Bron-Yr-Aur and Creativity

10 07 2014

DCF 1.0I am a guitarist.  I took up this amazing instrument in the mid ‘70’s.  I saw a friend of mine play three songs—“Time In A Bottle”, “Dream On” and “Smoke On the Water”–the riff that launched thousands of guitarists in those days.  I freaked.  And fell in love.  The love affair continues thirty-eight years later.

I owe a great deal of my early formation as a guitarist to Led Zeppelin in general and Jimmy Page in particular.  I learned a lot of the classic rock Zeppelin tunes in those days.  But I was especially drawn to their acoustic work.  It was just so interesting.  Rare chords.  Alternate tunings.  Mandolins.  J.R.R. Tolkien in the lyrics.  A world of wonder and colorful sounds.

A fair amount of Led Zeppelin’s creativity in those days emerged as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant retired to the Welsh cottage pictured above.  Bron-Yr-Aur.  It was here that music was inspired and created that endures to the present day.  Pastoral. No electricity. They even named music after this quaint locale.

Where are your creative spaces?  A cottage?  Water?  Forests (my personal favorite)?  Urban life?

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Just Practice? There’s No “Just Practice”

9 07 2014

Just PracticeI read a story some time ago that, while sad, was not at all surprising.  Former NBA standout Allen Iverson has fallen on hard times.  He made millions but is now broke.  It is a tale oft-repeated about people in popular entertainment (and make no mistake, professional athletes are, in fact, entertainers).

I recall watching his now-famous press conference–video gone viral–after he’d been fined by his team for missing practice.  He repeated over and over again, “It’s just practice.”  In other words, “when I’m playing the game, I’ll be all there.”

Really?  Try selling that to Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, or Magic Johnson.

God alone knows how this capable man went from riches to rags.  His career spanned the period of the mid 1990′s to 2010.  It’s a sad story, one that could happen, I suppose, to any of us.

I’m going to be candid.  I can’t help but wonder if Iverson’s dismissive attitude towards practice didn’t play some part in things going south for him.  Again, God only knows.  But ideas and mentalities have consequences.  Blowing off practice or refusing to run out an infield fly ball in baseball (something we’d have gotten benched for in the 1970′s) says a lot about a person.

I get bored very easily.  As a guitarist and pianist, I’m not content playing the same things over and over again.  Stale food.  No thanks.  So I have to do things that keep me growing and sounding interesting.  I don’t want to bore my wife or anybody else with ears.

In recent years, I’ve been doing some different things that have helped me play and think differently on the guitar.  And I’ve been having a blast doing it as well.   So I thought I’d share the wealth.

Play in alternate tunings.  A few Autumns ago, I got totally inspired watching Jimmy Page demonstrate how he plays Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes) in the outstanding documentary It Might Get Loud.  Jimmy came up with this years ago while playing around in an alternate tuning: DADGAD.  Operative phrase: Playing around.  It’s profoundly simple and cool.  (I’ve been playing “Kashmir” a lot and my wife digs it.).  With alternate tunings, you get a lot of voicings not available in standard tuning.  If you’re into this, learn a song by artists who’ve used alternate tunings a lot—Crosby, Stills & Nash, Led Zeppelin, Phil Keaggy, Pierre Bensusan, The Rolling Stones.  Better yet, create your own.

Play musical theatre.  A good deal of Broadway music is very involved, sophisticated and colorful.  Usually written by brilliant composers on the piano.  As a guitarist, you will find this extremely challenging.  Here’s something fun—learn really complex chords at various positions all over the neck.  You’ll love the colors.  Pick a show you like (A Chorus Line, Wicked, West Side Story, etc.) and go from there.

Learn a song by one of your heroes.  Eric Johnson used to learn—and I mean really learn—a song a month by Jimi Hendrix.  Eric would take the song apart like a car engine and study it.  His own readings of Hendrix classics are quite good.  Years ago, I’d learn songs by sitting next to the record player and picking up the needle, over and over and over again, and repeating the song until I’d nailed it.  Digital technology makes this so much easier.  Whether your hero is Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Satriani or Tommy Emmanuel, find something you love and learn it cold.  You’ll find that eventually you’ll develop your own voice and style.  It’s what millions of guitarists have done for the past sixty years.  Join their ranks.

Practice.  Yes, proficiency on a musical instrument involves drudgery.  Faithfulness outside of the eye and applause of the crowd.  Your fidelity to practice will absolutely show when you hit the court.

Now go play.  And remember:

It’s not just practice.

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Poke the Box!

4 01 2014

poke-the-boxThis past year, I discovered Seth Godin.

You have to check out his writings (blog and books) and watch his videos.  I am currently reading Poke the BoxFirst introduced to his unique view of life, marketing, innovation, the labor force, creativity and status-quo-challenging thinking when a friend sent my wife Seth’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Seth has the unique, almost Einsteinian approach to thinking, problem-solving, analysis—the wonder of a child coupled with razor sharp wit, graciousness and complete lack of pretension.

The essence of Poke the Box?  Try stuff.  Do something.  Push buttons.  Get your crayons out and create.  Pay no heed to the voices that say you can’t bring something meaningful and marketable to the marketplace and the human condition.  Again, Seth points out that there are lots of people who make plans and can follow orders, but not many willing to unilaterally start stuff.

Sooooo…..

Go start something and see what happens!

