The Ralph Macchio Guide to Blowing Your Audience Away
Lessons learned from “Crossroads”
All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the guitar duel scene in Crossroads:
Playing a game to wait out the world. I’ve never been a competitive person. It’s simply not in my blood. I don’t play to win, I play to keep the game going. And yet, I believe competition is human and healthy and necessary for the advancement of our society. Hell, without competition, we’d still be using car phones. In fact, when it comes to the world of business, it’s economically healthy to assume that every brand has competition. Even if it’s theoretical. Because despite the originality of any given product, and despite its creator’s myopic quest to become a category of one, there’s still the topography in which that business operates. The economy and the culture and the marketplace and the industry surrounding the product. That’s a form of competition too. Because each of those factors affect a brand’s ability to win new business. The frustrating part is, it’s mostly a matter of timing. It’s what the market will bear. A company might have the most interesting and memorable and valuable product in the world, but if that world isn’t ready for it, they’re toast. Amazon has been around for twenty years, but didn’t turn a profit for the first six. And only recently have they truly hit a stride technologically. Because in the mid nineties, the world wasn’t ready for them. Bezos, however, wasn’t in a rush. He learned that the internet was growing at two thousand percent a year, and decided to be the one to make a fortune from that phenomenon. And all he had to do was stick it out. Will you still be around when the world is finally ready for you?
They never aim some creativity at understanding yourself. Eugene has one chance to show up at the concert and win the guitar duel. If he achieves victory against the ringer, then his mentor gets his soul back. But if he loses, both he and his friend forfeit their souls to the devil. Well then. That’s one way to motivate yourself. And yet, it works. Eugene wins the battle by falling back on his classical training, performance a style that his rockstar opponent can’t match. And that’s the key. He returns to his roots. He identifies what’s already true for him, which makes it easy to tap into his native endowments of creativity, motivation and inspiration. And he blows the crowd away. Totally underrated strategy. One that many artists overlook. Because we forget to reserve a portion of our creativity to understand our own process. We forget that our identity is a real project with real needs. And as a result, the more mysterious our creative process becomes for us, the greater our fear is that the well will to run dry. It’s like sexual impotence. The more pressure we put on ourselves around the anxiety to perform, the less likely we are to score. But the reality is, it’s not as mysterious as make it out to be. Despite our most romantic proclamations, the creative process is more mechanical than it is magical. It’s more clerical than it is cosmic. Which isn’t to say higher forces can’t come to our aid. They can and they will. But they’re notoriously unreliable. And if we have any intention of becoming prolific in our art, we have to confront the realities of our creative inclinations and work from there. What would it take for you to move from being in a struggle to being easy and natural?
Soul is more important than talent. Taylor wrote a fascinating article about the future of music. How the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of soul an artist has bled into a body of work. And how people are only buying the albums that hit them like an arrow through the heart. Couldn’t agree more. That’s why I believe soul is more important than talent. Julliard is a fine institution, but the only art lesson worth taking is learning how to hang your balls out there. That’s why the audience shows up. That’s why people pay the price of admission. To get their faces melted off. To watch someone walk on stage and eat the scenery alive. Nothing against taking lessons, but why waste time on precision and ability and accuracy when we could deliver honesty and soulfulness and grit? People forgive a few off key notes if they see your heart in your mouth. Henry Rollins proudly admits he has no talent whatsoever, but he does have enthusiasm, tenacity, desperation and a real desire to not let people down. And that guy has millions of dollars, millions of fans and one hell of an interesting life. Perhaps instead of learning scales and mastering strokes, art students should learn how get up in front of people and crack themselves open. Are you creating from the soul, or from what the marketplace wants?
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