Went to sleep last night, worked as hard as I can,
Bring home my money, you take my money, give it to another man.
I should have quit you, baby, such a long time ago.
I wouldn't be here with all my troubles, down on this killing floor.
LED ZEPPELIN, The Lemon Song
Fans of the Beatles debate who is their favorite Beatle until it devolves into a battle of Lennon vs. McCartney. I am more of a McCartney guy, but if my wife finds out, she will have my hide because she loves Lennon. My reasons for liking McCartney are different than most people's reasons, but they are the same reasons my favorite Zep member is John Paul Jones. I will elaborate.
If you ask people who the best rock vocalist is, you would see Robert Plant at the top of the list along with guys like Roger Daltrey, Freddie Mercury, and Bono. If you talk about greatest rock drummers, Neil Peart takes the top spot. John Bonham would be the number two guy. Then, with guitarists, Jimmy Page would be in the top five along with Hendrix, Clapton, Beck, and Van Halen. Led Zeppelin had a surplus of pure natural talent. Most bands are lucky to have just one or two stellar talents, and they usually end up fighting as egos clash. Then, there is John Paul Jones.
John Paul Jones is one of the most underrated bassists of all time. He never gets his due as most people think of Entwistle, Clarke, and Pistorius when the debate comes up. But I can tell you that JPJ was not the best on the instrument though he is definitely good even to this day. Basically, John Paul Jones was the blue collar member of Led Zeppelin. He did not care to shine out but preferred riding in the back seat. Yet, his humility hides a man of many abilities. Jones is a multi-instrumentalist playing bass, keyboards, mandolin, steel guitar, and on and on. Paul McCartney played much the same role in the Beatles. In addition, Jones has played more sessions with various artists and groups than a person can count, made string arrangements, produced records, and on and on. He brought a variety to Led Zeppelin than made them more than just a proto-heavy metal band. Jones is the type of guy who makes everyone and everything around him better.
Do I identify with Jonesy? Absolutely. The guy does many things well and is still married to the same woman after all these years. They were wed in 1967. For rock musicians, that is an amazing feat. Plus, Jones has a considerable net worth he has not squandered. But the one thing Jones has which is rare even among the hoi polloi is humility. I can't say McCartney was humble.
The blue collar theme is one I touch on regularly here at the C-blog. Saying that someone is "blue collar" is the highest compliment that I can pay to them. Conversely, the worst insult I can lay on someone is that they are "talented." I have a real love/hate relationship with talent.
People who have talent tend to have that one thing and nothing else. Talented people tend to be arrogant and lazy. In my years of listening to music, reading books, and watching sports, I have learned that talent is not the same as virtue. It is rare when you find talent and virtue in the same individual. When you do find them together, you get a Michelangelo, a Michael Jordan, or a William Shakespeare. Most of the time, you get a guy like Babe Ruth who was a fat slob, a bad human being, and a guy who could really knock the hell out of a baseball.
Talents are like diamonds. They seem rare and valuable, but this is an illusion. If all the mined diamonds were cut and put on the market, they would be worth about as much as table salt. The reason they are worth what they are is because the DeBeers diamond cartel locks them away in a vault and keeps them off the market. Similarly, talent is as common as those diamonds. We consider talent to be rare because of the cartels of professional entertainment and sports who select and make "rare" the many talents that exist. Now, thanks to YouTube and the internet, you discover just how ordinary extraordinary talent is. Just this weekend, I looked at the art and drawings of a young man that I found had great talent on par with what you see in animation and comic books, but I also admit that I have lost count of the number of people I have met who have the same level of talent.
It is sort of depressing to realize the common nature of what we think of as uncommon. Just when you think you are the hottest guitarist in the world, a Hendrix comes along to blow you away. And, then when you think Hendrix is a god among mortals, there will be a 12-year-old kid on YouTube who can play every one of Jimi's songs note for note. Greatness is an illusion.
I think about this when it comes to my writing. I admit that I have a talent for it though I'm not Shakespeare. I know this because people tell me this. I don't know it because this is just how I write. It's like having an accent. You don't realize you have one until people tell you that you sound like a Southern hick.
The ubiquity of talent is what makes me want to quit writing. I didn't care before because it was a marignally better use of my time than doing what I normally would do during that time which is watching television. But my time has become more precious these days, and I can think of better things to do than write blog posts that no one reads. I can think of some reasons to keep writing, but none of them are good. Here, I will list them:
1. You don't want to waste your talent.
Talent is wasted every day. It is not precious. No one ever tells someone to not waste their talent as a janitor. It always involves athletics and entertainment. This is because those things pay very well for a select minority of people. With writing, it doesn't pay well even for the ones who do make it on the bestseller list. It's like playing a lottery where the grand prize is free lottery tickets for life. As for the Parable of the Talents, I think it has been misinterpreted. I think the talents in the parable refer to grace and not necessarily a skill or ability to do something well. It is a variation of the commands to be fruitful which we know are the fruits of the Spirit. Being able to dunk a basketball is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
2. It is great for mental health.
Writing a journal helps to work through personal issues. It forces you to think. But you don't necessarily have to publish a blog when you can just buy a notebook and write your thoughts in it. Yet, I can make the case that prayer and being outside for a walk have great salutary effects on one's mental state. The problem is that I am lax on doing those things because I spend so much time writing.
3. You might change the world with your writing.
If my writing ever had any real return, this is the one I desire most. There's a reason I spend so much time writing about religion, politics, and philosophy. I spend my time in the deep end of the pool because I think it might make the world a better place or help someone. The problem is that no one actually reads what I have written. I have no new ideas but old ideas expressed in my individual way. The greatest book ever written is the Holy Bible, but it is obvious to me that no one reads that thing.
These are some fairly dubious reasons for staying in the writing game. I can think of two really good reasons to quit writing. The first is that not writing would return my time to me. The second is that writing is a vanity that feeds the ego much like people spread their lives all over Facebook. The number one reason people put so much time, money, and energy into Facebooking, blogging, vlogging, and making YouTube videos is that they want the world to know and recognize them as special snowflakes. The internet allows anyone the chance to become famous even if it is just a viral video forgotten by the end of the week.
I watch a couple who do vegan videos on YouTube, and this has become a big deal for them. But their main gig is being a band. He plays instruments, and she sings. They are both talented and unique. Yet, their music is unexceptional. I hate to tell people things like this because it bruises the ego. This isn't to say they are bad. It is to say that they are wasting their time. By the same token, I have to say that I am wasting my time because my talents and creations are on the same level as theirs.
I admit that the world would be less without Michelangelo's David, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and Bach's concertos. It would be sad if any of those men threw in the towel before completing those masterpieces. And that is the thing. Talent is common as dirt. I admit that. But those stupendous creations are not common as dirt. They are more rare than gold. This is the difference between art and mere labor. And yes, that kid on YouTube can play Hendrix better than Hendrix, but Hendrix did it first. That kid will be a copyist until the day he dies.
The fruit of one's talent means more than having talent. The simple fact is that a guy like Bob Dylan has produced more fruit with his meager talents than some of the most talented people alive. I'd much rather listen to Blood on the Tracks than suffer through anything by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The question is not what you do. The question is what have you done. As a writer, I haven't done anything.
The promise of talent is that something great may come out of it. The reality is that most talent produces nothing remarkable. If you can't produce a David, you need to go back to chiseling stones for walls. The world always needs walls.