THE READING ROOM
Here is the probable introduction to a proposed book of poetry called “The Songs That Never Were”. As the title suggests—some of these started out as possible songs that I got the ideas for while out on the road, thinking of Monique. Somehow, I just never got around to writing the music to them. This was mainly because the subject matter was so personal and off the beaten path; they just didn’t seem to have that universal quality you usually associate with a song.
Slowly, I came to the realization that I was actually writing poetry rather than songs. Once I realized what was going on, that encouraged me to open up and take it even further. Here is the self explanatory introduction, and few examples of where this led.
As a young man, my first venture into the artistic world was as a musician, singer, composer, recording artist, and rock performer. As the years passed, I began to notice that I found the typical form and style of song writing getting somewhat repetitive and confining, particularly with regard to the lyrics. The standard formula–verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse chorus, out–was getting old.
Of course, no one is forced to adhere to this convention, but in pop music, it is so pervasive and universal that if you want to become and remain successful you realistically have little choice. Having said all this, I just realized that my biggest #1 hit, “Frankenstein”, is an instrumental that completely ignores this model. It is a perfect example of the exception that proves the rule. And since I have always considered myself something of a musical rebel, some rules are made to be broken. So, here I am, breaking more rules.
Now that I sit down to explain all this, the real issue is actually not so much form or style, as it is content. As the label “pop music” implies, such songs are intended to have popular appeal, a sort of common denominator or familiarity that falls within a certain comfort zone. None of this is something that occurred to me all at once, as in a flash of realization. Rather, this writing is a natural evolution. Some of the pieces in it are more like songs, and others are more like poems, while many lie somewhere in between.
Although I am referring to this as a book, it is more accurately simply a collection of writings done over a long period of time, and it would not have been written without my wife, Monique. Everything in this book was inspired by and written for her, and because she was so touched by these poems and their universal messages, it was Monique who suggested that we also share them with others.
But now–getting back to the actual writing and content– here’s how it all came about.
Being out on the road, touring, and playing concerts involves a lot of travel time. You’re on lots of planes, in tour buses, and cars. This offers the perfect opportunity for reflection and writing. I’ve written a lot of songs on the road, and still do. But sometimes when Monique is not there, the most natural thing for me to do is call and then write something to her, so she will have a poem from me to wake up to the next morning. I soon found that writing letters and poetry to Monique was much more fun and rewarding than struggling over songs.
What I really began to like about this kind of writing was that it came so naturally, without any commercial intentions, and that gave it a sort of purity. Because I was writing personally and privately just for Monique, I could say anything I wanted–on any subject–with no other considerations whatsoever.
I found myself opening up and writing more from the heart– also on a deeper more spiritual level, and not necessarily on the types of subjects you would usually find in songs. Since art, nature, science, philosophy, and spirituality are among our primary interests, these became reflected more and more in my writing.
When Monique and I went back through our email, we found there were well over a hundred poems and possible songs, certainly enough for a book. The next step was to collect, separate, and organize them in some cohesive way. Of course, I could simply put them in chronological order. But they didn’t seem to flow naturally this way–probably because of the long gaps between writing, and the different and varying circumstances out of which each arose. Or I could select and place them in numerous arbitrary categories such as fate, humanity, forgiveness, redemption, love, joy, sadness, creation, life, and death. But this seemed unnecessarily artificial. After all, the mind likes variety, flow, and change. Who wants to dwell on one emotion for too long, especially if it’s something like sadness or death?
But finally, I hit upon a scheme that felt right–three major divisions that seemed to work. The abstract, the real, and the universal. I like these because they have a natural relativity and interconnectedness.
The “abstract” is that which exists only in the mind, your own personal inner vision. The “real” expands to include perceptions and experiences in the outer world. This would include all the pieces based on or inspired by actual events that occurred in my life. And the universal extends to infinity (encompassing everything) while completing the circle, and leading back to the abstract. You may think this sounds complicated, but it’s actually simple. Because, in essence, these three are actually one. They exist in everything, a point which I believe you will come to realize in reading this book.
Although I am an avid fiction reader, I haven’t read that much poetry. But I don’t think it has to be difficult, mysterious, or abstruse. I much prefer clarity in writing–a definite point of view, with meaningful insights leading up to that “aha moment” when you really get it. This is not an approach we see often in songs, but why not?
In closing, I just want to say that this whole process has been so unexpectedly liberating, inspiring, and uplifting … I can hardly find words to describe it. I know the verses in this book will serve far better than this humble introduction. And finally, I dedicate this book to my beautiful and loving wife, Monique, who makes all things possible.
With all my love, Edgar
Are we really free to choose
As we all anticipate
Our luck to win or lose
Or is it simply fate
When life seems so unfair
And random in its course
We may become aware
There is a higher force
We read in books of prophecy
An ending long foretold
And some believe that what they see
Is destined to unfold
We hope to make a difference
And believe we stand a chance
But what if future history
Is laid out in advance
A set predestination
No thought or deed can change
Would be a situation
So unthinkable and strange
A pivotal decision
We surely would expect
To change events that follow
Might have no real effect
We seem to have free will
But how is that explained
If all that must occur
Is beforehand preordained
For all to contemplate
There is no real confusion
We each make our own fate
I sometimes feel so out of place
An experience so strange
Looking for I know not what
Expecting some great change
I’m going to I know not where
From a place I never knew
I don’t know why I’m here at all
I’m only passing through
A stranger or an alien
In some forgotten land
Something just beyond my reach
I don’t yet understand
A different point of view
It’s not my destination
But what I’m passing through
Perhaps I’m only sleeping
In some one else’s bed
Finding but not keeping
These thoughts inside my head
By life I have been shaken
From a dream I never knew
Just waiting to awaken
I’m only passing through
Maybe I had another life
Out of which this one has grown
And I’ve spent it just pretending
That I’ll never feel alone
And when at last I’m dead and gone
What will there be to do
Perhaps I won’t be passing on
But only passing through
One gentle kindred spirit
I met along the way
Though now she is departed
How I cried for her to stay
And I pray that I may follow
That path her spirit flew
To a joy beyond the sorrow
I’m only passing through
There is no final ending
The beginning can’t be known
But still I seek a deeper truth
As yet I’ve not been shown
Perhaps we’ll see another day
One dawning bright and new
It may not be we pass away
We’re only passing through
I’m going to another planet
In the rocket ship of my mind
Before life ever began it
Who knows what I may find
With the captain and crew to man it
I’ll be leaving the old world behind
And the human race that outran it
In the star ship that I designed
I’ll be the only one in the world
But I’ll never be sad or lonely
For nothing there will belong to me
And nothing there will own me
I will not be writing a history
Just to glorify the past
Or be looking toward the future
And expecting all things to last
Peace and love
In the day of the final ending
There’ll be no one to mourn or cry
And no beliefs that need defending
In wars where men fight and die
No make-believe or pretending
No tearful and sad goodbye
And only a love transcending
As through the heavens I fly
Hi – my hopeful readers,
I don’t know why this may be, but my Love, passion, and deep connection with writing all seem to have increased in recent years. Perhaps it’s a stronger sense of my own mortality, or just a desire to reach out and communicate in a different way, other than just through my music. Whatever the case may be, I have this impulse and feel compelled to act on it.
When I was little I have vivid memories of my mother reading to me from the Bible, or books like “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”. I Loved those books, and still Love that style of writing. I eventually decided to try my hand at writing something along those lines myself—mainly short things I could read to my wife Monique as bedtime stories. I invented this magical realm called The Shadowlands in which everything would occur and just started to write.
Some years having gone by, I now have easily enough for a book, “Stories from the Shadowlands”. The first one is a typical story from the series. The second one is more a sort of philosophical or spiritual monograph—something I wrote some years before, and liked well enough to think still worth reading. So I just tacked a little introduction on the beginning, hoping to successfully convert it into a Shadowlands story. I hope you get as much fun out of reading these as I did writing then. So now—sit back, relax, and welcome to The Shadowlands.
