Suppose you’re known for a certain piece of creative work that doesn’t suit your needs anymore. Maybe it’s a band that grows weary of its first hit that is now years in the past and no longer reflects the band’s sensibilities – yet people still want to hear the big hit.
Or perhaps you developed a creative work with another person and the creative relationship dissolves, but you don’t want to lose access to your creative collaboration. Many bands dissolve with the performers going on to solo careers, but does that mean the band’s hits die too?
What Do You Do with Your Old Creative Work?
One answer is to simply refuse to revisit your creative hits. That’s what R.E.M. did with “Radio Free Europe,” the group’s breakout song. R.E.M. ultimately refused to play the song live, with only infrequent violations of its self-imposed restriction. In one live video of “Radio Free Europe,” R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe filled the song with the F-word so MTV wouldn’t be able to run the video.
Another approach is to formally retire your creative work with a splash of ceremony. Years ago, comedian Jerry Seinfeld “buried” an entire standup routine he had been doing in the interests of making him and/or his audience embrace new material.
Paul McCartney, on the other hand, is still out performing Beatles songs long after the group’s creative collaboration ended, surrounded now by a band of “who knows who they are” musicians. And he’s not just performing his own parts, but in some cases (i.e., “A Day in the Life”), actually recreating John Lennon’s parts relatively faithfully.
Eric Clapton reworked his classic song “Layla” from his Derek and the Dominoes days into a moribund acoustic version that sounded as if an overly-tired lounge act were playing it in a hotel bar.
What can you do?
I’m certain there are other options I haven’t imagined yet.
Reclaiming YOUR Creative Collaboration
This question is top of mind because I’ve been struggling recently to figure out how to retain some older collaborative creative work integral to a presentation I’m currently reworking for several client workshops. Since the collaboration is over, I’ve been stymied about what to do – either bury it (akin to Seinfeld) or just keep on going merrily along (as Paul McCartney has done).
It was only following a 1/2 hour of prayer after church last week the answer started to become apparent.
There are clear parts of the work that are mine, while other parts I created are less obviously my work. After this half-hour of mental surrender, it dawned on me to simply change the parts of the creative work that aren’t mine into ones that are. All it will take is a slight re-working of some characters, generalizing a story setting, and swapping out one concept for another. With those changes, the work will be mine exclusively.
I know that doesn’t seem like much, but I’ve been stuck on how to make that change for four years. Yes, everyone can get set thinking that something is ONE thing can NEVER be another. But as Benjamin Zander says, “It’s all invented.” That means it can be re-invented, too!
While the re-vamped creative work will feel different to me, it’s not as if I’m screwing around with “A Day in the Life,” “Layla,” or even “Radio Free Europe.” In all likelihood, audience members won’t be familiar enough to recognize the difference.
It just comes down to me mentally “owning” the whole creative work that started as a creative collaboration. And, in the course of these changes, I’ll have a NEW creative work that reflects my sensibilities and is ready to share with many audiences to help trigger their own creative investigation. – Mike Brown
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