Creativity, Science & The 4 Functions of Myth

Kechak ( young man stands naked amongst his peers, facing a raging bonfire. Days of starvation, sleep deprivation, dancing and song have significantly altered his reality. The beating of drums, the heart beat of the strange world he has been inhabiting, is reaching a crescendo…

And what comes next?

In a word: pain.

The boy is going to be branded: body, mind and soul – them tribal folk are gonna do nasty things to his privates.

The otherworldly quality of his unconscious has been brought to the fore in circumstances controlled by his community. Those strange psychic activities – the electric storms beneath his surface layer consciousness – have been made manifest in the weird and wonderful activities of the unfolding ritual. His consciousness, unconscious and body are one and totally bound up in the tribe, and now… well, now comes something to remember it by.

Mythology, according to the great comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, serves four functions:

  1. Metaphysical: Awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of being
  2. Cosmological: Explaining the shape of the universe
  3. Sociological: Validating and supporting the existing social order
  4. Pedagogical: Guiding the individual through the stages of life.

We live in a scientific age in which it would seem these functions are now provided by science.

But, when it comes to creativity, which in the modern world arguably helps to satisfy some of the 1st and 4th functions, the assistance science provides is limited.

According to Campbell, “Mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centers of life beyond the reach of vocabularies of reason and coercion”. In other words, mythology forges a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind, a bridge that both affords cohesion and injects vitality into living (opening up the mental flood gates so to speak). Unfortunately, this is not something provided, at least in my experience, by scientific reasoning.

So, in a tick-off between mythology and science, both for creativity and the art of living, that’s one tick for mythology.

Now, I am creature of my age: I have a penchant for individuality, freedom and the truth, but… well, I’m not sure the pursuit of individuality, freedom and the truth has really brought me much happiness.

So I guess I’m also questioning how well science performs the 2nd and 3rd function.

As for being branded into a way of viewing and experiencing the universe and yourself that forges an accord between your conscious and unconscious mind, your role in your community, what your community does, all manner of fabulous awe inspiring mysteries of life and that helps you to make your way through the various stages of life… well, I have to say, that doesn’t sound half bad.

So, shit… as much as that is probably a con for most people, for me, it’s another tick to mythology.

We could probably compare some more, but I don’t want to bore you. Suffice to say, I’ve looked into it and for me the mythological ticks have it.

To conclude, I want to be a conformist tribal warrior. The truth be damned!

And what does this mean for me as a song writing?

Not sure.

Well actually, that’s not true…

The reason I’m writing this is that I’ve just started reading Creative Mythology from Campbell’s Masks of God series. It’s an analysis of… the arts, I suppose, from the Renaissance to now, from a mythological standpoint.

And this is what Campbell has to say about it:

Happy Valentine's Day! (#45653)In the context of traditional mythology, the symbols are presented in socially maintained rites, through which the individual is required to experience, or will pretend to have experienced, certain insights, sentiments and commitments. In what I am calling “creative” mythology, on the other hand, this order is reversed: the individual has had an experience of his own ­– of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhilaration ­– which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realization has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the value and force of living myth – for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it of themselves, with recognition, uncoerced.

So there you go: according to Campbell, good artists are mythmakers. So much for being a conformist tribal warrior!

Anyways, I’ll keep you posted on any cool stuff I learn.

Note: If you’re interested in mythology, check out ‘Quest’, a song I wrote after reading Campbell’s ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’.

If you enjoyed this post, it would be great if you could facebook ‘like’ or ‘share’ it, tweet about it or whack it up on Reddit, and better still if you could take the time to listen to 60 seconds or so of my original tune at the top of the sidebar. If you like it, please like my facebook page (also in the sidebar) and feel free to listen to more of my music on my homepage or from the drop down music menu above.

The Delicate Art Of Song Morphing

DSC_2400‘I found a song that people liked, that radio liked… I found this basic concept and all I did was change the lyrics and the melody a little bit… changed the song and the chord progression a little bit and I sold it to them over and over again.’

Buck Owens

A few weeks ago I wrote, I will admit with a degree of indignation, about Bob Dylan’s plagiarism. A longtime song-writing hero of mine had, over the time it takes to listen to a few YouTube videos, dramatically lost his mystique, only to be revealed as a clever craftsman of other people’s musical and lyrical material.

Well, the blows just keep coming.

