Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Speak Softly, Drive A Sherman Tank

They Might Be Giants, the two-time Grammy-winning mighty nerd rock duo, have written a staggering number of songs. Their first album, which I discovered when I was in junior high - yep, I'm that old - had 19 tracks on it. That's unusual today, and back then, it was unheard of. Here's track #19, "Rhythm Section Want Ad":

"Rhythm Section Want Ad" comes from TMBG's first album, but TMBG broke a weird kind of new ground with their first album: they skipped the rhythm section, and worked against a backdrop of drum machines and DAT tapes. They toured like this, and didn't have the funds to hire a rhythm section until at least their third album. I've seen them live at least four times and only seen a rhythm section twice.

Combine this fact with the incredible number of songs they write, and you'll see the logic in my "Rhythm Section Want Ad" conspiracy theory: They Might Be Giants doesn't have a rhythm section because they were so into songwriting that when they realized they needed a rhythm section, they wrote a song about finding one, and then when they were done, they wrote a song about something else.

TMBG have never been flashy, but a big part of their success is very solid songwriting. Their demo tape got in the national mainstream media. This is the "Speak softly, drive a Sherman tank" school of productivity: one good way to get good at something is to do it over and over again.

If you want to talk about how to use lambda in Ruby, I understand it better than a lot of people. But what about simple shit? What about putting an app on a server? I'm currently pursuing the Sherman tank approach with my miniapps side project and my "Twitter a new beat every day" side project as well. I'm skipping that whole Pragmatic Programmer "learn a new language every year" thing because I spent a lot of time learning lambda and all the rest of it and I figure that's already my strong suit. There's a very clear pattern in my skills: I suck at anything that bores me. That's fun to a point, but overall, it's a weakness. "Learn a new language every year" is good up to a point, but you want to make sure it doesn't trap you in a useless mastery of esoteric voodoo. If you want to get good at something, you should work on every part of it, not just the parts you already do well.

1 comment:

  1. > If you want to get good at something, you should work on every part of it, not just the parts you already do well.

    Another method that my high school band teacher swore by is, "work the parts that you suck at", although I am not sure how well it works.


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