Marc Maron, WTF And The Nature Of Creativity

MaronIf you’re reading this, you’re probably a guitarist, and if you’re a guitarist, you’re probably obsessed with the creative process. I know I am. I’m endlessly fascinated by the phenomenon of creating something from nothing, and the contrast between the physical intangibility of music and the emotional impact it can have. I guess this is why I like to read musician autobiographies: it’s a little chance to see what makes a fellow creative person tick. And that’s what I take away the most from Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. Marc is a comedian (I first heard of him on Dr. Katz Professional Therapist) and his twice-weekly podcast is a wealth of discussion with creative folks – mainly comedians but also filmmakers and musicians – and it’s always enlightening.

Whether the medium you creative in is music, or comedy, or filmmaking, or writing, or whatever, we each have our story to tell and there’s something to learn from everyone’s tale. Do they do what they do for the love of art? Are they channeling some kind of inner pain into their work so they don’t have to deal with it in their head? Is it the result of trying to extract some kind of order and logic out of a screwed up worldview by imposing structure and meaning upon sound? There are so many reasons to do what we do, but the overriding impression I get from Marc’s interviews on WTF is that you can’t really create until you’ve lived. You can sure try, and I’ve been that guy who sat in his bedroom and practiced guitar for eight hours a day. But my playing never really connected with people until I got out there in front of audiences and started playing. That’s when you start to develop the language to really communicate music, rather than simply recite it. That’s when you start to create rather than reproduce.

I’m very, very much pro practice. I think you should learn your music theory. I think you should run your scales and do those boring-but-necessary finger exercises. If nothing else then I think you should do them because I had to suffer through those fucking things and I want everyone else to suffer too. But the ultimate goal should always be to create: to make music that lets others into your world and, without words, says something about the human condition (even if what you want to say at that particular moment is about bangin’ groupies or cruising around in a convertible). And to do that, you need to get out and live a bit. I was always super-shy as a teenager. I remember sitting around at age 16 thinking “Well… I’m pretty much a failure as a person, but at least I can play the solo from Crazy Train…” I missed out on a lot of living in those days – pretty much my entire teens – and when I got out of home I felt really lost. I had no idea where I fit in or who I was. These days, sure, I still feel a bit awkward around people sometimes, but I’ve learned to start saying ‘yes’ to life experiences. And as a result I feel like there’s something deeper in my music than there otherwise would have been: I’m always asking myself “What are you playing about?” If the answer is “scales and theory,” then that’s all the music will sound like. If the answer is “experiences and feelings,” the music means so much more to me. And more importantly, my life means more to me because it’s something I feel like I’m orchestrating rather than waiting for.

And that’s something I feel again and again from listening to the interviews on WTF. Most of the people Marc interviews have had some kind of big upheaval in their life, or they’ve taken a big chance without a safety net, and they’ve funnelled the immensity of that event into their creativity – whether it’s ultimately expressed in the form of a groundbreaking TV show (like Louis CK) or an acting career (like Gillian Jacobs) or music (like E of The Eels) or stand-up comedy (Dean Delray’s episode might be of particular interest to music lovers), there’s something to take away from everyone.

attempting_normalAnd of course, WTF wouldn’t happen without Marc Maron. Sure, he can come across as self-obsessed, angry and neurotic, and that’s why he works as such a good proxy for the listener. We’re all all of those things at times, I’m sure. Marc’s been through a lot. He worked as a doorman at the Comedy Store during that venue’s dark, Sam Kinison-era days (if you’d like to learn about an earlier Comedy Store era, check out the excellent I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era), he’s been through a few divorces and he overcame what sounds like a pretty serious drug habit. Aside from that stuff, he’s a cat guy, he’s a guitar player (and his playing is pretty tasty in a bluesy, rhythmic way), he’s a tubes-and-vinyl obsessive, he’s obviously a dude who likes to read – and he draws on all this stuff in his interviews, putting himself into the context of the interview from the perspective of “this is who I am, what fucked me up, and this is how I’m dealing with it. How about you?”

Marc has a new book out called Attempting Normal, and his TV show Maron has just debuted. The show’s quite good but as of this writing the season’s only one episode in so I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes once more characters are introduced and themes start to reveal themselves. I hope Marc picks up a guitar at some point during the series. But not to run through scales.