Michael Garfield's Love Without End Tour Newsletter: February 2008

14 February 2008

Exaptation Of The Guitar

In this essay, republished from my old visionary music blog at Zaadz.com, I explain how my study of evolutionary biology has influenced the way I play guitar, and how I understand the creative process in general. Share it with anyone interested in guitar, or evolution...it might be too much to hope that you know someone else who has a passion for both, but if you do, would you please introduce us?

Exaptation Of The Guitar

Pablo Picasso - The Guitar Player

In all the years I studied evolutionary biology in school, there was one word I can hardly believe I didn't learn. It figures so prominently into my understanding of the evolutionary process and creativity in general that I am amazed it isn't in the lexicon of every biology student (much less the whole human race, for we all are students - if not outright disciples - of biology, in one way or another). It so neatly rebuts some of the flawed interpretations of evolution that so fetter our culture's full appreciation of its beauty. And it also has a growing personal significance for me and the way I understand the whole kosmic creative affair - not just as it operates on the unfurling and ever-editing of genetic material.

I understand my own role as a musician and songwriter as it appears within the context of a unified and harmonic universe, as a gesture of the same omnipotent principles that express everything. As a spark of the bonfire of the Big Bang, I burn as the same flame that sings at every scale. So whenever I can get my head around a new biological concept, it shivers my entire grasp of what it means to be and do life and art. The word I wish I'd learned in college continues to yield to my contemplation, rewarding me with an ever-subtler appreciation of living as a human artist.

And like all really good words, it's the quickest way short of telepathy to communicate something truly tremendous, something that fought through the haze of the barely imaginable for years before it landed in our world with a faerie footstep. To me, a word is the faint reduction, the tiniest tip of a flaming angelic archetype, the tendrilous extension of its infinite body reaching into the limit of our low-resolution physical world. I love words for this reason: because each is one voice in the hill of voices on which we live our lives. Each word is the toeprint of something much larger and more foliate than we can even know from the perspective of a human brain.

For this reason, and because I do insist on my brain's perspective (most of the time), I am bemused and indignant for not having been given this word sooner; and so part of my motivation for writing about all of this is my desire to set things straight and spread the utility of an excellent construct. But it is also a concession to my idealism, to indulge for a moment in scandalous idolatry of this one facet of the divine. I am giving my proper respects, kissing the toes of whatever hermaphroditic gleaming angel squid, whatever slumber-stirred postmodern ishtadeva explodes fully-formed from the forehead of the word "exaptation."

In ths world, anyway, we owe the legendary paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Elizabeth Vrba for "exaptation," which premiered in their 1982 paper, "Exaptation - A Missing Term In The Science of Form." Before I can explore the impact of this beautiful and lucid term on my music, I have to savor its Latin etymology (or "the truth of the word"): "ex" as in "out of;" "apt" as in "fitted" (past participle of "apere," "to fasten"); and "ation" as an action or its consequences.

Exaptation is function following form, making do with the tools at hand, loving the one you're with. On one end of the spectrum, exaptation is defending yourself with that rock just within reach. On the other end, it is taking the infinite abundance of every superimposed possibility at the root of manifestation, and using it to forget yourself in a world of frustration and constraint. In both cases, the creative medium (the rock, or the pleroma) contains no set of instructions, no essential purpose. It is "good for" whatever it happens to be good for, determined by the tumbling lock of relationship we call natural selection.

Gould took serious issue (in a paper with Richard Lewontin, available here, and in the follow up here) with the rampant fondness of some other biologists for assigning purpose to the various characteristics of organisms. Even today, decades after Gould wrote so eloquently against it, we read textbooks making dubious claims that a giraffe's long neck is "for" reaching the high branches of trees and the enormous eye of a giant squid is "for" seeing in the ocean's darkest depths.

We do this in anthropology, too: any mysterious artifact is immediately declared a religious icon. (It's become kind of a joke among scholars.) And we can see this at work in our daily lives: we succeed or fail to "make the most" of our convoluted existences, according to what interpretations we inject into them after the fact. It's little wonder that we immediately assume the religious import of archeological anomalies, when we ourselves are total slaves to the religious impulse, filling every unexplored nook and cranny with the mortar of some stable answer.

