David Byrne of the Talking Heads

I assume most of you, regardless of age, are familiar with the musical group, Talking Heads. And in particular their signature tune, Once in a Lifetime. Below are the opening lines to this pop masterpiece:

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

I bring the song up not because I’m a big fan of the band; I’m not. It came to mind because I caught myself thinking about the mundane aspects of my life (kids, dogs, stairs made of wood, the rain outside) and suddenly, for a split second, I was genuinely amazed by it. By all of it. And I had to ask myself: How did I get here? My God, I have three little girls. I’ve been married 20 years. I’ve read like a thousand books!

And then it was gone. Poof! And I continued walking up those stairs made of wood to my office at the top of our house. But that question: How did I get here?

I wrote it down. Then I Googled it. The top responses were all about the song. And why not? Cerebral and poetic, no wonder college kids adored it. The Talking Heads captured a fleeting but fine moment of our existence and put it to music. That simple. Once in a Lifetime is now forever obtainable on my Ipad. Such is the power of art.

At times, I think advertising –or whatever we’re calling it- can harness this power, capturing our humanity, or our dreams about humanity. And boom! We are spellbound. Moved.

Obviously, as with pop music and other art, this power is often diluted or corrupted. To use the parlance of drug dealers, the pure rock is stepped on over and over before it hits the streets… just enough to give us a taste.

We’ve all read and experienced how social media is diminishing the power of brands to tell stories. We all live on the surface now, surfing the evermore glossy and growing veneer. I’m not denying it. But what about those crucial moments, however fleeting, when we realize what a miracle life is? Thirty years ago a five-minute song nailed one. A few Yesterdays ago, the Beatles did so over and over in half that time. In 60 seconds, Hallmark and Apple and others have done it. What about now? Can Once in a Lifetime be done in 140 characters or less? Just a thought. Poof!

The lyrics to Once in a Lifetime.

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“You said it not me.”

Recently, I came across a list of “annoying phrases we’d like to see gone.” Unfortunately, I can’t recall who the “we” is. My apologies. Lists are ubiquitous in popular culture. Top ten. Bottom ten. And everything in between. We love our lists!

On this list I recall one phrase in particular. It happens to be a phrase I like and use and, honestly, would be sad to see go away. The phrase: “perfect storm.” For the record, a “perfect storm” is when circumstances collude forming an ideal environment for a particular event or phenomenon. The phrase is based, of course, on the best selling story of an ill-fated fishing expedition caught unawares by a terrifying storm.

I like this phrase. Adore it even. So I was saddened to discover it on a list of things we can do without. To me the perfect storm is an edgy, poetic and timely way to make a certain point. Or at least it was!

Funny, I can’t recall any other phrase or expression that was on this list. But there is one I wish was: the hackneyed summation clause, “at the end of the day.”

I once had a boss (who shall remain nameless) that used this expression every time she spoke. It drove me bonkers. I became obsessed. In meetings, I would wait apprehensively for her to utter those words. I did not have to wait long. At the end of every comment she said it: at the end of the day. She was like a parrot: Bawk! At the end of the day! Bawk! At the end of the day!

Granted, part of my problem was with the messenger. But to coin another hackneyed phrase, What are you going to do?

I bring all this up because advertising copy often employs, and sometimes even introduces, such phrases into the lexicon. I was part of the team who launched “Not your father’s Oldsmobile.” A week doesn’t go by where I don’t see a variation of this line. Has it worn out it’s welcome too?

I make it a point to avoid such catch phrases. I once thought they implied ignorance in the user. I’m not so sure anymore. I know plenty of very smart people who are stuck on certain statements. We all know people who overuse words like “like” and “you know.” Just as pervasive are the adverbs “basically” and “frankly.” I tend to think we use these banal terms to buy time when we’re speaking, like, you know, to get our thoughts in order. I also notice people applying them when they’re speaking to an audience, when such quirks are least desirable. Unfortunately, nervousness tends to breed the use of clichés. We get anxious. We want to say just the right thing. And we can’t. The perfect storm.

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