For the greater part of 82 years, Leonard Cohen wrote, recorded and performed a sometimes bleak, sometimes joyful, soundtrack of our times. Even from his deathbed.
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
by Bruce Mason
Just before the profoundly sad news of his death went viral in November, many were listening to Leonard Cohen’s latest recording, You Want It Darker (released October, 2016), eerily prophetic and highly acclaimed as among the best of his 14 albums. As the world became darker and more inexplicable and absurd, the numbers grew into the millions, as others reached out and briefly retreated into his beloved canon of musical meditations on ‘big questions.’
My own initiation began with a few dollars left over from purchasing first-year university textbooks, spent on Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), published when Cohen himself was an undergraduate. Its intellectual and spiritual hunger, melancholy and black humour were the most easily understood and accessible in the campus bookstore. Through dog-eared and thumb-worn poetry collections – The Spice-Box of Earth, Flowers for Hitler, Parasites of Heaven – and novels – The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers – I followed along on his quest for what he called a “state of grace, a kind of balance in the chaos of existence.”
In an engrossing New Yorker profile in October, “confined to barracks” from a modest second floor in L.A., Cohen confessed in his final interview, “I’ve got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”
For the greater part of 82 years, Leonard Cohen wrote, recorded and performed a sometimes bleak, sometimes joyful, soundtrack of our times. Even from his deathbed. A handful of informal guitar lessons in his twenties served him well: “Six chords and a guitar pattern, that has been the basis of all my songs and all my music,” he said. And he eventually tamed his performance anxiety after pursuing Zen as a discipline and a practice of investigation.
Five decades ago, Cohen was as big and celebrated as it got in Can-Lit and culture. He befriended fellow poet Irving Layton, later recalling, “I taught him how to dress; he taught me how to live forever.” In 1960, restless and relentless, he retreated to the Greek island of Hydra where cars were banned and mules carried water up steep paths to houses. With a small inheritance, he purchased a simple, whitewashed space for $1,500 and shared it with one of his many muses, Marianne Ihlen, and her young son.
“I met him in the mid-’60s,” Judy Collins told me (Both Sides Now, Common Ground, April, 2013). “He’d been in Greece and was unaware of the folk boom, heading to Nashville from Montreal, with a notion of pursuing country music to supplement his income. In my living room, he apologized for his singing and guitar playing, even doubting that what he was writing were songs. I was mesmerized, wanted more.
“After he finished writing “Suzanne,” he sang it over the phone and I invited him to an anti-Vietnam War town hall. I dragged him onstage, but he stopped partway, pleading, ‘I can’t go on.’ “I pushed him back to the mic and the crowd went wild.”
Cohen was 33 when his recording debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), was released. He was an original voice, haunting, hypnotic, a whisper-like rasp, unconventional, unprecedented and more economical. Critics’ labels included “godfather of gloom,” “poet laureate of pessimism,” and “music to slit your wrists to.” “Sometimes, I stumble out of bed, look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Lighten up, Cohen,’” he told audiences, which grew to as many as 600,000 at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Speaking of concerts, he said they made him feel like “some parrot chained to his stand.”
His Hallelujah – years in the making and released in 1984 – is possibly the most-sung-all-occasions-song of this century, played at weddings and funerals, repeatedly on VH1 after 9/11, at the state ceremony for NDP leader Jack Layton, and at the opening of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. It has been recorded so often that Cohen jokingly called for a moratorium. Two weeks after his death, Hallelujah made its first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and garnered four million US streams in the week ending November 17, 2016.
Nobel laureate Bob Dylan has compared Cohen’s songs to “prayers… great songs, deep and truthful, multidimensional, surprisingly melodic, they make you think and feel.” Hallelujah is “beautifully constructed and the point-blank I-know-you-better-than-you-know-yourself aspect has plenty of resonance for me.”
In 1992, Cohen released The Future. Included on the album is Anthem, which took 10 years to complete – “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” – and Closing Time, in which he shifted out of the darkness in single stanzas: “All the women tear their blouses off. And the men they dance on the polka dots.” Or, “I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get? Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet. But I hear him coughing all night long, floors above me in the Tower of Song.”
For five years, he retreated from the public eye, spending it in deep meditation and silence – three years near L.A. and two in Bombay. Meanwhile, his manager and former lover, Kelley Lynch, embezzled his life savings. He would be awarded a symbolic $9 million while she received 18 months’ jail time and five years probation for harassment. Broke, he went back to the studio and toured from 2008 to 2014, his spiritual strength evident in four-hour performances and an unmatched late-life renaissance.
Last summer, when he learned she was dying, Cohen scribbled, “Well, Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. Now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye, old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”
After burying his father in an unadorned pine box in a family plot in home-town Montreal, his son Adam, a musician who co-produced Cohen’s last album, posted, “As I write this, I’m thinking of my father’s unique blend of self-deprecation and dignity, his approachable elegance, his charisma without audacity, his old-world gentlemanliness and the hand-forged tower of his work.”
Now, one for the ages, Leonard Cohen is gone, leaving behind a lifetime of inspired offerings, a rich, polished, timeless legacy for those who seek inner peace, especially in troubled times.
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. firstname.lastname@example.org
Last words from Leonard
Twenty-five years ago, his song, The Future, prophesied, “And now the wheels of heaven stop. You feel the devil’s riding crop. Get ready for the future: it is murder.” Weeks before his death, he shared some insights:
“I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not. It’s there, you can feel it in people – there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. So that’s operating. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response. Sometimes it’s just like, ‘You are losing too much weight, Leonard. You’re dying, but you don’t have to cooperate enthusiastically with the process. Force yourself to have a sandwich.’
“What I mean to say is that you hear the Bat Kol. The divine voice. You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really.”
photo of Leonard Cohen by Takahiro Kyono Creative Commons
Permaculture, food-forests, and a globally emerging paradigm-shift in agricultural design, inspired at Envision Festival 2016 Costa Rica
What is it about the experience of Transformational Music Festivals held in epic nature-centered spaces that puts us so much more in touch with that highest expression of the human spirit, of our soul, our dreams and indeed our physical body than almost any other music or festival experience? Perhaps it is rooted simply in how, in these settings, our bare feet are on the ground connecting us to the electrical impulses of mother earth, fully ‘grounded’ while our ears, eyes, nose and every sense in our body is fully alive and tuned into the sights, smells, vibrations and messages of trees, plants, birds, animals, the ground, the sky, the frequencies of musical artists creating soundscapes more in harmony with the natural environment and each other. This, in contrast to music concerts or even festivals held in the city in a building, outside on pavement, in parking lots or even in green spaces, but basically cut off from the full spectrum of mother earth’s full majesty and expression, fully oxygenated air and the sounds of a myriad of lifeforms resonating in cooperation, expression and joy, beautifully captured in this creative video by Ari Fararooy at Envision Festival held February 24-28, 2016 in Costa Rica.
