Cluetrain, a word that didn’t exist before Chris (aka RageBoy), David Weinberger, Rick Levine and I made it up during a phone conversation in early 1999 (and based it on a joke about a company that didn’t get clues delivered by train four times a day), is now tweeted constantly, close to 23 years later. (And by now belongs in the OED.)
In his book The Tipping Point, which was published the same month as The Cluetrain Manifesto (January, 2000), Malcolm Gladwell said, “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” He also called this “the Law of the Few.” Among those few, one needed three kinds of people: mavens, connectors, and salespeople. Chris was all three. To different degrees so were David, Rick and myself; but Chris was the best, especially at connecting. He was the one who brought us together. And he was the one who sold us on making something happen. He moved us from one Newtonian state to another—a body at rest to a body in motion—by sending us this little graphic:
After we got that, we had to put up the Cluetrain website. And then we had to expand that site into a book, thanks to the viral outbreak of interest that followed a column about the site—and Chris especially, face and all—in The Wall Street Journal. Though a great enemy of marketing-as-usual, nobody was better than Chris at spreading a word. I mean, damn: dude got Cluetrain in the fucking Wall Street Journal! (Huge hat tip to Tom Petzinger for writing that column, and for writing the book’s forward as well.)
Want to know Chris’s marketing techniques? Read Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices, which followed Cluetrain, and had the best cover ever, with bullet holes (actual holes) through a barcode, and a red page behind it. I’m sure Chris came up with that idea. His graphic sense was equally creative, sharp, and—as with everything—outrageous.
Or listen to the audio version, performed by Chris in his perfect baritone voice.
Good God, what a great writer Chris was. Try Winter Solstice. One pull-quote: “We learn to love the lie we must tell ourselves to survive.”
And his stories. OMG, were they good. Better than fiction, and all true.
For example, you know how, when two people are first getting to know each other, they exchange stories about parts of their lives? I remember once telling Chris that my parents were frontier types who met in Alaska. While I thought that would take us down an interesting story hole (my parents really were interesting people), Chris blasted open a conversational hole of his own the size of a crater: “My father was a priest and my mother was a nun.” Top that.
Once, when I missed a plane from SFO to meet Chris in Denver, I mentioned that I was standing next to a strangely wide glass wall at my just-vacated gate in Terminal 1. “I know that gate well,” he said. “And that glass is a trip. I once missed a plane there myself while I was on acid and got totally into that glass wall.” I don’t remember what he said after that, except that it was outrageous (for anyone but Chris) and I couldn’t stop laughing as his story went on.
Among too many other stories to count, here is one I hope his soul forgives me for lifting (along with that picture of him) from a thread on Facebook:
on this Father’s Day I am recalling getting drunk with MY dad on Christmas Eve 1968, as was our custom back then (this month I am 34 years sober). he told me he was suicidal and i knew he meant it. so I turned him on to acid there and then. it was a bit of a rocky trip, but things were better for him after that.
btw, when the trip got really rough, I tricked him into thinking he could fall asleep. “If you want to come down, just take six of these big bomber multivitamin pills and that’ll be it.” fat chance! but he fell sound asleep. as I sat next to him marveling at the sound of guardian angel wings softly beating over us, THE PHONE RANG!!! OMG. at like 4am! and worse, it was my judgmental hyper-Catholic MOTHER!! she said…
hello, is your father over there
….yes… I said.
are you two taking LSD?
oh no! had she gone psychic??
….yes… I said, fearful of what was coming next.
THANK GOD, she said. SOMETHING had to give.
“well, have a good trip,” she said, and rang off.
I’ll leave you with this, from a post on Chris’s Rageboy blog called Dust My Boom. It was written on the occasion of an odd wind coming toward Boulder that now seems prophetic toward the future that came three days ago when a wind-driven fire swept across the landscape, eventually roasting close to 600 homes, a hotel, and a shopping center. Read the whole thing for more about the wind…
There’s so much you don’t know about me. Cannot ever, no matter how hard I try to make it otherwise. I have been places, done things impossible to recount. I remember nights of love, each different from all the rest. I have sat beside the dead in the room with the open windows. I have seen those ships on fire off Orion’s shoulder.
Yeah well. I wrote something into the cluetrain manifesto that must have raised some eyebrows among our more knowing cousins. And it went like this:
…People of Earth
The sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be. Whatever you’ve been told, our flags fly free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember.
So I should end this now, but that’s way too dramatic and drama is the wrong note to end on. I think I need to put in something ordinary here, pedestrian. A joke maybe. A duck walks into a bar…
Because, whatever it is, it’s just the normal regular passage of time. Nothing mystical. Nothing shocking. We are born. We grow old. We die. In between, we sometimes get a glimpse of something. If I knew what it was, I’d tell you in a second. I don’t know. Take this piece of writing as my prayer flag flapping out in the wind of a day that came on sideways. Who knows where it’s headed? Tomorrow I have a con-call at noon, a website to build, and forty-one phone calls to return. Possibly lunch.
What I do know is that if you’re lonely and you’re hurting, then you’re human. What am I telling you this for? Hell if I know. To cheer you up maybe. Let me know if it worked.
And remember the man who said all that, and so much more. He was here for real, and he is missed.