A Video Version
When I was a young boy I would pretend to be Jim Thorp, one of the early great football heroes. Latter I emulated Johnny Unitas with the Baltimore Colts. I would run and zig and zag in our back yard on Franklin Ave in Lewisburg, Tennessee and score touchdown time after time. I was a sports hero – in my mind.
As a young drummer I listened to Gene Krupa and Joe Morello of the Dave Brubeck Quartet and emulated their drumming style. They were the best of the best in those days and I listened and practiced their style of drumming. I pretended to be them. At times I suppose I was a wild and crazy drummer.
In college, I loved the way my professor, Jim Van Hook directed choirs. He had the coolest style, the warmest of banter, and I wanted to be like him. And for a while, so I became.
You see, we pretend to be others while we are developing our own style.
Copy – copy – copy till you make it your own. I had to learn my voice as a drummer, as a writer and as anything else I’ve pursued by learning and copying from others.
I love this quote by Austin Kleon – from his book Steal Like an Artist.
“Start copying. Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.”
We learned to write by memorizing the alphabet first, and forming the letters. We copied what was on the blackboard in our elementary school.
And then came spelling, sentences, diagraming of sentences, then longer passages. And then we wrote term papers. We borrowed ideas, and quotes from various sources. We borrowed.
And we learned.
~In his early days Johnny Carson tried to emulate Jack Benny. He ended up being Johnny Carson.
~David Letterman copied Johnny Carson. He ended up being David Letterman.
~Conan O’Brien tried to become David Letterman. He ended up being Conan O’Brien.
We start out copying, mimicking, patterning ourselves or our style after someone else and along the way we make adjustments, tweak our style, and sooner than soon, we make it our own.
We become an original by learning from others first. That sounds like such a contradiction in terms, but it is so.
And it is all stealing at its finest.
Let the “Let’s pretend” dance continue.
Words of Hope
One Word at a Time