by John Pellegrini
I ran into another Genius the other day. He works at a furniture store during the day, on the loading dock, and is a musician in a local band at night. He had no idea who I was, or where I worked, and as the conversation went on, I decided that I had no intention of telling him. I forget how the conversation we had wound up with him telling me that he was in a band, but I asked him how his band was doing, since I had never heard of them. Big mistake.
"Oh, we've got a recording contract with an Independent Label," he said, emphasizing the importance of that fact with a bold speaking voice. Warning lights and sirens immediately went off in my brain. The simple fact is, kids, your Grandmother playing an accordion and farting in accompaniment could get a recording contract with an "Independent Label." All it takes is money...your money.
"We've got some stuff out right now, and it's been featured on 'KLQ (the station I work for) and xxx (our competition)," he continued, "and we're getting lots of attention from the industry." Right here I could have nailed him because I know for a fact we've never played a single song from this guy's band (I don't know if our competition has or not, and don't care). Instead, I decided to let him nail himself to the wall.
"So," I began sweetly, "you must have been a winner in the 'KLQ Hometown Rock Search (an annual event our station does as a showcase of local music with record industry reps in attendance), or one of those other band showcase events?"
"No way!" he explained, as if I was the village idiot. "Those contests are all rigged and political. They only let the bands that ass-kiss in, and never let the real talent perform." Ah, the old "Political" statement. Usually, it's the last excuse of the truly talentless, but this guy was using it as his first line of defense. Of course, the fact of the matter is that the only thing "rigged" about the contest is that the performers must have a certain degree of talent. I decided to ask about his future.
"Well, at least," I continued, "with that Independent Label deal, you'll be going to Los Angeles or New York soon?"
"Nah," our Genius replied, "there's too much crap out there and too many bands to knock off. We've decided to stay here and build our reputation so that the big labels will come to us." Good idea...after all, everyone knows this happens all the time. The major labels are always spending millions of dollars searching podunk for talent while ignoring the club scenes in the big cities where they're located. And I'm Lady Godiva. Then, without any prompting (unfortunately for me), he continued with his band's master plan.
"See, we don't play just straight rock or alternative," he stated with the authority of the most obnoxious music professor you can think of, "we're much too eclectic and far more sophisticated than the average rocker is used to." When I asked him for clarification of that statement, he became bored.
"Well, the bimbos can't dance to us, and the guys in the audience are all jealous of our musicality (a word that's only used by people who don't know anything about music), so we've realized that we won't have a lot of fans. But we don't care because we only play to please ourselves and the few special people who can appreciate what we're doing." In other words, these guys play in their parent's garage.
With that final statement, he strolled off (probably in search of people less educated in music). As it turned out, he walked away exactly 5 seconds before I was going to, so it all worked out fine.
We've read, from time to time, that the word "Genius" is overused and overrated. I disagree. I believe that "Genius" is the perfect word for describing someone like my musical friend here. Using "Genius" in its most sarcastic meaning, we find that he was ignoring conventional wisdom, sticking to his beliefs, and refusing to compromise. Unfortunately, it's making him damn near delusional.
Most of these "Geniuses" tend to believe that they are alone, or in the case of a unity such as a band, unique. This is not true. The fact is, anyone can be a "Genius." We've all met hundreds of them throughout our lives. The musician who's been this close to signing a major recording deal for the last 25 years. The writer who's got a big publishing deal ready to go but has been a book store clerk for 20 years and is still taking writing classes. The artist who's had offers from MOMA and other great institutions but has been bartending ever since they left college.
Now, I know that some really and truly talented musicians, writers, and artists do exactly that until they get their big break. But the difference between one of those and a "Genius" is immediately evident when you talk to them. The talents can actually tell you about things they've done, some early successes, and they always have something happening in their immediate future, something real, and tangible...even, dare I say it, a workable Plan Of Action. The "Genius" has nothing but excuses and blame. A conspiracy of jealousy and incompetence among their former supporters and associates is the reason why they haven't made it yet. And, of course, NOW is not the right time for them.