Peace and Love,
Edgar & Monique
There is an old argument about destiny and free will. It goes like this. If God is truly omniscient and knows all, then obviously he would be aware of every decision any person might make in a lifetime, and therefore the outcome of every event in history. If this is the case, then God already knows the ultimate destiny of the universe–and herein lies the paradox.
If this is so, then every slightest detail in a person’s life is bound to occur in only one way, and in no other. Everything is preordained to happen one way because the outcome is already known in advance. But if the outcome of every decision is known in advance, then how could anyone be said to exercise free will; and if we are truly free to choose our own destiny, then how could the consequence of any act be known before that act was committed?
There is a story regarding this argument once told in the Shadowlands that is perhaps older than the argument itself. A certain king was much concerned with these matters and how they might affect his rule and the future of his kingdom. Being a seeker of knowledge, the king had gone to great lengths to gather learned men from the far corners of the earth to serve at his court. And so he summoned the man reputed to be the wisest among all these, that he might receive consultation and instruction.
And the king said, “What is the nature of fate, and how does it operate? Is there such a thing as destiny, and how can it be known?”
Now the wise man considered this very carefully. For he knew through his past experience in other courts that if his wisdom did not satisfy, he might lose not only favor with the king–but his head, as well. So he answered in this way.
“Oh king, have you never heard destiny likened to a great and majestic tapestry–intertwined and woven with the threads of fate to form what we perceive as the fabric of reality?”
And the king replied, “Yes, indeed I have heard it described so, but I always thought it only an analogy or metaphor–a turn of phrase or figure of speech. Do you mean to say there is an actual thread of fate?”
After much consideration and deep reflection the wise man continued, “I have heard it said that in the far east there are magic forests in which grow the tree of life from which the thread of fate is derived.”
“And you can obtain this thread,” the king marveled?
“It might be possible,” the wise man said cautiously, “but being magical, the thread of fate is invisible to any human eye.”
“Then how can such thread be woven?” pressed the king.
“The threads of fate are woven on the loom of time, which occupies no space and has no tangible shape or form in the physical universe,” the wise man intoned.
“And you can weave this thread according to my bidding,” asked the king?
“Nay, not I sire,” said the wise man, realizing he might have gone too far. Not wanting such a responsibility on his shoulders, and wishing to keep his head on those same shoulders–where he had become so pleasantly accustomed to having it–he went on, “perhaps you might declare a contest throughout the kingdom to see who can weave the most beautiful tapestry, and then offer that person the commission?”
This was well considered on the part of the wise man, for he had already taken all this into account. So it came as no surprise when the winner was announced, since there was but one true master weaver in all the kingdom. It was lady Ebony of the Shadowlands.
It is said it takes a hundred years to become a master weaver. Lady Ebony was well past this mark, and more. The tapestry she wove was of such miraculous beauty as to defy imagination or description. All the other tapestries, though skillfully done, depicted readily identifiable scenes that could be appreciated for their great intricacy and artistic craftsmanship, but lady Ebony’s tapestry was something altogether different. Woven of iridescent thread to subtly catch the play of light and shadow, it actually seemed to change scenes before the very eye. Not everyone who looked upon it agreed on what they saw, but all agreed, without exception, it was breathtakingly beautiful.
There was one other thing remarkable about the lady Ebony. She had been blind since the day of her birth, and so had never seen the world as we see it. Who knew what images danced in her inner vision.
This filled the king with great excitement (as the wise man had known it would) since he reasoned that the intangible threads of fate would pose no difficulty to a blind woman. Who better to weave invisible thread than one who does not need to see?
So the king laid the question before the lady Ebony, who smiled in understanding. For though she had no eyes, she saw not only the kings will–but the part the wise man had played in these events, also.
Being of uncommon wisdom herself she answered, “Oh king, this is indeed a great honor you would bestow on such a humble servant, but one I do not fully grasp or understand. Do you seek to change or alter that which is and would be, to somehow improve or make it better? Can you not see that if you attempt to impose your will on destiny, you limit the free will of everyone who participates in that destiny? This strikes at the heart of the very question you consider.
Are you not the king? Do you not hold the destiny of the kingdom already in your hands? And likewise, do I choose to weave invisible thread, or does the invisible thread of fate choose me?
Here is the answer to your question. Free will and destiny are not in conflict, but in harmonious accord. Just as cause and effect are not opposed, but two balancing elements in the cycle of creation. So it is free will that shapes our destiny, and that one true destiny is shaped and assured by the free will of all. Do you not see?”
The king ventured an uncertain smile. “I think I begin to see that the two of you are in this thing, together.”
“Not so, my king,” the wise man replied. “The three of us are in this thing together, as is every living soul in the kingdom of man. If I have offered offense, I beg pardon. I have only sought to council and instruct, as is my place. But now, there is a question I would ask you, Oh king. Have you learned anything in the course of these events?”
The king bore just the hint of a smile. “Perhaps. I could say that I learned to leave the wise man to his wisdom, and the fool to his folly.”
“Not bad,” said the wise man. “An old saw, but none the less sharp for its truth.”
“And what did you add to your own immeasurable storehouse of knowledge,” asked the king?
“Oh,” the wise man winked, “to leave the king to his kingdom, and the servant to his service. And in that I am content, though one could always hope for more.”
“There is one thing further,” the king said. He touched the wise man’s arm confidentially, but his eyes went to lady Ebony. “You taught me the most valuable lesson of all–to leave the light to the enlightened and the blind to their inner sight, for though it may seem darkness to us, who knows what it is to truly see?”
And the lady Ebony’s smile was the deepest and most profound of all as she said, “Then you are a wise king indeed, and your quest for knowledge most worthwhile.”
Since the beginning of time our primitive cultures and great civilizations have pondered the same age-old questions. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? What is our purpose? And eventually, is there a God? Does such a thing exist, and if so, how did It come into being? What are the origins of God, man, and the universe?
Every culture has had myths and stories to explain the mystery of creation, and sometimes these ancient civilizations themselves have become the subject of great myth, mystery, and speculation. The very existence of some of these (like Atlantis for example) may be considered more mythical than historical. Did they ever truly exist, or are they just the stuff of legend, mythology, or man’s overwrought imagination.
Such is the case with the story you are about to encounter. It belongs to the mythology of the Shadowlands, a realm long forgotten by historical reference, if ever it existed to be recorded. Only a few tantalizing fragments of Shadowlands lore still remain, and whether these obscure references are fact or fiction may never be known. The following is such a fragment concerning the creation myths of the Shadowlands, the truth of which is only yours to say.
Once, before the beginning, the expansion of space and the compression of matter, when there was nothing for energy to exert itself against, and no time to mark the occurrence of such events–there was a Being. This being was nameless, for there was nothing–other than itself–to recognize or understand the meaning of a name; but we will call it God.
This God was all-knowing and all-powerful. It could create anything. God had only to imagine something, and it would come into being and continue to exist. And if God decided it should no longer exist, it would cease to be.
So, God imagined vast reaches of space, and immense bodies of fiery energy to move within these endless boundaries. In this way, God created numerous universes of infinite complexity, setting them in motion with clockwork precision. He then introduced random elements to disrupt their smooth operation, in order to observe the results. But in the end, the outcome was always the same. Regardless of how elaborate the scenario, or the complexity of its structure, each element was ultimately under God’s control–and therefor had to follow his will and obey his laws.
God soon realized that–for all intents and purposes–everything he created was nothing more than an extension of himself, and that since he was all-knowing and all-powerful, he could not help but know the outcome of any action he might undertake. This was not much fun, and God became very bored and very, very lonely.
Then, God conceived the idea of creating another conscious being that he might interact with. But once again, being omniscient, God could not help but know the every thought in the mind of such a being. How could another mind created by God conceive a thought God did not already know? What could such a being ever do that would be original, unexpected, or surprising?
