Don’t Bend. Stay Strange


“Don’t bendStay strange.” –David Bowie

“All children are born artists, the problem is to remain artists as we grow up.” –Pablo Picasso.

“We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.” –Ken Robinson said to further the Picasso quote.

“Don’t bend. Stay Strange,” is such a simplistic and beautiful quote that if we heard it earlier in life, some of us might have stitched it out on oven mitts, T-shirts, and flags.

“What’s it mean though?” we young people would’ve asked Bowie if we had the chance.

David Bowie answered with an appearance on a 70’s show called The Midnight Special. It’s difficult to capture the effect this weird, strange, and just plain different appearance had on me all those decades ago. I was floored. I was flabbergasted. I craved the weird, strange and just plain different, even when I was young. Even before I knew the totality of what embracing the weird meant, I was attracted to it. I thought it was shtick when he first walked out. I waited for David Bowie to engage in some kind of monkey dance, or some kind of Steve Martin-ish routine, and then he started singing. I realized that this commanding voice was not an affectation. It was a full-on embrace of the weird. It made me uncomfortable and excited, and confused. I was so young, and so confused, that I considered his appearance unsettling, and I needed my mom to help me deal with it.

“He’s just weird,” she said. She was trying to comfort me. Her message was he’s so weird that he’s probably being weird for the sake of being weird. I argued that I didn’t think so. “If that’s the case,” she said, “we probably don’t want to peel that onion.” She said we should dismiss him, without saying those words, and I did. I didn’t want my mom to consider me weird, and I didn’t want anyone else to think so either. Yet, I couldn’t look away. It was obvious by the man’s appearance, and the way he moved and sang that he embraced the weird. I never knew anyone who embraced being weird at that point. Weird was what we whispered when we saw it walking down the street, and we walked a lower case (‘b’) around it.

Those of us who were weird, strange, and just plain different in our youth, would’ve loved to embrace the weird, if for no other reason than to have some measure of resolve in our fight against the pressure we felt from our peers and our authority figures preaching that we be more like them. We weren’t confident enough to embrace the weird yet though. Most boys and girls, aged 7 to 18, aren’t. Athletes and cool kids rarely have to face such pressure. They’ve always been normal, and they engaged in normal pursuits that every normal boy and girl should’ve pursued. They achieved good grades, and they pursued athletic excellence. They were everything everyone wanted to be. We were just weird.

If Bowie dropped this quote on me, as a kid, it might have helped me through the swamp, but I don’t think Bowie would’ve dropped such a line on a kid. Rock stars are generally impetuous creatures, but I would hope that David Bowie wouldn’t be so reckless as to advise a child to embrace the weird. I think he reserved such notions for relatively stable, confident adults. If he followed that impulse, I think he knew it might cost that kid some happiness, for the world is so confusing to a kid that they need to embrace normalcy until their minds are strong enough to embrace the weird. I also think such a quote might mess with that young person’s artistic cocoon. I think Bowie knew, from firsthand experience, that the struggle to maintain the weird defines the artist in constructive, creative ways. To paraphrase the Picasso quote above, the problem isn’t how to become weird, strange, and just plain different. The problem is to maintain it as we work our way through the mire and maze of childhood.

Most of us from relatively stable homes were trained to avoid being weird by the old guard. They refuted our passion with words like, “I know you think you’re onto something, but that isn’t the way to be.” We didn’t see this as a good thing at the time, and we rebelled and all that, but we now see it differently. We see it differently, because when we were finally ready to let our freak flag fly, we did so with one foot firmly entrenched in the normal world. This perspective is particularly vital to writers, as it gives them an outside perspective from which to report on those who followed their passion throughout life and embrace the weird, strange, and just plain different.

***

Some scholars, like Sir Ken Robinson, want us to violate these theories by changing school curriculum to recognize the weird, strange, and just plain different. In his popular Ted Talk speech, he cites anecdotal evidence to suggest that we should change the curriculum to recognize the unique and special qualities of weird, strange, and just plain different students.

