BLOGNAME: LOUDER THAN WORDSAn informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur
|A Constancy of Purpose|
By Paul Tomori
Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 21:23:22 (EST)
The year was 1979 and I was a 12 year old boy craving my own drum set. Not so I could play the steady four disco beats that permeated the airwaves in the late seventies... Nope, I was smitten more by songs like Ballroom Blitz by Sweet and Call Me by Blondie. However, one tune really took the cake that particular year. Here's the intro:
bloom-bloom-bla-bloom-bloom bla bloom bla bloom-bloom bla...
That driving intro was the beginning of a song that marked a pivot point in popular culture and pretty much brought disco to a timely end. For Christmas that year, I got my first drum kit and I tried my best to keep up with the flammed pulse of that mesmerizing beat. The song of course, was My Sharona by the Knack and it really rocked. This past week, the lead singer, Doug Feiger passed away of cancer at age 57.
As I read some of the stories about Doug and his group and as I listened to more of their music, I became very aware of the things that led them to their success and then tore them asunder as a band. The bassist commented that most people think the Knack were a one-hit wonder (they weren't actually), but My Sharona was really the only memorable tune. He went on to say "how can you repeat My Sharona?" It's a good question. And certainly, in my hobby as a musician, I have never composed anything close to that very hook-laden song, but you know, if those guys could do it once, then they had it in them to do it again. What went wrong? Well, first of all, you have your whole life til your in your 20's to compose your first album, but then you only have months to compose your second album. This is why so many bands' sophomore albums pale in comparison to their debut albums. And, you're supposed to pull that next album out of a hat while touring in support of the success of your first album. I can only imagine how tough that would be. However, other musicians have pulled it off. Lennon and McCartney did it and in fact they only got better. How many number one songs did they have? 30? I think they took a different attitude to their initial success. Rather than presuming they could not "repeat" Love Me Do, they presumed that they could OUTDO themselves.
What was the key difference between the Beatles and the Knack? Was it talent? Maybe. But you know, the talent in the drumming, and guitar solo of My Sharona is certainly musically on par with the basic music chops of Ringo Starr and George Harrison. And the composition itself is just loaded with catchy hooks like any good Beatles song. So, I think the basics were there for the Knack.
What strikes me as different is that the Knack, by their own admissions, got caught up in their success. Parties, drugs, easy money, and easy women all distracted them too much from the purpose that had led them to 6 weeks at the top of the pop charts in 1979. By contrast, while the Beatles were also known to indulge the various fruits of success, when you read about Lennon and McCartney, you see that they still got together every Sunday over tea and shared any musical ideas that they had individually come up with throughout the previous week. They'd trade criticisms and experiment with song progressions for a few hours til they had some new material... EVERY WEEK. On Monday mornings, they would attend the studio with George and Ringo, hash out a full band performance of the newest material, then record demos that George Martin, their producer, would further critique and hone. It was said that George Martin also acted as a fatherly figure, being several years older than the Beatles. He would scold them for being late, smoking pot, fooling around, etc... He helped them to stay focussed. And their own basic discipline and love of their craft kept them composing and collaborating every Sunday.
You can do a lot if you have the purpose and discipline to keep your nose to the grindstone. It's called a "constancy of purpose". It comes from an obsession to push aside distractions. It comes from a presumption that you can always outdo your past success. It comes from an unwillingness to have your glory days behind you... ever... Those in the upper echelons of musical success still think they have their "best song still inside of them waiting to come out". McCartney himself has said that. Can you imagine? There is something to be said for the attitude that "one's reach should always exceed one's grasp". It keeps you reaching. With all of his past accomplishments, Steve Jobs of Apple possesses this trait. Warren Buffett, the famed investor, possesses this trait. Clearly, it's no longer about achieving wealth for these gentlemen. They already have more than they could spend in their remaining days. So, no, it's not about greed. It's about the indomitable human spirit ever-reaching for a way to outdo their past successes. It is the essence of being human... And, as long as you don't cloud your life with the types of distractions that prevented the Knack from enjoying decades of success instead of mere months of success, it is attainable by anyone. The answer to that bassist from the Knack who asked "How do you repeat My Sharona?" is: take yourself back to the state of mind that led you to compose the song in the first place. Don't let yourself ricochet off of that success down a road with no return.
It's too late for the Knack and of course, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Feiger and his crew. They left an indelible mark on this 12 year old boy from Niagara. I just wish they had kept it going. I just wish they had had a little more constancy of purpose. I suppose we can respect their achievement then learn from their example and aspire to whatever we define greatness to be in our own lives. Whatever it is you choose as your muse in life, "put aside the alienation, get on with the fascination, the real relation, the underlying theme" and never EVER quit.
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