Saturday, May 16, 2009

How can a creature be both a bat and a bird at the same time? How can something that appears ugly, dirty and threatening actually be something that is delicate, beautiful, and harmless?

The answer may be found in what follows.

As is well known, shamans are also diviners who use a seemingly random arrangement of elements (tea leaves, goat entrails, raw egg in water, etc) to find a hidden narrative that will inform them as to the secret workings of Spirit, the design of power working through everything.

On this week’s “Shooting the Ghost,” I have attempted the same. Selecting fragments from roughly eight hours of conversation between myself, Balloon Man Bill Morrison, Phil Snyder, and Bill’s brother John, more or less at random, I have woven them together into an hour-long podcast. This was done based largely on the quality and “charge” of the clips, and with almost no eye, or ear, to how I might eventually tie them together. It was only once the show was completed, in fact, while listening back to it, that I was able to discern some sort of coherent narrative. It is many layered, so it would not be apparent to most listeners; hence my decision to provide these notes.

Listeners may prefer to discover the hidden narrative for themselves; but if not, here are some clues. Be warned, however: this is a point by point description of the show, and so is rife with “spoilers.”

Firstly: due to the ostensible cause that brought us together, the four players are here unconsciously acting out, embodying, different aspects of Sam Peckinpah’s psyche. Among these aspects are:

creative expression;
victimization of women;
disillusionment (with America);
the artistry and wisdom of storytelling

The podcast begins with Bill’s description of caring for a neighbor’s rabbits and all the “shit” (literally) he has to deal with to keep their cages clean. One basic function of the shaman is the handling of “unclean” psychic matter and waste. Connection to Nature (the animals) is essential to any shaman’s power. (Rabbits, however, are notoriously timid animals, and suggest powerlessness.)

Next up, Phil tells the story of how his rage manifested a weird bat creature in the basement of his parents’ house (read: ancestral unconscious), which he then killed with a pellet gun, afraid that it might be carrying rabies. Once it was dead, Phil realized it was “actually” a dust-covered baby bird, even though he had been sure it was a bat. He also suspected he had somehow materialized the being through his own anger—a living tulpa or thought form, made up of Phil’s disowned psychic energy.

The key to this story—which is a small mythic blueprint for the show’s theme of “shamans in denial”—is that Phil mistook the creature for a rabies-infected bat, when in fact it was a bird(?). Phil disowns his primal self (rage) and simultaneously projects onto what is delicate and new, something ugly and threatening, thereby turning a baby bird into a diseased bat.

Phil and John then discuss their anger-management problems, with an aside from myself on the subject of tulpas, and a dubious musical interlude.

Bill talks of his admiration for “crazy, ugly people,” with their stories of violence, as being “the stuff heroes are made of.” He talks of his work as a (relatively) honest car salesman, and of a 72-year-old reformed killer and rapist in his neighborhood (Hollywood). He asks the question: “When do we get rehabilitated?” and speaks of the predatory structure of society, as well as his own, more balanced upbringing.

We then move into a brief discussion of Sam Peckinpah, his relationship with his father and his choice to go into theater and television rather than law. Of Sam being a man out of time, struggling unconsciously to reconnect to the ancestors, while consciously making movies to express his alienation and despair. How his movies testify to that inner struggle, and as such are secondary artifacts: the real story is hidden behind the seemingly random elements of his various movies.

I then tell a story of having my guitar stolen on my birthday, of getting it back the following day, turning the situation around so that the thieves became allies. This story relates to a shaman owning his power (self-expression and music) through a mixture of surrender and will, and getting that disowned tulpa energy to work for him (rather than simply killing it!).

Bill and John then share their night-dreams of being successful performers, revealing a desire for power and influence, and how their dreams are possibly compensating for a lack of worldly recognition. This is the very inverse of shamanic use of dreaming, which finds otherworldly power through dreams, and relinquishes all desire for other forms of “success.” (This was also the trap Peckinpah fell into.) Phil describes how, in similar dreams, he is always watching on the sidelines, aware he is supposed to learn something. The same appears true here on this podcast—after his initial story which sets the ball rolling and provides the theme for the show, Phil stays mostly on the sidelines, observing.

