Influences and Inspiration

9 10 2013

Influences and InspirationsI read an interesting article some time ago about Viggo Mortensen and his influences.  Viggo is an actor of no mean accomplishment and a Watertown native.  He spent a number of his growing up years here in the North Country.  People who frequent neighboring Clayton see him from time to time as he comes back to visit family.

The article was not so much commentary as it was comprehensive lists.  Being a list junkie, I found it fascinating and invigorating.  You can read about it here.

I heard a wise speaker remark once that we are all composites of the people who influence our lives, whether directly or through their work.  I resonated with this observation and it helped put to bed the nagging urge to “be an original.”

So I thought I would list some of my own, collected over forty-eight years.  I’d be interested in yours if you choose to comment.

Guitarists:  Phil Keaggy, Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, Jeff Beck, Alvin Lee, David Russell, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Brian May, Chuck Berry, Andres Segovia, John Williams, Earl Klugh, Larry Carlton, Ted Nugent, Paul O’Dette (lute), Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Slash, Steve Howe, Eric Clapton, Joe Fava, Konrad Ragossnig (lute), Tommy Emmanuel, David Gilmour, Rick Foster, Angel Romero, Wes Montgomery, Jacob Moon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Anthony Phillips.  And many more.

Music, Artists, Performing Arts: Dan Fogelberg, Keith Green, Richard Souther, Elton John, The Allman Brothers, Paul Clark, The Beatles, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Donovan, Honeytree, Sara Groves, Vineyard Music, Maranatha Music, Hillsong Music, James Taylor, Larry Norman, John Michael Talbot, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Jethro Tull, Randy Stonehill, The Eagles, Billy Joel, Kemper Crabb, Lamb, Peter, Paul & Mary, Michael Bublé, Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Twila Paris, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Card, Miles Davis, Bob Bennett, Twyla Tharp, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Brian Doerksen, Debby Boone, Kenny G, Norah Jones, Diana Panton, Andrea Bocelli, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dave Brubeck, Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett, Neil Young, Jascha Heifetz, Glenn Gould, Malcolm & Alwyn, Phil Ramone.  And many more.

Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Gaspar Sanz, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Erik Satie, G.F. Handel, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Jimmy Webb, Francesco Da Milano, Henry Purcell, Pyotr Illich Tchaikovsky, Harry Gregson-Williams, Domenico Scarlatti, Enrique Granados, Isaac Albeniz, Michael Praetorius, Joaquin Rodrigo, Antonin Dvorak, Ennio Morricone, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Jerry Goldsmith, Rachel Portman, Felix Mendelsohn, James Newton Howard, John Williams, Mychael Danna, Stephen Schwartz, George Gershwin. And many more.

Film: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Marlon Brando, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, Steve McQueen, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Sir Laurence Olivier, James Caan, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Zandt, Jim Caviezel, Franco Zeffirelli, Francis Ford Coppola.  And many more.

Writers: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Eugene Peterson, Morris West, C. S. Lewis, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Will & Ariel Durant, Viktor Frankl, Chaim Potok, Ralph McInerny, M. Scott Peck, J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael D. O’Brien, William Manchester, Dan Brown, Daniel Silva, Leo Tolstoy, Randy Alcorn, Joel Rosenberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elie Wiesel, Sol Stein, Mitch Albom, Mortimer Adler, Will Strunk & E.B. White.  And many more.

Leadership and Self-Development:  Jim Rohn, Peter Drucker, Michael Gelb, John Maxwell, J. Oswald Sanders, Jack Canfield, Dean Karnazes, James Allen, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Earl Nightingale, Dale Carnegie, Warren Bennis, David Schwartz, Zig Ziglar, Warren Bennis. And a few more.

Politics and Economics:  George Will, Henry Kissinger, Abba Eban, Ronald Reagan, John Kenneth Galbraith, John F. Kennedy, George Schultz, Thomas Sowell.  And a few more.

Science and Technology:  Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, E.F. Codd, Stephen Hawking.  And a few more.

Enough for now.  Who inspires you in your talents, work, avocation, and hobbies?

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Drudgery, Persistence, Creation, Art

5 10 2013

Tom ClancyThis past week, the world saw the passing of writer Tom Clancy, bestselling author of the Jack Ryan techno-thriller novels.  He was 66.

