About Justin Locke
Justin Locke spent eighteen years as a professional double bassist, playing in the Boston Pops, the Boston Symphony, and just about every other orchestra in New England. His role in the arts world has since expanded to playwright, author, impresario, score reader, producer, and publisher.
He is well known in the symphonic world for his educational programs for orchestra concerts, "Peter VS. the Wolf" and "The Phantom of the Orchestra." These programs have been performed for hundreds of thousands of people on four continents and on two island nations, in six languages.
Justin is the author of Real Men Don't Rehearse, a popular humorous musical memoir of his days as a bass player (now in its 5th printing). His latest book, titled Principles of Applied Stupidity is a unique approach to maximizing the potential of your own originality. In his speaking appearances, he shares his favorite stories of working with some of the most famous conductors in the world. "Principles of Applied Stupidity" are an extremely pragmatic approach to overcoming any hesitancy you may have in bringing forth the magic and power of your own unique self.
Latest Posts by Justin Locke
There was a discussion a few years back about the idea of creating a Cabinet post for secretary of the arts. I have a different idea: I suggest we create a Secretary of History.
The role of the Secretary of History would be to inform the president and the Congress of any and all historical events that seem relative to current legislation and other government actions.
The current economic mess we are in now occurred largely because of a lack of, shall we say, historacy (i.e. literacy in history). Way back in 1906, Congress had passed banking regulations to stop certain kinds of casino-like actions on the part of banks. In the 90′s, the banking industry lobbied heavily to have those laws repealed. If we had had a Secretary of history, perhaps Congress would have been a little more informed as to the potential pitfalls. As it was, we didn’t know history, therefore we were doomed to repeat it. Faced with the same temptations, the banks did the exact same thing in the past decade that they did in the 1900′s. And now congress is doing the exact same thing in response that it did in 1906.
When Chairman Bernanke appeared on 60 minutes, he talked at great length about his study of the history of the Great Depression. I was very happy to hear about his historical knowledge of failed government fix attempts back then, as that kept him from making the same mistakes twice. We were lucky we had someone in office who was “historate.” Next time we may not be so lucky.
There is a fabulous book by Cullen Murphy called “Are we Rome?”, in which he compares the ups and downs of the Roman empire with what the American empire is going through right now. The parallels are astonishing, and occasionally sobering.
The way we teach history in high school is more propaganda than history. Real history is actually macro psychology. Real history shows you what human beings who will do in certain situations. Even us.
Back in 1985, I was giving a talk to a bunch of fifth-graders about some legal issue that grew out of a draft protest case in the Vietnam War. I’ll never forget what one kid said to me: “next time, could you talk about something that’s a little more recent?” I could see how it was hard for them to see the relevance. It’s easy to think that things that happened before we were born–or in ancient Rome–can’t possibly happen to us. “That was then, this is now.” All too often, history is presented as a series of dates to be memorized, with little apparent relevance to day-to-day life. But there are essential truths about human nature that can be learned by studying history, whether it happened last week or 2000 years ago.
I think it’s important that, even if we didn’t live through it ourselves, that we have a collective understanding of our country’s history, and how history relates to what we are doing here and now. It would be the job of the Secretary of history to provide that. Obviously, some of it wouldn’t be very pleasant, but I would rather deal with something unpleasant in the past than something unpleasant in the present.
© Justin Locke
There is a wonderful old story about Michelangelo being asked how he carved his “David.” Michelangelo’s response was, “all I did was get rid of everything that wasn’t David.”
I utilized a somewhat similar approach in my technique is a bass player. It’s really not all that hard to push your finger down on a string at a given location. The problem is, your fingers are already filled with skills for zipping up zippers, opening doors, and throwing baseballs. I discovered that it was a whole lot easier to just get rid of that prelearned excess motion than was to overcome it with heightened force.
If you’ll pardon a little bit of smugness, I was famous within the local musician culture for having astonishingly “fast fingers.” Most people try to overwhelm and overcome pre-existing muscle memory instead of just getting rid of it. It’s easy to assume that my ease of playing was talent, but in reality, what I had done was eliminate all excess motion. In the spirit of Michelangelo, I had just gotten rid of “everything that wasn’t B-flat.”
