Creativity and the necessity of change (or Ad astra per aspera)

Recently while enjoying tea with two creative, hard working friends of mine, the conversation turned to change, and people’s lack of appreciation for that change. Our conversation was specific to musicians. Ever since we talked I’ve been mulling things over in my head.

Let’s think about music first. Every band/singer/DJ etc. establishes themselves through hard work and development. Writing, recording, touring, performing, until they become recognised and garner some measure of success, with fans that love them and their work. But they’re also living, and ageing and experiencing more of what life has to offer. For me that means I expect some form of evolution, or difference between one album and the next. I want, or would like, to see that life experience reflected in the material. One of my friends pointed out that not everyone thinks that way.

While I’m writing this I’m listening to the One By One album from Foo Fighters, so I’ll talk about them to start. In the formation of Foo Fighters Dave Grohl took a lot of abuse from people, particularly the fans of his previous band Nirvana. Often during the Foo Fighters early gigs people would chant for them to play Nirvana songs. Since the years have rolled by I think Foo Fighters have presented a whole range of material, each album different from the last and each comprising of songs born of grunge/rock to music so tender it’s difficult to imagine it coming from hairy, bearded rockers. To this day their variety is one of the reasons I still listen to all of their albums. But if every album since Foo Fighters or The Colour and the Shape were to sound like carbon copies of those albums then I would’ve stopped listening a long time ago.

It’s not a band that pigeon holes themselves into a particular genre or style. It’s the fans. For better or worse we call them pop stars, rock bands, metal bands, soul singers etc. We like to define people with a label, and it’s so much neater for us to do things that way. But woe betide anyone that tries to sidestep or avoid that label, for the fans wrath is mighty. But we need change, to keep things interesting. We need to spice things up a little.

One of my coffee consuming friends pointed out Radiohead as a good example of change. An evolving style which to the listener is eventually rewarding. And their change is accomplished not for reasons of more monetary gain, but because that’s where their lives, and their experiences took them. As opposed to Red Hot Chili Peppers whose music at one stage developed to suit a current trend in popular music, and not their own style. So change is good, when it occurs in the natural course of things, and not as a tool for financial cushioning.

We can look at bands like AC/DC and Slayer who have pretty mush released the same album ever since the first one. And for them it works, and for their fans it also works. I listen to some of their music, and I enjoy some of it. But the sense of reward and rightness I get from hearing something completely new and original from another band will never be found with bands like these.

How about movies? Or film makers? They suffer the same way. I’m going to pick on Michael Bay here a little bit. Now don’t get me wrong, I love, absolutely love, the opportunity to sit back and watch big dumb action. But with Michael Bay that’s all he’s got. His movies are formulaic to the extreme. They follow simple rules: Cars, guns, explosions, girls, explosions, special effects, explosions… Oh ok, more explosions. I wonder though if this is all he wants to do as a director or do studios just go to him when they’ve got a giant budget movie to make that requires hunky sweaty men blowing stuff up in slow motion? Has he found something that keeps the masses happy and that’s good enough for him? It’s a plateau, and a low one, since he’s been doing the very same thing for so long.

Look at now Steven Spielberg. His body of work and the array of differences over the decades are mind boggling. Action, drama, war, love story, science fiction, fantasy, thriller, horror… he can’t be slotted into a nice tidy box. He’s done too much, and continues on that path. I believe the variety in his work is what has made him so great. His willingness to take on a new style of film making or a new (for him) type of story is what will bring more people to his work. And lets not forget that he’s not only a director, he’s also a producer, writer, editor, cinematographer, and occasional actor. We can’t label him, and we shouldn’t label him. He’s just a man that creates cool stuff for people to enjoy in a variety of different ways. Many people are critical of him. They say things like “he’s had too much success and he’s a sell out”, a common complaint against musicians also.

To that I say this: Bullshit.

“Sell out” is a phrase used by people that don’t like change. It’s their word for people that have evolved outside of their tastes so instead of finding someone else to like they criticise them for their originality. Commonly anyone that enjoys any amount of success is a sell out in the eyes of these blinkered and narrow minded philistines. As if becoming good at what you do and attempting to grow as a creative human with a mind full of ideas is an atrocious thing to which to aspire.

I could go over the same ground with all manner of other people, but the point remains the same. Fans stifle creativity. Fans make it hard for artists to move on and try something new because they’re so fickle and demanding. As fans we should never let that happen. As people we shouldn’t even let it happen in our own lives. We should crave change and evolution. We should seek new experiences and in turn let them influence our lives and how we live them.

The latin in the title of this post, Ad astra per aspera, translates roughly to: A rough road leads to the stars. It’s a useful little thing to think about. Wherever we’re all going, it’s not going to be easy to get there. Whoever we’ll eventually be it’s important to remember that we need to become that person. We all need to change, we need to appreciate that change in ourselves and others.

This post was brought to you by me, with the inspiration from Mr. E and Mr. F.

I leave you with one last thought:

Sedit qui timuit ne non succederet