I know I stand to lose my membership in the halls of the mildly creative, weird people with this question, but shouldn’t they have to learn the rules first? Most writers were wildly imaginative kids, and when our kids flash their unique fantastical worldview before us, we remember how weird we used to be. We remember how imaginative and creative we used to be, and we remember those years fondly. Our kids reignite that internal, eternal flame in us. We remember how special it was to be imaginative without borders, but we also remember how unstable and confusing that time was. We were impulsively and instinctively imaginative without borders, and we smashed through whatever borders they put in our way, but most of the results of our beautiful and wonderful childish creativity was gobbedly gook.

We didn’t know what we were talking about because we were kids. We didn’t do anything worthwhile, even when we were wildly creative, because we didn’t know what we were doing. We were kids. When we think of the rules, we often think of some humorless school master enforcing discipline at the end of a ruler, but we often forget how many little, seemingly inconsequential matters we learned along the way to help form our thoughts into mature creativity, and how a stew of those little, relatively inconsequential matters and our wild creativity made us who we are today.

There will be prodigies. There will always be prodigies, but what percentage of the population do we consider prodigies? For the rest of us, there is a special formula to achieving final form. This painfully methodical process involves rebelling against our individual establishment, succumbing to it, recognizing its inherent flaws, and returning to our rebellion with an informed mind. As I wrote in the Platypus People blog, “one of our first jobs as a future rebel is to learn the rules of order better than those who choose to follow them.” The idea that the manner in which school curriculum deprives, stilts and discourages creativity is a strong one, but do these scholars remember how confusing the adolescent years could be for the kids who weren’t prodigies? Lost in this discussion is our need to understand that which we now deem unreasonable, irrational, and in need of change. Why does this work, how does that work, and how and why should we change this and that? One typical response I heard often from a number of teachers was, “I welcome your complaints, but if you’re going to complain, you better have a solution.” How can we have a solution to the complaints we create, in artistic forms, if we don’t first understand the problem better than those who are just fine with it?

The perfect formula, as I see it, is for the creative artist, as Pablo Picasso said, is to remain weird after learning the curriculum and surviving the need to conform. When we learn how to read, write, and arithmetic, we use them to fertilize the science of creativity. If an artist can maintain their fantastical thoughts after learning, they might be able to employ the disciplines they need to enhance their creative and innovative mind to artistic maturity.

We don’t know many specifics of Sir Ken’s dream school, but one of the fundamental elements he theoretically employs is the need to play. The creative mind, he says, needs time and space to play. Throw them a block and let them play with it, and we’ll see their ingenious minds at work. He dots his speech with humorous anecdotes that serve to further his thesis. We know that Wayne Gretzky spent much of his youth playing with a stick and a hockey puck in every way he could dream up, and we learn that other kids develop their own relatively ingenious little theories by playing. We cannot forget to let them play. It is a well-thought out, provocative theory, but it neglects to mention how important discipline is in this equation. The discipline necessary to figure out complicated mathematical equations and formulas might seem frivolous to a dance prodigy, for example, but Geometry works the mind in many ways it otherwise wouldn’t.

“Why do I have to learn this?” we all asked in Geometry class. “What are the chances that I’ll use this knowledge in life? If I grow up to be a vice-president of a bank, what are the chances that knowledge of the Alexandrian Greek mathematician Euclid’s theories will come into play?” One answer to the question arrives when we meet a fellow banker who knows nothing but banking. For whatever reason our fellow banker knew she wanted to be a bank vice-president at a very young age. Her focus was such that she had the tunnel vision necessary to succeed in the banking world, but everyone who knows her knows the minute she clocks out for the day, she’s lost. She might be successful by most measures, but she knows nothing about the world outside of banking, because she never needed any knowledge beyond that which exists in banking.  

