The spiritual bases of creativity

Slivka pointed me to a great article in last week’s LA Times by Robert Hilburn about Rick Rubin, producer extraordinaire and, it turns out, seriously spiritual guy. It’s so unusual to see any frank discussions of the role spirituality plays in anyone’s career. He was talking about creating music, but I found his thoughts applicable to all creative process, and wise words for everyone.

Whatever the project or musical style, Rubin enters it with the same goal: Create an easy, reassuring atmosphere that encourages collaboration and experimentation. He thinks of himself as a coach, but you could just as easily call him a counselor or therapist.

As a Communication teacher, I agree completely that creating a context in which people feel relaxed and open to experience is crucial to enabling the best of what can come. It’s at the heart of being a good teacher, a good friend, a good person, a good thinker, a good everything.

It’s not hard to see why artists feel comfortable — even safe — with the man known as the gentle guru of pop. Sit with him for even a few minutes and the tension drains from your body, which is unusual in someone in the hyperactive music business, where urgency is invariably the prevailing mood.

This thought on perspective is helpful too:

“You and the band have to believe what you are doing together is the most important thing in the world,” he says. “But you never want them to think that what they are doing today is the most important. You don’t want them to ever think, ‘Oh my God, I have to get it right today or else.’ “

I’m always amazed at the contrast between my experience of a day of writing and the final written piece when it’s long since done. Yesterday I reread something I wrote a couple of years ago and (as usual) it was hard to believe I’d written it. I experienced the writing experience as a stressful challenge of wrangling things together that was taking too long, but looking back at it, with all the individual days of stressing out about it gone, it’s a pretty fine piece of work, and you can’t tell what any given day’s contribution to it was.

Rule No. 2: Keep an open mind.

“It’s one of the things we talk about at the beginning of a project: ‘Let’s try every idea and see where it takes us, not prejudge it.’ Sometimes it still comes up where someone in the band makes a suggestion and part of me says, ‘That’s a bad idea. Let’s not waste time on that.’ I stop myself and think, ‘Let’s try it and see what it sounds like,’ and very often it sounds good.” […]

“I think the act of creation is a spiritual act [...] I don’t think great songs stem from us. They are just kind of in the universe. The best artists are the ones with the best antennae that draw it in, and meditation helps get rid of tension and tune into the ideas that are out there.”

Yeah. And not just musical ideas. I also loved this way of putting open-mindedness into practice:

Today, he takes his belief in democracy in the studio so far that he and a band will sometimes hire several engineers to do the final mix on a recording and listen to the results without knowing which engineer did which track.

“If you know the greatest mixer in the world mixed one track and the guy who is making coffee on the project mixed that one, you’re liable, psychologically, to think the famous engineer’s mix is bound to be the best,” Rubin explains. “But if you don’t know who did what, the playing field is clear and even, and you are really picking based on what sounds good. And very often we’re surprised. Very often.”

There are a lot of riffs I could go off on at this point, but I’m just going to put this up and let them stimulate your own thoughts of how they apply to what you do (and don’t do) instead.

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Sneakers)

Last week I got an email from AC (Al Cabino), former writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine and hardcore sneaker fan. He’s spearheading a move to get Nike to make the McFly sneakers worn by Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future 2. He’s put up an online petition, which has garnered over 25,000 signatures, and Robert Ryang, award-winning New York film editor who reedited the Shining into a trailer for a romantic comedy, has made a commercial for the McFly (and the petition) that you can see on YouTube . AC is on a quest to get a million views. With almost 120,000 so far, it might happen.

It’s a great confluence of all the things I write about on here — fan creativity, fan power, fans and brands, wacky combinations of the unexpected. So I grabbed the chance to ask some more about the project:


How did this come about? When did you put up the petition?

I’m an ex-writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine, I visited the Adidas worldwide headquarters in Germany, I contributed to the Adidas Superstar 35 book. I love Nike, Puma, Adidas, classic Reebok, Vans, Converse, New Balance Japanese editions. Since late 2005, I started a quest to get the Nike corporation to manufacture the futuristic sneakers Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future Part II.

Is this coming from Back to the Future fandom? Nike fandom? Both? Neither?

Back to the Future fandom, Nike fandom, Michael J. Fox fandom, sneakers fandom.

Why this particular pair of shoes? What’s their special appeal?

Because they are the ‘Holy Grail of movie sneakers’. You’ve got Eddie Murphy’s Adidas in Beverly Hills Cop. You can buy them. You can buy the Nike Cortez that Forrest Gump wore. You can get the Kill Bill Tigers that Uma Thurman wore. You can get Rocky‘s Chuck Taylors when he runs up the stairs. If you look at movie sneakers, the McFlys are the only ones that were created for the film and never worn beyond the silver screen.

There’s a sneaker legend that says in 2015 Nike will come out with them. This I cannot confirm to you, but someone supposedly back in 1989 wrote a letter to Nike, and the answer came from [Nike founder] Phil Knight: “You have to be patient.”

Why Nike?

The futuristic shoes are Nikes. If you watch Back to the Future 2, the scene with the futuristic sneakers is at the beginning of the film, if you watch the scene, you’ll want those sneakers too. Back in 1989, I remember going to many sports stores asking about the futuristic sneakers because I wanted them back then. But the answer I got from everyone was, wait till the year 2015 (the futuristic sneakers are in the scene that takes place in the year 2015). So when it was 2005, which is 10 years before 2015, I decided to start this project to get Nike to make the futuristic sneakers.

Do you have any sense of where your support is coming from?

Friends, sneaker geeks, fashion designers, stylists, magazine editors, writers, artists, futurists, sci-fi aficionados, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, musicians, DJs, store owners, Nike employees, a Wired Magazine writer, etc.

