Sunday, July 29, 2012

Great Blogs to Read: Truth and Beauty - Young Adult Old Soul

I want to point you to a couple of independent writer/artists I've been in touch with while on vacation in Florida. See photos that have nothing to do with either author. 

I read a great post by Laxmi Hariharan in early July titled "Dare to Be an Indie?". That post inspired me to think about the end product of writing, particularly the product created by indie authors. So I explored Laxmi's offerings a bit and saw that she is a quality, thinking, vibrant author living in Londan. I just had to reach out and tell her how great I thought she was. I also let her know why her piece inspired me. She responded back with a guest blog request so if you're interested, you can see the result of her request at her website right now. Check out "Letting Go: Indie Marketing Made Easy" at Laxmi's site, Young Adult Old Soul. I mean every word I wrote there. 

Today, I also happened to stumble onto Dan Benbow's website, Truth and Beauty. I've reported on this site in the past. Dan has been my editor at Kotori Magazine on and off over the years. I'm hoping I can get Kotori to consider publishing a sample chapter from Beyond the Will of God for their readers.

Sometimes I worry about calling my novel what it is -- A Psychedelic Mystery. But I know Kotori Readers will appreciate that concept. Most other people just get tongue-tied and sadly PC about the idea. There should be more psychedelic frolics in the art world. The plasticity of consciousness and creativity is rather important to consider...

But I digress. Last Friday, Dan posted a nice piece on Charles Bukowski at Truth and Beauty. It's a great essay, and I put in my two cents worth at the end in the comments section. Dan offers a couple good poems to read by Chuck B and also by one Thomas Waits, along with his own intelligent thoughts. I did not know about the documentary Dan notes in his piece. It looks damn good and you can watch it on YouTube, so go to Truth and Beauty to read and to link. 

I will be back from our family outing to South Florida on Wednesday. Saw great minor league baseball  (though Jesse Biddle struggled some on the mound...just one of those games...we still got watch young batters try to hit his 93 mph fastball and fail a lot); have been taking long beach walks under an electric sun; lots of time sitting quietly in an out of the way part of our hotel working on my next short story "The Scent Leaver;" and have been part of the unofficial Loggerhead Turtle siting committee, though last night I fell asleep while the crew was out under bright moonlight. We've had a fair number of turtle confrontations. The best was a 7:30 AM encounter with baby loggerheads on their maiden run from hot sandy nests into the sea. About 40 of 'em in a 15 minute span making their fin flapping "run" into the infinite green. Awesome!

My love to all. My novel wants you to buy it! And then read it...follow the path with a heart.

Make sure to bookmark Dan's and Laxmi's blogs, too. They both offer independent insights you probably won't find anywhere else and interesting, quality writing to boot.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Powers of Mind: An Introduction to the Mystery of the Cosmic Egg

My introduction to how mysterious and seemingly magical the human mind is came from a reading of POWERS OF MIND, at one time a national bestseller written by Adam Smith (a pseudonym for George Goodman, a high-end journalist and editor). I read this book in the mid-1970s.

Powers of Mind was basically a long set of straightforward descriptions of everything from biofeedback and memory quirks to meditation, rolfing, and psychedelics. I was 17 at the time. From there I devoured books by Carlos Castenada, Aldous Huxley, John Lilly, and Ram Daas. My favorite -- then and now -- was THE CRACK IN THE COSMIC EGG, by Joseph Chilton Pearce.

Needless to say, like so many people back then, I did my own experiments with consciousness, going as far as I felt comfortable on the outskirts of Mind and Reality. This experimentation lasted about six years. By the time I was 22 I just didn't have the emotional strength and intellectual stomach to run around on the frontier of psychology anymore.

That said, I've never stopped thinking about and questioning the mysteries of the cosmic egg and the human spirit. Through most of those days of exploration and then for several decades after, I took the route that a lot of folks do with this stuff. I wanted to know what the underlying mechanisms were. I wanted to know the chemistry of altered states and the physics of energy flows and the cosmological explanations for things like precognition, remote viewing, and ESP. I tried reading books like Jung's SYNCHRONICITY and the McKenna brothers' INVISIBLE LANDSCAPES and followed neuroscience and psychology closely (at least as close as a layperson can).