What do so-called “Transformational Music Festivals” and permaculture have to do with each other? Rooted at the heart and purpose of these kinds of festivals is the urgent mission to inspire and birth a paradigm-shift in humanity’s relationship with nature, and with each other through diversity, resilience, artistic expression and permaculture principles. The widespread and urgent adoption of permaculture design, healthy local food, traditional plant medicines, expressive arts and transformational personal development experiences showcased at such events is an integral part of this paradigm-shift, I and many believe. This article chronicles my most recent personal journey to a tropical countries’ music festival and permaculture scene to further develop my sense of how festival culture is inspiring young people to embrace permaculture as a life path. It’s also a part of my own life-long love affair with great locally grown, organic food and the now global phenomenon that is the Transformational Music Festival!
I had been hearing great things about such a festival in Costa Rica for the last few years called Envision Festival. It had built a reputation for creating an experience rich in many ways with great live and electronic music, the best locally grown foods and drink, yoga and expressive arts & dance, fun experiences for kids of all ages, and, of course, permaculture teaching, projects and experiential workshops. Envision had grown a reputation for successfully weaving permaculture inspiration and teaching into their multi-day event. Envsion describes their festival, in part, as “Uniquely distinguished from any other festival on the planet, Envisionaries unite once a year to participate in the festival’s utopian permaculture community, which inspires self-expresson and holistic living through it’s regenerative infrastructure. Envision seeks to fulfill an inherent human desire to connect with like-minded individuals and feed the innate human need to be and live interconnected with nature”.
I had to go experience this festival called Envision and dig deeper into the fertile soil of the music festival and permaculture movement in their gorgeous tropical forest and beach setting that is classic “Pura Vida” Costa Rica!
According to one the fathers of permaculture, Bill Mollison, it is defined in his classic book, Permaculture, A Design Manual as “(permanent agriculture); the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way. Without permanent agriculture there is no possibility of a stable social order. The philosophy behind it is one of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless actions; of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than asking only on e yield of them and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions.” He also said “we need to learn to do things in a way that maximizes hammock-time”.
Music festivals like Costa Rica’s Envision Festival and others have been, for the last number of years, creating intentional villages, autonomous zones where a growing community, or tribe, of global citizens live for the duration of the event. So naturally food, sanitation, shelter, and energy needs have to be met. But these are people who care deeply enough about our planet and each other that they have been putting their creativity, skills, resources to work collectively designing, building and living for a few days to a few weeks in the kind of village where the “new earth” paradigm so many want to usher into being… can be experienced, can be lived in and contributed to, by anyone! One where the basic needs of people and the natural environment and all of it’s inhabitants are met and honoured in a way that is demonstrable to everyone at the festival and to the outside world, so that a new way may overgrow the system and the current dominant paradigm we all know is not sustainable.
But, my question was; are people attending these festivals then actually going home and putting these practices into action, getting further education, and then teaching their communities, families and work colleagues to join the revolution? I wanted to know. I wanted to hear personal stories and see it happening with my own eyes.
Stephen Brooks, co-founder of Envision Festival and Punta Mona Center for Regenerative Design & Botanical Studies, both in sunny Costa Rica, can be easily overheard, with his trademark boundless enthusiasm, sharing his passion for growing some of the world’s best foods in the most healthy and regenerative way possible and sharing this with a great many permaculture students from around the world. “I love plants! I love trees! I love to walk out my door, pick my own fruits and vegetables, and eat them, knowing where my food comes from and having that intimate relationship with my food. We are at an exciting crossroads in human history. People all over the world are starting to really care where their food comes from and how it was grown. They also want to know the people who grew their food, and if it’s organic. They want to be able to look their farmers in the eye and say ‘thank you for growing this food!”
“If you set it up right, all you do is reap!” his mentor, Paddy, used to say to Brooks, when the young man from Florida would stay with him at Punta Mona, on the south Caribbean coast of Costa Rica back in the early 90’s at his own ‘Garden of Eden’ permaculture inspired farm. Food was everywhere in his ‘food forest’, grown organic and delicious, diverse and resilient and with minimal effort or inputs; bread fruit, coconuts, heart of palm, bananas, pigeon-peas, jack fruit, durian, passion fruit, avocado, and so many others were plentiful plus happy healthy chickens and plenty of seafood from the ocean. This vision of living in such a way so as to design and steward the land one lives on, growing an abundant variety of fresh food, both for people and animals and in harmony with nature, in order to “maximize hammock time” was a dream and a reality that inspired Brooks and his friends in those early days. He wanted to show the world how and why to design life and food growing systems in this way. As the visionary designer, Buckminster Fuller said; a radical re-design of the world is the answer to most if not all of humanity’s problems; economic, cultural, environmental & societal.
It was in that Caribbean province of Limon, Costa Rica where chemical-cocktail Chiquita banana and Dole pineapple plantations, as far as the eye can see, revealed another, more disturbing reality for Brooks than what he had hoped for, one that he became determined to change. I also went to this part of Costa Rica back in the early nineties but just hung out on the beach with my girlfriend without really seeing what he saw going on there, what was happening to the land, water and these ancient, mysterious and beautiful people, the local Bribri indigenous living there since time immemorial.
Brooks was his rental car with his girlfriend one day exploring the area for the first time and was horrifyingly struck by the sight he has never forgotten; an airplane flying low over the Dole pineapple and Chiquita banana plantations spraying lung-choking and eye-burning pesticides, algicides and herbicides on all of it AND the Bribri children playing football on a nearby school field. How could this be allowed to happen, Brooks asked himself? Later on down the road his car was stopped by a banana conveyor-belt cable hauling huge bunches of the fruit across the road. Watching “perfect bananas” floating by for awhile he imagined how the world had come to operate in such a state of toxic disrespect. A regal, proud looking native man hovered by him, getting a ride on the same banana belt….covered in the sweat, chemicals and economic hardship that had left him and so many with no other option other than to go work those terrible plantations. Brooks decided right then and there to do something about it. The idea that this toxic and disrespectful way of farming could continue to overtake & dominate this region of the world he loved so much, so that North American and European middle class could eat perfect looking and cheap fruit, was scary, tragic and unacceptable.
Twenty-some years later Stephen and his wife Sara and their team still live at Punta Mona, right beside Paddy’s house, who has since passed on, and it has become one of Latin America’s top tropical permaculture teaching centers, having taught and inspired thousands of people to design and grow food-growing systems using permaculture, or “common sense” approaches and thus live in a more harmonious way with their natural surroundings that regenerates our planet! Out of this dream Envision Festival also grew. This video from Envision Festival 2015 captures the richness, fun and diversity of this epic festival.
