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John McLaughlin


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I saw John McLaughlin perform last night at The Blue Note, in New York City. As I was spellbound at the masterful talent this 71 year old guitarist displayed; I thought about Jimmy Page for a moment. Then I thought about the album McLaughlin made with Santana way back. They were devotees of the same Maharishi. Anyway, it seemed to me that Thelema was on stage in full display.


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Michael Staley
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I remember hearing, many years ago, his superb album "The Inner Mounting Flame" when it was first released. Fantastic musician.


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Palamedes
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McLaughlin and Santana were not disciples of the same Maharishi, unless you mean that their once a teacher, Shri Chinmoy, was a Maharishi himself (which may be one way of saying it). While I like McLaughlin a lit and have seen him three times, and while I have no doubt that he was fantastic last night as he was throughout his career, I am not sure that I would describe his music or his spiritual orientation as Thelemic in character. On my own, I recently saw Sigur Ros and to me that is a band and a style of music that I would personally characterize as Thelema in sound - but I have no doubt that if I were to say so, it would raise many an eyebrow. And hence I desist and keep silent.


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Anonymous
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Yes, Santana and McLaughlin's album "Love Devotion Surrender" was when they practiced the teachings of Shri Chinmoy. I haven't heard that album, only have one Mahavishnu Orchestra in my collection; now McLaughlin's latest, a double LP sits on my record player. I think Thelemic in that this individual lives his True Will.


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Palamedes
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"Love, Devotion, Surrender" was actually my introduction to McLaughlin and bit he and Santana play on that album as if they were from another planet: it's unbelievable. But my favourite is still "My Goal's Beyond" - very mystical, to my ears at least. And sure, this is Thelema in the sense of doing what one is called for to do, which is I suppose true for pretty much every artist.


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jamie barter
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"Magickal" wrote:
now McLaughlin's latest, a double LP sits on my record player.

Yes that is music too my ears - Long live vinyl; sounds much better than processed CD/ download junk.  (How’s that for a controversial comment?)

Watching the world go round,
Norma N. Joy Conquest


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Palamedes
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I meant to say "both he [McLaughlin] and Santana" - not "bit he and Santana."


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Anonymous
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"Magickal" wrote:
I saw John McLaughlin perform last night at The Blue Note, in New York City. As I was spellbound at the masterful talent this 71 year old guitarist displayed; I thought about Jimmy Page for a moment. Then I thought about the album McLaughlin made with Santana way back. They were devotees of the same Maharishi. Anyway, it seemed to me that Thelema was on stage in full display.

How was this experimental, fusion jazz "Thelemic"?  Is Motown or surf music "Thelemic"?  How about Chopin or Tiny Tim?  I don't understand how a piece of art can be deemed , "Thelemic" and another one not.  Is it because the artist lived in Boleskine or read books on Crowley?  McLaughlin and Page stood on the shoulders of musical giants but those giants probably never heard of Thelema.  What about their childhood guitar teachers?  Were they emissaries of Crowley?  Lol, no I doubt it.  What about the other attendees at the concert who got off on the concert?  Probably full of Christians and Jews eh?

It's you and your rose-tinted perception.  You are interested in Crowley and anything you get off on you classify as being,"Crowleyan"


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jamie barter
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"david" wrote:
"Magickal" wrote:
I saw John McLaughlin perform last night at The Blue Note, in New York City. As I was spellbound at the masterful talent this 71 year old guitarist displayed; I thought about Jimmy Page for a moment. Then I thought about the album McLaughlin made with Santana way back. They were devotees of the same Maharishi. Anyway, it seemed to me that Thelema was on stage in full display.

How was this experimental, fusion jazz "Thelemic"?  Is Motown or surf music "Thelemic"?  How about Chopin or Tiny Tim?  I don't understand how a piece of art can be deemed , "Thelemic" and another one not.  Is it because the artist lived in Boleskine or read books on Crowley?  McLaughlin and Page stood on the shoulders of musical giants but those giants probably never heard of Thelema.  What about their childhood guitar teachers?  Were they emissaries of Crowley?  Lol, no I doubt it.  What about the other attendees at the concert who got off on the concert?  Probably full of Christians and Jews eh?

