Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Study In Opposites?

Reading books can be an emotional experience.

Yesterday I finished a biography on Paul Nelson. Nelson was a strange and interesting individual; a rock critic back in the early days who wrote for a few magazines, the most prominent of which was Rolling Stone.

His writing is magnificent.

There was more leeway in those days, which allowed him to write lengthy essays about albums or groups and to inject his well informed opinion into the piece. He incorporated references from many genres of music, as well as books and movies, which he also worshiped.

He began his career when the music industry was loose, when record companies and music magazines were free form, when the music was the focus. When everything became corporatized, when the soul went out of the industry and the bottom line became the focus, Paul Nelson was lost.

He was too genuine to deal with that kind of bullshit.

He was a perfectionist and obsessed with getting it right. He often missed deadlines and actually blew many opportunities when he was contracted to write a book and just couldn't deliver.

His personal life was sad. After blowing his gig at Rolling Stone he kind of fell apart. He increasingly withdrew from friends and business acquaintances, wrote very little and lived so very alone that when he died it was a week before anyone knew it.

When he died he was working in a video store.

Yet musicians like Dylan and Springsteen and Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne talk about what  a great writer he was, how literary and informed his pieces were and how much the music meant to him; how passionate he was about music.

As I read the book there was a definite vibe of sadness running through it. Sadness that a guy so talented and so dedicated could blow a promising career because of his refusal to compromise and his overwhelming obsessions.

Sadness because he shut his life down to such a small perspective that nobody could get through to him.

I also felt strong respect for this man who was so talented as a writer, and so true to himself that he refused to compromise his principles no matter what it cost him.

This morning I picked up "Man's Search For meaning" by Viktor Frankl. I raved about this book previously in this blog when I discovered that it exists.

The first part of the book is Frankl's account of the years he spent in concentration camps during World War II.

He tells his story from an interesting perspective in that he doesn't get graphic but still manages to clearly convey the horror of what it was like to be tortured by Nazi's, with the threat of extermination hanging over his head every day.

He explains how those who survived had to develop an inner strength, a way to focus their minds on something, anything - a fantasy, a narrative, the expected reunion with loved ones - that would justify fighting for survival under such harsh and mind blowing conditions.

His theory was that the way a prisoner imagined his future affected his longevity. Those that gave up, died. Those who believed they could have some sort of future had a better chance of making it.

The power of the mind, baby - the power of the mind.

The second half of the book (which I haven't gotten to yet) explains his theory of logotherapy, which in a nutshell says that the search for meaning is the primary motivation of humans, that a sense of meaning is what allows people to overcome painful experiences, that meaning can be found even in brutal circumstances.

I did not expect to tie these two books together, I intended to lay out how each very different book affected me emotionally.

But as I was writing it occurred to me that Paul Nelson gave up; that when life did not conform to his expectations he withdrew to the point where he was dead before he was dead.

I do not judge or condemn him for this; each life is what it is and what you do with it is for you and you alone to understand.

Viktor Frankl survived Nazi concentration camps and came out with a psychological theory for survival, an attempt to find meaning in life and to use that meaning as a reason to keep on living.

Both books got me feeling and they got me thinking.

Well worth the price of admission, baby.

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