Destructive Personalities & Prodigies


Bulls & Wives– Tom did not appear to be a destroyed man who has no hold on the outside world, but a man with intimate knowledge of someone who was. When he informed me that his dad lived a relatively long life that surprised me, because I thought Tom’s personal knowledge of self-destruction had to be so intimate that it came from a dad. I figured that his dad had no idea how the system worked, and that frustration led him to destroy anyone and everyone within reach, before he eventually destroyed himself. I was wrong, his dad lived a relatively long life. I didn’t reassess, however, because I knew how to read my tea leaves. I just had to wait to found out how I was right. When Tom later informed me that his mother died a long slow death, I almost yelled, “I knew it.”

“Cirrhosis of the liver,” he said. I didn’t say anything, but I felt vindicated. I figured that Tom’s frustrated dad destroyed the only woman he ever loved, because she was within reach, and she was his alternative resource.   

My first guess was that Tom’s dad physically abused the woman, but that often results in a divorce, a separation of some sort, or even a suicide of one of the two parties. I knew that wasn’t the case with Tom’s parents. I knew he witnessed a slow, methodical destruction of someone he loved, and he felt powerless in the face of it.

A man who physically abuses his wife is also a bad guy, and my guess was that Tom’s dad did everything he could to avoid that label. My guess was that Tom’s dad rejected her in the small, insignificant ways those in his profession and in his personal life rejected him, until it manifested in ways he couldn’t manage or control properly. A little nip here and there made Tom’s mom feel a little better for a couple minutes. When the dad’s insignificant rejections began to snowball, her little nips followed suit, until it was too late.   

My guess was Tom saw her destruction very close up, during those young, formative years that leave an imprint nothing can erase. My guess was that he spent his life trying to avenge her, but he never figured out how to do it, and he spent the rest of his life cheering on the bulls in a bullfight.

The Phenomenal Phenom- “The worst thing about being the President of the United States at such a young age (Theodore Roosevelt assumed office at 42 and left office at 50), is what do you do with the rest of your life? How does one top being President of the United States?” That is not a direct quote from former president Theodore Roosevelt, but it is the general sentiment. We could argue that Roosevelt spent his whole life chasing windmills. He spent the first forty years of his life chasing his dad’s legacy, or the legacy he imagined for his dad. He spent the latter ten years of his life chasing his own legacy or trying to improve upon it. What does a man who assumed the most powerful position in the world in what he assumed was the middle of his life (he died at 60) do to top that act?

We move to a much less significant, but interesting corollary. In 1994, an actor named Jim Carrey was on top of the world. He had a year so successful that no other actor in his profession would dare even dream, and it happened when he was all but 32-years of age. In 1994, three of the films he starred in (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber) went to number one in box office sales, in the same year. Some fans of comedic movies mark two of those films some of the best comedic films of the generation. Although we don’t consider The Mask in that elite pantheon, we recognize how original that film was. We also recognize that without the unique talents Carrey displayed in that movie, the film wouldn’t have worked at all. It’s been 26 years since Carrey’s breakout year, and we can assume he will live another 26 years, but what can he do to top 1994? We have to imagine that Carrey looks back on 1994 as a bittersweet memory, because it happened so early in his career, and he probably thinks he didn’t appreciate it as much as he should’ve.

No one will feel sorry for either of these two, but imagine achieving such relative peaks at such a relatively young age. Relatively few recognize such achievements for what they are in the moment. We can only assume that Roosevelt and Carrey assumed that this was a new way of life for them. They probably assured others that they knew it wouldn’t last, but beneath that rational veneer, they probably assumed that they were such unique talents that it might. They probably grew accustomed to living how the other half lives. They were probably welcomed into rooms with proverbial and actual trumpets. Some part of them probably got so used to it that they considered it silly, until it went away, and they missed it. How does one top being the biggest star in the world? How does one top being president of the United States? Teddy only lived for another ten years, and while he packed a lot into those ten years, including another presidential run, it sounds like it might’ve been tough for such an ambitious man to live to a thirty to forty more years thinking he plateaued too early. He probably also knew that he could never top what happened in what he thought would be the middle of his life.     

