It has to be admitted upfront that I was in an altered state of mind when I first came up with the idea for Beyond the Will of God. It was 1975. I was 17 and had just discovered the raw power of crazed electric guitar (Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Hot Tuna, and Jefferson Airplane to be precise—all night long). Until that weird autumn evening I had no idea how far the mind could go into the soul…and all just through letting loud guitar music take you over.
The next morning I was listening to Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. The song “1983…(a Merman I Should Turn to Be)” came on. The best way to describe what Hendrix wanted to do with this 13-minute magnum opus was to create a kind of sonic science fiction poem. Listening that morning, it seemed to me that music was far more than some simple form of entertainment. “1983…” came across as a kind of curtain opening from our waking, structured reality into the cosmos where time and language are irrelevant and the full power of the creative mind is free to connect with pure meaning.
That was an enormous revelation for me at the tender age of 17. My mind has never been the same since. The imagination becomes truly free once you realize this curtain may be found in so many different pieces of music of that era—from The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” to The Door’s “Riders on the Storm.” And once the imagination is free, well, all bets are off.
The power of music seemed to me then, as it does now, evidence of the possibility that all the great musicians and performers who have died before their time may well still exist in that dimension I stumbled into so long ago. I had this feeling as I set up our turntable to play the “1983…” side of Electric Ladyland over and over again (all day long as it turns out) that Jimi was trying to get through to us to let us know that things really aren’t always the way they seem.
That was in 1975. I knew a story was trying to form in me. It wasn’t until the morning of January 1, 1990 that the first paragraph found its way into the world:
“Cecil gets off the bus. Under the mid-afternoon summer sun he has a broad view of sloping fields full of emerald-green crops and a few small stands of trees. A veil of lavender haze softly covers everything in the distance. Two hours before, as the bus lumbered down Interstate 70 through High Hill, he had taken 1800 milligrams of EGG-68, a dose two times as strong as he usually took. He had turned himself into a homing device.”
As it happens, this wasn’t the lead into my novel, but it was the beginning of what became 11-years of effort trying to find the time to write this book, and then another 11 years trying to get it published (don’t start me up on the mainstream publishing world). Getting married, divorced, re-married (to the love of my life) raising kids, and having a career as an environmental activist and freelance writer all kind of gets in the way of the storytelling process.
All that time was good, though. I learned the need to research the crap out of things if you’re going to write about them. That lesson helped me find such oddities as remote viewing, the CIA’s MKULTRA project, scientific research on telepathy, and the mysteries surrounding the deaths of everyone from Marilyn Monroe, Jesse James, Elvis, JFK, Jim Morrison, Jim Croce, Janis Joplin, and John Lennon. Most importantly, in the middle of my final push to finish a first draft, Jerry Garcia died, and so did Jeff Buckley.
Buckley’s music in particular sent me over the edge again in the late 1990s. I was by then a well-respected professional, and the loving father of three young boys. There has never been another voice like Buckley’s. It so deeply and profoundly expresses the passion and wonder of the human soul. Jeff clinched it all for me. The story I had been writing was indeed a trail into the mind, if only the reader would see it. That trail leads exactly where the reader needs to go, just like Jimi and Jeff and all the rest of them understood.
As I head into my mid-50s, this story resonates more and more for me. It plays with the concepts of sound and time and consciousness. People seem to have forgotten big mysterious questions of existence. The power of sound in particular is something neuroscientists are only just beginning to understand with their new ability to scan and map brain activity. To me, all sound is now a foothold, a question, a gateway into another realm. Sound is always on the verge of what is out there and what is going to happen next. The sound of the human voice creating words, sending meaning out into the universe is truly sublime. And the sound of birds in the morning, frogs at sunset, and the wind blowing through the trees is equally as divine and inspiring.
But the sound of the human voice integrated and amplified through great music —whether symphonic or rock ‘n’ roll—linked to time through beat, and connected to vibration through the tender thunder of low decibel instruments is particularly magical. Everyone in this world understands what I’m talking about on one level or another. The passion we all feel when we hear music we love is unlike anything else in our lives. That’s what drove me to write Beyond the Will of God. That’s what drives every rock ‘n’ roll tale I know—from bio movies about the greats like Richie Valens and Janis Joplin, to novels by gifted writers like Anne-Marie Klein here at Behind Blue Eyes. Music doesn’t just sooth the savage beast, it is the beast coming back to itself over and over again.
Watch the trailer. Visit the Author’s website and Goodreads profile. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook. David also writes for TalkingWriting and Kotori Magazine, and has two short story collections out now.
Just before we published this, David informed me that Beyond the Will of God has been short-listed for theDecember eBook of the Month at IWriteReadRate.com. Voting is open until December 30th at Vote for My eBook, if you want to check it out and support David.
This essay was originally published at the website Behind Blue Eyes. I am posting it here with a reminder that this whacky psychedelic novel is available on sale in e-book form through Amazon and Barnes & Noble at the discounted price of 99¢ for holiday shoppers. It’s also reduced by 20% as a paperback. Get this deal now before we send this book back to its suggested list price! (For what it’s worth, you can also get it free if you sign up for my monthly Culture-List commentaries…see right panel).