob Feller.

Yep, Bob Feller.  Arguably Iowa’s most famous baseball export.

Just because The Heater from Van Meter is no longer alive doesn’t make him any less of an Iowan.

Sounds like The First Rule to me.

Oh, and then at the Tortilla Factory there was that guy at the next table who looked just like a fellow I did Follies with a few years ago, but that was just a coincidence, I’m sure.