It was at this point that God began to suspect that Godhood might not be the ultimate, optimal state of being he had first assumed. God pondered this dilemma. It was a paradox. Yes, he was God, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, all-knowing and all-powerful. But, it was these very qualities that imprisoned him. There was nothing to challenge him, nothing new for him to learn. God’s total freedom was actually his ultimate and inescapable restriction. Possessing all knowledge left him with nothing to be interested in, or curious about. This made it impossible for him to ever learn anything new. Possessing all power left him with nothing to work toward or achieve. Everything was already his, automatically, without even trying. God was all, and all was God. It was quite an unsatisfactory state of being.
God’s one ambition, his dream and most fervent desire, became to create something greater than himself. This was a purpose worthy of a God; however, it seemed virtually impossible. How could an infinite being impart more than this absolute knowledge and power to its creation?
God had a sudden insight. What other sight could he have? Being God, and the totality of everything, there was nothing but himself at which to look, and therefor insight. Thus God realized, If he ever wanted to experience the joy of an unexpected pleasure, like a beautiful sunset, learning a new bit of trivia, or hearing a joke without already knowing the punch line, God would have to place self-imposed limitations on some of his powers. There would have to be certain things he could not know in advance. He would have to know less, in order to experience more.
The logic of this was inescapable, but God was not content to accept it. He came up with a strange and amazing idea. What if he were to divide himself into millions of separate beings, giving each one a small part of his consciousness?
If there were a way for these beings to unite and share their consciousness, they would again have the total knowledge and power of God, but he would design their minds to function separately and independently. Each would know only the thoughts of his own mind, and follow his own self-determined destiny. And each would be free–in a way God could never be–to experience, to live, and to learn.
He would bless these beings with gifts he could never enjoy, himself. Instead of the endless repetition of knowing the outcome of every action, he would allow them to experience these consequences as new events, imagined and anticipated, but never known beforehand. They would not seem to experience all things simultaneously–as he did–but rather, events would occur in a sequence. These beings would be able to look back on the past with their minds, and imagine what might occur as a result of their actions, but things could always turn out differently. The future could never be an absolute certainty. It would be a new world of infinite wonder and possibility.
Another thing God could never experience was non-existence: an end to being, unconsciousness, inaction, nothingness. God was an immortal being, and by his very nature would continue to exist, forever. He wondered what it would feel like to have his consciousness stop, to have thought come to an end, to just cease doing anything and rest for awhile.
He decided to give the beings he would create the ability to experience a state of being in which they would be unaware. He wondered if all mental activity would cease during such a state. God had no way of predicting dreams.
His basic idea was to have these beings inhabit physical bodies that would reproduce themselves. They would have a cycle of existence: birth, life, and death–being born or coming into existence, experiencing consciousness and functioning for a span of time, and dying–the state of ceasing to function or register any further sensory input. In this way they would be able to experience both existence and non-existence, something God could never do.
These were all fascinating ideas, but God realized the danger of actually undertaking such a course of action. Of course, he could create such a universe and watch it develop as a sort of entertainment. But then, he would be right back where he started. He would be able to see into every mind and know every decision before it was made. As long as God retained his infinite knowledge and power, he would know the entire history of the universe before it began.
No, what God wanted was to actually experience this universe,
himself. He knew that, in order to do this, he would have to give up his absolute knowledge and power, and relinquish his control. In effect, it would be more a transformation than a creation. He would actually be sacrificing himself to become these new beings, and the universe they would inhabit. The living beings would be his children, and as they grew in number, his consciousness would divide as they multiplied.
God would still exist, but his essence would be spread throughout the universe. His power would set the galaxies in motion, and his spirit would animate every living form. His energy would burn in every star; his presence would fill all space; his will would infuse the laws that would bring order to the universe; he would be present in every stone, every tree, and every blade of grass; and the essence of his consciousness and creativity would fill every mind.
God knew, once this thing was done, there could be no turning back. He would be committed, completely. It would be a new universe of infinite potential and possibility, and he could not know its future. But, for the first time in his existence, he would be free–and he would never be lonely, again. God, transformed, would experience existence through his children in new ways he could not possibly imagine in his present state. He also knew the essence of his consciousness would help guide his children in the fulfillment of his original purpose … to create something greater than himself.
This act might reduce God to a shadow of his former self; he would lose his absolute knowledge and power, but he would gain the ability to live, to love, to learn, and to grow. And perhaps, one day, his children would unlock the secrets of their universe, discover their true origin, and find a way of reconstituting what God had once been. As they grew in knowledge and wisdom, they might eventually transcend their physical being. Linking their thought and joining their minds as one, they might recreate the infinity of consciousness that had once been God.
But this would be a new God. It would be himself, his spirit, plus the totality of knowledge and experience gained throughout the evolution of the physical universe. If this were to occur, God’s purpose would be achieved: the creation of something greater than himself!
God pondered long over these possibilities. He understood the risk. He could be lost forever, submerged in a universe beyond his control. But on the other hand, he might achieve his purpose. He could lose, or he could win! At least it was a choice, an alternative to his unchanging existence, and he decided to take it.
And God said, “let there be light!” And there was light, but there was also shadow. There was choice, and inevitability. There was freedom, and restriction. There was anticipation, and regret. There was laughter in the midst of sorrow, and hope in the face of impossible odds. There was love and sex, joy and fear, life and death, and there was you and me.
There is so much in this universe God never could have foreseen. And so it will always be, as long as we have the right to choose. As I write this in the contemplation of my thoughts, and you read it in the curiosity of your own, in a way we are one. The idea of this God is the bridge between us, and for a while, we walk it together.
After all, this is only a story. But, could such a God exist? Could he be working within us at this very moment to achieve his ultimate purpose? And what will be the eventual fate of our universe? God knows.
Finally, here is something I just wrote. During the making of the album “Brother Johnny”, it was suggested that my bio be updated and redone. This started me thinking, and I decided I should write my own story in my own way. So, here it is!
I don’t know you. Not at all. You might know something about me, or at least think you do, but I have no idea who YOU are. You could be anybody, nobody, somebody, everybody. So why should I open up my heart and tell my whole story to You? What will I get out of it? You, after all, are a perfect stranger—and we’re not supposed to talk to strangers, or so we’ve all been told. It might be dangerous.
But now that I think of it, maybe it’s I who am the stranger, in which case you shouldn’t be talking to me. As a matter of fact, I’d be willing to bet that I AM the stranger (of the two of us) that is to say, stranger than you. But that really doesn’t matter. This imaginary conversation has already begun in my head, and I don’t think it’s just going to stop here.
So, go ahead. It’s Your turn. Say something. Well, OK … sometimes a welcome silence is inviting. It indicates you’re a good listener, patient and attentive. But don’t let me dominate the whole conversation. I just want to make sure I’ve given you your own space here. But enough about you, I’m supposed to be writing about me, or so I thought.
Here’s the thing. If you’re reading this, then you and I are in a way connected. I think that makes this an amazing universe! This is actually something just between us. It may seem to be a one-sided something, but that’s only partly true and not the whole truth.
You see, in giving you that space for a moment’s reflection I’ve just realized something. Whoever you are, you must have done something to be reading this, heard some music, bought a computer, visited a website. Maybe you just heard something from a friend; so much the better. Then it’s based on friendship, and that makes it all the more relevant.
The point is, there’s a reason in your life why you’re reading what I’ve written here. No matter how seemingly small or inconsequential, something has led up to this moment. That means you have a different reason from anyone else. You have a unique viewpoint and perspective all your own, and therefore you will read a different story than anyone else in the universe. You will read my story and make it your own, and that is the essence and nature of art.
There are so many people who have written their stories into my life, and their characters into my heart. Just as there are so many musicians I feel I’ve had the experience of playing with, even though we’ve never met.
