A while back, Connor asked me if I’d be interested in doing a guest post for his blog, and he’d do one for mine. He wrote this great post below ages ago, and has been waiting for yours truly here to send one back to him. The agreement was that we’d post each other posts on the same day, but I think it’s only fair that I post his now, as I’ve taken forever to send him one. He’s chosen to write about my favourite subject, music…
Hey everyone, I’m totally, uh, chuffed to be chinwagging–am I doing this right? I learned all my British slang (with one exception) from J.K. Rowling–here on Alannah’s blog! Well, that’s enough for intros, time to make a royal fool of myself.
Writing for someone in another country is always a bit of a risk, ya know? Take my friend Bianca, she works in Winchester or Worcester, or someplace like that now. Somewhere with a Chester. Now, Bianca’s a proper and respectable young lady, but not long after she moved to the UK she reminded her friend loudly and in public not to forget her “fanny pack” which, as it turns out, is not the term you Brits use to describe the abominable offspring of belts and backpacks–e.g. backpacks that sit on your butt. What I’m saying is there’s a lot of room for innocent misunderstandings. Still can’t get any better if I don’t get outside my comfort zone, right?
So I figured, I’m just gonna talk about things the United States and the United Kingdom have in common starting with Music. Whenever someone gets on the subject real or imagined past, present, or future wrongs committed by our nations, we can say, “But hey, music.” And there’s really no argument.
I’m not a musician. I don’t play any instruments and singing ability is something I’d love to have, but don’t. My sister and mom both have lovely voices; what I have is a voice that can shake walls and say, “I’m not wearing hockey pads!” in fairly convincing Batmanian fashion. I’m guessing I take more after my dad, who’s never sung a song that wasn’t “Happy Birthday” in the almost twenty-five years we’ve been acquainted. It’s not all bad, of course; he has a fantastic reading voice, which has had rather an impact on the direction I chose to take my life; he gave me an unshakable love of stories right from the getgo.
And that’s another feature the UK and US share, deep down. Our national identities are tied to exploration. The British went all over the world, everywhere, which happens to be exactly where Americans came from. That’s the one thing every wanderer collects and takes with them, wherever they go: Stories. We are storytellers in our bones.
Writing and music are not all that distinct, either. They’re both just branches of that storytelling tree. I’m getting to a point, I swear. Until I remember what it was I’m just going to keep on going, though. We’re all disciples of the Gods of Words, the Muses, whatever you want to call that manifest desire of one human being to reach out and shape the world of those around them. Problem is, the GoWs seem to like some people more than others–and I they’ve got justification.
Take Tom Waits. He’s fantastic songwriter and storyteller, one of the best things the US has ever done to music, plus I’m writing this on his birthday, so I’ll be using him to make my (way in the general direction of a) point. You may have heard of him, you may not. You’ve seen him in movies, you’ve heard people singing his songs, though. For example, you’ve probably heard the cover done of this song by one of the worst things the UK has ever done to music.
Tom Waits, Downtown Train:
Really, though, my antipathy of Rod Stewart notwithstanding, the cool thing about music has over any other art form is the way two people can take the same notes and words and transform their meaning. Anyone really think Rod Stewart and Tom Waits are singing the same song?
OK, I like where this is going, and I’m going to keep using things the UK and US have in common: Jersey. Not to brag or anything, but America’s is a little newer.
You’ll see what I mean when I say the GoWs love Tom better than most of us. How many lovestruck men have penned songs for the objects of their amorous intent? I don’t have a number for you, but if I was put on the spot I would have to guess infinity. Now, how many ended up getting the girl they wrote it for? Twelve? Thirteen?
Tom Waits, Jersey Girl:
Notice he says he wrote it for his wife. Yeah. Now, how many of those songs made such an impression on Bruce Springsteen that he decided to record his own version? Just one. And it was Tom Waits’. It doesn’t seem fair, really, that we can’t all be the kind of artist who puts together a song for a girl (or guy), who then marries us, and then gets to sing the song onstage with a rock legend in his prime:
Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits, Jersey Girl:
You are probably thinking that things like that just don’t happen. And you’re wrong, but only barely; things like this don’t just happen. There is a reason, and it bears thinking about. There are things that can’t be faked, like talent, but the world is so damned full of talent that it doesn’t know what to do with it all. That’s not a figure of speech, either, the world does not have room for the level of talent bouncing around it, so there’s more. There’s chance, but the thing about chance is that as long as you keep rolling the dice, your number’s bound to come up–the question’s how much you’re willing to lay on the line to keep rolling.
So what else is there?
There’s the drive, of course. The drive to become better. And this is why Tom Waits is great instead just a guy with funny-looking ears:
“Your hands are like dogs, going to the same places they’ve been. You have to be careful when playing is no longer in the mind but in the fingers, going to happy places. You have to break them of their habits or you don’t explore; you only play what is confident and pleasing. I’m learning to break those habits by playing instruments I know absolutely nothing about, like a bassoon or a waterphone.”
In order to succeed in music, in writing, in any endeavor that exists as much in the spirit as the mind, we must keep reaching and expanding forever. When we talk about artists who used to be great or relevant or however you choose to phrase it, it’s not that some vampire has been slowly taking their talent and ability from them. It’s that they’ve surrendered to being happy with how good they are, and that giant pool of talent is just waiting out there, full of people who want to be as good as their idols, and when they’ve finally arrived, they find they need to be better.
The enemy of creative endeavor is not critics, it’s the work, it’s not lack of talent, and it’s sure as hell not bad luck: It’s complacency. We can’t get any better unless we’re willing to get outside our comfort zones. . . Oh, uh, bollocks(?), I gave the ending away in the first paragraph!
Connor Rickett is a young writer in the early stages of Fortune and Fame. Specifically, Debt and Infamy. He’s currently living in Flagstaff, AZ (the part with snow and mountains), but likes to keep his boots on. People sometimes pay him to write stuff, but there’s a lot of free stuff on his blog.