April 7, 2024

The recent Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp ended with a crescendo…with the last call being all about how Gene Schwartz “created” his copy.

We showed a portion of a presentation Gene gave in the 1990’s…where he spoke his classic line:

“Copy is not written. Copy is assembled”

And assemble he did.

From “assembling” an environment suited to do his best thinking and writing (down to where he placed his coffee cup and pitcher of cream); to writing without regard for editing (at least initially); and to think beyond the words on the paper (i.e. using “picture words” that create images in the reader’s mind).

This last point is the premise for his other classic book, The Brilliance Breakthrough, which you can read about here in “Reading Pictures.”

There is also a story I’ve told about how every time I gave Gene a book to write a promotion for, instead of saying, “Thank you Brian, I will get you the copy ASAP,” the first thing he asked was:

“What’s NOT in the book?”

His premise behind his question:

Force the client (in this case me) to think about additional cutting-edge material that would make for an even more compelling copy.

That’s insatiable curiosity leading to assembly…which is far more than simply writing a promotion for a product.

Gene was an amazing man…and he still is…because of the masterpiece books he left us.

And we have built on his genius with the creation of the Bootcamp (this most recent one was our sixth) …and how we assembled Breakthrough Advertising Mastery, the 500-page companion volume to Breakthrough Advertising.

And leave it to Chris Mason, my marketing partner and “author” of the Bootcamp, to add to the syllabus, a video of John Mayer on his creative process (which in many ways mirrors what Gene talks about).

Watch these 2 minutes of how Mayer improvises in real time on a live stream video.

Feels like Gene Schwartz sitting at his desk freely writing with no constraints (but with coffee and cream instead of a guitar) 🙂

With Mayer adding the element of “stupid bravery.”

It’s always worth watching an artist in action.

Writing is writing.

Assembly goes beyond writing.

And genius is just genius.

Watching the Mayer video for the first time during the bootcamp blew my mind…and reminded me of George Carlin, a legendary comedian, who had a similar creative “process” (if you can call any of this a process).

In George Carlin’s American Dream the 2022 documentary about his life (which I highly recommend), there was a nugget in it from late night talk show host Stephen Colbert that resonated with me…and I thought it might resonate with you.

Yes…I am on a constructive string of tangents now. 🙂

Colbert called Carlin, “The Beatles of comedy.”

I guess Gene Schwartz would be “The Beatles of copywriting?”

You know all about Gene Schwartz…it will help if you’ve heard of George Carlin…but it’s not required to have heard of Carlin to get the gist of Colbert’s quote.

Comparing anyone or anything to The Beatles is as good as it gets.

We often use Mount Rushmore to spotlight a “top four” in anything…sports figures, historical figures, movies, books etc.…and yes, even copywriting (you may recall that I have TWO Mount Rushmore’s of copywriters, one for the first 20 years of my career in direct marketing and one for my second 20 years).

I couldn’t help myself…I needed to construct a second mountain.

Four decades working with the best copywriters in the world deserved a minimum of eight honorees.

There are many more who are worthy.

Creating ONE Mount Rushmore is so hard.

But referring to someone as The Beatles of their craft?

That’s a mountain of one.

Whether you like The Beatles music or not (and if nothing The Beatles ever composed ever moved you in some way, it’s OK to stop reading this post now), you still need to respect what they created over seven years (which felt like a century) of accomplishment.

Not to mention all four of them having extensive careers of their own after their breakup (more on the breakup in the P.S.).

Somewhat recently, Paul McCartney hosted a concert to celebrate his 80th birthday—with guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi—representing The Beatles’ longevity and influence.

What did it really mean when Colbert compared George Carlin to The Beatles?

It meant that Carlin stood alone, looming over the thousands of comedians that came before him and after him, in the areas of innovation, exploration…and being a voice for multiple generations.

Some might argue Lenny Bruce was “that guy” which I can’t argue with…but Carlin was right there. They can be a Mount Rushmore of two. 🙂

Of course Carlin has some famous “bits” and classic jokes that stand the test of time (check out “7 Words You Can’t Say on TV”)…just as everyone has at least one (probably dozens) of favorite Beatles songs.

But it’s bigger than that.

What Carlin is to comedy and The Beatles are to music transcends their respective mediums into a world of contribution never seen before…or after.

That is, a stand-up comic and a rock and roll band becoming writers…then philosophers…and ultimately icons.

That’s why they don’t have to share a mountain with others in their fields.

I’ll repeat this for effect:

They are each a mountain of one.

As is Gene Schwartz.

Note that “writing” is part of the equation for all three…how Carlin observed the world in his own words is something he shares with every comic who preceded him and post dated him; but how he wrote about it, dove deeper than all others, while changing with the times, is something that sets Carlin apart (and it’s what set The Beatles apart as well).

And Gene.

Writing while the world is on fire—and staying relevant—is never easy.

It should be noted that Carlin and The Beatles were often left for dead or obsolete (as “old news” living in the past) …only to rise again with a new piece of work, never seen previously and 100% unique, setting a new standard for excellence, and a higher bar for others to clear.

And I am personally responsible for bringing Gene’s work back to life with the help of his awesome wife Barbara.

Carlin changed with the times and always had something to offer with his writing (and performances) that shocked you into paying attention…and he got more sophisticated (albeit a bit darker) as time went on.

Throughout his career he was always a “Master of Wordplay”, culminating with as his career came to an end, with his last filmed concert, “It’s Bad for Ya” (recorded a few months before he died).

It is as dark as anything he had done before but people still talk about it as much as his early work.

Everything he did was timely—not including the times he was told he was obsolete—but he used those accusations that he was no longer relevant as a battle cry (i.e. motivation) to get off his butt to get with the times.

And to write (and then perform) with his head and his heart being one.

The same was true with The Beatles, who took us from light and airy (I Want to Hold Your Hand and Love Me Doto a different view of the world and people with songs like Back in the U.S.S.R. and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

And I learned yesterday that The Beatles song Blackbird (written in 1968) was a tribute to segregationists of the civil rights movement in the 1950’s (after Beyonce covered it in her new album to the delight of Paul McCartney).

Talk about being timely forever.

There’s a lesson here from these icons:

Both light and dark writing can be attention grabbing…each for a purpose…and should always be consistent with the period when it is written.

Making the leap from “writing during radical change” into being seen as a philosopher is something that was explored in the Carlin documentary…and it’s a leap very few can make…and Carlin and The Beatles did just that.

I went to The Google for a definition of “philosopher” that fit nicely into what I am referring to:

A person [copywriters, comedians and rock groups are people too!
] whose philosophical perspective makes meeting trouble with equanimity easier.

An expounder of a theory in a particular area of experience.

There was certainly “trouble to be met” in the 60’s and 70’s when these three icons were doing their thing in their prime …and they created calmness, composure and evenness of temper (the definition of equanimity) in their audiences with their work…often using a confrontational style, kind of like “we don’t care if you like the way we are presenting this issue to you but you need to hear it”…and just as often using fun and entertainment to convey the same message.

In addition, both The Beatles and Carlin would reinvent themselves multiple times after the 60’s and 70’s (and in 2024!)… and that’s why their music and ramblings and everything else they left us (and are still leaving us) is as timely today as it was when they originally created it.

And don’t forget about Gene Schwartz as one of these philosophers too.

He wrote Breakthrough Advertising in 1966 and because every word is still relevant today, perfect as Gene originally penned them, I haven’t changed one word in the version that I publish.

That’s what defines the journeys of Schwartz, Carlin, and The Beatles…from writers…to philosophers…to icons.

And what it means to be The Beatles of anything.



P.S. There was an 8-hour documentary that came out in 2022 entitled, Get Back…which chronicles, through newfound video, a month of working sessions with The Beatles as they wrote an album, performed a concert…and then broke up.

Now that’s a productive/non productive month. 🙂

There has been a lot written about “lessons in creativity from The Beatles’ Get Back and I am far from the first to discover those lessons.

They are profound although getting through all 8 hours of the film is sometimes a slog…but a worthwhile slog if ever there was one.

While dissecting The Beatles through these “Get Back Sessions,” many concepts parallel those expressed in the George Carlin documentary, specifically:

  • The creative process is tedious and boring
  • If someone’s on drugs, then their story is about drugs
  • You can’t expect past people to have today’s values
  • Deadlines and constraints are the secret ingredients to creativity

Read “10,000 hours or 33 minutes” to get Gene Schwartz’s take on how he created his creative process.

These are some ingredients, broad and granular, that lead to genius, whatever your life’s mission might be.

More importantly (for the purpose of this post) it links the genius of The Beatles to George Carlin in some additional ways:

  • They both toiled with their writing while always staying present
  • They both used drugs which undermined them but eventually made them stronger and more productive when they came out the other end
  • They understood that if you don’t stay current you will have a career of one year repeated over and over versus a career of accumulated and compounding success
  • And they learned to embrace deadlines.

Hmmm. Except for the drugs, this sounds like a prescription for a successful marketer, copywriter, or entrepreneur.

I don’t think Gene Schwartz did drugs…his zest for life and everyone he ever encountered was his gateway drug…although I can’t speak for everyone else who makes marketing and copywriting their home…including me. 🙂

Now that I think about it, many marketers, copywriters, and entrepreneurs have a story about drugs too…I know some of them personally who have been through that gauntlet (of addiction in particular)…and while painful at the time, the experience made them better in the long run through their survival story.

Another way Get Back links The Beatles back to Carlin and Schwartz:

I talk often about collaboration being the key to success in business; however, these three iconic “acts” proved that collaboration has limitations too.

The Beatles
 eventually couldn’t work with each other anymore (despite Lennon and McCartney being one of the most prolific music collaborators in history); Carlin was always a lone wolf; and Gene often got lost in his art.

What their behavior proves is that it’s difficult (and for some impossible) to “write by committee” (whether it’s music, jokes…or a 12-page sales letter).

And even when it works, too many writers writing on the same piece of work for any length of time eventually falls apart.

I’m not condemning collaboration…just making an observation.

And no matter what, we all need advice, editing and counsel “by committee.”

Despite the collaboration shown in Get Back, you can still see the friction between Lennon and McCartney (and George Harrison) when they were attempting to write as one; Carlin talked about the loneliness of writing in his documentary; and Schwartz often lamented about the laziness inherent in copywriters looking for a quick fix, and he created a training regimen for them out of his frustration.

In the end, the final “products” created by The Beatles, George Carlin and Gene Schwartz will last forever.

And I hope there was a tidbit or two from this post that will enable you to create for eternity as well. 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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