If you like music, you should watch Sound City .
Brad Wilk, drummer from Rage Against the Machine, had a quote during the movie that grabbed my attention. He said something along the lines of, “If you are inspired by a band, find out what they were inspired by.” I think it’s a bummer that so many music consumers I know have no sense of history. They are blind to the branches from which the leaves they listen to dangle. In being consumed by the beauty of the foliage, they’ve lost sight of the trunk. An understanding of history, in my opinion, is essential for the complete appreciation of the artist. History provides context.
I was ten years old when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” By my next birthday, I was enamored of grunge music, and “Lounge Act”, “Negative Creep” and “Even Flow” were in constant rotation. I can remember buying (with my parents’ money) various rock magazines; not real ones like Rolling Stone or Spin, but more or less the Tiger Beat version of rock magazines. I would rip out pictures of everyone and tape them to my walls. I started reading interviews. I consumed not just the music but the history. Kurt Cobain professing a love for The Pixies and punk rock. An investigation of punk rock that uncovered (for me) Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat. A comment from Eddie Vedder about Neil Young caused me to dust off records at my uncle’s houses. A curiosity of what came before Nevermind led me to Motley Crue and Guns N Roses. All of this created a setting that not only contextualized the music I had come to love but also emphasized the innovation in the music.
I find myself asking, “How did Radiohead get from Pablo Honey to Kid A? How did The Beatles get from Yesterday to I Want You/She’s So Heavy. The answer is in their history and their consumption habits.
It is so rare that things happen on an island. It is rare for genius without outside influence. In some ways, almost everything is a little bit derivative. And guess what? That is okay. The history of an innovation and acknowledgement of it being derivative does not diminish it. It shines light on the degree of change for radical innovations and it shines light on the beauty of the improvement for refinements.
What isn’t okay is being ignorant of history and believing something is brand new. Doing this sets you up to look ignorant or naive.
I’m a musician and artist from time to time. I’m a process improver and process innovator from time to time. I’m a student of my surroundings and the causative factors that led all I see to be where it is and what it is. This study provides me an infrastructure for creation. What I create is rarely, if ever, truly new. I take existing things and reconfigure them. I take pieces of wholes that already exist and create a new whole.
Knowing history isn’t a handcuff for innovation. It is the opposite. It is a springboard. To do what can be done, you should know what has been done. To get there, it’s best to know how you got here.
What are you inspired by? What inspired that?