Being creative? Don’t be a buffoon, be yourself


When discussing creativity, quite a lot of people seem to think it’s necessary  to run around saying ‘wahey! I’m mad me!’, like that annoying nerdy irritant that manages to infiltrate your circle of friends.

Creativity is not about being an idiot. Being creative doesn’t require you to dress like a 1980s children’s television presenter with a pair of comedy spectacles, silly hat and a large sponge hammer to bonk people on the head with who are taking things too seriously. You don’t need a gunk tank nor do you need to give and receive foam-custard pies.

Being creative is a bit like being able to harness The Force from Star Wars. To use it properly and productively, you don’t need to be and shouldn’t be too cocky or showy. The goodies (the Jedi) went around in simple, ordinary clothes. Their lightsabres were tucked away in their belts, out of sight, but ready if needed. They used their powers to help people and get the job done and not for cheap parlour tricks just to make them feel good. The baddies, on the other hand, were different.

The Sith went into showing off in a big way. Darth Maul was such an egotist that he tattooed his whole body to make him look ‘really scary’. It was a bit obvious. He was mad and bad, a one trick pantomime pony with no subtlety at all.

The same was true of Darth Vader. Ok, so he was a burns victim, sure. But, I know quite a few serious burns victims and none of them decided to wear a black helmet in the shape of a skull. Vader wore his bad heart on his sleeve.

To be creative you are bound to be eccentric. You have to be. Eccentric means ‘not in the middle of the circle’. Being abnormal means not being the normal straight up and down at a right angle to the ground (eccentric and normal are geometry terms for circles and lines). We must be abnormal and eccentric with our creativity otherwise we won’t be  creative. But we don’t have to be abnormal and eccentric fools. We just need to be ourselves.

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk

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Copyright violation: bad news for comedy parody?


The Newport video I mentioned in my previous blog reached around 2.5 million hits on YouTube before being removed by EMI for copyright violation. because the song was clearly based on an EMI recording, even thought it was a whole new recording with parody lyrics, the law states that permission from the writers must be sought. It wasn’t.

These seems obvious and fair – but it could mean the end to parody using music if it’s able to be fully enforced. Many songwriters who are ripe for being parodies are serious ‘artists’ who may not be likely to want to have their song parodied, even if it doesn’t poke fun directly at them (as in the case of Newport).

I’ve had a parody version of Sinead O’Conner’s hit ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ removed from YouTube for the same reason. The recording was from a single performance in a comedy club 2002. You’re not likely to be able to see it ever again.

Millions of people enjoyed the Newport parody. But we should really never have had the chance to see it. I don’t know if the people involved in it made any money from it directly, it’s unlikely since their version was not for sale anywhere. So if they didn’t profit financially or take sales away from the Jay Z original, was it wrong to do the parody? It certainly has raised the profile of the original to an audience it may not have ordinarily reached as people wanted to see and hear it for the comparison.

So is it right that copyright enforcement should ban comedians and humorists from creating parody versions of other people’s material – provided they don’t offer their version directly for sale?

Is it right and proper that a parody song, piggy-backing on someone else’s creativity should not be allowed?

Does the use of copyright enforcement in this way reduce creativity as we won’t be able to create such parody songs, or does it enhance it as we will have to be cleverer at writing new songs to poke fun at other songs? (Neil Innes’ ‘The Rutles’ flew very close to the wind in creating a new batch of Beatle parody songs that sound like but were not direct copies of Beatle songs).

I would love someone to create a parody of one of my serious songs if it raise my profile or helped me sell more copies of my version. Are some people and some companies just being killjoys and taking themselves far too seriously? Or should any form of copyright, however well intentioned or funny the parody of it may be, be protected at all costs to maintain the integrity of original work and secure the income for its creators?

What do you think?

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk

Newport, Town Planning and How to Win the World Cup


Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind) is the latest viral YouTube sensation. It’s an excellent production of an excellent idea, very nicely done. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll have to have a poke around the internet as it’s now been removed from YouTube by EMI. It’s a parody of Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, a duplicate of that song and video but with all references changed to Newport and Wales. The result is very funny. The humour comes from the fact that it is so self-effacing. In that most British of ways, it appears to celebrate the shortcomings of Newport alongside its triumphs in a way that is so subtle that it walks the line between being straight, being ironic and being sarcastic. The result is that there is no ‘nod to the camera’, no explanation of what is really meant (as in the American trend of confessing sarcasm by adding ‘not!’ to the end of a sarcastic statement). It’s very funny.

It’s difficult to explain why the line ‘access from the A4042’ or references to leeks and shopping centres are so funny. It’s due in part to that juxtaposition in the lyric of we would expect to be profound, poetic or meaningful with the mundane and everyday. It also professes a lack of pretension on the part of the singers as they reveal their ordinariness. This sort of humour has been a staple part of British comedy as far back as we can trace. Charlie Chaplin perfected and personified it; the ordinary man with whom we can laugh with and at his ignorance (and of course our own). Laurel and Hardy continued it with dialog (Stan Laurel was the main writer and British). The Goons moved it into radio and Morcambe and Wise and Monty Python perfected it on television. Acts like Vic Reeves and the League of Gentlemen continued this idea of ordinariness, the lack of glamour and being ‘a little bit rubbish’ as being very funny. Today you’ll find it in sitcoms like ‘The IT Crowd’ and at the core of new Zealand’s ‘Flight of the Conchords’, the struggling inept novelty folk duo.

