The Musical Ally: An Interview with David Silver

The Musical Ally: An Interview with David Silver

As part of our exploration of the concept of music as an ally, the Awakened Heart Blog was lucky enough to talk about the subject with David Silver, former co-host of Mindrolling Podcast.

David has spent much of his life working with some extremely talented musicians, including legends such as Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen.

Be sure to read the “Music as Ally” article on

Awakened Heart Blog (AHB): Let’s start with what you and Raghu talked about on your original Mindrolling podcast on this subject. Tell me what you think about what Raghu had to say:

“That’s what music as an ally is: It’s a circular feeling that becomes very trance-like, and puts you into a one-pointed place where your discursive thought gets eliminated. It’s at this point that a deep absorption into the inner self can take hold.”

David: Raghu! Very articulate! There’s a lot a variables within there, depending on what kind of music, why you’re using it, what for. And it’s something we make a decision about sometimes several times a day, sometimes not.

This morning, for instance, I was shaving and I thought, “Well, I’m going to put on some kirtan.” And it was a kirtan group that I’d never heard of, and which I’m not going to mention the name, because after a minute of it I said, “No, this is not doing it for me. It’s too smooth, it’s too American. It’s not what I want, what I want from this particular form.” So I drop that, and then I just put on some Ry Cooder, country blues, and listen to that. Now, that was just filling in a boredom gap. You know, I was just bored with shaving or something, and I just thought, music. And there’s every variable upon that. But I liked Raghu’s circular thing about getting rid of discursive thought, which it can. And it can do a very quick, sort of micro-healing, because that’s why we listen to it in the first place.

AHB: Are there different forms of being an ally that music takes? We’re going to talk about music as a spiritual ally, but there are a lot of times where I use music to get me pumped up and going at the gym; it’s my ally in that way.

David: It’s very exquisite, the choice. The brain, the consciousness, will just quickly jump to your own library of things you’ve heard. Depending on the exact need, there is an exact answer, within a range. I’m like you, sometimes I don’t want to listen to sacred music, I want to listen to energy music. For me, and many of my generation, that would be anything from the Stones, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty. Some of it’s not even uptempo, it just gets you going. But some of it, indeed, crosses the line from just being energy music into being spiritual, in the sense that it puts you in a certain mood.

AHB: I was just listening to “House of the Rising Sun” to get ready for this talk. Is that one that sort of hits that line for you?

David: Well, yes. You know, pop music, and they call it pop music for a reason, popular music was really designed to be disposable. That’s why there were charts, that’s why there were single releases – originally 78s and 45s, and now MP3s and so on. But it became more than that at one point. A single song sometimes is enough.

So, I love the Rolling Stones, always did. Defend them like a maniac, because I’m their age exactly. When people make nasty comments, and they’ve been doing that for 30 years, about them being too old. I get it. When I was younger I’d feel that way a little bit. But the Stones are just a band that has a riff machine going, and no matter how glammed out it is, or how expressive Jagger might be, there’s a basis to it which is blues based, but also disco based, and it gets me going almost instantaneously. Now, I’ve almost saturated myself with that, so I’ll go out into many areas to get that feeling too, anything from the Congos to the Greenhornes to Florence + the Machine to, I don’t know, certain kinds of rap music will do it for me, too.

AHB: Okay, I was going to ask you about that. When I was in college I listened to a lot of rap because that was the music that had a lot of energy to it, that I’m sure you guys felt back in the 60s with rock. But it’s weird, because there’s not a lot of spirituality to it, but it can put you in that place still.

David: It can. It depends how you want to interpret it, subjectively speaking. Because a lot of hip-hop music is very about the subject of inequality and worse, of slavery and of terror. And that to me has almost a spiritual effect in the sense that I hear people who are making art out of suffering and are also transmitting an energy to the people who bring about the suffering: would you please stop.

