January 25th, 2022

The Human Condition: The Adam Clayton Effect

By Daniel Schnee on December 29, 2021.

As a cultural anthropologist I study how humans participate in society through artistic creativity, especially in Japan. And having been a professional jazz saxophonist and drummer for more than four decades as well, I have heard a lot of music in my lifetime.

One particular song I have heard is “Bullet The Blue Sky” by the rock band U2: four and a half minutes of blistering sound. It is a fan favourite and for good reason: it demonstrates what I call the “Adam Clayton Effect.”

Clayton, U2’s bassist, is not a technical virtuoso compared to progressive rock bassists such as Geddy Lee or Les Claypool. But what Clayton does is equally virtuosic in terms of blending and texture: finding the right sound and manner of playing that fits the song so well you practically forget he is even there.

Master accompanists in that sense “disappear” into the music, and Clayton is incredibly good at it. His playing is the very beating heart of many U2 songs: what the other members build upon, without which they would not achieve their own greatness. Thus, they have been hugely successful thanks to each member also demonstrating the Adam Clayton Effect in their own way, making the band much more than the sum of its parts.

Country icon Dolly Parton also demonstrates this effect, though she is the star of the show. She is so spectacularly gifted at telling stories, singing and engaging with her audiences that you forget she is doing work on stage. You are transported through her childhood and indeed through life itself as she takes you on a journey of song and lessons for living.

We even see the Adam Clayton Effect in other fields as well. For example, when there is little crime we often think there is no need for the police, when in actual fact it is because the police have done their job effectively, behind the scenes.

A Buddhist monk I know in Japan is so devoted to meditation, i.e. sitting motionless for hours “not doing anything,” that his fellow monks first thought he was a spiritual failure, and rather lazy. But he soon became known throughout Western Japan for sitting on a temple veranda giving wise practical advice to any tourist wanting to chat. He literally did almost nothing, but from his “nothing” came everything: people did better on exams, had less stress, ate a healthier diet and so on. The monk got so good at the Adam Clayton Effect he didn’t even need to move.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all could create an even greater Adam Clayton Effect: finding ways of living so beneficial to others that the world practically forgets (or doesn’t even know) you are there? This kind of service and selflessness would seem to go against the hyper narcissistic and self-deifying behaviours our social media celebrates and reinforces. Who would want to give up illusions of infinite wealth, eternal beauty and the unwavering “love” of the entire population, now that we have come to practically worship such things? I think it is possible though, through the Adam Clayton Effect, as the benefits warrant the effort.

Peace, love, non-violence and forgiveness: aftereffects of the greatest Adam Clayton Effect of all.

Dr. Daniel Schnee is an anthropologist who studies Japanese creative culture

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