What does it really take to make a great Christmas song? Sleigh bells? References to family gatherings? Or 1200 separate shows in a Hamburg strip club?
For St. Nick's Day, I got the book "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell, which book is so great and which I was so anxious to read that it prompted me to completely give up trying to read Infinite Jest -- I was going to do that anyway -- and also prompted me to select today's Christmas Song, which is The Best Christmas Song That Is The Product of 10,000 hours of practice and is not an old standard, "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree,", "Jingle Bell Rock," or "Run Run Rudolph."
The 10,000 hours of practice comes from part two of Gladwell's argument that "outliers," people who achieve phenomenal success, are not simply the product of inherent talent and can-do attitude: they are the product of an immense amount of work and the product of an immense amount of luck.
Part two of his argument is the 10,000 hours of practice. Gladwell reviews studies and anecdotes about various professions, including studies of music students at one particular school which divided the students into three groups: "A," which was world-class musicians, "B," which was "really good" musicians, and "C," which was so-so musicians. All the students were at a great music school, all loved music, all were very talented people. What separated them all was the amount of time spent practicing: The "A" group had spent, over their lifetimes, roughly 10,000 hours practicing music. The "C" group, much less.
Gladwell then talks about people like Bill Gates, who spent roughly 10,000 hours learning programming. And people like Mozart, who didn't compose anything truly brilliant until he had spent 10,000 hours composing music. And he notes that no study, anywhere, no person, no anecdote, has ever shown someone who achieved greatness without practicing for 10,000 hours. Never. No person has ever succeeded at becoming truly great at something without putting in 10,000 hours of practice.
Gladwell concludes that 10,000 hours is what it takes: You will not be a genius at something, you will not be the greatest of anything, unless you practice that thing for 10,000 hours. Period.
Gladwell then notes that The Beatles, who had their luck (luck is a big part of success) in getting discovered because they happen to live in Liverpool, put in their 10,000 hours by playing in a strip club in Germany -- playing for, as it turns out, about 10,000 hours before they released their first really big album.
That 10,000 hours paid off not just in a great band with great music and a great career for McCartney, but in the creation of one of the all-time classic Christmas songs: The muted synthesizer, the sleigh bells, the children practicing all year long, the cheery and mellow singing of parties and the moon and the generally lulling but happy feeling conveyed by the song all perfectly convey the exact mood of Christmas, the mood that hits about 3 in the afternoon, when you're warm and toasty and have a candy cane and are looking forward to a good dinner and a long weekend, and are simply having a wonderful Christmastime.
So there you go: If you want to be good at something, do it for 10,000 hours. And there you go, part two: We would not have the great song "Wonderful Christmas, " if it were not for the fact that Paul McCartney spent 10,000 hours in a strip club -- which is why "Wonderful Christmas" is The Best Christmas Song That Is The Product of 10,000 hours of practice and is not an old standard, "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree,", "Jingle Bell Rock," or "Run Run Rudolph."
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