There’s an element of that in 60s music too, because originally where I was living in Boston, then in England, then in New York, there was a folk music tradition that was entirely activist. But, you know, our general concept of pop music was smashed up by 1965-66-67, when bands like the Byrds, and Janis, and Jimi, and the Beatles, and the Stones, they started writing political and spiritual music. So Revolver was the turning point for the Beatles when they turned from being basically a pop boy group, even though the word is derogatory now.

AHB: Well, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”…



David: Right, “She Loves You” and all of that. But then it was suddenly “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Then much later it was “Instant Karma” and “Across the Universe” and amazing music that the Beatles made, that was definitely based upon their visit to India and the Maharishi. They were influenced by the sitar, and obviously George Harrison went on to become an accompanist with Ravi Shankar occasionally, and then brought the Krishna Consciousness to it. And there’s a fusion there where it’s quite obvious that a major popular figure decided that the material world wasn’t enough for him, despite the fact the he raced Formula One cars and sports cars that no normal person could. But, you know, he bought a house for the Krishna people in London, and then “My Sweet Lord” and the Hari Krishna Temple albums – they were the first that fused really rock & roll and eastern philosophy.

So that was a big change, where that kind of melting pot started happening. Now, I think it had a time when it was there, and I think it had a time when it left. Certainly bands like U2 kind of rebirthed it in the late 70s and 80s, but there’s nothing quite like what was going on then with the likes of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young, Bob Dylan. These artists were writing about every imaginable thing. So, as an ally, it depended on your mood.

These days, with this weird period we’re going through right now, I’m sure hip-hop is covering that better than other music. But if you were to look at various Native American music, and music from Asia and music from Africa, you’re going to find a great deal of activist music in there. Also, some music which is full on spiritual music, certainly from Senegal and Mali.

I mean, Tinariwen are a band that may be my favorite band in the world. They are an African band, but I’ve seen them live and they’re astonishing. The guitar player models his guitar playing on middle period Jimi Hendrix. And they were actually freedom fighters, you know, with guns and everything. After they won certain victories there, they became a band and they play a complete fusion of kind of Sufi Islamic music and very hard-edged, guitar-based rock & roll, and it’s absolutely enchanting, it just gets you going. I have every album they ever made, and I listen to them probably more than anybody.

AHB: I can’t wait to go check it out.

David: Give it a chance, because at first it’s just, “Wow, what is it?” And then suddenly you’ll hear the beat, the rhythms are incredible because they’re African rhythms, but the guitar playing could be, you know, John Mayer, it could be a master Western guitar player, it’s so good. And the singing is just incredible.

AHB: Do you have any other recommendations?

David: From the past more than the present. I do recommend Peter Gabriel’s music to people, because from the other side, from the Western side, he was capable, and very masterful, at bringing in all kinds of new sounds. Genesis were a very forward-looking, progressive band, but I think once they finished Gabriel was sort of liberated and formed his own world music record label with some fabulous stuff on it. But if you listen to his albums, they are quite marvelous in their own way.

In terms of what’s going on now, I would just blanket recommend Senegalese, and Ivory Coast, and Nigerian-Ghanaian music. And then up into North Africa, the Middle Eastern, Islamic-based music, but it’s not necessary to read the Quran to listen to it. Any Gnawa music from Morocco. Joujouka, Sufi, Islamic spiritual dance music. The Joujouka tribe is famous for having been visited by William Burroughs and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the late 60s. And then myself and a group of National Geographic people, we spent two months in the mountains with them. They played trance music when we were with them. Talk about getting rid of discursive thought – you got rid of yourself. You became completely invisible.

Some people might think this is questionable, what I’m about to say, but it’s the highest music I’ve ever heard. Now, I except kirtan music from that because it’s a different form, it’s call and response. This isn’t call-and-response music. This is very interesting reed pipes and drums, and then singing from something called the Boujeloud – it’s kind of a ritualist figure dressed in goat skin. It has to be a virgin teenager dancing. They sing while he dances. And when he dances and they’re playing, you know, 12 drummers, 15 singers, two Boujloud out there in the mountains. When I experienced it, sometimes I would lose consciousness altogether. They have healing ceremonies. In fact, Joujouka was known as a place where you would take schizophrenics and people who had temporarily “gone mad,” or people who were epileptic. They would take people where they are in the Ghibli mountains, which are in the foothills of the Rif mountains in Northern Morocco, and they would take them there to a particular place in the village where they would dance and sing around the person, and there would be healing. So that’s a direct ally thing.

