Inspiration vs. Mimicry

I got a lot of interesting feedback from my recent story about the Guess Jeans debacle in junior high. There were varying interpretations and questions about the intention of the allegory itself; namely, what was the actual message? Labels are always bad? Designer brands are sometimes good? People are stupid? Kids are cruel? What was the point? I think the point was just to make you think. Maybe something similar has happened to you in your past; something that made your question your own intentions in life.

I just got back from watching the Stephen Hawking bio-pic, The Theory of Everything, and viewing it helped to clarify some of these questions. There's a particular scene were Hawking goes in for his PhD review and his professors critique his graduate work. SPOILER ALERT: Part of it ends up being called sheer mimicry and the other part utterly inspiring. These are exactly the two poles that I'm trying to distinguish between. Inspiration being what drives us to work harder, participate, hope, and strive towards a better day. Mimicry being what happens when we're not actually inspired by life or art, but rather the results that certain actions might possibly bring to us.

Was I inspired by Guess Jeans as a kid—their beautiful form and classic fit—or did I just want to wear them because I thought doing so would make me popular? Definitely the latter. Desiring a label for the sake of fitting in is not inspiration. It's an unhealthy (although perhaps healthy at that age) obsession with self-perception and a ruinous reliance on the approval of others. It's what happens when people simply memorize and parrot the words of others—for the sake of repeating them later—rather than actually attempt to understand the meaning within them. It's what happens when big international liquor brands start making labels that look like they came from small, crafty, down-home distilleries because that's what's cool right now. It's what happens when people without any sense of who they are try and convince you—to no end—that they are the person they wish they could be.

I tend to find inspiration in stories about people overcoming insurmountable odds (like Professor Hawking) and usually it fills my heart with joy and hope. However, I know a few people who, when they hear an inspirational story, it seems to fill them with anger—a feeling of displeasure that someone besides themselves could be an inspiration to others. Inspiration happens when you take a sip of delicious whisky and ask, "Wow! I wonder how they made that?" Mimicry happens when the person sitting next you says, "Hey! I bet we could make something that tastes just like that and get rich!" True inspiration makes you want to work harder to be a better person. Mimicry is what happens when you're inspired by the idea of people thinking you're a better person. Not every case is this clear cut, however. Sometimes we see a little bit of both. Hawking's final graduate paper borrowed heavily from other professors in some parts, but expanded upon their work and broke new ground in others. Look at Lady Gaga as another example. She is clearly a very artistic person who has been inspired by Madonna, yet every now and then we see a little uninspired mimicry. Madonna herself once said that Gaga's song "Born This Way" sounded "reductive" (a little bit too much like Madonna's own "Express Yourself"), yet songs like "Paparazzi" and "Poker Face" are—in my opinion—two of the best pop songs of the last decade. There are definitely shades of grey on the spectrum between these two poles, and there is definitely room for debate over where certain phenomena fall on this line.

Stephen Hawking once said, "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge." I could say a similar thing about the enjoyment of wine and spirits. The greatest enemy of the wine and spirits industry is not pedantry, it's the illusion that mimicking the pedantry of others will therein increase your enjoyment. We all follow the crowd to a certain extent. Who doesn't want to be exposed to new ideas and new inspiration? I know I do. Ultimately, however, I attempt to bring my own interpretations to these experiences. I still might be inspired by a pair of Guess Jeans today, but hopefully it will be because I truly enjoy wearing them. 

-David Driscoll

ADDITION: After posting this I spent some time playing around on the Internet and found this interview with Jarvis Cocker from the UK band Pulp. He says a number of very astute things about the internet and inspiration in this conversation.


T-Day Thoughts

Some scattered things here:

-Wednesday was everything it was billed to be at K&L. Huge crowds, lots of action, lots of booze being bought. We made it through in fine form, although I was pretty beat on Thursday morning.

-Our T-Day family celebration went down without a hitch: two maggies of Champagne, some Chablis and Beaujolais with the main course, with grappa and Japanese whisky for dessert. Then we switched over to beer, and then back over to grappa. And then back to beer. And then I fell asleep (at 8:45).

