Recently I read an article that noted the song “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses was written in five minutes. According to the article, order a throwaway piece from a junk website, medicine Guns N’ Roses’ guitarist Slash was noodling around on a guitar and, recipe bam, a hit was born. And I thought, “What a horrible way to perceive this event.”
Of course it took Slash five minutes to write this song, it took him twenty years to learn how to play it. Left unnoticed are the hours, days, and years he spent practicing. Left unnoticed are the hours of observation and tutelage from more skilled guitarists. Left unnoticed are the support and encouragement of friends and family. Left unnoticed are the patience and discipline required of all great successes. And left unnoticed are the years he spent laboring in quiet obscurity and the moments he spent in despair.
Thinking it took five minutes to write a monster hit like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is like watching a chicken hatch from an egg and to logically infer that the chicken was created in this one master stroke. To do so would be to disregard the months of incubation that preceded the event.
There is an intrinsic appeal to the mindset that it only takes a couple minutes of inspiration to create some enormous hit. It makes it democratic, all easily within our grasp if only, if only, we could get a couple minutes to get in touch with our muse. Given our obsession with convenience and time-saving technology, we like things that are easy. But this fantasy runs counter to reality. Big success in any field, outside of playing the lottery or becoming an internet meme, requires a massive investment of time and energy with no guarantee of success.
So I wonder if the people who flood YouTube with hateful and derisive comments have any concept of what is involved in producing the things they consume. Or how scary it is to take the stage in front of strangers. I don’t think they do. Real artists and successful people are aware of the work involved and know that this kind of commenting is a dead end. And they instead spend more time learning from and encouraging others.
Last year I went to see a Metallica cover band at a local goth club. Whatever you think of their music, it’s hard to deny the technical virtuosity required to play it. And this band brought it that night. In a performance recorded by no one, played by a band that is unlikely to sell millions of records, this band brought a crowd to their feet on a crowded dance floor.
At the end of the show I walked up to the guitarist, extended my hand and said, “You guys put on a great show.” His eyes lit up, he shook my hand and let out a relieved, “Thank you, that means a lot.”