Dan Carlin's Hardcore History: Addendum - Manifesting the Muse with Rick

It’s Hardcore History.


I have always loved the quote from Mozart, and I think it’s abbreviated.

I think it’s a couple of different sentences cut out, but the quote as put together is

wonderful and it’s symbolic of something we’re going to talk about today.

And the quote is, when I am completely myself, entirely alone, or during the night when I

cannot sleep, it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.

Whence and how these ideas come, I know not, nor can I force them, end quote.

I think many of us can relate to that, at least the latter part, right?

Nor can I force them.

But if you’re in a field where creativity is required for you to prosper, eventually

you start wondering about this thing, creativity.

There’s other ways to put it.

You could say insight, or originality, or novelty.

I mean, there’s multiple different ways to try to define this thing that is so wrapped

up in the condition of being human that one could easily make a case that all human civilization

is the result of creativity over millennia, you know, laid upon itself, right?

Generation by generation by generation.

Depends on how you define creativity, of course.

If you were going to write a book on the subject of creativity, and I don’t mean like a book

about other people’s creativity, I mean the concept.

What would it sound like?

Would it sound like a scientific book?

Would it sound like an instruction manual?

Would it sound like tips?

I mean, I have one on the great creative people over history and their working habits or the

habits that they had in order to get in the right frame of mind to do their creative work.

Or would it sound kind of metaphysical?

You know, something along the lines of the Greek idea of the muses, you know, the creators

of inspiration, the ones who sort of sprinkle your brain with the original thoughts.

I read some stuff from the Hindu religious text once that suggested it was sort of an

opening up to the divine to be inspired from somewhere else, right?

The inspiration didn’t come from your own brain.

It came from without.

And the people who could do this really well were people that could sort of open that door

to the realm where, well, the Greeks might say the muses resided.

If you go on Wikipedia and you look up creativity, it’ll blow your mind, all the different ideas

out there.

And I have a couple of books like that too, where they’re getting into like neuroscience

and dopamine and frontal lobe, working with other parts of the brains.

And in creative people, you see more of that.

But when you read a lot of the accounts from the people who actually do this creative work,

there’s this real sense of no knowledge where this stuff comes from.

Just like the Mozart quote.

I mean, I read a quote once too from a comedian who said, and I don’t know if this is true

or not, and I don’t remember the quote really well, but it was something to the effect of

every comedian has the same fear.

And the fear is that that reservoir of material that’s inside you that creates the jokes,

the stuff that you make a living out of that just, you know, you do better than other people

that that will dry up one day.

And one day you’ll go there to, you know, get a new set of creative materials, you know,

being produced by your, you know, creative assembly line in your psyche, and it will

be empty.

And it’s a sign of how little you know about, you know, what it is, that could lead you

to a fear that someday it might run out.

So I study this stuff as many of you do.

And I also think that we place too much emphasis on creativity for obvious artists.

I mean, if you’re a painter, you might be a very creative person, obviously, by our

modern standards, but no one thinks about how much creativity it takes just to get through

life for people who don’t consider themselves creative at all.

Any novel solution you come up with for a problem is an example of human creativity

at work.

I think you can see the same sort of thing going on in the animal kingdom, too, at a

lower level.

You see apes doing things that are creative, original novel.

But as I said, if you were going to write a book on this, what would it sound like?

Music producer, and that is a weird, very narrow term to describe somebody with a much

wider vista and experience makeup.

But known as music producer, Rick Rubin has written a book called The Creative Act, A

Way of Being.

And at the moment, he’s doing the book circuit.

So I think we’re like the last people in the world to have Rick on.

But he is, you know, he’s worked with everybody.

He’s known, I would call him a creativity amplifier, but he’s a very creative guy in

his own right.

He has an image, a public image, a sort of a Zen kind of a character, right?

A meditator, big beard, sort of a metaphysical sort of a cast to him.

He seems a little Eastern mysticism-ish.

But this book was one of those things where when you read it, and Rick had sent me before

this talk, two reviews, a good review and a bad review for the book.

And the bad review was talking about how the book was, and I think I’m quoting the review,


So sort of, you know, out there.

But if you think about the concept we’re talking about here, that’s why I brought up the Mozart

quote and all those other things to begin with.

It’s a hard subject to talk about without it being sort of metaphysical sounding.

I mean, the concept in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, I mean, it was religious.

I mean, that’s what creativity was.

It was just simply God speaking through you.

I mean, there’s a lot of connections between inspiration and the divine if you study it

long enough.

I feel like it’s in the modern world where we sit down and try to figure out now, how

can we categorize this scientifically?

And I read people like the late Sir Ken Robinson, who was talking about how the schools crush

creativity and the things we can do to sort of re-instill it.

I went on Wikipedia and read, as I said, about creativity and the stuff about neurotransmitters.

I have a book on geniuses and how they can sit there and try to do, you know, statistical


You know, 20% of the people in this class turn out to be, you know, more original thinkers.

It’s interesting stuff.

But if you’re the person trying to rely on the creativity, none of that stuff matters

to you.

You’re just trying to figure out what it is, where it came from, how I can amplify it and

get more of it.

And Rick Rubin can be very helpful at that.

He’s also a fascinating person to talk to who consumes more content, information, history,


I mean, things far afield from what you would think a music producer would consider to be

sort of his lane.

Rick has no lane.

And that will become apparent in this extended conversation that we’re going to have now.

And yes, we’re going to tie it into history with Rick Rubin.

So, um, I had thought that there’s a historical angle to this that you brought up in your

book that I just love.

And it’s this idea that what these were, let’s just talk about a recording, but it could

be a television recording, a movie that someone produces, or certainly music and audio, that

what happens there is you’ve got a time that’s frozen in amber.

And that frozen in amber means that the, so let’s just take Mick Jagger and the Rolling

Stones on something like Exile on Main Street.

That is a representation of where that band was in the late 60s.

And when Mick Jagger comes in to record his tracks, he was just out doing something in

the late 60s.

He’s living that time period as a person of that age.

And then when we listen to it today, as you pointed out in your book, we may get a very

different impression and feel than someone who listens to it right after release.

But what we’re really getting no matter what, like if you listen to the tone of his voice

and the things he’s singing about and the lyrics he came up with, you’re getting a little

bit of a frozen in amber moment of a time.

In other words, if we want to talk about history, if you can imagine, I’ve always said if Alexander

the Great had a podcast, you would be catching that moment sort of like the insect frozen

in the amber, you get a chance to see and feel like a time capsule almost.

How does that strike you?

Like when you look back on some of the recordings you did, and you listen to them, and then

they’re 30 years ago, maybe, does it bring you right back?

Do you remember the people at, you know, you may know these guys now and they may be 55

years old, but that recording is of a voice of a 22 year old or 23 or how much does this

act as a time capsule for you when you re-listen to things?

Very much.

I rarely re-listen to things unless there’s a reason.

So I don’t spend a lot of time listening to things that I’ve worked on because I’m always

working on something new, so I’m either listening to the new thing or just listening to things

I like and new things that I like because I like learning about music all the time and

being surprised by music.

So if there’s a reason for me to listen back, I do listen back.

And when I’m listening back, I’m usually put back in, more often than not, put back in

the place of recording, either having, picturing the place that we recorded, picturing what

was going on that day, maybe not in great detail, but some sense of what the feeling

was in the room and maybe some particular, I’ll still be surprised by things, I’ll hear

things that we may have poured over a long time deciding and they may completely hit

me by surprise when they happen and that’s a great feeling of not being, I get to experience

it in a way that, in a new way, in a way like hearing it for the first time.

It’s a funny combination of both familiarity and feeling of like I’m hearing it for the

first time.

And sometimes I’ll hear, I’ll be in a coffee shop and I’ll hear a song come on that I produced

and it’ll strike me in a certain way and sometimes I’ll hear a song come on that I’ve

listened to, that I love, that I have no, had no connection to other than I listened

to it a million times and I hear it and I start thinking, wow, where did we record this?

You know, like I remember, like I, it’s too familiar for me not to have recorded this,

but I didn’t record it, it’s, you know, Led Zeppelin, let’s say, which I’ve never recorded.

I never got to work with them.

It’s a, you know what it is, it’s a variation on how a person listens to music who wasn’t

involved in the production process at all, right?

You could be walking around, hear something from 30 years ago and flashback as a part

of your life and go, oh my God, what was I doing 30 years ago?

What was I doing when I used to listen to that song every day?

And I think it has, it’s in a way, it’s an emotional time machine if you think about


It is.

And I think I speak in the book about these, the things that we make are like diary entries.

And one of the things that’s helpful about knowing that is so many artists are precious

about the things they’re making to a point where it’s nearly impossible to put anything


There are some great artists who, you know, have great success and then it might be three

or four or five years between projects and it’s not because they’re not great and it’s

not because they can’t come up with beautiful things to share during that window of time.

It’s usually some issue of not feeling, feeling like it’s not good enough, feeling like it

doesn’t, it doesn’t portray who they are forever.

You know, it’s, it’s, it’s not historically the best work they believe they could ever

do in their life and if they don’t believe it’s the best work they could ever historically

do in their life, then why share it?

I’ll keep working on it until it’s the best thing in history.

But it doesn’t really work that way because it, these are diary entries and all it can

be is a true reflection of who we are today.

And if we wait too long, it starts losing its charge.

It doesn’t get better with time.

Your relationship to it changes because the thing that the person who started the project

and the person who’s finishing the project are two different people.

So if you’re finishing and you’re not related to the person who started the project, it

can be very difficult to finish it.

And you can feel like, well, this isn’t really for me.

It’s like, it’s not for you.

It’s for you six months ago or it’s for you one year ago.

And finding those, those ways in where if you made something and you feel excited enough

to play it for your friend, that’s a good time to put it out into the world.

Like if you’re excited enough to play it for your friend, that’s the highest level of it

being ready.

I almost feel like that’s directed at us a little bit because it describes our situation

pretty darn well.

Let me, let me throw another dynamic though, that comes into play that I know you’re very

familiar with, but from an artistic standpoint, there’s that, you know, when you put out something

that is, and I don’t like anything I do, so, I mean, I’m not the right person to talk,

but if you put out something and people enjoy it and they say, wow, this is the best thing

you’ve ever done or whatever they might say.

The problem is with the following work is that the best work you’ve ever done becomes

the expectation for the next work and all the subsequent work, right?

In other words, if you have an A paper or you hit your, or you’re a salesman and you

hit your monthly quota and far exceed it, well, your next monthly quota is going to

have that as the baseline.

And so I always feel like there, you know, you’re always chasing the dragon a little

bit on this thing.

And at some point you’re going to hit a wall because there is no way to continually outdo

yourself forever.

And I feel like that becomes something that holds you up.

Like we’ve, we’ll sit on shows for months that would have been fine shows by our standards

eight or nine years ago, but the expectation level of the quality has been raised.

And truthfully, in our medium, if you go listen to podcasts in 2006, you know, the year after

we started, the quality level is so low that if I go listen to show one, two, three, four

hardcore history, they said they’re cringy to me now, but at the time by the standards

in that day, they were considered good.

I know you work with a lot of artists who had a lot of previous success before you worked

with them.

How does one deal with this dynamic?

Because it seems to me to be absolutely ubiquitous in art.

The best way to say it is your old work isn’t better or worse than your new work and your

new work isn’t better or worse than your old work.

Your old work was a reflection of that time.

You said it, you said it yourself.

It’s like in the context of the world that you were in, that was great.

And you can’t look at it as well.

I can go back to 2005 and redo something from then.

I mean, you could do a new episode now and it would probably be very different and probably

much more in depth and much more detail, but it wouldn’t be the same thing as the thing

that happened in 2005 that is, as you said, Frozen in Amber.

And sometimes it’s those, it’s an iterative process.

It’s those early ones that may not be at the same level that you’re at now that allow you

to get to the level that you’re at now.

And doing it in public is part of it.

The fact that those exist, the fact that there’s a history there is part of the power of it,

that the growth exists, that you as an artist continue to make things and put them out.

And yes, all of us as artists are always trying to beat our past work, which is a very noble

and reasonable goal.

I’m not so interested in trying to beat anyone else’s work, but any possibility of beating

my own work is exciting.

It’s like any possibility of expanding what I’m doing or finding a new way to do it or

to reach someone different than we were reaching before.

And when I say that, that never happens intentionally.

It always happens as an outgrowth of whatever new method we found of working that’s exciting

us because I never do anything based on what I think the audience is going to think.

I always do it based on what I think.

I don’t know what the audience is going to think.

And I can’t assume what the audience is going to think.

And I don’t think I’m smart enough to assume what anyone else is going to think.

All I can do is be true to what I feel.

And I try to make things that I feel to the best of my ability.

And then, you know, you let the chips fall where they may.

Well, and the audience changes, doesn’t it?

I mean, for example, I constantly have discussions with people where I’ll play a piece of music

for them, usually something from my youth.

And I’ll, you know, take the Sex Pistols.

You play the Sex Pistols, which is Muzak now, basically, it’s elevator music.

And I’ll play it for some young person or one of my kids, and they’ll look at me and

go, OK, I don’t really see the big deal.

And they don’t see the big deal because they weren’t there when it came out.

It doesn’t hit them the way it hit me because there’s been 100,000 bands that have been

influenced by the Sex Pistols and have used elements of them since.

And as far as that kid is concerned, it sounds just like all that other stuff they’ve heard.

We always talk about what we’re doing here and what every podcaster is doing is creating

something that is etched in digital stone.

And because it’s etched in digital stone, the various people that are going to come

across that inscription in stone may not even be alive yet.

And the way they’re going to react to that work is going to be so different that there

would have been no way to try to create a work for someone 100 years from now.

You know, you mentioned Zeppelin, for example.

How could Led Zeppelin have known in 68 or 69 or 70 that what they were writing had to

stand the test of time, right?

Perhaps they had to just write for their contemporary era and let the chips historically

fall where they may?


All you can do is be in the moment.

All there is is the moment.

All there is is the present moment.

There is no past.

There is no future.

The benefit we have in the present, we can experience the past.

But that’s all it is.

And when we experience the past, we’re not really experiencing the past.

One of the things I wanted to talk about with you, which is I don’t know that we could ever

know anything about history.

How much can we know?

We don’t know.

We don’t really know about what happened last week from the sources we have telling us what

happened last week.

We don’t really know.

So how can we possibly know what happened 300 years ago or 500 years ago or a thousand

years ago?

How can we know?

They’re stories.

We may like the stories.

That might be fine.

But at best, they’re interesting stories.

History is a set of lies agreed upon, right?