As I walked onto the Envision grounds at Rancho La Merced near the seaside town of Uvita and Playa Hermosa (beautiful beach) on the last day of this 4 day & night festival one of the first sights was one of my friends from Vancouver, the raw food innovator of Gorilla Food, Aaron Ash, and several dozen other people, adults and youth, excitedly planting banana plants, papaya and others that provide habitat and food for the local animals and birds and other ornamental flora to line pathways and provide natural fencing. I was later informed that this was but one of the many legacies left to that jungle community from the Envision community!
In the just one afternoon and evening and the next morning at Envision I witnessed a global tribe of people genuinely embodying Costa Rica’s national mantra; “Pura Vida” or “Pure Life” as about 6000 Envisionaries danced, played music, practiced yoga, painted, made art, planted new life, hugged and loved each other, created and ate food & drink, swam, surfed, and communed in a very deep way in this utopian permaculture-inspired global tribe, completely Immersed in so many of the things that give us not only joy, but also a feeling of divine purpose in life. I was far from my home in BC but I felt a deep sense of ‘home’ too!
I saw people celebrating and exploring an entirely new way of being in the world while sharing in body and soul stirring music from globally celebrated artists like Random Rab, The Human Experience, Beats Antique, tribal house leaders Bedouin, and Costa Rica’s stand out electro-fusion rock band (and surprise festival favorite) Santos y Zurdo, to name but a few. Globally known and sought-after yoga teachers like Sienna Sherman, 5Rhymths dance teacher, Amber Ryan, celebrated classical Hatha Yoga teacher Marcos Jassan from Mexico City, and many more gifted teachers of all things yoga and expressive movement, guided festival-goers through beautifully transformative and empowering experiences.
In the heart of the festival grounds stood, The Village, a bustling caravan of educational workshops, inspirational speakers, and the fresh produce Vida Market complete with the live music Village Stage, Tea House Lounge, and a women’s only Red Tent Pavilion. Insightful talks were hosted at The Village stage including nutrition expert David Avocado Wolfe, prolific astrologer Kaypacha, and Envsion’s Stephen Brooks plus musical performances by Vir, Camillo and Incus. The Witches Healing Sanctuary provided a unique communal healing and ceremony space for herbalists, bodyworkers and educators to share therapeutic practices. Craft vendors boasted souvenirs with beautiful handcrafted jewelry, art and clothing from across the Americas while food vendors offered a selection of mouthwatering world cuisine made from unprocessed, fresh food sourced from local farms. Now that’s a village worth visiting for a few days!
On the permaculture side of things, and beyond the leave-behind planting of beneficial trees and plants, and the lessons learned by those participants, what I experienced at Envision was an eco-village festival experience without compare; no plastics for sale, only reusable dishes and cups, organic and ethically produced food and beverages, dry composting toilets and as efficient a public shower system I’ve ever seen for 6000 people, including hundreds of volunteers! This is “being the change we want to see in the world”! All of the stages, jungle-gyms, overhead walkways and structures were build using untreated bamboo, and re-used after, of course. One of the signature features of Envision Festival, for me, was the blue-grey locally sourced mud many people had artfully painted on their bodies, tribal-like, also acting as a sunblock that, when washed off, does not pollute the water and ocean. There were just too many beautiful and paradigm-shifting innovations showcased at Envision to possibly name. I can’t wait until next year to go back and take in the entire 4 day festival and spend a few weeks helping to build the village!
Envision Festival 2017 will host it’s 7th annual festival in Uvita, Costa Rica February 23 to 26th, 2017. Come and join this evolutionary global tribe of change makers! For an enhanced sense of what you can expect to experience please enjoy this video of highlights from the 2016 Envision Festival
I went to Envision with the idea to find millennials having deep permaculture-immersion experiences and to talk to them about it and to find out how it is or has informed and inspired their life path but I found them after Envision on my 40 day journey and culture-surf on the wave and outward flow of Envision. From a permaculture project called VerdEnergia, (Green Energy) where reforestation is happening in a bold, powerful, new way to Forestdance , a 3 night shamanic tribal circle dance in tikki torch light and under majestic Ceibo trees in harmony with a million strong insect orchestra, the music of Incus and some of the world’s best African drummers, all held in those emerald green energized tropical mountain-forests where Jaguars and people live in harmony. One such breathtaking cat bounced across the road in front of us and into the green dense forest as if to say “Yes, you’ve arrived in OUR home. Treat it well. Honour it. Learn how our home thrives. Keep it abundant and diverse and preserve & cherish our sacred waters and trees”.
Then a Conscious Connected Breathing retreat with Breath teacher and facilitator Robin Clements that opened and liberated my creative power more fully and through visits with my mom on her land and through her friends at EcoVilla, where Brooks and 42 other families live in a shared mountain community where a central garden and food-forest is a primary focus and their way of “being the change we want to see in the world”.
After a month in Costa Rica my trip was nearing it’s final week and I still had not managed to catch up with the very busy Stephen Brooks for an interview. Finally, he suggested rather than doing an interview I should come with him to Punta Mona and attend a 5 day event he was hosting called Jungle Camp, a 4 day yoga, culinary and permaculture learning experience. I jumped at the chance! A few days later I met with him and a group of yogis from Mexico City at a natural foods restaurant in San Jose called Mantra, appropriately. I was about to find out what his mantra is for re-designing a better world, especially when it comes to food. Within five minutes of arriving Stephen got a call from a 5th generation Columbian banana plantation owner asking for his help. The Columbian basically said “My family has been growing bananas for several generations using the status-quo practices of heavy chemicals; pesticides, herbicides, algicides and petroleum based fertilizers. I have more money than I could spend in several lifetimes but I’m not happy because I see the land, the animals, the water and the people being poisoned and I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to redesign how we grow bananas so that the land & water and everyone involved can be healthy, happy and respected. Will you help me?”
I knew I was talking to the right guy to learn about a better way to grow food!
The group of about 14 yoga students was led by their teacher, Marcos Jassan Mexico City’s Classic Hatha Yoga Master.
Co-facilitating the journey was Conscious Living School’s Juan Pablo Barahona, or “Juanpa”, as his friends call him, a Costa Rican and long-time friend of Brooks who teaches personal transformational globally though breath techniques, yoga, chi gong, shamanic practices, music and sun gazing among other modalities. I knew I was in for a treat and a powerful learning and transformative experience.
The next day we arrived at Punta Mona’s tropical paradise of all things permaculture, tropical and beautiful! Exotic fruit and vegetable bearing plants and trees of too many species to name are everywhere on this 84 acre property. As our boat neared the shore Brooks excitedly exclaimed; “look! That’s black gold all over our beach!” A new batch of black seaweed to fertilize and mulch the plants had washed up on the beach since his last visit. Here, nothing is wasted. All resources are valued and put to use. For example one sign says “Take a pee & water a tree”. Human urine is rich in nitrogen and potassium which plants need so why not put it to use and save buying and transporting in such fertilizers! More colorful and informative painted signs all over this gorgeous oasis of nourishment and learning educate and inspire guests about what they are looking at as well as explain how and why things are set up as they are. Smiling staff members and volunteers let us know without a doubt that this is a very special place to work and spend time.