But around the time my first son was born, and then extending out through raising him along with his two younger brothers, I came to the conclusion that understanding the science and math behind the power of the mind is a fool's game. For some folks, perhaps, it is necessary to get at what is really going on during, for instance, an explosive DMT encounter, or with someone who can communicate with the dead. But for me, the real power of the mind comes from the mysteries that it can behold...just simply behold.

Some people seek profound transformative connections with the cosmos (or God...or whatever). Some understand so much more than I ever will because they practice meditation regularly. Some folks seek that all elusive thing called Enlightenment. And, I dare say, mathematicians, physicists, and neuroscientists may one day chart the full scientific logic of every altered state and mind power we have cataloged. I wrote about that recently HERE.

For me, though, there is a real and astounding magic that can be discovered in so many different aspects of just living on the earth. It is clear to me that the power and magic of the mysteries of life is that they will never be understood adequately. Reason and faith both seem to miss the point.

Encountering the mystery of life not just in the ecstatic or profound moment but in the quiet moments and the hidden corners of my little world is often dumbfoundingly satisfying. As a fiction writer, artistically and poetically, my stories are always about some mystery -- whether a middle-aged man is wondering about his sanity or a woman is struggling with enjoying her sense of loneliness. Sometimes the question is bigger, like what are the implications of telepathy, or if the psychedelic experience is real, how is that related to the idea of a higher consciousness?

I'm intrigued most in life by the conundrum of romance. Related to that, I am fascinated with the strangeness of love that dies. I'm also amazed at how hard it is for people to get along and to be rational when it's so obvious that not getting along and being irrational makes life dangerous and stressful.

Writing about these things, letting my mind wander into regions that are hard to get at, playing with words to create fiction about human realities that we have no language to understand, somehow there is an aesthetic process that goes deeper than intelligence. Writing takes the author and the reader into a realm where both art and emotion have tremendous possibility.

The greatest mysteries, of course, are: the question of God; what happens when we die; and how is it this physical existence actually came to be? Those three mysteries can make you crazy if you try to be rational about them. Thankfully, they will always be impossible for science to grapple with. They should, in fact, make us all humble. Very, very humble. They should shine a light on how limited we really are (even those who are supposedly Enlightened!). But that's a good mystery too -- how is it that so few of us are humbled by such profound questions until it is too late?

It is oddly satisfying to be at peace with these big questions. It is also strange to realize that the power of the mind becomes virtually infinite when you stop groping for answers and just let the beauty of the puzzle of life be what it's supposed to be -- the mind at play, beholding the mysteries, and giving your love to the world.

[Written under the influence of an endless stream of songs by Beach House and Frou Frou]

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Indie Book Sites: Helping Readers and Writers

Photo Source: A Knife and a Quill homepage
In the past 10 days two online indie book websites have featured my novel, Beyond the Will of God. On Sunday, July 8, Indies Unlimited provided a Sneak Peak both at their website and on their FaceBook page. Today, A Knife and A Quill is featuring BWG. I am grateful to Kat Brooks at Indies Unlimited and Luis Vera of A Knife and A Quill for the quick work and turnaround time. 

When both of these features were run, I dutifully posted information to FaceBook, Google+, and Tweeted proudly. I write today because I've received a number of responses from people who were surprised at the information offered about Indie Work at these two sites. These responses made me realize that a lot of folks are still not clued in to the Indie options out there. and are two of several dozen quality information sites for readers and writers both.

I'm going to post a list of my favorites below, just so people know about 'em.

The Indie vista is becoming a bit cluttered these days if you check out Kindle Store, Smashwords, iBooks or any number of other amalgamated independent book sites. Special indie book websites are one way of getting direction about what is worth checking out and where the deals are (many of these sites have postings on "Free Books" that indie authors offer).

