At every moment of every day, each of us has the chance to choose choice. For most of us, most of the time, we might not choose to exercise our right to choose. We might not even be conscious that we have it. But it never goes away.
In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less*, Greg McKeown argues that we can achieve more in life if we eliminate the inessential. He argues that we should work to recognise and separate “the vital few [from] the trivial many.” The first step in this process is “to develop your ability to choose choice, in every area of your life.”
See my yacht
What would you do if your biggest concern was deciding which of life’s riches to pluck for your amusement today?
This topic is addressed quite brilliantly in Jerry Seinfeld’s appearance on Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing podcast. One of the funniest things I’ve ever heard is Seinfeld describing how – having achieved unimaginable wealth – his preferred way to spend his day is taking “loud sips of coffee.”** Baldwin pursues the theme of choice, speculating that a
channel would be a licence “to print TV shows” (and thereby print yet more money):
Baldwin: “Why aren’t you doing what other people do?”
Seinfeld: “I didn’t take that bait. Because I know what it is. You can’t pull that over on me. Because I’ve sat in all the chairs, I’ve been in all the rooms. I know what it is. You can’t trick me into thinking that’s good.”
Seinfeld: “Because most of that is not creative work. And not reaching an audience. How do you want to be on the water? You wanna be on a yacht or you wanna be on a surfboard? I want to be on a surfboard. I don’t want to deal with the yacht. Some people want a yacht to say ‘See my yacht.’”
This is a great question to us ask yourself daily: “How do you want to be on the water?”
No fun, no fun, it’s no fun
What can you do when there appears to be no choice?
Sometimes how you choose to deal with limited choice – or the limitations you choose to impose on yourself – can produce the most interesting results.
The Stooges’ Funhouse is the rawest, wildest rock album there is. In Jim Jarmusch’s excellent Stooges documentary Gimme Danger, I was fascinated to hear Stooges singer Iggy Pop’s succinct description of the recording process for Funhouse:
“Just one room. No choices.”
Tight creative parameters can produce the most creative responses. Earlier in the film, Iggy explains how his pared-down, primitive approach to lyrics was influenced by a 1950s US TV show called Lunch with Soupy Sales***:
“He encouraged kids to write to him. But he said ‘When you write the letter, please, 25 words or less.’ And that’s always stuck with me. When I started to write songs for our group, I thought ‘This is the way to go.’ Try to make 25 different words or less. I didn’t feel like I was Bob Dylan. Try to keep it really short. Then none of it will be the wrong thing.”
Writing is a process of eliminating the inessential. Brian Eno expresses similar sentiments in a recent interview****, in which he discusses minimalism in music:
“It’s a discipline, because the path of least resistance for anyone with a lot of sound-making tools is to keep making more sounds. The path of discipline is to say: Let’s see how few we can get away with.”
I found you shopping in Europa on Wardour Street
Can your choices ever be truly random?
Today (Saturday 4 March 2017) is my birthday. This means that 21 years ago today (on Monday 4 March 1996), Underworld released their brilliantly-titled album Second Toughest In The Infants. Underworld’s lyrics of that era are some of the greatest in all of music. A very different set of choices informed singer Karl Hyde’s words. Hyde’s lyrics build a poetic picture of London and of modern life (I’d argue as modern today as then) from seemingly random, hastily jotted-down snippets of conversational non-sequiturs overheard during drunken lurches through Soho. The final song on this album – Stagger – includes a lyric I’ve loved since I first heard it:
“I found you shopping in Europa on Wardour Street.”
At the time of this record’s release, I would quite often enjoy a beverage at a pub directly opposite “Europa on Wardour Street.” I was amazed to hear this late-opening food shop (presumably close to where Mr Hyde lived in Soho) immortalised in song. On the face of it, this lyric says very little. But it says everything to me about a time and a place, and the way it works with the music makes it truly timeless.
Karl Hyde’s words sift through the “trivial many” to reveal “the vital few.” Apparently random choices create results that mean the world (at least to me).
You always have a choice
At every moment of every day, each of us has the chance to choose choice.
This is wonderfully expressed in something my friend Neil Morrison once wrote:
“Nobody has control over your future and your destiny other than you. No one can make you do anything you don’t want to. You always have a choice. It’s just whether you’re willing to accept the consequences of those choices.”
What do you choose to do today?
** The sound of Alec Baldwin trying on for size the idea of luxuriating in a loud sip of coffee – unbound from concerns over table manners – is for me a comedy masterclass for the ages.
*** I managed to find an episode of Soupy Sales on YouTube. I cannot claim to have watched it msyelf. But should you choose to check it out, gentle reader, please let me know what you make of it.
**** My thanks to the lovely Heather Bussing for hipping me to this interview. It is one of the most delightful things I’ve read so far this year.