never been a bitch so I don't act bitchy

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Less Is More

I'm not big on inventors or entrepreneurship, in general. That sort of stuff doesn't excite me much. The guy who came up with the iPod is clearly brilliant and I reap the benefits of his work, sure, but it is something so out of my realm of thinking, I have no relationship to the invention or any insight into the processes that got him to that Eureka! moment. Smart inventor guy. Good for him. He should meet the guy who invented Playstation 2. I'm sure they'd have lots to talk about.

However, occasionally an invention/innovation will come along that will floor me with its simplicity and elegancy. For example, when I was younger, way younger, like, Junior High, I came up with an idea I thought was brilliant. It was a fake car alarm for those who couldn't afford one! I had a whole manufacturing plan in place, too. It would be a tiny box running on a watch battery. One side would be sticky stuff so you could affix it to your dashboard, the other side would hold a blinking red light. When you left your car, you would turn it on and the light would blink, indicating you had a car alarm so robber, please move along. The other part of the package would be a very realistic sticker you would affix to your window, also indicating you had an alarm. Secondary evidence, as it were. "But wouldn't people get wise to the fake alarm company name?" Well, I would print five hundred different stickers! Confusing everyone, including the would-be burglars! Laziness and beer and, like, the prom kept me from ever doing it, and then of course, someone else did. Sure, maybe they did it before I ever had the idea. I don't know. All I know is I'm not a millionaire and I don't have a hot tub.

Here are two people who have hot tubs, and whose work I'm currently astounded by its elegance and simplicity and eau de business genius:


Alright, naturally, everyone on the Internet loves them, including me. I've been to numerous shows, have most of their CD's, etc. geekness, etc. But I'm currently on their jocks not for the clever songs and eclectic artistry. No. I'm crushing on them right now because they started writing music for children.

It seems very simple, but most great ideas do. Never best sellers, TMBG's, after dabbling in television scoring and musicals, released a children's album a few years back called "No!" It sold more than their normal releases do. And that got them thinking, boy. They wrote two more children's albums, "Bed, Bed, Bed," and "Here Come The ABC's," and expanded their new tot business, aggressively inking deals with Disney and Simon & Schuster. Crass and selling out? Well, no. Not at all. For one thing, TMBG's music has always been creative and humorous and experimental and sonically accessible and playful, all of which lends itself perfectly to music geared at children. The other half of that is that they are such good songwriters -- and because of that playful spirit already inherent in their music -- one doesn't get the sense that writing about the letters "LMNO," for example, would be a come down from writing about purple toupees or James K. Polk. It's difficult to imagine that they would find suddenly, partially gearing their work towards children binding or dispiriting; like the look behind the eyes of failed action star Vin Diesel as he promotes The Pacifier.

The other reason I admire this move from a tactical standpoint, is that finally parents have something to listen to other than cloying shit like Raffi. Additionally, old-school TMBG fans are popping out kids left and right! Perfect timing! Granted, weird little babies who get read Dave Eggers books as they drift to sleep and grow up on Soy Milk and the sound of daddy playing online gladiator games in the other room, but children nonetheless. Everybody wins!


I have a serious gay crush (unless it's a woman) on whoever concocted this fucking thing:

"Here's my sales pitch. People will give me their money. I will give it right back to them... but they'll only get 91% of their money back. That's all I do for them. I TAKE money from people, and they are happy about it afterwards. Who's in?"

Coinstar is genius. It is actually the "Change Bank" sketch from Saturday Night Live come to life. It's the most simple, perfect thing I've ever heard of, because everyone walks away happy! Banks stopped accepting loose bulk change and rolling coins is a fucking tedious endeavor. Enter Coinstar with its happy green machine, chillin' at the supermarket next to the firestarting logs and the dog food, casting shadows over the cheap-ass vending machines spitting out Homies and seven Skittles for a quarter. Coinstar doesn't even have to give you shit It just takes. Takes and takes and then prints out a tiny receipt for part of your own money back. And you walk away happy! Pure evil genius.

So They Might Be Giants and Coinstar, I salute you.

Now if you could just figure out at way to work a Roomba into your next offerings, I'll marry you both.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you need a fix of TMBG singing kids' songs, tune in to the Disney Channel and watch the Higgly Town Heroes. They sing the theme song and are part of a promo they play from time to time.

12:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coinstar actually really makes me mad, becuase the grocery store near where I went to college would do this for free. You dumped your change in, it gave you a voucher for ALL of the money, and the only catch was that you HAD to use it at that grocery store that day. No change would be given. Now, that grocery store has a Coinstar. Boo.

12:15 PM

Blogger Carol Elaine said...

Now I'm going to have to buy that TMBG kids' CD. Because it's not like I don't spend enough money on music as it is. Thanks, stee!

I had that same fake alarm idea back in the late 80s/early 90s and never did anything with it either. Where's my damn hot tub?

I refuse to use Coinstar. I want all my money, damn it.

12:17 PM

Blogger Omar said...

About two weeks ago, I sat down at my dining room table and rolled about $17 worth of pennies that I'd been accumulating for about a year. I spent $1 on a big bag of penny roll papers at Wal-Mart (check out my life: livin' LARGE!). It took me over an hour.

I hate the idea of CoinStar, but goddamn if I don't wish I had that $1 and hour of my time back.

Plus putting in the coins in that machine is fun. It's like playing slots in Hell.

1:09 PM

Blogger David Grenier said...

I used coinstar once, in college, when I was desperate for money. I got pretty pissed about the 7% surcharge (I guess they've gone up to 9% now) and never used it again.

Now I just make sure to spend my loose change before it can accumulate. Yeah, I'm that asshole in front of you at Dunkin Donuts who actually gives them $3.67 instead of a five.

1:13 PM

Blogger Carol Elaine said...

But David, are you the asshole who gives them $3.67 in nothing but change? Because sometimes that asshole is me.

2:54 PM

Blogger kate said...

If you live in New York City (or New Jersey, I think) Commerce Bank has a free change counting machine. And it counts all your money, not just part of it. I used to love Coinstar, but now I love Commerce. I'm waiting for a reason to hate them, like I hate every other bank I've ever used, but so far I LOVE LOVE LOVE Commerce.

4:02 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, you obviously don't work for Commerce then. Because they are a crazed cult of insane-o freaks. Can you feel the WOW? Suck it, Commerce.

7:58 PM

Blogger Liz said...

TMBG kid's music is fabulous. I do not own a Raffi CD. I will not buy Raffi if at all possible. And, while I like trying to get my child to listen to my music, it's a bit difficult once you realize the number of words in those songs that you'd rather not have your three-year-old utter.

Also, if you're in the market for kids music, check out Ralph's World. Good original stuff and hysterical remakes. "M-o-m-m-y needs c-o-f-f-e-e."

2:16 PM


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