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Trump Is A Total Prick

Sorry. Please forgive my French.

I’m just enjoying a little smidgen of righteous outrage over this last Apprentice show. I don’t watch much network TV — terrified of brain rot — but this show hasn’t yet jumped the shark.

It’s still riveting, for both the business aspects, and (sigh) the Jerry Springer-style interpersonal shit.

For me, it’s like watching a horror show. I’m taken back to my days in the corporate womb, where I slowly got sucked into the games and back-biting and gossip… just like the show… until, finally…

I got fired.

Good God, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I took the fall for a screw-up by the marketing vice president. Somebody had to go, and it was me. This, after I’d been booted into a no-win middle management position, without sufficient staff, without support by other departments, without a net.

For three months, I worked like a dog, up at dawn, swimming as fast as I could all day long, and collapsing late at night into bed, further behind than when the day had started.

Weekends — gone. Social life — gone.

Self-respect — gone.

I left the corporate world shaken at what I’d seen. All the qualities I valued — working my way through problems on my own schedule, taking a few well-thought-out risks here and there, questioning the wisdom of my “superiors” when that wisdom clearly sucked, sharing the glory — were huge liabilities in the office.

My last three months were like a slow-motion train wreck. I’m sure I was fabulous entertainment for my colleagues… and toward the end, I even stopped eating lunch with those people who had been my buddies the previous two years.

They could smell the death on me.

Again, however, getting canned was a huge relief. I took a few months off, travelled up and down the California coast, slept in my car and on couches and beaches, and eventually wound up in LA, where my freelance career began in earnest.

Watching the Apprentice helps me relive the horror of those years in that Silicon Valley office. But I get to relive it from a safe distance, which makes it a rather pleasurable thrill. Like I’d escaped the dragon’s lair, and lived to tell about it.

And I’ll say it again: Trump is a total prick.

His cover is blown by his sheer glee at pouncing on wounded ducks. You gotta be ruthless, he implies. You gotta crush people who attack you. You gotta take huge risks.

Blah, blah, blah.

The world he lives in is a zero-sum game. For him to win, somebody else has to lose. That’s bullshit. If you’ve ever participated in a joint venture or affiliate program, you KNOW that business can be win-win, easily.

Only a sociopath believes in crushing people while earning a buck. That’s starvation-thinking, acting like we’re all in a rowboat adrift in the ocean, and there’s not enough sustenance for everybody.

Should you actually find yourself in a rowboat, adrift, you may have to decide if you’re gonna eat the weakest to survive. But until then, enjoy the bounty of the world as it really is.

There’s plenty for everybody. There’s even enough for you and your colleagues to get filthy, stupid rich.

The worst part is, Trump encourages back-stabbing and disloyalty. He loves it… like he’s watching a cockfight. The only apprentice, so far, who’s shown any backbone is the one who got the axe tonight. He’s a bit of a putz himself, but he had a dollop of the one thing Trump had previously claimed was important: Loyalty. He just refused to trash his colleague, even though his neck was on the block.

And it got him canned.

It’s been twenty-five years since I last worked for a corporation… and it’s only tonight that I finally see where the real horror there came from — the utter lack of humanity.

People run scared too easily in the office. Their precious “job”, with all the warmth and benefits and security it’s supposed to provide, becomes thier identity and reason for existing.

One of my big problems was always showing up at eight a.m. sharp, with tie cinched up. What was the point? I often worked hours later than everyone else, focused on deadlines instead of some imaginary daily scorecard.

I mean, wasn’t the deadline the thing we were supposed to be focused on?

And that was wrong. That attitude violated an integral rule of the corporate beast: Though shalt obey mindless authority without question.

Reminds me of the time I pulled up behind some cars at a traffic light that was obviously on the fritz, stuck on red. We waited, and waited… and then I pulled around, bumped up briefly on the curb, and went on my way. The red light, so obviously broken, no longer represented authority.

It was BROKEN.

And defying the taboo of running it doesn’t automatically qualify as anarchy. You take turns, you go slow, you watch out for the other guy and show a little common courtesy.

But you get on with it.

Yet, as I motored away, I could see those other cars still sitting there, waiting for permission to proceed from a light that wasn’t gonna change.

And you know what? It wouldn’t surprise me if one of those drivers had hopped on their cell phone to “turn me in” for running the light.

How DARE I defy the rules?

Thank God we live in this country, where entrepreneurism thrives.

Most of the entrepreneurs I know well don’t “do” back-stabbing. (There are those who engage in this practice, but they never become my friends. Nor do they last long in the biz.)

In fact, it’s just the opposite.

The generosity and help you receive from fellow entrepreneurs can take your breath away. Metaphorically speaking, many would chew their own arm off, it you needed one.

It’s the Golden Rule. I just recently had someone do a job for me, and screw it up royally. And you know what? I took the blame. The client never heard about the failings, or the drama… and he never heard an excuse.

I took a hit, financially, and we just got on with setting things right. The error was understandable, and certainly not a firing offense. As we say: All errors made from enthusiasm are forgivable.

It never even occurred to me to waste time assigning blame.

Long ago, Gary Halbert took a hit for me. He could have easily stepped aside, pointed out my error, and come out smelling like a rose. But he didn’t. He absorbed the blame, and we moved on.

Bob Pierce, my longtime client and friend, has also done this many times when people he trusted with projects did a FUBAR.

Heck, I could fill pages with examples like this. I learned long ago that finding someone to take the blame was a loser’s game. (Hey, that rhymes.)

Who cares if someone is to blame for some mistake? Identify the problem, fix it, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. In business, there’s actually a fair chance it WILL happen again, anyway. But if you’re making progress, the problems are ususally less of a challenge the next time.

You may have to fire someone at some point. It happens. In the entrepreneurial fields, we thrive on being self-starters, and responsible finishers. Anyone who sits around waiting for micro-management needs to go drop some resumes off at Trump, Inc.

Where you can perform cage-fights for The Donald, ripping off your colleagues’ heads vying for the badge of Biggest Bully.

You can have it.

Or, am I way off base here?

What do you think? I know you bastards are reading this blog, because of the email I get. Don’t email me — share your wisdom here, in the comments section. Some of the stuff you send me is brilliant, but if you don’t post it, it never goes anywhere.

David, Phil, Scott, John… Gary… and both of you mega-talented redheads. You know who you are. And everyone else, whether I know you personally or not.

Share the love, guys.

John Carlton

P.S. Okay, it looks like the Website for the updated Freelance Course has been cursed, and won’t be up for… I dunno how long. It’s in the hands of my tech guy, who swears it’s close.

But I’ve lost patience.

So… starting on Tuesday, I am going to laboriously email each and every one of you who has emailed me about the course, and send you a PDF.

And, because you were among the first to contact me, you’ll get a special deal. I’ll honor this deal for anyone else who cares to email me before I start sending out the PDF next week.

Consider it a “sneak peek”. With special privileges no one else will ever get.

Have a great weekend. I hope, if you work during it, you’re working on your own projects, and not for the Man…

Okay, I Lied…

I’m not gonna get to those questions, like I promised, in this post.

I just pulled a long working weekend — don’t ask, but even us lazy-as-cats writers get behind now and again — and I’m fried. Just the thought of trying to tackle a simple marketing question makes me near-homicidal.