Pining for a Prodigy– “I think you might have another da Vinci on your hands,” someone says when they see our kid draw something that sort, somewhat resembles a squirrel. Our normal, rational side thanks them for the polite sentiment, and we attempt to dismiss it as nothing more than that, but we can’t control the twinkle in our eye. Kids mature at different rates, we think, who’s to say that our kid isn’t some sort of prodigy? We consider the possibility for about twelve seconds, because we want the world to know what we know, our kid is special. Our flirtation with this notion is brief, because we’ve tried to do something creative, and we know how hard it is. Even though we won’t rule out the notion that our kid could do something special, it’s so far off that it’s not worth considering at this time. There’s far too much for a prospective artist to learn to inform his immature brain before he ever reaches for the creative ignition switch. No matter how many ways we turn his drawing, it’s gibberish, and we can’t will it into something great. He’s just a normal, happy kid. 

I’ve been obsessed with the creative process most of my life. I love reading about what drove the da Vincis, the Joyces, and the Mozarts of history to create their artistic masterpieces. With Mozart as the lone exception, most artists don’t do anything of note in their early years of life. One could also say that all of the other stuff they learn in their early, formative years, informs an artist’s art better than any school devoted specifically to the arts could do.

A teacher here and there might have encouraged them to draw, write, or sing more in their free time, but most artistic output of kids in grades 1-6 can be accomplished on their own time. I encourage artistic creativity in my home, but I don’t want my kid spending an inordinate amount of time in school drawing sharks and Spongebob. He needs to learn the foundational tools to help him in life. Reading, writing, arithmetic, a level of science he can handle, and some history is all my kid needs right now.  

The obsession I’ve had with the start-to-finish creative process is now decades old, and I’ve yet to stumble upon an artist other than Mozart who cited anything that happened in their elementary years as a direct source for their great works. The bios of most artistic geniuses suggest that they succeeded in the arts in spite of what happened to them in school. Most of my favorite artists created their best pieces in a rebellious reaction to those who never believed in them. They had some something to prove to the people who didn’t believe in them. It drove them more than any amount of encouragement could. It’s almost grist for the artistic mill for most artists to embarrass those who considered what they do as silly. If their parents believe in them, and they entered them into a school devoted to the arts that might have deprived them of the righteous anger that drove them to be better than they were in the first place.

How many movies about prodigies depict parents who thought their young prodigy was wasting his time with paintbrushes, a piano, or a pen? How many of parents wanted their kids to do something more substantial with their lives? When the prodigy turned out to be something substantial in the arts, the parents looked like the bad guys, and no parent wants to be a bad guy. The parents also looked like fools in the end for not recognizing their prodigy’s prodigious talent, and no parent wants to look foolish. So, we recognize our child’s doodle as something more than it is, and we do everything we can to encourage them to pursue that talent.

“He could be the next Mozart,” they say when our kid fiddles around on a piano. “Did you know Mozart created his first symphony at five years old?” That would be great, we say with that twelve second twinkle in our eye, but I’m still going to focus my kid’s mind on becoming a math whiz, relative to his age. I would rather see him display an unusual aptitude for spelling and reading than I would re-engineer his life according to some exception to the rule that occurred almost three hundred years ago. 

“I just wanted my kid to have a well-rounded education,” parents say when I ask how they selected their kid’s school. “I liked the way [this school] sandwiched art and music between the reading and writing and arithmetic.” If they added that they just want their children to find some way to express themselves creatively, I would have no argument. I think if I learned how to express myself creatively when I was young, I might’ve been a healthier and happier kid, teenager, and young man. Maybe. When I found a creative outlet, I thought I needed it all along, but I was taught art and music appreciation at a very young age, and I didn’t appreciate it back then.  

“It’s important to encourage creativity,” they say, and I have no argument. If my kid develops a creative outlet, such that he believes in himself a little more than I did, I will applaud him. I’m an artist who devours and regurgitates artistic pieces, but I would never choose an elementary school that devotes itself to expanding my child’s mind artistically. That just seems so far-fetched that it’s not even worth considering.

