A scrapbook of stuff I'm reading / looking at / listening to / thinking about. Ask me anything you can't Google.
Posts tagged "constraint"
Every week, Bob Schneider emails an invite-only group of musicians (several of them Grammy winners) with a challenge to write a song containing a certain phrase. If, by the end of the week, they don’t meet the challenge, they’re off the list.
The primary factor stopping people from finishing songs is the critical voice in your head that says it isn’t good enough. Then there’s the part of your brain that thinks every idea you have is wonderful. Those two are in constant battle when you’re writing. With [the songwriting game], you simply have to turn it in. If it’s bad or mediocre or half a song or maybe just a good idea not realized in a workable way, it doesn’t matter. Even the worst songwriter in the world, forced to write a song every week, is going to write some good songs from time to time. Law of averages.
Schneider has written a song a week for 12 years. More on the challenge here.
In this epic New Yorker profile of Bruce Springsteen, E Street guitarist Steve Van Zandt remembers recognizing Springsteen’s “drive to create original work”:
In those days, he said, you were judged by how well you could copy songs off the radio and play them, chord for chord, note for note: “Bruce was never good at it. He had a weird ear. He would hear different chords, but he could never hear the right chords. When you have that ability or inability, you immediately become more original.”
It’s a fun idea — a shortcoming (his “weird ear”) leads to the signature work… but Springsteen is also a terrific thief. A great demonstration of this was in his SXSW keynote, when he said, “ Listen up youngsters: this is how successful theft is accomplished,” and proceeded to sign and strum the beginning of The Animals “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” then transposing it into the main line in “Badlands.” “It’s the same fucking riff, man!”
There’s a piece in the NYTimes today about how Spektor’s “shortcomings as a classical pianist turned her into a songwriter.” Spektor has very small hands, and while studying classical piano, “scores had to be rearranged, her left hand taking on part of the role of the left.” After a while, it became clear that “the life she expected was perhaps not so attainable.” So she quit classical piano, but sat at the piano and wrote songs instead.
Adding Spektor’s story to my list of artists with physical shortcomings that led to their signature work:
Art Spiegelman has amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” which flattens depth perception. He says he suspects it’s one of the reasons he’s a cartoonist—because the world looks flat to him
The guitarist Django Reinhardt lost the use of 2 of his fretting fingers, and played all of his solos with two fingers
Tommy Iommi, guitar player for Black Sabbath, after he lost fingertips in an industrial accident, was inspired by Django, and formed homemade prosthetics, and detuned his guitars down to C#, so there was less tension on the strings. This detuning is part of what makes Sabbath’s guitars sound so heavy, and thus we have heavy metal…
Henri Matisse’s failing eyesight and health led him to make his “cut-out” paper collages
Chuck Close, along with his paralysis, “suffers from Prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness, in which he is unable to recognize faces.” And yet, he’s most famous for his face paintings, which help him remember faces.
I’m always on the lookout for more examples — let me know if you have any?