At The Coop

At The Coop

Friday, January 30, 2015

Cliches Don't Start Out That Way


          I saw The Rolling Stones perform a rather lackluster concert (set pieces included a giant inflatable penis that apparently suffered from erectile dysfunction) in Greensboro, North Carolina back in either 1974 or 1975. Part of the way through the show, they were playing some song that made me think "What a tired, overused lick. I've heard a thousand guitarists play that exact same thing." Then all of a sudden, it hit me. The guy playing that lick was the guy who created it. All of those other guitar players were copying him. (I know. I know. You blues heads are going to tell me that Keith lifted that lick from So-And-So...and you're probably right, but at the time, that little lightbulb was going off over my head.) It was both cool and a "Duh" moment all at once.

          I was reminded of that insight recently when I picked up a copy of "The Maltese Falcon" from the local library. I can't say for certain if I had ever read anything by Dashiell Hammett before, but I know that he is considered a master craftsman, not just of detective novels, but of writing in general. I had barely gotten through the first few paragraphs, when I started thinking "Oh no! All of the worst clichés in detective fiction, all on the first page." Again, I had an "Oh, yeah" moment. The reason the writing seemed to be so full of  well-worn prose is that all of the other writers copied his style to the point that it became cliché.

           I shared this bit of foolishness with my wife, who confessed to a face-palm moment of her own. We had been in San Antonio, Texas a couple of years ago, and visited the Alamo. I had been there several times about 50 years ago, but she had never seen it. She was walking around, looking at the outside of the building, when her art school training kicked in. "Hmmm. They used Spanish Mission architecture when they built this place." Then it dawned on her why it was called Spanish Mission architecture...because when they built Spanish missions (like the Alamo) that's what they looked like.
           We got a good laugh with and at each other over this.
            Everything that you come across that seems done-to-death started out as somebody's true inspiration. The source is often way more interesting than its derivatives. Dig for those roots.