I am nearly deaf. Before I had bone anchored hearing aids bolted to my skull I had to make music by feel and use my teeth to hear my guitar through bone conduction. It was and is almost impossible.
The crazy thing is that even people who know about my hearing, epilepsy, migraines and other issues will watch me play and say, “Oh, it’s so easy for you. You have talent.”
The truth is that music was much harder for me than most people. I just keep sweating Hakuin ‘s white beads, just like every other artist, athlete, craftsman or human being. Progress requires effort. It isn’t worth anything otherwise!
Nowadays it seems like everybody is trying to be a social media influencer. Get that viral post or pointless Instagram photo – and for what?
Even offline we often make the mistake of training for a goal. Be the best. Get famous. Be seen. Be somebody. All without realizing that the will to succeed and our desire for fame only serve to slow down our progress.
Warning: This film is basically harmless, but it is not for everyone.
Miami Connection (1987) Rated R for ninja violence, language and improbable 1980’s strangeness.
People are sometimes baffled by my love of terrible movies. It’s easy to look at a film like 1987’s Miami Connection and blow it off as nonsense.
The year is 1987. Motorcycle ninjas tighten their grip on Florida’s narcotics trade, viciously annihilating anyone who dares move in on their turf. Multi-national martial arts rock band Dragon Sound have had enough, and embark on a roundhouse wreck-wave of crime-crushing justice. When not chasing beach bunnies or performing their hit song “Against the Ninja,” Mark (taekwondo master/inspirational speaker Y.K. Kim) and the boys are kicking and chopping at the drug world’s smelliest underbelly. It’ll take every ounce of their blood and courage, but Dragon Sound can’t stop until they’ve completely destroyed the dealers, the drunk bikers, the kill-crazy ninjas, the middle-aged thugs, the “stupid cocaine”…and the entire MIAMI CONNECTION!!
There are bad movies that are garbage and there are bad movies that go so haywire that it becomes a working example of the Taoist concept of the happy accident. In other words, art that you could never intentionally create. Like a ray of light falling on a leaf floating down a mountain stream, the charm is unintentional. Things just come together by random chance to make something unique.
The people who made Miami Connection tried very hard to make a good movie with a positive message. They even put part of that message in Dragon Sound’s opening song.
Friends through eternity Loyalty, honesty We’ll stay together Through thick or thin Friends forever We’ll be together We’re on top ‘Cause we play to win
Movies like this have helped me to avoid overthinking success or failure when I am creating something.
When Miami Connection was originally released it was a dismal failure. Today it is loved by B-movie aficionados all over the world. Sometimes art needs time to find an audience.
I will refrain from sharing my opinions or insights concerning this quote. Like picking up the chord progression to an unfamiliar song at a jam session, Lao Tzu works best when you stop thinking about the details and trust your intuition.
When my father and I were on the road filming interviews for our video music magazine The Down Neck Gazette we had some strange things happen in front of our lens. One moment in particular that stands out for both of us was an interview with a famous banjo guru who, as it turned out, was not as good as the hype. To this day the footage makes me cringe. All that came out of this guy was gobbledygook.
We were baffled by the experience. How could people think random nonsense was the same as teaching?
Then we rented the movie Mystery Men and it all made sense.
In the film a bunch of inept would-be superheroes are trained by The Sphinx, a mysterious hero who rattles off meaningless proverbs that are so stupid that they could easily be mistaken for wisdom.
At one point The Sphinx tells a frustrated student who is struggling to balance a tack hammer on his head:
When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack.
To this day, this phrase will make my father and I laugh out loud. It takes us right back to that awkward interview with a famous teacher who could not teach.
It does not happen to everyone, but playing the banjo can sometimes have the unexpected side effect of covetousness. We start out happy just to have a banjo. Over time we are collecting instruments, parts, gadgets and more. A new banjo will make us sound better, play better, be better . . .
Every banjo player I have ever known, including myself. has gone through this to some degree. Some grow out of it and some do not.
If you find yourself thinking that buying something will take place of long hours of practice, remember this bit of stoic philosophy from Marcus Aurelius (and a gaggle of other stoic philosophers):