What's most clear to me these days is that the standard approach to book buying used to be a sort of passive "maybe I'll go to the bookstore on Saturday morning"approach to things. The new digital world of books, coupled with the demise of Borders and other big box stores, means that readers need to be a bit more active. You now have the option to say to yourself, "maybe I'll sit in my bathrobe with a second cup of coffee after reading the paper on Saturday morning and check out some books online." You may be sitting on your ass before taking a shower, but you're actually required to be more active than when you used to just saunter into Borders or Barnes & Noble letting their table and shelf displays catch your eye.

When you add the Indie concept into this equation, it gets even more complicated. That's what these independent book sites are all about. And that's why you want to know about them. You can spend $12.99 on a new bestseller, or you can spend $2.99 on a first novel by an independent author. In either case it's a crap shoot. Indie sites help with that ... and help you save money.

The other thing I want people to know about is book bloggers. If you're looking for great Indie and non-Indie e-books, there are now literally hundreds of "super readers" out there who run blogs reviewing the books that they've read. I'm going to save that info for another day. For now, check out the brief list below. If you want more, I'm sure by now you know how to use Google. 

More in few days on book bloggers and other review platforms. Remember, too, there are probably two or three dozen undiscovered Fifty Shades of Grey out there. You just need to find 'em.

And, for what it's worth, remember that Beyond the Will of God is waiting for you to buy it and read it. You can get it as a paperback or as a Kindle e-book.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Small Molecules in Chemical Space: we don't know the half of it...
Growing up in the 1960s, I watched my mother take handfuls of Thorazine, phenobarbital, and God knows what else, every morning after her first cup of coffee. She'd already been through electro-shock treatment and spent time in psychiatric facilities. Later in life they got her on the old psycho-salt diet treating her mental illness with lithium. The funny thing here is that near her death several years ago we talked about how they'd never diagnosed what was wrong with her definitively. Was she schizophrenic? Bi-Polar? Manic? Dissociative? Something else? She said sometimes it seemed like the drugs were what caused her illness after her first breakdown in the early '60s.

The medicines my mom took kept her functional more or less for most of her adult life. She was once a brilliant sociologist with feisty political energy and a penchant for picking fights with people about women's rights and taking care of the poor. By the time she was in her late 60s, though, the drugs she'd been taking pretty much destroyed her ability to interact with others. She spent the last decade of her life shut in a studio apartment in Section 8 housing watching NBC television shows and smoking three packs of cigarettes a day.

I wish there'd been a better way. I wish the pharmacological world of the near future could have been there for her in the early 1960s when the shit hit the fan in her world. She was a great and funny woman. But she had to deal with psychological and emotional imbalances that at times were devastating and other times just stultifying and limiting.

We now have the ability to move with purpose on so many fronts of the human mind. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allows neuroscientists and psychologists to map the human mind by tracking blood oxygen flows in the brain. Developments continue in this field allowing scientists to refine imaging in both time and space so that they can understand how the brain reacts to various drugs -- both current and experimental.

In essence, as fMRI technology progresses, it appears that we have for the first time in history diagnostic and research tools that allow scientists to map the mind in all sorts of different states. In theory, as technology continues to develop, this mapping capacity should refine to highly defined levels of both time and space.

As noted in a post earlier this week, research is already being done using fMRI as a tool to understand religious and psychedelic drug effects on the brain.

What's a novemdecillion?
David Jay Brown published an interesting report on advances in psycho-pharmaceutical drugs a few weeks ago that I found very encouraging. His article is called "Psychedelic Medicines of the Future," with the sub-title "more undiscovered drugs than stars in the sky." The link to this piece by Brown can be found at the end of this entry. As always, he provides important insights on the interface between science and mind.

Brown references a paper written by chemists for the American Chemical Society's (ACS) journal Chemical Neuroscience reporting that "scientists have synthesized barely one tenth of 1 percent of the potential drugs that could be made." The emphasis by the authors of the paper is on "small molecule" medicines that can essentially cross cell walls. These small molecules can now be engineered by advanced computer applications. Our ability to manipulate chemical structures is diving deeper and deeper into the microscopic world of chemistry and the combinatorial capacity to literally manufacture new molecules.

