Thursday, October 28, 2010


It’s all in the marketing.

The McRib has got to be one of the most successful failures of all time. And it is back, for a limited time.

The McRib being available only for a limited time is why it is so successful. McDonald’s gives you the right to have it, but only occasionally. So we must eat as many of them as possible when we have the chance.

The McRib debuted on McDonald’s menus in 1981. It sold ok, but not great. It was not worth keeping around full time. But the people that liked it, really liked it.

So they brought it back, only to take it away again. And this has gone on ever since, like some cruel joke.

The very first McDonald's Executive Chef came up with McRib after eating pulled pork in Charleston, SC. Would just making this a round sandwich make more sense? Well sure, but what is the fun in that. A sandwich that looks like a rack of ribs, but of course has no ribs, now that’s something. It is also not really rib meat, but shoulder meat. But if you are a fan, you are probably not a stickler on those details.

The sandwich came back strong as a promotion for the Flintstones movie in 1994. In 2005, McDonald’s had a farewell tour, followed by another, along with a campaign to save the sandwich. “The McRib was like the Who,” says McDonald’s Head Chef Dan Coudreaut.

There has also been a campaign to help the “Boneless Pig Farmers Association of America.”

People who have had to wait for McDonald’s to oblige nationally, have banded together to help each other out. There is a McRib locator website ( If you have seen a McRib, please go to this website and type in when and where. It is kind of like spotting a UFO, only a little less scary.

The Simpson’s even had a takeoff on the cult status of the sandwich. Homer followed the Ribwich (made by Krusty Burger of course) all around the country. He had to stop when the animal that was used for the Ribwich became extinct.

McDonald’s is cooperating again starting November 2nd. For the first time since 1994, the sandwich will be available nationwide. No more following it around like a Deadhead in order to get your fix. For 6 glorious weeks, it is ours, as long as you have a McDonald’s in your area. And if you do not, how are you reading this online article?

Is marketing not important? Remember the MCDLT? It didn’t last long. The “hot side hot and the cool side cool,” just seemed like too much work I guess. Now, remember the Big & Tasty? Same sandwich, far more successful. Different packaging.

That very first executive chef for McDonald’s that invented the McRib, is named Rene Arend. Just 1 year earlier, in 1980, he had introduced the world to the McNugget.

Rene Arend deserves to be a household name.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Running Over The Same Old Ground

"Won't you miss me? Wouldn't you miss me at all?"  -Syd Barrett (Dark Globe)

Pink Floyd, as many bands do, started as a group of friends.  Four university students formed the band in 1965.  Member Syd Barrett would give them their name, as well as their early identity.  Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Pete Townsend would all become fans for Barrett's unique guitar playing and songwriting.   

Just 2 years later, Barrett's career would be close to over.  Another guitarist would join the band that would help make them one of the most celebrated of all time. 

David Gilmour was a friend of Syd Barrett.  The two were known to perform together during lunchtimes at school; one on guitar and one on harmonica.  The two would later hitch-hike through the south of France together.  Busking to make just enough money to get back home.  They were close.  Apparently it was easy to like Syd.  He was friendly; strikingly so.

"In a period when everyone was being cool in a very adolescent, self-conscious way, Syd was unfashionably outgoing; my enduring memory of our first encounter is the fact that he bothered to come up and introduce himself to me."
-Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason

Outgoing is not how most now think of Syd Barrett.  Barrett would within a short peroid of time become a recluse.  He would be the J.D. Salinger of rock music.

Barrett was the lead guitarist, main songwriter and lead vocalist for a band gathering success very quickly. But just as quickly, his friends' saw stark changes in Barrett.

"I just don't think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it." -David Gilmour

Barrett would begin doing drugs. A lot of drugs. But the story is not as simple as a junkie who threw away success. Most believe Barrett was schizophrenic. He might also have been bi-polar. Mental illness was just not diagnosed or treated properly at the time.

Gilmour joined the band to perform when Barrett was unable. At times, Barrett would just strum one chord for an entire performance. Gilmour would sometimes play Barrett's guitar parts on stage while Barrett watched from the audience. The breakup of Barrett with the rest of the band was not that messy, because Barrett seemed too far gone to care. One day, they simply decided not to pick him up. Gilmour was now the official lead guitarist.

