13 June 2022
The scene is a locker room before a boxing match. The out-of-shape Champ lies on a massage table, tended by a curvy masseuse. Before him, a TV is showing his inspiration tape, the 70s classic, Dolomite. If you know the 1996 movie, The Great White Hype, you’ve seen this before. Though the Champ has let himself go, he’s a better fighter than the opponent he’s set up to face. Dolomite, his inspiration tape, puts a fire in his ample belly. “Alright. Now I’m mad,” he says, as he strides out to win in a foregone conclusion.
Though there’s not a lot of room for analysis in a little-known (but totally awesome) 90s comedy, there’s plenty to say about inspiration tapes. Artists throughout history have turned to muses. Beautiful women, breathtaking landscapes, and classical mythology have been wellsprings for creatives seeking sparks of genius. Dreams coalesce around the moments of clarity offered by our muses.
For me, it’s the 1984 Milos Forman Oscar-winner, Amadeus, a biopic of Baroque composer, Wolfgang Mozart. When it came out, I was just old enough to watch with my grandparents, both music teachers. They considered it educational. As a girl, I eyed the elaborate costumes, wigs, and period sets. But Grandma and Grandpa directed my attention to the music, particularly scenes of music being written. “Watch the artist at work,” they nudged me, in awe of Mozart’s immense talent. “This is the life of a genius.”
In Amadeus, Mozart is troubled; overworked, underpaid, and out of luck. Brilliant but mad and often drunk, he’s the subject of admiration and jealousy. Royalty and high society celebrate a rival composer, Salieri, who knows himself a lesser artist and seethes with rage. Mozart will succumb to sickness and death, leaving heavy debts and an unmarked grave while Salieri fades into obscurity, embittered by God’s indifference. If you could have popular success or doomed genius, which would you choose? What if it destroyed you? What kind of artist would you be?
Okay. Now I’m ready to write.
Muses hide in plain sight. Our inspiration tapes are born of our roots, reminding artists (and pugilists) of what drives us. Relics from our formative years, they deepen over time as we saturate them with meaning and memories. Whatever adversity we face, they make us believe we will do this. An athlete will dominate his sport. An artist will become immortal. Our inspiration tapes open the door to our best work and truest selves.