"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 16 July 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Song of Myself



Way back when Dick Clark was

still in the early stages of

fossilization, the relationship

between rock star and fan was a

relatively simple one. The star

lurched along in an abstract

haze of decadence out of which

he'd occasionally shake himself

thoroughly enough to wax a

record or perform a live show,

perhaps under the prodding of a

Svengali-like manager or with

the help of a blood

transfusionist. The fan was

content to buy the disc in a

mom-and-pop record shop and

maybe lay down a few dollars for

a concert ticket. (If the fan

was particularly ambitious,

looked passable in a tank top,

or appreciated the erotic

possibilities of marine life,

some post-show interaction might

take place).


But as was demonstrated last

month by Christie's auction of

100 of Eric Clapton's guitars,

there's an ever-growing number

of ways to get one's own

personal piece of the rock. And

there are plenty of market-flush

fans willing to shell out for

the privilege. The most

pedestrian of the somnambulant,

six-string deity's axes

commanded five-figure bids,

while the Fender Strat he used

to record the grating signature

riff from "Layla" was snatched

up by an anonymous buyer for

nearly half a mil.


Not everyone has that kind of

money, of course. So for a mere

five grand, the Rock 'n' Roll

Fantasy Camp (now apparently on

hiatus) offered baby boomers the

chance to kick out the jams with

a cast of B-list rock dinosaurs

like Rick Derringer and

Mountain's Leslie West. (Aging

air guitarists for whom

"Derringer Is God" never quite

caught on are reminded that you

get what you pay for.) A mere

two years after David Bowie made

an asset of himself by issuing

interest-bearing bonds

representing a piece of his

future action, the


turned-savvy-profiteer appears

to be only the best mind in a

growing pop-marketing brain




With this kind of creative

marketing at work in the rock

world and with the Internet's

unprecedented potential to build

a line of communication between

fan and star, it was only a

matter of time before someone

came up with the plan recently

hatched by Pat Dinizio, the

front man and chief songwriter

for pop hit makers the

Smithereens. Dinizio's pitch:

Send me some lyrics, and I'll

use them to write a finished

song. He'll then record a demo

of the tune in his New Jersey

home studio and send it to the

collaborator for his or her

private use — all for the

special introductory offer of

US$350. Interested parties can

apply via Dinizio's Web site,

where they can choose from a

menu of styles that includes

rock, hip-hop, folk, indie rock,

disco, experimental, and



Dinizio says he got the idea from

old-school, fly-by-night

businesses that used to offer to

set poems to music, generally

with promises of imminent

stardom. But clearly he's gone

them one better. After all, the

Smithereens have a string of

radio hits under their belts.

Dinizio is a bona fide pop

personality with his own

personal brand. And for an

outsourced age in which everyone

but Bill Gates and the president

will soon be a freelancer,

Dinizio's concept seems like

more than just a desperate bid

by an aging rocker more likely

to show up on Fishing with John

than the Soundscan Top 20. His

mass-customized song service

may well be the harbinger of a

brave new industry — the

personal jingle.


Think about it. If you're going

to break open the piggy bank for

a professionally crafted song,

do you want to blow it all on an

up-tempo ballad to your current

pillow warmer? Or do you want

to spend it on a melodic

monument to the only person

who's ever really meant anything

to you? Personal-branding guru

Tom Peters' advice to "create

your own micro-equivalent of

the Nike swoosh" may have seemed

like a labored joke at first,

but in the last few years,

countless self-incorporated

CEOs have come to see the wisdom

of this mantra. So what

better way is there to

sum up your most attractive,

marketable qualities than in one

snappy, hummable package? If it

worked for Band-Aids and Oscar

Mayer, it can work for you.

Imagine the buzz one might

create around the water cooler

— or better yet, in a job

interview or performance review

— with a catchy musical

sound bite, touting one's solid

interpersonal skills,

understanding of the importance

of team play, or deft hand with

a spreadsheet. Considering how

many unforgettable local- radio

jingles have been crafted from

unpromising thematic material

("We will not knowingly be

undersold!"), even lyricists

with modest skill sets could

furnish material for some top-

flight promotional tunes.



As synchronicity would have it,

the perfect medium for such a

presentation is just now

surfacing —

credit-card-shaped mini-disks

that, passed out like business

cards, can be popped into a

computer's CD drive, where they

self-launch into a multimedia

presentation. Heck, with one of

these babies, you could even

do up your résumé as

an MTV-style interstitial

ad, complete with an

autobiographical storyboard and

flashes of semi-frontal nudity.


If, as we predict they will,

other artists start hopping on

Dinizio's bandwagon, the choice

of a composer might ultimately

become an element of your

personal brand, much like

the font on your résumé

or the outfit you

wear to an interview.

Looking for a graphic design job

at an edgy Gen-X webzine?

Commission a post-ironic dirge

by Pavement's Steve Malkmus.

Want to stress the search-and-

destroy aggression you'll bring

to a career in options trading?

A mini-epic by Metallica's

James Hetfield ought to fit the

bill. Or, for an editorial

assistantship at a publisher of

womanist self-help books, might

we suggest something by Sarah



A personal theme penned by a

McLachan, a Hetfield, or another

songsmith with such a valued

brand might seem an unrealistic

goal. But as Elton John's recent

money problems show, even the

most luminous stars are subject

to occasional cash flow

troubles. And in a world where a

Strat rescued from the back of

Clapton's closet can fetch

$500 K, why wouldn't a budding

titan of industry dole out an

equally hefty sum for an

original Elton John jingle

touting his or her business

savvy? Where status is

concerned, it's better than

having a Picasso.



Those wanting the imprimatur of a

classic brand but without the

wherewithal to commission such

an original could take a page

out of the big guys' book and

skip the custom jingle in favor

of licensing a classic-rock hit

conveying the appropriate

message. If you're looking for a

job as, say, an insurance claims

rep and you want to emphasize

your stolid dependability, why

couldn't Bob Seger's "Like a

Rock" do for you what it did for

Chevy trucks?


Not that the business world

offers the personal jingle's

only potential application.

Think of the impact it might

have when trying to pick someone

up in a bar or in proposing

marriage. And imagine the joys

of a coming millennium in which

people burst into song at

opportune moments, like in the

movie musicals of yore or an

episode of Cop Rock.


It's not just the consumer who'll

benefit. Adrift and alienated in

an era of record-business

consolidation, songwriters

will have a way to

bypass multinational media

conglomerates and get their

music directly to the people.

(Is it mere coincidence that the

Smithereens' label was just

snapped up by Koch

International?) In a brilliant

one-two punch of personal

branding, they'll be building

their own brands even as they

pump up their clients'.


Granted, the $350 Dinizio is

commanding is a mere shadow of

what he might get for licensing,

say, "Behind the Wall of Sleep"

to Sealy Posturepedic. But give

it time.

courtesy of Poor Richard

[Purchase the Suck Book here]