Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Imagine – Jonah Lehrer

NOTE: Cover art for this alleged nonfiction book apparently yanked by Amazon. Book was a fraud and Amazon is Big Brother. Literature is many things but never dull. (It was, despite the perfidy of the delusional author, a very attractive cover.)

Original post–pre-disclosure of certain fictional elements in the book:

Jonah Lehrer has assembled a fascinating study of how creativity works–where it lives in the brain, what in a culture acts as a petri dish. Imagine is fun to read, hopeful, filled with examples of genius at work–from Steve Jobs to Shakespeare–studded with genesis stories of brilliant new products–from Scotch tape to Swiffers–and awash in statistics and study results that make sense. Lehrer has a gift for translating nerd to common language.

Bob Dylan burnt out on tour and gave up music, heading for a house in Woodstock where he was inspired to scribble down a wonky poem that became “Like a Rolling Stone.” He invented a new kind of music that changed his work and the music world profoundly. Milton Glaser couldn’t stop fiddling with the art for a New York ad campaign, even after it had been approved. The result was a do-over that became the famous “I [heart] NY graphic. Jack Kerouac lived on Benzadrine while he wrote “On the Road” in near-continuous sessions at the typewriter for three weeks straight. Shakespeare ripped off Marlowe and everything else he could find to create his masterpieces.  

So, what’s up with all of that? (And where are the women in this epic tale of genius?  — but that’s another story, isn’t it?) Turns out the brain lights up in interesting ways when creative juices start flowing. A good idea might sneak up on you while you are doing something else. A chance encounter with a stranger in a crowded city or a co-worker in a coffee bar could trigger the Next Big Thing. Scientists can measure bits of that process now and they have mapped the various parts of the brain that get in gear, connect with other brain areas, or relax their guards and allow uninhibited ideas and behaviors to flow.  

But it’s not all neurons and anterior superior temporal gyruses. It’s also just noticing something from a different perspective–like the guy who invented Post-it notes did. It’s about encouraging alpha waves so your nice, relaxed mind coughs up an insight. It can also be about caffeine, amphetamines and alcohol–not too much, though, or you slide right past creative into incoherent.  And studies conclude that cities are hotbeds of genius (sometimes, and some cities), the urban experience is more conducive to a rich foment of ideas than the suburbs. Widely available education that encourages making things and de-emphasizes filling in bubbles with a #2 pencil  is a societal predictor of innovation. Critique sessions, but not creative brainstorming in which all ideas are supported, lead to breakthroughs and new inventions. Pixar gets some ink in this book and the story of how its culture developed is as much fun as any of its movies.

I’d highly recommend wandering through Imagine for insight about how your own strokes of creative genius come about–or how you might encourage some. The anecdotes that prove the points are terrific and the focus down on what makes creativity happen is instructive. I doubt anyone will ever be able to define creativity and imagination with the pure application of science but Lehrer makes a noble effort and his ideas are good ones. Now someone needs to write a book about why there aren’t more female names in the roster of Western genius–and how we might encourage that.

Imagine: How Creativity Works  Jonah Lehrer | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt   2012

Coda: It seems this post was miscategorized as nonfiction. Galleycat reported today (July 30) that Jonah Lehrer has resigned from The New Yorker after it was revealed that he manufactured Bob Dylan’s quotes for Imagine. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is “halting shipment of all physical copies of the book,” according to Galleycat reporter Jason Boog. The subtitle of Imagine is How Creativity Works–or doesn’t.  And so it goes… 

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes – Judy Collins

Click to buy from Amazon

I’ve been a fan of Judy Collins forever–some of her greatest hits and quirkiest songs were my anthems and her work wears well. Not so much the life recounted in her memoir. Such a creative genius, sensitive intelligence, major talent, raging alcoholic and faithless lover. She drank her way through most of the heyday of peace, love and folk music, knew everybody before they were anybody, and embraced free love–or at least overlapping serial monogamy–with the passion of a true zealot.

Early Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Stephen Stills and a roster of musical greats are woven in and out of the story of a Colorado mountain girl with a larger-than-life dad who never let blindness hold him back and never let moderation curb his drinking and destructive rages. Judy adored him and when she could, she emulated the drinking, if not the fierce temper. She admits booze ran her life but blames her own naiveté and her unconventional therapists for decades of blackout drinking and daily intoxication. She was a high-functioning drunk, able to perform and mix socially as long as she was within reach of a bottle. It’s the sad refrain of a remarkable life and a career that made her a huge star. Drinking and the gypsy life of a performer cost Collins her marriage and eventual custody of her son, even as it left us with amazing music.

The stories of how gigs got put together, meetings resulted in brilliant collaborations and hits, history happened and wrote itself into the music, are fascinating. She sang through the eras of civil rights struggles, the Kennedy assassinations, the murder of Martin Luther King, Woodstock and the Viet Nam War protests. She shared club dates and stages with Janis Joplin and knew the Baez family well, loved and left Stephen Stills before Crosby and Nash, hung out in Laurel Canyon with Joni, discovered the songs–like “Both Sides Now” and “Send in the Clowns”–that would make her albums go platinum and launch careers for a few songwriters. She wrote her own haunting music, found a lifelong voice teacher in the apartment next door to hers on the Upper West Side, tried and failed to keep her son safe from the family curse of drinking and addiction that would eventually take his life.

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes is a riff on Stills’ “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” that he wrote when Collins was leaving him for Stacy Keach. It gets a little hard to keep up with her—but the dish on the Greenwich Village coffeehouse scene, the beginnings of Elektra Records, the jam sessions that turn into memorable hits, the endless travel, the hook-ups and the break-ups are an intimate glimpse of the world behind the album covers and the footlights. I was exasperated at the excuses for the incessant high-risk drinking but it was an accurate portrait of a drinker’s life—not a pretty picture. I was happy she managed to sort it out, kick the addiction and find a committed, healthy long term relationship. The sorrow of a son lost, the friendships that survived those rocky, heady early years, the lyrical music are all in this book—with a few black and white photos for nostalgia buffs and more tour itineraries than even the staunchest fan will be able to keep track of.         

 Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music    Judy Collins | Crown  2011