AT DESTINY’S DOOR… AGAIN – an interview with Daniel Deardorff by Matt Sircely

On the 50th Anniversary of the first appearance of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I sat down with Daniel Deardorff – author, mythologist, songwriter, producer and 40 year veteran of the music business – to talk about his latest projects, including the new work that he’s been posting to Soundcloud for all to hear.

dd_ffDanny and I are friends. We’ve worked together and follow each other’s music. The other day, he’d sent a new piece he composed for a Hans Zimmer remix competition. The song “At Destiny’s Door” has one verse and clocks in at 1:39 per the competition requirements (Danny jokes that if he wins, he’ll finish the song).

Although it can be interpreted as a simple love song, “At Destiny’s Door” also relates to Danny’s own experience of chasing the music business dream and succeeding almost overnight, yet facing the harsh reality of being overlooked or worse because of his disability. (A survivor of childhood polio who uses a wheelchair to get around, Danny toured for years before the advent of “accessibility” and the Americans with Disabilities Act). Danny said he hadn’t talked much about this until now. Naturally, I wanted to hear the whole tale from the storyteller himself. We decided to record an interview. We spoke for about a half-hour.

MS: Can I ask first about the contest?

DD: Hans Zimmer is someone I’ve paid attention to for years. I like paying attention to music in film, because at one point, I thought that I might wind up doing that kind of stuff. That’s why I got into industrials. And I was doing those small film scores before my medical condition forced me to retire from production in ’95.

MS: Now you’re doing it as a fun thing?

DD: It’s been a kind of renaissance for me. The last couple of years, I’ve started doing less teaching mythology and cultural ritual, and doing more music. And that’s just been a gradual thing. Some ergonomic problems got solved which I didn’t expect, like the stand that now holds my guitar while I’m [sitting] in my chair, you know what I mean? That was kind of a huge thing for me [laughs] it’s easier to play. And so I wanted to play more.

After I closed my production business I started writing a lot. When I wrote my book, [The Other Within: the Genius of Deformity in Myth, Culture & Psyche] Robert Bly, one of my heroes, in a completely non-music-business direction, invited me to come teach at his Minnesota Men’s Conference, That changed my life from about 2003 to now. And then this year, in September, I told the men I’m not going to go back to teach in Minnesota for a while because I’m doing something else. So that’s what we’re talking about here is that something else that I’m doing. And I didn’t even realize until we were on the phone this morning that today is the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and that was sort of the beginning of the dream for me — that I was going to be a musician. Seeing the Beatles that night sort of changed everything.

MS: You were just a kid around a TV, and you saw it and you just knew…

DD: I saw those guys, and it was like ‘that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to do that. You know, that little Martin mandolin… [points to the mandolin in its case] James [Curtis] was over the other day, and he brought me three new mandolins to play, and so then we got out my mando, and figured out that my Martin and he are the same age [he laughs]. Dad brought me to the store and bought it for me — that was my fourth mandolin.  I had already decided and told him that I wasn’t going back to school, that I was a musician. And he didn’t like it, but he went and bought me the best mandolin that he could afford. That mandolin has been to every state in the union, to Panama, to Chile and all across Canada.

MS: And that’s what the song’s about.

DD: The Dream.

MS: Having a dream, and the music is a love and you’re just driven to do it.

DD: Yeah. And it’s also like the first line: ‘I wished upon a star that fell from grace’. That’s one of my favorite lines I’ve ever written. Because….[he pauses]. You know Michael Mead? Mythologist, storyteller, one of my primary teachers, he wrote a book about it called Fate and Destiny [Fate and Destiny, the Two Agreements of the Soul]. And in it he talks about this idea that fate brings the givens; things that you just have to deal with. But destiny brings the chances — the things that are meant to be fulfilled, that might go by, that might not.

