Nothing is new under the sun
The second objection is the more potent challenge because it happens to be true. Just about anything you can think of, or compose, has in some fashion already been thought of or composed – you are merely rearranging the pebbles. So say the post-modernist naysayers.
My rejoinder is to turn to perhaps the most creative and prolific artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso. To Picasso, “bad artists copy, good artists steal” and “art is the elimination of the unnecessary”. In other words, everything is new under the sun – provided it is touched by a creative hand or edited by a creative mind.
And for those who still doubt, think of the legion of songs made famous by brilliant renditions that far eclipsed the original. So much so, that the original releases are often obliterated from popular consciousness.
One of my favourite examples is the song “Unchained Melody”. The original was released by Todd Duncan in 1955
and frankly was so bad, it’s actually painful to listen to. But when the Righteous Brothers reinterpreted it
, the song was utterly transformed and became a number one hit. To use the language of Picasso, the Righteous Brothers ‘stole’ the song, re-expressed its essence as an anguished love ballad, and created a song that’s hardly recognisable from the original.
You can also improve on what is already great. Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You”
took a number one hit by Dolly Parton
and turned it into the best-selling single by a female vocalist in music history.
And at the distinct risk of betraying my hopelessly romantic side, here’s a more obscure example: “When You Walk in the Room”. Compare the somewhat pedestrian original release by Jackie DeShannon
in 1963 with Paul Carrack’s
striking rendition 24 years later.
So what am I trying to say?
You don’t need to be original to be creative. But, you do need to believe in your power to create and you must have a resolve (nay, an undying obsession) to avoid the unforgivable sin.
So go out and make a dent in the world. If you get it wrong, the good news is that virtually no one will notice – there are a lot of unremarkable dents out there. That’s why no one remembers Todd Duncan. But if you get it right, then for a brief time at least – Warhol says 15 minutes but perhaps much much longer – the world will heave a giant sigh of relief and applaud you for not being boring.