Guilty Pleasures – Some Thoughts on the ‘Creative Process’

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

Alan Alda said that…

Guilty Pleasures’ Sean Rowley talks with Gonzo Therapist Jerry Hyde about what it takes to be creative, and discovers that all you need is a mountain bike.

Sean’s hunched over his mobile talking double time. I’m smoking a cigarette and drinking strong coffee to get up to speed. He’s looking better than this time last week, he’s had a rough time but now his beard is trimmed, he’s looking sharp, he’s back in the ring to take another swing…

He’s been clean and serene for over a year now – no booze, no fags, nothing stronger than fresh air and espresso.

I’ve known Sean on and off for nearly nine years, seen him through the dark times. This is not only the man behind Guilty Pleasures and All Back to Mine with a regular slot on BBC Radio London Live but he’s also swum the English Channel and regularly risks life and limb on his mountain bike… We’re here to talk about the mystical and perhaps unquantifiable subject of creativity…

J: I wanted to use this session to talk about your work and what inspires you ‘cos most of my clients are people like yourself who are ‘creatives’, for want of a better word – cos that’s what I’m mostly into, it’s kind of an obsession of mine just trying to figure out what it’s all about, how come some people are into that, what makes them tick?

S: Cor – I just had a cigarette moment!

J: Ha! I found this quote by Matt Groening I thought it really fits with what I wanted to talk about, he says, “living creatively is really important to maintain throughout your life, living creatively doesn’t mean only artistic creativity, although that’s part of it, it means being yourself, not just complying with the wishes of other people.”

S: Mmmm…

J: Which I thought was a good place to start… ‘Cos I think a lot of people think of being creative as being an artist or a painter or whatever, but for me what we’re talking about here is dealing with any problem – how you deal with your wife, girlfriend, your business, how you paint a picture, how you make a cup of tea…

S: Well in that case I don’t think I am very creative cos I’m seeing a fucking therapist and trying to sort it all out!

J: On that basis going to see a therapist in the first place is being creative isn’t it? Instead of just thinking ‘oh bollocks to it, I’ll just get pissed…’

S: ‘Cos that was sort of part of what I was doing in our last session where I was talking about a problem I had and look at the creative solution I’ve just come up with… You know what I mean? To come out of that when I’d been sitting in your room this time last week going ‘fuck-ing hell’… really feeling like I’d been pushed into a corner, and then to actually turn it all around and come out this week on top…

J: So… I don’t know if this is even answerable, but what part of you did that?

S: Hmm – that’s what I wanna know, that is so what I wanna know – I’m fascinated by that…

J: Yeah, that’s the magic ingredient – that’s what my work’s all about – if only I could bottle it…
S: Yeah, yeah okay – I’ll get a crate off you… Yeah, that’s the fascinating bit isn’t it… Okay – I never ever thought about that while I was drinking… Just did it. Just – ah fuck it! Hopefully did some good creative things as a drinker… (thinks for a minute)… Yeah, certainly did.

J: So drinking didn’t kill your creativity? ‘Cos I’m very ambivalent as you know about that whole Hemmingway thing… Gotta have a bottle of something in order to create…

S: Oh I’m not having that one… Absolute bollocks to that. But I wonder – and I’m asking this as a question in a way – I wonder if you have to have gone through it? I wonder if you have to have had that unleashing?

J: Were you not creative before you started drinking? I was, I was a lot more creative, I mean acid certainly opened me up to music in a way that I wouldn’t have been if I’d never done it, but beyond that, drugs just shut me down…

S: That’s a big one though innit… That’s a huge one to be able to say… to have that connection. You had a connection before, we can all remember the first moment, the first connection, bit like having your first snog, first anything, first drink, first y’know – oh wow! Music man! Um… I think, if I think about it at this moment now, I think having been a caner – let’s use that word – having been a caner it definitely unlocked a lot, let it all flow out, did give me something. But as we know, everything’s got its honeymoon period hasn’t it. It’s just how far and how much longer it goes on. Yeah I’m fascinated by that, that’s why in our last session I was talking you through the process of sitting here feeling shit – it’s all coming on top – now I think I’ve gotten to the place where I think I’ve got the right answers for it I’m trying to remind myself that when a problem happens again, which it will, that I know that just around the corner I will come up with a solution. But then again if you think that too much you’re not going to inhabit the dark place …

J: If you think what?