You raise a valid point, david, and I found your comparisons here amusing; I cannot speak for Magickal, however whenever I use the term ‘Thelemic’ (or even ‘thelemic’) in terms of an artist’s (including musician’s) output, what I usually mean is that their creation signifies in some way a particular sort of one-pointedness that seems to be in the right direction of travel – i.e., in the terms of A.C., to help humanity (or in a limited context, its viewers’/ listeners’ minds) to ‘take the next step’ – this can be in terms of their correct (re-)alignment with their own true will and will vary subjectively in each case as to how effective it is.  The ‘Arts’ in general, correctly used, and when successful, can be an engine to correct by adjustment their audience’s misperceptions although naturally there is no such thing as a “definitive” anything.

This gig took place six months ago, and though its echoes will have long since faded fortunately there is no expiry date in the terms of the argument itself. 

"david" wrote:
It's you and your rose-tinted perception.  You are interested in Crowley and anything you get off on you classify as being,"Crowleyan"

There is in any case of course a marked difference between “Crowleyan” and “Thelemic”.

Just my two cents

(“Santa Claus is coming to town… he’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice”)
Norma N Joy Conquest


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steve_wilson
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Like Mick, I first got into JM with "The Inner Mounting Flame" and have loved his stuff ever since. However, Frank Zappa, who knew what he was talking about, praised McLaughlin but with reservations that I agree with.

There may not be anything Thelemic about his music but there is something very Crowleyesque - Crowley wanted to climb mountains higher than anyone else and McLaughlin wants to play guitar faster than anyone else. And then again, McLaughlin kicked his heroin habit and, let's face it, plays guitar faster than anyone else.

Meanwhile, here's a clip of JM playing a jazz classic (Cherokee by Ray Noble, written in 1938) his inimitable way:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Om6HDUKBbzE

I think Kenneth Grant would have apprfeciated this, he liked the Jazz of that period.


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steve_wilson
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And BTW, he can play a lot faster than in that clip - try searching YouTube for Shakti. You'll probably find the Monsoon song first but that's pretty cool anyway.


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Anonymous
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I wasn't aware of Zappa's criticism, but Zappa.com pretty well exposes an unethical journalist for misquoting Frank on JM; and explains a little about the retort by JM.

I never got to see Zappa, unfortunately, but can't wait to see JM again.


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Since this appears to be a ‘hot topic’ at present, I want to provide some more in-depth information on John McLaughlin and his spirituality, which I originally intended to do when Magickal initially posted, but lack of time prevented me from doing so.

Magickal, it is interesting that you said “Thelema was on stage in full display”, especially in light of Crowley’s statement about Musick being a vehicle for the musicians Will:

“He must master the technique, theory and practice, of music, till the general principles are absorbed, and he has command of the language, to use it to express his Will” -The Magical and Philosophical Commentaries of the Book of The Law.

I would like to clear up the suggestion that John McLaughlin was a heroin addict. This is simply untrue, and although he did experiment extensively with drugs in the 1960s, particularly cannabis and LSD, he was not a heroin user.

Cream’s bassist, Jack Bruce, recalled John’s playing when they were both working with the Graham Bond Organisation:

“John was really playing great, but he was getting very stoned, which was really saying something in those days. He actually fell off the stage at one gig in Coventry and played this death chord as he landed; kkkkrrruuuggggggg!”

McLaughlin appeared to be quite frustrated at that time. The poet Pete Brown, who worked with McLaughlin in the 60s, suggested that McLaughlin’s depression was due to his situation and not the drugs he was consuming. He was an innovator who had not been recognised and he was doing pop recording sessions, some of which he didn’t particularly enjoy. Although he had worked with artists such as David Bowie and Petula Clark, he really wanted to be recognised on the world stage for his own talents. As McLaughlin puts it himself:

“…I spent 18 months as a shark in the studio until I couldn’t stand it anymore and started flipping out”.

His fortunes were about to change, however, when he got the call to play with the Jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis in 1969.

