Article by Rechard Cadena from August 2006’s PLSN: Al was not your average, ordinary 20 year old. He was accomplished enough as a musician to be invited to an important recording session with a major artist. Still, he was a bit intimidated when he arrived at the session, guitar in hand, and found Michael Bloomfield, bluesman extraordinaire, already unpacking his guitar. He knew he was out of his league. He didn’t unpack his own guitar, but he didn’t give up either.
Instead, he quietly slipped into the control room and sat next to the producer, looking for an opportunity. Maybe the drummer would spontaneously combust, or the bass player wouldn’t show up. Then it happened.
No, the drummer didn’t go up in a cloud of smoke, but the organ player did get up and move over to the piano. Al’s eyes lit up. Turning to the producer, he asked if he could go and sit in on the organ.
“Gee, AL, you’re not an organ player,” the producer responded.
“But I have the perfect part for this song,” AL insisted. He was bluffing. He really had little more than the burning desire to play on the record. But the producer saw right through him. After some back and forth, the producer got a phone call and left the room. AL quietly slipped behind the plastic keys of the organ. When the producer came back and saw him at the keyboards, he gave Kooper a hard time. “What are you doing?” the producer said. But he let Kooper stay on the keys.
I once saw a locally produced broadcast and I use the word “produced” very loosely of a presentation given by a very short, white haired lady in a Navy uniform. I was instantly captivated by the little lady’s huge stature as
She described her rise through the ranks of the Navy. She started as a computer programmer, one of the first in the world. She programmed the Mark I computer in 1943 and in 1973 she became the first u.s. citizen and the first woman to become a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society. She said she kept a clock that ran backwards on the wall behind her desk in her office to illustrate that just because “it’s always been done that way,” there’s no reason not to do things differently. She handed out “nanoseconds” in the form of lengths of wire about a foot long the distance that electrons travel in one nanosecond to illustrate that, in order to be fast, computers had to be small. Then she would hold up a “millisecond,” a coil of wire about a thousand feet long. But the most vivid message she delivered was one I’ll never forget. “It’s much easier,” she said, “to apologize than it is to get permission. “The speaker was the late, great Rear Admiral Grace Hooper.
If you listen to the recording of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” you’ll notice that the organ always comes in an eighth note behind the rest of the band. You see, AL Kooper was not a keyboard player. He was the guitar player who showed up to the recording session to find Michael Bloomfield there, a guitar player who, by Kooper’s own admission, was far and away a much better player than he. So when Kooper slipped behind the keyboard to play that song, he was waiting until he heard the rest of the band to confirm that he was playing the right chords. Apparently he was.
Later on, when everyone was in the control room listening to the playback, Dylan asked the producer to turn up the organ. The producer protested, saying that Kooper wasn’t a real organ player. Dylan didn’t care; he liked what he heard.
That song turned out to be one of Dylan’s earliest and biggest hits, and the organ part is its signature sound. But had Kooper waited for permission to play the organ it never would have happened. Kooper took a chance, even though he wasn’t trained for the task he took on.
I’m not sure Kooper knew who Rear Admiral Hooper was, but he was following her advice anyways. You should too.
I see a lot of young aspiring production professionals waiting for permission to start their career, to learn AutoCAD, to take on a lighting design, basically to do anything for which they don’t feel comfortable doing. Waiting for permission is not the conventional way to greatness. Greatness takes risk, it takes guts and it sometimes takes making a lot of mistakes even very big mistakes. I’m talking colossal blunders, super-duper bloopers. But it doesn’t take permission.
The judicious application of Hopper’s axiom just do it is the first step towards greatness. I don’t wait for permission to take a bold step in your life. Take a big chance today.
(used without permision. Taking a chance!) Please visit PLSN