According to a press release from the ACS journal, the paper estimates that the actual number of these so-called “small molecules” could be "1 novemdecillion (that’s 1 with 60 zeroes), 1 million billion billion billion billion billion billion, which is more than some estimates of the number of stars in the universe." That's a very big number -- more than some estimates of the number of stars in the universe!

The paper's authors, Jean-Louis Reymond and Mahendra Awale, write in their abstract that “Small molecule drugs exert their action by binding to specific molecular constituents of the cell such as to modulate biochemical processes in a disease modifying manner. The magnitude and specificity of binding depends on the complementarity between the drug molecule and its target in terms of shape, polarity, and chemical functionality.” Small molecules aren't that new. They are, in fact, typical of most medicines. What's new, though, is the vista of opportunity. We like to think that science has a handle on pretty much everything (us non-scientists think this, anyway). However, a novemdecillion is kind of a big number. We have barely begun to scratch the surface.

When you couple the research advances that fMRI technologies offer with these future "small molecules," it's clear that psychologists and psychiatrists should now be thinking very big in solving the problem of mental illness. Perhaps they would have been able to use computerized imaging to clearly characterize my mother's illness, while a pharmaceutical company could have engineered the correct recipe to truly compensate for that illness.

Take this all one step further. As a culture we have an extreme prejudice against performance enhancing drugs in today's sports world. But over the next 50 years it's very likely chemists are going to invent nano-tech type amplifiers that increase, for example, auditory perception for musicians. Or, perhaps, we'll have special memory retention drugs for learning situations.

As Brown writes in his piece: "Perhaps even drugs that improve extrasensory perception, psychic abilities, or facilitate mystical experiences or spiritual transformations, could all be developed with more specificity and efficacy over time." Do we draw a line with this stuff? Do we put on our "old-school" blinders and say if it's not natural then it's not good? Curing cancer and mental illness are one thing, but what about turning up the notch of human potential? What if we could engineer ESP drugs or boost precognitive perception?

R&D, Baby!
All of these developments point to the need for increased investment in psycho-pharmaceutical research and development. New technologies and computer applications will certainly come out of the private sector. But public R&D is also going to be essential if we're really going to boost the potential of the human mind. Reymond and Awale point to a novemdecillion new drugs to deal with all human health. What portion of that new chemistry actually involves the domain of the mind is anyone's guess. After a century of emphasis by the medical establishment on keeping people alive, the benefits of more focus on the mind is all too obvious.

Just as scientists and psychologists need to have vision, it is time for the rest of us to have vision as well and to pay attention to the full potential of human beings. The implications are profound. If we shut ourselves off from this, if we limit our full understanding of the power of science to enhance the mind and the nervous system, don't we defeat the purpose of being human?

My biggest challenge growing up was watching my mom struggle. But the challenge wasn't just her struggle with mental illness, it was her inability to envision getting better. It's understandable. In those days medical science was all about telling her she had to cope with her illness, that it was inevitable. But they couldn't even really tell her what her illness was.

Things are changing now. We've cracked DNA codes, we understand the Genome. We're learning how to chart the mind, and we can synthesize drugs and chemicals like never before. It's no longer about coping, it seems to me. It's about using our creativity, and thinking into the future -- envisioning and evolving out of our limits. If only they had a drug for that kind of thinking! I don't think I need it, but without doubt there's some folks in Washington who do.


My thanks to David Jay Brown for inspring this commentary piece. His Catch the Buzz article, "Psychedelic Medicines of the Future," may be found HERE. Follow the links in his article for original source material from the Chemical Neuroscience paper. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A New Lift: Re-Opening the Investigation of Consciousness

Can you feel it? There's some lift going on again. The doors are open. So are the windows. And we're starting to move. We're not flying yet, but we're certainly not tethered to asphalt anymore, either.