And here is the first thing I think I’ve found perhaps worth saying. No matter who you are or who I am (who is the friend, or who is the stranger) this is the one thing that makes us the same. It is the desire to make this connection, to reach out, to touch someone–to say somehow to the universe–we are not alone.
So, you could say I’m writhing this for you. But—to be honest—that wouldn’t be exactly true. I’m also writing it for myself. You see, lately I’ve been experiencing this intense creative desire for self-expression, that is, to really get across the idea of who I am and what I’m all about. Now, I can do a certain amount of that through music, but how many songs can a person write about himself and his situation before it starts to get a little old. It seems a bit arrogant and excessive, doesn’t it? On the other hand, isn’t this exactly what people expect artists and writers to do? They want it ALL to be true, straight from the heart, honest, sincere, taken directly from real life experience. They don’t want to think we’re just making stuff up.
I want to tell the truth—but only the truth I want to tell. For (to tell the truth) I don’t even know what the truth is half the time. I mean, it’s a slippery slope; that is, it’s all subjective. Let’s say you’re going to tell me Your life story, and you want to tell the truth. Well, what is that truth based on? Your memory, right? And just how accurate and reliable is that?
For example, what’s the first thing you remember? I don’t mean the first thing that comes to mind; I mean, what is the earliest memory you can recall? Do you remember when you were born? When you were one, two, three? How about when you were four, five, or six?
Of course, you can say … well, I was born on such-and-such a date at such-and-such a time, but you don’t really know that is true from your own experience. Still, you are absolutely sure it’s true, because someone you really trust told you so. I think there are many things in life that are just like this, though in many different ways. That is, I think we are all quite sure of many things that we accept as absolute truths, without any question or examination.Just think about it.
I also believe that everyone finds or arrives at their own truth, in their own life, in their own way, and that makes their truth different from anyone else’s. So, the best that I can do here is to tell my own truth, in my own way—but memory is so peculiar, so patchy and random. How much of it is direct experience, and how much is based on things we’ve read or learned, things we’ve seen or heard, in a movie or on TV, things we’ve dreamed of or even just made up?
Here’s something I remember. When I was little, I had a class in elocution. And one of the things I had to stand up and say was this: It is the function of the mind not to remember, but to forget, by Anri Bergson.
I don’t remember anything else I ever said in that class. I mean, I’m racking my brain and I still can’t think of a single thing. But I remember that one thing, vividly. I even remember the teacher’s name, Lou Carmack. Lou was a woman, and I thought it was really a cool name for a lady. It was probably short for Louise, or maybe Lucille, since this was in Texas. That’s where I’m from, by the way. TEXAS, which probably helps explain the elocution class. It didn’t work, though; I’ve still got the Texas twang.
Anyway, I digress. Why do I remember that one thing, and nothing else? The whole memory of that class even existing is wrapped up in that one phrase. I know why. Because, I thought it was really odd, at the time. I was very young, and it just didn’t make sense. Why should anyone think the mind was supposed to forget, when its obvious purpose was to remember stuff.
I remember thinking–maybe this guy, Bergson, had something so bad happen to him that he didn’t want to remember it; and as time went by, he felt better. So he decided the thing the mind was best for was forgetting. I still remember puzzling about it–almost meditating over it–as one would a zen koan like one hand clapping, or an illumined darkness. And I guess, maybe I still do; otherwise, I would have forgotten it by now. Wouldn’t I?
Here’s what I’m thinking right now. I remember hearing a whole lot of things way back then that I used to really wonder about–like, we’re only using about five percent of our total brain capacity, or dogs can only see in black and white, or maybe it was dogs can only dream in black and white. Anyway, how could anyone know? I certainly don’t want to know what was done to the poor dogs to find out.
Another one was, a fish on a hook doesn’t feel the pain the same way you or I would, because its brain is not developed enough. Well, of course not. It feels the pain the way a fish would. Is that supposed to make it any better, because it’s only a fish? Years later, I remember seeing a short Japanese film clip. A guy is walking along the beach and sees a tasty looking sandwich just lying there. He picks it up, takes a bite, and gets dragged kicking and screaming into the ocean.
Sorry, I’m off on another tangent. But getting back to the Bergson thing, another one I remember hearing is this. A complete and accurate recording of our every experience you’ve ever had actually exists in the brain. We are just unable to access all this information with the conscious mind, but it’s all there.
Do you see where I’m going here? Just think what it would be like to remember every boring person you’ve ever met, and every stupid conversation you’ve ever had, every dumb thing you’ve ever read, and every phone number you’ve ever called. This is not to mention every painful or embarrassing moment you’ve experienced, every line you’ve stood in, and how about all those idle, meaningless, circular thoughts you can’t get out of your head when you’re trying to go to sleep? This certainly doesn’t seem like an optimal state of consciousness to me.
And that’s where drugs come in. “Seriously?” Just kidding. “Alcohol” No, not that either. And that’s where Bergson comes in; maybe he was right, after all. It IS the function of the mind not to remember, but to forget.
So, most of our lives mainly consists of this unremembered past, which is probably a good thing too—because there’s probably only about five percent of our lives worth remembering, anyway. It kind of goes along with the five percent of our brains we’re using. And that’s what makes the part we can actually remember seem so cool, so important, so significant, and so very interesting.
Hey, it’s only a theory. But, wow! Here’s another thought. Maybe I got the whole thing wrong, and that’s not really what Bergson said at all; or maybe someone else said it, not Bergson. I mean, it’s just a memory I have from over half a century ago. I never looked it up, or anything. And don’t you go looking it up, either. I don’t want to be getting a bunch of letters or emails about Bergson. I like things just as they are, thank you.
Well, let’s see, here. I guess you may have noticed there isn’t much story happening yet, but it’s coming. I promise! I’m just warming up to this writing deal, here. The thing is, I guess I just felt like we ought to get to know each other a little better before I just jumped right in. I feel better now. So, here we go.
To avoid any possible confusion here, I’m just going to assume that you know absolutely nothing about me, just as I know absolutely nothing about you. So, who am I? Well, let’s see. My name is Edgar Winter. I was born on the 28th day of December, just three days after Christmas, and three days before the new year of 1947, in Beaumont, Texas. But what do I really know about all this? Do I remember it? No. Did I experience it? All I can say is—my parents told me, so I just know it’s true.
Now, is it just me, or doesn’t this seem a little strange, peculiar, even crazy? I mean, here’s the most basic information a person can give, that defines who they are, their identity, the time they supposedly came into existence, and point of origin. And it’s all stuff you can never really know; it just has to be accepted, on Faith.
Take your name. Where did that come from? Well, somebody else decided on that. But they didn’t ask you, did they? Either they just made it up, or it came from your family. And who are they, anyway, your parents? What about the people who grow up in seemingly normal homes, safe and secure in their identities, and then find out they are adopted? The actual circumstances of your birth and how you came into this world are something you can never really know for sure. Come to think of it, I could even be from another planet, for all I know. Yeah, that’s it, another planet. That would explain a lot of things.
Actually, I once told a kid in the 2nd grade that I WAS from another planet. He wanted to know why I looked so strange. So it was either that, or—I’m from Albania, where all the albinos come from. “What? Albinos, you say?” That’s right, albinos. I’m an albino. Did I forget to mention that? Well, of course not. I was just saving it for the right moment. Even though I don’t know you, I can fill in the blanks here.
“You’re what? An albino. Hmm, that’s unusual. What is that exactly, anyway?”
OK, here’s the deal. I’m going to explain it to you just the way I remember hearing it as a kid. So, the information may be way out-of-date, but I’m sure, generally correct. Here are a few general definitions:
Albino: a person with pale skin,light hair, pinkish eyes, and visual abnormalities resulting from a hereditary inability to produce the pigment melanin.
A person or animal lacking normal pigmentation, with the result being that the skin and hair are abnormally white or milky and the eyes have a pink or blue iris and a deep-red pupil.
