A Proliferation of Elf Gifts – Writing songs with Terence McKenna
Terence McKenna was a visionary, a teacher. A bringer of knowledge who reaffirmed our sense of place in this unknowable, miraculous Universe. Born in Colorado in 1946 he moved to California at the age of 16. There he drank in the flower power movement and discovered the world of psychedelics. After studying History at Berkeley he travelled throughout the Middle East and Asia studying Shamanism and the Kabbala. He returned to the States to study Biology, Ecology and Conservation and became an expert in cultivating various psychedelic plants.
In the late 70s he began writing and publishing books. By the ealry 80s had started public speaking and lecturing. He continued throughout the 80s and early 90s captivating his audiences on the counterculture circuit with a mix of humour, science, ancient knowledge with a wonderment at life, the universe and everything. In 1999 McKenna was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a very aggressive form of brain cancer. In his last interview just months before his death he said:
“I always thought death would come on the freeway in a few horrifying moments, so you'd have no time to sort it out. Having months and months to look at it and think about it and talk to people and hear what they have to say, it's a kind of blessing. It's certainly an opportunity to grow up and get a grip and sort it all out. Just being told by an unsmiling guy in a white coat that you're going to be dead in four months definitely turns on the lights. ... It makes life rich and poignant. When it first happened, and I got these diagnoses, I could see the light of eternity, a la William Blake, shining through every leaf. I mean, a bug walking across the ground moved me to tears.”
Terence McKenna died on April 3rd, 2000. He was 53.
So why am I talking about Terence McKenna? Well, my current body of work, the songs I’m writing for a new album entitled “Rome Falls” are all based on the thoughts and presentations of this great Psychonaut. When I listen to Terrence McKenna, it moves me. His poetic use of language, the ideas and images he conjures just strikes a chord with me. So much so that I thought it would be pretty cool to create lyrics based on his teachings. This, as it turns out, is a very long drawn out process. I will watch or listen to one of his lectures on YouTube (and they can last up to three hours each). Once I’ve decided to base a song on a particular presentation, I will go through it again taking notes as I go. From those notes I will create lyrics and, from those lyrics I will create the music that I think best fits the atmosphere of the piece. To be honest the task of writing these lyrics is more akin to rearranging his words into a more song like structure. Here is a snippet of one of the tracks to give you a flavour -
An engine for production of novelty,
Alchemical furnace of being,
Coalescing in the moment,
Fate overcome through magic.
So, where am I at? Well, I have three complete songs – “Unfolding The Stone”, “Schizophrenic Or Shamanic” and the title track, “Rome Falls”. I’m a big chunk of the way through the fourth song which is called “The Spirit Molecule”. As well as the time consuming nature of pulling these ideas together, I’m also on a steep learning curve with some new studio software and an entirely new approach to the recording process. But personally, I think this is some of the best stuff I’ve written and I’m really enjoying the results.
Current Music: Ware - Rome Falls