Monday, March 2

The Neverending Search For Reasons To Wake Up

I'VE been watching Simon Schama's 15-part History of Britain on videotape--well, first I was watching it; lately I've been scanning it to locate the missing Elizabethans, who may have got bolloxed up in a tape switch or something--and I shut that down last night to find the teevee was tuned to one of the VH-1 henchnetworks, which was playing a retrospective of The Who. This would have been my signal to change the channel immediately, but for two things: first, the remote is on the fritz, and chose that moment to add "channel selection" to the list of things it was refusing to do; and, second, the surviving members were busily engaged at that moment in trashing the corpse of John Entwistle for his "sordid" exit (Vegas, Hard Rock hotel, coke, stripper). That is, the inventors of Rock-Star Excess were sneering at his death as unbecoming. Let us rise to his defense, then, if for no other reason than--so far as we are aware--the man never wore a jumpsuit, or fringe, onstage.

The worst thing, though, about any sort of Who retrospective that features band co-operation is the certainty that Pete Townshend will talk.

Now let's note here that I was what is now called an "early adapter" of The Who, whose first appearance in America, so far as I know, was on tape from some British pop show or other that was picked up by Shindig. It was the Keith Moon Bullseye Sweatshirt era, and, of course, you couldn't take your eyes off Moonie. These guys were serious; they were The Kinks without the fopish Edwardian duds. I was, and am, a huge fan of their mid-60s Top 40 output--"Pictures of Lilly", "Substitute", "I Can See For Miles"--which didn't chart all that well in the US, and were more or less ignored by my Herman's Hermits-fan grade-school compatriots. I routinely ripped open fingers and bled all over various parents' garage floors trying to evoke Townshend's guitar gymnastics. Then they released Tommy.

Now, I'm fifty-five, and I'm still not exactly sure what "pretentious" means, but whatever my fifteen-year-old take was, Tommy was its four-sided avatar. Plus they'd been smashing their instruments at the end of every set for four solid years at this point, passing not just from sensation to beyond boredom, but perpetrating this carnage while I had to connive and grandstand just to get a guitar, and save the proceeds of three years of summer jobs to pay for a decent practice amp. Around then Townshend started talking, and never shut up. And most of it was at the service of the idea that he, Pete Townshend, was the world's leading rock star intellectual, just in case you'd missed it from the world's leading rock star intellectual lyrics he wrote, and High Concepts he highly concepted, and the rest of it was how the secret to World Harmony--which was very popular in those days--was the teachings of some guru who'd maintained a forty-year vow of silence, or something, which Townshend chose not to emulate.

Then, just to confound me, he made the greatest classic rock album evah, Who's Next.

Y'know, I like to think of myself as a man who tries to be open-minded; I understand why Pete Townshend would want to quit writing three-minute pop gems and start writing turgid rock "operas". I just happen to believe, personally, that it was a bad idea. This does not mean I believe he'd have kept on producing three-minute pop gems otherwise. I understand that there may be people out there who haven't heard enough from him, or who missed their first 14,728 opportunities. I even understand why VH-1 has henchnetworks. What I can't fathom is who th' fuck demanded 2500 words on the bewitching enigma that is Marissa Mayer, the woman who "controls the look, feel and functionality of " Da Google. As such she is "one of the company’s most ubiquitous and closely watched public faces". But that's not All:

• Employee No. 20, the company's first female employee.

• A popular guest on TV news programs and talk shows, a Google-booster often quoted in print, and a rapid-fire presence on San Francisco’s social scene.

• She has invited attention — and in some cases, derision — in the last year for such actions as creating spreadsheets to find the perfect cupcake recipe, attending lavish ballet, art and fashion galas, paying $60,000 at a charity auction to have lunch with Oscar de la Renta, and hosting breezy, dying-to-get-invited-to parties at her $5 million penthouse atop the Four Seasons hotel in San Francisco.

• Refuses to be stereotyped.

• Almost every new feature or design, from the wording on a Google page to the color of a Google toolbar, must pass muster with her or legions of Google users will never see it.

