“I was supposed to be smart. I was supposed to be creative.”
James Murphy had been playing in bands since he was 16, but as the years went by, he felt he was no closer to success. Sure, more and more people were making a point of letting him know just how talented they thought he was as a DJ, but what did that matter when his talent wasn’t amounting to anything?
At age 26, he declared himself a loser. A failure. David Foster Wallace had just released his instant classic of a novel, Infinite Jest, at the age of 31, and Murphy believed that even if he put the rest of his life on hold for the next five years, and placed all his time and energy into trying to create something of equal merit, he wouldn’t even come close. And that filled him with dread, and self-hatred.
“I’m not good at my life,” he confessed to his therapist, “and I just don’t want to do this anymore”.
If he’d followed through and given up, Murphy’s career would have ended before it had even truly started. But that’s not what happened.
Instead, he looked inwards, and questioned why he wasn’t “good at life”. In his search, he realised something.
It wasn’t from lack of ability – he clearly had what it took to be successful. Nor was it that he was lazy – he might have made a few bad choices while pursuing his career, but he was determined.
The problem was fear. Fear that because he’d been told he was smart and talented from such an early age that he would be letting down those who had encouraged him if he tried and failed at becoming the artist he wanted to be.
It was a crucial breakthrough, but recognising this fear would not be enough to overcome it. To find the success he was looking for, Murphy not only had to acknowledge his fear, he had to conquer it with courage.
The call for such bravery arrived in 2002.
Murphy was in a club where a DJ was playing a set clearly mimicking his own. He was furious. He was scared. Was this a sign his time as an artist was coming to an end? Would this wannabe, and others like him, mangle his unique style until they drove it – and him – out of style?
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Murphy reflected on these fears through his art, composing an eight minute track in which he chastises DJs trying to weevil their way into a music scene that he had been part of from the very start.
He called it Losing My Edge.
It was bold, ostentatious, and unlike anything Murphy had done before…and everyone he performed it for in private hated it. That included Tim Goldsworthy and Jonathan Galkin, Murphy’s partners at DFA Records, the label he had not only co-founded, but through which he would soon be releasing a single for his new band, LCD Soundsystem.
Goldsworthy and Galkin tried to convince Murphy to release Losing My Edge as a B-side to Beat Connection, and it seemed they had won out – until the 11th hour struck.
“No, that should be the A-side. That should be the one I should sink or swim with.”
Losing My Edge would go on to be named one of the 150 best songs released between 1996 and 2011 by NME, while LCD Soundsystem remain a genre-defining band.
And so success was formed in a single moment of courage by an artist who was afraid he would never amount to anything.
Quotes sourced from James Murphy’s PSL interview.