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The Role of a Lifetime

April 25, 2008 at 4:37 am UTC

Yes, that’s me wearing a tie. And glasses. With a perm.

Back in 1984 I heard a radio spot advertising an open casting call for a nationwide McDonald’s commercial. I convinced my Mom to take me to Reno (an hour away, thank you thank you thank you Mom), and I, along with 2,000 other people, ‘auditioned.’ I say ‘auditioned’ because I think all they had me do was talk about myself on camera for a few minutes. Incredibly, I was cast, and that weekend I spent an entire Saturday shooting my scene, over and over and over. I still vividly remember the director, desperately trying to motivate a 14 year-old with no acting skills whatsoever, telling me to ‘imagine a cute girl with really big boobs.’

The commercial aired, and I was amazed to find that my entire day of shooting had been cut down to a two second clip. Even more amazing, though, were the checks. Lots and lots of checks, coming to the house addressed to me. I don’t remember exactly, but I think I must have made about $10,000 over the run of the commercial. A ridiculous amount of money for a freshman in high school, especially in 1984 dollars.

My parents put a lot of it away for college, but they let me spend some of it, and I bought the very first pieces of what would become a lifelong fetish with electronic instruments: An Ensoniq ESQ-1 and an EMU Drumulator. I wrote hundreds of songs with these machines, and basically spent the rest of my youth trying to be like Yaz, or Depeche Mode, or Alphaville. (If you can honestly say that you know all three of those bands, I love you).

The truth is that my life was really transformed by those instruments, especially because I think I learned basic counterpoint and formal structure from sequencing songs on the ESQ-1. Best of all, they made me kind of cool, or at least cool at my small rural high school. And as you can tell by the picture above, cool was something I lacked even more than acting chops. So I really have to thank that McDonald’s commercial for changing my life, both in terms of music and in terms of girls.

And now dear reader, because I am so fond of you – and because I know that someone is eventually going to discover this and blackmail me with it anyway – I offer you the role that changed my life. Look for me around 00:17, and don’t blink.


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