One of the strangest and most resonant encounters I’ve had in the last few years was with the legendary music producer, Rick Rubin. I had never even heard of Rick when HBO contacted me and asked if I could come to Malibu to have a conversation with him for a documentary they were filming. Who’s going to say “no” to that, even though I didn’t have a clue who Rick Rubin was?
What I did know is that when I mentioned his name to people, their eyes got wide and their tones got hushed and they whispered, almost reverentially, “Rick Rubin? You’re going to meet Rick Rubin?” I hadn’t gotten that type of response since my meeting years ago with Robert Plant. One person even went so far as to say, “Robert Plant. That was great. But Rick Rubin. . . I mean, that’s amazing.” I thought they were going to fall to their knees and touch my sleeve for the mere fact that they were in the presence of someone who was going to meet a man who clearly sat at the right hand of God if, indeed, was not actually God himself.
Well, I went, got filmed walking and talking with Rick along the Malibu headlands, received about an eye blink of time in the documentary, and returned to my private and anonymous life with little further thought about the encounter beyond an occasional reminiscence about what it had been like to dip my toe in the waters of the Malibu lifestyle of the truly rich and famous.
But the encounter continues to resonate. I had been brought down to Malibu because Rick had been intrigued by Dancing with the Gods (later put out in paperback as The Artist’s Journey). Though we were from different artistic planets, our thinking on creativity and the artistic journey was surprisingly similar. It turns out he had asked for my participation in the documentary precisely for that reason.
Well, Dancing with the Gods/The Artist’s Journey, became the proverbial tree falling unheard in the forest. But Rick has just put out a book entitled The Creative Act which is rocketing to the top of the New York Times best seller list. This was to be expected. Kent Nerburn is Kent Nerburn and Rick Rubin is Rick Rubin. And I spent my entire book making references to Michelangelo and Bach and T.S. Eliot (much to the chagrin of my publisher, who pleaded, “What about people like Banksy?”). Rick’s world is Def Jam Records, Public Enemy, and a Who’s Who of contemporary musicians and creatives. (Listen to the astonishing rendition of “Hurt” sung by Johnny Cash that Rick pulled forth from him at a time when Johnny thought he was done.) My readership is, shall we say, ahem, “selective”, while his is almost universal.
I mention this because I’ve been digging into Rick’s book and it is a reminder to me of how the creative experience, though infinitely varied in its forms, has a common core that crosses generations, genres, and lifestyles. Though Dancing with the Gods/The Artist’s Journey is built upon an honoring of the past and The Creative Act is a call to arms to the creators of the future, they beat with the same heart.
As the world is awaking from the pandemic, and the movement for people to speak in their own voices is surging, I hope all of you who have said, “I’d love to write a book” or “I’d love to learn to play the guitar” or some other long deferred or abandoned artistic aspiration will realize, “If not now, when?” We all have a story or a song within us, and we all long to have it be heard. The challenge is how to overcome our reticence or sense of inadequacy or simple lethargy in order to get it out into the world. I’ll write a bit more about this in the future, but, for now, take the counsel of two very different men from very different places in life, creatively, culturally, and geographically: You have something unique to say, and no one else can say it. If you don’t say it, the world loses it.
As Lao Tzu, one of my spiritual mentors says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Time to get walking.
10 thoughts on “Rick Rubin — An Encounter that Resonates — and a reminder”
Rick Rubin is an icon (for many) who is utterly unconcerned with being an icon. How cool is that?
Thank you for that reminder — I’m in a place where I needed a little “push,”
I love this post and I do want to learn to play the guitar and I do want to write a book. How did you know?
Kent, I just bought the trilogy and I’m going to give them to my Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. I want him to appreciate the experience that I had reading them.
I did not want to loan him mine, because of the possibility of losing them.
I want him to see the angle of spirituality these books present.
