Thinking about “creativity”

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Today’s blog comes from a daily writing prompt asking “What does a typical brainstorming session for you entail? How do you get creative?” As I thought about this, it is a bit disappointing. I feel as though my creativity is lacking more than I care to admit.

When I was doing radio full time, I prepped a show every day. I was always on top of the news, I watched (or at least read about) the “hot” TV shows that people were talking about, I was tuned into local happenings, and was always writing. I carried a notebook with me to jot down observations, and things to talk about on the air. I also wrote down ideas for future shows, jokes, or bits. Today, my life basically consists of waking up, driving to work, working, driving home, sleeping – then repeat. When you don’t observe or create on a daily basis…it becomes difficult to do.

As I prepared to write this, I found some great quotes on creativity….

Creativity Quotes:

Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

Earl Nightingale says, “Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm.”

Edward de Bono says, “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”

Ken Robinson says, “Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the most extraordinary results in human culture.”

And, Julia Cameron says, “Creativity is always a leap of faith. You’re faced with a blank page, blank easel, or an empty stage.”

CREATIVE LADY

Why is being creative and creativity important?

On the website for the Topeka, Kansas public library, Betsy Roe says, “It is because it makes life infinitely interesting and fulfilling. Creativity is a way of living life that embraces originality and makes unique connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Creativity is about living life as a journey into seeing and communicating the extra-ordinariness of the simplest, most every day acts.”

She continues, “We often think about creativity as making something, but in fact the root meaning of the word means ‘to grow’. When we are creative we feel as if the world and all that is in it is vibrantly alive. Creativity’s by-products are some of the major achievements of civilization–from the invention of the wheel to Mozart’s sonatas. Human beings are essentially born creative–from infancy on we find innovative ways to negotiate life. The most creative people find ways around obstacles because they see them not just as roadblocks but also as opportunities. Creativity expands our perceptions and along with expanded perceptions come new ways of problem solving.”

Pretty powerful stuff, huh? The quotes and paragraphs above have prompted and encouraged me to once again be creative! They also have caused me to look back at a time when I was a bit more creative, and to people who I admire for their creativity.

Creative influences

With 30+ years in radio, I have worked with some very creative people. Each was creative in their own way. Many of them were morning show personalities and had quick wit. Two morning guys come to mind immediately…

Two Jims – Bosh and Biggins.

I worked with Bosh in Detroit and in Saginaw. I would compare him to Robin Williams. He was always “on”. Give him a random topic and he could do a 10 minute bit on it and be hilarious. He is also a voice actor and can do many voices, bouncing from voice to voice, which he would obviously incorporate into his show. When given free reign to ad-lib, he always made me laugh and left me wondering “how the hell does he do that?!”

I worked with Biggins in Flint and Saginaw. He is one of the fastest wits, I have ever met. There is never a shortage of punch lines, some of which you could never tell on the air! The way he can come up with a pun or an association to create a punch line with little or no prep just amazes me. Sometimes I can read a story and try to come up with a punch line and just struggle, not Jim. He’s often got two or three. I’ve always wished I could be as quick witted as he is.

Mr. Molson

I have mentioned Johnny Molson in past blogs, and he certainly needs a spot here in a blog about creativity. When we worked together at WKSG, Kiss-FM in Detroit, he did the evening show. He also wrote and produced copy for our voice guy (the great Stu Bowers). We really had a lot of fun on that station, and that fun was also conveyed in the sweepers that played between records.

I always looked forward to when new pieces of imaging showed up in the studio. Stu had a wonderful delivery to the lines that Johnny wrote. He could be very serious or very playful. Two pieces of imaging that I remember are examples of both.

His serious delivery was perfect for a sweeper that talked about how every station in Detroit, except ours, emitted harmful waves that were dangerous to wild life. It talked about how important it was to listen to us and not those other stations. In that serious voice, he says, “The choice is yours. You can listen to WKSG Kiss-FM and know you are doing your part for the environment or you can listen to those other stations and watch innocent penguins in the Antarctic barbecue!”

His playful read was perfect for another sweeper I remember. His read was perfect. It started serious – “WKSG, Kiss-FM. Listening to us is better than sex!” Then, he loosens up and says, “Well, maybe not … but it did give me a chance to say ‘sex’ on the radio. Whoops I said it again! I’ll say it again, sex, sex, sex….” he giggles and laughs as the thing faded out. It was funny and probably a bit controversial for 1989, but it got people talking and listening – and that is what you wanted.

Those things that Johnny created were just brilliant. His evening show was like a morning show – it had bits, sound effects, regulars, and a lot of laughter. LONG before Whose Line Is It Anyway came to TV, Johnny and some other guys used to perform at coffee shops and on stage doing improve comedy. I had the pleasure of watching this group many times and it was hilarious! No matter what suggestion was made by the audience, he and the group were able to ad-lib and create the scenes. I still think back to those shows and remember realizing just how talented he was – and still is. He still occasionally gets together with the group and performs. No surprise that he is the creative services guy at his current station. He is consistently writing and producing award winning commercials for clients. He has also written a book and speaks about advertising.