• She adore(s) bold blocks of color against a white background, much like the Marimekko prints that once hung in her childhood home in Wausau, Wis. Her San Francisco penthouse has a similar, but more expensive, aesthetic. It is painted in neutral shades and decorated with fanciful, multihued glass artwork by Dale Chihuly.

• In meetings with subordinates, Ms. Mayer comes across as a zealous copy editor or meticulous art teacher correcting first-semester students. With so many new recruits, she reasons, someone has to teach them how Google does things.

• Her Solomonic, split-the-difference decision between the design team's choice of blue and the corporate brain-probers' preference for green showed her reliance on her gut, but she prefers to "rel[y] on charts, graphs and quantitative analysis as a foundation for a decision, particularly when it comes to evaluating people."

• She ultimately ordered further animal testing on 41 gradations of blue-green to determine consumer preference.

• She responds to co-workers who use "pregame" as a verb.

• Still, students of Google’s culture wonder whether Ms. Mayer and her management style would flourish outside the insulated world where her tenacity and curiosity mirror the company itself. “She clearly has what it takes to be a great manager at Google, but I don’t know if that translates into being a great manager at Hasbro,” said John Battelle, author of “The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture.” With any luck, that's another 2500 words.

• She says she is vexed by how some perceive her. “I am not a girl about town,” she says. “It isn’t how I project myself. It is how other people choose to project me.”

• She doesn't like odd numbers. She does like shopping and fashion, and isn't going to stop just because people don't like that, according to a friend.

• Noted in a Web interview that her gay friends demanded invitations to her women-only “Sex and the City” movie screening and birthday party. She relented, meaning they too got to enjoy the hors d'oeuvres and the fabulous shoe cam.

I'm sorry,'s a fookin' search engine, right? And this woman is its Stanford-educated snooty mâitre-d', who single-handedly defends its white homepage against rampaging barbarian hordes? And the eleven-inch tall, three-column wide pic that accompanied all 2500 of those hang-on-every-word words graced the front page of The Paper of Record, The New York Times Sunday Business section, correct? So how th' hell can this country be in trouble?


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

WTF is a stade?

Kathy said...

She's rich. You can't get more interesting than that, unless your're an English Royal.

Augustus Mulliner said...

Point taken on Townshend -- OK, OK, so he turned out to be Norman Mailer with a Fender. But I figure Mailer pretty much earned a plenary indulgence for pontificating with Armies of the Night and Siege of Chicago alone, and I'm inclined to cut Townsend the same break just for Baba O'Reilly.

John deVille said...

@the first Anon comment: Is that you Marissa -- should Doghouse dump the baseball pix or what?

For my money, the man's design sensibilities rock. And you're missing the DIY aesthetic of samizdat which using off-the-shelf "themes" would totally defeat. Plus, no animals were harmed, no designer egos were massaged in the process.

What's not to like?

Brendan said...

Grousing about the pretentiousness of rock stars is about as worthwhile as railing at the hypocrisy of Republicans.

Which is not to say that I don't enjoy watching you do it.

yellojkt said...

I like white backgounds. They are so much more discreet when I surf at work. Hint, hint.

R. Porrofatto said...

Thank you. I thought Townshend tried just a wee bit too hard to be the Anti-McCartney, but the marketing sure paid off. (In my parts, the formulaic equipment demolition was known as "a Who act.") Like you, my fingers bled a lot trying to emulate rock icons like Hendrix and Clapton; it was when I got to Wes Montgomery that I realized the world didn't need another pseudo-guitarist and my fingers healed.

Reading that article, I was surprised to learn that the Google page has a design, no less a vigilant and fashionable Cerberus to guard it. One hopes they focus a little more on how the usefulness of Google is being overtaken by its revenue channels, as even arcane searches first turn up pages of vendors trying to sell you the thing you're looking for.

Anonymous said...

Behind Blue Eyes.

'nuff said.


cleter said...

Reading the description of Mrs Google, I kept picturing Margaret DuMont from the Marx Brothers movies.

And hey, I like Tommy. What rock lyricist isn't a pompous ass, really. You should be thankful you were trapped with Pete Townshend and not that awful Rock of Love jackass.