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Currently spinning:  The Best Yet (Switchfoot)





The Joy of Discovery

30 10 2013

Discover for YourselfI first picked up the guitar in 1976.  I was a sixth grader and the guitar was a borrowed Harmony.  I set out, at first anyway, teaching myself using a guitar method (records and books) by Kenny Rogers, then a member of the First Edition.

Before long, I found a teacher on the recommendation of a friend.  Don taught me to read music (The Joe Fava Method for Guitar for guitar fans).  But he also taught me the songs of my heroes:  Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and others.  Don had an incredible ear for music and taught me note-perfect rhythm and solos.  Remember, this was long before the days of the internet, YouTube, tablature charts ad nauseum and the like.  There were, in fact, very few songbooks for the music I loved.  Led Zeppelin Complete was the exception.

Don learned all sorts of songs by ear and taught them to me.  You have to go back into a time capsule to appreciate what this entailed:  Listening, over and over, to songs on a 33 and 1/3 vinyl album, picking up the needle and starting over, etc.  until you got it.  From his work, I learned songs like “Don’t Want You No More” (Allman Bros. Band); “Roundabout” (Yes); “Ten Years Gone” (Led Zeppelin); and “Purple Haze” (Jimi Hendrix).  It was exhilarating.

In subsequent years–again before the avalanche of information, courtesy of the digital age–I followed the same method, dragging out records and listening to them over and over again to get a song just right.  I remember doing this with “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg.  The exhilaration only heightened.

There’s something about digging things out for yourself, mining your own vein of gold and connecting the dots via your own sweat that having something handed to you just doesn’t cut.

Challenge:  Whatever your vocation, hobby, avocation, etc., pop the hood, get inside for yourself, explore, experiment, play around.  It’s kind of like apple pie:  Why is it that apple pies made from apples from your own apple tree just seems to taste better?  It’s the same idea.

You’ll be delighted with all the cool things you figure out for yourself!

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Steve Jobs on Aesthetics

16 10 2013

Steve Jobs on Aesthetics

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” (Steve Jobs)

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The Book of Lights and Tough Ethical Questions

13 10 2013

The Book of LightsI’m currently reading a book by Chaim Potok, author of my favorite novel, The Chosen.  This particular book, written in 1981, The Book of Lights, is set in Korean War-era New York City near historic Riverside Church and Grant’s Tomb, Korea, and Japan.

The main protagonist, Gershon Loran, has been ordained into the rabbinate and conscripted into the service after the armistice has been signed.  He is a somewhat melancholy and, at the same time, brilliant and reflective man who is particularly enamored with the study of Kabbalah–the books of Jewish mysticism.  He is haunted by visions.

His roommate, Arthur Leiden–also a rabbinical student and future rabbi, is a curious figure.  He is a conflicted man, often drinking too much and coming to class unprepared (and drawing upon himself the kind of ire that was standard for teachers towards lazy students a generation ago.)

Arthur is conflicted as well because his father, a physicist, was involved in the creation of the atomic bomb.  Albert Einstein, Harry S Truman, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi are all colleagues of Arthur’s father and figure into the story.

The book, a predictably thoughtful story, forces the reader to examine the moral import and consequence of developing weapons of mass destruction and its consequences for those who bear the weight of such a dark legacy.

I am about half the way through this novel.  Potok is a masterful writer.  He understands the human psyche and Jewishness (in which he was both raised and trained).  Read this and his other works.

And reflect.

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39

10 10 2013

39Guilty pleasure:  Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to play head games with somebody, especially if they’re close to you.

I decided to do this with a colleague today at work.  “Listen to this,” I chatted him, “it will mess with your head.”

This song was written by a post-graduate student of Astrophysics in England, mid 1970’s.

Though it sounds like a song chronicling the beginning of World War II, it is actually about spaceships, time travel, physics and Einsteinian relativity.

It was written by one Brian May.  Um, er, Dr. Brian May.

Brian May was working on his doctorate in Astrophysics in the mid 1970’s when his group, Queen, hit the big time.  Really big.

He left off his education.  For the time being anyway.  One strikes the anvil when it’s hot.  And Queen was hot after the release of A Night At the Opera, which featured this song.

It’s the story of a big spaceship that takes off with a crew, traveling at the speed of light.  Though away for a year, they return to the world now a hundred years older though they have aged a year.  It’s theoretical physics.  Time, a physical property that varies with mass and gravity.  It’s the creation of a physicist, not someone on LSD.  I love this.

A few years ago, Brian May resumed his studies and earned his Ph.D.  How inspiring!  And he is one of my favorite guitarists ever.

Enjoy!

39

In the year of thirty-nine
Assembled here the volunteers
In the days when lands were few
Here the ship sailed out into the blue and sunny morn
The sweetest sight ever seen
And the night followed day
And the story tellers say
That the score brave souls inside
For many a lonely day
Sailed across the milky seas
Ne’er looked back, never feared, never cried

Don’t you hear my call
Though you’re many years away
Don’t you hear me calling you
Write your letters in the sand
For the day I take your hand
In the land that our grandchildren knew

In the year of thirty-nine
Came a ship in from the blue
The volunteers came home that day
And they bring good news
Of a world so newly born
Though their hearts so heavily weigh
For the earth is old and grey
Little darlin’, we’ll away
But my love this cannot be
Oh so many years have gone
Though I’m older but a year
Your mother’s eyes from your eyes cry to me

Don’t you hear my call
Though you’re many years away
Don’t you hear me calling you
All your letters in the sand
Cannot heal me like your hand
For my life, still ahead, pity me

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