Paul was never my favorite. I liked John. Wanted to be John. And sometimes I was John late into party nights. As I recall, nearly every one of those occasions was later regretted.
After the Beatles broke up, Paul set up Wings, and while it was never one of my favorite bands, with a few exceptions, it was one of the world’s most popular and biggest earning rock acts for years. Paul fronted it, and his wife Linda costarred as a singer.
Linda was not, technically, the best or even the most interesting voice in the rock business. Critics constantly charged Paul with keeping her in the group simply because they were married. You’re right, said Paul. So what, said Paul. I love her and the whole idea is to have fun and make music together and make people happy, said Paul. You don’t like her, don’t buy tickets or albums.
For Paul, Linda was an essential part of the pure pleasure of creating something artistic, of making music for the sheer joy of it. Those who like it, like it, said Paul, and other people will like something else. I’m not trying to make the most number of people like me, said Paul, I’m trying to make music for some people.
I was thinking of this because I was reading Kurt Vonnegut on a plane to Canada recently, and Vonnegut says this:
Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.
So, you say, I can’t write like that or paint or dance. To the critic, much of your artistic output might be what they would call bad. As in “Man, that’s awful. This guy’s not a writer/artist, that’s for sure.” The problem with this thinking is in the critic’s definition of writer/artist. Paul could not have found a “better” singer because he was the guy defining “better.” As long as you and your friends and family are the ones enjoying what you create, critics shouldn’t mean any more to you than bugs on a windshield.
We usually only confer the title of artist or writer on someone if they sell something. But that’s simply a snobby restriction. Vincent van Gogh sold virtually none of his paintings while he was alive, but when he could, he kept painting. He painted for himself. He created what he wanted to create. Success or failure was something that would follow. Or not.
Pen and paper (or these days a laptop, I suppose) gives you a chance to show something of what you feel, what makes you tick, what makes you laugh, what makes you angry, what you think of yourself and of others. It lets you communicate with people in ways that everyday language routines and rituals do not. Don’t let other people be your inner voice.
Let out what’s inside because it is yours alone and completely unique. Sometimes we’ll let a stand-up comic find a vent for our anger, or sometimes a movie star says things we would like to say. We point to them and say, “That’s what I mean.” They may come close, but it’s not the same.
My guess is that if you try to put pen to paper or brush to canvas, you’ll find yourself drawing on hidden corners of your mind you haven’t used in this way before. You’ll say, “I’m trying, but I’m not much of a writer/artist,” but what you are actually saying is “This is hard.” Yep. That’s one of the reasons the final product is valuable.
For Paul, having Linda onstage singing with him made her the best singer on the planet. So give Vonnegut’s idea a try. Whatever art you produce, someone near and dear to you will enjoy it and be more moved than they ever were by any famous person. You will have told them things about yourself they might never otherwise have understood. To them, you might be the best writer/artist on the planet.