Scat Mask Replica IX


My favorite artists offend me on a personal, philosophical, and artistic level. They’re emotional robots who have as much sympathy for others as they do for themselves. My favorite artists might use some swear words and some provocative imaginary, but they’re not reliant on them. They’re also not offensive for the sole purpose of being offensive. They don’t care who they offend in their pursuit of artistic purity, and they don’t pick safe targets. Some might say that it’s not possible to be observant, creative, and artistic without sympathy, but my favorite artists ask how an artist can report on the world if they handicap themselves by being sympathetic to the people they report on. My favorite artists refute my worldview in a rational and constructive manner, and I find their challenges to my belief system engaging. They might not change my mind on one single issue, but I don’t think they care. I don’t think that’s why they’re here.

Acting is as difficult and specialized as any other art form, but for all the overblown accolades and financial rewards we provide actors, they’re little more than vessels who carry artistic messages to the people. It takes special qualities to convince an audience that they’re another person. It takes other qualities to capture emotions and convince an audience that those reactions are genuine. Taken down to their core, these elements involve lying, so an individual who wants to become an actor should be an unusually good liar. Those who spent an inordinate amount of their youth learning the subtle intricacies of convincing others of a lie, before they ever thought of becoming an actor, might have the qualities necessary to convince others of the lie that they’re another person. These qualities are difficult to quantify and qualify, but they do lead to some sort of ingrained qualities that is evident to all who seek them for their productions.  

For entertainment purposes, an audience agrees to enter into any fictional production with some suspension of their critical facilities, but at some point, the audience wants that latitude they offer rewarded. This is where those with ingrained qualities shine. Some are better at it than others are, of course, but at some point all inherent qualities are equal and it becomes difficult to distinguish one quality actor from another. Physical traits play a huge role, of course, as some casting agencies won’t let prospective applicants in the door without a decent headshot, but as with any profession those with a hunger to succeed, can overcome physical limitations, so what separates a quality actor from those who can never quite manage to capture the same on-screen magic?

If an actor has established a motif after acting in 40 different productions, how difficult is it to convince other people that they are a 41st character. Landing a key role in a beloved production can advance a career, but it can also kill it, if the audience’s association with a particular character is too strong. We call it being typecast. We’ve also witnessed some actors who are so charismatic they can play themselves every time out, but the others are chameleons and shape shifters who assume another’s characteristics so well that the audience forgets there’s an actor playing the role. How do any of these types wipe the slate clean, so they can help the audience wipe their slate clean? Is it easier for a quality actor to be an empty vessel? I would think that a strong sense of identity would be a difficult obstacle for any actor. If they have little-to-no character of their own, wouldn’t it be easier for them to assume the characteristics of another? When I watch a master craftsman accomplish what so few can do, I wonder if there’s an equation that suggests the less character an actor has in life the better they are at playing another.

On that note, we’ve all heard the stories of method actors who demand that everyone involved in the production call them by their character’s name. Is this a silly, childish game? No, according to some on the inside, and those who want inside, some actors demand this, so they can get “locked in” on their character. In order for them to play pretend properly, others have to join in on the façade. If someone breaks that spell by reminding them that they’re Joey as opposed to Esteban, they can’t continue. Does it kill the empty vessel thing? Is the spell is broken? I’m not an actor, and I have no idea about the process involved in playing another character, but I wonder how much of this is stoked by public relations outlets trying to hype a role one of their clients is in to build the mystique of the actor’s abilities. If it’s all true, and I don’t doubt that it is, in some cases, it seems so silly to me.

We’ve all met unusually good liars who couldn’t find a channel their ability in anyway. We’ve heard them lie about matters we considered so inconsequential that we wonder why they lied about it in the first place. After we hear enough lies from unusually good liars, and the quantity is not as important as the quality, it becomes apparent that they want us to think they have a master plan. They might not have a master plan, but some elements of their intangible qualities lead us to believe they do. Some of these qualities suggest that they pity the rest of us for our struggles, and they might even be laughing at us. They don’t look like they have a plan. They look as bored, unfocused, and as random as the rest of us, but what if they weren’t? What would we think of them if they were someone else? How would our opinions change if they had such an adventurous past that it informed their present? What if their past was so adventurous that they couldn’t wait to tell us their tales? What if none of them were true?