We always circled up in the kitchen area before the incredible meals as a collective and shared our excitement and our gratitude for being in such a beautiful place, for each other’s gifts, and for the amazing fresh, organic and vibrant beyond-compare food we were about to enjoy. We knew we were very fortunate to be there!
We enjoyed many of the foods in season at Punta Mona like buttery bananas, papaya, agua de manzana (water apples), heart of palm, katuk greens, cacao, passion fruit, ice-cream fruit, and one of my personal favorites, mame zapote an avocado-like fruit with dense orange flesh that tastes sweet, rich, and buttery, “que rica!” as the Costa Ricans say.
The yoga and breath classes with Marcos and Juanpa were excellent and the music we played together in the evenings was a joy to witness and be a part of. I was so grateful to have been invited!
During the several tours of Punta Mona’s bounty, with his trademark joyous animation, enthusiasm and good humor, Stephen taught us about the many species of plants and trees at Punta Mona as well as his wisdom as to why each tree and plant had been selected, both for the health of whoever eats it and for the planet. In this VIDEO Brooks shares a bold idea whose time has come; “Write this down, mark my words, it’s an idea that is going to take over the world. We need to transition the predominant diet of the world from annuals to perennials which don’t have to be replanted every season, they live on year after year. Annuals like corn, rice, basically all grains, squash, beans and so on have to be replanted every season and require huge inputs of labour and fertilizers and typically are less nutrient dense than perennials which are foods like nuts, avocados, cacao, pigeon-peas, all tree fruits and many more. They grow in a more symbiotic, evolutionary relationship with their surrounding plants and trees, and animals.
We need to not only think about our own health when selecting what to grow but also what is good for the planet, for the soil and water, animals and insects. It’s not all about us but those “super foods” we love are mostly perennials and by moving our diet over to being more perennials based we not only will be better nourished, but the planet will be also!” In this VIDEO he talks about the importance of diversity or species. And here in this VIDEO he share with us his not so secret alias name and obsession; Artocarpus which is breadfruit , bread nut, and other tropical deliciousness.
Brooks shared a story about one of his close friends who coined the term “grain damage” referring to how a fixation on grains and annuals, while feeding a lot of people, has not been the best thing for both the long-term health of those people and of the planet due to the reasons stated above. He showed us a real ‘food-forest’ which relies on diversity and cooperation among trees and plants. For example, a food forest does well with plenty of nitrogen fixing plants like beans or the local pigeon-peas supplying this the most in-demand nutrient for most plants. This, like in the Native American 3 Sisters garden which is corn to grow tall and create a structure for the nitrogen fixing beans to climb up, and squash which covers the ground with it’s large leaves preventing water evaporation. That’s cooperation through diversity!
Sometimes I feel like we are, collectively, like the stranded astronaut Matt Damon plays in his recent movie, The Martian, where his survival alone on Mars comes down to whether or not he can redesign his environment to grow potatoes in the otherwise cold, no oxygen and waterless environment of the red planet. He had to re-imagine and re-organize his resources to create the conditions for life to thrive. So do we, except, unlike on Mars it’s all provided by Mother Earth already if we’d just get centralized, private control and crony-capitalism corruption out of the way and put our attention on living and designing our lives; cities, towns, farms and the countryside using these permaculture principles. The question that Brooks always puts out there to others is; “How can we live like this all the time? How can we take all the best things about this experience and infuse it into our culture?” The answer: Envision-inspired communities, both in Costa Rica and abroad. Plans are in the works to launch these ethos-and permaculture-based ideals and community building practices in Central America and all of the Americas!
This journey has sparked major changes in my life and priorities. I’ve since taken steps to re-design of my own life! Now, just 4 months later I’ve moved out of the city to the farmland of the Fraser Valley committed to live more harmoniously with nature, grow as much of my own food as possible, and model and share with way of designing and living life with others. I’m very grateful to my friend, Amir Niroumand, who has taken stewardship of a beautiful piece of farmland in Canada’s corn growing capitol, or one of them, and invited me and others in the community to come live with him on his Hobby Farm, for a more grounded, simplified, and nourished life on the land, growing food in the healthiest way we can and imagining and building a farm-based community hub based on sharing resources instead of just seeking profit. His blog, Narratives of a Dancing Scientist, What’s our new Story? is a great read.
Our first agricultural act was to plant a “3 Sisters Garden” the Native American original permaculture method; Corn, beans and squash. The nitrogen-fixing beans give the soil one of it’s most needed nutrients, the corn, in return provide structures for the beans to grow on, and the squash spread their large leaves out around the feet of the corn and beans providing ground cover, shade and thus preserving water for the beautiful trio of plants.
Since my experiences with Stephen down in Costa Rica Brooks has shared with me his excitement at being commissioned to design an 8,000 acre permaculture inspired food-forest community in the south west of Costa Rica near San Isidro called RISE Costa Rica! There, he and his partners are reforesting hillsides and valleys previously cleared to graze cattle or otherwise uncared for, by planting 8,000 fruit trees and 60,000 native trees and creating a massive food-forest where many people will share in this better way of living within the natural laws of our life-giving Mother Earth. With reforestation, food-forests and permaculture practices as it’s prime directives, the first phase will see 50 homes built as a ‘founders village’. Learn more at RiseCostaRica.com
Stephen and his friends at Punta Mona are welcoming people to their next 5 day Jungle Camp starting September 26th, 2016 for another deep dive into permaculture and transformational experiences. Find out more and register at PuntaMona.org
There are many organizations and events worldwide that those interested in permaculture can tap into to take courses, connect with teachers, find resources and sign up for volunteer experiences. Some of my favorite are:
Numundo.org is a global online community that connects you with trusted and experienced permaculture teachers, centers and transformational permaculture-based experiences in nearly every continent.
GaiaCraft.com based in BC, Canada, connects you with free learning resources, networking, courses, know-how and local people to help build your eduction in permaculture.
Vancouver Island’s Our EcoVillage offers Permaculture Design, Natural Building and EcoVillage Design courses, and lots more!
If you want to put your hands and feet, eyes and ears into these kinds of transformative music festival experiences where permaculture is a focus here are two that I recommend this summer.
Here in BC, Blessed Coast Festival is now holding it’s 2nd annual festival of music, yoga and art with a long-term permaculture focus also on July 22-24, at Cheekeye Ranch, near Squamish BC. Traditional Squamish First Nation ceremonies and wisdom teachings, facilitated by the elders, teachers and wisdom-keepers from the same land the festival is being held on, where the Cheekeye and the Cheakamus rivers form their confluence, will also be offered. This 3 day festival also features local Squamish Nation artist and activist of renown, Beau Dick, will make available his profound collection of cedar-carved native masks for a traditional mask dance, rarely seen by people outside of their community. Conscious connected breathing sessions, plus dance, acro-yoga and music workshops, plant walks, can be experienced. And, of course, it’s a festival designed from the ground up with the overall essence of what permaculture is; doing things in a way that works with the natural environment and regenerates and adds to the diversity of life-systems rather than negatively impacting them.