There follows a discussion on the macrocosmic narrative, that of America and the realization in the late ‘60s (through movies such as Easy Rider and Wild Bunch and events such as the Manson murders and Altamont) that the American dream was, and always had been, a Lie, being founded on the murder of the Native peoples. The Native American represents the Other, the disowned Shadow of the White Man, his primal side, and also the denied shaman within. To the Whiteman, the Native American is like Phil’s bat-bird: it is perceived as a threat, when actually it is something else entirely.

Bill then gives a short speech on the need for America to be exposed and to confess, “right back to the Indians.” I describe the US Nation as “Dorian Gray,” corrupt beyond all possibility of redemption, Bill speaks of the ugliness of Americans. The bat-bird again, having become what it beheld, America (like Phil) perceives its inner self as ugly and diseased. Bill speaks of his own comfort and complacency, and the pressure that builds within us all, the feeling we could simply explode one day and go on a mad killing spree. The disowned primal speaks. Psychopaths are acting out shamanic urges for transformation, unconsciously.

We then discuss politics as an extension of religion and the modern-day “serfdom” that has surrendered its responsibility to the elite; the Magna Carta and the Masonic sorcerers. The development of comfort and convenience of the modern world, is it detrimental to spiritual growth? Do we have a richer inner life now than 500 years ago?

John and Phil talk of their home entertainment systems, Phil describes his basement theater as both a shrine and a tomb, hinting at a desire to hide away in the unconscious realms, to return to infantilism. John’s cites his three marriages and his HUD apartment, then describes how the homeless (mostly from California) are getting violent in his neighborhood and mugging people who won’t give them money. He mentions how many of them have pit pulls— these “dog brothers” are also distorted shamans, demanding payment. They represent John’s disowned primal—his “tulpas”—and as such, they are a necessary compensation for the denied shadow side of his middle-class white neighborhood: the archetypal “return of the repressed.” John’s increased desire to watch TV and stay off the streets is the “normal” (i.e., non-shamanic) response to this pressure.

We discuss entertainment as being increasingly inadequate as a distraction: as life’s challenges become ever greater, more and more energy is needed for our denial to be effective. As we reach a turning point for the species, recycling ancient myths until all the variations are used up, there arises a need for new myths. But there are no longer any shaman-storytellers to create them.

I then describe myth and reality as being interconnected, the story of Christ, the ultimate shaman, who’s person embodied cosmic forces, and so became a living myth.

We discuss the function of myth, both for survival and for gnosis, the mutation of the species through sharing of knowledge and experience, “around the fire.” John cites early myths of hunting an killing, a la Phil’s story of the bird—a distorted myth-story for this mini-tribe of shamans, caught in varying levels of denial.

After a brief reference to the vitality of mystery, as something to be explored, John points out how Bill’s squeaky chair is causing John’s bird to talk—joking that there is a “relationship” between the two. John’s bird echo’s Phil’s “bat-bird” (representing Phil’s hidden soul nature). It is interfacing with Bill’s un-oiled chair (throne), i.e., Bill’s unconscious power? Is Phil’s inner poetic nature trying to reach out to Bill, and finding only a squeaky chair?

Bill then talks of his alcoholism and addiction to marijuana, as his best means to access “the other world,” thereby fully completing the reflected image of Sam Peckinpah’s fractured psyche: a man who smoke and drank himself to death rather than allow himself to open to the ancestors, and to his own grief and wounding, thereby tapping his hidden shamanic potential.

Are you still with me?


phil snyder said...

