Full-Tilt Boogie

This is a blog for transformational thinking enthusiasts.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Matt Huseman Interview


Matt Huseman is an independent songwriter and musician best known for his work with the Baltimore-based Greenberry Woods and subsequently with Splitsville. Currently a member of Denver-based Able Archer.

Hanley: Let’s talk about the art of songwriting. When you sit down to write a song is there like a creative space that you get into, or is it just something you push yourself to do? What’s it like for you?
Huseman: I’ve been writing songs for so long now that I just kind of set aside a little time, and I noodle around mostly on guitar and just kind of focus on the melody. I know it’s different for other writers. I understand Elvis Costello will actually write the lyrics before he writes the song. And Elliott Smith was the same way which astounds me. I’ll actually just babble stuff to a melody and find melodies that I like and then I decide whether the melody I’ve written is a chorus, a verse or maybe even a bridge, and maybe I haven’t even written a song yet. Sometimes I’ll go back into some older pieces that I have and maybe rip a melody off, and what I thought maybe was a chorus before it becomes a verse. But typically when I’m doing that, like I said, I spend a lot of time just kind of babbling lyrics. And sometimes one of them will catch where I’ll have an idea. I’ll see something like the word “emoticon” struck me just recently, and I thought that was a great title for a song. So actually I have a ton of song titles based on words or phrases that I like. And then I’d maybe try to fit the lyrics to fit that.
Hanley: What you just said reminds me of how Neil Finn describes his writing process also.
Huseman: Really?
Hanley: Yeah, he also says that when he’s going through that - like every time he gets on a major songwriting bender he’ll go through hours and hours of just nothing. He feels like he can’t write anything good and he’s never going to be able to write another song again. Then finally something will hit him. Do you relate to that?
Huseman: Oh, absolutely, no question. And honestly I think Neil Finn is probably one of my three favorite songwriters ever. I just think he’s fantastic.
Hanley: Same here.
Huseman: Especially because I listen to a large variety of music. I don’t try to just listen to one genre. So I’ll hear something by a band and it might be something that I would never even consider writing. Maybe I’ll try to challenge myself to do that and fail miserably. I’ll write it in that sort of style and fail miserably. I could go weeks and weeks, months even, without writing a good song. And then just two nights ago I was kind of playing around with a chord pattern. What I’m really trying to do now more is write different scenes in songs. I’ve been trying to do that ever since the Greenberry Woods days. I’ve always been a fan of doing abrupt scene changes in songs. And so it just became one of the things. There has to be some cohesiveness to the song. You just can’t do it for the sake of doing it. And I just happened to come up with one of those songs last night from something that’s been going through my head for like two days. And that’s the other thing. I know when I’ve written a good song, for myself at least, when it does what I know when I hear a good song does which is two or three days later the song is going through my head ad nauseam. So if it happens to me with one of the songs I’ve written, then I feel like I’ve probably done my job.
Hanley: Now when you’re really in the middle of composing and you have a sense that something good is happening, what does that feel like as best as you can describe It? Is it somewhat euphoric? What feelings are associated with that?
Huseman: It is a natural high. It’s the same natural high you could get from, I’m sure, winning a game, a sporting event, something like that. It’s a euphoric feeling that you get where you’re just like, “Wow, look at what I just did,” especially when the pieces kind of come together, especially if I can get some good lyrics on top of it too. Sometimes I’ve listened to my older material - I don’t really do that too much - but when I do I’m sometimes kind of re-impressed by some of the songs as well. Believe me, there’s plenty of times where I’m like, “Uh, did I write that? I can’t believe that. Or did I sing that, or were those my lyrics?” But sometimes you do sit back and you go, “wow” and kind of get a little bit of that feeling again. You can kind of revisit that feeling. It’s part of the reason why you end up doing this.
Hanley: Well, since you mentioned it, what are two or three of your songs you’re most proud of?
Huseman: I think as far as the sort of classic pop rock kind of genre that I wrote both of the songs in, “Trampoline” for Greenberry Woods and “Yearbook” for Splitsville, are kind of two naturals. When I wrote both those songs, they came extremely easily. You struggle a lot with songs and sometimes it’s a real struggle. “Trampoline” I wrote in five minutes and “Yearbook” I was lying in the back of a van one night on the way home from a gig and wrote it all in my head, which is pretty rare for me, too, without a guitar. I think those two still stand up. The more obscure ones, I like “Oh, Janine” off the Greenberry Woods album, even though those are not the original lyrics to it. I like the song itself. I think off our last Splitsville album I really like the song “Sasha” about my dog but probably about me and my relationship with my wife and stuff like that too.
Hanley: I love that one.
Huseman: Oh, cool. Thanks.
Hanley: I have such a hard time discerning your voice from your brothers. I’m not sure which ones are yours. But I also like “Hold On” a lot.
Huseman: Yeah. It’s me.
Hanley: Did you do “Super Geek”?
Huseman: Yep.
Hanley: That one’s a killer.
Huseman: My wife loves that song.
Hanley: I’ve probably played that one more than anything.
Huseman: I also thought that was more of an obvious single off that album, but c’est-la-vie.
Hanley: Now you mentioned getting inspiration riding in a van one time. So you have that unexpected inspiration. Do you get woken up in the middle of the night sometimes and you just have a good idea?
Huseman: It’s funny you say that because with “Sasha,” that song, I had the main part of that song literally for five years probably. And I’d just revisit it every now and then. I just didn’t know where to go with it. And one night I woke up and I just came up with chorus, “I see in your eyes.” I ran downstairs. We lived in a row house in Baltimore at the time so not a lot of private space. I clicked on a tape machine. So you hear at the end of the song me kind of singing into a tape recorder? I re-recorded it so it sounded better, but I wanted to capture that spontaneous feel of actually writing the song. That’s why I put that at the end of it. Anyway, yeah, inspiration can come at any time. It sometimes will just hit you in the middle of the night. And the worse thing to do, John, honestly is when I have a song going through my head in the middle of the night and I’m too lazy to get up and the next morning I’ve lost it.
Hanley: Well, do you have the old tape recorder nearby where you can at least hum it?
Huseman: Oh, yeah. I used to do it on like a boom box that recorded. Now I’ve got this little guy. I’m sure you’ve seen them. It’s like the size of maybe half the width of a cigarette pack and about that length as well. And it’s a digital recorder.
Hanley: That’s what I’m using for the interview.
Huseman: There you go. I mean it’s great. It’s perfect. And it’s easy to travel with. If I bring a guitar with me on vacation or something, I just pop it in the guitar case so I have something to record with.
Hanley: Perfect. So if you take your favorite songs of yours as a guide, are there any general things you can say about what works about those songs? What makes them so pleasing to the ear?
Huseman: Well, theory-wise I’m sure you could. I read a book on the whole Beatles catalog and the author actually kind of put all the songs in context and he’ll ascribe some music theory to it as well as in, “Isn’t it pleasing the way that you go from a D minor to, I don’t know, E 7th,” or something like that. Well, I’m not that bright. I didn’t really pay attention to any of the theory that I learned so I can’t really say from that point of view with respect to my work. I just think for me there’s an emotional resonance to certain chord patterns and more likely certain melodies over chord patters. And in fact with the song that I just wrote a couple of nights ago, that’s what struck me most is that it’s haunting.
And, John, I’ve been doing a lot of writing with some other people recently, which is kind of a fun challenge for me because I normally in both the Greenberry Woods and Splitsville would typically bring almost solely realized songs to the band. Just the other day I had written some lyrics to someone else’s tune. The chord pattern and the melody that I wrote on top of this chord pattern I really felt was haunting. But, the lyrics that I wrote were a little too mundane. I actually went back to the guy and said, “Look, I’ve got to redo these because I’m not doing the song justice.” And that’s kind of my way of saying that there are certain melodies that you could put on top of a chord pattern and automatically I could just hum the melody to you, and instinctively you’d say, “That sounds like a driving song, or that sounds like a great song to dance too,” even if I just hum the melody. So I think that you can base some of the songwriting around that idea. Like I said, I can’t theory-wise tell you what makes a song work. I just think it has to be pleasing to the ear and have some emotional resonance.
Hanley: I remember listening to Todd Rundgren talk about songwriting years ago. And he was saying when he was younger what bothered him is that he got in a certain pattern. He says it was just so easy to write these songs. He would just start with I think he said he like F major 7th and off he was. And in 20 or 30 minutes he’d have a song. First of all, do you notice yourself going into a pattern? But maybe you’re not against it like he is. Maybe you don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. What do you think about that?
Huseman: That’s another great question. Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve done an interview because I try to kind of get away from them. I wish people would ask me these kinds of questions in our career. These are really insightful questions.
Hanley: Thank you.
Huseman: But, actually you’re right. In Splitsville there were songs that I would bring up and the guys would be like, “No, it’s too much like x, y, or z.” I find myself doing the D minor to G 7th thing probably more than I should. I can tell even when like Paul or Brandt will bring up a song and it will automatically trigger one of their previous songs because you do end up writing in a pattern. And I’ll tell you, kind of go back to that last question, or at least my last digression, that’s what’s so exciting about writing to other people’s stuff right now. They will bring up chord patterns that I might never have put together. Even when I’m with this alt country project that I’m doing, sitting around and the drummer might have a drum pattern or the guitar player will goof around, I’ll just try to put a melody on top of it. It’s much more of a challenge in a way, and it’s a blessing because it does take me out of my comfort zone and makes me have to try to stretch my songwriting muscle. And I think it’s great.