They say the right side of the brain is what controls the creative and artistic aspects of a person. I always loved that he named his business Right Brain Visions.

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Jeff “from Burton”

Jeff Michaels isn’t in radio anymore, and that’s a shame. He’s a very funny guy. He and his buddy Tim (who I will talk about more in a minute) both started in radio at about the same time. He was just an intern when I met him. He started working at a small AM station and eventually teamed up with Tim to have the top rated shows in markets in Arkansas and Ohio.

I remember he would occasionally call my show as some character and ad-lib some ridiculous story or joke. Eventually, that character became “Jeff from Burton.” I asked him to cut a bunch of lines for me that I could play over song intros. I think I wrote some, but many of them he ad-libbed. One I remember went something like “Hi, I’m Jeff in Burton. You’re listening to Keith Allen on B-95. He eats crayons (breaks into huge laughter and abruptly stops) … wait, that’s me.”

His warped sense of humor stemmed from some great creativity!

Tim Timmerman

While all of the people I have mentioned are all very creative, this guy is one of the most creative – Tim Timmerman. As I stated, he worked with Jeff Michaels and they dominated the markets they were in when they were doing their morning show. They understood how to drive listeners to their website with video content, and how to connect with their audience. Separately, they are both very talented. Together, they were dynamite!

Before they worked together, Tim had a show in Port Huron. Once a month, he’d drive over to Flint and after my show, we’d go into the production room and brainstorm. If I had to pick a time when I was most creative – this would be it. We’d look ahead at what was going on and jot down possible ideas. Some ideas came from bouncing thoughts about topics off each other. Some ideas took longer to emerge than others.

I think that first get together, we wanted to create some phoney commercials for each other. I voiced his stuff and he voiced mine. One of the first ideas was a fan club. What if we both had fan club? We wrote and created a very convincing spot inviting people to become a member of the Keith or Tim Fan Club. “You’ll get a membership card made out of high quality construction paper that gets you free water at area restaurants and an autographed Post-It note.” I used to play it once a show. I remember a gal came up and wanted her membership card! So I went out and made one for her!

Before Christmas, we were talking about whatever the “hot” toy was that year (probably a Playstation or something like that). We made a fake commercial for “Keith Allen” and “Tim Timmerman” Action Figures! “Get your kids what they REALLY want this Christmas! Collect all 42!” Shameless self promotion and funny stuff.

Also before Christmas, I thought it would be funny to say I shopped at a non-existent store every year. I said that our engineer ran a patch into their PA system for me, so I could listen any time I wanted – so I wouldn’t “miss any deals”. I found this extremely cheesy version of Jingle Bell Rock (played on strings – you know, your typical bad music that plays in department stores), and used that as the background music. I put on a voice that made me sound drunk and I would talk about what was going on in various departments of the store. I had a punch line for each bit and as the PA announcer, I was about as incompetent as I could make him. Every time I “checked in” after every punch line, I would usually say something like “Thousands of people are out of work – and this guy still has a gig!” or something like that. That bit stemmed from a creative brainstorm session with Tim.

At election time, as you know, there are countless ads for politicians. So Tim and I created spots promoting us. “Keith Allen for DJ”. You know how at the end of the ads it will say something about being “paid for by Joe Crawley for Congress” or “paid for by Democrats who want your vote committee”? I wish I still had a copy of my phoney ad – I actually called my mom and had her say, “Paid for by Keith Allen’s mother.”

One of the things Tim and I would look at when we brainstormed was what month it was. There is no shortage of “May is ____________ month” months. Some of the months that we found were just crazy. One of my all time favorite bits was one we did for June. June, in case you didn’t know, is National Accordion Awareness Month! I would think you’d be aware of an accordion if it was nearby! Tim and I produced a simple sweeper that would play between songs. It stood out like a sore thumb, because it was so ridiculous. Here is that sweeper in a nutshell:

“B-95’s Keith Allen reminds you that June is National Accordion Awareness Month. Here’s an Accordion Awareness Month update: (Insert some silly 10 second clip of accordion music). Listen all month long for more Accordion Awareness Month Updates!”

The idea was to make the listener wonder “What the hell was that?” Mission accomplished!

Time to get back in the creative saddle

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu says, “The creative process is mysterious; a conversation, a ride in the car, or a melody can trigger something.”

The great Miles Davis says, “I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”

With all of the positive changes that have happened in my life over the past couple years, it is time for me to be more creative. I used to write songs. I used to write jokes. I used to write stories. I used to create. I have decided to once again grab my little notepad and begin observing. Once again, I will look for things that might otherwise go unnoticed. I will take note of things that can spawn an idea for a bit or joke. I will be inspired by those who have had some creative influence on me and use my “right brain”.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun!” – Albert Einstein.

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Go! Be Creative!

