February 2, 2013

This is life. How music, "fishing," and knowing your JD Salinger can make you a better copywriter.

Sometimes you find inspiring words in the least expected places. Today I ran across the lyrics below by the punk rock band The Offspring and suddenly wanted to paint the words on my wall. 

My favorite bit? Lyricist Dexter Holland mentions the bananafish in his song, probably a reference to a short story by JD Salinger entitled "A Perfect Day for Bananafish (Best Quote: "She looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty.")

In that story, which takes place a few years after World War II, a character wades into the ocean with a girl named Sybil in hand and places her on a raft. He then tells her the tale of the tragic life of the bananafish. 

In their gluttony, his telling reveals, bananafish gorge themselves on bananas until, swollen too large to escape their feeding holes, they die.

The child, fazed neither by the story nor its portentous meaning, peers deep into the water and exclaims that she sees a bananafish with 6 bananas in its mouth.

Interestingly, the Salinger story takes place at a beach resort in Florida much like Miami Beach. |  Read Salinger's story

I CHOOSE...(the lyrics)


Look at me I'm fallin' off a cliff now
I can still hear my mama yelling "No No No"
But the words mean nothing, can't catch me now
And the view is so beautiful all the way down

I was a little boy, sucking juice from a bottle
Believing my perceptions were so real
But I didn't know nothing, still knowing nothing
Was just enough to know the way I feel

This is life

Look at me I'm swollen like a banana fish
I'm the Golem in a souffle dish
I'm never gonna make it, make it out of my hole
But I keep on laughing, doesn't really matter
There's dozens of reasons for explaining my soul

We're all naked when the day is said and done

This is life

So I keep on falling as I'm looking back above me
Watching as my mama becomes a little dot
Now I'm, I'm like De Niro, I'm amarillo*
And I'll never know when I hit the ground 

This is life,
a playground if we choose, 
That I choose that I choose that I choose

~Dexter Holland
*amarillo is Spanish for yellow

Why You Should Think Like a Punk Poet...

Speaking of playgrounds, check out a very simple and innovative online tool for generating right-hemisphere-like inspired ideas at one of my favorite brainstorming sites: Bananaslug.com. I use this tool frequently to come up with advertising campaign ideas. Bananaslug is an Internet search engine self-described as a provider of serendipitous results off the beaten track. They "seed" your search with another word chosen at random and the accidental encounter results in pages you might have overlooked using traditional left-hemisphere search engines. "Your results all match your search term, but our added twist gives you something new every time!"

Two other tech-based brainstorming tools I love are Thesaurus.com or, if you feel like spending some pocket change, Thought Office, a software package previously known as IdeaFisher (while you're there checking it out write and tell them the old name was better!). As these software producers explain their product, it "provides millions of “Thought Particles" (they obviously wanted to sound more scientific). Thought particles are "fragments of ideas to help you explore creative directions and find lots of good ideas." In other words, an advanced thesaurus tool.


As for thesauri, I know I know...your old high school teacher told you to throw away, toss away, fling away, or force into projectile motion away your old thesaurus if you wanted to be a better writer. However...when you've been writing a while you reach a place where you realize a thesaurus is a tool for pinpointing more specifically what you mean when you've been fishing a vocabulary that's going drifty on you--it should not be a lazy person's cop-out for choosing thirty ways to repeat yourself ad infinitum in the same paragraph. It's the difference separating the pups from the old dogs. A bone for a mature dog is not just for playing around. It is also useful nutrition. Thesauri are like old bones: learn to focus more intently on what you're doing. The words you find there shouldn't become part of a game of grab and toss. You gotta chew on that content awhile to get to the real strength of what's offered up.



OH AND speaking of speaking of fishing
...and improving your vocabulary

Some of you who know me well know I am a fan of Ru Paul's Drag Race, the LOGO TV program which has just entered its 5th season. Every season I am eager to learn the new slang of Dragworld (this is not Kansas, Dorothy) and so far, after one episode, this season's word looks like it will be "fishy." "Out" groups (not part of the mainstream and sometimes persecuted for their otherness) typically develop a language (or more appropriately, a cant) of their own involving words that they define and share in their speech with one another to provide clues as to who is/chooses to be/in and who is out. For hundreds of years some of our richest language has developed out of such slang.

So, choosing to be in, I had to of course look "fishy" up.

Fishy (adj.): for a man not simply to look like a man who wears women's clothing but to look like a woman to the point your eyes will be fooled.

More Ru Paul slang explained:
Ru Paul's Drag Race Dictionary (at Sexy Beast)