Still, I have one coherent thought I want to share with you before I go see what sort of new dreams Mr. Id has to taunt me with tonight.

See, I was chatting with one of my friends who is a civil servant the other night… and it made me wonder: What is it, exactly, that allows someone to tell the “normal” world to shove it, and go become an entrepreneur?

I’d always assumed it was a combination of tolerance of risk, and a severe dislike of working for someone else.

But I may be wrong.

Lifer civil servants are on the other end of the spectrum, of course. At any stage of their career with the bureaucracy, they can tell you exactly how many days they have left before they can retire at near-full pay (and full benefits). They hate their jobs, working for the Man, just like everyone else… but that carrot of a pampered retirement keeps them shackled.

Most of the hard-core entrepreneurs I know would go postal after a week in a bureaucracy. It would be cruel Kafkaesque punishment knowing exactly what your future was, and ticking off the calendar one day at a time waiting for recess.

So, on the one hand, you have people who seemingly have zero tolerance of risk, and who gladly trade in their soul for a guaranteed retirement. And, on the other hand, you have people who seem to be addicted to risk, and who gladly soar without a safety net.

But, lately, I’ve noticed the entrepreneur ranks swelling with people who abhor risk. And I’ve seen rebels suddenly go meek at the offer of a steady job, and melt into a cubicle for the rest of their lives like they were settling into a hot tub.

What gives?

I think I’ve figured it out: The rules have changed.

While I wasn’t paying attention, someone slipped the world “what the hell” pills, and now it’s all topsy turvy.

This clarified itself in my head as I blew past an Errol Flynn western last night while channel surfing.

We’re re-experiencing the old pioneer spirit here.

And it’s being fueled by the economy.

Back during the nineteenth-century westward expansion of the U.S., the first people to hit the frontier were risk takers. But that didn’t last. War, and an increasingly vicious ecomony started forcing “better safe than sorry” types into the wilderness, too. They didn’t necessarily want to go. But west was where the opportunity was.

In many cases, it was the ONLY opportunity happening.

So the choice wasn’t really to risk or not to risk… but rather to take a shot at the unknown, or get crushed by the status quo. The notorious Donner Party (who snacked on each other after getting caught in a Sierra storm a few miles from here) were not hardy pioneer types.

They were the equivalent of Homer and Marge Simpson. With Ned Flanders as their guide. Forced into the new world by circumstances.

The economy is going gangbusters in certain areas, but going cold in others. And not in some cancel-each-other-out way, either — it’s more like a big storm that some ships are weathering just fine, while all sorts of smaller craft are getting sunk or beached.

And suddenly, like no other time since the Depression, the entrepreneurial ranks are becoming engorged with reluctant entrepreneurs.

I unconsciously began to notice this last year, when I found myself getting increasingly impatient with more and more people who came to me for advice. They asked for clear directions on what to do next, as entrepreneurs, and I told them.

Not brain surgery, as I always say. There are proven paths to making a venture work, and all you gotta do is provide the elbow grease. It’s really so friggin’ easy these days, many hardened rebel-types are just quitting, and getting day jobs. There’s no fun in being a rebel if it’s EASY. So they earn a regular wage, and go start painting or reading philosophy.

Leaving the new game to the nervous types, for whom mild risk is a shock to the system.

But many entrepreneur wannabe’s resist that first step. Like they’re frozen at the edge of the pool, terrified of jumping in… but needing to. Desperately needing to.

I can get a little pissy around timid people. I eat risk for breakfast, and learned long ago that it isn’t bad for you and has few unpleasant side effects. And the rewards are legion.

Finally, however, tonight, I’m beginning to understand what’s going on.

And you know what?

It’s okay to be scared.

Taking those first few steps on your own can be terrifying, if you’re not used to it.

But you still have to make the decision: Are you gonna do this, go out on your own? Or are you gonna turn around and go back the way you came?

There’s no shame in turning back. But you’ll screw up your insides just standing there, frozen, refusing to make the decision.

I used to think I had the answer: Just dabble in being an entrepreneur. It’s not hard. Especially now, when you can launch a website in ten minutes. I teach people all the time how to create a product from thin air, for free, in a long weekend. No big deal.

You just gotta do it. Don’t quit your day job. Just jump into the shallow end of the pool, and dog paddle around a little bit.

For many, even that mild decision is too much. They fear it will be like heroin — take one hit, and you wake up six years later in jail.

But it’s not like that at all.

This is an odd confluence of opportunity and information happening right now. The Web is there, cheap and easy and stocked with vast targeted markets waiting to be plundered. And the guru’s are out there, flogging their courses and inside scuttlebutt… much of it very, very good stuff. (Not all, but enough.)

Hey — you don’t like your chances of seeing that long-awaited retirement and pension, after slaving away for the Man for most of your life?

Well, then, fund your own damn retirement. If you found this blog, you must be wired into other entrepreneurial-helping sites. You know the potential is out there, and you know this is one of those rare times in history when wealth and fame are easily gotten…

… if you can stomach just a little bit of risk.

Again, carpe diem, dude.

You’re not alone, no matter how scared you are.

John Carlton

Can I Deduct This From My Taxes?


If I’m, say, checking out a vintage 60s stub-neck Rickenbocker at Bobo’s Guitar Shop, and have this totally bitchin’ insight to making millions with some brilliant new marketing scheme… and I share it on my blog here… do I get to deduct the guitar?

Somebody get back to me on this, will ya?

Okay, I didn’t buy the guitar. I just held it reverently and then let the salesman pry it from my grasp. Then I got back in the cab and continued my journey toward Hell.

See, I’d had the taxi stop at the guitar shop on the way to the airport. Just to put off the pain a little longer. The hotel clerk who called the cab had regarded me with a look of “You are so screwed”, after I’d casually mentioned I was headed for Los Angeles International Hellport.

I had two and a half hours before my plane left. In the world I used to live in, that was plenty of time. Now, you need more than three hours lead-time to catch a fifty-minute flight to Reno?

The cab driver gave the same pitying look, and then shook his head sadly. Like he was taking me to the friggin’ Bridge of Sighs or something.

So I asked him to stop at a guitar store first, just so I could touch something precious before descending into the Abyss of LAX.

You think I’m being melodramatic?

LAX has officially become the nation’s worst airport for long lines and tortuous waits. The worst. Dallas-Ft. Worth, La Guardia, even the Third-World embarrassment that is Miami International all have SHORTER LINES than Los Angeles.

That must be humiliating.

I’d heard about this. Fine. I used to live near LAX, in a nice little beach cottage, and I used that airport frequently. It was always big and nasty and ungovernable, but how bad could it have gotten since I’d left the city ten years ago, really?

Answer: Really, really, really bad.

The cab driver, apparently in an effort to shave two or three minutes off the ride, ripped through red lights, weaved like a drunken sailor between lanes, and even popped up onto the sidewalk for half a block in his mad dash down La Cienega.

Slams up to the curb outside the Southwest terminal, and all the doors and the trunk fly open before I can pry my face off the seatback in front of me. I pay him, grab my bag, and stagger to the terminal.

Oh, man. Imagine emptying an English soccer stadium during a World Cup qualifier, and having everyone stand in single file. That was the line just to see an agent. The look of despair on people’s faces was wrenching.