S: If you think, oh it’s alright, it’s all getting a bit much for me but the solution’s just around the corner… I think you do have to be pushed. I do. I’m thinking about this for the first time…

J: What – you mean you’ve got to suffer to get to that solution?

S: Suffer, yeah… Dunno if suffer is the right word, but I do have to immerse myself, and it doesn’t have to be a negative thing but I will isolate myself, that’s what I do, I will isolate myself, remove as much as I can out of the way. That’s why I do my best work on my bike, I can’t tell you enough how clear everything becomes.

J: The way you talk about it is like some people talk about meditation.

S: Yeah that’s right, yeah, I’ve said this to you before, I’ve got this hill – that is where I usually arrive at the thing I’ve been searching for – by the time I get to the top – and it’s not a steep hill – but it’s a hill and there’s a point when your heart’s really going which means there’s a lot of oxygen flying around my body at that moment and then when it levels out I’ve got that charge and that’s usually when I reach really good ideas.

J: So does that de-clutter your head?

S: Definitely. Strips it all away. It’s out in the country, there’s a lot of sky – it’s a really important process for me.

J: That’s classic – in your own way – that’s what artists have always done, they’ve retreated…

S: It’s quite a daydream process as well, it’s like that nice bit before you fall asleep – I’ve read about other people hitting that point ‘cos that’s my one.
J: This is cool ‘cos I was gonna ask you how you get into the ‘zone’ and you’ve answered it. What’s sounding universal to me, talking to people, is it’s getting into that space whether it’s Paul McCartney getting up in the middle of the night and writing…

S: Scrambled Eggs…

J: Or Keef doing Satisfaction.

S: Or, steaming drunk with mates – that’s another one that got me in the zone. That was always a big favorite.

J: So you’re more of a team player when you’re pissed?

S: Yeah… Y’know – okay… I’m gonna scare myself now but all the best ideas I’ve had, whether it be Guilty Pleasures or All Back to Mine they’ve all been born out of scenarios that were all about being pissed, being round peoples’ houses playing records, ‘ah – what about that!’ But hang on a minute, I’m pulling myself up here ‘cos I’m still working those ideas.

J: Yeah, and since you’ve been sober you haven’t stopped being inspired.

S: No, no, there’s a million and one other things that have come.

J: So are you more creative or less creative or is it different now?

S: I’m sort of amazed that I managed to do the amount I did when I was pissed… but when I was drinking the ideas I had were really strong ideas

J: But when you’re drinking it’s fair to say you were messed up right? So it’s an easy equation to say it’s when you’re getting pissed is what creates the inspiration but I’m quite a fan of depression in terms of it being like fertilizer ‘cos when you’re feeling down you can get under the duvet and do nothing if you want to but it can be a creative thing in itself.

S: That’s sort of what I was trying to get to with what I was saying about how I was this time last week, I was very, very depressed, I walked out of here, I went home and went to bed and read a book about Elvis that I’ve read a million times and just lay there. Two days later I came up with what I think is the answer to everything. I had to get depressed, I had to go and be pushed right into a corner to come out fighting.

J: It’s not a popularly held view but depression forces you… if you allow it, if you go with it – it becomes inspirational.

S: It’s a great way to live your life ‘cos you know you’re going in there to get inspired. I mean, this time last week I didn’t sit there thinking I was going to come up with a solution. What I did do was take on board something you said which is we all go through troughs, we all do it, and all you gotta do is handle them and… not let them overwhelm you but think – this is how I am at the moment, I am in a bad way. That really gives me strength.

J: That whole depression thing reminds me that my next question was gonna be about creative heroes which I suppose is gonna be Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys)?

S: Brian Wilson, yeah. Um, although the more you read the more you go ‘what the fuck???…’

J: So would Brian be at the top for you?

S: I find it difficult to answer that one. I admire what he created.

