Time Is Not On Our Side

(Atlas Ventures. Capability brochure.)

We do not work in stone although we may use stones to make a point. No, we work with ideas, and ideas, even the best ideas, even brilliant ideas, have a shelf life. The shelf life may be as brief as that of a baguette or as enduring as a loaf of Wonder Bread, but a shelf life all the same.

Early in my career, ideas, and the media we used to express them, may have been employed for as long as two years. Taglines and positionings might last a decade. Today, ideas may blossom only once like the flower Queen of the Night. And words, our precious words, read under the unforgiving and quick-to-punish light of new prohibitions and readings, have all the weight of a fledgling.

The work I conceived for KMedic, a surgical instrument company, did its job—from its initial appearance—and continued to win market share and generate profits for 8 years. It succeeded so well, it caused so much trouble for a much larger competitor, that that business felt compelled to acquire and then quickly bury the brand.

Eight years of work, gone overnight. This was not the first time or the last that good = death.

(Iconic KMedic Ad.)

KMedic begat gSource, which begat Apiary. Work without end. Amen.

350 West 39th, iconic “Bauhaus” building.
(350 West 39th, iconic “Bauhaus” building. 2002 R/Greenberg used Paper to tell the story of its rebirth as R/GA.)

Countless times I bounced up the stairs at R/GA between 1999 and 2003. Up and out again; then out for good. I wrote prophetic words.

As it goes, so we go, too, and my work, however inspired, was always stamped with an expiration date. It never made a lot of sense to grow too attached to it. Someone else determined its relevance with the same cold eye cast by Atropos. Still, I did. I couldn’t help myself. “I’m sentimental not made of wood.”

(These black cases were as ubiquitous as smart devises are today. They held our books, laminated ads, and our reels. I never carried mine, or set it down on the sidewalk, without feeling it was only matter of time before  I ran into Willie Loman. They disappeared with the privileging of digital over print media.)

The truth, sentiment has no place in the business. Work is disposable—whether it’s the nature of the beast or by design. Just like the money we earned. Job titles. As tenuous as relationships we entered into.

Today, I can walk up Madison and down Park and across to Third and down to 23rd Street and further, all the way down to Grand and then, turn back up to Prince and go further west to Hudson and Houston and on north to west 39th Street.

Eastside and westside, all around the town, I can point to this building or to that building and say: I worked here. I worked there. And, there was a client, and there, too, a client. 35 years of work, across the weft and warp of the City.

Tornado thorough. 2016, 350 W. 39th. Demolished R/GA Complex
(Tornado thorough. 2016, 350 W. 39th. Demolished R/GA Complex.)

All come tumbled down.

“A terrible beauty.” My response to it all? To remembrances of years past? To work forgotten and people gone? To paraphrase Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses: It is beyond my control.*

*Control, Gregory Bateson once told me, “There is no control and the idea of control is pathological.”