Fortunately, being a modern kinda guy (although I’ve had in the ear before), I know how to game the system. Just pop over to the computer terminal, type in my reservation code (Apple, Yankee, Memphis, Foxtrot, y’all), grab my “skip the lines” boarding pass and…

… and…

… and the five bodies in front of me aren’t moving. On closer inspection, I see that the computer terminal is DOWN. People, dazed, are just standing there, staring at the cold blank screen.

Not me. I start prowling the area. There’s always another computer somewhere. This America, for God’s sake.

Find one, get my pass printed, and I am…

… facing a security line that goes down the length of the terminal, out the door to the sidewalk outside… and all the way into the horizon toward the next terminal.

There are four security points, with four pissed-off guards slapping people around, tossing luggage back into the x-ray machine, wanding little old ladies who look embarrassed to be standing there in their stockings getting prodded.

This line ain’t moving, either. I estimate 400 people. I time how long it takes the line to inch forward the space of one person — two minutes. That’s 2,100 minutes wait time to get through security. Two and half hours.

I’m gonna miss my plane. By an hour.

This is nuts. Suddenly, though, like an angel fluttering down to save us, an agent with a bullhorn starts accosting the line. Hard to make out what he says. I sidle up close, and ask him to lower the frigging horn and speak slowly.

Southwest, it turns out, has sent a bus over to the next terminal, a city block away. The security line there is only eight people deep, and the guards are bored. We can pop through security in a breeze, meet the bus at the first gate, and they’ll drive us back over to the Southwest terminal.

It’s an opportunity.

I’m off. A dozen other people peel out of line and follow me.

Everyone else eyes us anxiously, but doesn’t budge. Sounds too risky, I guess.

I blast through security at the far terminal, scoot down to the first gate and… there’s the bus waiting. I hop on. A breathless group of other escapees pile in behind me, the bus roars off, and suddenly… we’re all strolling down the Southwest inner terminal.

Took fifteen minutes, total. I have time to sit and eat a leisurely sandwich, read a magazine, and make a few phone calls before my plane starts boarding.

I am smug with self-satisfaction for, again, gaming the system.

Just to further my joy, I stroll back toward the security log-jam, to see how the scaredy-cats who refused to leave the line are faring. Not well. The human fence still goes outside and waaaaay down the block.

Most of them will be outside the terminal, waiting, as their plane taxis away on the tarmac.

I think about them, on the flight home. About the people in front of and behind me in that death-march line, wilting in the hot sun and exhaust fumes, the ones who refused to grab the opportunity offered by the agent with the bull horn.

From what I could see of the remaining line, there couldn’t have been all that many buses arranged for. It was like scooping a bucketful of water from a lake — they bused maybe twenty of us, max, and nearly all of us were near the end of the queue. The snake stayed long and hopeless after we’d bolted.

There are many things in life for which this is a metaphor.

It’s like that scene in the great movie “Sideways”, when it’s obvious (OBVIOUS, you friggin’ idiot!) that she wants to be kissed… and the guy stammers and frets and fiddles… and the moment passes.

The moment passes.


But more relevant, here, is the way it applies to business.

For many marketers, the entire wad of energy and persuasion and “take it or leave it” cutthroat salesmanship happens at the very front of the sales funnel.

They create, in essence, a moment for the prospect. A moment that must be grabbed… (for God’s sake, man, can’t you see how URGENT this is!?!)

And that’s it.

Wad shot.

Allow my little story to sink in.

Most people out there are incabable of grabbing a moment. Any moment. Our entire species is wired to miss out, it seems.

That’s why movies and novels and fables where the protagonist DOES grab the moment are so inspiring.

Cuz, normally, we seldom do it.

Your prospects out there may desperately desire what you offer. The future of their happiness and the safety of their loved ones may even hang in the balance. Entire civilizations may collapse from a failure to act.

And yet, they will demure.

In most situations, most of the time, people are terrified of decisive action.


Remember this, as you gloat about your oh-so-fine results. Whatever those results are… if you’re not going BACK to your list or market (once you’ve broken the code on creating sales)… then you’re leaving a fortune on the table.

If you get 1,000 sales with a direct mail piece on the first mailing… you will get approximately half that on the next mailing (I recommend you wait 3 weeks before going out again).

This isn’t science… it’s experience. I let the euphoria of a winning piece die slowly, and then urge the client to mail the piece again. To the same list.

With no changes. (Or, at most, a bright red “Second Notice” stamp either on the envelope or at the top of the first page.)

But… but… we already hit them with the pitch! Why in the world would we need to mail again?

Because it works that way. Pull out the names of the ones who bought, and mail the cleaned list again. Just do it.

You want a reason why?

You’re giving them another chance at grasping the moment.

Carpe diem, dude.

John Carlton

P.S. Anyone catch the Iggy Pop reference?

P.P.S. Next post, I swear I’ll answer the questions that were posted in the comments section a few weeks ago. My bad.

P.P.P.S. The site for the revised and updated Freelance Course has been delayed, again. I am not doing this on purpose. Rather, I set aside my aversion to weird new technology and recorded important elements of the newified course on my new Olympus DM-1… and, apparently, there is a digital demon inside the one I have. It’s taken me a week to finally get reasonably decent recordings finished. And this has pushed back the launch date, again.

Seriously — probably ten days. Be patient. You will be rewarded.

Side Note: All Insiders will be able to deduct their entire club membership if they pop for the Freelance package. I’ll be sending out an email about it soon. Watch for the usual subject line from me, so you don’t delete it by accident. This is important, since it may be coming from aWeber or some other source than



Now, go seize something.

The Apprentice Rat Cage

Great example of life imitating blogs on The Apprentice tonight.

Last post, I talked about stress. Lo and behold, stress is exactly what knocked what’s-her-name off the show. Under time pressure, and faced with having to think on her feet, she choked (to use The Donald’s term).

I don’t think she understands the term herself. It is clearly what she did. Her sticking point (she denied choking over and over again in the post-firing taxi interview) was not being able to fit her self-image into that of a “choker”. Actually, if you watched the program — and if you’re in biz, you need to, as great homework — she was called a loser first, then a choker.

Trump is such a schoolyard bully.

She’s young. You gotta get over it. Everybody chokes at some point — the game of life has been rigged against you. If you venture out your front door, you’re going to encounter a situation that overwhelms your tools.

And you’re gonna choke.

In fact, you really can’t succeed without experiencing it, and coming to grips with it.

How are you gonna act in a situation where you are on the spot, and you absolutely draw a blank on what to do? Most people just refuse to imagine the scenario — too potentially damaging to their ego.

I know this territory well. I was a cocky young guy with a big mouth for a long time… and I’m happy I encountered someone early on who showed me the way to trump that cockiness — he knocked me out.

Okay, I’m still cocky, and I’ve still got a big mouth… but I watch my back more closely. Lesson learned. There are times to reign it in. There are gonna be situations in your life when you gotta just suck it up and walk away, if you can. Not even Clint Eastwood acts like Clint Eastwood in real life.

I know exactly what that poor woman was feeling, tonight, facing a critical audience who held her future in their hands, and not knowing what to do. She was in charge of the presentation, and it was 100% FUBARed. She kept searching her notes, hoping to find a groove that wasn’t there.

I have been on the spot, on stage, in around three dozen seminar situations. Most of my early experience is one of anxiety and cluelessness, moving down to sheer terror and helplessness. I didn’t understand the “game” of how seminars worked for a long time. Didn’t understand what was expected of me, what was needed from me, what I had to offer.

