As this rock ‘n roll journey comes to an end, I find myself both excited and perplexed. Excited because I discovered a prime directive (to use Star Trek terminology) for all of Creation, which is to “be grateful.” We also identified some tools for helping to express that sentiment. I am perplexed because my book was supposed to be about hope and not gratitude. In trying to explain my one guiding principle for living, I discovered a more fundamental principle for living and a purpose for Creation that helps to understand why those principles are important (i.e., the evolution of consciousness).
In reflecting upon the entirety of what is included in my book, I am still left with the feeling of “how in the heck is it even possible that this collection of songs, albums, and ideas come together in the way that they did?” When I embarked on the writing process, I had no inkling what the song/album lists for the dream chapter, the sci-fi chapter, and the chapters on hope and gratitude would end up including, but these lists are among my favorite aspects of this book. I was amazed that I was able to outline specific narratives when interpreting purely instrumental songs (in the Brown and Proud Chapter, Chapter 8) as well as guitar solos (in the “like a ton of bricks,” Chapter 5). Also, I had not expected to include references to my favorite movies, a favorite poet (Raul Salinas), and the books I’ve read on the subjects of quantum physics, brain development, and spirituality. In the final analysis, the inclusion of these elements made it a more complete representation of my life than could have been accomplished with simply a collection of song lists.
The last reflection that I’ll share about the writing process before moving on to what I’ve learned is that experience alters your relationship with specific songs and artists. This is not the first time I reference having a relationship with rock music, so this statement hopefully does not come as a surprise. When you go back to listen to your favorites from back in the day, you may recall what those songs meant to you at the time but that meaning may now be altered, clearer, or more fully developed based on your life experiences. This is because we are using what we know now to interpret the past to hopefully guide our future. When Creation feeds you a constant and consistent message, then you ignore it at your own peril.
The two albums that U2 put out after I started writing this book support this notion that our experiences are critical to our understanding of ourselves in the past, present, and future. The albums are aptly entitled: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. It seems prudent to start by noting how Songs of Experience (released in 2017) differs from Songs of Innocence (released in 2014). The tone is a bit more somber and the subject matter points to seeing the world for what it truly is and understanding what truly matters (i.e., the importance of love, home, understanding, sharing, having each other’s back, and being grateful for those who have our back). U2 even offers up rock ‘n roll as an answer to the madness of this world in the song, “American Soul.”
I will also note that the album, Songs of Experience, is considerably longer than Songs of Innocence (17 tracks vs. 11 tracks). One might argue that with more lived experiences, one has more to say. It is significantly longer than a typical album but not quite long enough to be a double album. For me, the album ends at Track 10 and everything that comes after that I treat as Part 2 of the album. When you get to Track 11, the instrumentation shifts. The Edge shifts from playing electric guitar to playing keyboards on these final seven tracks, and the mood of Part 2 of the album goes from somber to jubilant with seemingly nothing in between. Part 1 is more wide-ranging from an emotional standpoint.
While the themes are similar for Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence, the perspective seems to shift from “me” to “we.” The album about experience has a very modest looking couple on the cover who are holding hands. Implicitly, the message is “we may not have much but we have each other.” In our innocent phase, emotions seem exaggerated (because they are new). We focus on our own personal desires for joy and comfort because it feels good. When we gain experience, we discover that life is most fully experienced when we are in relationship with others. “Life is good” when there are others with whom to share it (i.e., family, friends, neighbors, and anyone with whom we share something in common). In these two albums, the contrast between the “me” and “we” approaches to living is inferred.
We relate to both sentiments because we have experienced both. We yearn for those “days of innocence” even though we know that such a life style is not sustainable from a personal or societal standpoint. We live feeling unsatisfied because we want things to feel new and exciting again. When we acknowledge and embrace our interdependence, then we see that everything becomes new and exciting again.
Conclusion Songs & Albums
Songs of Innocence – U2
Songs of Experience – U2
Live at the Roxy – Bob Marley
Exodus – Bob Marley
Rastaman Vibration – Bob Marley
The Wall – Pink Floyd
Bob Marley & The Who (Play List on Spotify)
“Positive Vibration” – Bob Marley
“Want More” – Bob Marley
“War” – Bob Marley
“Exodus” – Bob Marley
“Jammin” – Bob Marley
“One Love/People Get Ready” – Bob Marley
“The Seeker” – The Who
“Who Are You” – The Who
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” – The Who
“Join Together” – The Who
Signs of Hope (Play List on Spotify)
“Mess is Mine” – Vance Joy
“Blame it on Me” – George Ezra
“Roots” – Imagine Dragons
“Dearly Departed” – Shakey Graves
“Kids” – MGMT
“Stubborn Love” – The Lumineers
“The Cave” – Mumford & Sons
Interestingly, with the comparison of these two albums, we arrive at the notion that I advanced in Chapter 9, that we need each other to achieve a greater degree of personal and spiritual fulfilment. The rock ‘n roll messages telling us that “love is all we have” or “love is all we need” ring true but it’s not clear how we should make that advice actionable. In this book, I’ve tried to take the advice one step further. We should live in a way that creates love (as well as faith and hope) in others and this, in turn, helps us get the love (as well as faith and hope) that we need. This argument can be inferred in the music of U2 who convey sentiments advocating that we “take some punches” for others or that we “carry each other.” Acting in the way suggested by U2 creates the effect that I believe to be at play. Thinking about how we might create faith, hope, and love in others takes a lot less energy than figuring out how to get those things for ourselves.
