Notes: Hindsight: & All the Things I Can’t See in Front of Me by Justin Timberlake

Hindsight: & All the Things I Can’t See in Front of Me by Justin Timberlake

tiny review: 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥 (10/10)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

I really enjoyed JT’s book, Hindsight. If you are a musician, someone wanting to be a musician, or pursuing a creative pursuit, definitely buy this book. Below are some of my favorite quotes from the book. The book has a fantastic style and full of great imagery, so if reading any of the notes below gets you jazzed, grab the book and read them there instead. (And, if you can swing it, the hardback is gorgeous.)

Note: bolded sentence, (thoughts in parentheses) and headers by me (Josh Waggoner).

“Ten years ago, I couldn’t have written this book. Ten years ago, everything was about forward movement. About taking risks. About trying new things. I didn’t look behind me. I didn’t care about what was behind me. I care only about what lay ahead.”

“What I understand now is that there isn’t just one thing that I am. There isn’t just one thing that I will become.”

“Every time I make an album, I always want it to sound at least slightly different from the last.”

“The mystery of loving is God’s sweetest secret.”

Jalal al-Din Rumi, from “Desire and the Importance of Failing”, thirteenth century

“Connections are all around us, and they are inside of us. They inspire and they illuminate. They show us who we are and who we want to be. That’s why we make art and that’s why we go see it. When we watch, when we listen, we’re not getting away from the world. We’re actually digging in.”

That feeling of being different really what makes us the same.

“You don’t have to be related to relate.”

“The older I get the more I understand that so many people live in circumstances they can’t control, or in places that just don’t feel right to them. That feeling of being different is really what makes us the same. We have our own struggles, yet we want the same things. We want human connection, a place to feel at home, and pizza.
Even if people seem guarded or bashful, more than anything, they want to relate.”

“I was just a kid in a small town in Tennessee who watches The Mickey Mouse Club every day after school, and now I was going to be on this show. It was pretty overwhelming.”

“That’s why I tell younger artists to dream big. Dream as big as you can. If you can see it, you can make things happen for yourself.”

“As a kid, singing was the ultimate way for me to connect with people, until I discovered I could genuinely make people laugh. Those times when I had my mom going, ‘Oh!’ And falling apart laughing made me feel incredible, and I wanted more of that feeling. My mother’s laughter carbonated me. It made me feel alive. It made me want to try harder to make her laugh more.”

“Making people laugh still carbonates me. It all tracks back to being a kid, to the electric charge I got when the adults started laughing.”

“My job is to make something great. That’s it. Some people count achievements by awards; that’s not how I think about it. I’ve won Grammys and Emmys and they don’t define me.”

“People don’t care about whether a song was number one when they’re listening to it in a concert setting. ‘Mirrors‘ (Spotify | iTunes | YouTube) was never a number one song. I’ve performed it in front of more than a million people by now, and they know every word, and they’re singing it as loud as they can, and it’s an experience. It’s an experience for them — and for me.”

“That’s why I’m here. That’s what I love about my job. I love the spaces that are not about the win but the practice. I think that’s why I’ve started to like golf so much, especially after I discovered that I couldn’t be anything else other than a musician, actor, and entertainer. If I’m competing in those arenas, I’m competing with myself.
I don’t want to compete, I want to connect. I want to connect to my music and to the audience. I want to do my own best work and support other artists who are doing brilliant work that inspires me.”

The Art of Performance

“For me, there are two rules of stage if you want to connect with people. Imagine that there are four feet between the ground and where the stage sits. You have to meet your audience in the middle. You have to come down tow feet from the stage. And the people in the room, in the stadium, have to feel like they’ve been raised up by two feet. That’s what was so amazing about Michael Jackson. He was always good at making people feel elevated. You would watch Michael, and you’d think, ‘That’s magic. I can do anything. I can fly.’ Which makes sense — Peter Pan was one of his muses. If you watch Paul McCartney, he makes you feel like you are in his living room and he is playing you songs that you are hearing for the first time, and you already know all the words. And you bet your ass you’re singing them at the top of your lungs. You connect with people when you’re authentic — when you do things the way that comes naturally.”

“But you do have to pay attention to where you are when you’re playing a live show.”(Know your audience)

“As a performer, I always want to understand where I am performing and who I am performing for, because I enjoy giving people what they want. When it comes to a live show, I don’t mind being a servant in that way. Getting up and playing to entertain yourself is not connecting with the people. Do that at sound check.”

“That was another life-changing moment for me: when I realized that people didn’t only listen to you sing, that they would sing with you, too.”

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

David Bowie, at his fiftieth birthday concert at Madison Square Garden, NYC, 1997

“If you want to make something good, you have to work for it. You have to work with people who know how to work hard, and you have to work harder than everyone else.”

