Twenty years ago, I could never have imagined myself writing this post. New Age music to me when I was a teenager was the saddest, silliest, and least passionate music that I could imagine. It was a crime to art akin to Muzak, which ripped the heart out of what I thought were passionate songs and just left them with a lifeless shell of toothless melodies and tame Mom-friendly synths.
I was a Rock purist and a musical bigot. I still felt that music had the power to shock the old out of complacency and that’s was its mission. It was the artistic agent of social awareness, change, and rebellion. And some of it was, but by the mid–1990s, that agent of change wasn’t rock music anymore (I guess you could make an argument for the Lillith Fair at that point in history, but the charts and headlines were overwhelmingly dominated by Hip Hop by the middle of the decade.) Someday we’ll talk about the social impact of Grunge and what the death of Hair Metal really meant (but maybe not here, unless we can tie it into a conspiracy theory or something… Well, hello Kurt and Courtney!)
Anyway, this is just a long winded way of saying that I thought New Age music was a joke, something played by men in silly frilly shirts and women with flower tiaras. I mean, I love Ren Fairs as much as the next guy, but Yanni with his pornstar mustache and songs that didn’t even really sound like songs just made me want to barf.
I was very much a stereotypical Angry Young Man and I had an opinion on everything. And most of those opinions were ridiculous and based in what I thought I should be feeling. Indeed, if I really was a Rock purist, then how deep inside could I love Disco and robot music so much too? I felt like one of those televangelists that carries on a secret love life of prostitutes and interstate motels.
The truth is, I started discovering that music could be a lot more fun when you open yourself up to different genres, let go of your ideas of what’s “real art and authentic” and what’s not, and when you realize that other human beings might have different motivations and appreciate things in a different way then you do. In other words, I lightened the Hell up and discovered there was a ton of stuff out there to appreciate. And New Age music with all of its pan flutes, synth strings, world instruments, and thirty something Yuppie Yoga studio atmosphere are certainly part of that.
Music isn’t only art, it’s also a tool. Yeah, it can be that agent of social awareness (from John Lennon to NWA), it can be symbolic of revolution (like Ozzy and Bon Jovi at the Moscow Music Peace Festival) at the societal level. But at a personal level, it can get you pumped for a big race (looking at you Andrew W.K.) or chill you out and help focus your mind when you’re meditating.
And when Wendy and I were talking about the interview in the intro, I realized that I needed to eat my Angry Young Man words to accompany this discussion with David Young. That’s right, I’m defending New Age Music and I’ll take anybody on, because it you don’t like it…
David is a charming and talented New Yorker who has sold well over a million albums in his career. He moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s seeking Rock stardom and he eventually found his way to the Venice Beach boardwalk busking to make extra money playing the recorder accompanying a harpist.
And that’s when things started clicking because the music they started making together became Celestial Winds, a duo whose homemade tapes alone would sell tens of thousands of copies.
That might be my favorite takeaway from the interview, he shifted to what he saw that people wanted, what they were asking him for more of, and that’s where he found what he was looking for. He stopped forcing and started opening himself up to what the world was telling him, he stopped beating his head against the wall, and ended up with a wildly successful and long music career.
After going off on his own and releasing dozens of his own solo albums, Young’s music is heard in thousands of healing centers around the world and his concerts have become less about just listening to music and more about using the music as a jumping point creating a spiritual experience for the attendees. He calls them “Soul Activation Workshops” and they’re all about healing and meditation (and we’ll have an episode about all the wonderful benefits of meditation soon!) He encourages the concert goers to close their eyes, but not after a little showmanship, (and this is pretty impressive I have to say) he plays two recorders at once…
…which made me think of Michael Angelo from Nitro and his double necked guitar solos, who we played with once at a Wisconsin Area Music Industry event…
Sure, meditation is a powerful tool, where we can quiet the mind, get out of our frantic headspace for a little while, and find some comfort and relaxation. But it’s what happens next that make Young’s concerts so memorable. He claims that more people have had out-of-body experiences while listening to his music than any other musician alive. Or they’ve had a visit from a favorite dead relative or even an encounter with who he calls “the Heavenly crew” or “Ascended Masters”, historical spiritual icons like Jesus, Buddha, or the Blessed Virgin. Often, multiple people will share that they saw the same Ascended Master at an event and that they were shown a sign in the form of a flower or animal that they all saw independently.
He ties this in to a Great Ascension he calls it of people becoming more spiritual throughout the world and how that’s leading to greater understanding and love between people. It immediately made me think of the religious Great Awakenings that occurred throughout history and those fundamentalist moments seemed to cause more harm than good (see our episode on the Pilgrims and Satanic Thanksgiving.)
But David’s attitude is one of optimism instead of pessimism, and I can dig that. While we often link a rise in fundamentalism to the bogeymen of ISIS or the social intolerance of Evangelical Christians, we forget that there is a scientific basis for the human proclivity for spiritual experiences, we seek them and want them desperately. Spiritual awareness without religion provides the comfort and that “we’re all in it together” feeling without the rules that make us judge each other. The more of that the better, I think, and it doesn’t matter if it’s attributable to wishful thinking and imagination or whether there really is a “Heavenly Crew” watching out for us and the people we love.
So, check out a little bit of David’s music right here and if you’re looking to explore your own spiritual experience, we have a five-minute meditation track that we wrote at the end of this podcast. So, that’s right, I made fun of Yanni’s dark long flowing locks or Zamfir and his ridiculous pan flute… And now we made our own New Age track, man. So close your eyes, clear your mind, and take it in.