If Neal can find God, then what’s in it for me?
Inspired, Committed, Driven, Charismatic.
Neal Morse. A Personal Hero of mine
In fact I’ve never believed a word of any of it and I smelled a rat as soon as Father Christmas got caught attaching a stocking to the end of my bed in her nightgown. The Bogey Man, The Tooth Fairy, Gods of all brands from Greek to Arabian just went over like a field of dominoes from that moment. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself in that respect – the belief in higher powers, divinities, mysticism, it all seems like purpose and fulfilment that other people have and I can’t join in. I feel envy when I speak to Neal Morse, envy for the aims and faith that he has, the road he travels and the rewards he gains through his spiritual involvement. The guided path of my life seems strangely to be much more Arthur-Dent-like. A procession from one cup of tea to the next. Those cups of tea are like way stations, bases (as in baseball or rounders) and in between them I have my life.
Arthur Dent. Much more like me
Sometimes I try to explain it to myself. Which is pretty difficult because I am not a very good listener and when it comes to Life, The Universe and Everything I become as inarticulate as a Parrot Fish which means the two halves of the conversation are seriously flawed.
As an Atheist since the age of 13 I have had many debates with people who very often assume that a person of such belief (or lack thereof) cannot have a spiritual side. Those people are, sorry, wrong about that, and they’re also wrong if they believe that my claims on having a spiritual side reveals a deeply buried and denied faith. Not quite that easy. I’m with Douglas Adams and Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin and Steven Fry every step of the way.
It was my piano teacher when I was 14 who said the magic word first. I’d discussed my lack of faith with Mrs Fowler already, and she was pretty keen to get me back on the ‘right track’. She’d asked me to compose a piece of music – which I’d duly done and in her enthusiasm to captalise on this evidently spiritual moment, she actually said to me.. “You don’t think you just plucked this out of the Ether do you?”. (I’d use the word SIC there, but I didn’t hear the correct spelling of the word Aether the first time I heard it. She said the correct spelling, I misheard it so SIC wouldn’t be fair on her). Being a studious little oik, I looked up “Ether” and found out it was a gas.
My Aether (which is NOT a gas) is my own definition that I normally don’t talk about. I’m not about trying to bend people to my way of thinking. But when I was writing “In Earnest” or “Afternoon Malaise” – I honestly didn’t plan it. I am only just beginning, through my friendships with Luke Machin and Lalle Larsson, to understand the way I actually do and have constructed music. I know nothing much about the chords I choose, the keys I play in, the Harmonies and melodies etc. I can’t explain to anyone HOW to improvise, how to do what I do. When we play our songs live I have to learn them. And they are not easy to learn. I didn’t know what an Aeolian Scale was until 2 years ago. But apparently I’ve used them. I have never spotted one in a piece and thought “there goes a nice bit of Aeolian” But I’ve enjoyed them for sure without realising.
Something happens. I muck about for ages on a piano, something happens and I follow it almost trancelike to its conclusion. And when I reach that conclusion I have no real memories of how I got there. It’s all random apparently. Yet randomness and its phenomenal power when given infinity as a medium seems to work pretty well when applied to the evolution of life on our planet. And randomness is most manifest in one great natural phenomenon. The most absolute Tangible power of all that we can prove and demonstrate. The power of electricity at its most raw. The power we use but never see every hour of every day of our lives. And time to time we actually see what Marconi used back in the pioneering days of modern communications. In the sky, by tapping two wires together, we see the random chaos that is a spark. Whether it’s a tiny little one as we plug our guitar into the amp, or a gigantic streak of power across an angry sky. We take that power, harness it, guide it. We bring order from chaos, we create form from shapelessness.
This guy might have known what I was on about. Guglielmo Marconi. Finding something to do with Sparks.
A man with no God who finds inspiration for his soul. That’s me. For me it is, always was, always will be Sparks In the Aether that bring this music to you. I’m a vessel in which that spark finds its form. The sparks that my favourite musicans of the past brought to me still burn brightly jumping across the synapses of my own mind. But today it’s my turn to harness that raw material and turn it into something. And this time the subject matter is the raw material itself.
“Life’s like a firework… you’re only lit once then you must stand and radiate correctly” said XTC in 1979. I’ll give it a go. Now… Tea…