At this juncture, not only did McLaughlin’s musical life develop, so did his spirituality.

“Just before I went to America I started to do yoga exercises in the morning. When I arrived in Manhattan, I though I had to get myself more together, so I did more exercises. I was doing an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half in the evening. Just yoga. So after a year of doing this I felt great physically, but I thought I was missing the interior thing”.

In fact McLaughlin had been searching for the ‘interior thing’ prior to relocating in Manhattan. His work with Hammond organist and Thelemite Graham Bond back in England piqued his curiosity.

“Graham Bond opened my eyes to a side of myself I was unaware of…I knew something about magical life, although I didn’t know what it was”.

McLaughlin also experienced a kind of awakening through music.

“One night in 1963, after reading about the Tarot, playing with Brian Auger, I felt the spirit enter me and it was no longer me playing”.

Graham bond wasn’t the only Crowley aficionado that McLaughlin was rubbing shoulders with. He also appeared on several recording sessions with Jimmy Page, whom he also gave guitar lessons to as an interview with Page in the November 1990 issue of Musician magazine confirms:

“Musician: John McLaughlin gave you guitar lessons?

Jimmy Page: He did, that's true. It was great. He could hear things which I couldn't hear. He certainly taught me a lot about chord progressions and things like that. He's fabulous. He was so fluent and so far ahead, way out there, and I learned a hell of a lot. I must have been about 20”.

There have even been suggestions that Page took ideas from the chord progression to the Jazz standard ‘My Funny Valentine’, which McLaughlin taught him, as inspiration for ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

It wasn’t long before McLaughlin joined the Theosophical Society and made use of their extensive library to research into Eastern philosophical traditions. But although McLaughlin was inspired by Bond’s spiritual leanings initially, it is possible that some misunderstanding on Bond’s part, and subsequently McLaughlin’s, of aspects of Crowley’s work meant that the two men went in different directions. Some of Graham’s views unsettled McLaughlin:

“He had become very intense and I realised that we had gone two different ways. He started to talk to me about pentagrams, performing magical acts and the manipulation of powers I was not into. We had a nice conversation, but he had this predilection away from my spiritual values in music. He had been experimenting with incantations and ceremonies, but not in a bad sense, because above all he was a good and loving person, very tender-hearted. I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that he wouldn’t do anything against anybody for his own ends in that way, but he was fascinated by it all”.

However, on his website (a previous version), McLaughlin paints a different picture of Bond’s initial influence on him:

"24 years old
start playing with Graham Bond Organization…Graham introduces me to the Philosophy of the Tarot. Numerology, Astrology and Symbolism. I begin studying it myself”.

And as McLaughlin’s biographer Paul Stump points out in ‘Go Ahead John: The Music of John McLaughlin’:

“…the fascination with the East that Graham Bond’s interest in the occult and theosophy had triggered in McLaughlin hadn’t just manifested itself spiritually and socially, in terms of the guitarist’s choice of faith and lifestyle. Inevitably it permeated his music also”.

Once in New York, a drug-free and healthy McLaughlin indulged his fascination for all things Eastern and even studied with Ravi Shankar, which provided him with the strong understanding of both Hindustani and Carnatic music that would enable him to work with many notable Indian musicians and form the seminal World-music band, ‘Shakti’. His spiritual path followed a similar Eastern route and he became a disciple of Sri Chinmoy, even going on to record an album with another famous guitarist and Chinmoy follower, Carlos Santana in 1972 called ‘Love Devotion Surrender’. McLaughlin came to see musicality and spirituality as ultimately entwined and suggests every musician should read the Sufi Message book ‘The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word’ by Hazrat Inayat Khan; a formidable tome, which can richly reward the patient reader.

McLaughlin’s popularity began to grow through his work with Miles Davis and in the 1970s he ventured out with his own project, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, effectively filling the ‘guitar hero’ void left by the death of Jimi Hendrix. The name ‘Mahavishnu Orchestra’ says it all, as he mixed Indian rhythmic influences with Rock music and Jazz, and used grand song and album titles such as ‘Visions of the Emerald Beyond’. His 1973 offering, ‘Birds of Fire’, reached number 15 on the American Biilboard top 100 Pop chart; a remarkable feat for progressive instrumental music.

