Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

You Live in a World Without You

Jerry Garcia once said something like, “You have to remember that we live in a world without a Grateful Dead.”

It’s an interesting perspective. When you are the Grateful Dead, you are known to millions and adored by many. You are an object in the world of your fans and followers.

But in your own world, there is no corresponding object.

The eye that sees cannot see the eye that sees (or something like that).

Whenever you are having a hard time dealing with someone, remember that may themselves have a hard time understanding how their actions, their words, their appearance are perceived. Being inside everything they do, they are unaware of what it looks like from the outside. They live in a world in which they do not exist.

Same goes for you.

Hero-Worshiping Guitar Player

3684432700_f0789345b6_mWhen I was in college, I played music with a fellow named Tony Benoit. (If you’d like to read the text of an insightful and thought-provoking/action-recommending speech he gave on why we have environmental problems, you may do so now.)

We had a lot of far-ranging conversations about truth, life, art, girls, etc., but of the many things he said to me over the years, the one that stuck in my mind’s craw was the following rebuff, apropos of what I can not now recall, “That’s because you’re a hero-worshiping guitar player.” My friend had therewith hit a certain nail on it’s undeniable head and to this day I dwell on the implications of that sobriquet.

At the time, he was probably talking about my tendency to obsess about Jerry Garcia who was, in his way, my hero. Of course, I also idolized other guitar players, Jimi Hendrix, for example, or Jimmy Page, but Garcia meant something in particular to me at the time.

I had seen the Dead a bunch of times, and I had seen Jerry’s solo band here and there, so he was actually a living person to me (though, when he was playing at Frost in 1982, his ashen pallor had a from-the-grave-ness about it). But beyond that, I, like many of my Deadhead brethren and sisthren, saw in the band, and the figure of Garcia in particular, the living embodiment of a kind of ideal. While the precise contours of this ideal are lost in a vivid purple haze, broadly speaking I would define it as an ideal, not just of freedom, but of a willingness to use that freedom to explore the outer reaches of conscious human experience.

I think, however, Tony wasn’t just talking about my ongoing idolatry of rock stars like Garcia or Dylan or Neil Young. Instead, he was highlighting a more deeply ingrained part of my developing personality. If I admired someone for being extraordinary, and, frankly, I admired Tony in this way, I would see that individual as somehow essentially different from me and consider the qualities that made them uniquely special effectively unattainable.

Tony was trying to wake me up from this delusion. He was trying to remind me that people like Jerry, or, frankly, himself, were ultimately people just like me (or if they were different from me, they were no more different than everyone is from everyone else). As he told me once, “You know, if you could get into someone’s head and live there for awhile, I think you’d find that it’s pretty much like being in your own head.” (Of course, he also said, “When I die, I’ll finally get over this hang-up that I’m different from everything else.”)

Nowadays, while I still admire folks famous, not-so-famous, and downright unknown, I no longer place them in an aspirational realm forever beyond my grasp. No, I appreciate them in their “thusness” and don’t turn this thusness into a self-esteem-withering condemnation of my own thusness.

So, thanks, To(ny).

Image Courtesy of Αλεξάνδρα.

Doing What You Want to Do

969487159_0537403a06_mThere’s a book called The Myth of Freedom by Chogyam Trungpa. It’s message is fairly straightforward: Everyone thinks of “freedom” in terms of “doing what you want to do.” What this formulation represses is the fact that we cannot free ourselves from wanting. At the core of our concept of freedom dwells an intractable kernel of compulsion. (In line with his Buddhist inclinations, Trungpa Rinpoche offers meditation as the diamond-hard hammer fit to crack this nut.)

When I was younger, I idolized people who were “doing what they wanted to do,” and perpetually lamented my own failure to join their ranks (somehow imagining that, in spite of the fact that I was doing many things, I was never quite doing what I wanted to do). I didn’t feel free.

Laugh if you want, but for a while Jerry Garcia represented this ideal of freedom – “doing what you want to do” –  in part because he seemed to be living the life I thought I wanted to live. But then I read something he said on the subject and it caught me up.

In his view, doing what you want to do is easy. First, do what you want to do. Then, don’t do what you don’t want to do. [Note: I’ve not been able to locate the source for this last bit. Will keep looking – Matt.]

While the stoned simplicity of this credo has its appeal, it rings false to me. “Don’t do what you don’t want to do” doesn’t sound like freedom so much as an avoidance of accountability and a refusal of responsibility. I understand that it can feel pretty free to be on the road playing gigs and taking drugs, but how free are you if you leave behind a trail of unfilled obligations, broken relationships and quasi-fatherless children? Are you “running free” or just “running away”?

Separating the moments of free action in our lives from those of mindless determinism is, on the one hand, a step towards maturity and self-awareness, and, on the other, utterly fruitless (as pointed out by Immanuel Kant). The important question isn’t, “Am I doing what I want to do?” The important question is, “Am I dealing with my shit?”

Image Courtesy of Damien.