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An Open Letter to OK Go

A year ago yesterday I got the e-mail about the Saatchi & Saatchi Music Video Challenge.  It took me about three days of listening to the song and letting ideas percolate to decide to go for it.  And then you wound up picking my video as one of the finalists.  That was a huge, huge deal for me.  Forget winning - to know that both you and that pretty prestigious team of judges liked it enough for it to be among the final twelve provided me enough motivation to totally uproot my life to go pursue my artistic passions.

That is the seriousness with which I take you guys as artists.  I had only gotten into you guys after I saw The Muppet Movie video.  I didn’t understand the references to your library of videos because I hadn’t seen them all yet.  So I went and watched them and came away floored.  I decided, “Well, if I like their music videos this much, I’d better listen to their music.”  All pretense of non-fandom ended after that.  I bought OK Go, Oh No, and Of the Blue Colour of the Sky in quick succession.  I watched most if not all of the behind-the-scenes videos.  I started eagerly anticipating the release of your next album, even though at the time I knew it would be a while because OTBCOTS was fairly new.

More than that, you guys inspired me.  I started drawing and painting again.  I hadn’t done theater in nearly eight years, but I dreamed up a collaborative theater project and went so far in researching it that I randomly met one of Tim’s former professors at DePaul.  I was in a place in my life where I felt pretty stuck, but you guys gave me enough of a spark of inspiration that I knew I was just waiting for the opportunity to create a piece of art and share it.

Then you dropped that opportunity in my lap.  

This is the sum of my feelings of the MVC:  every one of the sixty or so people who submitted a video is a winner, because a person has to have a metric ton of chutzpah/gumption/nerve to make a music video and submit it to your judgment.  I was petrified, because I had never animated anything in my life before that.  One of my friends had to convince me that I should still submit even if I thought it looked like low-rent Sesame Street animation.  But since it was pretty much a miracle that I managed to get the video made, I wasn’t going to put that much effort into something and then chicken out just because I was intimidated by the reputation of the band to whom I was submitting.

I have my feelings about the final judgment made in the competition, many of which can be attributed to arrogance and sore-loser-ism and thus ignored.  But some of those feelings are based in what I opened this letter with - disappointment with you as artists..

You had sixty from your legions of fans produce videos for you.  Those videos were visual representations of the inspiration we drew from you, of our imaginations and creative resources, of our respect for the art you create. I understand why there weren’t more submissions than that - that’s a lot of time, effort, and vulnerability to put into a project even before it’s judged by you.

Sixty is not a lot of people. The competition required so much so fast that the rational choice was to not do it.  Did you know that I was managing a store 40 hours a week while I pulled all-nighters drawing and painting something like 5000 individual objects?  I missed a chance to hang out with my visiting out-of-state nephews in April.  I drank so much Red Bull and coffee that I went through withdrawal like a junkie during May.  I don’t doubt that the others had similar experiences.

But I’m pretty sure you guys don’t know that sort of thing.  Because even though there were only sixty of us, as far as I know you guys never contacted anyone besides Nelson.  I mean, after the competition ended, I was disappointed that it didn’t involve you guys getting in touch whether with entrants or finalists, but I understood.  You guys are busy, right?  But here’s hoping you’ve at least kept in contact with Nelson.  He said he wanted to collaborate - have you at least reached out to the creator of the “most insanely OK Go-y video not made by OK Go of all time”?

My disappointment with you started last summer wondering whether you’d have recognized my video as the OK Go-iest video if you had known a little more about its creation.  But then as time passed, I wondered what the fruit of this competition really was for you guys besides a good advertising campaign for Saatchi & Saatchi that provides them the justification to underwrite your new album.  My disappointment became less self-focused:  you guys flubbed a huge opportunity.

OK Go is supposed to be one of the most innovative bands today.  Right?  Ultra-creative, on the cutting edge, the lead singer featured at the SXSW Brilliant Brunch and participating in the Future of Storytelling virtual roundtable.  And you have millions of fans, many of whom would willingly sell their own organs to work with you.

Yeah, you make cool shit.  

So what?  You don’t seem particularly grateful to the fans who support you so much that Chevy will pay for your music video just to momentarily get our eyeballs on them.  I know that YouTube videos don’t pay your rent, but they sure help to pay Chevy’s rent.  I’m not airing the usual gripe with bands here -  I think you’ve done what every artist has to do to build and maintain an audience, and you’ve done it in a particularly savvy way.  I don’t think you sold out.  No, I think you sold your fans out.  I think you sold our fandom to Chevy and Saatchi & Saatchi and Range Rover so that you could continue to make cool shit.

