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Farewell, Lou Reed, and love for black angels.

November 11th, 2013 2 comments
Lou Reed and friends. Bowie, Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground.

I managed to scrape up my remaining scraps from my teenage rock wall of long ago. Some clippings were a bit wrinkled. I guess that’s fitting.

It was posted on my friend Karl’s facebook page on October 27th:

He was lucky to have lived as long as he did.

“Who?” I wondered, and I started to get a sick feeling. I scrolled down the page, and when the news was revealed, I just couldn’t believe it. Lou Reed.

Earlier this year, when I read the message to his fans from his wife, Laurie Anderson, I was filled with a sense of happiness. She was thanking everyone for the love and prayers as they fought through his illness. At the time, it looked as though he would make it–or that at least he would be granted a little more time–and I suppose he was.

From The New York Times:

He died peacefully, with his loved ones around him.

Dr. Charles Miller, Mr. Reed’s liver transplant doctor, said.

Lou Reed was 71.

I didn’t expect that his death would hit me as much as it did. It wasn’t as though I knew him, and I fully realize the absurdness to think that we are somehow “connected”. But then again, aren’t we all?

As a sullen and mostly awkward 80s teenager, I was highly drawn to an edgier side of rock n’ roll; putting people like Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and Iggy Pop at the top of my list. I was convinced that they had come through their own versions of youthful angst and ennui by boldly trailblazing through everything that was trite and typically successful by societal standards. They did what they wanted to do, and were who they wanted to be, and thumbed their noses (or worse) at anyone who questioned it. They were fearless artists… heroes. They still are.

I was spellbound by the album The Velvet Underground and Nico with tunes like Heroin, All Tomorrow’s Parties, and what I still believe to be a masterpiece; The Black Angel’s Death Song.

I can’t find much to explain the meaning behind the lyrics of The Black Angel’s Death Song, let alone anything from Lou Reed, who was not especially known for being one to explain his lyrics–his poetry… his music. I read somewhere (sorry, but I was unable to find or cite an exact quote) that he said that the lyrics to the song are meaningless, and that he just thought the words sounded cool strung together. Which rather sounds like one of his bogus responses to some journalist that he didn’t like (there weren’t many that he did). Even as I think of myself as a journalist of sorts, I understood his general disdain for them. I think when he was on the rise, it was especially trying for someone like him. He just wanted to make art in the way that felt right to him without having to explain it. Many of the questions asked of him at the time were inane and simple; designed to treat him as a spectacle or a curiosity—likely due to the topics he chose to write and sing about. But to much of the press, the art was incidental; and really, what artist wouldn’t be pissed off by such a disingenuous approach to storytelling?

Returning to The Black Angel’s Death Song. The lyrics are sad and beautiful at times; harsh and gritty at others. There is a rapid, desperate sort of cadence in the delivery of the lyrics, accompanied by an almost upbeat, but frantically manic and clearly dissonant gypsy-style violin melody. Add to that, the intermittent sound of the air hose–which rather sounds like a fuse being lit–and you have yourself one hell of song, akin to a race against time. (And isn’t that how life feels sometimes?) There are several things going on here:

(second verse)

Not a ghost bloodied country
All covered with sleep
Where the black angel did weep
Not an old city street in the east
Gone to choose

With the sadness, there is compassion. There is empathy for the angel, as we note that the angel; indeed, feels sympathy and perhaps regret or sorrow.

Also, this is clearly a song about choices. The combination of the words, “choices”, “choice”, and “choose” is used throughout the song. The word appears in one of the forms, no less than fifteen times.

(sixth verse)

Cut mouth bleeding razor’s
Forgetting the pain
Antiseptic remains cool goodbye
So you fly
To the cozy brown snow of the east
Gone to choose, choose again

This seems to reflect the pain of loss–perhaps lost love that at times in life, is next to impossible to digest or make sense of. “Antiseptic remains” may refer to numbness wearing off. “So you fly to the cozy brown snow of the east…” something familiar which may offer some comfort, yet when one feels hopelessly sick, there is no solace or comfort to be found; i.e., there is nothing cozy about brown snow… which may well be a drug reference.

(ninth verse)

And if Epiphany’s terror reduced you to shame
Have your head bobbed and weaved
Choose a side to be on

Perhaps this speaks to a realization that things were not as they seemed–which can be a death of sorts. “Bob and weave” is a boxing reference. They are also hairstyles. Resentment about a decision that was made–or that someone failed to make–led to a match of wills. Here, he jests sarcastically.

