The Need for Myth

The need for mythology is probably greater at this point than at any other time in recent history. Therapy has failed, self-help has failed, exercise, diet, the acquisition of money, political allegiance, even the old standbys, drugs and booze – all failures.  Religion, the most popular form of “official” myth, has become downright dangerous. We’ve tried just about everything and we still ain’t satisfied. We want answers. The only place we’re likely to find them is in what I like to call “good mythology”.

I’m going on about this because, as far as I’m concerned, my job, as well as the job of any other writer, singer, poet or storyteller is to be above all a maker of good myths. And what is a good myth? A good myth is a true myth. Not in the sense that “this thing I’m telling you about actually happened”. Far from it – myth, by definition, is at closest a reworking of some actual event to enhance its significance. Myth doesn’t need a historical event to be valid. The truest myths, in fact, are those that are unencumbered by being confused with actual events – hence the more dangerous elements in religion as noted above – when the holy grail got mixed up with whatever cup was put in front of “historical Jesus” at his last Seder, people started questing for it and sacking each other’s cities over it – we’re still paying for it.

Good mythology has its basis in our dreams, our brain’s unconscious mechanism for sorting things out while we sleep – pre-verbal, pre-writing, pre-having to believe it because they tell you to. The song, the story, the poem, the play, the prayer and even the Hollywood blockbuster are our attempts to bring the process to light where everybody (including us) can see it.

And why exactly do we need to do all this? The reason, which shouldn’t surprise anybody, is that human life simply doesn’t work. We’re born screwed. We want the wrong things, we love the wrong things, we chase the wrong things, and no matter how hard we try or how well we do, we’re gonna get picked off anyway – the pink slips are already in the mail – mine, yours, the President’s, everybody’s. Bad mythology denies, avoids or tries to bargain this away. Good mythology faces it head on and deals with it.

Finally, it all comes down to the blues.

If your baby takes your money and buys a present for her new boyfriend, you’ve only got three choices:

Do something really bad to her and spend the rest of your days in jail.

Start drinking heavily and drop the rest of your natural life in a rusty can

Put it in a song and consider the royalties sweet revenge on her, on yourself, on everything – the whole damn package.

 

The blues is myth in its purest form, stripped to the essentials. Beethoven is the blues with extra instruments.

We can’t get even with the universe for doing this to us. The universe doesn’t care. The simple fact is that the universe is a blind, stupid mass of junk racing around following rules it doesn’t even know about. We’re the only ones who know what we’re doing, much as we try not to. We’re the only ones who get to tell the story and we’re the only ones listening.

So we might as well sing.

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