What It Takes

What It Takes

Do This

By Callie Oettinger | Published: December 23, 2016

Bruce Springsteen has a memoir out — and interviews have followed its release like B pursuing A.

During an interview for PBS’s “Newshour,” Jeffrey Brown brought up Springsteen’s voice.

Jeffrey Brown: You write about your voice. You say, about my voice, “First of all, I don’t have much of one.”

Bruce Springsteen: Yes.

Jeffrey Brown: Right? But you worked at it.

Bruce Springsteen: Initially just sounded awful, just so terribly awful, but there was nothing I could do about it. So, I just kept singing and kept singing and kept singing.

And I studied other singers, so I would learn how to phrase, and learn how to breathe. And the main thing was, I learned how to inhabit my song.

Jeffrey Brown: Which means what?

Bruce Springsteen: What you were singing about was believable and convincing, that’s the key to a great singer. A great singer has to learn how to inhabit a song. You may not be able to hit all the notes.

That’s OK. You may not have the clearest tone. You may not have the greatest range. But if you can inhabit your song, you can communicate.

Focus on that last line.

“If you can inhabit your song, you can communicate.”

Now jump to the beginning of the interview, where Brown asked Springsteen how much of him is in his songs.

Jeffrey Brown: What about that voice, though? Because in songs — I think of writers I have talked to, or poets, and there’s always the question of, how much of that is you?

Bruce Springsteen: I would say, in your memoir, it’s you.

I think that, when you’re writing your songs, there’s always a debate about whether, is that you in the song? Is it not you in the song?

Jeffrey Brown: What’s the answer?

Bruce Springsteen: So, every song has a piece of you in it, because just general regret, love. You have to basically zero in on the truth of those particular emotions.

And then you can fill it out in any character and in any circumstance that you want. If you have written really well, people will swear that it happened to you.

His answer reminded me of Steve’s recent “Use Your Real Life In Fiction” Writing Wednesdays series. Springsteen zeroes in on the real emotions — love, regret — and on the truth of those emotions he hangs lyrics that may be fiction, yet ring just as true as nonfiction.

Let’s take a quick detour to something else I read this week, “How to Build Relationships That Don’t Scale,” by John Corcoran, which closes out with “6 Tips for How You Can Build “Unscaleable” Relationships.”

The relationships the tips are focused on helping you achieve aren’t the Facebook friends who like everything you post but never buy your book. I’m talking about the neighbor who remembers your kid’s birthday every year, or the friend who buys your new books (who never asks for freebies), or the secretary at the doctor’s office who slips you in with the doc before everyone else in the cramped Friday afternoon waiting room. I’m talking about the people who have a connection with you — who like you and what you’re doing — and want to support you and your work.

Now take Corcoran’s tips and combine them with Springsteen’s advice about inhabiting and finding the truth. What you get at the end of the baking time is the one thing you need (other than a superb creation) to share your work.

You get a message that people buy into and want to share.

Look at what I’m doing here. I’m sharing Springsteen’s interview because I respect his honesty and work. I like that he tells the truth, that he shares what he’s experienced – and then there’s his work code and creativity. I’m sharing Corcoran’s post because 1) it’s good and 2) it’s on the Art of Manliness site, which I bought into years ago because I respect its founders Brett and Kate McKay.

One last stop for this thought train: James Altucher’s Facebook post “Be A Person Not A Personal Brand.”

Don’t be a book or a film or a tube of toothpaste. Focus on the person not the product.

And if you’re still trying to sort out you (as most of us are), consider trying on some of the things that made Springsteen “The Boss.” You might find that you like how they fit, too.

Posted in What It Takes

12 Responses to “Do This”

  1. Mary Doyle
    December 23, 2016 at 6:16 am

    Thanks for this Callie – it’s a great tie-in with Steve’s recent series. It’s good to have you back!

  2. December 23, 2016 at 7:22 am

    Thanks for writing and for linking to the article about building relationships. There are good points in there like talk to everyone. I find that so helpful and I’d add to it by saying share what you are interested in, working on as well as what you see they are interested in and working on.

  3. December 23, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Love this article and the notion of “inhabiting” your work.

  4. Jerry Ellis
    December 23, 2016 at 7:44 am

    Nice, Callie! I’d say more but, of course, I must inhibit my song. Happy Holidays.

  5. Barbara
    December 23, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Wow, Callie!
    You serve up such an array of holiday gifts — Bruce and The Art of Manliness (post and site and podcast) and Steve’s and your great posts. Thanks for giving us a sweet Friday morning start.
    Happy Holidays to you!

  6. December 23, 2016 at 8:17 am

    I liked the Altucher post. And yours. Thanks, Callie.

  7. December 23, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    I was just wondering if you’d gone on a month vacation to the Bahamas or something…

    Regretfully, I’m not yet competent enough of a writer to explain the impact this post has on me at this very moment, and what it reinforces about my own art and life, but I’m working on becoming one.

    As to how to reach out and become friends (or friendly) with people, I’m a master at that, in fact, the only comparable social skill I have is making enemies.

    Seems those skills are married within me.

    So in January my established goal is to get inside the Top 100 on Amazon’s overall ebook best seller list, without using a paid marketing plan of adverts or an email list (as I don’t have one).

    The method will be partially based upon principles touched on here, so if it works, well…

    There you go. If not, well lessons learned, which ain’t a bad thing, losing, in fact, all my most important lessons have come from failure.

    Hope your holidays are great.

    • Jerry Ellis
      December 24, 2016 at 3:50 am

      What a well written, open, and revealing response to Callie. I especially note that making friends and enemies was one of your strong skills, talents. Hope your writing is going well–hitting that top 100 mark at the notorious Amazon. One of my several published books is often in the top 100 in its category. Yesterday, it was # 63. Happy Holidays, Michael.

  8. December 23, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    Reading this was a funny experience for me, a completed circle of sorts. One element of all of this goes back to an essay I read when first it was published online, “Do Things that Don’t Scale” by Paul Graham. When he published it, I was in my second year as a fashion photographer, albeit a hobbyist and aspiring professional. While my art is fashion photography, my current career is as a mathematician/research analyst. PG’s essays are top notch because he’s a top notch person.

    PG’s essay was important to me as one of the most frustrating things with photography is that it doesn’t scale. I’m used to developing algorithms that will run at a nominal speed, but then I make them go 100 or more times faster. That really is “times”, not percent. That’s scaling. One job scaled by 720 times, a 180 hour job I made run in 15 minutes. It would be like doing a month of weddings in 15 minutes. Photography doesn’t scale. I love photography anyway, and I’m giving voice to what I see and what I want to create.

    Callie, from your essay here, the key for me was:

    “Focus on that last line.

    ‘If you can inhabit your song, you can communicate.'”

    I inhabit my photography. What you helped me do was to recognize I actually do that, and that I need to do it more. It’s validation.

    Thank you!

    • Jerry Ellis
      December 24, 2016 at 4:03 am

      WOW, Graham! Your response to Callie is perhaps the most fascinating I have read from anyone on this site, to Callie or even Steven himself. Your scaling story hit a deep nerve for me because it relates to my 11th book, Last Living Love Story. One of its major themes is Seeing, how certain people can process visually many times faster than other aspiring viewers. As to WHY some people can’t See certain things at all, both literally and metaphorically, I reveal in the novel via new Dna science. What connects all Artists? I also love photography and have taken thousands of pictures the past fifteen years living in Rome every spring and fall. Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for all your creative, as well as bread and butter, pursuits!

  9. January 2, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    The Virtues of War was the best book I have ever read.
    Thank you for your work on this masterpiece.
    Tom Green