A friend of mine and I recently had a long talk on the phone about insecurities in our artform. This friend of mine has a new family and was expressing how they thought they weren’t as relevant when the status’ they posted got less ‘likes’ than some of our (younger) contemporaries. We also talked about how some of us have a tendency to posture and seem all-knowing online when really we’re all trying the same as the next person.
This friend of mine is a great, smart, creative person who also just happens to be a hardheaded jackass at times. So after I tried and tried to explain to them that no one in their right mind should waste their energy worrying about Facebook ‘likes,’ and after it still wasn’t getting to them, they had to cut the conversation short to take care of some family related issue.
Since we did not have a chance to finish the conversation, I sat down and wrote them this email. I am sharing it here, because I think it is important to continue to push each other, to give hard truths and to create a circle of genuine feedback amongst your circle of friends
You ever heard of Frankie Valli? He was a popular singer in the 50’s and 60’s, his group the Four Seasons had some really huge hits like “Walk Like A Man,” “Oh What A Night” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” Well the guy who introduced the guys in that group to one another was a very successful young musician at the time. His name was Joe Pesci. Yeah, that Joe Pesci, the actor. The same one that you never knew had anything do to with music. But at the time he was bigger than these guys who were looking to form a group. And then they blew up and he didn’t and then after decades, their success fell off and he became a Hollywood actor and was the lead in his own films. And now he’s not making movies anymore but there’s a successful Broadway musical about the group’s life that portrays Pesci and even a brand new movie out where someone is playing the role of one of the most well known actors ever, but they’re playing him BEFORE the world knew who he was.
I know this is getting confusing but my point is, who the hell knows what’s gonna happen to us?! All of our careers are full of ups and downs and if Pesci and Valli EVER spent time worrying about where they were in comparison to each other, then you and I can see now all of their worry was for naught. Maybe Pesci could have been trying to catch up so hard in the music industry he never would have taken a chance on acting. We don’t know. We just don’t know any of it.
Now (hang on I swear I’m gonna get to something inna sec) I just watched a documentary about Quincy Jones, the music producer. Quincy started off as a trumpet player in one of the last ‘big bands’ of the 50’s when the big bands were popular. As they went out of style, he moved to Paris and started to learn to write orchestras and scores and symphonies. While he was there he sent for some of his friends to move to Europe and tour around as an American big band, and things were good for a few years but with the popularization of Rock n Roll they found less and less success there too. Quincy Jones almost committed suicide when he was 29 because he didn’t have the money to pay his musician/friends, not even enough to bring them back to the states. But he made some phone calls and was found an opportunity to come back to the states and work for a record label and the label paid him enough to take care of the band.
Back in the states he became the first black record label executive and produced a number one single (Leslie Gore’s “It’s My Party” for those of you who care). He also became an orchestra leader where he worked with Frank Sinatra on his comeback album, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Ray Charles, and more. He then did what no other black musician had ever done in America, he began scoring films. After a successful career in film scores and TV themes he put out his first album in fifteen years and began an entirely different career of his own as the name on the front of the albums instead of the producer behind them. Some few years later he was asked to produce the music for a musical called ‘the Wiz’ where he met a teenage Michael Jackson. At the time Michael Jackson had become so forgotten about that he couldn’t sell out your living room, but the two of them liked working together and decided to make “Off the Wall.” Their next album “Thriller” became the biggest selling album of all time and they collaborated again on “Bad” some years later. Quincy even produced the film “The Color Purple.”
Quincy has worked with everyone in the game and has had one career that encompassed ten different careers. What I’m getting at is that part of our job is just to work, not knowing where it’s going. Not knowing if some of us poets will end up as actors, or comedy writers, or singers, TV hosts, or essayists that write about the impact of culture, or politics. Also, the other thing I’m trying to say is that working is what gives us experience, the kind no one can take away. And I’m not talking about touring, I’m talking about creating. You said you were constantly creating lately and even though you don’t know it, this might be one of the most successful periods for you in a long time.
Quincy couldn’t have produced the greatest albums ever if he’d only been in bands, and he couldn’t have put all those amazing sounds together without having scored films. You’re writing a novel and a one man show and doing visual stuff. Who knows what’s next? And it ain’t gonna be easy, it’s gonna be harder than you can imagine, but it’s the only road ahead of you if you aren’t willing to quit.
We have to be open to what comes our way and honest about how it affects us. We deal in the currency of human emotion and it’s the one thing our audience wants from us. Who are we to deny ourselves or our audiences the true things we’re feeling? What good does it do to posture online? The reason they listen to us is because we suffer right in front of them. If we were to have our lives as together as we make them seem online, we wouldn’t have audiences because they wouldn’t trust our honesty, or our exposure, or our pain. The beauty of the lives we’ve chosen is that we are on a ride that only has a few pit stops and it’s our job to report back to everyone else what we can see on the horizon. Don’t worry about the ‘likes,’ there’s a bigger picture above the ‘likes’ that tells you all you need to worry about and right now that picture is of you and your new family.