The Intersection of Art and Creativity

The Intersection of Art and Creativity

Fairly recently, I chatted with some friends about this Seth Godin post about “creative” jobs. During the discussion, a good friend asked me if I think there’s a difference between art and creativity.

She believes most of what she does is creative, but not all of it is art. She considers much of what I do creative and worthy of calling art. (That kind of comes with the territory when writing fiction, though.) Her point got me thinking: the weekly podcast I do with a friend is not something I’d consider art. (I’m not even sure if I’d even consider it creative most of the time; it’s informative.) My other podcast, however, is something I consider creative and — I suppose — even worthy of being called art.

But this point made by my friend — that something can be creative and not be art — made me also think about if something can be art…and not particularly creative.

Let’s define creative. To do so, I’ll use a profession many don’t consider creative: programmers.

March of the [Creative] Techies

I work for a large tech company serving the travel industry. Even before working where I am, I’ve always considered many of the developers I’ve known creative. Sure, they may not be creating art in the sense of work that will be appreciated in a museum, but I’d argue that many developers I know are more creative than some artists I know.

An example:

If someone paints a photo-realistic image of a famous photograph of a famous person, you can call it art if you want, but it’s simply replication. I’m sure some creative moments in the artist’s past got them to the point of being able to do what a machine can also do, but replicating something is not very creative. It’s not going to get me to stop and marvel over something seen replicated over and over and over.

But I have stopped and marveled over some apps I’ve seen and used, and I’ve attended enough usability studies for new software products to know that the kind of creativity my friend Tammy talks about is alive and well with designers and developers. Sure, most people using what they create may never appreciate what the designers and developers made in the same way they might appreciate a fine wine, but even software, I believe, can have its own terroir.

The Intersection of Art and Creativity

A couple weeks ago, I got to spend a little time with an old friend. John’s art is not only art-as-we-know-it-art, but it’s also quite creative. Still, his re-imagining of the classic Loteria deck is not completely unlike what I’ve seen software developers do: taking something familiar to a group, putting one’s own spin on it, and introducing it to a new audience.

But we expect the intersection of art and creativity from artists like John. So I give you Lee Perry. Lee’s thoughts about designing video games is not unlike reading about artist and author friends discussing what they do. What many may not consider in looking at work like this is that a pencil in Lee’s hand allows him to pour the contents of a creative mind onto paper…and make a work of art on a screen in the end. He’s studied lighting, shading, perspective, and so many other aspects of traditional art, but he’s also taught himself how to code because, just like me and novels, he wanted to make something entirely on his own.

I’d argue that in doing so, Lee has learned many more things in bringing the art of a video game to life than I do bringing a novel to life.

(Oh yeah: Lee is also a huge fan of story, and adds writing to his long list of creative and artistic skills.)

My Creative Circle

It’s never lost on me how fortunate I am to have many creative friends, all doing different things. I love what my friend Rick Coste is doing with his latest [fiction] podcast, but I also love that I can have lunch with one of my developer buds where I work, Ken Tabor, and¬† walk away feeling just as excited as I do when I have dinner with my writing bud Deacon or lunch with my podcast partner, Shawn (who also writes).

The Muddy Colors blog inspires me as much as a writer as listening to Brad Listi interview writers on the Otherppl podcast.

What I’m getting at is one loses out on new ways of looking at things if they write off certain professions as not being creative. (Hell, I hear there are even some actual creative marketers out there!)

Doing Great Work

One of my favorite intersections of technology and what many deem traditionally creative in recent years is Robin Sloan’s novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It doesn’t matter if you love technology or think dusty old books have more merit than pixels and chains of 0s and 1s — it’s a wonderful book about the intersection of so many things, including art, creativity, and where technology fits into it all.

I will not spoil it, but there is a bit on the final page of the hardcover about friendship and work done with great care. (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read that final page.) That final page is a work of great art as far as I’m concerned.

It is possible to graduate with an MFA in writing and sound like everyone else in the program (not very creative), and it’s possible to make a utilitarian app that is far more creative than many novels that have seen publication.

