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This week: what Alabama means, why Ringo matters, and how to sell a Da Vinci.
STARS FELL ON ALABAMA
Yes, it shouldn't be good news that a child molester lost a very close race, but that's where we are, and the good news is that Trump has people fired up and partisanship does not count for absolutely everything. Credit goes to African-American Alabamians for kicking ass at the ballot box, and also to the minority of white voters - mainly women - who overcame their antipathy to Democrats, and social pressure, and either voted for Jones or stayed home. In that spirit, watch this video and be sure to read the letter below. It shows an Alabama peanut farmer who is a religious conservative, who can't pronounce 'pervert' and who sent his daughter to hospital to have her homosexuality fixed. Yet by the end of it you'll be admiring his dignity and the fact that he has a superior grasp of the constitution to his current president (you may also be tearing up). Speaking of the president, Trump's tweet was obviously written by an aide: it was correctly spelt and punctuated, its tone was restrained, it even gestured towards magnanimity, although the reference to write-in votes was authentically grudging. Then there was that kicker: "It never ends!" I like to think it emanated from his utter bafflement at having to deal with political setbacks. When he won the presidency he thought that was the end of politics. He thought everyone would do as he said or get out of his way now, because presidents do what they want, right? No. Politics goes on, checks and balances go on, the rule of law goes on. I don't know about never, but, despite our worst fears of a year ago, the republic isn't ending any time soon.
In the late 1800s, James Todd, a Yale-educated white man, was part of elite American society: a scientist, explorer, and guest at the White House. But in Brooklyn, he was a black man: a railway porter who lived with his black wife and children.
I'm always intrigued by musicians who aren't the most technically skilled but who somehow manage to do something with their instrument that nobody else can do. In this category I'd put Ringo, who, as this enjoyable piece argues, has long been underrated, though maybe less so now people are starting to catch up with just how important he was to The Beatles. One of the reasons for Ringo's talents being overlooked was his persona as a lucky naif who just kind of tagged along with the others ('...and Ringo'), when in fact it was probably his personality that glued those fissile personalities together. Another factor is that, post-Beatles, rock developed in ways that led to an over-valuation of virtuosity at the expense of taste. Ringo never thought of himself as a virtuoso drummer, or cared to be one. But listen to that dragging, druggy beat on Ticket to Ride, or the ghostly shudders that punctuate the verses of A Day In The Life, and you realise what a high contribution he made to the band's greatest songs. And as the article above argues, he was crucial to the originality and energy of the early Beatles. I recently came across this really fascinating video of Ringo explaining how he played some of the great songs. As often happens with artists, his distinctive sound stemmed from his attempts to overcome a flaw or quirk - he was a left-hander playing right-handed kit. There's something beautifully, inimitably human about that. (If you want more on Ringo, read this lovely anecdote about him and John and "Don't Let Me Down", told by Rob Sheffield).
DA VINCI BRANDING
I mentioned the story behind the Da Vinci sale a couple of weeks back and was so taken by it that I wrote a piece for Campaign (the ad industry journal) about what it tells us about how marketing works (gated but you can read it if you paste the link into Incognito).
It was only when a friend wondered why I hadn't answered the email she sent in reply to this newsletter that I realised TinyLetter stores email replies in a kind of quarantine zone I need to go and visit. When I did so I saw that some of you sent some lovely notes over the several weeks - so I just want to say sorry I haven't replied, and thank you.
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