(tenth verse)

If you choose, if you choose, try to lose
For the loss of remain come and start

(final verse)

Start the game
I chi chi
Chi chi I
Chi chi chi
Ka ta koh
Choose to choose
Choose to lose
Choose to go

Sometimes life is a game, and therefore, so is death–perhaps they are one and the same. We experience small deaths and rebirths throughout life. This seems to speak to the notion that in the game of life,  indeed, we sometimes cut our losses; i.e., “Choose to lose,” or walk away. And then we start all over again.

To thine own self, be true.

– William Shakespeare (spoken by Polonius in Hamlet; Act 1 scene 3)

Lou Reed was no apologist, and he was true to his nature. He was regarded as difficult by more than a few (and that might be putting it kindly), and his general success in terms of his popularity sometimes suffered as a result. I’m guessing that he wasn’t too bothered about it. I think he felt he made the connection he needed to make with the people that mattered to him. At least that’s what I’d like to think. And that’s a fine legacy.

There are few artists that have knocked me over on a first listen. Lou Reed had that effect on me as a kid. I was blown away by Walk on the Wild Side, which was likely the first tune of his that I heard, and from there I was hooked. He was a brilliant storyteller, and from the time I was old enough to listen to the lyrics of songs, I was enthralled with their ability to impact, and take me somewhere else. Of course, I didn’t understand much of what he was talking about at the time, but somehow I knew it was raw and daring… and funny. I was beyond excited to put the needle on my Transformer record for the first time.

His album, New York had a similar effect on me, and I instantly fell in love with Romeo Had Juliet and all the tracks that followed. Its energy was every bit as raw and fresh as his other great works, and the honesty and emotion in his words gripped me. The stories were bitter and filled with love and resentment, as if to say, “Wake up.” Last Great American Whale really says it–a ballad that is grim, majestic and beautiful. The message is pretty simple:  “It’s time to give a shit.”

I only had the chance to see him perform live once–which was during his New York tour. It was a great, energetic show; and from what I could tell, he loved his fans–his people. Maybe we were lucky that night because he wasn’t  particularly known for his warm fuzziness. Or maybe that was just how I received it. He smiled a few times, maybe even told a joke or two, and performed plenty of old songs as well as all the songs from the New York album. Everybody left smiling. It was perfect.

Incidentally, that was how I wanted this piece to be–so it took me a while to get it out. And obviously, much of it is conjecture. But then, plenty of stuff that he did wasn’t perfect. He did it anyway.

Thanks, Lou.

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To the Young Writer Seeking the Star Position

December 18th, 2012 No comments
young writer seeking star job

If you’re trying to land that special post, then get to hoppin’.

Thanks and kudos to Karen for reaching out. She recently sent me a note on LinkedIn, explaining that she is a recent college grad, trying to get a foot in at a particular publication.
I find that the best way to make the connections you’re after is by making your presence known. I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Well, right. That’s what I’m trying to do. But how?” It seems you’re off to a good start.
My answer is twofold. 1) The truth is that you need to start somewhere, so roll up those sleeves and get ready to work. I’m guessing that you’ve realized this by now, but most writers who are fresh out of college are not snatched up by The New Yorker. Look at your favorite publications, and then the number of people who are writing for them. These are highly coveted positions. That said, perhaps you are one of the very talented and lucky few who can break into the place you wish to be, and if this is truly your dream, then absolutely, you should go for it. Also, take note of the writing styles of your favorite writers as well as the audience. Some readers are more sophisticated and have high vocabularies, for example, while others–perhaps not so much. Additionally, think about language and jargon. Are you talking to a specific industry or enthusiast? For instance, foodies expect you to not simply know food, they expect you to be the authority–and they expect you to speak their language. That’s why they come to you. So, should you emulate someone else’s style? Nope. Not if you want to stand out and make a name for yourself. We all have our influences. Use them wisely. This takes us to part deux.
2) It’s an old adage. It helps to know people. So how do you get to know people? You network. And by the way, there are all kinds of networking groups; just search good ol’ Google. Try one. Try three. Not all of them will be a good fit, but keep trying. Find groups that not only interest you, but that actually help you. Make friends with like-minded people, and people who are doing what you want to be doing–or working where you want to work. Be patient with people, and with yourself. Be friendly, kind, polite, and focused (a.k.a. “professional”). Keep your eyes on the prize, and be mindful of who you’re spending time with. In other words, while Darren might be cute and fun to talk to, he might just be interested in taking you out on a date. Maybe dating Darren is what you want, but if you’re more concerned with getting the job you’re after–Darren can wait. You’re probably better off talking to Joan, who happens to be the creative director at your favorite publication. Getting the picture? So… what do you say to Joan? Good question. Do you know what makes her tick? Hey, maybe she’s a writer, too. Maybe she’s written a book or has given an interview. Start with a question about something that interests her–a subject she has written on, perhaps. It’s been said that we work with people that we know, like, and trust. In the end, it’s all you, Baby. Get them to know you, like you, and trust you. And don’t hesitate to reach out to your top dog. If you want to talk to David Remnick, ask him if he’s got twenty minutes for you. You might be pleasantly surprised. Have your questions ready.
Last but not least, I will add that it’s good to be flexible and open-minded. You may have your heart set on a particular desk right now, but keep in mind that things change, and sometimes this includes our dreams and goals. I’ll leave you with the words of John Lennon:
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Good luck, Karen, and thanks for the note–and by all means–SEIZE THE PREY.

