There are ways to approach art, and there are ways. One is to meticulously polish until it’s as flawless as your can make it. It’s interesting to look at a Beatles Anthology or a Beach Boys/Brian Wilson compilation and see an alternate take labeled “(Take 24)” or “(Take 87)” — and then there’s Roy Acuff’s way.
I had the legendary album Will the Circle Be Unbroken on the turntable Sunday morning — all six sides of it this time — OMG, it really is worthy of legendary status — and once again I was struck by Acuff’s words just before they launched into a song.
“I’ll tell you all a little secret of my policy in the studio, and I find it true, I believe it is true with most anyone,” Acuff says. “Whenever you once decide that you’re going to record a number, put everything you’ve got into it, because — Don’t say, ‘Oh, we’ll take it over and do it again,’ because every time you go through it, you lose just a little something, especially man with voice. So let’s do it the first time and to hell with the rest of it.”
I think he’s onto something. I’m not a big fan of rewrites and retakes. The first time through, you’re telling the story with all the fervor and passion you’ve got. The second time, you’re doing your best to duplicate the level of fervor and passion, but you lost some of that energy putting it all down the first time.
I will go in and fiddle with a draft — correct spelling mistakes, add or subtract, fix the grammar — but I don’t have the energy or the patience for a complete rewrite. There may be some warts and all, but if you reshape and adjust too much, you risk losing the fervor and passion that brought you to the table altogether. And certainly the spontaneity fades away as you go back over and over.
Ray Bradbury said about the idea of updating or revising his earlier work, “I don’t believe in tampering with any young writer’s material, especially when that young writer was once myself.” I think there was wisdom there.