Screenwriters love coming-of-age scenes, and to express their views of coming of age in the compressed time a movie allots them, they use common tropes. One of their favorites tropes involves an actor playing a teacher asking a pre-teen actor a question about a classic book. The child actor’s answer is often far too complex for their age. (The screenwriter is attempting to rewrite and vicariously relive their pre-teen years by appearing more intelligent than they actually were in junior high.) The child actor’s lines often involve shocking, adult swear words that sophisticate their answer in a manner that the screenwriter intends to shock the audience’s sense of moral values. Using children in such scenes feels like a cheat, because moviemakers know adult audiences will feel silly if something a child says offends them. We are to forget that we’re watching a movie created by adults, and that the child actor is reading the lines adults write for them. In the movie, the principle suspends the kid for using offensive language in class. While in the principal’s office, the adult actors playing the child’s parents are dutiful and respectful before the principal. While walking away from the principal’s office, the adult actors offer the child actor sympathetic condolences that suggest that not only is the matter closed as far as they are concerned, they are actually quite proud of the spunky kid for speaking his mind. The supporting character actors, playing the teacher and the principle, eventually develop an indirect way of showing support for this precocious child actor by rewarding him for an unprecedented level of sophistication. (The screenwriter is receiving the vicarious accolades that they felt they always deserved.) (End Scene.)

“I don’t care if you disagrees with some of the ideas expressed in that book,” I would tell my child, as we walked away from the principal’s office, “you sullied your reputation with the language you chose to express your opinion. It’s immoral and disrespectful to say such words in a classroom setting, but more than that, it leads others to believe that you are not capable of formulating a decent argument without using such words. If your argument begins and ends with swear words, no one will remember what you said in between. They will only remember that you “had the cajones” to say a swear word in class, and while that might pay some immediate dividends among your peers, they will not respect you long-term for it. If however, you drop an articulate refutation of the book that expresses a passionate view, you might blow those kids away. No one cares about a book at your age, and they won’t care what you think of it either, unless you say something so profound that they can’t help but notice. Trivial moments like these define you. They might also affect who you’re going to be.

“If you insist on offering your class such a provocative refutation, don’t forget to back that characterization up with details,” I would add. “It’s not enough to call your philosophical opponents a name. You still have to defeat their arguments. Most provocateurs forget to do that when they are trying to sound cool, and most of us forget to hold them accountable for this failure. Most of us will only remember the name you called them. It’s pointless. If you choose the other road, while standing on this philosophical fork in the road, and you strengthen your mind to a point that you can defeat other people’s ideas with concise factual data, and/or a persuasive opinion that is not dependent on emotional provocation, you will leave an impression on them that you are an intellect.”

The Joker is one of the greatest bad guys of all time, and I love stories that involve The Joker, but I never feared the character in an artistic sense. For most of my life, The Joker never really hurt anyone. It was all a game. He said things that made him sound psychopathic, and he had a deranged laugh, but the worst thing he did, for decades, was create precarious James Bond-like situations for Batman to undo, under time constraints, to save the good citizens of Gotham. I never feared The Joker, in an artistic sense, in the manner I did the Tommy DeVito character that Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese created for Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, based on the real-life actions of Tommy DeSimone. Their Tommy DeVito character made me so uncomfortable that I wanted it over. I didn’t care how it ended. I just wanted to return to my comfort zone. I don’t recall ever having such a visceral reaction to a character before, and to my mind, that’s art. If The Joker ever caused such a reaction to an audience, that ended when DC Comics’ editors put an end to any killing in the second year of The Joker’s publication history, and they did it because they didn’t want to influence young, impressionable minds to commit violent acts. Their goals were laudable, but they essentially defanged The Joker. The psychological games The Joker played were some of my favorites, but in the era of The Sopranos and Quentin Tarantino, The Joker seemed like nothing more than the other team in an exciting chess match, until Christopher Nolan and Todd Phillips changed that in the movies.

“I pay hard, cold cash for such an experience,” I informed a friend after she said she didn’t care for another movie, because it made her feel uncomfortable. I told her about my experience with Tommy Devito, and how uncomfortable he made me, and how much I loved it. She couldn’t understand that mindset. She considered such characters and their movies too realistic and too unnerving. I told her that I think that should be every moviemaker’s primary goal.

