The phoenix was a myth that I didn’t always get, growing up.
It was this story of a bird on fire, which at some point dies, and then out of the ashes of its own death it is reborn. It probably doesn’t help that when I was in 2nd grade, and someone told me that story, it was another 2nd grader, who understood it as much as me. My inner questioner wondered a lot of things. Why was the bird on fire? Why did it die? Did it die because it was on fire? If its reborn of its own ashes, can I catch a bird on fire, and then have it be reborn of its own ashes?
I also remember my second grade teacher explaining that myths were created to explain the world around us, when we didn’t know how else to explain things. That meant that not everything is literal (like a bird on fire getting a second life because it died in such a horrible way). But I never got the story of the phoenix. What exactly was this myth trying to explain, that we couldn’t otherwise understand?
Fast forward 12 years to me now, a college Sophomore, at Regis University, studying music and religious studies, acting like he knows everything, but still openly admitting that he doesn’t.
I think that the story of the phoenix is a creation myth. But this myth is different that a lot of myths, in that it’s not trying to describe a specific aspect of the physical world, as much as it’s trying to describe one of the realities of this world. See, the idea of cycles, of death and birth, is everywhere. The seasons change, but they repeat. The sun “takes a break” in our hemisphere, and the trees, plants, and animals all go from being as lively as they are to… well, surviving the winter. But they come back.
People, too, create new out of the old. We also repeat.
Here’s my example. Watch the video below, specifically the section from 0:12 to 2:34.
This is what I mean, as it pertains to my own life, as a creator, an artist, an educator, and really even just a person who is alive. Like, from the group PacDiv, created this beat for the song “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” by Kendrick Lamar. In it, he used parts of the song “Maybe Tomorrow” by Grant Green, which is jazz guitar and piano and the rhythm section killing it. But the original is very… different. Really, Like did something completely different, created something utterly new from what was sampled.
Most producers do this when they sample an already existing song: they breathe life into something that was, to create something new, that is different. Like’s use of “Maybe Tomorrow” is a very extreme example, and the same can be said with what DJ Premiere did with the beat and track for “Mathematics” by Mos Def. But even Kanye’s older work, where he would take larger parts of of songs, and loop them over drums and bass and piano (and some guitar) do this. Those samples bring something new to life.
Creativity requires discipline. It requires knowing yourself, knowing your work, and knowing what you can do. Creativity requires be in-tune with yourself. But creativity also requires that something already exist. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to create something absolutely and completely new, without any sort of material to draw from.
We take everything we know, everything we’ve learned, and can remember, and use it as a base to create something different. It’s not completely different, but it’s not exactly like anything else that has come before it. That’s the root of creativity.
Creativity is the phoenix which rises from that which already existed.
Of course, this is just my inner artist speaking, because the phoenix metaphor extends to much more than just this. But this is where my own being has brought this metaphor.
Thank you for reading this.