What’s your favorite Steven Spielberg Movie?
Ok, so Jaws and E.T. immediately spring to mind, but everybody goes with those. I think there’s something else out there.
Do you know what caught me by surprise? This is going to be an unpopular choice, and I’m not sure I wanna commit to what’s coming to mind now, but the remake of War of the Worlds.
It was phenomenal, and Tom Cruise played an amazing character because he actually just played himself. There were some great set pieces, like when they’re trapped in a barn … it’s Tim Robbins down there with them … and the eye comes in and searches them out. Stranger Things may have taken some inspiration from that super, super creepy feel. There were so many good scenes like that.
What’s a really memorable TV commercial from your youth?
So many. I used to tape some of them. I used to love Action Man, which is like G.I. Joe. I would put the tape cassette in, and every time the Action Man ads came on I would hit record so I could keep watching it.
There was one in particular where Action Man was a rollerblader, and he had tight black shorts on and a tight singlet, and orange-gold legs. And he would kind of … what’s the phrase when you kind of fly in on a rope? I believe it’s called “flying fox.” He would flying fox in, hit the deck, and skate off.
He even had a gun that shot harpoons, because you need that on rollerblades. I ended up getting that Action Man. I watched him so much I had to have him.
What surprises you about living in New York City?
I was surprised by how welcoming people are. A lot of people come here with that question in their minds, “Can I make it in New York?”
I think people are at different stages of answering that question, whether you’re a year in, six years in, fifteen years in. On some level everyone feels like maybe they’re failing. It’s just nice to arrive and meet other people who are maybe just as scared, or just as concerned about proving themselves and making it.
Everyone’s just trying to fight their own fight, and people are supportive of other people who are hustling. If they see you hustling as well, they respect that and kinda open up their arms to you.
What’s a frustrating cliché in advertising?
So many. I need to be careful because I’ve done most of these in my career, so I don’t wanna hurt myself here. I mean, manifesto commercials are still big.
What are those?
They’re the big, anthemic ads where you state your brand’s purpose. Something like:
“Home, it’s where the heart is. But it’s also where you get away. That’s where you belong. How do you find it? You don’t know. But when it’s in your heart, you feel it. Alex’s Peanuts. Crack them open, eat them, go home.”
The other one is kids in space. Oh, my God. For the last three or four years it’s been little boys, little girls, and space. Whether they’re lying on their bed looking up at stars on their ceiling, or they’re in homemade spacesuits in ships made out of cardboard … whenever you’ve gotta capture young wonder or discovery or hope, put the kids in space suits. It’s the future, it’s the next generation!
Having said that, I’m sure my next ad will have a kid in a space suit in it. And he’s probably going to do a manifesto.
Do you read graphic novels or comics?
I had a brief, brief stint when I was 15 and I bought up Alien Versus Predator. I jumped on eBay thinking I was going to make some money off comics.
It was before PayPal, so mom wrote a couple of $8 checks I sent off. The plan was to hold on to them and watch their value increase over several years.
The fact is, when you’re 15 you don’t have a lot of money, and you can’t be sitting on a bunch of Alien Versus Predator comics. I lasted about two weeks before I put them back on eBay and sold them for half the price.
But, it kick-started a love of eBay. That’s when I fell in love with advertising and selling, because I would take what I thought were incredible photos and write these beautiful eBay descriptions … the like the Internet’s never seen! I’d sell keyrings and paperweights and anything around the house I could find.
Have you read anything recently?
Have you read Saga? It’s incredible. I don’t know much about comics, but a guy I used to work with got me into it, and it’s this epic story—I know that phrase gets overused—but the writing of it was super honest, and the characters battle with real things.
It’s a woman and a man from different worlds, and their worlds hate each other, but they find love and they have a child, and they go on the run. A lot of it is told from the kid’s perspective, who’s now grown up and looking back on their parents’ life, and her life as a young kid. Brian K. Vaughan writes it, and Fiona Staples’ art is phenomenal. I look forward to every volume.
What are you listening to right now?
I don’t want people to judge me by this, but I’ve already said War of the Worlds was Spielberg’s best movie, so I’m gonna go for it. The new Arctic Monkeys album is very, very good.
I feel a little bit embarrassed to say that, because they’ve been around for like fifteen years, and they were this pop mega-band. They’ve taken a complete right turn, done something really risky, and created a concept album about a hotel and casino on the moon.
The lyrics are really funny and the music’s awesome. It’s rare for a band to surprise you four or five albums in. They’ve usually got their style and they stick to it, and then it slowly gets watered down as the years go on.
But these guys were able to find something fresh, and it’s inspiring to me that you can have different peaks and troughs through a career, and you don’t necessarily have this linear upward motion and then a slow decline when you get to a certain age. You can create something people fall in love with long after they think they’ve got your number.
If you had to have your ashes spread somewhere, where would it be?
So the ashes option is interesting because it’s the way I would wanna go. I wouldn’t be buried, because I think it’s just a waste of money and space.
I was reading about Johnny Depp in that Rolling Stone article and he spent quite a few dollars on blasting Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes into the sky like a firework.
I liked the bit where he paid something like an extra million dollars because it had to get a certain height. The rocket people had a standard height they aimed for, but there was this other, more expensive height of a nominal kind of building, like the Empire State Building. And Johnny’s like, “No, we’ve gotta go higher, Empire State.” He put the money down, and it happened.
So, I wouldn’t spend as much money as Johnny, but what I’d like to do is some kind of last prank beyond the grave. I love a good prank, I don’t think people do them enough, and I would love to organize with one person to do something funny with my ashes. It would be a super-cheesy dad joke.
It would be a kind of old-school, Steve Martin joke where … I don’t know, maybe it’s like a Japanese sand garden that someone has in their home, and they put my ashes in it. When people come over they go, “Oh, that’s nice.” Then they start raking through it and the owner says, “Oh, that’s actually Alex’s ashes. But keep raking it. It’s what he would have wanted.”