I was lucky enough to have a few minutes with John Paul DeJoria when he was in town a few weeks back. You can find much of my discussion with him on Page 16 of the Business Press (Oct. 15-21) or you can read it online. Cliff Notes version: DeJoria, once homeless, is the co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products and Patron Tequila. He was in town for a program presented by AccelerateDFW Foundation Inc. and to speak to students at the TCU Neeley School of Business. He is an investor in Fort Worth’s Ride TV.
During our discussion, I asked him what advice he had for entrepreneurs. You can read more about that in the other story and you should. At one point DeJoria talked about being a good listener. “Instead of a talker, be a listener. When you’re talking you learn nothing,” he said.
I replied that listening was key to being a journalist, but that I didn’t honestly think I became a good listener until I was 20 years into my career. Hard to believe, but it’s true. Not that I didn’t think I was a good listener back in the days when I was a scrappy young pup of a reporter. But I wasn’t. I can’t quite pinpoint the moment I became a good listener, but somewhere along the way I melded my meager skills as a jazz musician – which requires some world-class listening – with that of being a reporter. And, really, being a human being as well.
And that made me think about David Byrne and the Talking Heads. Why? Let me take you back to about 1978 and my days at the University of Maryland. I was living in a house where the owner rented rooms to poor struggling students. I had the essentials: stereo, records, typewriter, study lamp, copy of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.
Oh and my cheap, Montgomery Ward’s classical guitar. It wasn’t very good and could hardly keep in tune. But that was OK – I wasn’t very good and I could blame the guitar for being out of tune, so all was copacetic.
I was practicing for a party. I was supposed to play a few joke-type songs, nothing serious since my singing was about the equal of my guitar playing. I had some song where you handed out different jokes to a couple of people, who for some reason usually happened to be young women, and you would stop in the middle of the song and the women would tell the joke. I think the chorus after the joke went something like, “Aren’t we having fun? Yes, we’re having fun, don’t you want another joke?” The crowd would scream a drunken “Yes!” and then I would point to the next embarrassed joke teller. It was a long way from Carnegie Hall.
But I was practicing a new song, one I’d ripped off from the Dr. Demento show. Dr. Demento was a guy with a syndicated radio show who played a bunch of old silly songs from earlier in the century as well as some recent song parodies. Weird Al Yankovic got his start there. Demento had started playing a parody of the Talking Heads song Psycho Killer called Psycho Chicken. I was in my little room with my guitar trying to work out a semblance of the song. The chorus went “Cluck-cluck a cluck-cluck,” so the words weren’t too difficult.
There was a knock on the door which I assumed meant someone wanted me to shut up. It was one of my housemates, Charlie.
Turns out Charlie, a big beefy weightlifter who doubled as a security guard at concerts in the area, was a huge Talking Heads fan. The brother of the Talking Heads’ bass player led a band in the Washington, D.C., area called the Urban Verbs, and Charlie knew them.
He was thrilled to find another Heads fan in the house. I didn’t really know the Heads that well, but I knew a song that could entertain a crowd when I heard it. And one that was fairly easy to play.
Charlie had studied the Talking Heads like it was his master’s thesis. As a weightlifter, Charlie was also a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, particularly the film Stay Hungry, one of Arnold’s early ones and one of the best.
The Talking Heads also had a song called Stay Hungry, though the song seems more about desire than achievement. But Charlie and I adopted the slogan as our personal mantra to forge ahead no matter the obstacles.
“Stay Hungry,” we’d sing to each other mimicking the chorus of the Heads song whether studying for a test or heading to a party.
Once we met Talking Heads songwriter Byrne at the 9:30 Club in D.C. Not that he wanted to meet us, but Head fanatic Charlie couldn’t help but whip his ass asking questions, including, “Was Stay Hungry inspired by the Schwarzenegger film?”
Byrne, as shy offstage as he was ebullient on, cast his eyes down and mumbled something like, “Well I guess it could have been, but I don’t really know where the songs come from.”
Charlie then asked him to sign half of a dollar bill, the only paper we had on us at the time, and we left the brilliant artist to himself.
Charlie and I weren’t the only ones to find the phrase inspirational. The phrase “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish,” was used by Apple founder Steve Jobs in 2005 at the Stanford commencement.
Eventually, when I decided to head back to Texas to start a career in journalism, Charlie repeated those words to me. I stayed hungry long enough to learn how to listen.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.