Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Close Your Eyes. Fall Backwards. Meet the Wrong Person.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to run across the All Things Considered interview with Jason Isbell. I knew of the Drive By Truckers, Isbell's old rock band, but I wasn't familiar with his solo or 400 Unit records. The interview itself knocked me out. Jason was on the edge of sorting out a few things in his life, including his alcoholism, and to hear him tell the story, you just knew he was on the edge of a great album. He recounted the story of a drunken evening contemplating rehab with his then girlfriend (now wife) who stated pretty matter-of-factly: "You're telling the wrong person." By this, of course, she didn't mean she was about to do nothing, but everything.

Not long after this, maybe even before I bought the record, Isbell played the Letterman Show and played the tune "Stockholm" from the new album (Southeastern) with his band. They were great. Here's the video. Like the interview, but for other reasons, it felt like I was witness to a small triumph of sorts, a performance of a song on the flipside of a fair amount of heartbreak, with the earnest support of people who really cared for him. The song ended and one word struck me about the performance: inspired.

I wanted to keep that moment and word – inspired – in my pocket as a memento of the feeling that I'm occasionally lucky enough to encounter. And, I wanted to make sure I used it sparingly, so it didn't dilute like "awesome" or "spectacular," once reserved for only the best fireworks and true wonders of the world.

Now, I've spent the better part of 20 years involved in the creative pursuits, sometimes for projects of my own and often as part of my job at 3VERB where we develop marketing and tech for companies. In that time, like any good Midwesterner, I've consistently put an emphasis on the perseverance and hard work needed to produce meaningful creative work; it often takes plain stamina to push through a thousand "no's" on the way to the best art and work. Also, as taught by my father, I've sought out and respect craftsmanship in all manners of creative: the discipline and diligence to write a complete novel, the depth of woodworking knowledge to craft a Thos. Moser chair, the professionalism and mannered approach of Tom Dowd as documented in The Language of Music.

But, in the hunt for perseverance and craftsmanship, I've often given inspiration less credit than it deserves. I don't trust that it'll come around as often as it should. So now I'm out actively lookin' for it among my colleagues with the confident belief that it might be around the next corner even when I'm not clearing an emotional hurdle like Isbell.

Just last week, I had a client apologize after a energetic conversation about his work because, I suppose, it felt somehow emotional and tangential to our work. But for all the block and tackle that needs to happen with that particular project aren't we really mostly in it to help support the inspired design, that exact passion, we're meant to share with a wider audience? When we stumble across the next fast and inspired moment, will we just let it burst open high in the sky to fall into small ashes at our feet or catch it on film – lock it in our memory like that picture of the Grand Canyon – so it can punch us in the soul a second time? Will we be ready for it?

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Postscript. I stood outside Chicago's Merchandise Mart watching the rain this morning, thinking about finishing this article and the first line of Joe Henry's song "Our Song" – "I saw Willie Mays At a Scottsdale Home Depot Looking at Garage Door Springs At the the far end of the 14th row." It's a line I often cite to fellow writers in the description of my editing process. One day, I'll learn to leave that kind of inspired line alone at the outset.