Most people don’t think this way about artistic enterprises. If they attend violent or horror movies, they want them toned down just a tad, so they can maintain a comfort zone, and they don’t want to pay their hard-earned money to experience anything that rattles their core. I’ve experienced moments in other movies when they tweak my comfort zone, and I always think back to my friend saying that she doesn’t want to be uncomfortable in a movie theater. If she had a particularly violent past, or even a violent incident that such movies unearthed in an uncomfortable manner, I could understand, but she didn’t. She was just a casual moviegoer who doesn’t enjoy it when movies, or art in general, take her to uncomfortable places. I know most people don’t think this way, as evidenced by most of the movies they make, but as a movie connoisseur, I seek those that offend me, horrify me, and takes me to uncomfortable places. The theme of my rant might be violent movies, but I often wonder if the world would be a better place if more people welcomed, with open arms, those who constructively challenge our ideas and ideals in a rational manner, as opposed to those who just provide us more blankets in our comfort zone.  

The Debilitating Fear of Failure


“The reason we struggle with insecurity,” notes Pastor Steven Furtick, “Is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

Some quotes educate us on matters we know nothing about, but the ones that stick take a matter we know everything about and puts a clever twist on it that changes our perspective. We all know failure, or some level of it, at various points of our life. Some of those failures have shaped us in profound ways that we assume everyone remembers the moment we enter a room, and some people will remember our failings, but will they remember their own, or will they compare our failings to their highlight reels.

Pastor Steven Furtick

Pastor Steven Furtick

“Acknowledging failure,” Megan McArdles writes in the book The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success, “Is a necessary first step in learning from it.”

Some of us are old enough to remember the severe penalty for missing a rung on the monkey bars. An erroneous grab, at the very least, could land a victim center-of-attention status, as we attempted to find our feet. At worst, it would cause the pack of onlookers to send an emissary to the office with a call for assistance. These everyone-is-looking-at-you moments are so immersed in embarrassment, and pain, that few can see any benefit to them.

Most of those liable for such situations, have lowered the monkey bars, and made the ground so forgivable that one would have to fall from a skyscraper to receive any pain. Thanks to these and other technological advances, fewer children get hurt on playgrounds, fewer playground ride manufacturers get sued, and everyone is much happier. There is one casualty, however, the pain of failure.

No one wants to see a child cry, and we should do everything we can to prevent it, but pain teaches us.

After a near fall in a supermarket, the checker complimented me on the agility and nimbleness I displayed to avoid hitting the ground. “It could be that,” I returned, “or it could be said that only one so well-practiced in the art of falling knows how to lessen the pain and injury normally associated with it.”

I eventually did touch ground a short time later, at a family reunion. I also touched a parked car, and then I touched the ground again. Among the lessons I learned is that pain hurts. Had it been a simple fall, it would be hardly worth noting. This was one of those by-the-time-this-ends type of falls everyone will be looking, some will be concerned, and most will be laughing. I thought I had corrected my trajectory a number of times, but I was moving too fast. By the time it was finally over, I silenced just about everyone in the vicinity. The kids around me laughed, as kids will do when anyone falls, and my age-denying (Not Defying!) brother laughed, but if the Greg Giraldo line, “You know you’re getting old when you fall down, no one laughs and random strangers come running over acting all concerned,” is true, then I am getting old.

Most lessons in life are learned the hard way, and they are often learned in isolation, in that even our closest friends and family members distance themselves from us in these moments, so that they have no association with them. These dissociations range from laughter to sympathy, but the latter can be just as dissociative as the former if it’s done a right. The point is, no matter how we deal with these moments of failure, we usually end up having to deal with them alone. If we learn how to deal with these largely inconsequential moments, The more we deal with them, the better we are able to deal with more consequential failures down the road.

The point is that the lessons learned through pain and embarrassment, are lessened by lowering the monkey bars, providing a forgiving ground, and instituting zero tolerance bully campaigns. The point is that those of us that see little-to-no benefit derived from bullying, or that any benefits are inconsequential when compared to the damage done by the bully may eventually see the fact that few lessons in life are learned by the individual, until those kids enter adult arenas.

