I was hunting for something on YouTube this morning that I never did find. But in that way that YouTube (well, all of the internet really) has, my search took me down a couple different rabbit holes, eventually landing me someplace that really got me thinking.
Among the body of film clips and audio files of The Beatles that float around out there in the wild these days (much of it material from the Anthology project, or bits and pieces that didn’t make the final cut for that compilation) there are a number of purported bits of “the boys at work in the studio.” Many of these informal scraps appear to be at least semi-staged, quite likely at the behest of some Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man (in his seersucker suit) who wanted something “special” to leverage.
But what I stumbled upon this morning seems to be authentic “fly on the wall” audio of the band sitting around in studio trying to find the pieces to fit a remarkable new song George Harrison had brought in. The tune eventually became the wonderful Something on the Abbey Road album, but it’s a long way from it at this point.
I listened in fascination for a good nine minutes as the boys stumbled and wandered around the fully formed melody line, searching for the lyrics. As I heard them chase down several false trails, then back up and restart, I silently thanked the studio gods that some assistant engineer in master control had the presence of mind to roll tape “just in case.” It’s a revealing glimpse at process.
I also realized, after a bit, I was getting a revealing look at myself as well. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked here before about my lifelong affinity for music, of all types. Really from the time I was old enough to begin generating fully formed* thoughts and feelings I was attracted to music wherever I could find it.
*hmmmm…”fully formed” may be overly generous, even now.
Whether it was strolling oompah combos at the County Fair, watching variety shows on the huge mahogany black and white Capehart, my folks’ old big band records, or afternoons spent peeking around the corner into our living room as the neighboring teenage girls brought their precious rock ‘n’ roll 78s over to play for my lonely and welcoming mother in the living room (they’d kick off their shoes and dance in their bobby sox all afternoon—nobody at home would permit them to turn up the volume on “that damned noise”), I was locked in by the time I was 6 or 7 years old.
Fast forward a half-decade or so. By the time the first stirrings of puberty were beginning to cloud my young mind, my horizons had expanded beyond pop deeper into the roots of blues, jazz, folk and more.
I even went through a brief phase when I was 14 or so when I saved up, bought myself a used acoustic guitar and some tab books, and worked on reinventing myself as a “folk singer.” But within a year or so, I had to confront the reality that I had absolutely no native talent as a musician.
You know how you hear stories about kids who pick up some cast-off junk instrument, teach themselves how to get a noise out of it, and within weeks are astounded the adults around them? And they then grow up to be famous players, in demand by audiences around the world? If there is a 180 degree opposite of that kid, I was him. I was never gonna “astound the guys and win the girls” with my guitar virtuosity. Eventually I came to terms with that truth and let it go.
But my hunger to find a way to be near the music, to be there for the transcendent moments I already understood it can bring, stayed with me. And it wasn’t long before I came to realize that for every lead guitarist and killer piano player up on stage there needed to be a significant number of “support troops” to make a space for the magic to happen.
And thus, as I came of age in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I found myself on stages and around clubs, dance halls, and bands. Not as a performer, but as one of those necessary crew people. It was in the intensified cauldron of that scene, in that moment, that I began my lifelong, still ongoing, admiration for and relationship with people I’ve come to call The Creatives.
I speak here about artists of all stripes, be they performers (musicians, actors, jugglers and dancers—even, to some degree, athletes and politicians) or practitioners of more solitary arts, such as writers, painters, and the like.
I found, almost subconsciously, that the role of “support” is a comfortable fit for who I’ve come to understand myself to be. I truly do not have that gift/curse of The Creative, whose mind and psyche contains the odd admixture of talent and inspiration that drives them to express something, and gives them access to the necessary skills to execute. But I do have skills, talent and intelligence. And I get great satisfaction in putting them to work in service of The Creative.
I did that for a number of years in and around music.
Also spent a good chunk of time in radio which, at first blush, might seem to run counter to what I just said. But really, in reflecting on my broadcasting career, I was always, again, able to make myself a useful and valuable “member of the team.”
And the nature of the medium means that still put my in front of a mic (and yes, I loved doing that work). But here too, I was never the most high profile personality on air. Most of the time I was “the news guy,” doing important work, but never putting myself in front of the story. And my stints as a music host were all relatively anonymous weekend shifts or fill in work for “the regular talent.”