Well, but you know…

Is that a known…



History is a set of fables agreed upon.

I think Napoleon may have said that.

But every time I say, so-and-so said this, someone corrects me because that was wrong


So that’s a perfect example of what you’re talking about.

It’s funny because this is a debate that historians have at the highest levels.

Can we really know any of this?

And the problem is, is eventually if you start to navel-gaze that long enough, you eliminate

the need for the historian at all, and it becomes a sort of a prophecy where you destroy

your own specialty.

I remember asking James Burke, the famous science historian, something to that effect.

And his answer, I kind of thought he was going to answer the way we’re talking now, but instead

he shocked me by saying, no, we can know.

And a lot of this is cross-referencing, right?

So you say, if you just have one data point or one source, it’s not that useful.

But if you can start to cross-reference it.

So imagine today the way our life is now and a future historian trying to disentangle all

the pieces.

Well, if the only thing that made it through the historical window was one news channel,


You would have a very different view of history than if the historian in the future could

cross-reference, you know, Fox News with NBC News with, you know, the more sources you

have, the more you’re able to construct some sort of a connect the dots image that looks

like something if, but like this, this Viking show that we just completed, there’s a lot

of times in the story where there’s one person telling it to you, there is no cross-referencing,

there is no way to cross-check what you’re reading.

There’s a wonderful line that in a book by Pierre Briant on ancient history, and he started

the book off with a famous quote, and I forgot who said it, but he said, even if it’s not

true, you have to believe in ancient history.

And I think his point is, is that if you start questioning it too much, we don’t know anything.

And if we don’t know anything, then there is no history.

And if there is no history, what, you know, how do you write anything about the past?

So what you’ve said is fundamentally true, but I’m not sure what our choices in the matter


Does that make sense?


And I think as long as we’re taking these stories in as stories, and as it may have

been this way, or someone said it was this way, that’s realistic.

But to think that this is what, that we know what happened, you know, something fairly

recent history, the JFK assassination, I don’t know.

What do you think?

Well, you know, I had a moment with you like this once, like I was telling you that I had

read something by a very well-known and respected music historian, and he had said something

about you and a famous musician, you know, maybe doing something once upon a time, and

I mentioned it to you, and you sat there with this look on your face, and you started rubbing

your chin, and you said, that’s very interesting, because that never happened.

And I remember thinking, okay, now do I now discount everything I’ve ever read from that


I couldn’t figure out, and it wasn’t one of those things where he could have just gotten

something wrong.

It was an invention.

And I thought, okay, now what am I supposed to do with everything else this guy’s ever


So you and I have had that moment where I got to look at the sources, and had I been

doing a show, I would have quoted that person verbatim as a source, and would have assumed

that what they said was true.

So I think that backs up what you just said a bit.

And to defend the show is, it’s entertainment.

It’s interesting.

It’s thought-provoking.

One of the things that I love about what you do is you say that you’re not a historian,

and I think that it’s a bold thing to say, and it’s a true thing to say, and I’m wondering

if anyone who calls themselves a historian is actually telling the truth.

Do you know what I’m saying?

I don’t know if that’s possible.

I say I don’t know anything about music.

I really think so much of our downfall is in thinking we know things we don’t know.

And this can lead to an interesting thing, an interesting conversation about belief.

And I got this from listening to your new podcast.

There’s a part where you’re talking about belief and the power of belief.

There was a religious belief that fueled great strength in –

This is the Vikings, right, creating a sort of a – yeah, their belief in Valhalla and

all those sorts of things, right, eating at the table with Odin.

So whether Valhalla does or doesn’t exist, the power of believing in Valhalla gave the

Vikings a strength and power, maybe fortitude would be the word, that others didn’t have.

And so much of what we do as creative people is rooted in belief.

Now it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not.

It’s not about truth.

It’s about belief.

And we believe things into existence as artists, as creative people.

We’re believing things into existence.

If we didn’t believe – they don’t exist, and without our belief, they will never exist.

But through our belief, we make the things that we make and get to share them.

Reminds me of the concept, and we talked about this in some of the history shows, too, of


And I think I had said something to the effect once, probably in a more eloquent way, that

just because you and I don’t believe in, you know, in air quotes, magic, doesn’t help us

if the people in the past in an entire society did, because the collective belief in magic

has a power to create a reality based on that, right?

If you believe that water is hot instead of cold when, you know, you dip your feet in

the ocean, you’re going to base everything that you base on that idea differently, and

it creates a different reality based on something.

You could turn around today and go, well, all those people were completely deluded,

believing something that was completely untrue, but the reality that they created is based

on that magic or whatever.

So if you don’t understand that, it’s very hard to start getting into the mindset of

the people who lived once upon a time.

I mean, if you’re going to go off to the Crusades and fight and die because God wills it, was

the saying that the Pope had said in the battle cry that everyone took up.

And if you believe that all your sins will be washed away if you go on this crusade,

we may think that’s silly, but a lot of these people went and did that giant historical

thing because they believed in that level of magic.

So you’re right, this magic creates a belief that then impacts reality, even though the

magic itself may not be real.

And if it does impact reality, who’s to say it’s not real?

Do you know what I’m saying?

In some ways, the fact- Well, the impact is real for sure, right?

The impact is real.


So then it’s like, where’s the line?

Do you know what I’m saying?

It seems like if you believe in magic and magic happens because you believe in it, who’s

to say magic’s not real?

Well, and now we’re talking about something that I think dovetails well into the point

of your book, creativity.

And the idea, you know, those of us, I think it was comedian Jan Hooks was talking about

once the difference between just fooling around creatively when there’s nothing at stake and

then getting to a point where you realize, wait a minute, this is what’s putting food

on the table for me.

So it’s kind of important that I not just understand it, but try to figure out ways

to improve it, have it more often, intensify it.

I mean, let’s talk a little bit about the muse and the idea behind the muse.

For those who don’t know, the muse goes back to ancient Greek history and mythology, and

it’s all about this idea that there is something out there that influences people’s art and

creation and it’s- Well, why don’t you explain it, Rick?

What is the muse when you hear that term?

It’s something that’s coming from outside of ourselves that inspires us to make the

things that we make.

And there’s a uncontrollable magical element in the muse.

Sometimes we think of the muse as a female character.

I think that’s how it was in ancient times, that’s how it was thought of.

But now when we say the muse, it doesn’t have to be in human form.

It’s the energy that- It’s like the breath within the breath.

So this is interesting to me right away, because you had sent me a couple of different reviews

about your book.

And one was a very positive one about all the great things that are in it, and then

another one was that could have been written by a very terra firma sort of person who thought-

I think the term they used was that it was a little woo-woo.

But when I think of where this creativity comes from, I think it is almost inherently

this woo-woo concept, because we don’t know.

And you can’t- I mean, you can say you can create with a sort of a connect the dots.

I mean, when you and I were kids, we had all these models, model airplanes or whatever,

and they came with these directions that said, you know, put slot A into section B or whatever.

I think there’s people that think that you can do that with creativity.

But the magic comes with that thing where all of a sudden you’re stuck on something

and then boom, this weird thing out of nowhere hits and you go, well, where did that come


I mean, isn’t there something sort of woo-woo in the whole creation process, no matter what

your own sort of bedrock personal beliefs on things like magic and whatever are?

Isn’t there?

I mean, that’s what the muse sort of represents, doesn’t it?


It’s always magical.

It’s always spiritual.

How often does it occur, I’ve never asked you this, do you say something in your improvisation

as you’re working on your show?

How often do you say something and surprise yourself by what you’ve said?

That happens pretty often, actually.

And that’s kind of how we sort of inch our way to where we’re going, because I never


You know, what we do is like sculpting out of clay, but you have no conception what you

want to make.

And as you’re making it, you yourself are looking at it going, hmm, this kind of looks

like this or this kind.

And some part of you may say, well, it’s kind of looking like a dog, so I think I’ll make

a dog.

But if you go that route, you know, a month down the road, you’re going to go, you know,

I don’t really think it looks that much like a dog.

I put seven legs on it, so maybe it’s a horse or, you know, I mean, I think that that process

of discovery, when you’re especially doing it the way we do it, where there’s no scripts

and it’s all improv, you find out, I mean, this is where your book really resonated with

me because we rely on that sort of weird magical thing every step of the way.

I mean, some writers will write something and the magic happens during the writing process.

And then during the recording process, there’s no magic because the magic happened when you

were writing.

We don’t write.

So the magic happens while we’re recording.

And that’s why we end up, I mean, the show that’s part one that we just put out recently

of this Viking thing, I thought that was only going to be part one.

And I thought it’d be about four hours.

Well, of course, you know, it isn’t.

And that was no planning at all.

We really do take it where it takes us.

And I think that that’s part of that magic you were just talking about.

I think that’s part of why the show is as great as it is and as different as it is.

And for the people who don’t understand the magic, they couldn’t bring out this kind of

material because they think it’s just an intellectual act.

I’m just, I’m learning something and I’m regurgitating what I’m learning.

That’s not what it is.

It’s some whole other thing.

You’ve taken in a tremendous amount of data to start with, to work from, and then you’re

weaving your way through it as a jazz artist, essentially.

You’re doing a jazz saxophone solo with your voice, with all of these melodies, which would

be the stories that you have.

And they’re stringing together, not with your, I don’t remember which is the left side and

which is the right side of the brain.

It’s not the side of the brain that does the thinking.

It’s something else.

It’s not coming from thinking.

There’s thinking involved, but that’s not primarily what’s going on in this process.

You know, it’s funny because I think sometimes this is a lens question or the way you explain

a question.

So, for example, if I got some, and I want to say engineer, but then I can hear engineers

saying, there’s so much creativity involved in engineering, Dan, you don’t know what you’re

talking about.

But I try to think of the most terra firma people that I can think of and how one would

explain creativity from their point of view.

And there’s a Steve Jobs explanation of creativity.

And I juxtaposed his definition next to one of yours.

And I think you’re both saying the same thing from a different viewpoint.

So, the Steve Jobs quote is the famous one if you’ve ever read books on Steve Jobs.

He said, creativity is just connecting things.

When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because

they didn’t really do it.

They just saw something.

It seemed obvious to them after a while.

That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they’ve

thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity.

A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences, so they don’t have

enough dots to connect.

And they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.

The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.

Now, that’s sort of maybe an engineer’s way of explaining the magic without saying magic.

And you said, as artists, we aim to live in a way in which we see the extraordinary

hidden in the seemingly mundane, then challenge ourselves to share what we see in a way that

allows others a glimpse of this remarkable beauty.

Yours is an almost zen way of explaining a very terra firma Steve Jobs, I have a BMW

in the lobby so you’ll be inspired kind of way.

Is this just a question of different people trying to explain magic with different terms?


We’re saying exactly the same thing.

And it’s just we’re choosing different metaphors, but we’re saying the same thing.

So let me ask, this gets me to you a little bit, because, you know, one of the things

about your book is it’s a real reflection, maybe inevitably, of what it’s like to be

talking to you personally.

And you know, there’s a we talked about history earlier and how many myths and weirdness and

things that they get wrong.

And that can include biography like about yourself.

But there is a, let’s call it a snazzy candy coating wrapper around who you are, Rick,

that’s got a very sort of a zen feel to it.

Where does that come from?

I mean, were you this way in high school?

I mean, where does this what is this tone that one associates in popular culture with

Rick Rubin come from?

I think the fact that it’s known that I learned to meditate when I was young, and that I speak

of it in as having such a profound impact on my life probably is part of it.

The beard is another part, which was not intentional in any way.

Just when I was in college, I decided to stop shaving.

And this is what happens when you if you decide to stop shaving.

But there was no thought behind it or method behind it.

Yes, but when I’m with you, forget the beard, forget the imaging.

You have a very like when we’ll talk about creativity, your approach to it is so there’s

a very Buddhistic kind of feel to the way you approach opening up your soul to the universe

so that it can allow this magic in.

Is that how you worked in your very early years?

I mean, were you having conversations with the Beastie Boys like like the kind of conversations

you have with bands now about magic and creativity and and the source of things like new ideas?

I probably didn’t have conversations with it with anyone about it then.

But I recognize that that was the underpinning of why the things that got made got made.

It’s always been.

I might not have understood how magical it was then.

But over time, the more the more I’ve been exposed to it, the more obvious it is that

everything we’re dealing in is magic and it’s beyond us.

And we’re we’re really blessed to be part of this this process.

And and to to live in a way that allows it to come through us, which is a real it’s it’s


You know, it’s not.

It doesn’t come easily, let’s say.

It does and it doesn’t come easily.

It’s so hard to talk about this.

So I took so long to write the book.

We’re talking about things that are really hard to explain.

They’re hard to understand.

They’re hard to explain.

Well, and that’s why I think I got so much out of it, because I think when you’ve been

through me, I joked with you that we have a whole bunch of shorthand terms in house

here for when this happens or how we’re going to deal with that.

And they’re all things that that you would invent the terms as needed over the years.

But when I’m reading your book, I’m going, well, Rick, Rick’s talking about these same


I mean, these are the sorts of things that if you’ve ever been working and you’ve encountered

what you mentioned in the book, you nod your head and you go, oh, yes, I know what that’s

all about.

I wonder if it would have the same sort of impact on somebody who’s reading your book

as a as a jumping off point for starting.

And they know none of these things through their own experience.

So they can’t nod their head.

They just have to sort of take it on faith.

How you know.

Do you read much about the creativity itself?

Because I find myself buying books on this as an attempt to try to figure out how to

amplify or or enhance or expand my own creativity.

Do you buy books on creativity?

Rick, do you study creativity?

Well, I’m at the time that I decided to work on this book, which was probably about eight

years ago, I went to.

And you did it with Neil, right?

You did it with Neil.

Well, when I first started, no, I started with the first writer that I worked with.

His name was Verlin Klinkenborg.

And I worked with him for four years.

And Neil was involved from the beginning, but he wasn’t working on the book with me.

He was just my friend who would continue the interviews because Verlin was at Yale teaching.

So Verlin was in another place.

He came, we spent 10 days together, me and Verlin.

He interviewed me a lot and we started like getting to the material.

And then when Verlin left, he said, okay, I’ll start working on what we talked about.

And I said, well, I feel like we haven’t scratched the surface of the information.

So I’ll keep doing what we were doing with Neil.

And we’ll send you all the material.

So Neil was involved from on a content capture basis from the beginning.

But Verlin was originally the professional writer involved.

And this is Neil Strauss, the guy, by the way, folks, Neil Strauss is the guy who wrote

the book with Rick.

I should have said that ahead of time.

So back to the original question, do you read about creativity?

