How do we recognize boundless creativity in our midst. In our friends or in ourselves.
"Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a Good Looking Corpse". I'm not sure who said it first, was it Fonzie referring to James Dean? Humphrey Bogart in the film "Knock On Any Door"? Or proto-liberated Mrs. Irene Luce in her famous 1920 divorce case, as she claimed to have "No use for a husband" she intended to "Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse".
No matter. As I was reading a story about the life and death of Alexander Calderwood in the latest edition of Fast Company (July/August 2014 - Note, he actually died November 14th, 2013) - I was struck by the fact that I had crossed paths with Alex and his work many times since the early 1990's, however, I had not consciously pieced together that he was the central character and developer of so many experiences I had enjoyed over the years - until now. Shame on me.
While Alex is most often acknowledged as the visionary energy behind the Ace Hotel chain, he was actually a creative juggernaut respective of many really cool ventures and mediums across a variety of platforms.
Our two degrees of separation began during my early visits to Seattle in the mid-1990's when I discovered Rudy's Barbershop. One of the first "old-man" barber shop joints to resurface as a stylized reinvention of the past, well before what we now think of as commonplace. But it was of course much more. It was cultivated as "community" before THAT term was also overworked. It was a place where you could get a $10 cut...and if you were in the mood, a tattoo and strong coffee. Again before excellent coffee and interesting ink were ubiquitous. Or.. you could just sit there, read a magazine and listen to chatter all day- and never buy anything. It was in fact a living art project. A space to share an experience.
Later I solidified my mock-friendship with mister Calderwood when I stayed at the original Ace Hotel in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. This was in 2000, just a year after it had opened. Again, at the time I had no real idea about the impresario and his friends who had created this neat and inexpensive experience, I just liked it. It was Euro-style cool, simple and functional. The main entrance's doorway was obscure and the place itself was nested on the second floor of an old cannery I believe. And oh, in my bedroom...there was funky artwork by some guy named Shepard Fairey. Who knew.
(I have since moved to NYC and enjoy the oyster bar at the Ace Hotel here in the Flatiron District- regularly).
Alexander Calderwood had many more projects going on well before these, during, and after. All were event, environment or experience oriented. All were interconnected by approaching life and creation with a "what would I enjoy or find useful" mentality. The centrality of his work was human interaction and always logical....with a little WOW.
After time all of this time-traveling, revisiting Mister C's accomplishments, reading about his too soon demise, and finally putting a name to his role in my "feeling groovy" for 20-years, I had to ask... At what point do we recognize the natural creativity infused in our fellow beings, friends, family, and experiences and REALLY acknowledge it?
Was Calderwood an intentional "cultural engineer", "cultural clairvoyant"? or was it just creative use of nervous energy. I personally love the friends I have who can't shut the F--- up when they riff on an idea. I encourage and cherish them. (Mike H. in Seattle, this goes out to you). Don't put your kids on Ritalin I say, ask them WHY they are restless and bored instead. Let them jabber on and spill out some creative experiential ideas. Perhaps someone down the road will identify them as "a conceptual genius". Please resist the urge to dampen their energy for convince sake or because the Doctor recommend it. Question authority don't mindlessly Obey. (Thanks Shepard).
Be curious. Don't just drink in your surroundings. Sure enjoy....but find out how it happened. Why it's there for you to enjoy. Who did this? Why? What is the subtext of this thing I'm involved in....and recognize the patterns in life that you are drawn to. There's something in that. Patterns repeat themselves. Patterns are often beautiful.
I think about how late I recognized Shepard Fairey's work, not until he became an institution just before the Obama poster. I laugh about the event that Banksy pulled off last year at Central Park. Having a street vendor try and sell his stencil art on a Saturday afternoon to very little success. Because passers by where not paying attention they missed the chance to purchase a very valuable Banksy artwork for something like $15 bucks a pop.
Developing creative experiences is something we talk about a lot here in The Mechanism's bungalow high above W. 37th. We try to understand the interconnectedness of all things we endeavor to design. We enjoy pulling the threads out of the larger tapestry to understand how beauty happens in our everyday. The world we are spinning on now has almost NO degrees of separation where human experience is involved. We share globally like never before in our short history. Making sense of, and developing experiences for the greater good - there's something in that.
I only want to suggest that we remember to learn from the people and things you admire. Famous or not, take a moment to recognize just why it is that you respect them. Deconstruct and meditate on those attributes.
Alexander Calderwood died while he still had a lot to do. He died from addiction. His close friends stand by his genius and love of human interaction. The article in Fast Company said something like - "creativity has a dangerous side". If you're lucky. I think some of the most interesting people I've admired just can't express everything they wish, fast enough. And so it goes. He lived fast, he died younger than me, I'm not sure how good looking he was as a corpse, but overall he was a handsome soul. Look up Alex's history and work, and imagine how much more YOU can do to express yourself for a better world.