A person, whether negro, Indian, Asian, or white, in whom the substance which gives color to the skin, hair, and eyes is deficient. An albino has a skin of a milky hue, with hair of the same color, and eyes with deep red pupil and pink or blue iris. The term is also used of the lower animals, as white mice, elephants, etc.—and of plants in a whitish condition from the absence of chlorophyll.
Albinism (or perhaps I should say the potential for it) is simply a recessive genetic characteristic that occurs in one out of so-many-thousand people. The first time I heard it the number was 40,000 Then I heard 20,000. They keep changing the number, but anyway it’s a lot of people, which makes it pretty rare.
So, anyone might have this recessive genetic characteristic without ever being aware of it. You may even have it, yourself, and you would never know–that is–unless you just happen to marry someone who is the one out of another group of 20,000 people, and therefore has this same recessive genetic characteristic.
But wait, that’s not all. Even if two such people do happen to get together, they may never have albino children. The chances are still only about one in four that a child will be albino. That’s why this genetic characteristic is referred to as recessive, rather than dominant. It may remain hidden, and is not necessarily active. So, these two people could have three or four children and still never guess.
“Wow! What an awesome cosmic lottery, you say.” But hold on, there’s still more. From two regular, completely normal looking parents, my brother (Johnny) and I are BOTH albino. You know, the more I think about it, the “other planet” business doesn’t sound that much more far-fetched to me. Hey, just kidding—a little interplanetary humor.
Seriously, I want to say right here that I consider myself so fortunate to have had the two greatest parents in the whole world. Growing up, they were like a cross between Ozzie and Harriet, and the Cleavers. But getting back to the albino thing, my parents were particularly good with that. They helped me to accept it, to be realistic about it, but to see it in a positive light. Emotionally, that was not always so easy to do.
Have you ever noticed how people may say they want to be different, but when they meet others who actually are, they don’t always react or behave that well? Mostly, people just want to be normal. And they like and make friends with others who are also normal, just like them.
Different is OK as long as it’s something positive—like being more talented, handsome or beautiful; more interesting, educated, or athletic. But if it’s some kind of different they weren’t expecting, people aren’t as good at handling that. They may become ill at ease, uncomfortable, or embarrassed. This may lead them to exclude, alienate, or even ostracize those they don’t understand or who just don’t fit in.
But, so what? This is no big deal. It’s really just kid stuff, and I’ll bet you’ve experienced something like it, yourself. Kids will make fun of anything—too fat, too short, too tall, too thin, funny voice, big nose, anything!
So, where was I? Oh yeah, who am I? Well, my name is Edgar Winter. The name Edgar (I think) is supposed to mean something like kind or gentle warrior. Now, there’s a contradiction in terms, a real oxymoron. Does that mean I kill people gently, as in killing you softly? Killing with kindness? Or am I a pacifist, capable of fighting, but more highly evolved and in tune with the harmony of the universe.
And then there’s Winter, a rather cold name. So, I’m a warrior, kind and gentle, but cold and unrelenting. No wonder I’m so confused. Also, I’ve got long snowy-white hair; so people naturally think I made up the name Winter, to go along with the hair and the look.
All I can say about Edgar Winter is, I wouldn’t have picked it. The Winter part is cool (no pun intended), but Edgar? It does sound English, which I like, but not cool or interesting English. Edgar is more stuffy-old-English, like a banker or a lawyer. Actually, my great grandfather was a lawyer, and my uncle, George, was a banker. But, not me, not in this lifetime.
As for my name, here’s what happened. My father (John Dawson Winter Jr.) married my mother (Edwina Holland). So, their first son was named John Dawson Winter III. Johnny Winter, now there’s a cool name. Then, three years later, they had another son. What to do this time? Well, my mother’s father was Edgar Alfred Holland, so I became Edgar Holland Winter.
And there you have it. My brother, Johnny, was named after our father, while I was named after our mother’s side of the family. The irony is, I look like our father, while Johnny looks a lot more like our mother. Oh well, who knew? In any event, I love my family, but let’s get back to me.
I may as well tell you some things I actually know. I’m almost 6 feet tall, about 180 pounds, light complexion, blue-grey eyes that tend toward violet in bright light, long white hair, short white beard and mustache. So much for general appearance.
I guess the biggest and most important thing we haven’t talked about yet, is music. I’ve loved music ever since I can remember. As a matter of fact, I know this sounds crazy, but I was actually playing music BEFORE I can remember. My dad showed me my first chords on the ukulele. I vaguely remember the process of learning the chords, but I have no idea when or how old I was. My brother was playing the uke when he was seven; that’s when we started singing together. He’s three years older, so I must have been around four.
My mother said we played on a local radio kid’s hour called “The Uncle Willie Show” when I was four. I remember being on the show when I was six, but she swore we were on the first time when I was only four. I know, I can’t believe it either, but Mama was never wrong! She used to get all the questions right on “Jeopardy”, even the ones the brainiac contestants on the panel all missed—so whenever I wanted to know anything, I would just ask Her. She was always right.
Amazingly, this same thing goes for my wife, Monique, too–but in an entirely different way. Monique may not have the vast storehouse of encyclopedic information, but she knows everything simply by intuition. She even knows things that are just logically impossible to know. I don’t know how she does it, but it works. It took me a while to catch on to this, but believe me when I say–my wife, Monique, is always right.
This simple truth is one of the secrets of our long and blissfully happy marriage. You might want to file this away for future reference. It’s virtually a universal constant. MY WIFE IS ALWAYS RIGHT. If you don’t believe me—just ask any wife, and see if she doesn’t agree.
Now, where were we? Ah, yes, music. Once I was doing an interview, and this person asked me–what was your first memory of music. I thought this was a great question, because I didn’t just immediately know the answer. I had to cast my mind way back, further back than learning the chords on the uke, even back before I could talk. I’m sure about this because there were no words in this memory, just images and feelings.
I was so warm and happy, nestled in my mother’s lap, all safe and secure. And there was this beautiful sensation flowing over and all around and through me. I didn’t have a word for it, but it was the most beautiful thing I had ever felt or heard. I now know that it was music. I started to squirm. I had to get closer to it, find out about it, what or who could be making that beautiful sound.
Of course, I didn’t know what a piano was, but I was just able to stretch myself up between my mother’s arms and peek over the keyboard. She was making these beautiful, graceful, undulating, movements with her arms and hands. I was enthralled, spellbound.
As I watched, I began to realize that the way she was moving was somehow related to the sensation I was experiencing and actually creating and controlling these beautiful waves of sound that were washing over me. It was the most profound experience I had ever had in my life! I didn’t know what this was, but I knew I would remember it forever.
And that is my first memory of music, in fact, one of my first memories of any kind of awareness and consciousness whatsoever. I think this memory is so powerful and unique because it is so human, being both physical and spiritual—a real person playing real music, not a phonograph record or something coming over the radio.
I hadn’t even known I had this memory, and when I recalled it, I was literally blown away. It explained so much about the intensity of my feelings for music, the association with a mother’s love stirring such deep emotions of warmth and security, the magical spiritual quality it had of somehow existing outside space and time. And because it was based not on words, but rather on pure experience, it could convey that forever feeling that seems to transcend the physical universe and encompass all.
I still feel this way about music, today. I see it as a positive spiritual force that has the power to open us up and take us outside ourselves. But as I write this, I see something now I didn’t realize before. I set out to put into words some of the things I felt I could not say through music. But sometimes, there are things that can be said only with music that can never be put into words.
I also remember discovering Johnny and thinking—Oh, it’s another me. The older we grew, the closer we became. We were so alike in so many ways, but so totally opposite in others. We both Loved music, but different kinds of music, and for completely different reasons. Johnny had decided early on he was going to be famous. I had decided I was going to be a really good musician, maybe even great one day.
