I set out today to write a piece on creativity (and the perception of creativity) but it came out convoluted and I lost my point almost immediately. In a strange way, this is the most concrete example of what I was trying to convey in my aborted essay. Building something in your mind from scratch, a song, a painting, a piece of writing, whatever, doesn’t always follow the guidelines that have been accepted as standard in the rest of sentience and as a result, creativity is almost catastrophically misunderstood.
If you need an example of this, look no further than a head-to-head guitar matchup between Stevie Ray Vaughn and Keith Richards. Who’s better? Neither answer is wrong, by the way. They’re both fucking terrible. Now, that being said, it could be argued that they’re both incredible. The typical argument will (90%) of the time say this: “Stevie Ray is more technically proficient, for sure, but Keith has that style, man and that’s something you can’t really learn.”
This is a stupid argument that makes no sense. Firstly, ‘technical proficiency’ is a completely useless skill (if you can even call it that). What does being able to move your fingers quickly or being able to memorize scales have to do with art? In a vacuum, the answer is nothing. To suggest otherwise is akin to suggesting that a machine gun laying on the ground could be a formidable opponent in a shootout. Technical proficiency is a tool, a skill that can be acquired and discarded at will, and the development of technical proficiency can be a great way to get your mind thinking about music and fuel the creative part of your brain but that doesn’t often, or even usually happen. I would be willing to bet that in this very café that I’m sitting in there are three or four people who can play guitar with virtuosic speed and precision. Are they better guitar players than I am?
Well, short answer: of course they are. I’m not much of a guitar player. BUT, this is the other part of this argument. I ALWAYS say I’m ‘not much of a guitar player’ but the truth is that I write guitar parts that I think are cool, I figure them out and lay them down in a studio in a way that’s up to my standards (which are high…there is a HUGE digression that could be made here about taste and standards and how things like standards and taste are very, very specific and manifest in weird ways that can’t really be easily articulated [for example, a guy with really shitty, long, stringy balding hair is seen as a slob with no standards by someone who really cares about hair, but if long, stringy, bald guy really only cares about the strength of his core when it comes to his physical appearance, then in that regard, he’s killing it. More on this after this end bracket coming up now] It’s doubly convoluted when you get to sounds and tastes and art because sometimes things sound wonderful when pumped through a shitty tone, when played slightly wrong or when they’re just a little bit fucked up, [but some people hate that shit too]. It’s a fallacy to say you need to master the rules to break them. You just need to KNOW the rules. Okay, back to me and my guitar playing) and if my parts don’t sound absolutely perfect to me, I don’t leave the part on the record. Therefore, when people listen to my records and say things like “man, this guy’s really not much of a guitar player” they’re talking out of their ass based on dumb throwaway blurbs I’ve written or said and not really looking at the context. (To say this in a slightly different and more concise way, I may well be a bad guitar player, but anyone at all playing those parts on that record would have played them just like that, so that conclusion is a faulty one…seeing me play live, however, is another story. I’m not that good.). If I had been on (for example) the Falcon record shredding like Carlos Santana (another HORRIBLE guitarist, by the way) it would sound like shit. Okay, this is getting convoluted. Let’s get a space in here.
Let’s use another example: tight leather pants. Are they cool or disgusting? On their own, a cow would probably say they’re gross, but to me there’s no way to even formulate an opinion. Now, put them on me? Disgusting. Put them on Megan Fox, okay, I’m loving those leather pants. The context is everything when it comes to the pants. HOWEVER, some women or gay guys out there with gross tastes may prefer me in the pants to Megan. Objectively, those people are gross, but they’re not wrong. Do I wear the pants as well as Megan? It seems that perhaps I do.
I recenlty read a review of a record where the reviewer took the artist to task for how quickly the songs were written as though that’s relevant at all, or that can HONESTLY be ascertained by listening to a record. Things that are half baked are half baked no matter how long someone ruminated on it. Things that are wrong are just wrong whether constructed in thirty seconds or thirty years. To talk about virtuosity and planning is to miss the entire point of what’s actually on display when you’re consuming something.
Does it look cool? Does it sound cool? Does it make me feel the way I want to feel?
These are the only relevant questions. Everything else is fucking stupid.
Oh, wait! We haven’t talked about Keith Richards yet! Real quickly: you can TOTALLY learn soul. Yes, yes you can. It’s not as simple as learning scales, but you can TOTALLY learn soul and taste. That’s why where there’s one great artist there’s usually a few. People are all learning soul from each other. Soul is just inspiration and thoughtfulness. If you were lucky enough to be able to hang out with Hemingway and Picasso and Dali (to use an oscar reference) every day in your formative years and you weren’t a closed minded or hardheaded dingus, you’d be doing some pretty out there shit by the end of your tenure. Would you be as great as those guys? Maybe. Maybe not, but that’s what it takes. You feed your brain the right ingredients and you sit there with people that blow your mind until they become human and you learn and watch and feel with your gut and blammo: you’ve got soul.
That is true. Okay, I have to piss. I’m out of here.