Due to some combination of my refusal to enjoy music recorded after 1978, and a Quixotic quest to find parallels between myself and my artistic heroes, I spend a good portion of my free time reading biographies of classic rock artists. This weekend was no exception, as I was sick with a cold and spent my entire Sunday reading Robert Hilburn’s excellent new biography of Paul Simon. The better half of Simon & Garfunkel has always been a hero of mine, and I particularly admire the fact that his lyrics contain a level of optimism rarely found in the work of his contemporaries (your Dylans, Cohens, and Springsteens). I’m a huge fan of all of his work, and I highly recommend the book. But one particular passage struck me as especially relevant to Daily Fuel. Hilburn was discussing Simon’s unsuccessful attempts to make it as a teen pop star in the late 1950s, and the fact that his mediocre songwriting was a result of his trying to replicate the generic pop music on the radio. These were the years just before he began to develop his signature style, a pivot about which Hilburn wrote this:
“Allen Toussaint, the respected New Orleans arranger-producer-songwriter who would become friends with Simon, believed that millions of musicians had talent, but few of them ever evolved into genuine artists who produced a unique body of work. To achieve that level of accomplishment, he felt, a person needed a “trigger” in his or her life that set high, unyielding standards.”
I can relate to this, as I am just about the age Paul Simon was before he experienced his “trigger” and found his artistic voice. As someone who prides himself on his writing skills, I have recently begun to notice a trend in all of my scriptwriting classes: nobody is THAT much better than anyone else. If you watch enough television, attend an entertainment-focused college, and take three years of writing classes, just about anyone can write a perfectly good TV script. Once you learn the basic rules and pitfalls to avoid, everyone is competent enough to fit in on a professional writing staff. They may not be the star player, but they certainly wouldn’t be the weak link. But in my insanely competitive field, there certainly aren’t enough jobs for all of us. The ones who succeed will be the ones who, for some reason or another, are compelled to hold themselves to irrationally high standards, and whose life experiences cause them to develop a voice that’s impossible to replicate.
I’m not quite sure what my “trigger” will be. Maybe I’ve already experienced it and don’t realize it yet. But it’s in everyone’s best interest to remember that there are countless people with identical skillsets to ours, and it’s our unique perspectives that separate us from the crowd and set us up for success.