Do you study the concept or is this just something where it’s almost studying magic in a weird

way might be as important as studying history that you don’t believe happened?

You know what I’m saying?

Well, I started telling that story because in eight years ago, when I decided I want

to write a book about creativity, I went to BookSoup, which is a great bookstore in

Los Angeles.

My favorite bookstore.

Wonderful bookstore.


It’s actually one of the reasons that I moved to Los Angeles, BookSoup.

You’re kidding me.

It’s true.

At the time, believe it or not, in, I guess it would have been 1989 and 1990, while New

York was the city that never sleeps, there were no bookstores that were open late at


And my life was, I was living a late schedule at that time.

And BookSoup was open till midnight.

And when I first came to California and I would go to BookSoup pretty much most evenings,

I would go to Tower Records on one side of the street and then I would go to BookSoup

on the other side.

They were both open till midnight.

And when I start, and I never really liked California, once I realized that there was

a BookSoup, there was BookSoup, and it was open till midnight, it kind of changed my

view of California because I really like spending a lot of time in bookstores.

And I could not do that in New York.

BookSoup is not a big bookstore either.

You add BookSoup to the Bodhi Tree down there and they had a couple of fun little places

in LA at the time.

I went to the Bodhi Tree at least three times a week, the entire, from the day I found it

until it closed.

My favorite bookstore.

Yeah, very unusual.

The reason I was telling the story about BookSoup is eight years ago, I decided I’m going to

write a book about creativity and I think, okay, I’ll do a little research.

Let me see what other books about creativity there are.

Eight years ago, there were no books about creativity.

There was actually one, only one, and it was by Twyla Tharp, the choreographer, and

it was called The Something Habit, The Art Habit.

I can’t remember what it was called now.

But that was the only one I could find.

And it was really rooted in dancing, it was really about dancing.

But that was the only one I could find.

And since the idea, it’s one of the things I talk about in the book, I never made the

connection before, this specific connection.

But when you have an idea for something, if you don’t move on it, or if you don’t move

on it quickly, someone else is going to do it.

Not because they’re stealing your idea.

All the books that have come out about creativity since eight years ago when I started, they’re

not people who stole my idea.

It just means this is something that there’s a real need for.

There’s a real interest in this.

And so during that time, I would on occasion look at creativity books that came out, but

anytime there was one, I would read a little bit of it and I would say, oh, this is so

not what I want.

Like, this is not what I want.

I was looking for a book closer to the creative act, which didn’t exist.

Oh, there’s one other, I don’t know that you’d call it a creativity book, but it’s a book

about writing called, oh, the Julia Cameron book, The Artist Way.

The Artist Way is a book to get over writer’s block and it’s primarily for writers.

And that’s another book that I think is now 25 years old.

I guess now we think of it as a creativity book, but at the time when there was, before

there was a genre of creativity books, it was a book on how to write.

You know, I’m looking at, I wrote down a couple of different examples of ways one might write

a book on creativity, write what the different approaches, like I have one called Daily Habits

and it’s a book about what other people who are creative do to get into the right frame

of mind and the right place.

There are more creative books that are a little like the A to B to C, you know, you do this,

you do that.

And then there’s many that have that sort of metaphysical sort of feel to it.

I noticed in yours that you grab a little bit from each of these approaches, right?

At one point it will seem like you’re reading something very amorphous and we’re talking

about the universe and the muse and all these sorts of things.

And then all of a sudden you’ll turn the page and you have a book on habits or if something

isn’t working, you have practical advice like try speeding it up, try slowing it down.

I mean, things that I would consider to be more what a grounded engineer would want.

I want some instructions on this and you include those as well.

Is there any one way to teach people about creativity or must you hit them from multiple

different angles because everyone’s different?

Well, I don’t think that you can teach people about creativity.

It’s what the book is, it’s a glimpse into a way of thinking about things that allow

you to be creative.

I wouldn’t call it teaching creativity though.

I would say it’s about learning to be yourself.

That’s what the book’s about.

The book’s about learning to be yourself and there are aspects in learning to be yourself

if you’re going to be making something where having practical engineer-like advice is helpful.

And I think that those things are helpful.

When I read the book, those are the least interesting parts of the book to me.

But for some people it’s the best part.

Those are the most helpful parts.

I know that the parts that are less grounded are the ones that have the power to change

things in a big way.

Now that said, a small positive habit can change your life.

So deciding to, what was an example of a practical one, taking three big breaths when you wake

up in the morning can have great power as well.

The ones that change the way you think about the world I think are the ones that allow

you to access the real creative spirit that I want to say where the work starts doing


It’s a funny thing to say because it’s the hardest work in the world, you’d never stop.

It’s the most full-time job you could ever have.

And when it’s working, it happens by itself.

Yeah, you go from a moment where you’re, you know, and this can, the order can change.

Sometimes it starts by pulling you and then you push and other times you’re pushing and

then eventually it takes over and pulls.

And you know, we had mentioned earlier, I mean, when I was doing improv many, many years

ago, I remember a teacher who was helping teach us who was saying the more you do this,

the more you will walk around 24 hours a day, seven days a week, starting to find little


In other words, it’s like a muscle that you develop.

And over time you become very good at ruminating when you’re not working about the various

seeds of things that you’ll need when you work to draw from.

You know, and I’ve maybe unfairly, you know, I use my engineer example, but maybe unfairly

sectioned off creativity as something painters do or musicians do or writers do.

But in reality, I mean, this entire civilization that we’ve built over thousands of years involves

creativity on every level.

I mean, an engineer is a perfect example.

There’s tons of creativity that goes into designing a new car, for example, but we only

think perhaps of being Mozart or Monet or someone like that.

But I mean, I was watching a special the other day on primates and they were showing how

these primates use creativity to develop solutions to problems they have.

So this is almost an innate quality, wouldn’t you say?


We’re all creative beings.

We do it every day.

We can’t survive without creativity.

That’s the thing that has allowed us to flourish as a species has been our creative nature.

So let me talk about building layers, because I thought about this in terms of creativity.

I thought about the difference between somebody and maybe this can get into more of a hardcore

history sort of view of this.

But I mean, I thought about how your creativity is enhanced by being exposed to other people’s

creative works.

And I think I’d mentioned this to you earlier, like if when I was a kid, I watched every

Twilight Zone episode and all the Twilight Zone episodes have these wonderful writers

who write from weird angles that make little popping sounds in your brain as you start

thinking about, and that’s what they’re supposed to do, as you start thinking about the very

interesting, weird concepts that they write about.

But the fact that I have a couple hundred or however many it is, Twilight Zone episodes

in my brain, sort of adding a layer of examples of creativity, little jumping off points.

I mean, I feel like then when I’m doing my work, it’s infused by that in a way that if

I was a person in the Middle Ages trying to write something, and yet I had none of those

things as part of the foundation, you know, to sort of infuse my writing, that the writing

would be different.

How much of what we do today is, and I think you said it, you said, I’m looking at the

exact quote.

You had talked about, nothing begins with us, you said in your book.

The more we pay attention, the more we begin to realize that all the work we ever do is

a collaboration.

It’s a collaboration with the art that came before you.

This is a fascinating concept for me because, you know, it ties you into works that you

have no connection with.

I mentioned The Stones and Exile on Main Street, but the fact that I listened to The Stones

and Exile on Main Street somehow unconsciously influences what I do.

Can you talk about this a little bit?

I mean, the fact that we’re all building upon, you know, we all stand on the shoulders of

giants as the old saying goes.

We’re standing on the shoulders of giants and everyone else.

We’re taking in whatever we notice on a daily basis.

It could be a great movie, great television show, but it also could be the way the light

reflects off of a building that we’re looking at and how the light changes over the course

of the day.

When we’re driving and sometimes we have to put down the little flap because the sun’s

in our eyes.

Why is it at that time of day?

How does it change the way we perceive everything?

How much more difficult is it to drive based on the sun’s position?

How different is it to drive at night than in the day?

How different is it to drive at night with your lights off instead of your lights on?

We’re always working in concert with everything else that’s going on.

Everything that we notice, everything that we see.

And all of the great work that’s come before us definitely plays a role.

Anything, anytime we see something or read something that changes our mind about something,

changes our mind about something, we’re now a new person.

And now we’re moving through the world as this new person.

And every day we’re new people.

There’s some part of us that’s the same and there’s some part of us that’s always changing.

And when we come into this world, I believe we come in as more of a blank slate.

And then through the things that our parents read to us as children or the sounds of music

of the day that happens to be playing.

And then once we start choosing the things for ourselves, the books that we choose to

read or the TV shows that we choose to watch or the movies we choose to watch or the museums

we choose to go to or the places we choose to travel to and the things we choose to see.

All of those things impact us.

And when we’re making whatever it is that we’re making, when we’re making dinner, all

of that that came before us goes into the choices we make.

We don’t know it.

It’s not a conscious thing.

We’re made up of these experiences and these experiences that have either pulled us in

or pushed us away.

Great example would be the movie Jaws.

I don’t know if you know this, but people were not afraid of sharks before the movie


Now there’s a percentage of the population that are afraid to go swimming in the ocean

because they’re afraid of sharks, whether it’s a shark infested area or not, all because

of a movie.

It changed our world to be afraid of sharks.

I’m glad you brought that movie up too, because there’s a wonderful creative aspect to that

movie that I always use as an example in my own work, which is, and many people may not

know this, but the shark didn’t work, right?

The mechanical shark rarely worked.

And so Spielberg, who had all of these ideas for scenes where the shark was going to appear,

had to figure out ways to write the scenes without the shark because the shark so rarely

was available.

And it turned out that by doing that, it created a building suspense in the film that wasn’t

there in the original treatment for the movie, because they assumed you’d have a shark to

work with, and it worked out better because of it.

So it’s almost a turning lemons into lemonade kind of an idea there that I, and we do that

all the time in the works, right?

Creative ways around problems that crop up and all this.

I wanted, you know, because we had talked just a second ago about how, maybe call it

an advantage that people right now have over people a long time ago, because we have all

these other works that we can draw on and that influence us.

And when you were talking, all I could think of is the Pink Floyd lyric, you know, where

it says, all that you touch and all that you see is all your life will ever be, you know,

and all these things that make up who we are.

But you had said in the book, something that I think about all the time.

And you’d said, and I’m quoting, not using my big quote voice or anything, but there

are those who approach the opportunities of each day like crossing items off a to-do

list instead of truly engaging and participating with all of themselves.

Our continual quest for efficiency discourages looking too deeply.

The pressure to deliver doesn’t grant us time to consider all possibilities, yet it is through

deliberate action and repetition that we gain deeper insight.

And I think all the time about how, you know, because we have so many things to do and so

many distractions, and we’re so much more easily bored that we don’t perhaps, and when

I say we, I don’t mean every individual, because obviously there are exceptions, but I think

most of us think less deeply and concentrate less intensely than we otherwise might.

And I wonder if there’s any downstream societal effects from something like that, right?

I mean, someone was telling me the other day, someone came, a worker came to do some stuff

in my house, and he looked up on the bookshelves and said how happy he was to see books on

the bookshelf.

And I said to him, what else would you put on a bookshelf?

And he goes, I go into houses all the time, there aren’t any books in them anymore.

And I wonder what the downstream impact on us all from less deep thinking, less deep

concentration, less books and all that will be.

I mean, maybe one could make an argument that from a standpoint of deep human creativity

and deep human thinking, that people in the past had a somewhat edge on us now.

Does that ever occur to you, this idea of just, I mean, monks could sit there and contemplate


We don’t do that very much anymore.

Is there a cost to that?


But there’s both a cost to the lack of contemplation and to the lack of trusted sources of information.

I’ll tell you a story.

I was listening to, I don’t know much about classical music.

I like classical music very much, but I don’t know much about it.

And I was listening to a classical radio station and a piece of music came on that was a chanting,

like a beautiful piece of religious music.

And I shazammed the piece of music.

And what came up in the shazam was, it was the piece of music, but it wasn’t the recording

that I heard.

And if you know much about classical music, like now, if you want the Rolling Stones song

Painted Black, you look up Painted Black, you’ll find the Rolling Stones version.

There may be one or two other cover versions, I’m not sure, but not many.

Whereas in classical music, there’s this canon of material and there are many, many, many


We don’t have the Bach recording of Bach pieces.

We have many different great orchestras and pianists versions of the Bach pieces or cellists

or violinists.

So it’s always being interpreted by a new artist who’s collaborating with Bach and making

a new piece out of Bach’s music.

They’re collaborating with a dead man.


And so I heard this beautiful chanting piece and I found out the name of it.

But when I listened to the first one that came up, it wasn’t the one that I heard and

it didn’t have the same magic in it as the one that I heard, which is why I shazammed

it in the first place.

So I started thinking about, okay, how do I find the best recording of this?

Because now I know the name of the piece of music.

And I remembered back to my days of going to Book Soup and Tower Records on a, you know,

probably five nights a week between, you know, one or the other or both.

And there was the Tower Records on one side of the street and then on the side where Book

Soup was, two doors down, three doors down from Book Soup, was Tower Classical, which

also had videos.

And I went to Tower Classical and I would spend time in Tower Classical back in those

days and there was a book called The Penguin Guide to Classical Music.

And it was a big, probably a thousand pages, had a black cover, and there was a new edition

that came out every year.

And if there was a piece of classical music that you liked, you would reference the Penguin

book to find out what was considered the best recording.

And they would usually have the best recording and then another interesting recording.

And maybe if there was another one that was of interest, different than the best one,

or a reason to particularly care about an alternate version, they would have that too.

It was the definitive place to go to learn about classical music.

I would hear a piece, I would refer, I would go to the store, they had probably six or

eight copies of the book behind the desk, all dog-eared and well-worn, kind of like

phone books.

And you would take one and you could shop in the store and then if there was a piece

that you were excited about, you would read the section and then it would help you determine

which one to purchase because there might be a dozen versions of the same piece by different


So recently I had this experience hearing this chanting music and I look up the Penguin

book online and it turns out the Penguin book has not been in print since the, probably

1998 was the last year of the Penguin guide.

And then I researched, is there, what do people use now?

And there’s no answers.

I can’t get any information and the Penguin guide is no longer available.

And luckily, I know people at Penguin now because my book is being published by Penguin.

So I called my editor at Penguin and said, there was this book, this reference book that

was really important called The Penguin Guide to Classical Music.

It’s no longer in print.

Why is it no longer in print?

What happened?

And he researched and came back to me and he said, that one came out of the UK office.

Maybe you can speak to someone in the UK office.

And I called a friend who works at, an editor at Penguin in the UK and I asked them about


And they said, oh, that was part of.

