Segarini: Greatness

I have always been amused by self improvement books. The best of them are well intentioned, homily fueled screeds couched in common sense and written in the confident prose of an educated and caring individual who shares his or her triumph over a similar situation shared by the reader. They attempt to build confidence, offer advice, and lay out a step by step plan that, properly initiated and followed, will result in the reader becoming whatever kind of ‘better’ person they desire to be. On one hand, these books can give comfort and focus to a person, a leg up on coming to terms with their problems, and at least the hope of one day being free of whatever it is they think is holding them back. On the other hand, if the author’s blueprint for personal success doesn’t work for the reader, he or she might end up in a bell tower with a high powered rifle, a case of ammo, and a bottle of decent whiskey. Why do we put ourselves through all the self doubt and brutal self-assessment that feeds this ever growing self-help cottage industry? We all want to be great.

We are a needy bunch, we humans. We all feel empowered, (at least that’s what the majority of these books try to impart on their readers), we all feel entitled, and, fed by the simplistic home spun morality and quick solutions permeating the cheesier ‘feel good’ television shows, movies and books popular culture bombards us with, are convinced we will achieve greatness if we can just overcome whatever obstacles an apparently mean-spirited God places before us, (It’s a TEST!), and emerge triumphant on the other side by following a plan. Oh, if it were only that easy.

When it comes to life’s obstacles, people tend to vacillate between blaming others, imaginary enemies, and the aforementioned Deity, until it finally occurs to the more cognizant sufferer that just maybe they are the problem, a rare, and insightful conclusion in the face of ongoing failure, made by those who are bright enough to dip into the Well of Clichés and mutter in their inner voice, “I have no one to blame but myself”. You would think that is the first step to achieving the goals you have set for yourself, and in a way, you would be right. More importantly (and much more accurately) it is the first step to finding happiness with what you have and who you are, and being happy, is what greatness is all about.

Let’s define ‘Greatness’. Nah…on second thought, let’s have the online Free Dictionary define ‘Greatness’, because ‘greatness’ is not what it seems.

Greatnessis a concept of a state of superiority affecting a person, object or place. The concept carries the implication that the particular person or object, when compared to others of a similar type, has clear and perceivable advantage. As a descriptive term it is most often applied to a person or their work, and may be qualified or unqualified. An example of an expression of the concept in a qualified sense would be “Winston Churchill” was one of the greatest wartime leaders”. In the unqualified sense it might be stated “Winston Churchill achieved greatness within his own lifetime”, thus implying that “greatness” is a definite and identifiable quality. Application of the terms “great” and “greatness” is dependent on the perspective and subjective judgments of those who apply them. Whereas in some cases the perceived “greatness” of a person, place or object might be agreed upon by many, this is not necessarily the case, and the perception of “greatness” may be both fiercely contested and highly individual.

In other words, a great deal of the weight attributed to Greatness, like Beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. To be perceived as great is fairly easy for those with means. To be truly great, there needs to be proof beyond perception…and that ain’t easy, Bub.

Here’s a musical example of what we’re talking about: One is original, creative, unique, and timeless, the other is a bright, shiny object, a new coat of paint, and a well paid team of support people. One is show business…and one is the business of show. Example OneExample Two. And here’s a bonus; Current musical ‘tastes’ and some peoples inability to create something of their own, led to a version of this song that all but strips the humanity from the performance, removes a great deal of its musicality, and makes the star and focal point of the song a pile of overly loud drum samples. Example ThreeAren’t we stylin’!

Actually, the basis of this, one of Louie Prima‘s signature songs is not of Italian origin, it’s an Austrian song that was written in German. It’s called “Schöner Gigolo, Armer Gigolo” and was performed by thetenor Richard Tauber in 1929. OK, the composer Leonello Casucci is from Italy, but it was written for an Austrian artist. The lyrics, written by Julius Brammer, were recorded in English for the first time in 1931 by Bing Crosby. It was featured in a 1932 Betty Boop cartoon, and Louie Armstrong and others covered it before Prima got a hold of it and added the “I Ain’t Got Nobody” refrain, but until he did, it was not infused with the magic he brought to the song.

