Blog

Austin Kleon’s Show your Work!

I want to introduce a book that follows on from yesterday’s post about the creative process.

It’s ‘Show your Work!’ by Austin Kleon.

It’s an inspirational little book about sharing ideas, being brave and making a difference. The chapters offer tips, advice, visuals and anecdotes that encourage engagement and risk taking: 

Delighted to have daily blogging affirmed in chapter three:

Consistency of effort is how we make change in our lives and positively impact others. Looking back through blog posts reminds me of the way daily effort builds. Before long you have a body of work:

…and it doesn’t have to be perfect either. Kleon mentioned the writer Theodore Sturgeon who said that 90% of what we create is ‘crap’. Liberating thought don’t you think?

A powerful little book and that invites regular rereading. Recommended.

Advertisements

Elvis Costello, ‘Deportee’ and the Creative Process

Reading about Stan Lee and his staggering creative output reminded me of a podcast I listened to recently.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History featured an episode on how people create. In contrast to Stan Lee he looked at two musicians demonstrating ‘experimental genius’ which he defined as a tendency towards slow, methodical refining of a product.

He shared a good example:

In 1984 one of the most talented songwriters of his generation, Elvis Costello, released ‘Goodbye Cruel World’. It was terrible. His worst album by far. Gladwell loves Elvis Costello but this album was just awful and I agree with him on that, it really is rubbish.

One song from the album was particularly bad, ‘The Deportee’s Club’ – a thumping, screaming mess of a song. I can’t even link to it here, nobody in the world thought it good enough to upload to youtube. It was and still is genuinely unlistenable… but something interesting happened to the song over the next few years. 

Costello reworked it into an acoustic song and released it as a bonus track on a re-release of the album. I bought the album in 1994 so heard both versions at the same time. Gladwell, buying the original album in 84′, had to wait years before hearing the new rewrite. He absolutely loved the new version ‘Deportee’. It’s my favourite on the album as well. A dark, gorgeous track. Have a listen:

In managing to capture a completely different mood using what was essentially the same song, Costello managed to create a masterpiece. Gladwell would call this Costello’s ‘experimental genius’.

For most musicians though, the differences would seldom be so striking. More likely the changes are not only hard to notice, they can lead to a negative spiral of doubt and second guessing. Lenard Cohen, the second musician discussed on the podcast would spend years changing and refining lyrics, but could it be, that to the average listener the quality was already there at the start? ‘Hallelujah’ for example took him 5 frustrating years to finish. I would so love to hear the first version of that track. No doubt he improved it, but by how much? Perhaps by a lot, but perhaps not.

Yes some work takes time and a number of iterations to become great. For individual creatives though, the greater challenge is usually overcoming doubt and a reluctance to share.  For me, there’s more to learn in actually finishing than in refining too much at this stage -and I imagine it’s the same for many others.

Here’s the original podcast- a fascinating episode of Revisionist history:  http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/07-hallelujah

Inspiration from Stan Lee

I never read comics growing up. I don’t know if we had then at home or not, but they never really appealed. These days though you can’t not feel the impact of Stan Lee’s Marvel universe on popular culture so with his passing yesterday, I’ve been reading about his life.

Two things stood out.

First, the speed at which he worked. He worked fast.

“Almost everything I’ve ever written I could finish at one sitting. I’m a fast writer. Maybe not the best, but the fastest.”

Stan Lee

Second, how prolific he was. My screen grab below doesn’t even come close to showing the 362 characters he created, in 1,000s of comic books.

If Lee had stopped, discouraged, after ‘Dum Dum Dugan’ or ‘The Destroyer’ (his first character in 1941) we may not have seen Hulk, Spiderman or Iron Man, instead he continued at a frantic pace. At his peak in the 60s it’s estimated that he was delivering a new comic book/character every 10 days…a pace he kept up for 10 years!

Working at speed seems to be a valuable hack not just to save time but to undo our tendency towards self doubt, second guessing and perfectionism. Ongoing revisions of creative work can sometimes diminish the original product.

Ship before you’re ready, because you will never be ready.

Seth Godin

The lesson I take from all this would be to do your creative work consistently, at speed, without overthinking the product. This process becomes the focus and the product takes care of itself. Not exactly new, but a good reminder for all creatives I think.

Bohemian Rhapsody – The Movie

There is nothing better than being surprised by a movie.

Particularly when you have low expectations and then thoroughly enjoy yourself. I’ve never been much of a queen fan so I went to the movies to see Bohemian Rhapsody yesterday not expecting much, but ended up with it being one of my favourite movies of the year.

proxy.duckduckgo-7.jpg

The movie starts with Freddie waiting behind the curtain backstage at Live Aid. The noise starts to build, security draws back the curtains to reveal a tantalising view of the stage through to a mass of 72,000 people. Spine-tingling. What a start.

The story then flashes back into the teenage years: the awkward moments, familial friction, first love. Queen playing a pub with Freddie in the audience, Queen soon adrift without a singer and Freddie being given a shot. We are then told the story of Queen which builds to a fully satisfying end at Live Aid in 1985.

The star of the show was unquestionably the music. The songs have never sounded so good. The finale at Live Aid sounded absolutely unbelievable. Whoever did sound for the film absolutely nailed it. I’m probably going again just to see the final 20 minutes. The way the sound engineers push and pull instruments to enhance the visuals at the end delivers a completely immersion experience. You literally feel yourself to be on the stage….and they left most of the gig in a well. Just a wonderful experience.

