The Wife and I attended a party at a friend’s place over New Year’s, where I ended up having a discussion with another friend (one of my beta readers, actually) with whom I am collaborating on a musical project this year. She was lamenting her poor skills on the ukulele, the key instrument in the project, saying she wished she was actually good at it.
“If punk music has taught me anything,” I said, “it’s that you don’t have to be good to be awesome.”
And it got me thinking about all the folks out there who are awesome if not actually, technically good. Take Neil Young for example. The man’s singing voice is best described as a strangled yelp. It sounds like someone is throttling a sick goose. In technical terms, the man’s voice is just godawful. He once played a guitar solo that was just the same note played 37 times.
And yet…damn, when his stuff works, it really works. Music – and most other creative expression – isn’t just about technical prowess. It’s also about the evocative, emotional expression. In that regard, Neil Young is an awesome singer. You only have to listen to “The Needle and the Damage Done” to hear the frustration and despair he feels. His guitar playing, while often grungy and sloppy, is very emotionally-fulfilling.
Bob Dylan’s another great example. No one can credit him with being a tehinically good singer, but take a listen to “Blind Willie McTell” and tell me that’s not a haunting song.
Like at artists like Chegal, or Picasso, or Andy Warhol. They’re not able to perfectly recreate the details of the world around them, but they’re evocative and powerful in ways that are sometimes hard to describe. Awesome without being good.
Anybody can play or write or draw something perfectly. With enough practice, you can master the art of crafting a sentence or a painting or a guitar chord. But it’s how you play things, the sounds and colors and words you don’t use. The way you use the ones you do put to effect. That’s what really matters, honestly.
It’s not about being good. It’s about using what you’ve got to be awesome.