In commemoration of the first anniversary of David Bowie's passing, Blurt Magazine has published an extended excerpt from my book We Can Be Heroes. This section pertains to the making of the acclaimed Berlin Trilogy.

Also, in honor (sort of) of Bob Dylan's recent ascent to the status of Nobel Laureate, I have written a brief review of his Lyrics 1961-2012 collection for Front Porch Republic.

 

 

I am thrilled to announce publication of my new eBook We Can Be Heroes: The Radical Individualism of David Bowie

Details below. 

"Robert Dean Lurie is a rock and roll writer in a Tertium Quid groove: he is lucid and thorough and provocative, capable of soaring flights of fancy yet grounded and wise. In We Can Be Heroes, Lurie invokes Burroughs and Nietzsche, Orwell and Rand, Aleister Crowley and Edmund Burke (Crowley and Burke?!), and the result is a song of David Bowie that rings euphoniously, cacophonously true."

--Bill Kauffman, author of Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette

"Comparisons to punk or Prince are easy enough, but any book on Bowie that opens by likening his under-appreciated band Tin Machine to Howard Roark has my attention. By the end, we've learned the revealing philosophical origin story of this musical "Superman," with cameos by Nietzsche, Aleister Crowley, Elvis, and the other acknowledged influences who separated Bowie from the herd of common homo sapiens and made him something unapologetically higher."
--Todd Seavey, author of Libertarianism for Beginners

Utilizing song lyrics, interviews, biographical resources, and commentaries from a diverse range of writers and artists, We Can Be Heroes follows the strong thread of radical individualism running through David Bowie's work and life, exploring its parallels with the ideas of such diverse figures as Friedrich Nietzsche, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Ayn Rand, and Aleister Crowley. Bowie's legacy is also compared with that of his successors, such as Madonna and Lady Gaga, a contrast that demonstrates that his philosophical foundation, largely absent from the work of these and other more image-oriented performers, has guaranteed his body of work the sort of longevity usually only accorded to authors and visual artists. Bowie kicked off a one-man revolution in self-actualization. This book examines its substance and implications.

A must-read for fans of Bowie, as well as passionate proponents of individualism.

We Can Be Heroes is available exclusively from Amazon.com and can be read on any device via the free Kindle app.

An excerpt from the book can be read here.

I've been thinking lately about "The Piña Colada Song" (AKA "Escape") and there are a number of things that just don't add up.

First of all, just how long has this couple been together? I suppose it's possible that the narrator doesn't know about his partner's fondness for "making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape" (which, after all, might have occurred during her wild college years), but I have a hard time believing that he would also be oblivious to her taste for piña coladas, the rain, and her distaste for yoga. Those are a lot of blind spots for a couple that has supposedly been together long enough to fall into a "dull routine." A counter-argument could be made that theirs was a relationship based solely on sex, but if that were the case then he probably should have had some inkling about her thing for the dunes of the cape.

Also, am I the only one who is annoyed by the fact that the narrator does not directly address the mystery woman's point about yoga? Instead, he goes off on a tangent about health food and then declares, Tourette's-like, "I am into champagne!" The woman stipulated in her overture that her fantasy suitor "have half a brain," but the man's reactions indicate at least some degree of cognitive challenge. Perhaps he's taking the "half a brain" request literally rather than figuratively, and is seeking to demonstrate that he is only operating on 50% brain capacity.

Let's follow the yoga point a bit further. One wonders why it is so important that the woman's would-be lover eschew this ancient art. Given how quickly the male physique can deteriorate, it would seem that a potential partner's interest in yoga would be an asset, even if the other partner doesn't share it. But perhaps she is opposed on religious grounds? (Also, we don't know what the "lovely lady" actually looks like; there might be an intimidation factor. Given the appearance of the song's author, Rupert Holmes, it's reasonable to assume that we're not dealing with Lana Turner here).

I would also guess that the man's declaration that he's "not much into health food" and that he might even be nursing an alcohol dependency would be a further red flag. Heavy consumption of alcohol brings with it a lot of empty calories and has been linked to poor sexual performance. Now, I'm not Dr. Oz, but I'm thinking that without a healthy diet to balance out the heavy drinking, there are probably some serious medical issues on the horizon. Is that really what she wants in a companion?

Finally, we're left with the supposed happy ending in which the husband and wife realize that they've really been corresponding with each other the whole time. But think about this for a moment. Once the afterglow of getting it on at midnight for apparently the first time in their relationship subsides, there will be some tough issues to work through—for a start, the fact that they were both actively conspiring to carry on affairs.

