Yesterday I went to see The Flaming Lips perform a free show at the Waterfront Park in Portland, OR. I’ve been to enough summer concerts to know to bring water, a towel, and sunscreen, but I also brought along a book. I knew there would be some downtime, and I figured I might be able to finish Carl Jung’s “Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy.” (A bad idea, I know.)
So, before things got started, I made my way through a few pages before the EDM playing overhead made reading impossible. (For the record, I kept the cover of the book flat against my lap so as not to be ‘the guy reading Jung at the Flaming Lips show.’)
As the title suggests, Jung uses the conceptual framework of alchemy to interpret dreams, arguing that the sequence of dreams he describes represents the archetype of our universal quest for enlightenment, a quest that takes too much rigorous effort for most of us:
“Too many people are misled into snatching at such ‘magical’ ideas and applying them externally, like an ointment. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. They will practice Indian yoga, and all its exercises, observe a strict regimen of diet, learn theosophy by heart, or mechanically repeat mystic texts…all because they have not the slightest faith that anything useful could ever come out of their own souls.”
But when someone truly confronts themselves in meaningful way, it can result in change. After all, “no noble, well-grown tree ever disowned its dark roots, for it grows not only upward by downward as well.” Get in the muck and love it, in other words, for it’s a part of you too.
Just reading these quotes, you might believe Jung shares a lot with Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret or Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist. And from what I gather, they do tread on similar paths. I have not read those texts, but books of their ilk–self-help, New Age–get dismissed out of hand, perhaps because they change lives until people set them aside and forget about their ‘secrets’ until the next one comes along. The step of actually confronting the self and changing never occurs.
Still, reminders are incredibly helpful–and that’s where the Flaming Lips come in. Will Hermes called them a “power-of positive thinking cult for post-punk realists” in his review of At War With the Mystics for Spin, but for their 2013 album, The Terror, they changed tack. Reviewer Michael Tedder wrote “This is the despair they’ve been fighting against for all these years. But instead of fighting to keep the hopelessness at bay, or frantically doing their best to distract us from it like they always have, here they just let it overtake them, and us.”
That doesn’t make the songs from this album the most pleasant background music, but it does make good food for thought. The process of descent, confrontation and return naturally arises in psychedelic music because it’s inherent to the psychedelic experience; however, this process is also inherent in most of the stories we tell, in the characters we love, and in our own personal transformations.