+ By Brenda Wintrode
Alan Weitzman is directing a photo shoot in his recording studio. He collaborates with photographer, John Bildahl, and Swampcandy front man, Ruben Dobbs, the sound stage wallpapered in acoustic foam is where he will stand, he tells them. Weitzman sifts through a rack of leather and studded garments that could easily be found in the dressing room of a well-aged British rocker. He’s considering which jacket will best complement his black jeans and boots.
His brilliant shock of white hair is combed toward the back of his head. Weitzman asks for help with the clasp of a rope bracelet for his right wrist, which bears four more; just as many bangles circle his left wrist. His rugged appearance is the deliberate and crafted exterior of a multilayered individual skilled at conveying a message; it cloaks him in mystery and anonymity.
The Annapolis advertising man’s enigmatic disguise mirrors the signature styles of his musical and cinematic heroes. Picture equal parts Keith Richards and John Wayne; part genteel and humble cowboy who knows just when things need to get rough to save the town folk from the land-hungry ranch owner and part rebellious, truth-telling rocker, staring down the cruelty of the world from behind the microphone. Unraveling the mystery of Alan Weitzman involves looking beneath the outer layer of leather and metal, dark glasses and ingrained social graces to reveal vulnerability and compassion.
To some degree, Weitzman does act as a maverick in his professional life. The gutsy entrepreneur once borrowed $5000 to start an ad agency after reading David Ogilvy’s,
Confessions of an Advertising Man. I had no clients. I had no experience, but I always liked to write, says Weitzman. He placed a provocative ad in a local newspaper letting them know there was a new player in town and that he could write copy better than their current agency. It worked. For the past 35 years, Weitzman has been a straight-shooting, rough-riding leader in the advertising industry.
Clarity and honesty are trademarks of a Weitzman ad. Ads, poems, and prayers are often the better for brevity, says Weitzman. He impresses upon his clients that integrity in advertising and business are paramount. If you want advertising that works, make a better promise. Then keep it, Weitzman says.
The Weitzman Agency has earned over 143 awards—Clios, Tellys, ADDYs and ANDYs—at the national, regional and local levels. The certificates sit on his bookshelves in overstuffed, brown, Kraft paper envelopes; he long ago stopped displaying them because of framing expenses and lack of space.
The native Londoner emigrated to America with his family at age 14. The only thing I knew about America was from watching kid flicks. I knew the gangsters lived on the East Coast and the cowboys lived in the west, and I decided I was going to be a cowboy,says Weitzman. He acted the part of a cowboy—determined to save the day—even before he left London. He remembers always being the kid who wanted to help others, and he feels his peers knew it. If someone got hurt outside, I wanted to be the doc. I would patch them up with a bandage. It made me feel useful,says Weitzman.
There were less fortunate times in his childhood. Circumstances forced Weitzman into foster care, which to this day remains a traumatic memory. You never forget it, but you’re better if you don’t spend too much time remembering it. Young Weitzman was more interested in jazz, blues, and writing stories than in his studies. To complicate matters, he wrote with his left hand, which at that time teachers considered a flaw to be corrected. They actually caned you for not writing with your right hand, says Weitzman.
Weitzman bears the last name of his Jewish stepfather and with it took on the burden of fighting antisemitism that was rampant in England at that time. Although confronted and physically abused because of my last name, I would never back down or cop out, says Weitzman.
These early trials reinforced in him, not only a defiant grit, but an ability to empathize with the painful experiences of others. Weitzman crafts insights and observations about life struggles into brutally honest song lyrics. Over the past 15 years, Weitzman, in collaboration with Dobbs, has produced a five-CD collection that Weitzman describes as heavy country with a steady drip of rock ‘n’ roll. Dobbs and Weitzman have formed a musical partnership and trusting friendship. Dobbs explains Weitzman’s need for an outlet. It allows him to turn his weakest and his most vulnerable moments into something creative, says Dobbs.
Weitzman’s low-toned, gravelly voice is reminiscent of Johnny Cash. Dobbs says that Weitzman prefers his musical expression dark and brooding. Deeply introspective subjects are covered: the anguish of watching someone fall to drug addiction; the tale of a soldier lost in a senseless war; surviving one more inebriated, fear-filled night. In his song, Jack Daniels and Jesus, Weitzman sings, The light came up this morning on the Bible by my bed. Thought about what used to be, reached for Jack instead. When Weitzman writes a song he emphasizes the universality of his subject in the chorus. As the writer, the lyrics can belong to you, but the chorus needs to belong to the public, says Weitzman.
Weitzman continues to find ways of feeling useful in his community.He tutors kids twice a week at the after-school homework program at the Annapolis Youth Services Bureau (AYSB) located in The Stanton Center. Weitzman relates to children living in underprivileged circumstances. When I spend time with these kids, I get lost in their world. I enjoy their company, says Weitzman. He is the major sponsor of the annual AYSB Christmas party held at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel ballroom. The kids and their families have dinner, are entertained by a magician, pop open Christmas crackers, and leave with smiles and arms full of presents. Weitzman says, I want these kids to have such a great party even the rich kids will want to come.
By more than just appearances, Weitzman has fulfilled his childhood aspiration of becoming an American cowboy. Cowboys tell the truth, defend the underdog, take on the bully, make a plan and take a risk. They sing about journeys through heartbreak and anguish around a crackling fire. They give what they can to their fellow man and leave the town better than when they first rode in on their mustang. As Weitzman rides off to his photo shoot—guitar slung over his back—all that is amiss from his outfit is a ten-gallon hat. A white one, of course.