I once enrolled in a course entitled "Myth and Culture" which centered around the teachings of "renowned scholar" Joseph Campbell. And while I must confess that the greatest truth I learned from this experience is that I disagree with most of Campbell's conclusions, I was also ultimately forced to admit that a few of the concepts he espoused do in fact coincide very closely with my own thoughts. And because Michael McDermott's recent show at The Point arguably illustrates a unique spin on one of these common perceptions, I feel it appropriate to preface my description of this show by discussing it (and Michael McDermott's art in general) in terms of Campbell's work.
In the most widely read of his books, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Campbell details his assertion that various cultures throughout history have centered their spiritual/mythological conceptions around a common experience known as the "heroic journey" -- a journey undergone by not only great spiritual leaders, but also common men and women in search of increased mental/spiritual growth. Moreover, it was Campbell's belief -- as it is mine, too -- that in modern society it is artists/the creative process that represent one of the most notable examples of this quest -- a quest which, as Campbell explains it, follows in each case a general direction that leads those who embark upon it down a common path of individuality.
This journey begins with a stirring of the spirit, an unrest -- a "calling", if you will. From here the "hero" may choose to ignore the call, in which case the journey essentially ends at the beginning. If he chooses to heed the call, however, the hero will soon depart from the safety of his familiar surroundings to face a series of trials and adventures. While these encounters may on an individual level end in varying degrees of success or failure, ultimately the hero endures, overcomes, and moves beyond them to the realization "that his outer victories must be matched by inner ones. For it is only within himself that all of the opposing forces he has encountered can finally be reconciled". And having achieved this reconciliation, the hero is at last able to return with the "boon", or reward gleaned from his travels, and communicate what he has learned to those around him.
But this reconciliation within the hero and the desire to see his world achieve a similarly enlightened state do not always come without a price. As Campbell points out, the hero "may be misunderstood completely by those he has come back to help since they have not undergone his trials and, thus, cannot understand his hard-won wisdom".
And, of course, that brings me back to Michael McDermott. For it is clear from this explanation and by listening to his songs that this artist has embarked on his own heroic journey -- one he relives again and again every time he appears onstage. And, of course, with each performance he delivers to us afresh the amazingly generous boon that is his music.
And yet something separates Michael from the traditional heroes Campbell's work describes. For in each of Campbell's examples, the hero went forth into uncharted territory only once within his lifetime. This means, of course, that the journeys in each case were of limited duration, and that the boon thereby returned was presented in the form of but one gift.
Michael McDermott, by contrast, is a hero of a different kind -- one who ventures forth again and again seeking ever greater realms of experience, and who returns to deliver ever broader revelations of truth. Sometimes this boon is presented in the form of a new song, through which he introduces us to characters or ideas we have never met before. At others, it is brought to us as something we have heard time and time again, but which his ever-deepening acquaintance with himself -- and the added experience he has already brought to our own lives -- allows him to deliver in such a way that each of these songs becomes once more new as well.
This page commemorates Michael McDermott's third visit to The Point this year. And although there are indeed many similarities to these visits, yet on each occasion he has somehow managed to bring us something new, something we have never heard before, something we will most likely never see or hear in quite the same way again. As a result, for those of us who have answered in the affirmative the call to accompany him on all three of these heroic journeys, the boon we have received in the form of both Michael's music and his unquenchable artistic spirit represents an indescribably rare and precious gift.
"The Hero With A Thousand Songs"...
Michael McDermott at The Point, Bryn Mawr, PA -- 8/18/01
Yet another sold-out show...
Michael began the evening with his oldest hit, "A Wall I Must Climb"...
"In my world
...and then moved into one of his
newest, a song he explained was inspired by "a friend who's an idiot
Buddhist", adding with a laugh, " which may be a contradiction in
You never seem to listen
I think you read Buddha
'Baby, what you think
The rarely-performed-live "Sailor", one of more than a dozen outstanding songs from Michael's second album, "Gethsemane", provided another unexpected treat...
sailor, I am driftin'
After this, Michael paused a moment to express his appreciation for the Bryn Mawr crowd, promising "Next time I come back -- for you who have been so loyal to me -- I'll have a whole new set of songs." And, as an advance on that promise, he then shared the anthem of hope, "The Silent Will Soon Be Singing"...
Yet another new song followed, introduced by a brief explanation of its origins, which were linked to comments by a therapist who felt Michael was a bit like the character Proteus from Greek mythology. In other words, he was trying to be all things to all people, which of course not even herculean efforts can achieve. For, should one try, he will surely end up feeling a bit like Sisyphus, the Corinthian king doomed in Hades to forever roll uphill a stone that always rolled back down...
And, still not out of new material, he then shared the tale of a relationship made impossible by circumstances..."Over Before It Even Began"..
"There's no turning back
Of course, as described above, every hero's journey requires facing one's share of struggle as Michael so eloquently expresses in "Stumblin' ", which on this night he dedicated to his clearly surprised longtime friend, Troy...
"Take my hand...
I keep on stumblin'..."
Michael then returned to more standard fare in the form of "Summer Days"...
"I was takin' care of Ma
...followed by arguably the most inspired performance of "Gettin' Off The Dime" ever performed -- one which portrayed in the condensed form of but one song its very own complete heroic journey, punctuated by unconscious gestures reflective of inner turmoil and vigorously expressed determination to truly "find [himself] someday"...
I'm so sad and sick
Come on, babe,
But after switching back from piano to guitar and embarking upon an almost equally intense rendition of "Leave It Up To The Angels" (which included his usual brief insertion of The Who's "Baba O'Reilly") , Michael's mood gradually lightened as he at last recognized the need to simply "surrender"...
" I don't
need to fight
And, at last, Michael was even able to throw in a bit of jovial improvisation on the lyrics to the already amusing character study, "20 Miles South of Nowhere"...
" This goofball asked me
Unfortunately, not all of the real-life characters on which Michael's songs are based have made a like measure of progress on their own respective journeys toward enlightenment. As a preface to "Junkie Girl", Michael shared his rather incredulous impression of one such character's continuing blindness to the need for change...
Strange to be living
And, as though musically foreshadowing the close of this particular heroic journey, Michael returned briefly to the piano for the beautiful, and indeed telling, "Around The World"...
"I've been in books;
Before actually concluding, however, Michael shared yet one more bit of trivia -- which he, of course, laced with his accustomed self-deprecating humor. Explaining that he records home demos in his parents' basement, which gets partially flooded from time time, he said he always does so wearing shorts and gym shoes..."Otherwise, I get electrocuted all day...which would probably help me some days!"
And so began the end, the gently wistful, "Morning Never Brings"...
"But still I'm hearing
Upon leaving the stage, however, Michael was again faced with voices he couldn't ignore -- the raised chorus of cheers begging an encore.
And, as on his prior visits, he once more quickly returned. Taking his seat at the piano, he announced he would do two songs, and performed the always popular "Bourbon Blue"...
I kneel and I'll confess
...followed by what one might easily contend proved the "piece de resistance" of the night, yet another of those complete heroic journeys somehow encapsulated in one song. For in "Wounded" Michael yet again squarely battled both the
internal and external forces conspiring against him. And, in his own truly heroic style, he strongly -- and very convincingly -- vowed to once more emerge victorious...
Indeed, we as an audience emerged victorious -- indeed thrilled -- yet again by the journey we'd been taken on this night.
Yet, Michael was still not quite finished delivering "boon", for after the show he generously took the time to chat, and pose for photos with fans and friends...
Never pass up the chance to stand so close to genius -- you never know, some might rub off...and without a doubt this genius has enough to spare a little!!!
As always, thank you Michael -- and once again...