Gerard Way, formerly of My Chemical Romance, and Wayne Coyne, currently of The Flaming Lips, don’t sleep. Neither of them. I didn’t necessarily expect/not expect to find any common ground between the two frontmen when I interviewed them separately for two recent pieces at Paste, but in an odd synchronicity spike, this observation floated to the top of both conversations. When it came down to a rationale, both Way and Coyne avoid slumber because their minds race with an onslaught of creative energy that constantly seeks release. In these specific cases, both focused on their comic books to emancipate stories starring post-Apocalyptic gunslingers and androids (Way) as well as blind eyeball-cradling princesses (Coyne).
Way and I spoke for a collective two-and-a-half hours over two sessions, so his statements on the topic weren’t published after editing, despite how much he had to say. But he actually started our conversation with this admission:
Me: How’s your morning been?
Way: It’s really awesome. I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep likely. Not that I can’t sleep, I’m just completely excited to be up. I used to be excited to sleep, and now I’m excited to be up, so I feel like I’m getting five to six, and it just feels great to be up at seven doing emails and drinking coffee and listening to music.
Me: I saw that on your Twitter account and thought of how busy you must be.
Way: There are a million things that I’m trying or that I want to do, working on the comics and everything. I feel like I spent a lot of years dormant or missing out, so I don’t want to miss anything anymore.
Coyne’s statement on the topic is very, very similar….
Coyne: Sometimes you’re finished with the things that you have to do at eleven o’clock or midnight, and I’m still buzzin’ and I still want to do stuff. So I’ll sit around and draw and listen to music. That’s such a relaxing, stupid, freeing thing. I’m also doing it by myself. That’s the main reason I’m doing it as a whole. Earlier in my life, I probably didn’t have as much energy or ambition to think in my free time. Earlier I would have watched television or something, but now I don’t watch TV, but I’m still amped up. I want to do something, but everybody else is too tired!
As far as describing the traits of successful, productive, and creative individuals, this situation isn’t exactly new. One of my MBA mentors and a man I very much admire, Jeff Rodek, also listed this behavior as an innate quality of business leaders and CEOs. Rodek is the former Senior Vice President of Federal Express and the former CEO of Hyperion, a Bay Area tech company that Oracle absorbed in 2007. During Rodek’s time with the latter, he conducted a company-wide turnaround as the corporation faced an avalanche of corruption and legal allegations. As he described it, 100-hour-work weeks are a staple of leadership positions, with 5-hour nights the resting norm. Even as a professor at The Ohio State University, Rodek still stays active on various Boards and startups.
While all three examples aren’t completely synonymous, they definitely share a key conclusion: people who build large, influential things do so at the cost of comfort. And to them, it’s not even a cost: sleep is a hurdle to doing more. Sweet dreams.