Any feedback from Nike?

Not yet because we have not gone to their headquarters. The project is gonna get a new look, its own mini website, we’ll spread the word more, then we’ll go to the Nike headquarters. Hopefully, we’ll get a meeting with Phil Knight.

My thanks to AC for bringing this to my attention. And remember, if you’re up to something you think I ought to write about (or just watching from the sidelines), don’t be shy about sending it my way!

Live blogroll gizmo

My buddy David turned me on to a really nice little web app called Feevy that lets you embed an RSS feedreader on your site. Over on the right there you’ll notice a new link under contents called “Blogroll Feed” where I’ve collated all the blogs in the ‘eyes on net pop culture’ blogs in the blogroll, making this your handy dandy one stop shop for that sort of blog action. Hope you find it handy and if there are blogs you think should be included that aren’t, let me know in the comments!

NASCAR gets a Social Network Site

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is spearheading the launch of Infield Parking, a social networking site for NASCAR fans. The cool thing about this one seems to be that they’ve got several drivers lined up to participate in advance of its launch:

Infield Parking is launching in concert with the start of the racing season. Nine drivers will be launching Infield Parking web pages this weekend in addition to Earnhardt Jr. They are Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin and Shane Huffman. Many other NASCAR drivers will be launching pages of their own in the coming weeks.

They’re calling personal profiles “parking spaces” which I have to admit is kind of cute. Says Earndhardt:

“Infield Parking offers fans a cool new way to interact with drivers and the opportunity to connect with other fans around the world,” said Earnhardt Jr., president of Infield Parking. “During the season fans get to watch us race and see us at the track, but Infield Parking will give them a more personal level of access to the drivers and other fans through photos, blogs and video clips. “We came up with the idea for Infield Parking last year and it’s pretty cool to see everything come together as we launch it nationally. With today’s launch, I can’t wait to see the fan response.”

Plus the site’s got a nice looking front page and right there Dale asks for “your help” in providing feedback to make the site the best it can be.

They built a NASCAR track not too far from where I live a few years ago and man, if you ever want to see fandom at its most passionate, check out that scene. For one, what was rural farmland is now a shopping mecca and it is not overstating to say that this track (and the Cabelas and Nebraska Furniture Mart that followed) have transformed the wealth of Wyandotte County, Kansas. For two — and this is the part that gets me all wowwed even though it’s not my scene — drive by on any race weekend and there’s an instant town that’s gone up of RVs belonging to fans who seem to be doing a Grateful Dead like instant community construction project wherever NASCAR may go. It’s clearly a lifestyle as much as a hobby for an awful lot of people, so I suspect this site is going to work out well for them.

MOG, the music social networking site, also makes a point of foregrounding the pages of the musicians who are on there. MySpace has, of course, been working this angle since its inception. If the celebs are really in there nteracting and making things available that fans can’t get elsewhere, then being there becomes a must for the die-hard fan. Add on to that the kind of passionate fan community where fans have already built deep networks of personal connections over the phenomenon, and unless someone blows it, it oughta be gold.

FanBoy Culture

Mark Cuban has a fun post up about “FanBoy Culture.” He’s not talking about the sports fans, he talking about the product fans:

I’m a child of an era when teenagers distrusted anything from government or business and I still harbor some of the same viewpoints from then. So imagine my surprise when in writing about Google, Youtube, Apple and other corporate entities or their products, I got flooded by emails and comments disparaging me for my positions. [...] I got typical teenage feedback “You Suck, Google Rocks”. “Youtube is the new Internet, you are old school Internet”, “BitTorrent is amazing and you are not a geek” and things a lot more personal. Such was my introduction to today’s fanboy.

Whatever happened to Counterculture being a positive attribute ? In today’s fanboy culture, kids are obsessively supporting products. They aren’t “fighting the man”, they “are the man”.

The marketing implications of all of this are fascinating. [...] All marketers dream of having a fanboy base for their products. What is more textbook wonderful than passionate customers ? But like trying to create a video that takes off and becomes viral via Word of Mouth, fanboys happen in spite of marketers, not because of them. The challenge for marketers everywhere is to determine the depth of any fanboy following, how to support it and what the implications are if you don’t match their expectations. Gaming companies have Fanboy advisory groups, I don’t know of any companies outside the gaming world, and certainly not outside the technology world that do.

He goes on to talk about the necessity for all corporations of knowing their fanboys. Obviously, I couldn’t agree more with that assertion. And I love the line “they aren’t fighting the man, they are the man.” Although, if they are the man, what’s up with the turning on them when they don’t match expectations?

The comments on the post are well worth reading and show people really trying to make sense of the fanboy phenomenon — are they just bullies? big brothers teasing little brothers? Or is this the new substitute for religion in a secular society? Is there really a significant difference between being a jerk about your favorite operating system and being a jerk about your favorite basketball team?

One person points out fangirls (what? there are girls on the internet?).

The whole “fanboy” phenomenon throws another twist into online fandom that I don’t think most cultural observers have really picked up on yet. We’re not talking here about creative user-generated content, we’re not talking about building communities, we’re not talking about nuanced engagement with a pop culture product — all things that scholars and critics have been looking at for a while now. We’re talking about knee-jerk promotional activity. What are the motivations here? What are the implications? And what are the dangers of collapsing the ‘fanboy’ activity of spamming blog comments with “You Suck, Google Rocks” with the kind of fan activity that gets into lengthy intelligent debates about the details of whatever google’s done this time. And what are the dangers for corporations of building advisory groups that don’t make that distinction?

It’s not just about knowing your fans and knowing what they say about you, it’s about understanding the different kinds of fans you’ve got, their different ways of engaging what you do, their different needs, their different spheres and levels of influence, and where to concentrate your own energies in making the most of what these very different people do.