A quote like Pastor Steven Furtick’s, also tells us the obvious fact that we’re not alone in having moments of failure, but that those that can deal with them in the proper perspective  might actually be able to use them to succeed on some levels.

Artistic Creations

Any individual that attempts to create some form of art knows more about comparing another’s “highlight reels” to their “behind-the-scenes” efforts better than most.

In the process of becoming an artist, every individual artist has a shining light that influences them. That shining light provides a template for which the artistic form, that interests the young artist, should be accomplished. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s say that shining light of influence is Stephen King, since he is the most ubiquitous and influential author to most young writers of the modern age. After reading King often enough, a young writer may believe he can write like King. After repeated attempts, this young writer eventually realizes he can’t write like King, but in the course of those efforts he may have almost inadvertently created a voice that is somewhat his own. After repeated attempts to further develop this voice, some otherwise inconsequential person comes along, reads his stuff, and picks out a line or two saying, “That’s halfway decent.”  Buoyed by the compliment, the writer expands upon those few lines and begins to grow so divergent that the Stephen King influence is no longer as recognizable in his writing.

The point of this very succinct summation of the artistic process is that if the writer gets bogged down in any phase of the process, with the idea that he can’t write duplicate King’s highlight reels the writer is done before they get started. If that young writer eventually learns that taking that influence, from that influential writer, is simply a part of the process to developing a voice, he may be able to develop his own highlight reels.

1455Ernest Hemingway

How many times did Ernest Hemingway grow insecure when comparing his behind-the-scenes efforts to the shining lights that preceded him? How many times did he fail, how many times did he quit, and give up, under that personally assigned barometer, before finally finding a unique path to success?

Even in the prime of his writing career, Hemingway admitted that about 1 percent of what he wrote was usable. Think about that, 1 percent of what he wrote for The Old Man and the Sea, was publishable, worth seeing, and that which Hemingway considered worthy of the highlight reel that we know as the thin book called The Old Man and the Sea. The other 99 percent of what he wrote, proved to be unpublishable by Hemingway’s standards. Yet, this highlight reel of the Old Man and the Sea writing sessions are what has inspired generations of writers to write, and frustrated those that don’t consider all of the behind-the-scenes writing that never made it in the book’s final form.

mark-twain-6fa45e42400eea8cac3953cb267d66a33825a370-s6-c30Mark Twain

“Most of what Mark Twain wrote was dreck,” writes Kyle Smith.{1}

Most of us know Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, the highlight reels of Mark Twain’s writing. We know the infamous Twain quotes that occurred in the numerous speeches he gave, and the essays that he wrote, but it is believed that he wrote as many as 50,000 letters, 3,000 to 4,000 newspaper and magazine articles, and hundreds of thousands of words that were never published. Twain also wrote hundreds of literary manuscripts—books, stories, and essays—that he published, and then abandoned, or gave away. Almost all of it has been discovered over the last century, and placed in a home called The Mark Twain Papers.{2}

Very few of us are so interested in Mark Twain, or any of his writing, that we want to read his “dreck”. Very few of us are so fanatical about Twain that we want to know the material he, and his publishers, deemed unpublishable. Yet that “dreck” ended up fertilizing the foundation of his thought process so well that he churned out two highlight reels that many agree to be historic in nature. Similarly, very few would want to want to watch a Michael Jordan, or a Deion Sanders, practice through the years to tweak, and foster their athletic talent to a point that we now have numerous three to four second highlight reels of their athletic prowess. Their behind-the-scenes struggles may provide some interesting insight into their process, but they’ve become a footnote at the bottom of the page of their story that no one wants to endure in total.

nirvanain-365xXx80Kurt Cobain

When we hear the music contained on Nirvana’s Nevermind, we hear a different kind of genius at work. We hear their highlight reels. We don’t know, or care, about all of the “dreck” Kurt Cobain wrote in quiet corners. Most of us, don’t know, or care, about the songs that didn’t make it on Nevermind. Most of us don’t know, or care, about all the errors he committed, the refining, and the crafting that went into perfecting each song on the album, until the final form was achieved. We only want the final form, the highlight reels, and some of us only want one highlight reel: Smells Like Teen Spirit.