Given this couple's history of poor communication, I don't hold out much hope for them in the long run. If divorce doesn't get them, liver failure or heart disease will. Sorry to rain on anyone's parade, but I've got to call this as I see it. Next!

Five years ago I did something very impulsive: I committed myself to a writing project that would eat up a large amount of my time over the next few years with very little guarantee of financial compensation. While one might argue that nearly every writing project matches that description, this particular book really was out of left field. 

It all started with some lovely Taoist-themed poetry that martial arts teacher Ray Fisher published in one of his karate manuals. At the time that I across these poems, I had been training in Kenpo karate with Fisher for about a year; I already knew him to be an intense and charismatic teacher, but I had not until then been aware of his introspective side. In a very understated way, Ray's words spoke to some underlying issues I was then (and still am) working through: the lasting effect that past emotional baggage can have on the psyche and the need to gently transcend such psychological dead weight in order to live a more intentional life. Impressed and moved, I shot Ray an email stating that if he ever wished to compile his poetry and other writings into book form, I would be happy to help him edit such a volume.

A week or two later, Ray and I sat down to discuss the idea further. It quickly became clear that this project would not simply be a collection of Ray's pieces (though some of the poetry would make an appearance). Rather, the concept that evolved was of an original work co-authored by the two of us that would focus on martial arts philosophy. Ray harbored a concern that some of his newer students lacked interest in the "history and philosophy" of martial arts and were thus not properly grounded within the tradition. While it was not our aim to write a linear history (such a work would fill several volumes), this concern did animate the series of interviews Ray and I held over the succeeding years, discussions which generated much of the material in the book.

Casting about for a suitable structure for our narrative, I kept going back to a book I had enjoyed called The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D. That book had been framed around a series of interviews Cutler, a psychiatrist, had conducted with the Dalai Lama. Each chapter addressed a different problem or philosophical concern, unpacking it from both Buddhist and scientific perspectives. Cumulatively, the practices outlined by the Dalai Lama in the discussions constituted a sort of checklist, or manual, for achieving happiness.

Our ambition was not so lofty, but Ray did have some eloquent things to say about how qualities such as loyalty, leadership, forgiveness, and self-discipline could be cultivated through a life in the martial arts. In a similar manner to The Art of Happiness, we broke our narrative into themed chapters. I then added aspects of my own story, for I could not ignore the fact that I was actively grappling with all of these concepts in the process of my advancement as a martial arts student. Thus, our book quite organically took on a dual-narrative structure, with our individual journeys complementing each other like two distinct melodies in the same key.

In hindsight, I am impressed by how smoothly things fell into place without a whole lot of conscious planning. Ray would typically select the topic for each talk and choose one of his poems to go with it. I would then write a lead-in hashing out my own thoughts on, and struggles with, that particular topic. Then during our talk we would examine the idea from all conceivable angles, occasionally circling back to my intro or Ray's poem. 

We repeated this process eleven times. Ten of the discussions were pared down and incorporated into the book (the eleventh, a talk on punctuality, didn't make the cut due to a faulty tape recorder and the fact that I had very little to contribute on that subject!). It then fell to me to assemble the material into a rough draft, which Ray fleshed out with additional material--corrections, elaborations, new angles. We did at least a couple rounds of this before the book made its way into the hands of our very capable editor Leigh Blackmore.

Neither Ray nor I realized during our first planning meeting at Chin-Chin's restaurant back in 2009 that our book would take four years to complete. But I think we'd both agree that the final product more than justifies the time spent. For me personally, working on the book has been an immensely rewarding process--one that has enabled me to get far beyond my comfort zone of rock 'n' roll biography and develop what I might call my "metaphysical voice." I am sure that this difficult work will yield immeasurable benefits in the future.

It remains to be seen whether The Edge will find much of an audience beyond the Arizona martial arts community, but we certainly wrote it for anyone--martial artist or not--to enjoy.

I'm glad I sent Ray that email. It's been quite a ride. 

 

The Edge: Life Lessons From a Martial Arts Master is now available from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, CreateSpace, and other book retailers.

 

Back in the pre-Internet days, when the University of Georgia Library served as my Google, I stumbled across a doorstop of a book by Colin Wilson titled The Occult, its cover emblazoned with the words, "The ultimate book for those who would walk with the Gods." Being in my early twenties and both painfully insecure and painfully ambitious, I obviously had to read this.

The book turned out to be less a manual than a history and philosophical treatise. The first half consisted of an extended essay on something called "Faculty X." The premise: that the human race is evolving toward a point where people will have greater access to the brain's hitherto untapped capabilities--psychic powers, heightened consciousness, peak experience--and that so-called "occult" practices and phenomena are merely man's imperfect attempts to tap into these latent powers.