Hanley: Now, another guy that I love is Paul McCartney. And he talks about how he’s tried a bunch of different things, of course, millions of pop songs, but he’s also some classical and some experimental stuff. He says that no matter what, it always sounds like me. “There’s something about the way I’m wired that it’s going to sound like me.” Do you find that there’s a Matt Huseman sound that you can’t get away from and wouldn’t want to?
Huseman: I think that if you listen to the canon of my material expanding seven albums or eight albums, you’ll definitely see that. Getting back to Neil Finn, I remember getting “Together Alone” and thinking, “Wow, it’s such a departure from his stuff. I don’t know if I’m really into it.” And then listening to it a handful of times and I realized that, at the core, it’s still Neil Finn. It’s still fantastic songwriting. In fact, I think I might at this point like that album more than any of the others. If you take three albums removed from the Crowded House first album which is keyboard based pop because producer Mitchell Froom was all over that one, but still it’s that same Neil Finn sound and it bleeds onto his solo albums as well. And you could tell his stuff from Split Enz too; you could tell it’s him as a songwriter. It kind of shows. So I’d like to think the same thing happens as you listen to songs that I wrote. Earlier you asked me if I wrote a few tunes and, sure enough, you guessed correctly so clearly there is a sound. I find this to be the case a lot. When people would list their favorite Splitsville stuff, quite often they’d all be Brandt songs or they’d be Paul songs or mine. So I think people recognize those patterns and they kind of identify with them. Does that make sense?
Hanley: Definitely. I think I tend to gravitate toward your tunes. Like did you do “Joan of Arc?”
Huseman: Yep.
Hanley: Did you do “Master of Space and Time?”
Huseman: Yep.
Hanley: Those are my favorite from that album.
Huseman: And like I said, that’s not unusual. I kind of see that pattern all the time. I appreciate that you do like that. And some people say that they like the Brandt tunes more than mine. It doesn’t really bother me because I know he’s a frickin’ talented songwriter.
Hanley: Just a matter of preference.
Huseman: Exactly. I mean it’s tough to describe, but there’s got to be some sort of innate, whether it’s the timbre of my voice or just the chord patterns that I use or even the melodic structure that I use, which is slightly different from the other guys. There’s something that is just more appealing about that for some listeners. And how do you pinpoint that? I don’t know.
Hanley: The one that I really thought was you was the “The Next One.” But I guess that is…
Huseman: It’s Brandt.
Hanley: Do you know what I mean though? That kind of sounds like one of yours.
Huseman: I agree with you. I think it actually does. And I used to sing it in practice sometimes where I tried to get him to let me sing that one.
Hanley: That’s definitely a great song. Now, I guess I love reading these rock n’ roll interviews so I’ve got all these references here. I remember Keith Richards talking about how every rock n’ roll writer is a thief. And we’re all taking stuff from other people. Have you ever had a specific song in mind from the past and said, “Ok, I want to write something like that”?
Huseman: Oh, I do it all the time. I mean shoot, again, I think it’s pretty obvious. I heard through the guy who directed the video for “Trampoline” that Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub apparently heard our song and identified that I’d nicked a piece of “Alcoholiday” from it. I mean, I’m not going to lie. It’s a very similar chord pattern at least. I’m not saying melodically the song is, but the chord pattern itself was reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub. So, yeah, we do it all the time. It happens all the time. But I don’t actually set out and say I’m going to write “Alone Again Or” or something like that. I’m not going to go and write my “Penny Lane.” But production wise sometimes sure. I mean, well look, let’s face it, the Complete Pet Soul was kind of a goof but we took it very seriously. And you can identify the ‘60s tunes in that album.
Hanley: When you’re sitting there writing the song and it could be lyrics, it could be the melody, I wonder how much does emotion play into it? For example, like if you’re writing about love, do you feel that? Even going back to “Sasha,” some people might think that’s, I don’t know, a little strange, but I don’t think so. It really comes through that you do love your dog in that. So I’m wondering like did you feel that when you were writing that? Or if you’re writing a more angry song, are you feeling the rage as you’re doing it?
Huseman: I think any good songwriter does. I think you can tell when they don’t. You can tell a top 40 hit that was written by a bunch of professionals and you can tell a Kurt Cobain riff. There’s just a difference to it. I don’t care how much people put emotion into the singing. I’m saying the actual song itself. And I totally agree. What I try to do with just about every song I do is tap into some sort of vein, whether that vein is indifference, which “Trampoline” was really just about indifference. And again “Sasha” is not just about the dog. I’m not going to go into psychoanalysis 101 in my brain, but it was definitely about more than that. So you just tap into those feelings. I dated a girl for about six years in my 20s and wrote a lot of the stuff in the late Greenberry Woods, early up through Splitsville and I probably still do. It was a relationship that was just really volatile, so, I’m able to still go back and tap into that sometimes, those feelings, with bad relationships or whatever it should be. I think it makes songs a hell of a lot more emotional, resonant, and more interesting.
Hanley: Definitely. So like if we take “Sasha,” the line “You run away from the people who love you,” was that a main theme you wanted to bring out?
Huseman: Yeah, and you don’t have to know it’s about…I mean it can obviously can be about a human being too. And in some ways it is.
Hanley: I think we can all relate to that. I think it’s a brilliant line. It speaks to me in a lot of relationships I’ve been in.
Huseman: Sure, absolutely. I think it’s rare that both people enter a relationship without at least one person with at least a toe outside of that relationship ready to turn tail. In most relationships I’ve been in, at least one of the parties was always hedging their bets. I called that song “Sasha” because that was my dog’s name. If you know it’s about a dog, you can ascribe the lyrics to the dog, but it’s not only that. It’s really not. In fact a very good friend of mine called me up right after she heard the album for the first time and she said she cried during that song because she said that song is about you, which is something that I felt. I know again it’s a big digression there, but that’s what songwriting should be about. I don’t like putting songs in a box. I can tell you what “The Next One” is about. It’s actually about two stories in Brandt’s life that he juxtaposed together. It’s a poignant song because he actually tapped into two different kind of pains. One was the pain of unrequited love and one is the loss of a good friend of his who died at a young age. And that’s why I think that song is so frickin’ brilliant. He kind of pulled it all together. I mean that song has real emotion. He could have delivered it deadpan or something like that, but even then I think the emotion of the song is still going to be there.
Hanley: That’s interesting you said that because that helps me with that one because in a way I couldn’t quite figure out what he’s saying there. But, then, on the other hand, I like that. It leaves me to think about what do I make of this? What is this “next one” that he sings about referring to? There’s a nice mystery to it.
Huseman: I agree. Not every song has to be linear path. I love songs that are stories. The Kinks used to do that all the time. Ray Davies wrote a lot of songs with a story to it. That’s what I really liked about the Fountains of Wayne first album that in a sense it was very Kinks-like in the way that a lot of their songs are kind of like little mini-stories. Elvis Costello, on the other hand, his stuff would be--I love Costello; I’m a huge Costello fan; I always have been--he’d be singing about “Oliver’s Army,” and then there’d be a line or two about a girl, and then it would be about, I don’t know, about being in Palestine. I try to do that as well as I’ve matured as a songwriter. I can be singing on something entirely different and then slip in a line or two about something that is poignant to me, something that has some emotional resonance to me and that will make the song for me that much stronger. And unless I actually explain it to you, you’d never figure out what it was. You inherently, I think, recognize that there’s something to those lyrics. There’s something behind it. A different approach is like Lenny Kravitz, who I like. But I get the feeling that he does what I do which is sits around sings gibberish to his songs. “I like to love and rub it up”. But he actually just keeps a lot of it as the song. You know what I’m saying?
Hanley: Yeah.
Huseman: I don’t really get that emotional resonance from a lot of his stuff. And I’m not cutting on the guy. He’s obviously had a good career. And the stuff that he does where he actually spends times writing lyrics, you can tell he does it.
Hanley: Let’s just talk for a minute here about the Beatles. I’m assuming you admire them a lot?
Huseman: Yeah. I could even joke. When you say you like Paul McCartney. I thought, Paul McCartney, hmmm…who’s he?
Hanley: That British guy going through a big divorce.
Huseman: No kidding.
Hanley: It struck me, I was listening to the new Beatle compilation album, Love, that they came out with and there’s like, I don’t know, 25 songs on there or something like that. And I had this conclusion. I want to see what you think of it. If you take any one of those songs and a band puts that on their album but imagine there was no Beatles, ok. Imagine somebody just wrote “Blackbird” or just wrote “Come Together” or whatever. My sense is any one of those songs would be the best song on pretty much anybody’s album that they came out with. I mean, they’re that good. Now, you don’t have to agree with that specific conclusion. But what can you say about just how good they were as writers?
Huseman: I think I’d have a hard time disagreeing with that. I think I was telling you earlier about a book that I have. I can dig it up. I’ve got quite a few books on them. I’m a huge Beatles’ fan.
I probably have it sitting in here. It’s Revolution of the Head by Ian MacDonald. And it’s every song they’ve ever recorded from obscure ones that I didn’t even know they recorded from their first sessions even before they had Ringo in the band. He goes through and in various degrees tells you about the history of the songwriting, maybe even what the impact the specific song might have had on pop. And it’s just a fascinating read, I tell you. He’s highly critical of a lot of the stuff. “It was lazy songwriting,” and stuff like that. Some of the stuff is really lazy. One thing I remember from that Beatles Anthology that came out 10 years ago or so was Beatles’ producer George Martin sitting there going, “Man I wish we had made the White Album just a single album and cut out all the fluff and all the stuff,” then they cut to McCartney and he goes, “But, it’s the flipping White Album.” I’m with Paul on that one. If you think about, especially all the stuff on the Love album, which I think were all singles of theirs, a ton of them, you put it on someone’s album today and you’re right. It would stand out as one of the, if not the best, track on the album. Their songwriting was that strong. And a lot of it was due to the competition between Lennon and McCartney. I have no doubt about that, and that there was a healthy amount of competition between the two that allowed them to do that. I totally agree with you. I mean, they were that strong as songwriters. When you talk about any of their foibles, you have to put it in the context of, well, it’s still the Beatles.