AHB: Literally the healing power of music in action.

David: Yeah. The other thing I would say is, the most accessible music ally, which has an access between romantic music and totally spiritual music, is obviously reggae music. Now, classic reggae music sort of converted into Dance Hall music, and then Reggaeton started building itself in Hispanic culture, and it has changed. I don’t know enough about what happened when it mutated. But, the original reggae music, as defined by Bob Marley and his two Wailer compatriots, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, that is purely spiritual and political music, there’s nothing else. I mean, there’s love songs, but they sort of remind you of what they used to call metaphysical poetry in English poetry, and also Jewish mysticism, which is comparing the love for god, or Jah, that unity, to a sort of erotic experience.

AHB: And even those have transformative power to them.

David: Absolutely. So reggae was a huge part of my life because I filmed a lot with those guys. But even if I hadn’t, and I didn’t even intend to – it was quite strange I got into that – but I was a huge fan of Bob Marley. I know a few people in the world who don’t love Bob Marley…

AHB: How?

David: I know of one person who doesn’t, and I try to avoid her at all cost.

But seriously, there’s nothing like Bob. Although Peter Tosh, if you listen to Peter Tosh’s albums, they’re equally wonderful. There just weren’t many of them because he was murdered at a young age. Bunny Wailer is still alive and kicking, and his albums are remarkable. It’s just amazing to me that it’s not a known thing that Bob Marley and Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are all individually, as solo artists, geniuses. The fact that that happened is analogous to John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr becoming single artists after the Beatles. In a way, it’s even more exalted because all three of them were almost like preachers. They’re just focused on Jah and how to live a life that is, in their words, righteous. There’s lots of controversy around it, because it’s all to do with Rastafarianism and Ethiopia and Haile Selassie, and it’s very hard for us to wrap our heads around all of that. I couldn’t, even though I hung out in Jamaica so many times. I was very respectful of it, but I couldn’t quite use it like they used it. But, the essence is the same as any mystical experience. The word ally really applies, I would say, more to classic reggae.

I mean, I could name, if I really used my memory correctly, probably 50 reggae artists who are all really great. And some artists are very not known at all. Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus are a group that I would recommend highly to people. The reason for that is they are an original groundation band. Reggae music came out of groundations, a religious ceremony which is basically rhythmic, with lots of herb and lots of meditation. I filmed Ras Michael, and I’ve never in my life come across anything so unusual and yet so completely compelling. So if people can get hold of Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, you’ll hear a different kind of reggae which is entirely spiritual, there’s no reference to romantic love, there’s no reference to politics, it’s all about union with the divine. And it was a religious event, ceremony. I went to one, ever. It’s not something you sort of go to, it’s a community thing. But I did manage to go to one once in summer in Jamaica. But I do recommend that early reggae. Reggae turned into Dancehall music and toasting music, and it influenced hip hop. Unfortunately, at least in the 90s, there was a lot of Dancehall music which was misogynistic and homophobic, and I couldn’t get with that, so I don’t care much about it.

AHB: What do you think about Ziggy Marley?

David: Ziggy is great. I think of Ziggy as being one of the most successful offspring of a major musician. You think of children of musicians, it’s a very difficult deal for them to have an original voice and to be taken seriously. I’ve never seen Ziggy live, but he seems to be the real deal to me. He doesn’t even try not to be who he is. And he’s a powerful figure in Jamaica, both politically and in terms of herb and legalization of such.