One of my favorite dance teachers likes to talk about “the essence of effortlessness.” While the majority of dance instructors offer workshops in various kinds of “content,” I consistently find that the best teachers always balance their “to do list” with a “to don’t list.” They understand the power of efficiency and “lessness.” They believe that if you pull all the added crud and soot off of a renaissance painting, the underlying genius will appear.
Unfortunately, all too often, people in the education / training business believe in the blank slate approach. They fail to see what students already have. The result is, stuff is piled onto the kid. They put in without pulling out. They add, but they do not subtract. This is inherently imbalanced. It’s like inhaling without exhaling.
Most educational programs are based on the idea that we are going to relentlessly place knowledge into the minds of students. There is very little effort devoted to removing excess knowledge from the minds of students, thereby revealing the gorgeous statue within. The money makes us do this. You can’t test a kid for what useless stuff you removed, ergo you can’t charge for the service. So you don’t do it.
Managers often do the same thing. Instead of stepping back and letting people figure it out, they send out endless memos, doubling everyone’s workload. I’ll say this, all this added busywork tends to enhance job security . . . unless of course all the accumulated added complexity puts the whole company out of business.
I met someone at a party recently and they were talking about cultural complexity. She said the reason civilizations eventually fall apart is because they respond to problems by creating ever greater complexity of organization. Eventually things become so complex that the complexity itself is the problem. They can no longer adjust and adapt to new problems, and the whole thing falls over from its own frozen weight.
Efficiency experts are nothing new, and people who show hoarders how to de-clutter their house are nothing new, so I guess I am in slight variation of that kind of service. Thought is great, education is great, knowledge is great, wisdom is great, experience is great,… but there are times when you should just do things with as little thought or action as possible. With our cultural vocabulary it’s hard to monetize simplicity, but, like Michelangelo, very often the statue (or the inherent ability of individuals) is already there, you just need to get rid of the excess stuff . . . and you’re done.
No one likes to be embarrassed (well, practically no one), so of course we endeavor to avoid it whenever possible. However, a certain amount of minor embarrassment is part and parcel of life in general, and if you are going to do anything creative or innovative or enter into unknown territory, the potential for feeling embarrassed increases. Therefore, to be effective at anything you have to have a reasonable amount of “embarrassment management skill.”
I will say at the outset that, being a professional performer, I had to learn how to manage embarrassment fear (specifically, stage fright) early on in my career. This was one of the most important skills I learned in life, as I often look around me and see people who are passing up major opportunities for self-fulfillment because they can’t handle the thought of the slightest amount of potential negative result.
Part of the problem of embarrassment fear is that an awful lot of people in marketing are eager to increase your fear of embarrassment, as it’s a great way to encourage you to buy stuff. There was a recent ad for a debit card that tried to imply that you should be embarrassed if you (gasp) ever write a check. There was no logical argument, there was just his implication that it’s shameful and wrong, and if you do it in public, strangers will look at you like you’re an idiot.
In a similar vein, there is a Michael Jordan T-shirt ad where they are pointing and making fun of a guy who’s T-shirt collar is somehow inappropriately wrinkled. Gee whiz, ya know, the T-shirt is perfectly good, and who knows, maybe the guy can’t afford a better T-shirt, or maybe he likes the way it looks . . . But instead of making a logical argument, it’s so much easier to strike at a more vulnerable point, i.e. our fear that people are laughing at us.
Schoolteachers are all too aware that order can be maintained with the rowdiest of children by threatening them with public embarrassment. If this technique was used on you in elementary school (and it probably was), it may live on in your subconscious is an unresolved trauma, limiting your actions to this day, for no good reason.
Up to a certain point, fear of embarrassment, that is, becoming conscious of the fact that you’re doing something that is socially unacceptable, is actually pretty good thing. But all too often I find people who have gone overboard with it.
