Indecisiveness kills creativity.
…or maybe it’s procrastination. Or lack of concentration. Or constantly changing the goals. Or not knowing what you want, but knowing that when you see it that you might want it. It could be indecisiveness, after all. Or perhaps poor communication. Or even weak technical proficiency disguised as managerial prodding. Or some design-by-committee thing. Or not having a predefined idea of just where any of it is going in the first place. Or some time-management thing, maybe?
It’s a lot to think about, really. What if it’s just too damned many choices, or comfort in doing things the same fucking way they’ve always been done, and then knowing that no matter how much of a let-down it will be when the results are always the same, that the feel of that safety net always gives some reassurance in an odd way? Like being cuddled sweetly with a noose.
It brings us full-circle: Indecisiveness kills creativity. …or perhaps over-thinking the indecisiveness kills it. I’ll ask my team and get back with you.
A little piece I threw down for Tubbed Magazine. Stop by and enjoy the second coming of Pro-Street.
Think back to your first memorable experience that set your fate as a “car guy.” Don’t let nostalgia sway you, just blurt it out. Just roll with the first one that comes to mind.
I’d be willing to bet that it had nothing at all to do with what anyone else thought of you. Taking that a yep further, I’d sweeten that bet by adding that it had nothing to do with fame or money. While one or two of you may have though about the guy with the bitchin’ ride in your hometown that got all of the girls or that every other guy wanted to be, that seems pretty normal, and had nothing to do with defining just who you were. It started with the car, right?
Along that patch of blacktop we all travel on our way to becoming full-fledged car guys, we all get a taste of the pride that comes with a thumbs-up at a stoplight, or the strangers wanting to discuss our cars and the one they had “just like it” back in the day. Ego always grows a bit to fill those freshly upholstered bucket seats, and it’s all fine if you know how to keep it in check. And if you had any car guy friends worth anything, they knew how to help you keep that in check. It’s what good friends do.
It’s a family.
Compare your memories to what any kid coming into what remains of the hobby today will know it as:
A bunch of posturing and ego-driven, money-hungry wannabe celebrities driving catalog-sourced vehicles destined to provide big returns at auction. In an entitlement-driven, fame-is-everything era, we’re losing the real car guys and builders to a steady stream of TV stars and project managers. It’s an awful lot like Hip Hop and reality TV: Just a load of “look at me” bullshit with no redeeming value. And having already conquered reality TV, it’s not a far stretch to see the whole thing sink to a level of commerce-driven stereotypes telling you what’s cool this week, and making everything so base and trend-driven that they’ll be left with little choice but to either cannibalize the damned thing, or just leave it to die and move to the next.
Let’s roll with the whole Hip Hop analogy. Let’s create a fictional car guy who maybe came into the scene in the late-1970’s. He’s stoked about these “Pro-Street” cars, and can’t get enough of the look. It becomes in his mind the right look: Big, fat tires out back, a rake, skinny tires up front, and perhaps some form of induction poking though the hood. The essentials are in place. Our budding car guy is exposed to cars like Joe Ruggirello’s Mustang II or Lisk’s Challenger or Kollofsky’s ’55 Chevy (side note: Anyone else find it coincidental that all of these guys have names befitting a cool character or bad-ass cop in a movie?) or any other of a series of killer, pro-style bruisers. And much as any fan of what would come to be called “Hip-Hop” would have heard Grandmaster Flash or the Cold Crush Brothers early on and been drawn to it for the unique approach and the imagery it inspired in anyone outside of the Bronx, what would come to named “Pro-Street” did likewise to anyone who never cruised Woodward.
While Hip Hop evolved by taking outside influences from funk and soul to new wave and even punk, Pro-Street did likewise, borrowing from Street Freaks and Street Rods and other places, always looking to raise the bar just a touch. And, like anything gaining popularity, each had a stand-out that came to be the face of the movement: Hop Hop had acts like Run DMC, and we scored with names like Sullivan, Dobbertin and Hay (they could play the law firm in that film idea mention earlier). And in that popularity of a select few, we can trace the evolution of each, mans see the ongoing influences applied to shape just where each might head.