“How can you report on the world, if you know nothing about it?” is a question I would ask the twelve-year-old prodigy who wrote a fantasy novel. The kid’s story fascinated me, because writing a 200 page novel is so foreign to my concept of what it means to be twelve-years-old. I was trying to make friends and be happy at twelve-years-old. I read the news article about this kid with great interest, and if I ever ran into him, I would encourage him to see his talent to its extent, and I would applaud him for what he did, but I would never read his novel. I don’t think a twelve-year-old’s vision of the world would do anything for me.

Sir Ken Robinson doesn’t say that he wants to do away with the curriculum directly, but in his idyllic world, we need to cater it to the talents of people like this twelve-year-old prodigy, the dance prodigies, and all the other as of yet unrecognized prodigies around the world.

We’ve all heard tales of these uniquely talented creative people and prodigies with tunnel vision. We marvel at their tales, but we’ve also heard tales of how former prodigies don’t know how to fit in the world properly. They’ve reached their goal by producing a relatively prodigious output, but they’re now unhappy. Something fundamental is missing in them that they’ll never square properly. Being on the proverbial stage is the only thing that gives them joy, and they understand this as little as we do. It might have something to do with being in the spotlight their whole lives, but it might go deeper than that. It might have something to do with the fact that their authority figures never allowed them to be normal, and they never had to learn the basic, core answers the rest of us learned by working through all of the pointless exercises that our core curriculum forced us to figure out. So, if I take a Geometry class, I’m going to be less confused about the world? No, but if you learn how to learn how to use your brain in a wide variety of ways, it might help you arrive at answers that help you cope with the otherwise random world a little better.

Robinson might be onto something when he suggests that if we feed into a prodigy’s creative instincts, we might have more of them, and they might be happier people as a result. His thesis suggests that most people are unhappy because they have untapped talent that we neglect to foster. Let them play, he says. Fine, I say, but why can’t we let me play at a dance school, in art class, or in a school band? Why can’t we just throw a block at them in their free time? Do we have to devote our entire curriculum to helping them recognize their talent? A strong, confident adult is so difficult to raise that as much as I would’ve loved devotion to recognizing my weird talent, I think I would’ve ended up deficient in so many other areas that I would’ve been miserable. Devotion to recognizing my weird talents would’ve made me happier in the short term, as I think I was always heading down a certain road I didn’t recognize for some time, but I think I’d probably would’ve ended up more confused than I already am.

How many of us think that we could’ve been prodigies if someone came along, recognized our talents, and coached them up? How many of us think we wasted so much time in school learning things that didn’t matter? Robinson feeds into these fantasies with some anecdotal evidence that suggests if we would’ve just danced more, we might have discovered that we were dance prodigies. He suggests that if we, as parents, learn how to feed our child’s talent, they might be happier. If the child’s interests are satisfied, they might be more satisfied. Possibly, but if we devote our entire curriculum to dance, creative writing, painting, or one of the other art forms, how many failed upstarts might we have? Students mature at different rates, and while developing schools devoted to encourage more creativity, it will likely result in unequal amounts of misery among those we considered prodigies based on their wild imaginations, but they were actually engaged in nothing more than child-like gibberish.

Smashing Pumpkins’ Cyr Will not be Mellon Collie


“It’s not Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” will be the theme of the critical reaction to the new Smashing Pumpkins new album Cyr. The songs we’ve heard from this upcoming album thus far aren’t too bad, but they’re not Mellon Collie. At this date, some 25 years since its release (!), Billy Corgan probably has a love/hate relationship with the album called Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. We can guess that he loves the fact that he created what many call a masterpiece, for not many artists do, but he probably hates that everything he created lives in its shadow.

We all have varying tastes, of course, and some might say they prefer one of the other Smashing Pumpkins’ albums, but even they would admit Mellon Collie and Siamese Dream had special, timeless, and transcendental qualities about them that are difficult to recapture. Some of us call them masterpieces in their own right, and others say they are the products of Billy Corgan’s creative peak.