Those Things Left Unsaid
While I covered a lot of ground in this book, musically speaking, there still was a lot I left out due to a variety of reasons: trying to keep the book and certain chapters to a manageable length; trying to avoid the piling on effect (e.g., this song also supports this point, and so does this song, and this song and this song, etc.); and trying to avoid observations that may have been “cool” or interesting but that really did not contribute to the overall theme of the book or the topic of a particular chapter. In the end, because these sections covered themes that I thought were interesting and not themes that allowed me to tell my life story, I opted to forego their inclusion at this time. The purpose of this writing exercise was to say something meaningful and not simply to test the patience of the reader. However, I do think it is worth sharing a little about “what might have been.”
I hate to give away what was left out since that omitted content may contribute in some way to a future entries in a follow-up rock journal, but I suppose I want to show that it is actually possible for me to not be so serious all of the time. One example of this is my initial intention to include a chapter on comical songs and comical things that happened in my life. A disqualifying characteristic of this type of rock song, typically written by young men, is that they tend to be risqué in nature. Many songs were disqualified for this reason and what remained just didn’t make any sense at all. Since this book is offered as “words of wisdom” from me to my kids, that kind of suggestive content would seem a tad inappropriate at the current time.
One section of this comedic chapter would have dealt with movement, or more specifically, my challenges in utilizing various modes of transportations (aka my adventures involving “planes, trains and automobiles”). In the live music chapter (Chapter 7), I was able to include a story about having bought a concert ticket while in college without owning a car or having ride to that concert. As I shared in Chapter 7, I got to the show on time (except for having missed the opening act), but it sure was an adventure getting there. Let’s just say that I never did that again.
Another theme that did not end up making into the book had to do with topics or stories that were just strange or bizarre. The bottom line is that rock ‘n roll artists tend to write about some far out things. A section that was originally in my outline for the dreams chapter was called “strange dreams, strange themes, and strange things.” One of the sub-topics for this “stranger things” section was going to revolve around mysterious female characters, like the main character from the song “Stairway to Heaven.” Who is this woman who thinks “all that glitters is gold” and why does she think and behave in the way that she does? Plus, who the heck is the woman “who shines white light” who enters the scene much later in the story? Here are two strange and provocative figures in one of the most iconic rock songs of all times. Suffice it to say that these are not the only mysterious women of rock ‘n roll.
The final topic I would have liked to devote more attention to is one that I planned to call “unlikely ambassadors of love.” Songwriters who hail from this brand of rock ‘n roll inevitably fail when it comes to ballads about love, and they do so typically in epic fashion. The one artist who would have featured prominently in this yet to be developed section is Robert Plant. In his solo works, he has shared so many nuanced views on the subject of love that I thought of devoting an entire chapter to the songs he wrote or that he covered. The reason that Plant is an “unlikely crooner” is that he is the lead singer for one of the most revered hard rock acts of all time, Led Zeppelin. What are the chances that he could fill such a role? To a true fan of Led Zeppelin, this characterization of Plant would not come as a surprise since Led Zeppelin, as a band, is not a stranger to the subject of love and their treatment of the subject is more sophisticated when compared to that of other bands.
In addition to the funniest rock songs of all time, I might also focus attention on: the scariest rock songs of all time (I get chills thinking about what might be on that list); ill-timed or unexpected double albums; songs with Lord of the Rings references; songs sung, all or in part, in other languages; song lists to be used in “rock therapy;” artists who I would include in my Mt. Rushmore of rock, etc. This is just to name a few topics worthy of further exploration.
My Brain and Its Architecture
What I’ve shared in this book is, literally, the journey of a lifetime. I am left wondering what comes next. Instead of exploring and analyzing life as I have done extensively during the book writing process, do I now simply focus on applying the principles uncovered? Or does the process of exploration and analysis continue? I have certainly not shared everything about my life experiences and about rock ‘n roll, and I am sure that there is more left to discover. I certainly don’t feel myself after revisiting such emotionally challenging memories and thoughts about the nature of reality, so I will very likely pursue my psychotherapy more consistently and aggressively. I am hoping that undergoing counseling outside of the book writing will be easier to handle. It certainly cannot be any more difficult. Fingers crossed!
In thinking about how I’ve pieced together the elements in this book, it appears to me that what I have done in a way is to map out my brain architecture. I have a way of categorizing information that is concept- or principle-based such that when I try to describe a certain idea then all of the information stored in my brain related to that idea comes to my active memory, whether I was trying to access it or not. This is why in a variety of passages I make seemingly random statements like “this reminds me of movie “x” or the scene in the movie “y” that might directly or indirectly relate to whatever I might be writing about in the realm of music. In a similar vein, I was also amazed at the way that I have been able to extract positive messages from songs that on the surface appear to be negative or problematic in some way. It is interesting to consider that whatever caused my brain to develop its unique way of processing emotion may have also significantly influenced the way my brain decided to categorize and analyze information.
