Recently, I read a blog whose author indicated right off the bat the post to follow was more for them than for the reader. Reading that reminded me of a post rattling around in my brain which never got out into the Ether until now.
This site you are reading. My space. Am I blogging primarily for those of you who read it…or am I really, honestly creating first and foremost for myself?
Neil Gaiman, a legend in the land of comic books and who possesses the brilliant mind behind “The Sandman” , was interviewed earlier this year by the New York Times before the Sandman adaptation series debuted on Netflix. I thought he provided a very interesting take on what audiences want, and how a writer makes a decision to write for oneself, or one’s audience.
“Sandman has been huge, but it was never huge when it was coming out. Since then it has gone on to become this ridiculous steady seller because new people are always finding it when they’re 16, 18, 22 years old. They find it, and it’s their comic. It’s their story. I didn’t get to that by going, “I will please my audience.” But audiences do want more of the last thing that they liked. That’s how audiences work. They say, “Hey, I love this strawberry ice cream. Can I have more?” In response to that, I can do one of two things. I can give them more strawberry ice cream. If I do that, I am doomed to give them strawberry ice cream for as long as I do this thing, and I will hate myself. Or I can go, “Nobody is clamoring for chocolate ice cream. Nobody even knows they like chocolate ice cream. However, I want to do chocolate ice cream next. So why don’t I do chocolate ice cream and keep my own interest up?” It’s how the entirety of my writing career has gone.”
Gaiman went on…“I’ll use another analogy. Years ago, my friend Teresa Nielsen Hayden said some authors are dolphins, and some are otters. You can train a dolphin. Give a dolphin a fish if it does a trick, and it will do that trick again. Otters are untrainable. They’ll do something, and you give them a fish, and then they’ll do something else. Because, why would they do the thing they already did? I tend to be an otter.”
One of the things I hope readers like is when you see there’s a new post here you’ll wonder what I’ve written about this time around. Subjects come to my mind from multiple, unpredictable directions. In the context of Gaiman’s observations above, I think I am very much Team Otter. My writing is true to my nature, and I am very much creating what I want. Of course, I also hope each of you thinks your time is well-spent…and you’ll enjoy what you find. That’s a cherished bonus.
However, one scenario where I lean into Team Dolphin is with regard to any sports-related posts. I believe a number of readers here have little or no interest in sports. Hell, over the years I’VE started to care less about sports which I never, ever thought I’d type out. But when I do write something about sports these days, I admittedly do try to craft those posts in such a way they will also be amusing and/or informative and/or entertaining to non-sports fans.
A new documentary on the life and times of the late music legend David Bowie is currently playing in theatres titled “Moonage Daydream,” directed by Brett Morgen. Madison Bloom from the website Pitchfork wrote about one segment of this film where Bowie reveals how he felt about the time he had his most lucrative success, following the release of his 1983 album “Let’s Dance.”
“At one point, Morgen slips in early footage of Ziggy Stardust (Bowie) singing “Rock n’ Roll Suicide.” He then splices it with ‘80’s stadium tour footage and clips from Bowie’s Pepsi commercial with Tina Turner, which turned “Modern Love” into an embarrassing jingle for the soft drink. The director is formally commenting on the gross commercial excess of the era, if not foreshadowing Bowie’s hindsight on it. “Even though it was enormously successful, there was no growth going on at all,” Bowie says later in voiceover, admitting that he was confining himself to “what I perceived people wanted.” It is the film’s most honest moment…hearing Bowie confess that he’d betrayed his artistic nature is disarming. Knowing that this resulted in his most lucrative phase is its own meta commentary on art and commerce.”
You have to appreciate the honesty. Bowie is admitting to creating work based on what he believed audiences wanted and in doing so, felt stagnant as an artist. When Bowie released that album…writing most of the songs on it including “Modern Love”…I just assumed back then he had a natural curiosity and passion to write songs and create music within a brand-new space. In reality, it sounds like he was way more invested in writing and creating what he felt others wanted him to do.
These quotes from Gaiman and Bowie made me stop and think for a moment. Do I most often create and write for myself here…or for what I think readers would best respond to…or maybe it’s usually a little of both?
As for “Modern Love,” I hope David Bowie at least got some satisfaction knowing many people enjoyed it…regardless of his motivation.
Picture Courtesy Pinstripe Hourglass