Not that I condemn this. In fact, quite the opposite. I cherish this half of the dialectic, the post facto deciding of things, the naming and the poetry, the revelation of how to feed ourselves with our own hands and that moment of "Yes! This is what they do!" But I, like Gould, don't lightly suffer the persistent mistake of confusing this construction of meaning with the discovery of some fundamental, intrinsic, and specific use. A rock might make a great weapon, but if we were to be good statisticians, we would admit that on average it is mostly "for" just sitting there. That's what it does best. Same with the multiverse: how presumptuous is it of us to assume that making universes is the quantum vacuum's métier? Maybe it's only moonlighting.

Although I'm relieved to see that Berkeley's Integrative Biology Department is includes exaptation in their introductory tutorials, their website's definition still paints what seems to me to be a contorted distinction (apparently hailing all the way back to Gould and Vrba's coinage) between exaptation and adaptation. According to its (hardly) common use, an adaptation was "produced by natural selection for its current function," whereas an exaptation was "produced by natural selection for a function other than the one it currently performs and was then co-opted for its current function."

But, uh, doesn't this fall into the same pit trap the authors were trying to avoid? Beyond merely differentiating between the first and subsequent uses of a single form, this kind of wording still suggests that natural selection produced the trait (when in fact natural selection only operates on the creative input of variation), and that there are adaptations that are not exaptations.

Why does it seem so easy for us to understand exaptation in one context, but so difficult in another? If traits persist due to their successful functioning, and function is determined by the form's fit to its environment, then every adaptation is the marriage of two moments of creativity: making it, and then figuring out what to do with it.

Just because we have displaced the whole "x exists for f(x)" thinking back a step doesn't mean we have gotten rid of it. To say that the feather first evolved "for" insulation, only later to be exapted "for" flight, is just as much nonsense as claiming that we apply our brains and thumbs to ends that "God did not intend." Right...like He had any more idea what He was doing the first time! Whether it evolved in this generation or the millionth generation before it, every single novelty is born again in every moment without ultimate reason or utility. Even if the feather appears to be used for the same thing in fledge after fledge of birds, each bird rediscovers what to do with its body uniquely, originally, for the first time. Every adapation is a hypothesis, the projection of meaning onto whatever we're given. And so, mathematically speaking, exaptation and adaptation are sets that contain each other.

So how do I exapt exaptation to inform my creative process? What does this boon from biology mean for music?

Pat Metheny playing the "Pikasso Guitar"

It means that every creative act includes a moment of decision, a deliberate projection of function and meaning onto the artist's environment. And this is what blows my mind the most about exaptation: When I pick up my guitar and play, I'm agreeing that this is an instrument, that this is a guitar, that I play the guitar, and that I play the guitar in some specific way. That this is what it's "for."

But there are an infinite number of ways for the universe to express itself through the functional relationship between a human being and a guitar. It was a definite act of creation when my friend dipped his hand into the soundhole of my friend Kate's guitar and rolled his eyes back in his head to communicate his attraction to her. Jimi Hendrix - with the help of LSD, that unparalleled sire of iconoclasts - communicated something by burning his guitar that could never have been said by strumming it. And that's just with the same old guitar that you and I know - luthiers have done some incredible things with the design of the instrument itself, like Manzer's "as many strings as possible" Pikasso Guitar, commissioned for Pat Metheny (pictured above).

And so it is for this feisty young man, privileged or burdened as I am with unceasing progressive inclinations, that many of my favorite musicians prefer to consider themselves as practitioners of music in general rather than the tradition of their specific instruments. As I love to remind people, the great bassist Victor Wooten insists that his medium just happens to be the bass, and that he is not a "bassist," any more than a self-consistent practitioner of the Buddha's teachings would actually declare himself to worship "Buddhism" ("or," in the words of Ferris Bueller, "any other ism for that matter.") Likewise, Kaki King grew up on the drums before translating those sensibilities to the acoustic guitar. In her early interviews made it plain that her whole agenda was to "fuck with" people's ideas of what the acoustic guitar even is. Never mind that she wasn't the first to play it like a percussion ensemble; there's no such thing as being completely original, anyway, unless you're willing to grant all phenomena the same courtesy. On even the most newly-poured volcanic island of thought, there are as many exaptations as there are participants. There is something utterly unique in even the most mundane copycat playing. There is something wild and new about every instant's spontaneous perspective on the fact of the previous moment.