 

Here’s the song for today’s post (kinda cheesy, I know; but on the other hand, I am always and forever a HUGE Paul Newman fan. ;)):

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On becoming a Creative Beast: It’s a bit like death and dying. And then truly living.

October 8th, 2011 2 comments

There are two ways you can push yourself to get what you want:

The first is centered around breaking unhealthy patterns. This requires awareness, focus and discipline. It takes practice. It takes catching yourself every time you’re about to do that thing that keeps you from getting closer to where you need to be. It takes preparation, which will allow you to be proactive instead of reactive. It will give you the strength to remain calm and steady at the helm when a storm approaches. It takes meditation.

The second involves going one more step every time that you think you can’t do it. This sounds simple, and in a way–it is. This is where faith enters the picture, and where fear exits. Believe you will succeed. Then make it so.

These two forces oppose one another, spar, dance–and then, when the moment is right–make perfect love. They are the yin and the yang. They form muscle. They produce brilliant, magical children–or inventions. They create alchemy.

There is a third part to this equation, and that is the pursuit of something better. It helps to remember that at the end of every day, it comes down to you. As my friend Hugh MacLeod says, “Remember who you really are.” And as William Shakespeare said, “To thine own self, be true.” Once again, these words sound quite simple on the surface, but dig deep, and you will come to see that their wisdom is boundless. Becoming self-actualized is rewarding and empowering. That said, in the first story of Spider-Man (go ahead and laugh–but it’s a great story ;)), he learns what turns out to be his greatest life lesson: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Every day we are faced with opportunities to make choices. We are presented with options. There are plenty of things we can do–but either way–our choices are beholden to the laws of causality, also known as “cause and effect.” What you choose to do can mean the difference between finding peace and creating harmony or unleashing demons and wreaking havoc. Every choice serves something. And the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Only you can determine for yourself whether the choice you make is right or wrong–but at the end of the day, you will know the truth.

So how is finding oneself like dying and living? Giving up the old ways can be hard, and as we say goodbye, their is a loss that we must recognize and come to terms with. But this death is good, and it and makes way for a new life… a better one. Embrace it, and fear not. SEIZE THE PREY.

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Creativity and Our Responsibility to the World As We Know It.

September 12th, 2011 No comments

Hi Creative Beasts. It’s been seven months since my last post. I feel like I’m going to confession–except I’m not Catholic–or anything even remotely close. So why do I feel like I’m having a “Come to Jesus” meeting with you all? (And I would be the one getting called.) I’ll do my best to explain. There are few things that I’ve learned this year… or perhaps that I’m beginning to learn about life–and I’ll add the caveat that I am referring to none other than my life. Because mine is the only one that I’m living, as far as I know. Heh. However, I feel it necessary to make this distinction because what I’m about to share with you are simply my thoughts, for what they are worth, and you’re free to digest or eschew as you see fit.

A dear friend said recently, “Just when we think we know it all, we realize we know nothing.”

My first reaction to this statement was a bit flippant, and was something to the effect of, “Well, either way, we’re pretty much fucked, aren’t we?” It’s a dog’s dinner, as they say. But in all honesty, I get the point, and yes. Time after time, and throughout the course of life, we find ourselves coming back to the place at which we–at the very least–feel like everything as we once understood it to be, is now completely and utterly topsy-turvy. It’s humbling.

