Staying Sane in the Music Business (Part 3)
Updated: Jan 17, 2022
In Part 1 of this blog series, I told the story of how a "moment of clarity" deflected me from a philosophy career into a career as a guitar player. I said,
I tell you all this because it is my training in philosophy, logic and analytical thinking that has helped me to stay sane as a musician...Life is funny that way - things that I thought were dead ends and wasted time turn out to be an integral part of what I do today, contributing in ways completely unforeseen back when I thought I was giving them up.
In Part 2 I talked about some moral dilemmas that are very common in the music business, and how my ethics have been defined and supported in part by my training in philosophy, which has enabled me to think analytically, define the issues, accept the reality, enact the best solution and compartmentalize &/or deal with the emotional fallout.
At the end of the blog I raised a possible argument against my reasoning;
...some might view my reasoning up to this point to be merely rationalizing an untenable situation in order to live with it. Fair enough. The next blog will be devoted to another line of thought that might help;
Music can transcend what it is being used for!
In a previous blog, How I Sabotage My Music Career - And Why, I wrote,
"I've had people tell me they used to come see me play at such-and-such a venue and that going there and listening to me really helped them through a rough patch of their life...That was reciprocated at a time when I needed help. And that experience taught me that I never know when, how or why I'm going to effect somebody's life in a major way. So I just keep doing what I do, whether there's immediate reward or not."
Aristotle, in his book, Politics, said, "Music has the power of producing a certain effect on the moral character of the soul..."
“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” - Confucius, Book of Rites.
Music feeds the soul. I could greatly expand on this (but I won't); suffice to say that, over the years, people have received surprising kinds of help and encouragement and have been touched by my guitar playing in significant ways in all kinds of situations and environments that were - to put it mildly - considerably less than stellar. Music can transcend environment. I've had people tell me I changed their life - I had no idea; I was just playing another gig in a bar.
Also, we must not ignore how music and playing the guitar have been therapeutic in my own life. The musician is fed by music as much or more so than the listener. I could write another blog on that subject - maybe later.
In 2007 I suffered an injury that laid me up for a month. I had no savings or source for income to pay bills and living expenses. When word got out, the outpouring of love, money and food from people I didn't know or barely knew was overwhelming. Many were fans; they were some of those many people out there in the crowd at the local club, casino or event. My playing had touched them on some level and they responded. Here's the bottom line from "An Open Letter":
"In all the many years that I have been doing this, I never lost the conviction that this is what I'm supposed to do. However, there were times that I have been discouraged, I have been burned out, I have been complacent, I have taken what little success I've had for granted. But no more. Through what has happened in the last month I have rediscovered the knowledge that we affect people in many, many ways we don't realize. People that I don't even know feel compelled to send me money and food to help me out in a time of need. It's amazing and humbling. How did this happen? It happened because I've remained faithful to my calling-in-life and just kept playing the guitar, no matter what."
"To my musician compadres: remember; we affect people in ways we have no clue about. This is true of everyone, but especially true of people like us. We speak a language that is very difficult to define or understand, but it affects people deeply. Remember that the next time you have a bad gig, or have to deal with an asshole club owner, or the next time an irritating drunk pesters you to play some bullshit song you hate. Remember those many, many, many people you have touched and enriched that you know nothing about. Don't give up."
Mircea Eliade (back to philosophy again) in his book, Patterns in Comparative Religion, posits that modern, western man has dichotomized what he calls "Sacred Time" and "Profane Time."
Very simplistically speaking; In this dichotomy, Profane Time is the daily, mundane, normal work-a-day world. It has no significance or meaning, it just is. Sacred Time is where man transcends that world through religious rituals or "spiritual" experiences - prayer, meditation, sudden flashes of revelation, being awe-struck by a scenic vista, contemplating a work of art...or...being overcome by music, thus infusing Profane Time with significance and meaning.
In what Eliade calls, "traditional man" - or what we might call, "primitive man," this dichotomy is much less acute and possibly doesn't exist at all. Behind the diverse cultural forms of different religions, Eliade proposes a universal: traditional man, he claims, "...always believes that there is an absolute reality, the sacred, which transcends this world but manifests itself in this world, thereby sanctifying it and making it real".
It is my opinion that this dichotomy that Eliade describes has its roots - in western thought at least - in Plato's dichotomy between the material world of appearances (corresponds to Profane Time) and the "World of Forms" (corresponds to Sacred Time).
Plato's most well-known exposition of this construct is his Allegory of the Cave.
Plato's philosophy is antecedent to the Gnostics of the first and second centuries who were Platonists and believed that all matter (Profane Time) is evil, and the non-material spirit-realm (Sacred Time) is good. Therefore, matter (Profane Time) is to be escaped and left behind - not appreciated, respected, fought for, redeemed or sanctified.
Platonism and Gnostic thought have been very influential in Christianity and in western culture in general. You probably have many Gnostic presuppositions without realizing it due to this influence.
Aristotle (who was Plato's student) diverged from Plato and taught that Plato's World of Forms did not exist as a separate, objective reality but that the "Form" of matter was inherent in matter itself. The result of this way of thinking is that matter is real and not an illusion.
Aristotle was not a scientist in the modern sense of the term but it was his philosophy that made the emergence of the western scientific method possible. Science is based on the axiomatic belief that the physical is real - matter matters.
As you can probably tell, I could go on and on about this, and the history of it; that's part of what's fascinating to me about philosophy, but I will stop the squirrel-chasing and return to applying this line of thought to guitar playing:
When I play a gig in a sleazy bar, casino, car dealership or some other distasteful environment and someone is touched, encouraged, inspired or simply just blown away by the music, what has happened is Sacred Time. The music has caused a redemption or conversion of Profane Time and has infused meaning, significance, joy and wonder into the normal, material world and the dichotomy between Sacred and Profane has been transcended.
This is all the more significant because of the environment. Matter matters.
If only for a moment, the car promotion or the drink sales are transcended and redeemed in the light of Sacred Time. The sleazy bar has become a Sacred Place - a temple - and the Sacred has touched those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
My ideal is to experience all time and place as Sacred, no matter what the circumstances might be, and to express that in my playing, no matter how debauched the environment and no matter how trite, simplistic or profane the music might be.
Sacred Time can use even Mustang Sally.
The tables are turned - Sacred Time is using Mustang Sally as a conduit instead of Mustang Sally being used to sell cars.
P.S. "Mustang Sally?!? Dude! You said philosophy has helped you stay SANE! LOL!"
"Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work" (Aristotle).
"There is no great genius without some touch of madness" (Aristotle).
"...wisdom is proved right by all her children" (Luke 7:35).
It is as I said; philosophy has indeed helped me stay sane.
I've always loved this picture because it symbolizes what I'm talking about. There is a very stark division of light and dark, and yet music - the guitar - crosses that boundary; it shines in the dark side. Literally. And metaphorically.
The next blog in this series will be about how my training in philosophy has contributed to my guitar teaching.
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