Perfection Is for Punks or, Why Artistic Collaboration Is the Way to Go or, What Makes Aristotle So Damned Smart?

So, here’s the problem with having a hundred heroes: that’s a big gang to compete with. I’ll never be the poet Keats was or the philosopher that Aristotle was or the guitar player Hendrix was. I’ll never have the courage of Manet or the intelligence of Wilde. Times 20. Obviously, only a conceited asshole would dream of comparing himself to Keats or Aristotle. And I wish I could say that when I’m absorbed in their works I’m not thinking about myself. But the first time I read Othello I wrote in the margin, “I must despair of ever matching this.” And the first time I saw The Rolling Stones I thought, “That should be me up there.” So we have a word or two for conceited asshole, but what do you call somebody who knows that he is a conceited asshole and loathes himself for the fact? Well, probably something like “suicidal neurotic.” But fear not, Dear Reader! Your humble blogger will not commit self-slaughter!
When Dick Cavett praised Hendrix as the “best guitarist in the world,” Hendrix replied that he was “the best guitarist in this chair.” And Aristotle found his own way despite being the pupil of Plato, f’crissake. Hendrix loved Dylan and was intimidated by his influence but performed “All Along the Watchtower” so well that Dylan modified his own performances of that song to resemble Hendrix’s. Clearly, Hendrix and Aristotle were enormously ambitious geniuses but not conceited assholes. The trick, the delicate balance to strike, is to be influenced by your hero without being overwhelmed. In a way, the huge number of heroes diffuses their threat. For example, Emily Dickenson wrote a great number of great poems using a simple, song-like form. I hear Dickenson’s influence when I write a song: I aspire to her precision, her clarity. So the competitive element is not to be denied. But I also want to write a song a good as one by Jagger and Richards or Lennon and McCartney. So the battalion of heroes all exerting their own influences forms a tissue of support, not a rampart of threat.
Moreover, another line of defense against overwhelming influence presents itself: collaborative creation. Admittedly, this line has taken many years to form for me, but now I can’t imagine creative effort without the support and contributions of Adam, Joseph, and Julian. Which is not to say that my bandmates play merely a contributory or supporting role. My sincere hope is that I’m right when I say that our creation is truly collaborative. Four heads, each bringing a wealth of influence and experience, are surely better than one.
And so the last word is truth—truth to the imagination. A poem by Emily Dickenson or a guitar solo by Jimi Hendrix only appears perfect—we don’t know, nor do we want to know, how the artist might critique it, what flaws the artist might find. Perhaps the highest value in art is aptness, not perfection. The greatest works of the great masters only appear perfect by expressing so aptly the imaginations of their creators. So Manet’s courage aptly appears in his deep criticism of High Culture. Wilde’s intelligence aptly appears in his furious satire of hypocrisy, his ecstatic elevation of self-flowering. You, Dear Readers, Dear Audience, may tell wherein in our genius lies, if it to be found at all. Next up: “Genius: Exaggeration or Fraud?” (Preview: “To my work I gave my talent, but to my life I gave my genius”–O. Wilde)

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