Creative Rock Stars Astound Their Audience

This post is part of the Creative Rock Stars series.

Exploding Star

Photo by piccadillywilson

What was the best gig you ever went to?

Stop for a moment and replay the experience in your mind…

How old were you? Where was the gig? Who did you go with? What were you wearing?

How close were you to the stage?

How did it feel when the lights went up and the band came on?

How did the singer look? And the lightshow? How loud was the band? What did they play?

What was the high point of the show?

Notice the goosebumps?

Now, if that’s how it feels to just remember something someone else created – imagine how it feels to be doing it yourself. I know – you’ve imagined it already, many times. We all have. Who wouldn’t want to be John Lennon or Blondie or Jimi Hendrix for a day? Who wouldn’t want to wake up each morning with the opportunity to create the next Ziggy Stardust or Blonde on Blonde or Physical Graffiti?

Bottom line: rock stars create amazing stuff. Stuff that shatters preconceptions and astounds their audience. Stuff that isn’t necessary or expected. Stuff they create for the hell of it, because they can. Because they can’t help it.

Everything else is secondary to the sheer joy of creation. All the money, fame, fans and glamour are mere side-effects, bonus prizes. (The trouble starts when people forget this.)

What makes creative work – the process, not just the product – so compelling? Well, to astound others you need to astonish yourself. Every real creator will tell you about the moment of surprise, when ‘something happened’ that took them beyond what they knew or anticipated – a flash of insight or an experience of finding themselves in the groove, when everything fell into place and became effortless and enjoyable.

No wonder Noel Coward said ‘Work is more fun than fun’.

For a rock star every day is a new start, a new game, a new chance to discover and create something incredible. Monday morning blues never sounded so good.

Have another look at the image at the top of this post. At first glance it looks like an unearthly supernova but in fact it is a massive steel sculpture erected in Manchester, England by the British sculptor, engineer and architect Thomas Heatherwick. It’s a stunning combination of vision and engineering and entirely typical of Heatherwick’s extraordinary imagination.

Heatherwick’s projects include an unravelling handbag, a staircase like a waterfall, a glass bridge, another bridge that curls up like a caterpillar, more gigantic sculptures and a Zen temple like a rumpled cloth. Terence Conran, who knows a thing or two about design himself, has compared Heatherwick to Leonardo da Vinci.

And the thing is, none of this stuff was necessary. People manage every day with normal handbags, functional staircases, concrete bridges that stay still and temples that look like temples. We don’t even notice the ‘lack’ of a giant sculpture in an empty town square.

When you think about it, we didn’t really need Voodoo Chile (slight return) or Anna Karenina or Blade Runner or The Waste Land.

That doesn’t stop the stars. They make it all to delight themselves and us. To sprinkle our lives with stardust.

Over to You

What creative masterpieces do you most admire? What qualities would you like to emulate in your own work?

When did you last astonish yourself?

How did it feel?

How does that feeling spur you on to future achievements?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a poet, creative coach and co-founder of Lateral Action. Subscribe today to get free updates by email or RSS.

Table of Contents for Creative Rock Stars

  1. Creative Entrepreneurs Are the Rock Stars of the 21st Century

How to get creative work done in an "always on" world

Productivity for Creative People

Mark McGuinness' latest book Productivity for Creative People is a is a collection of insights, tips, and techniques to help you carve out time for your most important work – amid the demands and distractions of 21st century life.

“Of all the writers I know, I have learned the most about how to be a productive creative person from Mark. His tips are always realistic, accessible, and sticky. It’s not just talk, this is productivity advice that will change your life.”

Jocelyn Glei, author and Founding Editor, 99U

More about Productivity for Creative People. >>

Responses to this Post


  1. Actually, I look at building an online business as an art form. It’s interesting to see the innovative ways people are making money online.

    I’d like to emulate how prolific the top bloggers are. They’ve blogged consistently for months, even years. I consider their blogs to be creative masterpieces. With their word count, they’ve probably written enough content to fill a couple paperback books. That’s definitely something to admire.