Now for the not so good. I know that this must have been a tough film to cast but to be honest there were several times during the movie I had a distinct feeling that I was watching teenagers wearing their dads’ pants pretending to be a rock band. Brian May was the only one to me who seemed authentic.

I thought the actor playing Freddie Mercury seemed to get the emotional colours and mannerisms down but couldn’t they have found somebody who looked just a little like him? And that dental implant looked so wrong that I was shaking my head in parts. It was like the makeup team were on high school work experience and without Internet access to check what Freddie actually looked like.

As well, there were a couple of scenes in the middle of the film where I swear Freddie looked like a dehydrated Mick Jagger with a protective mouthguard. It took me sometime to get that image out of my head…(see below!)

proxy.duckduckgo-2.jpg

In spite of all this the actors got the job done and as I said it really was all about the music. I’ve no idea how true to life the story was (apparently he was diagnosed with HIV after Live Aid in 1987?!) but if you can overlook some average casting and amateur-hour prosthetics I think you’re in for a real treat. It’s a thumbs up from me.

Big Star, Alex Chilton and an uncanny track from The Lemon Twigs

Big Star were a US band from the 70s. They recorded three hugely influential albums that launched a generation of bands. A lot of their music was simple, pop perfection and it baffles me to this day why they never really found commercial success.

The lead singer and songwriter Alex Chilton had a unforgettable, beautiful voice. Just listen to ‘September Gurls’ surely one of the greatest pop tracks ever written… and that voice…..

I still listen to Big Star and hear their influence in lots of other music that I listen to…

So the other day I was recommended to listen to a new band: ‘The Lemon Twigs’.

The Lemon Twigs are basically two teenage brothers who have managed to combine Big Star, The Kinks, Sparks and The Flaming Lips into something modern and dare I say it, original?! So a band to watch for sure… but Big Star fans, just listen to this:

(Head to Spotify and find ‘Queen of my school’  if you only get a 30 second sample here )

What kind of sorcery is this! I had to listen several times to get my head around it.

Basically you stop listening to the ways he sounds like Chilton and try to find parts where he doesn’t sound like him – it’s spooky. I couldn’t find a live version of ‘Queen of my School’ that captures the same likeness, even though there’s a few different videos up. The younger singer is all over the shop on stage you see – kicking and thrashing like a fish in a bucket. The live tracks are still great and even though some of his grunting reminded me of an exorcism you just can’t look away. Highly entertaining stuff.

These guys are my favourite new band. Have a listen.

How I think about blog topics now

When I started this blog I didn’t have a particular plan in mind or a special niche.

I just wanted to write – about something.

A problem I’ve found is that sometimes I feel completely swamped in topics but then the next day swing to having no decent ideas at all.

So I thought it might be interesting to map out some sort of guide – so I gave it some thought yesterday. Four broad topic areas sounded about right and I came up with:

  1. Music
  2. Health
  3. Education
  4. Books

I wanted travel as well but I don’t travel much at the moment, and 10-minute bus rides in Tuen Mun just aren’t that interesting. These four topics are massively broad in any case so I continued building out onto the branches.

Music: music writing, music production & technology, tutorials, guitar, song/artist/album discovery and sharing.

Health: meditation, science-backed health & wellness tips/hacks, exercise/running, sleep, food

Education: learning how to learn, New Zealand/Hong Kong education systems, Technology and the future of education.

Books: books I’ve read, are currently reading or want to read.

(Regarding books I’d like to eventually do something similar to Derek Sivers, organising books I’ve read into one place and sharing my notes. His website is 100% worth a look: https://sivers.org/ and his book list/notes are great too: books.)

Continuing the list outwards, I generated more and more specific ideas. In the end I had a pretty comprehensive collection of the things I like to do and think about.

I did find this little exercise quite focussing as before I felt a little too reactive and blown about by the chaos of possibilities.

I’m not exactly sure how I’ll use this map, or even if I’ll use it at all, but on days when I’m a bit tired or unsure, there’s a lot there to dig into.

I would be keen to know of the ways you organise your posts and think about your blog. Is it mostly a case of whatever seems right for the day or do you plan ahead? Is it like digital journalling for you or theme based?

Please share any thoughts, I’d like to read them!

And as a bonus for getting to the end, here’s the start of the map… I used the Assembly App for a few minutes until I realised how clumsy it is and went back to paper and pen.

 

assembly

 

Finding THE song to start a birthday weekend…

For an epic birthday weekend, you need an epic song to kick things off.

Gold Coast resident and local musician, Muky, is celebrating a bit of a milestone today.

I thought about it long and hard, looked on youtube, wracked my brains, asked around, checked all my playlists….. I needed a certain level of over-the-top epic-ness……

Here’s the checklist I used. The song and video MUST have:

  1. A waterfall
  2. A dove
  3. Long, flowing rock hair
  4. Unfeasibly wide guitar stances
  5. Live footage of the band playing on a colossal sandstone plateau within a forested canyon
  6. Ancient underground caves
  7. Some sort of lightening explosion
  8. Guitarists playing back-to-back guitar harmony lines
  9. A searing white-hot guitar solo captured in panorama from a helicopter
  10. Feather adornments if at all possible

As I went through the shortlist of songs, it proved hard to check off any of my prepared list items …until… finally I found it….the perfect song.

Well not exactly perfect, there’s no dove for one, and the lyrics don’t quite capture the occasion, but it scored 9/10 on the list above and the song delivers ‘epic’ like no other.

Happy Birthday Muky!