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  • Writer's pictureGuy G. Gorman

The Power of Enthusiasm

Rock n Roll has a special connection with enthusiasm. The whole punk rock movement at its best was about reclaiming enthusiasm's proper place in rock music. The connection goes way back. Think of Jerry Lee Lewis. Can you imagine a classical pianist playing with her foot to the delight of the crowd?

Irrational exuberance* is valued over proficiency in rock n roll. Examples abound: Sam Sham and the Pharoahs, The Kingsmen (for details, see my blog "Donnie Iris is Rock n Roll!"), The Stooges, The Ramones, The Replacements, Jonathan Richman, and basically all of punk.

Some stories I've heard recently reminded me of the enthusiasm/rock n roll connection.

Dave Grohl was commenting about "American Idol" or "The Voice". To paraphrase, he said that these shows are not what rock n roll is about. Rock n roll is about three guys practicing in a garage and sounding terrible and continuing to practice until they start to sound good. (I've watched "The Voice" and enjoyed it, but it and "AI" are/were more about the entertainment industry than rock n roll.)

When they were just getting started, the proto Beatles (John and Paul? George too?) traveled across Liverpool because they'd heard a friend knew a new chord.

In the movie "We Jam Econo" Mike Watt of the Minutemen related how he and d. boon didn't know about tuning when they first started playing. They thought some guys just liked to have the strings tighter and others looser because each player had a different preference for what felt comfortable. Watt didn't even really know what a bass was when he decided that he was going to play it. He'd seen them on album covers, but didn't know they had four thick strings instead of the six thinner ones that guitars have. He didn't recognize a bass when he first saw it.

In Jim Jarmusch's documentary on the Stooges, Iggy talks about how early on the Stooges might jam on one riff for a whole practice. (The Minutemen would do this too.) Earlier as the drummer for his band, the Iguanas, he built a drum riser as high as he could just for the fun of it.

Henry Rollins traveled from Washington, DC to New York to audition as lead vocalist for his favorite band, Black Flag. He didn't know all the words to the songs. The band was impressed enough to hire him.

On a more personal note, I remember a family member commenting about my drumming early on. She said something like "You're very persistent" instead of "Hey, that sounds good!" I caught the not-so-subtle difference, but took it as a compliment at the time. In retrospect I see it as an even bigger compliment :-)

I don't think any other genre of music has this special tie to enthusiasm. Maybe rap/hip hop. Country, folk, classical, opera, polka, Broadway, you name it, might tolerate enthusiastic amateurism, but they don't see it as valuable. (The tolerances are pretty miniscule in classical and opera. Those who have heard a beginning Suzuki violin class may disagree, but musical incompetence is a huge minus at even the lowest levels in classical whereas it can be a boon for professional rockers.)

Rockers are onto something.

"Everything worth doing is worth doing poorly."**

In other words you gotta start somewhere. Countless people have quit hobbies before really getting started. They had their enthusiasm snuffed out. They were criticized for not being perfect. Twisting the knife, the critic probably added that they didn't have the talent for whatever it was that they were doing. Sometimes these sorts of comments are mean-spirited, made out of insecurity. Sometimes they were given with love in an attempt to spare someone pain.

In any case, they were wrongheaded.

"Bounce" a book by Matthew Syed investigates the power of practice. It shows how practice is really the determining factor for success, not talent. It shows how even child prodigies like Mozart had a lot of practice--His dad was the leading music teacher in Europe. What's more, we're not talking grim determination, we're talking fun. Laszlo Polgar raised three daughters who rose to the highest level of the chess world. In looking back on daily practice one of the girls remembered that it was fun!

I don't really believe in talent, but I do believe in enthusiasm. In fact, such a thing as talent exists, I think it is actually enthusiasm. If you love something, you'll pursue it, practice it, and ultimately improve.

If practice is the important factor, then fun creates the enthusiasm to inspire practice.

And what's more fun than rock n roll?

Rock n roll gets us back in touch with our innate enthusiasm. Notice I didn't say "youthful." Many people allow this essential part of us to die because we write it off as something just for children or teenagers.

So live like a rock n roller. If rock n roll is a metaphor for life, enthusiasm wins the day. Don't worry about mistakes. You and others may actually prefer the unintended results. You'll grow in ways you never imagined.

And you'll have a blast!

For Further Research

* I would appreciate it if someone can forward me another rock music column with a reference to Alan Greenspan.

** This quote was one of the guiding principles of my teaching career. "Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good" is another one.

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