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Bob Elliott
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Bob Elliott

4/7/2008 6:04:29 PM

On the Road Ahead
I was listening to a show on NPR about genius. There was a lot of interest, but I'm gonna talk about two things that stuck with me. One was they were talking about IQ range of people generally agreed upon by most as geniuses. The range went from 120 on up. Kind of funny since 120 isn't what you'd usually think of as genius. They pointed out that many people with much higher IQ's are not considered genius. Maralyn Savant is a great example. She has the highest IQ recorded, and her claim to fame is that column where she answers readers' questions designed to stump her.

Genius requires a certain drive toward a certain end.

But really the comment that stuck with me was one lady defining them as people who do something in their field where everyone coming after has to deal with what they've done in some way or another.

Whether you want to call them genius or no, this thought well described most all the people whose work I'm most fascinated with. In physics, after Einstein, you had to deal with Einstein's work whether you agreed with it or not.

I went last year to an art show of American artists reacting to Picasso, and I was struck by how many of these artists from Picasso's time had said that when Picasso's work came to the states for the first time and they saw it, so many of them did not paint for many months. They could not go on with their art 'til they figured how they were going to take in what Picasso had done.

But mostly I want to talk about music, and that definition holds pretty well with all the artists that really move me. Once I hear them, I have to deal with them.

Beatles had to be taken in by almost all of us in some way or another. Dylan had to be absorbed by the whole musical culture. Stevie...

Others on a maybe lesser scale hit me all the time as something I have to deal with.

When I started listening to Elliott Smith it changed me. I had to deal with his work. Hank Williams, too, and many others. Prince long ago was something I had to take in and deal with. Bob Marley.

I'm getting ready to start the next album. All I know for sure is it will not be like the last album. But how far can we reach, anyway? Can I do anything that leaves some listeners having to somehow take in what I've done?

I mean, I could make an album doing a good job within certain forms that are mostly established. I feel ready for this.

But can I create a somewhat new form? Can we do that if we try and set our sights on that?

From the inside, it's not to me what any others would be left with as much as what I would have to reach for to open a very new ground for me.

Sometimes I'm really attracted to the idea, and sometimes it just seems like a distraction from a host of cool song ideas I have in my head that are not really revolutionary, but they are cool.

I don't mean this as I've got the magic. I mean it as all of us creators have the questions we can ask ourselves about where we want to go. And do we want to try for that stretch or no. It's first a decision.

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Hugh Hamilton

4/7/2008 7:32:41 PM

I usually try to stay away from the G-Word. But I've applied it to:


A number of the ones you've mentioned in your blog have not caused me a moment's pause in my journey. But I've been hung up on others for decades. Go figure...


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4/7/2008 7:55:42 PM

One thing comes immediately to mind from your post and your observations therein.
I think the term 'Genius' is a very subjective one.
What one person would determine as genius could be interpreted as any one of, or a combination of the following -

Natural talent,
High IQ (IQ is a subjective evaluation of intelligence depending on the particular test bias in my opinion),

A person may have genius qualities in any one of these areas and not yet be awakened to their gift or their life path. Therefore, they may appear anything but genius in their achievements.
Once they do awaken though, LOOK OUT!!! :-D

I prefer to think of those who influence us the most as keys to unlocking our own potential. Whether you view what you create as truly unique or just a rehash of currently existing ideas is really not important. What is important is that it comes from your heart and soul. Only then will you produce works which are unique and potentially what others may view as genius. Once again though, the term genius, in my opinion, is totally subjective on a multitude of levels.
Einstein, The Beatles, Picasso, Pirnce, Bob Marley....(here's a few of my additions), Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre all have a number of the qualities in my list above but most of all, they were (are) true to themselves and followed their passions and convictions.
Dreams can only be fulfilled when the dreamer keeps the dream alive and works passionately and consistently towards that vision. That is the mindset of success :)

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Susan Raven

4/8/2008 1:20:10 AM

Good thread!

Agree that genius is subjective. Have to add that there is a huge degree of dedication involved, and in the music field particularly, no small element of good fortune too - after all, can someone be described as a genius if almost no-one is aware of their work?

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Hop On Pop

4/8/2008 10:31:59 AM

I think that the word "genius" gets tossed around a little too easily.

Also, I think that it's used incorrectly... there are no individuals who are geniuses. It's their work that is genius. The work is what is so far outside of/above the established norm, not the person. If that were the criteria, we are all geniuses if we dig deep enough, as we are all far outside of the norm in our own ways.

Therefore, I think that the true path to "genius" would be simply to stay true to your TRUE self.