Hanley: And it’s funny. I enjoy some of the lazy stuff. I think that has its own charm to it.
Huseman: Oh, I agree, plus the fact that this was 30, 40 years ago now. We’ve heard a ton of music since then. And (a) this stuff still holds up, and (b) when they were doing some of that stuff, it was pretty new at the time.
Hanley: Let’s talk a little bit about what makes a hit song. Now I know you have to think about the marketplace and America seems to like dance songs and all that, but tell me if I’m wrong. I still like to believe that something like - let’s go back to Neil Finn and his classic, “Don’t Dream its Over.” I just cannot believe that would not be a hit. It just has to be. So is there a certain magic around certain tunes that maybe you can’t even describe, but it just leads to mass appeal?
Huseman: There’s no question. I can certainly tell when I’ve written something special, and I’m not saying I’ve had any sort of that success, that mass appeal success. But, in my world it would be the ones that people consistently say, “Oh, that’s my favorite song,” or it’s the catchy ones. So, yes, “Don’t Dream its Over,” I still hear it to this day and I still enjoy hearing it. Another song that I’ve heard more times than a human should hear it is “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. And any time I still hear it on the radio, I listen to that song and say, “Now that is a single.” “Don’t Dream it’s Over,” that is a single. It’s just an innate thing about those songs that just have an appeal on the first listen and an appeal on the one hundredth listen. It’s incredible if you can capture that. And that’s the thing with the Beatles is that they could capture that on eight or nine songs on an album.
Hanley: I know. It’s crazy.
Huseman: And everything else they put on the album would help frame the singles to sound more distinctive. Let’s take Rubber Soul as an example. You can’t have an album full of ten “Got to Get You Into My Life.” You have to have a “Tomorrow Never Knows” and a “For No One” even. I mean a “For No One” is a forlorn sparse piano ballad that offsets the “And Your Bird Can Sing” which is more trippy. If an album had ten songs line “Every Breathe you Take” on it, the actual “Every Breathe you Take” would have a less impact on that album.
Hanley: I get what you’re saying.
Huseman: So you have to have that diverse songwriting which you certainly have when you have three and occasionally four songwriters like the Beatles did.
Hanley: I want to ask you some questions on performance in a minute here. But one last thing in terms of creativity. If you could extrapolate from songwriting and give some advice I guess or counsel to the every day person who’s creative in whatever they do, whether it’s writing or in business, are there some keys you’ve identified that help creativity and others that get in the way?
Huseman: The thing is it’s probably different for everyone. But I have to have privacy when I do it. Like if my wife is listening I can’t write. I just can’t do it. But that’s just me. I remember reading about Elliott Smith writing X/O and he apparently wrote a lot of it in a bar in New York. So privacy is just what works for me.
Hanley: What about something like I heard somebody talking about creativity once said the killer of creativity is “should” and “shouldn’t.”
Huseman: Oh, there’s no question that you have to take yourself mentally to places that you might maybe not even want to go sometimes. I’d say that, and it’s a risk for you to stretch yourself. And it’s a risk that you have to allow yourself to take. So, yes, I agree with that assessment. Beyond that, I don’t know. That’s a tough question for me.
Hanley: It’s hard to say. When you say risk that also brings up that there’s a vulnerability involved just in a willingness to create anything because, when you create something, you’re identified with it and you’re going to get critiqued. So you have to have that willingness to put yourself out there to the world.
Huseman: I agree. I don’t even think you realize it a lot of the times while you’re doing it--but, if you record something and you put it out there, you’ve now just set yourself up for critique and especially in today’s day and age where it’s very easy for people to have their opinion known to a lot of people. But I don’t think you can think about that when you’re doing it. Some of my favorite stuff is when people completely go outside of their comfort zone. I think that makes them more interesting as an artist. Let’s face it, the people you’ve named, Neil Finn, the Beatles, they didn’t just write the same album over and over again. They went to a lot of pretty different places as they progressed. You’ve got to do that. That’s what I’m trying to do right now in a couple of the things that I’m doing, and it’s rewarding for me. I think I’d be really depressed if all I was doing was kind of Greenberry Woods over and over. You hear sometimes, “Ah, why can’t you do another one of those?” I keep thinking, “I’ve kind of been there, done that.”
Hanley: Well, alright, speaking of risk, let’s talk about being up in front of that audience. How do you handle nervousness?
Huseman: It’s funny you say that because like I said I’ve been playing with this new band. We played our first show on Tuesday night. I don’t really get nervous anymore, it’s more of a nervous anticipation. But, I’m sure if I were to start playing big clubs again I’d probably feel a little bit of that normal anxiety. For me, in general though I get kind of jazzed about the opportunity to sing or to perform in front of people. So for me it’s kind of different. It doesn’t really make me nervous. It makes me more excited.
Hanley: Do you ever feel embarrassed up there just like there’s all these people looking at you and you’re looming over them? Do you sometimes feel overexposed?
Huseman: Not really. I mean, it’s weird. When you’re playing live, a lot of times you’ve got lights in your eyes. And what I do when I’m onstage, I’ve really established in my head that I kind of own the stage. It’s my place. It’s my workplace. So I don’t ever get self-conscious about people staring at me. But I do go through a range of emotions while playing. If you’re having a bad night you can get pissed off. I’ve been bored playing before where we’re all laconic during a show. It’s just not working for us. It’s just not happening. That’s an awful feeling. Or if you’ve been on tour for a while sometimes - maybe it’s due to something that happened that day - but there can be shows where you’re sitting around before hand thinking, “I don’t want to be doing this.”
Hanley: Do you like to improvise during shows or do you like to stay on a set schedule?
Huseman: I’m not a very improvising man. I’m a pretty OCD kind of guy anyway. So I prefer to have sort of everything figured out before I go onstage. I don’t like a lot of surprises. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not that talented of a guitar player. I’ve never been a jam band kind of guitar player. It’s just not me. I can’t do it. And it’s not really the style of music that we do. That said, we’ve taken some chances while we’ve recorded before and while we’ve been onstage, we’ll go into new songs and try songs out and stuff like that. But, in a sense of like “jam bandy” kind of stuff, nah. That’s not my scene.
Hanley: Well, since you mentioned the guitar playing, let’s talk about that for a moment. I tried to learn guitar when I was growing up. And the thing I came up against is I could never transfer what I was hearing onto the guitar neck. My brain doesn’t work that way. Now, I assume you can do that. But, what do you think separates you who I think is a very good guitar player from somebody you would consider better than you. I don’t know, I mean even back to Neil Finn because I know he improvises a lot on stage or there’s the real flashy guys too. What is that extra something that makes them better?
Huseman: It’s tough to say. I think honestly as stupid as it might sound it can come down to something as simple as hand-eye coordination. I agree, I think Neil Finn is a better guitar player than I am. I don’t even think there’s any question about that. I’m kind of a hack to be perfectly honest. I think it could be like asking why can someone write a book better than someone else or why can someone shoot a basketball better than someone else. I just think some of it is just innate talent because I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. I tell you I’m also my own worst critic. I’ve also played in bands where I thought that the people that I was playing with were really good guitar players and then I realized I was at least as good as they were. But, I’m realistic about it. I’m never going to wow someone. No one in their right mind stands by the stage and watches me play guitar unlike Tony from Splitsville. The guys just a natural talent. He’s a fantastic guitar player.
Hanley: Do you like to solo or do you like more the Townsend rhythm?
Huseman: I’m actually much more of a Townsend power chord kind of guy. That’s kind of my forte. I’m not a good lead guitarist. And the funny thing was I was the lead guitarist for Greenberry Woods so we were only going to ever be so good on our instruments with me as the lead guitarist.
Hanley: Well, we have some time left. Let’s talk about band relationships because I think everybody can kind of relate to this. I know music is its own thing, but essentially you have a team there. So I want to talk to you about what works and what doesn’t work from your experience. The nice thing is you’ve had some varied experiences there.
Huseman: No kidding.
Hanley: Here’s another reference for you. I remember Michael Stipe from REM was saying that in his opinion the only way bands really work is that you have to grow up together and you just kind of fall into it. I know that was the case with REM and a lot of great bands. Do you think there’s anything to that?
Huseman: Maybe some. But I mean I thought Zeppelin was pretty good. They didn’t do it that way. And, shoot, Ringo was added to the Beatles and he was a hired gun. So I mean, is there some truth to that? Sure. I think you just have to have an affinity for the people in the band for it to work. Let’s face it. You’re going to be hopefully touring with these people. So you learn about people. That’s what happened with Greenberry Woods. We got on tour with each other, and we realized, “Ok, we don’t like each other.” Maybe that’s too strong of a word, but there was some truth to that. We realized that we had a different mindset about everything essentially. That was a real negative experience with us, and I think if you got all four of us in a room, we’d admit it now.