On an album prior to Nirvana’s Nevermind, called Bleach, Kurt Cobain penned a song called Floyd the Barber. “Where does the kernel of a song like that start?” Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell asked. Cornell may not have come from the exact same background as Cobain, and he may not have been influenced by the exact same artists as Cobain, but he presumably felt like his creative process was close enough to Cobain’s that he couldn’t fathom how the man achieved such divergence from the norms of musical creation. Those familiar with Cobain’s story also know that he was heavily influenced by the music of Soundgarden, and that fact probably confused Cornell all the more.

Other than Soundgarden, Cobain also loved Queen, The Beatles, The Pixies, The Melvins, and a number of other lesser known bands. How much of his early works were so similar to those artists that no one took him seriously? As I wrote earlier, it’s a major part of the artistic process that every artist goes through to attempt to duplicate influential artists in some manner. It’s a step in the process of crafting original works. When that artist duplicates those that came before them often enough the artist (almost accidentally) begins to branch off into building something different … if they have any talent for creation in the first place.

Divergence in the artistic process

Few artists can pinpoint that exact moment when they were finally been able to break the shackles of their influences, for it happens so progressively that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint. Most artists do remember that moment when that one, somewhat inconsequential person said that some aspect of their piece wasn’t half bad however. At that point, the artist becomes obsessed to duplicate, or replicate, that nugget of an idea. Once that nugget is added to another nugget, those nuggets become a bold idea that wasn’t half bad. Once that is achieved, another bold idea is added, until it all equals a “halfway decent” compendium of ideas that may form something good. At that point, the artist believes he has something that others may consider unique enough to be called an artistic creation in its own right. When enough unique, artistic creations are complete, the artist may eventually achieve their own highlight reels.

When did Cobain finally begin to branch off? How did he become divergent, and creative, and different on a level that made him an organic writer to be reckoned with? How many casual statements, spray paintings on walls, and other assorted personal experiences had to occur before Kurt Cobain had the lyrics for Nevermind? How many of different guitar structures did Cobain and company work through, until he arrived at something usable? How many Nevermind lifted music or lyrics from other failed songs, casual strummings in a closet, and offshoots of other guitarists? What did Floyd the Barber, Come as You Are, and Pennyroyal Tea sound like in those moments when they first found their way from notepad to basement practice sessions? How many transformations did these songs go through in those practice sessions, until they were entirely original, and transformative, and legendary additions to the albums they were included on? If Cobain were alive to answer the question, would he acknowledge that Nevermind is a 1% highlight reel of about a decade of work? Most of us don’t care, we only want to hear the highlight reels, so we have something to tap our finger to on the ride home from work.

Cobain’s highlight reel, Nevermind, proved to be so popular that record execs, and fans, called for a B-list, in the form of the album Incesticide. That album proved Cobain’s B-list was better than most people’s A-list, but what about the D-list, and E-list songs that proved to be so embarrassing that no one outside his inner circle ever knew they existed?

The point is that some of us are so influenced by an artist’s highlight reels that we want to replicate it, and duplicate it, until we become equally as famous as a result, and when we don’t, we think that there is something wrong with us. The point is that the difference between a Mark Twain, a Hemingway, a Cobain, and those that compare their behind-the-scenes work to an influential artist’s highlight reels is that while these artists recognized that most of what they did was “dreck”, they also knew that their behind-the-scenes struggles could be used as fertilizer to feed some flowers.

So, the next time you sit behind behind-the-scenes of your computer keyboard, tattered spiral notebook, or whatever your blank canvas is, remember that all of those geniuses —that so inspired you to be doing what you are doing right now— probably spent as many hours as you do staring at a blank page, or a blinking cursor, trying to weed through all the “dreck”, that every artist creates, to create something different, something divergent from all those creations that inspired them to create. You now know that they succeeded in that plight, but you only know that because the only thing you want to see, hear, and read are their highlight reels.

{1}http://www.forbes.com/sites/kylesmith/2014/02/20/what-mark-twain-van-halen-and-dan-rather-teach-us-about-failure/

{2}http://www.marktwainproject.org/about_projecthistory.shtml