2011 has been a strange, and both brilliant and beautiful year along with some trials. It’s late, and perhaps one day I can follow up and expand a bit more on the joy and pain of it all, but for now, I’ll just share some of the things that I’m trying to learn, and that are maybe bringing me home, so to speak.

1) As creative beings, we have a responsibility to our worlds as we know them. Otherwise, why are we here, really? I think this is the biggest question I’ve been asking myself, lately, and it’s not the first time. But maybe it’s the first time I’ve gotten an answer that I’m a little closer to being satisfied with. My answer is that we need to be honest with ourselves about why we pursue the things that we do, and hopefully, somewhere in the creative process, and in the pursuit of something more, is the desire to make the world a better place.

Some of us work long hours at stuff that sometimes doesn’t make us happy and sometimes even eats at our souls, when we know in our hearts that we have something better to offer up. There’s this sense that there is a bigger picture happening–something greater taking shape–something to be a part of, or perhaps even take hold of and then bring to a higher level. That brings me to number two.

2) If you have something better, then do something better. Quit settling. It’s kind of like “the glass is either half-full or half-empty” thing, but frankly, it’s more than that. See, if there are areas in life in which you’ve been settling or compromising on for a while, then I believe this to be a more urgent matter.  You may need a fire under you–to help rekindle the one in your belly. It may be more beneficial to look at it this way: you can choose to start living, or you can just keep on dying. And if we face facts, every day that we’re alive, we’re another day closer to the end. That’s just the nature of things, so we may as well make the best of it, eh? Either way is correct, but your approach can really make a difference as to how things turn out. You can do something, or you can do nothing. It’s up to you. But if you choose to do nothing, then it’s probably best not to complain.

3) Love begins with you. Be kind to yourself at every opportunity. This can be hard. Creative Beasts are so self-admonishing. At times, we are painfully so. We observe, and we criticize, and we create based on what is formed from these interpretations. But very often, we are most critical of ourselves. We want the ideal. We seek perfection. This can be costly. It all starts with you. What you create inside is what is then reflected to the world around you.

4) Go forth with the mission of making something better. Maybe it’s just you that you want to improve upon. That’s okay, and in fact, it’s perfect. If you can become the best “you” that you can be, you can and will change other things for the better.

5) Don’t be afraid to let things happen. This is how some of our most amazing journeys will begin and by which we will be transformed. At some of our most terrifying and painful moments, we must simply remember to let go and have faith. It will be okay.

That’s it for now, Creative Beasts. Much love, and as always… SEIZE THE PREY.

Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. – John Lennon

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Love, Inspiration and Why We Create. Happy Valentine’s Day.

February 14th, 2011 2 comments

Yes, Creative Beasts, today is Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air. Are you feeling it? I hope so.

What is love? It’s a feeling so powerful, that it’s almost impossible to wrap your head around it. While we may not truly understand it, we instinctively know that it is good. It can change things, and it can move mountains.

The word inspiration, literally means, “taking in the spirit.” When love’s arrow strikes our hearts, we are gifted with a new energy, and perhaps an altruistic vision that frees us to be brave and expand our horizons–and maybe even improve the world, if only just a little bit. Make no mistake that as confusing and even confounding as it may seem, at times–it is always a gift.

As humans–and as Creative Beasts–we are vulnerable creatures, and yet as Creative Beasts–we are already familiar with the concept of baring our souls. That’s just what we do. It comes with the territory, it’s part of the job description, etc., etc. When it comes to matters of the heart, however, we tend to get better at armoring ourselves as time goes on. How does this affect us and what we do? I think that generally, it’s fair to say that our work becomes more refined and better crafted because of practice, wisdom and dedication, and yet think of how much gets lost when edges become worn, in terms of our ability to feel. Whatever shape or form your creativity takes, part of its magic comes from a raw power–and part of that raw power is love. If you have it in your life, it is a very good thing. Be grateful. Recognize it. Use it. Respect it. Its energy will move you forward.

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.

- William Blake

Happy Valentine’s Day. SEIZE THE PREY.

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Creativity, Work and Community: Feeding the Need.

February 4th, 2011 3 comments


A Russian friend of mine once told me, “There is saying in Russian: ‘It’s better to have a hundred friends than a hundred dollars.’” Words to live by, perhaps? While it never hurts to have a hundred dollars in one’s pocket, having a strong community of friends is something that is difficult to put a price tag on. It’s amazing how it often seems to go, that when you give a little, you get a lot.