-On our way back to the Bay yesterday we learned that beloved Mexican comedian Chespirito had passed away (not more than 45 minutes after I had been discussing his work with my mother-in-law), so the ride back became very depressing. When we got home, however, my wife's aunt called and invited us over to drink cocktails and watch old episodes of El Chavo del Ocho. We drank and talked and laughed with the whole gang until late into the night. If you can even remotely speak Spanish, and you've never seen Chespirito in action, you need to watch the reruns every weekday at 5 PM on Galavision. Or you can borrow my DVD box set. I learned a lot of my Spanish slang watching El Chavo and a lot of the bonds I've built with some of my Mexican friends and co-workers came through our mutual appreciation for his programs. There were some great memes created yesterday in homage that brought tears to our eyes. Throughout the U.S. and Latin America, the El Chavo reruns are still viewed by roughly 91 million people every single day. This guy was an absolute legend.

-Woke up today in a total haze. The last thing I remember was laughing at the Ñoño character, played by the same guy who does Señor Barriga, and remarking how incredibly well these grown men can play children on TV. I rolled out of bed at seven, wiped the drool off my face, and went into work.

Hope you all are having a good weekend. I'm in the store today, then I'm back into party mode tonight and tomorrow. I trust you're all drinking something tasty!

-David Driscoll


R.I.P. Chespirito

Adiós, mi amigo. Fuiste un héroe de la comedia.

-David Driscoll


Comfort Zones

Guess Jeans were all the rage when I was in junior high. You know what I'm talking about, right? The iconic American fashion house with the easily-recognizable triangle patch located over the right-side rear pocket. In the year 1990 the kids at my school would practically murder one another for a pair of these hot pants. Each time my parents would visit the mall in Modesto, I would find my way over to Macy's, check the inventory of Guess products, and hope there might be something reasonably-priced I could afford. It was almost a certainty there wouldn't be. Guess Jeans were (and still are) expensive; especially for an eleven year old kid who'll probably fall down playing basketball at lunch and put a hole in the knee.

One day, however, Macy's was having a closeout sale and I managed to find a few Guess products in my size. Mind you, I wasn't taking into account the color or the style; just the fact that the pants had the triangle right where I wanted it to be. My mom allowed me the indulgence (due to the hefty discount) and the next day I went to school in a state of total excitement. When I got there, however, I heard some of the other kids snickering. One of the girls I knew was covering her mouth and looking at me, while her friend checked out my pants. In my haste to simply wear anything bearing the Guess logo, I hadn't stopped to consider whether I actually looked good in what I was wearing. It was clear within seconds that I looked hideous in tan-colored jeans and an off-green button up shirt—exactly the type of garments that would be on sale due to their homeliness.

I will remember that day at Somerset Middle School for as long as I live; not because I'm still embarrassed about what happened (because it was a great lesson), but because almost every day I still see adults falling into the same trap. Make no mistake about what I'm trying to convey here—the other kids laughing at my terrible outfit aren't the jerks in this story; ganging up to mock an insecure boy to his face. I'm the jerk. I was the idiot kid who thought that a designer patch on my jeans would make or break the difference in how his peers viewed him. I was the confused adolescent who obsessed about being cool and following the rules (two things that absolutely do not go together). Today when I walk around the city I see women carrying thousand dollar purses with an ugly, hideous LV (Louis Vuitton, for those of you who don't follow fashion) tattooed all over the casing. I see men wearing mis-matched Hugo Boss layers, in sizes that are completely unflattering, but at least alert the public to the fact they're wearing something somewhat expensive.

If someone looks good, it's apparent no matter where their clothes are from. Names and logos aren't fashion. Words don't make you handsome or stylish. But this isn't a story about how designer labels are just a rip off and that we all need to be comfortable in our own skin—that's the annoying kind of shit people say when they're bitter or jealous of the ways other people live. I wish I could afford to buy fancy stuff! I still love expensive designer clothes to this day. That never changed. I love clothes that fit well, look good, and make me feel good as a result. The right shoes, the right leather, the right cut, the right color—there's no beating it. If I can find a less-expensive version at Ben Sherman or J Crew; even better! It's all about the look and the fit, not the brand (it does so happen, however, that many expensive brands look good and fit well). I feel the same way about whisky: find me something that tastes good—whether it says Glenlivet or Glenturret—and I'm going to enjoy it because I like good whisky; regardless of who made it. Designer clothes don't make the man, just like fancy bottles don't make the whisky. Just because you're wearing Gucci shoes doesn't mean you look good. On the other hand, writing off designer clothes entirely as ridiculous or simply overpriced is also foolish. Stylish is stylish, no matter what it costs.