In fact, while the Mona Lisa is a work of art that has stood the test of time, I’d argue that it’s not particularly creative. But open DaVinci’s notebooks and you’re looking into one of the more creative minds that ever lived!

Back to the Beginning

I’ll confess that when my friend Tammy asked if I saw a difference in art in creativity that my answer was initially, “Not really.” (Which is not a very creative way of looking at her question.) I can argue that my answer is skewed by writing fiction, but the writing that actually pays the bills is technical writing, and it is not without its days of creative problem solving.

So I like Tammy’s argument that creativity and art can be separate. It’s possible to make a living as a photographer and not be either creative or artistic, but I have been moved by some creative photos as much as any work of art I’ve seen. (I say this as someone who’s made money as a photographer, and that work was seen by almost a million people…but I’d consider none of it creative or artistic. Also, I find it fascinating that many are quick to defend photography as a whole as artistic, when it’s quite technical — much in the same way as creating software applications.)

We benefit from seeing that even work many think as precise and even dry (coding) can not only be creative, but sometimes be more creative than great works of art. (I consider some of my friend Ken’s work more creative than the Mona Lisa, for example.) I think we not only benefit by giving credit where it’s due, but by acknowledging that not everything must be creative works of art.

Sometimes the right choice is creative, and other times the right choice is artistic. And other times the two intersect to create something that moves people to greater things.

I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve work on that level, but it’s a noble aspiration.

In Praise of the Nobodies

In Praise of the Nobodies

It seems to happen at every conference: there’s a moment when I see someone I know, say hello, and they blow right by me in a rush for a 10-second exchange with someone “big” who won’t remember them five minutes later. Then: onto the next conquest.

Maybe they thrust a business card into the person’s hand and say, “Listen to my podcast!” or “Read my blog!” Sometimes it’s genuine — telling the person, “I love your work.” But in many cases, it’s all about trying to buddy up in the hope that they will somehow be brought into the inner circle and become big themselves.

At best, it smacks of desperation; at worst, it reeks of, “What can you do for me?!”

What is the Goal of a Conference?

I get it — a conference is at least partly about making connections.

But if you zip past the people supporting you right now in a race to get a handful of seconds with a bigger personality, you’ve just established that you’re in it for yourself no matter how genuine you claim to be. No matter how many times you tell those around you that they matter to you, it becomes clear they don’t.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather have an experience like this (or this), instead of desperately trying to put what I do into the heads of a bigger guests.

In Praise of the Nobodies

So here’s to the nobodies just doing their thing, in spite of all the obstacles…

Here’s to the girl getting together with her geek buddies to talk about Dungeons and Dragons because they all love it and don’t care whether or not they can monetize their passion…*

Here’s to the guy with a podcast about novels only a handful of people may be reading; by curating things for that small following, you’ve given a voice to those who often feel silent…

Here’s to the people talking about quirky passions, the invisible outcasts who will keep talking even if only four people listen to or read what they’re doing…

Here’s to the people doing a thing simply because they love it — not because they want to claw their way to “guru” status…

Here’s to the non-“Rockstars” and “Nope-I-Am-Not-A-Ninja”s; people who are so much more than a buzzword…

Here’s to the real people who don’t just say they are genuine, but truly are.

Cheers!

Wine glasses - cheers!

 

Damn…

Damn…

I spent my prom night with Lee McGrevin.

Drunk…

On a wall.

Lee lived in one of the first housing developments in Southlake, Texas I remember having a wall around it. I am not ashamed to admit that I knew the champagne Lee shared that night was stolen from a stranger’s garage. (Not the $100+ bottle he snagged on the New Years Eve before, but it was clear by the alcohol consumed from Southlake garages that it was a town destined for bigger tastes than its country roots.)

I was one of the geeks who didn’t attend prom that night; instead, I tromped around the woods with my best friend drinking stolen champagne. We didn’t camp out in our little lean to back in those woods that night. We decided to sleep on the big stone wall at the entrance to Lee’s neighborhood, watching limousines take so many people I knew to a party at the end of the block.