Like anything that goes popular, there exists the danger of haven it buckle under its own weight. While Pro-Street suffered from a number of ills, we could blame the decline on magazine saturation and constant competition to be the next big thing, with cars adding more extreme power plants and detailing and so-on, that it just became a caricature of itself, and begged for something to step in and rebel against it. We wound up with Pro-Touring, which didn’t seem to heed its own warnings, and is finding itself on a similar path. As for Hip Hop, it changed from a creative ocean of experimentation and arrangement to a soul-less money farm in the 1990’s (oh, the similarities between Hip Hop and Pro-Street are many, kids), and eventually a sad joke with all of the “gangsta” posturing and crunk-style bragging. (Side note 2: Consider that Dr. Seuss coined the phrase “crunk car” back in the 1970’s, and you start to feel all lightheaded, right? Scary how that works.) Where Hip Hop and its offspring found their way into the mainstream via MTV and radio play, hot rodding was doing likewise via major events, magazines and videos. TV wouldn’t be far behind.
It’s not such a far reach then, to compare Hip Hop and Hot Rodding. Each became a pale version of its former self once television became a part of the marketing. Hell, we could take this little notion on a whole other ride, but let’s settle on the marketing of each as being hand-in-hand harbinger of destruction forthe movement. Don’t get me wrong, I get the money thing… We all need to eat. But when the problems come banging down the doors, they usually look like the fresh-from-College guys from Marketing. And when they come visiting, even the goldfish stop swimming, if you get my drift. The dollar signs flash, and it’s off to the races. On the music side, it becomes about selling the image of what Marketing thinks that it should be, with reference to moving product (as Yogurt the Wise taught us so many moons ago, the real money is in merchandising). You craft an image, and get the kids to buy into that. On the car side, it’s eerily similar: Craft an image of what someone outside of the whole thing thinks it should be (based upon what the data shows will sell), and run with it, facts be damned if need be. Understanding that, it’s not so difficult to see why we had shows like Orange County Choppers or, keeping with the theme, Pimp My Ride. On one hand, you had screaming and yelling and time crunch drama because, by golly, that has to be how it is in a real shop, right? The natural outgrowth was American Hot Rod, Wrecks to Riches and their ilk. They appealed to the “behind the scenes” exclusivity gene which TV inserted into the genetic code, and never mind how skewed from reality it might be… Just cash that check and find more shit to fight about. Take that a step further in the appeal to “you can sell these cars and make money!” idea, and by golly, the shows practically write themselves. I am convinced that there are but two formulas for any reality-based show:
1. The Shop as setting for drama (family, client/shop, contest, money or otherwise) formula,
2. The find it/buy it/fix it up/sell for profit/repeat formula
…each of which may be seasoned to taste by adding celebrity appearances, surprises, some form of competition, pranks or canned “tech tips” wherever holes appear in the story line. Take a long, hard look at Monster Garage and tell me it isn’t so. Shit, get a hold of a script from Lords of the Car Hoards, Unique Whips, Leepu and Pitbull or Fast N Loud, mix them all up, and I’d bet that a seven year old could put a season’s worth of shows together at random, and you’d never be able to tell the difference. You could do likewise with any current Hip Hop video premise. It’s not about telling a story or building a cool car; it’s about who can brag the loudest. And that opens the door to really scary things, and can usher outcomes like not unlike the Lucifer Effect, as postulated by Philip Zimbardo (aka the Stanford Prison Experiment), wherein the wheels can be put into motion that make a good person do some really twisted evil things. I mean, what would the dollar amount be for you to sell out and bastardize the car hobby you love? Roll with your first instinct. That’s a lot of fucking zeros, isn’t it? And that’s chump change when the Advertising Department bros get involved (and you thought that little fishie was holding still earlier? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet). And when the image consultants and writers come to play, you’ll hardly recognize yourself. It doesn’t take a lot to go from singing about your sneakers over a sampled loop to bragging about the women you slept with in the penthouse last week and how big the rims on your SUV are when the residuals roll in.
And that’s where we stand today: It’s not about some guy with a cool 1970’s action movie cop name building a kick-ass machine that will set your synapses afire, blazing a whole new path for thought across your brain or even mashing two things together that have never been mashed before. It’s about having some money guy or project manager (at best) playing the douche (OK, sometimes it’s not a stretch for the guy. As a wise man once told me, “Only two kinds of people wear sunglasses indoors: Rock stars and assholes. Be on the lookout for a guitar.”) and creating some filler to top with ad sales. It’s loosely connected product placement opportunities designed to make the numbers so that Trent and Blaine in the front office can keep that tee time. You don;t have the imagination or thrill of discovery involved with your entry to the hobby anymore. Instead, you have an image to play up to, and try to out-douche so that you can make your own mark and score that show.