There was a lot of healthy competition. There was also a lot of unhealthy competition between us in that we really just didn’t manage our internal relationships well. It got to the point where my brother and I were writing letters to each other towards the end of Greenberry Woods. We were living in an apartment together, a really small apartment, and we were communicating through letters. We were writing things like: “I respect you as a person and a songwriter, but we’ve got to stop going on in the same way. I would rather not be in this band and not pursue this any more if we can get our relationship back on track.” It was really that bad. And then with Splitsville, it was a completely different thing. It was Brandt’s idea to put together the band as a side project. And we got Paul involved. So the dynamic worked really well. We actually set up the dynamic from the start so it would work better. Paul is a friend of ours. He was a bartender at a bar that we used to go to all the time. We knew he was a talented musician. We liked him as a person. We knew he was a likeminded soul, someone who read a lot, and had a lot of same interests. It was like night and day. We would tour with Splitsville and the three of us in the van, we didn’t have a crew then, and we would just tour around and talk for hours. It was amazing to us because when touring with Greenberry Woods we were picking on each other all the time. It was just different. I don’t necessarily think that you have to have known each other since childbirth or whatever, be childhood friends. I’m enjoying the people that I’m playing with right now and we met here in Denver. But we’re all likeminded people. Another thing I’ve learned with bands is that I think you have set the ground rules early. Democracies are great and every band I’ve been in has been a democracy of some sort. But at some point someone’s got to be able to be the ultimate decision maker or else you’re screwed. With the dynamic of Splitsville when there were three members it worked well because you could always be two against one, majority rules. I also think you need to assign responsibilities early. If someone is better at booking shows than the other person, have them book, or whatever it’s going to be. But in the creative process you’re going to typically figure out who is the stronger songwriter or whatever the case might be and each members strengths and weaknesses as a musician.
Hanley: Lot’s of good stuff there. I’ve got a couple of more questions for you. I live out in California. I haven’t ever had a chance to see you live, but I first heard about you I think, when Greenberry Woods were in the Billboard magazine in the early 90s. Were you guys on the cover of that? There was a big article before your album even came out, Greenberry Woods.
Huseman: I think we were. I think there was an article on pop. I can’t remember what it was. But, I seem to remember something like that. I know we’ve been in there a handful of times. We did make the cover once.
Hanley: They talked about you guys as maybe the next Beatles and all that. When that was first happening, were you just thrilled and excited and just riding on a high with such great hopes? So that’s one thing. And then juxtapose that with the kind of disintegration within and also the lack of support you got from your company. Was that really deflating because of the initial high?
Huseman: I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t. But it’s interesting. When you put it in context, we were 23, 24 years old. So I was fairly young and obviously had never had any experience like that before. So it’s not like I had anything to relate it to. And I kind of always assumed, “Hey, we’re good. We’re going to be successful.” But, early on in our career in Warner Brothers, we went played on a flatbed truck right outside of Warner Brothers Studios. We were fired up so we toured the building after that. And, as we walk through, we noticed something interesting on their computer screensavers. There were all sorts of screensavers and posters and everything of Green Day. See the problem? We were the Greenberry Woods and we were at the same label as Green Day and their album was coming out right at the same time ours was. And we were like, “Well shoot.” We figured it out pretty early that we weren’t going to get that level of support. I think we did pretty darn well for our first single on the East Coast, especially. But, we kind of knew it was going to be an uphill battle early on. It didn’t make us happy, but it was what it was.
I don’t know, John, it’s tough to say. Yeah, we were euphoric, but you’ve got to understand. Ok, so we recorded an album in the summer and then it didn’t come out until February or March the next year. In fact, it got delayed because there was an earthquake I remember in California. So there’s a lot of time where you’re just kind of sitting around and you’re not doing anything. We weren’t doing anything. We weren’t really touring. They were waiting until the album got released to tour us so we just kind of sitting around. I think Brandt and I were both temping at the time. So you still felt like some normal 24-year-old schlub that doesn’t know what’s going on. Along the way there were some brief moments of brilliance, like playing on Conan O’Brien’s show and doing some stuff with MTV. But ultimately pretty early on we realized that it was going to be an uphill battle for us. Plus the fact the music we were doing, let’s face it, especially at the time, wasn’t exactly timely. We were doing pop in the era of grunge. So it was a tough nut to crack.
Hanley: Going back a little bit in your answer there, it’s interesting you say that you just had a confidence that you were going to be successful. So like when you and your brother were teenagers or young 20s you just knew or had a really good sense you guys were going to make it big?
Huseman: Yeah, almost as soon as we started writing our first songs. If I would go back and list them now, I’d probably be horrified, but, on second thought, I can’t even say that. I mean “Oh, Christine” was one of the first ones that we wrote, which I still like. But, anyway, back then we just knew we were good. I guess you just have to innately believe in your ability. If you approach anything and you don’t have that, you’re not going to be a success. There’s a lot too in that visualizing and the power of positive thinking and all that. You know as well as I do. You conceptualize your own success. But again it wasn’t like I was actively conceptualizing my own success. I just naturally assumed that, “Hey, we’re talented. We’re going to be rock stars.”
Hanley: Now, in this world of everything’s indie, let’s talk a little bit about how do you balance everything now? You’ve got your every day job. You have practice in music. You’ve got to market your music. You’ve got family. How is that working for you?
Huseman: When I moved out here to Denver, we were still doing some Splitsville stuff, but not really. I mostly stepped away from music. I was still writing a lot. It was great because I was writing an awful lot when I came out here, but as far as doing anything really productive, I just wasn’t doing it. So I’ve just started really over the last six months deciding that I want to get back into doing it. It’s different now. There’s a lot of free outlets for you to put your music out. We didn’t have anything like MySpace when the Greenberry Woods started out. We didn’t have anything like iTunes even or the web.
But now it’s fairly easy for you to market yourself and that’s what you have to do. Now what you have to worry about is getting at least heard out there. But I think if you have a good product, being the songwriting, you’ve got a better chance than others. Plus I think people are more tolerant of the indies. People listen to iPods. I can tell a vast difference between the sound of an MP3 and a cd. So people are a little more tolerant of maybe production that is not pristine, 48 track kind of stuff. And again it’s just like anything you do. I’m actually recording an album with Able Archer right now and I’m sure I’ll put it out. I just approach it positively, that’s what you have to do. I don’t pretend that I think I’m going to sell as many albums as Britney Spears or some people.
Hanley: Right. Any Splitsville later this year?
Huseman: We keep on talking about it. So stay tuned.
Hanley: Alright.
Huseman: We keep on saying it’s going to happen so I believe it. I tell you, I’ve got the album written if we ever do it.
Hanley: Well, cool, man. I think we got a great interview here. I think we covered a lot of great ground.
Huseman: Good.
Hanley: I really appreciate your willingness to do this.
Huseman: It’s an absolute pleasure for me. And I hope some day you actually get a chance to come to see us play.
Hanley: I’d love to.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Lou Marinoff Interview

Lou Marinoff is a professor of philosophy and best-selling author. He is a pioneer in the field of "philosophical counseling."

Hanley: Dr. Marinoff, in looking at your bio it looks like you got started in theoretical physics. What drew you to that?
Marinoff: Oh, we’re going back a ways. Yes, my first degree was in theoretical physics. I actually enjoyed it because the world is a very imperfect place as a rule, and we’re all subject to the varying opinions of others. And our own opinions are quite changeable, too. What I liked about theoretical physics was that most of the problems have definitive answers. It’s really nice that you could actually solve a problem and get the right answer. It gives you kind of a false sense of security about the world. It was also a beautiful way of thinking. On a serious note, physics is a very beautiful way of understanding the world and describing it in fairly precise mathematical language. And I enjoyed that for quite a long time.
Hanley: Did you get to a point or are you at a point still where you feel like you grasp the whole relativity and quantum physics and all that?
Marinoff: Some of it, anyway. I mean, as far as early 20th century physics goes, that’s now very passé compared to what’s happened in the interim. I actually was doing a Master’s degree in theoretical physics when I switched into the philosophy of science. So I had done advanced courses in quantum theory. And I know relativity and thermodynamics and all that good stuff. So I was fairly comfortable, yes, for a long time.
Hanley: And do you think it’s possible that physics can get it “right” about the nature of the universe or let’s say the causal properties of the universe?
Marinoff: Well, I’m not so sure about the causal stuff because you may recall that Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Laureate in physics, wrote a wonderful little popular book about 25 years ago called The First Three Minutes in which he had pieced together the state of the art knowledge of the day about what had happened in the first three minutes after the big bang. And he actually extrapolated that into a very nice little book with no mathematics. It was clear that he could describe it without mathematics. But he said, and people have always said, that if you want to know how the big bang itself originated you’ve got to go talk to the theologians. I don’t think that physicists are really doing causal stuff. The Newtonian model is certainly very causal: one billiard ball strikes another and all of that. But it still goes back to Aristotle’s prime mover, doesn’t it? There is a first cause. And I think that’s still pretty much up for grabs. It’s a metaphysical question, to me at least, what the first cause was. And I don’t think that physics is going to tell us this. I think that physics is going to tell us a lot about what happens given a first cause.
Hanley: I’ve read a bit of Heidegger on this. And in a lot of his later writings he seemed to be, to some extent, undermining science because he felt like they were presenting themselves as having the complete answer and the only answer. I mean he’s obviously very complicated, but if I read him correctly, he seemed to be saying that there are always some assumptions that you start with. And it’s the same thing in physics. There are certain assumptions they start with that you can’t really prove. You’ve just got to start with those. Have you hear of that? And do you agree with that?
