Monday, December 8, 2008

Art and Science by Todd Riddle

At some forgotten airport in the past few weeks, I picked up a new biography on Jim Morrison. I'd always liked The Doors, but hadn't really delved too much into the life of Jim Morrison - other than seeing the movie, and having a few of their albums and respecting them as musicians and writers.

This is one of those books that is very detail oriented so whenever an important location is mentioned, the author took the time to give the exact address. That's how I found myself, the next day, sitting on the steps at 8512 Santa Monica Boulevard.
8512 was The Doors office in the late 60s. It's where Jim Morrison and the band would hang out, drink hard liquor, take LSD, have sex with groupies, and occasionally black out. Sometimes they'd muster up enough working brain cells to stumble over to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go a few blocks away. There they'd perform - or more like rehearse in front of a live audience - songs like The End, Break on Through, and People Are Strange.
But on this particular day, 8512 was just a shut-down restaurant. Complete with a very official looking No Trespassing sign posted by the local ordinance.
I walked around the free standing building and looked up to the second floor - where Jim Morrison recorded his last musical album, LA Woman. An angry, naked, pieced-together collection of poems and ideas that The Doors and their producer barely pulled together to fulfill the last of the band's six-record contract deal with Epic.
Then, I hopped in the cab that was waiting for me and went to my appointment at a Hollywood studio.
A couple hours later I found myself sitting in a small conference room watching the credits roll on a rough cut of this major motion picture company's new release. I had just watched the very digitized, incomplete cut of their new film - but I was still thinking about Jim Morrison. The only other person in the viewing room with me, a nice woman from promotions, turned to me and asked, "Well, what did you think?"
"I like it," I lied.
How could I possibly tell her how much I not only hated it, but despised everything that led up to its birth? That I had seen the film a thousand times. That it was flat, predictable, unmemorable, and undoubtedly created by formulas, bureaucrats and focus groups. It was horrible.
In one afternoon I had been surrounded by the extremes of two roads of how to create something. One being the raw, fearless, risk-taking, fuck everything attitude of The Doors. Poetry. Guts. Soul. Love. Hate. Instinct. It will be relevant for a hundred years. The other - the sanitized, artistically void film, that is as of this writing already irrelevant.
I suppose I could make all the obvious analogies about how this pertains to what we do. And then give examples of the kind of work we all aspire to be a part of.
But there's no point in doing so. The Doors made that point a long time ago. We can only look back humbly in awe and amazement and aspire to be more inspired.
My favorite part of the book - a moment in The Doors' career that pretty much encapsulates Morrison's life and what it means to take a risk and follow your instincts - is a scene that takes place on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Jim Morrison had just sang in front of a live audience on national television. And despite the fact he promised Mr. Sullivan he wouldn't sing the word 'Higher' (in the song Light My Fire) he did. And he sang it loud and even made sure to accentuate the 'Higher' part.
After The Doors left the stage, Ed Sullivan angrily confronted the band on their way to the dressing room.
Ed Sullivan: You'll never play on the Ed Sullivan show again! 
Jim Morrison: We just did.
Today, nobody watches reruns of The Ed Sullivan Show. But you can pick up a copy of every Doors song ever recorded on iTunes. In no small part because Jim Morrison created something that was inspired by what he felt and observed. Rather than what a focus group said they felt and observed. Or what a bureaucrat said they should have felt or observed.
Scientific study of consumers and markets at times is obviously useful and will continue to be an important part of advertising and marketing. But there are times when the insight gets in the way of actually being able to create an idea, or when it can kill an idea that may not fit perfectly into the perceived precious boundries. If you dont believe me, do your own scientific study to prove it. Just watch television for a couple hours and draw your own conclusions.
Science. When Einstein wrote his theory of relativity he did it for the most part in a single room and on just three pieces of paper and with the aid of no scientific instruments. He simply thought of it. Years later while taking a tour of the most modern telescope ever built, Einstein's host told him that with this new invention man would be able to understand the deepest secrets of the universe and unlock the mysteries of the galaxies. Einstein's wife replied, my husband already did that on the back of a manila envelope with a number 2 pencil.

(Our friend and collaborator Todd Riddle over at BBH wrote this piece a while ago. He's kindly allowed us to repost it here. If you're a reader - and especially if you're a collaborator - with an intelligent, provocative original article in your bottom drawer, send it along.)

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