Lessons on Creativity and Life from the Man Who Was New York City - a Tribute to Rick Budo

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Synopsis

The path to creative life can rarely be described as a sequence of “simple steps”. Before we start talking about “success” and “happiness” maybe we should ask ourselves first: “what the hell does it all mean?”. Rick Budo had some clever answers for us

Once in your lifetime, if you are very lucky, you meet a person on your path - a human being who helps you to realize what is truly important, sparks your soul and… flips your core believes upside down. For me this person was Rick Budo.

Any effort to describe Rick in one essay feels like an impossible task - everyone who knew him will confirm that he was one-of-a kind. He was truly a character, a larger than life personality who methodically escaped even the slightest attempt to label or qualify him as a “type”. 

Rick Budo was an artist and made beautiful music, played drums and bass guitar in multiple bands. He was also a brilliant music producer. Rick was passionate about photography. His shots of NYC streets and skylines are simply breathtaking. 

Rick was also a martial arts fighter and had a third degree black belt in Okinawa style karate; he was passionate about MMA (a frequent, highly opinionated caller in MMA Junkie radio who with knowledge, wit and straight-forward attitude stole the hearts of many people in this industry).

Rick was sports fan, a die-hard Jet’s fan (which was not easy over the last few years.). Rick loved the NYC Hammers; he loved the sport and the sense of community which only passionate and loyal Hammers fans can provide. 

And yet none of these things taken is separation would even scratch the surface of understanding the true nature of the man himself. He was exactly like the city he was born and raised in and which he adored with all his heart - Rick Budo was like NYC - impossible to describe, full of contradictions and hidden treasures not seen by tourists. If you were chosen and he called you his friend you can be sure that you are a lucky person. For the only 47 years he spent on this planet his impact on people is purely unmeasurable and impossible to describe. 

Rick was a huge fan of the idea behind The Creativity Post. We spent countless hours discussing what can be measured and what can be described in “creativity studies”. Obviously he was a perfect person to ask.  What I have learned from him I will always describe as “the Rick Budo effect” - an intellectual flip which forces anybody who comes up with “a round theory” back to the streets of reality.  Here is what I learned from Rick Budo: a renaissance man and… a philosopher

The value of intellectual agility

Every discussion with Rick was a challenge and tons of fun. He was quick, smart, knowledgeable and passionate. We didn’t agree on many topics so we fought a lot.  Arguments were always fiery - forget about a proper decorum and subdued exchange of ideas - it was always a glorious mess!  Both sides underlined arguments by sprinkling them with profanities and swear words yet, every exchange of ideas was full of substance - always provocative, sharp, unforgettable.

After one of our exhaustive “sparings”, we got quiet for a moment. Then Rick suddenly said under his breath - “I truly hope you don't think I’m stupid…” I answered with my combative voice “well, actually, the opposite is true”. He looked at me not knowing what would come next …so I just continued - “We don't agree often but I can tell you right now that you are one of the brightest people I know… and I know a lot of smart people”. His eyes lit up and he gave me one of his signature huge smiles and asked…”for real?”. “Yep, for real”. We both started laughing and just ordered anther beer. 

My complement wasn't lofty by any means.  Rick was an extraordinary autodidact. He taught himself deep knowledge on multiple subjects. But his diverse expertise wasn't what prompted my statement. It was something else… Something important we tend to overlook while speaking about creativity….

Rick mastered multiple disciplines. His way of acquiring any new skill was always a two-step process. First; he learned everything possible about the subject, second: he put his own spin on it. He used that strategy in everything he touched (from music, photography to martial arts). 

One might think - “oh every creative person does it”, but in fact not very many people have the capacity to accomplish this type mastery. Why? because often during the education process a lot of people fall into a trap of dogma and the more they learn, the more “rigid” they get in their beliefs. They lose the ability to see anything outside the boundaries of the very discipline they are trying to master. Often, they become so in love with the knowledge they have just possessed that they lose the capacity to question anything they have learned. In extreme cases of intellectual rigidity people “hold hammers and see nails everywhere”. The more their book knowledge grows, the smaller and more predictable their world becomes.  Well, the truth is - whatever you preach mindlessly (either religion or scientism) you are squeaking from a small “box”. Some extremely knowledgeable people fall into this trap. And here ladies and gentlemen lies the difference between “knowledgeable” and “brilliant/creative” - in the later one retains his/her intellectual agility, the ability to question the very basis of their own discipline. Simply put, brilliant people have the courage to shake the very branch they are sitting on.  Only the ability to “switch gears” masterfully - from deep knowledge to revolution produces worthwhile works of art. Rick Budo was brilliant. 

A philosophy of life for “wildflowers”

Sometimes, very late at night, his demons raised their ugly heads. Memories of lost opportunities and perished family members were followed by bouts of anger.

