Matthew McConaughey writes in his book, Green Lights,
“Cool is a natural law. If it was cool for THAT time, then it is cool for ALL time. A fad is just a branch on Cool’s trunk; a fashionable fling whose 15 minutes can never abide, no matter how long she trends to try. Cool stands the test of time, because cool never tries. Cool just is.”
My friend Crazy Tony taught me about “cool” 45 years ago when we attended Broken Arrow High School together. Tony made a lot of money buying and selling old cars. I was known as Beatermaker because Tony was forever frustrated by my uncanny ability to drive a fabulous car and, within a week, make it look like a beater.
“Beatermaker,” he said, “every guy who has found an old car in perfect condition believes he has found a gold mine. But it’s almost never true. If a car wasn’t highly desirable when it was new, no one wants it 20, 30, or 50 years later. But if a car was admired and desired on the day it was born, it will be cool forever, no matter what condition it’s in.”
That was the insight that made Crazy Tony tens of thousands of dollars when we were in high school.
The passage of time, the recklessness of the human race, and the slow smokeless burning of decay make old things rare. But it it does not make them wonderful. Remarkable buildings and books and paintings and songs don’t get better with age. They were wonderful the day they were born. I know it, Matthew McConaughey knows it, and now you know it.
But what makes them wonderful?
Wonderful things were touched by someone who knew the secret of wonder and how to capture it. When you know how to capture wonder, you carry it in your head, your heart, and your hands. You glitter when you walk.
Isaac Newton knew how to capture wonder and he passed the secret of it forward in just 14 words. Countless millions have read those words and assumed Newton was talking about himself. He was not. Newton was giving you his most precious advice. He was telling you how to capture wonder. He was telling you how to glitter when you walk.
In 1675, Newton wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
Isaac Newton stood on the shoulders of Galileo, Kepler, and Copernicus in astronomy, Huygens, Euclid, Henry Briggs, and Isaac Barrow in math, Kepler and Descartes in optics, and Plato, Aristotle, and Maimonides in philosophy. Newton combined the insights of all these men and made them uniquely his own.
Choose your giants. Stand on their shoulders. Repurpose the proven.
Vincent Van Gogh stood on the shoulders of Monticelli and Hiroshige. Long after they were dead, they taught him how to paint. He studied their paintings, captured their wonder, and made it uniquely his own.
Johnny Depp stood on the shoulders of Pepe Le Pew, the cartoon skunk, and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. They taught him how to become Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp studied their mannerisms, captured their wonder, and made it uniquely his own.
I stand on the shoulders of John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Asimov, Tolkien, Paul Harvey, and Edwin Arlington Robinson. They taught me how to write. In fact, I borrowed “the slow smokeless burning of decay” from Robert Frost and “glitter when you walk” from Robinson. They don’t mind. Each of them stood on the shoulders of giants of their own choosing.
Do you have time for me to give you one more example?
In the rabbit hole you’ll find “Summer Wine,” a hit song written by Lee Hazlewood that made the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967. When you listen to it, you will think it sounds like a movie score. This is because Hazlewood took three famous movie themes that don’t belong together and made them fit. He captured their wonder and made it uniquely his own.
Yes, cognoscenti, you understand.
The 3 giants on whose shoulders Hazlewood was standing are obvious. First, you have Nancy Sinatra sounding like every Disney Princess in every Disney movie ever made. And then you notice the unmistakable horse-trot rhythm of every theme song from every western starring Clint Eastwood, followed by the voice of the definitive cowboy-hero tough guy. And then about two-thirds of the way through the song you’ll hear the unmistakable 4-note signature of the title sequence of every James Bond movie: da-dum, da-DAHHHH.
Indy Beagle is waiting to show you all these things in the rabbit hole.
Have you chosen your giants? Don’t worry that they are silly and don’t make sense. Johnny Depp chose a cartoon skunk and a rock guitarist to teach him acting. I chose a novelist and a poet to teach me ad writing. Hazlewood chose a Disney Princess, a spaghetti western, and James Bond to teach him songwriting.
Take your inspiration from wherever you find it, no matter how ridiculous. Repurpose the proven. Stand on the shoulders of giants.
Roy H. Williams
According to Bob Dilenschneider, most people are only “life interns” until they are 25 years old. So roving reporter Rotbart enlisted his daughter, Avital, (who turns 25 this week,) to help interview Dilenschneider! (Sounds fun already, right?) As Avital points out, there is a great deal to be learned from history, no matter your age. Dilenschneider agrees, and tells the story of several well-known personalities from Mozart to Einstein to Steve Jobs, who, when they were 25 years old, began their trek to immortal fame. (And we believe that list might grow to include Ms. Avital Rotbart.) What are you waiting for? It’s all about to start at MondayMorningRadio.com.