During the book writing process, I have not only researched music, quantum physics, philosophy, and theology, I also researched brain development as a way of better understanding my unique brain architecture. I kept waiting for the right part of my book to share information about how my emotional coping mechanism may have come to develop, but it always seemed like the subject would distract from the subject specific I was writing about. Since my way of processing emotion sounds like science fiction, I thought that the sci-fi chapter would probably be the most likely place for it. With all the focus on knowledge and consciousness in Chapter 6, adding more scientific analysis could have just become overwhelming (if indeed it was not overwhelming already). So, I made everyone wait until the very end of the book to explain my way of processing emotion and my way of thinking in general. This is probably a good thing because with every passing day, I seem to understand this condition a bit more.
In this book, I have made a variety of claims about the nature of rock ‘n roll and the nature of reality and humanity. I suppose that now I should try to better describe “my claims about my brains.” Mostly what I have shared thus far is that I don’t feel emotion in the same way that most people do. Unless an emotion is extreme, I cannot use emotion to understand situations or process information. Routine interactions just don’t seem to stimulate neural activity (or any kind of enthusiasm) until a deviation from the routine happens. Then my brain fires up and gets to work trying to understand why the deviation occurred. It files away this observation and then later this collective set of observations helps me to draw conclusions about human nature and the nature of reality.
My brain is actually storing the emotional responses that I should be feeling during my daily interactions with others. The emotions are tucked away in a vault of sorts where they remain until I decide to summon them. For many years, I never summoned any of them because I didn’t know they were available for summoning. When I started my “favorites songs of my favorite bands” exercise, I cracked open my emotional vault which led to a huge emotional discharge that made it nearly impossible for me to shut it again. Although at times I’ve successfully closed that emotional vault (like when I take a break from both therapy and book writing), I actually am now able to feel the condition of “not feeling.” That feeling is much more distracting than my attempts to feel. Either way, I am one distracted individual. This is also what would likely lead people who have interactions with me to think, “that is one distracted dude.”
Let’s move on to some of my own theories about why my brain behaves the way it does. I have already given the explanation that arose from a series of therapeutic assessments (i.e., that my brain behaves in a way that is consistent with someone who suffered trauma in early childhood). Even with this assessment, there is so much to unpack. When I think about what this might mean, I don’t feel any sort of trepidation and don’t feel wronged in any way. I think this is because I know how the story ends. I have had a great life. I have a great family. I’ve done some things other people never get to experience. I have every reason to be grateful and know that everything that has happened in my life (good and bad) is what allowed me to become the person that I’ve become and to do the things that I’ve done. I do regret that I’ve caused hurt to others because of the peculiar way I tend to interact with people and wish very much I could take certain statements and decisions back. To those individuals, I do beg for forgiveness.
Knowing there was childhood trauma does not begin to explain what caused the childhood trauma that led to the development of my unique coping mechanism for processing emotion. I want an answer, but a clear answer isn’t within reach. I venture to say that the answer is to be found in a time of my life before I was one year old and to consider what kinds of things could happen in the first year of life, in the womb or genetically, that may have caused my brain to develop in this way. Keep in mind that this is not specifically knowable so I am just sharing what my gut tells me might be contributing factors.
There are two large buckets of issues to consider in terms of finding factors that may have influenced a certain pattern of development. The first factor I will highlight is the one that pops in our head almost instinctively: what must have happened to this poor child? We want an easy answer because then maybe the solution or resolution may be more easily attained. The second factor that we often ignore when it comes to thinking about trauma’s impact on brain development is the impact that trauma in previous generations might have on our own genetic make-up. Is it possible that trauma suffered by my mom or dad could have affected me through some kind of genetic transmission? In my particular situation, I would argue that both factors are at play and will try to address each at a very high level.
Genetic Potential/Activation and Its Impact on Brain Development
I will first address what we might glean from the question of our genes. Very important decisions about our brain’s architecture happen before we can do much more than eat, poop, sleep, and cry. It can’t be our own brain that is making the decisions because it still has yet to be formed. The natural conclusion is that it is some combination of our genetic potential and our environment that ultimately determines the specific architecture of our brains. When considering the cause of a health condition, we often think about family medical history. This is very difficult to do with trauma because there are many different types of trauma that a person can experience and multiple kinds of trauma may be at play within any given individual. The important thing is to try to identify as many of the factors at play because that will help identify a better path for healing.
Trauma is passed down in the genes, but can you scan the historical record to see if you could glean something about the kinds of stressors that prior generations have experienced? I have chosen to look at my maternal blood line, beginning with my great grandmother (Gen 1) to me (Gen 4).
I will start by noting the impact of the death of family members and the fear of death of loved ones and friends due to war. In the “Gen 1” level, my great grandmother, Maria Martinez, was born in the mid 1890’s and was alive during World War I. In fact, she gave birth to my grandmother, Santos Ramirez (Gen 2), in 1916 which was 2 years after the beginning of the war and a year before the U.S. entered the war. In 1910, my great grandmother endured the death of her mother. A year before my grandmother’s birth, my great grandmother suffered the death of her brother in 1915. Clearly, there were some stressors of death and war affecting the experience of my Great Grandmother (Gen 1).
As previously stated, my grandmother was born in 1916 when World War 1 was raging. She had 13 siblings. Because my Abuela Santos was the first born daughter, she had to offer help to her mother with household chores and child rearing. She was 17 years old when her father (my great grandfather) died in 1936 and thus, there was a greater need for her to support the family until 1939 when she married my grandfather, Teofilo Tomas Trevino. In 1941, my grandmother’s sister, Josefa, died.
