Goodbye Curse of Greatness

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 | Micro-Song, The Making of the 5th Leafcutter Album

This post follows on from: I thought you used to be a musician once?

Thank you all for your kind words of support and encouragement. Although I was nervous about posting what I did last Sunday the response through comments and private emails has been overwhelming and very positive for me in the last few days. Your comments and suggestions have truly helped me look at the situation afresh and for this I feel very lucky.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered writers block and I suspect it will not be the last. This time has probably been the longest sustained period where I have not been able to produce work with that certain special something I crave.

The good news is that I feel like I have identified a major cause of the block I was experiencing. The problem as I see it is one of approach and I have given it a funny name, which as we all know is the first step in beating anything. I’m calling the problem “THE CURSE OF GREATNESS” and it goes like this:

  1. I want to make a song, but I’ve been taking with this amazing label who really love my last album and want to release my new work so whatever I do it’s got to be GREAT.
  2. Write for a few hours, record a few ideas….
  3. Listen back, nothing GREAT, back to step 2.
  4. After a few days going between steps 2 -3. Listen to the other GREAT artists on the label and wonder how they made such GREAT music?
  5. Get desperate and try ‘borrowing’ some ideas from other peoples GREAT songs.
  6. The result is not as GREAT as the source, back to step 3.
  7. After a while you feel you have to send something to the label so you take the least crappy idea and work it into a song – not GREAT but the response is ok from the label so back to step 1. 
I guess that’s an over simplified version of my cycle of the last year or so. I think the problem is fairly clear. Of course, given the choice, I would want my work to be in some way great. But using this as a starting point can only set me up for immediate and un-ending disappointment. 
My dictionary and thesaurus suggest:
the quality of being great, distinguished, or eminent Elgar’s greatness as a composer.
eminence, distinction, illustriousness, repute, high standing; importance, significance; celebrity,fame, prominence, renown. genius, prowess, talent, expertise, mastery, artistry, virtuosity, skill, proficiency; flair, finesse; caliber,distinction.

Quite a lot to think about while trying to write a song!  Interestingly many of the words listed relate to things arising from other peoples perceptions. Distinction, eminence, repute, importance, significance, etc, etc, cannot be objective as they arise from people’s very subjective view. Seen from this angle greatness can be separated from the work. For example: work can exhibit elements of greatness but the choice of being great or not is not embodied in the work itself, rather it comes from some where else.
Ok, these are my immediate thoughts on the subject and they are not fully formed yet. However I have a strong feeling that trying to make oneself appear great is misguided and possibly the least effective method of actually making great work.
So the alternative (for me at least) is to go back in time to a point where I did not think about greatness at all. A time when I had not released any music and no one had any opinion of my music. What did I do then? As far as I can remember, my method was based on exploration. I had a childish sense of play which lead me in unknowably wonderful directions (it’s like Tina knew all along, i’ll pass on the Valium though). Finished works were composed of elements, with were themselves results of experiments. Working like this was exciting, joyful, and surprising. If I compare then with now I realise that at times I’m missing all three elements. 
I think the idea of making sketches will lead me back in the right direction as it’s is very similar to the way I used to work. In the last few days I have made a couple more micro-songs and to my delight I have felt the joy of old come back into my working process and the pressure of judgment lift.
The great thing about the results of an experiment is that the results are what they are, you can interpret them but they are never wrong. With that in mind I present micro-song number 2 in my next post.
All the best,
Leafcutter John.

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1 Comment to Goodbye Curse of Greatness

Andy Wales
January 27, 2009

Less working out and more playful sonic experimentation!

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