'You have to reject one expression of the band first, before you get to the next expression of the band. And in between you have nothing. You’ve to risk it ALL’
This is a quote from Bono of U2 from last week’s documentary on BBC4, ‘Down From The Blue Sky’, which told the story of the crisis the band faced after their ‘Rattle and Hum’ album and film, and the band they found they had become and hated. We then followed their relocation to Berlin to record ‘Achtung Baby!, the album that would redefine them for a new generation.
I’m really not a fan of U2’s music, and Bono really irritates me, but I was really fascinated by the story told in this documentary. I’m really interested in the nature of creativity, and I love reading or watching films such as this about the struggles and lengths that artist’s go to in that search for what is so often unidentifiable, personal and hard to explain, but is instantly recognisable to the artist when it decides to step out of the shadows and reveal itself: be that a painting, a song, prose etc. Bob Dylan’s ‘Chronicles’ autobiography is a brilliant read in this regard, with the absorbing section about the making of his ‘Oh Mercy’ album in New Orleans. ‘Chuck Close: A Portrait in Progress’, the film about the hugely talented and celebrated painter, is also a film I never grow tired of watching.
It’s important for any artist to face a crisis: out of this hopefully things will emerge from a much more deeply felt place. When I studied for my MA in Fine Art many years ago, it was presented to us at the start that if the course was to be a success for the students it was expected that we would go through a period of crisis: we would take apart what we were doing to try and piece it back together again in a different form. Fairly confident at this stage of what I wanted I wanted to do on the MA, I viewed this with a fair amount of scepticism. It wasn’t long however, that I was having a crisis every day. Sometimes it got so bad I would spend all morning in crisis, go for lunch, head back to the studio, and find myself head in hands facing another crisis.
This experience really equipped me with the skills to deal with the creative problems that one can face, and the many holes and dead ends you find yourself in when trying to extend yourself. They are experiences I’ve also drawn upon in moments of more personal crisis too. I’m beginning to recognise that I’ve been in a sort of crisis for nearly three years that has come to a bit of a head in these last few months. I feel in a better place conceptually with my ideas, but feel a bit like Bono in the quote at the top of this blog: I’m at a point of rejecting one form of expression, before I can get to the next one. And in between I feel I have nothing.
There are lots of problems as ever. But they are good problems to have.
(I couldn’t bring myself to illustrate this blog with a photo of Bono and U2, so I’ve included a picture of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver instead, whose own, well documented creative crises I’ve enjoyed reading about lately…and whose music I can’t get enough of lately either)