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“Adventures in Success”: Two Will Powers 3D computer-animated videos were featured in NF’s “Take Off to Animation”
Night Flight’s “Take Off To Animation” featured not just one but two videos by Will Powers, an alter ego with a synthetically-altered faked male voice used by photographer Lynn Goldsmith, including “Adventures in Success,”one of the first ever 3D computer-animated music videos. The full episode — one of our most popular shows ever, originally airing on February 17, 1984 — is now streaming over on Night Flight Plus.
Goldsmith’s “Adventures in Success” video short — which was aired frequently on “Night Flight,” as well as MTV, VH1 and other international music video programs back in the 1980s — features an eerie image of a singing, three-dimensional rotating mask, creating an optical illusion, combined with live-action footage, including actor/singer Meat Loaf, who spits up beer on himself while Will Powers chants:
“You are an important person, a rare individual. There has never been anyone just like you. You can make it happen. It’s you. Only you.”
By the time Lynn Goldsmith created and released her first recordings in 1983 as her alter ego “Will Powers,” she’d already lived quite a life, and worn, as they say, a lot of hats.
Goldsmith grew up in Detroit, Michigan, learning to play guitar at eight years old and writing her own songs, all before moving to Florida while she was still in high school.
She graduated from Miami Beach High School (where she had joined fourteen clubs on campus, and we’d like to think that one of those was a photography club, since she was always interested in taking photos) before continuing on to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
She earned two Bachelor of Arts degrees at Michigan, in English and Psychology, and graduated with honors, magna cum laude, in just three years.
She also had a band while she attended college, called the Walking Wounded, and they performed in a number of clubs.
After earning herself a teaching certificate, Goldsmith then worked as a high school English teacher before landing a job with Elektra Records and working in their publicity department, ended up as their Publicity Director.
In 1969, Goldsmith created the “bio-disk,” and worked on the first promo films that were used to promote Elektra’s artists. She also won a Clio Award for one of the radio spots she produced, too.
She also found time to occasionally sing backing vocals for John Denver, but by 1971, she was working as a director in TV production, at Joshua White’s Joshua Television, where she helped invent the video magnification system which is used today to project rock concerts at large venues like Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl.
Goldsmith became the youngest member ever inducted into of the Directors Guild of America (coincidentally, her neighbor while in college was future film director Larry Kasdan, director of The Big Chill and other feature films).
In 1972, she directed the first rock show on network TV (ABC’s “In Concert”), and the following year, directed Grand Funk’s We’re An American Band, the first music documentary to be released as a theatrical short.
Goldsmith — using her 16mm camera — made short films of the Doors, Delaney and Bonnie and others, and then syndicated those to dealers in Europe, where they wanted to see American rock acts but there weren’t the same kinds of television outlets in place at the time.
In the mid-seventies, Goldsmith stopped directing to concentrate on co-managing Grand Funk.
She did all of this in the 1970s before she was able to focus on her photography.
Goldsmith ended up becoming one of the great rock photographers, shooting pretty much every major recording artist at the time, including Miles Davis, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and Frank Zappa (she even regularly stayed with Zappa’s family in Los Angeles when she was out on the left coast).
Goldsmith didn’t wait for assignments, but rather decided who she wanted to shoot photos of, then arranged it all herself, did the work, and then sold the pictures.
Her photography was featured on over a hundred album covers and record sleeves, and her cover for Grand Funk’s Shinin’ On album, released in 1974, was the first to feature a 3D album cover (the album also came with bi-visual 3D glasses).
In 1976, Goldsmith founded LGI, the first photo agency which focused on celebrity portraiture, which collected the work of other photographers who didn’t sit around waiting for assignments either).
Her LGI stock photo agency initially represented about thirty far-flung photographers, who were shooting worldwide, this at a time when most photo agencies were mainly focusing on news and not entertainment or musical artists.
LGI was sold in 1997 — at the time they were representing over two hundred photographers — right about the time the Goldsmith was focusing on ideas for personal digital photography, developing something that is similar to what we now call the “Selfie Stick.”)
Lynn Goldsmith did all of these things before she mortgaged her loft studio and focused her creative endeavors on writing and producing the tracks for her first album, Dancing for Mental Health, which was released on Island Records in 1983.
You might expect that with all of the personal friendships and industry connections she’d made by the early 80s that her album would feature a ton of special guests and collaborators, and you’d be correct, because Goldsmith was assisted on the recordings by Sting, Steve Winwood, Todd Rundgren, Carly Simon, Nile Rodgers, Tom Bailey and Allannah Currie of Thompson Twins, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Warren Beatty, Glen Close, Ian Hunter, Mary Beth Hurt, Meat Loaf, David Sanborn, Mark Hamill, Michael Jackson and many, many others (all involved to differing degrees, depending on what was needed).
Goldsmith had come up with the idea, however, during what’s been described as “an intense, boozy session in Nassau with Robert Palmer,” which took place at Palmer’s home.
Somewhere along on her rock ‘n’ roll journey Goldsmith had come to the realization that music had healing powers, and how it could be used, subliminally, to make people feel less alone in the world.
