rick rubin on staying open to creative clues (and the making of system of a down’s chop suey)

It was the year 2001, and System of a Down were working on Chop Suey—which would become one of their most iconic songs. Serj, the songwriter, didn’t have words for a certain section of the song. He was in the library of his producer at the time, Rick Rubin, and Rubin told him: ”Pick some book from the shelf.”

Serj took one of the books. “Open it at any random page, and then tell me the first phrase you see.”

Serj did so, and these were the words:

Father (father)
Father (father)
Father (father)
Father (father)
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit
Father, into your hands
Why have you forsaken me?
In your eyes forsaken me
In your thoughts forsaken me
In your heart forsaken me, oh

The crazy thing is that these words are completely out of context. But it works like magic, and it turned into an absolute highlight of the song.

Rubin told the story on the Joe Rogan podcast:

“My experience is, when you’re open and looking for these clues in the world they’re happening all the time, and they’re happening often right when you need them”, Rubin said.

And I think there’s something to this. Creativity is so much about openness. Sometimes we find the next idea clearly within, sometimes it emerges out of the randomness and the chaos around us—but only when we open up to the possibility first. It’s magical how System of a Down made this random passage from a random book work so well in their song. I believe that creative expression is a way of making magic, and when you open up, the right ideas somehow find you, and you find the right way of making them work.

Be open to the chaos and the randomness and the weirdness, and see what ideas come out of it. Be open to the possibility that your best ideas might come from the most unlikely sources. Be open to the idea that the best way to be creative is to just let go and see what happens.

This doesn’t mean that that no work is required, or that it’s easy—anything but. You need to practice prolificly. Put in the work day after day. Dedicated yourself to the most authentic form of creating your art, and be uncompromising about it.

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