Because you sure don’t seem to have any interest in us, or what we can help you make.  Nope, the impression that I have is that you guys make art for you, and your fans are incidental bystanders whose respect for you you commoditize for the opportunity to make bigger and badder monuments to your own coolness.  

Being an OK Go fan is like watching sports, not like engaging in art.  You don’t want to engage with us as artists, you want us to watch you.   I saw how little respect Damian has for other people trying to innovate during that virtual roundtable, when he dismissed the iPad app developer who had come to him with an idea for something new.  You guys have come across as so disdainful of collaborating with your fans that it’s a wonder you’d allow us to alter your music with our videos.

But oh yeah, Saatchi & Saatchi paid for that, right?  Nothing like cold hard cash to make up for the indignity of working with your fans.

… TL;DR:  Finally with the new album already.

 

To the lady in the BMW who nearly sideswiped me off my bike while passing:

Listen, I understand it’s not comfortable to be confronted when you’ve done something wrong.  That’s why I tried to be as polite and direct as possible when I knocked on your passenger window. 

But “Well, I think you ought to move over,” is an incorrect response to what I said to you.  Come to think of it, you were so fast to interrupt me that I didn’t get to finish my sentence, so I’ll repeat it here:  I have the right to the whole lane and you need to give me three feet of clearance when you pass me on my bike.  There is literally a three foot wide green stripe painted down the road for you, so that you know I have the right to the whole lane.  There are signs down the length of the road that say “Bikers have use of the right lane.” You could not be more obviously wrong.  I don’t need to move over — you need to give me more than a few inches of clearance when you pass me.

That’s one of the two things that I was trying to let you know when I knocked on your window:  that you have the rules of the road wrong.  The other thing I was trying to let you know, and should have said before you sped off on the green light, was that you could have really hurt me.  You said, “You can’t keep up, lady.”  And if you’d waited to give me a chance to reply, instead of driving off like a coward hiding behind her two tons of steel, I’d have told you this:  You’re right.  My bike can’t keep up with cars.  But I was legally riding my vehicle down its designated thoroughfare.  You don’t get to run me down just because you think your vehicle is more special than mine. 

I might be a little angry.  I might have been knocked off my bike by a guy who opened his cab door into the bike lane without checking behind him first a few months ago.  But that’s why I follow the rules of the road when I’m on my bike.  The most surefire way to both minimize the risk to myself and to make it absolutely clear that if I get hurt, it’s the motorist who’s in the wrong, is to follow the rules of the road.  And I was polite when I checked you, even though I was surprised and mad.  You came off like an ignorant, defensive asshole who feels justified taking risks that could injure other people.  Hopefully that was just your embarrassment coming through in an ugly way and you’ll to be more mindful from this experience.  If not, I think you ought to move over.

Back to this.

So it’s been a hectic couple of months, but I finally feel ready to come back to this Tumblr.  I need to do some edits - this is quite definitely not a blog about my mural project any more.  I also went back and re-read some of my old posts, which has been a nice reminder to me about how this year has gone.  So here’s a recap:

  • I began my mural at the beginning of the year, with continued work on it and other art projects over time.
  • At the end of March I decided to enter the Saatchi & Saatchi Music Video Challenge for OK Go’s newest single I’m Not Through.
  • I spent the month of April doing two things:  managing a retail store during their biggest product launch of the year, and working on my music video, The #ScotchTape&Spit Project
  • The video was submitted in early May, and at the end of the month I was picked as one of the twelve finalists in the music video competition.  At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June, Nelson de Castro was announced as the contest winner.
  • In July I moved cross-country to San Francisco.
  • In August I got a job doing makeup and marketing for a movie production studio.
  • In September I moved to Oakland.

All in all, the music video has been the defining project of my year, because doing it inspired me to move to California and go pursue a career in something I actually want to be doing.  I wound up having to paint over my murals when I left Chicago.  I’ll have to retask the focus of this blog.

So now a piece of art that I had to teach myself to do from scratch was selected by my favorite musicians as a worthy successor to their work and featured at a world-renowned festival in Cannes, I’ve completely uprooted myself and followed my passion across the country, and I’ve landed a job in an artistic industry basically just by wanting it hard enough.

It’s been a good year.

This is the first 57 complete seconds of animation. I have found a gang of animators who are helping me out with the digital stuff, so they’re going to be putting other elements in for the story in post-production, but this is what I’ve churned out after hours of staring at grid paper and the GIMP layer toolbar.

To Tumblr, Love Pixel Union