Richie Havens and Spontaneous CreativityShare
Remembering Richie Havens - Insights from an iconic performer and master of spontaneous creativity.
In the winter of 1979, the music duo of which I was a part (Myers & O’Flynn), opened for Richie Havens at the Paradise Theater in Aspen, Colorado. After the shows, Pat Flynn and I got a chance to talk with Havens, and I took away something from that conversation I’ve never forgotten: the power of spontaneous creativity.
I am reminded of that lesson because Richie Havens died Monday. He was 72. A notable singer-songwriter who began his career in the 60s, Havens was a powerful presence on stage with a distinctive voice – raspy and soulful – as well as an equally unique guitar style, using lots of open tunings and his thumb across the fretboard. You can see that style in this news piece about Havens’ death as he covers Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”:
“As far as you could see, there were people, all the way to the horizon. At first when I started playing, I was lost in my own head, trying to get my bearings. But then I had a thought. Don’t think about them as hundreds of thousands of people. Think about them as one person. And so that’s what I did. I looked down at the crowd toward the front of the stage and imagined they were the head of this large body. Then the people behind them, the shoulders. The people behind them, the chest. All the way down to the feet. It wasn’t five hundred thousand people I was singing to, it was one person laid out in the grass, grooving to my music. And that’s how I connected with them.”
And connect with them Havens did. Check out his performance of “Freedom,” bearing in mind he improvised the entire song:
Notice how Havens adds a verse, repeating a simple line over and over: “Clap your hands, clap your hands.” And watch what happens with the crowd: Individually at first, then all together they rise to their feet and start clapping… as if one body.
Each of us gets on ‘stage’ hundreds of times in our lives. Presentations at work. Speeches at public functions. Jokes we tell at parties. Pitches we make. And each time we get on stage, there is one immutable fact: We have no idea how it will turn out.
That is where relying on our creativity is most important. This implies a kind of trust in our creative instincts and that implies having worked with our creativity enough to learn to trust it.
But in truth if we trust in our creativity, we can surprise ourselves with moments of deep insight to help us perform to our best ability.
Like kicking off the world’s most famous rock concert, and visualizing 500,000 people as one person.
You can go here to read the Wikipedia page about Richie Havens.
Featured image credit: Heinrich Klaffs/ CC-BY-SA from Wikimedia Commons
Richie Havens Live, Musikhalle Hamburg, May 1972