“You have to give it everything you have, and then give a little more. You can’t make excuses. You can only make the time.”

“If you want to do something, if you want to make something, if you want to create something, I’ve learned that you can’t be afraid to do it wrong. You have to dare to suck. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about what’s most interesting.”

“All that matters is the song. The song is what means something to me — and how I can make it mean something to you.”

“Write by Heart. There aren’t any rules. There are so many ways to get there.”

“Every moment of creation starts with inspiration, whether its roots are conscious or not. When I’m writing in a stream of consciousness, letting my mind wander, I’m inspired by something.”

“Everyone has unconscious sources of inspiration. They’re always there, feeding you, whether they come from the world around you, from the work of other artists, or from childhood.”

“One thing I’ve learned is that I have to let the feelings or ideas that inspire me become what they want to be. I have to follow them. I have to give up my ego. I have to be humble. I have to be open. I receive all that stimulus, taking a feeling that is personal to my experience, and even if I might not be able to name it, I translate it into a song. Then I just get out of the way.”

“… For a song to work, it has to register, which is why the kind of songs I write use repetition and a hook. They call it a hook because it hooks you, but really, the verse should be a hook. The chorus should be a hook. And I think the melody should hit you in a way that makes you remember it.”

“A song is three minutes long. If you’re a heavyweight boxer, three minutes is an eternity. If you’re a songwriter, three minutes goes by in a heartbeat, and you only get two shots: that first listen that gets the song into listeners’ heads, and the second, which calls up what they heard the first time and, hopefully, makes them remember it. If it happens the third or fourth time, that’s the icing on the cake — because now people recognize the music, they get to participate. They get to sing along. They get to make it their own.”

“Sometimes what makes a song recognizable is paring it back to its elements. That’s why arrangement is so important. You have to understand what makes it resonate.”

Unarranging is part of arranging.

“That’s all part of the refining process. I have to be willing to go with the song on its journey. I’m just along for the ride. I’m not dictating it. I’m just there. So when that one part calls out, I’m ready to hear what it wants to tell me.”

“When I record a song I write, I literally go for a ride: I listen to the demo in the car. That gives me the space to listen to the song, to think of a way to adjust it, to try this or that. The puzzle is right there. I have to be able to identify the pieces that can connect each other, until it gets to the point where I feel like I can let it go.”

“Writing a song isn’t something you do to please everyone. You have to do it because you feel that you are on the path to something great. It’s a practice. It’s not a goal.”

“All that unconscious creativity sits in your bones for years.”

“The thing that makes music interesting to me is the space between each note. Like Miles Davis said, ‘It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.’ It’s the space between the notes that makes the music…”

“Space keeps the neurons continually interested. You have to be patient. Space makes you wait for what’s coming next.”

What makes somebody love a song?
What makes someone hit replay?
What makes somebody dance?
What makes a song work out?

“…When I was twenty years old I asked Stevie Wonder how he continues to be inspired… He said, ‘I don’t know, man. There are two kinds of music: good music and bad music. I try to stay away from the latter.'”

“Every obstacle is an opportunity, which is why I don’t think there are any bad ideas. You can’t break through without conflict.”

“I write songs wherever I am, whenever the inspiration strikes. I’ve written lyrics while watching people. I’ve written lyrics sitting along in a field, watching the sun sink over the trees. I’ve come up with time measures from hearing rhythms in the world while I walk down the street.”

“Songs are everywhere.”

“… That’s what I like, people who aren’t cool. Don’t be cool. Be angry, be upset, be passionate, be happy, be amused. Cool isn’t a thing. It’s an unthing. It doesn’t exist. The coolest people are the ones who are doing something they’re excited about.

“The music inspires the vision, and the vision inspires the music.”

“So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

T. S. Eliot

“Life is movement. If I want to find my stillness, I have to find it within the noise. Noise is like breath. It’s always there. But even the sounds of a busy city like New York can become white noise, almost invisible, if I let it pass over me. If I want to quiet the noise, I find the quiet in the noise. True stillness doesn’t come from an external place. It lives within me. It’s that feeling when I can see how beautiful everything really is, even when it is painful. When I understand that the dark and the light are all part of the same story. That kind of stillness lets me see who I am. What I have been given. Who I might become. And what I have to give. Finding your stillness is about becoming yourself, just continually becoming.

“‘If you had only one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count. Can you answer it? I can’t. Because we’re never one thing. That’s confusing for some people. What confuses me is why they feel like I need a definition.

