Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger sits with American record...

Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger sits with American record producer and founder of Def American Recordings Rick Rubin in the studio circa June, 1992 in Los Angeles, California. Credit: Getty Images/Lester Cohen

One of Long Island's proudest contributions to the arts is record producer Rick Rubin. Born in 1963 in Lido Beach, Rubin has lived a life that is thoroughly American in its magical trajectory. His lifelong interests — he founded a record label in high school; he was a philosophy major at New York University — have, over the decades, alchemized to make him a guru of the recording industry and now a philosopher of creativity. 

Known for his work in genres from country to hip-hop and with musicians as wide-ranging as Run-DMC, Johnny Cash, The Strokes and Adele (this is the tip of the iceberg), Rubin has devoted the past eight years to distilling the wisdom that makes him so useful to these artists into a book. In a recent Zoom interview, Rubin told Newsday that he sees "The Creative Act: A Way of Being" (Penguin Press, $32) as an "invitation to participate," a series of ideas and techniques that open doors in the mind, and not just for musicians, visual artists, and writers. The creative act, he writes, "could be a conversation, the solution to a problem, a note to a friend, the rearrangement of furniture in a room, a new route home to avoid a traffic jam."

Here are excerpts from our discussion.

Record producer and Lido Beach native Rick Rubin has a...

Record producer and Lido Beach native Rick Rubin has a new book, "The Creative Act: A Way of Being." Credit: Penguin Press

Tell us about growing up in Lido Beach.

It was great being so close to Manhattan, yet having the beach and the peace of small town living. At the time, I probably would have rather been in Manhattan, but after going to school and living there, I realized I really do like seeing the horizon.

Did you have any mentors at Long Beach High School who influenced you?

A guy named Steve Freeman, who ran audiovisual for the school — he taught me to play guitar. His room was a place where kids would get together to listen to music and watch movies and talk about it. 

When's the last time you were in on Long Island? 

When I made the documentary, "McCartney 3, 2, 1," conversations with Paul McCartney where we listen to Beatles music and talk about it. We recorded it in an old church in the Hamptons.

It sounds a lot like that AV club in high school! You were a magician when you were young, right? 

Yes, I performed at birthday parties and such when I was 12 or 13.

Do you see any connection between the magician's practice and what you do now?

I'm interested in things that are hard to understand, things that have a mystical quality. I like looking at things that seem impossible. It's grounding to know they are possible, even simple. It opens the mind in terms of problem solving.

Record producer Rick Rubin shares his philosophies and stories about...

Record producer Rick Rubin shares his philosophies and stories about the music business in "The Creative Act." Credit: Mike Blabac

Your book has a lot of wisdom about the ways people can work together, as collaborators, as teacher and student, as editor and maker. I was interested in your points about getting feedback — that you should do it to find out what you think, not what the other person thinks.

When someone gives us their reaction to something we've made, it tells us more about them than it tells us about us, because all our reactions are rooted in our life experience. If you tailor your work to please that person, it won't apply to other people who don't share that person's life experience.

So what's the point of getting feedback at all? 

Very often the person will say something that reminds you of an idea you already had. For example, one time I was in the studio working on a song with Neil Young, and there was a lyric that didn't seem to live up to the rest. When I told him, he said, "I can't believe you picked that out. That line always bothered me."

But the opposite happened with Tom Petty. He said, "Rick, you're crazy. That's the best line." There isn't a right answer. The point of having these conversations is to give you clarity. 

Your insights about failure were moving — I saw the influence of Eastern philosophy in your emphasis on detachment, on stepping back and thinking, "Wasn't that an interesting plot twist?" I noticed that Ezra Klein titled his podcast with you "The Tao of Rick Rubin"— and I was reminded of Ram Dass' "Be Here Now."

I loved Ram Dass. Whenever I saw him speak, I always felt like he was talking directly to me, even in a room of 2,000 people. I felt: this is my person. When I was 33, I suffered a serious depression that lasted about two years. It changed me permanently. It put me more in tune with the artists I get to work with, many of whom deal with tough issues.

Unfortunately, the antidepressant I was on caused me to gain 70 pounds, and I was already overweight. I tried everything, nothing worked. I went vegan — that made it worse. But ultimately I lost over 100 pounds.

Well, there's our headline. Rick Rubin's weight loss secret.

Low calorie, no carbs. Seven protein shakes a day. Fish or meat, soup, and salad for dinner. I had help from a great nutritionist at UCLA.

Speaking of help, I noticed that though you credit Neil Strauss as a co-author, there's no Acknowledgments.

So many people helped me with this book, I would have to list my whole life. And in a way — everything in the book was already there, waiting to be observed. I even talked about not putting my own name on it.

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