James Murphy and Craft

ILLUSTRATION: Twerking Hippo • ink on paper + photoshop • 5×7″

Some people read the biographies of great men and women for inspiration, but when I’ve read those same stories, I’ve rarely said to myself, “This is the person I want to be. This person’s life is inspirational.” Humanitarians? Scientists? Do-Gooders? I’m self-aware enough to see I’m more similar to Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels—there are many ways to change the world. Successful businesspeople? The Man currently occasions self-loathing and fear of corporate sociopathy. Politicians? Next. Academics? Sorry. (At the bottom of the heap might be Founders. After many years in the trenches, I’m careful to praise anyone for their irrational ideas until I understand their “ethics”—moral and work. More on this another time.)

Perhaps celebrity worship isn’t conducive to a well-rounded life; you’re following a poorly marked out path without the same lucky breaks to a false idol (and some Old Testament judgment). I’m more inclined to seek guidance and solace in the wisdom of fiction or visit my fascination upon the virtues of people I know in the here and now. That I might be fascinated by the virtue of someone who reads the biographies of great men and women starts the whole damn cycle over again.

Sometimes I feel like even following a recipe or plan is a limitation on my own agency and development. I’m going to make chocolate chip cookies, and I’m going make them my way! Don’t tell me what to do Mr. Cookie Recipe Guy. Cue some not-so-good cookies plus a host of other life mistakes, a smaller bank account than I should have, and crippling self-doubt.  There is apparent value to staying on the path and reading LifeHacker my friends.

Yet the more I learn about the musician James Murphy, former member of LCD Soundsystem, the more I feel that he merits some consideration as a source of inspiration. I’m not alone. “For a small group of people—mostly young, mostly men—LCD was the naughts,” Nick Sylvester, a music critic, told The Atlantic. “The songs described very specific emotional realities about becoming an adult and attempting to be a decent human being.”  Perhaps that’s why his influence infiltrated a wedding speech I gave as an officiant followed by my friend choosing “All My Friends” as their reception entry song. “That’s how it starts,” after all.

Yes, the LCD oeuvre is beautiful and chock full of angsty wisdom one needs as a young man, but it’s James Murphy’s approach to his artwork, literally his artistic labor, that I find to be inspirational: working in the music trenches and playing actual instruments (!) long before a big break, developing an encyclopedic knowledge of the rare curiosities of popular music, sitting through new records of bands he used to like to learn something, agreeing to random art projects (or coffee roasting) just because they’re interesting or just so they will exist, and yes, creating the mother of all drops in “Dance Yrself Clean.”

That sort of dedication to craft, not luck, inspires me to stay dedicated to whatever work is most important and interesting in my life, whether it’s this blog, my art, or even a spreadsheet. As Sylvester writes in the liner notes to “Shut Up and Play the Hits,” with LCD James was “negotiating a way to live, love, and make art honestly. Artists aren’t the only ones looking for a way around the minefield of cliché.” The act of craft can be it’s own reward. Of course, Sylvester also writes that perhaps LCD had to end because “we should all know better than to get our answers from rock stars.”

Wait, does that mean I have to start my search for inspiration again?

Tonight (10/16/14) James Murphy DJs at Public Works in San Francisco. His set in November in 2012 was the single best DJ set I’ve ever experienced live. Hope to see you there finding your own answers.