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The Troubadour Tradition: Campbell & the Grateful Dead

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    In “Rhythms of the Grail” (the August 8, 2021 MythBlast), John Bucher finds a resonance between the bards, troubadours, and minnesingers of the medieval tradition, and the Grateful Dead (whose members counted Campbell as both friend and mentor). Both the troubadours of yore and the Grateful Dead are storytellers who use song as their medium to explore the human condition (often in beautiful yet bittersweet ballads of love and betrayal); both skillfully wield rhyme and rhythm to pull back the curtain and offer a brief glimpse of transcendent mysteries.

    John’s focuses on the power of rhythm, as indeed did Campbell (no surprise his close friendship with the Dead’s Mickey Hart inspired the percussionist’s “drum quest” – Hart’s books Drumming at the Edge of Magic and Planet Drum: A Celebration of Percussion and Rhythm are essential works for any ethnomusicologist). Indeed, rhythm is essential to storytelling – what would the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, or the plays of Shakespeare be without it?

    Of course, the Grateful Dead are not the only modern musicians influenced by Joseph Campbell. Michael Pinder, keyboardist and founding member of the Moody Blues, is a Fellow of the Joseph Campbell Foundation; John Densmore (drummer of the Doors) has acknowledged his debt to Campbell, as have the members of Beats Antique, an experimental world fusion and electronic music group.

    Music moves me at a level deeper than thought; however, that is not where my creative talents lie. I am curious about the musicians among us – where, if at all, do you experience the intersection between Campbell’s work and your own creative energies?

    #72425

    Hello John Bucher and Stephen,

    What a beautiful topic! I know there are great musicians among us here, but thought I’d add my own journey with the Japanese flute (A Shinobue)

    Both the troubadours of yore and the Grateful Dead are storytellers who use song as their medium to explore the human condition (often in beautiful yet bittersweet ballads of love and betrayal); both skillfully wield rhyme and rhythm to pull back the curtain and offer a brief glimpse of transcendent mysteries.”

    Flute came to me in a dream, and the sound of the flute was so beautiful that it played in my head for days. The sound of that  Native American Flute was, hmmm, how should I describe it — it was “light, and ethereal” it was “mysterious, and sacred”. It was as if  the wind whistled and called me to my destiny, it was as if the faes sang a new song.  So  to explore the dream, I took flute lessons. The music lessons were not easy for me, because in the course of my flute training, it became clear that I was tone deaf. Yet I carried on, hoping to make a connection with the dream and what I brought forth through my flute.

    I’d say I have not had a major pull back of the curtain, except through the ‘mystical, airy, mysterious’ music of my dream, Joe’s message became clearer:

    “The mystery of life is beyond all human conception. Everything we know is within the terminology of the concepts of being and not being, many and single, true and untrue. We always think in terms of opposites. But God, the ultimate, is beyond the pairs of opposites, that is all there is to it.” ― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

    Shaahayda

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