If I can stay wide open enough to hold every creative moment in the light of an ever-present and ever-renewing genesis, each instant is an equally wild idea. It is absolutely creative because it happened at all. If we take the past as a given and define it according to the standard of the present, we deny it as a moment creative in itself, and rig the game in favor of our current interpretation. "My, how we've grown." "What were we thinking?" "Behold primitive man, living as a savage...the poor heathen."

And so to cherish the unique exaptation of every moment in this way is not half-blind futurist zealotry, disrespectful of tradition - it's more like telling a girl that you like her eyes, when you know that everyone else compliments her on her breasts. It's an attempt to appreciate the whole package, past, present, and future, inside and out.

But that's a hell of a lot to appreciate, and I can rarely do it for long. Like everyone else with limited energy and attention, I deserve to be convicted by a jury of myself for identifying with a particular set of preferences and positions, relative to a single observation platform floating one way across time. I still often make the mistake of declaring the so-called "progressive" art forms to be more creative and therefore more interesting than their predecessors - perpetuating the false distinction between exaptation and adaptation, as if to play the guitar fretboard like a piano is a more fabulous idea than playing it like a normal freaking human being. (Kaki King: "Are we to have another century of guitar when the best instrument in the world is still the piano?")

Consequently, maybe nine out of my ten favorite guitarists are doing things on the guitar that were unimaginable fifty years ago. These people have carved out their homesteads on the freshly exposed terrain of that new island. They have my respect for being its first inhabitants, collectively discerning (and deciding) the rules of this new land that is just now peeking over the splashy boundary of unconsciousness.

As a male mammal, I will always have a special place in my heart for the journeyers, the rogues and rovers, the wanderers and frontier families. My love for the music coopted from its original context is just one incidence of a broader pattern in my being: a love of reclamation, the same reconstructive postmodern desire that fuels the creation of urban gardens and beautiful graffiti murals, all manner of tattoos and piercings, circuit-bent instruments, remixes, redefinitions, and reimaginations of literature (such as Julie Taymor's film production of Shakespeare's Titus and stage production of The Lion King, and chamber ensemble Alarm Will Sound's performances of Aphex Twin's often-aggressive electronic music). I can hardly call this "ownership," because we have inherited all of it and we will all sooner or later pass it on to someone else. But it is beautiful and affirmative, restorative and inspiring to know that we are capable of exapting our world to the meaning and purpose we see for it now.

In this spirit, I encourage you to look upon the world with fresh eyes, to see it and feel it, not as some rigid predestined machine, but as a gift of creative jubilance inviting us to assist in the unfurlng form and function of everything we know and are. Don't assume that you know what that guitar is when you pick it up, or that pen, or that hand. Don't assume you know what you've got riding in your chromosomes, or that their full potential has been explored.

Every instant is a new world, with new opportunities. It falls upon us to learn how to avoid the hamster wheel of endless adaptation to external fortune by exapting the world and playing with the flux instead. This is a profound change of perspective. If you have found your purpose, don't refuse opportunities for amendment. If you still haven't found your voice or calling, relish in the flexibility of an undetermined existence.

Find a new meaning for your guitar, and maybe - just maybe - you'll find a new meaning for your self.

For more info on exaptation, you can find numerous related papers here and here.