If this had never happened, it is quite likely you would have never heard of Pink Floyd. Gilmour's voice and guitar playing proved vital to the critical and commercial success of later Pink Floyd. It also made Roger Waters take over as main songwriter; something Barrett had taken care of previously.

Believing the drugs served as a catalyst, Gilmour still believes Barrett would not have escaped the illness. "In my opinion, his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway. It was a deep-rooted thing."

"It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here. 
And I’m much obliged to you for making it clear.  That I’m not here."  - Syd Barrett  (Jugband Blues. Barrett's last Pink Floyd song)

Instead of being a rock footnote, Barrett is a rock icon. He is a legend. Instead of ignoring him, as other bands had early members, Pink Floyd tried their hardest to keep Barrett viable. They succeeded far better than Barrett could himself. This is to the credit of the band that fired him, and mostly the person who replaced him.

Barrett would release 2 solo albums after parting with Pink Floyd.  Most of the songs had previously been written, before his mental collapse.

Waters and Gilmour would both receive producing credits on the first album.  Gilmour would produce the 2nd and even play bass for Barrett.  Floyd member Richard Wright would also lend a hand.

Few people can relate to replacing one of your best friends in their work.  Gilmour would become rich and famous doing so.   

"Now there's a look in your eyes.  Like black holes in the skies." -Pink Floyd  (Shine On You Crazy Diamond)

Floyd would have their music as catharsis.  They would pay tribute to their friend often.  The album "Wish You Were Here" being a tribute to their friend.  Famously, during the recording of the song "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (about Barrett), Barrett showed up at Abbey Roads Studios.  Barrett had put on weight and shaved his head and eyebrows.  The band did not at first recognize him.  While quiet for most of the recording, Barrett did at one point begin brushing his teeth by holding the brush still and jumping up and down.  Waters would ask Barrett what he thought of the song.  Barrett replied, "it sounds old."  He would leave soon after.  None of the members of Pink Floyd would ever see him again.

(Barrett at Abbey Road Studios 1975)

Barrett lived with his mother for the rest of his life.  He worked as a part-time gardener; living mostly off the residuals from Pink Floyd (he sold away his solo rights).  Gilmour made sure Barrett received his money.

Barrett died of Pancreatic Cancer in 2006.  The occupation on his death certificate read "retired musician."

In Barrett's abscence, Pink Floyd would become one of the most successful bands of all time.  They would also famously fued for years.  Waters and the rest of the band would be tied up in lawsuits against each other that would not be settled for about 20 years.  But they always seemed to see eye to eye concening their old friend.  The classic lineup of Mason, Wright, Waters and Gilmour would reunite for one last short set in 2006, for Live 8.  They payed tribute to Barrett, as they so often did.

According to his sister, Barrett spent much of his last years painting. She says he even wrote a book about painting, but never attempted to have it published. "He found his own mind so absorbing, that he didn't want to be distracted."

Nov 9th will see the release of "An Introduction To Syd Barrett," containing his best work with Floyd as well as his solo albums.

David Gilmour is Executive Producer.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Orson Welles: Unfinished Genius

“I think I made essentially a mistake, in staying in movies. But it’s a mistake I can’t regret because it’s like saying, ‘I shouldn’t have stayed married to that woman. But I did, because I love her.’”
-Orson Welles

I would argue Welles was never diminished in his old age. He was just too talented. Even when he did things some felt were beneath him, I think it is respectful to do what you have to for your art. Welles could have been a wealthy man we would assume. But he never was, precisely because the only thing he made money to do, was to keep making movies.

It is tragic he never was able to finish most of these projects for lack of funding. The Saw franchise is about to release its 7th film, yet Hollywood deemed Welles to be unbankable. Maybe it says less about the studios than it does about the general movie going public in general. But of course Welles is not without fault. If he had only been a better businessman, some of this work would have surely been seen. If he had only been more self-effacing when attempting to schmooze financiers.

The number of uncompleted Welles’ projects are about as long a list as the completed list.