What is a creative peak? It is as difficult for artists to create, as it is to maintain. It is equally as difficult for the rest of us to explain. We can say that our reaction to it was a time and place phenomenon, and we could say that Billy Corgan’s creation of it had something to do with this phenomenon too. The finished products, coupled with the worldwide reaction to them might have satisfied Corgan’s need to prove himself, and he’s never been able to duplicate that inner drive. Those of us who have never accomplished such feats don’t know how hard it must be to recapture the elements that drove Corgan to create these albums. I don’t intend that to be a commentary on Billy Corgan’s work that followed, for I think most of his work post-Mellon Collie has been better than the vast majority of his peers, but he set such a high bar for himself with Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie. Every artist goes through peaks and valleys, and most of them cannot explain them. We can’t explain them either, as I wrote, we couldn’t explain why we prefer some art to others, but we know it when we see/hear it, especially in hindsight.

When creative peaks prove as fruitful as Corgan’s was, most of us laymen just assume that they will last forever, and when they don’t, we express our disappointment by saying, “It’s a good album, but it’s not as good as their masterpiece. It’s almost like they’re not trying anymore.” Everyone assumes that Kurt Cobain would’ve just gone on, had he lived, writing top-notch albums, but as Cobain wrote, “Teenage angst has paid off well. Now I’m bored and old.” It was almost as if he was preparing us for what was going to follow, if he lived of course.

If we lump Siamese Dream in with Mellon Collie, and we add Aeroplane Flies High and Pisces Iscariot into the mix, I think we can say that Billy Corgan had an enviable five-year run. Some of the songs on those latter two productions were definitely B-sides, but if we removed some of the top-notch songs on Aeroplane, we might be able to put together two high quality albums. We diehard fans have done so on blank cassette tapes and MP3 playlists. It just seems unfair to compare everything he’s done since, and everything he will do in the future to that creative peak, but such is the nature of art.

Billy Corgan and Co. were a songwriting machine from roughly 1993 to 1996. It was an incredibly creative period for Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlain, and James Iha. (I’m sure Chamberlain, Iha, and D’arcy had more creative input than reports suggest, but from what I’ve read Corgan was the maestro/dictator in the studio.) Personally, I loved the album Gish, and I devoured that album before Siamese Dream’s release, but I wouldn’t put on the same shelf as Mellon Collie and Siamese Dream. I realize that some of the material on the boxset likely predates Siamese Dream, so let’s be generous in our estimate and say this creative period stretched out over a five year, incredibly prolific creative peak. How many musicians would give whatever remains of their otherwise damaged livers for 1/5th of the creative output the Smashing Pumpkins had in those five years? Personally, I think it was one of the most prolific periods of music for one artist in rock history, but I think it’s fair to say that the high bar Corgan set during this period ended twenty-five years ago.

I remember when the Smashing Pumpkins released the single Ava Adore. Oh boy,we thought, here we go again. The leap wasn’t as great as the one between Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie for some of us, but we all fantasized that the single was a sign that this peak would last far longer than we thought it would after the Pumpkins released a double album of material followed by a boxset. Siamese Dream was, after all, the opposite of a sophomore jinx. Once Siamese Dream hit our tape deck, it rendered Gish obsolete, and any flirtation we had with the idea that there might be a junior jinx ended the moment we heard the single Bullet with Butterfly Wings. So, when the single Ava Adore came out, it seemed feasible that Corgan was simply a hard rock/pop prodigy who would blow us out of the water every two to three years until the end of his life.    

How could one man, and his band, release so much material in such a small amount of time, and come up with yet another great album? The answer was he couldn’t. The peak was over. I still think that if Corgan saved about eight of the best songs on Aeroplane Flies High, and combined them with the six best songs on Ava Adore, I think he could’ve satisfied critics and fans so much that they would’ve listed Ava Adore as his third best album and part of the creative peak. What motivated Corgan to release the boxset, I suspect, was that he wanted to put Mellon Collie, and everything attached to it, behind him. I think he wanted to defeat the idea of a creative peak in his own mind and challenge himself with a restart.   