Renewable energy generation and a revolutionary battery system, all with zero emissions, will power the main stage where some of BC & Vancouver’s favourite local artists like The Boom Booms, Adham Shaikh, Buckman Coe, Sacr3d, Prosad , DJ AppleCatCorrina KeelingTrevor Hall and a host of other amazing local and international music artists like Yaima, Chris Berry of Hawaii’s Flow Fest and a few dozen more amazing artists will move our bodies, hearts and souls with their transcendent & scintillating music next weekend! If you want to dance all weekend, full power, THIS is the lineup that will keep you on your feet with a huge smile on your face, guaranteed, by yours truly. Here’s a taste of one of my all-time favourite electronic artist’s sounds
Blessed Coast founder and recording artist & performer, KaLa Siddha, says of this community co-creation; “Blessed Coast is an answer to my prayer and so many in our community to come together for the purpose of honoring and celebrating the rich coastal cultures of the Salish Sea region, and the lands, waters and life-systems that support us all so richly. Blessed Coast is modeling the core aspects needed for a strong, united and resilient community where the traditions and laws of the original stewards of this place are deeply respected. Almost all of the necessary components of a village 2.0 are represented at our gathering, from ceremony to celebration, from renewable energy systems to sustainable food production. Food will be supplied by a farm in richmond that our Blessed Coast chef owns collectively with other members of our community. As a legacy, festival organizers and friends of Blessed Coast envision the establishment of our own all-season eco-village and permaculture-based farm in the Squamish area. The goal is to build this community alongside the Squamish First Nations. We have leaders in that community who support the idea of modeling all that we can do to live in harmony with nature and traditional cultures, on this our Blessed Coast”
Find out more about Blessed Coast Festival at blessedcoast.ca where you’ll find info on the full lineup of artists and activities, weekend or day passes, parking, meals and more. See you there!
For those of you near or who love to visit Northern California, Enchanted Forest Gathering takes root and returns July 22-24. Celebrated as NorCal’s premiere conscious living, music, and movement festival, Enchanted Forest Gathering creates close-knit community experiences within a fairytale setting of majestic Oak trees at Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, CA. This gathering showcases over 70 internationally-acclaimed live and electronic musical acts, including headliners Shpongle, The Polish Ambassador, Ayla Nereo, Hamsa Lila, PantyRaid, Minnesota, Fanna Fi Allah, Autograf, Lila Rose, Thriftworks performing atop four stunningly-constructed stages. EFG also hosts a movement festival within a festival, with over 50 workshops in yoga, dance, movement, and flow arts instruction led by globally-renowned teachers including 2016 yoga headliner Suzanne Sterling, Conscious Living School’s Juan Pablo Barahona, and DJ FreQ Nasty (Darin McFadyen) and Claire Thompson’s Yoga of Bass. Rounding out the list of marvels to discover at the festival are over 60 educational workshops and forums covering subjects around relationships and sexuality, science and spirituality, permaculture and ancestral arts, as well as health, wellness, nutrition and nourishment. Tickets & Info at Enchanted Forest Gathering
Adam “Siddhartha” Sealey is a BC based foodie, environmental activist, budding farmer, and lover of the earth and all of her beings. When not helping Common Ground Magazine publish it’s next epic issue he can be found hugging and loving up his amazing Vancouver family, making great food and super food creations, growing food, thinking about food 😉 learning about permaculture, enjoying community and transformative music & arts festivals, writing, spending time in nature, kayaking, travelling in Latin America & learning more Spanish. His favourite environmental conservation organizations are Pacific Wild and Salish Sea Bio-Regional Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail Contact: email@example.com
A feat of natural and sustainable energies by Adam Siddhartha Sealey
On the weekend of July 22-24, at the foot of the mountain just outside of Boston Bar, BC, on the traditional lands of the Nahatlatch peoples, a group of about 250 people came together for Towards Eden, a music festival that was, according to festival visionaries and organizers Ash Bigdeli and Erin Sage Sharp, the first time a full-power modern music stage has been 100 percent powered by Earth energies – solar, wind and pedal power. It was a remarkable accomplishment and the genesis of how future music festivals and off-the-grid conscious communities can flourish without consuming grid energy or burning fossil fuels.
In the July issue of Common Ground, the cover story by Geoff Olson featured Bolivia and Ecuador’s new Law of Mother Earth, an initiative that represents visionary thinking from the leaders of those two countries and heralds a critical leap in how we, as societies, place value on and respect our source of life and sustenance – our Mother Earth – and how we make collective decisions as to how we will meet our basic needs of food, shelter, warmth, love and community.
The Towards Eden festival was generously sponsored by Common Ground magazine and its visionary publisher Joseph Roberts who organized the Walk for Peace in 1982 and worked tirelessly to keep nuclear power out of our region, an act for which we are truly grateful, especially today.
The Festival brought together incredible local musicians and Djs who played music that supported the ideals of the festival, namely, finding a new way to live in harmony with nature where we honour our own needs and the needs of the Earth at the same time. Performers included Buckman Coe whose brand new album “By the Mountain’s Feet” features the hit song The Apocalypse Is Not Guaranteed, challenging us to live in harmony with our lands and oceans.
“I wrote this song a month after the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. I wanted to create a song of hope in the face of one of the worst environmental disasters we’ve ever seen. I do have very real fears for life on this planet but we can make a choice to reside in hope and live in inspired action,” Buckman notes.
The festival saw hundreds of people come together to create a living template of sustainable community, artistic expression, fun and loving support. The main music stage was powered by a bank of 16 deep cycle batteries, constantly recharging through a combination of solar energy, small wind turbines and six bicycles man-powered by community members more than willing to pedal hard and long with a smile on their face.
Music system designer Ash Bigdeli, a passionate man whose first child was born this year, designed the system so that, rather than sucking more juice from the batteries when the need for bass increased, the bass would fall off such that we would all hear it and be compelled to jump on the bikes and transform our energy from the air, sunshine, love and great food into music, into soul-bouncing, deep bass that our friends could enjoy. It was the essence of true community and a real “village” was created.
The weekend also included dozens of workshops on such themes as bee keeping, permaculture, local plant identification and foraging, raw and vegan food classes, yoga, contact dancing, communicating with nature, drumming, massage, healing, medicinal body painting and many more.
Imagine if all future festivals were powered by solar, wind and pedal-power. I hope we can all continue to walk confidently Towards Eden, together. This is only the beginning. Look for the Towards Eden fundraiser coming soon to build on our success and grow this truly sustainable movement of community and music.
