Too much of a good thing?

Last Sunday, I read a story in the New York Times Magazine about a woman who had become obsessed with an obscure songwriter and producer from the 1960’s, Curt Boettcher. It’s an interesting story. A classic tale of a talented artist that almost became famous. But for the writer, Alexandra Molotkow it was Boettcher’s obscurity that fueled her obsession with him and in turn with another writer who was also obsessed with Boettcher, Dawn Eden. Eden actually did become famous, first as a rock historian and then as a born again dogmatist.

As fascinating as the story and the people in it are it is the theme of obsession that I’m left with. This short article is shot through with it. Boettcher, Eden and Molotkow were all obsessed with different but related things (music, fame, destiny and even God) propelling them forward into life and in Boettcher’s case, death.

The object of obsession, Curt Boettcher

Teen-agers and myriad other types throw around the term obsession, expressing devotion to a person, place or thing. For example: “I’m obsessed with Pretty Little Liars!” Or “I’m obsessed with Sprinkles cupcakes!” It comes and goes. The word obsession is like the word awesome. Played.

Obsessions like those in the NYT magazine piece are fairly named. They altered the lives of the people obsessed. They became all encompassing, driving forces. Perhaps because I have an addictive personality, I find these stronger affectations deeply interesting. I have become obsessed with malignant things (alcohol) and benign (leather jackets). For better and for worse, these obsessions have indelibly altered my life.


Advertisers take note of obsessions; indeed they can become obsessed by them. After all, a person obsessed with a product or service is one hell of a customer. Whether she is a collector of toys (Beanie Babies) or a fanatic about a professional football team (Cheese Heads), these obsessed people are customers for life, often spending good money after bad living it.

I wonder if that’s bad. Most religions and many spiritual teachers tell us that craving material possessions is wrong. As we all learn soon enough, ‘you can’t take it with you.’ True serenity, it is said, comes only when we “let go” of materialism and “selfish pursuits” and open ourselves up to a “higher calling.”

I won’t argue the point. Yet, as we are not saints, it seems impossible for most, if not all of us, to let go completely. Hobbies, collections, habits are part of the human condition. We can’t help ourselves. Fishermen always buy more tackle than they need. Women own more shoes than they require. I can only wear one leather jacket. I have twelve.

Pathology or Perfecto?

People get “need” and “want” all mixed up. One becomes the other. Obviously, there is a difference between hording and collecting, addiction and passion. But just how big a difference?

As a copywriter, I’ve always wondered what magic combination of words and pictures I might conjure that could trigger obsession. I’m not sure any one thing can. But certainly our contributions can provide fuel. I saw for myself what a handful of “curiously strong” posters did for Altoids. It took more than one TV commercial (“1984”) to create the cult of Apple but few doubt it wasn’t a catalyst.

The rise of the cult of Apple…

This is the power I love and at times loathe about our craft. When done to perfection it is witchcraft. As is written in the header to this blog, We make you want what you don’t need. Word.

photo copy 13

It all started when I thought I’d lost my beloved leather bomber jacket. I’d bought the coat from a vintage store in Hollywood while there on a shoot. (That’s me wearing it behind the camera, checking out the composition of a shot.) I would later find my coat but by then it was too late. My addictive personality had been ignited…

I began scouring Ebay for other, even better examples of old leather jackets. Searching for anternatives to my vintage Vietnam flight jacket opened a closet door inside my head that would require serious filling. Though I quickly found a suitable replacement, I could not let go my desire for more. Like all obsessions or addictions, there is both an upside (something new and exciting) and a downside (the inability to stop). Since I am still enjoying the high with minimal consequences I want to focus on the upside.

There’s something about a leather jacket. It speaks to me. I think of Marlon Brando, who made the biker jacket iconic in The Wild One. Strangely, I don’t recall ever seeing the movie (my bad) but I saw him. And I saw that jacket. I think every man born in the 20th century did. Him and it became truly iconic.


Still, it wasn’t until I explored replacing my brown bomber that the category (especially biker jackets) truly infatuated me. Interestingly, I grew up watching Happy Days on TV and Fonzie’s leather jacket (also iconic) did nothing for me, perhaps because I saw Arthur Fonzerelli as more of a buffoon than a man to be admired.

Again, here nor there, because a more personal experience did me in. Upon receiving my replacement leather I also became turned on. The feel of distressed, busted-up material, its grain and fortitude, it’s suppleness in spots, made me think of the story behind it. Who wore this jacket? What kind of man was he? Like all romantics, I imagined only the best. The owner(s) of this jacket was a true man, a badass with a rogue’s spirit. I imagined the pack of cigarettes in his pocket and motorcycle keys dangling by his side. I saw in him (and it) the man, for better and for worse, I could never be. Damn my self-awareness!

I also discovered that the brown bomber jacket, as cool as it is, has nothing on the black motorcycle jacket. Not to disrespect the brave men and women who fought in our wars but here was perfection. Like the Fender Stratocaster, nothing says original American awesomeness like a black motorcycle jacket.

A man and his Perfecto…

The perfect example was and is the Schott Perfecto. For those unawares, the Schott Brothers were Russian immigrants (like my great grandfather), who started a company in 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. Originally, they sold only raincoats but in 1928, they began producing biker jackets. Motor power was all the rage on American roadways and these feisty immigrants were all over it. Selling for $5.50 the Perfecto made its debut (fittingly) at a Long Island Harley Davidson dealership.

By the 1950’s (in part due to Marlon Brando’s break out role), the “modern” Perfecto was born. Embraced by the likes of James Dean (who seldom was seen without one) and rejected by high school principals everywhere, the Schott Perfecto became a symbol for rebellion, machismo and coolness.

Quoting from their website, by the 1970’s “Schott became synonymous with the punk rock movement. The current wave of rebellion came to the streets of downtown New York City through underground music venue, CBGB. The Schott Perfecto® was the uniform for rock stars like The Ramones, Blondie, Joan Jett and The Sex Pistols.”

The Ramones. Shaggy but oh so cool…

Oddly, when I was a teen-ager I did not own one. The 50’s seemed goofy to me (see Happy Days) and besides, I had the fashion sense of a nematode.

Ah, but what I wouldn’t give now for a 50’s era Perfecto. What few are available are either in terrible shape or can be had for two grand or more on the Japanese market. Thank God the Japanese are conspicuously smaller than we robust Americans or I’d likely have bought one. I have however found several fine examples from the 70’s and 80’s (far less expensive) and they now adorn a rolling rack in my garage.

photo copy 11

I lovingly washed and restored each one of them, replacing a star here and a belt there, careful not to diminish their character and patina. To learn how to care for these gems I made friends with leather craftsmen, like Al’s Attire in North Beach or my man, Misak at Tony’s Luggage & Repair in Mill Valley. I researched the brand. I became part of the Schott community, asking questions on their website, requesting hardware and advice. In short, I fell in love.

And now, almost every chilly San Francisco morning, I choose one and make my way into the world. For though I am a father and a copywriter, when I put on a black leather jacket I am Perfecto.