J: there’s certainly a relationship between being a manic depressive style person and an obsessive person that can bring out genius or inspiration or creative bursts. You’ve certainly got a flavor of those conditions, stylistically.
S: Well what we’re saying is Brian Wilson – creative genius but fucked up beyond fucked up, and y’know, I don’t wanna be that, if I could – and there’s an attractive side to it…

J: Ha! There’s a little glimmer there!

S: ‘Course there is, ‘course there is, but I’m not gonna be Brian Wilson, I’m not going to leave a body of work like the people I truly admire and I’m… quite… happy about that.

J: So, is it McCartney over Lennon for you?

S: Yeah it is actually.

J: That’s unusual…

S: I do love Macca and I suppose it’s ‘cos he gets a little bit of a rough ride that I stand by him.

J: I gotta admit that when I listen to the Beatles I listen to the bass…

S: Off the scale! Isn’t it? The ultimate musician in that band was McCartney, no question about it.

J: But this is my thing, I think whenever we admire someone we’re resonating with a part of ourselves, so what is it with Brian Wilson or McCartney that is hitting that part of you?

S: Innocence, innocence, Paul’s a lot more innocent than John, that’s for sure…

J: So is that what you bring, is that what you’re bringing to Guilty Pleasures a kind of unsullied enthusiasm that you’d normally get in a kid?

S: Definitely, it’s that wide eyed – wow! Listen to this! That’s hopefully what comes across…

J: But that was Picasso’s thing wasn’t it, he spent his life trying to get back to that innocence of when you get the crayons out for the first time and maybe creative people haven’t lost that like you say – wide eyed enthusiastic wow factor… All my kids wanna do is paint, draw, stick things with glue, dress up, act out characters – they live a creative existence.

S: That’s it, constantly, they do. It is so much for me about not being cynical.

J: I think it takes courage to live creatively, particularly going back to that beginning quote about it being a lifestyle and not doing what you’re told but being who you are.

S: Yeah it’s true, as soon as someone says there’s these rules and you’ve gotta stick by them you’re slightly fucked. But what I will do is draw up my own rules, I know that if I go on the radio at lunchtime I know that I’m not gonna play records that I would play on Saturday night.

J: That’s not rules though is it, that’s observation. The reason I tattooed ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’ on my arm was to try and remember it ‘cos I think it’s a really scary way to live. It was the last words of the Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan Al Sabbah, and you can take it as a statement of moral abandon but William Burroughs and Gysin and that lot picked up on it as being the ultimate state of creative being, expression, freedom, whatever, the whole idea being that Jackson Pollock couldn’t have done what he did without taking that on board, it’s like nothing is true, anything is possible, and if you live like that you’re gonna get judged like fuck, you’re gonna upset people, I mean I think Guilty Pleasures was a big risk ‘cos you coulda been laughed out of town but you were doing what you liked with that innocence, with that enthusiasm, saying – come on, admit it… So that’s a hugely creative thing.

S: Well, words that ring around my head quite often – and make of this what you will – I can’t remember my dad ever giving me any kind of encouragement on anything, but I remember my uncle walking into my bedroom, I can remember where I was sitting, where the desk was, what I was wearing, every detail, and he said to me, “Remember Sean, you can do anything you set your mind to”. I fucking remember that… like some magical spell being passed down.

J: There’d be a lot more creative geniuses around if you watered them a bit like that.

S: But that’s just once in my childhood and I’ve held onto that.

J: So if you were going to have a tattoo to remind you to be creative is that what you’d have on your arm?

S: Yeah, I suppose so but it’s in me so I wouldn’t have to, I’ve never forgotten it. No, the thing I’d have tattooed on my arm is – everything in life lets you down… apart from The Beatles. That’s what I’d have…

They say you can learn a lot about your clients by the way they come in and out of the room and Sean’s no exception, he’s up and out the door as he always does with a see ya mate, no time for eye contact or a handshake, he’s already gone, chasing that oxygen rush and the big sky.

I reflect on why I like his last statement. It’s ‘cos for Sean it’s true, it’s his truth, and maybe that little bit of stability in an unreliable world is all he needs to keep him going, and I think – for the first time, ever – that maybe I need to review my position on the whole Beatles/Stones thing…..

JH August 2008

Photo courtesy of www.stevestills.com

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