13 February 2008

The Soundtrack To Your Funeral, Part V: Our Forgotten Vow

Download this entry's song and listen along to my commentary:

Of Montreal - The Repudiated Immortals

The creator of what's now cliché had some funny words to say
”All you little things are incomplete”
Why did he speak of us that way?
I don't cry, no, 'cause I don't care
It's very hard to feel the way we used to feel up there
The creator of what's now cliché
Wants us little things to cry and feel alone

But no, don't don't lose hope - no, no, no, no
No, no, no, don't feel sad
'Cause it's a violent world
But there's still beauty
I'll take care of you if you take care of me

I like to sit and listen to the sound
Of the snowflakes landing on the trees
But I can't get used to feeling cold
I can't get used to what has happened here to you and me
There's no escaping so I won't try
It's just the heaviness that comes with knowing you will never die

But no, don't don't lose hope - no, no, no, no
No, no, no, don't feel sad
'Cause it's a violent world
But there's still beauty
I'll take care of you if you take care of me

There's something about this song that moves me in a way that few songs ever do. Much like the music from the previous entry of this series, Cake's "End of the Movie" and "Tougher Than It Is," Of Montreal's "The Repudiated Immortals" is an anomalously profound and intimate offering from a band that usually revels in silliness, and so it penetrates my unsuspecting mind much deeper than it otherwise might. As Stuart Davis likes to say of his own music, this track "Brings God back where it belongs - in the hook of a three-minute pop song." (This one clocks in at an even-slimmer 2:18) Of Montreal's psychedelic cacophony is temporarily contained, and in its stead appears this incredible bauble, a precious statement that holds in its spare and prosaic couplets an impossible poetry.

Maybe this is a funny (or "funny") song to play at a funeral: a peppy, poppy diddy about the incredible frustration of immmortality as a small and splintered self, struggling to accept the limitations of embodiment in the face of divine disdain. But beneath the veneer of its bouncing bassline, frail tenor, and drum machine kitsch, "The Repudiated Immortals" is simultaneously one of the saddest and most reassuring songs I have ever heard. It points to a truth so deep and meaningful that it is among the rare and precious pieces of music that clearly communicate the double bind of life and death as I know it. It is this embrace of paradox, this comfortable expression of the polarity and ambiguity of existence, that touches me more deeply than any straightforward and univalent declaration. Popular spiritual anthems like U2's "One" can make a glorious statement, but usually lack this depth of subtlety. Existence doesn't offer us a single easy answer; it bombards us with conflicting pluralisms that we have no way to rationally digest.

I don't know how other people perceive this song - whether they think it's a joke, or what. To me, it's as true as the Bhagavad Gita. (And considerably more concise.) At the risk of sounding crazy (and when was the last time that stopped me?), here's why.

Last week I was hanging out in the graveyard with a friend of mine, one of several that enjoys the reverent innocence of cavorting among the resting spirits and marble-etched profundities (go find yourself a copy of The Bible and look up Psalm 39:4-5, and see what I mean). Sitting in the crook of an ancient tree, we pulled our coats up around our necks, fluffing like birds in the cold brightness of the sun as it slid behind the mountains. I made some comment about the cold and she said, "I'm used to being cold."

She grew up in Boulder, but I grew up in Los Angeles and Orlando. The cold is as foreign to me as the warm winters of my childhood years must have been to my Kansas City mother. It's another reminder of my confusing embodiment - born with crooked feet and a crooked nose, I lope through the world with an awkward bouncing stride and breathe through one nostril more than the other. Sinus trouble keeps me from diving more than a few feet underwater. I teeter and twirl, my movements generally experimental, a fledgling bird's. My mind seems timelessly ancient, but in this life I feel newer than most. Not younger - just a more recent arrival to form. Beauty makes sense to me in a way that many things do not, and so:

I like to sit and listen to the sound
Of the snowflakes landing on the trees
But I can't get used to feeling cold
I can't get used to what has happened here to you and me

Like many of my friends, I am working through not being quite comfortably human. The world is easy to imagine, but difficult to meet. Existence was a bait and switch with which I am now trying to make best.