He began writing, as many of us do, while busy at his day job, head of his own insurance company.  He published The Hunt For Red October in 1984 and has been writing successfully ever since.

I read an interview today where he said that the most important quality a writer can possess is persistence.  He counseled writers not to try to commit art but simply to tell the story.

It is a common temptation to romanticize the creative life.  The Muse kisses us and we’re off, effortlessly bringing another work to life.

But that is just that: A romantic notion.  Those who are busy in the work of creation will tell you that if you wait for inspiration, you will have few offerings, if any.  In fact, inspiration tends to come as we set our hands to the plow and begin.

Drudgery is something of a dirty word in our day.  It need not be.  The great pianist, Ignace Jan Paderewski, when being praised in a gushing way for his genius by a certain lady said, “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge.”  In other words, great performance can only come through endless hours of practice, out of the limelight.

Drudge?  How unromantic.

But drudgery, persistence, dogged stick-to-it-iveness, whatever you call it, is the explosive secret weapon, the indispensible ingredient in the toolchest of the creative.

So…do the work.  Inspiration comes to those who are busy at their craft.  The Muse kisses foreheads glistening with sweat, tasting of salt.  The very act of creating a work that outlives you and ennobles, challenges, and inspires others brings inspiration in the midst of the drudgery.  It is the artist’s secret.

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Flora Klein’s Advice to Her Son

21 07 2013

Flora and ChaimFlora Klein is a lovely, Hungarian woman.  She is on in years.  Born in 1927, she will be 86 this year.  Jewish, she survived the death camps of the Third Reich.  To say she is quite a remarkable lady is an exercise in understatement.

As a fourteen-year-old girl,  she watched her mother and grandmother go to their deaths.  Her grandmother was given the death sentence and her daughter—Flora’s mother—did not want her mother to face death alone and made the incredible decision to join her in death.  A profoundly moving example of sacrifice and selflessness in the face of evil.

Having survived the horrors of the war, she emigrated to Israel.  There, she married  a carpenter and had a son, Chaim, in 1949.  Her husband eventually left the family and left mother and son to fend for themselves.

In 1958, Flora and Chaim journeyed to America to forge a new life, as have done many Jews over the past century or more.

They settled in New York.  Chaim grew up and took his mother’s name, Klein, and exchanged his Hebrew name for Eugene, or “Gene” for short.  Gene Klein.

Gene—still “Chaim” to his mother—received all of his direction, nurture, and inspiration from his mother.  It is no exaggeration to say that Gene worships the ground his mother walks on.  Mention her and ask him to talk about her and he tears up.

Gene was trained in rabbinics and eventually worked as a New York City school teacher.  He is also a musician and pursued that, his mother cheering him on.  Eventually he formed a group with his friend Stanley Eisen.  He and Stanley changed their names.  Now they are known as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  You’ve doubtless figured out that Israeli-born Chaim Witz is Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS.

Gene eventually went on to superstardom in the entertainment industry.  In recent years, he’s gotten into many different business ventures—some as startups rooted in KISS®, the brand.  Others are independent enterprises.

A few years ago, when asked on the Canadian talk show The Hour where he got his inspiration to be a success in so many fields, he answered without hesitation, “My mother.”  He began to choke up as he told the audience he wished she could be a part of all their lives.

His advice:  If you want inspiration, look to your mom.  She’s his inspiration to this moment.

He spoke of the time he got his first $10,000,000.00 (not a typo) check—a one lump sum—as a return on his work with KISS.  He brought the check to his mother, wanting her to be proud of him.  “Mom, look at this.”

She said, in her broken English, “V’wonderful (pronounced VWAHN-dare-fool).  V’wonderful…..Now what are you going to do?”

Superstardom.  A ten million dollar check.  “Now what are you going to do?” Are you serious?

“Precisely the point,” says Gene.  One doesn’t rest on yesterday’s accomplishments.  Tomorrow is a new day.  What will you do to better yourself?  How can you improve what you do?

This is timeless—and distinctly Jewish—advice and perspective.  How about you?  Are you going to rest on yesterday’s successes?  Or worse, are you going to give up because of yesterday’s failures and disappointments?  Or will you value the gift of life and make the most of it that is possible?