Emmanuel Jal could easily have become an embittered young man. Instead, he transcended the scars of his early life to inspire millions through his music. Born in Sudan, he was a young child when the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out. His father joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and his mother was killed by soldiers loyal to the government. Emmanuel joined the throng of children lured to Ethiopia with the promise of education only to be recruited into military training camps where they learned to kill: “I didn’t have a life as a child. In five years as a fighting boy, what was in my heart was to kill as many Muslims as possible.”
Emmanuel’s life changed when Emma McCune, a British aid worker, adopted him and smuggled him into Kenya where he attended school. Sadly, McCune died a few months later. It was at school that Emmanuel discovered singing helped him overcome the pain of his experiences. He got active in the community, raising money for local street children and refugees. Now, at 31, Emmanuel has achieved huge success with his unique music and as an activist for peace and ending child hunger, he is an inspiration. Last year, he raised $220,000 for improving and extending primary school facilities in southern Sudan. He is also the founder of GUA Africa, a charity that helps communities overcome the effects of war and poverty. www.gua-africa.org and www.emmanueljal.com
Joseph Roberts: What first turned you on to the power of music?
Emmanuel Jal: The biggest experience I ever had was when I was performing at Live 8 at The Eden Project where I was introduced by Peter Gabriel. That day, I felt like I was floating in air. Before I went to the stage, my feet were shaking. It was like I was going to the battlefield. My throat was dry. You know, I had different experiences. It’s like before you go to fight in a battle your body reacts differently. The adrenalin is released and you’re not sure, but after you trigger the bullet you’re engaged in the battle and you can just continue. That day, once I held the mic and started the first song, the crowd went wild and I was floating. I even forgot my words; I started freestyling. But it was a great experience because the crowd was amazing.
JR: I’ve been playing music for many years and it heals my soul. Have you found music to be a source of personal healing?
EJ: Music is the only place I’ve found therapy. It’s the only thing that speaks to your mind, your heart, your soul, your spirit, your cell system. It influences you without you even knowing. So the place that I find to get to see heaven is music. Depending on what I’m listening to, I can dance for a while and forget about my problems. But when I’m engaged, singing to people and seeing their reaction, then I’m dancing and going wild and I become a child. That’s what music is. So music is the biggest therapy to me. It kept me busy – rather than going to see a psychiatrist or someone who can help me with my problems.
JR: Which musicians have influenced you?
EJ: Tupak, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Alicia Keyes.
JR: You’ve said your dad was a policeman and that you didn’t understand the politics.
EJ: That was my song Warchild where I’m telling my story about losing my father and mother in a battle and I talk about the politics. It’s a deep song. It’s one of the first songs where I could personally tell my story. That was the beginning of poetry to tell my story. Before, I was hiding.
JR: Were you about 11-years-old when you became a soldier?
EJ: No, I was trained when I was eight. I left home when I was seven.
JR: You were forced to do what you were told to do?
EJ: You see, my home just got turned at that time. I just witnessed people getting killed. I saw someone next to me get shot when I was five-years-old. Seeing my mother trying to put their intestine back inside. I got used to seeing dead people as a child. Bones, fire, the Savannah grass and forests burning. And we would run from one place to another.
My mother was claimed by war. All my ancestors died in the war. So we were told we were going to go to school in Ethiopia, but that’s also where we got trained to be soldiers.
JR: Now that you are older, what do you feel is the cause of war?
EJ: It’s basically economics. You know, you go to the basics. The root of every war is economics. When I study, I don’t find religion – that’s not part of it. There’s no racism. If everybody has enough to eat and they aren’t worried about the future, there’ll be no war. In my village, when there was not enough food to eat, the elders came with an ideology saying that we’re the only real human beings and any other tribe is irrelevant. So they would invade other tribes and take their cows. The other tribes have their own theory. They say we’re not human beings, that we’re a sub-human species so they come in with the idea to invade our home and take our cattle.
Over the years, when the Arabs came home they invaded our home and brought their religion, calling us to obey them, that we’re slaves and not human beings. But if you look, in reality, what they’re looking for is the land – our cows, our fertile land, everything we have and manpower to work to boost their economy, selling people as slaves. Only prosperity for the few people who want to have more and more and more.
If you look at the Second World War, it was economics. In the scramble for Africa by the Europeans, it was the economics – people looking for raw materials, resources to boost their country so they could go ahead. And when economics is mixed with politics, it becomes a disaster. So religion can be used as an ideology to collect a group of people to extend their empathy, first to the people of the same colour or language and the same faith as them. So they unite together and say, “Look, those people are not believers; let’s rob them.”
The root cause of all the major conflicts that dissolve into long-term war is economics. Like now, there’s going to be a scramble for resources in the Arctic. The ice is going to melt. The Russians have put their flag below sea level. All the European countries, the Canadians, the Chinese, want to claim that part because they just discovered the largest oil reserve in the world below the sea.
Now, because resources are very scarce, everybody’s running there. The wars in Iraq and Africa are all about resources to boost the economy. So economics is – it’s my economy or the economy within the country. That’s what I think the root cause is.
EJ: Yes, and a greedy person cannot do a deal with an honest person. A greedy person in Europe and a greedy person in Africa cannot make a deal because their work is to rob people. If you look at the bands, their economy collapsed. The bands are still getting big bonuses. There is war. It’s the children of the poor that are going to fight. Poor whites, poor Africans, it’s the poor everywhere that are going to fight. The second group of people are just benefitting.
So we’re all in it together, whether you’re a European or an African. All of humanity needs to unite. But not to point fingers at the people, but to walk with them to raise their emotional intelligence so they could share what they have in the world. People like Warren Buffett, who decided to put some of his money into education and peace, y’know, philanthropy. If we can get the corporations to be socially active – social responsibility – and get the CEOs and the people working there to develop emotional intelligence and caution about the environment, our world is going to be into the future. It’s going to look better.
Because the biggest destructors are the corporations. Our governments have become puppets to the corporations.
JR: The problem is hundreds, maybe thousands, of years of lies. How can we find peace?
EJ: Peace is possible. One thing we have to look at is that crime has reduced. The year 1700 was more violent than now. In the 1940s it was more violent than now. The 1980s were more violent than now. With education and the passing of information, human rights abuses are actually decreasing because the public is aware. Look at China; it has begun to open up slowly to the people. They’re beginning to bend their rules. They’re beginning to allow investment. They’re beginning to allow people to go to their country.
Now, for human beings, with technology and information being passed around, there is hope. If you look at the civil rights movement, that’s the best gift they’ve ever given to humanity. Now we’re living in the time of Martin Luther King’s reign. We have people like William Wilberforce who abandoned slavery.
So we live in the best times in which there’s a dialogue between humans. Chinese people can speak English. The Japanese can come to America and set up a business. So there is hope. We can count our blessings. The future looks bright if we start up that fire again now, so we don’t close our eyes. People care about Darfur. In 1945, who cared about the people in Darfur? You see. People were concerned about Sudan.