Thursday, I had the serendipitous fortune of running into some dear friends at the local cafe. We shared great conversations that gave me fresh ideas on approach, and left me feeling inspired and energized. That’s what I would call a good day. It’s what I would also call “invaluable.”

First, was coffee with Stanley–an old friend who was once a photographer, now a painter–always an artist. We talked about the struggles and challenges that creative types face, and how communities come into play. Artists and creative thinkers of all kinds are typically afflicted in some way, with both a need to create, and the standard animal will to survive. The need to create, or to transcend our existence as we know it, can lead us to all sorts of places. Some are dark and deep, some are thoughtful and fresh, some maddening, and others, though more rare, are brilliantly spectacular and enlightening. In many instances, creative journeys are solo ones, and thereby lonely. You work at your craft, whether it’s painting, writing, making music or developing theories. Sometimes you hate it. Sometimes you don’t know why you do it. Other times it thrills you. And feedback can equally be a bitch. Something–anything, at times–is rewarding. Someone can say, “Man, you suck. Give it up!” And maybe you’ve been waiting so long for any kind of commentary, that even that can evoke a feeling of gratitude.

“Wow. That guy hates me,” you think. …Cool!”

Stan and I talked about the varying value of different communities. What is a community? “Sharing, participation and fellowship” is one definition. For some, that can exist at the local tavern, but then that begs the question, “What is it that ties folks together?” Hopefully, it isn’t alcohol, though in some instances, that is clearly the case. With creative minds, I believe it is the underlying knowledge that we all struggle with a similar form of craziness, and part of that is the need to create. From time to time, this may actually end up surfacing as a clinical diagnosis such as bipolar disorder, A.D.D. or obsessive compulsive disorder. Interestingly enough, these so-called disorders are generally regarded as problems that need to be corrected. And yet, isn’t it interesting that many of the world’s most gifted–and frequently celebrated people–are in some senses, and for all intents and purposes–a little bit crazy? So what’s their secret? Stanley and I agreed that mostly, it’s work. Blood sweat and tears. Hours and hours of working one’s craft (which, by the way, is one way in which O.C.D. can come in handy). Work is the difference between the ones who break through to reach a certain level of alchemy, and everybody else. Van Gogh, Picasso, Einstein and Edison all approached their work with a manic level of intensity. Stan said that the value in having the chance to do the work you want to–or maybe that you were meant to, in life–is golden, compared to having a bunch of stuff, such as four car garages, lawns to mow and more TVs than you know what to do with. So it’s mostly work, and maybe after all the time you’ve spent preparing for some moment to arrive–a little bit of luck–and then there’s friends… community.

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
- Thomas Alva Edison

So what happens to the others that take a less obsessive approach? All kinds of things–and sometimes–nothing. Some join into the corporate dynamic and make that world work. Fantastic. Some flop around like fish without water, going this way and that. Some cling to the bar community because it helps them to feel more… normal. Some find a way to neatly blend different worlds, which is remarkable. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say that the balancing act is usually rather precarious, and hey, finding one’s groove can take time.

When Stan and I parted ways, I was on my way out the door, when someone called my name. I turned to the table I had nearly passed. It was my dear, long-time friend, Fred; a graphic designer, artist and wordsmith. He beckoned me to sit and chat, and it was then that I decided that this day was meant for creative friends and conversations, so I did. He started by asking me what was up, and where had I been… usual ice breakers. I said that I had been laying low, and then added–”Well… I’ve been sorta poor, lately.”

“What? You’ve been boring?” he asked, wide-eyed.

“Ha. No, I said, ‘poor.’”

“Oh, I thought you said, ‘boring!’ I’d rather have you be poor than boring,” he quipped with a grin.

That simple statement made my day. And it led me to decide that I will never again in my life, state that I am or have been poor. I may not have a hundred dollars in my pocket to flit, but my friends–my loved ones–my community–make me insanely wealthy. My humble and deepest gratitude to you all.

What else? Oh, yeah: SEIZE THE PREY.

p.s. Febuary 7, 2011: I subscribe to http://GapingVoid.com/ to receive Hugh MacLeod’s daily cartoons via email, and this one, entitled, “The Hunger,” came in today:

http://bit.ly/gMkFOr

…I can’t help loving that it’s right in sync with my post, here, down to the very titles. Hugh has inspired me with his cartoons and words on countless occasions, and I am seriously excited to get my hands on his new book, Evil Plans, to be released February 17th, 2011. Congrats, Hugh!

