David Itzkoff: “You tell a story in one of the episodes about seeing a prime performance from Sam Kinison, whose world did not exactly intersect with yours. Did you get something out of that experience?”
Steve Martin: “Oh yeah. You know when someone’s killing it. But not always immediately. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks to think about it. You have to go, What did I just see? I say the goal is not to be good – it’s to be great. The idea is to have the audience leave, and say, ‘You’ve got to see this.’ You have to work backwards from the result.”
My favorite story on this subject is told by one Richard Griffiths, manager majordomo, but before that a record exec, a publisher…and an agent.
Richard booked a gig in a basement club for Paul Kossoff’s Back Street Crawler, with the opening act being AC/DC.
Only one problem, on the way to the gig, Kossoff perished on the plane. But AC/DC performed anyway. To six people. Who just stood there silently as the band went through its entire act, parading Angus on shoulders throughout the venue, the whole deal. And when the music stopped, the attendees bolted. Richard was crestfallen, but an hour later, the club was overflowing… You see each and every one of those attendees had run out to a pay phone to tell their buds…YOU’VE GOT TO SEE THIS!
And history was made.
And then there’s the tale told by Al Kooper, music’s own Zelig, who famously produced Lynyrd Skynyrd. The first LP had just come out, “Free Bird” was far from being an FM staple, and Al got a call in Atlanta, where he was living, where the studio was, from Ronnie Van Zant in Jacksonville, saying the band had just written a new song and they wanted to come in and record it right away.
Al said yes, and within the week they did. But the track sat in the vaults for a year.
I asked Al did he know, that the song was gonna be such a giant hit.
And Al told me…IT WAS SWEET HOME ALABAMA!
Greatness is undeniable.
But hard to achieve.
In the era of scarcity little got made and less got promoted. And the barrier to entry was so high, wannabes were excluded. Every town has got a band that didn’t quite make it, that sold out every dance, got an indie deal, even made a record. And when you listen to those LPs you’re not wowed, thinking the country missed out on genius, but that they weren’t quite good enough.
This is hard to tell people, they don’t want to hear it.
This is like so much in life. If you’re downtrodden and unkempt, chances are the supermodel does not want to date you. If you’re broke with no track record, you cannot get five minutes of Lloyd Blankfein’s time, never mind Mark Zuckerberg’s.
But today people believe they’re entitled to it.
Greatness is elusive, hard to achieve, but when you do, you know it.
I had this conversation recently, where a drummer told me nobody knows what’s great, nobody knows what’s a hit. That’s untrue, ask any creator. When you hit it far over the fence, YOU KNOW!
And people want to hear it and own it and spread the word about it.
Hell, I even had this experience myself two days ago. I’m reading all this hogwash about the Twitter numbers, how they’re going to disappoint, how the company is on the downswing, and my blood starts to boil. Less because I love Twitter than I hate conventional wisdom, groupthink, no one wants to analyze, say the unspoken, they just want to get along.
And then a synapse fired and I had to run to the computer, I had to weigh in on this.
And I did.
And then all hell broke loose.
I immediately heard from Richard Greenfield, the number one Wall Street analyst:
Subject: I’m only guy with twtr buy rating
Based on everything u basically said
Then, minutes later, far under an hour after I’d hit send, I heard from Jack Dorsey:
Re: Twitter Results
Bob, this is amazing. I’m biased but: you’re spot on. Thank you for your work and support. This note is an immensely helpful reminder of what’s important for our team.
Then Ben Thompson, of Stratechery fame, @benthompson, tweeted:
Good @Lefsetz on Twitter pic.twitter.com/qshJVcMIpp
And them my Twitter feed blew up. Four figures worth of retweets, you could watch the window scroll.
And when I woke up Wednesday morning, eager to see Twitter’s ultimate financial results, I’m reading the “New York Times” article and as I get to the end, the only analyst quoted, closing the article, is ME!
Now let’s be clear, I don’t have a PR person, I didn’t say a word on any social network, didn’t implore my friends to spread the word, I did nothing other than HIT SEND!
Of course I have an audience, probably larger than most bands plying the boards, but I’ve been building that audience for three decades, through multiple formats, I’ve never given up, and without the internet it would be so hard to reach these people.
But who the hell am I? Just a wanker with no office, no receptionist, no Armani suit, none of the trappings you’re supposed to need to play.
All I had was my brain and my experience.
Let’s be clear, if I’d been busy promoting myself I never would have had time to do the research to be up on this story. But I don’t call it research, I call it FUN! I love to follow the news, figure out what’s happening. And people can tell whether you’re interested or not, whether you’re informed or not.
And I don’t think what I wrote about Twitter was the best piece I’ve ever composed. But it had a truth and a validity and an insight that was unavailable in this whole wide world. That’s right, while you’re busy making me-too music with the usual suspects what people are really looking for is something different.
And I’d be lying if I told you all of the above didn’t make me feel good, really good. But so far not a dime has dropped in my pocket and although my Twitter feed is still rolling, @jack tweeted:
“‘It’s all happening on Twitter.’ Thank you @Lefsetz! lefsetz.com/wordpress/2017…”,
the velocity has decreased, I’m already in the rearview mirror, we live in a what have you done for me lately culture.
Which is why I will keep writing. Not because I want to get ahead, not because I’ve got a marketing plan, but because I love to wrestle with the issues and nail it.
Do I always get it right, do I always write stuff that cuts like butter?
No, although I never issue crap, I’ve been doing it too long, have too much experience to fail that way.
And this is not meant as a victory lap but an illustration. If you pay your dues, if you get it right, if you do great work, you don’t have to lift another finger, the world will blow you up, because there are very few great things out there and we all want to share them.