The potential of the human mind is now a big deal again, and it's getting to be a bigger and bigger deal if you're paying attention. That lift you should have noticed by now is a surge in rising awareness about the powers of the human mind. I find it interesting that my novel, Beyond the Will of God, so much about the validity and mystery of these powers, was ready for publication in 2000 but didn't make it to the light of day until this summer...makes total sense, though. Twelve years ago few people wouldn't have gotten it at all.

Let me explain as briefly as I can. A whole bunch of stuff is coalescing out there causing this lift.

First, over the past several decades diagnostic tools for mapping the chemistry of the human mind have advanced dramatically. Something called "functional magnetic resonance imaging"(fMRI) basically gives neuroscientists the ability to track blood flow on a fairly detailed level in the human brain and spinal column. And other computer-based diagnostic tools are on the horizon as well.

These tools mean scientists are now able to see how the brain reacts to anything from reading a book, to laughing at a joke, saying something nice to someone, meditating, or taking any number of psychoactive drugs. Two of the more "famous" neuroscientists to report back on their research are Andrew Newberg and David Eagleman. These guys, and so many more, are looking at what happens to the brain during meditation, near death experiences, religious ecstasy, psychedelic excursions, and memory and perception events. 

This isn't just science in a bubble or test tube. Neuroscientists and psychologists are now able for the first time to get a read on thoughts and emotions. There are people attempting to connect minds to computer graphics programs that can draw images from dreams and visions. If you pay attention to the details of newspaper accounts and magazine stories about the mind you will bump into fMRI research more and more. Scientists don't know what a lot of the mapping means yet, but they've only just begun to get a real handle on consciousness. 

The world of mind altering drugs, then, is partly being opened up by fMRI research. At the same time, over the past decade or so the "moratorium" on study and clinical use of psychedelic compounds has finally been lifted. While most Americans were "re-educated" about the question of psychedelic drugs beginning in the late 1960s, prior to that the psychiatric and psychology community did ground-breaking research on how to use these drugs to treat everything from mental illness and alcoholism to PTSD and other forms of psychological trauma. 

As David Jay Brown reports in "LSD & ESP: Scientists Study Psychic Phenomena and Psychedelic Drugs", LSD research is now back in a big way and it's providing scientists at quite prestigious universities with truly exciting discoveries about the open-ended powers of human consciousness. Brown has a new book coming out in the spring of 2013 called The New Science of Psychedelics. That will create more lift for sure.

Perhaps the biggest and most profound cultural awakening of the past decade, though, is in the expansion of interest -- for scientists, artists, and knowledgable citizens alike -- in dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Long considered one of the ultimate mind altering substances, smoking DMT creates what apparently amounts to a 15-minute interplanetary adventure that usually changes peoples' lives forever. Check this out if you think I'm full of shit.

You may have heard of ayahuasca ceremonies in South America. Ayahuasca is a plant-based infusion that was ceremonially consumed by some South American tribes for thousands of years. Since the mid-20th century when people like William Burroughs and, later, Terence McKenna sought out these tribes, there has been a steady growth in interest in these ceremonies. Competing "tour" groups now make it possible for anyone to experience this deep altered state.

The DMT experience is said to be profound. One of the important things about this new lift I'm talking about is that, for the most part, participants and practitioners are not being so reckless and recreational in their approach to transforming their minds. Most people recognize that psychedelics were never about "getting fucked up." Back in the '60s and '70s we were rather stupid and innocent at the same time. We understood what we were dealing with, but we still made huge mistakes -- mostly because this stuff went underground and became part of a rebellious counterculture.

I did my mental adventures partly as a way to separate myself from everyone I knew in high school, but also because I knew there was something I needed to figure out. There was no supervision. No understanding of the idea of the right time and place. My friends and I were on our own. I wish we'd had even just a small amount of guidance. I might not have rolled up to the edge of insanity for five years...(that's another story altogether).

