After a Rick Rubin interview on TV, I was curious about the man behind all that music. I bought his new book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being, released earlier this year by Penguin Press. It reads like a “how to” instruction manual for artists from all walks of life. An inward journey of discovery, searching for new insights and techniques to procure and improve our artistic game. I wanted to know more about the music man because he’s everywhere at once, the go-to guru guy for musicians from hip-hop to pop, heavy metal and beyond. Producer of Adele, Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys. Whether at the pinnacle of success, beginners' luck, or maybe just starting out, Rubin’s poetic core is of a teacher pushing the personal best performances from all students. The musical kings and queens rising to the occasion at the pinnacle of their craft.
Rubin was prescient back in the cutthroat rapper days with Def Jam Records, and later on with American Recordings. The label that saw Johnny Cash’s latest career comeback. The razor-sharp dude mellowed out into an old, dull butter knife white bread balding weirdo. Young Rick was lucky enough to work with the old-school rap/hip-hop MCs at the inception of gangster rap, reaping a fortune. The greatest rappers of those years, back in the OG days when rap was sharper, pointier and extremely dangerous. That is, until the Beastie Boys white rap crap became a reality rage/rave party for the uninitiated, fighting for the right to party and no sleep till Brooklyn. Cashing in on white kids emulating black street culture.
Breakdancing boombox crackheads digging through the rubble of rap’s greatest hits for fun and profit. The only one who could boast about all this hoopla is Rubin, tooting his own horn, although his humility and sincere demeanor appear genuine. He doesn’t brag or show off. He’s brutally sincere and irritatingly honest with a sense of self-deprecating humor that’s only exceeded by his knowledge, tapping into and exploiting extraordinarily talented people. He’s so confident in his abilities that he doesn’t play any instruments or read music. He’s not a touchy-feely guy like some gurus, monks, and holy men, or those pompous self-help TV doctors who flunked out of med school, philosophy class and psychology 101.
When I first heard about gurus in the 1960s, it was the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He enlightened the Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Donovan, and some Hollywood superstars who made the pilgrimage to India for spiritual healing. Rick Rubin isn’t a yodeling yogi or sham shaman, but he faithfully practices transcendental meditation and leads a contemplative existence. He utilized the principles of meditation and extended Buddhism altruism to convey musical theories and philosophical teachings. The ideas concerning art and creations. He admits, “I set out to write a book about what to do to make a great work of art. Instead, it revealed itself to be a book on how to be.” Exactly what the meaning behind this statement is becomes clear and vague simultaneously.
Rubin could be a snake oil salesman of sound. A charlatan for the corporate shill pushers of pop music pablum. He’s contradictory from one page of his book to the next, while still playing both sides of the soundmachine spectrums hard sell promo pitch. Rubin’s been accused in the past of using digital audio compression and sustained excessive volume while paring down the instrumentation for a bare-bones sound quality. The sonic reducer producer engineer has mellowed. He can afford to pick and choose projects at will or do nothing. A contemplative monkish lifestyle in opulent luxurious surroundings, a level of entitlement and privilege, once only reserved for rock royalty.
He deserves all he can get. He started out in a punk band called Hose in 1982. Booked in NYC, at CBGBs they planted the audience with fake hecklers and a pseudo brawl ensued. Shameless self-promotion to the extreme, bringing a real cop into the bar scene to break it up. The phony cop was actually Rubin’s father (a real cop elsewhere) who was in on the hokey publicity stunt. In the thick of it, while reading The Creative Act, I kept flashing on Sikhs and internet gurus that regularly expound on the Tao and Dao of life’s little bullshit mysteries. The positive saccharine affirmations are sickening sweet.
There’s one amusing vid clip that comes to mind of Sadhguru: his short recording of unsolicited advice is, “If you’re having a bad day, fuck it! Go home, go to bed. Forget about it. Fuck it, tomorrow is a better day. Isn’t it so?” it’s kind of an art. Please don’t stop the music. My advice: save your money. Rick Rubin doesn’t need it.