Lee

I can’t even remember how I met Lee. I only knew that when I met him, he was a self-professed redneck who loved Hank Williams Jr. more than the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and all the other bands he’d come to love inside a couple years. That transformation was quick. Where I liked punk music, Lee loved the lifestyle.

One night, he arrived at my window…the tone of that knock was all Lee. He told me he had a couple racist skinheads following him around in their car, and he wanted to know if I wanted to lure them into the woods where we camped to beat the shit out of them…or kill them.

“Self defense,” he said. “Who are the cops gonna believe? The racist skins encroaching on Southlake, or the good little rich kid and his well-enough-to-do friend who ran into the woods to escape an attack and had no option but to defend themselves with force?”

But really, that’s doing Lee injustice. He really was a good person.

Another Night at the Window

Another night at the window, there was Lee’s knock. I slid my window open to see Lee crying. He had a pair of scissors against his wrist.

“Give me ONE good reason why I shouldn’t kill myself.”

“You’re my brother, and I love you,” I said. “Now…give me the fuckin’ scissors.”

Lee did, and I went outside to talk him down. I talked him down a couple times, all the while thinking, “I’m right there on the edge, too.” No idea why two kids who had it pretty good wanted to die so much.

I was older, though, and I never let Lee know I struggled, too. It seemed like — if I did — it would have all come apart…

Odds and Ends

Lee ran away on somewhat regular occasion. One of his longest runs, I knew he was still around because after a few days of Lee being gone, I got in my car (that mighty 1980 Datsun 810), and it smelled like an animal had been sleeping in there.

I knew Lee was sleeping in my car because it was the warmest (and coziest) place he could find. (It really did smell like someone had field-dressed a boar in my back seat. For months! I can still smell that stench…) He eventually made his way to Irving, where he lived a couple days in the drainage tunnels under Highway 183 by Irving Mall. He called my mom to come and get him when he had enough.

My mom didn’t think twice about getting him. Lee may have been a mess at times, but you had no choice but to love and care for him.

The Firetruck

Lee loved my mom. He loved his mom, too…while adopted, he always talked about how much he loved his mom. He said he was lucky to have two of the best moms in the world (his mom and my mom).

I knew the feeling; Lee’s mom (and dad) were the parents I wanted in so many ways in the 80s. Don’t get me wrong…to this day, my mom is one of my favorite people, but I had a step father I was not fond of. I wanted parents like Lee had.

One day, Lee mentioned to my mom and me that the one thing he didn’t have as a kid growing up in foster homes was a little red firetruck. My mom went out and bought Lee a great firetruck, which stayed on his dresser, a remnant of a youth he never had among all his punk posters. In all the battles we had throwing shit at each other, the firetruck was off limits.

In that one gift, my mom gave Lee at least a piece of the childhood he never had.

Lee’s Family

I loved Lee’s parents (and always will). I have no idea why he rebelled against them as much as he did. He had the life I dreamed of having, and for whatever reasons…he was not pleased with that life. I will never fault him for that, but I was always a bit perplexed what Lee was fighting.

But then…many punks begin a life in suburbia; any fight Lee had was really not with his parents…

The Last Night I Saw Lee

A bit of backstory, first. Lee’s parents sometimes traveled. When they did, we took his father’s Jaguar out for drives. (If I ever have a nice garage, I WILL have a mid-80s model Jag…I loved that friggin’ car!)

Once, we made up a story…that we were brothers and our parents were dead. They left us everything — including that Jaguar. We went to open houses in Southlake as it was growing into its big-town pants. The sob story was simple: I was 18, and Lee was my younger brother. I just got legal guardianship, and we were looking for a house. The Jaguar was convincing in the charade.

One time, we went out with the guy who watched Lee when his folks were away. We went to a big open house and…arrived late. But the sign was still out front. We got to the door and all fought to get inside first.

I will never forget the look of confusion (and terror) on that family’s face as they ate dinner and…a punk, a geek, and a clean-cut redhead (Lee’s keeper) all burst into their home unannounced.

Yea, Fireworks!!!

As Lee slipped more into the punk he’d become, we were out one night with a friend. We had a pile of fireworks. I’d stop, and Lee would light fireworks in the street. I’d tear away while we were all laughing.

