Adversity breeds powerful myths

May 11, 2014

Adversity breeds powerful myths

It’s something that everybody can relate to. It’s something that everybody will experience. All are touched by adversity. And adversity is often the basis of many of the powerful myths that we are drawn to.

And the truth is, it’s not always achieving the fairytale ending – overcoming adversity – that makes a story connect in a compelling way. It’s often the process – the perseverance we see – that provides the fuel for inspiration.

Take for instance the story of the ANZACs in Australian culture. Their most infamous battle was one that ended in defeat – that was the battle of Gallipoli. Yet it was the tremendous willpower and commitment, the camaraderie that makes that particular ANZAC story (and legacy) so compelling.

A great example of how ad land has leveraged this kind of mythology for a brand is the infamous 2011 Superbowl commercial that W+K created for Chrysler. The two-minute first-of-its-kind slot spoke to the post-GFC adversity that was facing Detroit (and indeed many Americans). It spoke of perseverance and persistence, which is perhaps best illustrated by the line:  ‘It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel’.

So it’s important to remember that it is not the outcome, but rather the process that draws us to the great stories of man in adversity.

A great recent example of this is the story of an Austin-based experimental rock band called Boyfrndz. Some three weeks prior to releasing their 2nd LP Breeder (which I’ll get to shortly), I was fortunate enough to catch Boyfrndz play a few shows at SXSW. Now despite being one of the better bands at the festival, it seems quite challenging being a local band at SXSW– in fact to some extent, it appears akin to wearing camouflage to the swarm of A&R reps, music press and promoters that descend upon Austin from around the world.  Yet this in itself in nothing on the adversity that would soon befall the band.

Having completed a series of shows across the festival, Boyfrndz proceeded to embark on a national tour. This is perhaps where the myth of Boyfrndz was to be written.

After overcoming an early hiccup with their tour van, a couple of weeks passed and all seemed to be going well. The shows the band had played were generating positive feedback, and a sense of anticipation was building around the imminent release of Breeder.  Then, one night prior to their show scheduled in San Fran (and after an electrifying show in Richmond) the fickle finger of fate dealt Boyfrndz one of the cruelest hands possible  – the band’s tour van, trailer, gear and merchandise were stolen. For most bands, this would spell ‘TOUR FINISHED’. A terrible outcome some four days off releasing their greatest musical achievement to date.

Album artwork from Breeder by Boyfrndz

Stranded and wounded (if you play music, you’ll recognise the pain just thinking of having your instrument(s) taken from you), rather than putting the cue in the rack, Boyfrndz made a decision to persist - to persevere and forge a myth that would be a testament to their unbridled enthusiasm to play music that shakes rooms. They called for donations, bought flights back to Austin, reloaded with any gear they could buy/borrow or loan and got back on tour.

As time passed, from a distance, it seemed as though their shows became more furious … more energized … as if the sheer threat of extinction had taken their sets to new blistering heights. Soon enough, that finger of fate was pushing good fortune in their direction, and had them playing what was essentially the opening slot for ‘Nirvanaoke’ (Nirvana with a host of fill-in singers) in a Brooklyn club. A spate of favorable reviews on their music video Shape Shifter and record Breeder also emerged by the time they arrived home, turning what would have previously been labeled as a disaster of a tour into a good run on the track.

With the tour done, and only a few imminent tour dates on the horizon, it’s hard to imagine that Boyfrndz have fully recovered from the cruel fate that befell them around a month ago. What is for sure though, is that the way that they conducted themselves through this particularly tumultuous period, may just be the foundation of a myth and narrative that will act as the catalyst for their ascension in the near future. That narrative is something that can’t be faked, and can’t be taken away.

The lesson learned: Adversity is the basis of many powerful myths.

A side note: Breeder is a damn good record – probably my top record for 2014 thus far. 

Shapeshifter by Boyfrndz