And they said, back in 1998, a third of all of Penguin’s books were reference books.

And starting in around 1998, we stopped doing reference books.

And I said, why do you stop doing reference books?

And they said, well, because of the internet.

And now with the internet, we don’t need to put out these annual reference books because

it’s just all online.

And that, it, thinking about that, it went from my concern about not being able to find

the piece of classical music I want, because the book’s not in print, to realizing in 1998,

the Library of Alexandria got shut down.

And now we’re, we’re basically going on crowdsourced opinion for everything.

There is no, there is no definitive reference source anymore since the internet.

It’s over.

Well, okay.

So let me, I think that leads into something I want to ask you about, because I, there

was an interesting thing on Twitter that somebody had shared some artwork and I retweeted it

thinking it was very interesting and then got some, not nasty, but disappointed responses

by people who were artists that were, that were upset that I was retweeting artificial

intelligence created art.

And I thought about this a little bit and I thought, well, what does Rick think about

artificial intelligence art?

I read a story the other day, and I think it’s absolute BS at this point, but maybe

someday it won’t be that, you know, a giant chunk of the content that we consume in two

years is going to be artificially created.

Will artificial intelligence ever make music better than people or art better than people?

I mean, what are your thoughts on this?

According to one of my artistic friends, this, this looming death threat ahead of them in

terms of what they do for a living, what are your thoughts on that?

It’s a little bit like the conversation we had about magic and the muse.

And for people who don’t, who aren’t involved in working with the muse, they don’t understand

the muse and they think that’s a made-up thing.

Art essentially is a, it’s a made-up agreement.

And it’s a made-up agreement rooted in a concept, an idea.

The idea, the idea behind the piece is what, the piece is a outward reflection of a concept.

And as far as I know, the things that are being generated by AI are not rooted in an

original concept.

So I don’t know, I don’t really know that it functions as art functions.

It could be something decorative, it could be something interesting, it could be something


But I think what breathes in art, as I understand it, is what’s behind it.

What’s behind it is what makes it interesting.

And I don’t know that what’s behind AI art is interesting.

If you put it up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, if you put up some artificially created

works, and you put them up next to works by, you know, known artists, if it, you know,

I think there’s two sides to this, and I think you break it down very well in the book.

There’s the side from the artist’s side, and then there’s the side from the one who is

viewing or experiencing the art.

I certainly think that what you just said applies to the artist’s side of this.

But if the art ends up moving, and I’m not trying to defend AI art, I’m just thinking

about it.

But if the art ends up moving you somehow, is at least half of what we consider the goal

of art being accomplished?

I mean, if it ends up moving somebody on the receiving end?


If it works for you, it’s great.

There’s no saying what is and isn’t.

It’s always in the eye of the beholder.

Oh, boy.

It does make it look like, you know, obviously for our shows, we use a fantastic artist,

a guy named Nick Lay.

And I can’t imagine ever replacing Nick Lay with some sort of computer algorithm, no matter

how nice and how fun it might be to play with.

I was online.

I’m not technically sophisticated enough to know how to use it, but I was interested in

the idea of being able to set the parameters myself.

Say, I want to have the Starship Enterprise attacking Roman legionaries, and show me a

picture of that.

Somebody did it for the show we just did where I had mused about what it would be like if

the Vikings today attacked Laguna Beach or Malibu or something like that.

And somebody put it into the computer AI algorithm and spit out a picture of that.

And I remember looking at it going, holy cow.

Now, an artist could have painted that, certainly.

But to be able to sit there and just go, you know, I wonder what that would look like.

And 30 seconds later, it’s there in front of you.

It’s a very weird time we live in, Rick.

It’s super cool.

It’s super interesting and cool.

I’m not sure it’s art.

It’s something.

It’s definitely something.

But I don’t know that I would call it art.


So then that gets to something where, you know, we’re going from like a visual, like

a painting slash medium.

Let’s go to music with that same sort of thing.

So we go from a time period where you and I are young people growing up.

And it’s the 70s.

And the really, really fantastic bands out there that everyone, you know, pays attention

to are virtuoso performers that took many, many years to create their talent and their

craft and everything.

And of course, punk came along and kind of blew that out of the whole water.

But now, fast forward, and then you get to the era where hip hop and rap music come around

where these people are the equivalent in my mind of like Homer and the old way that poetry

used to work, you know, in the ancient world.

And then you move forward to where we are today.

I mean, I used to joke that if I just had the loops with the drum track and if a certain

sort of groove and this and I could make music too.

And now people are.

So what do you think about the creativity that is almost like, let’s call it cyborg

like where you have a human being working with a computer to create something?

I mean, what do you think of that kind of partnership, for lack of a better word?

I love it.

And I, the record that really changed the world in many ways was I Feel Love.

Oh, yeah.

From the 70s.

That was, yeah, that was done by Giorgio Moroder.

And the music was completely generated.

It wasn’t played by people, although Giorgio did control the parameters of the machine

that was making the sounds.

But it was the first big record that was all generated through a machine.

And then Kraftwerk also, they were a prog rock band who turned into this machine based

band and it’s incredible music.

And in both of those cases, there’s a collaboration between the human and the machine, or how

the machine, how the way a human uses technology in a new way.

This was actually one of the things I wanted to ask you about, which was, is technology

always the reason that the next chapter of history differs from the last chapter of history?

Is it always a technological change that makes the next war different from the last war,

or the flow of information different than how it used to be?

Is it always a new technology comes and the world changes?

Is it always the case?

I think you could substitute several different things for technology.

I’m not going to disagree with that statement at all.

But there’s also differences in organization and approaches.

And, you know, and you might consider that to be part of the feedback loop between technological

changes and how humans then respond.

So we just talked about a possible collaboration between computers and human beings.

Well, I mean, if you look, and there’s also, just to be honest, there’s also, and this

probably applies to art and music also, there’s also this sort of dynamic of cause and effect.

So if, for example, we’re going back to ancient warfare and you talk about the dominance of

a weapon system like Alexander the Great-type phalanxes, right, 16 ranks of people holding

21-foot spears in giant blocks of people, and you think to yourself, well, nothing’s

ever going to defeat that.

Well, that prompts, of course, someone trying to come up with some way to do that.

And then when the Roman legions figure out the right approach to doing that, and it’s

partially technologically oriented, but it’s also organizationally different.

And also from an artistic standpoint, if we can use military in an artistic sense, it’s

also coming up with a creative solution to a problem that bedevils your military.

How do we defeat this giant phalanx?

And you come up with a way.

And when you do, it’s a melding of technology, right, a certain kind of sword, for example,

with a certain kind of shield.

And then you mix that with certain changes in how you do things, right, smaller units

that are more independent, right, that can outflank you and handle terrain differently.

And all these things can combine because you have a need, right, cause and effect,

call and response, you have a need.

And those things fuse together in military history, we call it a weapons system.

But the weapons system is several things that are fused together.

And some of it is creativity.

Some of it is technology.

Some of it is the way you do things.

And then one might make the case, as we currently have drone warriors who are in, you know,

small rooms in places like Kansas who are fighting, though, from those small rooms on

screens that look like video games in the Middle East, right?

Does that change the nature of those people as warriors?

Well, I think it does.

But that, again, is a creation of a new weapons system, the melding of technology with approaches

with people.

I mean, if you imagine trying to hand that Roman legionary a device that looks like a

PlayStation controller and say, go out and kill the enemy with this.

I don’t know how many years it takes before somebody can do that, because you would have

maybe had to grow up with video games.

You might have to have, you know, an entire personal relationship with the technology

in the state of the times to understand what you do.

So, in other words, I think the answer to your question is that technology is a part.

But what technology does is re-plastify, re-plasticify, if you will, the whole thing,

where then everything remolds itself around the new technology so that you can best use

the new technology to do whatever it was was prompted by the need to have a sort of

a cause and effect.

Does that make any sense?


That’s a great description.

I can remember you had an episode where you talked about the people of the steppe who

were great horsemen, and their advantage was they could do things while on horseback that

other people couldn’t do.


And, you know, you could try to—I love that example, too, because people tried to emulate

it, and lots of countries had mounted archers.

But there’s a difference between a mounted archer that, you know, comes into your training

school at 21 years old, and you start teaching the art to, compared to a Comanche that grew

up on horseback so much that he’s bow-legged, right?

So, I do think that—and to me, that’s almost like, you know, that’s when the—before

modern technology totally overwhelmed aspects of military history like that, there were

various peoples all around the world that could do different things that we would almost

consider to be minor superpowers today.

And that’s my favorite example, is the nomadic horse archers of the steppe that were supposedly

the inspiration for the Greek myth of the centaurs.


That’s beautiful.

You know, I’m looking over the notes now, and I’m seeing that we’ve covered a lot of

the stuff I wanted to cover, but it’s a good time to take a break and just ask, you know,

where should we go?

What haven’t we sort of delved into that would be fun or that you would like to see us go


Because we got a lot of notes for this show, so the more notes we have, the harder it is

to pick anything out specifically.

Anything you’d like to get into?

I mean, we didn’t talk much about you as a background or any of the music that you’ve

been working on.

We didn’t talk about what you personally—I mean, I was curious, because obviously being

a music producer, you’re involved in art creation just in that role.

But is there anything else you’re enjoying doing that I don’t know about?

I mean, I don’t know.

Do you sculpt?

Do you paint?

Do you—you know, the Pricks haven’t been around for a long time.

Is there a reunion in our future of that band?

Um, so maybe we could talk about anything that sounds like we didn’t touch on already

or that you’d like to get into.

Okay, I have a load of things for us to talk about.

Yeah, why don’t you drive the car for a minute and I’ll try to follow.

Should I start?



Let’s talk a little bit about how we decide to continue or not continue what we’re doing.

And the reason I’m asking you this is you had a podcast called Common Sense, which you

did alongside Hardcore History for a very long time, and then Common Sense stopped.

And I just want to talk about that.

I wasn’t expecting that.


Well, you know, the way you said it, Common Sense stopped might be a very good way to

describe why Common Sense stopped.

This gets sort of to the reason that we thought about talking about that sort of stuff to

begin with, and it was based on certain assumptions.

And for me, Hardcore History is a brand-new, created-for-a-podcast kind of program, whereas

Common Sense was something that is a deliberate evolution from what I used to do on the radio

for many, many years.

The tagline, you know, all those commercial talk radio shows always have a tagline when

you start the top of the hour, so anyone who hasn’t heard you before gets sort of the one

sentence or two-sentence rundown about what you’re all about.

And I can still remember it because I used to say it every day, you know, at the start

of all three hours, and it was, we are your independent alternative to the partisan voices

you normally hear.

Now, you’ll hear radio show hosts say stuff like that all the time, but they don’t really

mean it.

We did mean it.

And my basic assumption was that, you know, there is huge problems in American government,

for example, that need to be addressed, but they are bipartisan problems.

And in order to address them, we almost have to subsume—take our differences and put

them aside for now, because differences and disagreements are built into the pie in any

sort of representative system.

That comes with the territory.

It’s not a bug.

It’s a feature.

But we need to—you know, and there’s a—not to change subjects, because it’s not a change

of subject, but there’s a book by Yale—no, it’s Har—I think he’s—I can’t remember

if it was Harvard or Yale, but Lawrence Lessig, who was a law professor, and he wrote a book

called Republic Lost, and I love the way he did it, because he assumed the same thing,

that these problems, these systemic problems require us all to sort of work together to

solve, right?

We need to fix the boat from sinking before we can talk about the direction we want the

boat to go.

And the way he did it was, one page—let’s imagine the left side of the page would be

the arguments for why we need to do this to people who are more liberal, and then on the

right side of the page would be the same arguments for why a conservative person would want to

do this also.

Implying that it’s going to take both sides to fix systemic problems.

And The Common Sense Show was based on this, too, this idea that the problems that divide

us are less important than what we need to do.

I mean, think about—it’s like an infrastructure thing.

We’re arguing about cleaning out the barn here so that we could continue to stable horses

in it.

And the assumption was that—you know, for a while I thought we were winning on that


I mean, I really thought we were.

And then things went sideways.

And they didn’t go sideways because of anything any politician did or anything like that.

They went sideways, in yours truly’s personal opinion, because of us.

And once I decided or thought or assumed or concluded that the problem was stemming from

us, well, then I couldn’t figure out what the solution for that was.

Where there’s all sorts of practical solutions for corruption in government and money in

politics and gerrymandering and long-serving politicians and partisanism.

I couldn’t figure out what to do if the problem is us.

Now, I may be wrong about that, but that sort of shut down the program for me because the

entire premise under which I had labored, and not just with the podcast, but in the

entire radio show that it grew out of, right?

We are your alternatives, you know, to the partisan voices you normally hear.

If not proven, because it’s possible that that was a correct statement in the middle


But by the time the show sort of ended, if it’s ended, I didn’t feel like that was a

true statement anymore.

So what’s the old line?

You know, the problem, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.

And that’s kind of what I concluded.

And that sort of short-circuited my whole approach because I don’t know how to fix us.

Does that make sense?


It does.

I also would be really curious to hear if the show continued on based on that assumption,

which would be not so much you knowing what the solutions are, but being able to clearly

address the problems, to speak the problems as you see them, in the hopes that a solution

can be found.

You know, sometimes identifying the problem is the biggest piece of the creative puzzle.

Do you know if you see if we’re working on a project and something’s not right, and you

know it’s not as good as it could be, or it’s not making you feel something that you

thought it was going to make you feel?

Knowing what to do, you know, knowing why, where’s the splinter in this?

Why am I not getting what I want from this is really helpful.

So I’d be curious to hear that.

And the reason I asked also is because I’ve been doing a podcast called Broken Record

about five years, I think.

And the way that that started was my friend Malcolm said he wanted to do a music podcast,

and if I wanted to do it with him.

So that seemed like a fun idea.

So I started doing that music podcast, and we did that for this time.

And then recently I’ve come to realize, because originally I didn’t think it was going to be

an interview show.

I thought it was going to be more like Revisionist History, more like his show.

Yeah, this is Malcolm Gladwell, by the way.

We should say.

Yeah, this was going to be more of a story.

I thought it was going to be more of a produced storytelling thing, which I think maybe all

of us thought at the beginning, yet it turned into being an interview show.

And it’s been really fun to do.

And because Broken Record is so specifically a music show, and it always set out to be

a music show, I realized I like to talk about things outside of music just as much.

And so I’ve been thinking I’m going to start a podcast, which will be called Tetragrammaton.

And Tetragrammaton will be where I have the conversations about everything.