There really wasn’t much for a car full of outcasts to do on a Friday night/Saturday morning in Southlake, Texas at the time.

I stopped another time and Lee jumped out of the car. He ran up to a random front door and lit a string of Black Cats.

POP-POP-POP-POP-POP!!!

I thought, “What the fuck, Lee! NOT cool!”

Then I saw the headlights.

Lee jumped back into the car and then, as I sped away, the lights on top of the car came on.

“Shit, a cop!”

My other friend: “I can’t get busted. Not right now! My record is about to come clean. PLEASE get around this corner and let me bail!”

But the cop was on us.

I pulled over.

The cop was cool. His general feeling was, “You’re stupid geeks…go home and never do this shit again.” But…he had to call the pull over in.

So…in no time, the head honcho cop showed up. He had an attitude. He looked at my friend in the front seat.

“Well, well, well…”

Then he saw Lee in the backseat. “Oh, wait…YOU!!!” (With shaved heads, my two friends kind of looked alike…and let’s just say Lee had a reputation with the police in several cities…)

We were escorted to the Southlake Police Department where my other friend and I were given tickets because we’d reached an age where our parents could no longer be called.

Lee, being a minor, was taken away with the dicky cop. We heard, “Put that fucking cigarette out!” and other things Lee was doing to antagonize the cop from the other room. My friend and I were released…I wanted to stay for Lee, but was told only his parents could take him.

I was an adult at this point, so…I was going to pay my ticket. Not tell my mom or step dad…they would never know.

But Lee had a bigass heart.

He showed up at my front door while I was away the next day; told my mom, “It wasn’t Chris’s fault — it was all mine!”

My mom invited him in, and he realized, “Oh, shit…I’m giving up a friend.”

He could never apologize enough, even though he was forgiven by me right away.

That’s the kind of person Lee was…

The Tunnels

There are storm drainage tunnels near Grapevine Lake. I know this because Lee told me. Underneath Dove Road, an opening in the wall supporting a bridge that most people will never know is a bridge.

We had to see what was in there. Lee had read a book about Vietnam called The Tunnels of C? Chi. So we spray painted “Tunnel Rats” over the hole in the wall that went into the drainage system and crawled in.

Each time, we went deeper and deeper — rats be damned!

Snakes and black widow spiders eventually stopped us, but it took several encounters with venomous beasties to finally stop trespassing below the streets of Grapevine.

We decided it was safer to just steal booze from garages and sit in Lee’s room listening to Balck Flag, The Dead Kennedys, The Meatmen, and other bands…

Philly Daze

One day, Lee was gone. He said he went to Philadelphia. I have no idea if that was true, but one night while we walked along late in Grapevine, Texas, cops pulled us over.

Lee was exceptionally calm. Me, on the other hand…I ranted about how I didn’t know it was a mother fucking police state! How I didn’t know it was fucking illegal for two sober friends to walk along the street minding their own business, only to be pulled over by fucking cops.

Lee: “Dude, be cool…”

The last words I expected to hear from him.

Turned out, while away, he’d been in a brawl behind a club. A cop came in heavy, just busting heads. Lee got the cop in the chest with a broken bottle.

I was pulled aside by the head cop and told to chill the fuck out…and that — with a spotless record — I’d do well to not hang out with trouble like Lee.

Fuck that noise!

The Last Night I Saw Lee…

When my mom divorced my step father, we moved from Southlake to Grapevine. Not a long haul, but when your only mode of transportation is foot, it was a distance.

I still drove over to visit Lee. We still did things together, but he was in and out of a school in Colorado. He was away more than around. But one night…

TAK TAK TAK!

Someone was throwing pebbles at my second story window. I looked out to see Lee.

“Hey…can you come down?”

“Of course…”

I went down.

“I have my dad’s car…”

That fucking Jag!

We went for a ride. For hours. Nice and slow. We were no longer interested in pushing the Jaguar to its limits. We weren’t young punks anymore (even though we really were). We would obey all traffic laws (a good thing since Lee wasn’t licensed to drive), and we just drove.

