Peter Darling writes about Jerry Garcia's guitar playing and practice. Like many other geniuses, Garcia's work ethic recevied very little media attention. Patience, practice, and persistence are boring (and difficult).
Seth Godin had an interesting post today about patience. To take his thinking one step further, I think that when you're deciding whether or not to hang in there when you're not getting anywhere (or think you're not) it all comes down to one critical moment of truth. Actually, thousands of critical moments of truth. That's where the whole problem lives.
Which brings me, of course, to Jerry Garcia.
I have been a huge Grateful Dead fan for about the last thirty years. In a way, it's why I eventually moved to the Bay Area. And as anyone who knows the Dead knows, the really transcendent player in the band was Garcia. When I was sixteen, I first heard one of his solos, and I was stunned. Lightning-fast, beautiful, and overflowing with harmonic ideas and melodies that were completely improvised and that just kept coming and coming and coming. As far as I'm concerned, the only person who can come close to him is Duane Allman.
And all the hippie schtick aside, all the drugs aside, the constant wearing of the black t-shirt aside, the thing that made Garcia Garcia was actually two things. First, an incredible natural talent. And second, he practiced ALL THE TIME.
Here's a passage from a book by Rock Scully, who managed the band for almost twenty years:
Garcia's a perfect maniac about practicing. That's his primary addiction. He's got to be playing all the time. On the road, in his hotel room, he's constantly going through his chord books, shopping for new ones when he's in New York, haunting the old music stores, scouring Brill Building music shops in an endless quest for finger exercises and chord charts … Garcia raids technical manuals that the Fender guitar company put out. Leo Fender understood better than anybody how to get the most out of your solid-body guitar. All the variations you can run on a theme, exercise books. Jerry practices all the time. Just chords upon chords upon chords, all the possible configurations for fingering and diagrams for picking.
The result is that he can play basically anything he wants beautifully, fast and creatively. Consequently, some of the Dead's best-known songs, the ones you really fall in love with if you're into the Dead, are really hard to play. One of my favorites is "Eyes of the World" — take a look at this version from 1991.
This isn't even his best, but it's still amazing. To get some sense of how amazing it is, here's a guy who's an online guitar teacher talking about how hard the song is to play. As he says, being able to play this song is why Jerry is Jerry. It's not the funny hair, or the weirdness, or the drugs. It's dedicating your life to being so good at what you do that you can just rip through a song that professional guitar players have a very hard time with. Not a lot of people know this about him, but it's true.
The kind of patience Godin writes about, and Garcia is an example of, is not some mystical quality. It's the day in and day out habit of making the right decisions thousands and thousands of times. It's little victories that, over a long time, keep adding up. Every time, if you're Garcia, you pick up your guitar and a chord book in your hotel room, and work on your fingering for an hour instead of going out and getting wrecked, is another right decision, another small step towards excellence, and success. Patience is really just making the decision not to quit over and over and over again.
One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, ‘How was the trip?’
‘It was great, Dad.’
‘Did you see how poor people live?’ the father asked.
‘Oh yeah,’ said the son.
‘So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?’ asked the father .
The son answered:
‘I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.’
The boy’s father was speechless.
Then his son added, ‘Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are.’
During WWII, Irena got permission to work in the Warsaw Ghetto, as a sanitary inspector. Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of her tool box she carried, and she carried in the back of her truck a Burlap sack (for larger kids). She also had a dog in the back, which she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in, and out of the ghetto. The soldiers of course wanted nothing to do with the dog, and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.
During her time and course of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants. She was caught, and the Nazi’s broke both her legs, and arms, and beat her severely.
Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out, and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it, and reunited the family. Most of course had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes, or adopted.
One morning, a blood vessel in Jill Bolte Taylor’s brain exploded. As a brain scientist, she realized she had a ringside seat to her own stroke. She watched as her brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, self-awareness …
Amazed to find herself alive, Taylor spent eight years recovering her ability to think, walk and talk. She has become a spokesperson for stroke recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. In her case, although the stroke damaged the left side of her brain, her recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from her right. From her home base in Indiana, she now travels the country on behalf of the Harvard Brain Bank as the "Singin’ Scientist."
While Detroit’s car companies have been whining about gas prices and bad publicity for SUVs (SUVs are among their most profitable products), Honda has been busy building cars that look like SUVs but get twice the gas mileage. The Honda Pilot was so popular, it had a waiting list.
While Africa’s economic plight gets a fair amount of worry, a little startup called Kickstart is actually doing something about it.
While you’ve been wishing for the inspiration to start something great, thousands of entrepreneurs have used the prevailing sense of uncertainty to start truly remarkable companies.
The thing is, we still live in a world that’s filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity — we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing.
So stop thinking about how crazy the times are, and start thinking about what the crazy times demand. There has never been a worse time for business as usual. Business as usual is sure to fail, sure to disappoint, sure to numb our dreams. That’s why there has never been a better time for the new. Your competitors are too afraid to spend money on new productivity tools. Your bankers have no idea where they can safely invest. Your potential employees are desperately looking for something exciting, something they feel passionate about, something they can genuinely engage in and engage with.
You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It’s never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment — just one second — to decide.
Randy Pausch is a married father of three, a very popular professor at Carnegie Mellon University—and he is dying. He is suffering from pancreatic cancer, which he says has returned after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Doctors say he has only a few months to live.
In September 2007, Randy gave a final lecture to his students at Carnegie Mellon that has since been downloaded more than a million times on the Internet. "There’s an academic tradition called the ‘Last Lecture.’ Hypothetically, if you knew you were going to die and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?" Randy says. "Well, for me, there’s an elephant in the room. And the elephant in the room, for me, it wasn’t hypothetical."