Archive for the ‘crushing genius’ Category

In order to keep the blazing infernos of our respective creativities stoked, Holland and I periodically engage in exercises in fiction.  Usually, this consists of me (because I spend most of my time bored and without human contact) e-mailing him and saying, “Hey, why don’t we do THIS crazy idea!,” and Holland responding with, “Okay, but let’s actually do it this way!”  And so forth.

As you know, a while ago we finished up Hand of Danger (a project which began in much the same way), and so I threw out a new idea for the two of us to chew on, which we’ll be relaying in pieces for the next couple Fridays:


Posted by Jeff Holland

“Rock Band” is enthralling, because it lets people indulge their inner stadium-rocker.

My inner stadium-rocker, it seems, is Roger Daltrey.

It’s the scream, really. That completely cathartic throat-bust that announces your presence: you are here, you are alive, and you need other people to hear that. Love it. Feels good.

The Who’s “Who’s Next” will soon be offered as a full album download on the game. In preparation, I’ve been listening to it like an addict. It’s a brilliant record. Obviously. There aren’t a lot of songs like “Baba O’Reilly,” songs that elicit a desire to replay it as soon as the last chords play.

I like to get the history of things I fall in love with. And so this meant reading up on Lifehouse.

If you didn’t know, the most iconic songs on the album – among them, “Baba O’Reilly,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – started as a science fiction rock opera Pete Townshend had been fiddling with. It’s about a rock concert that raises post-apocalyptic London up against the shackles of a totalitarian dictatorship that had kept the populace stultifyingly safe from toxic pollution by sticking them in lifespan-mimicking stasis suits.

The Matrix, by way of “Tommy.”

It isn’t a bad story, per se, but…even at the time, it wasn’t a super-fresh idea. It was okay sci-fi, but nothing groundbreaking.

Here’s what pushed it over the border into good, solid, bat-shit crazy territory.

I want to make sure I’m getting this just right, so I’m going to quote Wikipedia’s write-up (don’t laugh – when it comes to trivial crap, Wikipedia is the place to go):

“What Townshend was aiming to achieve in Lifehouse was to write music that could be adapted to reflect the personalities of the audience. To do this he wanted to adapt his newly acquired hardware, VCS3 and ARP synthesizers and a quadraphonic PA, to create a machine capable of generating and combining personal music themes written from computerized biographical data. Ultimately, these thematic components would merge to form a ‘universal chord.’ To help this process, The Who would encourage individuals to emerge from the audience and find a role in the music.”

Listen to that again. “A machine capable of generating and combining personal music themes written from computerized biographical data.”

This is not an idea Normal People come up with.

Townshend wanted that to happen for every concertgoer who came to any Lifehouse-related concert. To basically let them hear what their being sounded like as music.

Obviously, the rest of the band and crew heard Townshend’s explanation, and responded the only way they could: “Wait…what? No, wait, I think I get…no…what?” And then they dismissed him as kindly as possible.

But you can’t dismiss Pete Townshend kindly, because he is a Genius, Dammit, and does not accept polite condescension lightly.

The lack of understanding of his grand, psycho-SF-rock-opera ideal reportedly sent Townshend into a deep, suicidal depression.

He shook it off just enough to do away with the narrative aspect of the songs and focus on reformatting them as the most amazing rock anthems humanly possible. And you would think that would be enough.

But Townshend’s inability to cope with the lack of acceptance of his Big Crazy Idea (which he has returned to multiple times) lingers with me.

Every “creative type” has been there. This massive, grand concept comes to us – likely while stoned – and it needs to be worked on Right Now! But then we sober up, get some perspective, and realize that maybe the idea wasn’t quite as staggeringly awesome as we had initially believed. And to keep our sanity, we move on.

But Pete Townshend was so despondent over the fact that nobody was digging his lunatic post-apocalyptic Woodstock story, and the accompanying transcendental-but-completely-impractical-digi-humanistic concert concept that came with it, that he wanted to die.

I find myself fascinated by that level of fanaticism for one’s own imagination. I’ve come up with stories that, for one reason or another, didn’t work anymore. When that happened, after a brief period of disappointment, I let them go. Which makes me realize I will never be a Genius, in the way Pete Townshend is.

Imagine being so in tune with an idea, that knowing nobody but you understood it was driving you mad. That reshaping those concepts as one of the greatest rock albums of all time was just a consolation prize, compared with what you had in mind.

This is the frustration usually claimed by supposed alien-abductees. For Pete Townshend, it was close enough. He recognized the potential to make music an experience that could change the shape of humanity, only to slowly but surely realize that he wouldn’t be able to birth those concepts into the world.

I’ve never had an idea that good, that important. And it actually makes me feel a little bit sad. Knowing that no concept, no character, no theme will ever break my heart to such an extreme extent. For a creative person, it’s a little bit disappointing to realize your limits.

But seeing how it affected one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.