Artistic DNA

I mentioned my “Artistic DNA” assignment in my last post, and I realized it might be fun for folks to see what some of my answers happen to be. They change from time to time, but this is a pretty standard set. Enjoy!

Author: Stephen King

The first author I ever really followed as a fan, I devoured everything by King, and while I’m not as quick as I used to be about it, I still keep up with a lot of his work. As I got older, I came to recognize some of his weaknesses as a writer, but regarded them fondly, like an old friend’s foibles. (For the record, Different Seasons is still probably one of the most underrated books of the 20th century. Well, except for “The Breathing Method”, which was kinda lame.) And I respect the hell out of his no-nonsense, no bullshit approach to writing and the reactions of others to his work – his “treat it as a job and never apologize for your interests” ideas are a big model of my own work.

Book: Parliament of Whores, by P.J. O’Rourke.

I read this book probably about four years before I should have, but it totally blew my mind. Here was a guy writing smart, funny things about government, sending me to my parents to understand all the references to politics and history. His joke phrasing and pacing set standards I still try to follow. Most importantly, like the best satirists, he displayed a lot of heart underneath the cynicism and bite. It remains an incredibly funny and effective book almost twenty years later.

Movie: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

I’ve loved Star Wars since I was a little kid – I actually saw Return of the Jedi in theatres – but the first time my parents rented Empire, it changed the game for me. It was faster and slicker than the first movie, but avoided some of the cuddlier, cheesier moments of Jedi. (Little did I know what was in store with the prequels.) And it was dark – I learned that you could have the heroes lose, or at best break even, and still tell a powerful, fun, compelling tale. Plus, it has probably my favorite romantic exchange in all of cinema: “I love you.” <beat> “I know.”  Killer. I’d love to see modern movies that take those kinds of chances on their middle installment.

Album: Destruction by Definition, The Suicide Machines

I’d listened to music a bit before I got to college, but not a whole lot – a few random movie soundtracks, the Weird Al collections I think a lot of geeks my age had, a couple Rush albums – and then my freshman roommate played this record for me. It was fast, it was fun, it mixed ska and punk, and I was hooked. I started going to any show I could find – punk, ska, swing, hardcore, you name it – and before I knew it I was head over heels in love with music. I entered college with 9 albums and left with almost 900, but this more than anything was the one that changed it. It’s still on my High Fidelity “All-Time Desert Island Top 5” albums.

Classic Literature: Henry the IV, Part I

I had an incredible senior year English teacher, who went beyond the high school staples like Hamlet, MacBeath, Julius Caesar and challenged us with some material off the beaten path. Her model of teaching us the history behind the play, the cultural context of Shakespeare’s time period, and the nuances of the language heavily influenced the way I teach today. Plus, I fell in love with Hotspur – being assigned to read his part aloud in class helped – who remains one of my favorite “minor” characters in Shakespeare. I love that basically the nicest guy in the play is the villain due to circumstance rather than malevolence.

Concert: The Aquabats, “Floating Eye of Death Tour”

I had been into music and going to shows for about a year when I went to see ska-Devo madmen The Aquabats at the Troc in Philadelphia. I’d enjoyed their stuff since I discovered them in the Princeton Record Exchange budget bin a few months earlier, so I figured what the heck, why not. I was totally unprepared for what I encountered. Giant eyes shooting laser beams! Story time with pirates! Guys in giant rubber costumes! Bottle feeding a horse puppet! Backflips! Fake commercials! It was madness, absolute madness, and I loved every second of it. I’ve seen them every time they roll through Philly since, and they never disappoint. They really understand the value of putting on a show, as opposed to simply getting up there and playing music in front of a backdrop.

Song: “In Your Eyes,” Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel was one of my favorite artists when I got into music, and this song never fails to impress me. Even though it’s been done, redone and overdone by countless movies and videos – most spoofing on the famous Say Anything scene – it still never goes stale for me. It’s the rarest kind of love song, in that it makes you feel better when you’re in love, and also makes you feel better when you’re not in love. It even helps with a broken heart, somehow. Most love songs are good at one, maybe two of those goals, but this is the only one that works for all three.

Game: Changeling: The Dreaming, by White Wolf Games

When people ask what my favorite (old school) White Wolf game is, I always say that Mage has my mind, Hunter hits me in the gut, but Changeling has my heart. And it still does. Partially because writing the Mind’s Eye Theatre book was my first major game industry publication, I’m sure, but that’s far from the only reason. I’ve always liked fairy tales and modern fantasy, so blending the two was a great start, but then I started realizing that Changeling is also about the journey of an artist, struggling to find Glamour and inspiration against the often-encroaching Banality of everyday life. It’s even a good allegory for the gamer’s life – seeing a world others don’t, fighting to find time to visit this secret word (which gets harder as you get older), and imagining something so completely that it feels just about real.



So…. what’s in your Artistic DNA?

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