Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

30 SEPTEMBER, 2013

Janis Joplin on Creativity and Rejection: Her Lost Final Interview, Rediscovered and Animated

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“You are what you settle for.”

On September 30, 1970, four days before her death, Janis Joplin gave her final interview, a profound conversation about creativity and rejection with Howard Smith of the Village Voice, found in the altogether fantastic The Smith Tapes Box Set — an archive of Smith’s restored interviews with such icons as John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Jane Fonda, James Taylor, Jerry Garcia, and more.

Smith and Joplin had been scheduled to speak in mid-August, but Janis, distraught over an eviscerating piece Rolling Stone had run about her — which included the assessment that her bountiful jewelry made her look like a “Babylonian whore” — canceled. When they eventually did speak, however, what emerged was a portrait of Joplin as a complex person brimming with the sort of inner contradictions that make us human — at once insecure yet full of conviction, opinionated yet concerned about offending, fierce yet tenderhearted.

Now, the fine folks of multimedia nonprofit Blank on Blank — who also gave us David Foster Wallace on ambition and Maurice Sendak on being a kid — have brought this bittersweet final conversation to life in their signature style of visual storytelling.

You are what you settle for. You are only as much as you settle for.

The interview was aired four days after Joplin’s death.

Complement with Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin (public library), the excellent biography of one of our era’s most influential musicians and most tragic cultural icons. Also of note is the memoir-biography Love, Janis (public library) by Joplin’s younger sister, Laura.

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24 SEPTEMBER, 2013

If Dogs Run Free: Bob Dylan’s 1970 Classic, Adapted by Illustrator Scott Campbell

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“If dogs run free, then why not we / Across the swooping plain?”

As a lover of canine-centric literature and art, an aficionado of lesser-known children’s books by luminaries of grown-up culture — including gems by Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike — and a previous admirer of Bob Dylan’s music adapted in picturebook form, I was thrilled for the release of If Dogs Run Free (public library) — an utterly delightful adaptation of the beloved 1970 Dylan song from the album New Morning by celebrated illustrator Scott Campbell.

Pair If Dogs Run Free with this visual rendition of “Forever Young,” then complement with dog-doting children’s books by John Lithgow and Jane Goodall.

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16 AUGUST, 2013

Patti Smith’s Advice to the Young, by Way of William S. Burroughs

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“To be an artist — actually, to be a human being in these times — it’s all difficult. … What matters is to know what you want and pursue it.”

In this short video from the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, legendary performer, poet, lettuce-soup maker, and beloved reconstructionist Patti Smith offers her life’s wisdom to the young. Highlights below.

On finding your purpose and doing what you love:

A writer, or any artist, can’t expect to be embraced by the people [but] you just keep doing your work — because you have to, because it’s your calling.

On maintaining creative integrity and not compromising — the best advice she ever got, from none other than William S. Burroughs (who typically offered the young advice of a more politically incorrect nature), which stayed with her all along:

Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.

On relinquishing the false god of perfection and instead learning to ride with life’s ebb and flow:

To be an artist — actually, to be a human being in these times — it’s all difficult. … What matters is to know what you want and pursue it.

[…]

[Life] is like a roller coaster. It’s never going to be perfect — it is going to have perfect moments, and then rough spots, but it’s all worth it.

In her superb 2010 memoir, Just Kids (public library), Smith traces her own journey to that first spark of creative calling after a trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a “moping twelve-year-old, all arms and legs.” The visit left her profoundly mesmerized by the world of art and its alluring promise:

Secretly I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not.

In the book, she also paints a colorful portrait of the notoriously eccentric Burroughs:

William Burroughs was simultaneously old and young. Part sheriff, part gumshoe. All writer. He had a medicine chest he kept locked, but if you were in pain he would open it. He did not like to see his loved ones suffer. If you were infirm he would feed you. He’d appear at your door with a fish wrapped in newsprint and fry it up. He was inaccessible to a girl but I loved him anyway.

He camped in the Bunker with his typewriter, his shotgun, and his overcoat. From time to time he’d slip on his coat, saunter our way, and take his place at the table we reserved for him in front of the stage.

Just Kids remains a must-read. Pair Smith’s advice with more words of wisdom to the young (at heart) by Neil Gaiman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Charles Bukowski, and E. O. Wilson.

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