The First Rule of Fight Club - the musician and the initiatory process
This article was originally published on December 13 2020
"Beyond a certain point, the whole universe becomes a continuous process of initiation"
- Robert Anton Wilson
"A true initiation never ends." - Bob
For a short time, I was in a band called GHAZM. It was a band that innovated a form of music never before heard by human beings. We recklessly stacked innovation upon innovation with little regard for anything but some unnamed, frantic pursuit. We made use of a staggeringly wide range of musical references: from archaic forms (throat singing) to high tech (computers) and very many in-between. We embraced the potential afforded to us by technology and bucked standard song length. Songs ended when they ended. Six minutes, twelve, twenty, whatever. Genre was not a perimeter but just another materia. We simply were too absorbed in the act of creating to think about what we were "supposed" to do. It was a whirlwind three years that resulted in an EP, a full-length album, and a launch of said album. We had a third album 75% written. I believed GHAZM was a sacred endeavor and I still do. Rough-hewn and dirt-stained though it was, we made magic. I was fully committed, dedicating much of my time, finances (scant though they were), and all of my spirit. Slowing down was not in my vocabulary.
And then it ended.
I had to ask my wife to jog my memory about how I felt when GHAZM died. I discovered repressed feelings of betrayal. That such a rare thing would end for lack of motivation (not mine). It's just wrong somehow. For some time after the band's dissolution, I held out hope that I could complete the third album on my own. Perhaps by using the raw files from the Nintendo DS (one of the instruments was Korg software run on DS). With these files and the use of hired talent, it would be possible to reverse engineer the songs from the rough recordings of jam sessions. Though daunting the task appealed to me. I had a vision of marrying GHAZM's already impossible form of music to Gospel (I had budgeted the hiring of a Baptist Choir) and five-part vocal harmony (Beach Boys style) and other such disparate unions. But the files never came. GHAZM never did "find an audience" as so many had promised would happen. The songs would remain unfinished as all lives do.
The classic image on the tarot card called "The Tower" is that of a building struck by lightning. It is an image that resonates with my experience of losing GHAZM. The top of the building - its crown - is thrown off by violent force. So are the building's dwellers. One interpretation of this card is that of the sudden loss of structure. My first instinct when GHAZM ended was to continue pursuing it or something like it. I was avoiding transformation, failing my initiation. My next idea was to go solo and reinvent the songs of my Acadian ancestors. But again I was scheming, tactically positioning myself to find an audience, trying to build a career. The transformation had to happen at a fundamental level. I was faced with impossible questions: Why make music at all? What is the point? What is the Meaning of Music? It was the immensity of these questions that sparked the idea to write. So I put my gear in storage and got to work on a book. There would be no planning, no strategizing, no marketing, no search for an audience. I would attempt to answer the big questions. More importantly, I would shut up about it. Even if I knew shutting up was something I would fail at. I would at least go into this with a new spirit.
"Write what you know". This common soundbite isn't advice for how to choose a topic but advice to only say things you know. It's a call to honesty. I threw myself in by starting with interviews. I gathered several names. Some names one might consider famous. After the first interview, I realized that I didn't know what I was doing. It was stupid to interview people aimlessly. I completely dropped the interview thing. Research became my focus. If I was to write, I had to know. I realized that to answer the question: "what is the meaning of music?" I had to learn what meaning is. The scope of my book had become infinite. At one point I came across a piece of writing advice that states a writer should know ten times more than what he writes. Math has never been my strength but I feel as if ten times more than infinite is like... a lot. When the tower gets destroyed all that is left is the bottom that the structure is built on. That's where I am; rebuilding from the bottom.
When I meet musicians they ask me what kind of music I make. I answer that I am writing a book about music. They ask me what the book is about. I can't answer that very well. Everything is about everything. I am at the bottom with nothing but the faint indications of a foundation. Something about shamanism, healing, unifying opposites, building bridges, calling the soul home, initiation. That sort of thing.
Initiation is the tearing apart of a whole. Recently my gear was stolen. I was ripped from the extension of me that makes music. Healing is the bringing back together of the parts into a transformed whole. I know that buying new gear is not becoming of the initiatory process. I have to go to the bottom and embrace transformation. I see now that my relationship to music all these years has been ill in some way. The shaman sings to Soul. The Shaman sings to heal. That's all. There's no "innovation", no genres, no gear. The shaman's audience is not findable through marketing and merch. His audience is in a domain outside of here.
I did finally find a new way of engaging the miracle of music. This time though, I will shut up about it.