It's an appealing idea, and yet I found that first half of the book extremely slow-going. I may have skipped ahead to the second half, which was a different story altogether. This comprised nothing less than a comprehensive overview of the Western esoteric tradition, beginning with the first glimmerings of pre-historic time and carrying through to the 1970s. All kinds of intriguing and shadowy figures were brought to my attention: Pythagoras, Mesmer, Count Cagliostro, the Comte Saint-Germain, Daniel Dunglas Home, Madame Blavatsky, Gurdjieff, Aleister Crowley, and Wilhelm Reich. Wilson sketched these sometimes comically eccentric personalities with a deft mix of sympathy and skepticism, and proved himself a master at synthesis--collating the disparate threads of their philosophies into an unruly yet beguiling whole that did indicate forward momentum toward the elusive Faculty X.

The Occult is a weird and wonderful book, and I am immeasurably richer for having read it. My summary of the Faculty X theory (which sounds vaguely Marvel Superheroes-esque in my retelling) does not do it justice. No single book, save perhaps Siddhartha, has had a more sustained impact on my thinking with regards to the metaphysical.

To the general public, Wilson's best-known work is probably The Outsider, which does for the intellectual loner what The Occult does for the sorcerer. This too is a subject near and dear to my heart but I confess I was unable to get through The Outsider. Wilson had a tendency to sink into muddled, quasi-academic prose when pontificating on his BIG IDEAS. I suspect there is much of value to The Outsider, but I am not yet at the point in my life where I have the patience to assimilate it.

Until very recently, I tended to think of Colin Wilson as a guy who had pretty much figured it all out. It seemed a little baffling to me that he was not better known. Then I came across an audio interview and his relative obscurity suddenly began to make sense, for in this recording Mr. Wilson displayed staggering arrogance coupled with a complete lack of self-awareness. He held forth on his contemporaries (Anthony Burgess among them) and found them lacking in relation to his own brilliance. He spun a tale of Vivien Leigh having made a pass on him ("she was a nymphomaniac," he said blithely), and told of various other fantastical brushes with celebrity in which he, not the celebrities, was the object of desire and adoration. He concluded that his critics simply could not comprehend his genius. Over the course of 45 minutes I almost lost all interest in Colin Wilson.

Almost. His passing last week at age 82 has brought the writing back into relief. I can't speak to the overall body of work (Wilson wrote something like 100 books, including several novels), but with The Occult and some of his other writings on the paranormal, he set my imagination alight. Underneath the oversized ego, there may not have been genius, but perhaps there was a little bit of magic.

 

 Further reading: The New York Times' Obituary for Colin Wilson

I'd like to share some thoughts this week on one of my favorite songwriters: my brother Dan Lurie. He's one of those freak tunesmiths who came out of the gate seemingly in full command of his craft--possibly because he spent so many years prior to his debut obsessively listening to music of all stripes.

Nearly every one of Dan's songs is melodic, tightly constructed, and notably free of sentimentality. He seems to apply a pared-down, punk ethos to pop music. What we get when we listen to Dan's songs--either in the context of his former band Solyoni or his current solo work--is a gentle bait-and-switch. We think we're in for something light, but most of the material has a melancholy tinge to it. Whether he's singing the lines "Open up her head / and find someone else instead" (in Solyoni's "Nesting Doll") or "Wanna be an actor / or play one on TV / Wanna be the thing / I could never be" (in "Beautiful Burbank") he's often mining feelings of nostalgia for people and places that quietly slipped away--or were never there to begin with.

Solyoni released three very solid albums during their run, and Dan is now in the process of rolling out his second release. It's great, great stuff. Do consider giving him a listen; this artist deserves a wider audience. (And it's not just big brother pride motivating my feelings; the work speaks for itself).

 

© Madartists | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free ImagesI'm just about eleven weeks into this fatherhood gig, so I'm not exactly a seasoned dad. Nevertheless, I thought I'd share the following random observations:

1. It's true what everyone says about the disorientating aspects of this experience. Sleep has been disrupted and I've had to develop a more intimate relationship with chaos and uncertainty--a difficult prospect for a creature of routine. As my friend and fellow writer T. Kyle King puts it, "Everything in your life now operates approximately on the same schedule as boarding the last helicopter out of Saigon." (And that's just my experience. Increase these feelings exponentially and factor in the responsibility of being the sole food source and you might have some approximation of what my wife is going through.) However, I don't think any of the disruptions above are what I'll ultimately hold in my memory. Each time my daughter looks at me with those deep, soulful eyes, I catch a glimpse of the divine mystery. This happens countless times every day. That's what I'll take with me.