I just realized that I seem to be stereotyping "Geniuses" to merely the arts. How could I have been so exclusive? The fact is, "Geniuses" are all around us in every field. You'll find them right here in radio in all varieties of jobs, from part-time to full-time, from programing to sales. There are also "Geniuses" in construction, politics, finance, truck driving, marketing, advertising, journalism, the post office, even sweeping floors, and digging ditches.
Being a "Genius" doesn't require talent. In fact, the less talent you have, the greater your capacity to be a "Genius." All it takes is an overwhelming will to not become successful, combined with a titanic refusal to accept advice from those who have become successful in what you are attempting to do. Remember, as long as nobody knows your level of expertise, you will always be an expert. As long as you are never called upon to demonstrate your worth, you shall remain worth millions. By staying unproven, and untried, you can be the greatest "Genius" of all, especially if your "Genius" lies in something that you don't do for a living.
I've actually met people who have told me this gem: "I'm so funny, I could take David Letterman's job!"
"No kidding? Have you ever worked in Television or done stand up comedy?"
"Ah, you don't need to do that. You just gotta know whose ass to kiss at the Network in order to get a job like that."
In other words, David Letterman is being paid 14 million dollars a year, not because he has a program that has lots of viewers which pulls in big advertising dollars for CBS, but because he kissed someone's ass. I'll bet that all big jobs are like that. We don't elect a President Of The United States; the guy who kisses the most asses gets the job. The "Theory Of Relativity" was probably discovered through ass kissing. Everything of any major importance throughout history is probably the result of ass kissing. Who landed on the Moon? Ass Kissers. Who invented the Automobile? Ass Kissers. Who invented electricity? Ass Kissers. Who discovered gravity? Ass Kissers. Who painted the Mona Lisa? Well okay, you got me there. (Sorry, the joke was too hard to pass up.)
By now it should be obvious to anyone who's ignorant, that ass kissing is the only way to succeed in life, and true "Genius" lies in one's ability to avoid doing so, and keeping your principles (whatever they are) intact. Remember, your "Genius" is far more important than any smack of reality can be. Don't let anyone with any level of experience greater than yours tell you what to do! You and you alone know exactly what's right. Never take or accept advice. Never offer any encouragement to anyone, either, because that person will likely use it against you.
Then, in the twilight of your life, you can regale your friends and family (if you have any left at that point) with the stories of how the evil world never gave you a chance, how you could have been this or that, but the "Bastards," "Liars," and "Thieves," took all your chances away from you. You could have had it all, but it's gone and now it's too late to do anything about it. And your audience will sit patiently, nodding in sympathy, and secretly wish among themselves that you'd go senile and forget everything. Sounds like a great way to finish off your "Genius" life.
Golly, what an uplifting article!
People like my musical friend there, really piss me off. In fact, I'd like nothing better than to eliminate that entire class of society, except that I always have to remember how I used to be the same way. Yes, I too was a GENIUS. I was in a band just out of high school, and we thought we were GODS WHO WALKED THE EARTH. That's why we became so successful, and sold so many millions of records. I was also the same way when was going through my early years of radio. That's why I became the world famous morning talent that I am today.
Honestly, you wouldn't believe what I used to be like. To this very day, I'm surprised that I was only fired for my attitude once. What did it for me? What turned me around and got me to pull my head out of my posterior? Reality. The fact that you're getting absolutely nowhere is hard to ignore. Equally hard to ignore was the fact that had I kept my mouth shut and learned as I went along, I would have probably made it to a "Major" market much sooner than I did. No regrets, though. By taking longer, I met the love of my life, and found a lot of interesting life stories along the way.
What it all comes down to is this: the ego won't pay the rent. The ego won't keep the wolves from the door. The ego won't get you a job. Responsibility means having the maturity to kick your own ass when you deserve it (and recognizing when you should). Knowing what your responsibility is to yourself, and your career, and focusing your efforts toward meeting those responsibilities in a professional manner, is the method. Call it the Peter Pan syndrome if you will, all about growing up, and being a worthwhile member of humanity. Now, the ushers will pass the offering plates among you, and as we conclude our little sermon please sing hymn number....