Genius. A term that unfortunately gets carelessly overused. Our hairdresser is a genius because he/she recommends a conditioner we have never used before with amazing results. Our mechanic is a genius because he/she finds a leak in our tire that was eluding us. While both situations requite an enormous amount of skill and knowledge (more than I can imagine having and respect greatly), they are not displays of genius.
Genius is reserved for someone who excels in their field to an incredible degree. Einstein developed multiple revolutionary theories in the world of physics, and his ideas have propelled science forward long after his death. Christopher Hitchens was a prodigious writer and debater who covered religion, politics, and social issues to a degree yet repeated; his wit is missed in today’s volatile climate. These are geniuses.
We recognize true genius when we see it. When studying Issac Newton or Thomas Paine, genius jumps off the page and we immediately note a level of competency which seemingly defies normal human limitations.
In a world flooded with talent, who are the geniuses of our time?
As a musician and lover of all things original, I am biased toward the creative arts. The purpose of this post is simply to share the artists and talents who have shaped me, and who I consider true geniuses. I have picked two who found their way into my mind and art.
The first, and probably most influential to my mandolin career, is Chris Thile. Chris Thile is the mandolinist for the phenomenal, Grammy Awarding winning groups Nickel Creek, The Punch Brothers, and The Goat Rodeo Sessions (featuring fellow masters Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, and Edgar Meyer). He recently received the McArthur Fellowship award, commonly known as “The Genius Grant.” His mastery of the mandolin is unprecedented.
Thile first appeared on the folk scene as a young savant who won the Walnut Valley Mandolin Championship (a prestigious, national competition) at age twelve. Even as a child, Thile’s understanding and virtuosity were impossible to ignore.
Thile’s impact is not limited to the commercial success of the aforementioned groups. Chris has been a first-call session player for over a decade and recently took the helms of the highly successful radio program “A Prairie Home Companion” from Garrison Keillor, a position which Keillor held for over 40 years.
His career has been a creative masterpiece, and it appears he is still trending upward. As the attached video below will show, Thile is a true genius.
Moving to a completely different realm of creativity, no one has influenced me more than Robin Williams.
If a “Renaissance Man” has ever existed, it was in the person of Robin Williams. He was a genie, a professor, Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, Mork, Patch Adams, and in his most important role, a genuinely great man off the screen. For those who only know Williams as an actor, there is a world of talent to explore.
I have never been more in awe of a performer than the first time I saw Robin on “Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton”. He was one of the most spontaneously artistic comedians when onstage, possessing the ability to invent a fully formed character while in front of a crowd. This ability to improvise made him the perfect voice actor for animated films, and allowed his acting career to be extremely diverse.
Despite his immense gifts, Williams struggled with depression, like so many geniuses before him. His suicide felt personal to me as if one of my Horcruxes had been destroyed. Williams was and remains on my Mt. Rushmore of talent, but losing him seemed more like losing a friend or mentor.
Robin Williams was a beautiful human being and an artist whose acting career is only the visible portion of a massive iceberg. I have attached a link to one of Robin’s appearances on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” that should give you a laugh and a glimpse into something more.
These are just two of the geniuses who have influenced me as an individual, but they can enrich and bring joy to your life as well. I hope they enchant, entertain and inspire you, and I hope we continue to celebrate the true geniuses in our world.- AB
Chris Thile- “Jessamyn’s Reel” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88q9syere0Q
Robin Williams- with James Lipton https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEAdMPdJdBY&t=73s