Passion: How much is enough

I had the opportunity to see the band Jethro Tull in Denver recently at Red Rocks on their 40th anniversary tour of the classic rock album Aqualung. Red Rocks is simply one of the most breathtaking concert venues in the world and it often inspires artists to give incredible performances. If you have never seen the epic film “Under a Blood Red Sky” by U2 you owe it to yourself to get a copy and take in the scenery and ambiance of Red Rocks.

But even a venue as amazing as Red Rocks is, it still has it’s limitations in stirring up a passionate performance from a band that has done the same material on stages the world over for 40 plus years. Let’s do the math shall we? A band like Jethro Tull plays live maybe 150 days a year. And, Ian Anderson, the heart and soul of Jethro Tull, performs the song Aqualung at every show. Without fail. Every single night. For. 40. Years. That’s 6000 times!

   

(L) Ian Anderson 1975, (R) Anderson 2011

Even the most fervent artist among us might get weary of doing the same song every night for 40 years right? Then again maybe not. Because when Ian Anderson and his band performed Aqualung for the 6000th time at Red Rocks on June 8, 2011, they performed it with every ounce of passion an artist can humanly give an audience. I venture to say they played it MORE passionately than they did some 40 years ago. That’s passion. Passion that both ignites  and inspires an audience. So where does passion like that come from?

It comes from being true to yourself as an artist.

It comes from creating from within with freedom and conviction.

It comes from being fearless and unrelenting in your desire to bring your song,  painting, poem, novel, or comic to life.

It comes from deep within the very soul of you. When it comes from there, the passion will pour out of you like a surge of boiling hot water spilling over the sides of a kettle on the stove. It cannot be contained. It cannot be harnessed or suppressed. It will flow out of you because it’s the only thing it can do. It has no other choice.

Passion thrives when you feed it truth. It thrives when you create from your authentic self. Even after 40 years. 6000 times.

You can get this awesome Tull Tour T-shirt at http://www.chesterhopkins.co.uk/band/3/jethro-tull/

The Beatles: 7 Sources of Creativity

beatles

The Beatles have inspired hundreds of thousands of artists, writers, musicians and songwriters. There are an unending amount of creative tips and techniques we can learn from their years of creative productivity. Today I want to share some of the cool things about the inspirations behind many of the Beatles most memorable songs.

By the time the Beatles were invited into the living rooms of America in February of 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Shows, these young guys from Liverpool were already a polished and very experienced band of musicians. They had spent years playing 5 hours or more a night, 7 days a week in the clubs of England and Hamburg, Germany. In his recent book “Outliers” author Malcolm Gladwell attributes the Beatles incredible success to the 10,000 hour rule.. Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule estimates that it takes roughly that many hours of dedication and hard work to become proficient enough with your God given talents to be truly masterful. I think it’s a great example that nothing great is ever achieved without years of preparation.
With-the-Beatles
The early years of the Beatles creativity were influenced by the music they grew up with including Gospel, R&B, rockabilly and the beginnings of rock and roll. The subject matter of their early work consisted primarily of love songs and teen relationships. As they matured, so too did their music and the inspirations behind the songs.
Lennon and McCartney worked together in the early 60’s bouncing their songs off of one another face to face, often in hotel rooms while on tour. Their popularity had forced them into a world of isolation and yet their exposure to all of the many places they toured and the people they encountered certainly primed the pump to create at an amazing pace.

Tomorrow I’ll delve more into that collaborative process and how we can apply the Lennon McCartney creative approach in the atmosphere of the corporate workplace. But for today I think it’s key to remember that their relationship and their approach to songwriting allowed them a greater range of creative options to explore than if they had chosen to work separately.

