Yesterday was Biggie’s birthday. He would have been 42. To some of us, that’s probably surprising because it highlights just how young he was when he died, and more to the point, how much he’d already achieved by such a young age. Kurt Cobain died at 27, and so did Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and uh…who else? I dunno, lots of famous dead people are rotting under us. They lived quickly, passionately and then exploded, after a brief life full of achievement. They existed to bring us joy, but their memory lingers to remind us how little we’ve actually done in our lives. Biggie came from nothing, helped define modern hiphop with two unbelievable albums and then died when he was only 24!!!! I’m 37 and I haven’t done shit! Fuuuuuuuck. It’s during revelations like these that I like to break out the vicodin and the Old Granddad and grind the pain of being a disappointing failure into dust.
Well, here’s the thing—those people I named above, (I’m not trying to speak on behalf of their objective talent, as they’re all beloved in certain circles), they really didn’t do that much. They got lucky, and they reaped huge rewards for doing what actually amounts to about as much work as anyone with a passing interest in anything puts into a hobby. Then they died, and we never had to look at their lotto-esque rise to fame in the context of their entire lives. Consider this: do you ever look at Leif Garret’s stratospheric success and consider how little you’ve accomplished? Why not? He was as famous as anyone on this list during their lifetimes, if not vastly more so. He just didn’t die, and as a result, we’ve seen that, over the course of a lifetime, 2 hit records and some acting gigs is nothing to sneeze at, but it also isn’t the sum of an existence’s worth. That trip back down from stardom puts things in perspective pretty fast, doesn’t it? Ask Hammer and or Steven Adler.
To be clear: I’m not trying to insult anyone I’ve named, particularly the deceased. I think a couple of these dead folk are pretty awesome, Biggie in particular, so I’m gonna stick with him here, because I don’t want to get caught up in, say, my opinion that Janis Joplin absolutely annoys the shit out of me and thereby lose sight of my main point, namely that in the great scheme of things, these people didn’t really do that much. It was their environment that did all the heavy lifting.
Biggie recorded 2 albums by the time he died (along with all the random verses and shit that would come to exist on those Frankenstein-esque posthumously assembled records). Big fucking deal. I’d recorded two albums by the time I was 18. Sure, they didn’t define any genres or bring my family great wealth, but they could have. Now, I realize that sounds incredibly vain and/or dismissive, but consider that greatness often goes unrecognized (Van Gogh) and shittiness is often exalted to insane, stratospheric success (Nickelback). The fact that Biggie’s albums were great is pretty much irrelevant when discussing his rise to the top. That he happened to be good and then he died before he had a chance to do anything shitty is why we still talk about him, but dig this: in 1997, the year of Biggie’s biggest hit (Mo’ Money Mo’ problems), MmmBop by Hanson (actually very talented dudes), and the classic, timeless song “Quit Playing Games (with my heart)” by lifer genius songcrafters the Backstreet Boys both charted higher than Biggie on the year end Billboard chart. Fame is no barometer of talent, and talent is no guarantee of a legacy (ask bands like The Honor System or Oblivion who have, in my opinion, both put out brilliant music and faded into almost total obscurity anyway).
Nah, Biggie just recorded two records (that shit is FUN, not hard, and ultimately not even as time consuming or exhausting as working full time at Chipotle) and they happened to hit the right chord with people at the right time, and then he died and boom! The rest of us turds feel bad about what we’ve failed to accomplish. Well, I’m calling bullshit on all that. You’ve done some shit, put up with some hardship and generally achieved enough in your life that you’re still here. So have I. Would I rather be compensated ridiculously and hailed as a genius because of a hobby I had when I was 21? Sure, sounds kickass…but not if it meant dying at 24 or even 27. That sounds terrible, actually.
My friend and mentor Mike Burkett is very fond of telling people, ‘Don’t compare your band to NOFX. We’re an anomaly and no one can expect to do what we did,’ and he’s right. There’s no REASON that NOFX is huge and are going to be huge forever. Sure, they write great songs (so did American Steel). Sure, they’re funny as hell (so are the Dickies). Sure, they helped define a genre (so did the Suicide Machines). None of that shit matters, y’all. And this is true in every field, creative or scientific, or anything in between. There’s hard work and there’s talent, and those two combined make up about 13% of your chances to be successful. The rest is a mix of blind luck, nepotism and having an X factor of likeability (which could, and should really fall into the ‘blind luck’ category). If you’re lucky, you’ll succeed. If you’re good once you’ve gotten lucky, you’ll have a legacy. If you’re REAL lucky, you can die while you’re on top and people will forever compare themselves to you and be bummed. That’s the real brass ring, folks.
Or, you could stay alive and dedicate your time to making others feel good. Granted, it’s a path for losers, but hey, in the words of my grandpa, “someone’s gotta do the loser shit too.” Just something to think about as you trudge through your shitty existence.
Love you guys.