Hard Work vs. Magic

I’m obsessed with knowing how things work. More specifically, I love knowing how people work — how they do their jobs, what their creative process is, what their working environments are like, and what challenges they face. I’m especially fascinated when it comes to learning more about how writers and artists produce whatever it is their particular craft might be.

When you hold a book in your hand — or view a painting, watch a movie, or listen to music — you’re seeing only one part of a story — and usually it’s only the last chapter, ripped from the book and handed to you as the Complete Story. That bit of creative misdirection means that you’re seeing only what the artist wanted you to see. The artist who produced that painting you’re looking at, for example, doesn’t really want you to know or care where he bought the canvas, who he scrounged the paints off of, what room he painted in, or that his mother always wanted him to be chef instead of a painter. The art itself — which is the end result of the creative process — is meant to be the statement; the rest is insignificant.

I tend to disagree with that. The biographer in me can’t help but wonder how people were working and living their lives, even as they were creating their art.

I love knowing what goes on behind the scenes. I love visiting the homes of famous writers, artists, or politicians, for instance, and soaking up the atmosphere where they lived and worked. I enjoy poring through journals, letters, records and receipts, fascinated with what people write in the places where they believe no one will ever be looking. I’m one of those annoying people who watches every single “Behind The Scenes” or “Making of…” feature on a DVD, so I can see the interviews with the cast and crew, writer and director.

Creating art is hard work. And I think that hard work deserves to be explored and celebrated — especially when it makes for such a good story.

Let me give you an example.

I’ve always been intrigued by the Beach Boys. It’s not so much their music, which I’m not interested in much beyond what you might find on a typical greatest hits CD; rather, I’m fascinated by the relationship and creative dynamic between the Wilson brothers and their overbearing father, Murry. While I’ve not yet been able to find a biography of the group that truly rises to my expectations in this regard (the last one I read, Catch A Wave, was, I thought rather flat), I recently came across a primary source that’s even better: forty minutes of open audio from a 1965 Beach Boys recording session, when the early takes of “Help Me, Rhonda” are broken up by the entry of a drunken, sometimes angry, sometimes weepy, but almost always abusive Murry Wilson.

Murry proceeds to take over the session, berating the singing of Al Jardine — who’s singing his guts out — and lecturing Brian Wilson on sacrifice and hard work (“I’m a genius, too!” Murray testily proclaims). At one point, Murry and Brian can be heard scuffling over the controls, as Murry tries to turn off the recording equipment and Brian — thankfully — manages to leave the tape rolling.

It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes, and makes you appreciate even more just how difficult it must have been for Brian Wilson to produce . . . well, anything. More than anything, you can see that Brian Wilson didn’t create great music through magic; it was, for more than just a few reasons, hard work.

If I’ve peaked your curiosity, don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging. Courtesy of WFMU, then, here’s the full 40-minute version of the January 8, 1965 Beach Boys recording session. If you don’t have 40 minutes, here’s a highlight reel.

As an added bonus, here’s the first installment of Peter Bagge’s The Murry Wilson Show:

Part 2 is here, 3 is here, and part 4 is here.

My point is, sometimes what’s going on behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain is just as interesting as the final product itself — provided, of course, that you really want to look. But you tell me: Does that peek behind the scenes take something away from the final product? In other words, is the magic gone at that point? Or does knowing of all the hard work that went into it make you appreciate the final product that much more?

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4 responses to “Hard Work vs. Magic

  1. I like knowing background and ‘real life’ stories behind art. If you look at the Book of Kells it amazes you, but when you’ve learned what they went through to mix those inks, put the book together, and at times even survive, it makes the work positively astounding.

    Those ‘making of’ sections on DVDs are addicting!

    Great question; I enjoyed this post. Glad to find you.

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  2. Brian Jay Jones

    Thank you, Susan, for the comment, and for the great info on the Book of Kells. I agree, it makes the accomplishment all the more impressive (and awe-inspiring) when you see what kind of work went into it. It didn’t just drop from the skies!

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  3. Josephine Damian

    I love the background stuff and the behind the scenes features on DVDs. I love seeing that these artists struggle and have doubts, just like me.

    Make sure to tune in to the JD blog where you’ll see that you did something that Agatha Christie could not: Make all time 100 favorite books list.

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  4. Josephine Damian

    Oops: Forgot to mention that post drops on 10/30.

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