Watch the video below first — it’s less than 10 minutes long — and then keep on reading for my thoughts on his thoughts…
I was really a failure, like really, really, really, really, really, really, really a failure. Like, I dropped out of college to make music, but then, I stopped making music. I mean, really not even an epic failure, just sort of like a sad, pathetic failure just kind of... A real epic failure you could get behind. Like, "I tried this big thing and it failed and I lost everything." No, I just kind of frittered my years away doing nothing and being in dead-end relationships and dead-end bands and stuff. And I didn't take responsibility for much. I kind of just felt bad for myself and wondered why my life wasn't better and stuff like that.
There are different kinds of failure.
And doing nothing is the worst kind of failure.
In fact perhaps doing nothing doesn't really count as failure, because you've failed to fail at all.
And then, when I was about 26, I just realised that, "Wow, my life is not at all going the way I want it to go. This is not what I expected." I was always the youngest guy. When I was 16, I was in a band where everybody else was in their 20s and I was like this song writer and the singer. I played guitar. And I was always the kid. And then, suddenly I was like 26, I wasn't doing anything. And I was like... That just seemed like a little too old to be doing nothing. And not long after David Foster Wallace put out the book, Infinite Jest, and it really just floored, it really depressed me. 'Cause, I was like, "If I start right now...," he's older than me. But if I started right now, I wouldn't get it done in time. To be done with something right, something like that, by the time I was his age and have it come out, it's not possible.
Comparing yourself to other people is distracting at best, destructive at worst.
I do this a lot on social media.
"Oh look, they've got 20 times more Twitter followers than me... I must be doing a shit job".
Which is stupid because everyone's situation is different. (And also because social media counts are often nothing more than vanity metrics).
Some people started way before you, or from a stronger financial position, or from a more nurturing environment.
Whatever it is that you're comparing with other people, don't.
So, I don't know, I was pretty disappointed with myself, and I kinda just went... I went to a therapy basically with an amazing person who... Where I was just like, "I'm not good at my life. I'm just bad at it and I don't care what it is, I don't care what you tell me. I just wanna not do this anymore, I just need to do something else". And I started just being, realising how... I was lazy, but lazy never felt right, when I heard that, when I said it to myself. It was like, "You're lazy." It wasn't that I was lazy, I was just really afraid. I was really afraid of failing.
I know where James Murphy is coming from on this front because I have a similar frustration trying to finish my own music. I guess it's because I'm scared of people listening to it and telling me that they think that it's crap. It probably is, but I'll never know either way if I don't put it out there in the first place. So yes, I am afraid of failing too.
And the other thing is that whatever you do, there will always be people who don't like what you are doing.
The trick is simply not to pay them any attention, and focus on the people who love what you're doing instead.
Especially given that the people sniping at you (the haters and the trollers) are usually firing blanks.
All my life I'd been precocious, and like I was... I was supposed to be smart and I was supposed to be creative and I think hearing those things makes you scared that you're gonna do something stupid or do something un-interesting, and no one will see you as smart or creative anymore. I had never been given any credit for being hard-working or being diligent or anything. And so, all my credits were based on these attributes that I had no control over. Like, oh it was... It's like being tall. Like congratulations, you're tall, is nothing you can even get excited about. So, I realised that I had kind of been so afraid of failing and looking bad, that I didn't do anything, that I just did nothing. And I could claim some sort of safety in doing nothing. But then, I decided that that's pathetic and I need to work against all of my instincts and start doing things.
I've written about the importance of starting before you feel ready before.
Ultimately (and paradoxically) safety is dangerous.
So, that's where I started a record company... and built into a studio. And I started becoming aggressive and started engaging culture, which was fun. I had never really engaged culture and always been like... If there's a bunch of people in New York city who seemed cool, I would just be sour grapes about it. I'd be very, "I don't want to go to that place, it's lame, all those people in there, they think they are so cool." I just feel really bitter and I decided, "Look, why don't I just go and see if there 10% of those people are fun, just like every other 10... " 10% of every group of people are pretty alright. 90% of most groups of people are kinda terrible. But 10%, so, I started going to different types of things and meeting different people and started throwing parties. And all of a sudden I was kind of cool, which I... I had never been in New York. I'd just always been a total not even an outsider, just like sort of a nobody, just sort of invisible, sad and kind of shy.
