Friday, September 11, 2009

The Old Cat Died Brand

What with the back-and-forth about naming, Carter suggested that Carrie and I share the process we went through to name Old Cat Died. (Thanks, Carter, for your praise - we think it's a good name too.)

The funny thing is, though, unlike Carter and Juana, with their lists of possible names, the name "Old Cat Died" actually came well before we actually started selling pottery, and well before we had an etsy page.

Several years ago, when Carrie and I were dating, we went to a festival in Durham, NC, the Festival for the Eno. (Side story - then, just as now, I never carried cash. Unfortunately, we discovered that you could not buy tickets with a card. Carrie had to pay with a check for us to get in. She still periodically reminds me that I never paid her back. But then, I didn't pay for her coffee on our first date either.)

At the festival, we saw a fantastic jug band called the Carolina Chocolate Drops. We so loved this group - three young African American musicians steeped in the traditions of black folk music and playing it with an energy it probably hasn't seen since the 1920s - that we bought their album right away and listened to it nonstop for weeks.

One of the songs on that album was a traditional dance tune called "Old Cat Died." The lyrics are about as simple as you can get: "Old cat died, kitten got cold, she don't come around here no more." Something about that song struck us, and Carrie made up her mind that one day she was going to have a business called Old Cat Died. She didn't know what - a gallery, a studio, a cafe, a bookstore. But whatever business we started would be Old Cat Died.

Something we never considered - the initials are OCD. I find this very ironic for personal reasons. Something else we never considered - when you Google "old cat died," you get some really sad stories. And another thing - Old Cat Died would have been a terrible name for a cafe.

What we did realize, and the reason we were drawn to the title, is that Old Cat Died is a great story in itself, a capsule story. It can be interpreted into an inspiring speech about moving on after tragedy, or into a cautionary tale about being good to your mother. It could be a social commentary, a spiritual parable, a super-condensed poem. It's funny, sad, gnomic and zen-arific. As a literary critic, I like playing the interpretation game with Old Cat Died, and I like learning what other people hear when they hear "Old Cat Died."

Most people laugh. Why not?


carter gillies said...

Thanks Gabe! That was a great story behind the naming. It really is an evocative phrase, and I find myself imagining a different story almost every time I think about it. Hard to imagine it as the name of a cafe though, so it is a good thing you guys decided to throw yourselves into the art world where OCD properly belongs. So I guess there was never any question of an alternative name for what you do, but were you guys ever tempted by anything else? Was there ever an other phrase that you thought might be nice for a spin-off project ("the last legs", "done and buried")? You guys are so creative I can't imagine you didn't dream other dreams.

While I'm thinking about it, can you guys put up a widget for the etsy store? Julie, you too. It might be easier to consolidate things for ease of reference and discussion. Talk to you guys later!

Gabe Sealey-Morris said...

Oh, we're name and title addicts, definitely. I have running lists of potential poem and book titles, band names, and pseudonyms. As I said, the pottery project was always Old Cat Died, but we did briefly consider others: Morrisea (a combination of our last names) was in the running for a while; we tried other phrases from folk songs, but none of them had the same affect as OCD.

Incidentally, Carrie's favorite name for a coffee shop is The Oofa Cafe - "oofa" being goombah Italian for "bugger off."