David McCullough Jr. made a speech at a high school graduation recently. He’s a high school teacher, so that really shouldn’t surprise anyone. But the topic of his speech hits home with me. The fact that it also caused a bit of controversy is worth noting as well. Because, not surprisingly, many of those in attendance at the graduation failed to see the subtext. More disturbingly, they failed to see the that he is also correct. Because the hook he used to deliver his message to the graduates was this: You’re not special. He goes on in great detail to point out why this is an essential truth to understand, and how we must WORK to make our lives special; and through that work find deep fulfillment; and through that fulfillment touch others; and through those connections find wonderment and happiness.
I’ve often repeated what I found to be a profound quote from Pixar’s, “The Incredibles.” (Whether they meant it this way or not.) After an argument between the super-mom and her super-son about why he can’t participate in sports, she tries to put a period on the conversation telling him, “Everyone’s special, Dash.”
To which Dash replies, “Which is another way of saying no one is.”
If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with music, production, or recording, think about how many Guitar Centers there are across this country. How many instruments each one of them sells every day with posters, and commercials, and promises of rock stardom. How many laptops ship with multitrack recorders, software synthesizers, and sequencers built in. Then each of those serves as a desktop distribution system for our every creation via SoundCloud or Facebook or the iTunes Music Store.
NOW think about how many Jimi Hendrixs there are. Eric Claptons. Kurt Cobains. Jonny Greenwoods or Ben Gibbards. Miles Davis’s or Mozarts. Think about what separates what they did with these magical instruments in their hands from what most manage.
But here’s the trick: For them, the important part wasn’t about the fame and adulation that befell them because of their gifts. The important part was the CREATION. The PURSUIT. It was a lifelong endeavor to be savored and improved upon. Something that (despite those promises from the Guitar Center mailers) purchases, hope, and an internet connection can’t get you.
Should everybody play music? ABSOLUTELY. Even if it’s singing in your car. Music is an emotional thread that runs through each of our lives.
Does the fact that you can now take video of you singing in your car on your phone, upload it to YouTube, and tweet it to your friends mean you’ve got the talent, drive, ambition, and musical gifts to touch millions of lives? No. It does not. It means you own a hammer, a saw, and some nails. There’s a long trip from there to becoming a carpenter. But if being a carpenter is what fuels your soul, then it’s that trip that’s worthwhile.
The art of capturing performances is what fuels mine, and that’s why I keep on pursuing it, defending it, debating its importance, and above all learning every day. No matter the material rewards. Because I have – at least for me – the best job in the world. And if that wondrous day arrives that I DO get my mug plastered on a GC flyer, the first thing I’m going to think is, “You’re not special.”