Fortunately, the guy I shared the stage with in the first dozen or so seminars was Gary Halbert. Who loved the spotlight, and particularly loved the chaos of not quite knowing what was going to happen next.

It took me forever to “break the code” on this game… and when I did, I had to ask myself what the big deal had been.

Basically, when you stand up in front of people, they expect a few things from you. First, they expect you to have earned your right to be there. Next, they expect you to know your shit.

And lastly… they expect you to engage them at a satisfying level.

None of this is hard to do when you’re dealing with something you know something about.

The audience doesn’t give a rat’s ass if you’re nervous. Saying you are does not endear you to them — rather, they roll their eyes, and sigh. Because they know they’re now in for a period of excruciating awkwardness, and you’re the perpetrator.

They don’t care if your throat is dry, or if you’re having trouble speaking, or if your notes are in disarray.

You have mounted the stage. You have accepted the responsiblities of that stage, which require you to deliver.

It’s just that simple.

Once I “got” that simple rule, all the anxiety vanished. No amount of raw fear or shyness was going to win over the audience. What they demanded from me was, once I stepped up and the lights focused, to simply act like someone who belonged there.

During one of our early seminars, Halbert had some horrilble illness creep up on him. And he asked me if I thought I could handle the rest of the event. I turned so pale, he decided not to risk it.

But you know what? I had all the necessary knowledge, experience and savvy to pull off the entire seminar. What I lacked was the realization that I possessed all of this.

These days, I’m so relaxed on stage that I often toss my notes (which I only follow loosely anyway) and wing it. Four hundred people in the audience, waiting for brilliance, and I get bored with the “safe” route… so I just go off on a rant or a tangent.

Why do I do this? Because I lose focus with rote speeches. There’s just no fun in it. But also because I now know — from experience — that I can wing it and survive, just fine. Because when I’m up there, talking about marketing and advertising, you’re in MY house.

Yet, failure can still happen. Even being a twenty-year veteran of seminars and the marketing industry won’t always save you. I still occassionally put together bands and play in rowdy bars here in Northern Nevada. Sometimes, it’s just great fun. Other times, something ain’t clicking, and it’s a nightmare up there on the stage. The drummer’s on drugs and can’t hold the beat, the bass player is out of tune, the PA melts down… a LOT of things can go wrong, and you can count on at least some problems every gig.

That’s the risk you take mounting the stage. It may not go as planned, dude.

So, maybe even a long history of working the stage wouldn’t have saved that woman tonight on The Apprentice.

But from what I saw, her failure was mostly from not being comfortable winging it. Just decide on two or three points that are your USP, the main points you’re going to try to get across… and stay in that pocket. If the notes aren’t working, you gotta toss ’em fast. (I’ve walked on stage before and realized that half my notes are missing.)

Essentially, have a Plan B, which can be a simple 2-step delivery: This is the problem as we saw it, and here is how we solved it.

Drop all metaphors and fancy verbal dancing.

However, you cannot pull anything off if you let stress get you. Stress invades when you allow it to. You give your body permission to drop a nasty payload of too much adrenaline and other hormones that whack out your brain… and it’s hard to catch your breath.

One trick: Just say “screw it”. If you fail, you fail. You know you’re going to come away with a good lesson, and you’re never going to let this happen again. Even if you have to refuse to go on stage unprepared in the future. (Though, I personally only want to hang with people who understand that the show must go on.)

Get simple. Tell the truth. Don’t try to bullshit the audience, or win them over with weakness — it will never work.

Tonight, she lost sight of the simple elements of her job. She only had a few things that needed saying, really, to introduce the presentation. No one was going to shoot her if she failed. But she let her internal chemical dump overload her system, and she choked.

Again, no shame in that. Anyone who steps up to the plate will do it, or has done it already.

Life is all about brutal lessons that can give you nightmares. A successful life is all about dealing with that reality, and using the available tools of navigating these events to learn your lesson and move on with minimal damage.

I laugh at my nightmares now.

Being the “go to” guy just isn’t that hard, once you understand the simple basics. And remind yourself that even if you fail, you’re gonna get back up on the horse and do it again. And overwhelm the nightmares with success.

Do you agree?

John Carlton

P.S. I want to apologize to everyone who has been patiently waiting for info on the Freelance Course. Everything is done, and has been done for some time. I expect the website explaining everything to be up in the next few days… and we’ll get this show on the road.

I’ll announce the site here, when it’s ready. Thanks.

Rats ‘n’ Us

I just finished a long phone call with Gary Halbert.

We talked about rats. And then we talked about his decision to quit writing his newsletter.

This was a fairly typical conversation, as our chats go. During all those years I served as his right-hand man, we often spent half our time on-stage at seminars whispering and gossiping like schoolgirls. People in the audience were driven nuts, wondering what the heck we were talking about so urgently, and would do all sorts of sneaky shit to find out. Like “accidentally” leaving a tape recorder on the floor near us, or buying “remote listening” contraptions from the Spy Shop.

As far as I know, no one ever succeeded. At least I hope not.

See, we seldom talked about anything relevant to the business at hand during seminars. We’d been doing Hot Seats and such for so long, and knew the process so thoroughly, that we usually had the answer to anyone’s problem before they finished asking it. So we got bored.

One particular seminar, Gary leans over to me and says “Hey, John. I can see up the dress of that woman in the second row!” I spit up a mouthful of coffee — the bastard had timed that comment just right.

I got him back later, of course. But that’s a story for another time.

Right now, unless you’ve been hiding in a cave, you must know that Gary recently sent out email announcing the end of his newsletter. The last issue is now up at

He’s going to explain, in due time, what he means by “retiring” the newsletter… but I can say with some authority that he himself is not retiring from the scene.

So don’t panic.

I cannot imagine a world with the guy.

Gary and I have been close friends for over 18 years now. I met him at a private party at Jay Abraham’s house just after he had begun writing his newsletter, and we hit it off pretty much right away. I gave up a lot to go work with him — I’d already established myself as a freelancer with major LA agencies, had controls with several of the large financial mailers, was ghost-writing with top copywriters like Jim Rutz. (And even did some fullfilment writing for Gary Bencivenga.)

I was trying hard to fit into the “normal” freelance scene, but I often felt restricted. And bored. Gary offered immediate relief — he was funny, irreverent, and liked to stir shit up. He loathed being bored even more than I did.

Plus, of course, he knew more about the true art of writing killer ads than everyone else combined. He was fresh out of Boron, had put his life back together, and was licking his chops at all the opportunity out there for a street-smart writer with a deep, deep bag of tricks.

I walked away from a prime spot near the center of the “normal” direct response world, without a glance back, when Gary asked me to come work for him. His first year’s worth of newsletters had given me more ammo for my own bag of tricks than everything else I’d read or learned to that point. And I was one of those guys who devoured the library, stalked out-of-print books, and worked for free for Jay just to be able to hang out in his offices.

Working with Halbert was the wildest ride of my life. I saw a dozen other people try it while I was there, and they all flamed out from stimulus overload. I hung in through good times — where we made a lot of money — and bad times — where we squandered opportunities and life seemed like one long slow-motion train wreck.

