In last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Kim Gordon, from the band Sonic Youth, talked about what her life was like before her band became famous and wildly influential.
Our first goal [as Sonic Youth] was getting a gig at CBGB. Then it was getting a good time slot at CBGB, so you weren’t on last and weren’t on first. CB’s wasn’t the best sound; it was such a long and narrow space that if it was crowded you couldn’t really see anything, unless you were standing on the side of the stage, and then you just heard the stage sound. Sometimes it could just be too blasting. It wasn’t actually the best place to hear or see bands, but it was always exciting. Then later, it became about getting a gig at Danceteria, Mudd Club — they were all little milestone achievements.
What I think is worth noting about this quote is the way it concretizes, rather than romanticizes, the path to progress and ultimately success. Sonic Youth has had a deep and lasting impact on modern music, and Kim Gordon has become a cultural icon. These are outstanding achievements, for sure, and the band and Ms. Gordon may have been dreaming about them all along.
But first they dreamed concretely and stepwise, which, in music, according to my Google dictionary, means “moving by adjacent scale steps rather than leaps.”
They had a concrete wish, a concrete plan, and once they achieved that step, they tried to take the next step after that.
Too often, we romanticize our objectives, blowing them up into identity boosters (I’m a writer, I’m a musician, I’m a teacher) instead of reducing them down to simple, effective behaviors (I write 250 words each day, rain or shine, I practice my scales each day, rain or shine, etc.).
So, because I care about your work (or what’s a blog like this one for?) I’ll give you these simple, Kim Gordon inspired questions: What’s your version of getting a gig at CBGB? What’s the next concrete step you need to take to get there?