I’m also a big fan of Paul Kelly, and it was in his memoir ‘How To Make Gravy’ that I recently read the above quote.

Buck Owens was an incredibly successful songwriter and music businessman so, according to Kelly, ‘when Buck talks it’s worth listening’.

And listen he did.

In the same passage, Kelly speaks of a time when Christine Anu asked him to write her a song like ‘Beat Of Your Heart’, a song he wrote in the early 90s, which lyrically he had significantly derived from a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

‘Sitting in my dreary hotel room, I ‘bucked’ ‘Beat Of Your Heart’ into ‘Jump To Love’ in the space of an hour or two and took it to Christine the next morning. A week later she recorded it with an insistent dance beat that her producer ‘borrowed’ from a Kylie Minogue record’.

So it seems that it is only fools like me get bogged down with the idea of originality and that morphing a song like this is so common that it’s even acquired a special term: ‘bucking’.

Earlier on in his book, Kelly also writes about a time when he was living with the great Don Walker (keyboardist and hit songwriter for Cold Chisel). This was 1984 -85, a year or so before the release of his fist really successful album Gossip (1986), which peaked at No.15, and featured the chart topping ‘Before Too Long’, which hit No.15, and ‘Darling It Hurts’ which made it to No.25.

“Don had a white grand piano in the front room of his double-storey house. I wrote a few songs on it, including ‘Adelaide’, inspired by the tune of John Cale’s ‘Chorale’. I also had some lyrics from a Robert Johnson song in my head – ‘From Memphis To Norfolk Is A 36-hour Ride’ – which I’d adapted some. I was planning to write a blues. But that beautiful white piano took me somewhere else, took me to The lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Never Going Back’, a gorgeous tune which mutated into something else via Don’s piano. The mutation was pretty infectious. The day it came I couldn’t stop humming it and by sunset a set of words was attached. When Don came home I said, ‘Can I play you something?’ He listened and said, ‘You’ve got your own thing now.”

So while Kelly does talk about other song writing techniques, including the recording improves approach that I employ, it seems that many of his songs have their origins in other people’s tunes.  And crazily enough, despite their derivation, such tunes moved the great Don to speak appreciatively of Kelly acquiring his own sound!

And to wipe away any uncertainly on this, in a section entitled ‘Advice To Young Singer-Songwriters’ Kelly writes, among other things, ‘Take what you want from old songwriters, and leave the rest”.

So put that in ya pipe n spoke it!

If you enjoyed this post, it would be great if you could facebook ‘like’ or ‘share’ it, tweet about it or whack it up on Reddit, and better still if you could take the time to listen to 60 seconds or so of my original tune at the top of the sidebar. If you like it, please like my facebook page (also in the sidebar) and feel free to listen to more of my music on my homepage or from the drop down music menu above.

photo by: qwrrty

Did Bob Dylan Steal Your Tune?

One Man Band“The words are the important thing. Don’t worry about tunes. Take a tune – sing high when they sing low, sing fast when they sing slow, and you’ve got a new tune.”

Folk legend Woody Guthrie is reported to have said these words to a young unknown folk singer by the name of Bob Dylan when he visited him on his deathbed in 1961.

The advice seems to have worked out quite well for Dylan.

In the following years, he rapidly rose to become arguably the most popular folk singers in history.

But did Dylan really just steal tunes from other songs and write new words for them?

Yes, he did!

And here’s a devastating example for you:

“Masters Of War”, one of my favourite of Dylan’s early tunes, is a total rip-off of Jean Ritchie’s arrangement of “Nottam Town”, an olde-worlde English tune.

Check out Jean Ritchie’s arrangement here:

The melody is exactly the same!

I wrote about ‘Masters of War’ a while back, singing the praises of it’s melodic structure, and Dylan accordingly (click here for a read).

I maintain that it’s a great tune, but I take back what I said about Dylan’s melodies and replace it with this: many of Dylan’s songs have great tunes, but I’m now not so sure that he wrote them.

Want more?

‘Blowing in the Wind’ (1962) was based on an African American tune called “No More Auction Block’ – also known as “Many Thousands Gone”.

‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ is based on the old English popular ballad ‘Lord Randall’ of which

Press the page numbers below/right to continue…

photo by: ky_olsen

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Hallelujah, it’s finished!

Leonard Cohen“I remember being on the floor of the Royalton Hotel, on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, “I can’t finish this song.”

