Have you ever thought why so much attention is given to early bloomers and their talents and so little seems to be paid to late bloomers and their achievements?
This topic came up during a holiday get together between myself and artist type friends. Older artist type friends. Friends who had made it if you will in their chosen field but were trying to venture into new territory. They felt the deck was stacked against them because of their age. I’ve always sang. I’ve never been famous but I have made most of living over the years through singing. What’s been new for me is song-writing starting at the age of 31. Which in music years is too old to bother. However, I have never not bought a record, or not read a book or neglected to admire a painting because the artist or writer was too old. So what is up with this phenomenon?
Malcolm Gladwell, a brilliant writer of books like The Outliers, has written an article that appeared in The New Yorker on this very subject. He writes:
Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth. Orson Welles made his masterpiece, “Citizen Kane,” at twenty-five. Herman Melville wrote a book a year through his late twenties, culminating, at age thirty-two, with “Moby-Dick.” Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one. In some creative forms, like lyric poetry, the importance of precocity has hardened into an iron law. How old was T. S. Eliot when he wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (“I grow old . . . I grow old”)? Twenty-three. “Poets peak young,” the creativity researcher James Kaufman maintains. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the author of “Flow,” agrees: “The most creative lyric verse is believed to be that written by the young.” According to the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a leading authority on creativity, “Lyric poetry is a domain where talent is discovered early, burns brightly, and then peters out at an early age.”
A few years ago, an economist at the University of Chicago named David Galenson decided to find out whether this assumption about creativity was true. He looked through forty-seven major poetry anthologies published since 1980 and counted the poems that appear most frequently. Some people, of course, would quarrel with the notion that literary merit can be quantified. But Galenson simply wanted to poll a broad cross-section of literary scholars about which poems they felt were the most important in the American canon. The top eleven are, in order, T. S. Eliot’s “Prufrock,” Robert Lowell’s “Skunk Hour,” Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” William Carlos Williams’s “Red Wheelbarrow,” Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish,” Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife,” Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy,” Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” Frost’s “Mending Wall,” Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man,” and Williams’s “The Dance.” Those eleven were composed at the ages of twenty-three, forty-one, forty-eight, forty, twenty-nine, thirty, thirty, twenty-eight, thirty-eight, forty-two, and fifty-nine, respectively. There is no evidence, Galenson concluded, for the notion that lyric poetry is a young person’s game. Some poets do their best work at the beginning of their careers. Others do their best work decades later. Forty-two per cent of Frost’s anthologized poems were written after the age of fifty. For Williams, it’s forty-four per cent. For Stevens, it’s forty-nine per cent.
My takeaway is we’ve been misled. We are told youth is the hot seat of creativity when in fact, this investigation proves otherwise. This article intrigued me because it starts with Malcom following a writer who started writing much later in life and after much hard work did find success. Incredible success. What if he had never tried because he believed the myth, “you’re too old”! What if the reason we see so few older “new artists, writers, singers” is because they don’t have the support a young person would have and they become discouraged or because they are not revered in the mainstream press. They are out there but we don’t hear about them!
The other late bloomer is like me. I’ve have been singing most of my life, believing in practice makes perfect and have reached a place where I know I’m sounding better than ever. However, I’ve been told I’m too old. I’m not necessarily new to the field but I bloomed later especially in the realm of songwriting and producing my own songs. The poets above, it seems, found success early but almost half their work was better in the latter half of their lives. What if you’re not discovered in your twenties but have worked your fingers to the bone, practiced hard and were at your pinnacle mid-way through your life? What is a creative person to do?
Maybe we need to look at creativity differently. As Malcom Gladwell states in his article Picasso was out to find art and express it immediately whereas Cezanne was a “seeker.” Cezanne painted the same painting many times over until he had the art looking like what he sought. The late bloomer is after a different experience and for them it is less of a race, more of an evolution. As Gladwell’s article points out genius is found just as often in late bloomers as in prodigies. Without patience, we are losing out on half the great works of our contemporary creatives. Currently, the late bloomer is at great risk. We as a society are also at great risk of missing works that could change lives and break new ground all because of a birth date.