Johnny saw music as a way of gaining popularity, making new friends, attracting pretty girls. He knew he’d have to get really good, and if he got good enough, he could even be a star. He could make it happen! Johnny reached out to the world with his music. Mine was a voyage of self-discovery to the world of music within. The extrovert and the introvert; Johnny “Cool Daddy” Winter, and the quiet kid who played all the instruments. We were soul brothers who both had a long way to go.
The first step toward a professional career in music came about through a local talent contest in the Beaumont area. We had our first band called “Johnny and the Jammers” when Johnny was about 15 and I was only 12. Our hottest song at the time was “Johnny B. Goode”. We entered, played it, and won. First prize was the opportunity to make your very own record. We recorded an original song Johnny wrote called “School Day Blues”, and as they say—the rest is history.
We continued making records and playing locally in the area throughout my teens. In my last year of high school we finally decided we were good enough to take the band on the road, and that’s exactly what we did. We toured the southern club circuit for a year or so, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, etc.
We all wound up living in Houston at the end of that tour. There were lots of bands there, and many different clubs where you could play, an excellent town for a musician to find good regular work. I was playing with several bands. Johnny’s band, a big 10-piece soul R&B horn band, an excellent cover band that made really good money, and a group of my own I had organized to play jazz.
We got a job at a swanky supper club playing sophisticated dance music, standards, and what little jazz we could get away with. The club was called The Golden Fleece; there was a chorus line, The Golden Girls—and we were the band, of course, The Goldenaires. We had to wear gold jackets, but the music was truly Golden! This was destined to become the band that played on my first album,“Entrance”!
And that’s exactly where I was when word started to spread of Johnny’s newfound fame. Suddenly Rolling Stone was proclaiming Johnny Winter the new, hot-flash, Texas guitar slinger, the blues rocker the world had been waiting for. I soon got a call from Johnny saying—you need to drop everything you’re doing and get yourself up here to New York right away. Finally, it’s really happening. And sure enough, IT WAS!
I’ve never really thought of music as a career, although it’s undeniable turned into one. It’s more innately part of who I am, rather than something I do. But since we’re talking in those terms, I would date the beginning of my career as having started back at Woodstock. THAT was a pivotal, life altering, consciousness expanding experience that changed me (and my ideas about music) forever!
Up to that point, I had thought of myself as a serious musician (something which thankfully I’ve gotten over). Back then it was my own secret, personal, private, world—into which I could escape to find the beauty of chords, melody, harmony, and rhythm.
I was making my own way in the music world when my brother Johnny become suddenly famous and invited me to play on his next record and also appear as a special guest with his blues trio on tour. This was my first experience with shows on a concert level, and the whole thing was totally new to me (and Johnny as well, for that matter). We were out on the road playin real shows for the first time when Johnny’s manager gave us the news, we were booked on this huge festival that was rapidly becoming a phenomenon.
We flew into Woodstock by helicopter, and the first thing that struck me was THE VIBE. The whole thing was set against the social backdrop of Civil Rights and the Peace Movement. There was this unusual feeling of unity, of belonging, of being part of something out of the ordinary that might make a real difference.
Something I never expected happened standing on that stage, I experienced a moment of clarity – a transfiguring epiphany. Looking out over that endless sea of humanity, I found myself thinking—how did I get here? It was totally unfathomable to me, and I began to see that music could be so much more than just artistic beauty, it could have a higher purpose! It could reach out to people, bringing them together in a way I had never really considered before. Seeing all those people united in this unique way caused a complete change in me. After Woodstock, I really started considering what it might mean to be an artist—not just a musician.”
When we got back from that tour, I started writing in earnest. I had many ideas and numerous fragments of Jazz and classical pieces I’d been composing just for fun. I had never understood why music had to be separated into genres, or accepted the idea that songs could never be more than 3 minutes long. To me the Beatles had disproved and broken those supposed rules long ago. My idea was to weave these various pieces into a cohesive whole, a sort of symphonette with recurrent themes and different movements: some Jazz, some classical, some rock, some blues. Why not?
It was around this time that Johnny’s manager began to take more of an interest in what I was doing. He said he could set up a meeting with Clive Davis (who was then President of CBS) if I was interested. I said, sure! He’d be an interesting person to meet and talk to, regardless of what happened.
I went into the meeting with no real expectations, having little idea of what to expect. Clive was very personable and attentive, listening to everything I had to say. As I became more comfortable, we got into a deep conversation in which I started to explain some of my musical concepts and ideas.
Suddenly Clive said, “This is all very interesting—but what I would really like now is to hear you play something, so I can get a better idea.” He buzzed for a secretary and an assistant of some kind, and we all adjourned to a nearby conference room. It had a long table set up for big board meetings, with a small upright piano tucked away in one corner.
I was extremely nervous, and totally unprepared for any kind of an audition. But I shrugged it off and sat down at the piano. Johnny’s a real blues man, I thought, so I should probably start out with the blues. I had been singing “Tobacco Road” my one song in Johnny’s set on tour, so I started with that. I got to the end and did my long, never-ending scream, launching into the bluesy scat style singing I was doing with Johnny (except with piano instead of guitar). I pounded and rolled out the last honky-tonk chord, and as it died, the whole room burst into applause!
I had been sitting sideways, with the piano facing the wall, and had never looked back into the room as I played. It had filled up with people, executives, department heads, promotion and A & R people I guessed: and they were all standing, cheering, and clapping. Surprised, and somewhat shaken (but excited) I was able to convince Clive that was enough or a performance for the time being.
After everyone filed out, we continued our earlier conversation, and I privately played the main theme and some of the pieces I was currently working on. I explained that this was entirely experimental music with no conceivable commercial potential I could imagine. Clive’s response was unexpected, and something I’ll never forget. It was surprising, insightful, and somewhat profound.
He said, “I understand, and can live with that. I’m OK with it, but are you sure You are?” It was a very perceptive and thought-provoking question. I assured him, Yes, I am! We shook hands and he said he would be in touch with my management.
Within several days, Clive offered me a generous contract, with complete freedom to record whatever I wanted. And so it came to be that Johnny and I were added to the prestigious list of artists signed directly by Clive Davis: Johnny to Columbia, and I to Epic. I owe Clive a great debt of thanks. If not for his faith, trust, and belief in me as an artist, the “Entrance” album would probably never have been made. And with that, my (so called) career had actually begun.
Fast forwarding to now, and looking back over the years, there are definitely things that stand out in my mind. Many are straightforward events or high points, but there are a few I consider truly meaningful, this one in particular. The idea of putting a strap on a keyboard seems simple and obvious after having seen it so many times you’ve become accustomed to the reality and accepted it as something ordinary. I just happened to be the first person to do it, and I think it goes down as a real event in Rock ‘n’ Roll history.
Actually being able to wear a keyboard and make it visible—so the audience could clearly see what the player was doing and relate it to the sound of the instrument was a totally new and mind-blowing experience for everyone. You might even say it changed the face of music, certainly keyboard world. It freed the player from being trapped behind a big bank of keyboards (out of sight, out of mind) forever, and gave many bands a whole new look.
But today, I doubt that whenever people see someone with a keyboard strapped around their neck—they think, Yeah, Edgar Winter! It’s just a little-known fact that it was my invention, and I started the whole thing. But hey, now at least You know—and you’ve got an interesting little tidbit of new trivia to try out on your friends. Who knows, it might even make a real panel-stumping Jeopardy question.
Part of what I’ve tried to do throughout my career is to forge new frontiers, break down senseless genre boundaries or prejudices, and broaden musical horizons. I think the “Entrance” album is the best and most meaning example of this. It was also the closest Johnny and I ever came to a true collaboration. I really didn’t consider myself an artist yet. I was still just a musician, nor did I think of myself as a lyricist. So I asked Johnny if he would try writing lyrics to some of the music I had. I started revising and refining some of what he came up with, and that inspired me to start originating ideas of my own. This was my birth as a songwriter. It opened up a whole new world.