And at first I was thinking, maybe I need a specific podcast to talk about this subject

and another specific podcast to talk about this subject and another specific podcast

to talk about this subject.

And then I realized it’s probably more interesting if I just have a podcast where I can talk

about anything that’s interesting to me and talk to people who are interesting to me wherever

they come from.

So that’s what Tetragrammaton will be.

And it’ll end up having music interviews as well, because that’s interesting to me.

But it’s not what it’s about.

It’s a piece of the puzzle instead of it being the puzzle.

I think that provides a lot more freedom for you to do it that way than common sense,

which was specifically geared towards a specific attitude.

And part of the problem, too, Rick, in the times in which we live, which I truly believe

we’re going to look back on in 20 years as one of those times where people go crazy collectively.

I mean, the way that you and I would have looked back on the McCarthy era, you know,

from the 1980s, when those people just look crazy, right?

I mean, you just look back and you go, everything went nuts for a while.

I think those things happen in human history.

And the reason it comes into play in the common sense discussion is because part of the common

sense discussion was finding common ground.

But in an era where everyone goes nuts and both sides think that we are in apocalyptic

situations in terms of the stakes, then to try to walk some line where you try to see

both sides is the equivalent of trying to see both the Nazi and the communist viewpoint.

And people don’t stand for that.

And I understand that.

But at the same time, I think 20 years from now, someone’s going to say, why didn’t we

do a little bit more trying to find common ground?

Because obviously, you know, everyone’s being radicalized.

The ballast of society, which is the middle, has seen both edges, the left and the right

edge from the middle, be co-opted towards the extremes because people turn to the people

in the middle and go, now is a time for choosing, as the old line goes, right?

Now, wasn’t that a Ronald Reagan thing from the early?

Now is a time for choosing.

Well, those of us who try to see both sides then become, instead of part of the solution,

in the minds of many during this crazy time, like the McCarthy era, we become part of the

problem in those people’s minds.

And so I do think that 20 years from now, what you’re saying about common sense might

absolutely be the way most people see it.

I get accused of things like both sides-erism.

That’s a word now, both sides-erism.

But in my mind, without both sides-erism, you have one-side-ism.

And how is that any different from what everybody else is doing?

I think the only reason that I wouldn’t say that people today are crazier than they’ve

ever been, it’s the inputs that they’re getting that is getting this result.

So in some ways, the time for a common sense show that speaks reasonably and open-mindedly

about both sides is maybe the only thing that could ever solve the problem.

Because the finger-pointing and the reason people are so divided is because the stories

that they’re being told on each side.

The stories on each side are so against the other side instead of rooted in any reality

on both sides.

Well, and let me just say, I’ve never had a problem with people speaking their true

beliefs, right?

My problem in the modern media landscape the way it is right now, and I have deep experience

in this subject, is the fact that so much of what is turning people against each other

and increasing the temperature in our society is done purely for commercial reasons, purely

for money.

They used to call it back when I was in radio, they used to call it heat, right?


And heat equals engagement.

Now, heat means arguments, right?

And being deliberately provocative for the sake of creating things like anger.

Because I remember them explaining to me, you know, my whole radio career was me arguing

with consultants and program directors and everything like that because they would say

things like, we need to keep people listening through the break.

Well, how do you keep people listening through the break?

You piss them off, right?

And then they’re angry and then they want to hear what comes.

And especially if you piss somebody off and then a caller calls up to deal, you know,

aggressively with you because you piss them off.

But your point of view was the one that the original listener liked, so they get pissed

off at the caller.

People love heat, heat, heat, heat.

They would scream at me, heat, heat, heat.

Well, that’s not legitimate heat, which I have no problem with.

That’s manufactured heat.

You look at somebody, I mean, I’ll give you a perfect, and I’ll name names.

Tucker Carlson is a deliberate provocateur for money.

And that drives me crazy, especially drives me crazy when people consider themselves,

and I’m using air quotes here, patriots, people who want to see the country, you know,

do well and succeed and thrive.

And yet for the sake of money, I can hear the program directors offstage going heat,

heat, heat.

I mean, this is a systematic problem, a systemic problem we’ve created with a commercial

attachment to the creation of anger that would not otherwise be there.

And everybody does it because there’s, you know, elements on the liberal side of thing,

the things that also benefit from the same problem, right?

The need to create ongoing engagement.

And now with the need, and you know this too, with the need to have little snippets that

you can then share on social media as a part of the way you produce a show, well, now you

want that heat to carry over into different mediums.

So I feel like the difference between, and this plays into what you’re saying, right?

The fact that technology has then introduced something.

Can you imagine what somebody like a Joseph McCarthy would have been able to do with the

tools available today, right?

Or a Father Coughlin or somebody like that.

And so I think what you’re seeing is, and I do think we almost recover from an earlier

era and then the technology changes, like we talked about with military things earlier,

there’s a cause and effect.

But the new technology allows old monsters to be reconjured.

And I think when the spell is broken, like the McCarthy era spell was broken when the

famous representative said, you know, have you no shame.

And it was literally as though the cloud dissipated.

I think we’ll probably have a moment like that again.

And just like you and I in the 1980s, looking back on this era, I think people 20 years

from now will think we were crazy right now.

But I think, you know, we’re living in an era where we’re all guinea pigs.

I mean, you know, I’m raising and you’re raising children.

We’re raising children in this time period.

There is no precursor.

There is no example.

I mean, you know, when we were trying to figure out what age you allow your kid to start getting

on social media, you can’t say, well, when I was a kid, we didn’t get to be on social

media until we were 18.

I mean, we’re flying blind here and we’re all as a society, a guinea pig to what happens

in a society with these sort of tools and not just the sort of tools that we can use

for ourselves.

But let’s remember, when we were kids, the Soviet Union back in those days would freak

out because there was one radio station, Radio Free Europe, that used to beam across the

Iron Curtain and that would destabilize the Soviet Union.

It would freak them out.

Well, can you imagine today?

Well, I think maybe we’re almost seeing it with some of the stuff going on in the war

in Ukraine right now.

But these are, you know, we talked about technology.

These are new elements that humanity is trying to figure out how to deal with.

And the problem that I see is not the new technology, but the pace at which it continues

to change.

So just as society with its plasticity begins to react and change and adjust, technology

changes again.

If this isn’t too fast for we humans to handle, then it will be at some point.

Does that make sense?


And there’s some sense of when things change and we adopt to change quickly, we miss that

maybe the thing that we’re changing to isn’t better than, is not better than what we had


Now, sometimes that’s the case, or sometimes there’s a version of it where there’s some

aspect of it that’s better, but it’s not universally better.

That was the case with, I mean, at the time that asbestos was created, it was this wonder

of science that was going to make fireproofing cheap.

And buildings all over the world started using this material.

And then 30, 40 years later, we find out it’s a carcinogen.

And now you have to have people with hazmat suits to come in and take it away if you’re

unlucky enough to have a building that has that stuff in it.

So we keep seeing these, man makes these breakthroughs, but we don’t really understand them.

And we adopt them before we really understand them.

And we’re very quick to either embrace something that maybe we would want to be slower about

embracing or reject something that we’re really quick to reject.

Well, we may find out that cell phones fall into that same category somewhere down the


And but here’s the difference maybe between something like asbestos and something like

some of the other stuff we were talking about.

Cell phones might be a good example.

You can pivot on a bad decision like thalidomide or asbestos.

You can say, wow, we had no idea we’re going to phase out the use of that.

Imagine trying to phase out the use of cell phones or social media.

I mean, sometimes we have no option.

Sometimes there is no.

I mean, it’s almost like with certain technological developments, it’s almost like the spikes

where it says, you know, do not back up or your tires are going to pop.

Some things are once you’re through the veil, there’s no going back.

And some things you can pivot on.

I think asbestos is an example of a decision human beings can make and then decide they

made a mistake and double back.

And there’s some things where I think you’re along for the ride.

And as I always say in the podcast, you know, you go from pushing a development to having

that development pull you.

And I think some of these things, they’re not going to change.

So the question is, can humanity change?

I don’t know.

And when there’s a to double back to the idea of being a financial interest in pulling us

apart, if there’s a financial interest fighting the idea, well, it’s the environment’s a

perfect example.

I mean, if we want to talk about improving environmental problems, sometimes it’s difficult

because cutting down a forest is instant money and impacts people’s lives now, sometimes

for the better, whereas long term preservation of a forest is a much more amorphous thing

where we have to subvert, you know, our needs of the moment and our possible gains in this

lifetime for long term gains.

And I’m not sure that the way human beings developed from, you know, Neanderthals to

now is necessarily hardwired for that sort of an approach.

What are your thoughts on that?

Well, I had an experience this morning related to this.

I was walking on a beach in a remote place where there were no footprints.

It was a place where nobody walks.

I was walking and I was noticing the way the erosion, water was coming from under the sand

and creating these vein-like structures in the sand that went really long distance.

They were very beautiful.

And it felt like, oh, this is like what’s…

This looks like a tree and this looks like our veins and this looks like whatever this

system is, however life works on the planet, I’m getting to see an expression of this,

how life works in this moment.

And I realized that it’s rare to be in a place that’s less trodden like this one or

untrodden in this case.

And if this same place had 50 or 100 people walking back and forth on it over the course

of the day, what I got to see today would have been invisible.

And I’m thinking about in our suburban world and in our urban world, how little we get

to see of what creation has to share with us.

We get to see something else.

We get to see man’s creation, but we only get to see man’s creation.

And there’s something about being able to see…

I remember hearing a story years and years ago.

I was in Hawaii and I was listening to the local public radio station in Hawaii and there

was an old Hawaiian man who maybe was 100 years old.

And he talked about the islands of Hawaii and he was out on a boat looking back at his

island and he said, all of the things over the last 100 years that man has built on these

islands that I can see now from the boat, none of them were more beautiful than what

was here before.

None of them.

That is a telling line, I think.

And something that I think a lot of people feel that loss without knowing that that’s

what they’re feeling.

So, for example, my dad was a really poor kid.

He grew up in the Bronx in an apartment with a bunch of people.

I mean, it’s really one of those old stories you used to hear from the Depression.

And then when the Korean War came around, they drafted people.

And if you didn’t want to be drafted, you could enlist.

And by enlisting, you had to serve a little longer, but you had more choice over where

you went.

And so, dad joined the Navy and they said to him in the Bronx, where would you like

to go?

And he said, as far away from here as possible.

And so, they sent him to Honolulu in 1950.

And my father spent the rest of his life trying to find Honolulu in 1950 somewhere else.

And my mom says, when he first went back, it was probably early 1960s, and he said he

just fell down on the ground and cried because it was this wonderful memory he had of this

special place for a poor kid from the Bronx who’d never seen palm trees had been destroyed

in his mind.

I mean, he would go all over the world later in life trying to find something that reminded

him of that experience.

And, you know, there’s an element to explore here, too, about the, you know, what you just

mentioned about the untouched sand and all these sorts of things.

Well, this is an economic question, too, because you talk about a poor kid today living

in a concrete jungle somewhere where the vast majority of what they’re exposed to is this

man-made stuff that you talked about and not the part of the world that humankind up until

relatively recently not only saw but perhaps mostly took for granted, right?

The way we take the giant skyscrapers for granted that if you pulled a person out from

the Middle Ages and took them to Chicago or New York or someplace like that, that’s the

thing that they would notice.

It’s true.

I’m just taking in what you’re saying.

It’s amazing.

I know.

I know.

Sometimes I say it, and then I try to decide, did that make sense?

No, it made perfect sense.

It was beautiful.

You had other things you wanted to get into?

Got me on the common sense thing.

Now what?

OK, let’s talk about—

Are you—Rick, are you enjoying your foray into all this new technology, too?

Because as a guy who’s a music producer, you’re not usually the dude out front.

And in these productions, you are.

Are you enjoying that?

Well, the book is the first time that my name is on the front of anything.

And it’s an interesting experience because I’m always a backroom person.

I’m always on the back.

I’m never on the front.

And it’s interesting.

It’s interesting.

I suppose the fact that I read or hear from people who are getting something from the

material, that makes me feel really good.

So it’s serving its purpose.

Most art, at least the art that I’ve been involved in, doesn’t really have a purpose.

It’s more to thrill or to give an experience or to feel something more deeply.

But it doesn’t really have a purpose beyond that.

And this book has a purpose beyond nice words.

It has a purpose to inspire people to want to make things.

So the fact that some people have read it and said, this inspires me to want to make

things, that feels really good because it’s fulfilling its promise.

It’s your moments frozen in amber also.

I mean, this is your frozen in amber moment.

And there’s a great line from the ancient Roman orator Cicero who said, writing is the

only true form of immortality.

Now, in his era, that was the only medium.

But the concept can be expanded to many different areas.

I mean, my mom was an actress, and she was active in mostly in the 1970s.

And every now and then, some old show will come on with her in it.

And I will see my mom from the 1970s when I was a kid, right?

And that’s that moment frozen in amber also.

This is your moment frozen in amber and your views as they exist right now, which may change

over time, but you’ll be able in 20 years to look back and say, this is who I was and

what I was thinking during this eight or nine year period where I was putting this thing


Your moment frozen in amber.


And I see it as that.

And I know that it’s, I talk about it in the book.

It’s all changing.

It’s all always changing.

This is a moment in time.

Tomorrow will be a new one.

I’ll be different tomorrow.

Maybe there’ll be some similarity.

Let’s see.

I wanted to ask you about talking about theater of the mind, and I want to talk about audiobooks

versus what you do.

How would you describe the theater of the mind?

Well, when, again, to hearken back to when you and I were growing up, radio was the old

fashion medium by then.

And yet television didn’t have the kind of reach that it has now.

And so I was a sports fan, still am, but I’m a sports fan as a kid.

And there were games that I wanted to pay attention to that weren’t being televised.

And so you would find yourself employing the old medium because maybe the game was being

broadcast on radio.

And all of a sudden, you begin to understand the elements that radio brings to the table.

You know, I think when we were kids, we thought of it as an inferior medium, but it’s a different


And the different medium is obviously because without showing you the pictures, without

you able to see them, your brain makes those things up.

And partly based on how good the person who’s calling the game is, right?

I mean, part of what makes a good radio announcer of a ball game in the 1970s is being able

to bring you there without being able to see what is there.

And of course, in that era, we were still living in the fumes of like Orson Welles-type

radio and all these kinds of things where they did things with radio that they don’t

do with audio now.

Or actually, a better way to put it is didn’t do with audio before things like podcasting

and stuff got started.

Used it in a different way.

Theater of the mind is the ability to conjure feelings, thoughts, images, and sort of paint

a picture for you with words that brings you into the scene.