Funny stuff. Disjointed nature actually helps it, I think. When the improv doesn't flow together then it's acceptable to cut together segments, the method here is entirely acceptable and, in fact, established and approved - it allows the listener to connect the dots. In fact, I am very partial to a disjointed narrative, with actual gaps in it, rather than a flawlessly running, precision-assembled machine. That's why I've always loved the Tom Waits album, Swordfishtrombones. Sounds like a collection of separate songs on the surface but there are subliminal, peripheral connections that reveal it's actually a (more or less) single narrative. The silence - the silent tracks or gaps between songs (visualizing a vinyl LP here) - is that place where the connections are made. No single unbroken narrative thread here, and this calls forth imagination, which means the audience is engaged at a deeper level, becoming part of the process, part of the story, part of the myth. Mythic drama is participatory, not a spectator sport, with a disconnected creative elite providing bread and circuses for a devalued masses who are nothing but consumers. Fucking consumers. Being nothing but a consumer, and allowing the elite overlords to dominate us, shove their worthless products down our throats (mmmm, delicious, delicious products) - this is the evil we're up against... well, one of 'em. Anyway, when the mythic consciousness (giving a name to something that may not have a name, a name which probably misidentifies it) is envlivend and engaged by demanding a deeper personal buy-in from the audience than merely swallowing what is given, well, you get a more dynamic and interesting product. Might not go down as smoothly as a really professional, highly polished product, and it's messy, even ugly and disjointed, but it gets to us in a deeper way, thereby becoming much harder to forget about and ignore than the polished, detached, depthless products, which pass away almost as we are watching or listening to them. How does this apply? Well, I'm drifting off topic right now. The picture drawn is too pure, it doesn't really break down so cleanly, but this talk of messy, dirty, ugly products that are not polished and slick and which engage you at a deep level and activate, enliven and engage participatory mythic consciousness is reminding me of Peckinpah. So, if the entire enterprise revolves around Peckinpah then what does (did) Peckinpah revolve around? It isn't the single, transitory individual personality, that entity known as Sam Peckinpah (the particular Sam Peckinpah we are discussing, not the othes who may exist), that we are discussing or riffing off of, at least not exclusively, but those forces and/or truths that Peckinpah himself revolved around and what they represent. Really, if we just kept on going and going, from and through ourselves, all back to a shared theme - the tune that structures our riffing - of "Sam Peckinpah" and through him to those themes and forces that he dealt with, that his particular journey revolved around... and perhaps through him to yet other things. Is there a stopping point? A final destination? Or does it just keep going on? I'm not sure that we can stop at any point along the way and say "Here, here it is - here is what we have been looking for..." because the second we do that is the second when it will fly away and we have to run after it once again (assuming we choose to - we may, perhaps at any time, simply wise up and stop chasing after the thing that cannot be grasped, like Wyle Coyote could and perhaps should have done so many times in the past, as he chased after that scrawny Roadrunner). Me? I suspect that I'd never really wanna stop chasing after it, or at least playing around with it ("it" being that unknown thing that hold the discussion together and serves as a kind of goal, the prey we are hunting) because I also suspect that, perhaps, at the bottom of it all, if there is a "bottom" to it all, lurks, well, for what of a word - Death. Well, maybe not "death," per se... but mystery, the unknown, visualize any god you like, if you like, blackness, silence, dissolution... I can offer thousands of words, and some might hit closer to the mark than others, but none of them truly catches it. Right now, I'm thinking, asking, really, is "Is the question or theme really just the mystery of why the fuck are we here doing anything at all?" It's not just death, it's also life, the mystery, maybe, being found in the fact that they cannot be separated. As such, it is essentially unexpressable, because it involves a mixture of two seemingly total opposite - the king of all irreconcilable opposites, in fact - Life and Death (in case that wasn't clear). Again, it leads us back to Peckinpah, particularly his themes about killing, and how, via the food chain, hunting/killing is essential for life, part of it - natural. Even if you don't eat meat, you still must kill something to live, and if you simply stop eating in protest and out of fear that you will harm, kill, or victimize another living thing the all you're doing is committing suicide - killing yourself, that is. Just because it's you that you're killing doesn't make it better. That's just it. We're here... and here we are... we're stuck. And in the midst of all this killing and living there is a mystery and rather than ignore it it's much more fun and interesting to chase after it, whether it's ultimately a futile endeavor or not because what the fuck else is there? Pure, detached being, like some super-swami, super monk, crying, "Extinguish all! Extinguish all!" Don't know about you, but I can't imagine anything worse. So, we live on, we search on, we talk on... and on and on and on and on... (and type on). So, yeah, I liked the disjointed aspect. It's a plus, not a minus, at least in this case, and a valuable lesson - allow failure to create a single cohesive piece to stand because you may find gold in the cracks in-between (cue theme song from Paint Your Wagon).

phil snyder said...