As well as self improvement books for individual inner growth, there are also books that offer advice in other areas. Some, like the Time/Life Do It Yourself volumes are excellent because they deal with practical knowledge that involves math, physics, and hard facts. You can use these books to build a deck or a gazebo and if you follow the instructions you will indeed be rewarded with a perfectly good deck or Gazebo or tool shed or whatever you set out to build. If you want to build a great, unique, individual and personal one of those things, you are not going to learn how to do it in these pages. This is why I don’t understand the hundreds of books being published and bought that tell you how to write a hit song or become a better songwriter. Yes, I suppose some of them can teach you how to follow certain rules or expand your amount of knowledge about the craft of songwriting in order to have more tools at your disposal, but if anyone who has written any of these books could actually consistently write hit songs, he wouldn’t be writing books about it. He’d be lighting 100 dollar cigars with 1000 dollar bills trying to figure out if he should buy Maui or Catalina next. These books do not teach greatness; they teach tried and true (for the authors) techniques and craftsmanship, and give advice to better your chances at becoming financially successful and/or popular…because that’s what most people think adds up to greatness. The sad truth is that greatness often goes unrewarded. Just think of the amount of artists who died destitute whose artwork now sells, 100s of years after their deaths for millions of dollars. Eventually greatness can be recognized, and the proof of its existence can be verified, but as a goal, greatness is not what most are looking for. There is a vast sea of writers who want more than anything to write a hit record. Fortunately, there are still some who want to write a great song. There is a rather large difference between the two goals. We are sooo lucky when the two co-exist, but it happens far less often than most people think. Even rarer still, is when greatness, talent, popularity, and financial success occupy the same space. When the perception and reality of greatness merge in the arts, there is literally nothing as powerful on this earth. Great music has helped change and explain the course of history more than once, defines each generations culture, and exists whether or not we are aware of it until much later. Unlike popularity and financial success, talent and greatness do not need bright lights and accolades in order to exist, it just needs to exist. Sometimes, even the creators of greatness are unaware of what they have achieved. The desire to create, and the ability to create are the true rewards for those who struggle to maintain both. Any artist worthy of the name toils to create not because there is acknowledgment, but because he has to create. God Bless them all.

The current state of popular music and what is pursued in general by the mainstream music industry indicates that the Perception of Greatness has once again been altered, this time in favour of using popularity and financial success as the litmus test for greatness. It is the Emperor’s New Clothes, Bread and Circuses, and Misdirection worthy of a PT Barnum. If you choose to believe the theory, it would seem to suggest that musical greatness can be created by committee, measured in money, and proven by acceptance. It also postulates that talent can be created through technology, and defined by its visual image, its surroundings, and its ubiquitous presence in the media, both social and traditional. I would disagree. Greatness is its own proof. Here’s just a tiny sampling of true musical greatness many of you will recognize; the convergence of talent, artistry, writing, passion, and performance.

Nelson Riddle and Linda Ronstadt

Ray Charles

The Four Freshmen

Little Richard

The Beatles

Van Morrison

Bob Dylan

Neil Young

Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

Marvin Gaye

Cindy Lauper

and one that more than likely none of you are familiar with…and regardless if he is ever recognized as great, he and his music will continue to be exactly that.

Johnny V: The JV3 Recorded live in Alberta. One of the finest singer/songwriter/guitarists working today, Canada’s Johnny V is a mostly undiscovered talent who deserves to be heard. Timeless music from an extraordinary artist whose career spans decades and is held in high regard by those lucky enough to have seen and heard him play. Equal parts passion and skill, Johnny is the real deal. Enjoy.

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If you happen to be in Toronto this week, Join me and a cast of thousands when Pete Otis and Jack Tasse’s Honouring Our Own celebrates the inimitable Robbie Rox at the Black Swan. Show starts at 7:00 pm. Details here.

On Wednesday, please try to attend a fundraiser for guitarist and good friend Rick Gunn at the Revival, College Street. Dozens of fine musicians, a silent auction, raffles, and other fun stuff to help our good friend Rick through a tough time. Details here.

Thursday night come see Jumple at the LiLy on College Street in Little Italy. Musical mayhem like nothing you have ever seen or heard before. Details here.

I’ll see you at Cherry Cola’s on the weekend.

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: dbawis@rogers.com Please use it to ask questions,tell us what you’d like to read about, send links you’d like to share, and let us hear what you have to say.

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.

3 Responses to “Segarini: Greatness”

  1. I do agree that any problem created in one’s life, is one’s own doing. We just have to be courageous enough to admit it and find a solution instead of whining about it.

  2. Excellent references. Not every great artist could be referenced, but I think the mark of greatness should be clear. I shared it with a granddaughter who’s embarking on life’s big adventure. I hope she gets some of this. Thanks.

  3. Jim Chisholm in Campbell River Says:

    Great! You always seem to clear up the important questions for us. Just a Gigolo has been on my to learn list for a while. I guess it’s time to have a go.

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