I think “Entrance” is the purist music I’ve ever written, in that it was totally free of any commercial considerations whatsoever. I am not aware of any other piece of music that actually blends jazz, classical, rock, and blues in such a way. It was something new, and there’s never been anything like it before or since that I know of.
Another thing I consider meaningful (at least for me personally) was the formation of the band “White Trash”. In my book, THAT was the rawest, most soulful, funkiest, white rhythm and blues band in the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll! It represents a style of music played only in the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast area that you won’t hear anywhere else in the world.
Have you ever been to a black Pentecostal tent revival? We’ll, If you think Rock ‘n’ Roll is high energy, then let me tell you—it pales in comparison. I think Gospel is probably one of the most overlooked, generally under appropriated, and least understood elements in music. It’s the flip side of the blues. The whole basic style of screaming, high-energy, rock vocals is really derived from all the great, black, preacher-gospel singers. In the band “White Trash”, what we wanted to do was try to bring that same kind of energy to people in a Rock ‘n ‘ Roll context. And that’s what we did.
Here’s something that really stands out in my memory. It’s another little-known fact that “White Trash” was one of the first white acts to play the legendary Apollo Theater! Another fellow Texan, Buddy Holley, was actually The First. I can still remember as a little kid hearing Wolfman Jack on the radio shouting—that was James Brown and the Famous Flames live at the Apollo Theater. I never Dreamed that could be me one day. We recorded that night, and one of the songs “Cool Fool” is on our live album “Roadwork”. What an honor!
Here’s another one. I am so grateful for my acclaim in the rock world, but back in the 70s I actually won the Playboy Jazz Poll (for alto sax) several years in a row. This particular year the award was presented to me by none other than the iconic, composer, pianist, band leader Duke Ellington. I was totally IN AWE!
The next one is certainly the biggest and most obvious. My song “Frankenstein” actually made it all the way to Number One in the nation. Number one is hard enough to get, but it’s almost unheard of for an instrumental. Here’s how it all happened.
As you know by now, my first concert experience was playing with my brother Johnny and his blues trio. Back then, I considered myself more of an instrumentalist than a singer; and since I played a LOT of instruments, I thought it would be cool to come up with a song that featured me on several different ones (organ, sax, and drums). And so it was that I wrote the infamous riff which became the “head” of the monster that still stalks the world today. (In Jazz, the introductory statement or “melody” is referred to as the “head”).
It didn’t have a name, but we started calling it “The Double Drum Song”, because I did a duel drum solo with Johnny’s drummer (Red Turner), with two full sets of drums on stage (just for that one song). Johnny used to do the first half of the set with the blues trio, and then he would say “And now, I wanta bring on my little brother, Edgar”. It was really cool in the beginning, because no one knew who I was, or that Johnny even HAD a brother. It was like ….. Oh My God, people couldn’t believe it! So, I would come on, sing “Tell The Truth” (a Ray Charles song) with Johnny, do “Tobacco Road” (which started the vocal-guitar duel trade-offs), and then do “The Double Drum Song”. WHAT A SHOW!
So, “The Double Drum Song” became the first song I ever wrote and played (Live) without it ever having been recorded! We played it all over the world; and then it was gone and forgotten, Until…. the advent of the Synthesizer! I had just formed “The Edgar Winter Group”, discovered the synthesizer, and gotten the idea of “wearing” the keyboard with a strap. So, I started looking for a song I could use to feature the synthesizer as a Lead instrument. And then I had an inspiration … WOW! I’ll bet that riff to the old double drum song would really sound great with that reinforced sub-sonic synth bottom! AND IT DID!
With the inspiration of the synthesizer, I really went to work: first designing and creating totally new sounds, then writing various different sections to display each one, and finally fitting them together into an All-New contemporary musical context. I decided to replace the drums with timbales for the percussion sections. This eliminated the problem of two drum kits on stage, and actually made it more interesting. We finally worked it up into a KILLER showpiece (no pun intended) and started playing it live. The response was incredible; it was a real Show Stopper! In fact, it was so powerful; it just HAD to close the show, as it does to this very day.
All this, however, was yet only the beginning. the song still had no name; we had just started calling it “The Instrumental”, and I never had any intention of recording it. You might ask, how could you Not intend to record such an interesting and exciting song? The answer is simple. Back in those days there were two kinds of songs: live songs and recording songs, and this was Definitely a live song. Radio wouldn’t play anything over four minutes, and this thing was over fifteen. Also, I believed the real direction of the The Edgar Winter Group lay in the co-writing between Dan Hartman and myself. I saw “Free Ride” as the potential big hit.
Recording was a different process, back in the 70s. Groups frequently went in with just a few songs, and actually wrote and created the album in the studio. Consequently, when any jamming was going on, tape was Always rolling. The Instrumental was one of our favorites to warm up with, so there were several super-long versions of it on tape. Our album (which was itself still untitled) was almost completed. We were just sitting around talking one night when Rick Derringer said something like—why don’t we try mixing that live song, the instrumental. Bill Szymczyk, the engineer (who did “Hotel California” and many of the “Eagles” greatest cuts) really liked the thing and thought it would be really fun to mix. I thought it was kind of a crazy Idea, but I like crazy ideas, and I Loved the song. So I said, sure! Why not?
The only real problem was its extreme length. Back in those days, the only way to edit a song was to physically cut the master tape into pieces, rearrange them, and put them back together with splicing tape; a sort of musical jigsaw puzzle with recording tape. This seemed like a great excuse to get even more blasted than usual and have a kind of (finishing the album editing party) to wind things up. It’s a painstakingly methodical and laborious task (much like cutting a diamond). One mistake, and you’re done! I can still remember the tape all over the control room; spilling over the console, folded up on the sofa, draped over the backs of chairs: it was everywhere!
It was so confusing, we couldn’t figure out how to put the thing back together. Somebody said ….. well, I know this is the “main body” on the couch; and I think the “head’s” over there. I started singing an old spiritual remembered from childhood called “Dry Bones” (the foot bone’s connected to the–ankle bone, the ankle bone’s connected to the–shin bone, the shin bone’s connected to the …etc.).
Finally, we got it all back together; and man, it sounded COOL! We were all in euphoria. Let’s hear that Again! And we hit rewind. Chuck Ruff (the drummer) was sitting by the tape machine. He looked mesmerized … almost in a hypnotic trance, just watching all those edits spin by. And then, Chuck mumbled the immortal words … Wow man, It’s like Frankenstein. We all looked at each other … THAT’S IT! The name of the song … Frankenstein!
Hmmm, I said … I don’t know, I really liked the book, but I’ve never particularly been a fan of the movie; and I’m not so sure I like the idea of being associated with a monster. But I am rather like the reclusive Doctor creating the monster song, and synthesizer is the perfect symbol of technology running out of control. Plus, I have to admit—I couldn’t have written a song that sounds more like a monster if I tried. You know, the visual imagery is perfect! You can even SEE Frankenstein, hulking along with that awkward monster vibe. And so, THE MONSTER WAS BORN!
Another thing going on at this same time (my exploration and experimentation with the synthesizer) was also drawing considerable attention. The synthesizer was extremely controversial at the time, and being accused of dehumanizing music. I disagreed and spoke out against this saying—Look at a piano: rods, pedals, hammers, and strings—it’s a machine. A good symbol of the industrial revolution. Now look at a synthesizer. Oscillators capable of producing an infinity of sounds, able to introduce modulations such as pitch bend, vibrato, and growl, much like the human voice. It’s still a machine, but it’s a Smart machine. More a symbol of the Information Age, it’s as limitless as the human imagination, and as flexible as the mind controlling it! Now tell me, which one sounds more human to you?