Heart Of Darkness:  A screenplay is complete that is probably the most camera specific one Welles ever wrote.  Welles desired for this to be his first film, but the cost of his vision would have been well over 1 million dollars to shoot at the time.  A version using Welles' script seems a much more worthy project for a director to tackle, than the remake of Hitchock's, Psycho, for example.

The Other Side Of The Wind:  98% complete. Welles had to gain financing from two Iranian Sheiks. Somehow, this proves to be a mistake and the film is tied up in legal issues for years. It has still not been released, save for a couple of scenes. Filmmaker and Welles’ friend, Peter Bogdonavich vows to have it released, through Showtime.

The Deep: Welles hoped the success of this more commercial film, would give him the money to finish other projects. But while mostly finished, it had to eventually be abandoned, as its star, Laurence Harvey, died before Welles could finish. The same source material would be used later in the film, Dead Calm.

Moby Dick: 22 minutes are known to exist of Welles reading all parts from the novel. He had years earlier done a stage play of Moby Dick.

The Merchant Of Venice:  Much work was completed, but 2 of 3 reels of audio were stolen.  Welles would redo the famous Shylock monologue in the Arizona Dessert, wearing a trench coat.  The emotion he gathers while standing perfectly still, is amazing.

Don Quixote:  Arguably the film project most dear to Welles' heart.  Welles would have the two main characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, stuck in the modern age.  Financial support was a struggle from the beginning, causing various starts and stops.  One role had to be cut, as the young actress had grown up before shooting her part was finished.  having begun in 1955, Welles was still attempting to complete the film at the time of his death, in 1985.

Despite his failure to reach the masses at the time, Welles’ struggle to continue working shows a true nobility.

He starred in commercials, with that brilliant voice of his he was more sought after for saying “We serve no wine before its time,” than his version of Shakespeare or Conrad or Kafka. He famously pointed out to a director for an ad about frozen peas, that the copy he was to read did not make sense.
"That's just idiotic, if you'll forgive my saying so."

The Brain character on the animated “Pinky and The Brain” cartoon sounded like and was an homage of sorts to Welles. I actually think he would have liked it. The man had a sense of humor.

One of his uncompleted works is him dressing up in multiple costumes, playing multiple parts, even women. Another is a skit that has tailors measuring his renowned circumference and making snide comments.

Yet he never abandoned his serious work. The Other Side Of The Wind was surely not going to be an easy film. The Deep, while more commercial, was never going to be as accessible as Speed or any other standard action film. It would have surely been a better film of course.

George Lucas is a good business man that has produced numerous good films. He has not directed a classic since 1977. He is worth by some accounts 5 billion dollars, because he knew about money and how to raise it and what to demand more than Welles.

Orson Welles was one of our greatest actors, directors, an accomplished screenwriter, radio legend, and stage director.

He never saw one of his films turn a profit while he was alive.

He died alone in 1985. Still trying to edit together The Other Side Of the Wind. But is this a sad way to go out? Might it be noble? As Welles’ historian David Tomson wrote, “real sadness is being worth 5 bn and not knowing what to do with it.”

Me and Orson Welles a film directed by Welles’ fan Richard Linklater, was released in late 2009 to very positive reviews. Budgeted at 25 million dollars, the film has grossed about 1.2 million.

The Other Side Of The Wind remains tied up in legal entanglements.

In 2011, George Lucas will release The Phantom Menace, in 3-D.

"I would have been more successful if I had left movies immediately. Stayed in the theater, gone into politics, written; anything. I’ve wasted a greater part of my life looking for money and trying to get along. Trying to make my work from this terribly expensive paintbox, which is a movie. And I’ve spend too much energy on things that have nothing to do with making a movie. It’s about 2 percent movie making and 98 percent hustling. It’s no way to spend a life.”

“Hearts of Darkness: Joseph Conrad and Orson Welles,”   James Naremore

“Orson Welles: The most glorious film failure of them all” David Tomson Oct 22 2009

"Peter Bogdanovich and James Naremore to discuss Orson Welles and screen TOUCH OF EVIL at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on January 29"
by Lawrence French  January 29, 2010

"Orson Welles: An Incomplete Education"  by Jaime N Christley  January 2003