On 29 March 2010, I did something I hadn’t done for a long time. I took a chance on buying an album I hadn’t heard and fell in love with it instantly. Three tracks in, I knew that it was going to have a significant impact on me, and the following day, I started this blog to write about it. Two people inspired me that day: the one who made the album in question, and the one whose blog gave me the idea for this one.
One year later, and a great many people have inspired me. Some have entertained, some have made me think, and many have achieved both at the same time. I thought it would be fun to catch up with those people and ask them what had inspired them today.
Let’s start with Everett True. Though we’d intermittently emailed each other in the intervening years, the last time I’d seen him was when he was still writing for Melody Maker, back in the mid-1990s. In the meantime, he’d edited various magazines included Plan B and relocated to Australia, where he now ran two blogs of which the latter – Music That I Like – I was an avid reader. Everett’s blog was a direct inspiration for this one, and it was a pleasure to catch up with him again this year, when again he inspired a creative outburst without really intending to. He now edits Collapse Board, an aggregate blog of various mostly Australian-based music critics, and performs in two bands. I dropped him an email to ask him what inspired him today.
“Lack of sleep. The full 9.26 version of Black Medik II by Rose Kemp, and wondering whether any men are making metal half as good. Go!Go! 7188, and wondering about the hidden brilliance of the Japanese mainstream. The homespun recordings of Lispector, and wondering about the hidden brilliance of the French underground. Coffee. Being able to download the album by local band Nova Scotia, and anticipating that I may well like it, on a local level. Anticipating the new album from These Dancing Days, also downloading. Thinking of random ways I can expand Collapse Board, and hoping that random will be enough to survive. Lady Gaga and Bad Romance. Las Kellies. Anticipating tonight’s show, in support of The Clean – first time the legendary NZ band has played in Australia since 1989! Winston Smith. Egypt. Sending Ramones songs to an ex-NME writer who’s just moved cities and jobs and is missing his fix badly. Listening to one of my old Song of the Day mixtapes in its entirety and enjoying every note, every last flustered beat. The way Daniel demands to sit on my lap when I listen to music on the computer, and says “again?” at the end of every song he likes. Isaac’s chess-playing ability. Smoked salmon sandwiches. Setting up meetings. Being reminded of how great the production on The Like’s album is. Shonen Knife.”
I love JG Thirlwell‘s music as much as I do because it affects me the same way it affects him. Thirlwell doesn’t compose with the listener in mind. For him, it was written for a specific purpose – to exorcise, expunge, cheer, soothe or delight – and that’s the very powerful effect it has on me. It hits the spot for me in the way that absolutely nothing else can, and I’m more hopelessly dependent on it than I am on my early morning caffeine fix. Certainly in view of some of Foetus‘s less palatable lyrics, it was imperative that I should figure out what his “deal” is – was I really filling my head with the musings of a cruel, sleazy misanthrope spewing hatred into the world?
He’s always been adamant that “there’s more to [him] than meets the eye”, though in the 70 or so interviews spanning 25 years I read or watched to fill in the background for my interview with him last summer, the words “sweet” and “charming” consistently appear. That much is true, though the man behind Steroid Maximus, Manorexia and the Venture Bros soundtrack does have hidden depths. The interview process was a bit of a nightmare: I halved the feature down to its final 5,500 words in a room with everything else unplugged and boxed up. I had no internet access the week it went up because it hadn’t been connected in our new home after yet another utility company had managed to f*** everything up, and was trading emails with Thirlwell via mobile phone in a rural location with (almost) no signal in between bouts of frustrated tears. There was also the difficulty of trying to condense a 50-year lifespan and 30-year career into something that makes sense. People change over time. Luckily for me, he was still as sweet and helpful as Melody Maker found in 1985, and I was left with a feature I’m pleased with and the reassurance that my favourite musician is a pretty decent person. A couple of hours after sending this response, he announced his participation in a benefit gig organised by John Zorn for the Japan Society’s Earthquake Relief Fund on 8 April.
“If by inspire you mean influence, move or enliven, I’ve been inspired by the earthquake, tsunami, devastation and subsequent damage to the nuclear reactors in Japan. We are just guests here: nature really calls the shots.”