I did various forms of that with Bob and with Peter. I had the privilege of smoking a bit with Mr. Marley, although he insisted that he roll the blunt, and it was a blunt. I think I told this story on Mindrolling. One time I had a business meeting with Bob. I got to his house on Hope Road in Kingston. It was sort of a courtyard, not fancy at all. Fairly large house with a concrete area around it. There was stoops with steps by the gates. I got in a cab from my hotel and when I got out, there was Mr. Marley on the stoop with a couple of his pals. I got there, and we knew each other a little bit, so it wasn’t awkward. “Come on, sit down, you know.”

So I sat down and he was rolling a spliff. Let’s put it this way: it was about four to five inches long and the end of it where you light it was at least the size of a quarter, but probably bigger. A glowing circle of the best weed in the world. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t say, “Can I have a toke?” Because in Jamaica you don’t do that. You don’t pass a joint, you have individual joints. So I didn’t say anything, and he’s rolling and he’s talking to me about how was the flight, being quite normal for him. Then he said to me, “Alright man, I know you like the herb, this is for you.” He hands me this gigantic thing, like an ice cream cone. And he looked at me as if I was sort of mentally deficient and said, “Well, smoke it.” So he lit it for me and this huge flame came out of it, and I took maybe two tokes and I put it in the ashtray. And he said, “Whatcha doin’ man? Whatcha doin’ David man? Pick it up, eat it, smoke it, do what you want.”

I said, “No, I’m so high.”

He said, “No man. English man, smoke it man!” So I smoke more of it, and I really was just sitting there out of my body going, I’m smoking a giant spliff with Bob Marley outside his house in Kingston, and I’ve kind of forgotten who I am. I was so high I couldn’t speak. He knew this, by the way. He was a rascal. He’s going, “Ah, you wanna have the business meeting now, Mr. Silver?”

I said, “Ah, well, can we… no.”

He said, “That’s alright man. You want some juice?”

I said, “Yeah.”

And we never had the business meeting, that’s the funny thing. Because then he said, “Ah man, Englishman like the football. So we have a game coming up here.” And then about 20 Rastas arrived and they had a full-scale football match in the back of the house. English football. They asked me to join and I really said no, because they were tackling like the World Cup was going on, it was vicious.

And Bob was very good. He was a really good soccer player. I actually wrote about this in an article recently: “Typical Bob, he did not play the striker. He was a winger or a wing-back and constantly supplied the striker with the ball.” So that person could score. He never scored over the whole – they played for about 40 minutes, I guess – and he didn’t score once, he just kept running with running with the ball, dribbling, and passing to the center-forward. That was that. It’s typical of Bob. He was not an egomaniac. He was a very strong person.

But, to get back to your theme here, of all the people I’ve ever worked with in terms of music, and I’ve worked with some pretty amazing people, he’s the only one that I would actually say was definitely a shaman.

AHB: There’s no one else who comes close?

David: No, I would say the experience of Springsteen can be incredible. I worked with Springsteen extensively, and he’s a terrific fellow. Great guy. He has that ability to take you up, take you higher, take you higher. So yes.

There are also some blues players. I think that Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and that era of Southern and then Chicago blues players, the electrified ones and the non-electrified ones, they had the ability to take you to a higher place.

AHB: Yeah, they’re so connected to that soul plane, or whatever you want to call it.

David: Exactly that, yeah; soul plane. We associate music a lot with sex and drugs and rock & roll, and that’s fine, but I think my generation and then the generations that followed and evolved from that, want more than that in their music. I find that all the time with unknown musicians, people who just love them in the community. These days people are playing music which reflects the feelings they have about the environment, the political situation, there’s a lot of that going on. Then you’ve got people like Kendrick Lamar who are poets and artists as well as musicians. I like Jay-Z’s music a lot, I think he speaks to people, at least he has in the last five years, and I’m fond of his music. It’s not exactly my culture so I don’t know it well enough, but I’ve begun to understand it. It’s taken me a long time, but I know it’s really important music. And the more misogynistic and coarse aspect of it is just part of the spectrum. It’s not the whole spectrum.