There’s a lack of a need for that as much when you’ve got the visuals.

But when you don’t have the visuals, you know, it’s like covering up your eyes and then finding

out how much your hearing or your sense of touch or your sense of smell can help you.

And how you come to different sorts of ways of adjusting your senses that you have left

when you take one of them away.

And I think theater of the mind is a wonderful way to touch back to some of the really fantastic

artists of an earlier era who figured out how to use a medium that just sent something

into your ears and allowed you to create what it was you saw.

And the interesting thing is, you could have five people in a room surrounded by the radio

listening to the same thing.

And all five of them have a different mental conception of the picture that’s being painted.

And to me, that’s theater of the mind.

I love that.

And I love how much more power that has than an image.

And an image, yes, an image, it contains a thousand words.

But if you look at an image, we all see a much closer representation when we look at

an image than when we hear a story.

Because when we hear a story, we’re collaborators with the story.

We’re filling in, we’re picturing the story based on our experience.

There’s room for us, the listener, to be part of the story.

Because as you said, five people hear a story and they all picture something different.

It’s a beautiful, do you know the cube experiment?

I don’t think so.

But why don’t you tell me and maybe I’ll recall it, but it doesn’t ring a bell.


It’s a psychological, let me see if I, if I, yeah, it’s a psychological experiment.

I’m still enjoying the, I’m still enjoying the idea of a radio listener as a co-creator.

That’s a wonderful mental image.


Yeah, it’s true.

It’s true.

It’s like, in audio, it’s true in music.

It’s like the difference between hearing a piece of music and closing your eyes and

listening to it and seeing what comes up for you or watching a music video.

A music video is much more leading.

It takes you much to a specific.

It’s the difference between prose and poetry.

Poetry is more open to interpretation just by the nature of the language.

Anyway, the cube visualization, we can do this together now.

Okay, you ready?

Close your eyes.

All right.

And imagine a desert.

Picture the desert.

Got it?



In the desert, there’s a cube.

Okay, I’m there.


There’s also a ladder.

All right.

There are flowers.

All right.

There is a horse.


And finally, there is a storm.

All right.


Describe the cube to me.

Well, it was kind of a Rubik’s cube, so it’s small.

Tiny little handheld cube dwarfed by the ladder and the horse and the flowers, maybe.


Did it have colors like a Rubik’s cube?

I think so.

That’s a good question.



What this experiment does is each of the images represents something in your life, let’s say,

or an aspect of your life.

And the answers are very different.

I remember when I did this the first time, I saw a black metal cube, and it was a big


And it was sitting in the desert.

And I remember I was with a group of maybe six people who all imagined this at the same


Then we all described what we saw.

And I remember when I heard what other people’s descriptions of the scene looked like, it

was hard for me to believe that that’s what came from the same cues.

You know, we’ve all got the same cues, yet the images that I saw were so clearly, they

were so clear to me what I was looking at.

And these images were so clear to them what they were looking at.

And they were so radically different.

And the cube represents you.

And it’s how you see yourself.

And then the ladder represents you.

The ladder represents your friends.

The flowers are children, or it could also be your creative offspring.

So if you say that the cube is small and it’s being overwhelmed by the flowers, or the ladder

and the flowers, and the horse, the horse is your passion.

So it would be your romantic relationship.

But it could also be whatever your passion is.

But typically, we think of it as the romantic relationship.

And the storm, describe the storm.

I live in Oregon, so it just looked like an Oregon storm in the middle of the Sahara.

So sort of low clouds, some fog, that kind of thing.

OK, but nothing like it didn’t wreak havoc or destroy the cube or anything.

No, just rained.

Yeah, OK.

So the storm is your current problems and how you view them.

So for some people, you say a storm and there’s a lightning bolt that destroys the cube, or

takes out the horse.

That’s, it really, we all have our own.

So you see yourself as this small Rubik’s cube is a small, a puzzling, a complicated


And then the flowers and the ladder are your friends, your children, and your creative

offspring, your work.

You see yourself basically absorbed by those things have taken over your life.

Well, but what if those are the important things?

And yeah, it’s beautiful.

It’s beautiful.

I feel like I’ve just gone through a therapy session.


And there’s no right or wrong answers to any of this.

This is more like just you get to learn about yourself through the process.

There’s a book about it called The Cube that explains, you know, that can go into deeper

depth on each of the ideas.

But what’s interesting to me about it is how vivid the images we create are and how

it couldn’t, to me, it couldn’t have been anything else.

It was so obvious what I was looking at.

Like my cube is a black metal cube and impenetrable.

And it couldn’t have been any other cube.

And I remember one person had a transparent cube that was floating over the desert and


Like, how can that be?

How could anyone have that?


And this ties directly into the idea that theater of the mind allows you to decide what

your own cube, storm, horse, and flowers looks like.


And that there’s something beautiful about allowing an audience to find their own story.

I’m working on a documentary right now about Rodney Dangerfield, who I grew up loving.

And there are so many of the standard accepted rules of documentary making that holds the

hand of the audience and walks them through and spoon feeds them.

And I’m not doing any of that.

And I’m really, and always, with everything I make, I always give the audience the most


I always assume the audience is really smart and understands everything.

They understand things I don’t understand.

So, if I make something that I like, I feel like I’m going to learn about it through someone

else telling me what it is.


I wanted to ask you about, did you read the audio book for your book?

Did I read it?

What do you mean?


Did you, were you the audio, were you the reader of your audio book?

Yes, I tried not to be, but they insisted.

Yes, I was the reader of the audio book.


Tell me about that experience, because it’s very different than what you do.

Yes, yes, and it was difficult, honestly, to try to find my own voice.

It’s funny, one of the people who read it, a friend of mine, said, it sounded like you

did the whole thing in your quote voice.

And I thought, well, I was basically quoting, wasn’t I, the whole thing?



I did.

Yeah, I did.

I found it difficult to find what my voice was reading my own work, because I don’t write

my stuff that I record.

So yes, it was, and I would suggest that I got better at it as we did it more.

So maybe the book, if you listen to me voicing, it sounds better as we go on.

But I found that to be quite a challenge.

Yeah, I did it for my book, and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done

in my life.

I don’t know how good it is.

I’m too close.

I felt the same way.

But it took, yeah, and I worked on it for months and months and months.

And I still can see, you know, a million ways to make it better if I had more time.

It’s an interesting thing.

And I think back, I’ve been a fan of audio my whole life, and it’s not just music.

I remember I went through a phase in my life where I only listened to comedy albums when

I was very young, and I listened to audiobooks before there was ever an Audible.

I would buy cassette, you know, books on cassette.

Books on tape, yeah.

And I liked listening to books on cassette, yeah, and I loved it.

And one of the things that I noticed is that it’s a very particular skill set, an author

who can read their work in a way that it’s compelling.

And often what I would do is try to find a lecture by the author about the subject of

the book that’s not them reading the book.

About the subject of the book that’s not them reading the book, but just them talking about

that subject.

And I found the ability to communicate the information was better when they weren’t reading

the book and just talking about the subject than the reading of the book.

Because the reading of the book is such a specific skill set that unless we’re trained

voice actors, we just don’t have that.

Yes, I can relate to that really well, because I think when you speak for a living, especially

when you speak unscripted for a living, like any craft that you do for a very long time,

you’ve sort of internalized all the different elements of it, and you don’t think about

them anymore.

And all of a sudden, then having to read, like you said, your own work and do audio,

I’m in the same medium I’ve always been in.

You would think that all of the skills that you’ve acquired over the years in speaking

to an audience through their ears would apply, but only a few of them did.

I found it to be almost a different art form entirely.

Yeah, it’s fascinating.

It’s such an interesting thing.

And I think that goes into making music as well.

It’s the same.

It’s like we’re not, when we’re making music, we’re not trying to get it right.

We’re trying to convey a moment, which is what you’re doing on your podcast.

You’re conveying what you have to say about this material in this moment.

And I imagine, I asked you this earlier, but I don’t think we, it may have been before

we started.

If you were to record the same podcast that you just released, the same five-hour story

a year from now, if you were to record it a year from now, how different would it be?

And my guess is 20% different, 30% different.

It would be different.

You know, it’s interesting, too.

There’s another element to this, and it’s the filter, right, or the lens.

So I had a guy get ahold of me a couple of years ago, and he said,

I want to do a movie about the naval battle, the Battle of Jutland that you talked about

as one little section of your first World War series.

And I said to him, I said, I don’t have any, there’s no copyright on historical events.

I said, you don’t need my permission to do it.

He goes, I don’t want to talk about it, though.

I want to take the lens that you viewed it through, and I want to make a movie about that.

And I thought that had never occurred to me before, but that’s your cube thing,

or the Orson Welles, or the five people listening to the radio

and all getting a different mental image thing in a different form,

because he could have just done a movie on the Battle of Jutland, but he didn’t want to.

He wanted to do a movie on my take of the Battle of Jutland,

which I thought was rather, I’ve thought about that many times since,

because what that shows is that you could talk about the Battle of Jutland 900 different ways,

all of them being factually accurate and yet totally different.

Yes, yes.

And that goes back to the AI point, is that the AI could spit out the 900 different versions,

but why does this person want your version?

I don’t know the answer to that.

That’s why the art resonates.

It resonates not because you have the same data as the 900 other people who could tell the story.

It’s because you tell the story the way you tell it,

and that’s what’s interesting, at least to that person and to me.

You know, it makes me think of something, Rick.

I mean, the difference between—I mean, I feel like one could make an argument,

and I could take both sides of this argument.

I’m curious where you fell.

The idea that we’re making more creative works,

and I’m not sure more creative works is the same as more art, but we can revisit that.

As a group of people, we’re making more art and creative works than ever before in human history.

More people have access to the tools, including the distribution tools, right?

When we were kids, if you didn’t have some sort of in with the gatekeepers,

whether that was the TV networks or the movie producers or the newspapers or whatever,

you were out of luck.

Nowadays, people just go straight from creation to public display

through many different channels that are available,

so you feel like there’s much more content out there than ever before.

But then you look back at the kind of content they created thousands of years ago,

where there was certainly less people doing it,

less ways to do it, less tools to do it, less ways to show it off,

and yet those are many of the things that if you go to an art museum are on display.

How do you think about the quantity versus quality idea in art creation?

Are we the most creative generation that’s ever lived,

or is that a weird way of looking at it?

It’s a weird way of looking at it, and it’s true.

It’s not necessarily better,

but the fact that more people can create seems like only a good thing.

I can remember something Tom Petty said to me.

We’re in the studio, and I heard a song from the 60s that I never heard before.

It was like a group that put out one seven-inch single

and just a cool psychedelic song, and it was really good,

and no one ever heard of this group, and they never did anything again.

And Tom said, you have to understand in the 1960s,

to go into a studio and record a record, you had to be really good.

Anyone who got to do that was really good.

The bar was high just to be able to get into the studio and record

because we didn’t have any of the tricks or technology

that allowed technology to help the process.

So if you couldn’t do it on the floor in the studio

the same way that you couldn’t do it live at a nightclub,

you couldn’t do it.

You had to play at essentially a level that could wow a crowd,

or you wouldn’t have the chance to ever even set foot in a recording studio.

So what that tells us is the bar was high.

There’s definitely less of it.

But because the bar was high, the level of entry was high,

and there’s less to wade through.

Now, I don’t know if there’s more great stuff than there was in the 60s,

but there’s an exponential amount more to choose from.

I don’t know if the cream is better, worse, as good.

I can’t say.

I will say, because of streaming,

the nature of streaming has changed our relationship to music.

Whereas before, when you bought an album or you bought a CD,

you had some…

You made an investment in it, first of all.

You bought the thing.

This even goes back to before recorded music.

You bought a song.

You’d buy the sheet music for a particular song that you like.

Then you’d sit at the piano and play that music and sing it with your friends.

And then there was wire recording.

And then there was wax cylinder recording.

And then there was the 78.

And then the LP.

Oh, then the 7-inch.

Then the LP.

Then cassettes.

Eight tracks.

Then CDs.

In all of that whole story, from the beginning up until streaming,

you bought the song you wanted or the collection of songs you wanted.

Now with streaming, it’s more like water.

It’s ubiquitous.

It’s always available.

You’re paying to have access to it,

but you’re not paying for the one you want.

You’re paying for the key into the library.

And because of this, it’s changed the way we’ve consumed things.

Because now, even if there’s something you love,

your favorite artist puts out a new project,

it doesn’t have the same durability that it had when you bought the vinyl

or when you bought the CD.

It’s different.

When I say durability, in terms of, I don’t mean stand the test of time.

I mean in our attention span.

And it’s not just our…

It’s a combination of our attention spans are getting shorter,

but also we’re living on a conveyor belt

with all of these things going by constantly.

So before we made the commitment

and we picked the one that we wanted and we took it home

and we lived with that.

Now, there’s this flowing stream of things going by us.

So even the one that we love,

it still has the disposable quality

of the stream that’s going by with everything in it.

Same is true with movies.

You know, when we were young, the Godfather came out.

And Godfather, everyone you know saw the Godfather.

Every single person you know saw the Godfather.

And when it came time for the Academy Awards,

the Godfather wins an Academy Award.

And everyone you know saw it.

And today, if you look at what’s…

There are now 10, used to be five.

Now there’s 10 movies up for an Academy Award this year.

I have a feeling,

if you look at the list of movies at the Academy Awards this year,

you will have seen none of the 10 movies

and nobody you know has ever seen any of the 10 movies.

That’s a big shift.

That’s a big shift in the way we’re consuming content.

And there is not a right or wrong or better or worse.

It’s just a reality of the shift.

I love the fact that anything that I can think of from childhood,

from at any point in my life,

that I loved hearing in the past,

that I can be driving in my car and just think,

oh, I want to listen to Blondie today.

I can listen to Blondie now.

I don’t have to find a record store that still has the Blondie vinyl.

I can just hear it.

And I love that ability.

And as someone who makes things,

it’s sad to feel like I’m doing just as much work as I did

when I made something that everyone heard and lived with for years.

And now it feels like it comes and goes very quickly,

not because it’s any different, worse, better.

It’s just the situation has changed.

Both technically the situation has changed,

but also as people we’ve changed.

But I feel like we’ve changed more in relation to the technology.

The technology has changed us.

But this, Rick, ties perfectly back into our conversation earlier

about things like information and whatnot.

Because, you know, there are certain things…

I mean, let me take an example of Roots,

the groundbreaking TV series from the 1970s.

It was such a phenomenon.

I remember my family getting together,

and it was a multi-night affair, heavily publicized,

lots of media attention.