My Abuelo Tomas served in the U.S.Navy in World War II. He was deployed after my Aunt Mary was born in 1942. His aircraft carrier, the Liscome Bay, was sunk in 1943. He was one of approximately 270 survivors of the more than 900 crew members serving on the ship. He contracted polio while enlisted and was not discharged from the armed services until he regained his health. My mother, Yolanda Trevino, was born in 1948 after my grandfather’s discharge from the Navy. In this example, we see a very direct impact that war had on the emotional and psychological well-being of both my grandmother and grandfather when my mom was conceived and born.
I hit the scene in 1966. My mom married at the age of 16, had her first child, Araceli, in 1965 and me in 1966. So, when she was 18 years old, she was already the mother of two children. You will note that 1966 lies in the middle of the Vietnam War. There would have been family members and friends who had to enlist for the draft, who were called to service in his armed conflict, and who may have lost their lives in the armed conflict. A year after I was born, my great-grandmother passed which would have affected not only my mom but also my Abuela Santos, one of her sources of support as a young mom. There was certainly a lot for a teenage mom to worry about in addition to just trying to be a good mom.
I share this very narrow window into my family’s history to show that there were a variety of stressors at play when my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother became pregnant, carried a baby to term, and started raising their children. If whatever mechanism is in place to design brain architecture continually detects an environment of death and war, then it is going to try to better prepare each generation for survival in that particular kind of environment. I suppose it is me, in “Gen 4,” who now has a chance of breaking the cycle. Maybe the conscious recognition of the emotional coping mechanism that my brain employs is the first step in trying to change what happens in future generations of our family.
Unfortunately, my unique way of processing emotion only came to light after my two kids (“Gen 5” of this story) were born. Hold on to the hopeful messages I’ve shared here and not the cynical and critical things I say about people, especially when I’m driving in traffic. (I think we should all get a pass when it comes to our reaction to being stuck in traffic.) Cling to hope and peace and spread this message to all those you encounter. And don’t be afraid to challenge those who foster fear and/or engage-in or promote war/conflict.
Environment Factors Affecting Brain Development
Just as with the genetic factors that may have had an impact on my brain’s development, the environmental factors that may have had an impact on brain development are also complex and varied. I’ll start by noting that everything I described as possibly having affected my mother in the previous section may have also affected me and my child development based on her level of stress and ability to cope with that stress. If you left your family, your school, your social circles to get married at the age of 16, then there may be a great deal of anxiety that comes with this change in interpersonal connection with family and friends. When you become a mom a year later and mother of two by the age of 18, then this may create some stress as well. I was in my mid-30’s when I became a dad, and I was a bit stressed out. I can’t imagine being a teenager (at a time when there were no guide books for new parents) and trying to care for a tiny, helpless human being. I will note that my mom’s recollection of her early years as a mom is that it was kind of fun and not as stressful as we might think.
The mention of parenting guidebooks, like What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Dr. Spock’s, leads one to ask, in the early sixties, how did a mom (in this case a teenage mom) learn how to parent? Naturally, the answer is that my mom learned from her mom and other relatives. And how did may grandma learn to be a mom? Well, she learned from her mom, or more accurately, by helping her mom raise kids. When my Abuela was 12, she had a brother that was a newborn, a brother than was one year old, and a brother that was three years old. As the eldest daughter of this family, she would have had to become very independent and responsible for easing the demand on her own mother. When my Abuela became a mom at age 26, she already knew what to do. When her daughter (my mom) became a mom as a teenager, then the parenting advice given and probably accepted by mom were the parenting strategies from the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Those were difficult times in general, but especially for poor farm working families.
I image that the intent behind child rearing in this era after the depression and before World War II was to prepare kids for difficult times and a rough life. I say this because that is what I feel in my gut, that the world is a cruel and hard place. Even today, I have this strong sense that the only person I can count on in this world is myself (and my mom and God), even though I know this not to be true at all. I have had to resist the strong urge to raise my two kids in a way that prepares them for a cruel and hard world. It is so hard to relate to people when you hold this view. And it is, clearly, very hard to shake this way of thinking/feeling. I have this ongoing internal struggle where I have to lean extra hard on my logical brain to fight my natural instinct to make sure my kids “grow up to be tough, because that is how you make it in this world.” Of course, I now question my skewed view of the world and am hard pressed to explain how I came to believe that the world is a cruel and hard place.
The final environmental factor that I’ll reference is the fact that we grew up poor. We were poor like almost everyone else around us, so it didn’t seem like we were that deprived, relatively speaking. Of course there were well off families that we knew (i.e., the farm owners, the doctors, the lawyers, the accountants, etc.), but at school, amongst the kids, that didn’t seem to be such a big deal. My parents owned their home (which was a gift from my mom’s parents), so we had a stable living situation even though the house itself was pretty run down. My mom made sure we always had meat with every meal, even if it was a modest portion. She made sure we had new school clothes every year. When we were young, the clothes might have been homemade. Maybe. Maybe not. My mom made sure we had a good night’s sleep because it’s good for a growing child (and the developing brain). She made sure we had books (or Weekly Readers), and that we did our homework every night. She told us from a very young age that we were going to college, which I remember knowing was expected of me since I was in fourth grade. And, of course, I did go to college (two different ones, actually).
