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GP 20 May 2009: Creative Co-Existence: With a Little Help from My Friends


What would you think if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song
And I'll try not to sing out of key

---“With a Little Help from My Friends,” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney



Mike Tyson.  Too swayed by the press, we had always thought of Mike Tyson as just south of human, a hulk spun out of futuristic science fiction movies, relentless, without nerve endings, a piledriver free of all compunction. We knew all the lurid stuff about him–3 years in prison for rape, a boxing suspension for chewing off the ear of Evander Holyfield, bankruptcy, silly marriages to Robin Givens and Monica Turner, etc.Tyson photo


Now the surprise. Tyson, the documentary movie about his life on and off the ropes, does humanize Tyson and puts a smile on his biography. Indeed, as his moniker claims, he probably was, for a short while, “the Baddest Man on the Planet.”  But he’s a miracle, too, having foiled death, which has been looking over his shoulder from the moment he was born, given the cesspool of crime and futile family and sordid acquaintance in which he was immersed.  To some extent, he has always known he’s a walking disaster, and that self knowledge somehow redeems him.


What had escaped us was that Cus D’Amato, the legendary boxing coach, pulled Tyson’s fat out of the fire.  Like many street-dumb kids from the Brooklyn slums, Tyson was headed for several prison terms and an early death, but the grand trainer took him in and made him into a world champion.  Such chance relationships, again and again, transform lives and change the world.


Other Partners and Friends. There’s a raft of movies now that teach us that we all get by with the help of our friends, that they save us from ourselves.  The Soloist, starring

Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., recreates the true story of Los Angeles reporter

Steve Lopez who discovered an abandoned, mentally troubled Nathaniel Ayers in Pershing Square soulfully playing a 2-string violin.  It turns out that Ayers is a gifted musician who put in time at Juilliard.  He was brought back in from the cold, as Lopez adopted him as friend and cause célèbre. And, in turn, Lopez resurrected his own life.


Valentino: The Last Emperor celebrates the unique business relationship and love affair between Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti. Valentino, a fabulous haute couture success who retired in 2007, not only created high fashion for everybody, but lived the high life—everywhere—in a surfeit of houses. At the end he was given France’s Legion of Honor. Clearly, even for this king of fashion, life would not have offered such a very full cup without the immense supportive talents of Giammetti.


Darwin photoCharles and Emma. Around Christmas of last year, a book for children, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, hit the bookstands.  We think it a tale for every age.  As Bruce Harcott tells us in the New York Times Book Review (May 10, 2009, p.13),  “Even before he wooed and wed the charming Emma Wedgwood, Darwin suspected that his growing religious doubts, fed by scientific discoveries that seemed to disprove the biblical creation story, might dash his chances for matrimonial harmony.”  But his fiancée did not insist on strict biblical belief, just “an openness to the love of Jesus.”  Thus, they set off on marriage.  Their chances were not good, since they both came from wretched families, both troubled by psychological mischance and untoward behaviors.  Yet theirs was a love match where each was able to live and let live.  More importantly, says Barcott, it was a marriage “in which the two cultures improved each other for exposure to the other.” Indeed, successful partnerships, friendships, and love matches not only permit contrasting styles, beliefs, and emotions to cohabit under the same roof, but kindle each of the participants, each of whom is stunted in some way and needs to grow. 


The Dialectic.  We learn from Wikipedia that the “Dialectic is rooted in the ordinary practice of a dialogue between two people who hold different ideas and wish to persuade each other. The presupposition of a dialectical argument is that the participants, even if they do not agree, share at least some meanings and principles of inference.” Various forms of such discourse invest several religions and all manner of culture.  In Socratic dialogues, we often catch the wise Master gradually expanding the mind of a young acolyte, but we learn, in time, that the Master learns as he teaches, the dialectical process of reasoning creating new thoughts and ideas that previously had been unknown to each participant.  The grand German philosopher Hegel believed that world history advanced by a dialectical process, and his pupil John Roebling, builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, amply demonstrates that great, interactive thinking gives birth to monumental projects and colossal achievements..  For civilization to overcome its discontents in order to move on, its actors must have civilized great debates where point and counterpoint sharpen the wits.