Goldsmith began putting together ideas for recordings she wanted to make, and says she began visiting churches in New York City, to listen to the ministers (some of them famous celebrities like Reverend Ike), paying attention to the emphatic rise and fall of their voices, which — unlike the call-and-response driven by the hemistichally rhythmic cadence of firebrand Old Testament-style preachers — had a kind of softer, dulcet tone.
She says she was inspired by these soft-spoken men of God which then helped her create a pseudo self-help guru character named “Will Powers.”
By the 1980s, Goldsmith had become aware that so many of the musicians and famous people she was photographing and working with, in one way or another, were unsatisfied and looking for something more out of their lives.
At the time, the country was somewhat obsessed with self-help techniques and vocalizing positive affirmations. John and Yoko had tried Janov primal scream therapy, for instance, while many others had tried EST seminars, psychoanalysis, transcendental meditation, yoga and many other types of things, all in an attempt to expand their own consciousness.
Goldsmith says she added an “s” to the end of Powers as a way of pointing out that the process is a journey that is best traveled with others, and that solitary human beings, individuals, can only reach their full potential if they reach out to others and ask for their help.
Goldsmith thought that the idea that “powers” represented not just a surname, but a plurality of what’s potentially possible; by reaching out to others, you’re essentially admitting that it takes more than your own will power to succeed.
Originally, while working on a track at Robert Palmer’s Nassau home — starting with a bassline from a James Brown recording — she began to toy around with the idea of recording groove-heavy dance music that had a spoken vocal track reciting motivational self-improvement exhortations on top, providing the necessary steps the listener needed to take in order to find their own success.
Goldsmith’s Will Powers has occasionally been called the “first white rap artist” by some, (although we don’t wanna get into the whole who-came-first argument here), and she realized that to get the full effect, she would have to have her own voice synthetically shifted downward in pitch and altered so that it sounded like a man’s voice.
This first recording didn’t exactly capture what she’d heard in her head, so she took the track to Sting, who worked on it with her and created a new backing track, and it was that recording that she played for Chris Blackwell, head of Island Records, who gave Goldsmith a one-off album deal that included an accompanying video component.
Goldsmith — who was using the term “optic music artist” to describe what she was doing, as well as “someone breaking limitations, breaking barriers, breaking categories” — first went into Blackwell’s Compass Point Studios in Nassau (across the road from Palmer’s house) and worked with an engineer there.
She then booked time in other recording studios (chiefly Hammersmith, London and Media Sound, New York) wherever she happened to be shooting photos, and completed the album’s eight tracks, inviting her friends and frequent photographic subjects to contribute to the “Adventures in Success” project, which was the planned title for the album, initially.
The album, however, would eventually come out as Dancing for Mental Health, the title switch coming following an emotional decision after the sudden death of Goldsmith’s best friend Andy Cavaliere, with whom she’d co-managed Grand Funk (she’d decided that the little statue — of two figures dancing — that Cavaliere had given her was a better representation for the album cover for a Will Powers album).
The tracks featured all kinds of fun instruments, like the vocoder, which were fun to listen to but also added a sense of parody to the recordings, and because Goldsmith was using “Will Powers” instead of her own name, there were some who were not quite sure what to make of it all.
Ira Robbins, in his review for Trouser Press, called the album “an unbelievably smug heap of horse puckey,” and Wikipedia currently lists the album as a “a self-help comedy music album.”
Somewhere along the way, Goldsmith also decided that Will Powers should have an “anonymous” identity, just a face (Goldsmith’s own) but stretched out and not really identifiable as any one person in particular.
For the videos, Goldsmith has said she was really more interested in breaking limiting thought patterns than she was in breaking new ground in the music video world, but her “Adventures in Success” video — which describes modern symbols of success — nevertheless ended up being one of the first 3D computer-animated music videos anyway, described by our friends at Dangerous Minds as “one hundred percent pure digital fuckery.”
In addition to Meat Loaf and a couple other actors, Goldsmith also appears in the video too:
Allen’s groundbreaking work in the areas of virtual and augmented reality, experimental video, wearable computing, large-scale performance and interactive experience design have been featured in the work of incredible artists/musicians/bands, such as Kraftwerk, Mark Mothersbough of Devo, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Carter Burwell, Twyla Tharp, the Joffrey Ballet, La Fura dels Baus and video artist Nam June Paik.
Allen — who has won an Emmy award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Design — is today the founding Chair of the UCLA Department of Design Media Arts and is currently a professor at the University, in addition to maintaining an office and VR Lab at UCLA’s Neuroscience Research Building.
Dancing For Mental Health won critical acclaim and the single, “Kissing With Confidence,” reached #3 on the British charts (Goldsmith has said that she suspects the Brits got her sense of humor more than Americans did).
Will Power’s videos, meanwhile, have been used by the United States Department of Labor (to inspire unemployed youths), Britain’s National Marriage Guidance Counsel, Harvard University (to help with language instruction), by TV’s Captain Kangaroo (as therapy for autistic children), and by other schools throughout the United States for their individual teaching needs.
Two of the videos, including “Adventures in Success,” are on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. “Adventures in Success” was also featured in our “Mega Video Vault” show, which aired on September 3, 1988.