And we would sit there every night and watch this thing.

And the next day, everyone would be talking about it

because everyone saw the same thing.

And it’s similar with the news thing.

I had a conversation once with a guy in the news business,

like I was at the time.

We were talking about the idea about shared information

that we all agreed upon.

And we were joking about how the information

that we were consuming,

let’s just say it was the New York Times in the 1970s,

that that information might not have been true,

but 85% of the public or more believed it was,

which gave you a shared point of reference

to have discussions over the water cooler with.

That when that goes away,

then all of a sudden you lose the ability

to have conversations because everyone starts yelling about,

you know, whose source are you using?

Because I’ve got my sources and you’ve got your sources.

And it’s a similar thing with music.

Because when I was growing up, we all heard the same thing.

And it was part of your,

it was part of a generational experience

to grow up listening to this or to that.

And everybody heard the same songs.

But there’s a balkanization of content now

so that you and I may have grown up in the same time period,

but may not have heard the same music at all.

That would have been pretty much impossible

when you and I were growing up.

It’s an interesting thing to think about

the pros and cons of that.


The phrase that I’ve heard used to describe

it as consensus reality.

And at one time that phrase was actually

in the book, The Creative Act.

And I realized when I thought more about,

I was trying, I was saying-

I like that term, by the way, consensus reality.

Well, I liked it until I understood what it meant.

I mean, I understand what it means.

I love it.

It’s a great phrase.

But what it’s describing is what you described

about the New York Times in the 1970s.

It may have been true.

It may not have been true.

But we all agreed that this is what we’re going based on.

And I don’t really, I don’t think I want to live

in a world of consensus reality.

I want to live in a world of reality as I see it

or as I can, based on what I can experience.

So, and I don’t think there’s a, I don’t know

that we can ever know what’s right or wrong.

So, just because everyone agrees to something,

if it’s wrong, I’m not sure how helpful that is,

unless all it is is a capitulation of saying,

it feels like a more negative version of me saying,

you know, I don’t know anything.

I know I don’t know anything,

but I’m not making believe in another story

that I don’t know to be true for the sake of being

on the same page as everyone else.

That seems worse.

I feel like it’s better to accept we just don’t know.

So, I’m flashing back to a conversation I had

with a mentor of mine back in the news business

who was teaching me the craft at the time.

And he was talking about something similar to this,

which was allowing people to create their own reality

a little bit.

And he was explaining to me why it’s important

in the news business to explain to people

what they’re seeing and what the news means and everything.

And he was saying in the same way that you wouldn’t go

into your auto mechanics garage and start saying,

well, I have a different opinion

about what this carburetor does.

And you wouldn’t want to tell a professional

who works all the time in this

that that’s his livelihood

and he thinks about it all the time and he studied it.

You wouldn’t want to contradict him

just because you had a different opinion on the carburetor,

unless you knew something about it, of course.

He said, in the news business, this is what we do.

We follow the context.

Well, he said, most of the public

doesn’t have the context.

They don’t know.

You know, he was a big guy in the Charles Manson cases.

It was unfolding and everything.

He knew Manson.

And he was talking about how if you didn’t fill

in the gaps for the public,

they didn’t know the background of the story.

Now, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have your own opinion

on it without even knowing the background.

But he would have said, well, then why should I listen to you

if you have an opinion about the story,

but you don’t know the background

and I have an opinion on the story

and I do know the background.

And if you knew the background,

your opinion might be closer to my opinion.

So it’s an interesting, I see both sides of that.

And, you know, you and I are both

kind of nonconformist that way.

And I would never want anyone telling me what to think.

But I do sometimes read things by members of the public

and think, how could somebody get it so wrong?

And I don’t mind so much,

unless that person then is given a seat

on some news commentary program

and starts giving the how can that person get it so wrong idea

to a bunch of other people that think that guy has it right.

So, I mean, it’s an interesting dichotomy

the way this stuff works in an entire society,

on an entire culture-wide level.

It’s true.

I don’t have an answer for it.

I don’t have a…

I’m starting to understand

why the breakdown of all of our institutions and systems

is like at one time I would,

the punk rocker in me would feel like,

well, that’s good.

Yeah, I know.


I get that way sometimes, too.

And the grownup in me is like,

hmm, this is messy.

And it’s going to hurt people.

Is it better if everyone just goes on

believing the false narrative

and just, you know, moves along?

Who knows?

You know, I don’t know.

I don’t know.

It’s an interesting situation.

But I know that I can’t really speak for anyone else.

I just know for me,

I feel more comfortable

believing whatever crazy thing I believe in

than tempering my creative spirit

by following the ordinary tenets

that we’re told of how things work.

You know, I’m just as like,

I will tell you, I’m not a flat earther,

but I’d love to hear the argument for it.

Do you know what I’m saying?

I’m not, I’m not…


You know, I don’t know that I believe in UFOs,

but I don’t not believe in them.

You know, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t,

if someone tells me they were abducted by a UFO,

I want to hear that story.

I’m curious.

You know, I don’t know what I,

I don’t know what I know.

I don’t know what’s real.

I don’t know what to believe.

I’m not an expert at anything.

I’m just going on.

And, and I like when,

I was, I was a vegan for 22 years,

card carrying vegan.

And it was hard.

At the time that I was vegan,

it was harder being a vegan than now.

Now there’s a lot of vegans.

When I was a vegan,

you, you, you got laughed out of restaurants.

It was difficult.

It was a difficult way.

It had very little options and it was difficult.

And I truly believed that eating vegan

was the best diet for me and best for the planet.

Now, I’m a carnivore and I eat mostly only meat

after 22 years of not having any meat.

And I feel better.

I lost a hundred and some odd pounds of weight.

And I have a new experience.

Now, I, when I was a vegan,

I probably converted 40 people to being vegan.

Now, I eat meat.

I’m not, if you’re a vegan, that’s fine.

It’s, it’s, you know, do, do what you like.

But I, I had bad information.

And now I found information that is,

that’s working better for me.

You know, it’s funny because I think if you took this

to a democratic kind of a question, right?

And said, well, if we ask the public,

how do you feel about being allowed to pick and choose

any sort of reality in, in what you’re consuming

versus having a consensus reality?

Like, is that the right word, consensus reality?

I think, what I think is a lot of people would say,

I’m for a consensus reality as long as it’s my reality.

I want everybody to have my, but I think most people,

if you gave them the democratic choice,

would not want to give up the ability to pick and choose

like an a la carte buffet.

The things that they want to believe are true

and the things that aren’t true.

Now, I, I, I’ve definitely been with a bunch of people

in my life who are elitists about this and would say

that some people like Rick Rubin and Dan Carlin

should be able to do that.

But some people are not qualified to do that.

And I don’t know, I don’t know what you do with that.

I do think that plays into some of the idea now

that you see in modern society,

where people think that any kind of expertise

is something you don’t need to have.

That, that my view on what that carburetor does

as a non-technical person and a non-car person

is just as good as what a, what a real qualified,

you know, engineer who works on carburetors thinks.

But I do think that that might be the trade-off, right?

That might be the cost of being allowed on your part

or on my part to think differently that way.

And this is, truthfully, this is almost where things

like the Bodhi Tree come back into the conversation.

The Bodhi Tree, folks, was a bookstore

that is very hard to describe

that existed in Los Angeles for a while.

But it was the place you went for stuff

that was just, you know, Eastern-oriented,

might be meditation or something.

But it also would have stuff that was just wild.

I had a friend who said your job was to close your eyes,

spin yourself in a circle,

and then go wherever the dizziness led you.

But the difference would be

that if you wanted to be outside the consensus reality

in the 1970s or something,

you had to go to weird places

and strange locations and sources to do that.

Now, you just have to turn on your computer and go online,

and it’s all over the place.

And I can’t decide if the pros outweigh the cons,

but I think it goes back to what you and I were saying

about the difference between asbestos and cell phones.

I don’t, I think the cat’s out of the bag on that.

And the only way it ever goes back

is with some totalitarian government like North Korea

that says, no, no, no, this is how it’s going to be,

and you don’t have any choice.

But I’m fascinated by the trade-offs.

I have a very specific example

related to your carburetor example about the heart.

We all learned in school how the heart works.

And there’s a book,

there’s a doctor named Dr. Thomas Cowan,

who’s a brilliant guy,

and he’s definitely an alternative thinker.

And he’s got a book called The Heart Is Not a Pump.

And he explains that every medical book

that tells us how the heart works

and everything we learned in school is wrong.

And that it’s actually an entirely different system

than all of the heart doctors in the world think.

And I find it fascinating.

Now, if he’s correct, which is possible,

I’m not saying he’s right, I’m not saying he’s wrong,

but it’s possible, what happens then?

If he’s right, what happens?

Now, if you ban his material,

that’s not what we teach in school, that’s wrong.

Do we miss out on the possibility

that actually someone realized

that the Earth is not in the center of the solar system,

that it’s actually the sun?

The person who discovered that was put to death

for believing that.

No, I don’t think he was put to death.

Are we talking about Galileo?

I don’t know if it was Galileo.

The original heliocentric…

Let’s look up who was the original heliocentric person.

Copernicus? I don’t know who that was.

I don’t remember.

But I see what you’re saying.

So it’s the dichotomy, though.

The dichotomy is this,

is that every time anyone broke the mold

when it comes to the official way of thinking,

you’re going to see one of these people

that we celebrate as a great innovator

and a great thinker

and they change the way we see science

or whatever it might be.

The problem is, is for every one of those people,

you also have people that were…

I mean, my favorite, one of my favorite,

and you’d probably like this

as an alternative way to view possibilities,

there are people out there

who say the entire historical dating system

that we have is wrong.

And that all these things that we think happened

are based on things that were mere images of each other.

In other words, we’ll think we have two separate events,

but it’s really separate sources

talking about the same thing.

And I read one of them once

that was saying something like,

the Middle Ages were not really the Middle Ages.

I mean, in other words,

totally asking you to rethink the entire way

we’ve constructed the linear timeline of humanity

and that it’s not that way.

Now, I’m fascinated with that just as a conceptual tool,

but that to me would be an example of,

you know, the counterexample of someone

like a Galileo or a Copernicus.

So for every guy who upsets

the way of thinking in the correct direction,

there’s a lot of people who proposed a bunch of stuff

that looking back on it now,

you go, well, that was crazy.

And sometimes it’s difficult

to separate the wheat from the chaff, you know?


Do you remember Apple’s Think Different campaign?

Oh, sure. It was 84, I think.

It was, wasn’t it? 1984?

I don’t remember.

I remember they had John and Yoko.

They had all different people who thought differently.

And changed the world because they thought differently.

And I’m thinking how today,

Apple would not have that same ad campaign.

And I still live in a world

where the Think Different campaign is true.

Yeah, you do. You do.

Well, but I mean, to me,

that’s what you bring to the table, one of the things.

I mean, if I’ve done nine equivalent

of whatever today is a record album,

and I’m looking to do something different

and really break the mold, I mean, I’m looking for you.

I mean, because that’s what you’re, I mean, that’s what the,

and that’s what the book is to me.

When you look at this book,

and this is what I mean about people

who do this already for a living,

being able to nod their head when they read this stuff

is because without this book,

we’re already trying to figure out

some of these same solutions.

And so when you bring up the problems,

we sit there and go, mm-hmm, I know exactly what that is.

And by the way, some of the solutions you come up with,

I really like.

And you know, you and I have talked about different things

and by the way, I don’t like it as much

as I thought I did when I first bought it

now that I’ve gone through,

but like Brian Eno’s little card system

and things like that,

little things like that,

that just make you turn things over a little bit

and say, hmm, I never thought about looking at it that way.

You’re the best person I’ve ever met at that.

Wow, thank you.

It’s what’s interesting to me.

I always like considering what’s possible

and I believe that anything’s possible.

So taking off any restraints

and removing all assumptions

and starting from almost a dream-like state,

like what could we dream?

What can we dream up?

That’s because I know if we can imagine it,

we can bring it into being.

The imagining is the first piece.

And if we disincentivize imagining things

and allowing the world to be what it can be

instead of just what we think it is now,

it’s a beautiful way to walk in the world.

It’s the world I want to live in.

You know, you talk about,

and it’s one of the chapters in your book,

planting seeds.

And I’ll tell the audience a story

about you planting seeds.

So you, and this is so different.

And this is part of what, you know,

when we talk, when Rick looks so zen,

I just want to describe the difference between Rick

and somebody who would be like a normal person

and somebody who would be like a normal commercial producer

or something, a normal commercial producer

who’s working with you, for example,

which you and I were not doing,

but may turn around and go,

I want to show you something

because it’ll help us what we’re currently working on.

Whereas you take people and you took me,

the first time I ever saw virtual reality was with you.

And you said, I want to show you something.

And we went in the car, we went to somebody’s house

and I put on the virtual reality goggles

for the first time in my life.

I was blown away.

I told you when we walked out of there,

I had 9,000 ideas pinging off of my brain after that moment.

And that was you, that you plant that seed

and then that seed goes in any direction.

And years later, when somebody said to me,

hey, have you ever thought about doing virtual reality?

Have you ever seen virtual reality?

I said, well, funny you say that.

I have, and I have some ideas.

Those ideas grew from either ground

that you plowed in my psyche

or a seed that you planted,

not for any commercial reason,

not because we were working together

and you wanted me to be better

at our commercial venture together.

You just Johnny Appleseeded something in my mind

that took root later and turned into something.

That’s why there’s a thank you

on the World War I immersive experience that we did

because I don’t feel like it would have happened

without that seed.

And that’s one of the things that you do for everybody

that I find so intriguing.

And that makes you more of a creator and amplifier

than most of these people you work with

when you give them a paycheck and say,

hey, help me out with this album,

make it sound differently.

You’re planting seeds for years down the road

that may have nothing to do with you eventually.

I’m intrigued with that.


I’m curious about things

and I like the idea of sharing interesting things.

And the thing that we,

what’s funny about that immersive experience

is I’ll tell you,

it’s not something that I’m so into.

It’s more something that it sounded interesting.

And when I heard about it,

I thought Dan might like this.

Let’s go check it out.

Honestly, it was more like it didn’t give me any ideas.

Kind of made me nauseous.

Oh, that’s very funny.


So it’s not like I’m flying the flag

for the things I love all the time.

Although I do fly the flag for things I love,

but it’s as much of,

take a look at this.

How does this bounce off of you?

I felt it opened up an entirely new vista.

And I love the idea of someone,

yeah, it’s fantastic.

It’s fantastic.

I love that story.

I didn’t really know that.

