The Mythology of Passion
By Anthony Phan
My eyes were fixed upon the stars. I never had opportunity or inclination to become a mariner in my life but it felt like the ghosts of Vikings long dead were guiding me from above that night. It could have been magic. It could have been karma. More than likely my feelings owed a lot of their existence to the fact that at my side was a living Viking legend.
“A music festival…” he said grandiosely and unexpectedly.
The memory I have of the exact words that followed are spotty at best. What remains with me was the mythology of his passion. It was spoken with a tongue that only magi, shamans, oracles, and clairvoyants possess. He chose a music festival as the subject of his prophecy. The words swirled like incense in the cramped air of my 1998 Honda Civic. This utterance was a boon. My antiperspirant was starting to fail and a worthy conversation masked a fair amount of my mounting B.O. with subtle distraction.
I turned the conversation back on him, all the while staring into the infinite firmament of stars. I was careful not to become too lost in them or in his conversation–after all, I was driving down the highway at ten miles over the posted limits. The mariner warrior within me from some life previous couldn’t help but stare into the galaxy every now and again. It was like ogling a cosmic bombshell in the sky. I would do better to look away, but I simply couldn’t resist the powerful draw. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to the details of the conversation that night. I don’t really mean this, though I just threw it out there as a rhetorical courtesy. What I’m really driving at is that when it comes down to it, no one cares a whit about details. I know punctilious detail-oriented folk are already dipping torches in flammable goo so as to get all riled up in my business but if these people will just hang on for half a second they will see that they actually don’t care about all those finicky details that they cram into their heads. Rather than caring about the details per se, they care about how those details make them feel.
To apply it to a running analogy, no one cares about what Nordic mariners did hundreds of years ago. They want to feel like Vikings in some respect for themselves right now.
So this is the mythology of passion. The DIY artist has to have it or die. This is what sits undisturbed in the firmament of destiny and beckons anyone who wants to be a Viking. Now, I’m not saying that you have to be a Viking. As far as I understand it, plundering, raping, burning, and terrorizing don’t really open many doors in networking and business circles–unless your some sort of cable TV provider. What I am saying is that maybe the stars make you feel like a wizard with a scar shaped like a rain cloud on your left butt cheek. Or maybe the stars make you feel like an orphaned rhinoceros that has to come back and oust the dictator hippopotamus that killed your father in some fictitious ostrich stampede. Whatever it is, your stars speak to you in a personal mythos.
They make you willing to cross an ocean of doubt, throw caution to the wind, and hedge your entire destiny on the possibility of something better being out there than what you leave behind on the mainland of your old life.
As an artist, you won’t survive without this mythology. Details will forever keep you on the shore. But mythology will launch you into the abyss and see you to greener lands (and no, not Greenland: an actual green place with fruit and stuff).
So on that starry night, as I rode with my Viking passenger and listened to him speak of his music festival, I ate up his personal mythology. It was oozing with passion, dripping with desire, sweating with ardent fervor–enough to make me sound dirty now describing it. I loved every minute of that dialogue. His pivotal message aroused within me deep yearnings of my unconscious psyche. In short, the Viking infected me. He infected me with the communicable disease of excitement. Oh yeah, if Mom is reading this, not to worry. His is just innocuous metaphor. I don’t need to get tested or anything.
As we discussed the mythology of the music festival, the Viking, my 1998 Honda Civic, and my excitement-infected butt booked it to our quadruple date with Destiny. Now Destiny’s actually a really cool lady! A lot of people are unnecessarily afraid of her. I mean, I suppose that this is not without cause–she really should reconsider a lot of those angry looking profile pictures on her Facebook account–but when you get to know her, you come to see that she gives you exactly what you want. If you want details, you get details; if you want experiences, you get experiences.