Perhaps the most interesting cultural artifact out there right now that is openly talking about the possibilities of DMT, and psychedelic experience in general, is the dual book and documentary film, DMT: The Spirit Molecule. The book, with the subtitle "A Doctor's Revolutionary Research Into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences" was written by Dr. Richard Strassman. It is a detailed account of DMT research he performed on 400 subjects from 1990 to 1995. The film, inspired by the book and directed by Mitch Schultz, was released in 2010. I purchased it for my iPad. It's rather amazing and well worth the investment. As I understand it, Mr. Schultz is touring the country on invitation presenting his film and discussing the implications of DMT here in the 21st Century. The book and movie combined are probably the biggest source of lift out there right now.

The implications of this lift I'm talking about are pretty incredible. They will be the topic of conversation at a conference called Psychedemia for four days in Philadelphia this fall (September 27 -30) at the University of Pennsylvania.

But this is a meeting of the minds that is only the latest element of lift going on. For the past decade research has quietly been implemented seeking to understand the relationship between religious/spiritual consciousness and psychedelic consciousness. There are quite interesting parallels. In addition, psilocybin (an active ingredient in "magic mushrooms") has been used to treat anxiety and depression for terminally ill people. Read here and here to find out what this is all about. It's pretty important.

A lot of us (I'm 54) are getting close to the end of our biological potency. You can't stay on earth if you aren't biologically potent. It's not practical. Are you scared of dying? Are you, maybe -- even if you think you're religious and spiritual -- just a little bit concerned about the end of things?

It's truly criminal that we abandoned research into this area back in the early 1970s. It's also sad that our culture got so confused by the potential of mind expansion. There were "forces" at work, of course. We all know that. But the truth is that somehow mind experimentation got linked to intoxication problems. We lost about 40 years of time. But its not too late. The human race has at least another thousand years before it starts to wipe itself out (my rough estimate). There's still time to make me wrong.

So pay attention to this lift I'm talking about. It's real. We're all in this together. This really ain't no hippie thing. It never was. It's just that the hippies were the only ones really hip back in the good old days.

Now we're all hip. Trust me. I've been watching. We all have creative intelligence and we're all connected now (although I'm the only person in my family who doesn't have an iPhone). I wrote Beyond the Will of God as a piece of fiction -- a mystery, if you will. But I also knew the whole time I was concocting my weird little story that I was creating an allegory and using the mythology of that amazing time that began about 50 years ago to help open the doors and windows again...and to make a small contribution to lightening the load of being alive in a seemingly mundane world.

Now we got lift! It's very real, and very soon it's going to become a movement (or at least a trend). Just watch. Pay attention. Don't hang up. Just breathe. We're all here, together, now. There's no telling how far we're going, but we're going.

What is it Jimi Hendrix advised? "Just float your little mind around...". He knew a thing or two about lift. So do you I bet.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A Free Sample Short Story from IMPLOSIONS OF AMERICA

Uph! Ya' missed it. The story, "So Beautiful," self-destructed at 10:37 PM, July 9, 2012. 

You can find "So Beautiful" again in the story collection Implosions of America, due out in September and available in both Kindle and paperback editions. Check back here for another free story next month. 

Don't forget to buy the Kindle edition of my novel Beyond the Will of God. It's still a steal at only $2.99. Just go to the top of the page and click on the cover of the book. Check out Trying to Care as well, and my short singles, too. 

Friday, July 06, 2012

Indies Unlimited Sneak Peak: July 8

Indies Unlimited is a great resource for independent authors and their readers. They post loads of information on quality books available at reasonable prices online. They also run a fabulous FaceBook page you should check out here:

At around 5:00 on Sunday evening, July 8, they will be posting one of their Sneak Peak specials on Beyond the Will of God. You can take a peak and then use their store to buy my novel through Kindle. Or, you can buy the book right now.

A little more news here as well. I've been hard at work setting up a paperback version of the book. If you've been following this blog at all over the past few weeks, you know that this is one of the basic rules for Indie Writers that I've discovered (Lesson #9). Kindle books are a great buy at under $9.99 (BWG is a steal right now at $2.99). But half the readers out there are still just not interested in making the investment in an e-reader -- or they have issues with reading on a screen.

