Fruitcakes do provide food for thought

Timothy Leary was reputedly branded 'the most dangerous man in America' by Richard Nixon, although that attribution now seems apocryphal. Many will consider LSD guru Leary a fruitcake; but, like many brilliant mavericks, he provided much food for thought. During his time as a clinical psychologist at Harvard Leary proposed that behavourial change was not triggered by extended exposure to subliminal influences such as therapy, but to a single revelatory experience which he termed the 'vitalizing transaction'. It was the search for a consciousness-raising vitalizing transaction that led to Leary's love affair with LSD. 

Past Overgrown Path posts have explained how my 50 year passion for classical music was sparked by vitalizing transactions. These included 1950s performances by the Bournemouth Symphony of the Pathetique and of Holst's Planets by a local amateur orchestraEmerson, Lake and Palmer's heretical take on Pictures At An Exhibition, and Karajan's LP of the Pathetique seen above which I purchased when at university in 1970. Writing here about that Bournemouth Symphony concert I explained "More than fifty years ago something happened inside me during the third movement march of Tchaikovsky’s symphony; although I did not know it at the time I had experienced an esoteric revelation which, literally, changed the course of my life". 

That life-changing esoteric revelation was what Timothy Leary identified as a vitalizing transaction. But where have all the vitalizing transactions gone? Classical music desperately wants to rejuvenate its audience. But instead of offering life-changing revelations it is delivering a bland cultural goop that offends no one but also inspires no one. Tweaking concert etiquette, pandering to social media, churning out virtue signalling repertoire, repurposing masterpieces as click bait, programming musicals instead of Messiaen, and reinventing the classical genre as just more streamed background music will not change lives. To paraphrase Timothy Leary, classical music needs to turn on a new audience with vitalizing transactions. Becase if it continues to serve up cultural goop it will soon drop out as a life-changing artform.


I've been saving quotes about music and this from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn seems to fit what you're saying:
“Through art we are sometimes visited – dimly, briefly – by revelations such as cannot be produced by rational thinking.” As for Leary - there were good points, but I've long felt his ego trip was the largest he was on, and that he bears a lot of responsibility for it taking until now for the therapeutic qualities of psychedelics to be recognized and put to use.
Walter said…
I thoroughly agree with your "Fruitcakes" entry. Biographies of composers and other musicians often recount instances of "vitalizing transactions"--musical discoveries that were transformative in the impact they had on the development of one's personality. It was true for me when, at age 13, I discovered the music of Alan Hovhaness. Although my enthusiasm waned over the years, that discovery completely redefined me and my relationship with music. Your closing paragraph is 100% accurate in its description of the way trivialization has degraded the role of classical music in most people's lives. All part of avalanche-like deterioration of our culture, I'm afraid.

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