Walter Kolosky’s ‘Power, Passion and Beauty’ documents the phenomenal impact the Mahavishnu Orchestra had on the popular music scene in the 70s and beyond by following the bands career with quotes from some of the world’s top musicians. Their impact was simply breathtaking and to experience one of their live performances was likened to an initiation.

One humorous anecdote as told by my friend Charles Alexander (the publisher of Jazzwise magazine) relates his surprise (in a somewhat cynical manner) upon seeing the Mahavishnu Orchestra perform live at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall 1973:

“The whole two front rows were entirely taken up with Chinmoy’s people-these massed ranks of white shirts! And then the band appeared…and then John who wore white all over. They go into the first number. And it’s great, but then they finish and John comes to the apron and does a little bow with hands clasped and goes, ‘Greetings, O people of Glasgow’. It was a little hard to take the gig seriously after that, no matter how good he was”.

Even though the heady days of the Mahavishnu Orchestra are long gone, McLaughlin’s popularity ceases to wane and he continues to make interesting music and fill concert halls worldwide.

Magmus


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 Anonymous
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As an addition to the above, of interest in terms of the meeting of Musick and Magick, is McLaughlin’s use of attributing musical notes to the signs of the Zodiac.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s first studio album entitled ‘The Inner Mounting Flame’ appeared in 1971, and included as its final track the McLaughlin composition, ‘Awakening’. The sheet music for this composition appears in the Alfred Publishing Co. book ‘John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra’. On page 51, for the improvised ‘solos’ section, it states:

“Ad lib solos: based on astrological sign of individual soloist. According to ancient Egyptian mythology, the corresponding keys (pedals) were assigned to the following astrological signs: Virgo=C, Aries=Db, Libra=D, Taurus=Eb, Scorpio=E, Sagittarius=F, Gemini=F#, Capricorn=G, Cancer=Ab, Aquarius=A, Leo=Bb, Pisces=B.

The modes indicated in B are the modes used in the recording; however, the student is free to base the mode of his solo upon the pedal corresponding to his astrological sign”.

You will note that if the correlations are placed in the sequential order of the Zodiac signs, as opposed to the alphabetical note/pitch sequence, the Zodiac signs from Aries to Leo correlate with the black notes (on a piano) C# to A#, and the Zodiac signs from Virgo to Pisces correlate with the white notes C to B, i.e. the C Major scale. The whole scheme appears to be fairly arbitrary.

The Zodiac/Pitch attributions as given in the book in the solo’s in ‘Awakening’ are:

John McLaughlin: Eb Taurus (this is incorrect since McLaughlin is a Capricorn born on the 4th of January 1942. It could refer to either his Ascendant or some other date such as an initiation or awakening).

Jan Hammer: Db Aries (this is correct as Hammer was born on April the 17th 1948).

It is quite possible that McLaughlin got these attributions from the Theosophy Society, which he was interested in during the 1960s, however, his system doesn’t match up with Blavatsky’s as shown on p.121 of Joscelyn Godwin’s ‘Harmonies of Heaven and Earth’. Another possible source could be Graham Bond.

The following is taken from the liner notes by Harry Shapiro to the 1999 BGO CD re-release of Graham Bond’s ‘Holy Magick/We Put Our Magick On You’:

“But having them in the studio they then had to stand according to their star signs as Graham had drawn out on the studio floor…”

Also from the biography ‘Graham Bond: The Mighty Shadow’, also by Harry Shapiro:

“With all this talent assembled in the studio, Graham positioned them around a huge pentagram he had drawn on the floor and they all had to stand according to the element sign attributed to their birth signs”.

Magmus


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steve_wilson
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I stand corrected on the heroin issue.

As to zodiacal attributions, McL gives attributes to the equal temperament chromatic scale, which didn't really exist until the 16th century, although it was discussed earlier. In modern terms, for example, A flat and G sharp are the same note, whereas previously they were a quarter tone apart.

So it is unlikely that McL's attributions are Egyptian.


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