While all this is true, that doesn’t mean that life wasn’t a struggle for our parents. Mostly, this would have been unknown to us. I am sure we sensed the stress at times but we also were shielded from it. My parents both worked in the fields in their youth, and that is where the connection between the two was first made. My parents weren’t working in the fields after they were married, but my father was still working in the packing sheds as a foreman. At times, he was sent to West Texas or out of state to help with packing operations when the harvest ended in South Texas. So my mom would be home alone with one, two, or three kids and maybe waiting for some money to arrive in the mail.
My parents divorced when I was in middle school. Those are the years I remember as the hard years. There were a lot of heavy emotions to be suppressed. It was hard to handle as a kid. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be a mother of three kids and in that situation. I also could tell it was hard for my dad who had never really had to worry about developing a strong bond with his kids. Luckily, by the time my parents divorced, we were all good students. We had our studies to focus on. At least for me, that was my preferred way of coping. It was certainly not by talking to my parents, sisters, or friends about it.
I hadn’t intended to share this much about my developmental years in the conclusion of this journal, but it’s because I wrote this book that I’ve reached this understanding. Literally, I could not share this earlier because I didn’t know how I might go about explaining it in a way that made sense. The intent was to show the kinds of things that might have affected me as a growing child and the developing brain. Poverty has been shown in studies to affect brain development. Check. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have also been shown to affect brain development. Parents who divorced and corporal punishment are considered ACEs. Check. I had not mentioned corporal punishment before, but I did mention that it was a late 1930’s and early 1940’s style of parenting that likely was employed. You know what that means with regard to discipline. Also, we were from “el rancho” (i.e., the country). I’m just sayin’. It’s a rugged existence.
In the end, the feeling that I can’t shake is the feeling of having to be tough to make it in this world. I learned to be tough, to never give up, to never let anyone dictate to me what I could and couldn’t do. I learned to persevere. I would just get up when I was down and try again. I would do this over and over until I accomplished what I had set out to do. Because I’ve accomplished some interesting things, I can sense people appreciate work ethic, drive, and perseverance. That made me feel good about myself. Deep down inside, I still feel like that momma’s boy who learned how to act tough. It’s similar to me being an introvert who had to learn how to act like an extrovert in order to succeed in politics. In reflecting upon my life, I feel like the persona people associate with me was built on a lie. Because I hate liars, that makes this feeling very hard to swallow. Before, I didn’t have to worry about the feelings of fragility and inadequacy, because I could just brush the ideas and the emotions aside with ease. In this era of my life where I am trying to let myself feel emotions as they rear their ugly heads, it’s these kinds of emotions that are the hardest to bear. I suppose it’s hard because they’ve been buried the longest. If I am that deep, maybe the vault is almost empty. One can only hope!
Pink Floyd Helps “Break Down the Wall” Inside My Brain
I know that I’ve probably lost you with the discussion of brain’s architecture (and my insecurities), so I am going to use an album that will be familiar to any true rocker, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, to show how my experience may not be so unique. In this most iconic of albums, I have found a myriad of parallels regarding the impact that trauma and other stressors in early childhood can have for an individual. This is another instance where I had not even been planning to reference this album, because I had already identified Dark Side of the Moon as the album I would use to pay homage to Pink Floyd. In thinking about my emotional vault, I couldn’t stop making a parallel between my vault and the wall that the main character in the album created as his survival mechanism. After finishing Chapter 10, I went back to listen to The Wall, over and over and over again…as is my typical way of doing things when I am on a mission.
In The Wall, the main character, Pink, is scarred by the death of his father in World War II. This trauma casts a long dark shadow on almost every experience that he has. The impact of this trauma on his mom affects her relationship with her son which exacerbates the traumatic effect for the main character. You can already see parallels between this story and my discussion on trauma and the brain in the previous section. Before doing this, it seems only appropriate to delve into the story that unfolds in The Wall.
My analysis of the album, The Wall, will deviate a bit from the story that is presented in the motion picture. The motion picture is a pretty linear tale of a rock star’s life starting from the childhood trauma to the self-destructive behavior in which the character engages. A “wall” is what Pink created to protect himself from the scary experiences that characterized his childhood (e.g., war, death, an over-protective mother, authoritarian teachers, etc.). Pink tries to escape from the things that haunt him through the excesses of rock stardom, but these escapades lead to extreme alienation, a situation where he appears to be hanging on to life by a thread.
My interpretation of the album will also be linear, but I separate what is happening in the “real life” of Pink from what is happening in the mind of this character. The “In the Flesh” version of Pink from Part 1 of the album gives us a preview of what is to come from the “In the Flesh” version of Pink from Part 2 (a fascist version of the main character) who offers more details about “what’s behind these cold eyes.” I see the character from Part 2 as the subconscious of Pink. The goal of the Pink’s subconscious is to maintain the status quo, to maintain people at a distance so that they don’t ever get to truly know this character. We have already noted that the story starts with the recognition of an atypical functioning of the brain and/or relationships with people and reality in general.
After “In the Flesh,” the next few tracks share aspects of Pink’s life that affect the way the he views the world and decides to interact with the world.
Track 2- The impact that “knowledge of the dangers of the world” has on the main character;
Track 3 - The impact that the death of a parent has on the main character;
Tracks 4 & 5 – The impact that being taught the wrong things in the wrong way have on the main character;
Track 6 – The impact that a mother’s parenting behavior, in light of these realities, has on the main character; and
Track 7 – The impact that living in the time of war has on the main character.