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Sticking It To You: Exit Through the Gift Shop.

January 14th, 2011 1 comment

If you haven’t seen the film, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a must-see for every Creative Beast. Seriously–it’s your homework. What a mind-blowing story, and how well told it is. It’s got me spinning on several notions: 1) Anything is possible (especially with a bit of work and muscle behind it) and 2) to complain about the things that stand in one’s way as a creative person is an absolute and utter waste of time; especially when there’s so much work to be done and 3) might of most kinds–is mightier than money.

Mr. Brainwash

What makes great art great? Is it partly great marketing? Is great marketing simply great art? This is a film about a shopkeeper cum filmmaker cum artist. From this portrayal of the life of Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. “Mr. Brainwash,” I would surmise that it’s all of the above. Based on his works as a painter/street artist, the idea that he has come up with something earthshaking is questionable. On the other hand, it can be argued that the act of successful reinvention is alchemy at its finest, and indeed, a fine work of art. When MBW is viewed from this perspective, he tends to turn the art world on its ear. The film tells a few different stories; one being the life of Thierry Guetta, two being the emergence of the street art movement, and three being the life that art has all on its own, and how human beings respond to it. Perhaps what is most fascinating is the movement–or rather the motion of the artist, himself. What is it about art–and particularly, what is referred to as “High Art”–that makes it valuable and so deeply coveted? Is it the idea that it generally deals with things that are intangible or unattainable? Is it that it holds something that is thought to be magical and otherworldly? If so, then of course, it makes complete sense that by virtue of owning a piece of such magic, one is thereby and in effect, made magical as well.

Banksy

Creative Beasts are, without question, splendid and magical creatures. Or are they? Through Guetta’s lens, the film takes us on the journeys of several great street artists from different parts of the globe. We are shown that part of what makes their work revered by so many, is the sheer fact that they are a bunch of wild outlaws using public and private property for their canvases and materials, which automatically makes for instant intrigue, along with imagery that often challenges the status quo at its core. Guetta, for the greater part of the film, is shown as an observer–recording the images and scenes of his world, and those of the street artists he follows, especially that of the great Banksy of London (director of Exit Through the Gift Shop). In the end, the story almost plays like a sting, orchestrated by MBW, himself. We are then left with the question, “Was it intentional on his part? Or is he truly a fool among fools who somehow manages to get the last laugh as he innocently steals the bag of tricks from the artists/magicians he is surrounded by, and then uses them to take the art world and greedy collectors by storm, thereby making a farce of the entire scene. In the end, he ingeniously confounds one and all. That, my dear Creative Beasts, is beauty to behold. Smile and get on with it. The rest is simple: SEIZE THE PREY.

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A New Year. A New Wave.

January 2nd, 2011 2 comments

Katsushika Hokusai - The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

I’ve never been very big on New Year’s Eve celebrations–that’s not to say that there haven’t been ones that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. My 2010 New Year’s Eve was quiet, reflective, and very low key. I spent the evening with a friend that I’ve known casually for a while–someone who until recently, I would have considered merely a friendly acquaintance. Recently, however, we’ve become close, and I have come to value our friendship. I call this friend, “Smiley.”

To provide a bit of backstory, 2010 has been a mixed bag for this Creative Beast, with some decent highs, and others that were… perhaps neither good nor bad. There were times that felt pretty bad, in all honesty, and they did set me back. Yet in hindsight, the simple knowledge that I was able to make it through these trials–some of which I wasn’t sure how I would get through–has led me to a better place. I surprised myself in more than one instance with my resourcefulness, my tenacity and my will–and when I managed to accomplish certain things on both a personal and a professional level simultaneously–I felt pretty good… albeit tired. My point in mentioning this, is not so much to toot my own horn, but to simply say that waves do come. Sometimes they can take us up, and other times, they can crush us. The best we can do is to prepare if possible, and then paddle like hell. Those who are able to maintain higher ground may consider themselves “fortunate,” or “blessed,” or whatever they want to call it. As for fishermen and Creative Beasts… ’tis a seafaring life–which sometimes resembles a monster, and other times, something extraordinarily glorious… which brings us back to the reasons that we do the things we do.