So in Zimmer’s contest, the composition he wrote was called ‘Destiny’s Door’. And ‘Yeah! that’s where I feel like I am,’ I’ve dealt with what fate has handed me, consistently. But there have been times when it felt like the bus of destiny didn’t stop at my stop. Have you ever seen a bus that you were waiting for just blow by?

MS: Was there a particular moment?

DD: Well, there were so many things that happened that I didn’t know about. My manager didn’t want me to… [pauses]. I was the opening act for Seals and Crofts for seven or eight years on tour. And I didn’t know that more than half the time, when we were doing soundcheck, the promoter was freakin’ out and saying that no way was this crippled kid going to perform on his stage. And that Jimmie and Dash would basically say: ‘If Danny don’t play, we don’t play’. Well, if you’re a promoter, and you’ve got ten thousand tickets sold and the headliner’s sayin’ they’re not going to play, you’re going to let ‘em do what they want. So they always let me play. And, you know, I was often getting two standing ovations a night. [He pauses] The promoter would always come back to the dressing room, and say ‘You were awesome! Thanks! Look forward to having you next year’. But the stuff about ‘We don’t want him’, I didn’t know about that until years later.

So there was a lot of resistance in the business to me — to my physical appearance. Does that make sense? I was so naive about it, but my naivete protected me. You know, I went from playing for thirty people at the Last Exit to playing for ten thousand people overnight. I had to puke before I went onstage, it was so terrifying. There was nothing in between. It wasn’t like ‘We’ll start putting you in clubs and you can play for 300 people’. You know, there was just nothing in between from the coffeehouse type-gigs to ‘I’m being a rock star’.

There were many times when I felt like those dreams had come true. My very first recording session, when Louie Shelton decided to be my producer, was Jeff Porcaro on drums, David Paich on piano, David Hungate on bass, Louie Shelton on guitar. Well, those guys [Paich, Porcaro and Hungate] a couple of years later, formed the group Toto. They were the first call session guys in L.A. in the early ’70s. I didn’t realize that I was playing with the best musicians in Los Angeles. Instead of starting at the bottom of the mountain, in a way, it was like starting at the top of the mountain.

MS: And people would knock you down even if you didn’t know about it at the time.

DD: Right.  I was a signed writer and touring artist. but the record companies weren’t having it.  And they told me so in no uncertain terms. That door was closed.  So, I felt like I belonged but I got kicked out. I started learning production from the first time I was in the studio, because I always wanted to have more artistic control, and Louie was great about teaching me.

But as soon as I got to the place where I realized: ‘The major labels are not going to let me in. They’re just not going to do it. So, if I can’t get in the front door, I’ll try the back door’. And that was to be a producer. By that time, I was back in the Northwest. I produced albums for Tingstad and Rumble…and three or four for [Michael] Tomlinson and a bunch of award-winning albums for children’s groups — Tickle Tune and Jim Valley.

MS: So now, having learned all the skills of production and editing, and the full spectrum of things that go into making a good recording of a good song, from what I understand, part of your renaissance is the set of tools at your disposal — that you’ve developed a system that really works.

DD: I started using the Mac for production work in either late ’85 or early ’86. I started using MIDI sequencing just to get my rough ideas down. Sometimes the drum programming I did would end up on the record. Sometimes the bass player would say: ‘Well, we liked the part you did better, so we’re going to use that’. That was cool. And especially on the industrial things, the scoring, I would rely heavily on what I could do with the Mac at home and save money that way. When I first got the IPad, I got one right away because a computer that small, that would be cool. I wasn’t thinking about really doing music on it, and honestly when I first got an IPad, the tools weren’t there yet. But last year, there’s a company called Audiobus that came out with an app that changed the whole game because it allows different music apps to route audio to each other. So if you have a really cool synth app, you can send the output of that app to another app which records audio. And then it just snowballed from there. Like now we have 24-bit, 96khz audio on the IPad.

