This is RPG-ology #59: David, for October 2022.
Our thanks to Regis Pannier and the team at the Places to Go, People to Be French edition for locating a copy of this and a number of other lost Game Ideas Unlimited articles. This was originally Game Ideas Unlimited: David, and is reposted here with minor editing [bracketed].
Among the most famous works of art in the world is a statue of a young man chiseled by a young man, Michelangelo’s David. Through the centuries we have marveled at it; what seems on the one hand to be a chunk of rock at the same time comes alive as a person. Every line of each limb, the form of the chest, the curl in the hair, even the eyes look to be as much flesh as stone. Medusa herself could not have produced a more life-like statue, nor one of such perfection. There were no pictures of the young king, no descriptions preserved of his appearance. Yet we cannot but believe that Michelangelo got it right, that this is indeed David, King of Israel, as a young warrior.
Asked how he was able to carve something that looked so like David, Michelangelo allegedly responded that it was simple: he cut away everything that wasn’t David.
Millennia earlier, the young king was also a creative genius. He designed a temple which when built by his son would prove to be one of the beauties of its day. And he is credited as author of quite a few psalms, songs of faith (and sometimes doubt) which have been preserved to the present and are still learned and loved by millions all over the world, translated into nearly every language. The most famous compares a relationship with God to that of a sheep to its shepherd–a simple picture of dependency and caring understood across barriers of time, culture, language, and religion. This masterwork of this master is a mere fifteen lines long.
It happens that I also have a close friend named David, whom I have known for decades. In 1975 I faced a change in my opportunities for creative expression. I had been principle of a band of one sort or another continuously since 1969, but now would only be performing solo. There was one song in particular I wanted to be able to perform which had always been on the rock side of what I wrote–it relied heavily on the instrumentation of the band, including extended guitar and drum solos which connected the simple verses into a crowd-pleaser. But that was all gone now; it would be me, playing guitar or piano, and singing one of the vocal parts. I needed to find a way to capture the same excitement and interest in an acoustic version of the song. David, who had served as my sound technician several times, lent his insights to the process. I played for him a few ideas I’d had; he opined on what worked and what didn’t, and pressed me to create other fragments which would capture the feeling. Over the course of an hour we crafted about a minute of acoustic guitar instrumental that would hold an audience and keep the excitement alive. In that minute it twice broke from the driving force of the undercurrent beat to create a hesitation, a momentary stillness, before pounding onward. It combined themes from the song with variations peculiar to itself, staying in harmony with the mood of the piece generally but bringing new facets to it. In many ways, it was a far better piece of music than any of the guitar or drum solos that had filled that space over the several previous years during which it had been performed.
No matter what endeavor you pursue in life, you have almost certainly had someone recommend to you the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Stupid. It applies particularly to creative expressions. Many artistic creations collapse under their own weight. Their creators try to do too much, and so fail to do the main thing they intended.
I had the opportunity to interview the members of a band called Glad not long after the release of their second album. I asked them about their first recording, and they were less than eager to speak of it. They explained that with the first album, they were given the opportunity to make a record, so they tried to do everything they always wanted to do. The result was a disjointed collection that lacked any cohesion or consistency, that made no statement because it tried to make many statements. It was very like the photos in a family vacation album, as compared with those in a professional travelogue. There was too much attempted, and too little succeeded. (Incidentally, their second album, Beyond a Star, was a brilliant bit of work, succeeding in all the ways in which their first did not, so they clearly learned much from their mistake.)
For Michelangelo, the task was to recognize that any part of the rock that was not David had to be cut away if David was to be freed from the stone. For King David, it was necessary to take a simple idea and keep it simple, not belaboring the point or trying to drive it home. I had to see that a minute of well-sequenced rhythmic guitar chords could do more for a song than fifteen minutes of improvised rock band instrumental solos. Glad had to understand that focusing on doing one thing well made a better album than trying to put many unrelated “neat ideas” on one piece of vinyl. For each of us, simplifying was a necessary part of the creative process, seeing what was not needed, what would only disrupt and derail, and disposing of that so that only the good remained.
I guess this means don’t bite off more than you can chew; but for creative endeavors it also means don’t bite off more than your audience can chew. It’s easy and tempting to bury a project by adding to it until it collapses under its own weight; to crowd more flowers into a garden until they choke each other; to write more plot exposition into the movie until the audience falls asleep. It is much more difficult to see how to excise the excess until you have something that can stand on its own, accomplish its goals, and reach its audience.
In a bit of biting irony, finishing the first draft of this article I followed my usual procedure and did a word count. the first draft came in just above the bottom limit for my promised article length, the shortest to date. My first reaction? It’s short; I’m going to have to add something to it. I resist the urge; this is still the shortest entry to date, but it says what it needs to say. That’s what you need to do.