We have still not left the realm of the mind. One of the most biting comments in this series of songs is from Track 3 (“Another Brick in the Wall Part 1”) where Pink asks: “father, what’d you leave behind for me?” The traumatic experiences outlined in Tracks 1 through 7 is what led to the atypical functioning in the brain. This is what life, not necessarily the father of the main character, has left behind for Pink. Track 8, “Empty Spaces,” finds Pink still inside of his head, considering how one makes sense of this kind of world. The response being “let’s just complete the wall and then we’ll figure it out later.”
The way I see the story, we don’t discover what is happening in the present moment until Tracks 9 & 10, “Young Lust” and “One of My Turns.” In these songs we see the manifestations of the mental state of Pink, who we find out is a rock star. He has decided to fill the “Empty Spaces” by being a rock star (which allows for a forced separation from meaningful relationships with people due to the surreal aspects of the lifestyle) and the satiation of the “waves of hunger” through wild cycles of sex and drugs. The challenge with living at this pace, besides the fact that the physical body can only take so much, is that when life’s pace slows down, as in the song, “Don’t Leave Me Now,” you realize that the “Empty Spaces” are still there.
At the end of Part 1 of the story, Pink has decided to say his goodbye to this “cruel world,” deciding to put an end to this madness by checking out altogether.
It’s hard to ask you to listen to an entire double-length album (26 tracks) but in order to understand the points I am about to make, I suggest you listen to the following tracks from Part 2 at a minimum:
Track 1 - “Hey You”
Track 2 - “Is There Anybody Out There?”
Track 10 - “Waiting for the Worms”
Track 11 - “Stop”
Track 12 - “The Trial”
Track 13 - “Outside the Wall”
First, I’ll note the common musical elements in Tracks 1, 10 and 12 on Part 2. It’s difficult to describe the musical link between the songs (which is the sound of marching soldiers, or, more accurately, marching red and black hammers), but the substantive link is what is important: it is “the worms.” The worms end up linking this story to some of the themes we’ve touched upon in the last couple of chapters. In “Hey You,” we find out that The Worms are destroying the Pink’s brain. The Worms are really harmful thoughts. If you look at the imagery in the motion picture, then you find that these ways of thinking are actually represented as inhuman ways of thinking. In the song, “Waiting for the Worms,” we get a listing of these inhuman ways of thinking which include fascism, racism, homophobia, and white supremacy.
Pink resides behind the wall to protect himself against these destructive ideas which are actually allowed to fester in his mind by the fascist tendencies in his subconscious. Since these fascist ideas are a part of him, he wonders if, at his core, he is just that, a fascist. He struggles with the idea that he may have been “guilty all this time” because these thoughts actually or naturally run through his mind. It is important to note that while in “Waiting for the Worms” Pink has decided to give in to The Worms, in the song, “Stop,” he seems to want to continue to fight the destructive thoughts. But the fight is brief ( the song, “Stop,” is only 36 seconds song) since his subconscious is quick to condemn him as guilty through a sham trial in the next song (Track 12) which is one of the most amazing rock songs ever composed.
The album, The Wall, ends with a great degree of irony. The first element of irony is in “The Trial” where the prosecution accuses the main character of exhibiting “emotions of an almost human nature.” Since this fact is offered as a condemning argument, then it makes Pink afraid to feel emotions which in turn makes him more inclined to want to stay behind The Wall. But it is The Wall that has helped Pink to fend off the destructive thoughts, so by the end of “The Trial,” the destructive thoughts want The Wall gone. The trial and the song end with the mantra, “tear down the wall.” This is the line from The Wall where audiences cheer and yell at the top of their lungs because this is what we are conditioned to cheer for…for the walls to come tumbling down. But Pink is terrified at this point about what it means to tear down the wall. So, why is the audience cheering? This is the end of the story and Pink just suffered another trauma. Why are we cheering?
The final song helps us to understand why it is important to “tear down the wall.” In “Outside the Wall,” we find a description of what lies outside the wall: the people who love you and who are fighting to make sure that The Worms don’t win. Now, this is undoubtedly the thing we should be cheering. This information is helpful to us, but this knowledge does not help Pink in any way. I can’t help but feel for Pink since in my mind he remains permanently frozen in terror in the final scene. I take solace in the final scene of the motion picture which shows young kids sifting through the rubble (of the fallen wall presumably), but they do this in a very peaceful manner. One is left feeling like there was a peaceful or feel good end to the tale, but I still have my doubts. Serious doubts!
Another point that I’ll make about the final scene involving “the children in the rubble” is that in my reading of this album, I see a multi-generational tale. The album starts with the same melody from the final track, “Outside the Wall.” This suggests to me that there is some kind of cyclical element at play. The song, “The Thin Ice,” appears to be a message from a parent to their kid about the dangers of this world as a way of helping them to develop needed survival skills. Clearly this elder generation experienced something that made them feel compelled to instill this life view in the next generation.