***

When critics savaged R.E.M.’s first effort without Bill Berry, 1998’s Up, Michael Stipe complained that he thought Up was a great album. He said that critics unfairly compared Up to their previous five albums, i.e. their creative peak. He said something along the lines of, “If an up and coming band created Up, you critics would be salivating all over it, but because it wasn’t Automatic for the People, Monster, or New Adventures in Hi-Fi, you think the album stinks.” Perhaps Stipe and Co. were frustrated that the high bar they set for themselves that couldn’t be maintained forever, or that they felt like the critics helped cut that peak short prematurely. It’s also possible that the departure of Bill Berry was more profound than anyone imagined. Whatever the case was for them, the critics were right, as Up proved the creative peak was over for R.E.M. They would release four more albums and except for a few singles here and there, those albums only provided further evidence that peaks end for every creative artist.

Stipe’s greater question is worthy of exploration however. How would we regard albums like Ava Adore or Machina, if they came out before Mellon Collie or Siamese Dream? It’s impossible to answer of course, but it’s an interesting question.

Artists can artificially attempt to realign the stars back to the configuration they experienced during their peak. They can bring back ex-members, hire the producer who helped finesse their masterpiece, and they can go back to the basics, after expunging their need to experiment. They can eat nothing but bacon and drink nothing but the flavor of Snapple they drank when they created their masterpiece, but something will forever elude them.

Our immediate reaction to a new Smashing Pumpkins album now is, they just lost it, whatever it is. They can write some great singles here and there, but as far as writing awe-inspiring magic that drove them to create deep cuts and B-sides that are better than most bands’ hit singles, those days are over. The greater question I would ask is, “Did they ever have it?” The answer to that question, to my mind, is an undeniable, “YES! Yes, they did. For five years, Billy Corgan and Co. created some of the most beautiful, most aggressive, and most pleasing music some of us have ever heard.” For all of the comparatively greater praise devoted to bands such as Guns N’ Roses, Metallica and Nirvana, they only had two influential, transcedental albums. As great as Mr. Bungle and Soundgarden were, they only came out with two fantastic albums. How many great bands came out with songs that blew our minds, but they failed to follow those great songs up with enough deep cuts to make a great album? It’s debatable, but I would suggest that great singles blind most people to the fact that most of the albums they were on weren’t as great as we thought they were.

In some ways, legends like The Beatles, Queen, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin spoiled us by setting such an unreasonable standard for the rest of the bands in music by having more than two great albums. For those who are lucky enough to have more than one great album, they should go on to make the best music they can, but they should know that they will probably never be able to recapture that ‘time and place’ magic that usually only happens once in a lifetime. If it happens twice, live it and love it for as long as it lasts, for it will probably never happen again. This note also goes out to all critics, fans, and everyone in between who judge decent to good albums on the basis that they’re not as great as the albums these artists produced during their peak. How many of our favorite artists never made one great album, top to bottom?

As one reviewer on Allmusic.com wrote, “You can’t blame Billy [Corgan], he already did his best.” This reviewer reminds me of other non-creative types who have never created one piece of art. The implicit suggestion some make is that once a creative peak ends the artist should just quit. They should just ride off into the sunset, collect their royalty checks and consider their life a life well lived. They do the same with athletes. They suggest that after a professional athlete wins a championship that he should just retire. They proved that they did the best they could with their talent, and we all know that it’s downhill from here, so we want them to quit so we can live with a fond memory of them. What we forget when we make such self-serving requests is how hard it is to accomplish great artistic and athletic feats. They require massive amounts of practice, time spent doing this while their friends did something else, and a level of commitment and passion that critics and fans will never understand. That passion doesn’t just end even if they come to terms with the idea that they’ve peaked. The passion is their reason for being, and we don’t have to pay tickets to see them do it, but to call for them to end their career is self-serving. I think the passion and love that drove Bill Cogran to create the masterpieces Mellon Collie and Siamese Dream is obvious in the beautiful music he’s created since, even if what he captured during that five-year peak isn’t.   