Marinoff: Yes, of course. I mean this is very common knowledge in philosophy of science. And it’s not just Heidegger who espoused this. Many philosophers have pointed out more or less the same thing, Imre Lakatos in the tradition of Karl Popper who says that we progress not by verification of our theories, rather by falsification of our theories. So, in other words, we learn from our mistakes. And science progresses only in a sense by understanding which of its assumptions are flawed and replacing them with better assumptions. So for Popper there is a word called ‘verisimilitude’ which means an approach to truth. And I think that most confident philosophers of science as well as most scientists are not so arrogant as to suppose that we have the whole or complete truth. But on the other hand we do have certain reliable knowledge. There’s no question in my mind that a lot of what science has discovered is indeed reliable knowledge and therefore very close to certain kinds of truths. We are, though, very much like Neurath describes it as a ship at sea which has to kind of replace its old planks without the benefit of going into dry dock. So this makes science a very interesting enterprise. And it really is self-correcting much like probably democracy can be. As long as it remains self-correcting and doesn’t fall prey to politicization or to too much dogma, then it has a chance to continue on this project. So, I’m very much a realist in this way. And I’m rather dismayed, of course, since you mentioned Heidegger, I must also retort that on the continent followed a rather devastating wave of deconstructionism, the postmodernist wave, which has deconstructed truth and reality and which stands completely opposed to some of the things that Western science actually posits, such as an objective reality about which we can discover fundamental laws.
Hanley: And what’s your take on that? Where do you come down on that?
Marinoff: I’m anti anti-realism. I’m a realist. I believe there is indeed a reality out there and that each of us perhaps grasps some of it in our own way, but that when we arrive at consensus whether on Platonic universals, or whether indeed on the weight of the proton, or the mass of the proton, or whatever it is, we are really finding out things about reality. I do believe that there is a real world. I do believe that there are truths. And I think only that the human being has this remarkable capacity to be deluded to such an extent sometimes that the delusion even takes the form of denying what is real and replacing it with what is unreal.
Hanley: Now, you’re going along learning physics, what drew you to the philosophy of science?
Marinoff: Oh, I’m glad you asked me that, John, because what moved me away from the pure physics or the theory and into the philosophy of it was really a lack of moral content. I mean actually I just got tired of solving differential equations, a thing which really drew me in the first place, mainly getting good answers to questions and so forth, getting precise mathematical answers and solving equations, and deriving formulae which is a lot of what physics does, was wonderful. It was a wonderful exercise. But in the end, I got tired of it because it had no moral content. And I was just as a human being not addressing those aspects of my own life and of the wider human world. So, of course, as we all know philosophy deals, grapples, not only with issues in the sciences but, of course, traditionally with issues in ethics and morality. And so I was a little bit happier swimming in philosophical seas.
Hanley: Philosophy of science, does that sort of critique science? How would you describe philosophy of science?
Marinoff: Well, I’m going to dodge that by saying there’s no consensus to my knowledge about what philosophy is or indeed what science is, so if you compound this and say what’s philosophy of science, then you find that there are different schools, there are different ways of doing it. And it really depends on what one wants to understand by philosophy and what one wants to understand by science. In Britain, for example, in the UK where I did my Ph.D., it’s really a very separate enterprise, and it’s not an adjunct of philosophy at all. There are separate freestanding departments of history and philosophy of science. And these are populated by people who really understand something about science as well as something about history, or as the case may be, philosophy. So it’s done in a certain way. In America philosophy of science is done by analytic philosophers who, I must be very candid here, and say most of them, have never taken a science course. So it’s utterly preposterous for a lot of them to be doing philosophy of science because they don’t know any science. They certain know more than enough philosophy, but they end up critiquing theories. They’re doing what we call meta-theory. And it’s nothing that any scientist would find interesting, whereas on the other side, I think that in the early days, especially of 20th century physics, the quantum world was so weird. It was so strange and so challenged our assumptions about this thing called reality that a lot of the scientists, a lot of the physicists themselves, had to be philosophical. They had to be philosophers in order to do this. So I think that in that tradition there’s a much stronger interplay between philosophy and science.
Hanley: Who are the two or three philosophers you’ve read the most?
Marinoff: Gosh, you just changed gears on me. Well, I recently read the Complete Works of Aristotle quite closely. And that’s quite a number of words. I did that for my new book which is coming out. I guess maybe we’ll talk about that later. So I’ve recently acquainted myself with all of Aristotle’s works in a fair amount of depth. And I’ve drawn from many of them. I think there are 22 books altogether, something like that. So that would probably count. If you’re asking me who I tend to reread it’s a lot of the Chinese stuff. I go back a lot to Indian philosophy and Chinese philosophy. I reread the classics of Indian philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita to some of the Buddhist sutras. And I also read quite a bit of Lao Tzu and occasionally Confucius and so forth.
Hanley: Since you brought up Aristotle, let’s go back to the Greeks here and starting with Socrates, I know his work is entwined with Plato since he didn’t write anything himself, let me ask you maybe, I don’t know, an unusual question here, but there’s been some debate as to whether Socrates was antidemocratic or not. What’s your take on that?
Marinoff: Well, I think in some sense that the only true anti-democratism could be in a democracy. The Greeks were performing all kinds of political experiments. And our legacy of democracy today is certainly one that the Greeks have to take credit for virtually inventing. I think that I would come down on the side of Socrates as more of a democrat and Plato as more of an anti-democrat. That would be the direction of my answer to you. Socrates got himself into trouble by being an individualist and following his principles and making enemies during the Peloponnesian War and a number of other things. But it seems to me that of the two, Socrates was the guy, if our understanding of history is correct, who went into the agora and who basically took people as they came and was willing to discuss and debate with them almost any question they wanted to raise. And that seems to me to be essentially a very democratic thing to be doing. It was Plato in his Republic who presents to us more of what Popper, post-second world war, called the roots of totalitarianism. It’s Plato who wants to censor art. It’s Plato who wants to tell noble lies and so forth. And all of that seems to grate a little against our perceived notions of how democracies function. So I mean this could be just pure fantasy. We don’t know these guys. We’d have to have a time machine to go back there. But I tend to think of Socrates as much more the quotidian philosopher, the philosopher in the streets, the man who took it right into the public marketplace. And that seems to me more cognate with democracy than Plato and Aristotle whose academies were more elite and in fact were definitely concerned with political controls.
Hanley: I remember reading some of him in college and I just remember being truly blown away by the mind and imagination of this guy. I don’t know if there’s been anybody else quite like him. Would you definitely say he’s up there in the pantheon of just mind-blowing geniuses?
Marinoff: He’s gotten my vote. In fact in my new book, which will be out in the United States in 2007, I called him one of three greatest teachers who ever lived. I’ve kind of resuscitated the ABCs of virtue ethics for the postmodern world. And the three virtue ethicists are literally Aristotle, Buddha and Confucius. Those are the ABCs. Aristotle was the philosopher. I mean he was called the philosopher in the west for almost 2,000 years. Remarkable! He invented most of the curriculum of the contemporary university. He didn’t get appointed to be Plato’s successor because he famously diverged from Plato on various important philosophical issues. But nonetheless he had enough credibility and clout to establish his own Lyceum in which he really began, that is in terms of the curricula, if you read the books of Aristotle. I mean he wrote on physics. He wrote on biology. He wrote on logic. He wrote on rhetoric. He wrote on zoology, on just an unbelievable number of subjects, not to mention his better known works on politics, on economics and on, of course, ethics, and the Nicomachean Ethics is one gem of his collected works which has the most beautiful geometric theory of balance and proportion in ethical behavior and also has a very, very moving essay on friendship and the virtues of friendships in life and so forth. So I have to agree with you. I think that he basically defined intellectual life for Western civilization for a good long time. And his influence on the West is still being felt. Although many people may not realize it’s his influence, his hand is there. So, yes, he was a great genius.
Hanley: Well, whatever your advance was for that book, you should have gotten double for having to read the Metaphysics again.
Marinoff: Well, thank you very much. I’ll put you in touch with my publisher and see if you can persuade them. But I did this voluntarily. I mean I planned this book long before there was any talk about publishing contracts. I mean I am supposedly a philosopher and should not be daunted by reading classic works after all.
Hanley: That’s a particularly tough one.
Marinoff: I take everything with a grain of salt too, John.
Hanley: Yes. I understand. Now you mentioned Buddha there. A lot of my understanding of Buddha probably unfortunately comes from reading Joseph Campbell of all people. And I do respect a lot of his work. He posits two different approaches to life. There’s the Buddhist. I think he would call it the detachment approach. And then there’s sort of the Western passionate involvement approach. I want to ask you about this. First of all, do you buy that basic construct or would you put it differently?
Marinoff: I’d put it differently. I’d say all of us are at times detached or dissociated, and all of us at times are passionately engaged. And the Mahayana Buddhists that I hang out with are more engaged with life than anybody I know and more passionately. So I think Campbell as great as he was, as powerful as his understanding of the unification of mythology and all of that, was not a Buddhist scholar and probably in fairness to him did not have a chance to learn much from Buddhists in person who have brought the teachings to us from Asia.
Hanley: Well, let’s go into this a little bit. I think this will be particularly interesting to my readers also.
Marinoff: Ok. But if we’re going to do, let me just interrupt you, if I may, if we’re going to do…we’ve done A so now we’re going to do B. Then we’ve got to do C too for completeness, ok?
Hanley: Sure.
Marinoff: We’ll go to Confucius, too. If we need to adlib a couple of questions, let’s do it.
Hanley: Sure.
Marinoff: Great.
Hanley: Now, the Buddha is saying that reality is an illusion and therefore the self is an illusion.
Marinoff: No. Stop. I’ll stop you right now. No. The Buddha is saying there is a reality and we can know it. But we can only know it if we recognize the illusions that we carry around and manufacture, including the illusion of personhood, or self, or ego. That’s illusory and impermanent. But there is definitely a reality. Buddha asserted most strongly that there is a reality.
Hanley: And was he talking about physical reality there?
Marinoff: All! There’s no difference. There’s no difference, material, nonmaterial, physical, nonphysical, it’s all one. It’s all part of one thing, one reality, one undivided reality.