After all, it isn’t about the cars anymore, unless they’re a prop for your bitches to lean against while you pose with jewelry and assorted gold-plated handguns. While I can appreciate how anyone uninitiated into the family that is hot rodding can fall for this, you can bet your ass that I’ll be stepping into frame and doing my best to drop knowledge on Quick Mix Theory and Bill Jenkins’ Pro Stock Vega.
Quote out of context that bred a movie idea:
“If you you stop to think about it, there’s probably little more terrifying in the world than a wedge-style, tractor-pulling chassis lumbering at wide-open throttle toward your town… Even more so if it’s covered with the papier mache penis-shaped parade float body that the drivers of said machine stole from you on the last trek down the hill.
We could craft an entire sub-plot centered around the citizens forced to help push it back up the hill following the plundering. This is gold.”
Granted, it’s no remake or live-action version of a seventy year old animated classic… or even a trilogy based on a thirteen page short story, but with a few hundred million in CGI effects, this could be the blockbuster you need, even if you did nothing to deserve it.
Anyone can imagine a world of peace and love and never-ending happiness and blue skies and all of that bullshit. And anyone who watches enough television can imagine a world based within a world that’s taking place in an alternate reality of their favorite show.
However, it takes a real hero to imagine a world in which the most popular form of entertainment involves a mash-up of the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show, “Fantasy Island”, the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, “Deadliest Catch” and “Robot Wars”, but as a musical with choreographed dogfights between Elvis impersonators riding on armored Zambonis, battling to the death in a variety of improvised challenges (voted on in real-time by viewers via text) for an honorary degree. Winner gets the title, while the loser’s selected school has their electricity cut for nine years, and they are required by decree to sacrifice the tenured professor with the grayest hipster beard on their campus to the Lovecraftian deity Cthulhu, High Priest of the Great Old Ones. May he eat your home last.
Digging through a folder of assorted notes I’ve written, and I stumbled across this gem:
“A cacophony of flip-flops, crying kids and a loose shopping cart wheel that goes clackity-clackity-clackity-click-click-thump-thump-thump-thump-clackity-thump.”
One might think I’d remember just what in the fuck that was all about; much less that at some point I was writing a Disney musical number. Phil Collins is going to have a hard time writing the score for this, but hey, that’s on him. Hit me if you’d like to purchase the rights to a brilliant idea for a Walter Mitty meets Toy Story meets Full Metal Jacket meets an Un Chein Andalou/Tarzan-esque animated spectacular.
A lot of talk the past few days regarding the car show world, from politics to rules and more. I had been writing a piece about this very subject prior to Detroit, and then felt it best to hold off on publishing it, as there were things afoot that could have made my post look, well, far more bitter for all of the wrong reasons. Rest assured, this is nothing more than my observations on the whole car show/industry slide toward oblivion, and not some “oh, they didn’t give us a trophy” or other nonsense. For fuck’s sake, we’re adults. And yes, it’s long. Should you happen to be some illiterate shit, or far too busy looking up memes or fail videos to read a few paragraphs, well, there’s the wonder of the internet, Billy Bob: Scroll the fuck past. Nobody asked you to chime in with your “I dun dint read, cuz it were long” reply. It’s a safer world knowing that the likes of you stick to looking at pictures anyway.
Some may be offended by my opinions/observations, and that’s cool. The truth can pack a nasty stinger.
Think back to the first indoor car show you attended. Chances are, you were a young and impressionable gear head who was floored by the kandy and chrome ocean you found yourself dropped into. Take that a step further, and consider the first ISCA-type show car that made an impression on you. Chances are, you went home and drew that car, or built a scale model of it, or simply daydreamed about it in class. I’m betting that to this day you can picture the car, and still get a little blip in the heart rate from it. It’s etched somewhere in your car psyche. It plays a role to this very day in what you like or don’t like on four wheels. It’s IMPRINTED on the very part of you that’s tagged “CARS” on that dotted-line diagram of your brain.
Custom cars, to anyone just discovering them are MAGICAL. They have a power far beyond propelling people across the pavement. They take on a life beyond their perceived purpose. They tend to grow with us. I’d bet that your memory even skews a few facts about them, and maybe even glosses over a flaw or two, lifting them even higher in your memory of their perfection. You do that with nearly everything you grow attached to. I’m betting my wife does that about me. Thinking about this, I should go give her a hug. And clean the living room.
Compare the above to recent shows, assuming that you still attend them. Any cars that simply “do it” for you like that? Do you still feel that emotional attachment or charge? I certainly don’t, and I’m smack dab in the middle of this whole thing, designing custom vehicles for a living. I try to create the kinds of things that some kid will recall 30 or more years down the road, and bring up in bench racing sessions. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some in the recent past that come close to “doing it” for me, and continue to inspire, but the industry as a whole has changed… the whole mood is dark lately.