I'm sure that James didn't really become cool overnight by simply hanging out with people who were already cool, and that his music making skills opened a lot of doors for him.
But there's a lot to be said for seeking out people you like or admire, and spending time with them.
As Jim Rohn said: "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with".
Of course if you don't have the right kind of people people in your life already, you going to have to get them into it somehow.
Reaching out and making these new connections is not something that comes naturally to a lot of people, myself included. Check out the work of Scott Dinsmore, in particular his "How to connect with anyone" series, for some great advice on this topic.
And also, and I was deejaying and I felt cool and I threw parties. And then, one night I went to go see a band and somebody else was playing the records that I was playing. Like nobody else was playing the records I was playing, that was my thing. And I got really mad, and I got really defensive and I was just like, "What the heck... That's my... Who the hell is this?" Some 22-year-old. And I got really embarrassed by being, "These aren't your records, you didn't write them. You just play them, you just own them. You can't be proud of yourself for owning them." But I was mad at the same time 'cause I was like, "No, but I know that kid was at one of my parties." And just doing... And it was like this really dense conflict that I couldn't resolve and that's kinda where Losing My Edge came from. Really just came from this, I didn't have a good answer, I was angry, but I was also really pathetic for being angry.
The main takeaway for me here is that anger is a great tool for enhancing creativity:
"Think of negative emotion as fuel that you can burn on the path to creation."
I've always shied away from engaging with my anger in the past. I've been the quiet, sensitive guy who never gets mad. But since reading this I've started to realise that stepping back from my anger has meant depriving myself of an important energy source.
And so, I made that song and everybody thought it was terrible. I remember playing it to people and they just, they would be, they give you this face like... [chuckle] It kind of like, they don't wanna say anything, and then, asking you about technical things. "Oh, what are the drums?" And you're like, "Okay, you don't like this." And only Phil Mossman, who is the original LCD guitar player was the only person, he was like, "I love this." He was older than me, I think it had something to do with age. He was just, "I really love this, this is really funny." And so, we put it out. And with... Literally the people from the label, my two partners Tim and John were just like... They afterwards said, "We just thought you're making a big mistake and you're gonna look like an idiot and we just kind of felt bad for you... " It was the B-side until the last day. It was the B-side, the B-connection until the last minute and I was like, "No, that should be the A side. That's the one that I should sink or swim with."
Again: you cannot please everyone.
But that's a good thing.
You have to take some risks and to polarise some opinions.
Well for, that's a funny thing 'cause I know how many we made and it's not that many, it's like 4000, 5000, 12-inches, which to me was a huge deal. But then, I was like... Well, it kind of, it was a song that everybody knew when I was flying around. This is also when I learned about how much people got music from the Internet. I was like, "How does everybody know this thing?" It's like, "We've only sold 4000 copies of it." That's to stores. Let alone... Clearly, some of them haven't gone home with people. But then, I started meeting people. That's when I started making friends and meeting people that were other musicians and it was just kind of the story... Partially the story of their lives too. Like I met the Optimo guys from Glasgow, very early on. And they were just like, "Yeah, it just kind of felt like this is all our lives." Kind of this sad, wondering what to do with yourself kind of period of time.
Here's to the art of being lost — which is a tough thing to do — because as James points out, it often makes you feel like shit.
Then, I had a job. It was the first time I had made... It was the first time, I had made music in my whole life, it was the first time I made music that was... Well, I wasn't trying to be another thing than I thought I'm supposed to be. But I was just trying to actually be as much myself as I possibly could. Like the first time, I'd ever done that. And it was... And I was actually rewarded for it, which was remarkable, actually people were liking it. And so, that was a big change to me and I've become... And since then, I've become a really intense proponent of my friends. I'm really... Now, it's been so long and I'm really hard-working and I'm effective and I make good decisions and I'm very... I'm reliable.
If you do what you love, things will click into place.
So don't try to be anyone else.
Be yourself, be kind to yourself, and good things will happen.