JB looking

It was 2003 and I set off on a journey which would become the book ‘In Search of Swingers.’ The point? To play golf with whoever happened to feature on the front page of the newspaper where ever I happened to be staying.

So who did I meet?

Michael Georgatos, who was on the front page of the NY Post because he found a four-foot-long alligator while walking his dog in Central Park. Bubbles and Sweet Thang, two clowns getting married in Richmond, Virginia. I met Don Wardlow, a blind baseball commentator; an ex-CIA agent who became a pro on the senior golf circuit and played with Chi Chi Rodriguez; a Stevie Wonder impersonator in Las Vegas; a 91-year-old beach queen from Tybee Island, Georgia; and Mary and Otis Barnes, stamp collectors from Port Arthur, Texas. (Yip, slow news week when stamps make the news.)

If you click on NEWS you’ll see photos of these brilliantly kind nutters who let me into their homes. I started the trip in New York City, headed south through Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, New Orleans, Arizona, Las Vegas and L.A.

I still keep in touch with Otis and his family, though sadly a few years ago he lost his life-long soul mate, Mary. I will never forget being at the Hotel 6 in Port Arthur and seeing Otis on the front page of the paper. I called him out of the blue and asked if he would fancy a game of golf. As was the case with most of my ‘victims,’ he declined, but did offer me dinner. ‘I’ll be in a brown pick up truck; sure hope you like dogs.’ Half an hour later I was with Mary and Otis at their home, drinking Dr. Pepper and watching Letterman. The dogs, of which there were seven, scrapped, barked and licked my feet.

I haven’t heard from Lady Iva (the 91-year-old beach queen) for a few years, which is a worry. When my first daughter was born she sent a card and gift. I’d be surprised if Iva was still around, but she had a good life. Who else can say they won a beauty pageant at the age of 91?

Many of these people I met for no more than a few hours, but have been mates ever since. As for golf? Non-existent. I just figured travelling all over America was a damn sight more interesting than playing 18 holes at home.

Barnes family

Above: The Barnes family, Port Arthur, Texas. L-R – David, Karen, Mary and Otis. (Dr. Pepper – photographer’s.)

…get reporters off his case.

In his brilliant book, On Writing, King describes how he writes every day. He once told a reporter he skipped his birthday, Christmas, and Fourth of July, because he thought it would sound more reasonable.

In truth, he writes every single day, including holidays, Sundays, birthdays, and holidays. Writing every day makes him happy. Practice brings him joy, and “if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever,” he says.

If you’re a writer, muso, artist, creator – you’ll completely relate to this.

Yesterday I posted a talk by John Cleese. Then I remembered one by the The Boss at SXSW. It’s not short (nearly an hour) but is worth every minute if you, like me, are fascinated by the creative process and wonder how such a guy forges a long lasting career.

Springsteen is humble, but needn’t be. Nor does he have to give this talk. But you get the feeling he actually enjoyed it. So grab a cuppa Joe and listen to some wise words, the best of which come right at the end:

‘So, rumble, young musicians, rumble. Open your ears and open your hearts. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have ironclad confidence, but doubt – it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town, and, you suck!’

Who could ignore John Cleese’s genius?

A Fish Called Wanda. Fawlty Towers. The Ministry of Silly Walks.

But what makes the man tick – and how did he arrive at such lunacy?

Firstly, he has rules – particularly if you’re in a group – when coming up with ideas. Here are a few:

In order to create the right environment for creativity you must avoid people conflict and personality conflict. Personality clashes stand in the way of ideas generation. (Get rid of the nay-sayers.)

Avoid those that hijack the creative process through either a passion for their own ideas or due to people conflict within the group. (Just because they’re loudest doesn’t mean their idea is strongest.)

Stimulating physical surroundings will add to creativity and a boring environment will do the opposite. (Get out of the goddamn office! Quit staring at the walls. Go for walk. Some of the best ideas arrive in the shower, though I realise that’s not always considered a group activity.)

You need at least an hour to generate an idea. It takes 20 mins to slow your mind down from feeling time pressured and task orientated. (I read that Cleese and Palin used to escape to a log cabin in the woods to write. For the first hour they spoke complete rubbish: how’s your family; still got tennis elbow; oh, look, a dead cockroach. Only after this ‘download’ were they ready to think, construct and write.)

You’ll get better ideas from people who are relaxed and ready to think about ideas. Allow new thoughts in.

It’s important that creative people are given real deadlines not fake deadlines. Creative people need pressure off to generate ideas.

Most ideal number for a productive creative group is no more than 8.

(Good luck in the shower. Don’t forget the notepad.)

Not long now till the fat bloke comes down the chimney. Hope you’re ready to have a few laughs with your family, eat, drink and fall over on the couch.

Last year I wrote a Kiwi Xmas carol which I’ve just discovered has made it onto the album Pohutukawas and Pavlova. There are far more deserving artists on here (Fred Dagg, Split Enz, Daphne Walker) which is why I’m a bit stunned these woolly muppets made the grade.

But I guess they’re kind of cute – in a Christmas dinner-kinda-way.