We ended up driving all over Fort Worth with the windows down and the sunroof open. Just talking. Like…we were adults.

“There’s Trinity Park,” Lee said. “Remember that day?”

Trinity Park

For all our faults and awkwardness, there was a day Lee and I went to Fort Worth. We knocked around…went to lunch at an actual restaurant that I paid for. Just this great afternoon — one of my all-time best — hanging out and being calm with my best bud.

We stopped by TCU to visit Lee’s mom, who was a professor there. We hung out in her office, and she seemed surprised and happy to see us. Then…we went to Trinity Park and juggled until it got dark.

I think we both felt what it was to be teetering on adulthood that day, and we both liked it. Not having much, but enough to have a great meal with a good friend and do whatever came to mind. (None of those things being stupid and destructive.)

It’s a day that will live like a celluloid haze in my mind until I’m done…

Lee juggling three clubs

It really was one of the best afternoons of my life…

That Last Drive

“Of course I remember that day…” I said when Lee asked me. I started crying, but I didn’t let him see. Not because he’d judge me, but because I knew he’d feel bad and do all he could to make things better.

I just somehow knew it would be the last time I ever saw him.

We chatted for hours, just driving along in that Jag. Then we rode home in silence.

The next morning, when I went out to my car — leaning against a tree — was a stick. When Lee and I were younger and claiming a small patch of woods as our own, we beat the shit out of each other. (It was a hobby.) I had a stick I loved. The rules were simple: “No head shots!” All else was legal.

We left those woods with bruises we hid from our parents. If people had seen them at school, I thought our parents would be locked away for abuse.

Those bruises belonged to us. They belonged to youth — to figuring out who we were.

And there, laying again that tree, was the stick I used to beat the ever-living fuck out of Lee McGrevin…because if I didn’t, he’d have beaten the ever-living fuck out of me!

I still have that stick…it’s buried in my closet, the only remaining piece of a small patch of woods that is long gone and now a housing development.

A piece of Southlake most people never knew existed; a piece of all we were when we were younger.

The Call

After Lee vanished, I got a call from his mom. Lee had called her in a state of confusion, totally lost. He hung up and that was that. She assumed that was that and told me he was gone.

I was gutted. Not surprised, but totally lost.

Atlanta, 2005

In 2005, I got a job at an aviation consulting firm that told me there would be no travel.

Three weeks into the job, they asked me to go to Atlanta for two months.

I did.

Lee’s parents lived in Atlanta.

One Saturday afternoon, I called them from a laundromat not too far from the airport where I was staying (and where one of the guys I worked with was held at gunpoint by a nervous 15-year-old who took his car).

I met up with Lee’s parents at the Sunflower Cafe in Bucktown. It was great catching up, but the best part: Lee’s mom showing me photos of Lee and his daughter.

Lee was alive!

I found comfort in that, even though his parents told me he still struggled with so much. But…I had this hope that we would one day catch up.

Last Weekend

Last weekend, I saw someone post on Lee’s Facebook wall. It made me wonder what was up. When I saw that Lee was dead…it hit me even harder than the first time I thought Lee was dead.

All I could think of is this line from a John Irving novel that is a better way to end this entry and anything I could say.

Because I’ve said more than enough already…

We don’t always have a choice how we get to know one another. Sometimes, people fall into our lives cleanly–as if out of the sky, or as if there were a direct flight from Heaven to Earth–the same sudden way we lose people who once seemed they would always be part of our lives.
– John Irving – Last Night in Twisted River

Lee

The last photo I took of Lee. It was around Christmas of the year he left (1988). A couple months later, he was gone from Texas. I’m happy to see that he touched many other lives with everything he was!

A Taste of History

A Taste of History

I first tasted absinthe in 2003.

I’d heard about it well before then, but stumbled upon an article about it. The article made it sound like it was a drug — a stigma the drink carries to this day.

“You’ll Trip Balls, Right?”

