Tag Archives: creativity

My Memories and Reflections on Robin Williams

Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society - standing on the desk O Captain My Captain

by Jason Didner, Children’s Entertainer
Jungle Gym Jam

The fast-paced and ferociously funny young Robin Williams first entered my life as Mork when I was about 8 years old; my brother and I used to love watching with our grandparents when we’d stay over in their apartment in New York City. The hints of his greatness were all there as his character learned about human emotions with a childlike vulnerability that stays with me along with the high hilarity.

My lifelong friend Joey and I spent countless hours trading Robin Williams standup comedy lines, especially the little throwaway lines like, “We’re back with sound again!” in the way only Robin could improvise it. Then there were all those iconic film roles. His roles in movies like “Dead Poets Society” remind me to use every moment I have to engage in life and create from it. His “Adrian Cronauer” (I use quotes because he played fast and loose with the real Adrian’s personality on camera) implores us to give of ourselves in an authentic way to those who need it most, not to cave in to those who find our true selves inconvenient to deal with. His “Patch Adams” similarly calls me to acts of compassion for children and to remember it’s never too late to find one’s calling in life.

Here’s my version of “What a Wonderful World” from a key moment in “Good Morning Vietnam!” as a tribute to Robin Williams:

Robin confronted publicly the realities of having drug and alcohol addictions and shared it in a relatable and funny way. “If you dream that you can’t sleep and you’re doing a line and you can’t sleep and you’re doing a line… and you wake up and you’re actually doing coke… WARNING!” What a spectacular victory in the fight against depression it could have been if instead of (likely) having taken his own life, Robin could have cooked up the comedy bit of his life, a funny and relatable bit on depression. Marc Maron does this in his own way, but Robin could have absolutely blown the roof of the stigma and isolation that goes with depression.

Sadly, Robin Williams’ apparent suicide shines the light on depression in another way. It shatters the illusion we dreamers sometimes have that “I’ll be happy when I’m more successful/rich/famous, etc.” If Robin were well he’d have been able to feel the deep satisfaction of the millions of people he touched with his laughter, empathy and generosity of spirit. My sense of the man is that the wealth and money were a) besides the point and possibly b) a dangerous factor that can distort happiness and creativity. His early-found success was certainly fuel on the fire of his drug addiction when he was young. There’s no budget limit, no one to tell you ‘no’ when you want mass quantities of the latest, most exotic toxin. In fact, you may be surrounded by people who would be offended if you didn’t partake.

That leaves us to find that our happiness is in the doing, the creating, the sharing of our craft, the stories we get back about how our work affected others. If our happiness isn’t clicking in, assign no blame, not on yourself or anyone else. Treat it as any physical illness. Seek out a counselor, a therapist, a doctor, anyone who can help you through the “lows” in life. An artist’s life is full of highs and lows, but clinical depression is another animal completely – days and nights mixed up; lack of interest in loved ones, work or your favorite activities; lack of energy or motivation to get out of bed; a sense of dread at going through another day.

Now knowing how life ended for Robin Williams, I get the sense that his high hilarity was him outrunning the darkness as hard as he could for as long as he could. In a perfect world he would have been able to reach back to that well of humor just one more time and delivered another one of his comedic gems that would have helped fellow depression sufferers feel understood.

A key piece of advice for creative people is to “bring into the world what you wish existed.” So, here is my intent. As a children’s entertainer, I want my years of taking in Robin’s larger-than-life humor to come out in my creations and performances in whatever ways are authentic to my own experiences and sensibilities. I also intend to use this humor to help kids who feel sad and isolated to not feel so alone — the way I wish Robin could have done.

Keep Creating; You’re Making a Difference!

The creativity you share is making a difference with people long before the accolades come back to you.There I was on the field at Yogi Berra Stadium, preparing to sing the National Anthem before a playoff game that involved local independent minor-league ballclub the New Jersey Jackals. A familiar looking ballplayer approached me and said, “We play your song in the clubhouse after every win and we hope to be playing it tonight.” I was stunned to know that the song I had written for the Jackals had become such an integral part of their off-the-field ritual.

And it really got me thinking: as an independent musician, as long as I’m sharing my creativity with those who want to engage with it, my works are making a difference to people who will attach their own meanings to the works, and more often than not, I won’t even know when it’s happening, or with whom. Or, as in the case with the ballplayer, I may stumble upon such a connection years later.