I’m not going to get all didactic and talk about the roots of words and break it all down like a schoolteacher to explain details v. experiences. What I am going to do is speak unofficially–off the record, as it were. And this is actually the greatest beauty about mythology: mythology’s absolutely unofficial, off the record. It doesn’t talk of things necessarily as they are or should be. It talks about things as maybes, possiblies, and perhapses. Artists require all these in abundant supply.
So does this that mean in the courtroom of opinion mythology holds no probative merit or use at all? Who forgets mythology? It’ll be around forever. Sure, it may change forms and get a new facelift every few millennia; but basically, it all stays the same deep down. Why? Because nobody cares about the details–they care about the way that those details make them feel. Mythology is the language of feelings. It’s the language of creation and exploration.
Humans need the feelings they get from their mythology just like they need B12, vitamin C, and Miles Davis. Mythological feelings are what break down indigestible details into nutritious and yummy experiences. Nobody opts for the DIY life because she or he really wants to fill the rest of her or his life with the mind-numbing details that are found in managing a successful artistic image, handling the bills, touring, dealing with shady promoters, et cetera ceteraque. Details will make you sick and artistically malnourished. But experiences? The mythos stuff? That’s what makes it all worth it. The reason that the DIY route really appeals to the folk with eyes on the stars is that it speaks to their mythology of passion. It makes them feel and allows them the space to interpret their feelings how they’d like. If we’re all honest, that’s what we artists want to do for the people that choose to consume our art.
So do you as the artist follow the stars of passion or the details of highway lane markers? Well, actually both–assuming that you don’t want to die a mangled death (I do hear that Valhalla’s actually pretty cool). But all horrendously morbid joking aside, if I would’ve exclusively focused on the Viking that night in my post-gig car, I would’ve gotten all wrapped up in the stars and would’ve driven right into a concrete barrier. Likewise, if I would have been focused exclusively on the highway markers, I would’ve gotten all wrapped up in fuel economy and responsible driving and would’ve driven right into a dead-end life. Both–if they are independent from the other and devoid of counterbalance–equal death. I can’t speak for everyone out there, but I personally would rather lose my life to a fiery accident than to a boring cubicle. But figuring out a proper balance so as not to die either way is actually a lot hipper alternative. So after all this blathering nonsense what am I driving at? Hopefully not a USDOT-rated retaining wall. Basically, it’s a given that the mythology of passion has to be ever in your mind as the DIY artist. If you really don’t have the fire within, the details of that life will become way too complicated to support the lifestyle. At the same time, if all you have is the mythos and no boat, you’re just a really gung-ho Viking chilling on some frigid, rocky beach that smells like rotting narwhal, waiting for a magic vessel to convey you to the fantasy land of your dreams. That ship will eventually sail in, but you won’t like it, it’s the SS Regrets.
Be a smart Viking. Get a boat, get a crew. Sharpen axes and stuff if you feel that you need that in your life. Get your mental, physical, musical, and financial equipment all around you…and then forget about it. I mean, don’t do something so lamentably boneheaded as to leave it on the shore as you sail off to Unpreparedville. What I mean is don’t let be that the exclusive thing that impels you across the kraken-filled deep. Let mythology do the heavy lifting. In the end it’s all mythology, baby.
Look to your stars, count on your resources. Details will inevitably make you turn back. Details will always kill your desire. Details will unavoidably turn every artistic decision into a buffet filled with endless chafing dishes of lukewarm anxiety. You’ll eat it and barf. But your mythology–as far-fetched, weird, and as reminiscent of British sci-fi as it may be–is enough to carry you across the deep, provided that your smart about it.
Now I’m not 100% sure on the details of how all this works. But if I were, wouldn’t that contradict everything that I’ve just said? Ultimately, regardless if I am talking out my Asgard or not right now, this is the great lesson I took away from my Viking shaman that night so long ago. If you dig it, cool. If not, go find your own mythos. If you let your mythology guide you like stars overhead eventually with some luck you should meet me, the Viking, Destiny, and my 1998 Honda Civic on the green shore. Safe travels.