AHB: No, there’s conscious rap out there. I’m very fond of groups like The Roots and Blackstar. Back to Bob. You were saying he didn’t have a big ego, is that what enabled him to be the way he was? Is that part of it?

David: Yes. Bob was just an unusual human being in the sense that he came from a strange background. He actually grew up in Trenchtown, Kingston. It was poor. I spent time with him in some of those places. He definitely liked to smoke his herb. Never touched alcohol. Certainly liked the company of a woman. He was definitely a human being, and was a part of this world and knew what was going on.

I directed a little TV show with him in it when my friend Earl Chin interviewed him. This was when Bob was at his height; this was in ’79 or ’80, and he was in New York to play Madison Square Garden. We were in his hotel room. Earl, who had a reggae television show, he was a VJ, which I did. So I was really part of the scene for a while. So Earl asked him, “So Bob, you’ve become such a huge superstar. How’s that feel?” And in the film you see him sort of scoff at that, and he said to Earl:

“No, I’m not a superstar at all. Not!”

Earl said, “So what are you?”

“I’m a messenger.”

He wanted to be known as someone who was a conduit to transmit matters of humility, of egalitarianism, of social justice. He knew that America listened to him, that Europe listened to him. But he was most interested in his African fans. In Zimbabwe, he played at the Liberation Day when the British finally gave over Rhodesia and it was renamed Zimbabwe. Bob was there to try and give it a positive vibration to start off the country. Although there was a great deal of divisiveness after that.

I think Bob’s words, “I’m a messenger,” weren’t saying, you know, I’m a priest or a holy man. He was saying this music is designed to take people to a consciousness which is going to heal them. The healing of the nation actually refers to marijuana, but in some ways, it was maybe marijuana plus reggae music. The reason it’s so popular all over the world – in India it’s very popular, and Asia very popular, in Japan and Southeast Asia, all over the world – is because he just sort of speaks that language. People can easily absorb it. It’s not so easy to absorb some sacred music. Some people just don’t get it, and they don’t want it, and it doesn’t make them dance, and it doesn’t make them laugh.

Reggae music is capable of doing all that. It’s one of the great musical genres of our time. But it comes in waves. Like in 70s, 80s, and 90s reggae music, there were people like Toots and Maytals, Max Romeo, Freddie McGregor, all kinds of great people. And they were all spiritual people. But then it changed, it changed. It still exists, but a lot of other music crept in, and a lot of that was about sex. A lot of that was about women and how they should be treated. And it wasn’t, shall we put it, a feminist view point. So it became a little difficult for me to get interested again. But I do love reggae music and I give it a lot of credit for my life.

AHB: Before we move to the more spiritual aspect of this, I really want to ask, do you think rock music is dead?

David: No, but it’s a struggle. In terms of what gets out there now and is able to survive, we’re talking Foo Fighters, we’re talking bands like that, which are really bands that are already 20 years in the making. I mean, post-Nirvana, let’s say 25 years, there are outbreaks of it, and there’s a great deal of interest in the history of it, in terms of people going to see what remains, like The Who. It’s encouraging to an old dude like me, because it helps me fight ageism. When people say how could Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey still be doing this, well, if you’re actually going to see them. Or you’re going to see Clapton. You see something very special, a very matured version of it all.

But in terms of people in their 20s and 30s, there are lots of really good musicians. But is it a central part of the zeitgeist? As it was with the Grateful Dead. As it was with the Beatles. I have to say no. However, I hear and see things on something like Austin City Limits or YouTube, and I’m mind-blown. I see something really great that moves me, and it’s being performed by people 30 or 40 years younger than me, and it still breaks through. Because the music is really, really ingrained. Guitar music. It’s a very enticing thing for really young people in their early teens to get into still.

A lot of my younger friends, of whatever ethnic background, are more into hip-hop than they are into that, it seems to me. I also know a lot of people between 25 and 40 who will do anything to get to a Dead and Company concert because they’ve grown up with Phish, they’ve grown up with bands that emanated from that kind of music. So it’s familiar to them, it’s timeless. I’m not an expert in what’s really going on right now, like Cardi B and all that. I mean, seems like a lot of it is very overtly sexualist, I’d call it, rather than sexual. It is very overtly to do with sex and sometimes that okay, but when it becomes everything it seems lacking to me. I’m loath to criticize it, because I don’t know enough about it.

