“Music Hath Charms to Soothe a Savage Breast”

“Music Hath Charms to Soothe a Savage Breast”

So wrote William Congreve in 1697, and it’s still true today. Of course, not everyone today understands that “hath” meant “has,” or that a “savage breast” was another way of saying “wild heart.” And these days, more music is made to stimulate than to calm.

My own relationship to music is lifelong and deeply personal. I can recall, with some degree of clarity, everything from the enlivening effect of pop songs first heard at eight or nine to the uplifting hymns of my days in church as a youth. Whatever the source, the music I’ve loved has moved me, while music I dislike has brought on feelings equally intense.

I believe music, poetry and song are all intrinsically connectednot only for listeners but also for its creators. By the age of thirteen, I’d already begun writing songs and poems, and the melodies of lyrics I wrote came to me just as vividly as the words. A boy without a band, I was as likely to write a song as a poem on any given day…and there were periods where I wrote one or the other daily.

 

Is It Live Or Is It Memory?

When I hit junior high, my older brother was already in high school. It was only natural that we would want to go to rock shows, and our parents actually dropped us off at my first one, a Kiss concert in 1978. In retrospect, the sound was awful, distorted by a ridiculously high volume that should have gotten any respectable sound man fired. But it was all part of the spectacle, and Kiss, however cartoonish their image and limited their musicianship, could deliver quite an audiovisual assault at the height of their powers. I was young enough to be appropriately blown away.

That began a lifelong willingness to trek to shows that led to an abundance of memoriesnot to mention a pretty decent case of tinnitus.

Just as live shows became an obsession—from small local acts like the folky Nields to international superstars like Sir Paul McCartney—so did my desire to collect music. Like the guy in the old Memorex ads, I spent many an hour in front of home speakers with the volume cranked up. I think there’s a chemical change in the body when it’s bombarded with sound, and I enjoyed many moments thus engaged.

 

But Then One Grows Up…

Ultimately, as I grew from adolescence to adulthood, my tastes changed and widened. I’ve grown from a little rocker dude into a music aficionado with wide-ranging tastes. I enjoy jazz, ambient, and experimental music in addition to the classic rock, blues, and folk that served as the soundtrack to my teenage and young adult years.

Music plays a role in many aspects of my life to this day. My deep connection to the words and music of Phil Ochs influenced my most recent novel, Whizzers, and I spend most days at my desk with music playing on the iMac while I work. The CD and record collecting hobby has mostly transitioned to files, though I still like to pop in the occasional CD while driving in order to enjoy a better experience than mp3 files can provide.

And I think music ties in closely to the last couple weeks’ worth of blog posts. The themes of spirituality and metaphysics run through many of the songs I still enjoy, and in my own work as well. In the words of Frank Zappa, “Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.”

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What To Expect From An Interregnum

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Do You Have An Interest in the Spiritual?

Do You Have An Interest in the Spiritual?

Today’s post is the second of a three-part series I’m creating on some of my personal interests. Last week, I wrote about metaphysics; this week, I’m writing about spirituality; and next week, I’ll be writing about music.

Of course, the metaphysical and spiritual are closely aligned. Anyone who believes in God would probably say so, at any rate. But because some of my readers are undoubtedly atheist or agnostic, I figure a post about spirituality can be differentiated from one about metaphysics. After all, one can ponder metaphysical questions without being a “believer.”

I started out life believing what I was taught by my parents and the church. I’d say I had something of a relationship with God, or, if you like, a Higher Power. The terms of that relationship, however, were dictated by what adults told me.

 

And Then I Grew Up

As I got older, I turned away from religion. My interest in spirits (the drinkable kind) was stronger than my interest in spirituality for a good five to ten years.

But even in the midst of hedonistic pursuits, I was always looking for a spiritual answer. I recall with great clarity how I experimented with psychedelics in my search. When I caught a glimpse of a crowd in the midst of what I considered a revelatory vision, I was disappointed that it was just some people.

Like one of my musical heroes, Syd Barrett, I “reached for the secret” at a young age. And when I felt that the answer was people, I had a hard time accepting that. It didn’t seem like enough; they didn’t seem like enough.

 

But I Still Hadn’t Really Grown Up

And so it went, until I got into recovery in 1989. At age 24, I discovered that I had the emotional maturity of a two-year-old, and by then, my relationship with any sort of Higher Power had atrophied into nothingness. I was lost.

Luckily, I found that my recovery friends didn’t impose religious beliefs on me. They told me I was free to choose my own conception of a Higher Power. I studied The Bhagavad Gita and Tao Te Ching, listened to Alan Watts lectures, and began a devotion to meditation that—although it wavered at certain points—has persisted to this day.

Some of these concerns feature in the “biographical fiction” aspects of my latest novel, Whizzers. Others have never made it into my novels, and probably never will. I say probably because, hey, never say never.

What about you? Are there interests that inform your work, or influence what you like to read? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Sometimes All You Can Do Is Rock With The Storm

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Psychology Is Sort of a Hobby of Mine, or Why I’ve Always Been So Interested In Metaphysics

Psychology Is Sort of a Hobby of Mine, or Why I’ve Always Been So Interested In Metaphysics

I chose the image above for today’s blog post for a couple reasons: first, it’s cool, but second, it’s also kind of all over the place. And isn’t that what metaphysics are all about?

A quick Google search shows the definition of metaphysics as “a field of philosophy that is generally focused on how reality and the universe began. An example of metaphysics is a study of God versus the Big Bang theory.” Now, those are some pretty big questions, so of course it’s not unusual for a writer to contemplate them.

What is unusual is when said writer owns a copy of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Metaphysics, mental health, psychology, spiritualitythey’re all interconnected in my world.

 

All The Way Back To High School

In terms of its beginnings in my life, my interest in the metaphysical probably goes back to my earliest days: a religious upbringing (later abandoned), exposure to the beauty of nature, and a strong education all combined to make me both wonder about, and fear, the “big answers.”

By the time I hit high school, I was reading books as diverse as Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals and the King James Version of The Bible.

Growing up in an alcoholic home, though, I had another slant on all these things: I guessed at what “normal” is, and swung wildly between spiritual ecstasy and abject despair. And I developed my own problem with chemical dependency—psychedelics and “spirits” as the pathways to so-called enlightenment.

 

A Lifelong Pursuit

Skip ahead a few years, and we find a portrait of the artist as an increasingly elder man. Decades of sobriety have brought a certain balance and good health through my adult life, but issues remain. My sense of wonder has been tempered, but my sense of self is stronger than it was as a youngster or adolescent.

And books have been there all the way. From the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, a source of mystery and wisdom, to Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, which brings together Eastern religions, Jungian archetypes, and Western individualism, books concerned with metaphysics have often dominated my reading list.

Of course, some stand out more than others—like The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “a moral allegory and spiritual autobiography,” according to Goodreads, or the early books of Carlos Castaneda, which I briefly mention in my own recent novel, Whizzers.

These and countless other books have informed and shaped my thinking, but, I must admit, left me with few answers. Perhaps that’s the most compelling reason of all for a lifelong interest in the metaphysical: there’s no sure answer to life’s big questions. Yet we all keep on searching.

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