Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Being Bob

Back in the day, I was friends with a brilliant guitarist, who I'll call Bob.

Bob had devised his own harmonic landscape (for non-musicians: the chords he played were unlike anyone else's), and it was a joy to hear him play. He was freshly unique. We all assumed he was "going places".

However I found playing with Bob a frustrating experience. First of all, he used lots of reverb, making him sound like the Voice of God in some cosmic cathedral while I was forced to toot my trombone in the dry sonics of the actual room. And Bob's unique approach to harmony forced everyone else to navigate an obstacle course. As soon as I'd scaled some impossibly dense and puzzling sonic boulder, a fresh impediment was laid in my path. It was exhausting, and I could never comfortably express a musical thought, because there was always some twist.

I'd run his gauntlet, ala Super Mario, doing my best to survive and make do. Fun for kicks, but not something I wanted to make a habit of.

I couldn't be annoyed at him, because I understood that Bob wasn't trying to be a bully. He was just playing the music in his head, which is what we all aim to do. Often, I didn't feel like navigating Bob World. And Bob didn't work much because many others felt likewise. But I was Solieri enough to understand that every musical collaboration means navigating someone else's world, and the distinctiveness of Bob World was a feature, not a bug. Real artists create new worlds.

It took me a while to connect my thoughts, but I've come to realize that while my musical sensibility is much more conciliatory, I am in other ways an annoying Bob.

Most people (I know from eavesdropping!) speak in highly scripted bursts, much as most musicians play the same tired riffs and licks. I'm not saying there's no surprise or provocation, but those things come in tinges, not clobbers. People say the usual things the usual way, adding dabs of personality via adornment: a nuance here, a slightly skewed upshot there.

I get bored with that. And, following the golden rule, I long ago resolved not to be boring. So I rejected the dull same-old and became a conversational Bob.

Of course, no one wants to run a gauntlet. From the standpoint of a Bob, everyone seems sluggish, rigid and stuck. They seem like squares, unable to escape convention. But that's not entirely true. Bobs never understand how specific they are. Having transcended the boring same-old, they assume they're working at a higher level, but they fail to see how they've seized an unfair advantage. You operate in You World. Not their world, and not some greater and more expansive Every World, but the world of your own creation. So if others seem sluggishly unable to keep up, that's not surprising! It's not that you're superior; it's that you've got the reverb, and you're planting the obstacles!

I'd like to say Bob wasn't trying to be one-sided in his music, nor do I in my conversation, but there's an inconvenient truth. Bob and I share an aversion to comfort. Comfort is the essence of dull uniformity; it's the thing all creativity seeks to overturn (the Gods of Creativity inevitably do double duty as the Gods of Chaos, despite their sincere protests that they're just trying to make things better)

So although I complained, above, that I could never comfortably express a musical thought with Bob because he was forever adding twists, I myself live to add twists. I enjoy other people's twists - so long as there's some give and take (rarely possible with Bobs, who game the system to stake out a higher ground in order to "be themselves") - but others don't really appreciate twists. They prefer comfort. Creativity abrades.

It's not that they're sheep and I'm clever, it's that they simply don't want to run someone else's gauntlet; navigate my twists. To them, a conversation with me feels like an overbearing imposition of Jim World. (At least this helps me remember this).

I get it. And I'm mortified, recalling my exasperation, to realize I'm a Bob. But at least I have some Jims, who, while weary and exasperated, recognize I'm just playing the music in my head, and who appreciate it even if they don't want to make a habit of running my gauntlet.

Feel free to pass this on to any Bobs in your life.

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