It was all a continuous lesson, in business, in writing, in life. I learned from him, he learned a bit from me, and we both learned super-advanced stuff neither of us had imagined was out there.

We long ago went our separate ways in business, but remained good friends and confidants. I know I can pick up the phone anytime I need to rant and he will make time for me. And I do the same for him.

And yeah, we still spend a lot of time gossiping and savaging the political and social sides of our culture. But we manage to squeeze in a few tidbits, here and there, about marketing and making money. Every phone call is worth a whole new mini-education.

It’s been a good friendship, worth millions in earthly riches and priceless in intellectual sustenance.

What’s odd is that we have remained friends despite being opposites in many ways. I prefer quiet, calm environments with occasional bursts of excitement. Gary likes to kick the beehive every day.

However, we share a basic world-view: There ain’t nothing inherently noble about being human. You gotta work through a jungle-full of liability to attain even a small amount of grace.

There are a couple of famous rat studies we both find relevant to our lives. Researchers use rats a lot because the little rodents share our basic nervous system. What irritates or pleases a rat, also irritates or pleases most humans.

Get over it.

In one study, scientists put what they knew to be a “sustainable” number of rats into one large cage. They functioned well in this environment, mating normally, rearing little baby rats, getting along with each other.

Then, the lab coats began to add more rats. Just a few more. To see what happened. Quickly, the large cage became Chaos Central. Result: Cannibalism, buggery, murder, rape, and lots of eating the young.

All because of overcrowding.

In the other study, the coats introduced alcohol to a normal society of rats. Most of them avoided it, some used it as “Miller Time”, and a percentage just went overboard. The stats mirrored what we know of alcohol use in normal human environments.

Then the researchers, always happy to screw things up, raised the stress level of the rats. Loud noises, cage jarring, unpredictable electric shocks, all sorts of disorienting stuff.

Result: The tea-totalling rats started guzzling booze. The Miller Time crowd became 24-7 lushes. And the alcoholic rats literally drowned themselves in the liquor.

What does all this mean? Well, besides revealing how sadistic the guys in lab coast can be, it at least makes you think about modern life, and our place in it.

Humans like to think of ourselves as above the animal world — cleaner, smarter, better suited to rule the planet.

We are, of course, none of these things. We make a mess of everything we touch, and there’s some strong evidence that we’re killing the surface of the earth.

Plus, we make people like Britney Spears rich and famous. Could Hell have noises any worse than what she produces?

We’re more like shaved apes who stumbled a few feet away from the jungle than we want to admit. Our biggest survival asset, in fact, is our denial system. Something bad coming our way? No problem. Ignore it.

But most of all… we are vulnerable to stress in ways that sneak up on us.

Both Gary and I have been around for a long time. We don’t feel old, don’t look our ages, and we’re actually healthier than a lot of the younger guys in this biz.

But we’ve absorbing stress for decades. When things go well, you ignore the stress because you’re having fun. When things go south, the stress starts to eat you alive.

Over time, it all adds up.

And you know what? Sometimes, we just want to go away and watch waves crash on the beach… for a very, very long time.

Burn-out is common in advertising. I have a theory that writing sales copy actually ignites a different part of your brain, and it’s a very vulnerable part that can get trashed easily.

Guys like Gary, and me, have put our ass on the line for you. Yes, we can be self-aggrandizing fools, and yes, we have been rewarded for annointing ourselves guru’s.

But I can tell, after years on the inside of the “expert world”, that we wouldn’t expose ourselves this way, for any amount of money, if we didn’t love to teach.

My first big thrill as a copywriter was getting that first check for a job. Then, seeing one of my pieces succeed like crazy. Then, finding out I actually had a reputation, and that people were seeking me out.

But the BIGGEST thrill I’ve ever gotten… is that first pile of testimonials from people I’d given advice to when I started

If you have experience teaching, you understand. Making money is one thing, and I like it. But helping other people is a rare event in most people’s lives. It does something to you, deep inside.

And you fall in love with what you do all over again.

I know Gary. Maybe as well as anyone else around, except for his family and girlfriend.

And I can tell you — the guy has teaching in his blood. If he’s decided that a monthly newsletter is nudging his “stress meter” too high, I’m the first friend to tell him to give it a rest.

But you haven’t seen the last of him. The stress comes and goes, and even the most dedicated need to take a friggin’ break once in a while. Cut him some slack. He’s poured his heart out to you guys for almost twenty years now, and has made many of you millionaires.

This has been a true Golden Age of information, and Gary was one of the guys who started the ball rolling. There are a ton of other “experts” out there, and many of them are worth following.

But there’s only one Gary Halbert.

There will always be only one Gary Halbert.

And he’s still here, still full of piss and vinegar, and if my intuition is any good, he’s gonna remain on the scene.

Kickin’ beehives.

John Carlton

Just Checkin’ In

I have a longtime client who keeps having to learn the same lesson over and over again.

It’s simple: Don’t mail to people who aren’t home.

There’s a critcial “response frame” for direct response mail. After the first day, if you take phone calls, you should be able to guess at how well the mailing will do. If you’re mailing to a qualified list, or a house list, you should be able to nail final response numbers within a percentage point or so.

But that’s only for around 40 weeks out of the year. There are certain times where almost all markets are “down” — holidays, severe storms that interupt mail service, the beginning of wars. Some of these bad mailing periods are unpredictable, so you cannot plan around them. You just take your best shot.

But holidays… dude, you got a calendar, you know what’s coming up. People are distracted by the big holidays, at best, and just plain gone, at worst.

We just passed a big one, spring break. Next up is Memorial Day, then Fourth of July. In your particular market, there may be other bad mailing times — if you’re marketing to Harley owners, forget about August. They’re all headed to Hollister to raise hell.

Online, it’s similar. Logically, you might think that “old” email, checked days after received, would still pull. But it doesn’t always work that way. Especially when you have deadlines for responding.

It’s a small lesson, yes, but one that will murder your bottom line if you make a habit of trying to contact your list while they ain’t home.

But you don’t have to just sit on your hands, either. These down times are great for doing something “extra” for your house list. Tending to the herd, so to speak. Send out real content, for free, either by posting it and emailing an alert, or dropping something in the snail-mail.

Don’t ask for a sale. Just reach out and touch your best customers with a real gift. No ulterior motives. No hidden catches.

That kind of contact is still good even if they get it long after you’ve sent it. It leaves a good taste in the mouth, too. After hitting them up for multiple pitches, pull your punch a few times every year and just give ’em a little kiss. Free stuff.

It might help to think of your list as a difficult spouse. A little romance is required now and then, with no expectations.

Keeps the fire burning.

You know what I mean?

John Carlton

Step 30

The title of this entry, “Step 30” refers to something many, many otherwise smart marketers hate to do.

Finish stuff.

“30” is typesetter short-hand for “The End”. When I worked in the newsroom of my college newspaper, we all wrote “30” on the bottom of the last page of copy. That let the typesetter know we were done. If there was no “30”, that meant a page was missing.

It was just a college rag, but we took this stuff very seriously. Pretended we were at the New York Times.

Well, actually, since I was the staff cartoonist, I didn’t take all of it very seriously, and I sometimes heard reporters grumble about all the column inches my cartoons were taking up each issue. Few writers enjoy being edited due to space, and I caused a boatload of copy to hit the newsroom floor when I went to a four-panel strip.

But that’s another story.