I’ve broken down a list of Beatles songs and the inspiration behind them into categories. I think this helps to be able to see how many songs were influenced or inspired in different ways and I hope gets your creative mindset open to the possibilities for the creative sparks all around us everyday. They are there, if we are open enough and observant enough to see them and use them in our own process. Much of the information I gathered for my research for this list came primarily from the terrific book “A Hard Days Write” by Steven Turner. I highly recommend if you want to get a much more in depth explanation behind the songs.


The Beatles and The Seven Sources of Creativity.

1. People


Iris Caldwell, one of the girls McCartney dated inspired “I saw her standing there”- Paul
Dot Rhone, another of Paul’s girl friends from1961 inspired “PS I Love You”-
Jane Asher, McCartney’s most steady female relationship in the Beatles early years was the inspiration behind numerous songs including “We can work it out”, “And I love her”, “You Won’t See Me” “I’m Looking Through You”, “Here, There and Every where” and “For No One”
Pattie Boyd, George Harrison’s wife whom Harrison had met during the filming of “A Hard Days Night” inspired “I Need You” “ “If I Needed Someone”, the enduring “Something” and the Eric Clapton song “Layla” after her affair with Clapton.
Cynthia Powell ,John Lennon’s first wife inspired multiple songs including “Do You Want to Know a Secret” after Lennon learned she was pregnant. The couple married shortly thereafter.
Lucy O’Donnell was Julian Lennon’s child hood friend that inspired a picture that became the source of the Lennon classic “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
Tar Browne was the friend “who blew his mind out in a car” in the song “A Day in the Life”. Lennon wrote the lyric partly after the tragic car accident that claimed the life of Browne, a well to do Irish socialite.
Prudence Farrow-Mia Farrow’s younger sister who inspired the song “Dear Prudence”
Linda Eastman, whom McCartney married in the later Beatles years inspired many songs including “Birthday” from the White Album
Yoko Ono
, Lennon’s second wife inspired-”Don’t Let Me Down” and, of course, ” the ballad of John and Yoko”. There’s no real proof that Yoko was the muse for the cryptic song about a Lennon extramarital affair in the song “Norwegian Wood”
Rosa Parks was the inspiration for the classic McCartney song “Blackbird”
Timothy Leary’s run against Ronald Reagan for Governor of California inspired Lennon’s attempt at the campaign song “Come Together”
Julia Stanley,John’s mother inspired the song “Julia”
Mary McCartney, Paul’s mother provided some of the inspiration for ”Let It Be”

beatles-abbeyroad
2. Places

Abbey Road
Hamburg helped inspire “Ticket to Ride” Lennon’s veiled song about the licenses prostitutes in Hamburg had to acquire to be legal.
Penny Lane a song by McCartney was about the area he and Lennon had grown up in.
Strawberry Fields was a large Victorian building in a heavily wooded area close to one of Lennon’s childhood homes. The building became a place he could escape to be alone to think. He remembered it fondly as a place he could let his creative imagination roam free. The building is no longer there.
High Park was the farm in Scotland owned by McCartney and the inspiration behind “The Long and Winding Road”
The Lennon song “In My Life” had numerous references to places he remembered during his youth. He took them out so the song could be a bit more relevant to a wider audience.

3. Things


“Eleanor Rigby” was actually a name on a tombstone near the place where Lennon and McCartney first met. It wasn’t until years after the song was written that McCartney became aware of the actual existence of an Eleanor Rigby tombstone. The name had manifested itself subconsciously from something he had seen years before.
“Paperback Writer” was written mostly because Paul liked the sound of the words. SGT Pepper reference to salt and pepper or Dr. Pepper
Salt and pepper became “Sgt. Pepper”
Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland inspired some of the lyrics Lennon’s “Lucy in the sky with diamonds”.
The Goon Show, a British radio comedy show also was a source for Lennon’s lyrics in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “I am the Walrus”
A piece of property Paul had purchased sight unseen became a song called “Fixing a Hole”.
Newspaper articles inspired McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” as well as Lennon’s contribution to the song “A Day in the Life”.
An 1843 Circus Poster that Lennon discovered in a 1967 stroll through an antiques store inspired the classic “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Eastern philosophy inspired George Harrison to write “Within, Without You” “I, Me, Mine”-
A box of corn flakes became the song “Good Morning, Good Morning.
Television advertising Slogans helped Lennon pen the anthem “All You Need is Love”. Lennon found himself more at home after 1965, burned out from the rigorous schedule the Beatles had kept in the early 60’s. Simple things found around the house now inspired Lennon songs mostly because he was too worn out to venture any further.
A play-on-words became “Hello Goodbye”

