Neale Donald Walsch, John Carroll.
You may ask yourself what a music editor is doing writing about bestselling author Neale Donald Walsch. Let’s just say the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Chalk it up to a kind of serendipity doo-dah.
I was going to write about Canadian singer/songwriter John Carroll, who released a CD last year, along with his Trusty Sidekicks, called True Confessions of an Infamous Liar. Great band. Great range of styles. Great storyish songs from a raspy-voiced alchie-beatster with an unrepentant, abiding penchant for the sauce. What do you expect from a label named Drunken Boat Records?
But there is something engaging in the slightly monotonous, mostly unaffected, wobbly un-resplendence of Carroll’s vocal delivery that both defies gravity and defines it.Tom Waits is the easy analogue, but nonetheless a tough shoreline to moor. Carroll accomplishes it with a panache and squalor that makes home-base Ottawa roll like a lost shaker of salt, and rock like a friend’s endless couch to crash on, well-stocked liquor cabinet gleaming and teeming.
But don’t let the terrain fool ya. This semi-lush with the crooked wire-rims, bowling ball eyes, and shaved head can throw strikes with his spare aural etchings. His style is lean and mean with a kind of deadpan whimsy that can grow nose-hair on brass knuckles. I mean, he turns the potential for self-destruction into a bouquet of pink refrigerator magnets.
He’s one of those artists who un-self-consciously romanticizes booze, leaving soberer souls to fantasize about the bohemian swagger endowed from swallowing poison. Not unlike Charles Bukowski, who drank the Grim Reaper under the table while writing unflinchingly about every fart, f—k, vomit, and beer bottle he ever met. The fact that Bukowski succeeded in producing transcendent poetry and prose while playing footsie skunk drunk with the devil is a classic Henry Miller “dung is dung and angels are angels” school-of-unsentimental-romantics miracle.
"To be born in the street means to wander all your life, to be free. It means accident and incident, drama, movement. It means above all dream. A harmony of irrelevant facts which gives to your wandering a metaphysical certitude. In the street you learn what human beings really are; otherwise, or afterwards, you invent them. What is not in the open street is false, derived, that is to say literature. Nothing of what is called ‘adventure’ ever approaches the flavor of the street."
—Henry Miller, from Black Spring, The Fourteenth Ward
Or put another way:
"If there were a man who dared to say all that he thought of this world there would not be left him a square foot of ground to stand on."
—from Tropic Of Cancer
My friends from Ottawa, whose place Carroll has crashed at a lot, tell me he once made a pair of glasses out of old coat hangers. He slowly got duller and duller, staying in more and more. Someone suggested lead from the metal might be seeping into his brain. As soon as he put duct tape around the ends, he began feeling better and started going out again. I’m not sure why that story tickles me.
As I finish writing about Carroll, I find myself wandering past a conference call set up by an e-zine publication called Healthy, Wealthy n Wise at Janet Attwood’s home, where I have been diffidently tending three golden retrievers in exchange for rent. (Janet, her ex Chris Attwood, and I have written a self-help book together called From Sad to Glad, with illustrations by George Foster. Janet and Chris are also part owners of Healthy, Wealthy n Wise.)
People are on the line from Toronto, Australia, South Africa, England, New York, California, Ohio, and more. The featured speaker was Neale Donald Walsch, the enormously successful author whose #1 New York Times’ bestseller Conversations with God spent two and a half years on the prestigious list.
I drift by, listening with half an ear, not expecting much for some reason, maybe because I heard him when he was on a book tour in Fairfield a few years back. Come to think of it, I didn’t actually hear the author speak—I just glimpsed him coming out of the hall, quite by accident, and smugly concluded, “What an ordinary looking man.”
What I hear on the speakerphone is a passionate, articulate, authoritative voice that draws me in like an unsuspecting honey bee to a prize rose, all banal clichés notwithstanding.
In my world, passion is defined as the burning feeling inside of us that brings us the courage to set aside every exterior idea of who we are in order that we might express the truth of our being.
I learn Walsh is readying a new book for release in March. It is called What God Wants. And it is revolutionary. His basic thesis, as blasphemous as it sounds on the surface, is that God wants nothing, that there is no will of God per se. This is not to deny God, but rather to place full responsibility for our individual lives where it always rests anyway: inside each of us. It’s a call to action and acceptance.
Walsch talks about a civil rights movement for the soul, a rejection of separation theology where God is seen in terms of punishment and reward, something to fear, appeased by a long list of dos and don’ts, mandates, and commandments, something outside and above rather than intimately accessible and within, exclusive rather than inclusive.
People have flown planes into buildings in the name of God, he says. People have overthrown countries and bombed civilians in the name of God. His contention is that the planet cannot survive 25 more years if we keep approaching spirituality the way we have been. God does not judge, or reward, according to Walsch. We do that to ourselves—and others. So when we stop judging ourselves and others, what do we do to better our plight?
"There was a time when I was asking all sorts of introspective questions like that…How can I be a better person? What does it take to make life work?—all the questions that I asked at the beginning of my dialogue. But at some point in the dialogue, God said to me…I want to tell you something—and this is going to be a little hard to grasp, but just be with the information and see how it feels to you—your life is not about you. Your life has nothing to do with you.
The day you stop asking any questions about you at all, and ask only questions about everyone whose life you touch, on that day you’ll be free of this constant mental pressure to know, to understand, to burst through, to break forth, to emerge, and to evolve, because it’s not about you, it’s about everyone whose life you touch. And having decided that that is what’s true, you will find that everything you’ve been trying to produce in your own life will be produced there without effort. And that is because what you do for another will be done unto you."
Perhaps remaining behind the walls of guilt and shame, sin and punishment, fear and reward, action and reaction, ego centrifugation and false modesty provides a kind of security blanket for the enshrouded soul. Could it be that by simply doing what is most dear to our heart, we discover the best way to simultaneously fulfill our personal goals, give succor to the world, and honor the divine spark within?
Sure beats lead poisoning.