Emma McCune, a British aid worker, adopted me and put me in school. We have a lot of good individuals who are doing things out there if we can reach out to the people. It’s the people’s power, not the governments. The governments depend on the people. The corporations also depend on the people.
JR: The biggest trick is to make people believe they have no power. People give their power away.
EJ: To every person, power comes. One email can affect the lives of a thousand people, instantly. A person who thinks they’re not powerful – they have an impact of one thousand people. They can reach one thousand people within one month by a story. Who doesn’t have a way to publicize themselves? You see the people power. The people in the Middle East said, “Look, we need a change. We don’t want to be lied to and kept prisoners. We want our women to drive and to go to school. We want our children to go to school. You know? We don’t want much. We just want to be free to speak our minds.” The greatest thing I like about the west is you can get out there and say, “I don’t like so and so and I don’t like what they’re doing.” You get away with it. In the Middle East, you open your mouth, you die.
There is freedom of speech in Africa, but you are not free after you speak. People are fed up that they’ve been put down for hundreds of years into submission so there’s a people’s revolution. That’s why a normal person in America or Canada or Australia does not care if someone is a Muslim or an unbeliever, but they care that that is their right. So the people’s revolution is what is taking the wave there.
In Egypt, you see the people’s power without firing any guns. In Libya, they messed it up big. They should have just kept themselves as a people without firing. Once you’re demanding something from someone more powerful than you, when you fight back with weapons, you’re giving them an opportunity to oppress you more. But when you fight back peacefully you’re giving them an opportunity to think. You’re hitting their conscious level. Because they’re killing you. You’re beginning to act like Gandhi. And they’re beginning to think, “Oh wait, we’re killing them but they’re just saying, ‘No, we want this’ and we’re killing them.” So they’ll begin to negotiate because you’re not a threat to them. All you want is to be free. You’re not demanding them to go away, you’re just saying, “Look, this is what I want and you can take my life and I’m not going to fight you.”
That’s what the Egyptians and the Tunisians did. They went to the streets, “Shoot me. Tomorrow we’re coming back, but we’re not going to fire on you; we’re not going to fight back.” And they won. People have so much power. We are powerful when we come together and speak our voice, like the walls of Jericho in the Bible. People sang songs around the wall and it fell down. So we could sing together the same song until the walls fall down and release the money and save the world! We’re hopeful. We can’t say there’s no hope. We will win in the end.
The first thing you need to do as a human being is to forgive yourself. You need to love yourself. How do you love yourself? You empower your mind and heart and your own body, leading a positive life and being thankful for what you have. A person with a constant giving heart will live a healthy life, because there’s joy and power in giving. When you forgive, you become powerful. You’re elevated to a different form as a human being and you actually live a healthy life.
So choose your battles. What battle do you want to fight? A healthy battle is when somebody’s hungry, you give them something to eat; you go home healthy. It actually releases your stress. If somebody steps on your toe, if you fight back it’s going to make even more harm, but if you let it go you’re letting all the stress and negativity go. Taking care of yourself as a human being is very important. Looking at yourself – you can do sport, any exercise, you can pray. You know, releasing the stress. The reason there’s so much joy in Africa is because most of the time you’re not on the tube, you’re not driving, you’re not on computer. You walk. There’s a park. You’re running. There’s so much you’re getting just by being out and smiling and playing. So a lot of physical stress can be released. Meditation, even taking a normal walk for one hour – as you look around your body exercises, your heart, your system. So our physical body can heal just by doing things. Loving yourself doesn’t mean just eating all this stuff. Avoiding what you eat too because certain foods can give you stress. So giving is the main important thing. It keeps your heart healthy.
I mean, I don’t know, but I’m speaking what I’ve experienced. I hated Muslims and Arabs and I wanted to kill as many as possible. But when I forgave, something happened. I changed. I became a different human being. I’m happy. My body cannot accept to be upset for more than two hours now. So my body works against being mad. In two years, my system learned how to be against being upset. You upset me, step on my toe, steal my money or didn’t pay me – the next day I will be able to smile. You are responsible for your own happiness. You are responsible every time you wake up in the morning. You don’t expect somebody to make you smile. Whoever makes you smile has just added to your happiness. If they crack a joke or do a comedy for you or give you a gift, they’re just adding.
I always just ask people, “What do you want to be?” Blessing is a force that pushes somebody towards their destiny. A curse is a force that is pulling somebody away from their destiny. So what do you want to be as a human being? If you’re fortunate – every human being that is fortunate on this earth has a greater responsibility and a bigger accountability to make this world a better place because you have the resources to do so. That’s what I would say. Every human being here is responsible to make this world a better place.
Everybody needs to play a part. A poor person, a middle-class person, a rich person. We as human beings are in crisis now and the biggest battle that we have to fight to win is education. Educating young people. Empowering those who are fortunate enough. Empowering their minds, empowering them emotionally that they have a great responsibility for this planet. Giving them tools to better themselves. The biggest battle we need to win peace is education.
It works in the west. When the west was educated the wars reduced. It’s easy to manipulate somebody who’s not educated. That’s why we have so many terrorists in the East. They don’t understand that not all Europeans think like those who come and invade. Education is the biggest fight we have to win as humanity.
JR: A lot of musicians start turning to alcohol and drugs when they become famous. How can you take care of your own sense of well being? There are a lot of kids in Vancouver addicted to drugs and who are very messed up.
EJ: Music can destroy you or make you, depending on how you do it. Money can do the same. Anybody with no vision and who don’t know their purpose for why they’re on this earth is going to get lost. A lot of musicians are disturbed human beings. You’re giving out so much that you go home empty. That’s when you begin to take alcohol and drugs. You’re feeling the parts that are missing. That’s why a lot of them are into drugs.
Look at somebody like George Clooney. He’s no drunkard. He’s one of the highest paid artists. He’s focused. He knows what he’s doing. He knows his purpose. He knows he can use his power to save lives and better humanity. Look at Alicia Keys, one of the biggest selling R & B artists. She’s able to use her talent and keep herself. When you’re a musician, you’re a modern day prophet. You’re an emotional leader. You have a greater responsibility. So a lot of them get lost in society. Those who’ve got vision survive. If you look at Black-Eyed Peas, they’re focused. They’re entertaining and doing good stuff for humanity. There are good musicians out there. Kids on drugs need to understand if you don’t have a purpose you’ll get lost.
I’m actually going to tour 200 schools worldwide and I’m going to do 50 in Canada. Probably I can do 10 in Vancouver. In September, the tour begins in Toronto.
Emmanual Jal performs on the main stage at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival Sunday July 17, and offers workshops during the weekend. The Festival runs July 15-17. See www.thefestival.bc.ca for times. Call 604-602-9798 for tickets or drop into the box office at 411 Dunsmuir Street in Vancouver.
MUSIC IS not only an international language; it may be the most powerful form of language because of inherent intense emotional possibilities, which can be manipulated by master composers in every culture.
