What We Can Learn from Mickey Rourke?

“I look at these guys like Matt Damon, George Clooney, Sean Penn – they’re all very bright, educated guys who understand that it’s a business and there’s politics involved. I wasn’t educated or aware enough. I thought I was so good I didn’t have to play the game. And I was terribly wrong.” – Mickey Rourke in City Pages interview

Mickey Rourke is a talented guy. So talented that he is up for consideration for the prestigious “Best Actor” award at this year’s Oscars. But as he points out in the quote above, talent isn’t everything. Sometimes I wish it was.

I watched my über-talented older brothers’ band, Juvenocracy (and later Spank!) toil in relative obscurity in Chicago for ten years before, in a final push towards catching a break, they moved to Los Angeles, where the band played for three additional years before calling it quits. The band’s music was amazing, they guys had personality, they had (and still have) talent, their vocal harmonies were the stuff of dreams. But they didn’t make it. And it wasn’t from lack of trying.

They lived together, practiced together, and sometimes ate together, devoting large chunks of time to their stageshow and songwriting. They played all the big clubs in Chicago and had a large following, locally. They could even command top dollar from the concert promoters who booked them. Yet they could not break through.

I don’t know why they didn’t break through to the masses. Surely, there have been thousands of bands like them who have had all of the pieces that make for a great band, yet have been unable to get that big record deal.

(above: photo of Juvenocracy/Spank! with yours truly on the right, taken in L.A. in 2001)

I’m not sure what it takes to break through, but the lesson to be learned from my brothers and from Mickey Rourke is that talent and hard work isn’t everything. To get into those mainstream distribution networks like MTV, radio, and Rolling Stone magazine, you need to be “discovered”. The weird thing about getting discovered is that, really, anyone with some connection to power can discover you. It could be the son or daughter of a record label exec, a friend of Best Buy’s Chief Marketing Officer, or a talent scout from a record label. It could be a girl who is friends with a movie star who convinced the star to give a listen to one of her favorite bands (this actually happened in the case of my brothers’ band).

Anyway, I say all this mostly to vent. On Saturday, I saw two of the finest performers I have seen in a while (Brianna Lane and Peter Mulvey) at a house concert in Minneapolis. These two relatively unknown musicians blew my mind in ways that Beyoncé never has. They were 10 times more entertaining than Justin Timberlake and posess more charisma than Lil’ Wayne.  Plus, their music was beautiful and succinct.

I would love to live in a world where people are recognized more for talent and hard work.  I would love to see Lane and Mulvey headlining the First Avenue mainroom together (although it was quite special to see the two of them play in Brianna’s living room on Saturday).  I read earlier today that the Beatles wouldn’t have gone anywhere if Brian Epstein hadn’t forced them to wear suits and develop that “clean” brand they had early on in their career.    When it comes down to it, the Beatles might have been another of those great local bands lost to history had they not been discovered.

So, I am happy that Mickey Rourke is getting his just do.  A master of his art, not to mention a natural talent, Rourke is the type of guy that should be in mass-produced movies (unlike certain stars of the “Spider Man” and “Star Wars” trilogies).