Big Brothers and Creativity

I hear this narrative recounted often in interviews (most recently as told by Steve Albini) and it always fascinates me. I wonder if – or how – it'll play out in my house with my boys. Because the interplay between them is remarkable. Because I didn't grow up with an older brother, so I have no point-of-reference. Because I always wonder where creativity comes from.

A 15 year old boy sits in his bedroom, alone.

The Ramones.
New Order.
Richard Pryor.
Public Enemy. 

He studies the record jacket, the lyrics.

He imagines, for the first time in his life, a world beyond the bubble of small-town highschool; a world where value isn't defined by homecoming dates and touchdowns and penmanship.

His big brother is off to college now. Or the army or a commune. With him went baseball caps and perfectly worn-in jeans. The music, the books, the family camcorder stay behind.

These brothers, 2 ... 3 ... 4 years apart. They grow up best friends. They eat, sleep and play together. These are mine, now. Always side-by-side.

They are young and unformed, sharing unformed tastes in humor. And cartoons. And then the older one ... well, puberty and a drivers license. And everything changes. He discovers girls (or boys). And with that, new friends. New things. New music. New tastes. 

The little one is suddenly and still a baby.
Their age gap more like a chasm.

And just like that, big brother flies the coop. 
Leaving the baby to dive into the leftovers. 

Because he's suddenly lost the best friend he's ever known. And the things left behind are a lifeline to that bond, and a treasure map to the rest of the world. A map his other friends don't have because they are only children; or their older brother is an unenlightened bore; or something.

The clues in Zappa's lyrics or The Ramones' Pretissimo or Pryor's cultural commentary or Cobain's pain ... he obsesses over every detail. Obsesses over feeling what his big brother must have felt. Obsesses over finding others who are obsessing. Obsesses over some day making something that makes some other kid feel this way.

And maybe that's when the artist is born.


I’m raising boys three years apart. So I'm hyper-aware of anything I see or hear about brothers, particularly in that 2-4 year age gap. Mine are inseparable, for now. But I know some form of the story above will eventually unfold – at least the part about puberty and driving and leaving for college. I've no clue about the other parts. I just love thinking about it and watching it all happen.