If you are going to innovate, or if you are going to lead, you are essentially disconnecting yourself from at least the middle of the bell curve. Every time you do something artistic that displays your unique spirit to the world, you are running the risk of someone pointing at it and laughing because they don’t understand it, and they are directing their own fear of embarrassment (i.e. sticking out) at you. And if you advocate a slightly different political viewpoint, instead of respecting your viewpoint, your opponents will try to laugh at you and embarrass you into silence, as that’s the easiest and quickest way to counter most opposition. Hey, it works.
One of the reasons I wrote “Principles of Applied Stupidity” (and why I dared to title that way) was to begin the process of dragging these fears out into the light. I could talk about artistic freedom and arts education until I’m blue in the face, but until this core fundamental limitation is addressed and put in its proper perspective, the good stuff some people have to offer will be forever inhibited. The book re-examines the supposed unbearable and unspeakable “sins” of imperfection, mistake making, and just being slightly different. It’s not very complicated; it’s more about just having the courage to face the fear.
There’s a lot to be said for learning new things, but there’s also a lot to be said for “unlearning” limiting thoughts and feelings. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
From 1976 to 2003 I was either playing bass in the Boston Pops Fourth of July show or working in the TV truck as a “Score reader.” In 2003 I decided it was time to write my “scandalous memoir” . . . sadly, I had virtually no scandalous stories, but I did have a lot of funny ones. That’s when I wrote Real Men Don’t Rehearse.
I confess, after spending every 4th of July for 25 years working on those extravaganzas, that first empty 2003 Fourth of July felt more than just a bit strange. I had never thought of July 4 as a holiday, it was usually the busiest day of the year. But if that change hadn’t occurred, I probably never would have written this book for fear of losing the gig, so something that looked awfully dark and sad at the time was actually a wonderful thing.
Anyway, for all you folks who are perhaps surfing the net while you’re waiting for the show to start, a few little memories:
One of my favorite Fourth of July stories is of course my first Fourth of July with Arthur Fiedler with the Pops in 1976. I tell the whole story in Real Men Don’t Rehearse. That concert is still in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest audience at a classical music concert ever. Every once in a while they’ll play a snippet of the video from that concert, and if you see a bunch of basses behind Arthur Fiedler, I’m the guy top left
One of the worst Fourths of July I ever had was the Statue of Liberty Centennial. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time, and it’s always fun to feel like you’re at the center of the universe. There were a lot of big stars of that show, and I got to chat with Johnny Cash and John Denver backstage which was very cool, to say the least. However, the venue was basically an open stage with a roof and we were right on the water, so the rehearsals were windy and just freezing cold. Also, there was so much security and so many military people around doing all the parades and such that we really didn’t have enough porta potties for everyone, so that memory kind of mars the whole thing. Also the food service was not wonderful. I remember discussing some undercooked pork chops, I called them “pork tartar,” and some newsperson overheard me and reprinted it in the paper the next day. It was also a bummer that they were putting on one of the biggest fireworks displays in history, but they had to spirit of us out ahead of the crowd, so we couldn’t watch it.
Also the statute of limitations has run out, so I can tell you this: when I sat in the TV truck for the Esplanade shows, the camera guys were warming up, etc., and they will often use those fabulous lenses to do a nice zoom in on some young lady sunning herself out there in the oval. If the (female) producer saw them doing that, she would yell at them, but she couldn’t be every place all the time. It was a spectacularly convenient way of girl watching.
I’m somewhat bummed that the event has become such a high security zone. Back when I did it, there was no such concerns, and it was such a fabulous parade of humanity walking past the TV trucks all afternoon.
I was occasionally even invited to go to the post concert private party that Keith Lockhart would have at the four seasons Hotel. Pretty posh, I dare say, plus it was fun to hang out with the celebrities du jour.
It was always kind of neat after that party, to walk down a closed Storrow drive to my car. I always found myself thinking, this must be what it was like to walk down here before they invented automobiles. It was a bit of peace and serenity that modern life has robbed us of.
