I saw a band recently that I hadn’t seen since 1984. That’s right – 37 years ago. I was excited to see them again but wondered…would still have the same wildly creative spirit?
To me, NRBQ is one of those bands that plays it wrong on purpose, i.e., it is too easy and boring to play it straight, so they push it and stretch it into something more interesting and much more memorable. Well, the good news is that after 50 years in existence and the addition of several younger musicians, the band still plays a different set every night. They make up songs on the spot. They switch instruments throughout the show and continually ask the band and the audience what they should play next. Most importantly, they still have a lot of fun being creative.
I thought about this show over the next few days and realized that all of our heroes at OTTO are people who “play it wrong on purpose”. There’s Tom Waits for example. He has explored music so deeply that he started to make his own instruments to achieve the unique sound he was looking for. There’s Thelonious Monk, the Modernist Jazz composer, who would reduce 10 notes down to one. Todd Rundgren writes, plays, produces and directs everything from rock & roll, to a Broadway musical with Joseph Papp. The Velvet Underground, The Beatles, Picasso. Robert Rauschenberg and the great Paul Rand, a designer who would conceive, write, direct and orchestrate huge global brand projects—ABC, IBM, UPS, Next etc—the list goes on.
The idea of being different is not the point here, although it certainly has its advantages. The point is to master the skills and understand the rules in order to break them. In our world, it takes a team of like-minded individuals who all have the ability to see beyond the notes on the manuscript and envision truly unique possibilities, and have the chops to pull it off. Those who cannot see just the obvious.
Because it turns out that life is pretty interesting. Training your mind and focusing your talents on looking at what is and imagining what could be… and then out of those infinite possibilities calling into being the one that best achieves your goals… that’s a life worth living.
This all reminds me Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the book by Robert M. Pirsig (required reading in the CMU Design program). There was a scene in which our protagonist is explaining to his son that everyone takes the same path to the top of the mountain but, in reality, there are thousands of routes to the top of any mountain, and thousands of mountains.
Life can be pretty interesting. To focus your talents and train your mind to look at what is, and then imagine what could be, and out of all the infinite possibilities call into being the one that best achieves your goals… that’s when life becomes exhilarating.