Listen to the voices in your head. They WON'T stop talking to you -- they'll always be chattering away at you. You just have to stop and listen closely to be able to keep hearing them.

Then, listen to what they say. As long as it's not, "Kill, Kill! KILL!!!!" you'll be okay.

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Steve Ison

4/8/2008 11:05:45 AM

Woh...Great post Bob!

I don't think you can just decide you're going to create a new form...That implies an ego-based decision imo and the whole nature of creativity (when its good) is that it moves way beyond that.
I mean,could you've predicted you were gonna write your most creative,meaningful songs before they actually appeared?

I think its a brilliant thing to be creatively ambitious,but i reckon the degree of success someone would get depends how much its based on the ego-i.e i wanna be considered as a visionary artist by my peers/the public etc V the reality of acheiving that-which is exploring the inner world more,sidestepping the ego-finding a constantly developing powerful sensitivity to chord changes/melody/moods/lyrics-pushing yourself further creatively all the time,breaking thru ingrained habits..

Personally i just try and write cool songs-not because i'm not creatively ambitious-i am- but 'cos its the best i can do at the moment..

Its still a process that involves finding interesting moods,chord changes-being awake enough to avoid musical/lyrical cliches and create something that (hopefully) has its own reality and meaning..and (maybe) a little twist on the standard form...

Good luck with your new album anyways..
Really look forward to hearing it :)

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4/8/2008 4:16:57 PM

excellent thread Bob etc---


Maybe Daniel Lanois (not sure if spelled correctly) fits that category!

produced U2 ------also a fine muso in his own right, sings in english and french!

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Bob Elliott

4/8/2008 5:04:01 PM

I will respond to a few of the comments, but in mixed order.

Steve says, "i reckon the degree of success someone would get depends how much its based on the ego-i.e i wanna be considered as a visionary artist by my peers/the public etc V the reality of acheiving that-which is exploring the inner world more,sidestepping the ego"

I agree that exploring the inner musical world is essential, I see no evidence that sidestepping the ego has been a standard method for the big players. The opposite may be true for most trail blazers. Most have plenty ego.

Hop and S.P. both point out it is largely a matter of being "true to oneself."

I guess that's decent advice to anyone, in a way, but to reach something new I think requires somewhat of a rebuilding of oneself. A reinvention. In a sense it's not "true" to oneself, it is maybe a changing of who you are.

In some ways we work from who we are and that will be our strength, but I strongly feel other dimensions can't be created without a change in what we are. Sometimes that comes about by force, sometimes growth, and I think many have sought it out.

Some on the thread (all?) express a distaste for the word 'genius,' but the show that started me thinking on the idea (this time) was about genius. I have no problems with the word. It has meaning. I keep in mind we mean different things in different fields, but there is something to the creative that is the main thing I'm taken in by all my life. These people help to build a world I live in, and mostly all I want to do is get in the game.

I threw out some names that I am sure are more in the minor status, but had certain mind altering effects on me because of my own path in music. Others you could name that would be tough to refute.

Louis Armstrong
Duke Ellington

Whatever. Creation fascinates me, and high level original creation fascinates me more. I'm very clear that people like these absorbed massive amounts of what went before, and also that they, and we, all build by using the past.

As Raven said and we all know, dedication is a main part. I'll never be able to give the kind of dedication that allows the family to fall apart and such, but I do wonder at my own limits within the way my life is put together and if I'm out at the edge of those limits.

And I guess I am writing about is, are there choices I need to make about where to go with the music?

Probably I'm just talking about creativity, like always, but we all get to think about what we're holding and what we can do with it. It's a privilege that trips me out every day.

Mostly though, I think the problem is that I tore my studio up in order to soundproof it more, and so now I have no place to work, so I'm spilling all this out to you.

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Steve Ison

4/9/2008 1:08:26 AM

"Steve says, "i reckon the degree of success someone would get depends how much its based on the ego-i.e i wanna be considered as a visionary artist by my peers/the public etc V the reality of acheiving that-which is exploring the inner world more,sidestepping the ego""

I don't think i explained what i meant well..
Of course you need a healthy ego and self-belief, but during the CREATIVE PROCESS of writing a song people who've got no other rescources than that to draw on are doomed to make predictable,self-conscious music with no sense of magic or transcendence..I hear it all the time with music i don't like..

Skyscraper-size ego mixed with mediocre talent that believes itself the greatest,just 'cos its 'me' isn't what i find particularly inspiring lol....And there's a frikkin' LOT of that around in pop n rock music..

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