So many things happen to us each day: upsets, doubts, desires, fears, loves, hungers, hates, thirsts, confusions, boredoms: each of which results in no forward motion—for that seems to be the way of the world: a subtle (or not so subtle), elaborate arrangement to ensure that we do not move forward.
At times, this Earth seems to me a stage designed to cast us off course, one intended to steer us into dark conflicts and wicked barriers whenever we embark on a destination that seems to us for a bright and promising moment to hold truth: a somewhere spiritually real. A moment later (seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months) we find ourselves back where we started, or worse.
How bright and how promising must a moment be to keep us on course? How inspiring the words? How uplifting the song? How clear the path?
I am a sixties’ child. By that I mean that I (along with many others) found what I believed and hoped was spiritual feet in the 1960s. Born in the fall of 1948 I was 18 years old when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released on June 1 (just six days before Moby Grape released their eponymous and incredible—just about as good as Sgt. Pepper in my opinion—first album on June 7), culminating a year of amazing music to find its way to my cold (though well-equipped stereo-wise) Stockholm apartment. The Beatles—along with Country Joe, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, Dylan, Donovan, the Doors, Moby Grape, et al.—elevated my dreary day-to-day into promise, into delight, into if not knowing then at least hoping there was more to life than waking, eating, working, sleeping, waking.
And for many a bright moment the promise held true: I knew where to go (toward music, toward poetry, toward philosophy, toward art), and I knew that if I believed and if I followed the advice (explicit or implied) of these wonderful and often mystic lyrics, then I would reach the other shore: a happier, more meaningful life. It existed, almost within reach. I could feel it, the direction tugging, my little craft eager to toss her moorings and be off.
And then, some hours later: a new, gray morning. Rain in the air. A little late for work. Crowded bus. Bitter coffee. No distant shore. The dreary normal out on top, again.
The promise, so alive last night, so meaningless this morning, did not survive the night. How true then, how deep and strong would the promise have to be, how brilliantly lit and firmly grounded in truth the path, to effect real—and lasting—change?
I have asked myself this question many times over the years. And I ask it again now when it comes to Joni Mitchell’s songs—still, to me, the very essence of artistic and creative achievement. Did her songs change the world? I look around me and must conclude: no, they did not. Did Bob Dylan change the world? I look around me and determine: no, he did not. The world is much the same today as it was in the sixties, or the seventies, or at any time between then and now. Possibly worse. All that beauty, all that truth: all that chaff for erratic winds. The world unmoved by any of it.
I have to admit that, at my age, I no longer know what artistic voices hold out promises these days, but I am sure that they exist: the pathfinders, the true seekers, the visionaries—as writers, as singers, as painters, as dreamers. And, I am equally sure, that their promises are not changing the world either.
Is there then no hope? I believe that as long as we still conceive of a distant shore, as long as we still can envision a more meaningful existence, as long as we can dream in that direction, yes, then there is hope.
But how faint is that hope in the face of wholesale and daily terror, in the face of all-too-obvious political insanity, in the face of prevalent and constant greed and narcissistic overindulgence and consumption? So faint, I think, as to be barely discernable.
Does the world care? Not so much, no.
Then I remember, brilliantly: The Incredible String Band. No, they did not change the world, but they changed my world.
Mike Heron and Robin Williamson painted me a promised shore that shone brightly enough to survive even my darker nights. More than poetry and melody, their songs (much more than the sum of their parts) lifted me high enough that I could actually see the other shore, could actually know that, yes, it did exist.
They changed one world: mine. Profoundly. And maybe others’ as well—I’d be very surprised if they did not.
Then: how many individual worlds did Joni Mitchell change? Did Bob Dylan change? Did the Beatles change? Not enough to change the world, that is clear to me, but still: I see: The Earth is changed world by individual world.
And, what is our planet if not a trillion different worlds? For does, in fact, a true objective world exist, one that possesses a self of its own, an objective self distinct and different from the myriad selves that inhabit her? No, I think not. A collective something with a single identity of its own: no such thing. Same as “the people” does not exist objectively as a unit that has desires and goals unrelated to the many individual selves that make up “the people.”
So, when I ask how bright and how promising must a moment be to keep us on course, how inspiring the words, how uplifting the song, how clear the path? When I’m asking this, I am truly asking how clear and bright must the promise be to change a trillion worlds?
That is why I write: I want to change a trillion worlds. I want a trillion worlds to wake up tomorrow and smile at each other knowing that the glittering shore at the far side of this rushing, worldly river does indeed exist and that there is a way to cross this river.