David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including The Forgetting ("remarkable" - Los Angeles Times), Data Smog ("indispensable" - New York Times), and The Immortal Game ("superb" - Wall Street Journal). He is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.
Put on some decent headphones and set aside eight minutes of your life to enjoy this very special gift from Neil Young and special guest, in Hyde Park, London, June 27, 2009:
This would be a sensational cover even without the playful and warm addition of Mr. McCartney. What makes Neil Young such a transcendent musical force? Here are a few insights:
First, this comment from Kurt Hirsch, an old friend and loyal draft-reader:
"I think it has to do with what you discuss in your forthcoming book – Young’s willingness to experiment and fail. This fearlessness (and, in Young’s case, stubbornness) has probably allowed him to roam in a much larger field."
gotta keep changing....I'd rather keep changing and
lose a lot of people along the way. If that's the price, I'll pay it. I don't
give a shit if my audience is a hundred or a hundred million. It doesn't make
any difference to me. I'm convinced that what sells and what I do are two
completely different things. If they meet, it's coincidence."
"In person, Neil Young is one of the sweetest and most unpretentious rock legends you'll ever meet. But at work, he is one of the most selfish and uncompromising. He yields to no one else's needs or opinions in the service of his deeply personal muse, which has enabled him to create a timeless oeuvre that goes everywhere from heartbreaking acoustic prayers like 'Pardon My Heart' (Zuma) to feedback meltdowns that are like the Norse God of Electricity given its own voice (his recent cover of 'A Day in the Life.') "The late drummer of Buffalo Springfield, Dewey Martin, once said, 'Neil would give you a look onstage that said, *I might die during this solo -- and I'm going to take you with me!*" I have listened to life-long collaborators of his express their anguish over his canceling tours after all the deals had been worked out; one of these famous acronyms once said to me, 'Neil has been getting up every morning for 40 years knowing he won't have to do anything but exactly what he feels like doing that day.' Yet these musicians remain his biggest fans, in a world full of fans. Neil has one of the most elusive qualities of genius: inscrutability. And it's saved his art from the million traps that killed off the gifts of lesser musicians."
[Thanks to David Gans for originally tipping us off to the YouTube video]
Very soon, after we've dotted all the i's on my book and I get permission from my editor, I hope to start posting excerpts from my forthcoming book. Until then, one thing I can do is post some book outtakes: material that to me is interesting but for one reason or another didn't make it into the final text.
One theme in the book is that great achievers almost always need to be engaged in some sort of rivalry. Healthy competition and rivalry can help bring out people's best work. Here's a bit that touches on that:
"From a distance, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso spent a lifetime in as peers and rivals
whose work was inextricably intertwined with one another.[i]
"At certain key moments," says art historian Yve-Alain Bois,
"both felt they were in a kind of boxing ring -- or that they were
players/partners in a sort of game. And the stake of that game was, for both of
them, the very practice of painting." Picasso's 1929 "Large Nude
in Red Armchair," for example, was a clear
parody of Mattisse's 1926 "Odalisque with a Tambourine." His
"Acrobat" and "The Dance of Youth" also both clearly
reference Matisse's "The Dance." From the other end, Matisse's
confidence was powerfully shaken by Picasso's early cubism; he later created
his "Reclining Nude in the Studio" as an homage to Picasso's nudes
from that same era.[ii] "It's
spectacular," says Bois, "the way each tries to introduce, in his own
language, some trope of the other -- and to do something with it. It's like:
'You do this, I do that; you do this, I do that.'"
The book is finished. After what I estimate to be roughly 5,000 hours of work, writing an average of 8 words per hour (true), I turned over the manuscript to my editor this week. I then went to get a haircut and repair other slovenly habits.
I am grateful for everyone who helped along the way, and hope that the book will be worth the long wait. It looks like Doubleday will publish in the U.S. early next year. More on the exact release date as I learn it.
I will now turn more attention back to this blog, with the aim of articulating what I've learned, laying out the argument of my book, and plugging it in to current events.
It has been suggested to me by friends familiar with my book-in-progress that the subtitle could be "Yes We Can." I have to agree. The message that emerges from the combinationof our new understanding of genetic-expression and our new understanding of talent-creation and intelligence is entirely consistent with the broad, inspiring themes of Barack Obama.
From his 11/4 victory speech:
"For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow."
My research tells me that the same can be said of individuals.