Manipulation may be a charged and loaded term, but that is what artistic composers do. Listen to Handel’s Messiah, wherein Handel portrays the glory of God, or Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, wherein lost children of the holocaust are mourned in a symphony of sorrow. These masters truly believed in their work. They intended not only to encapsulate their evolving personal aesthetic, but they were also motivated to gift the experience to others, and they have been very successful at it.
The combination of raw honesty with conscience, and skill with a cultural truth of their moment in time, created not only historic works, but also galvanized those events which defined that moment in time. History has accepted their vision and continued to applaud it throughout the centuries, ensuring proof of the greatness of their art.
Looking at the 21st century, the process continues with many significant twists and turns, involving emerging fields of duplication and real-time planetary communications. Since the mid-20th century, an incline plane of marketing has ramped up to the current saturation point. Pop music exploded with meaning in the 1960s. A new breed of composer known as the "singer-songwriter" emerged with Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, outstanding examples of that form. The fact that, from a classical point of view, none of these poets could sing made absolutely no difference. They had an ability to tap into their truth and serve it up on a plate – a truth that people could grasp while being touched emotionally and deeply with a story relevant to the beliefs and cultural understandings of that era, as did the classical masters in their time.
It didn’t take long for record companies to realize there was a whole new world out there – a world with a mass market larger than ever before envisioned. The humanitarian drive of the masters was replaced by the "bottom line," which was driven not by the artistic composers, but by producers who can be described as the link between the artist and the marketplace. They were dedicated to selling a combination of replication and identity for profit.
Production music becomes an identity of consumption with a shelf life of only a few years. No one believes in much and not much is going to be remembered. Neil Young’s mantra of "following the music" is replaced with "following the money." Or, in the words of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, "You don’t really care for music, do you?"
Simultaneously, as the marketers of music are falling apart and the mould is breaking (as musical data is digitally shared on the Internet and the barrier to putting music out there is lifting), a strong and hopefully good thing will virally work its way around the world. We have the possibility of a paradigm shift. A shift from capital intensive media to a caring and compassionate world-culture where artists tell their real stories, stories which will touch the truth and enhance the lives of others, as the great masters have always done. The masters never made it in the marketplace, but they were always supported by a humanitarian ideal, institution, or patron of the times.
Let’s hope the epoch of egocentric materialism has peaked and the human race can arrive at a new common ground. What survives will not be a "trend" or an "identity." Each of us is involved in the future of the planet. The quality of choice that each individual makes will determine which way we will be going. Good luck and good night.
PEOPLE GOT into the bed-in for dozens of reasons. I got in because I was a concert promoter and I knew all the rock writers. One of them, Dean Jones of the Montreal Star, called me up and said, “You’re not going to believe what’s going down. John Lennon is at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Come on down! Now!”
FROM THE very first moment John and I saw each other, we knew something was about to happen – something big. We just didn’t know how big. John said about our meeting: “It was bigger than both of us.” That was the feeling we both had. When John and I sang Give Peace A Chance from our bed-In in Montreal, we had no idea the song would become an anthem not only for our time, but for generations to come.
It went around the world and made other songwriters realize that you can convey political messages with songs. Millions of people got together and sang the song in different parts of the world at different times. The song connected us and made us realize that we were a power strong enough to change the world. Little did we know that that’s when we, John and I, really made our beds for life.
I still remember the beautiful full moon that John and I kept looking at from the bed, after everybody went home. Did anybody think that a man and a woman, a man from Liverpool and a woman from Tokyo, would do something crazy like that together to change the world? Maybe it was written already on a stone on the moon or something. At the time, we were laughed at and put down, in a major way, by the whole world. Now all of us are standing at the threshold of a beautiful new age that we worked hard for. It’s not in our hands yet, but we know we will make it happen. Let’s make the best of it and have fun. I think John would have been very pleased too.
War is over, if you want it.
I love you!
Yoko, NYC 2009
I said, “Well, there must be a million people there, I’ll never get in.” She said: “No, everything’s fine. Your name’s been left at the door.” It indeed was and I got up to the 17th floor. I couldn’t believe it. I remember coming in the door, and Dean, you know, introduced me to John and Yoko as “our local concert impresario.” I was a little timid about the whole thing for the first while, because it seemed like a bit of an intrusion, like I really shouldn’t be there. It was a pretty spectacular situation and I looked around and said to myself, “This is surreal. This is some moment.” I closed my eyes and brought up the image of the debonair man in the suit who had made the girls scream on the Ed Sullivan Show, the man I had first seen on stage at the Montreal Forum five years earlier. And I opened my eyes and there he is, lying in a bed in front of me, the same man, but everything about him is different. He’s not singing songs; instead, he and his wife are patiently putting out one message, interview after interview. They stayed on target: “We’re killing the life on this planet, and the responsibility to stop it lies in each and every one of us. Inaction is not an option.”
Most of the time I understand we are all such little insignificant beings in the universe. But there was something much bigger than our normal life happening in that room. Being there that night gave you a feeling that you were in a special place, where people who the times had singled out were saying things that needed to be said.
It was just the luck of the draw that I ended up on the recording of Give Peace a Chance. There’s been a lot of wonderful things that I’ve participated in over 40-odd years of working with some of the biggest stars in the world, but nothing will ever rival that moment. How could it? I saw some of the writing process behind the song, saw how focused it was. They thought, “Why fool around with more words than necessary here? We’ve got a message; give them the message.” I mean, it’s the simplest song in the world. When I was listening to it in the playbacks, I said, “How can they ever release this? It’s not a song, it’s just a chant.” But boy, was I wrong.
Anyone who’s been in a studio recording session knows there’s nothing more boring than sitting for three weeks doing 2,700 takes on two lines. But this recording was different. I mean, everyone had an instrument of some sort. The Hare Krishna people were chanting and the people in the room passed around a tambourine, but most of it was hand-clapping, or you grabbed something – a couple of people had books, banging them together like cymbals. People were kicking the open sliding door to the next room for that big bass beat. Everything was really cooking. It was a very spiritual moment. And they just kept going and going; it went on and on, take after take, until John was satisfied.
It will never go down as one of his greatest songs, but it’ll go down as the greatest message a song ever gave the world – a message that has been understood and chanted by crowds all around the world. Why is the song still relevant? Well, can you think of a more relevant message in today’s world? Turn on your television sets, listen to your radio. Watch what’s happening around this world. Be horrified. Recoil. Ask yourself how this could have gone so wrong. So if you ask me if the message “give peace a chance” is relevant, it matters more today than it did when John and Yoko sent the original message to the world. We have to say to ourselves: It was a great message then. It could be a greater message today. It’s simple: Think of peace and of peace only.
Some nations have an atomic bomb; some nations have all the armaments in the world. John Lennon had his guitar, his voice, his soul and his spirit. We need more like him.
Excerpted from compiled by Joan Athey. Photography by Gerry Deiter. Edited by Paul McGrath. (John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd.)