Cover for the paperback
So, I just finished up a second round of proofs and am waiting for the next set of gallies to be sent to me. I feel confident the corrections I spent all day making will merit a finished product by the end of next week. That means you will be able to buy a paperback version of Beyond the Will of God before the end of July.

That's all good news, I hope. Now the medicinal news. Writers have to work with Amazon and Create Space on pricing. Ultimately, they give you your say on things, but they have to cover the cost of manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. They have a pretty hardcore equation for print-on-demand publishing and because they sell to a huge number of outlets, the equation has to take all costs into account. I looked at the best pricing given their equation. The price I have come up with is fairly competitive. And you need to remember you can still get the e-book for $2.99. The comparative paperback price will be $15.99 (plus shipping, of course). It's comparable to pretty much anything you'd buy at Barnes & Noble or your local bookstore. If you have strong opinions about this, please let me know. 

In the meantime, check out Indies Unlimited after 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Now's the time to buy the book electronically. It's really intended to be crazy summer reading. 

See you in the funny papers. 


Thursday, July 05, 2012

Independence Day with Global Illage: Improvisational Music and Freedom for availability
We had the opportunity last night, Independence Day Night, to attend an album release party for the new Global Illage album "The Complete Portland Sessions." I've written about this mind blowing quartet previously. They're all about improvisational music and, truthfully, I think they're channeling the 22nd Century pretty forcefully. Global Illage is Chris Cuzme on reeds and bass; Dan Sears, trumpet and keyboards; Jim Hamilton, percussion; and Tim Motzer playing guitar and electronics (like a winged angelic mad professor blend of Frank Zappa and Pat Metheny). Their music grooves, flies, digs, screams, settles, electrifies, and calls forth the spirits of so many of our greatest musical geniuses of the past 100+ years.

I asked a couple other people at the concert last night what we would call this stuff. Our final pick was global acid jazz fusion beat. Each musician brings his distinct musical intelligence to the mix. And each musician is a world-class performer who could probably sit in with anyone from Yo-Yo Ma to Taylor Swift.
I did a lot of chuckling last night. Most people hadn't heard a lot of the work these four wizards were spinning for us. I had. My friend Jim Hamilton, the band's percussionist extraordinaire, gave me an advance demo of the album about a month ago and I've had it cranked every morning since while I do layout and editing of the paperback version of my novel Beyond the Will of God. I was chuckling because while I heard pieces of the tunes from their album, they were taking us off on insanely fascinating uncharted musical adventures in each of the maybe 10 compositions they performed over a 2 1/2 hour trip. 

It was Independence Day and most of the country was jostling for parking space and a piece of ground to watch fireworks. We were in Jim's backyard with 40-50 other likeminded jam lovers watching four cats groove as independent musical thinkers in a totally American far out way. [Note: Philly has the blessing of The Roots as our 4th of July houseband down on the Parkway before fireworks, so that's a pretty descent improvisational crew sending out their own vibe for the half million who show up there, too]. In fact, we weren't just watching guys jam like few others can jam, we had the added visual treat of a digital light show by Dejha Ti and Eric Silverson flashing and swarming the colonial era barn behind the band.

Near the end of the concert last night I was struck quite cleanly between the eyes by the revelation that the creative improvisational act has to be one of the most powerful altered states available to us as humans. I chuckled at that as the Ill boys were winding down their last number. We were standing in a dense urban neighborhood in the city where liberty was born watching astounding musicians demonstrate the magic and height of freedom. 

Thanks Tim, Jim, Dan and Chris. You guys are the best. Miles and Trane would be proud.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

R.I.P. Andy Griffith: You Did Something Very Special

I grew up watching the Andy Griffith Show several times a week. It ran from 1960 to 1968. We watched it when it was a prime time show and we watched it more once it became syndicated -- probably from 1968 through 1980 three or four times a week in one way or another. Andy Griffith is deep inside my head. News today that he has died gave me a long pause and then a shiver. Without Andy, I don't think I would have become the man I have become. Let me explain.