Leonard Cohen

‘Hallelujah’ is one of Leonard Cohen’s most popular songs. And with good reason: it’s a beautiful tune with exceptional lyrics and an arresting chorus.

Now, it most certainly needs to be said that it took Jeff Buckley’s soaring honey vocals to reveal to the world its full potential. But, it was Cohen that did all the hard work.

Which brings me to the point of this post:

Songwriting, good songwriting, requires A LOT of hard work.

It took Cohen five years to finish ‘Hallelujah’, over which time he filled two notebooks and wrote 80 versus before finally settling on seven.

But get this: that amount of effort isn’t unusual for Cohen.

“They all take quite a long time,” Cohen said in an interview about the song. “And its no guarantee of their excellence. I have a lot of second rate songs that have taken even longer.”

So, as a songwriter, I have dedicated myself to spend inordinate amounts of time writing songs that may, in the end, turn out to be crap. And to make matters worse, even if they’re really good, there is no guarantee that they will be recognized as such!

So, I guess it’s a good thing that I really like songwriting, hey?

Now for some final words from the great man to carry me onwards:

“The only advice I have for young songwriters is that if you stick with a song long enough, it will yield. But long enough is not any fixed duration, its not a week or two, its not a month or two, its not necessarily even a year or two. If a song is to yield you might have to stay with it for years and years.”

And this is what happens when it yields:

If you enjoyed this post, it would be great if you could facebook ‘like’ or ‘share’ it, tweet about it or whack it up on Reddit, and better still if you could take the time to listen to 60 seconds or so of my original tune at the top of the sidebar. If you like it, please like my facebook page (also in the sidebar) and feel free to listen to more of my music on my homepage or from the drop down music menu above.

photo by: Hollywata

The Louis Armstrong Twist

[Portrait of Louis Armstrong, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. Feb. 1947] (LOC)A few months ago I realised the error of my songwriting ways.

Having learnt the basics of music theory, I thought I had it sussed:

The diatonic scale has its modes: the Ionian (major scale) Aeolian (minor scale) and the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Locrian.

Take the diatonic scale and determine the tonal centre of a piece and you’ve got your mode. Then, build your chords from each note using the 1st, 3rd and 5th (and maybe whack in a 7th, 4th, 6th or 9th for flavour), develop a chord progression, play around with the notes of the scale to create melodies and you can write songs.

Now, there is effectively nothing wrong with this approach of course. Plenty of great songs do not waver from the one mode and the possibilities within these confines are seemingly infinite.

But having recently committed to improving my songwriting, I started analysing some tunes and their chord progressions with a particular concern for those songs that don’t restrict themselves to this approach and are decidedly more flavoursome as a result.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve learnt plenty of these songs before, I’ve just never tried to understand how and why they work.

At any rate, my first ‘aha’ moment was Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a wonderful world’, in which I discovered what I refer to as the Louis Armstrong Twist.

And what is the Louis Armstrong Twist?

Have a listen while reading my explanation below.


‘What a wonderful world’ is in F major. The F major chord scale (with chords built from the 1st, 3rd and 5th of each note in the F major scale) consists of the following: (I)F major , (II)G minor, III)A minor, (IV)Bb major, (V)C major, (VI) D minor, (VII) E diminished.

Now most of the song sticks to these chords… except where it counts.

The chorus, ‘And I think to my self…’, starts with a Db major.

This is unexpected, a nice little sonic twist, and gives a great new flavour to the tune, grabbing your attention for the punchline, ‘What a wonderful world’, which follows it immediately in the comforting world of the established key (using the chords G minor, C major and F major – a V – I resolution).

And why does the Db major work?

It’s a borrowed chord.

A borrowed chord is a chord borrowed from a parallel key (i.e. a key that has the same root note) – in this case F minor.

And the 6th chord in the F minor chord scale, you see, is Db major. I have since discovered numerous examples of this. And not just with the 6th chord. It also happens a lot with the 3rd and the 7th.

At any rate, I decided to use the Louis Armstrong Twist in the song I was working on at the time, ‘Full Moon Rising’.

I used it in the the ‘C’ section after the second chorus. You can check it out below.  It comes in at 2 minutes and 43 seconds, at the beginning of the phrase ‘All these sensations…’ and returns at the beginning of the following two phrases.

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