Innovation Blues

November 19, 2009

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @NYCA 

In this world you got to use what you got. 

He thumped and whomped his two suitcases – a Samsonite floorbase and a tom-tom that had long lost its logo. His drumsticks worked every inch of a snare drum made from a transmission oil can with thick strips of black tape in the pattern of a Union Jack.  “Yeah, well, we’re Americans. Americans,” he spoke with the syncopation of a drummer who hears the beat even when he sleeps. He was jamming on a Sunday afternoon for the flip-flop crowd’s dollars. 

The rest of the drum set is comprised of a tin prison-type coffee cup and a cymbal that was formerly a garbage can. 

“Been playing these since I joined up with him six month ago.” “Him” is the coughing-croaking lead singer and steel guitar picker in the cool-daddy sunglasses. “This guitar cost me $50, parts from the junk yard, better sound than my Gibson which I have but why would I play it?” 

They were playing, answering questions about their instruments and collecting crumpled bucks from the breezy strollers at the farmer’s market. 

This wasn’t a musical performance as much as it was a study in innovation. “Lost most of what I had since the downturn in the economy,” Said the ski-capped drummer, smiling a victim’s smile of acceptance. “The economy broke into my room, took my stuff. I lost the IOU.” It was likely a gimmick but I was buying.

They made their instruments from scraps and played them for all they were worth. 

The recession may have found its troubadours. 

“I heard it’s a cruel world – I don’t buy it. The world is and we are. No meanness,”   he who is known as “Him” side-talked at me while nodding to a dollar dropper. 

“Let’s play another. I think we should play another.” The drummer tapped – more like twitched — on his garbage can. And then they broke into, “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself,” by Clapton. 

Were they good? Is that really the question? They upped the game from rhythm and acumen to resourcefulness and drama. They gave us a clue on survival, a ‘we’re-all-in-this-together’ nod of community, and showed their invention. They told a story of gumption and vision. Where some see junk others hear music. And where there’s music there’s bound to be some crumpled bills looking for a new home. That’s branding – something more than the usual song and dance to relate to, be better by.  These guys gave me a reason to stick around, to take a picture, to be involved and for that they have a brand advocate. All for replacing a drum with a broken suitcase – because they created a story that engaged me and brought my attention to what could be.  Thanks luggage drummer dude! 

And so I, and I’m sure many others, will pay for some of that. I dropped a dollar in the only suitcase that wasn’t a drum and then I applauded — me and a kid in diapers who’d been twirling enough to tell anyone he agreed with Him. If it’s a cruel world, he too, wasn’t going to let it get in the way of music.