Listen to the Music

how I got here

I first contemplated the existence of God at age eight while listening to my mom’s Beatles records. The band had already split up, but in 1972 I was just beholding the revelation. Where I got the notion that the divine could manifest through music is a mystery. Neither of my parents were religious. And, aside from the conventional pieties that floated by me during some desultory Sunday school visits, there wasn’t much mention of God anywhere else in the tiny town of less than a thousand souls in New Hampshire where I spent the first eleven years of my life.

 

When I wasn’t listening to the Beatles, I was drawing pictures at the kitchen table or roaming the woods, where I fought the French on the colonial frontier and scoured the ground for raccoon or porcupine tracks. CBS, the one TV station we got, was my only link to the outside world.

 

My world expanded, or at least included more TV stations, when we moved to a university town in New Hampshire for my middle and high school years. There the enchanting music of childhood faded, and I began pondering another imponderable. Periodically, I would lie awake and let sink in the absolute certainty that I would die. My consciousness would be extinguished for eternity, just as my scientist father believed.

 

But at Harvard, I began hearing the music again, faintly at first. Freshman year, it took the form of wanting to find the scientific theory of everything, those arms that could embrace both Einstein’s relativity, quantum physics, and all the stuff in between. But physics class, it turned out, was hard. As I looked for another major, I discovered a talent for writing comedy and was accepted on The Harvard Lampoon, whose president at the time was Conan O’Brien. I finally settled, without much enthusiasm, on a biology major, with the idea of becoming a doctor because, well, that’s the kind of thing that Harvard graduates do. 

 

The summer after junior year, the music swelled. This time a good twenty years late, I discovered Bob Dylan’s 1962 album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I also discovered writers like  D.H. Lawrence, and Nietzsche. These were visceral artists. Artists of the soul, yes, but also of the body. Dylan inspired me to learn some guitar chords. The others inspired me to be a writer. I returned to school and started writing magical-realist short stories along with my on-going Lampoon hijinks.

I also began looking inside myself. As a kind of dread descended on me, I started seeing a therapist. I turned as well to poetry, depth psychology, myth, spirituality, and the just-burgeoning men's movement that mixed all these elements in a nourishing stew served up by poet Robert Bly, streetwise story-teller Michael Meade, and archetypal psychologist James Hillman, among others. These men demonstrated a masculinity that embraced feeling, beauty, and vitality.      

I graduated summa cum laude, but when I faced the prospect of the MCATs, I knew I was done. I just didn’t have it in me to take any more tests. Not the kind on paper anyway.

 

Since college, I’ve written ten screenplays, optioning one to Warner Bros., and landed other rewrite and punch-up work for the Hollywood machine, though I could never bear to live in LA. Instead, I kept my soul intact by remaining in the Bay Area, where I started getting more interested in writing songs and playing the guitar. I formed a band, played a lot of gigs, and self-released three CDs of original music. The main ingredient was sadness but it was always leavened with humor. My tagline: “What if Hank Williams grew up listening to The Beatles?” When the screenplay money ran out, I made a living as a math and science high school teacher and private tutor.

They say the difference between a singer-songwriter and a puppy is that eventually the puppy grows up and stops whining. Maybe it was all the psychotherapy, but eventually I stopped feeling the need to whine through art. When I did, I found myself making poetry.

It rose up from my ground of being like a native plant. I was less writing it than watching it. Like the Beatles, I allowed something to move through me. Like the music of the Beatles, it felt buoyant.

© 2018 by Chris Dingman