Tag Archives: Technology

An Admittedly Perplexed Paean To Unplugging.

I know the rules. As sole proprieter of a blog and website, I’m expected to be a content creation machine and a social media maven. The way to grow an audience is to update frequently, tweet feverishly, and slather myself all over Facebook. That’s on top of writing songs and interviewing artists. In a normal work week, I fail miserably. It’s a big huge problem. During the holidays, I didn’t even try.

I spent last week in a rented house in Los Angeles with my sisters and my dad and all of the husbands and kids. We swam. We ate. We hiked and played games and road-tripped to Joshua Tree in a pimped-out tour bus that my pal Curtis lives in. I met my friend Tori’s horse. We exchanged gifts on the little-known miraculous tenth night of Hanukkah because various personality-related circumstances prevented us from celebrating during the traditional eight-day window. I don’t know what happens in your family, but our family gatherings require a certain flexibility.

Sometimes on vacation I carve out an hour or two each day to work, but it’s a double-edged sword. I feel vaguely productive, which stems the constant anxiety over the need to produce more and better and faster, but I invariably wind up spending more time than I had planned in front of my computer or with iPhone in hand. My family is always understanding and always bummed. And once the door to work is opened it oozes all over everything. I might be lounging in the sun having a lovely chat with my nephew but in the back of my mind I’m trolling for something clever to tweet or post. Hardly a recipe for quality time. I did carry my lyrics notebook out to the yard one morning but as soon as I got settled someone put on Stevie Wonder and cranked it.

So. Work was a wash. I halfheartedly posted a couple of photos and then abandoned the social network entirely. For a minute there it actually felt like I was disappearing. Like if I didn’t make my presence known to unseen followers and invisible friends I would quickly be forgotten. Like I was losing the thread of something important, and maybe I was. Maybe I’m messing up by not being a more dedicated, disciplined, hard-working member of the digital ranks. I want to live a real life. I want my project to succeed. It’s so confusing. All I know is once the panic subsided, there was nothing but relief. Here’s what that looks like.

In a year or two, when my website is a bust and my career is up in smoke, will I look at these photos and kick myself for not working harder? In a year or two, when I have a stack of songs that could only have been written by a person living her life, will I be satisfied that I made the right choice?

I know I’m not the only one struggling to straddle worlds. Pray tell.

Filed under: Word/Play Tags: ,

Wayne Coyne is Out of Control

Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne phoned from a New York recording studio.

Q: What are you working on?

A: A bunch of things. We’re doing a thing where we release a couple of songs every month, and we just did some tracks with a guy called Prefuse 73. You know, you do these things through email so there’s a lot of computer downloading and stuff. He sent us stuff just hours before we left to come to New York, which is where we’re at now, so we’re going to get those downloaded and mixed today and get that release ready, and then as we’re doing that we’re also going to set up and do yet another version, a live version, of The Soft Bulletin and Dark Side of the Moon that we’re assembling in a little auditorium at the University of Fredonia [a.k.a. SUNY Fredonia], where — I say a lot of things —  Dave Fridmann [the Lips' longtime producer] is one of the head teachers and it’s going to be released in a marijuana-flavored gummy skull in a show we’re playing in a cemetery in Los Angeles in June. Whew.

Q: Wow.

A: I know.

Q: That’s a good lead-in to my next question. The industriousness and restlessness that your band has always embraced, is it as intense now as it always was?

A: Well, I would say for me, I think it’s gotten even more intense. Maybe it’s my response to seeing it fade and thinking, “Oh my God, I don’t want that to happen to me.” And I think I just have more at my disposal. I’ve been working with Dave Fridmann since 1988 so some of the insecurities about how are we going to deal with each other and who’s in charge, all these things about control or who has the say or whatever, those things have gone away. I know that I’m just simply creating and I’m not trying to prove to everybody that I’m right and that you should listen to me. I think everybody around me is in the same flow of ideas. I’m using their skill and their help and their ideas and their energy, and they’re using mine.

Q: Has the way you approach the work changed?

A: I’m more aware of this idea of time being spent.  I’m more aware of how much energy it takes. But I’m also aware that I want to do it with people, and that it’s about love and it’s about we care about each other and we’re doing things because we’re lucky that we get to do them and let’s explore, let’s experiment. To me, this art that we do is representative of us understanding what’s important in life, and I think it’s all in the art. To do the art is the excuse to live the life, for me anyway. When people are young, there is this invisible energy. I don’t think people are aware that they have it, you’re only aware that you did have it once it’s gone, you know? It’s just by dumb luck that as I’ve gone along that thing has never left me. I’m actually drawing a picture while I talk to you, Joan.


Filed under: Interviews Tags: , , ,
howard gardner

How Does Howard Gardner Spell Creative Longevity? N-E-O-T-E-N-Y

Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist, is the Hobbs professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. We spoke in his office on campus.

Q: You believe that creativity can be learned and cultivated. You don’t buy into the myth of an individual being endowed with a gift –

A: I think that’s nonsense.

Q: Have we, as a society, conveyed that message effectively?