  2. Not that we want to be like him, since he’s a diva, a whack job and a pain all rolled into one large package, but Meat Loaf was that type of performer.

    He never just sang a song. Each time was an “event”.

    His fans were rabid and evangelistic. Some still are.

    I’m pretty sure that’s what you want out of us – minus the wide lapels, the silk scarves and the sweat !

  3. It’s been a few weeks, but the last time I astonished myself was one of the more exhilarating experiences of the past year. I just hit my stride writing and by the time I finished I realized I had worked until 7PM. On a Friday.

    We all need those creative outbursts every once in a while. I’d imagine that they’re the reason so many of us are involved in creative jobs. The problem is maintaining that feeling of excellence. It takes cultivation and discipline. The only reason I was able to hit that stride was because I had done my homework beforehand and kept on working even when it was well past quitting time.

  4. Jeez Mark, this post is so good I forgot I’ve read it before. Excellent stuff (if I’m allowed to say so myself). 🙂

  5. Actually, I look at building an online business as an art form.

    Dee, I think you’d get on with Marla like a house on fire.

    Mike – I never said they were easy to live with, did I? 😉 T.S. Eliot said he didn’t publish many poems because he wanted each poem to be an ‘event’ – I hadn’t realised he had so much in common with Meatloaf…

    Chris – great example, and interesting to hear that inspiration didn’t strike until after a good deal of perspiration.

    Brian – you have my full permission to enthuse about my writing any time you like. 🙂

  6. You know, what’s so awesome (literally) about creatives emerging as thought leaders is how our planet is actually turning into a brain, a global brain, as Peter Russell explained back in 1986. In our physiology, creativity is the actual stretch of the brain cell – the neuron reaching for a connection, an “aha,” an understanding, or a relationship. Connecting around the planet via the ‘net is no longer a metaphor – it’s real. And it is induced, grown, and spread via creativity.

    There’s no suppressing this force, not any more. When creativity is suppressed, you end up with things like Burning Man – a volcano of extreme creativity of gigantic proportions – a relief valve, if you will, for human expression.

    With you, Mark, and Brian, and Sean D’Souza and Yaro and Darren and others, marking out the territory, we’re all able to participate sooner and with much more capacity.

    Wishing you all the blessings your efforts deserve,

  7. I have never been to a concert so I can’t say what I might feel if I did go.

    A person though that I consider a rock star would be the guy Mark Cuban. He loves what he does and dedicates himself to it. He knows how to live life to the fullest, have lots of fun and he can make a good show for the basketball fans. He even worked at Dairy Queen for a day which was cool.

    Just being able to do the most in life would be more of an art form than some painting with splatters of paint on it.

    I just get happy thinking what it must be like to live a life like Mark Cuban. It must be awesome.

  8. You asked us to share our “creations” so here’s mine.

    One of my best and most lucrative “creations” was something I wrote 17 years ago. I had taken on a part-time job teaching a class of unwed mothers how to enter the job market.

    I was given no textbook, and I could find none in bookstores that covered what I felt was essential. So I set about creating all my own teaching materials — detailed lesson plans, handouts, overhead projections, exercises and tests, all designed to teach job hunting skills.

    When the course was done, I realized I had created enough materials to be a career textbook. I self-published the book and sold it to local colleges for a year. At the end of that year, I pitched the book to textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin. They bought the rights and began promoting the book nationally.

    Today that book is in its fifth edition and widely used at colleges around the country. Best of all, I still get royalty checks every six months.

    In summary, I find the best creations are those that fill the right niche at the right time. Toss in a little luck, and you end up with a long-term revenue source.


  9. I’ve been reading since Lateral Action’s inception, but I’ve been hesitant to comment because most of the time I’m still thinking about how what you Mark (and Brian) have written and how it impacts me.

    I guess for me I yearn to be a rockstar, always have. One thing that I think goes largely unaccounted for though, is how hard those people worked to get to where they were. Certainly, there are people that have it inside them, but they still have to work their asses off to ensure other people can see it.

