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February 2008 archive

The Power of Monomaniacal Obsession

Fagan was standing at a bus stop after school one day when he first saw the vision.

In his minds eye he saw every detail. The stage he would stand on. The hot lights on his face. The massive crowd stretching out before him. The three or four front rows of faces that he could clearly see: pretty young girls making eyes at him, impressed young lads watching his hands like hawks as his fingers danced across the fret-board of his shiny electric guitar. He saw himself shimmy across the stage: young, excited, totally self-assured, radiating the X-factor.

In his mind’s ear he heard the music: raw, powerful, epic, his voice soaring great heights. He heard the crowd roar after each song finished. The applause, the whistles and stomping feet.

In Fagan’s heart he felt the thrill of success, the glory of the spotlight and he knew that, for him, nothing else mattered. This was what he was born to do and that, simply, was that. He kept this vision at the forefront of his consciousness every day for the next ten years. He spent hours obsessively daydreaming the vision over and over again. He immersed himself in rock and roll culture, moving from band to band, studying the every nuance of the greats of popular music: Bowie’s different vocal palates, Kurt Cobain’s songwriting structures, what Robert Smith ate for breakfast.

When Fagan’s mother caught him in his room doing air guitar solos, he wasn’t embarrassed. Instead he proudly stated: ‘I’m going to be a rock star!’

‘But you can’t even play guitar!’ she squawked. Thirteen year old Fagan just rolled his eyes and began to teach himself to play on an old nylon string acoustic guitar that he found on top of a cupboard in the hallway. It had been left behind by somebody years ago and only had one string, but Fagan didn’t let that stop him. He made do with what he had and then when he had some pocket money saved up he bought some new strings and slowly but surely learned some chords. Straight away he began to write songs. He suspected they weren’t much good yet but it felt so good anyway that he just wrote and wrote and wrote. His mother didn’t like much noise so he had to sing the songs in his head, imaging a voice powerful and high.

Five years later when he got his first gig at the university bar, he opened his mouth to sing and realised that he didn’t sound anything like he thought he did. His voice wasn’t smooth and high, it was gruff and deep. But Fagan didn’t let that stop him. Nor did he let the too-cool drinkers in the bar deter him when they completely ignored him as he poured his heart out all over the stage.

Fagan saw no way to get what he wanted without hustling, so without a second thought he begged, pleaded and schmoozed his way into bars to play gigs. But he wanted a band. So he would go to record shops and check out the ‘singers wanted’ signs and try out for all kinds of bands. Mostly they didn’t work out, but sometimes he would meet someone who he half-clicked with so they would razzle together a band and hire a studio and record a demo. Then the band would break up, but he would use the demo to go get a gig, pretending the band still existed, then he would find a new band to play the gig.

Eventually he did find the right band: two other guys, one who was as obsessed as Fagan with rock stardom, the other who was just a walking success magnet, a good luck charm. Together they plotted and worked hard. They rehearsed every day of the week, often to the disappointment of their girlfriends and families. They hustled gigs and recorded and pushed and pushed and pushed and never took no for an answer. They weren’t cool like the inner-city kids from the private schools, with their just-so clothes and haircuts, but Fagan and his mates were hard working and above all, strategic. They went to see other bands and would stay up late discussing what was good about them and what didn’t work. They knew that above all they must be remarkable if they were to succeed. And that they must be obsessively singular in their focus. They must be monomaniacal.

At first they were nobodies on the local scene. The hipsters snubbed them. Three years later Fagan and his two friends were the biggest indie rock band in their city and Fagan saw his vision come true night after night. Huge crowds, often up to three thousand people strong. Screaming girls. Powerful music. The spotlight. Adrenalin filled nights. Autograph hunters waiting by the stage door and beautiful girls galore.

Fagan had never more than idly wanted financial riches, and this he did not get. He had daydreamed a little about traveling the world with his band, but he did not obsess about it, and thus his fame remained a local phenomenon. But he had a single, clear vision that he was not just passionate about – he was obsessively monomaniacal about it: Being on stage playing his own music in front of large, enthusiastic, receptive crowds. He focused on it day and night, at the expense of a balanced life or more sensible, security-minded activities. And thus he saw this this dream come true.

If you do the same, you can see your dream come true also – but take note – be sure that what you focus on is worth it. It took years for Fagan to get over the imbalance that his obsession caused in his life.

Actually, it’s doubtful that he’s gotten over it at all 😉