It is oft said that every child is possessed of boundless creative energy. The drive to create is innate. It’s the dominant mode of nearly every kid.
That is until it’s wrung out of them by parents, schools, and society. Hell, everyone knows that what this world desperately needs is more accountants, lawyers, and middle managers. So as our little creative souls age, we steer them toward more practical pursuits like business (whatever the actual fuck that is), technology, or finance. Thus supplanting the desire to create with the desire to earn.
Enter the incomparable Harry Nilsson
If you don’t know Harry, he’s our Paul McCartney. And if you’ve never taken Nilsson Schmilsson for a spin, you owe it to yourself (and your inner child) to do so—STAT!
Of course there is a documentary that I just watched: Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? which was the impetus for this little literary soiree. While I was watching, I heard his quote about indulgence, and it hit me like a good beer buzz, then a ton of bricks: I have to write about this!
As a toiling-in-obscurity artistic type (writer), I relate to pre-fame-and-fortune Harry. Before he caught his big break, he got a job at a bank, you know, to pay the bills.
He was so good at banking (whatever the actual fuck that is), he got promoted to computer operator in the late 1960s. At that point in history, he was on the bleeding edge of corporate computering. He’d eventually get promoted to night supervisor of the other poor corporate computering schlubs at the bank. To say that I uniquely relate to this man—a dude who went from corporate American icon to American musical icon—would be understating how enthralled I was with Nilsson’s arc.
Sure, the end was troubling, but the ride…
Unlike Harry Nilsson, or for that matter, Harry Holien (my grandfather), I have exactly no musical aptitude. Whereas my grandfather could play the guitar, I’d barely learned a few chords. Whereas Harry Nilsson had the voice of an angel, I have the voice of a sober Barney Gumble. For me, music is all about inspiration, not aspiration.
Where I really relate to Harry is flipping the script from paying the bills with his intellectual acumen to paying the bills with his artistic acumen. This was the inspirational turn during his interesting journey. So many, including this GenX latchkey kid, have done it the other way around. That people like Harry were able to do it the right way, the ideal way, is pretty damn hopeful—at least for a supervised computering schlub like myself.
Not that he knew it at the time, but Harry had summited with Nilsson Schmilsson. He won a Grammy, and by all accounts had reached the pinnacle of his career. Predictably, the excesses of fame eventually engulfed him as they’ve engulfed many of my heroes. But achievement is achievement. In the moment, it’s bloody glorious. If the whole thing folds into a shitshow down the line, the achievement still stands.
So how does the quote fit in here?
To me, it seems that imagination and play are the keys that unlock the door to the endless artistic landscape available at the subconscious level. Art is how kids translate the threads of wonder, beauty, and inspiration into the conscious realm.
After watching the retrospective of Harry’s life, I feel like that goes double for us jaded adults. Adulting is hard, so it’s our duty to release our inner children to play and run amuck. Doing so is our only hope to recapture that unbridled spirit that once reigned supreme and created all sorts of cool crazy shit.
“Indulgence”, in Harry’s sense, has been a contentious topic of conversation lately in my mixed up muddled up shook up world. I won’t bore you with the details, as there is really no one to bore. Seriously, no one reads this, I’m literally pissing into the wind.
Anyway, I digress.
Suffice it to say, when you approach the mid-century mark of your lifetime, you begin to evaluate everything. Then you reevaluate it. Then you bring in friends to confirm or deny you reevaluation of the original evaluation. Pretty soon, you don’t know whether to drink a box of wine by yourself, or drive straight to the nearest AA meeting. It’s just a weird period.
“Indulgence”, in a general sense, is a gateway into the creative realms. It can be nearly anything the energizes the inner child and impels it to bring new magic into the world. In Harry’s case, it was booze. In Warhol’s case, it was amphetamines. In Kerouac’s case is was booze, amphetamines, and pot. The list goes on into eternity and back again.
For me, I can quickly find myself in a frenetic creative space after throwing back a G&T or three on a weekend evening, I love that about alcohol. Music has the same effect. I love that about music. Mix the two, and I no longer have to think of what to write. Everything flips. My role shifts from writer to transcriber. The narrative begins to feed directly from my subconscious to my conscious, and I frantically type it out. I can stop thinking and just flow. It’s magnificent.
Ultimately, indulgence awakens the ghosts of childhood and opens doors to unlimited creative energy. That’s my theory anyway. Harry is right, indulgence IS an artist’s prerogative. I dare say it’s an artist’s duty.
In that spirit, I offer this inanity. It’s something my inner child dreamt up (didn’t have a hash pipe handy, so I went with something more up my alley: a tumbler of bourbon)…
…now I’m gonna go put the lime in the coconut (whatever the actual fuck that is).
© 2022 – ∞ B. Charles Donley