“Read a Damn Book – 173: Every Tool’s a Hammer”

in #bookslast month

Way back in May of 2019, my older daughter, her husband, my wife, and I went to see Adam Savage at the Revolution Hall in Portland, Oregon. (I wrote a post about it that some of you might have seen.) As part of the ticket price, each of us got not only an opportunity to see one of our favorite entertainers, but we also each received a signed copy of his book! Savage has a great sense of humor and a charismatic personality, and I was hoping that these qualities would translate into his written work---and they sure did! If you consider yourself an artist or creative person or a “maker” (the word Savage likes to use), this book is for you!

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[This is a photograph that I took of the actual book that I read. The image is included for review purposes only!]

Adam Savage – Every Tool’s a Hammer (2019)

Although I mentioned this in my post about going to SEE Adam Savage live, I think it’s fair to assume that some of you might not have read that piece, so let’s start from the beginning… Savage is a model maker, special effects guy (he’s worked for Industrial Light and Magic, and even worked on a Star Wars film!), and is a former co-host of the Discovery Channel classic series, Myth Busters, (which is where I first encountered him.) In a live setting, Savage is quick, funny, and frenetic, and very enjoyable to watch. (All four of us who went to the show agreed that it was a great time.)

As I mentioned above, we each also received a signed copy of the book when we arrived. Here’s mine!

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(Messy, swooping signature, but I’d expect nothing else…)

The book itself is a combination autobiography, how-to, and pep talk, meant to encourage folks to get over the massive societal inertia that seems to infest many people, leaving large parts of the population assuming that art and creativity are for “special” folks, and that normal, everyday people should leave that stuff to the experts. Savage vehemently disagrees with this sentiment in this text. In the introduction to the book he writes:

“Whenever we’re driven to reach out and create something from nothing, whether it’s something physical like a chair, or more temporal and ethereal, like a poem, we’re contributing something of ourselves to the world. We’re taking our experience and filtering it through our words or our hands, or our voices or our bodies, and we’re putting what we make into the culture that didn’t exist before. In fact, we’re not putting what we make into the culture, what we make IS the culture. Putting something in the world that didn’t exist before is the broadest definition of making, which means all of us can be makers. Creators” (p. 4).

Seems pretty straightforward to me. If we make it---whatever it is---however sloppy or funny or brilliant or pretty or trash (doesn’t matter), IT IS CULTURE. OUR culture. Culture is what WE make and do. (And the more you DO, the more you'll learn about doing. You just gotta do it! Like PUNK, right!?)

Savage goes on in these pages to describe his background, how he grew up, how he found his way into “FAN” culture, some of his major learning experiences (both positive AND negative, and make no mistake, making mistakes is a GREAT way to learn!), and then a number of his methods and philosophies, as well, that have helped him reach the level of success that he’s attained. (I would argue that he’s “MADE IT,” as far as most folks would need to make it. He seems to be comfortable enough that he can indulge his obsessions, he enjoys his work, and he’s still challenged by new projects. Sounds like a pretty good gig to me!) There are also a LOT of photos of the props and costumes that he's made, which is cool.

I particularly appreciated the section where he discussed the idea of making “To-Do” lists, which I also like to do. HIS lists, however, are much more complicated than mine tend to be, going into the various STEPS of some of his more complicated builds, instead of just, STEP ONE: [ ] Finish the project, like I might do. Having his individual steps enumerated is important if he is making something that has a hundred individual parts to it, so I completely understand his need for that level of detail. Even though most of my business is less complex than his is, I still find that making lists, with check boxes to mark when you finish something, to be great motivational tools, as well as a great way of seeing how much progress I’ve made! (All those check boxes checked off!!!)

I was also entertained by some of the sections in the book where he discusses his EXTREMELY detailed replications of various movie props, like the blaster from Blade Runner and the strange, multi-light-bulbed glove that Rasputin wears in the first Guillermo del Toro Hellboy film! Savage’s attention to detail, his desire for his “props” to be EXACTLY perfect (or as perfect as humanly possible)---to the point of obsession---is interesting to me. (We also share a number of favorite film, which was also cool to discover!)

Although I really appreciated the tone of the book and Savage’s inclusion of personal stories from his own experiences, there were a few sections of the book that just didn’t interest me as much. For instance, he goes into extended detail talking about the various types of adhesives he uses. For someone who BUILDS a lot of stuff, this is undoubtedly very valuable information that he’s sharing, but as a guy who mostly draws, paints, and writes, I don’t really use THAT MUCH adhesive. (Some glue sticks and tape when I’m making zines or collages---but that’s about the extent.) I’m not suggesting that this section isn’t well written, or that it isn’t GOOD INFORMATION, it just wasn’t as interesting to me, personally, as the section on the Hellboy prop, or his stories about working on Myth Busters. (I’m not as into the various types of saw blades you can use, or whether or not I need a cheap, hand operated rivet puncher or a pneumatic riveter. I probably don't need either, BUT, then again, Savage probably wouldn’t be as interested in reading about which synthesizers Kraftwerk used to record the album, Autobahn, though that interests me, immensely! People are allowed to like and be interested in different things---which is one of Savage’s main messages in this book!

FIND YOUR PASSIONS; DON'T BE AFRAID TO OBSESS OVER THEM; SHARE THEM WITH EVERYONE WHO IS INTERESTED; AND DON’T GIVE THEM UP!

I think it’s a great message. I think Savage has set a fantastic example for folks to follow, and I truly believe this book is worth reading for anyone who fancies themselves a “creative,” and it’s also (ESPECIALLY) for folks who would LIKE to think of themselves as “creative” but are afraid or ashamed or don’t think they have enough time or skill. This book can HELP! Not only do we get to learn from Savage’s successes and failures, but he’s also sharing the overall WISDOM he’s collected in his five decades of being a MAKER. Valuable, entertaining, funny, and inspiring. Not much else I need to say!

---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Holy Fool)

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Hi richardfyates,

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Awesome! Thanks!!! (Much appreciated!)

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This post is magnificent. I love your review of this book. Savage's words are fantastic:

"Whenever we’re driven to reach out and create something from nothing, whether it’s something physical like a chair, or more temporal and ethereal, like a poem, we’re contributing something of ourselves to the world."

..."Putting something in the world that didn’t exist before is the broadest definition of making, which means all of us can be ... 'Creators'"

I would like to read this book. Thank you for sharing this experience. My best regards @richardfyates