So, to some people it’s still a toy. But to me, I can plug my electric guitar into my IPad, and probably get better sounds than I could ever get on my Mac because of the software that I have on the IPad. I have an Apogee mic that plugs directly into my IPad, and the interface I use for my guitar has an Apogee converter built into it. So it’s a toy for some people, but you can make some pretty serious sounds with it. [Danny demonstrates some of the apps he uses to achieve drum sounds using the samples in Drumagog. He then demonstrated playing fretless bass lines manually on the touch screen in an app called iFretless Bass.]

I have a whole studio, racks and racks of outboard gear, racks of MIDI modules, and orchestral samples in my IPad. And I can watch Netflix [he laughs]. So, that’s pretty cool.

MS: In the last couple of days, a lot of people have listened to that song. Does that happen all the time that hundreds of people listen whenever you post something?

DD: No. This is part of why I call it a renaissance is the whole Soundcloud thing. The first time I recorded a brand new song and put it up on Soundcloud, people started listening to it, and something very visceral went through my body. I was like: ‘This is weird. There’s no manager involved. There’s no publicist involved. There’s no A&R person’. I could go down the list. I probably had between 15 to 25 people on my team, when I was really in the biz, that had veto power over pretty much anything I wanted to do musically. And they decided distribution: ‘Yes, it’s on the radio, but it’s not in stores’. So two weeks later, they stopped playing it. That was the power that distribution had. Now, with Soundcloud, there’s nobody in between me and my potential audience. And so, I think that was part of allowing myself to revisit some old wounds. Does that make sense? How that might happen?

MS: Yeah.

DD: A couple of weeks ago, somebody posted the Hans Zimmer contest on the iPad Musician group on Facebook. And joking, he said: ‘wouldn’t it be cool if someone using an iPad won this thing?’ And I thought ‘that could happen’. I listened to the feed that Zimmer wrote. To me, it was beautiful. It was inspiring, and it felt like it was my kind of music. So I downloaded all the stems into AudioShare on my iPad. I didn’t have to use a computer. I just listened to each individual part, because they gave you the strings and the horns and the piano bell harp and there was even a vocal in there, which I couldn’t really hear until I heard it soloed. Most of it I didn’t use. I used the strings and I used three or four bars of the brass section. And I used two bars of the piano bell, and everything else was created on the iPad.

But going back to the dream and the fate and destiny: all of this stuff is happening for me. I’m playing a lot more and I’m writing a lot more and all of a sudden, in my headphones, I’m hearing — I’ll never forget the first time that Louie took me into a Hollywood studio to do a string session on one of my songs with a 22-piece live string section. I was in heaven. Those are the moments when you go: ‘It can’t get better than this’. And, so now here I am with my headphones on, and I’m playing with Hans. And I’m having one of those moments. And I’m in bed. [he laughs]

I started getting a melody of my own. The melody that I wrote was not his, but was suggested by the chord changes in the strings. And I realized that the words that wanted to come out were about the possibility of a second chance at the dream that was born on the night that the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan show. So I don’t need to win the contest. I got to play with Hans Zimmer and hear the music that was in my heart come to life, and then put it out there for people to hear.•

You can vote for “At Destiny’s Door” here and listen anytime to Danny’s music https://soundcloud.com/daniel-deardorff. Expect a new album from him this year.

To Carry Fire

This song is dedicated to all the participants in Living Myth Living World, and to my brother in arms Martin Shaw.

With a flame in the heart
As the hands work their art
As the drum and the voice entwine
Every gesture unfolds
To bring culture and soul
Alive

For the heart and the hands require
To carry fire.
Yes the heart and the hands require
To carry fire

There are five sparks aglow
In the stories you know
And they long for your breath
To burn
So we pray for the skill
For the courage and will
To return

For the heart and the hands require
To carry fire.
Yes the heart and the hands require
To carry fire

Alexander made his wall
of shadow and amnesia
The Mythsinger will recall
All we are
All we’ve been denied
From the other side
Reclaimed

For the heart and the hands require
To carry fire.
Yes the heart and the hands require
To carry fire

Trickster-Wisdom & Looking for Roots

The following is adapted from an essay I wrote for a training manual on working with youth.