It would seem to me that the “children in the rubble” scene of the motion picture represents the next generation with the message being that there may be peace for the next generation (if not for Pink). But, in order for there to be peace for the next generation, then we (this generation) must change the messages we are passing along to the next generation. As I mentioned in the previous section about my family history, trauma can have multi-generational impacts. I recently saw the “Roger Waters’ The Wall” concert recording where he includes snip-its about his family history beyond the fact that his father was killed fighting in World War II. Roger Waters is the principal songwriter on this album. As part of the video, he also shares that his grandfather was killed in World War 1 when Waters’ father was two years old. Waters visits the grave of a third family member at a war memorial which I presumed to be his great grandfather. Thus, we see that war has affected not only Waters himself, but the elders with whom he grew up and from whom he absorbed not just genes but also values, attitudes, and traditions. All of these factors contributed to the construction of The Wall.
Waters sheds tears when he visits each of the war memorials where his family members are honored. Judging from some of the reviews of the concert video, it seems like people feel like he should “get over it” or that he is being self-indulgent in some way. In writing this book, I have probably shed a thousand tears. This is not because I like crying but because the messages in the music were triggering implicit memories that in turn triggered emotional reactions. Most of the time I had no idea why I was crying. The fact of the matter is that the traumas one suffers in life, especially early in life, create neural pathways that stay with you from that point forward. You can create neural pathways that allow you to circumvent the traumatic pathway, but that pathway never disappears. This doesn’t mean there is no benefit to traveling the traumatic pathway, but that pathway must be traversed with care and with help (until help is no longer required).
I will close my observations about The Wall with my interpretation of how one might go about “tearing down the wall” as is suggested at the end of this classic rock album. When you have multi-generational trauma as in the case of Roger Waters and I would argue that this may be the case for me and my family, there has to be a generation that decides to break that cycle of trauma. For the next generation to be better than we are, then we have to be better than the last, and our kids have to be better than us, etc. etc. We can’t break the cycle of trauma if we give in to the fear mongers and war mongers. We must resist and fight those who promote fear and violence since nothing good can be built on those foundations.
More Rockin’ Reflections Relating to My Theories for Understanding and Living Life
Instead of recounting what I shared in the process of sharing my life story told through the medium of rock ‘n roll, I thought that I’d look for supporting evidence of my theories from other musicians not yet referenced in large part. These references will not be of the songs that helped me reach the conclusions in this book, but songs and artists that already seemed to be conveying similar messages.
The Who, as the name of this iconic rock band suggests, often touched on issues related to identity, introspection, and self-expression. These concepts are critical to the past-present-future discussion I included in Chapter 9, where I argued that the present moment is of the utmost importance. What you decide to do in the present moment will propel you into a specific direction, so you should put some thought into the decision(s) you are making. Otherwise, who knows where you might end up? The Who talk about spending their lives seeking for answers without really knowing if they are going to find THE answer to life’s questions and challenges. In my view, the search is worth it because it holds the promise that maybe, just maybe, THE answer may be found. The song, “Who Are You,” builds on this subject by suggesting that if you make bad decisions you may end up in a gutter having a police officer ask “who are you” and making you wonder if you even know the answer to that question (other than the answer Pete Townsend may have had for the police officer…. “I’m a guitar player for a famous rock band.”).
I will focus my discussion of The Who by highlighting a couple of movement-oriented songs, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Join Together.” The true meaning of both songs seems a bit elusive. In “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” a social change that was sought and fought for was realized. One would think that this is something to be celebrated, but the very title of the song suggests that we’ve been fooled in the past and that if we are not careful, we might “get fooled again.” Which one do they want us to do: celebrate or worry? I fall back to this concept of movement as being of most importance. As I discussed in Chapter 3 and built upon in Chapters 9 & 10, if the purpose of the Universe is the evolution of consciousness then that would mean that the evolution of the human species would be supportive of that mission. I interpret the sentiment in this particular song that suggests that “the change had to come” as being in line with the view that our society (and species) should evolve, while recognizing that it is not a predetermined fact that the evolution of our society (and species) is a guarantee. The advancement of the species must be fought for and must be an ongoing endeavor.
“Join Together” is a fun song with a positive vibe. I believe that this song also focuses on the idea of movement, but the advice that is offered is not prescriptive in any way. The song’s advice is to do what the music moves you to do. There is a great beauty that characterizes Creation and music is itself a thing of beauty but NOT one that we can only hear. It is something we can actually feel. We feel it in the physical cells of our body as well as in our hearts and in our souls. As I alluded to in Chapter 7, when dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people, including the band members themselves, join together to share this experience at a live concert, it creates an even greater effect or feeling. I believe the exchange between artist and band and between fans happens even when we are not at a live concert, but it is much more subtle because we are not in close proximity to the people making the music or the people enjoying the music.
As I have argued in this book, I feel that the vibrations that we experience via music have an intrinsic healing potential. This is why I claim that I’ve “saved my soul” through this medium. Rock music in particular magnifies that healing potential of music because of the multiple instruments producing a complex interplay of vibrations that is even further magnified because of the amplification and distortion of these vibrations. The range of sounds, moods, and emotions that can be created by the electric guitar alone is nothing short of astounding. And it was the incredible sounds of the electric guitar and my intense physical and emotional response to those sounds that led me to be a “rowdy rocker” and, ultimately, to this place in time.
