All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today's clip comes from the concert scene in Greetings From Tim Buckley:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Buckley possessed a tenor vocal range that ranged between three and a half to four octaves. And those natural endowments, mingled with massive amounts of courage and pain and tenderness, allowed him to sing with a soulful vulnerability that could make even the toughest man tremble. Few people could stand within his radius without being burned to a cinder. In fact, when I was in high school, I remember reading a review of his debut album. The critic wrote that the singer’s voice was the single most moving goddamn instrument he’d ever heard. What a compliment. What a way to be remembered. And, what a great reminder that when we’re courageously vulnerable, showing the more tender aspects of who we are through our work, we offer a gift to others. We deliver value that has never been delivered before. The scary part is wondering if our gift will be returned to sender, or, worse yet, not even opened in the first place. Yikes. Because this isn’t a blender, this is our soul. Poured out and served up on a silver platter. And the existential rejection of our gift being met with crickets is the most terrifying thing in the world. Powell, whose groundbreaking books on identity had a profound influence on me, wrote that I am afraid to tell you who I am because if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and that’s all I have. No wonder disclosure is so difficult. Have you reclaimed your right to be vulnerable?
A place where your voice can take flight and travel. Jeff had the most ethereal falsetto voice in the history of rock and roll. Listening to his music as a teenager was a religious experience. And so, in the mid nineties, directly against the cultural backdrop of apathetic, angry grunge music and narcissistic, violent rap songs, his gentle, gender neutral stylings earned the world’s attention. Because nobody saw him coming. Buckley’s father may have been mainstream folk icon, but his son came through the side door and delivered catharsis. And he influenced an entire generation of singers. I was reading one of his old concert reviews, in which the critics says he sings like a man with more than a few exposed nerves, given to wild shifts in volume and hysteria, delivering messages of isolation, romance and other urban ailments to uncomfortable extremes. No wonder his debut album became the definite album of the decade. Because twenty years ago, nobody was singing like that. Nobody even had the guts to try and sing like that. Popular culture put too much of a premium on cool. Proving two things. First, that timing isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. And second, if you want to get to the next level, you have to break the rules. What alienates you from your true voice?
Study the anatomy of other people’s talent. Buckley transformed the way I sang. Listening to his records gave me permission to hit falsetto notes whenever possible. And not because it was popular, and not because girls liked it, but because it made me feel free. Like something was escaping. Like my soul was purging. Interestingly, I heard in an interview that he was emulating the vocals of another singer. Buckley credits his performance style to Nusrat. He said that that the first time he heard the man’s voice, he felt a rush of adrenaline in his chest, like he was on the edge of a cliff, wondering when he would jump and how well the ocean would catch him. Wow. So I started listening to that guy too. And the first time I heard the voice that influenced the voice that influenced my voice, my jaw dropped to the floor. It’s a surreal experience. Almost like you’re traveling back in time. Or trying on the head of your hero. Wild stuff. But it’s something every artist has a responsibility to do. To go to the source. To listen to the people who influenced the people who influenced them. What do you and your role models have in common?
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