    Rockstars come in all different professions. Seth Godin is a rockstar. Peyton Manning is a rockstar. My favorite rockstar was Steve Prefontaine.

    Here was a guy that transformed long distance running in America because :

    A.) He worked harder than EVERYONE.
    B.) He was charismatic, brash, intense, and unbelievably passionate. He was different than all the other runners.

    He once said that running a race was an art form. That he liked to create when he ran (and it’s why he built the ridiculous following he did – who else can run a long distance race like a prize fighter with something to prove, beat his body into submission, lead from lap one, and still win?)

    I get great self-satisfaction when I complete a tough run, set a PR, etc. I get a similar satisfaction when I write a blog post that I’m passionate about, that resonates with people, that inspires conversation. I just have to keep learning (from guys like both of you) how to become a better writer, blogger, communicator, thinker, and marketer so that I can truly be a rockstar.

    It’s why I read so many rockstars, it’s why I work so hard. I’m confident it will pay off eventually.

    The skill I need to develop most might be the confidence that I have all the value inside me and I need to be more audacious about telling other people. There’s a lot of times someone asks me about something (i.e. should I blog) and I take a passive approach of explaining the good and bad, instead truly showcasing what I know and telling them the answer from my perspective. That’s what a rockstar would do.

    I love Lateral Action! Keep up the good work! I apologize for the long-winded rant.

  10. Thanks guys.

    Suzanna – I’d love to go to Burning Man, I gather it’s the scene of some very Lateral Action!

    Daniel – Great to hear you’re inspired by Mark Cuban’s example. Don’t forget that Daniel Kemp also has a unique contribution to make…

    Susan – Great example. Really interesting to hear that you started off by solving a problem for yourself, then turned your solution into a product that helped many more people like you – and earned you a nice compensation in return.

    Ryan – Not long winded at all, excellent points about the role of hard work and passion in becoming a star. We’ll be looking at this in more depth later in the series. Great running analogy.

  11. Great stuff…

    I am though a creative person, I have incredible hearing ability and I can play any song on the syntisyzer I hear…I am fascinated by music and invented some of my own rhythyms..

    however I think that won’t get me money. I am into internet marketing and I’m into niches that actually interest me I wanna know about new stuff..but I also wanna get this.

    What do you recommend? I know a lot of money can be get for this but again…I always make excuses to do something else before that 😀

  12. this article really expands on an idea I blogged about yesterday. Namely, the idea of production vs consumption. Rock stars are successful precisely b/c they are committed, first and foremost, to production, creation. They give their energy and attention to doing and making rather than consuming that which others have done or made.

    There is a power in that that goes way beyond the obvious…and tapping into that power is the challenge for the up and comers. May we all rise to the occasion. May we all be producers.


  13. Thanks Jeb, nice post, here’s the link for other readers:

    I completely agree that we need to be producers, not couch potato consumers. I would just add that we also need to consume wisely and critically in order to be better producers. When I was editing an issue of Magma Poetry and looking at new submissions of poems I could instantly tell whether the poet had read any contemporary poetry or not. And if not, the poetry was invariably poor. Brian has a great post on this subject, How to Read:

  14. What I take out of this is that being a “rockstar” in whatever your chosen field is, be it blogging, running, or being an actual rockstar, takes the courage and dedication to create what you think is worthwhile to create. I’m learning this more and more everyday: if you do what you love, you have a greater chance of being great at it. When you operate at a very high level in whatever you do, that’s when people will really notice you and you get “fans.”

    Even if most of us (myself excluded) never grace a stage in leather pants, we can still be really effin good at whatever it is we do. That’s worth getting out of bed in the morning!

  15. Spot-on Chris. Don’t rule out the leather pants though!

  16. The more I hear it – and I did play the album a lot a few years ago – but Just Like Honey by Jesus and Mary Chain always takes my breath away. Like the Velvets and Phil Spector being channeled in one great song.

  17. Yep, Darklands is one of THE great albums!

  18. Great inspiring articles, Thank you for sharing.

    X Chelsea