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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Houdini, Honey, hinsecurity

"I am what would be called a Mothers-boy," [Houdini] admitted. "[I]f I do anything, I say to myself I wonder if Ma would want me to do this?" That applied as much onstage as off. He had often brought Cecilia to watch him perform, of course, no time more revealingly than when he made his first manacled bridge jump, in Rochester in 1907. [A]fter the performance he wrote proudly in his diary, "Ma saw me jump!" Houdini needed no king of Sweden to see him work. The royal box in his mental theater was occupied by Cecilia, watching him outshine Bill, Nat, Leo, Hardeen [his brothers], and especially Mayer Samuel [his father]. The extraordinary exclamation identifies probably his sharpest secret spur to applause-getting: "Ma saw me jump!"
Kenneth Silverman, Houdini!!!, 182

There's a lot to be said for insecurity. Several months ago Joey Honey revealed a feeling he had that I was all too familiar with: "I'm kind of worried that I'll never do anything truly, truly great."

This is the summary of a conversation he and I have had a number of times. Both of us know we're smarter than most people, but we're also smart enough to know that we're actually not geniuses, no matter what our girlfriends--what do they know?--tell us when they're feeling particularly subservient.

"The best things I've ever done were out of a sense of competition," Honey continued. "It kind of makes me feel like if I can't do my best stuff on my own, then I don't really have it in me."

I asked him what he thought about the album Pet Sounds.

"It's one of the best," he said rightly.

I told him the story of Brian Wilson's envy of the Beatles's Rubber Soul and about his first impressions of the album:
I really wasn't quite ready for the unity. It felt like it all belonged together. Rubber Soul was a collection of songs ... that somehow went together like no album ever made before, and I was very impressed. I said, 'That's it. I really am challenged to do a great album.'
I told him how the Beatles heard Pet Sounds, the result of Wilson's envy, and were so blown away that they cranked it up a notch and turned out Sgt. Pepper. That album and Pet Sounds were noted as the first and second-best albums of all time, respectively by Rolling Stone. The story seemed to make him feel better, as it did me, the first time I heard it.

I love competition--and as much work as I've done to overcome my insecurities, I relish them when I find that they push me to prove how much better I can do.

Would Houdini be the legend he is without his insecurities? I doubt it. As amazing as his feats were, I believe his enduring popularity comes from his constant and shameless self-promotion, which probably sources from his massive Oedipus complex.

But what's at the opposite end of the spectrum? Having enough confidence in your ability and your aptitude leads ultimately to self-satisfaction, which is fine in itself, but is less likely to result in a great work, if any work at all.


Blogger Ben said...

"Ma saw me jump"??


I so don't give a shit about doing applause-generating stuff right now, and that bothers me. Generating applause is at the core of my identity.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Christopher Zane said...

When Houdini's mother died, he was said to be inconsolable for months and months. He visited her grave annually, dedicated writings and acts to her, and seemed pretty obsessed with her as a whole. I guess that can happen when your father is an austere intellectual rabbi.

12:23 AM  

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