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4. Emotions


Both Lennon and McCartney lost their mothers at a young age, which influenced each in very different ways.

Lennon internalized it more, and it manifested itself in his songs like “Help”, It Won’t be Long”, “Tell me Why” “I’m a Loser” and “Nowhere Man” each stemming from feelings of isolation, loneliness, and insecurity.

McCartney, whose childhood was much more stable than Lennon’s, despite the loss of his mother, tended to write more optimistic songs like “All My Loving”, “She Loves you” and “We can Work it Out”.
McCartney wasn’t always upbeat. His song Hey Jude was a compassionate letter to Julian Lennon, who was forced to endure his parents painful divorce, and “Let it Be” was all about the pain of the Beatles being torn apart at the seams after the loss of Brian Epstein.
Paul and John weren’t the only ones who were able to express emotions through their songs.
“It’s been a Hard Day’s Night” and “Eight days a Week” were both inspired by Ringo Starr’s frustration with the Beatles often grueling work schedule
“Don’t Bother Me” was written after George Harrison’s day in bed with the flu.
“Here Comes the Sun” was also written by Harrison to express a glorious moment of freedom from the the painful ongoing business meetings at Apple studios that would be the bands undoing

5. Environment


Much has been made of the influence that drugs played in the creative process of the Beatles. Many of the alleged references such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” being a cover for a song about LSD just simply weren’t true. But clearly some of their songs were a product of their environment and the time in history in which they created. Songs like “Rain”, “Got to get you into my life”,”Tomorrow Never Knows” and “She said, She said” were most likely songs about their experiences. Since I come from the school of thought that any kind of artificial stimulus impedes the creative process (that includes caffeine, so I’m guilty as charged) I won’t speculate here as to the outcome that the Beatles experimentation had on their process.

Dreams can often be part of the creative process. The song “Yesterday” literally wrote itself musically as McCartney awoke one morning. He sang “scrambled eggs” to remember the melody and completed the lyrics much later.
A Family boating outing
inspired Ringo Starr’s Octopuses Garden.
“It’s Getting Better All the Time” and “Fool on the Hill” were a product of McCartney’s many walks with Martha his dog.
beatles-cartoon-box-set
6. Childhood
“Yellow Submarine” was a McCartney’s attempt at writing a children’s song
“Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields” were both childhood recollections and the song “I Get by With a Little Help from my Friends” was a children’s song for Ringo’s Billy Shears character on the Sgt. Peppers album.
The writings of Lewis Carroll were a definite influence in John Lennon’s creative process, as I mentioned earlier. The poem “the Walrus and the Carpenter” inspired “I am the Walrus”.
And, strangely enough, McCartney’s song about growing old “When I’m Sixty Four” was written at the ripe old age of 15.
Beatles - Sgt Pepper
7. Sounds
The Beatles sound was inspired by a myriad of musical influences. They were known for borrowing a chord from a Glenn Miller song to practically lifting a bass part right out of a Chuck Berry tune.
Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Smokey Robinson, Wilson Pickett, the Shirelles, the Chiffons, Nina Simone, The Loving Spoonful and the Who were all influences that the Beatles incorporated into their songs and melodies.
The key were there is incorporated, not copied.
It’s OK for an artist to reflect those influences that inspire them, to learn from them. It’s not cool to have your art, writing or music be so influenced by one certain artist that it ceases to be yours. In other words, like the Beatles, diversify your inspirations.

