We all know the old quote. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
This kind of persistence is considered a virtue, especially when one is engaged in a noble pursuit like trying to cure the common cold, discovering America, or attempting to rig a bird feeder so that the squirrels can’t loot it, boldly, right in front of you, day after day, no matter what you do…but I digress.
“It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
Yeah, Bill Gates said that. Of course, there’s another old maxim: “That’s easy for you to say.” Bill Gates is the richest guy in the world, or close enough that it doesn’t make much difference. I mean how many diamond-encrusted, squirrel-proof bird feeders can one man use, right? Failure’s sting can be numbed more than a little bit by just one $55 billion success.
“They all laughed at Alexander Graham Bell. They all laughed at Steve Jobs. They all laughed at Jeremy Geomorphia…”
And yet we have telephones, or at least we used to have them. Anyway, now we have “smartphones,” and nobody’s laughing anymore. Jeremy Geomorphia? Well, they were right to laugh at him. Turned out nobody needed his innovative, non-slip collars for their pet boa constrictors.
People laughed at Chip Davis, too. But that’s exactly what he wanted them to do.
When the kid out of Ohio came to Omaha to work for an advertising agency, he brought the funny. He and Bill Fries put together the “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep on A-Truckin’ Cafe” campaign for Old Home Bread. It was a huge success. That success naturally led to Davis and Bill (under the pseudonym C.W. McCall) catching the CB radio wave and surfing it all the way to a number one hit song, “Convoy.”
Within two years, Davis was riding the wave even higher. No less a Hollywood icon than Sam Peckinpah was bringing Rubber Duck, Pig Pen, and Sodbuster to life on the silver screen in a big-budget movie starring Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw. The 1978 flick remains a cult classic to this day, and…interesting fact: Convoy was the biggest grossing box office success of the legendary director’s career.
Davis wasn’t finished succeeding. About the same time “Convoy” was taking the pop music world by storm, he started a little thing called Mannheim Steamroller. FYI, the moniker comes from “Mannheim Roller,” a crescendo passage having a melodic line over an ostinato bass line originating in the Mannheim school of composition in the 18th century. Add a little Christmas in the `80s and the rest is, as they say, history—or just plain success.
Success. Success. Success. So what’s missing? Ah yes, failure. Where’s the failure? What huge mistake taught Davis a valuable lesson? What misstep gave Davis the chance to appreciate all of his success?
In a word, his biggest failure was me.
Disco was running big in the `70s. Really big. Davis decided to paddle towards that ocean swell. Thus he produced the dance club classic, “I am the Boogie Man,” a disco anthem for the ages. The lead vocalist? Me. But this time the muse had misled Davis. Almost simultaneously, Steve Dahl held “Disco Demolition Night” in 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago and nearly destroyed the venerable stadium when a riot broke out. Disco was dead.
There was an apocryphal story that thousands of unsold vinyl copies of “Boogie Man” were unceremoniously dumped in Davis’ driveway in the dead of a cold Nebraska night. It was the biggest disaster of his long career.
And I was to blame.
If it is true as Sophocles said, “There is no success without failure,” then I must finally take credit where credit is due.
Chip, you’re welcome.
Otis XII hosts the radio program, Early Morning Classics with Otis XII, on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.