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Johnny Marr in 2007

“…all the greats did it from the outside. And that’s a very, very inspiring thing.”

In a 2008 article for the Independent, Johnny Marr explored the roots of his illustrious music career – first as a hungry Manchester teenager queuing up in the snow to hear Slaughter and the Dogs and T-Rex, then as the guitarist and driving creative force behind The Smiths. In subsequent years, he’s refused to be pinned down, working as a sessional musician and collaborator for top acts including The Pretenders, Billy Bragg, Talking Heads, The The, Modest Mouse and The Cribs.

Marr explained how the most innovative music always bursts in from the edges – from talented outsiders who are utterly driven to tell their stories and make new sounds. They write and perform for their tribe, and for the sheer thrill of it.

“The Beatles are the most obvious example – rejected by Decca for their four-piece guitar line-up. No one invented Bob Marley, no one invented the Sex Pistols or Kurt Cobain or Jay-Z – they all invented themselves and were rejected. They were outsiders and they were necessary.”

Marr’s philosophy isn’t new, but it might be the most compelling argument for pure, unfettered creativity that I’ve heard in a long while. He’s also one of my most revered musical icons, so I could be a little biased on that front.

Marr is no longer an outsider. Any industry exec would take his calls in a heartbeat. But, that’s not the point. Art, writing, fashion, design, cooking and music that shakes your very core will always originate at the periphery. It’s brave and different. It might be driven by ideas or emotions or just sheer beauty. It doesn’t matter.

But what happens when the show is over, the manuscript is finished or the dishes are cleared? How do creative people pay the bills? Where do you draw the line between selling your work and selling out – or is that a retro, rusty dilemma?

Inspired Outsiders digs down into the business of creativity. The Internet has spawned a wealth of online resources, tools and markets that have changed the game for artists of every stripe. Punk bands from Winnipeg can now make a decent living without major label backing. Photographers can sell limited edition prints online while accepting only the assignments that make them sweat.

It’s now possible to remain independent without getting stuck. And even when outsiders become insiders – attracting fans, opportunities, and maybe some serious money – they can still stay hungry and, most importantly, inspired.

How? That’s what this blog is all about. Thanks for reading along.

posted 20 Oct 09 in: business, essential posts, music. This post currently has 4 responses.

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