A brief from Mick Jagger
The world is divided into those who, when they see a sign saying “Don’t walk on the grass”, don’t.
And the ones who think “Hmm, I bet that grass is nice and springy underfoot.”
With this in mind, I gave a talk to an agency the other day which I called “the Art of Transgression”.
The title got changed for some reason to something else but I went ahead regardless.
That’s what us transgressors do.
The key quote in all this comes from the art critic John Berger who said (40 years ago) “the first time you go into a restaurant and stick a needle through your tongue, you’re liable to be arrested. The second time you do it, you’re liable to be hired as the cabaret.”
His point is that the shockingly new is usually a lot more interesting to people than the boring stale old stuff – and that people go from being shocked to being fascinatedÂ quicker than you think.
Certainly quicker than conventional research will tell you.
Interestingly, he picked tongue-sticking because he wanted to be as gratuitously shocking as possible – but time has proved him right, because tongue studs are now not the least bit shocking.
Given that the purpose of most advertising is to get into word of mouth, it’s worth asking how much conversation is taken up by talking about weird new stuff vs conversations about stuff which is “maybe quite interesting if you’re in the target market”.
We are all of us, like it or not, collectors of weird shit.
A recent Sunday Times profiled 3 creative artists in the first 7 pages of the Culture Section.
Lake Bell, Sergio de la Pava and Shane Carruth.
All three have deliberately set out to shake people up.
Thatâ€™s how they work. Thatâ€™s their fuel.
Compare that with the story in Campaign recently about the Saatchi interns who were tasked with doing something extraordinary and ended up putting letters reading “nothing is impossible” on the roof.
I.e., they went through a fire escape door.
As the journalist who wrote the story said, it’s hardly Honda’s live parachute jump.
And even the fact that that example of bold thinking was used (from 6 years ago) says something about the dire state of advertising today and the almost complete lack of anything resembling testicles in it.
A great friend of mine recently sent me a wonderful letter from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol, commissioning the Sticky Fingers album cover.
(Of course album cover design is now a lost art – rather like advertising creativity. The latter used to be fun and interesting – but now itâ€™s just a wasteland of lifestyle images selling interchangeable phone tariffs, family cars and face creams.)
Jagger’s approach is interesting.
On the one hand, he tells Warhol to do whatever he wants, gives him an unlimited budget and says don’t worry about any time deadlines.
So you see – if you want an iconic image that will last for generations, that’s all it takes.
Ha ha ha.
On the other hand, Jagger says “in my short, sweet experience, the more complicated the format of the album, e.g. more complex than just pages or fold-out, the more fucked-up the reproduction and agonising the delaysâ€ť.
Warhol responded by creating an album cover that relied on a functioning zip being worked into every cover to give you access to the record. I.e., he took Jaggerâ€™s restriction and deliberately rejected it.
Iâ€™m not repeating this story to make Mick Jagger look stupid.
Keefâ€™s biography from a few years back tried its best to do that.
(How can a guy who was one of the sexiest men of the last century have â€śa small cockâ€ť ? I reckon the drugs have destroyed Keefâ€™s sense of perspective. Or maybe they just gave him an exaggeratedly benevolent view of his own member.)
And for me Mick Jagger can do very little wrong. He wrote roughly 25 of my favourite songs of all time.
In his prime, he didn’t just walk on the grass. He smoked it, and wrote songs glorifying slave-traders, cocaine and serial killers.
In fact, to my mind the most objectionable thing he ever did was accept a knighthood.