Remembrance of CRM Things (and Sweet Desserts) Past
“The boatman, he has gone/ The loons have flown for cover”
—Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (“Lime Tree Arbour”)
TYPICALLY, these columns start with a quote of musical lyrics that somehow relate to the theme of the piece. Often the connection is absurdly tenuous, but just enough of a slim thread exists so I can cite lyrics from a song I like. How else would Prince’s ode to dance, music, sex, and romance make it into these august pages? This time, the connection between the lyrics and the column is a time-based one rather than a meaning-based one. The song quoted comes from one of my favorite albums of 1997, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ The Boatman’s Call. If you’ve made it this far in the magazine, you’ll obviously already know that this is issue is a celebration of CRM magazine’s silver jubilee. Yup, the magazine and that album first saw the light of day the same year. Yup, that’s the extent of the connection.
Anniversaries bring out the maudlin halo of wistfulness in folks. Personally, I’m not consistently nostalgic—but when I am, I tend to go hard into it. When the CRM magazine team told me about the anniversary issue, I started thinking back to all the blather I’ve injected into columns over the decades and the pithy and stunningly insightful bon mots I dropped as quotes in the news articles (although I am a fairly latecomer, as I think my name first appeared in the magazine in 2003). There’s a lot of history in these pages…and yet, in casting my mind back, it wasn’t the rise of wireless data communications (see the May 2000 issue for a hot take) that came to mind.
No, it was actually the local news that brought back a CRM magazine memory for me. In 2009, I wrote a column that used the burgeoning street food scene in San Francisco as a jumping-off point. This craze presaged the whole food truck revolution that altered and livened up many urban environments in the United States. Back in 2009, however, most of the street food vendors were unlicensed guerilla operations that operated from hand-built carts and other jury-rigged food prep equipment. One of the vendors I mentioned sold crème brulee—I called out his Chambord-flavored offering in the column, a yummy if distant memory.
The crème brulee guy was top of mind for me because he was in the news in February for trying to break down the social isolation people embraced over the two years and counting of the pandemic. The erstwhile crème brulee king (named Curtis Kimball) decided what people needed—and what he needed—was human connection through pancakes. So, he advertised a no-cost pancake party in his neighborhood, set up some griddles on the street, and started doling our free food. Then he did it again. Word spread and he had a local pancake phenomenon for a hot minute. Press coverage ensued, and my brain immediately flipped back to the days when I was drawing lessons from these street food rebels.
There’s no big lesson I want to impart here. As I said, I usually shun nostalgia and try to live by a creed of “no regrets!” But every once in a while, it is worth looking back on a tasty, boozy dessert bought from a rickety cart in a dead-end alley in San Francisco and smile. And with the state of the world being what it is, a smile ain’t no small thing!
Ian Jacobs is a vice president and research director at Forrester Research.