Song by Song Narratives From The Mammals

Beyond Civilization

The first time I read Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael I knew it was one of the most important books ever written. I’ve even made the claim to friends that it’s “better than all Dylan and all Shakespeare.” Why? Because he shows us a way out. The book validated my suspicions about our culture: humanity was not meant to live this way and has been led astray by a flawed mythology. A lie.

Quinn reminds us with history, science, anthropology, archaeology, paleontology, mythology, philosophy and religion, that we are of the earth. We are nature. And to live apart from “the laws of nature” is a means to an end. A means to The End. The end of us all.

I dove headlong into his other books: The Story of B, My Ishmael, Beyond Civilization. “This makes so much sense!” Our culture has built itself up to believe that man was born a civilization builder. An Earth eater. Humanity has bought into a myth that the world belongs to us, was made for us. We are held captive by the very notion that we are a chosen species; that the world is ours for the taking, assuming “the power of the gods.”

Of course this absurd premise, this myth, is precipitating our demise. Maybe civilization isn’t the pinnacle of man’s achievement but rather a sick distraction. I wrote a song to explore Quinn’s vision of something better, something sustainable, in balance, waiting for us, Beyond Civilization.

What It All Is

I had been thinking about statues and symbols exalted in our culture, monuments in celebration of “Modern Man.” Colonizers. War heroes. Tributes to “Takers.” How can we expect to evolve into a peaceful society when our public monuments are in celebration of conquerors; those who triumph over “the other,” raze the land, and pillage “the wild?” I wrote What It All Is as a sonic monument to clean water, indigenous wisdom, sustainability, peace, and the magic of nature.

Out in the forest there’s a beautiful chorus
Teemin’ from every tree
And it’s all been here far longer that you
It’ll all be here long after me
Time is a weapon, time is yr best friend, time is what you make of it
Time made nature, made every last creature
I can’t stand by idly while we’re breakin’ it

How long, babe, do we go on living like this?
How long, babe, til we realize what it all is?

If You Could Hear Me Now

Greed and debauchery have displaced all semblances of love and decency in the name of a shallow, short-sighted nationalism. I recognize that this cultural divide stretches back many thousands of years prior to the election of the 45th president, to a time when man declared himself CEO of all living things. But this pageantry, this elevation of our basest attributes to the world’s highest stage, well even I couldn’t help but get swallowed up by the despicable and grotesque disconnect with not only nature, but with our good nature. Do they hear us? Do you hear me? Is there decency left? And if so, can it gain traction? Can it go mainstream? Can common sense prevail? Is there even a common sense? Are we this far gone? A quiet moment at my kitchen table is where this inner anguish spilled out and, through the magic of song, was preserved in the air and on the page as If You Could Hear Me Now.

If you could hear me now if you could hear me somehow
If you could hear the words that i’m thinkin’
‘Bout a world on fire
Good thoughts lost in the mire
And it seems like no one’s listenin’

Radio Signal

The day of the 2017 Charlottesville riot I got a text from our friend, Vern, reading: “PLEASE for the song that kills fascists.” Radio Signal was written in the next 10 minutes. Where is the hope in our twisted culture? Bob Dylan says it’s in the wind. Daniel Quinn described a sacred “blaze of life” that connects all things. Pete Seeger showed us the power of many people making small contributions: “the tea-spoon brigade.” Each verse of Radio Signal is a nod to one of those three great teachers, melodically informed by the beautiful old folk song Shenandoah and transformed into the anthemic rock song we share with you today.

To the bird up there in the air
All my cares are up there with you
And your soul is everywhere

To explain this, I cannot begin to

And I roll, and I roll
Down the back roads of my soul
Lookin for light like a radio signal

There’s a town down by the end of the road
And some people trapped there in it
I guess they were never told
To start a journey you must first begin it

And I roll . . .


(Radio Signal, What It All Is, If You Could Hear Me Now, Beyond Civilization)

Have you read Daniel Quinn? I believe his books may be some of the most important ever written. Before I found him I wasn’t even aware his perspective existed. It was like finding the seventh side of a cube.

It’s a story about humility. And captivity. About finding the way out. It’s about hope and science and history and culture. It’s logic. It’s the past is the future and the future waits behind us. It’s sustainability as our greatest ability. It’s not because we were told to but because we know to. It’s a story about balance. It’s a story about changed minds. Of thousands of cultures spanning eons. And community. And humankind.  And the community of all living things. Our way is not the only way to live.

It’s a story about breaking free. It’s a story about seeing. And how to precipitate a cultural sea change.

“Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to change the world. Apply in person.” So reads the opening paragraph of Quinn’s flagship novel, Ishmael.

When after writing Ishmael Quinn found that many people still had many questions, well he went back to work with The Story of B (spoiler: B stands for blaspheme), My Ishmael (The lessons of Ishmael geared for younger students) and Beyond Civilization (some examples of what a new society might look like.)

Radio Signal, What It All Is, If You Could Hear Me Now, Beyond Civilization: all of these were deeply inspired by Daniel Quinn. Beyond Civilization is literally the title of one of his books.

I adore his words. They’ve validated my severe misgivings about the current way of things and filled me with hope that we may yet navigate a way out of the mess we’re in. With stories. By unlearning modern myths and re-contextualizing ancient ones we may yet find a way to live in accordance with the laws of nature, in tune with indigenous wisdom and ultimately, Beyond Civilization.

~ Mike Merenda – The Mammals

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