Another parallel/connection - "Shooting the Ghost"... reminds me of shooting the bird (or bat-bird, take your pick). Why go about shooting ghosts, anyway? You know you can't kill it, because even if you hit it it's already dead. Still you aim for it anyway. At least it's a target. Might subtitle the show "Shooting the Shit," if you wanna be cheeky about it. What you're aiming at IS a ghost, a phantom, and shooting it, or shooting at it, is a way of probing it, trying to figure out what it's made of. We are all ghosts already, anyway, factoring in the inevitability of death and all, but while we are (seemingly) alive we might as well keep shooting, at least until we have determined the nature of our target, because until you shoot (at) it, until you grasp at it, you can never find out if something is a ghost or solid meat. This week's episode really puts me in the mood to contemplate the deeper potential meanings of the title or the show.

Z said...

I love the part where Phil is looking around for the appropriate thing to let out his rage with. "No that too heavy , I might hurt myself with that..." And by becoming aware of this process is able to talk himself down. Fantastic anecdote.

1969 was quite a year for film. Although lesser known than the 3 you mentioned one of my favorites is Putney Swope, also the brilliant doc Salesman. Once Upon a Time in the West is another classic.

Balloonman said...

Jason. This is so much fun, your accumulations, our blather, arranged, defined. We are produced right now and moreover outlined for the future. My, how you have previewed coming attractions In such a "to heck for waiting around until it is all together and sensible, but managing our 'program' in succinct manner. As if we are magna cum laude each of us, special. and actually can live up to the trailer, the hype. Credible authorities we are, special to each of our unique unconscious, nature, born to our provinicial expertises. On something or other. Forgive the flowery flowers. Jake, I gotta say, I don't know how you do it. In such short time, gather such a mass of unspecfic, if not particularly articulate, helter skelter materials into a sense of sense. One way is that you must have an intuitive overview. A sense, direction to an assembled whole here, coming as it might as we go along, but generally, (we all helped format it of course) you seem to have a method. Your REVIEW gifts and practice disassembling materials, grist for rebuilding your personal architecture, scenario and meaning beyond the obvious (which perhaps, is a simple reason for the most part, just tell a story well) can't hurt. Sam Peckinpah, what your circus story, family and extended family, obsessions and big screen spirit hath wrought. Oh, don't I go on. But this guide is quite a brick by brick blueprint you laid out here. So, pay attention anyone? How about tennis then?. Bill

Z said...

right, the podcast was fun but your analysis, your ability to weave a narrative our of the "chaos" was striking both in it's clarity of expression and the strength of the story itself. I guess I should be used to it by now.

Balloonman said...

Now you are getting to the TITLE itself as what? I suppose as sort of critical to what is underneath it. As to the intent of what follows. I never thought much about the title of The GHOST OF SAM PECKINPAH other than the obvious. That he still lives. His films do and he is attached. But Phil, you are referring to SHOOTING the Ghost. So that's what that is, shooting at something, a ghost dead can't be killed again or hit either for that matter. So what is to grasp? But the essence. In our case with our diversions off script but consequent the script leads us to our family and closet ghosts it would seem. And what are we 'hitting' here? Relationship to Peckinpah? And I want to say here now, Sam I hardly know ye. And yet so much currently revolves around you. Bringing out episode after episode of ourselves triggered by us respecting this person as a center fire 'shaman' to gather around and tell our own midnite skype stories. I wanted to comment on Phil and a pat email bringing in myth as something we are dealing with if not unknowi gly (or not) engaged in. The separation or not of myth and reality, so close to be comfortable. And that consequent this mythos we are given license to free associate. Eh?Or something. Draw parallels, interface organic fact with maufacture. I don't know where this is leading or if it is close enuf to Phil's myth 'essay' or not anyway. And so what? Villy