And so it's little surprise that I had a dream last spring in which my friends and I all convened between lives to share stories and excitement for our next foray. When the time came to dive back into new separate selves and individual limitedess, I fell, a simple swooning of inability, a submission beyond choice. The graft hadn't taken. I had gotten my one life as a human being; it was something for which I was not really cut out, and now - that mission over - something I would never do again. No failure, no shame, and only the shadow of yearning - not rejoining my beloved souls on Earth was as inevitable and as matter-of-fact as the first moment after unimaginable news, before interpretation, when the ground and body disappear from beneath and the spinning and falling are everything, no cause, no effect. Plainly and inarguably, human nature was a coat that hadn't fit. Only the smallest cry of sadness lay like a black pearl in the gut of my uninhibited weeping. The suffering was crystal clear and imminent, but not mine - it gushed forth in waves of affectless intensity while I effulged compassion from a thousand miles above. Collapsing onto what I thought was a bed, I landed on the shock of a hard floor - no yielding relief, even as an immaterial idea. Not embracing brokenness in full flush as a human being was no guarantee against the pain of existential mystery.

I suppose a lot of people are familiar with this feeling in one way or another. We are all slightly incredulous to the limits of our being. But:

There's no escaping so I won't try
It's just the heaviness that comes with knowing you will never die

The narrator of this song is Christ on the Cross. This song is for everyone nailed to the painful intersection between the vivid and intimate knowing of our own divinity and the bafflement of physical constraint, any of us who have yet to resolve the paradox of being.

Tibetan Buddhism speaks of the boddhisattvas, enlightened beings who made the promise to return again and again forever, until the entire world remembers its liberated essence. When that happens, the game begins anew. All of us are buddhas with amnesia, fumbling home drunk and lonely. We are all eternal but spend half the time in ignorance of the agreement.

Down here, at the bottom of our well of incompleteness, the bright light of the surface warm but out of reach, what is there for us to do but recognize our common plight? What greater comfort can we find than in the mutual consolation that we each face this strangeness together? In the divide, there is a deeper union. In that union, a deeper divide. With no explanation and no offramp, we make the best of what's around. Sometimes it feels like we are trapped; but if we are trapped, we are trapped together. And it's actually quite pretty down here - look! My first word was "good."

No, don't don't lose hope - no, no, no, no
No, no, no, don't feel sad
'Cause it's a violent world
But there's still beauty
I'll take care of you if you take care of me

We trade one vow for another, back and forth. When we are the sleeping meek, we lie protected beyond our knowing, secure in the palms of saints. Sooner or later, our turn comes to offer midwifing and hospice. We hold the sobbing child, and then we are the sobbing child, love in a circuit flowing forever.

And that's why I love this song.


Appendix: I read the following passage, from "Alternative Cosmologies and Altered States," by Stanislav Grof, last night and feel compelled to include it here. Grof's argument is that we must seriously consider the overwhelming empirical evidence that suggests the survival of consciousness after death - knowing that confirmed awareness of an immortal soul (in whatever guise) would radically transform our contemporary morality.

"Whether or not we believe in survival of consciousness after death, reincarnation, and karma, it has very serious implications for our behavior. The idea that belief in immortality has profound moral implications can be found already in Plato, who in Lawshas Socrates say that disconcern for the postmortem consequences of one's deeds would be 'a boon to the wicked.' Modern authors such as Alan Harrington and Ernest Becker have emphasized that massive denial of death leads to social pathologies that have dangerous consequences for humanity. Modern consciousness research certainly supports this point of view.

At a time when a combination of unbridled greed, malignant aggression, and existence of weapons of mass destruction threatens the survival of humanity and possibly life on this planet, we should seriously consider any avenue that offers some hope. While this is not a sufficient reason for embracing uncritically the material suggesting survival of consciousness after death, it should be an additional incentive for reviewing the existing data with an open mind and in the spirit of true science. The same applies to the powerful experiential technologies involving non-ordinary states of consciousness that make it possible to confront the fear of death and can facilitate deep positive personality changes and spiritual opening. A radical inner transformation and rise to a new level of consciousness might be the only real hope we have in the current global crisis."