So while we in Britain and other similar like minded places like New Zealand and of course Ireland, are so keen to laugh at ourselves, which is such a good thing, it also has a possible dark side. Unlike the general attitude of the US, we are quite able to settle for second, third or even last place. Just think about the nation’s attitude to the World Cup and the Eurovision Song Contest. We’d love to win, but don’t really expect it and are almost relieved when we fail.

Let’s return to Newport. The songwriters choice to replace New York is inspired not just because of the similarity of the words and the syllables. Newport can be thought of in many ways as the antithesis of New York. Where New York is big and impressive, important globally and culturally, Newport is perhaps a bit obscure and ordinary. It’s the same reason that Slough was chosen as the setting for the sitcom ‘The Office’ and that the other town mentioned in that show is Swindon. Both towns are unrelentingly uninspiring and unimportant compared with Britain’s larger metropolises or cathedral cities.

And here lies the rub. How did Newport (and Slough and Swindon) get to be so architecturally random, sprawling and lacking in cultural or historical character? I wonder if it’s the other side of this ‘acceptance of mundanity and failure’ coin. All towns have town planners and yet almost all British towns that have had new building work since the 1950s seem unplanned, ugly and disconnected. Towns like Basingstoke and Bradford, once attractive market towns have been ripped up, flattened and totally re-built twice since the mid 1960s (although in Bradford they still haven’t put it back together again yet) with all original character lost.

Like other nations, Britain had a brief flirtation with ‘Modernism’ that replaced rather than renovated Victorian slums in the post war era. Many of those concrete tower blocks have themselves since been pulled down and it seems Britain’s planners have even less of a plan and identity now.

Knowing what a desirable and beautiful town is not as subjective as you think. If it was we wouldn’t have the same kind of towns listed as British or World Heritage Sites such as Saltaire in Yorkshire (right next to Bradford incidentally) and Bath in Somerset. We have all agreed what a good town is, so why don’t we build new towns, or renovate towns in that same way?

Let’s widen that statement. Why don’t we build ‘World Heritage Sites’ instead of looking at the glories of the past that have miraculously survived?

Do we have, just as the Newport song suggests, a low expectation of what’s possible in this country? If this is the case nationally, it’s very likely that it extends to how we feel and think personally, on some level. When it comes to our own work, our own creativity, our own businesses and all our own projects, do we have an in-built criteria of ‘that’s good enough’, ‘I’m not worth it’, ‘we don’t deserve any better’, ‘we can’t really succeed’, ‘don’t aim high then we won’t be disappointed’?

I believe it can be traced back to the end of the First World War and the despair, debt and depression that followed it and the dismantling of the British Empire. Suddenly we weren’t number one and were now reliant on other nations for help and support.

As a nation I think it’s time to create a new paradigm. There is no Empire to fall back on to create old fashioned Saturnian paternal and militaristic pride, but there is our broad and complex and wonderfully multi-faceted culture, our freedom, our rich history, our shared struggle and our achievements, to create a new kind of national pride.

When I wrote a song about the World Cup and the psychic octopus that correctly predicted the outcome of the matches, I was asked why did I think that England didn’t just not win, but got placed lower than ever in World Cup history. Were the players to blame? Were they too affluent and arrogant? Was it bad management or poor coaching? Was it because the players were too old? Are their too many foreign players in the Premier League hence supplying a smaller pool for the nation team to chose from? What was it?

I believe that the core reason is the same reason that I’ve been alluding to in this article. This nation is no longer programmed to win and we are resigned to that. Children are not educated to win at school. We don’t have a success ethic in business. We’re ashamed to make a lot of money. We’re frightened that competition means that it labels someone else as a ‘loser’.

If we want to win the World Cup, trying to pick better players and intensive coaching is too late in the process. That’s just trying to treat the symptoms not the cause. If we want to win we need to learn how to win again. We’ll need to encourage players at the very youngest age. We’ll need coaches and great players training the next but one generation, children who are starting school now. And it’s not just about football. The same techniques of success need to be applied to tennis and cricket. They need to be applied to music and painting. They need to be applied to languages and writing. They need to be applied to maths, the sciences and engineering. Possibly most of all, they need to be applied to creativity and attitude. If we can teach our children confidence in their creativity, we will have taught them how to be successful without arrogance. We will have taught them pride without vanity.

Why shouldn’t we aim high? Why shouldn’t we build ‘World Heritage’ works in whatever project we are working on?

And of course we shouldn’t worry about losing our comedy and humour. We can always laugh at how useless we all USED to be.

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk