I wrote a blog a while about the notion of legacy and what it means. And I want a legacy, you want a legacy, we all want one. We want to leave that behind with what we do. More important than a legacy though is influence. Say, Charles Dickens left a legacy with his writing, and with how he made writing such a pop culture phenomenon but beyond that was the influence he had on other writers. His writing legacy has lasted for decades, but his influence lives on just as well. The thing about influence though is that you don’t have to be widely read, or rich, or famous, or ‘great’ necessarily, it is all about how you affect other people. It is about how you change how they see the world.
That is influence.
And in many ways, that is more important and lasting than legacy.
See, a legacy can die, in time. In enough time. How many great artists, writers, photographers, musicians, and all the other people, have been forgotten over time? Eras change, taste change, technology changes, and over the years, almost everyone is forgotten. Just something that happens. But influence is something that, once it is born into someone it can be paid forward indefinitely. In that sense we are all one, are all connected, because as that person influenced you, so too were they influenced, and on back, and on forward ad-infinitum. So to me, as much as I hope to have a legacy in life, I hope too, maybe a little more, that I have influence. A good influence. I should say that. As a writer, as some manner of artist, and as a person, I would love to know that I inspired someone.
As much as this is sort of about me though, that was just an easier way for me to structure this blog. I mean, like I said, heck yes I want to know that my stories, that my art, that my work has inspired and influenced someone. That is the ultimate sign of success, frankly, but this is not about me influencing others so much as how two others influenced me. See, I am a vast collection of influences and in my first book BACK FROM NOTHING I tried to point out a lot of the people who had influenced me back then but jeepers, you just can’t really write that sort of list and hit everyone. You will inevitably leave people off. Ya can’t help it. I want to remember two people that did inspire, if not influence me. These are people that influenced who I am, and as such, what I write and paint and everything else. You can rarely pinpoint how someone influences you but you can feel their fingerprints on you and that’s what is important.
Nationally, singer Peter Steele of the band Type O Negative recently passed away and it was a death that hit me hard. Music has always been a big influence on my life, maybe not so much as my writing or art but on me as a person. It has been the scream I couldn’t voice, tears I was unable to cry, and many times the world I was unable to see on my own. And for me the music of Type O just got me. It had the darkness and pain but beneath that was a wicked sense of humor that people that weren’t fans didn’t pick up on at all. Steele wore both humor and pain on his sleeve for all to see and that was what I admired about the guy. He seemed to love the music but hate the industry, something he would have had in common with Kurt Cobain. And I think what I will miss is that this is someone who gave a voice to such raw and oft times dark emotions and yet never made them ridiculous or pantomime. I admire the hell out of anyone brave enough to let their art reflect themselves. It is hard and dangerous business to do that yet not let it become a parody or a lie.
Locally, for us here in Flint, Michigan, the loss of local musician Dan Russell is closer to home for a lot of reasons. For Flint, the music scene, which has waned in recent years, was the biggest thing around for two decades. And if you were in the scene then you were in at least half a dozen bands and knew the rest. For an era, everyone knew everyone, and everyone knew Dan. I never knew him in more than a cursory manner through a friend that was in a band with him but god the guy could play guitar. He was old school punk the way I always envisioned it’d be – attitude and cool, and a hell of a guitar. Dan was in local band called Mush that was sincerely one of the most impassioned and fun bands I have ever seen. A band that really lived for its live shows. They were not a band as much as an animal that got uncaged every so often and you didn’t mind being mauled by. This was a band in every sense of the word and without the guitar work of Dan Russell then the band would not have worked so well. With a carefree style you seem to have when you are not playing but are one with your instrument, he would fuel the rest of the band with his freewheeling style, and in turn they would fuel him to go even further out on the limb. It was great stuff and that the world has lost the spirit behind that is pretty sad. I can’t say I knew him, but Dan Russell was a hell of a musician, I can say that.
And how did both men inspire me? They inspired the person behind these words. When someone is as lyrically brave as Steele was it encourages people like me to be willing to reveal parts of ourselves via our art. You never show your whole hand but you show enough, enough that if someone were to look hard enough, they would see you behind it all. With someone like Russell you see that, if you love it, you love it all the way, and you show it. And if you can’t then ya gotta ask yourself why you’re even bothering. Writing drives me nuts, as does painting, but I love them both and hate them as much as I do at times, I couldn’t do it anymore if I was going through the motions. There would just be no point.
In the end, we may be able to choose our legacy, or at least shape it, but we can never choose our influence and what it has on people. I guarantee these two men would never know they had any affect on me but that doesn’t mean they didn’t. And it doesn’t mean I wasn’t changed by their having been in the world, and in some way, in my life. All I can hope is to pay that influence forward in the best way I can.