20130907-015536.jpgWhen asked how we attract young people into soul work—be it heartfull-language, rites of passage, a storytelling, or ritual—I think of Trickster. We have an appalling lack of Trickster energy in this culture due to a widespread aversion to lived paradox. That is, abstract and conceptual paradox is fine, perhaps considered enlightened, erudite, even entertaining. But lived paradox, like Trickster, is messy, ambiguous, shape-shifting; providing an apt description of the adolescent condition. Hence, meeting some form of Trickster may be helpful—as Deldon Anne McNeely writes:

Lucky is the adolescent who comes under the influence of an adult with a healthy dose of Trickster available in their psyche… to laugh at oneself without too much shame, to role-play, to experiment with a variety of identities… with humor and a more life-affirming perspective.

Trickster embodies paradox. If we hope to effectively work with young people we will need all the psychological maturity we can gather—maturity arises in the capacity to sustain and endure paradox.
Cultivating some Trickster energy of our own, will make us more attractive to adolescents; and perhaps open our eyes to all that is attractive to them. It’s also clear that the old Trickster myths offer adolescents a different perspective on their own statusless-status, their betwixt-and-between condition, suggesting to them that adolescence itself may be something truly important and powerful.
Of course, inviting the neighborhood boys to come for story night won’t get much attention, rather we might say, “we’ve got a bunch of bows and arrows, and were going to do archery Saturday afternoon and then build a big-ass fire.” So maybe six guys show up, and learn to hit something with an arrow. Talking happens, but the main thing is we’re doing something, there’s action going on, and the talk is peripheral. When it comes time to lay the wood and make a fire, instead of pulling out a match, or lighter, one man brings out a bow-drill, and begins diligently with, silent prayers, to call a tiny smoldering coal out of the wood. First seeing the smoke and then the tinder ignite, if we’re lucky, a boy will say, “could I do that?” Quickly dousing the flame, the man begins to offer instruction. An hour or more later half the boys have attempted and maybe succeeded in calling a flame. At last the fragile bundle of burning tinder is pushed into the heart of the perfectly arranged tepee of kindling, and the fire climbs into its full glory. Something primal and sacred has happened—no words needed. Once the fire settles, at the right moment, another man says, “how ‘bout a story.” And then I give a story, with drum, voice, and heart. In the end when asked, “do you guys wanna do this again?” everyone agrees, “yes!”
A number of important things occurred here: first (because I’ve invoked Trickster) did we trick the boys? I say no. We were tricky, and we used cunning to make this happen, but we never lied or fooled them. Second, through the telling of myths, and later poems, we begin to develop an image laden group-language. After hearing many stories and many poems—as Robert Bly has it, “storing up the granary of images”—it is always amazing and delightful to listen to a young one speak of his life from his own heart, eloquently weaving threads of story and poem that have become land-marks in the vast territory of his soul’s life.
The third thing which occurred is something that runs invisibly through the background of the whole event: the boys experienced the authority of the men without anyone asserting it; this is the trickiest thing of all and must be explored at length.
In modern society young people have a long-learned inexpressible sense that grownups are not the same thing as adults. Many teenagers have lived all their lives without encountering an authentic adult. They know there’s something missing in the grownups, they don’t know what it is, and deep down they feel betrayed by the adult world for not showing up at that critical moment when genuine adult contact is needed.
This circumstance makes it very difficult for young people to enter deeply into situations where authority must be present. The gathering of boys described above is a first event, but what we hope for is to go deeper and eventually enter territories where boundaries must be held, and someone has to say “ok, stop! we’re not going that far.” It may seem easier to just be pals—but if you’re doing initiation, or mentoring, just being pals will not work. If a grown up person is less psychologically mature than a young person, it is impossible for the young one to receive any real food from the older one. If we succumb to the temptation to earn approval from the young ones who we hope to reach we will fail. Hence, at both ends of the two way street each of us—grownup and teen, woman and girl, man and boy—separately face the same problem/opportunity.
In The Sibling Society Robert Bly describes the devastating effects of life in a culture that refuses adulthood and adult authority: “Adults regress toward adolescence; and adolescents—seeing that—have no desire to become adults.” Thus, the primary challenge to any opening between grownups and youths is mistrust of authority. Ironically, mistrust of authority is precisely what keeps grownups from becoming adults: we abdicate our own interior authority in favor of earning approval and at times we seize gratuitous authority—we all know it, many of us do it, and everyone hates it.
Mistrust of authority is a chronic illness overwhelming modern society. Yet, ultimately, earning approval as a substitute or diversion doesn’t work—it makes us sick. Soon enough we go off hunting for more—because approval is an addictive substance, and as such, it is a substitute satisfaction for (or what Caroline Casey would call the “toxic mimic” of) a natural desire to receive confirmation in and of the soul.
Whether trying to accept your own interior authority, or walk the ground of another’s, the best advice I know is this: before you look up, look down, look for the roots—that’s where authenticity comes from. False authority is a rootless tree looming over us with no connection to the earth—it’s not alive. To have authenticity we need deep roots reaching down to what Martín Prechtel calls “the indigenous soul.” The indigenous soul is not interested in mere approval; it will accept no substitute for the rooted ceremonies of confirmation bestowed upon the soul by elders who are looking eagerly to call forth and give praise to the strangely-beautiful-one-of-a-kind qualities of soul that come into the world as a gift only through this one unique individual person. We all long for this, and even if we never got it, we have to learn to give it to those who need it most: the boys and girls, the young men and young women in our village.
Long after that first event those boys, now young adults, are still in my life. I am deeply grateful for the many things they’ve taught me, grateful that each one once granted four men authority to guide them across that dark initiatory bridge, grateful because they know the authority of the old indigenous stories and grandfather fire, grateful for how well they live. Today they come for companionship, they come when there is trouble and when times are good—and yes, they still come for stories.