Things I Want To Do

I guess you could look at this blog as a “creative writing prompt”.  I was listening to something on the radio today and the voice guy said “What do YOU want to do, but just haven’t done it?”  Well, I jotted a few things down instantly and now I am listing them here.

1. Play my trumpet again

One of the things I truly wish I had time to do is play my horn.  I have often thought about going back and taking some lessons to get the chops back, but my worry would be finding the time to do it.  I miss playing it, even if it was just once or twice a year in Alumni Band.

I have friends who are still playing  their horns in various groups and play concerts.  There is something that was so satisfying playing in a group and making music together.  Third shift doesn’t really allow me to have time to practice, though, so I guess I’ll just pick it up every once in a while and play till my lips are numb – ha ha.

2. Teach

When I first went to college, they gave me some test.  The test was supposed to tell me what I’d be good at.  It said I’d be a good “special education teacher”.  I guess this made me mad, because while in high school, I toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher.  I thought I could teach music or elementary school.  I regret not pursuing that.

Occasionally, I have had the opportunity to teach at the college for the Sleep Program I was in.  I found that doing it only made me want to teach more.  A radio guy I know teaches a speech class at one of the local colleges.  I could totally do that.  I ACED my speech class in college!  I have been public speaking for almost 30 years – I know that I could do that.  I doubt that there is anywhere that would let a guy who doesn’t have a teaching degree teach.

3. Visit Italy

I’m Italian after all.  Of course I want to do this!  I have seen Italy in pictures and have always wanted to go.  There is so much to see, though.  I want to see Rome and see the things that the Apostle Paul spoke of in his Biblical Epistles.  I want to see Venice.  I want to take the obligatory picture of me “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  I want to visit Sicily and the town where my grandparents were from.  Definitely on my bucket list.

4. Learn another language

I guess this ties in with #3 – in that I’d really love to learn the Italian language.  I know that there are various dialects and such, but I think it is a beautiful language.  I’d love to be able to sit and listen to some of those great Italian songs – being sung in Italian – and know what they are saying.  I would love to learn Spanish, too.  It is very similar to Italian.  They are both very romantic languages and I think it would be cool to learn it.

5. Build a home studio

I still do a lot of voice over work.  I do most of it at the TV station or radio station.  It would be nice to build a small little studio in our home to be able to sit and cut whatever voice stuff I need to.  I think that this would give me the opportunity to do more auditions for voice work.  I think that it would also give me the chance to make a little bit more money with my voice.

I haven’t a clue what equipment I’d need to do this, and certainly don’t have the money to do it either.  I don’t want to invest in this and buy cheap equipment.  I want to be able to produce a good product.  I’d love to be “the voice” of a radio station, but I’d never be able to make that happen with sub-par equipment.

6. Learn to dance.

Oh sure, I can do the slow dance thing where you hold your beautiful woman and sway back and forth.  I, however, would love to be able to do some sort of real dance.  Swing dance, tango, ballroom dance, waltz, etc.  I’d probably be a huge klutz and step all over my partner, but I want to try it.  I’m no Arthur Murray, but give me a few lessons and I’ll try to be his non-coordinated step brother – LOL.

7.  Conduct a band

One of the coolest things I got to do in high school was conduct the band.  Its been awhile, but we learned how to read a score and I know I could do this.  I would, however, want to pick the songs I’d like to conduct.  There were songs we played when I was in band, that have stuck with me all these years later.  While at my son’s band festival a couple years ago, we watched one of the other bands play not one, but two of the songs I played in band.  I could still hear my part in my head.  I could hear counter-melodies and percussion parts.  It was amazing how it took me back.  I would love to be a guest conductor somewhere.

One of the biggest thrills for me was standing on the podium and conducting my high school band classmates at my senior graduation.  I’ll never forget the song:  Tin Pan Alley.  It was a medley of old standards and it was full of tempo changes and such.  There is such a feeling of awe as you stand in front of a group of talented musicians and they are following YOUR lead.  I think it would be cool to do that one more time.

8. Hear one of my “songs” recorded

I have written a few songs.  Some of them out of a lot of hurt, some of them out of love, and some of them because I woke up and heard the lyrics and melody in a dream.  I have written songs about my grandfather, my first love, my mom, and just life’s situations.  I am not the world’s best writer of songs, believe me.  There are people who can craft songs that run circles around my stuff.

What I wish is that a good songwriter would look at my stuff and say, “If we tweak this”, “What if you said this instead”, “How about we try this as a minor chord instead”, or whatever!  I truly think that it would be pretty damn cool to hear someone record it – even if it is just a crappy demo!

9. Write a book

As I have said in a previous blog, I guess I tend to look at my blog as “the book” I want to write, and these blogs are the chapters.  I don’t know what I’d write about.  I have a Facebook friend who suggested I write about an actor who appeared in old movies.  I have another friend who says I should write about classic movies or radio.  I’ve often thought that I could write a children’s book.  Who knows.  I guess first I need to find more than a few minutes at a time to actually figure out what to say.

What are some things YOU want to do?