2. There are certainly times when I look into her face and wonder about the person she will become. But mostly my daughter has taught me to live in the present--to enjoy every single moment and experience her for who she is now.

3. I don't think I can convey in words the power of her smile, but I feel like it was genetically engineered to deliver concentrated shots of happiness to anyone on whom she bestows it. I'm sure most parents feel that way about their children, but that doesn't in any way diminish the effect that my baby's glowing, guileless grin has on me.

4. I am grateful for the privilege of being a dad. I hope that I will always remain in awe of the wonder of life, and, even when facing the challenges ahead, I pray that I will never take this blessing for granted.

The British sci-fi TV series Doctor Who turns 50 years old on Saturday. In a medium not typically noted (at least until lately) for producing work of lasting interest, this is a momentous achievement--all the more so because the show has never been more popular than it is now. Here in the US, the 50th anniversary TV movie will be simulcast in major movie theater chains across the country. Thirty years ago, I would have found such a turn of events about as far-fetched as an invasion by sentient shop-window dummies.

Like many American anglophiles of a certain age, I first discovered Doctor Who in the early 1980s via my local PBS station. I was nine years old at the time and deep in the clutches of a Star Wars obsession, but this far-stranger (and much lower-budget) take on the science fiction genre immediately won me over. Despite the show's complex and confounding mythology--the inevitable by-product of such a long run--its central premise was pretty easy to grasp: A mysterious traveler wanders throughout the universe, doing good where he can. Stripped to its core, this is the classic story of the stranger who rides into town, fixes a problem, and rides out again. There's more to it than that, of course: This traveler, known only as "The Doctor," journeys through space and time in a machine that looks like a British police telephone box. He is hundreds of years old and can "regenerate" his body if dealt a mortal wound (This clever ploy has enabled twelve actors--including, in the upcoming TV movie, John Hurt--to assume the lead role over the last half-century).

For me, Doctor Who became not just a favorite show but a way of life--as, I suspect, it has for many fans. How could a misfit kid not identify with the Doctor: the ultimate loner, a renegade from his own people? He had broken free of the constraints of his upbringing and went to places, and associated with people, of his choosing.

Yet despite the appealing premise, I found the show a hard sell to most of my peers. They couldn't quite grasp why alien races throughout the universe would speak in a British accent, or why they would continually use London as the staging ground for their attempted invasions of Earth. Most damning was the fact that, due to the BBC's budgetary constraints at the time, the special effects and rubber monster suits looked ridiculous to kids who had grown up with George Lucas's visual wizardry. No matter; I stuck with it. Doctor Who set my imagination on fire like nothing else I had ever come across. And as I eventually discovered, I was not quite so alone as I had once thought. In college and beyond, a scenario repeated itself multiple times: I would befriend someone who shared my interests in literature and history, and after several months--or sometimes even years--it would emerge that my friend had also obsessively followed the show on PBS back in the 80s. I discovered that some of my favorite musicians--Robert Smith of the Cure, Robyn Hitchcock, and Steve Kilbey of The Church, had all watched the show as kids. This is significant, I think. I've come to believe that a childhood steeped in Doctor Who fosters certain qualities: intense curiosity, open-mindedness, and, typically, interests in history and foreign cultures. I can't think of any other TV show that has anywhere near that effect.

The series' longevity was not always a foregone conclusion. In fact, the situation looked positively dire when dwindling ratings forced its cancellation in 1989. Yet the show had managed to cast a wide-enough net on my generation by that point that at least one of our number--Russell T. Davies--never quite let the dream die. Even as he enjoyed massive success as the creator and chief writer of the original Queer as Folk, he continued to nurse the seemingly quixotic ambition of resurrecting Doctor Who. When he was finally given the opportunity to relaunch the series in 2005, he very quickly transformed Doctor Who into the biggest cash cow in the history of British television. The once-maligned low-budget serial now boasts state-of-the art special effects and a rotating cast of A-list actors. There was a trade-off, of course: in my view, Davies appropriated some of the more egregious traits of Hollywood blockbusters into his version: frantic pacing, bombastic music, and the sacrificing of plot in the service of spectacle. But there can be no denying that Davies' vision struck a chord with younger audiences and made the series a far more marketable export than it had been in its earlier iteration. (I should mention that some of the aforementioned vices have lessened since Steven Moffat took over the show in 2010).

An oft-repeated statement of late is that the Doctor has now made the transition from a man of his time to a character for the ages: one that will return again and again, a la Sherlock Holmes. I suspect that's true. Great ideas have a way of sticking around--which is wonderful, because I'm looking forward to the day that I can begin watching Doctor Who with my daughter.

We Can Be Heroes