I write this to encourage my fellow creative people and the new generation of future creatives I may be entertaining now with my brand of children’s music. When you choose to create – music, writing, visual art, theatre or film, you will most likely go through very long stretches where it appears that no one is paying attention. The “likes” and “shares” you’re expecting won’t be there. Your videos are unlikely to “go viral.” The sales of that debut CD may not adequately reflect the effort and resources you poured into it. But if you see your creations all the way through and really put them out there, I have real reasons and personal history to believe your creations will matter to someone long before the accolades come back to you.

I heard a previous Oscar winning set builder talk about how the glitz and accolades of the Oscar ceremony is not the real Hollywood he knows – The sweaty workshops where he does the unglamorous work every day is the real Hollywood.

If you’re feeling hungry for applause, focus on doing what you love and remember why you love it. Imagine stumbling into someone 10 years from now who tells you how much he loves your song, painting, book, etc. and keep creating! Leave your personal story about sharing your creativity and making a difference to others in the comments.

How We Discovered Kindie Music for Our Child, then Joined the Movement (Part 2)

The potential to be creative together was a spark in our marriage ready to ignite at any time, and Amy and I were throwing all kinds of sparks as new song ideas for our daughter seemed to come from everywhere. I couldn’t tap out the ideas on the iPad as fast as they were coming. “Oh, look Peanut,” I’d say, “there’s the bowling alley. Someday you’ll have a party there” – Boom! A Bowling Party song was ready to rock! “Wow, Peanut’s watching her cousin crawl under the glass table like it’s a glass bottom boat ride!” – A little research and a Glass Bottom Boat song was on its way. “OK Peanut, you can play my guitar with the pick; just don’t put it in your mouth…” and The Pick Song came into being.

This was the beginning of a project to share our own celebration of song and learning with our daughter and all the kids of the world who’d like to hear it (and their grown-ups too!) but our past experience making music for school kids helped. Since I picked up a guitar in my teens, I had always set aside at least one day a year to perform for my Mom’s elementary school classes and take questions and requests. When I married Amy and she got into teaching I made sure to take two days off for that purpose – one for my Mom’s school and one for Amy’s. When she took over the French program in pre-school, we would translate kids’ songs we knew into French, or make up new songs with a verse in English and a verse in French. We enjoyed making this music and our ultimate goal in children’s music at the time was to produce CD’s specifically for Amy’s classroom.

Jason_at_Mayfair at Travell School, Ridgewood, NJ 2002

Now, as we were rediscovering our own creative power and imagining a way forward with it, we were also getting to know about the players in kindie music. I had joined the Children’s Music Network and started to make some contacts and learn about a whole universe of artists making authentic music for kids that respected their intelligence and capacity to soak up new experiences. One band was very familiar for different reasons: They Might Be Giants, long known for their quirky and eclectic tunes in the 80s and 90s, had made a series of extraordinarily catchy and pleasing albums and videos for kids on the subjects of the alphabet, math and science. Dan Zanes, formerly of college mainstays The Del Fuegos, had also made the move from a successful pop/rock career to a way of making children’s music with integrity. Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell also reinvented themselves to make music intended for families.

My networking and research brought us deeper into a universe of music for families and new names began to appear repeatedly and a wealth of songs became available to discover for our daughter, now a toddler. We’d repeatedly hear of The Not-Its, Joanie Leeds, Recess Monkey, and Milkshake. Their music carried a ton of energy and musicianship with lyrics easily relatable in a child’s life. We were a long way away from “Old McDonald” territory.

One band really stood out for us as an example of pouring absolutely everything into delighting kids: Princess Katie and Racer Steve. They brought precise, diverse and adventurous musicianship and enhanced it with colorful characters that are extensions of the singer and guitarists’ personalities. Katie was always an admirer of the way Princess Diana transformed royalty into a symbol of compassion for those with less and engaged the fantasies of little girls along the way. Steve developed a persona around his passion for the race cars he builds, capturing the imagination of little boys (and some future Danica’s too…). There were skits in between songs; full-blown cartoon characters were realized. The music was accessible and funny for kids and adults. There were songs about honesty and kindness, interspersed between clever wordplay in “Sand in my Sandwich” and the rich imagery of “We Dress Ourselves!”

We now had some important influences, models of how a kindie band could enhance family life.  We had a growing songbook of originals and covers. Our daughter would frequently request our new original songs, so we knew they were working.  At this point, we needed some guidance and we needed a band. The quest for mentors and musicians had begun.

Back to Part 1 | Continue to Part 3