“I’m not gonna let you become one of those.”

by Holland-Mark | October 21, 2014

In my early 20’s I spent a lot of time in various bands. I wrote lyrics, and screamed them over excessively loud guitars. And as most front men do, I had a tight friendship with the lead guitar player. We were Jagger & Richards, DeLaRocha & Morello, Bono & The Edge. At least in our minds. I’m pretty sure everyone else saw Jay & Silent Bob or Abbott & Costello. I had no clue. I was so lost in making music, and being “creative”, that it didn’t matter. I was the most engaged as I had ever been in my life. I was an “artist”.

One day, as artists do, we were sitting around smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. Discussing the latest cool shit. Talking about how profound our music was. It was on such another level that regular people just wouldn’t get it. They couldn’t comprehend. It was too far out of their frame of reference. So far ahead of their time. (It was mediocre rap/rock at best).

That’s when he said it. He was trying to tell me how much he valued our friendship, but what he said was “I’m not gonna let you become one of those.”

He was talking about people. The 9-to-5ers, the ones consumed by tasks. The ones focused only on their families, and what khakis they would wear the next day. The ones with dry cleaning to pick up. To him, that was the ultimate creativity killer. The loss of time to focus on being creative, the monotony of life taking over, and killing your drive, your need to create, your soul.

I’ve heard him say that over and over in my head for the last 20 years. Whenever shit gets monotonous, when I’m focusing on minutia and I wonder, am I one of “those” people? The fact that I am wondering about it kind of confirms it. I don’t wear khakis, but I do have dry cleaning to pick up.

And you know what? I’m okay with it now. Because what I’ve realized is he was both completely full of shit, and 100% right.

What he got right is that you have to keep working at being creative. You have to keep making shit. You have to fail. You have to be in a mediocre rap/rock band. You have to explore, you have to give up, and start all over again. You have to push past the expected ideas, and plod on to new ones and perspectives you haven’t even considered. And then and only then will you create. And even then, that idea might not have the impact of the Bible or the Beatles. It might just be passable, respectable. But it might be “Hey Jude”.

But he was also completely full of shit. Because what he missed was that all those things “those” people do (that I do)– that’s where our greatest inspiration comes from. Family, obligations, caring about something or someone other than yourself – that’s what connects us with our art, and connects us with others. Because you can’t be a poet, or a designer, or a writer or a communicator, or any kind of creative, if you have no life experience to draw from. You can’t just write songs about writing songs, or art about making art. Because ultimately the only people who will care about that are other artists. To connect with the other human beings on this planet, you have to be one first.

So to my friend from my 20s, my Richards, my inner voice, I say, “Thanks, but I’m good.”