Entrepreneurs.  As all our large enterprises plummet into bankruptcy and inertia, more and more petty pundits are sending out calls for entrepreneurs to invent new stuff and save us from foreign competition and massive overcapacity in almost all our traditional industries.  Over the last quarter century many of our workers have flown into the service sector, particularly financial services.  That has meant that we in the United States, just as in Germany, are hugely over-banked, and a lot of redundant paper pushers tucked away in banking cubbyholes will have to be wiped out. So we will need to invent a whole bevy of businesses to fill the vacuum.


To do so, we’d better update our notions about entrepreneurs.  They’re very flawed heroes.  We can tell you that because we have counseled so many of them.  They do stumble on bright ideas, but, oft as not, are lousy managers with very incomplete notions of how the world works and what makes a business tick.  Because they are narrow and obsessive compulsive, and a little bit nuts, they can get their ideas moving, but often cannot get them very far down the track.  They need partners, lovers, and friends who can set them straight, something the great Valentino has thoroughly understood.  Just as Tyson never would have made it out of Brooklyn without D’Amato, and Ayers was doomed to play for nobody without Lopez, even the most colorful of entrepreneurs is minor league unless he or she can find a great sidekick. That’s how it really happens. Risk takers who want to back these chancy fellows are well advised to look deeply into their friendships.


Joe Cocker.  A whole bunch of people have done versions of the Beatles’ song “With a Little Help of My Friends.”  Joe Cocker’s career came to life at Woodstock when he sang that song.  But few know that Procol Harum’s B. J. Wilson and his drums made Joe happen, putting enough guts in the song to capture the audience.  It was done with quite a different beat, the key to this resonant performance.


That said, we probably prefer, in the end, to get our help from Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, a much friendlier, less egotistical version which is never remarked upon.  It hints at the kind of harmony we must achieve in order to make antithetical thoughts and contrasting personalities achieve a stupendous result. Mendes is from Brazil, the country which promises to be the economic colossus of this new century.


P.S.  President Barack Obama just gave a commencement address at Notre Dame, distressing some fraction of Catholics bothered by his views on abortion and stem cell research. He called for fair-minded consideration of views not our own, respectful listening to other viewpoints, a seeking of commonalities in spite of our differences.


P.P.S.  Years ago we had some dealings with the research and development department of Hewlett Packard.  A potentate there considered it his job to get Hewlett engineers to listen to thoughts and views from outside the company.  His was not an easy job, since the techies thought most accumulated wisdom resided inside their walls.  That was true in Hewlett’s original business instrumentation, but not in computers, where it only had a miniscule market share in the global business.  Today most of our businesses don’t know what’s going on:  we’re only a fraction of the global market, and we need friends aplenty to hold onto market position and to gain global business knowledge. 


P.P.P.S.  The shrinks all acknowledge that transference and counter-transference are vital to the therapeutic process.  But that which occurs between friends and lovers seems to be of a much higher order than the churn that takes place between psychiatrist and patient.  We suspect that this is because the psychiatrist is generally a flawed, stopped-up vessel not capable of unimpeded feeling.


P.P.P.P.S.  It has always been clear that some businesses require unique partnerships.  Department stores need a merchant and a bean counter.  Newspapers soar because of good editors who are teamed with great publishers.  Movements, as well, are built on twosomes:  Martin Luther King had his Reverend Ralph Abernathy. Capital Cities Communications thrived because of the remarkable duo Thomas S. Murphy and Daniel B. Burke.


P.P.P.P.P.S.  Our last letter about Spain talked about the remarkable olive oil Melgarejo.  Do see our companion site which gives a much fuller view of the talents that make it happen. See “Spain: Lunch in the Olive Groves; Melgarejo’s Passion for the Picual.”

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