From my catbird seat here, where piles of ads and project ideas cross my desk for critique (or to pitch me on getting involved), I now see that there are two main problems affecting a majority of entrepreneurs:

1. Getting started… and…

2. Finishing the necessary details.

I’ve talked about letting the curtain go up on your project, or your life, many times before in the RANT. There are ingenious ways to fool yourself into thinking you’re moving ahead when, in truth, you’re just dawdling. Stalling, so you don’t have to change your sleep-walking habits and begin the movement required for anything new and scary.

Not being able to get past the inner demons that resist action will keep your life in a holding pattern forever.

And maybe that’s okay with you. The risks and lifestyle of an entrepreneur aren’t for everyone. Some folks just don’t have the juice to crawl so far out on the limb, without a net or guarantee of success… and that’s what you gotta do to make most projects work.

However… just as bad is the resistance to FINISHING a project.

I see a lot of people do everything necessary to launch their baby… right down to having the Web site up and ready for visitors, or stacks of stamped mail ready to be taken to the post office.

And yet, somehow, they just cannot pull the trigger. They do one more edit of the copy, make minute changes in the plan, hire another consultant and ask really picky questions. I often get asked stuff like “What do you think the conversion rate will be?” Or “How many people will like the product, do you think?”

These are questions that can only be answered through action. You need to put your pitch in front of cold prospects and see what happens. Everything else is just theory, idle guesswork and stalling.

Look… I think it’s a mistake to “major in the minors”, as some marketers like to say. When you’re running the show, you need to be focusing on Operation MoneySuck, and bring in the moolah. That requires “majoring in the majors“, or having a large overview of what’s going on. In music, it’s called “having a Big Ear” — because you hear the band as a whole, rather than just your small contribution against the backdrop of the larger sound.

However, to get any project in shape for launch, there are tons of “minor” things that need tending. And somebody’s gotta do them all.

Yes, it’s onerous stuff, and makes your head hurt.

But this is the moment of truth. If your project is going to crawl out into the sun, you need to just buck up and finish all the details.

Decide on the typeface and point size of the copy. Decide on colors, if any. Decide on how the order taking process is going to work, and decide on the way the Order Form is going to look.

Decide on price, on the USP, the guarantee, everything.

Just do it.

You cannot make a perfect decision. So don’t ignite an anxiety attack over these decisions. Just do the best you can, with what you have available.

But really do the best you can. Don’t be lazy at this step, or you’ll pay dearly.

If you have a lot of experience, you have a secret weapon. But it’s not infallible. If you have consultants, or friends in the biz, you can get other opinions. But they can screw up, too.

It’s not their ass on the line. It’s yours.

So YOU make the important decisions, even if your decision is simply to agree with what someone else suggested. If you leave the look of the ad to a graphic artist, that’s fine… but it’s your decision. Make that decision, be conscious of making that decision… and know that consequences will result. Good, bad, indifferent, you’ll soon find out. Just be aware.

There are a vast number of details in even a small ad that can affect response. Some are not of monumental importance. Others can murder results. A typo won’t sink you most of the time. Unless it’s in the phone number. Or the price.

Proof-reading can be nerve-wracking. I have been the last person to see hundreds of ads. And knowing that you have just released something that is about to be seen and acted on by an entire market… or not… can make your brain melt.

You’ll get over it, though. Just take final responsibility for the success of the project. There are things that must be attended to if success is going to happen. Those are all your job, to finish up and finalize.

All the other stuff can be delegated.

There’s a huge moment of relief during “Step 30”. You okay the ad for the last time, and it either gets printed, mailed, or posted… and that’s it for now. You can relax. If there are errors, you will find out soon enough.

Give it some air, see if results start coming in… and then go back and RE-read everything one more time. Look for problems, typos, dropped blocks of copy, everything that may be affecting response.

I’ve had direct mail go out missing 4 entire pages of the letter. Had clients who sent out blank videos for months at a time without noticing. Had newspaper ads run with a phone number that rang in some little old lady’s house two states away.

Had Websites refuse to accept opt-ins or money, due to a tech glitch.

Oh, it goes on and on. You know the drill firsthand, I’m sure.

As humans, we are not wired to naturally want to finish stuff. We enjoy starting things… but find excuses not to do the detail stuff that gets the project up on its own feet.

It’s what separates the winners from the whiners.

So… Step One is to begin something. And Step 30, no matter where it comes, is finishing it.

Finish something from your in-box today. Get in the habit.

John Carlton

P.S. Are there any subjects you’d like to see covered in this blog? Let me know in the comments section. Here’s your chance to get on the soapbox.

P.P.S. I am gone all next week. On a four-day golf trip with my longtime buddy Stan, if you must know. We’re going to golf two world-class courses, twice each… even if we have to do it in the rain. These trips are sacred. If you don’t golf, you will never understand the pure Zen appeal of the game. If you do golf, nothing more needs to be said.

This little trip is going to recharge my entire system.

So, for my Insiders… I won’t be answering email all week long. Don’t panic. But I’ll be back, and full of new piss and vinegar, a week from Monday.

Try not to burn the joint down while I’m gone.

Patience, Dude

I heard a great piece of advice the other day. Again. (Sometimes I need to hear good advice about a dozen times before it “takes”.)

It’s simple: Don’t put anything in an email you wouldn’t want to see repeated tomorrow in the newspaper.

It’s also violated on a regular basis by people who should know better.

Like… uh… me, for example.

I have recently sent email on two occasions — one to a colleague, one to a client — that I wrote while in my “end of the day” winding-down stupor. Not drunk, not feeling crazy or even ‘onery.

Just letting my guard down a bit, getting ready to hit the sack.

And each email — which I wrote quicky, and sent off with a “what the hell” flourish — caused ENORMOUS chaos. I was misunderstood, I caused panic and alarm, I nearly ended a 15-year friendship.

I got calls early the next day each time. I couldn’t even remember what the heck I’d written — I certainly hadn’t wanted to kick any beehives over.

But that’s what I’d done.

I’m sure you have your own embarrassing, humiliating or career-ruining examples. Post them in the comments section, if you’re in a confessional mood. It’s not good to keep these sordid stories hidden.

The problem, of course, is the immediacy of email communication. Humans aren’t designed for this kind of click-and-it’s-gone lightning speed communication.

We really need to let things sit and stew for a while.

When I was a kid, the phone was the most immediate means of communication there was… other than running over to someone’s house and staring them down face-to-face. Being in the presence of another person naturally inhibits your urge to tell him how you REALLY feel (unless you’re a psychopath). The phone is one step removed from that, but since you have to form words and attempt coherency, there is still a pretty decent inhibiting factor.

It may only be a fraction of a second, but you still have time to shut up, or even pretend you were misunderstood. (“Did I say ‘would you go to the Prom with me?’ I didn’t mean to say that. I know you’re already going with Bruno. I meant to say ‘wasn’t the weather nice today?'”)

When all else fails, you could always just deny you said whatever the other person said you said.

“No, I didn’t.” “Yes, you did.” “No, I didn’t.”

The old advice for letter writers (going back to the ancient Greeks) was to put the missive aside for at least a day before sending it. Let the words cool down a bit, let your emotions subside, give the whole situation some air.

And this was good advice, whether it concerned matters of love, business, or war.

