Could Be An Illusion, But I Might As Well Try
I consider myself a person of spontaneity, but I have one ritual from which I never deviate. Whenever I receive good news, I have to immediately listen to The Grateful Dead’s performance of “Scarlet Begonias” from May 8th, 1977. It’s the ideal performance of an exceptional song. It’s fun and bouncy and musically superb, and the lyrics are the perfect blend of humor and seriousness, naturalism and surrealism. It’s easily one of my five favorite songs, and sometimes takes the top spot, depending on when you ask me.
What’s interesting is the fact that I can’t stand The Grateful Dead.
Nothing about their style connects with me. I don’t enjoy any of their other music. For a fast-talking, hyper-focused person like me, their shows just seem to drone on aimlessly. I’d be hard-pressed to name a redeeming quality of theirs.
And yet I love “Scarlet Begonias” more than words can possibly describe. It’s quite the paradox.
A topic that has interested me recently is the idea of “bad” artists making good work. How can we dislike most of somebody’s portfolio, but adore one specific piece? It’s certainly a reassuring thought for those of us who struggle with insecurity. Even a blind squirrel gets the occasional nut, right? But it has to be more than that.
I’ve been doing some informal surveys, and everyone seems to have one artist about which they feel this way. Someone hates Taylor Swift but likes “Don’t Blame Me.” Someone can’t stand Tarantino movies but loves “Inglorious Basterds.” Someone despises Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young but enjoys “Teach Your Children.” I could go on and on.
The obvious takeaway is that art is subjective. Duh. But to me, this phenomenon also raises questions about what it actually means to be an artist. Is art always a reflection on the person who made it, or does it sometimes come down to luck? If two different musicians found themselves in each other’s circumstances, would they end up writing the same songs?
I could spend hours getting into the metaphysical weeds about this, but people have day jobs.
This question has bothered me for a while, and the closest thing I have to an answer comes with two prongs:
- When we differentiate our styles and try new things, the results can be spectacular and often attract an entirely new audience. If Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia had only written songs like “Dark Star,” they’d never be graced with the honor of having a Daily Fuel blog written about them. By writing songs like “Scarlet Begonias,” they bring new fans like me into the fold.
- When we expand our horizons and are open to experiencing things that we have previously dismissed, we sometimes find new sources of joy. If my distaste for The Grateful Dead had prevented me from listening to this song, I would find myself robbed of a lot of happiness.
Or, as Robert Hunter more succinctly puts it in the song: “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
I’ve tried to apply this logic to my life in a variety of ways. The most obvious being the TV pilots I write. Most of my goals involve writing for sitcoms, and all of my relevant experience is in the realm of comedy. But last year, my partner and I decided to write a horror drama pilot, and I can say with confidence that it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.
Living life with an open mind, with regards to both the work you do and the work you consume, is always a good idea. Who would’ve thought???