I was watching a TED talk today by Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote “Eat, Pray, Love” in which she talks about the nature of genius. She talks about how the ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t say that someone WAS a genius, rather that they HAD a genius. You know how sometimes an idea just pops into your head and you have no idea were it came from? That, they would say, came from a genius, some sort of strange, fairy like creature that would hang around writer and whisper some hint of an idea for the author to work with. Then she mentioned someone who I would call the most creative person of our time. Someone whose music can creep me out and relax me at the same time:

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Tom Waits. She mentions that she interviewed Tom once and he talked about the moment music changed for him. He was driving in LA one day when a part of a song popped into his head. He was getting frustrated that he couldn’t work on it at that moment and was worried that he’d forget it, at that moment he looked up at the sky and said, “Excuse me, but can’t you see I’m driving? Does it look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment or go bother someone else, like Leonard Cohen.” From that point on he realised it’s ok to talk to your work. He has been known to walk up and down in the studio when a song just wont come saying things like “Look, all the rest of the kids are packed and in the car ready for vacation, if you’re not ready to go in 10 minutes then we’ll leave without you.” The strangest thing about this whole talking to your songs thing is that it actually works. Elizabeth talks, in an interview I heard on the radio, about how she had to sweet-talk the name “Eat, Pray, Love” out of her book. She sent an email to her friends asking them for ideas for the name of her book saying, “My book wont tell me it’s name so I’m asking you for suggestions”. One of her friends replied “Well, I wouldn’t tell you my name if you were talking to me like that”. That night she talked to her book all sweet-and-tender-like and the next morning she woke up with the title in her head.

The best thing about this idea of having a genius rather than being one is, she says, that it leaves you always feeling somewhere in the middle. If you write a best selling book, you don’t have a huge ego because you don’t feel like you can take full credit for it, but also, if it fails, then you don’t take all the blame.

Here is the whole Ted Talk:

 

It’s hard to think of a favourite Tom Waits song, but this should be a good example of how he combines beauty and the morbid to create a true masterpiece:

 

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