A: I would say that, in fact, America is probably where creativity is the strongest message in the society as a whole. I would say on Wall St, in Silicon Valley, and Hollywood – I mean that’s the message. Schools don’t particularly promote it, but it’s less important here than if you were in China 30 years ago where the message didn’t exist at all. I wrote a book 15 years ago about creativity in China and the United States, and I argued that – it sounds kind of simplistic, but I did manage to make a book out of it, which nobody read — that it’s important both to have skills and to be able to go beyond the skills. And the problem in America was people thought they were creative but they had no skills, and nobody was interested in what they were doing. And people in China had tremendously developed skills, but they were afraid to part from those skills. And what I learned from going to China was that it didn’t matter which order it occurred in. I had thought that you’ve got to play first, and then you pick up the skills. But in China, if you could develop skills and the message goes out to use those flexibly, people are good at it.

Q: So do you feel that in this country our emphasis on individualism is an asset when it comes to –

A: It has been an asset because creativity has been largely individual. I mean the good question, which you’ll undoubtedly run into, is to what extent is that changing because of the digital media or because we’re all in touch with everyone? 100 years ago, the assumption was that creativity was a germ that came out of somebody’s mind. And that may be much less true nowadays, for the reasons I just stated.  I think we’ve been successful for two reasons. One, we’ve had a frontier which then became a cyber frontier, and things like Hollywood, which is it’s own kind of frontier, and Silicon Valley. And because we’ve allowed immigrants. The flowering of creativity that occurred in the sciences and in other areas mid-century was when you had Europeans coming here and they wedded the theoretical orientation, the systematic thinking of Europe, to empiricism, which is what we do in Anglo-American societies. And that contributed enormously to all the Nobel Prize winners. I mean if you look at how many people who are purely Americans get Nobel Prizes, almost nothing. They’re almost all Italian American, Chinese American, Jewish American. And so certainly one thing that everybody who studies creativity will tell you is you don’t get it when you have little islands. This may be the Japanese problem. I mean England was an island, but it owned the world.


Filed under: Interviews Tags: , , , , ,

Neil Gaiman, Man of Many Letters

I chatted with Neil Gaiman at the vaguely corporate, incredibly messy furnished apartment he rented in Cambridge, MA, for a few months during (then-fiance, now-wife) Amanda Palmer‘s run as the Emcee in American Repertory Theater’s production of “Cabaret.”

Q: I was surprised to learn that you’ve written some songs.

A: Yeah, every now and again. I’m not a songwriter but the best one, I think, is one Amanda did for a while called “I Google You.” The idea was, torch songs are all about being in a bar at 3am smoking a cigarette and talking to the barman about the girl that left you. Nobody’s in a bar now at 3am and talking to the barman about the girl that left them. They’re at home typing her name into Google and trying to figure out if she’s dating. So I wrote a song about that and Amanda did it. [He jumps up and goes to the computer to google "I Google You" and we watch a video of Amanda singing it. He wrote the words. She wrote the music.]

Q: What else is new and different?

A: Personal happiness is one of the things that now counts, certainly for Amanda, and it’s shifted for me, as well. The biggest problem for me is I actually got everything I set out to achieve. I guess from my point of view that’s why I’m pushing myself to do new things. Why spend time working on a giant piece of strange theater which nobody’s waiting for? I love the idea because it’s something that I haven’t done before.


Filed under: Interviews Tags: , , , ,

Jon Brion is the World’s Laziest Workaholic


Jon Brion, the prolific musician, composer, and producer — Kanye West, Elliott Smith, and lot of people (and film scores) in between — sat down to talk at Greenblatt’s deli in Los Angeles over a late-night breakfast of coffee and pastrami.


Q: I feel like technology is my friend and my enemy. You?

A: Yeah, I’m extraordinarily selective about it. People’s love of having options killed the quality of any given individual thing. And purpose-built things are harder to find. So I very cautiously have tried to select technology for things that we couldn’t do before, not necessarily things that are just easier or faster to do with technology. Emotionally I probably look like a bit of a Luddite, but I’m not. I’d still like to think in whatever I’m my own version of a modernist.


Q: I think you straddle the two pretty well.

A: Let me put it this way. I own lots of computers. I don’t use any of them.


Q: But that’s a version of choice too. Right?

A: I mean, I know there are things sonically that are better about digital. Nobody talks about this. But there are. But the problem is if you go completely that way, it does lack something. So it’s the combo.


Q: So the trick is to know your options and to know your vision well enough, where you want to end up and how to get there. And be master of your toolkit.

A: Right. Yeah, very much so. You know it’s funny, I was writing down something in one of my journals last year about what I thought about creativity, trying to think of a couple of good models in terms of creative stuff. Like, what are some really good examples of work. And I thought, you know, one good thing is a hammer. That is a really good example for what we’re lacking at the moment, which is something that does one job incredibly well. It hasn’t changed at all. It hasn’t needed to. For the job of driving a nail, it’s absolutely great. So on the other end you’ve got a camera which in truth is the thing that’s sadly lacking at the moment. Everybody feels they’re a great modernist just because they’re using a computer. But then they’ll make a lot of mindless choices that tend to homogenize things. I thought the other good model for work is the same one that’s been driving poets crazy for years, which is a tree. I never understood when I was a kid all these artists I liked going on about their greatest inspiration. Nature. It’s like, God I’m going to throw up. These fucking awful, boring fucks. I don’t understand it.


Filed under: Interviews Tags: , , , , ,