Smiley and I reconnected a couple of months ago by pure chance, at a hotel, of all places. I was coming out of a networking meeting, and he was working on a story in the lounge. I didn’t expect it, but we ended up chatting for a while. He was keen to bounce thoughts off of another writer, and I was pleasantly refreshed after an hour of interesting-but-standard shop talk. The script aside, he seemed to have a lot of fires going, which intrigued me. Everybody likes hot burners, and particularly during cold weather. Looking back, I think what was most compelling about Smiley, was the fire in his eyes. As we talked, we agreed that perhaps there would be an opportunity to collaborate on some ideas.

Time went on, and the more ground we covered, the more we realized our stories were rather aligned. We had each had our share of waves, both friendly and fierce. We agreed that it was good to have dreams and vision. All of these things brought us closer together, and at the same time, kept us somewhat reticent in ways. Still, I was inspired by our conversations.

New Year’s Eve, though quiet, reflective and low key, was also pensive, heavy and occasionally dark. And I was feeling funky to begin with. Somehow, roads were taken that led us off the gleeful, celebratory path–not that we were really on it in the first place. From setbacks to friends who had committed suicide, and from dislikes to disorders, we covered just about every cheery subject we could think of. By midnight, we were totally out of steam and in no mood for noisemakers or confetti; let alone, champagne. If ever there was a non-roll, we were on it. Smiley went on to say how much he couldn’t wait to move back east. I had very little left to say, except that if that was what he wanted, then he ought to make it so. Mostly, I was just tired, and thinking about having to go in to work the next day. We finished our nightcaps in what was ironically, yet another downtown hotel lounge. We parted ways with half smiles and a short good-bye, each of us somewhat apologetic about our moods.

So at this point, you might be wondering the reason for this post. Ha. The post is about waves, and how they keep coming. This can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. A wave is going to take you somewhere, and that place can, indeed, be good… even great.

When I got home I was emotionally spent. One of the things I’ve never liked about the occasion–the anticlimax–had hit me in the face. “To hell with New Year’s Eve,” I thought.

In the morning, when I got up to take a shower, I looked up at the reflection of my Hokusai poster in the bathroom mirror. Yes, the image has become ubiquitous. So what? It’s powerful. Suddenly, it hit me, and suddenly, I was inspired again. “Fight harder. Ride the wave. Come back better.” That’s what it’s about. Pretty simple.

Smiley, my friend… this post is for you, and I’m glad we’re friends. Keep at it, and keep smiling. One way or another, we’ll get there.

Happy New Year, Creative Beasts, and by all means, SEIZE THE PREY.

p.s. It feels appropriate to add the lyrics, here. Feel free to sing along… Slainte.

http://www.lyricsfreak.com/w/waterboys/fishermans+blues_20145298.html

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Interview With Adrienne Pierluissi: A Multilayered Artist and Complex Creative Beast.

August 4th, 2010 3 comments

Hello, Creative Beasts. How are you? It has been a busy summer here at the T_Haus. “Crazy-busy,” one might say. I’m sure you know what I mean. That aside, “We,” here, at Creative Beasts have been working on some exciting, new and wonderful things.

“What things, T_Haus?” You say?

Interviews, my dears. I said they would be coming. You were warned.

Recently, I had the distinct privilege to speak with the fair Adrienne Pierluissi; painter, singer-songwriter, entrepreneur, mother, wife, gardener–and the list goes on. She is intensely passionate and focused in nearly everything she does, and it shows. Occasionally, you will even find her tending bar at either Palm Tavern or The Sugar Maple (establishments she owns with her husband and partner, Bruno Johnson–well known for their incredible selections of Belgian and American craft beers; not to mention fine scotches, bourbons and many more) located in beautiful Bayview, Wisconsin. But rather than me telling you about her, here she is, in our conversation–without further ado.

We’ll be talking more with Adrienne in the future. Look for her band, Assex (cool, smoky, jibaro-style jazz–with a bit of old-school punk mixed in), to be playing Saturday, August 21st at 9:p.m. at the Sugar Maple. She will be singing. I’m confident you will be moved. They are outstanding, and the space–like the music–is intimate. Normally, at this point in the post, there would be a sample of the music–and we’re working on that. For now, you’ll just have to trust me that it’s a show you won’t want to miss.

Finally, as you know, it wouldn’t be CreativeBeasts.com without a song. Adrienne, since we don’t have one of yours yet, this one’s for you. Here’s Nina Simone with Feeling Good. And I hope you are!