I mean, I know that we went to see,

to my friend Chris Milk’s house

and saw a very early version of the Oculus.

And I knew that you were interested,

but I didn’t know that it actually came to anything.

That’s great.

And not just that,

what blew me away the most about the experience

wasn’t that Chris Milk was a technologist.

He was looking at this from a,

correct me if I’m wrong,

looking at this from a filmmaker viewpoint.

And several of the things that he said to me,

word for word stayed in my brain.

I remember him saying,

imagine every movie that’s ever been remade already.

And I think Mutiny on the Bounty

was one of the things that was brought up.

He said, it’s going to be remade.

They’ll remake it Star Wars.

They’ll remake it in virtual reality.

He was explaining all of the filmmaker tricks.

I mean, one of the things he said was,

if you’re making a movie

and the killer’s coming down the stairs

and the family doesn’t know

the killer’s coming down the stairs,

you pan the camera to the killer coming down the stairs,

but he goes in a movie that you’re making

with this technology,

you’re going to have to figure out a way

to create a reason for you to turn your head

and look up there.

And I just remember being fascinated

with the difference between a way,

somebody who was trying to make a game

or somebody was looking at this

compared to just putting tools,

new tools in the hands

of somebody who thought of themselves

as an already existing art genre purveyor.

And I mean, like I said,

when we walked out of that house,

my brain was pinging with so many different ideas.

And I always feel like that when I leave you.

You’re an amplifier in that respect.

And I think that’s why people

are drawn to working with you

because I think they walk away and go,

wow, it’s a completely different lens

through which to view things.

And not your lens,

you open up a vista to a wide…

And that’s the difference too.

If I’m going and working with Phil Spector

on a record album,

Phil’s going to have Phil’s viewpoint.

Rick doesn’t, you don’t do that.

You open up vistas that create chances

for the artists themselves

to re-see what they’re doing.

And I think that that’s,

not only is that a skill,

but it’s a…

Well, that’s why you would write a book on creativity,

I guess is what it boils down to.

I’m so glad you like the book.

That really, it means the world to me.

I do.

Well, it speaks to us

because we do all this stuff all the time.

And you put into words things we just have…

Some of this stuff is…

And that’s what I think, by the way,

that some people maybe read it and say,

well, it sounds a little woo-woo.

Try explaining this.

Try explaining inspiration, right?

Try explaining where inspiration comes from.

I mean, the entire idea,

the entire creative act,

and the book is called The Creative Act,

the way of being,

the entire creative act is itself woo-woo

if you think about it.


It’s magic.

It’s we’re delving…


That’s a good way to put it.

It’s what it is.

Any other questions that you had, my friend?

You had some things written down?

I’ll actually, I’ll ask you one last question in closing.

I have two.

I’m going to ask them both,

although I have a feeling…

I’m going to…

I’ll read to you both of them,

and then you decide which one you want to answer.


All right.


Or if you want to answer them both, it’s fine.

But I think this could take some time.


No worries.

First one is…

This is rooted in your newest episode,

is asking,

are today’s superheroes yesterday’s gods?

That’s the first question.

And then the other question is,

how was the world different before land ownership?

Yeah, those are very…

So give me the first one again.

The first one is,

are today’s superheroes yesterday’s gods?

So once…

So there’s a historical theory

that many of these people in history that are…

Usually the words they use are demigods.

So you look at somebody like a Heracles,

you know, Hercules.

He was never a god, right?

He was a demigod, the son of a god.

And the idea is that some of these people

may very well have been real human beings

who just did such big things that they were deified.

So, and literally deified in the case of an Alexander the Great,

who was deified.

Julius Caesar, who was deified.

Like you go read the Roman accounts of Julius Caesar

after his death and they say,

Julius Caesar, the god.

Because the things that they did

seemed almost godlike, the accomplishments.

And so I certainly think that there are some demigods

who once upon a time were real people.

So, I mean, I think,

I don’t even think that’s arguable to some degree.

I think that’s true.

I don’t know if that means Thor

and Zeus and all those people

were once upon a time people,

but certainly like a Heracles could be

or some of these other ones.

So, I think the answer to that is we may never know,

but it seems likely.

What was the second one?

Oh, the land ownership one.

But also the question was like the role in society

that superheroes play,

like Aquaman.


You had to pick Aquaman.

Just random.

First one that came to mind.

Or Captain America or Superman

or whoever the, or Batman.

Did those in the minds of young people,

did those characters fill the same role

as the Olympian gods, for example, in Greece?

I don’t think so.

But what I would say is that I think they,

so I’ll watch those films sometimes,

like a superhero film or,

and I’ll find myself getting almost misty

emotionally about it.

And the reason I’m getting misty

is because sometimes you’ll see them do something

in the film or the movie or whatever.

And you’ll think, oh my goodness,

wouldn’t it be great if someone like this actually existed?

Because when you look at, you know,

you and I talked about problems in the political system

and with humanity and all these kinds of things.

Sometimes you think to yourself,

wouldn’t it be great if something existed

that could cut through all the BS and just solve this, right?

Superman comes in and just fixes it, right?

Whatever, there’s, I think there’s a human longing

to be able to wish that there was a solution like that, right?

A solution that saw one answer

to a variety of intractable, unsolvable problems.

And I think superheroes,

especially when they’re giving bad guys or evil,

or they’re due,

I think there’s something very satisfying about that.

I think it plays into the history of media

all the way back to at least Greece

and probably oral traditions and tribal stories

from way back where the good triumphs over evil.

There’s just this feeling so often

that evil gets away with evil.

And there’s a sense you get almost misty-eyed

when the right outcome happens, right?

And good triumphs and the bad guys get their due

and the bad thing that was happening is solved

and no longer is hurting people.

So, I mean, I think there’s that element of,

wouldn’t it be nice?

Wouldn’t it be nice if that was there?

In terms of taking the place of gods,

the reason I wouldn’t say so

is because a lot of these deities in pre-modern times,

if they were superheroes,

they would definitely sometimes be antiheroes

or flawed heroes

or my favorite comic book superhero,

for lack of a better word,

in all the comic books,

was the guy that just appeared

in the most recent Marvel film,

obviously very differently,

but it was Namor the Sub-Mariner.

And he’s one of the earliest superheroes in Marvels.

It was like him and the Human Torch back in 1939.

And what I liked about the guy

was that he was a third force.

He wasn’t on your side.

He wasn’t on the bad guy’s side.

And depending on what he was doing,

you might see him as good or evil.

And I loved the nuance in the character.

But to be larger than life,

I think that’s the attraction of the gods.

But I think if you look at someone like Thor

or even someone like the Greek gods,

sometimes they were being Captain America.

Sometimes they were being Namor the Sub-Mariner.

And every now and then they were being Dr. Doom, right?

So I think there’s an element in the superhero thing now,

especially with ones like Superman and whatnot,

where they’re just undeniably good.

And I don’t think most of these gods

or the various groups of gods,

I think they were much more amorphous characters

and much more morally ambiguous than our superheroes are.

So I’m not sure I would go there.

The gods of the past are much less pure good

than, say, the Christian god is today, right?

The Christian god today is more like Superman.

The gods of the past, much more morally ambiguous,

like a Sub-Mariner, maybe.

You had some thoughts about land ownership.

That’s very interesting.

Yeah, what was the world like before land ownership?

How did land ownership happen and how did it change the world?

So I actually read a lot about this

because it’s all part of my attempts to get to the nature of war.

And when you start studying human conflict,

you realize that it may predate humanity.

So the path of studying this leads you further and further back in time

until you’re dealing with people…

I mean, I think you could go back to Neanderthal times

and you’re talking about war.

I’m actually studying primates now and seeing the roots of this.

So when you talk about something like land ownership,

let’s talk about two different kinds.

The modern kind where somebody gives you a title to some property

and that means it’s your property.

And if somebody invades your property,

you can hold up the land ownership

and seek redress of grievances from the authorities

versus a tribe of pre-modern humans

that considers this area to be their grounds.

And you’re probably talking about personal land ownership too,

probably more than this.

But the idea that this is your farm,

that this is your territory,

I’m not sure there ever was a time when that didn’t exist.

Now, there may be cultures that didn’t believe in land ownership.

There’s certainly some of the Native American cultures

have believed that it’s ridiculous to think about

how can you own the sky?

How can you own the mountains?

But I think, you know, I mean,

there are ancient peoples that not only own their own areas,

but they’ll dig moats around it, put stakes up around it.

I’m not sure there ever was a time uniformly,

even when we were hunters and gatherers,

that we didn’t consider this or that area to be ours.

But it was ours, not because through buying it,

but because you had it and you put a moat around it,

you wouldn’t let other people come to it.

It wasn’t like you had a deed to the land.

Let me reverse the question.

What do you think about that, Rick?

I don’t know. I want to learn about it.

It’s fascinating to me.

It feels like a lot changed

and the reason I’m asking more has to do with

the way animals move over the landscape

and how when we started boxing off areas

or creating cities, we displaced the wildlife.

And it’s really impacted the whole ecosystem in a huge way.

That’s where I was going with it.

But I’m just curious about it because it feels like…

No, I want to explore that

because I’ve been thinking a lot about that too.

It’s a great subject to bring up.

And I’ll tell you how I’m thinking about it.

So I have some weird interests like you do.

And one of the things that I find fascinating

are orangutans, the endangered species,

the apes from Borneo and Sumatra.

And if you go look at what’s happening to the orangutan,

it’s a disaster.

And it’s a disaster because these are the largest animals

that operate in the high trees in the world, right?

The biggest, the largest.

And their habitat is being destroyed.

Now, if you go look at what life is like

in a place like Borneo, it’s like a lot of places.

It’s quite poor and the people often live

in the equivalent of shacks

with sheet metal roofs and stuff like that.

And so to tell those people

that they should not go chop down the forest nearby,

which allows them to potentially feed their family,

seems to me to be something that most of us would bristle

if somebody told us to do the equivalent

in our society here.

And yet at the same time, the entire planet, right?

The collective planet is losing both the orangutans

and the rainforest, the jungle there,

which is bad for all of us.

So how does a modern interconnected global society

deal with something like that?

It’s like when a country like China

or maybe India gets angry at the developed world

for saying that they can’t develop

in the same way that we did, right?

Why can’t they use coal to bring themselves

up to a higher level of industry and living standards?

We did, but we used it at a time

where maybe we weren’t as aware of the collective damage

as they are now.

So you have to say to yourself,

if we in the rest of the world want jungle and rainforest

because it’s good for all of us,

and if we want orangutans,

what do we have to say to these poor people of Borneo?

We’re going to do for them to make this worth their while.

And this is where I think, you know, it’s funny

because the most interesting political questions, Rick,

are the ones that run at 90 degree angles

from what we want to believe.

So I want to believe that our country, for example,

can be autonomous and that we only worry

about what Americans need and want

because that’s why we voted our legislators

and all these kinds of things.

But in an interconnected world, it’s very difficult.

And you may have to turn around and go,

well, we may have to, you know, globally

have some kind of tax.

See, this runs against my political beliefs,

but you may say, we may have to have some kind of tax

that compensates people from like,

whether it’s Brazil and the Amazon

or whether it’s Borneo that compensates these people

so that they don’t do something we don’t want them to do.

But if we were in those shoes 100 years ago,

we would claim it our sacred right to do.

And so I feel like,

because you brought up the land ownership question

as it relates to things like the animals

and all that kind of stuff.

I think as this becomes a more acute problem,

I think we’re being faced with some stark choices

and we may not like something like a global tax

to pay off people so they don’t cut down rainforests.

But at a certain point,

that might become a matter of life and death.

It already is for the orangutan.

Yeah, and it might be,

what’s interesting about it is

if you look at what cutting down the trees generates

to offset that,

it’s probably not,

it’s not that big of a deal.

Do you know what I’m saying?


It’s like, I think that the bigger problem becomes

just the corruption in the system

is such that everything gets amplified

and middlemen and…

Yes, yes.

And you see that in Africa now.

I mean, forget orangutans for a minute.

Let’s go to like chimpanzees.

In Africa, they kill chimpanzees for bushmeat, right?

And you say to yourself,

oh, my gosh, you’re killing this endangered species

for bushmeat,

but that’s a sign of how poor and how needy

these people are, right?

And how little, you know,

my grandfather was a huge fan of Baja, Mexico,

and he used to go down there once a year

and bring all kinds of goods

to the really poor part of Mexico.

And he used to say,

it is so poor down there

that the amount of things that it would take on our part

to make a huge difference in their lives

would seem almost insignificant to us.

But if you give this stuff to them to change their life

and some middleman corrupt government steals it all,

well, then your money was wasted

and you didn’t help the people you want to help.

So I think there’s some stuff we could unpack here

in another conversation.


And when you make the suggestion of some sort of a tax,

my concern is it would be better for a person of means

to take on this challenge

as opposed to it paying it in tax

to handle the situation.

And the reason I say that is I don’t have faith

that the money that we pay in tax

necessarily goes to the things that we want it to go for.

I agree with you.

100%. 100%.

Now, let me suggest a different way of doing it.

So I always love to go look at the earlier models.

And if you go look at how they were doing things

in ancient Rome, for example,

one of the things it was both an expectation,

but also something that people did

where you would have a very, very rich person

who would solve some public problem

or fill some public need.

I’m just randomly just throwing something out there.

Let’s say the sewage system is broken down in your town

and the wealthiest person in the town

fixes the sewage system at his own expense.

And then the payoff for that,

it wasn’t just meant to be something that was,

you feel good about yourself later.

There would be statues put up to the person.

There would be celebrations of the…

In other words, there was a mutually beneficial circumstance

where everybody got something for doing this, right?

The super rich person hardly noticed the expenditure.

The new sewage system got built.

He gets a statue or she gets a statue put up

to recognize their efforts and no one had to be taxed.

So, I mean, there’s multiple ways maybe of doing this.

And I think you can find examples today

with super rich people who sometimes do stuff like that.

Mm-hmm. Interesting.

Sounds good.

My thanks to Rick Rubin for coming on the program today.

His new book is called The Creative Act, A Way of Being.

And as I said, I find myself nodding my head as I read it

because so many of the things that he talks about

are things that we deal with when we’re putting together our work.

See if you don’t feel the same way.

And I will say that if you ever wonder what it was like

for all those musical acts and people

that were working with Rick over the eras to work with Rick,

to talk with him, to be with him,

to get a sense of, you know,

what sort of information, advice, and perspective he’s sharing,

I find that the book is a pretty good replication of that.

So why don’t you check it out if you’re interested in creativity,

Rick Rubin, or any of the things we talked about today

and everyone stay safe and thanks for joining us.

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