“Live” doesn’t lie.

Not much of a Newsflash:  Making true fans doesn’t have to involve the internet.

I was at a show last night here in Belfast, where the lights were low, the atmosphere was appreciative, the audience was attentive, the beer was good and the musicians were excellent. It’s rare when all of these things combine in a live show, especially one where the bill is entirely local.

Farriers were one of the bands who played – they often play as a 5-piece and their alt-folk, good time-y stomp is something I’ve been a fan of for a while.  Tonight it was just Rachel & Stephen though – guitars and voices.  

I’ve had the good fortune to hear Farriers’ soon-to-be-released debut album and it is great.  But there was a point last night where Stephen decided to step out from behind the microphone and deliver one of the tunes un-amplified, the title track to the album “Years Ago In Our Backyard”.

It was a wonderful moment – a great song, well played, well sung and real.  It elicited the kind of feeling I’m always seeking when I listen to music – a feeling of being grounded, authentic, present yet at the same time shaken, unsure.  It’s a nice paradox.

But what is most interesting is what that moment is doing to me today.  24 hours later I’m still thinking about how I felt during that song – how that song and that performance made me feel.  And it is such a good feeling, I’m thinking about how to feel that way again.  The closest thing I can think of is listening to the record, and that’s what I fully intend to do – repeatedly – when I get home.

And that made me think of a lot of the other records that’ve become staples for me – all of the other records (YFIIP by Broken Social Scene, for example, or Radiohead’s KidA) I’ve been eager to share with my friends, records I’ve listened to so much that I physically can’t listen to them any more.  And they all, at some point or another, involved an experience like the one I had last night.  The records were always good, but there was a moment in the artist’s live show that solidified their greatness in my ears.  

In other words, I became a true fan.  Which means I will give them all my moneys.

Among all the other ways people talk about nowadays to make true fans – amazing records, email campaigns,  “social media strategies” (boke), interesting direct to fan hoo-haas – live doesn’t lie.  If you can somehow get them to your show and completely blow peoples minds like Farriers did last night, I think you’re onto something.

Keep an eye on www.farriers.bandcamp.com for details on the imminent release of “Years Ago In Our Backyard”




“Live” doesn’t lie.

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Yesterday I finished reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.  There were just some passages from the last chapter of the book I wanted to note for myself, but in the context of the last post “It is not far from here and it is not a pleasant spot“, there were some quite surprising and conincidentally relevant lines that relate directly to the thoughts I was trying to get across in the post last week.  So, if you’ll excuse the liberal lifting of lines, I’m going to quote some passages from the last chapter – 

“The tribal ceremonies of birth, initiation, marriage, burial, installation , and so forth, serve to translate the individual’s life-crises and life-deeds into classic, impersonal forms.  They disclose him to himself, not as this personality or that, but as the warrior, the bride, the widow, the priest, the chieftain; at the same time rehearsing for the rest of the community the old lesson of the archetypal stages” ~ p383

“The social unit (today) is not a carrier of religious content, but an economic-political organization.  Its ideals are not those of the heriatic pantomime, making visible on earth the forms of heaven, but of the secular state, in hard and unremitting competition for material supremecy and resources….within these societies every last vestige of the ancient human heritage of ritual, morality and art is in full decay” ~ p388

“the problem is nothing if not rendering the modern world spiritually significant – or rather (phrasing the same principle the other way round) – nothing if not that of making it possible for men and women to come to full human maturity through the conditions of contemporary life” ~p389

“the functioning world requires, through every detail and act of secular life, that the vitalizing image of the universal god-man who is actually emmanent and effective in all of us may be somehow made known to the conciousness …. and this is not a work that conciousness itself can achieve. Conciousness can no more invent an effective symbol than control tonight’s dream.  The whole thing is being worked out on another level, through what is bound to be a long and very frightening process…for every living psyche in the modern world.” ~p389

“The worlds of the tribal hunter/gatherer, where the life cycles of the animal and those of the life rituals of planting and reaping were identified with those of human pro-creation, birth and progress to maturity, were eventually brought under society’s control.  Whereupon the great field of instructive wonder shifted – to the skies – and mankind enacted the great pantomime of the sacred moon-king, the sacred sun-king, the heriatic planetary state and the symbolic festivals of the world-regulating spheres… Today all of these mysteries have lost their force – the notion of cosmic law has long passed through preliminary mystical stages and is now simply accepted as a matter of course.  The descent of these sciences from the heavens (from 17th C astronomy to 19th C biology to 20th C anthropology and psychology), mark the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder … man himself is now the crucial mystery.” ~p390