Bob Marley Was Already Pointing the Way
We add to the positive vibe from The Who’s “Join Together” by introducing the “Rastaman Vibration” from Bob Marley. If you want to instantly shift from a crappy mood to a good mood, just listen to the Bob Marley song, “Positive Vibration.” The song uses the phrases “Rastaman Vibration” and “Positive Vibration” interchangeably, and that’s all you need to know. “Positive Vibration” is the third song that I would add to my list of songs that I would use to get prepped for a public appearance to discuss how “I saved my soul through rock ‘n roll,” with the other two songs that were previously identified being “Cherub Rock” by Smashing Pumpkins and “Waiting” by Santana. The version of the song that I go to is the one that is included in the Bob Marley recording, Live at the Roxy, but if you want an entire album of the “Rastaman Vibration,” go to the Bob Marley album of that same name.
The Bob Marley album to which I will devote extra attention is not Rastaman Vibration, but Exodus since some of my favorite songs of this iconic artist are on this album and since this album alludes to and illuminates some of the topics upon which I have touched in this book. The original plan was to reference the song, “One Love,” in the conclusion because of its focus on gratitude (“give thanks and praise to the Lord”). Since gratitude was the subject of the final chapter of my book, then it would be easy to draw a parallel. When I went back to listen to the album, it became apparent to me that several things Marley was trying to convey in this album were touched on as well.
The opening song of the album, “Natural Mystic,” starts by noting that there is an unseen force in nature that is trying to tell us that we have strayed from the path and must change our ways or there will be dire consequences. As I have demonstrated in a number of ways in this journal, we as human beings are our own worst enemies. Our focus on material wealth and power has caused the evolutionary process for our species to remain frozen. Because this failure to evolve is counter to the very nature of the universe, we fail to entice the universe to come to our aid. I have tried to share ideas for how we might jump start, or more accurately, speed up the evolutionary process of the human race. Marley breaks it down more elegantly in the song, “Exodus.” He says that the way forward for humanity is that we be a “movement culture people.” A culture of stagnation is not what we’re after. We need to accept and embrace a culture of movement as our guiding force. If we look within ourselves and don’t like what we see, then we must change, adapt, and move from our current place toward a place of greater enlightenment.
In other songs in the album, Marley breaks down what is wrong with our way of living and how we might approach changing ourselves and humanity. We ought not be like people who want every wish of theirs to materialize, because those people will “eat the bread of sorrow…and of a bad tomorrow.” This pursuit of our own success and well-being at the expense of the well-being of everyone else puts us on a path to self-destruction. He encourages us to speak out, to fight “the heathens,” to give each other the love and support that we need, and to above all have hope because if we do then everything ”will be alright.” Like in my analysis of U2’s Songs of Experience at the beginning of this chapter, the idea of “we” versus “me” shines through in the album, Exodus. Your fate is inextricably tied to mine and vice versa. If that is the case, then we must act as an entity that is driven by “one love and one heart” and that is the pathway to follow so that we call can “be alright” in the end.
Looking Back with an Eye Toward the Future
In this conclusion, I have included new reference material: a couple of U2 albums not previously mentioned; a Pink Floyd album not previously mentioned; and an artist not previously mentioned, Bob Marley. Hopefully, this is not overkill. I felt this was o.k. because I could further buttress the ideas set forth in this rock memoir with additional musical examples from Bob Marley, Roger Waters, David Gilmore, Roger Daltry, Pete Townsend, Bono, and The Edge. I am still amazed at how much my analysis of the Bob Marley album, Exodus, resonated with what I had written. That discovery brought great comfort to me. Thanks to all of these artists, especially to Bob Marley (RIP)!
While I have very much focused on the music that influenced me in the past, I do find signs of hope in the work of many contemporary musicians. So, I want to give a few of them props before bringing things to a close. Part of embracing a “movement culture” is to be open to new things and not be stuck in the same place and doing the same things. Admittedly, these artists are not in the hard rock or heavy metal genre. Nonetheless, I found comfort in these songs not only because they seemed to fit within the framework for living I have adopted but also because I found there to be a lot of wisdom in the words penned by artists who are in the early stages of their careers. Godspeed to them! Below are a few lessons gleaned from these promising artists. If you ever need to have your spirit lifted, just know that these songs have that affect on at least one person in this world….me!
- Help others clean their messes. It helps them to realize they are not alone. Plus, they might return the favor someday. [Vance Joy – “Mess is Mine”]
- Go find joy! It is all around you. So, what you waiting for? [George Ezra – “Blame It on Me”]
- When the going gets tough, remember where you came from. [Imagine Dragons – “Roots”]
- Don’t scare easy. Our fears are of our own making. [Shakey Graves – “Dearly Departed”]
- Avoid excess. Take only what you need. [MGMT –“Kids”]
- Cling to love. Don’t despair and don’t be indifferent. [The Lumineers – “Stubborn Love”]
- Find strength in pain. It’s only human. [Mumford & Sons – “The Cave”]
A Proper Ending?
After so much soul searching, agonizing over what songs to include/exclude, and struggling with what to say about rock ‘n roll, how do I just end it, especially after so many years of focused attention? When I first started thinking about how I would end this journal, I was driving in my car. The Foo Fighter’s song, “Its Times Like These,” happened to come on the radio, and that was all she wrote. I had my closer. Once again, the universe provided the answer to me via music. It really could not have happened any other way. The song provides a mantra, like the mantras that so many other rock songs have provided to me, that helped me survive life through positive self-talk. I guess it is not self-talk as much as “singing to myself” which is not that far removed from “dancing with myself” so it ought to be o.k.
Its times like these you learn to live again
Its times like these you give and give again
Its times like these you learn to love again
Its times like these, time and time again!