Invocations are heavy shit.
One does not invoke a higher power to assist with the clipping of one’s toenails or the preparation of an egg bake. One does invoke a higher power when the possibility of failure is fairly high and the stakes (even if only personal) are commensurate. Well, “aim high,” as the Air Force once said. Of course they have flying machines that rain death and we only have musical gear (but so very much musical gear!)
Stefan Zweig is one of my favorite writers, despite the fact that his entire body of work is one long, protracted howl for help. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here (imagine it with more angst), that the story we keep in us can be perfect. As long as we keep it in the confines of our head, it is without flaw. The moment we let it out and begin to work on it is the moment where our lack of craftsmanship (or, infinitely worse, our lack of imagination to deal with said lack of craftsmanship) can torpedo our spirit and doom a project. That’s why one of the best things you can do in life is to surround yourself with relentlessly creative people who a.) have the ability to not just take a joke, but a relentless barrage of bullshit, b.) pride themselves on making everything they touch better, and c.) aren’t afraid to tell you that something you’ve worked on for a decade doesn’t work, but then do it in such a way that it doesn’t really even bother you, because they have already come up with something far superior. Luckily, that is exactly what we have here at 3 Minute Hero Industries. If we didn’t have that to begin with, there’s no way we would have tried to make this ridiculous behemoth of an album.
I started writing these songs towards the end of our first incarnation, which was way back when some of us were hoarding canned peaches for the imminent collapse of civilization triggered by the Y2K bug. Remember that? I still can’t look at a can of peaches without feeling sheepish. I had enrolled at Minnesota State University Moorhead Normal Teaching College to finish off my English degree because without it, I was a laughingstock of all of the other English lit graduates at the coffeeshop I worked at. I had dropped out to tour with the band and only needed a semester or two to finish things off. I was returning with valuable knowledge. My first stint at college had me picking up a humanities course with a Dr. Robert McGahey. It was an elective and the book list looked interesting so, why not. I gladly accepted every opportunity to increase the breadth of my black-spined Penguin Classics on my bookshelf. Professor McGahey was, what I would soon discover, an archetype; he was a professor right out of central casting. Tweed coat? Check. Elbow patches? Check. Mark Ruffalo degree of unkemptness? Check. Story about road-tripping to meet American Zen luminary Alan Watts on his houseboat unannounced? Check. This guy was the real deal.
One of the first books we dug into was Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s “Parzifal.” It’s the medieval German take on the Arthurian hero’s [spoiler] unsuccessful quest for the Holy Grail. About a third of the way through the book was when the good doctor drew the diagram that kind of ruined my life. It was a circle bisected by a horizontal line. “Why would a childlike drawing of Saturn ruin your life?” you may be asking. Because since that drawing was explained to me, I have seen the same pattern in nearly every single book and every single movie. “Star Wars,” “Ulysses,” “Finding Nemo,” “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “Light in August,” “Henry IV,” “The Lego Movie,” “The Matrix,” “Anchorman,” “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” “Lord of the Rings,” ad infinitum. THEY ARE ALL THE SAME STORY. And that’s OK.
Most people, of a certain age, came to this through a series of recorded interviews that Bill Moyers had with Joseph Campbell in the late 80’s collectively called “The Power of Myth.” (Yeth?) Building on the observations of Sir James Frazer’s fascinating doorstop “The Golden Bough,” the relevant work of Swiss psychoanalyst and subconscious man-about-town Carl Jung, and his own extensive research into thousands of myths from around the world, Campbell published “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” early on in his career and continued to see everything through that lens for the rest of his life. By the time he taped “The Power of Myth” conversations he could deftly connect the heroic journey in ancient Sumerian myths to the Promethean flight of Burt Reynolds’ Bandit across the American South with his forbidden cargo of Coors banquet beer. Actually, I made that connection. Not him. But that is precisely what it did to my entire frame of reference: “Smoky & the Bandit” resonates with us because it’s essentially the same story we’ve been listening to since we descended from the baobob trees and whittled our first smartphones. I still haven’t really explained the diagram.
The simple version of the diagram has an “S” just above where the horizontal line slices through the circle on the left side. That stands for “Separation.” Every hero has to leave the comfort of his or her natural surroundings. Frodo leaves the shire, Luke leaves Tatooine, Siddartha leaves the compound. Over on the other side of the circle is “I” for “Initiation.” The hero leaves all that is known and is initiated into the unknown, dipping below the circle. Frodo and friends learn of the dangers beyond their little patch of hairy-footed heaven, Luke learns of the Force, Siddartha sees the sick, old and dead. “R” is on the underbelly of the circle and it is for “Return.” After the hero performs some deed or obtains some treasure that will benefit all of those people who she is returning to, she attempts to go home. Then the hero is met with gratitude, ticker-tape parades, and hastily- fashioned paper mache statues…or not. That’s the abbreviated version. The lengthy, bloated version — and I don’t know about you, but I’ll take lengthy and bloated every time — runs to seventeen steps. Would you care to take a gentle stab at how many songs are on this new album of ours?
You probably guessed seventeen. And you’re right. More on those later, all of this typing is taxing my delicate artist hands. So, before we unpack any of those songs and piles of mythological gobbledygook, we have the invocation:
We waited so long —
Almost too long–
For something true and beautiful to say.
(We waited everyday.)
We never quite found it,
But please help us play it anyway.
Well. Away we go. Goodbye Shire. Goodbye Kansas. Those power converters at Toshi Station are going to have to wait — this Self isn’t going to realize itself.
Let’s not think about that too hard.
All of this particular material is copyrighted ©2015 Jeff Nelson.