MMMemo: Hit Machine


By Roy H. Williams

They had more #1 records than the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley combined. And you’ve probably never heard of them. The Funk Brothers were 13 ragamuffin musicians who laid down the signature keyboard blitzes, guitar riffs, bass lines and drum licks on virtually every Motown hit from 1959 to 1973. The true creators of the Motown sound, their musical artistry has been admired and imitated by millions, yet the Brothers received neither fame nor fortune. A slow paced but interesting documentary/concert/interview showcasing The Funk Brothers is available at most rental stores and at Standing In the Shadows of Motown. I enjoyed it.

Now that  the elections are over, I can share with you something I’ve been pondering without having to worry that you’ll mistakenly read a political statement between the lines.

Is the pen really mightier than the sword?

The earliest documented use of the phrase championing the soft power of words and ideas over brute force of arms is attributed to Edward George Bulwer, who wrote in 1839, "Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword." (Richelieu, act II, sc. 2)

Did you notice the qualifying statement that preceded the original version of Bulwer’s famous quote? "Beneath the rule of men entirely great…" In other words, the pen is mightier than the sword only during the reign of a ruler "entirely great." But in most instances I have to agree with Terry Pratchett, who said, "The pen is mightier than the sword only if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp."

That’s the problem with traditional wisdom; it’s usually more tradition than wisdom. Sure, cream may always rise to the top, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the promotion you deserve. Just ask The Funk Brothers.

I don’t mean to be a downer. I write these things only because America has moved into an era of anti-heroism in which yesterday’s cheap platitudes are coming under increased scrutiny. To put you in touch with this growing worldview, I’ve gathered a handful of the newer bits of traditional wisdom that I believe will soon replace the old.

"Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you will cease to be so." – John Stuart Mill

"Efficiency is intelligent laziness." – David Dunham

"It is easier to fight for principles than to live up to them." – Alfred Adler

"There is more to life than increasing its speed." – Gandhi

"Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal." – Albert Camus

"You are not going to ‘go forth.’ You are going to take that damn hat off and you’re going to get a job." – Bill Cosby, to the graduating class of SMU in 1995

"Most plans are just inaccurate predictions." – Ben Bayol

Are you getting the idea? Two weeks ago I said, "Being a Baby Boomer isn’t about when you were born. It’s about how you see the world. Baby Boomers were idealists who worshipped heroes, perfect icons of beauty and success." Likewise, Gen-X wasn’t about birth years either, but was merely a softening of Baby Boomer idealism.

Bottom line: Lofty dreams and empty words are fast falling out of fashion. But if any of the old sayings survive into the coming generation, I believe it will be this one: "Actions speak louder than words."

What are you planning to do today?

Make it count.

Roy H. Williams

PS – Want to read more about The Funk Brothers?

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