Tag: Weird Al Yankovic
This week’s post is going to be geared a little more towards artists who perform live. I think though it is a good thought to keep in mind for everyone though. The thought is: Play With Your Eyes open. First, a little backstory, and this backstory is going to sound horribly pretentious and name-droppy but it’s where I got the idea from.
In 2007, through a strange series of events, I lucked into a spot opening for “Weird Al” Yankovic on his Straight Outta Lynwood tour. I found out about the gig the DAY before the gig was to happen, so I was instantly whipped up in a state of nervous energy that could have been harnessed to power the state of Rhode Island. The main thing that had me whipped up was that this would be, without a doubt, the largest crowd I would have performed in front of to date. About 5,000 people. That’s a lot.
In my flurry of getting ready to drive to Northern California, where the gig was at, I spent some time promoting the gig on social media, which back then, was MySpace. I sent out an MySpace Message blast to all my friend who lived in the radius near the gig, I even sent one to Tom. But while looking through my list of friends I came across the page for Steven Page, then lead singer of Barenaked Ladies.
I know he didn’t live anywhere in the vicinity of the show but a thought flashed in my mind. If anyone could give me a little advice about performing in front of that many people, he could, so I sent him a MySpace message. I never really expected a response back, I mean, he’s a busy rock ’n’ roll star but later that day I got a simple reply back that said, and I’m paraphrasing here:
Congratulations. Just take a deep breath before you start and play with your eyes open. Enjoy it. And say hi to Al for me.
At the time I didn’t quite get what he meant by ‘play with your eyes open’ but I thought it was incredibly cool that he wrote back.
Flash forward to the stage at the Konokti Harbor Amphitheater in Northern California. I had just finished my first song, Living @ Home, and the audience loved it. And when I say finished I mean, raced through my first song at about double the tempo I normally play it. My hands were shaking, my pulse racing and my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. Then, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Steven’s words flashed through my mind. “…Take a deep breath. Play with your eyes open. Enjoy it.”
So, I took a deep breath and it seemed as if time slowed down. I was in control. I could do this without panic. Without rushing. And most importantly, my eyes were open and I was actually aware of what was going on. I could actually ENJOY the amazing experience I was in the middle of. The rest of the set was better than the first song and ending with ‘Debbie’ brought the house down.
After all this time, I still remember Steve’s words, especially if I’m in some big, high pressure performing situation. I remember to take a deep breath and just enjoy it. I’m getting to do what I love, in front of people. It doesn’t get much better than that. This is especially true when I get to perform with The Jim Henson Company’s Puppet Up!.
In late 2013, I performed with them in Toronto and there was one moment where I had a puppet on my hand in front of a packed house of people. The scene I was in was getting big laughs and, because I was playing with my eyes open, I just got a big, uncontrollable, smile on my face. Not because I was breaking because of the scene. It was because my ‘eyes were open’ and I was instantly aware of how much fun it is to get to do that. It’s a moment I have not forgotten.
So if you are about to step on stage and perform, no matter how big the crowd, stop right before you do. Take a deep breath and when you step out there, play with your eyes open. Enjoy it. Don’t get so focused on the set, your playing, or acting or your material that you completely forget to experience the fun you’re having.
Even though is more applies to artists who perform, I think it could be applicable to other areas of artistic disciplines as well. If you are painter, right before your gallery showing opens (no matter how big or small) take a deep breath. Enjoy it. If you’re a writer and it is the night before your book goes on sale, take a deep breath. Enjoy it.
Most of us create art because we love to do so. No point in doing it if you can’t take a deep breath and play with your eyes open.
How do you deal with high pressure artistic situations? Do you have any techniques that get your through? Let me know in the comments below.
A phrase I’m sure you’ve heard a before is ‘Listen to the Masters.’ Meaning seek out the people who are considered the pinnacles of your chosen field(s) of art and study them. In painting it’s van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and more. In music it’s Beethoven, Mozart or The Beatles if you’re more contemporary. Writing has Hemmingway, Shakespeare, Rowling or King. Screenwriting has Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder and Ingmar Bergman to name a few. Acting has Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, George Clooney. Just Google “Most famous (you shosen field of creative art) and you’ll get list after list. Of course, these lists are all subjective, but you’ll find the top three are usually people everybody knows. These are the Masters.
I think researching the Masters is a very important thing to do in order to see what can be done in your field. The amount of knowledge that can be learned from people who are ‘Masters in your field should not be downplayed at all. I would, however, like to make one small change to the phrase ‘Listen to the Masters.’
I think you should listen to YOUR masters.
I think you should study to the people who inspired you to get up off your rear and start creating. The people who you feel are the pinnacle of your chosen field(s) of creation. The people who inspired you are your Masters and you should study them totally and unapologetically. If someone who inspired you was Hemmingway or Mozart, great. But if who inspired you is or was not a household name, study them. Learn from them.
I’ve said on here time and time again that one of my inspirations is Joel Hodgson, creator of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. As popular as Joel is, when I say his name to people I sometimes get the ‘huh?’ look. When I explain he’s the creator of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, that clears it up for some, but there are still people out there who haven’t heard of that show. And that’s fine. The people you look up to don’t have to be household names. They just have to light a creative fire under you that spurs you on to emulate them. They inspire you to continue creating the art they have shown you.
I just finished the book Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. It’s a great read that I recommend any create person pick up. It’s short and if you have an hour or so, you can probably zoom right through it. In one chapter he talks about creating a family tree for your creative self. This family tree isn’t about blood relations though, it’s about the people who inspired you creatively and made you the creative person you are today. Austin tells you to study the people who directly influenced you and then study the people who influenced them, creating a family tree of creativity.
“Weird Al” Yankovic is a big influence on my comedy, obviously. When I first heard Al’s Eat It, I was hooked. After I’d picked up his album, I noticed that he thanked Dr. Demento on his discs. I, somehow because this was before the internet, found out that Dr. Demento hosted a weekly radio show. I cajoled my parents into recording the show for me every week and it opened a whole new world up to me. Suddenly I was hearing Al’s influences. Allan Sherman, Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer and Spike Jones. I was creating a creative family tree for my love of comedy music. I was listening to new things that would become true favorites (Stan Freberg, Smothers Brothers) and some that, though I could see the appeal, were not favorites (Frank Zappa). This was all because I followed the creative line from “Weird Al” back.
I think that listening to your Masters, is super important and should be done by every artist. You don’t know where you can go if you don’t look back and see where you have been.
Who has inspired your creative life? Have you researched them and seen who influenced their creative life? Let me know in the comments below.