Unpromising BeginningsNovember 13, 2011
I’ve spent a lot of time with Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno over the past month. The two are some of my favorite people in music, producers of some of the best albums I’ve heard and fine musicians themselves (I love the debut album by Black Dub, Lanois’ new band). Their insights into the pain and wonder of creating art are particularly fascinating. I started with Lanois’ film Here Is What Is, a very unique documentary about music and the creative process that includes multiple conversations between Eno and him. The two have worked together on many of U2’s best albums. Then came Soul Mining, Lanois’ new autobiography. I highly recommend them both, especially if you have a deep interest in music and the many artists Lanois has worked with.
I gained a great deal from Lanois’ insights, but I want to focus on Eno for the moment. Early in the film, Lanois asks Eno to talk about what he has learned about creativity over the years. His answer was profound.
What would be really interesting for people to see is how beautiful things grow out of shit, because no one ever believes that. Everyone thinks that Beethoven had his string quartets completely in his head, they somehow appeared there and formed in his head, and all he had to do was write them down and they would be manifest to the world. But what I think is so interesting and would really be a lesson that everybody should learn is that things come out of nothing. Things evolve out of nothing. The tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest and then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing. I think this would be important for people to understand because it gives people confidence in their own lives to know that’s how things work.
If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted, they have these wonderful things in their head, and you’re not one of them, you’re just sort of a normal person, you could never do anything like that, then you live a different kind of life. You could have another kind of life where you could say, I know that things come from nothing very much, start from unpromising beginnings, and I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something. Brian Eno, Here Is What Is
What a beautiful line: “I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something.”
More recently, Eno did an interview with the endlessly delightful Believer Magazine. It’s worth reading in full, covering art, music, and creativity. At the end, he’s asked what he would tell his 20-year-old self.
I think I’d say, “Put out as much as you can. It doesn’t do anything sitting on a shelf.” My feeling is that a work has little value until you “release” it, until you liberate it from yourself and your excuses for it — “It’s not quite finished yet,” ”The mix will make all the difference,” etc. Until you see it out there in the world along with everything else, you don’t really know what it is or what to think of it, so it’s of no use to you. Brian Eno, In Conversation with David Mitchell
Post it, publish it, release it, share it. Whatever it is.