May 11, 2014

Interview: Jenny Boyd Discusses Updated Book on Creative Process with Insights From Music Legends

London was swinging. Rock ‘n’ roll had entered one of its most vibrant and visionary phases, with the latest hits by such bands as the Kinks, Cream, and of course the Beatles now reflecting a progressive amalgam of youth-culture adventurism and sonic sophistication. By the time she was a teenager Jenny Boyd was already in the thick of it. A fashion model by trade and, in no time at all, a muse—Boyd was the inspiration for Donovan’s 1968 single “Jennifer Juniper”—she moved among an elite social circle, including some of the era’s most influential musicians who welcomed her within their hallowed ranks.  

Boyd’s modeling career was ultimately short-lived as she soon sought to explore other interests and ambitions, not least of all her academic ones—Boyd holds PhD in Human Behavior. But the relationships she forged in her youth proved fortuitous. Expounding upon what was initially the foundation of her doctoral thesis, Boyd interviewed a total of 75 artists about their craft, including friends and, in some cases, family: Mick Fleetwood is her ex-husband and the father of her two daughters, while George Harrison and Eric Clapton were her brother-in-laws (each respectively having been married to her older sister, Pattie). From these conversations certain key impulses and characteristic distinctions emerged.

“I realized this was something very special,” says Boyd, “and this was something that needed more people to be able to read about this.”

Originally published in 1992 and recently republished and updated, It’s Not Only Rock ‘N’ Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of Their Creativity (co-authored with Holly George-Warren) offers a unique, enlightening perspective on a musician’s artistry. 

“I felt so inspired by the musicians’ humility,” says Boyd, “this incredible humility toward the creative process.” 

The creative process is such an enigma to a lot of artists, whether it’s spiritual or supernatural or just unfathomable. What’s striking is that even the most headstrong, mercurial artists, artists who are known for doing things their way—like Stevie Nicks, who is somebody who doesn’t look to some outside source on how to write her songs—yet they will concede that they are not in total control of their art.

And I think they learn that early on especially with the writing because, as you say, they produce this amazing song and wonder where it came from. And so you kind of have to bow down to that in a way. 

Some of the musicians talked about getting the lyrics for their songs while they’re asleep and if they don’t wake up immediately and write it all down or put it on a tape they lose it. Then they hear it again; somebody else has picked it up. It makes you feel like it’s all around us and it’s just a matter of—because they’re more perceptive and receptive—they are able to let it come through them. But if they don’t pick it up somebody else will.  

In speaking with those musicians you were closest to—Mick Fleetwood, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, people who are part of your life just as they are part of this book—was there anything any one of them said that surprised you about his approach to music?

I asked them all the questions if whether they’d experienced this thing [psychologist] Abraham Maslow called “peak experience,” where they would just get into this zone and suddenly whether they were writing they would wonder where that came from or they were playing [live] they would play things they’d never been able to play before, but Eric said he thought he was the only one that had experienced that feeling. Because nobody had ever talked about it before so he didn’t realize that other artists experienced it as well.

Some of these artists—especially Clapton and also Mick Fleetwood in his own way—seem to perceive themselves as being on a mission, and they are indebted to their craft and to whatever interior or exterior forces that encourage it.

They have a sense of destiny and it’s very strong in them. And I do believe that the important part of all of this is the nurturing that they get in childhood, which gives them the belief in themselves and the belief in what they believe in. And so with this sense of destiny somebody who probably hadn’t been nurtured like that and accepted for who they are would not answer the call because they needed to have the sense of self that nurturing gives you and belief in themselves and belief that if they hear a call of destiny that they follow it. 

These artists surrender to their mission. Their talent and technique are factors too, but when they step onto a live stage there’s a mystery component that they surrender to—and that unknown element brings it to another level.

That’s right. I have to say when I was interviewing the late Willie Dixon and went to his home and we talked… He was walking with a stick, and with difficulty in those days; it was not long before he actually passed away. Then Mick [Fleetwood] was playing a blues concert in New York and Willie was there. I was in the audience and Willie came onto the stage with his stick, hobbling as I’d seen him. Then as he started singing his stick came out and he was holding it with two hands and he was dancing on the stage. That magic takes over, and it’s not you anymore. You’re not hobbling or you’re not in pain or you’re not any of those things. I’ve heard that from so many musicians, that once you’re up there it’s like something takes over. 

It’s Not Only Rock ‘N’ Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of Their Creativity by Jenny Boyd and Holly George-Warren is published by John Blake Publishing Ltd.