Today, technology has just plain galloped way past common sense. You can now put a period on your thought and hit send — and have your email shoot into the other person’s mailbox — faster than you can blink.

This is not a good thing.

This immediacy of email, text messaging, and cell phones is bleeding over to everything else we do. A very good book, “Blink” by my main man at the New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell, seems to support quick action based on immediate intuition… but it doesn’t.

What Gladwell says is that your first instinct is often correct, even if we don’t understand the logic or computations that went into that first impression.

But he never says to act on it before the thought is through computing.

Listen: I am very fast writer. Sometimes, my first drafts resemble my final drafts… even when I do twelve edits in between. Most of my edit time is on finishing touches. The main thought is often caught in the first draft.

But I never send that first draft off as finished product.

No way.

I let most of my copy sit for a day or so. Let it simmer. I want to give it a “cold” read before launch. You’d be astonished at the crap that will scoot by your inner editor while you’re still “too close” to the copy.

It’s scary.

We all need to nurture our “Zen” default more. That’s the state you need to relax into, say, when your flight’s delayed and there’s nothing you can do about it. Or when your Significant Other is trying to find something to wear for the big party. Or when you walk outside and — just as you’re about to jump in the car to rush to the post office to beat the Fed Ex truck and get that package sent — you notice that you’re witnessing one of the most glorious sunsets in the history of the world.

Screw the Fed Ex truck.

Sometimes, you just gotta Zen-out. It’s good for you.

I discovered long, long ago that any woman I hooked up with long-term would have to understand that sometimes, I just sit and stare at the wall.

I’ve had women run screaming out of my life, convinced I was a zombie. Or stupid. Or acting.

Most people do not understand, or value, contemplation.

Too bad for them. Their loss.

It’s what we do, writers. We take in massive payloads of info, let it stew, stare at the wall… and allow our experience and skills to mold that info into a killer piece of copy.

Patience rocks.

If you’ve lost the skill, re-install it in your hard drive.

And stop sending ill-though-out emails.

Side note: My update of the Freelance Course — with everything you need to start your own freelance career immediately — is nearly done. My geek is working on the Web site as I write this.

This is some VERY exciting stuff, too. Did you know I had TWO students earn over $300,000 last year… in their FIRST year of freelancing, after reading my material?

One of them knew NOTHING about copy, or freelancing, or dealing with clients at all. Steep learning curve, but what he did is completely doable by anyone with the piss and vinegar to go neck-deep into the opportunity.

Included in the update is everything you need to know about finding a mob of desperate, cash-rich clients online… so you don’t have to live anywhere near big businesses, don’t have to deal with agencies anymore, don’t even have to ever shave or bathe.

I figure ten days to two weeks, and this puppy will finally be available. You’ll be the first to hear about this blazing new package, through this blog.

Stay tuned.

John Carlton

Gonzo, We Hardly Knew Ya…

I stopped reading Hunter S. Thompson’s missives from the edge around twenty years ago.

I didn’t want to stop reading him… but, like Picasso, he had moved on to a place I could no longer understand. So, I sated my jones for good, hilarious political writing through P.J. O’Rourke (who, conincidentally, replaced Gonzo as Rolling Stone’s first-choice political reporter).

It wasn’t a matter of politcal slant, either. O’Rourke is a moderate Republican reptile, who lately has found himself to the left of the rest of the GOP. Kinda lost. Thompson defied being nailed down — the left wanted him, because he wrote about drugs, but he was at heart pure “go screw yourself” libertarian. He belonged to no one.

O’Rourke was once claimed by the left — in his youth, he was a star at the National Lampoon magazine, where he contributed heavily to the barely-fictious stories that (channeled through the brilliant Doug Kenney) became the movie “Animal House”.

He stopped doing drugs (so he says) after college, and settled on being a good, drunk Irish writer. And, once the fog of the sixties drifted away, he rediscovered his conservative roots.

No matter what your own politics are, you gotta love the guy.

Because O’Rourke — no matter how blotto he got — never lost his deft touch as a writer. His stuff is crisp, clean and has a point. It’s also damn funny. I have half a dozen of his books on my shelf right now, all dog-eared. You want good, savvy, funny political writing, he’s your man right now. (Molly Ivins comes close at times… but I think she’s too sober.) (What is it about Irish writers, anyway? It’s like some unfair advantage.)

But Thompson deserves his due. Picasso, most people forget, started out as a world-class “real life” painter. He knew anatomy cold, and probably would have attained fame anyway. But, for whatever reason, he turned his back on representative painting, and led the way into abstract art. His modern stuff is okay, to my eyes… but, like I said last blog, I think the real heroes of art are the illustrators who mastered their craft and went after that “moment of truth”. Their canvases are lush and deep. The abstract stuff is thin.

It’s okay, but it’s thin.

I’ve never quite understood why art that needs to be explained to the viewer (“he took the concept of white space in a totally different direction here, splashing color like angry emotions…”) gets such high marks from critics. It’s like modern attempts to “remake” music — John Cage gave whole concerts where his group just sat there in silence. Get it? Silence, the pure absence of music, becomes music.

Or whatever.

I’ll take Jimmy Smith, or the Smiths, or even the local bar band, thank you very much.

Now, before you think I’m an art hater, you should know that I collect the work of local artists, and much of it is very abstract stuff. But I really go nuts over the guys who show real craft, who have obviously paid their dues learning to master their medium, whether it’s ceramics or paint or masks. And, last night I went to the Laurie Anderson performance art thing (“The End Of The Moon”) and loved it. Well, most of it, anyway. There was a twenty-minute segment in there that lost me entirely, and I’m pretty sure she lost 90% of the audience, too.

But she won most of us back in the final fifteen minutes.

When her monologue again became something coherent you could follow.

For me, it’s all about clarity.

Not simplicity. It’s not the same thing. I love to get lost in difficult intellectual shit, and I don’t mind admitting I can be a snob about certain “insider” subjects… such as knowing the real story behind events happening now, so I can demolish anyone who tries to bludgeon me with the simplistic black-and-white nonsense they just heard on the radio.

No. Clarity is just the most fundamental method of high-end communication. You can say what you mean, because you’ve done the hard work — before sitting down to write — of discovering the essence of what you want to say.

So much of modern communication is like a Lassie episode: “What is it, girl? Did Timmy fall down the well again?”

I don’t have the time to figure out what someone wants to say. Or the energy.

Just lay it out, man. Tell the truth.

Hunter Thompson, believe it or not, was once a model of clarity. His most famous book is “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, and it’s a wild ride of a read. But it’s not his best work.

He wrote the grandfather of modern political books while immersed in the Nixon-McGovern presidential race in the early 1970s. “Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail ’72” is necessary reading for anyone interested in the amazing year that set in motion our current political environment.

I believe it will still be read a century from now.

But my favorite Thompson book… is his first big one. He went undercover with the Hell’s Angels in the mid-sixties, and did such a shocking expose that they later beat him within an inch of his life for writing it.

The book is “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs”. Studs Terkel called it “superb and terrifying”… and anything Studs likes is good stuff indeed.

Gonzo, like Picasso, started out doing what everyone else was doing… but doing it just a little bit better.

And both of them decided that wasn’t good enough. To please some inner Muse, they went off in search of their own versions of clarity.

And left many people in the dust.

As a professional writer with, oh, a quarter-century experience under my belt, I know how hard it is to be clear. You can spend your entire career honing those chops, and still have room for improvement after your masterpiece.