(Written for iggli.com)

02 February 2008

Interview: Scott Johnson of the Positive Music Association

This inaugurates the visionary music interview series I'll be starting on this blog. The goal is to bring you the fresh ideas of musicians, philosophers, and other luminous minds whose unique insight into the future of art and humanity might well inform a new understanding of the relationship between creativity and culture. My first guest is Scott Johnson, songwriter and co-founder of the Positive Music Association. I met Scott a little over a year ago through Zaadz Visionary Music and it's a pleasure - after six months of living in the same town and playing phone tag - to finally meet up.

Michael Garfield: So Scott, why don't you just talk a little bit about what the Positive Music Association is, and kind of your goal and your direction for that community?

Scott Johnson: Yeah, the Positive Music Association, I co-founded it just about four years ago, and it's a group of musicians, and actually non-musicians too, from around the world, that are using music not only to entertain but to make a positive impact in people's lives and in the world. So it's about promoting music that you can use, and actually one of our visions is creating a new genre of music, called "Positive" or "Poz" music for short, and it's really defined by its intent and its lyrical content. Anything that's healthy, anything that's empowering, inpsiring, enlightening, healing, and definitely inclusive, it may be spiritual but it's not religious - if you're a human being, you're in. You know? And we're promoting all of us. And I see this as the music version of Oprah, or Wayne Dyer, or Deepak Chopra, or Marianne Williamson, or all of those great, healthy people and things out there that are empowering us to live our best life and to make a difference in the world.

MG: So this is clearly kind of a response to the state of music when you founded this company. There's a void.

SJ: Yeah, right...I know I had been, since a teenager - I'm forty nine now, since I was sixteen - the first song I wrote would be considered a positive song, it had some type of constructive message behind it. And a number of years ago, when I was just trying to market my own music, there's just not...it wasn't being played on the radio. There's not a lot of venues for this kind of music. There wasn't, anyway. And so it was filling a void. There are lots of people who enjoy this kind of music. They want to hear something that's not religious, but has maybe more a spiritual undertone, or maybe not even that, but it has some kind of self-empowering intent behind it.

MG: Well you know, most of the history of music, music was a technology for the affirmation of life and the development of community bonds -

SJ: Right, exactly.

MG: - so it's kind of unusual at this point in history to be saturated in so much music that has no clear community intention.

SJ: Right, that's definitely part of it, too. I think you're right on. Originally music was created, came about, as a community-building experience, and sharing and being in communion with one another. And that's what we're also trying to do, is create community among our members, and among the people that listen to this music, and really use music how...I think it's one of the greatest ways of bonding us, binding us together as human beings. And realizing we're all in this together, and what better way than music, and you know, it's fun, it's vibrational, it's total, it's all of this wonderful stuff that just moves you. I mean, it can move you physically from dancing to singing, but it can also connect us as human beings.

MG: So, why don't you tell me a little bit about the role of musicians in this Positive Music Association that you've created? What is it that you guys do for each other, and how are you interacting within the association?

SJ: Well I think for one thing, it's like a trade organization. We're a group of musicians - and we also have some members who are non-musicians and just support this - but it's basically a resource for these musicians to help them get their name out there. On the website, they have a presence on our website with their contact information and a sample of one of their songs, and we also have Poz Radio, that plays only member music, we have a monthly newsletter that goes out with tips and ways to get your music out there to a large audience, ways to do marketing and so forth. We have conference calls twice a month that deal with - last week it was about sharing our best ideas for marketing. My last CD, I raised about eight thousand dollars in a month from the "executive producers" who were basically friends of mine, or family, or colleagues, that donated from two hundred to a thousand bucks to be, you know, a music producer. And in fact some people, on their website, they've said on their resumé that they're music producers, now. So it's kind of a fun way to include people. The people that gave two hundred dollars, they get twenty CDs, and they give it out to THEIR friends, as gifts and so forth, and they get their name on the back of the CD and on the website, and things like that. So it's a fun way to involve other people, and another great thing is that within the first week of receiving the CDs, I had already distributed six hundred of them. And I would just send out twenty or fifty to my executive producers, who in turn were my distributors. So it's a great way for independent musicians to support and distribute their music.

