Rock the quote-part 3

Guitar I’ve been around a few smart folks in my life, but the brightest lights have often been artists, many of them of the musical variety.

Now and then I like to include some of my favorite quips and quotes from rock & roll craftsmen, especially comments relating to creativity, audacity, independent thinking, risk-taking, self-expression, inspiration, and more—which this blog pays homage to. (If you prefer business-speak, we can say disruptive innovation, brand differentiation, action bias, employee engagement, strategic agility, etc. But let's not.)

My latest batch:

    I've been imitated so well I've heard people copy my mistakes. — Jimi Hendrix

    Hendrix changed the game for guitarists, who suddenly wanted to play just like Jimi. But Hendrix didn’t become Hendrix by copying others—though he learned from the masters like Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton. If you’re duplicating, you’re not innovating—and you’re a full step behind the creators.

    I [wrote] a letter to the archdiocese who'd banned the song, “Only the Good Die Young,” asking them to ban my next record. — Billy Joel

    Negative publicity is sometimes the best kind, especially when your customers are young and your critics aren't. As a 10-year-old squirt growing up in Arlington, MA, every time Monsignor O’Gorman railed from the pulpit in St. Agnes Church against the latest rock record, I made a beeline to Farrington’s Record Store the next day to check it out. Of course the guilty faithful at St. Agnes ate up the Jansenistic* moralizing and contributed all the more heavily when the donation basket came around, so maybe the sly pastor knew what he was doing. For all I know Capitol Records might have been giving a donation too.

    It's very scary to me that people actually think we should just follow our leaders. If we can't learn from our history, we're nowhere. — Natalie Maines (Dixie Chicks)

    Bruce Springsteen had raised a similar caution: “Blind faith in your leaders…will get you killed”—while Bob Dylan had warned us about leaders and parking meters. Not an original notion of course, but worth remembering in times of indoctrination. Maines and the “uppity” Chicks built their career on iconoclasm and thumbing their noses at benighted authority. This eventually cost them their country music audience but won them a more mainstream rock acceptance—and more Grammys.

    Every day I fail at something. — Gwen Stefani

    Put this together with a Billie Joe Armstrong comment that “making mistakes is a lot better than not doing anything,” and you get the picture. “Fail fast” and “fail often” are business mantras because in order to accomplish things you have to take risks and actually DO stuff.

    No one managed to destroy more with less. — John Leland

    This is a critique of the Sex Pistols by a rock journalist not a musician, but it captures the ability of rock & roll to demolish convention and conformity (while it dismisses the Pistols’ musical talent).

    As a rock star, I have two instincts, I want to have fun, and I want to change the world. I have a chance to do both. — Bono

    it's hard to make a difference in the world unless you bring fun, passion, and inspiration to the job. Business often forgets this. There are too many demoralized denizens of dull workplaces. But if you’re up to something big and if you’re completely engaged in it, people want to be a part of it. Even customers.

And one from a non-musical artist:

    One must, from time to time, attempt things beyond one's capacity. — Renoir

    Human beings need to be challenged. If you set an inspiring goal that's bigger than you and your individual ability to achieve it, you'll have to operate in ways you never thought possible.

To view my previous post on rock & roll quotes, click here.


*Jansenism is a mutant virus of Catholic thought that believes in the utter depravity of the human condition. In some cases rock & roll has been an antidote to this affliction. In other cases, however, it seems to provide evidence for it.

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  1. It's legitimate when you're learning any new craft to copy the masters until you develop your own technique, style, method. Hendrix probably learned to play Albert King licks note by note when he was starting out. Imitating and copying get a bad rap.

    1. Hendrix was a grand synthesizer, like so many of the greats. He nicked (copied) a lot of riffs, but from a variety of sources. The trick is putting together all those "borrowed" elements into a novel whole. Innovation is combinatorial.

      Apple wrote the book on this. They have always grabbed preexisting ideas and recombined them into something unique. I wrote about that here.

  2. "I won't be a rock star. I will be a legend." Freddie Mercury

    “Rock and roll is a nuclear blast of reality in a mundane world where no-one is allowed to be magnificent.” Kim Fowley

  3. This just in...Keith Richards introducing Paul McCartney at SNL 40th Anniversary show. "In the early '60's, a band came out of England that changed the world. That's enough about the Rolling Stones. Here's Paul McCartney!

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