Here’s the thing: absinthe doesn’t make you hallucinate. The thujone in grand wormwood contains no trippy properties. I won’t go into great detail, here, but absinthe suffered from two issues back in the day: shoddy production by some producers and a smear campaign by the wine industry. (Absinthe was (and sometimes still is) distilled with a grape-based spirit. During a grape shortage, the wine industry suffered and set out to make absinthe sound like the drink of mad men…leading to a ban on the drink in the early 1900s. It didn’t hurt that substances used to dye cheap absinthe often contained harmful compounds that really did drive some people mad…in the same way that eating lead paint chips wasn’t a good idea.)

But enough history…

In the past 15 years or so, absinthe has made a comeback. It’s now legal in the United States. You can buy it in most liquor stores (varying qualities). If you want a good absinthe, I recommend anything made by Ted Breaux for his Jade line.

The neat thing about Breaux’s absinthes? He’s a chemist and distiller, and he created his line by working backwards from samples of vintage absinthes. I can now say with confidence that he got it right!

Sample bottle: 1890-1900 Pernod Fils Absinthe

Pernod Fils (Circa 1890-1900)

For years, I’ve been on a mailing list for someone who finds vintage spirits…with a heavy focus on absinthe. And for years, I could never justify the price of samples sold when a few bottles are discovered from the pre-ban years before absinthe was outlawed in various countries between 1910-1914.

Recently, I set aside some money and told myself, “If a pre-ban bottle of Pernod Fils is found this spring, I’m jumping on it!” And ‘lo, a pre-ban bottle was discovered and broken into samples. (The bottle above.)

Isn’t It Supposed To Be Green?

If you watched Moulin Rouge, you might think that absinthe is a neon green drink that summons fairies. (I do love that movie, even though the absinthe depiction is quite off.)

Most modern, traditionally made absinthes are green in the same way olive oil is green. It’s not a bright green, but it’s definitely green. (Although some absinthes are more of a straw color, while others are absolutely clear.) So why isn’t the sample below green?

Over time, the chlorophyll that gives absinthe its green hue degrades, taking on the color of a dead leaf. (Fuille morte.) Sometimes the flavor changes, becoming more earthy; other times, the taste does what many other spirits and wines do with time: they blend and end up more full and rounded.

We took a sip of the straight sample, and right away — it tasted like some absinthes that have already been diluted with water and sugar. It was sweet and full and creamy. (Damn, it was good!)

Of course, we had to go the traditional route.

Before the louche: 1890-1900 Pernod Fils Absinthe

How Do You Serve Absinthe?

If you see someone set a sugar cube above a glass of absinthe on fire, don’t drink it. It’s probably a crappy absinthe served in a party atmosphere. I really don’t care how others drink something they pay for (I know someone who drowns Islay malt scotches in ice; makes me cringe, but he’s free to do with what he buys), but I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I HATE absinthe! “… only to find they drank swill that wasn’t even absinthe.

Traditionally, absinthe is served by dripping or slowly pouring very cold water into the drink. Depending on the absinthe and one’s taste, the drip is often over a sugar cube on a slotted spoon resting on the glass. (The sugar dissolves, taking an edge off the bitterness of wormwood the drink can have.)

For this drink, we used no sugar. Only ice water from the fountain we’ve had for almost 15 years.

Ice water in the absinthe fountain

The Louche

With the introduction of water, absinthe gets hazy, until turning opaque. This effect is called a louche. (Ouzo and some other spirits containing anise and fennel also louche.)

With the louche, the aromas open up, leaving the room smelling so fragrant.

The louche: 1890-1900 Pernod Fils Absinthe

Splashing drop in absinthe: 1890-1900 Pernod Fils Absinthe

What Does It Taste Like?

A lot of people say, “Absinthe tastes like black licorice!”

I’ve never seen it that strong. It’s more like fennel: a subdued licorice flavor, mixed with a taste of hay dust on the roof on your mouth. It tastes like fields and hills and summer distilled to its essence. It’s a very refreshing drink that some people I know who hate black licorice find pleasant. It’s big and herbal and wonderful!

(I was the kid who always took everybody’s black licorice, so I probably like it even more. I wrote a little bit about the flavor here.)

What Did This Glass Taste Like?