Rick and I shared a lot of things but I believe that our turbulent childhood made us understand each other without words. A chain of tragedies we both endured put a very similar “coloring” on both of our souls. Sickness and death of parents made us grow up fast. This type of experience is not possible to communicate with anyone who hasn't experienced it. Rick and I didn't talk about it too much - but it was there - an occasional gaze – we both understood without words spoken. 

The philosophy of life for people with our history contrasts dramatically from any “Polly Anna -self-help - be happy” nonsense. At times when the unimaginable strikes and you lose a sense of control, you need a different set of tools to survive.

Obstacles in life make some strong people stronger. But this source of resilience doesn’t come from covering up your grief, your disappointment or your sense of failure. Peace of mind is one of the things in life you can’t fake. You just have to dig deeper to find the right footing to get up again. 

For wildflowers like us, people who grew up without access to silver spoons, the advice is simple: you need to learn how to fight. In real life you don't control your environment, you can and will be hurt by people, events and failure. Avoid being a victim at any cost. Stand up for what you believe with full force and dedication.

Rick built his sense of strength on his martial arts philosophy. As some of you might know, Okinawa Karate was a way to bring power back to those who cannot own and use a sword (because they are not samurais). In karate you use your own body as a weapon. 

My strength was built upon philosophy (the ultimate power of human reasoning). I’m a Nietzsche scholar so the quote “from life’s school of war - what doesn't kill me makes me stronger” is tattooed in my mind. In Nietzsche’s philosophy of life you foster and use every part of your life, every skill, all good and bad experiences to regain power. 

Similarly, in Rick’s version of martial arts philosophy you have to “feed” both: a tiger (which represents sheer power - white belt) and a dragon (a symbol of spirituality and enlightenment of a black belt). 

For “wildflowers” - people who were not meticulously gardened in a perfect greenhouse of perfect circumstances, every type of casual “life advice” sounds painfully trivial.  We all know too well that life is a dynamic entity impossible to describe or fully tame. A good life is a balancing act between all good and bad, between beautiful and ugly, between joy and pain. For those who learn to fend for themselves early defiance is not a vice and freedom becomes the air we breathe. Rick taught me that I don't have to apologize for finding and following my own path in life - he encouraged me to keep my head high, to always follow my instinct, and always, always to think for myself. 

We both agreed and shared this set unusual yet fundamental values despite the fact that we were born and raised on different continents. Rick often marveled over that very fact - how is it even possible that a girl form Europe and a guy from Queens could feel like they knew each other for centuries? We were constantly reminded that we had met for some very important reason. One day a part of that mystery was unlocked : Rick said: "yo listen, I gotta tell you something important. But don't bug out, alright?..my full name is Frederick and I share my birthday with your boy Nietzsche". Well, we just laughed and shook our heads yet again saying; "you just can't make that stuff up”.

Success. So what does it mean exactly?

It was one of those many glorious afternoons when Rick, Sal and I met for a beer. At some point Rick casually just threw it out there: “Yo, I have found a bunch of old un-cashed checks in my drawers - you guys think they are still good?”- “how old?” - “I don’t know…year and a half.” Sal and I started laughing but at the end of the day it seems like Rick had the last laugh.

It was a well known fact that Budo didn't pay much attention to money. He worked only if he liked the job at hand, and never took money from friends for any favors (and there were many). He laughed hysterically when people attempted to define “personal worth” in digits and zeros on a paycheck.  Rick’s disdain towards all-too-common shallowness of small talks and phony introductions was legendary - when asked by any new person “So what do you do for living” he always promptly responded: “not much”. The expression on that random newcomer’s face was always priceless.

Yet, Rick left behind an enormous body of work. Tens of thousands of stunningly beautiful photographs. Weeks worth of music (from heavy metal to hip-hop and everything in between). But noteworthy - he never cut corners - in his mind the “diarrhea of creations” is not ART.

Rick Budo loved classic watches - in fact he had quite a collection of different types and models. He was mesmerized by the craftsmanship, precision and perfection of every single piece. In the era of constant encouragement to produce “more” instead of “better” he was chasing quality in every aspect of his life.

Rick left behind friends and wonderful family members to whom he was absolutely everything. He was deeply loved by many people. In the current era of “tribes and cliques” Rick had friends from many different walks of life (CEO’s of major companies, bartenders, artists and sales people). Traits he respected in people were: decency, open mindedness and lack of pretense.  

Budo lived his life full to the brim. He believed there is nothing worse than human pettiness, that there is nothing more important than seeking the truth. He was the ultimate New Yorker - rough around the edges and intimidating for some, but like every true New Yorker when faced with any type of injustice - he didn’t pity - he stood up for what is right. He believed that life itself is a work of art and to make it beautiful you need to use colors of happy times but never shy away from any shades of pain. And what a masterpiece Rick Budo’s life was! 

Rest in Power my Dear Friend and Soulmate 

 

All photography copyright @RickBudo 

Tags: creativity in music, creativity in visual arts, intellectual agility, milena z. fisher, okinawa karate, philosophy of creativity, philosophy of life, rick budo

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