Yesterday I was watching the film “It Might Get Loud,” which chronicles a summit of sorts between guitarists Jack White, Jimmy Paige, and The Edge. They play together, trade stories, and discuss their respective love of the instrument. Every so often, the film breaks off from this summit to focus on one of these three, and they discuss their life, and their creative process.
There were two things that The Edge said that stuck with me.
The first was when he talked about sitting down and playing chords. You don’t really know what chords is going to come next, he said. When you’re looking for ideas, the chords fall where they may.
And sometimes, The Edge said, it just isn’t there. For whatever reason, the chords form something that’s best forgotten, and then you try again, and still, the chords aren’t fitting together right.
That’s when you’re ready to give up, he said. Nothing’s coming, and you feel as if nothing ever will. You feel as if you have no talent, that whatever creative endeavor you’ve undertaken is a waste of time. You feel empty, and think that the best thing to do is just throw the whole thing away and put it behind you.
Boy, was that a great thing to hear.
So often, we look at artists from the end product of what they do. We listen to U2, and imagine the thrill that these folks much have felt when they produced such great music.
What we don’t see, though, is the song from the other side, before it’s written. We don’t see the musician struggling with chord after chord, wondering if something is going to come out of it. And even when the song comes, we don’t see the musician’s doubt as to whether it’s even worthwhile.
No, the most the musician has, when they’re sitting there alone, having finally found the chords that work, is the hesitant feeling that maybe they’re on to something.
There is something so wonderful in hearing a major artist say that. It’s so easy to look on them as superhuman, as if perfect songs flow from them like water.
Which is why it’s so great to hear one of these people say that no, they’re just like you and me. They have doubts. The suffer through days where nothing’s working.
Yet then, The Edge discussed something else that may explain why people like him have done the things they’ve done.
Yes, he said, you have times that you sit there, and nothing’s coming. You have times where yes, you feel as if all the good ideas are gone, and that it’s time to quit.
And it is that exact point that you need to keep going.
That was the part that really inspired me. It made me think of all those times that I sit here, regretting my past (which I do compulsively), thinking about how all of this has caused there to be nothing in present, and that there will never be anything else. That, The Edge said, is the time that you need to go forward, to move on—above all, those two words, to keep going—and face the next chord or set of words, with nothing but faith to keep you company.
The Edge discusses discussed fumbling through lukewarm riff after lukewarm riff, through one thing after another that wasn’t working. Then, he said, he and Bono were talking about the violence in Ireland in the 1970s. At the time, The Edge said, bombs were going off every week.
So he went back to his guitar, and thought about their conversation. Something seemed to work. He kept going.
The result was “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.”
Every master at every creative endeavor is human. They have times where there seems to be nothing, times where it feels as if every good chord, paragraph, or brush stroke is out of them, as if there is really and truly nothing left.
Yet they go onward. They wade through these feelings of worthlessness, and they struggle onward, with nothing but the faith in something good coming from the next chord, the next set of words, or the next stroke of the brush.
In other words, they all offer that advice that we should all take in the darkest times: keep going.