Not everyone who has inspired me this year has been someone with whom I’ve had any personal contact. I’ve spent a great deal of time watching and blogging about The Vampire Diaries, so I shot off the question (“what has inspired you today?”) to its stars Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder via Twitter. Of the three, Ian was the only one to respond, and I’m still not 100% sure whether he was responding to me or someone else – though I’ll take it anyway! He attributed the quote to fellow Twitterer “VampireSupport”.
“In the end we’ll conserve only what we love, we’ll love only what we understand, we will understand only what we’re taught.”
I did ask women. Honest. It’s just that more men answered. I opened the question out generally on Facebook and Twitter, and fellow blogger Sue Langland said that it was “too early here for inspiration (9:00 am) although if I could have seen the bloody giant moon last nite, inspiration cometh“.
On Facebook, inspiration for my friends came from more tangible sources: “My new ice-cream maker that my mum bought for me today. Well, I don’t have it yet, to be collected from John Lewis on Tuesday. It’s making me think about all the lovely ice-cream I can make and eat. 🙂 ”
The most unexpected response was from Martin Atkins, with whom I had a brief Twitter exchange last year. I’d dug up an old interview, and he’d sent me a tweet asking if I ever remembered the question I’d forgotten to ask. I told him I hadn’t: I’d been somewhat starstruck by the ex-drummer for PiL, Nine Inch Nails, Killing Joke and Ministry. It turns out he’d been busy in the 10 years since I’d last spoken to him (at a Damage Manual concert – the one where I finally got to go up to Jah Wobble and say, “Mr Wobble! May I shake you by the hand?” to which the bassist duly obliged). In addition to his “supergroup” Pigface, Martin had been lecturing and writing books about the music industry, and during that brief conversation asked if I’d be interested in writing for his new book – the sequel to Tour: Smart, to which I agreed. I mean, sure – the first volume’s contributors included Henry Rollins and Chris Connelly. I didn’t expect to hear from him again.
So that was June, and in November I got an email from Caiti at Martin’s label Invisible Records saying that he was editing Band: Smart and was wondering if I my contribution would be ready for the December deadline.
After I speedily explained that an email must have gone astray somewhere along the line, we got it sorted and I sent a contribution where I likened musicians to different types of animals with advice on how to deal with each – it starts off like this:
Musicians are strange beasts. Some are the kind of loyal, affectionate creatures who will bring endless joy and inspiration into your life, whereas others are outright venomous. In the animal kingdom, most of us know what type of animals will hurt us, but most musicians look alike: it’s only their behavior that determines friend from foe. Helpfully, most musicians, managers, promoters and other industry types will fall into the behaviors of certain animal types, which – once you learn how to spot them – makes it easier to know whom to trust. It’s not an exact science, and there are rare chameleons, but most people you meet will be one of these types. Let’s start with Cats.
Although I’ve written in a variety of contexts – magazines, fanzines, press releases and corporate copy – I’d never contributed to a book before, so that was definitely something I enjoyed doing. I asked Martin my question to see where he looked for inspiration. He was at the SXSW festival at the time, so responded from his mobile phone:
“So many small simple things – Kimberly Freeman from One Eyed Doll – her struggles and her progress. A band called Asleep said my first book inspired them to stop doing the usual crap and build a 15′ high robot! They re-gifted inspiration back to me. Memphis Music Foundation, Austin Music Foundation HELPING people and the f***ing internet where 170 people reached out to me when my dad died – and people all over the world reaching out and risking themselves, opening up. Kids dealing with overwhelming s*** and f***ing blossoming and the power of music and people, people, people.
I needn’t quote the rest of what he said, because it’s embarrassingly kind, but he did let me know he’s got in touch with artist Ryan Lyken to illustrate my contribution to Band: Smart, and I’m thrilled and looking forward to seeing how that comes together in the finished book.
What he said about my attitude could be read as a reflection of his own teachings about how to get the things you really want out of life: it’s not about going into a room and asking how everyone there can help you, but of greeting people with a genuinely open mind looking to form real friendships. If someone asks for your help and you’re in a position to do so, then offer it freely without thought of return, and know that somewhere down the line what goes around comes around.
Of course, that’s easy for me to say: at the time of writing, all my wishes have been granted, so to speak. Even so, as Martin notes, what we can give each other isn’t limited to money or time or favours.
Sometimes, the very best thing we can give each other is just a great idea.