Some weeks, I rattle out a column in 20 minutes — no smart-aleck remarks — other weeks, I’m spinning my wheels for ideas.
Same thing with music. I can spend hours, days, weeks trying to get something right and the end product still lacks something intangible.
You never can predict if or when a brilliant idea will drop in out of nowhere, just be ready to run with it.
Take the case of Milton Glaser, who died last week on his 91st birthday (quite a sense of timing, I might add).
He was certainly no slouch. If you are a Dylan fan, you might have had his poster featuring Bob with psychedelic hair at some point in your life. Maybe you bought it at one of those poster sales colleges always had sometime during the first two weeks of the fall semester, along with the obligatory “Dark Side of the Moon” poster.
Yeah, I went to college, too.
He also was a co-founder of New York magazine, his own design firm, created the Brooklyn Brewery logo among countless others (Trump Vodka, anyone?) and for his work on Mad Men. Yep, that Mad Men.
So he obviously brought a lot of talent to the table. Yet, the thing he was best known for was something he called a “little, simple, nothing of an idea.”
In 1977, he pitched a logo as part of a tourism campaign for New York State. When it was rejected, he quickly dashed off another idea while sitting in the backseat of a cab.
“I 🖤 NY”
And thus, one of the iconic advertising catchphrases of my generation was born.
Hats. T-shirts. Mugs. Television and radio campaigns. Keychains, stickers and just about anything else you could imagine have carried that logo in the 45 years since.
He gave the idea away for free to his home city and state out of love, according to New York magazine. Scribbled on the back of an envelope that is now part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art. Could you ask for a better-scripted Hollywoodesque story?
While so many tourism campaigns are short-lived and fall by the wayside, “I 🖤 NY” endures. The phrase is as iconic as the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and those hot dogs that have been simmering in that water for a decade.
So iconic was that image that, in the wake of 9/11, he developed an equally-iconic sequel of a bruised heart, “I 🖤 NY MORE THAN EVER” — a proverbial middle finger that forever proves why the terrorists will never win.
I have spent the better part of my career, when I’m not spouting off opinion, in creative endeavors. You can put hours, days or weeks into something and think it is a masterpiece for it to be forgotten by the next morning. But something you rattle off in just a few minutes, something truly inspired in subtleness and simplicity, that can have staying power if you can recognize it for what it is and leave it alone.
“It just demonstrates that every once in a while you do something that can have enormous consequences,” he told the Village Voice in 2011.
Here’s to enormous consequences, Mr. Glaser.