Hanley: Alright. Well, let’s go to the personhood thing then. So he’s saying there’s no self. There’s no individual self. So if that’s the case then how do you, for example, fall in love? How do you have true love with somebody if you buy into that?
Marinoff: You never have true love with anybody. What you have is when you say “I love you” to someone in a possessive or erotic way what you’re saying is “Gee, I feel good in your presence so I need you around to feel good.” And that’s all it is, I’m sorry to say. We make great tragic tales out of it because we’re very romantic and sentimental creatures. And we love to be attached to it. But Buddha was very, very clear about a lot of things. And there are higher forms of love incidentally. He’s not denying love at all. But what he’s saying is if you love in a selfish way or an unwise way then the pleasure of love will soon be dwarfed by the pain that the foolish attachments bring us. Love is a form of attachment. And really what Buddhists are most concerned with is suffering and how to alleviate it, and like the Tibetans are very fond of saying there are only two kinds of suffering in the world: the misery of having and the misery of not having. So, half the world is pining away. People are pining away because they don’t have true love and they’re looking for their soul mates. And the other half are pining away because they’ve found true love, found their soul mates, married them, and now they’re in some kind of hell world in a power struggle with marriage, familiarity being, as Balzac said, the monster that devours everything. So some people are miserable because they’re married and some people are miserable because they’re not married. The real art of Buddhism is to be happy no matter what you are. And the way to be happy no matter what you are is actually to relinquish your unwholesome attachments to things, be it any notion that you have about true love or careerhood or how great you are, what the newspapers say about you, and so forth. I’ve given you a lot now. You’re getting the whole broadside, ok?
Hanley: This is great. Now Campbell says that Carl Jung, for example, traveled to India by boat and that he wouldn’t get off the boat because, well Campbell’s explanation was, he didn’t really want to go for all this release yourself business really when it came down to it. He wanted to keep the Western self. Do you buy that?
Marinoff: I probably do, although Jung at least took the boat ride. Freud never did. I would say this of Jung, and I think it’s very important to note that Jung was much more of a Sinologist or at least a Sinophile (that is, fond of Chinese culture). Jung wrote the definitive introduction to the Wilhelm-Baynes edition of the I Ching. And Jung also, notwithstanding what you’re saying about Campbell, which may be perfectly true, Jung wrote the definitive introduction to the original Tibetan Book of the Dead published by Oxford University Press, edited by Evans-Wentz. And so Jung wrote a psychological commentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. So he was willing at least from a distance to immerse himself in some of the profoundest Buddhist thought to come out of that region. I think that a lot of Westerners, including for example Elie Wiesel and long before him Erik Erikson who wrote Gandhi’s posthumous psychoanalytic biography, and myself too, for that matter, are appalled by the chaos and the contrasts of India. India is a more severely, I think, polarized nation in terms of extreme wealth and affluence and extreme poverty than any other. But India is a very spiritual place. And, of course, it reabsorbed Buddhism too. But Indian culture is not primarily Buddhist. Indian culture is primarily what has become known as Hindu as a misnomer. But now even they use it. So it’s ok to say. It’s Hindu and Muslim and Sikh and a lot of other things. And Buddhism was reabsorbed there. But the principal sources of Mahayana Buddhism that are now coming to the West are really Tibet and Japan. China transformed Buddhism and then it went to Japan. And now it’s coming here. But Indian Buddhism is still there. But you have to kind of wade through Indian culture to encounter it.
Hanley: Now your new book, I think is called The Middle Way. And you’re going to contrast Aristotle and Buddha and Confucius. So I look forward to reading that. Now, do you reckon that you lose anything if you buy into the Buddhist way completely? Is there anything good that you lose?
Marinoff: I’m not a Buddhist, ok? I’m a friend. Buddhism has been a friend to me. And I’m a friend to Buddhism. I would say that there’s absolutely nothing to lose, everything to gain. My experience with Buddhism tells me this. And I practice personally. I’m not proselytizing. I’m not saying you should do this John, or anybody else should do this. I think that all of the religions at their heart have esoteric teachings which purify the heart and which open the mind. And that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, all people of religions, great and small, if they follow the true inner way of their religions will in fact purify themselves in some spiritual sense and be really good people. That’s the purpose of it for me, ok? Things get a lot more complicated when people start doing things in this world for the sake of the next. And that’s where they part company with Buddhists who do everything for the sake of this moment because this moment is all there is. But I have no regrets at all about anything that I’ve ever had to do with Buddhism, and it’s a source to me of incredible wisdom, energy, creativity, compassion, and everything that one could hope to aspire to as a human being. And that’s really just even on the intellectual side. The practices are really unbelievable for those who want to devote more time to them.
Hanley: And now how about Confucius? What does he have to teach us that is relevant in the 21st century?
Marinoff: All kinds of lessons. It’s really interesting to me, as this book unfolded I must tell you that they were almost contemporaries. Buddha and Confucius were contemporaries. Aristotle came along a little bit later. But the thing is the three of them each taught ethics. Buddhism is, of course, also known as the Middle Way. But Aristotle’s Golden Mean, his moral Golden Mean as he describes it in Nicomachean Ethics is also a middle way for moral behavior. And Confucius talks about harmonious coexistence, balanced social order and so forth, and also advocated very, very similar principles, each of them from a different tradition. So that’s what links them. And they’re all in a way virtue ethicists. I’m now taking Buddha out of a religious context, ok, and putting him into a philosophical one. He was also a virtue ethicist. And the three of these guys gave us the three greatest systems of virtue ethics ever propounded in the world. And they’re very relevant to the 21st century precisely because the 21st century is so far characterizable as a century of extremisms. The USA is--I don’t have to tell you--politically polarized. The world is economically polarized. The gap is growing, notwithstanding globalization, between the haves and the have-nots. There are religious conflicts based on clashes of extremisms. There’s every possible kind of extremism in the world. So what my book is doing is looking at about 10 or 12 different versions of extremism on different axes, be they political, religious, economic, educational, and so forth, and applying the wisdom and traditions of the ABCs to help reconcile these extremes for people in everyday life today. So it’s really very live, a very live version of what Aristotle, Buddha and Confucius taught us. And it attempts to apply their wisdom to trying to manage some of these problems of extremism in the 21st century global village.
Hanley: In your reading of the New Testament do you see Jesus as a virtue ethicist?
Marinoff: Well, now I have to say that since I don’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God--although this may antagonize believers, I don’t disrespect their beliefs --I do believe that Jesus was probably a very, very enlightened man. And certainly he was an enlightened healer, a hugely compassionate being, probably fully realized, egoless, and endeavored to do only good for those around him. And so I think he was a great, great teacher. As far as virtue ethics is concerned I’d have to be more skeptical about this because the end of virtue ethics, the goal of virtue ethics, whether Aristotle’s, Buddhist’s or Confucius’ version, is fulfillment, awakening, compassion, and leading a meaningful life now, here and now, always. You know, Aristotle talks about happiness in the Nicomachean Ethics, happiness through the life of contemplation and through balanced action. This is the goal. Confucius also talks about achieving a certain kind of serenity, a certain kind of wisdom, and this also comes through the practice of ethics in the here and now. And Buddha, of course, famously took on both religion and philosophy saying that the questions they asked were totally profitless and that it was just not worth debating about whether there are souls or not souls, whether there are future lives or not. What’s really important is what we do now. So the ABCs are not providential, ok. They’re not telling people to sacrifice this life for the sake of the next. They’re saying you can all do something important and meaningful now and become fulfilled human beings now if you follow the right path. And this I’m afraid puts them squarely in conflict with the Abrahamic faiths, whether you’re, you know, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. And, of course, we know there are any number of conflicts within those religions. They’re more like sibling rivalries because they’re all the same family. And the one thing that they have in common, especially Christianity and Islam, is they are what Freud called providential. Yes, they are hoping or believing that there is a God who looks after everything in a very personal way. And that if we do the right thing in this life we will more or less be rewarded in the next or be punished if we do the wrong thing. And that is very different from the aim of virtue ethics.
Hanley: Well, let’s switch gears now and talk some about philosophical counseling.
Marinoff: I’m relieved. Back on more comfortable ground, perhaps.
Hanley: Well, for the benefit of the readers, why don’t you say a little bit about an overview of what philosophical counseling is?
Marinoff: Yes, I’d be very happy to. And the first comment I want to make to you and your readers is that philosophical counseling is only one part of a much bigger whole. And that whole is called philosophical practice. And it’s only in the United States of America thanks to the media fixation with psychology and a thoroughly psychologized population that people are unable to conceive of the practice of philosophy in any context other than the one that the media has sensationalized for us, which has done probably more good than harm. But nonetheless it is very harmful in its distortions. And people think, oh, philosophical counseling is something new, some kind of new form of therapy. And it isn’t. It’s, in fact, a very ancient form of therapy. If it is therapy, it’s the most ancient form we have. As you know, it goes back to even the pre-Socratics. So, that’s one set of issues. But let me just say then in summary, the executive summary is that we recognize at least three ways of practicing philosophy outside the academy, outside the classroom, and outside the scholarly publication circuit and conference circuit. And one way is indeed philosophical counseling which is one-on-one interaction with philosophers who apply great ideas to the management and hopefully the resolution of everyday problems. That’s philosophical counseling in a nutshell. We also work with groups. And we do group facilitations of many different kinds, both formal and informal. And we also work, a number of us, with organizations, corporations, governments, professions, and so forth, in a consulting capacity, not only as ethics compliance people and applied ethicists, but also more proactively bringing various kinds of philosophical exercises and modalities into the corporate culture, into government culture, and helping people to become more functional, and therefore organizations also to becoming more virtuous. So those are like the three dimensions of philosophical practice, ok?
