Compiling that list of influences the other day was like performing archival research on myself. Some of it involved rummaging through my own shelf; a lot of it was closing my eyes and winding my thoughts back to all the times I'd sat on the floor of my room transfixed in something, and trying to remember what that something was.
Not everything that made the list was a good influence. I don't think I agree with very much of what's in something like Crass's A Series Of Shock Slogans And Mindless Token Tantrums, but that few percent I agree with completely. The rest I relate to in the same way I relate to a friend with whom I'm having a good-natured argument. I like his yearning and his earnestness, but his conclusions are completely off my wave.
One of the criteria that came to mind for things that made the list was whether or not I had wanted to imitate the thing in question. And again, that's not always good, for the simple reason that imitation is something you have to transcend before it provides you with anything worthwhile. Every time I caught myself being too much like one of my idols, I had to wrench my own steering wheel and change course — and ask myself, look, what was it about them that you wanted to imitate?
The biggest downside of this behavior was when I latched onto things that I knew full well I couldn't imitate or emulate in any reasonable outward sense, but didn't at the time know what other lessons I could take from them. My fondness for and admiration of Kurosawa's work could have turned, I guess, into me writing samurai-tinged fantasy, and I took a couple of swipes at just such a thing before setting them aside. Now I realize the bigger lesson with someone like Kurosawa is how he handled the material, not what specific material he chose. It was my mistake to think I could clone the resulting alchemy instead of discovering some version of it on my own terms. (Ditto Philip K. Dick, whom I think I'm still badly in the shadow of.)
Another thing that became clearer is how there were influences that should have contradicted each other, but instead have found places in me where they are of the best use. Karl Popper does not so much contradict anything John Cage says as provide a context for the things Cage does not cover, and vice versa. The point of engaging with all these different folks isn't to swallow them whole, but to let each provide you with the needed correctives for the others.
Some of what's on that list is things that gave me inspiration without me also wanting to be imitative of that specific inspiration. Our Band Could Be Your Life showed me how if you wanted to get your work out there, sometimes the best way to do it was to do it yourself. It didn't really matter if only five people saw it. What mattered was that it touched every single one of those people in a way that nothing else could. What mattered was that it felt personal, that it felt motivated by the urge to reach through the vacuum that we're all packed in and say something irreplaceable.
To me, that was the greatest reason to take inspiration from anything.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind