Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bill Kirchen.

I just heard a report on NPR about the musician Bill Kirchen. Kirchen was relating how he learned to play a particular song by listening to a record of it over and again. Then he came out with this line: "Mine was originality borne of incompetence." In other words, Kirchen improvised because he couldn't imitate.

I wonder if today our creativity is limited because the machines we use to do our job are so magnificent. We have all become so adept at sampling, at reproducing, at zeroing in on a technique and exploiting it, rather than thinking up a new technique. We can do this with ease, deconstruct the layers, follow the patterns, read the blueprint.

We rush right into things--right into comps that appear finished without letting our incompetence, our outside-of-the-line-ness come into play.

I have remarked before in this space about junior portfolios being small-scale duplicates of the sort of work that wins praise from Cannes juries. Inscrutable visual puns. All technique, all imitation, no imagination.

About a decade ago when my children were young I took them to see a much heralded production of "The Lion King" on Broadway. The producers believed that the audience would insist on a live production that was an exact replica of the animated movie. Every snicker, facial expression and "ad lib" was duplicated by live performers. They were made into imitation machines. Their character, if they had any, was not permitted.

As a culture, as an industry, we have learned and mastered the art of Karaoke Creativity. Something can be good only if it imitates something else that is good.

We are afraid of mistakes, afraid of incompetence, afraid of affront.

We are not afraid to bore. We become experts.


Anonymous said...


there are so many reasons why creativity is in short supply these days. The dumbing down of American society, the loss of discipline, focus and a de- emphasis on life long learning in our schools, an increase in ADD thanks to digital technology and video games..much to lament but we deal, no? We live in a country that isnt what it was in our youth..with Hollywood as our largest export, no manufacturing base and military force as our projection of power globally.

The ad industry and its latest incarnation..the digital another reflection of this new reality.

Who ever said the 21st century would be a mirror image of the 20th.

I fly to Haiti tonight to spend my two week vacation working with an aid organization on the ground, battling a political infrastructure that is preventing much of the material aid from reaching the people who need it most.

Its all part and parcel of the same thing. Which brings me back to paragraph one.

Welcome to our new world geo. A dumber version of the one we inherited as kids,


george tannenbaum said...

Teo, ehat a Mitzvah going to Haiti. I'm off to ameliorate the tsurus in Honduras, myself.

I agree on all fronts, but also agree with DT below.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Anonymous said...


trust me, i'm hardly advocating going quietly into that "good night". just observing the shift in values and loss of intellectual curiosity in the world. haiti is way for me to walk the talk rather than strut one's stuff in a white t shirt, williamsburg fedora world. actually, im a big believer in digital technology but its creative manifestation leaves much to be desired. Good luck in honduras. time more of us act like world citizens in addition to sentient human beings.


Anonymous said...

Teo & Geo Creativity is not in short supply. The advertising industry beats the creativity out of people with its hypocrisy. It's hard to do great work when you have to kiss everyone's ass all day long. Ogilvy said to hire people that were more talented than you and your agency would grow. But threatened people at the top prefer to hire sycophants and politicians rather than the talented. Then you end up with a business like the one you're in.

Dave Trot said...

I love that line:
"Karaoke Creativity. Something can be good only if it imitates something else that is good."
In fact, I'm going to nick it.