Let’s not sugar coat this:
Car shows are the NFL of our world. A money-making enterprise. It makes sense, as they are a business, and the purpose of any business is to make money. I’m all for success, and doubly-so if your mission is to pocket some coin, and you happen to be doing that. Good on you. But the focus on the money changes things… It’s warped the very spirit of this car thing, and dragged it so far away from celebrating the automobile as art, and taken us to the automobile as return on investment or a showdown of who can spend more or grab the most ink in some magazine that’s months behind the times, and struggling to tell you that it’s still somehow relevant and that the internet is killing it, when in fact, they’re killing themselves and the industry by celebrating this push downward with third-rate articles and seven page features on uninspiring cars that would have been better served as a savings account. Again, don’t get me wrong. We are in a time of incredible talent with regard to the builders and designers and tools we have available to us in this industry. Yet, we’re losing the youth. Involvement is dropping among the next generation. And it is most certainly NOT because some kid grew up in the back seat of a Honda, or inherited a mini van as his first ride. That is a bullshit cop-out. Not every major builder or designer today grew up riding shotgun in a pro-street Chevelle, or had some Boss Mustang dropped in their lap for a first car. We drove uninspiring shitboxes. If you think that somehow more inspiration to build a ground-breaking, next-level beast of a ride comes from looking at a non-functional fuel gauge in a cracked dashboard in a rusty ’73 Monte Carlo any more than it does from the same situation in a third-hand Subaru, you are brain damaged. The next self-righteous motherfucker to use that excuse gets a foot in their ass. Allow me to shed some light on the REAL problem:
Today, it’s all nothing more than some bullshit cool kids club. Gone are the days of the “car as design statement” or even “rolling testament to craftsmanship” for the most part; we’ve hacked and slashed the soul from it all, and would up in a wasteland of cubic budgets and branding. It’s not about a fun build that pushes the limits of imagination, or thumbs its nose at conventional transportation, or even inspiring some budding builder to go and do likewise. Rather, it’s intimidating at best with endless checkbook builds where the goal is closer to making a name or a shop or builder, or trading damned-near a million (ad sometimes more) dollars for a trophy and a check that covers the transportation and week-long lodging and food for the crew supporting the car than it is to build for the sake of pushing skill. What in the serious fuck?! You expect ANY kid to want a part of that? Unless daddy is a CEO and is bankrolling the project, the odds get slimmer as we venture further down the income ladder. And don’t throw me this bone of plopping some car into the top five that doesn’t belong there as some gesture of “giving the average guy hope”. We all know it’s bullshit, and you can bet that you aren’t doing that guy or some kid attending his first show any good. He can see though the “everyone is a winner” bullshit. He has to each day at school.
Like anything, the moment it becomes more about money than the challenge of creating something, all is lost; it becomes a caricature of the very thing it used to be. We’re creating a hobby and industry filled to the brim with reality show-grade celebrities and hucksters, some with legions of fans who are undereducated enough to praise mundane and often idiotic design choices. And seeing the shows pander to one or two big-name builders, well… If you’re going to tell me that you can’t, without some degree of near pin-point accuracy pick put the cars that will be at the top of any show before the gates even open, then you’re either a lying sack of shit, or you’re holding onto that childhood innocence, and hoping to be inspired again. Perhaps the Pearl Paint Fairy will leave an airbrushed monster shirt under your pillow tonight, too. Innocence is lost. And it ain’t going to be found in the direction we’re headed.
The irony here is that we live in the greatest time, technologically speaking anyway, for production performance cars. 707 HP Challengers and Chargers??! While we were wandering the show indoors, looking at ‘flake paneled and blown bad-assery, outside in the frozen parking lot was a dismal (at best) display of smog-choked, poorly assembled and designed garbage. It was depressing. 170 HP was considered “performance”, and there wasn’t any sunlight poking over the next hill. That glow was from the flashers on the broken-down heap that couldn’t make it up the next grade. And maybe, just maybe THAT is what makes it all so fucking soft today. We DON’T HAVE TO AIM HIGH ANYMORE. We’ve managed to settle into a world of instant gratification., and that creates a laziness, and an unwillingness to try to raise a bar that we’re told is already so sky-high. That in mind, we’ve abandoned the things that brought us all here in the first place, and instead are chasing the lowest common denominator, the “my dick and checkbook are THIS BIG” attitude.
It’s a dark time, kids. Replace the breaker before it’s too late.