This is the question posed by legendary music producer Jimmy Iovine during the spectacular HBO docu-series , The Defiant Ones, chronicling the parallel journeys of his life and Dr. Dre’s and how together they made music history.
His answer to this question is “focus”. Without blinders horses would look to their left and right distracting them from their pursuit of victory.
This six hours series is a testament to how focus and hard work can help overcome extraordinary life challenges. In that regard it is a typical American Dream story – albeit on steroids. It is really hard to underestimate how much these two men have contributed to music and culture over the last 40 years and their work ethic is legendary.
At the same time, the focus of their lives and/or this series would lead one to believe that they never cooked a meal, did laundry, went to a kids game or recital, watched TV, read a book, played with their children, or went on vacation with their family. In other words, did the things that constitute a life for the rest of us.
Even racehorses take time to graze and nap.
It was also telling to see how their hard work was aided by the people and environment around them – repeatedly leaving me thinking – “you’ve got to be kidding me,” after hearing a story. Here are a few examples:
– Iovine’s first job in the business was at a janitor in a recording studio. His boss took a liking to him and helped him learn the ropes.
– During his first stint as a recording engineer, Jimmy was asked to come into work on Easter Sunday. Over his family’s objections he went in to find John Lennon waiting for him. Working with Lennon gave him the confidence to launch his career. Shortly after he was working with Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, and U2.
– Meanwhile, Dr. Dre played DJ when his mom had friends over, often stacking up ten 45’s on their turntable based on what he thought the guests would like.
– Seeing her son’s early interest in music, she bought him some recording equipment. Soon he was making mix tapes and recording friend’s music – selling them back tapes of their own recordings.
– No doubt Compton was a challenging and dangerous place to grow up. Yet it was in this neighborhood where the talents of Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and others came together to form N.W.A. Suge Night, founder of Death Records was also a Compton connection. One of Dr. Dre’s latest finds, Kendrick Lamar met Dre when Lamar was a nine-year-old boy.
– One of Jimmy’s interns told him about a young rapper he saw at a battle rap competition. Jimmy asked the intern to get a tape. At another show the young rapper threw his last tape the intern’s way. Jimmy shared it with Dre. Soon after they signed Eminem, rejuvenating Dre’s career.
– Jimmy was walking along the beach one day when Dre saw him from his balcony and told him to come up. Dre mentioned that he was getting endorsement offers for sneakers and wasn’t really into it. Jimmy responded saying he should put his name on “speakers, not sneakers.” Dre responded by saying, “Yeah, we can call it Beats”.
What followed each of these stories and others like it was a tremendous amount of work, but without a constellation of people, connections and serendipity, these critical pieces of their success probably don’t happen.
No doubt blinders help us focus and accomplish more. At the same time, it’s good to take them off so we can appreciate why we run as fast as we do.