Not sure?  Ask Chaim.  Better yet, ask his mother.

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“Inspiration” and Discipline

12 07 2013

segovia_with_ramirezI’ve been thinking lately about  creativity, being “inspired” and self-discipline.  There’s a common misconception afoot that creativity comes primarily or solely in moments of unsolicited inspiration.  And that, somehow, to go about one’s art in a methodical and disciplined way is to stifle creativity.

But this is simply not true.  Inspiration and self-discipline are not enemies.

They are friends.

Consider the output of creative geniuses of our time and of history.

Father of the classical guitar, Andres Segovia used to practice five hours a day up until his death in 1987.  I saw him give a recital at the University of Michigan in 1986 and he was still performing like a virtuoso.  And he was 93 years old at the time.  Ninety-three.

Author Dan Brown gets up at 4 AM every single day and writes.  Every day.  Mega best-selling novelist Stephen King writes 10 pages every day.

Oscar Hammerstein II, the great Broadway lyricist, used to work regularly in the upstairs portion of his home from 8 to 3 PM.  Every day.  He insisted his wife keep the volume level of the children down during his work period so it didn’t interfere.  He had, by comparison with all his work, a handful of really successful musicals on which he collaborated.  But people will be singing his lyrics hundreds of years from now.

Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of human hands thousands of times before painting the Mona Lisa.

Someone once asked a famous composer, “What comes first, the music or the lyrics?”  His answer? “The phone call.”  All this to say that an artist simply cannot wait to “be inspired.”  The greatest artists have been disciplined practitioners of their craft.  They saw no dichotomy between inspiration and steady production.  Kiss of the Muse and a regular schedule.  And no panic when the phone call comes.

Can shifting your perspective even a little in this area improve both the output and quality of your work?  You will discover that creativity tends to favor the diligent as does opportunity!

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Inspirations

25 11 2012

I read an interesting article some months ago about Viggo Mortensen and his influences.  Viggo is an actor of no mean accomplishment and a Watertown native.  He spent a number of his growing up years here in the North Country.  People who frequent neighboring Clayton see him from time to time as he comes back to visit family.

The article was not so much commentary as it was comprehensive lists.  Being a list junkie, I found it fascinating and invigorating.  You can read about it here.

I heard a wise speaker remark once that we are all a composite of the people who influence our lives, whether directly or through their work.  I resonated with this observation and it helped put to bed the nagging urge to “be an original.”

So I thought I would list some of my own, collected over forty-eight years.  I’d be interested in yours if you choose to comment.

Guitarists:  Phil Keaggy, Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, Jeff Beck, Alvin Lee, David Russell, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Brian May, Chuck Berry, Andres Segovia, John Williams, Earl Klugh, Larry Carlton, Ted Nugent, Paul O’Dette (lute), Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Slash, Steve Howe, Eric Clapton, Joe Fava, Konrad Ragossnig (lute), Tommy Emmanuel, David Gilmour, Rick Foster, Angel Romero, Wes Montgomery, Jacob Moon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Anthony Phillips.  And many more.

Music and Artists: Dan Fogelberg, Keith Green, Richard Souther, Elton John, The Allman Brothers, Paul Clark, The Beatles, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Donovan, Honeytree, Sara Groves, Vineyard Music, Maranatha Music, Hillsong Music, James Taylor, Larry Norman, John Michael Talbot, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Jethro Tull, Randy Stonehill, The Eagles, Billy Joel, Kemper Crabb, Lamb, Peter, Paul & Mary, Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Twila Paris, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Card, Bob Bennett, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Brian Doerksen, Debby Boone, Kenny G, Norah Jones, Andrea Bocelli, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dave Brubeck, Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett, Neil Young, Jascha Heifetz, Glenn Gould, Malcolm & Alwyn, Phil Ramone.  And many more.

Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Gaspar Sanz, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Erik Satie, G.F. Handel, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Jimmy Webb, Francesco Da Milano, Henry Purcell, Pyotr Illich Tchaikovsky, Domenico Scarlatti, Enrique Granados, Isaac Albeniz, Michael Praetorius, Joaquin Rodrigo, Antonin Dvorak, Ennio Morricone, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Rachel Portman, Felix Mendelsohn, James Newton Howard, John Williams, Mychael Danna, Stephen Schwartz, George Gershwin. And many more.