In a blind taste test, I’m guessing most people who have consumed good absinthe would say it tastes a lot like the absinthes Ted Breaux makes. Not quite as earthy — the floral qualities winning out over the taste of distant hay fields and wormwood. It was creamier — and the flavor lingered much longer than any other absinthe I’ve tasted.

The neat taste was sublime; truly one of the best taste experiences of my life. I wanted to drink it straight — and with its high alcohol content, it didn’t have a huge attack in that sip. The astringent qualities seemed subdued and stronger at the same time. Once water was added, it was much like some of the better modern absinthes.

But I didn’t buy enough for two glasses for just the taste…

A Taste of History

As I drank the glass, I thought about the region where it was distilled. I wondered whose hands grew and harvested the herbs used in the drink — and who was responsible for distilling the bottle. (The bottle this sample was drawn from.) I wondered where other bottles from that distilling run went: who drank them — and are there any others still out there in a cellar somewhere?

Even had this drink not lived up to my taste expectations, it would have been worth it, just to imbibe something that was distilled somewhere between 1890 and 1900. Splitting the dates, today I drank 120-year-old absinthe, and it was worth every friggin’ cent I paid for it!

Drinking 1890-1900 Pernod Fils Absinthe

In Defense of Kanye West

In Defense of Kanye West

I preface this by saying I know very little about Kanye West (much like many of those still criticizing him halfway into the week after the Grammy Awards). Were it not for social media and 24-hour news organizations blowing up many issues that aren’t deserving of time and space, I would only know Kanye West as the guy who was picked as the background music for what I consider the greatest juggling video ever made:

But still…as arrogant, rude, or whatever people want to say Kanye is for approaching the stage as Beck accepted his Grammy (and for flat-out interrupting Taylor Swift as she received a Grammy a handful of years ago), it seems silly that people who I often see complaining, “That’s not real news!” online…are still fuming about something that’s not “real” news well into the week.

“BUT HE’S ARROGANT!!!”

Lots of musicians are/were arrogant. Most of the people I see complaining are middle aged and older. If you like the Who…you do realize Keith Moon was far more arrogant than Kanye could ever hope to be, don’t you? In fact, popular music has always, to some extent, been based on shock value and arrogance.

While I am no longer the obnoxious person I once was, ask any close friend who knew me in my 20s: I was one of the most annoying people on the planet! I was fascinated by how easy it was to get to people and — on some level — I took perverse pleasure in being incredibly annoying. It amazed me that adults could let someone get to them so easily. Coming from that place myself, I know — had I been in a band that received any kind of attention — that I would have said and probably done all kinds of stupid/shocking things, just to get a rise out of people. So I have to think there’s a side of Kanye that thinks, “I’m going to tell everyone that I’m the best musician ever, they will all come unhinged, and I will laugh that it’s really that simple to stay in the limelight…”

By getting so worked up about his Grammys antics, people are playing into exactly what he hopes for; which, of course, ensures he will keep doing it.

Why does he do it? He does it because he knows his harshest critics almost crave the self-righteous rage as much as he enjoys the attention.

What I Learned About Kanye

I’ve heard people this week talk about how stupid and greedy Kanye West is. From what I’ve seen, he’s not. (But hey, it’s easy to say a black rapper is dumb, right?) Doing a little research, he got As and Bs throughout his education. He lived in China when he was younger — and it sounds like he adapted rather well to the situation (a sign of intelligence), despite how different it was. (He even learned Chinese, which I understand isn’t an easy language to learn.)

His mother was the Chair of the English department for a college and always encouraged Kanye to read and write.

He has created charitable foundations and given money and time to many causes [From Wikipedia]: “fundraisers, benefit concerts, and has done community work for Hurricane Katrina relief, the Kanye West Foundation, the Millions More Movement, 100 Black Men of America, a Live Earth concert benefit, World Water Day rally and march, Nike runs, and a MTV special helping young Iraq War veterans who struggle through debt and PTSD a second chance after returning home.”

I wonder how much time and money his critics have given to causes? I’m guessing, with maybe a few exceptions, it pales in comparison to what Kanye has given to others.

Like him or not, he sounds like he has a lot of decency inside, despite his occasional interruptions on stage at the Grammys.