John Lennon Birthday Tribute with Daniel Deardorff and Friends

Local legend Daniel Deardorff will make a rare appearance at the Upstage on Tuesday, October 9th to pay special tribute to the songwriting of John Lennon on Lennon’s birthday. Over the decades, Deardorff has cultivated a national following, and is best known as a result of years of touring the Americas as an opener for Seals and Crofts in the 1970s and ’80s.

Despite drawing a devoted following whenever he tours, Deardorff generally stays close to his home on Dundee Hill. The John Lennon tribute represents a rare opportunity to see Deardorff perform locally. His tribute to Lennon’s songwriting is a presentation of arrangements crafted over many years.

“Listening to John Lennon got me started in music. Of course, it was listening to the Beatles, but Lennon stood out to me. I always gravitated towards his voice and songs – I think I was twelve years-old.” says Deardorff. “John Lennon was a role model to me of how to be a socially conscious songwriter.”

Deardorff might arrange a song to be “a little bluesier” or to draw on jazz harmonies. For example, he arranged the Lennon classic “Help” to follow the rhythm of a slow blues shuffle. “It’s like resetting a gem. The song is the same, but the setting is different,” he says.

The concert will also feature longtime friends of Deardorff’s, including some of Seattle’s top musicians. Jazz giant Chuck Deardorff will join the ensemble on bass, joined by world renowned pianist David Lanz, who Deardorff worked with extensively during his days as a record producer in Seattle in the ’90s. Lanz and his music partner Gary Stroutsos will also present an instrumental set of Beatles tribute songs that they have presented worldwide. Stroutsos plays a variety of flutes from around the world.

Maestro Joe Breskin will play guitar, and award winning singer/songwriter Judith Kate-Friedman, will provide additional vocal harmonies.