Film: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Marlon Brando, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, Steve McQueen, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Sir Laurence Olivier, James Caan, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Zandt, Jim Caviezel, Franco Zeffirelli.  And many more.

Writers: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Morris West, Will & Ariel Durant, Viktor Frankl, Chaim Potok, Ralph McInerny, M. Scott Peck, J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael D. O’Brien, William Manchester, Dan Brown, Daniel Silva, Leo Tolstoy, Randy Alcorn, Joel Rosenberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elie Wiesel, Sol Stein, Mitch Albom, Mortimer Adler, Will Strunk & E.B. White.  And many more.

Leadership and Self-Development:  Jim Rohn, Peter Drucker, Michael Gelb, John Maxwell, J. Oswald Sanders, Jack Canfield, Dean Karnazes, James Allen, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Earl Nightingale, Dale Carnegie, Warren Bennis, David Schwartz, Zig Ziglar, Warren Bennis. And a few more.

Politics and Economics:  George Will, Henry Kissinger, Abba Eban, Ronald Reagan, John Kenneth Galbraith, John F. Kennedy, George Schultz, Thomas Sowell.  And a few more.

Science and Technology:  Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, E.F. Codd, Stephen Hawking.  And a few more.

Enough for now.  Who inspires you in your talents, work and avocations?





The Wind Beneath Your Wings

20 01 2012

One of life’s gifts is to have someone in your life who knows you better than you know yourself.  One who brings out the best in you and others.  One who helps you to take off and fly.  Gives you more than a life.

Today I celebrate my very best friend.  It’s her birthday.  She is the wind beneath my wings and I love her more than life itself.  There are no other words.  I am so privileged to be married to such a marvelous, beautiful, and intelligent woman.  I love you Kath.  Happy Birthday, my sweet angel.  The best is yet to come!





Be Decisive!

5 01 2012

If there is one thing that defines a leader, it is decisiveness.  This is that indispensable ability to weigh the facts, make a plan and then execute it at the right moment.  When the heat is on and somebody needs to act, it is the leader who looks at everything, chooses a course and moves forward without looking back.

Chuck Missler, US Naval Academy grad, once said, “Weak men hurt people.”  He made this statement at a gathering where he spoke on business ethics.  Chuck is a very popular Bible teacher.   What you may not know is that he made his living as a professional executive in the Defense and semiconductor industries for over 30 years.  He was exhorting a group of Christians to be ethical and stable in their business dealings.  And chief among these qualities are decisiveness and keeping one’s word.  “The sanctity of a commitment.”  At the time of this talk, he was CEO of Western Digital Corporation.  A proven leader with ballast.

The Bible tells us in James 1 to ask God for wisdom but to do so without doubting.  Vacillating.  Up and down.  Wishy-washy.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  James concludes that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.  And such a man should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

Boy, that’s tough.  But here’s why.

When the pressure’s on,  the leader cannot afford to buckle.  Time, money, confidence, respect; all are lost when someone in a position to do the right thing can’t make a decision.  Or takes too much time so doing.

It is far better to make ten decisions and have seven of them turn out to be good decisions rather than to wait and wait and only make two good decisions.  The reason is that although both decisions turned out to be good, the effect of waffling has compromised your influence.  Playing it safe often makes your followers feel unsafe.    Why can’t he make up his mind?  Are we staying or going?

Your high calling means being decisive.  You cannot afford to be ambivalent in the clutch.  It is charming when we watch Fiddler on the Roof and see it with Tevye.  In real life, vacillating is uninspiring at best—dangerous at worst.

Being decisive and stable brings a host of benefits not only to the leader but to those who follow him or her.  You earn respect.  You inspire those watching.  In the marketplace, if you can weigh the facts and act quickly, you’re worth more money than those who can’t.  If you’re a military leader, you will undoubtedly save more lives than you lose.

Here’s the challenge.  This next month, make a calculated effort to make quicker decisions.  Do this with anything from where to go out to eat to vacation plans to starting a new growth project, like a blog or exercise program.  Weigh the evidence, do a cost/benefit analysis and then act.

You’re going to be pleasantly surprised.