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to apply that “support staff” mindset in work with two different authors; one working on an important biography, the other producing fiction pieces after decades of focusing her talents in completely different arenas.
In one case, I served (by remote electronic connection—the internet is a remarkable tool sometimes) as essentially a combination proofreading editor and beta reader. Devising and implementing a system for making notes and communicating them to an author several thousand miles away was an interesting challenge.
For the other, I’ve been more directly involved in virtually all the “non-creative” aspects of producing, packaging and taking to market, two books now, with more to follow.
In the latter case, it’s been a pretty intense learning curve in which I’ve had to bring many aspects of my skill-set to bear in new areas where I have limited, if any experience. Fortunately for me it appears I am, among other things, an autodidactic polymath. Which is, I learned this afternoon, a $20 way of saying I am one adept at self-education “whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas.” Impressed? I was.
The thing I’m trying to say about this is that, once again, I find myself sliding easily into that “I’m the support guy” role for a new sub-category of Creative. And, once again, I’m deriving significant satisfaction and fulfillment from being the facilitator.
Look, I’ve come a long way ’round to get back home to this point: While initially motivated as a young person simply by a desire to be present and a part of what seemed to be important and exciting events, that yearning brought me to come to see myself as bringing value to life by applying my skills and talents in support of The Creative.
And, as a result of that, I’ve enjoyed more than my share of opportunities to stand close to the white hot energy of the Creative Crucible as much as anyone not endowed with the gift/curse themselves is likely to be able. Due to that, I believe I have come to have a certain familiarity, if not intimacy, with that process, and a number of people within whom it moves.
That close view has taught me some things over the years. Early on I absorbed the lessons, but did not yet have the life experience or perspective to put the education in context. With the more contemplative mind set this season of my life has brought comes, I think, a deepening understanding of it all.
In younger days, it was hard to get much beyond the basic transactional lessons. “I really love Xyz’s music, but geez he’s an asshole to deal with.” “What a delight it was to spend the evening with Abc. Supremely talented, and so easy to present. She just brings light to the entire building when she walks in.” Stuff like that.
Fairly quickly, because I did spend so much time “inside the bubble,” I also learned that, as a culture, we are damned hard on our artists. We bestow a certain celebrity upon them, but then make demands on their attention and activities that are, frankly, selfish and unreasonable. Then we resent them if they don’t accede to those demands, on our timetable.
But here’s the thing (and this is the piece I find myself coming to somewhat late in life). I feel terribly grateful for the trust Creatives place in me when we take our respective roles and do the things we must. And I have ever-deepening respect and sympathy for those among us who carry the Creative gift/curse.
To be the individual who brings the magic is truly a remarkable gift from the universe, and the gods of the arts. But that gift comes with a heavy, heavy cost to those upon whom it is bestowed. Beyond the often terrible weight of the relationship with “fans” that I touched on above, the very act of creating often generates a staggering vulnerability for the Creative.
And the more profound and moving the art, the greater the extent to which it leaves the one who puts it out there naked before the world. Also, I’ve never known a truly talented individual who wasn’t wracked from time to time with agonies of insecurity and self-doubt; what some call “impostor syndrome,” regardless the level of their accomplishments. It seems an inevitable byproduct of the work.
Different individuals deal with it in different ways. As noted above, some create a deeply loving and supportive “family” among those they work with and all who surround them while others grow prickly and withdrawn.
It breaks a lot of people. That, along with the basic raw talent, is why the ranks of the truly magical are so small. Many, for one reason or another, drop out along the way. It’s also why we have so many tales of alcoholism and addiction, failed relationships, and deaths at age 27.
What I know to be true is this: Being a Creative is a damned difficult job, harder and more challenging than anything most of us ever have to bear and sustain. Thus, today I have deep, deep respect for the courage (even if it’s courage born of desperation) of those who do the work.
The human condition is enriched by the presence of these gifted ones among us. And to whatever small degree I have been able to ease the yoke of the gift for a few of them here and there, it’s a life well lived and it has been my privilege to assist.
Plus, I got to be present for a hell of a lot of cool stuff.
Oh, I expect I owe it to you to show you the video that sparked this almost 2000 words of rumination. Here ’tis.