What I will not miss about that event is suffering through the July 3 morning rehearsal. I was on my own to find parking sometimes a mile away, I was always stuck out in the hot sun, I had virtually nothing to do, but I had to be there and stay awake just in case they changed something in the sheet music. Also the whole deal of driving down there on the Fourth of July with all the police yelling at me even though I had a pass to go to the special parking area… yikes.
Another little piece of inside information for you, the Fourth of July show is always played by the Boston Pops “Esplanade” Orchestra. The “official” Boston Pops is made up primarily of Boston Symphony players, and they are all out at Tanglewood. (The Esplanade Pops plays half the Pops season and most of the tours.) Sadly, in a never-ending vain attempt to distinguish between the two orchestras, the Esplanade players are forced to wear very bizarre ties. I can stand a red bow tie, but a red necktie with a white tuxedo? Talk about a fashion faux pas.
Just one more little note… at one of Keith’s post concert parties, he made a statement to the effect that the Pops had never played serious classical music on the Fourth of July. I should’ve kept my mouth shut, but I had had a few, and so I pointed out to him that on the record-setting Fourth of July concert 1976, we had played the entire Tchaikovsky B-flat piano Concerto. Ah, the days of Arthur Fiedler.
I am not much of one for public-service announcements, but I would like to give this little bit of advice, directed especially to younger people:
Don’t use profanity on facebook or twitter.
Bear in mind, I say this, not because I am particularly squeamish. I grew up on a farm, and I have dealt up close and personally in great depth with kitty litter, doggie doo, horse dung, and cow and pig manure. And yes, on those rare occasions when I have accidentally struck my thumb with a hammer, I have been known to repeatedly yell out the acronym based on “for unlawful carnal knowledge.”
But here’s the thing: if you use profanity in publicly viewable social media posts, you are announcing the following to the whole world:
“I am immature; I am narcissistic; I am inconsiderate; I lack elegance, eloquence, and social grace; and I have generally poor judgment.”
Even if you don’t have these attributes, it’s easy for strangers to assume that you do.
Why does this matter? Well, one quick example: I just came across a couple of tweets on twitter from some kid who is struggling trying to find work in the music industry. I’m hardly a bigwig, but I certainly know people, and occasionally I am asked to do hiring. So I scrolled down this kid’s tweets to see if I could help him out, and therein I found several posts in which four-letter words were used. I was put off by it. Suddenly I had no further interest in him or his problems. I moved on to something else.
When anyone posts four-letter words on facebook, I defriend them immediately. I just don’t want to see that stuff.
Again, while I am not particularly squeamish, I have to be careful not to ever get into the habit of using foul language. You see, I am a speaker, and using it in my day to day language would make it ever more likely that in some future extemporaneous frenzy, I might say a VERY bad word to the entire East Eaglejaw Ladies’ Auxiliary. For that reason, I eschew the use of vulgarity, and I have to require the same of people in my immediate social and professional circles.
I can understand the appeal of curse words. They feel like added power. But for the record, the purpose of profanity is generally to create emphasis, via invoking some presumed fear and shame on the part of the listener re: either their sexuality or waste product elimination. A more literate/sophisticated/mature reader will see right past that and see that it is you who has these unresolved fear/shame issues. Such expressions of fear are unappealing, and so most people will choose to quietly avoid you due to your overall lack of manners and upbringing.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what you say on social media goes all over the world instantly and stays there. I have often been in a situation where I had to pick one candidate out of two or three, and no matter how innocently meant it was, when I see the use of profanity, the thumb goes down on that choice instantly. When I hire somebody, I’m somewhat responsible for their overall demeanor and performance, and if they don’t have the good sense to not use profanity in a public forum, I can’t risk hiring them.
When I was a kid, we used to be threatened by our teachers about having our grades being in our “permanent record.” We didn’t know how good we had it. I’m so glad all the poor choices of words (and tasteless jokes) that I made when growing up aren’t sitting on a hard drive at Google someplace.
