Cater To Who Matters - Not To Everyone Else
I’m reading a book called “Coal Black Mornings” by Brett Anderson, the lead singer and founder of the British band, Suede, which had their heyday in the BritPop era of the 1990s through early 2000s.
(Suede is in my Top Five bands of all time, but while popular in Britain, they’ve been largely ignored in the US. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re absolutely worth checking out - start with the first two albums.)
There’s a passage in the book where he talks about his song writing process, and writes:
I began to eschew the cliche about writing about universal experiences as I tried to do the exact opposite, convinced that the most powerful resonance was achieved through focusing on the microscopic and not the macroscopic. I wanted to record the world I saw around me, real, uncomfortable and up close: the blue plastic bag caught in the branches of the tree, the clatter and rumble of the escalator - London in all its wonderful, shitty detail.
That’s one of the reasons why I love Suede’s music so much. The pointed detail of the lyrics, the specificity of its imagery and the beauty (and brutality) of their musical landscapes, all evoked a particular atmosphere and, most importantly, particular emotions within the three to five minute canvas that was each song.
And yet, I didn’t grow up in England, I’ve never even been to Hayward’s Heath (where Anderson is from), and I certainly didn’t have the types of issues that he faced with his family growing up, or the specific life experiences he went through as he wrote those words.
But that wasn’t an issue. What mattered was that he spoke to a set of emotions that I (and almost all of us, for that matter) could easily relate to. Universal emotions of love, hate, fear, unfairness, abuse (of many kinds) that provided the paint (for better or for worse) for his (and our own respective) canvas(es). That’s what mattered. He could have generalized his lyrics, but instead, chose to throw in detail that ended up being descriptive, and evocative: “She walks in beauty like the night, Discarding her clothes in the plastic flowers…” (with liberal help from Lord Byron, of course).
And it’s a lesson for us as we do what we do. There’s often a tendency to stretch what we do, to generalize, to make it accessible to as many people as humanly possible. Even if it risks diluting our message and our offering. The false allure - really, the trap - of this “universal allure” is all enticing, but never really pays off.
We just become one of the broader lot. Easier to ignore. Easier to forget. We become the herd, instead of being the shepherd.
Instead, it’s only when we focus ruthlessly on being who we really are - with all our warts, certainly, (and perhaps, shortcomings), but also with all of our strengths and uniqueness and our own specific nuances - that we stand out. And stand apart. And own. And lead.
And isn’t that all we really want?
To be given a chance to be who we really are, who we’re meant to be?
To simply be ourselves, in all our glorious, human, beauty?