The trick in dressing well, eating well, drinking well, and—I guess—living well is to know and understand what "well" means. It might be different for me than it is for you, but the definition does exist somewhere inside of us. However, when you allow that definition to be defined completely by a label, unguided by your own inner feelings, well.......that's when people begin snickering at you.

-David Driscoll


Giving Thanks Around the World – Part III

We've formed so many great relationships around the world, we can't just stop with France and Islay. Let's keep going! Thanks to my hero Jim Rutledge for always dropping whatever he's in the middle of to talk with us. He's a mentor and a true friend (and his Bourbon tastes pretty good, too).

Thanks to both Eddy and Jimmy Russell for opening our eyes to the greatness of Wild Turkey whiskey. Thanks for letting us pick such great casks from your stock (and thanks for choosing two of your own favorites to send us later on this holiday season).

A big thank you—of course—to the stoic Des McCagherty from Signatory who, each year when we visit, I'm afraid will finally snap and bury the two of us in a hole somewhere outside of Pitlochry. He's so calm and calculating. I can't stress this enough: it's like tasting whisky with Liam Neeson from the movie Taken. At any point in the conversation you might say the wrong thing and this guy will totally snap your neck. My highlight of the year for 2014 was when Des heard me telling David about my favorite Sheldon Cooper moment, and said, "You guys watch the Big Bang Theory, too? I love that show." I about died.

Thanks to the Diageo gals at Benrinnes distillery who let us—completely unannounced—walk into the place and snoop around. We're becoming big fans of Benrinnes, and the good vibes we experienced on our impromptu visit this year really helped to solidify those positive feelings. Between our Signatory cask, the lovely Stronachie 18 we currently stock, and the new SMWS barrel we selected, we're sitting pretty with some of the prettiest whisky available. Love, love, love Benrinnes. Thanks ladies.

Another big, big thank you to George Grant from Glenfarclas. Thanks to the strong relationship we have with Big G, we'll finally be moving out of just the single cask business. That's right—two new Glenfarclas/K&L whiskies should be here any day, and they're not just two random barrels we tasted and put our name on. Retailers all over the world now are choosing casks and putting a little sticker on the bottle. How many of them are blending those casks together with the goal of creating a larger vatted expression, I wonder? That's what we're moving towards with George's help.

Thanks to all our amigos in Santa Catarina Minas at the distillery behind Mina Real and Don Amado mezcal. An amazing display of both hospitality and a commitment to authenticity really left a mark on us.

Thanks to Le Terminator himself, Nicolas Palazzi, for keeping us stocked with exciting new spirits from the old world. Can't wait to get those new whiskies and Cognacs into stock! I sometimes think Nicolas is a robot who traveled back in time to erase my checking account from existence.

Thanks to Judah Kuper from Mezcal Vago and Jake Lustig from ArteNOM for continuing to bring the best goods from south of the border. You're putting other producers to shame.

Thanks to Shaun Caleb and all the folks at DDL in Guyana for allowing us to come and visit your wonderful distillery this year. We can't wait to get the Faultline wheels a rollin'. What a memorable time that was!

Thanks to Ian and all the folks at Kavalan for trusting us with your brand and giving us the tools we need to better represent it. We all think it's just a matter of time before the industry catches up to what you're doing over there in Taiwan.

And a big, hearty thanks to the folks at both Anchor and Nikka for allowing me to fulfill a lifelong dream. Japan is everything I hoped it would be. It's literally the best place in the world. Literally—as in I'm not using hyperbole as a literary tool. What a great time. Are we not men? We are DEVO!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Thanks to our friends around the world and our loyal customers here at home.  Have a safe and joyous holiday, and we'll see you when it's time to refill.

-David Driscoll