So, just a word to the wise, kids. Be careful what you say on facebook, it’s going on your “permanent record.” When a potential employer for your dream job googles you and sees the use of foul language, they won’t know it was only meant in fun for your buddy Ralph. Once they see it, there is a very strong possibility that they may take your well-typed resume and say, “oh, well, **** this ****.”
There is a phrase that I often see in various advertisements for education and training services. There are many variants, but the primary phrase is, “this will put you on the path to success.”
This phrase is certainly very popular amongst those who market this kind of service, as it certainly sounds very wonderful and inviting. But, being the cantankerous and contentious person that I am, well… it bugs me.
The reason that it bothers me is that, if there is indeed a “path,” this necessarily implies that someone else has been through here before at least once, and if it is a well-worn and well marked path, it means a whole lot of people have been through here before.
That’s when it hit me. People who are truly successful do not follow pre-set paths. They take their machete (not always the sharpest blade in the box either), and they start hacking their way through the dense undergrowth.
I realize that not everyone is cut out to be a Stanley or Livingston. The vast majority of people are path followers. I am fine with that. What bugs me is how this may affect our precious few pathfinders.
The constant implication that a path already exists to every desirable destination is, I think, the wrong message to send. To constantly say that there is an easier way to to success than hacking through the dense undergrowth of your own ignorance and desire (and ever expanding opportunities) essentially shames the desire to go exploring.
Whenever I see an advertisement for publicity or marketing for authors or speakers, I always sense that little stab in my soul, because these ads imply that I’m a sucker for not paying them their fee and doing it their way. “Why work hard when we have already discovered the easy way to quick riches?” They never come out and say that, but it is very heavily implied. You have to scroll way down to the fine print to see the phrase, “results not typical.” It functions as propaganda, and it is dangerous.
One of the most important of the 22 immutable laws of branding is “be first.” If you are on a path, you are not the first one. Christopher Columbus and Bill Gates did not follow any known path. If you are on a path to success, I would advise you to get off it immediately.
© Justin Locke
Okay, full disclosure here, I am a speaker and seminar leader, and I like to talk about leadership and management. I am not alone.
It occurred to me today that we are at a point in human history where there is more education on management and leadership than has ever existed in human history. We have more graduates with degrees in management than ever before. We have had the benefits of a veritable flood of books by well-known successful managers and leaders, many of which have sold millions of copies.
Given that, you would think… you would think… that contemporary management and leadership would be at its apex, and would be measurably superior to management and leadership of the past. I want to believe that it is, but a cursory glance around me makes me wonder. Granted, we enjoy certain technological advances such as the Internet and many extraordinary breakthroughs in medical technology. But that’s not really a result of management; we’ve been experiencing a nonstop explosion of technological advances for the last, what, hundred years? 500 years?
My real question is about bigger picture items. While we have had many technological advances, in the realm of day-to-day life, are you seeing any manifestations of superior management? Is our collective general health better than it was 30 years ago? Do you sleep better? Is it easier to travel by car, rail, or air? Do you have more leisure time? Is the world a safer place?
With all this readily available management and leadership training, was there not one person at Lehman Brothers who perhaps had read “In Search of Excellence” or “Good to Great”? When one looks at the gulf oil spill, was there not one person on that oil rig platform possibly thumbing through a copy of “The Checklist Manifesto”? Apparently not. Or if they were, apparently it didn’t sink in, no pun intended.
With all this management training and info, how did we miss training so many people in such well paid positions of high authority?
I realize that it is easy to become nostalgic, and look back at the “good old days” when Ike was in the White House. I realize that we had lots of ineffective and/or incompetent management 10, 20, and 30 years ago. And I have no doubt that there are many good things happening today. My question is, with all the money and resources being spent on training people to be better leaders and managers, far more than we have spent in the past, are you seeing any across the board improvement? Do we have management and leadership skills today that exceed those of the people who won World War II, built the national highway system, and cured polio? Do you see evidence of overall / generally superior management and leadership from your perspective? Because if you don’t, this begs the question, as to just how effective all this current management and leadership training is. It’s not enough to just go at it every day and hope for the best. At some point you have to do an audit and ask yourself, is this stuff actually working?