The Wager

28 01 2011

Failure is never an option, but it’s always a possibility. Especially when you’re trying to break out, to try something new or different, to offer a view or style unproven; to put forth the unconventional. Which is the bigger risk: people reacting negatively to your work, or never doing the work at all?

I met Myrlie Evers today, civil rights leader, first full-time chairman of the NAACP, honorary PhD at, like, ten universities, AMAZING woman, and an amazing speaker. Lucky me, my job is listening to people and making sure they sound good on tape. Her voice, part lecture, part testimony; her diction, erudite and mesmerizing; the stories were entwined with wisdom, struggle, and conviction. My mind swam with disbelief at being in the same room with someone who played such an important role in how the world is today.

On June 12, 1963, her husband Medgar Evers, was shot in the back in their driveway as he returned home. For over a decade the two had fought for civil rights, and with her husband now fallen, Myrlie continued to raise the flag on her own. Many, even from within the NAACP, told her that Medgar would be responsible for any of her future accomplishments. Her response: “Just watch and see what I can do.” If she had been afraid of failure, or of unwaveringly adhering to her conviction, we all would have lost out, and I wouldn’t have met her today.

By comparison, artistic struggles do not seem nearly as serious, as life or death, as those our civil right heroes were faced with, but the challenges may take to mountains in much the same way. And for those making their living by following the dream, it really is a creative life versus a soul-sucking occupation. If for an instant you let someone else determine your direction, diminish your contribution, or otherwise take control of your destiny, you are giving up the fight.


Too Much Inspiration

23 01 2011

Could there really be such a thing? 

Without a doubt. Especially when faced with menial tasks, such as cleaning the house. It seems my inspiration likes to peak at these times just to challenge me, as if it had signed a treaty with the more domestic side of my personality. Bastards!

I am living proof that you can have too much inspiration. Our house is currently undergoing a post-construction deep cleaning. With no privacy, I had to get out. So I took Roxy for a walk, and on the way, I had ideas for three blog entries. This being one and one each for two other blogs I am attempting to get off the ground. Being that I am giving this writing thing a go, I’ve GOT to follow through on all of them…tonight. Sleep? It’s cheap, when you’re not working.

Here’s the thing about inspiration though: it can be a bit like an ecstasy high, once you blast through all your serotonin, there’s a crash and until your brain builds it back up you remain a hair inconsolable. Thus, so exist the cycles that make creative endeavors so catalyzing (when you’re up) and frustrating (you get it).

Man (sorry to jump) isn’t it great though when it hits? It’s like you’re directing connections with a seventh sense; synapses in a stellar brain cosmos connect and fire with the point of your finger, and it then it gets so good you don’t even have to point, or barely even think it. The magic happens.  You don’t worry about whether people will like it, or get it…until later.

“Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.” That’s my favorite thing Frank Zappa ever said. I imagine when he said that, he was far past the place of caring what most people thought about what he did (as long as they paid for it!). One thing I do know about Zappa is that he didn’t take his fans for granted. He knew the number of records they bought would largely dictate the budget for his next record and thus the ambitious range it could contain (though I admit it’s against nature to imagine Zappa limiting himself creatively).

Here’s a clip of Zappa on Letterman talking about how he went about getting the London Symphony Orchestra to play his music for an album, and why he probably wouldn’t be doing that again any time soon (the video quality is bad, but the sound is pretty good):

Zappa was an anomaly. He not only had a steady stream of inspiration his entire productive life, he had the intelligence to translate it for his band members, the technical knowhow to bring it to the public himself, the experience to know when to tell the industry to go fuck itself (which was, and remains, often), and the balls to do it all.

It’s a powerful thing, this ethereal commodity, without which all our lives would be emptier, darker, colder. Even those who never get to experience it firsthand at all, who never get to feel their heart about to explode because they can’t get it out fast enough. Those of us who do get to bathe in that rush, that godly deluge…man, we are a lucky bunch.