His Musical Talents and Tastes

I’ve also heard people say Kanye is a no-talent hack with no taste in music. [Again, I’m pulling from Wikipedia, so some of this may have changed (by the list of bands, it sounds like it was written a few years ago).]

Here are some of the bands Kanye West cites as influences:

Franz Ferdinand, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Killers, Keane, Radiohead, Kaiser Chiefs, Modest Mouse, Coldplay, U2, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. He’s collaborated with Santigold, Peter Bjorn and John, Lykke Li, and Bon Iver.

Hardly a thug influenced by other thugs.

More than that, he used to feature indie bands on his website daily (he still might), hoping to shine some light on obscure acts. He’s also worked with Israeli violinist Miri Ben-Ari and, for a time, he was the only current pop star touring with a string section (employing an eleven-piece orchestra).

I won’t even go into the list of bands and albums he’s produced — it’s a big list. Even if the music isn’t your thing, producing music that makes millions — even if some of it is formulaic — is not an easy task.

Many of the people I’ve seen criticizing Kanye this week are the same people who say — with a sweeping hand — that all hip-hop and rap is terrible. (Hardly the case.) It seems Kanye has much wider and better taste in music than many of his critics.

“Are You REALLY Defending Him?”

Does all this mean I think Kaybe’s a saint, or justified in rushing people accepting awards? Nope! It’s arrogant and douchey. (Although, behind-the-scenes, I would not be surprised to find him laughing with close friends about how easy it is to get a rise out of people.) But again…it’s the music industry, and when we look at others, what he’s doing pales in comparison. [I’m using acts in the next example that the critics I’ve seen in my social media feeds seem to like.]:

Is Kanye rushing a stage and being an asshat really worse than death, molestation, and extreme racism?

You All Made Me Like Him More Than I Did Before

I really know very little about Kanye West and his music. I’m not going to rush out and buy the guy’s music, but I am going to chuckle with how easy it is for him to get attention. I like hip-hop and rap, but since I really only listen to music while writing, I prefer instrumental work because lyrics can distract me.

I suppose I’m just fascinated by how riled up people are about all this. By seeing it mentioned so much in social media feeds, I actually looked up some stuff about him and like Kanye West more than I did before everyone got mad this time around. If he really is as dumb and talentless as people claim, what does that say about those he can play so easily?

Take it from me, who used to love annoying people: the best thing you can do to one craving so much attention is to simply not give it to them…especially when they are screaming out for it.

The Most Important Thing I Read All Year

The Most Important Thing I Read All Year

I usually don’t ask the people who follow the things I do online to do things for me. I feel that content is a gift, and if I’m creating it in the hope that it will ultimately benefit me — at the very least — I should be honest enough to say, “I’m only doing this for myself/I’m doing this mostly for myself.”

It’s been my goal since starting The Juggling Writer, the Men in Gorilla Suits podcast, and my personal blog that I simply share thoughts and things that have worked for me in the hope some of that becomes something meaningful to somebody who reads it.

The feeling right now for readers may be, “Oh, Christopher is going to ask us to buy his e-books or listen to a podcast, but nope — I’m going to ask you to take the time (five minutes) to read one thing very deeply…and it’s not even something I wrote!

Graham Joyce

Graham Joyce wrote books and other things. And, like another writer who died this past year (Jay Lake), he wrote about cancer. Not the happiest thing to perhaps think about on the turning of a new year, but I can think of no better day to read one of the last things Jay Graham wrote than on the day we say goodbye to the year that’s gone and look forward to what’s ahead.

Joyce’s final blog entry before dying was A Perfect Day and the Shocking Clarity of Cancer. Those last three very short paragraphs are beautiful. (Don’t rob yourself and just jump there, read them, and think, “Yeah, I guess that’s nice…” Read the entire piece slowly to see how it all comes together…because it’s at that point this piece matters most.)

I’ve seen a lot of people talking about how they’re glad this year is done and what they look forward to in 2015.

I think the best thing anyone reading this can do is carry the sentiment in the final words of this piece — of this author — into a new year…