I spent last Saturday at the DC 101 Chili Cook-off with Andrew and my 14-year-old sister, Becca (I figured that if the end of the world were to happen, listening to music and eating free chili with two of the people I love most would be a good way to go out).
Becca loves Weezer. She loves that band with the passion that many people only get for a few years in their teens. Becca’s a musician herself on piano and guitar (lucky for my dad, who had to wait a long time for a fellow musician in a daughter), has committed all the lyrics to the 100+ Weezer songs in their repertoire to memory and is learning to play as many as she can. You should hear the way she talks about Rivers Cuomo. He stood within a few inches of her at one point in their set, so she got a good look at one of her idols. The phrase, “the face of glory” came up more than twice. What amazes me is that this is her second-favorite band we’re talking about. If she ever sees her favorites live, we might need to have a stretcher handy.
One of the things that stood out to me, though, is that Becca mentioned that Rivers Cuomo has a reputation for having kind of a big head.
“He thinks he’s better than everybody,” she told me, and I heard admiration in her voice. “He’ll probably insult us when he comes onstage.”
They came onstage late, in fact, which sounds like the norm for a concert, but you need to consider that 1. the Cook-off started at 11:00 a.m. and they weren’t due onstage until 6:45 p.m., so they had plenty of time to get ready, and 2. the other bands played on time. When Weezer did saunter onstage, though, the crowd went nuts.
I meant to be annoyed at this swaggering behavior, but I found myself intrigued. Imagine the sheer confidence it takes to show up to work late, announce over a microphone that you intend to attempt to have sex with everyone present before the end of the day (as the lead singer of Panic! At the Disco did – make the announcement, that is, not necessarily follow through), and expect people to cheer? It must be exhilarating.
I’ve noticed that in general, musicians and writers and the like tend to fall in one of two camps. The first is the down-to-earth, approachable, fan-friendly type (Switchfoot and Neil Gaiman come to mind). The second is those people who know their music or writing is boss and don’t feel the need to tell a crowd that they’re looking beautiful tonight, or anything else for that matter (think of Harlan Ellison, who’s said he sees no reason for fans to expect autographs or meetings with him, that the books he’s written more than cover any obligation he may have to them).
The perk of the first camp is that I think you have a much more meaningful connection with people who like your work. Especially in an age where publishing is going through all kinds of changes and authors are expected to take a much larger role in marketing their work, I think it’s valuable to create a sense of community and connection. The other important fact to keep in mind is that people like Rivers Cuomo and Harlan Ellison earned their attitudes by virtue of a large quantity of excellent work. If I go around acting like an ass with no credit to my name, I’m just an arrogant jerk.
The perk of the second camp, though, is that I think on occasion people who do put out a lot of excellent work try so hard to be approachable and friendly that they almost end up apologizing for their success. My other sister, Elisabeth, has a tendency to downplay her accomplishments. She’s studying theater and business management, has worked on short notice and on plays that have been nominated for awards, but getting her to take a compliment can be like trying to catch a fish with your hands. Allowing yourself a certain confidence and awareness of your talents can be really empowering, and if the Weezer concert is any indication, as long as you have the talent to back it up, your fans will even embrace some swagger. I’m having fun adopting a bit of this attitude while I’m writing, complimenting myself on my word count or a sentence that comes out particularly well.
If you’re creative, do you find yourself more on the side of ultra-confidence or humble approachability? If you’re consider yourself more of a fan than an artist, do you admire arrogance in writers and musicians, or is it a turnoff?