Scat Mask Replica VIII


How much money does the average Fortune 500 Company spend learning the mind of the consumer? How many psychologists, linguists, and marketers do their preferred research firms and marketing agencies consult before starting production on a commercial? Their job is to know what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, and what intrigues us long enough to pitch a product or idea. They also have the unenviable chore of finding a way to keep us from fast forwarding through commercials. The average commercial is thirty seconds long, so advertisers need to pack a lot into a tight space. With all the time, money, and information packed into one thirty-second advertisement, one could say that commercials are better than any other medium at informing us where our culture is. One could even go so far to say that each commercial is a short, detailed report on the culture. If that’s true, all one needs to do is watch commercials to know that the art of persuasion has altered dramatically in our post-literate society.

Booksellers argue that we don’t live in a post-literate society, as their quarterly reports indicate that books are selling better than ever. I don’t question their accounting numbers, but some of the commercials big corporations use to move product are so dumbed down and condescending that I wonder if fewer and fewer people are buying more and more books.

When advertisers make their pitch, they go to great pains, financially and otherwise, to display wonderful messages. They then hire a wonderful actor, or spokesman, to be the face of the company. By doing so, of course, the companies who employ the advertising agencies want the consumer to find their company is just as wonderful. If you’re not a wonderful person, their carefully tailored message suggests you can be if you follow their formula. If I am forced, for whatever reason, to watch a commercial, I find their pitches so condescending that they almost make me angry.

Thirty seconds is not a lot of time when it comes to the art of persuasion, so advertising agencies take shortcuts to appeal to us. These shortcuts often involve quick emotional appeals. The problem with this is that people who watch commercials adopt these shortcuts in casual conversations, and they begin using them in everyday life.

I find the quick, emotional appeals these research and marketing firms dig up so appalling that I avoid commercials as much as possible. I find the opposite so appealing, in comparison, that I probably give attempts at fact-based, critical thinking more credit than they deserve. I walk away thinking, “Hey, that’s a good idea!” whether it’s actually a good idea or not, I appreciate the thought they put into making a rational appeal.

Some quick, emotional appeals add crying to their art of persuasion. “Don’t cry,” I say. “Prove your point.” A picture says a thousand words, right? Wrong. We’ve all come to accept the idea that powerful figures and companies require an array of consultants to help them tailor their message for greater appeal. Yet, if one has facts on their side, they shouldn’t need to cry. They shouldn’t need to hire consultants, they shouldn’t need attractive spokesmen, and the idea that they “seem nice and wonderful” shouldn’t matter either. I know it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle, but I think the art of persuasion should be devoid of superficial and emotional appeal.

***

Marketing firms and their research arms also spend an inordinate amount of time discussing “the future”. Some ads intone their pitch with foreboding tones, and some discuss it with excitement. Our knowledge of the future depends on our knowledge of the past. As evidence of that, we look to our senior citizens. They don’t pay attention to the present, because they find it mostly redundant. “What are you kids talking about these days?” they ask. We inform them. “That’s the same thing we were talking about 50 years ago.” Impossible, we think, we’re talking about the here and now. They can’t possibly understand the present. They can, because it’s not as different from the past as we want to believe. The one element that remains a constant throughout is human nature.

You’re saying that all the change we’ve been fighting for will amount to nothing? It depends on the nature of your fight. Are you fighting to change human nature? If so, there’s an analogy that suggests, if you’re trying to turn a speedboat, all you have to do is flick a wrist. If you’re trying to change the direction of a battleship, however, you should prepare for an arduous, complicated, and slow turn. My bet is that once we work through the squabbles and internecine battles of the next fifty years, the future will not change as much as these doomsayers want it to, and if it does, it will probably be for the better.       