I have so many writings in me. I am doing a book about a year when I was 18 and living in a housing development that was about to be condemned. The housing development was more woodland and made like army barracks. For a long time, it sat in my shed and finally I am re-writing it. These memories (and my first love) are being relived like it was yesterday. I have to finish it. Actually, I think it would make a good tv series. Maybe Taylor Sheridan would be interested. It sure would be something different for him. Anyway, thank you, Kent. Love your writing and have most of your books. Not really interested in those Rick Rubin writes about.
Thank You Always, Kent. I look forward to reading Rick’s book. I’m certain the Deities inspire Rick, you and all others to inspire us to know the Creative in us. It’s the true mark of prophets, especially the Christian Savior, who gave all thanks and praise to His Father.
Indeed, the Kingdom of Heaven is within and there is light in the darkness, which Jung confirmed and reminded us. Our dreams, visions and voices are a portal to our Soul in understanding all we feel and experience as seen for millennia in native people’s art on stone walls, in sculptures, song, dance and ritual in knowing our Creator. In whose image are we made? William Blake immortalized this in his painting of Job meeting his Creator in his darkness. Who can be still enough, as in Psalm 46:10 or pray in private like Jesus?
Jesus hid Himself a lot, like Lao Tzu did long before. He said it best, what Jesus later specified in Matthew 15:19: “If you see something you dislike in someone, look within. In meditation, go deep. No fight. No blame. Don’t take things to the hilt.” Few can remove the proverbial beam of pride from their eyes, as Jung observed. “Who can stoop low enough?” asked the Rabbi. Nietzsche should’ve known better than to take Zarathustra’s brilliance for his own.
Legend has it, that as Lao Tzu was going off to die, sick at heart at the ways of man, not keeping to a woman’s care, a gatekeeper asked him to write his teachings down. This may be why we have his epic Tao Te Ching, or Path of Change, by which we might evolve. Jung showed it’s how we can know our Creator, be it God or Goddess or Both, as in the Shekinah of old. Lao Tzu felt nourished by The Great Mother. Indeed, “Call no one father, only your Father in Heaven.” The same is true with the Mother. She is the Creative.
Don’t we all come from a woman, even God? King Solomon angered God seeking to know the feminine mysteries. Jung knew to honor his Anima, or Soul.
Giving birth to what we feel and experience requires a mid-wife, or Soul-Friend, our Anam Cara, or Ariadne to help us find our way.
I love what everyone has to say, especially you, Kent. Yes, we need to get walking and find those to walk and talk with.
It can inspire others, even those we meet on the street, like Jacob Moreno, who rightly broke with Freud and his judgements.
Kent, in the past I’ve written a couple of notes to you about Dancing with the Gods. I’ve wanted to write another, this seems like an opportunity.
I gave the book to my daughter a few years ago, she was about 20. It’s helped her along the way; we talk about it now and then. She is into fashion & design, sewing and making clothing. She left a liberal arts college to work on her own, design, learn, and get better at her craft. As you know, it’s hard and often lonely. She recently applied to a college for fashion design, submitted a portfolio, but was not accepted. She called the school to ask why, they told her she was not original enough. That was tough. We talked. Again we came back to Dancing with the Gods. That book has been a good friend in my daughter’s journey.
She isn’t giving up. She applied to community community college and was accepted into their fashion design program. She’ll find her way and you’ll have helped here there.
My life has had five parts so far. In fact I don’t really know who I am, and am talking to a person who is helping me unwind myself. I talk to the Great Spirit and ask for help. I have Sitting Bull and Red Cloud as my guides. I have never heard of Lao Tzu, but I will find him. Thank you again Kent you certainly open my heart and mind.
Anne Murray UK
Your blog was touching. Much food for thought. It might even motivate me to get more done on my next book.
One of my favorite Lao Tzu quotes (or it may have been some other Taoist, I’m not really sure): “Remain serenely indifferent to fame or gain, at ease, carefree.”
From knowing you, and seeing what was written about Rick Rubin, it seems you both have mastered that great teaching.
Thank you Kent.