Hanley: Alright. Now, you’ve run into some resistance in the States from I guess your university and maybe other psychiatrists. Where does all that stand?
Marinoff: Well, I think that in a most generic way it all stems from a phenomenon we observe very widely in cultural evolution and that is all innovations, all pioneering efforts, are initially resisted by a kind of inertia, a resistance to change that people are so fond of, that they so stubbornly sometimes cling to. But on the whole I’d have to say that the resistance to change and intellectual inertia are sometimes good things because they create time and space for us in which we can winnow the bad ideas from the good and discard what is not sound or not valid or not useful and eventually retain what is. So I think that resistance per se is not a bad thing and that obstacles, in fact, sometimes make us strive harder; those of us who want to surmount them, at least; they encourage us in certain ways to do more than we otherwise would do and to test, I guess, the authenticity of what we’re doing.

So I think all of that is good and a certain amount of resistance is only healthy. What I’ve encountered at the City University of New York goes, of course, well beyond that. And my best information is that in around 2000 or something I was invited by the previous administration to provide philosophical counseling services at the Wellness Center. You must realize that City College where I work is part of CUNY which is a gargantuan kind of political prison as in gulag. I call it the American gulag. But anyway, City College had virtually no health services for students for 25 years. I mean ever since the New York City budget crunch of the ‘70s they basically eliminated the Wellness Center. The students were just on their own. So they resuscitated that in the late ‘90s. And a very, very good administration, President Yolanda Moses, she’s now history, but her administration, reinstated the Wellness Center. And the Vice President for Student Affairs knew of my work. And at that time they were favorable. And they invited me to provide services. And we had a whole plan set forth whereby APPA certified counselors would be available to students. We already had students seeking this. I had funding for it. It wasn’t going to cost anybody anything. We had philanthropy. So it was all going to be a wonderful three-year project. I gather that the clinical psychologists caught wind of it. We have a very dogmatic Freudian community of clinical psychologists on campus. And they want everybody to be mentally ill. This is their bread and butter. They’re part of a diagnostic culture. They’re part of the culture that has psychologized Americans and, in fact, which keeps them unwell. And so they caught wind of this. And they went ballistic. Our best information is that they actually went ballistic. And I never know because you have to understand that I’m not using these terms lightly. The American gulag is a place where there is no due process, where the constitution of the United States does not apply, and where if you are accused of being guilty you have no right to confront your accusers, no right to defend yourself, no right even to know the nature of the accusations levied against you. Everything is done by fiat.
So one day I was simply called into the Dean’s office and told that I would have to cease and desist from all philosophical practice activities on campus. Basically, they placed a moratorium on me. They shut down my research, which was a federally approved research protocol which had run without incident or complaint. That was shut down without due cause, without due process. All activities in fact pertaining to philosophical practice have been banned on campus for the last six years. I was unable to obtain a remedy in Federal court. The university prevailed with the egregious argument put forward by our psychologist friends that people, I’m quoting now from their attack, “that people who seek philosophical counselors are likely to develop psychological problems.” These are the grounds. So they panicked a stupid and ill educated and heavy-handed administration into believing baseless accounts. There’s not one, not one client, to my knowledge worldwide of philosophical counseling, that’s ever, ever suffered psychological problems because of it. On the contrary. So this is the sort of thing that I’m up against. And it’s really quite impossible to make any headway there at the present time. This may indeed change. But they also did me a favor in a way by preventing me from developing not only my own program, John, but also more importantly a graduate program on campus. I mean I am inundated. The APPA is inundated with requests, as you can well imagine, from graduate students and not just in philosophy. We have psychology students. We have all kinds of students from across the country and around the world who would like nothing better than to do a MA in philosophical practice. And, of course, we have a phenomenal faculty of practitioners in the USA. I have designed a program which can deliver the premier graduate course in this field if some university administration would be enlightened enough to actually put it on. But it doesn’t look like this. We’re living in Rome, not Greece. Americans want circuses. They don’t want to think.
Hanley: Right. Well, so it’s an ongoing battle.
Marinoff: It surely is. If it’s not quick and easy, I’m afraid this culture has been conditioned not to make too much effort.
Hanley: Now, I want to ask you some things about modern psychological practice. But before that, let’s go back to sort of the beginning which is Freud. And I’ve read quite a lot on him, mostly skeptical works, I must say. And it seems like I don’t even know if he ever helped one person, really. What’s your take on Freud?
Marinoff: Well, ok. That’s complicated. Now we’re going into another minefield. Before I stray into that minefield, ok, I have very few even left now from the last one, but I will stray into it. And I will tell you what I think of Freud. But before I do so, just let me preface it ok? The APPA has members who are psychologists or psychiatrists. And it is not the case, I repeat, not the case, that there is any kind of unified or unanimous front allied against philosophical practice in this country. In fact, many, many psychologists are very brilliant and philosophically brilliant people, Irvin Yalom for one. There are many, many psychiatrists, too. I mean he’s actually a psychiatrist.
Hanley: I love his work.
Marinoff: Yes, so do I. And you see he’s very philosophical. He’s done his homework on Nietzsche. He’s done his homework on Schopenhauer. And he understands Freud’s work better than most. He’s kind of a living heir to that tradition. And he’s not thrown out the baby with the bathwater. That’s part of my answer to you. There are things in Freud that are valuable. We certainly say that the APPA has a lot of friends and supporters from psychology, from social work, from psychiatry. I personally have many psychiatrists who are friends and who support this in their own way too and realize that we’re not practicing psychology without a license. We’re doing what we should be doing. And they understand this. But as for the larger sort of political forces of psychology, they definitely are fighting perpetual and perennial turf wars. And behind the scenes I’ve seen very many educational initiatives that they have destroyed because they feel that these somehow would intrude on their psychologization of the human being. And I think it’s really sick. They’re sick. That notion of a human being as a sick animal is what is sick. And they have captivated the American imagination with this. They have tremendous political power. And behind the scenes a lot of legislators are regretting that they were ever licensed to do anything. So there we have it, ok, in a nutshell. But there are many, many, I think, very philosophical beings among them who are definitely our friends and not our opponents. And also it’s up to people themselves. We have in civil law, I believe, we have in civil law still a presumption of innocence. Even in criminal law we have a presumption of innocence where you know you’re presumed innocent until proven guilty, although the criteria for proof differ a little between civil and criminal actions.
But in the psychological world I think that largely, unfortunately owing to Freud, people are really deemed to be insane until proven sane. This is more and more the norm now. And in fact, John, the pressures of the insurers, it’s mostly the insurers and the pharmaceutical companies who have colonized medicine and also pseudo-medicine, who have now driven psychologists to make compulsory diagnoses if they want insurance payments. I mean any third-party insurer now will not pay a counselor unless the counselor makes a diagnosis and finds something wrong. So to go to a psychologist they have to find something wrong with you if they want to get paid. This is crazy, right?
Hanley: Yeah.
Marinoff: So what we’re seeing now is a presumption of insanity, basically. Everyone is presumed to be mentally ill in some way or another.
Hanley: I want to get more into that. Do you want to say a word on how is Mr. Freud himself as a counselor?
Marinoff: Well, his batting average, I don’t know. And I think that what Freud did really well, so let’s go back to Freud, ok? I’ve also read his complete works, also another 22 volumes or so. I studied these some years ago. I think that Freud was very brilliant, ok? Freud is certainly another genius. In fact, he’s one of the smartest people never to win a Nobel Prize. He wasn’t a Nobel Laureate. And clearly his insights into human nature tower head and shoulders above many others who did win the Nobel Prize. And I think that he didn’t precisely because he drew people’s attention to matters that they were not willing to contemplate in the day. The repression of the Victorian era is what made Freud possible. He was reacting really I think against a culture that was so sexually repressed that it was obvious to him a lot of people were walking around with unresolved psycho-sexual issues, which he then universalized into a grand theory of the human being which I don’t believe is accurate in its entirety. And I think that we have to certainly go beyond Freud in order to become whole. And I believe that the failings of psychotherapy are precisely those which I alluded to when you asked me about Buddhism. The whole notion of maintaining a healthy ego is contradictory. The ego is not healthy. The ego is what makes us sick.
And so when psychologists are constantly trying to get people to maintain healthy egos, applying some kind of balance, this is precisely why people are in constant need of psychotherapy all of their lives, including Dr. Yalom. There’s no question this man is a brilliant psychotherapist, a brilliant psychiatrist. And he also has needed psychotherapy lifelong because he’s also been in a perpetual struggle to maintain a sort of balanced ego. And I maintain as Buddhists do that it’s only by the dissolution of the ego that one can actually be at some kind of peace and obtain actually a lasting or a deep serenity. But that’s another story. Freud, nonetheless, gave us deep insights into a certain kind or a certain set of problems definitely that afflict people, ok? But I just don’t believe that his theory is universal any more than for example Newton’s theory is universal. It’s operative in certain domains. And as a philosopher of science I think that’s a creditable way to talk about Freud. Let us say there are certainly a lot of people in the world who suffer from Freudian-like complaints and symptoms, their complexes and neuroses. And there are certainly a number of people who can be helped by understanding those in a kind of psychoanalytic way. But it is not a panacea. And it is not a model for the human being, its totality, just as Newtonian mechanics do not apply to quantum domains and do not apply to relativistic domains, so too do Freudian psycho-mechanics do not apply to other kinds of domains of human existence.
Hanley: Now, let’s talk about the medication of today. I know you wrote some about this in your book, Plato not Prozac. For example, you talk about how the official list of diseases changes number every year. Anyway, people seem to be just put on this or that medication almost nonchalantly these days, almost as a matter of course. And, sure, we want to say that it helps some people and all that. But if all these chemical problems, imbalance and all of that, do you think that is real? And if so, has that been happening for six thousand years and we just didn’t know about it?