“The modern hero … who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot – indeed, must not – wait for the community.  So every one of us shares the supreme ordeal – carries the cross of the redeemer – not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair” ~p391


The Hero With A Thousand Faces

“It is not far from here, and it is not a pleasant spot…”

There’s a metaphor that’s stuck with me from Beowulf – that of the “pool of bubbling blood filled with writhing sea monsters” that was the gateway to the monster Grendel’s lair – a place so fearsome that “even the hunted stag had chosen to die on the shore rather than dive down into the murky waters”. 

The lake is a metaphor for the darkest parts of my psyche – from the person who makes the insensitive remark at dinner to the guy who’s capable of breaking someone’s heart, and everything in between.  And as I’d mentioned before, the act of my accepting the parts of myself which are reprehensible to me, to fully engaging with them and giving them the status they deserve, I see as an essential part of creating the kind of life I want to lead.

This process of self-discovery, the dive into the murky waters, got me thinking about pre-literate societies – about how these groups dealt with the darkness in each individual – and how they dealt with the destructive effects of just being alive, the random acts of barbarity delivered by the world without reason or question.  The ability to deal with these things internally, emotionally, in a way that actually benefits you and benefits your life is a skill that we’re all required to learn but one we’re given very little guidance on.   These elder systems provided that guidance.

In these tribal societies the creation of a self-sustaining emotional collective was paramount.  The idea of people pulling together, community helping community, is an extension of this kind of thinking – that the destruction of the world can be mitigated on some level by collective response to emotional disasters.  Part of the reason for the creation of ritual, of symbol, of mythology and ultimately of religion was based on a premise of allowing groups of people to create self-sustaining emotional collectives that could ultimately perform better than other species.  The ability to emotionally self-manage is ultimately an evolutionary advantage.

The point of these systems was to allow individuals to understand the greater meaning in events, to help process their own darkness and the darkness of the world so they could remain functional within society and ultimately follow whatever destiny was of benefit to the community. Among other functions, these systems mitigated lonliness, feelings of individual persecution and gave some kind of structure to the chaos of the world.  With my generation of humans being one of the first since the middle ages to be without any real structure of organized collective emotional management – neither tribes nor organized religion – what tools do we have to face the world on our own?

Take into account the fact that this process seems to be actually speeding up with each passing year, what are we as individuals, set adrift from traditional collective systems of emotional understanding, actually doing to fill the void, to learn how to emotionally self-manage on an individual basis?  In other words, what are we doing to become better self-sustaining emotional organisms? 

From my point of view, there seems to be a very head-in-the-sand “everything’s fine” approach to this massive shift among my peers, and I think it’s because there’s such a massive, blank canvas in front of us that it’s tough to know where to even start, or if to start at all.  But start we must:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.


In the middle of the road of my life
I awoke in the dark wood 
where the true way was wholly lost

(Dante’s The Divine Comedy)

This moment is coming for all of us, if it has not already arrived.  Thankfully, part of the answer to this challenge can be found in the text that preceeds this tercet – it’s a damn good book.  As Joseph Campbell said “Artists are magical helpers. Evoking symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves, they can help us along the journey of our own lives.”  Yeats packed his poetry in this same  “ancient salt” for very good reason.

To me the closest and most easily accessible approximation of the ancient shamanistic tradition, that of the use of symbols, metaphor and collective experience is art.  Music’s the form I most clearly understand but storytelling, creative expression and experience in any form is what we have left collectively – as a species – and it’s something we can access now, thank goodness, individually.

I suppose the point of this whole post is this:  it seems peoples obsession with art/expression/storytelling etc, it’s creation and consumption, should be increasing in direct proporation to the speed with which we’re moving away from the elder systems which were once so vital to our evolution and survival.  It doesn’t seem that it is. 

Again, why is that?  I suppose another reason is because it’s not easy, and it’s bloody terrifying.  The tools of art, of understanding, assimilation and expression of yourself are the tools that will guide you through that dark wood, through the depths of the pool that faced Beowulf. 

But what’s down there, what you’re facing, is your very own version of the monster.  And these days for many of us, there’s no collective, no community, no tribe who can help arm us to defeat her.

Is it any wonder we’re reluctant to dive?

“It is not far from here, and it is not a pleasant spot…”