Sometimes, doing what you like comes with a price. The price of loneliness, the price of ridicule, the price of just plain obscurity. But great achievement, great art, isn’t about doing what other people want you to do or making stuff just to make money. It’s about listening to that inner voice and following it wherever it leads…
Which brings us to today’s post. I’ve written about following this voice before (writing that story that burns in your belly), but today I want to follow up with a couple of concrete examples of two guys who did (or are doing) just that. The particular way they are doing it is unique, but not super important: They both took disparate, contrasting things that people felt shouldn’t work together and showed how the could be fused together, beautifully.
The Kid from the East: Avicenna
I have been doing a lot of research on medieval Islamic philosophy lately, so I have dug deeper into this guy named Avicenna. Avicenna (from the Persian
ibn Sina) was a young Persian from way back East in what’s now Uzbekistan, at at time when most philosophers were Arabs (preferably from Baghdad). But he had natural talents which couldn’t be ignored. He was able to master mathematics, theology, medicine at a young age becoming
a practicing physician at 18. Soon, he was drawn into the orbit of philosophy. He soon discovered the works of Aristotle, Plato and early Islamic philosophers like al-Kindi. He also discovered the Neo-Platonic school which fused Aristotle, Plato and other influences.
Now, many people at this time thought that Islam and Greek philosophy were completely incompatible. Many felt that the Neo-Platonic philosophy of the ancient, pagan Greeks would never be compatible with a monotheistic faith like Islam. But Avicenna, crazy and talented, thought otherwise.
At some point, he must have realized that the High God of the late pagans was not too different from the Islamic conception of God. Avicenna especially found the NeoPlatonic theory of emanation fit nicely with Islamic theology.
And so, over a long career he lectured, wrote books and developed his own “Avicennan system” which became (as I understand it), the most influential philosophical system in Muslim countries down to the present. And it had a huge influence on the Western philosophers like Thomas Aquinas.
In his own time, Avicenna put together something most people never thought would work together and turned into a piece of global culture. But it wasn’t the first, or the last time, that someone did something like that.
The Man from the ATL: 2 Chainz
Speed up to the modern day and there are things most people think would never—or should never—work together. Until the right person comes along, mixes them in just the right proportion and “Bam!” ….A few years later it seems like it was always meant to be.
For example, what, I asked myself, would you get it if you combined: the ominous mood of Renaissance music, Electronic Dance Music sound effects and hip-hop beats? A hot mess, right? Yeah, I thought so.
But somehow, under the right hands, it all comes together.
Case in point, this guy from Atlanta, 2 Chainz. When, I first heard his stuff, that ominous, heavy sound, that sort of lilting piano melody backed up with beats and rhymes…I thought, “Wow, this is different.” Now, he’s not the first to do this (I wouldn’t claim to know who invented this genre!), but he has be doing this style of music for awhile. And the whole time he was making music, he didn’t care if anyone was listening, or coming to his concerts or buying his records. He just wanted to write and play the music and sound he heard in his head. And soon more and more people heard it, started coming to his concerts and buying his records. Including me. And now, it’s as if nothing was ever any different.
We’re the pop stars. Trap rap is pop now. People’s ears have adjusted to what we have to say and how we say it.
And there you have it. Another piece of (soon-to-be) global culture, that most people never saw coming—although all the elements were in plain sight.
What It Means for Cultural Consumers and Creators
I think the bottom line is that consumers and creators of culture have to be open to new things. Now, labels, to an extent, can be good. Going to a bookstore and looking up NeoPlatonic philosophy (if that’s what you dig), can lead you to more good stuff. And streaming Hip-Hop (if that’s your thing), can lead you to more good stuff, too.
But, as a Consumer, to really discover wholly new stuff, you have to dive into a different unknown label. Or maybe turn to a sound or a writer without having any idea who they are. I realize I have a problem with this, but I’m trying to quiet down, look and listen to new stuff more. I spent years researching and reading Islamic philosophy before I realized it was based on a thing called NeoPlatonic philosophy. I’ve been listening to new hip-hop for months, before I realized it was labeled “trap music.”
And as a Creator, I have to take those things I like and mix them up, without worrying what others think. For example, I like Victorian Sci-Fi and philosophical-fantasy adventure. (I’m going for a tone now in my latest piece that merges a Platonic dialogue with The Three Musketeers.) Point is, whatever it is, if you’re driven to write something, that’s the path you have to go down. Other people, later, will be there to label what you create. Don’t worry about that, Friend. That’s their job, not yours.
If you do it well—and if you do it long enough, like Avicenna and 2 Chainz—they will come to you with their labels and their analysis and their weights and measures. That’s up to them, not you. Your job is in the creating.
Get out there and do it.