Wednesday, May 8, 2024

You Suck. Thank Goodness.

I had never heard of Duane Eddy until, way back in 1996. I was in post-production on a spot and a producer mentioned his name. We used a track of Eddy's on the spot.

Back in those pre-streaming music days, finding CDs Duane Eddy's music was no mean feat. I think I struck out at the HMW on East 86th Street--taken over now by a crappy Best Buy, and had to trek over to Tower Records near Lincoln Center--taken over now by a Raymour & Flanagan and 14 or 12 different Starbucks'.

That's modernity. Everything good has been taken over by something bad. Everyplace I used to hang out when I was a kid, a place to grab a frankfurter, an ice cream after school, or later, a place to get a beer and try to meet girls, is now a Home Depot. That's not an improvement in my book.

Finally, I got ahold of some album or another and went down the "twang thang" rabbit hole, making my way from Eddy, to Gene Vincent somehow all the way to The Trashmen.

In any event, since that moment nearly 30 years ago, Eddy's meant a little something to me. So when I saw his obituary in The New York Times last week, I read it with some sadness and even more interest.

When you've written a blog every day for almost eighteen straight years, you're always on the lookout for stories like a small-time baseball scout is always looking for a fastball that pops or a long-limbed fellow with five-tools. I thought, as I approached Eddy's obituary, to bastardize the Bard, this could be "the stuff that blogs are made on." Of course after nearly 7,000 posts, I can turn a sneeze into a seven-part series on the effects of mucus in the ad industry.

By the time I finished, I reached the lines below and I knew my quest for El Blogorado--the mythical land where the streets are paved with Posts--was fulfilled. Now all I had to do was find a string of uninterrupted 42-second periods to write the damned thing. Yes, that's the truth. Another bit of modern life. Living where you work and working where you live,I generally get about 42-seconds increments to work between interruptions.

Here's the piece of Eddy's obituary that prompted this post.

Elaborating on the subject to Guitar Player in 2013, he recalled an interview with Conan O’Brien in which he was asked, “Duane, you’ve been in this business for many years now; what do you consider your greatest contribution to music?” He answered, “Not singing.”

“I never felt that I had a good voice for singing,” he went on. “When I was young, this frustrated me a lot, so I took it out on the guitar.”

Man, if this isn't a life lesson, I don't know what is. 

First is the wisdom to know what you suck at. And the wisdom to feel comfortable in your suckage and comfortable saying, "I'm not doing that, and I don't feel compelled to." That takes a lot of internal wherewithal. I don't know many people who possess that.

Second, and maybe even more crucial are these words, "this frustrated me a lot, so I took it out on the guitar."

My many lacuna as a creative person, my lack of patience for casting, and the various dopititudes of production and post-production didn't steer me away from advertising. Like Eddy's lack of vocal ability, I was frustrated along the way too. And I took it out, not on the guitar, but on my keyboard.

My cruddiness at so much of the ad business, merely forced me to take it out on my Mac. Let other people argue about wardrobe and set decoration. Plaid or denim. Or the shirt that made the talent 'too big on top' versus the one that was frumpy.

Nine shoots out of ten, I was working on my next assignment--usually some sort of crisis that only I could un-crisisify--while shooting my current assignment. It's how I regularly out-produced the rest of the agency combined. I took out my inability on my ability. Like Ted Williams taking another 100 batting practice swings, till his sides bled from the batting abrasion. Why not, he was never going to field like a DiMaggio, not Joe, Vince or Dom anyway.

To rewrite the old Sara Lee pastries line, "Everybody doesn't like something, but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee." How about, "Everybody sucks at something, nobody can't use that as a spur to self-improvement."

Let's end this with an odd thing my wife just sent me. A story from the great actor/director Charles Laughton involving Bette Davis and her heavy eye-lids. I'm not one-hundred-percent sure why, but somehow to me it all feels of a piece.

To play the elderly Elizabeth I of England, Davis shaved her hairline and eyebrows. During filming she was visited on the set by the actor, Charles Laughton. She commented that she had a "nerve" playing a woman in her sixties, to which Laughton replied, "Never not dare to hang yourself. That's the only way you grow in your profession. You must continually attempt things that you think are beyond you, or you get into a complete rut." Recalling the episode many years later, Davis remarked that Laughton's advice had influenced her throughout her career.

Somehow, I shoved today's three thoughts together. 

1. Know what you suck at. 

2. Use it as a spur to get better at something else. 

3. Try things you can't do--it's better than being in a rut.

Oh, and 4.

Never mind the contradictions in the above. Illogic is how we make sense of living.

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