When I was in high school, I had an Otis [Redding] greatest hits CD that had â€œCigarettes and Coffeeâ€ on it, which I used to listen to over and over. Great song. But â€œCigarettes and Coffeeâ€ is not the only Otis Redding hit whose last six letters spell a delicious hot drink. Can you name another?
Fun stuff. I should start a weekly trivia column here. For the music NERDS!
Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocityâ€”doing something truly creative, weâ€™re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth. Orson Welles made his masterpiece, â€œCitizen Kane,â€ at twenty-five. Herman Melville wrote a book a year through his late twenties, culminating, at age thirty-two, with â€œMoby-Dick.â€ Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one.
Picasso was the incandescent prodigy. His career as a serious artist began with a masterpiece, â€œEvocation: The Burial of Casagemas,â€ produced at age twenty. In short order, he painted many of the greatest works of his careerâ€”including â€œLes Demoiselles dâ€™Avignon,â€ at the age of twenty-six. Picasso fit our usual ideas about genius perfectly.
CÃ©zanne didnâ€™t. … A painting done by Picasso in his mid-twenties was worth, [economist David Galenson] found, an average of four times as much as a painting done in his sixties. For CÃ©zanne, the opposite was true. The paintings he created in his mid-sixties were valued fifteen times as highly as the paintings he created as a young man. The freshness, exuberance, and energy of youth did little for CÃ©zanne. He was a late bloomerâ€”and for some reason in our accounting of genius and creativity we have forgotten to make sense of the CÃ©zannes of the world.
I wast trying to think about this in terms of musicians. In classical music terms, examples seem quite easy. Mozart was impossibly precocious. Copland, on the other hand, wrote his best music starting in his late thirties and early forties.
In popular music, finding the precocious is once again easy: the Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Beirut, Stevie Wonder and Simon & Garfunkle all had noteworthy accomplishments in their teens. I’m sure there are many examples from hip hop as well, such as Biggie Smalls.
The late-bloomers, it seems, are harder to pin point in popular music. Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam was 28 when Creek Drank the Cradle came out. That hardly seems to qualify him as a late bloomer. Bob Pollard may be a better example: he was 36 when Guided By Voice’s break out album, Bee Thousand, was released (though their first real outside exposure came a couple years earlier). John Vanderslice is now 41, though he’s been known in growing circles since his late 90s work in mk ultra. Bob Dylan released some acclaimed music later in life, but few would argue that it matches his work as a young man.
Is popular music really a young person’s game? Do you know of any good examples of late-bloomers? It actually seems fairly reasonable that there wouldn’t be: popular music has an image of being something for young people so that would discourage older people attempting at large-scale success, and financially, few would attempt to grow in it once family responsibilities and other later-life financial burdens were apparent.