Marinoff: It hasn’t. And what’s real is that the human being suffers. Ever since there were human beings on this earth there’s been some kind of pain of existence. Existence is painful for us at times. That’s how we’re made. We’re very highly complex, very emotional, some also very rational. We’re constantly at war with ourselves and others. It’s a Hobbesian thing. By the way, I wanted to say that Freud should have read Hobbes--he would have saved himself a lot of trouble--and Hobbes’ Leviathan. The three pillars of psychoanalysis are actually anticipated by Hobbes in the first six chapters of his Leviathan. So there’s an aside for you. But what I believe is happening is this. We have a society of absolutely uncritical consumers. We have the most successful consumer society in the history of the world here. But it’s also going to be our own undoing if we consume unreflectively and uncritically.
And now this is precisely for the last 20 years what’s been happening. Americans over consume junk foods and they over consume junk thought. And they have had their education system deconstructed in the process. So they’re no longer capable of carrying the torch of Western civilization. They’ve been turned into zombies. They’re obese. They’ve been made stupid by a culture of bad television. And they have absolutely no conception of what to do or think or say until they’re told. And they’re told take this, take that. Most of the drugging of school children with Ritalin is a scandal. It’s an absolute scandal. These ADHD problems in the young are being caused by a culture of television. Television destroys attention span. The written tradition has been deconstructed. You can thank our French postmodernist friends again for that. Nothing is being taught. I inherit students in City College who are products of the New York City public school system. They go through K-12 and don’t read a book many of them. It’s absolutely appalling. It’s the greatest scandal. In my new book I call it the greatest educational fraud ever perpetrated on Western civilization. And Americans are paying the price. School taxes are spiraling out of control such that people can’t even maintain their own homes any more because of rising school taxes. And the education system is in freefall. We’re losing our lead in mathematics, science, technology, all of that, to Asia principally because they haven’t indulged in what we’re indulging in which is an orgy of extremely poorly thought of consumption. So any time anybody has any problem in life immediately it’s diagnosed as a symptom of some bogus malady and it’s drugged. And that’s really symptomatic. It’s very, very sad, very sad, tragic.
Hanley: Well, we have just a few minutes left here. What about the notion of depression? What do you make of how people think about that nowadays?
Marinoff: Well, I think once again, just as Freudian language, a lot of Freud’s terms found their way into popular culture today. People reflexively use terms like ego and superego and id, and neurosis seems to be still fashionable, complex used to be more fashionable. But a lot of Freudian language found its way into common parlance because of Freud’s importance as a contributor to the culture and understanding of human psychology, certainly. And similarly, this D word, this D word is now, it’s almost like a mantra. And what people really need to think about is whether they’re depressed or whether they’re just unhappy. And certainly there’s a lot of unhappiness. But treating unhappiness as though it were depression is what pharmaceutical companies and psychologists capitalize on. But it’s also a species of fraud. People have lost entirely in this culture the capacity to will things for themselves. The inner resources of a human being are so powerful. There is so much that we can do if our own resources are mobilized in order to make us feel fulfilled, in order to make us feel that life is meaningful and indeed to obtain a kind of happiness. This has not been encouraged in the general culture. What’s been encouraged is dependence on externals. Oh, if I get that job or that house or that car or that spouse or that trophy I’m going to be happy. No. We know this. The Stoics knew it in the West that attachment to externals only brings problems and not the thing that you think it’s going to bring, mainly happiness. So that’s my short answer to you. That, of course, there are people who have depression in a very real and very tragic sense.
Of course there are people who are, for example, clinically depressed, and I know some. I mean there are people with bipolar disorder. We used to call it manic depression. And they get so down during their down phases there really is very little they can do except perhaps take some medication. But a lot of them commit suicide just because the pain of existence is more than they can bear. And for those unfortunate few, John, philosophy can offer very little consolation. But on the other hand, if your teenager comes home and says, “I’m really depressed.” And you say, “Why?” And she says, “Well, I just broke up with my boyfriend.” It’s a big mistake to treat that with drugs and psychology because a lot of unhappiness is a part of growth, a part of life. And there are much better philosophical ways for coming to terms with such normal kinds of patterns.
Hanley: What about those very serious cases? Is that just hardwired into some people’s brains? I mean were people dealing with that 3,000 years ago? Or is it a particularly modern symptom?
Marinoff: We don’t know this because unfortunately the fossil record doesn’t leave the soft tissue. It doesn’t leave the brain and the thoughts and the chemicals, just the bones. But I suspect and my own leaning is that human beings have probably not changed much biologically for several thousand years. We’re bigger now because we have better vitamins and better nutrition. And our life expectancies are longer. We have in general better resources, although we’re contaminating those at a rapid rate. So we get other diseases that the ancients probably didn’t get. But just as you read Hippocrates and you find out people had kidney stones in those days. And they do today. So I’m quite sure that people had depression. Only it wasn’t called depression. It was called melancholy. Or it was called other things. And almost always a small fraction of the population had literally problems with not having enough serotonin or having some other condition in their brain chemistry which caused them to feel very, very depressed and almost certainly this has been with us since we were a species. But it’s only recently that medical science has tried to imitate physics and classify every possible state of mind as though it were a real physical malady.
Hanley: Just a few minutes left here. I know you greatly have enjoyed and gotten a lot of value from the I Ching. When people ask you, let’s just say in the Western literary tradition, let’s even say for philosophers, let’s say somebody coming to philosophy new but wants to read something that could maybe open their eyes to new possibilities in their life, what are a couple of things you’d tend to recommend?
Marinoff: Well, it’s pretty leading question. So right back at you, the I Ching definitely. You know that I have done philosophical consultations using the book as a basis. And I’ve done this believe it or not with other professionals. I’ve had clients who are psychiatrists and psychologists and doctors who have wanted to work with the I Ching because they actually respect what it can do. And Confucius was deeply influenced by it. It was one of the few books that he had access to. And he was deeply, deeply moved by its metaphysics. He understood exactly, I think, what was going on in the I Ching. He studied it all his life. So I find it to be great. With that said, there are many, many translations and they’re sometimes mutually unrecognizable. So I stick pretty much with the Wilhelm-Baynes. And there are some other pretty decent ones around as well. What I think it does functionally, for me it’s the philosophical equivalent to the Rorschach test. You remember the Rorschach test, the inkblot test that psychologists are fond of. And they show people these patterns which have some symmetry because the inkblot is folded and you have a kind of symmetric pattern of the inkblot. And then they ask people what they see in it. And it’s a very beautiful device for just fishing out of the shallow subconscious what people are really thinking about because they will see, they will project onto this inkblot which is just an inkblot after all, but they will project on to it whatever happens to be in their minds at the time, and usually and very often at least something that is a little bit deeper in the mind. And this is a great way of probing the unconscious, if you happen to believe in such a thing. And I do.
So I think the Rorschach test is very good for psychologists because it gives people that opportunity to voice something that is deep within them, articulate something that they didn’t know was there, but nonetheless which is having an influence on their behavior and so forth. So that’s valuable. And the I Ching does this in spades because the I Ching is actually doing philosophically for us what the Rorschach test does psychologically. When you obtain a hexagram from the I Ching and you find one or two or three sentences of it to be absolutely and vitally meaningful in the given situation of your life now and your circumstances, those which prompted you to consult the oracle in the first place, then you’re getting back the same kind of thing you’re projecting on to it, some extremely deep meaning sort of coming from you and which can be used therefore as a clue to the resolution of your situation.
Hanley: So I’m going to press you here. That’s your greatest hit in the Eastern tradition. What do you say in the Western tradition? Like, for example, I recommend to people The Present Age by Kierkegaard. Do you like that one? What other kind of quasi-accessible works do you recommend?
Marinoff: Well, I don’t work so actively with Western works because most of the works of Western philosophy are not interactive in the way that the I Ching is, you see. But if you’re asking me what are some of the popular works that I recommend when people say, “Ok, what should I read?” or “I like this idea,” then if that’s what you’re asking, then it’s all over the map, John, because you may know from my books, my popular books that in my practice I’m not trying to sell a particular philosopher to anyone. I’m rather trying to get them to work philosophically with what already resonates with them. So if someone who has existentialist inclinations walks into my office and wants to do more reading, then, yeah, I would probably nine times out of ten recommend to them if they like existentialists and they seem to be headed in that direction, then absolutely Kierkegaard is good. Or if they are atheists, Sartre or de Beauvoir or Camus are good. You name it, what one could obviously recommend for lots of works in that tradition. But on the other hand, some people are romantic capitalists, in which case Ayn Rand is their cup of tea. Other people are Platonic in which case we have another tradition. So myself I’m not cleaving to a particular philosophical school and saying well, these are books that I recommend over and over again. What I’m trying to do, more broadly stated, is to awaken the philosopher inside the client, ok. I think that everybody has a philosopher inside. Most people at least have a philosopher inside. And very often that philosopher is sleeping and needs to be awakened. And which particular philosophical tradition that one actually awakens is of smaller moment to me. What I’m more concerned about is to get the client to be more philosophical. I’m not going to dictate to them which philosophical school they’re supposed to represent. That’s their choice. My job is, as I see it, is to get them to be more philosophical. So that could entail a lot of works, right? That could entail a pretty broad spectrum.
Hanley: Alright, very good, Dr. Marinoff. I think we’ve got a tremendous interview there.
Marinoff: Well, thank you. It was very interesting and a bold line of questioning. So I was only trying to respond. And thank you very much, John.