I am fascinated by the creative mind. I love thinking about the process, the psychology, the magic that the brain can spin, making new things when you think there must be nothing new to make in human history. Somebody is always coming up with something. Now granted, it is not always good new stuff, it might be something as lame as a Hello Kitty cheese grater, or that hideous song by Black Kids with the whiniest vocals ever recorded, or anything whatsoever from Dr. Phil. Stuff just keeps on coming, and you sort and weed, or in some cases hoot and laugh and toss in the dumpster. In a few cases, someone brings you something you are just thrilled by and that you take right into your heart.

The unique spark that ignites the creative process also can produce the devastating effect of setting off the cruel, smoldering tire fire that is perfectionism. Perfectionism, I think, is a widely-misunderstood thing. In its true form, it is not about the discipline and drive to make something the best it can be; it is the inability to let something go, because it is never good enough, or the refusal to even begin something, because it is never going to be good enough. Here come da judge, here come da judge.

I got to thinking about this as I recently listened to a song by the Liverpool group The La’s. They put out one album, released in 1990, which is probably in my Top Five favorite records of all time. It is pop songwriting at its best; each song so catchy and interesting and so well-crafted, with depth and feeling to the lyrics. The group never released another album. The group’s frontman and songwriter, Lee Mavers, was profoundly unhappy with the production of the songs by Steve Lilywhite, and in fact with all producers he worked with prior to and after the release of the record, despite nearly-universal critical praise for the work. The band very reluctantly fulfilled their obligations to promote the record, and in interviews Mavers came off as bitter, befouled by the music business, with little to no sense of how much people had loved what he had done. He only focused on inadequacy of the sound of the songs, which existed only in his mind, and no other. Twenty years later, he and his wonderful songs are still locked up in his mind and his home, as he records and re-records them over and over, and they in his perception assumably are never good enough for us to hear.

Perfectionism is the cancer of the creative mind, and is a tough, tough fight. The line to walk is sometimes so thin as to be invisible, to make something exceptional or to smash it into pieces. The Judge is merciless, and sometimes needs to be sent back to chambers with a roll of duct tape and a gavel to the head.