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Why Be Extraordinary?

May 28th, 2010 11 comments

Who knows what lurks at the dark edges of The Great Unknown?

Indeed, “Why be at all?” One might ask, as so many have. What is the point? What is the purpose? What makes an artist an artist, or an explorer an explorer, and why should anyone care? There are plenty who try to make the leap, but fail. They will never see an inkling of what they would perceive to be a valid level of success. An aside: the term, “artist,” for the purposes of this post, means “One who creates or envisions at a quintessential level.”

Does culture reflect art or does art reflect culture? This question was posed last week in my group at the Creativity Works event in Milwaukee. I think it’s both. How is culture developed? Try this on for size: There are people who unwittingly (and sometimes wittingly) stomp on the spirits of those trying to make something great out of nothing. Or, they laugh or jeer. Anything to eschew whatever comes across as different, strange–and extraordinary. It could be dangerous, after all… or risky. Yet, invariably, they are the same folks who will celebrate the accomplishments of those that they had formerly dismissed or ridiculed–as if it had been their idea, all along.

Here are the definitions from http://thefreedictionary.com/

cul·ture (klchr)

n.

1.

a. The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
b. These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.
c. These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture.
d. The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.
2. Intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it.

3.

a. Development of the intellect through training or education.
b. Enlightenment resulting from such training or education.
4. A high degree of taste and refinement formed by aesthetic and intellectual training.
5. Special training and development: voice culture for singers and actors.
6. The cultivation of soil; tillage.
7. The breeding of animals or growing of plants, especially to produce improved stock.

8. Biology

a. The growing of microorganisms, tissue cells, or other living matter in a specially prepared nutrient medium.
b. Such a growth or colony, as of bacteria.

tr.v. cul·tured, cul·tur·ing, cul·tures

1. To cultivate.

“Culture” is something nearly everyone wants to participate in, yet it is also something that only a few wish to work at or develop. Some cultures are random and shapeless, while others are hewn, forged and carefully defined.

Artists and entrepreneurs are often one in the same. Inventors and scientists–I believe, are, in many respects–artists on whole different level. They are pioneers and visionaries… and many times, they are outcasts and “crazy fools…” until they hit on something, and when that happens, so does culture, in a manner of speaking. It’s not an easy calling. To be an artist and to have a dream or a vision takes a commitment. Many sign up for film, music or art school–or medical school–only to find that it wasn’t the life that they had had in mind. There are no guarantees. The investment is costly, and the outlook on the ROI can appear very bleak. Because many times, it is. This is not something they tell you upon entering school. Afterward, many will teach or work in some related area while continuing to work on creative goals. Sometimes this works out well, and other times, not. We all need to find ways to survive, but finding the balance between work and creativity can be trying, frustrating, humbling and even crushing. Very few manage to obtain the opportunity to work solely as an artist–or to conduct research and experiments to their hearts’ content. Many will give up entirely and find something else that is easier. Fitting into a groove that someone else has already created is typically far easier than creating your own. Someone else has already taken the risks, the falls, etc. It’s not scary, and often, it’s pretty safe. Comfortable. For some, however, this prefabbed groove is not comfortable for some reason. It just never seems to fit quite right. We may even struggle and keep trying to fit into it, to finally come to the realization that it isn’t going to happen. It’s never going to fit. That is O.K. And that is the time at which we realize that to stand out–to rise to a higher plain–takes another kind of desire, attitude and level of commitment. The ones who push themselves to figure out how to cut an extra two or three hours out of each day–the ones who are willing to search and hunt and dig to find it–and who then take the extra effort it takes to put that extra pressure on that ugly little rock–are simply put–the ones who get the diamonds.

So why be extraordinary? Maybe the real question is, “Why not?” We get one shot at our time, here. Yes, it’s risky. Yes, it’s dangerous. And no, you don’t know how it will work out. Maybe the world is flat, and you’ll go sailing off the edge. And maybe you won’t. Who knows? The thing is… if not taking that chance to find out what could be–is killing you… then you already are extraordinary. The desire or even the need to put yourself out there, and to take risks–for everyone to see… your thoughts, your work, emotions and opinions–is not normal. Who gets up on a stage with no clothes on and says, “Hey, everybody! Look at me! What do you think??” Artists–entrepreneurs–Creative Beasts do. Regularly. It’s crazy. It’s brave. And it’s extraordinary.

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