MG: It's really great to look on the back of your album here and see three dozen or so people listed under "executive producers." There are a number of other songwriters who have started to take this approach, a really active involvement of the community in the work. I know even large artists like Billy Corgan, when he was working on - I think it was Machina, one of the Smashing Pumpkins albums - he was posting material from the studio while they were working on the stuff, and getting live instantaneous feedback from his fanbase, and they were incorporating that into the music itself. There's this whole new Web 2.0 philosophy of direct engagement with fanbase, and with other things.

SJ: Yeah, it's about building that community, involving other people, and again, I think that's what music is about, is building community.

MG: You mentioned earlier, music that's "useful." And I know you've talked a little bit about the utility of music simply to communicate a positive message. But it sounds like a lot of the musicians that are involved in your community are also incorporating, explicitly, a lot of benificent and humanitarian projects into their work, and promoting various causes with their music. Can you tell a little bit more about that kind of project? The stuff that your artists have been getting involved in?

SJ: Well, just in my own experience, I did a CD for a local hospice here. And they used it as gifts to their constituents. It's basically a celebration of life coming into the world, and life passing on. There's also an organization that used one of my songs from that, an organization called Reef Haven, that supports families whose children have died - they used one of my songs on their promotional CD. There are other people involved with environmental organizations, having their songs used at their conferences, the expos, or on their promotional videos, whatever, their websites - using songs from our members to promote their cause. Certainly from peace rallies to other environmental-type events...we have a number of our members who go into hospitals and hospices and also schools - but especially the hospitals and hospices - you know, it's healing music that they're sharing. I know some of our members have actually gone and they will write a custom song for a kid that has leukemia, or something like that.

MG: That's wonderful.

SJ: So there's lots of ways to use music other than just entertainment, and that's what we're about.

MG: Just recently, I saw there was a Goodwill commercial that had Willy Porter, and he had this beautiful "give a little bit" kind of song that he'd written specifically for this commercial, and..."sacred" might be too potent a word for this, but a really noblereclamation of the notion of a "jingle." Attaching a person's music to a particular corporate cause, the aim of some kind of conscious business. There's something about music that reaches us on a level that other media does not.

SJ: It's like a mantra, with repetitive choruses, a mantra of healthy things to put in our head, you know? Also, a lot of our members work with well-known authors. They'll open up or perform during talks by Wayne Dyer or Deepak Chopra and those kind of folks. So there's a nice connection between the authors who talk about this kind of conscious living, and it's a good tie-in with our musicians.

MG: When we were talking earlier, you mentioned that there were other similarly-minded groups and individuals who've been working in the music industry for some time. So who are the other people that you're partnering the Positive Music Association with as you spread this life-affirming influence through the depraved music world?

SJ: [Laughs.] I just want to make it clear that we're not pushing against what's out there, not at all. It's not like we're anti-rap or...that's not even in the conversation.

MG: There's a lot of positive rap.

SJ: We actually have a few that have some, yeah. They have some positive rap. And if you know of other ones, please let me know. [Laughs.] I'm sure there is, much more than most people realize. One of our advisory board members, Tim Sweeney out of L.A., he's been in the industry for over twenty six years and he's working with some of the biggest - from Madonna, and David Bowie, and Bob Dylan, he's an artist consultant, and helps either new artists or established artists so they're presenting themselves in the most authentic way and reaching the audience that they want to get to. He's really about supporting our members and other artists to really make a difference with their music. Not just to be famous or something, but actually to do something with your music. And right where you are now. His advice is: don't change, be yourself, work from where you are locally, and spread out from there. Cuz there's so much you can do in your own community. You can make a difference in your own community with your own music now, with the talent and experience you have NOW. You don't have to wait until you're extremely experienced and talented to make a difference. You can do it today. So he encourages that kind of thing. He also encourages collaboration with other artists, to help promote each other. And who else? People like Jack Canfield, who's a supporter, with the whole Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and loves what we're up to, and a number of our artists have performed with Jack at his presentations and so forth. So people like that are drawn to what we're up to. I'm just waiting for the call from Oprah's producers, to say, "We want you on the show."

