What Mike Skinner can teach us about, well, all sorts of things

I’m reading ‘The Story of the Streets’, Mike Skinner’s autobiographical account of the rise and relative disappearance of his band.

It’s pretty interesting because Mike is perceptive, honest and incisive:

‘I think everyone who does something creative  has got some kind of flaw or insecurity that helps drive them to do what they do. As a general rule, artists value themselves quite low; that’s why they want to add value by doing things. Weaknesses often become your biggest strengths. People with no insecurities don’t tend to make very good art’

Well, he can’t speak for every great artist, but you can see where he’s coming from. Your weaknesses don’t have to involve drink, drugs or shouting, but the idea that people who strive for anything are doing so to fill a hole makes a fair bit of sense. But is it the case that the greater the weakness, the greater the striving for success? After all, if you’ve got a big hole it’s going to take more to fill it (so to speak). Makes you wonder what lies behind Charles Saatchi or John Hegarty.

‘The fundamental truth that underlies this situation (being able to get by on reputation if your work is a bit shit) is that no one can effect change independently of other people. It’s possible to trigger change – you can be the catalyst – but that change only comes about as a result of people acting according to their own free will, and no one else has any control over that. You might think governments have infinite power, but they’re pretty powerless in reality; all they can do is hope to make decisions people agree with, and then try to make it look like they should get the credit for that.’

I’d never thought of it like that. We all know that the homogenisation of politics is pretty ridiculous these days (in the first mayoral election since the riots Boris and Ken are arguing over different types of bus), but they’re all just trying to tell us what we want to hear. As much as you might disagree with many decisions the government makes, those decisions would not get by without a large chunk of the electorate approving of them. How sad.

‘The other taboo is the idea that any aspect of creativity can be taught and learnt rather than divinely decreed.’

I’ve written posts about that before: the idea that we’re all capable of acquiring 99% of anyone else’s creativity through dedication and hard work. But that doesn’t mean the opinions of planners and account people’s are necessarily worth listening to, after all, they haven’t done the work, but I’d hasten to suggest that most creatives haven’t either.

‘The success of A Grand Don’t Come For Free made me realise that there’s only one way of reaching a certain type of person, and that’s by being big. You’re just not gonna reach them by any other means… The truth is there’s a wider audience which you’ll only have a chance of connecting with once you’ve reached a certain level of recognisability. It makes no difference if what you do is perfectly calculated to appeal to them; if it doesn’t come through the right channels they won’t notice it.’

Again, not something I’d ever really thought of. Have you ever had that moment where you find a YouTube clip that’s had 600,000 views and you have no idea why or how? Or your own clip has failed to make it past 10,000 views? Well, success begets success. It’s like when there’s a surge of opinion in all the right places for the quality of an ad: that opinion then becomes the mainstream; people are less inclined to speak against it and the snowball keeps on rolling… All the way to those guys who don’t give a shit about anything until several million other people do. The world is not made of early adopters or people (like me) who can never now by Beats By Dre headphones because they are repelled by their ubiquity.

I’m only halfway through, so there may be more interesting points to come, but that’ll do for a Monday.