Last week, I was catching up on some podcasts, and listened to a segment about Otis Redding on NPR.
Otis Redding was one of those artists – he influenced his field, he hit the top and played with all the big stars, then died early. His posthumous hit, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, is an enduring anthem to all of us who sit spinning our wheels for some brief period.
But the thing is, Otis Redding didn’t start out as Otis Redding. In the interview above, biographer Mark Ribowsky said Redding had a rocky start.
“He was so emboldened to try to get his career started that he went to L.A. on his own and tried to make it there in 1959, and was a total bust. I dug up a few of the guys who he recorded for in L.A. — they knew he had talent, but he didn’t have the right material, because he was trying to be another Little Richard or sound like another Jackie Wilson.”
In other words, he wasn’t following his muse, yet, he was following someone else’s.
“When Otis started doing Otis is when it all started happening, and that happened when he had his audition in Memphis for Stax. He sang ‘These Arms of Mine,” and the earth moved when he did that,’ Ribowsky told NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to be said for imitation. We learn our chops by imitating great writers, and borrowing their plots and little devices. It’s only when we start recombining things in our own way that we can really be said to follow our muse.
Or maybe it’s a matter of wrestling with our muse – attacking and putting that muse in a stranglehold until we choke out her very best ideas and music.
Nobody talks about giving our muses small bites of chocolate brownies and sips of wine, and seducing her into a creative orgasm.
I digress. At any rate, success comes when we be our best selves, not someone else’s best selves. Right? Maybe. Anyway, let’s give it a shot this weekend. Let’s write as our best selves, our best muses.