Why do I need to be defined by anybody else? Why do you? I can’t be defined by anyone but me. I can tell you who I am or what I am, but not if you want me to be one thing. Because the only thing I’m sure of is that I’m not just one thing, nor will I ever be. That’s an idea that continually excites me. I would like to stay in a place where I don’t know exactly what I am, or what I am doing, because I would get to continually discover myself within that.

“…Sometimes it feels like everybody wants you to stay right where you are. Everybody’s always looking for a definition, a classification, a rule. They want to pin you down so they can understand you. They want you to make it easy for them. They want you to walk in a straight line. I say walk your own line.

“Younger aspiring artists sometimes ask me for a blueprint. I tell them what I will tell my son one day: Don’t do it like I did. Do it like you do.

“If I could give a young artist advice about their influences, it would be this: Embrace them. Don’t run from them. They will be there whether you like it or not, so identify them and honor them by being influenced by them. And then? Just be. Be yourself. You are the common denominator. But you have to go through a lot of things, you have to go through and come back full circle to get to that place.”

“No matter what gets thrown at you, you catch it. You learn from it. And you figure out how to throw it back.”

What I understand now is that we’re all just figuring it out as we go. We don’t always have time to reflect, which can lead to a kind of tunnel vision. I can see that the first half of my twenties were all programmed towards achievement, but somehow, as I hit twenty-six and twenty-seven and twenty-eight, I was three different people within those years. At twenty-nine, I started to really understand what I’m good at, what I’m not good at, what I need work on. What has really helped me see that is the birth of my son, Silas.”

“I’ve spend my whole career shooting from the hip, living in a certain way, creating in a certain way. In my thirties, I still shoot from the hip, but now when I shoot, I’m aiming.”

“Kids teach you more than you teach them.”

“It takes humility to admit shortcomings, to talk about things. And it’s never perfect. It’s a practice. Sometimes I don’t get it right, but I get to wake up every morning and fail, over and over again.”

“Wherever I find myself now — it’s a good place to be. I find courage in the idea that our mistakes can empower us. They can become the thing that inspires us to make history — our own history. Big or small, the moments we create lead us forward, over a new threshold.

“I was one of those kids who was always banging on the lunch table, on anything around me, really.”

“All you need to do to hear the music in anything is listen. Just be still and listen.”

“As artists we fell a subconscious responsibility to evoke and lead a thought all the way down the path. But then you always have this moment where you fell like you’re looking in a mirror and saying, what the hell do I know? I’m not the person to be telling someone else what they should be doing or not doing. I didn’t know what I’m doing — which led me to what I think is the greatest line of the song (‘Say Something’ (Spotify | iTunes) — ‘Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.’

“…That’s how I work. Beat by beat, moment by moment, line by line, track by track, until it all hangs right to my ears. But it isn’t easy to get there. It’s a lot of trying and listening and trying again and listening harder, closer, and sometimes, listening from farther away. Recorded onto a phone and played back without the benefit of a studio-grade sound system. Or even farther away, out of the studio altogether, in a car, which is another good way to hear what you’ve been doing.”

“… It’s okay to be upset and not just pretend to be happy. It’s okay to admit that you want things. That’s something I had to learn. It’s not something I was taught.”

“Until I became a father, I thought I had things to be afraid of. Now I understand that I don’t have to conquer my fears. I just have to learn to live with them…”

“I crave stillness. I know that if I want to embrace the feeling of stillness, I have to find it inside myself. It began as a need, and then it became a practice. Finding the pieces of myself that I can share with other people is also part of it; that’s connection.”

“It takes a lot to trust being still, but when I do, I see how powerful stillness is. The best moments I can remember are not when I reached out and grabbed for those things. When I’ve given the best I’ve got, I don’t have to make a lot of noise. I simply let it come to me. All I have to do is open my arms.”

If you have your own favorite quotes from the book, or recommendations of other books I should take notes on, email me: josh (at) renaissancelife (dot) com

Buy the book on Amazon: Hindsight: & All the Things I Can’t See in Front of Me by Justin Timberlake


JT on Twitter: @jtimberlake


Man of the Woods (Spotify | iTunes)

The 20/20 Experience (Spotify | iTunes)

FutureSex/LoveSounds (Spotify | iTunes)

Justified (Spotify | iTunes)


In Time

The Social Network

Friends with Benefits

Bad Teacher

Trouble with the Curve


Music Videos:

Influences + Connections:

“Al Green, who was one of the voices that really influences me as a kid. … I loved listening to songs like ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and ‘Love and Happiness.'”

“Bill Withers, one of my heroes.”
Documentary: Still Bill

Words + Expression I Enjoyed:

Kismet: fate

“Making people laugh still carbonates me.”

“You have to dare to suck.”

“Don’t be cool.”

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