The parents of baby boomers have been called the greatest generation. I don't want to debate that here, but I do want to say that while the fathers of the Greatest Generation had to face the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the insanity of the Cold War, and a host of major civil rights issues, as a group they didn't do a very good job being fathers. Many of them were emotionally distant, unyieldingly judgmental, and workaholics. Far too many of them also destroyed their families with booze, early death, or affairs with younger women. They were good men, but they were confused -- or maybe it's better to say they just didn't know any better. Their fathers (our grandfathers) had also been troubled men. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, one of the Greatest Generation, "So it goes."

My generation of men, however, is the first generation that has had the benefit of self-actualized moms. We watched them become empowered in the 1970s (and deal with their husbands leaving them). And we also watched Andy. He presented a profound mix of manliness, intelligence, gentle humor, and -- most importantly -- a fearlessness when it came to empathy and emotional connection with everyone. As Sherif Andy Taylor, Griffith showed his son Opie (has there ever been a more lovable and innocent kid on the screen?) so much affection and love without ever giving up an inch of his masculinity. Even today it's a marvel to watch Andy Griffith play that special character. He was the paw we all wanted. He was the dad we all knew we needed to become. And, I think, he was also the father that our own fathers wanted to be...but just had a hard time becoming. 

Griffith's character didn't just stop in his relationship to Opie. His best friend (cousin?) Barney Fife (played by the staggeringly hilarious Don Knotts) was a wimp and, essentially, an idiot. Besides getting himself into trouble, he was often a magnet for bullies and tough guys. Andy stepped in and pretty much always showed how you deal with that kind of jerk. Andy also demonstrated how to love and support other men who might not be as strong or confident -- men who chatter like fools and act like idiots, but are good-natured and sweet nonetheless. His friendship with Barney was a pretty good template for all of us to follow.

Andy was, in fact, beloved by the whole town of Mayberry. He showed us how to be a compassionate leader without upsetting others who didn't know any better. And the way he dealt with women -- widower that he was -- may well have ushered in the women's movement a good decade before it would have come otherwise. Here was a man full of love, honesty, and integrity who respected the women of Mayberry almost to a fault. Here was the good soul that was hidden inside all the Boomer dads of America that women knew might step up if only their men weren't so selfish and emotionally protective. 

The picture I paint here of our fathers is perhaps harsh. Things are never so black and white. There were certainly men in the 1960s -- fathers -- who knew how to show love and connect with their families. In some ways, I suppose, most men tried as hard as they could. I know my dad did. Maybe all Andy Griffith offered was the channeling of that desire most men had to be the perfect man, the perfect father. 

In the end, though, the generation of boys who grew up watching him be Andy Taylor were the ones who benefited the most. So many of my friends are now profoundly amazing dads, knowing how to show love and how to accept it. We, of course, have our own problems. But we each have Andy inside of us -- even if we don't know it -- giving us permission to show compassion and empathy to our children, our wives, co-workers, and neighbors. We aren't afraid to show emotion. We hug long and hard. And we even know how to talk about our feelings...sort of. Heck, even John Boehner isn't afraid to cry in public. 

So, the loss of Andy Griffith should give all of my generation pause. There was no greater scene in our lives than the one that started and ended that show (as I remember it). Andy and Opie headin' off to a fishin' hole. Just the two of them, trundling like magpies through the woods. That was a scene I got to live (along with my brother) several times in my youth with my own dad. It didn't happen enough, but it did happen. It never occurred to me until today that I got to watch it on TV five times a week for most of my early life and that in one way or another I've now lived out that scene with my own sons hundreds if not thousands of times in one way or another. 

Rest in peace Andy of Mayberry. You were an American treasure, and you shaped this country like few other actors ever have. You may be gone, but your Mayberry Soul is deep inside so many of us. It's what gives me hope for America here in the 21st century.