John Maxwell Taylor, USA
In 'Teachings of Gurdjieff' C.S. Nott quotes Orage:
"Gurdjieff said that he was not a literary man, but that he has supplied material in Beelzebub from which poets and writers will make epics".
The first poet, writer and musician who has made an epic combining Gurdjieff and Beelzebub is John Maxwell Taylor and therefore his work is of particular interest.
John Maxwell Taylor is almost a Welshman, but in fact he is half English. If you ask him which half of him is which, he might answer "the half that leaks is Welsh" (the leek being the national emblem of Wales).
Born to the life of poetry and song he started writing plays at an early age of 15 and became a rock star in the sixties when he was 19. John Maxwell is best known to-day as an actor in his one-man-play 'Forever Jung' and as a lecturer in the subject of human development.
His search for truth led eventually to Gurdjieff. John Maxwell developed the framework of "Sociological Aikido" now changed to "Spiritual Social Self Defense", a system of self-defence in personal interactions with people. Over the past eight years John has worked on Crazy Wisdom - The Life and Legend of Gurdjieff, a musical that was first performed in February 2002 in Encinitas, California, where he lives. The CD with the original cast consists of 2 ½ hours of musical entertainment.
GIG: To get to know you through your homepage and further through Crazy Wisdom has been for me like meeting an old friend, something like deja vu, especially after I listened to your music. Can you tell more about the process?
JMT: I know it is a bit of a cliche for "spiritual" artists to say stuff like "Well, I didn't write it, I just held the pen". But in this case all I can say is that I was always in a bit of an amazed state while wrorking on this because I never had to look for anything. It is almost as if it already existed and I just had to be available to catch the various elements and put them together in three dimensions.
GIG: What were your aims and reasons for writing Crazy Wisdom?
JMT: My purpose in writing this work was to create a play that would give truth seekers all over the world an experience with Gurdjieff's energy and ideas in an accessible form. Millions who are hungry for truth may never be able to fully embrace the work and make it the center of their lives as you and I have done. Neverthless, they may well benefit from peripheral contact through the play and the music. Like a yeast that makes bread rise even a small touch of that which is real can leven a persons life and aid their spiritual development on whatever path they are following. It is a key that unlocks the doors that lead to truth.
GIG: You have managed to put some 27 years of Gurdjieff's life and many of his followers into 2½ hours. What compromises you had to make and what were the difficulties you were faced with?
JMT: Several songs had to be dropped such as one based on Gurdjieff’s story about the Transcaucasian Kurd and a ballet based on "The Struggle of the Magicians". Also there was a very pretty ballad between Ouspenski and Anna Illinishna that revealed that he went into his head when she rejected him as a lover. If I had put in everything that came to me it would have been longer than Wagner’s Ring Cycle! As it stands we still could not do all the songs in the CD in a full production in a major theater because there is quite a bit of dialogue that ties the story together in a live show that we could not include on the CD. Funny stuff, particularly from Madame Ouspenski. After the De Hartmann’s have sung "Our Love Is True" she looks disgustedly towards the audience and says "These two make me ill!" going on two say that anyone who really understands Gurdjieff knows that romantic love is nothing but emotional self hypnosis. Which is of course an attitude indicative of an undeveloped feeling function, a problem that sometimes afflicts people in the work so she is voicing their hang ups.
GIG: Many of the performers fit their roles and have somehow become 'embodyments' of their role characters. Was it difficult to find these singers and actors for all the different people that the musical portrays?
JMT: I had actually worked with many of these singers on my previous musical "Faustorama" that came out eight years ago. Knowing their range and styles, personal attitudes and so forth was very helpful. Tom Jepperson who plays Gurdjieff has a lot of presence and power personally and this reflects in his voice. He tends to prowl about like a panther when he walks and was extremely aware of other dimensions as a child. The cast seemed to assemble in order as if following some synchronistic pattern. That part was very easy although of course recording the voices properly was a huge undertaking.
GIG: You have made something nobody else has: much about the Gurdjieff Work is intellectual and appeals to that side of us, the head brain. Gurdjieff often asked 'What does it make you feel?'. Crazy Wisdom appeals to the emotions and goes so deep that there is nothing I can compare it with. Having brought tears in my eyes how does the audience react and feel when they see the musical?
JMT: I have made Mr. Gurdjieff's statement "You must feel, you must feel, your mind is a luxury" my watchword. I am glad that you were moved. I often had tears in my eyes while writing it and at the three performances we have given so far many people were in tears.
GIG: To accept J. G. Bennett as a flower child singing in the style of The Beatles and the sixties can be tough for some. I think personally that it fits perfectly in his role in the company he is in. Surely he would be able to laugh at it himself. How on earth you came to think about it?