But just by watching television you can tell there seems to be more interest in the Dead than in bands 40 years younger, and one wonders why. Why isn’t there a Dead now? I mean, when U2 happened, which is now a long time ago, that was a sort of an outbreak of another variable upon the theme and that had a great effect. But most people who go to concerts are younger than a U2 fan now, and are not all enmeshed in classic rock. There’s music for young people, and there always will be. But I put it back to zeitgeist central. When the Beatles were at their peak, and the Velvet Underground were at their peak, and Buffalo Springfield, and even on to the Eagles and stuff, it was just something special. It had many dimensions other than just fun. It wasn’t just fun. It was there to expand your awareness in some way.



AHB: Something you can make a deeper connection to. Okay, let’s talk spiritual music and kirtan. How do you feel about kirtan? What’s your mindset when you go see Krishna Das?

David: Well, to get back to Raghu’s comment, for me it is a way of conquering those discursive thoughts, and anxiety and neurosis and doubt and all of that. Because if you really get into it, obviously you’re much more into it than just sitting and listening to it because you’re actually repeating the names. So for me, it does that. But it takes me a while. I was at a kirtan a couple weeks ago in New York, a small, and it took me a while, I noticed. It took me a couple of songs, you know, and my mind was still all over the place and wondering about what I was going to do the next day. Then suddenly, and it always happens like this for me, suddenly that’s over with, and the music takes over. What’s key is that it’s call and response. Because even with someone as masterful as Krishna Das or Jai Uttal, if there was no response and it was just KD singing – it would be wonderful because he really is a great singer and was a terrific rock and roll musician – but it’s different when we’re feeding back because then you become a part of the awareness, a part of the consciousness.

Kirtan is vitally important. It’s an immersive and powerful tool to get into a meditation, which is a little bit more accessible that just say sitting down and meditating. It’s different because it is devotional. I wonder sometimes when I’m singing to Ram or Krishna or whoever, “What is going on here? I don’t know these people. It’s not like I’m singing to Martin Luther King!” It’s someone who may have lived thousands of years ago. You know, there are no real Buddhist kirtans. So you could talk about Buddha and Milarepa but they’re not being sung about. We’re singing about Ram and Sita, Krishna and Hanuman, and so on. You just get into the wave of it.

I’m not the most devotional person, but once I’m in there, I get it. I started singing kirtan in KD’s house in the early 80s, I suppose, and there were usually about 10 people there, it was very intimate. Sharda was playing drums and Ectar. And KD was just as great then, you know, just in his front room. He was just the same. I mean, now he’s very sophisticated in recording and performing and the whole thing, he’s become a total master. But he was then. It was engrossing beyond words. Sometimes I’d go for the kirtan and stay for a week. Many times, actually. That’s how I started with kirtan, in doing that. When I’m alone at home I do listen to KD, and I listen to Shyam Das. I would always go to Shyam Das’ kirtans in New York or Massachusetts. He was a genuine, authentic Krishna guy, and lived half of the year at least in Krishna land, in India. He wasn’t a person who was trying to open it up to more and more people, he was just who he was, and totally pure. Sometimes people couldn’t get with it because he was too authentic. But you knew he was going to a place, and if you just followed his lead you would get to that place. So I think kirtan is enormously important in the ally music department, because that’s all it’s about. For some I guess it’s not. Some people go and they just love. I know people who just love it, they don’t really know why. That’s fine.

AHB: They take it on a different level, for sure.