Adept on many stringed instruments, Deardorff primarily plays guitar, but is also a percussionist and is often credited as one of the first exponents of the mandolin in the world of rock ‘n roll. An artist of remarkable strength and vision, Deardorff did it all from a wheelchair after contracting polio at a young age. After a period as a Seattle record producer, Deardorff moved to Port Townsend to reduce his workload and study mythology, founding the Mythsinger Foundation. Over the years, many residents of Dundee Hill have cherished the weekly sounds of rhythmic drumming coming from his ever-inclusive gatherings, workshops and intensive courses in mythology.

Admission is 9 dollars, a reference to the historic “Revolution #9″ on the Beatles’ White Album.

EVENT: John Lennon Birthday Tribute with Daniel Deardorff and Friends
VENUE: Upstage Theatre and Restaurant
DATE: Tuesday, Oct 9th
TIME: 7:30 pm
CONTACT: Mark Cole • upstage@olympus.net
(360) 301-0315 (press inquiries only)
ADMISSION: $9 • Reservations: (360) 385-2216

Relatedness, Wildness, & Identity

Through living myth we bring ourselves into accord with the rhythms of the living world. Myths are stories that tell us sacred truths without the use of facts, they are filled with instinct, intelligence, and inspiration—which speak of what and where we are. Out of this sense of location and purpose, relatedness and identity, we begin the work of discovering and disclosing who we are. In this manner we enter into a conversation, a dance, with the living world—the dancing conversation is ritual.

If humans do not cultivate an active ritual life our so-called rites of passage become mere formalities. The hidden key to an authentic ritual life is the myth-making intelligence. When myth becomes rigid and fixed it is reduced to dogma; when ritual is no longer informed by the fluidity of living-myth it is reduced to mimicry.

To cultivate the image laden syntax of myth we have to shed the constraints—blinders and harness—of the consensus “reality/sanity” model of the massman’s domesticated world view. This is much easier said than done. Because human beings are a kind of animal that require the forming of bonds to place and community, we inevitably experience feelings of alienation and exile when those bonds fail. Yet we continually make the great error of mooring our lifelines to ambition, achievement, status, influence, and possessions—aspirations which cannot anchor us to the rhythms of the living world because they are concepts, and concepts unlike images are not alive. Our relatedness to the world around us is lost because we no longer trust it.

The great strategy of civilization has always been to build a wall of concepts and categories to keep the unknowable creatures of myth and mystery exiled and cut off from the human heart. Deprived of the fragrance and nectar of the living world, as a bird caught in glass, the soul withdraws and cloaks itself in darkness, waiting against hope for the iron gate to open and the endless wasteland of empire to break and give way. And all the while, at the center of this cultural vacuum, the ego runs amok in pursuit of countless addictions and mediocrities.

Far away from center, at the edge of the world, the walls are cracked with gaps and portals, as skin has pores. Here, in the shadow of Mount Olympus, where the Great Above and Great Below intertwine…

Where the inner world and the outer world
meet and touch… here is the seat of the soul.
—Novalis

At this edge, through the rites and wilds of living myth, we enter our long forgotten relatedness, wildness, and identity, traveling ever homeward, back to the living world. The wild imagination, never caged by concept, recalls the ancient longings of the migratory soul—to speak the language of wind and rock, leaf and loam—re-membering and re-storing, by rhythm and image, the meaning and magic of our authentic life.

Outside the ambitions and securities of the “steady life” the many creatured world of the “whole divine night” abounds; while inside we avert our eyes and close our ears to myth’s ever-haunting call. Yet the living world is watching and waiting, as Hölderlin said, for “people capable of sacrifice… desire people, like the ancients, strong enough for water.”

The eyes of the living world are not those of a remote impersonal deity, they are the eyes of an immanent intelligence tracking and summoning us to the hidden path. The wellsprings of life await us—we have only to take the next step.