JMT: I can fill you in on that quite easily. In the early seventies I was a member of the Findhorn Community in Scotland. This pioneering spiritual community was in touch with similar experiments in communal living going on at that time and Bennett and Peter Caddy, the founder of Findhorn were often in touch. They spoke at or attended various events around the UK that supported a vision of an emerging global spiritual community. If you look at the pictures of Bennett and his acolytes at Sherbourne House you can see that he is surrounded largely by young people with what we might describe as a "flower child look". We are talking just a few years after 1967, the "summer of love", which was actually caused by a speeding up of the earths energy to propell us into greater spiritual awareness as a race.
The song Bennett sings when he goes off into an altered state is based on an incident he recounts in his autobiography "Witness". Gurdjieff made him participate in the movements even though he was suffering from dysentary and the act of will pushed him into an high state of awareness. So when it came to putting this in a musical form I was very much aware, seeing the play on stage in my head while writing, that any attempt do a serious portrayal of someone in shall we say "cosmic consciousness" could come across as unintentionally funny.
The critics would have a field day with that because the thing they fear most in to appear naïve. So I thought lets make it intentionally funny and profound at the same time. I’m thinking this is happening in 1927 at the first ever commune and the press are calling Gurdjieff and the people at Fontainbleau the "Forest Philosphers" caracterizing them as nature and free love worshippers…And this Beatle like tune shows up and it’s "the Summer of Love…1927"! Bennett is tripping and if you read his account of this it sort of "everything flows man"…He’s seeing hidden meanings everywhere in the patterns of leaves and the sky and clouds and I got the whole song in about half an hour. Then I prefaced the "Beatlesque" part with a "Dance of the Great Awakening" with everyone singing about the law of three in classical style. That section is influenced by my love for Gustav Mahler which gives way to this "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" thing. I’m glad you liked it and I am sure there are those who will resist. But that is par for the course. It’s just the wonderful world of human subjectivity.
GIG: The portrait of Friz Peters is very fitting and one of the most lifelike of all. Being a writer he also has the same elements in his books. I bet the two songs were some of the things that came to you very naturally?
JMT: Very naturally and with great joy. The song about the acorns is very English from a musical point of view as is the song about the mowing. Since Fritz like Hassein later on represents awakening essence there is an innocence there and I think that comes out in some of the clear melodic phrases. John Lennon once said that the reason people generally don’t like classical music is that the melodies are too short to grasp. I think there is some truth in that and although there are many "song songs" in "Crazy Wisdom" with a form that is easy to grasp, some of the best moments are in the short sequences, like when Gurdjieff sings in the moonlight on the ship heading for Constantinople. That’s a lovely bit and once its gone that melody never returns. People tell me that the more they listen the more they hear and come to love everything.
GIG: What do you consider the biggest achievements in writing and composing the musical?
JMT: Just getting it down in a form that will last and can be played by people in any part of the world. I love it just knowing that someone from Turkey who is obviously Muslim has bought the CD and is listening to it there as are people in Australia, Italy, Portugal, France etc.
GIG: Yes - even in Denmark! What now? I think that Crazy Wisdom deserves to become one of the all time great musicals. Are there any good prospects that seem to be pointing to this becoming possible?
JMT: We have done some concert performances in US but all on hold now as we try to land a major performance in a theater capable of doing justice to the subject with a world class presentation. Exploring USA, England and Russia at present. I put the CD out to act as a banner to announce the plays existance and open doors to full presentation. What this show needs is a high caliber of world class production talent and insight.
GIG: What do you do apart from writing musicals and plays?
JMT: I teach classes across America called "Spiritual Social Self Defense" based on techniques I pulled out of the work. We use the friction of the moment in our dealings with the unpleasant behavior of people plus sensing and feeling, looking from essence eye to personality to produce presence and being. It is a combination of Aikido, Taoist exercises and Gurdjieff. Very powerful for becoming more not less in tricky situations.
We have weekly meetings in my home in San Diego under the banner "Living From Being and Presence". Our approach is positive, upbeat and joyful. We laugh a lot which is as it should be for the work truly done should lead to the end of all sorrows.
GIG: Your knowledge of Gurdjieff is extensive. How did you come across his teachings?
JMT: I picked up a book of Ouspenski’s in 1967 at the home of Robert Walker the actor and never looked back. I knew almost from the start that I had to embrace this work wholeheartedly and I have.
GIG: What do you think of the Gurdjieff Work to-day and looking into the future?
JMT: The time is at hand for Gurdjieff's ideas to burst forth in many areas of human endeavor. We are living in the 21st century and the energy of emerging consciousness is everywhere. I counsel many people who have had spontaneous awakening experiences and wonder what hit them. Just yesterday I saw a woman who said "who I was is dead now; there is nothing but energy and its taken over my life". She was raised as a Mormon and they have no tools or understanding to deal with someone experiencing their own nothingness let alone the uptake into conscious being. Let those who want to stay close to the traditional approach do so. Fine. That is also needed. But let us share what we can in new forms more specifically attuned to the needs of the emerging global spiritual community.
The CD can be bought directly from John Maxwell Taylor. You can find buying information here.
Copyright © John Maxwell Taylor, Gurdjieff Internet Guide - 2002-2003