What can be done? To know it’s not over at 22, it’s not over at 42 and to stand on this foundation of truth, to support great works regardless of the age of the producer, to never quit and to rise in the face of societal norms so they see late bloomers doing exceptional works, this is the way to change the discussion and the paradigm.
For myself, I find this study done by Galenson inspiring. In my own world, anecdotally perhaps, I find the musicians I’ve worked with for over 20 years are better. Some are world renowned in their ability and only got that way a bit older in life. Continued practice coupled with experience can make you better than you were when you were 25. I’m looking forward to the future because it’s proven to me my light is getting brighter. I just need to be patient with myself and so do you, late bloomer.
Thank you for reading. Your comments are welcomed below.
Look for my next article regarding Late Bloomers in Music –
Does age play a creative role in making music?
Born in Anderson Indiana, Joy began singing at age of 3 to all the riders on the city bus on their way into town. She loved that she could make them smile.
This lead to talent shows, drums & sax in the marching band, madrigals and swing choir which lead to clubs gigs with a rock band at 16.Joy has worked with Matt Hyde (producer- Porno for Pyros, No Doubt) David Foster, Ian Bernhard (Michael Fienstien). Joy has performed at the Oscars & Emmys. She has produced 3 records of her own material, co-written with Howard Anderson. Joy’s songs are played on NPR, College radio, and on countless internet shows. With her original music Joy has opened for Pat Benatar, Buffalo Springfield, Juice Newton, and BJ Thomas. She can be heard on Jazz Pianist & Fusion keyboard extraordinaire, Mitch Foreman’s new record singing 2 cuts. Joy has worked with Dave Robyn doing masters for TV & Movies, her voice can be heard singing along with Eddie Money in the Ken Burns movie “Baseball”, she also sang background for Larry Bagby on his TV show theme song. Joy has also sang in the movie “The Secret”, doing some gospel vocal-ease over the orchestration of Chris Field. Currently, Joy is the sub singer for Jefferson Starship as well the writer and singer in her duo song-writing group call Anderson. Joy is always gigging… She has performed from the famous Baked Potato to the Watermark in Ventura to Typhoon in Santa Monica with Les Hooper’s Big Band.Read More
With our busy schedules, we could only manage to get in 1 or 2 nights of recording a week. Some weeks we just couldn’t make it happen but we stayed patient. The time we took on the vocal harmonies and parts made the choruses sparkle. Using instrumentation like banjo and madolin on the song “When We Sing” gives it a true Americana vibe. It’s an acoustic, greasy, funky storytelling record. These 6 songs pull you into feeling deep. Our hope is come back to these songs again and again when you need a reality check.
Lyrics and imagery-
As soon as we saw the picture of this smiling little girl playing in the water, we felt it visually reflected the songs on this record. The duality of happiness in being in the moment and the possible peril of being taken under by a whirlpool. That is my story of Aqua Gardens, I almost drowned there trying to follow my big brother out to the deep water. If it wasn’t for my dog barking and swimming out to me, my brother wouldn’t have turned around to save my life. Yet, I went right back in the water the next day.
The shots of Howie and me were taken at an old train station at the Santa Susana Pass and at the Strathearn Ranch House in Simi Valley, California. Like our music, these places hearken back to simple times which can take you down the tracks out of town.
Howie and I played The Vine in Ojai, CA…
It was such a memorable night out first night at The Vine not only as it was our first gig after a long hiatus but friends and fans came from all over with some driving over 45 miles to see us. It was a magical night! Nigel, the owner, and the staff relished our music and are going to have us back Friday, November 13th. We’d love for you to see us at this musical haven for many of Ojai’s best singer-songwriters.
The Vine is a cozy alcove right in the heart of downtown Ojai. You are almost guaranteed to find live music in the evenings. You can enjoy the expressions on the faces of passerbys as they stop for a moment, wishing they were inside drinking wine with you instead of out there in the cold.
Live music+good food+good wine+5 star company; I can’t think of anything better!Read More