MG: It wouldn't surprise me if it were only a matter of time. Their team seems to be embracing a new wave of guests. I know that one of them just interviewed Ken Wilber. They're tapping into kind of a more rigorous and applied base of talent.

SJ: I know they did something on Jerry Nester Hicks on her XM Radio show, and they've been talking about the Law of Attraction for years.

MG: So what is your ultimate vision for this? Or do you see yourself as even the bearer of this vision? Is it more of a collective imagining of the role of positive music in our culture?

SJ: Well, I think eventually, yes. I see that as bringing music back to what it used to be, back a long, long time ago, as a community-building experience and not something that was just...like Clear Channel can only air a certain amount of music, and we're looking for people in our own communities to bond together through music. One of my visions is to actually have a separate category of music. That way, I think, for people that arelooking for music, they can go to iTunes or something, and they can go to "Poz," near Rap and Rock, and they can find all of this music that's based on this idea of basically, mostly lyric-based stuff that's good for you. It's healthy. And so I would love to have a "Poz" music category at the Grammys. I would love to have more places in the community, more venues that would be open to this kind of music. So people knew this term and would go, "Oh yes, I want to have more, to see more of that." And I think weare realizing more and more that what we think about all day is what becomes our reality, and if it's looking at the terrible stuff on the news all day or something, as opposed to looking at the futures that we want - people are realizing that this is a music version of that.

MG: I just read Kevin Kelly's New Rules For The New Economy. I don't know if you know him - he was the founding editor of Wired Magazine. And it's this book he wrote in '98 that's remarkably prescient. It's these ten principles by which the informational economy is different from the industrial economy. And one of the things he discusses is that we're not living in The Age of Computers. The Age of Computers is what we'll be living in when computers are so ubiquitous, they're just IN everything. When all of our products are "smart." And connected. And we're living in this intelligent matrix of information. You know, much like we live in the Age of Electricity, unlike when electricity was first discovered, and people were kind of struggling with it. So evenbeyond the notion of there being a positive music category in iTunes, and it being an organizing principle for people to make taste-based purchases, it seems to me like there can and probably will come a point where the notion of positive music has undermined itself in its spread. You know, good teachers are always trying to put themselves out of a job, and in a way your role is to get us as a society to the point where we don't even need to think of music in these terms, where positive music is socommon that to consider it as unusual or specific or unique is...pointless.

SJ: I guess one of my goals is to make the PMA obsolete. To make it so ubiquitous, as you're saying, that there's no real need for a separate organization to promote it. But yeah, I think it's slowly but surely growing. And I think it will be part of the culture, sooner or later.

MG: Where can people find out more about this?

SJ: Just go to PositiveMusicAssociation.com, and you can listen to music there on Poz Radio, you can find out about the different artists, we certainly welcome you to join if you're a musician or you're not. My mother-in-law from Belgium is a member, she gave me fifty bucks last month, she said, "I want to be a member, I want to support what this is about." So if you love this kind of music, or you create it, or you broadcast it, if you write it or you sing it, we'd love to have you join us. I welcome people to call me up, too - you can find my information on the website, as well - and just talk about what you're up to, and I'll tell you more about what the PMA is up to. We have a great music festival coming up called Harmonizing With Humanity outside of Phoenix in the end of March. I think it'll be the first of many like it that is really getting this music out into the mainstream, and that's where my main focus is right now, to make this mainstream, so it's not like, "What is Poz Music?" It's like, "Heck yeah, oh yeah."

MG: It's easy to see the value of participating in something like this.

SJ: Yeah, I think it'll create some more momentum and get more people exposed to this music. "I've been looking for something like this, but I didn't even know it was out there." It's out there.

MG: Well thanks a lot, Scott, for your time.

SJ: And thanks for what you're doing. I think it's very cool, your visionary music, and I think we share a lot in common. Common motivations.

MG: Yeah. I see there being, probably, a considerable overlap of our communities before too long. That kind of mutual support.

SJ: And that's what we're about! Yeah, exactly. So thank you.

MG: Yeah, thank you.

(Written for iggli.com)