There’s a lot to absorb here. Take your time or print this list out and just ponder it for a while. And next week as you start to create, set aside a little time to be inspired by something in your world that is under each of these Seven Sources of Creativity categories. I’m going to do it and see what I find. I hope you will too.

Tomorrow I’ll be back here with The Beatles Build a Better Business or Creative Collaboration in the workplace the Lennon and McCartney Way.

The Brilliance of the Beatles

the-beatles

The brilliance of the Beatles and their creative process has been such a part of our lives for so long that we often forget it all began with these four kids from a working class port in England. Their music and the changes they brought to our culture is unprecedented and will likely never be repeated. To say they have been the soundtrack of an entire generation is an understatement. With the release of the Beatles Rock Band for Xbox and PS3, along with the digital remastering of their entire catalogue of music, their impact continues to inspire a whole new generation of fans.

The creativity that came primarily from the Lennon and McCartney collaboration over a period of roughly 10 years is simply beyond comparison. Whole albums of music were completed in 15 hour recording sessions and the process to create another one would begin all over again with another remarkable record due in only a matter of months.

So how did it happen? What was the secret that separates the Beatles from any other band in the history of rock, for that matter, the history of music? What creative tips and techniques can we learn from the genius of Lennon and McCartney? The answers are far too complex and too encompassing to be dealt with in a simple post on a blog, but there are some great insights that we can learn and apply in our own daily search for inspiration even if we are only skimming the surface.

Over the next few days I’m going to be sharing some of the tips and techniques that I’ve found on my search into the greatest musical and poetic geniuses of our time. I invite you to join me on this journey as we travel the back roads of Liverpool, Hamburg and America to find the inspiration behind the brilliance of the Beatles. For now I’ll leave you with a list of Seven Sources of Creativity that sparked the minds of Lennon and McCartney and unlocked a treasure trove of amazing music. Tomorrow we’ll just how many Beatles songs sprang from these Seven Sources.

1. People
2. Places
3. Things
4. Emotions
5. Environment
6. Childhood
7. Sounds

Inspiration: Imagine

So you ask, why start a blog about creativity? The seeds for this started long ago during my first trip to New York City back in the summer of 1994. Being a huge Beatles fan one of my first stops was the area in Central Park known as “Strawberry Fields” which is a memorial to John Lennon with the word Imagine in the middle, located just across the street aways from the Dakota where Lennon lived, and unfortunately died. After spending some time at the memorial I went into a corner bookstore and found a book about the Last years of Lennon’s life.
Imagine

The most compelling part of the book described Lennon’s creative process for his upcoming album “Double Fantasy”. It was surprisingly deliberate and intentional. He first set out to do something he had never done but had dreamed of doing his whole life: go sailing (just a note but it is one of my unfulfilled dreams and is on my bucket list). He put together a crew and set sail for Bermuda learning to sail on the way. In the midst of a serious storm at sea, Lennon proved himself to be a natural born sailor instinctively knowing the way avoid possible disaster. For Lennon it was a freeing and confidence building experience. Arriving in Bermuda, a rented villa awaited him with a full staff to cook and clean for him. The catch: No one was to speak to him and he could not speak to them in return for a solid week. Lennon drank no coffee, cut down his nicotine intake and ate only an organic macrobiotic diet prepared each day by a staff chef. At the end of the silent period Lennon headed out on the town in search of local records made by musicians hugely influenced by the Reggae movement of Bob Marley. After immersing himself in the sounds of the Caribbean he then pulled out the guitar and the note pads and the music simply poured out.

That story stuck with me, mostly because I was stunned at the intent of the process. So years later here I am, with this blog, set to explore all things creative. To give others some tips, tools, techniques and insightful stories like the one above that might prove helpful in someones quest to create. Here’s to the adventure that awaits. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.