David: Yes. But the cultivation of it by people who really know it – because of the amount of time they spent in India, some who were with Neem Karoli Baba, some who weren’t – there’s an authenticity to it which is so hypnotic and takes you right there. I’m very much like Raghu in the sense that I’m not a big kirtan follower. There are dozens and dozens of kirtan wallahs now. And it’s all good. I’m not going to criticize them, because who am I to criticize them? They’re trying to connect. But I’m very particular. It’s like I raved about Bob Dylan, but I wasn’t crazy about Simon and Garfunkel. I knew they were great! I knew people loved “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” For me, it was like, eh. I wanted to hear “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Hard Rain” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I wanted to hear stuff with some juice.

AHB: Can we talk jazz for a minute? I know Coltrane was big for both you and Raghu.

David: I saw Coltrane live at the Dome Auditorium in Brighton, in Sussex in England. He did a tour with Eric Dolphy, and McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones, and I was lucky enough to go to it. That was an important moment for me, because my older brother was a jazz fanatic. John Coltrane to him was as close to a divine figure as he could get with. He got great tickets for the two of us. In fact, front row, center. So I had the privilege of being about 20 feet away from John Coltrane for about two hours. And that was astonishing. It changed my life. Jazz was the beginning of a deeper kind of dynamic for me. I was about 14 at that time, and because of my brother, who was 24, I was kind of precocious about music because he forced me to listen to modern jazz. Of course, the big change happened in 1956-57-58 when Elvis, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, all of those guys came to light in England. That was a big, big change for me. I can’t call it a spiritual change as much as a visceral change. But it certainly helped me.



AHB: But it’s something would set you down that road to opening yourself up a little bit, in order to get to that place where you can do the spiritual change?

David: Yeah. When the Beatles went to India, at least with the people I knew, it was like, “What? What’s going on?” But they quickly communicated everything, and it wasn’t all positive. They had some strange criticisms, but also the Maharishi was a controversial figure. But that album – Revolver – which came out I believe in the late summer of ’66, was remarkable because it just took us all to different level. It wasn’t really “psychedelic” music in the same way that Pink Floyd was, or even the Dead. It was more just multilevel, multidimensional. John Lennon instigated a new kind of depth and didn’t seem to care one way or another whether it was popular, and that was a big turning point for all of us that were listening to that kind of music.

Of course, there were concurrent things going on: Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, soul artists like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. And Parliament Funkadelic. They were all doing experimental and amazing stuff at the same time. The richness of it made us aware of other things that were to do with race, to do with religion, to do with all those other things. It was suddenly remarkable to see black artists like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, becoming hugely popular with very high-quality music. That was a big deal because one minute you could be listening to the Velvet Underground or to, I don’t know, Poco – country-based rock & roll – and the next minute you were listening to Detroit soul music. It all was a big patchwork that worked. And that was huge in our lives then.

AHB: Can we finish up by touching on classical music for a minute? I used to listen to the Four Seasons as a kid to help put me to sleep.

David: That’s great. The Four Seasons is great.

Classical music, a lot of it was by patronage, and it was for a specific reason. Some of it was just court entertainment. It is remarkable to think about who actually heard Mozart’s music when he was conducting the orchestra. Now, hundreds of millions of people have listened to it, but in those times how many people could there be? It certainly wasn’t like a Beyoncé
concert. So it’s interesting that it was for the elite, but that didn’t stop them from writing from their heart. Mozart did, at the age of 6 or something, which always blows my mind.

A lot of classical music I can’t really listen to, because it’s too stiff for me and doesn’t really evoke much. But when I listen to Beethoven or Mozart, but mainly Schubert and Schumann, and more modern people like Sati, it evokes incredible vibes if you really just allow it to flow through you.

When my mother died, I remember distinctly afterward listening to classical music. Not immediately afterward, but that week that I was still in England getting the funeral and the wake and all that, feeling very traumatized, I remember listening to certain kinds of classical music that soothed me.

AHB: Another example of music as an ally. Thanks so much for your time, David!

Be sure to read the “Music as Ally” article on
This article was written for Be Here Now Network by Noah Markus.  Images via Alice Moore | Ryan’s Blog | Caribbean Weekly | Rhys Tanter | Love More Creations