For me, that is a pure, wonderful goal to head for — to be understood, in a clear and riveting way that demands readership.

You can have the best damn story in the universe to relate… but if you lose your reader, that story gets tossed on the dust bin of history.

But if you can attain total lucidity… you transcend the mere act of being clear… and become a permanent voice in your reader’s head.

I can dig that brilliant artists, having conquered the “normal” way of communicating, want to stretch out in new directions. Let the voyager go. Dude, I hope you enjoy the ride.

But I ain’t going with you. Right now, I’m reading a compilation of Mark Twain’s non-fiction work, and his wicked-sharp pen still resonates a century later. He understood politics, and he communicates that understanding crystal-clear.

God, it’s good reading. Like O’Rourke, it’s crisp, clean, and has a point.

Thompson was like that, once. There have been a ton of eulogies written about him in the two weeks since he cashed in his ticket, and the world doesn’t need another one.

But hear this: He deserved the accolades. He really had the goods.

If you want to know why he made such a fuss coming on the journalistic scene, read the Hell’s Angel book and the ’72 Campaign Trail tome.

For your own writing… reread Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style”, and strive to effortlessly become a voice inside your reader’s head.

A clear, crisp, vibrant voice.

This new generation hasn’t got it’s own Gonzo yet. And it needs one.

John Carlton

Lest You Think I’m Whacked…

The first artist to catch my eye, as a kid, was Wally Woods. His best work was in the “great” years of Mad magazine (before the asshole publisher fired Kurtzman and Elder and turned the rag into a creative blob)… mostly the decade between the Congressional hearings on the dangers of comic books in the early fifties through the election of JFK.

I liked Woods because he snuck “dirty” stuff into each scene, yes… but even more because he was able to infuse his panels with real movement and a sense of organic life. No one else came close, in the world of cartooning, until Robert Crumb.

I started my own mini-career as a cartoonist before I knew how to write. Pencil and pad of paper, and I was a happy little feller. My career peaked when I was given a weekly cartoon strip in my high school paper (for which I won a Quill & Scroll pin), and later another weekly strip in my college paper (which I kept up for a full year after I graduated).

What does cartooning have to do with marketing?

Not much. But give me a second.

I want to scare the living bejesus out of you.

The best cartoonists in the short history of publishing have actually been fine artists. (A famous critic once called R. Crumb “the Breugel of our time”, referring to the breakthrough Flemish painter who used real life village scenes, in action, as his subject matter. His work remains a rare glimpse into early Renaissance life among peasants.) The best work is mesmerizing, and you can stare at it for hours, or come back to it years later, and still find new stuff in it.

I sucked as a cartoonist, because I was self-taught and insisted on struggling to discover the “secret” of great graphic art all on my lonesome. No classes, no tutoring, no help at all from anyone.

What an idiot. But that’s the way my mind worked. I had to learn, the hard way, how to ask, to seek, to knock.

And though I’ve long since given up drawing for writing, I still like to check in on the whacky world of comic art every now and then.

My love of Mad, and then Zap, was augmented with an adolescent love of horror comics. Creepy and Vampirella were the quality publications back then. And the guy who did the ground-breaking covers (plus a few panels inside now and then) was Frank Frazetta.

Even if you have no idea who Frazetta is, you know his work. Because he is the most copied artist in commercial art today. (As the most ripped-off copywriter on the Web today, I feel a kindred spirit.) He established himself doing cover art for the Conan the Barbarian novels, which spawned just about every sword and sorcery fantasy movie made in the last half-century.

Schwartzenegger owes his career to Frazetta’s work, because of Frank’s faithful rendering of super-muscled heroes battling dragons and demons, while stunning maidens with impossibly lush physical charms screamed warnings.

It can also be argued that heavy metal music owes its lasting appeal to Frazetta… and the first piece of evidence is that about half of all the thunk and shred albums since Molly Hatchet have featured rip-offs of Frazetta’s work.

Now… it’s taken me all these years to even begin to understand what it was about Frazetta’s and Wally Woods’ art that grabbed me so effectively. Out of all the hundreds and hundreds of other artists I was exposed to.

The answer became clear after watching a documentary on Frazetta.

And the key was this: He always painted scenes that were about two seconds from some climatic action.

This was important. Lesser fantasy artists always paint scenes that are already IN the action — the fight is already on, blows are already being delivered, the action is engaged.

Not Frank. The pure, raw, and undiluted tension in his paintings capture that moment of lull, when every participant realizes that the clash is about to begin. Eyes are wide, muscles tensed, the incredible force of motion is held up just for one last intake of breath.

Imagine stopping a huge ocean wave inches before it crashes on the sand. Imagine a little crab looking up, way too late to escape, tensed for the chaos. Imagine a surfer, having misjudged the undertow, realizing he’s about to wipe out on hard-pack beach… but not just yet.

Not just yet.

Boring artists simply have their subject stand there. Impatient artists depict action in full swing.

But the guy who transcends mere representation and creates art that leaves an impression knows how to find that exquisite moment of truth.

To my mind, the great artists of the twentieth century aren’t Picasso or Warhol or Johns.

The greats are the craftmen, the illustrators and cartoonists who obsessed on finding that “moment” in life that rocked your soul. And they did with comic books.

Now… the reason I bring this up has nothing whatsoever to do with art.

Nope. The point I’m trying to make is all about that moment of tension before things happen.

Most people live their lives waiting for big noises. They plod through their days until something wrenches them out of their routine… and then they grind their teeth until they can settle into the next waking dream.

The big noise can be a world war. Or another deep recession. Or some new plague.

What was before, is now history. What is now, is new and scary.

If you aren’t hip to those exquisite moments of held tension, you’ll forever be taken by surprise.

And guess what?

We’re in one of those moments right now.

Last blog, I tossed out my intuition that the Gold Rush days of the Web are nearing an end. Amazingly, I got zero comments on that.

Not a peep from anyone.

So, let’s twist the knife in a little more.

Last Fall, Intel Corp., Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and AT&T all got together for a super-secret technical brainstorm session.

The ONE subject they discussed: The complete structural collapse of the World Wide Web.

They all agree that we’re running up on some serious architectural limitations. The main problem is that millions of new users are signing on every day. Putting wicked stress on the network.

And entire developing nations, like China, have billions eagerly waiting to get online. Each time computer technology gets a dollar cheaper, the Web groans under another load of new users.

The big companies are trying to get another network launched. I believe the working name is “PlanetLab”, but what’s interesting for marketers is that this new network will have built-in traffic monitering and security gates.

That’s code for “no more Gold Rush”. That’s code for “controlled by The Man.”

The Great Depression really got going when farmers ignored the warnings of overharvesting in the mid-west and drained the soil of nutrients. It was preventable, but it happened.

Today, we pride ourselves on being able to better predict and counter most threats to our economy. But we aren’t perfect by any stretch.

Again, don’t panic or sell the house and move into the hills.

But don’t doze through the coming shakeouts, either.

We live in the most prosperous and strange times in the history of the world. No one knows what the place will look like even five years from now. It could all be just fine forever. Or, it could be a roller coaster ride. Or… something else.

We’re in a lull. The tension is palpable, if you can feel it.

Stay frosty.

And keep honing your old-school chops.

John Carlton