The first primitive models began to emerge in the 70s, and among them was the ARP 2600. The thing that made this instrument different was that the keyboard was completely separate from the main unit that actually produced and generated the sounds. The keyboard was relatively light-weight and connected by a cable making it perfect for the idea of the strap. Fascinated by this possibility, I dove deeply into the potential of this instrument—and along with a few other innovators such as Stevie Wonder (who played the Moog), a chosen few began to pioneer the use of the synthesizer in rock and pop music. Unlike many people who were describing the sound of the synth as cold and robotic, I found it just the opposite. I think it’s one of the most human sounding instruments there could possibly be. It has the potential to sound like anything you can imagine. What could conceivably be more human than THAT?
And THAT brings us to the most momentous and profoundly meaningful event of my life—meeting the lovely lady who would become my wife, with grace and mystique, the magic Monique. I have written about this meeting in great detail, and for the complete story I refer you the piece entitled “Monique” and its companion “True Love”. If you thought this would have something to do with music, you’d be right; but let me attempt to put this relationship into perspective.
I believe life is essentially a spiritual quest. Music is a light that has helped illuminate that path for me. But it is only the light, not the path itself. The underlying essence of spirituality is simply Love. My Love for Monique has certainly changed my life as much and more than Woodstock, and far more profoundly. She has inspired me not only in the way I think about music, but the way I think about life. We’ve all heard the saying—Love makes the world go round. I believe this is not only figuratively, but literally true.
There is a fundamental order underlying the universe we can observe in the physical laws by which it operates. And what is it that actually holds the universe together? On a galactic scale it’s gravity, the law of attraction. And what holds atoms together bonding them into compounds expressed as chemistry? Molecular attraction. And don’t we use these same terms to define and refer to Love—attraction, bonding, chemistry? Is this just coincidence? I don’t think so!
This is the deepest, most profound, all-encompassing and pervasive idea I have to express. If you take nothing else away with you from what I’ve written here, let it be this that you remember and hopefully contemplate. Just as gravity and molecular interaction are examples of this power in the physical universe, so Love is its equivalent manifestation in human terms, the spiritual, and the divine. Whether you choose to call it the law of attraction, the laws of quantum physics, God’s law, or the law of Love—it really doesn’t matter, they all are one. Everything that exists is connected, and that connection is expressed as the universal power of attraction or Love!
Why do planets revolve around the stats? Why do our lives revolve around those we Love? Why do atoms bond together? What is the bond of brotherhood? Why does music speak to the soul? Why does art draw the eye? Why am I drawn to Monique, and why is she attracted to me?
I believe that attraction, gravity, atomic structure, molecular interaction, the connectedness of everything, the expansion of the universe, the evolutionary imperative, the creation of life, our connection to each other—to the universe, to spirituality, to the infinite, to God, to LOVE are all just different forms of the same thing. That thing is the invisible attraction, connection, intelligence, and order underlying the entire universe—the totality of existence, all is Love—all is One!
Whew! That’s Deep, that’s Heavy, Far Out, and all that old hippie stuff. Anyway—now I’ve said my piece, which is mainly why I’ve written all this to begin with. So we can move on, or rather pick up where we left off—out of the philosophical flights of fancy and back to the real world, the music world that is. So where were we? Ah yes—meaningful, memorable moments.
There are many shows and venues that stand out in my memory as having been special: the first time playing Royal Albert Hall, selling out Madison Square Garden, Les Paul’s all-star birthday salute at Carnegie Hall. And there are many world-famous musicians I never dreamed I’d get a chance to meet, much less have the opportunity to play with. The great Leon Russell and I had a band together for quite a while, which gave me the chance to really play the saxophone. And after that I had the honor of playing with the magical Michael McDonald in his very first band as a solo artist after the Doobie Brothers. It was an incredibly inspiring experience.
Seemingly out of the blue, I got yet another call I never expected. An invitation to play with The Greatest, Sir Ringo Starr and his All Starr band. First of all, I stand in total awe of the Beatles. They were not just a band. What they did transcends music. They changed the mindset of an entire generation. The Beatles brought about a revolution without ever having to fire a shot—because it was a revolution of the mind, of the heart, of the spirit. The Beatles represented the spirit of freedom. And I got to meet, hang out with, talk to, and play music with the man who put the Beat in Beatles—their drummer, Sir Ringo Starr! So, what’s he like?
Ringo is not only a great drummer, he’s a great person—a great human being. He’s very spontaneous and natural, very in-the-moment, right there. He’s very quick witted, sharp tongued at times, but always in the spirit of fun. He’s a heartfelt advocate and spokesman for Peace and Love—something I respect and admire about him tremendously, being from the old hippie era myself. He literally emanates that feeling, which is exactly what we were talking about at Woodstock. I Love Ringo, and who doesn’t. He is known for his lighthearted sense of humor, respected as a great humanitarian, and Loved the world over. All I can say is that playing with Ringo—and coming to know him—has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.
And speaking of meaningful moments, here’s one of the greatest—next to Woodstock. It’s July 7th, 2010. It’s Ringo’s 70th birthday, and we’re playing at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. There’s a surprise planned that Ringo doesn’t know anything about. We’re walking back on for the encore, and coming toward us from the opposite side of the stage are Sir Paul McCartney and Joe Walsh! Paul straps on his Hofner and counts off the song. We start to play. Paul sings …. You say it’s your birthday. I’ve got that cool, wavery, under-water piano sound (like what’s on the record) that I programmed into my keyboard the night before. Paul’s singing and playing that great bass line, Ringo’s slamming’ the drums, Joe’s killin’ it on guitar, I’m playin’ that other-worldly piano part, it sounds So Cool. I can’t believe I’m THERE! Is this really happening? I’m on stage with Paul, Ringo, and Joe Walsh. My mind is BLOWN!
And finally, we come to the last and most recent meaningful moment. I’m in the legendary Capitol Records Studio where some of the most famous music ever made has been recorded. I’ve dreamed of recording here for years, and knew it would happen one day. Now, that time has come. I’m here to lay down the basic tracks for my next record. It’s a tribute album dedicated to my brother, who passed away back in 2014. I’m calling it “Brother Johnny”.
I’m up in this little room called the crow’s nest, with its observation window overlooking the main studio way down below. As the story goes, this is where the late, great, Nat King Cole himself sang some of his most memorable vocals. I feel a certain reverence and poignant sense of history just standing here where Nat must have stood, looking down at the same view he must have seen. I’m watching my dear friend the great Gregg Bissonette rockin’ out on the drums as we swing into the final verse, and the intensity starts to build towards that last chorus. I can feel the driving boogie left hand of the piano I laid down at home, with the rockin’ New Orleans fills up top.
(Well his mother told him someday you will be a man)—I’m thinking of My Mother and how proud she was of everything Johnny and I accomplished in music.
(And you will be the leader of a big old band)—I remember our Dad sitting in with us on alto sax.
(Many people comin’ from miles around, will hear you play your music when the sun goes down)—I’m just having fun … putting on a scratch vocal to give Gregg something to groove to, and he’s killin’ it on the drums. Yeah man, it’s really cooking now!
(And maybe someday your name will be in lights, sayin’ Johnny B. Goode tonight)—Yeah, Johnny and I both got to see our names up there! Whoever would have thought two albino kids from Beaumont could make it this far. Alright, this is it. Let’s Rock!
(Go go go Johnny go)
(Go go go Johnny go)
Royal Albert Hall
(Go go go Johnny go)
(Go go go Johnny go)
Madison Square Garden
(Go go go hey hey)
Take it home, now!
(Johnny B. Goode)
I’m thinking way back to when we were just kids, playing up in the treehouse our father built us in the back yard. Johnny was gazing up through the branches, with that faraway look in his eyes as he spoke. You know … l’m gonna make it one of these days—and you might not think so, but you will too. (It was one of those days it feels like there’s magic in the air). Then he said—someday we’ll be really old, and just thinking about things. So don’t forget this day, and remember what I said. Well Johnny, I still do—and I always will. It’s all about Love! Brotherly Love, Romantic Love, Universal Love. The beginning and The End. Love makes the world go round!