***

Brian Dettmer

How many people truly want to create works of art? “I would love to write a book,” is something many people say. How many want it so badly that they’re willing to endure the trial and error involved in the process getting to the core of a unique, organic idea? How many of us know firsthand, what a true artist has to go through? If others knew what they have to go through, I think they would say, “Maybe I don’t want it that badly.”

We prefer quick, emotional appeals. How many overnight geniuses are there? How many artists write one book, one album, or paint one painting to mass appeal? How many of them were able to generate long-term appeal? We should not confuse appeal with best seller. The idea of best seller or attaining market appeal is, to some degree, not up to the artist. They might have a hand in the marketing process, but appeal is largely up to the consumer. The only thing an artist can do is create the best product possible in the large and small ways an artist creates. In this vein, creating art involves a process so arduous that most people would intimidate most.

On the flip side, some say that there are artistic, creative types, and there are the others. There’s no doubt that there are varying levels of talent, but I believe that with enough time and effort most people could create something beautiful and individualistic.

Leonardo da Vinci was a talented artist, who painted some of the greatest pieces of art in world history. From what I’ve read about the man, however, he achieved so much in the arts that it began to bore him. After working through his apprenticeship and establishing himself as one of the finest painters of his day, he received numerous commissions for various works of art from the wealthy people and government officials around him. He turned some down, never started others, and failed to complete a whole lot more. One theory I’ve heard on da Vinci is that if he had a starving artist period, he probably created hundreds of thousands of pieces in that period, but that a vast majority of those pieces were lost, destroyed, or are otherwise lost to history. By the time, he achieved a level of stature where those in his day wanted to preserve his work, painting bored him so much that he created comparatively few pieces. Either that, or in the course of his attempts to create that elusive “perfect piece” da Vinci began studying the sciences to give his works greater authenticity. In the course of those studies, he became more interested in the sciences than he was in painting. These are just theories on why we only have seventeen confirmed pieces from Leonardo da Vinci, but they sound firm to me.

***

There is a hemispheric divide between creative types and math and science types. One barometer I’ve found to distinguish the two is the Beatles. So many types love the Beatles that we can tell what type of brain we’re dealing with by asking them what Beatles era they prefer. With the obvious distinctions in style, we can break the Beatles down into two distinct eras, the moptop era includes everything they did before Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the “drug-induced” era that followed. Numbers-oriented people generally love the moptop era more, and the creative, more right brain thinkers tend to prefer Sgt. Peppers and everything that followed. The moptop era fans believe the Beatles were a better band during the moptop era, because “they were more popular before Sgt. Peppers. Back then,” they say, “the Beatles were a phenomenon no one could deny.” Moptop era fans often add that, “the Beatles got a little too weird for my taste in the “drug-induced” albums that followed.” Although there is some argument over which album sold the most, at the time of release, it is generally argued that the latter half of their discography actually sold more than the first half. Numbers-oriented people should recognize that the latter albums were bound to sell more if for no other reason than the moptop Beatles built a fan base who would purchase just about anything they created after the moptop era. Those who lived during the era, however, generally think that the Beatles were less controversial and thus more popular during their moptop era, and if you’ve ever entered into this debate you know it’s pointless to argue otherwise. We creative types would never say that the pre-Sgt. Peppers Beatles didn’t have great singles, and Revolver and Rubber Soul were great albums, and we understand that those who lived during the era have personal romantic attachments to their era of Beatles albums, but we can’t understand how they fail to recognize the transcendental brilliance of the latter albums. We think the brilliance and the creativity they displayed on Sgt. Peppers and everything that followed provided a continental divide no one can dispute.

Further evidence of the popularity of the latter half of the Beatles catalog occurred in 1973. In 1973, the Beatles released two greatest hits compilations simultaneously for fans who weren’t aware of the Beatles during their era. The blue greatest hits album, which covered the 1967-1970, post Sgt. Peppers era has sold 17 million to date, while the red greatest hits 1962-1967, moptop-era album has sold 15 million. As anyone who has entered into this debate knows, however, it’s an unwinnable war.