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John McLaughlin on the Mystery of Creativity, Inspiration, & Music

Alan Bryson By

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AAJ: It's like what Alan Watts said about psychedelics, once you get the message hang up the phone.

JM There you're talking about one of my heroes. What a wonderful man he was. There are so many lovely people who were around, who are around, and these people have got that inspiration. Whether they put it down in writing, or in lecture—as a matter of fact I was listening to one of Alan Watts lectures today on my iphone!

AAJ: How about that!

JM Yes how 'bout that. Here's a man who lives in a lovely state of higher consciousness where he's able to articulate with lucidity, with words! —which is really difficult! Music is a note which cannot be misunderstood, but words can be very easily misunderstood, so we have another kind of access to the mind and the heart. I have such admiration and affection for people like Alan Watts who just through the power of words are able to alter my state of awareness and consciousness. This is marvelous isn't it?

AAJ: I have to pay homage to musicians, because I think you communicate universally. You go all over the world, in the coming months you're going to be in Bangladesh, Indonesian, Thailand, and people might not be able to speak the same language you do, but you're able to go there and communicate with people.

If I think of a song like the "Gaza City" on this album, you're able convey a feeling without words—that really says a lot, people just need to listen to it and they understand.

JM Yes "Gaza City" you've already made the allusion—I've been to Palestine twice and done two charity concerts, because you can't make any money there. The invasion and bombardment upset me, and still upsets me to this day. We're all connected and whatever I do it has its maxi effect or its infinitesimal effect, that's not my problem. I can only be who I am.

Talking about countries who don't even speak the same language, this is music, and everybody speaks music. Everybody instinctively understands music, the emotions that are expressed in music. They are the fundamental, you scratch any human being and we're all the same. We're all the same, we're all connected, and we always have been. The great thing about music is that people speak it, and they understand it. They may be a little confused in the beginning by a particular form or a particular way, but very quickly they understand.

I think it is a great error to underestimate the capacity of the average audience, or average person to appreciate music on a very profound level. Perhaps some haven't been exposed to profound thoughts, but deep inside they are profound. They just need to be exposed to something that will evoke something in them, whether it be for good or for whatever, but I've been absolutely convinced that music is a power for good, it just brings happiness or joy, or tears, and that's fine too. It's the great unifying power and I'm just delighted to be part of it.

AAJ: It's such a gift to humanity. Imagine a world without music, it would be so empty.

JM Absolutely, absolutely. That reminds me, on the album there is a little tune for Paco (De Lucia), whom I miss so much. But this particular tune was for a duo album we were to do next year. I had spoken with him just before he passed, we had a number of compositions ready to record, and this was one that he was particularly fond of. So I felt I just had to record this piece, I changed the title to "El Hombre Que Sabia" because we lost him, but he'll live forever in my heart.

The good news is I just finished the mix of a concert that Paco and I did together in 1987 in Montreux, Switzerland. After 28 years I've convinced these people to release it. It's wonderful, from 28 years ago!

AAJ: Wonderful, when will that come out?

JM It will be out early next year Alan, and I'm really thrilled about it. You know his son Curro has made a film about Paco, I don't know if you've heard about it, but you can probably find it on Amazon, and it's got some great footage on it. I think he missed the very funny side of Paco in the movie, but it was his dad, so maybe he didn't see him the way I did. But Paco was very witty, and very funny, he had a wacky sense of humor. We laughed through so many tours together. So there's some marvelous footage of Paco and his life

And there is another song on the Black Light album that is a kind of homage, "Here Come the Jiis." (see link to this song at the beginning of the interview) Ji is an Indian word, like when I'm in India people call me John Ji, it's an expression of respect and affection. That's why you see the title Panditji, that's what I would call Ravi Shankar, I didn't call him Pandit, that's an accolade of greatness, I would call him Panditji.

"Here Come the Jiis" refers directly to Mandolin Srinivas, who died at 45 years of age, dreadful. Every time we would meet, he would come with V. Selvaganesh, who is a percussionist, with whom I did a Konokkol educational DVD, how to master it, which is an indication of how important I consider Konokkol to be. It's actually quite easy once you know how.

Anyway, they both lived in Chennai, in Madras, and would travel together. So every time they would arrive together, it was, "Here come the Jiis!" I couldn't separate the two, but deep down personally it's for Srinivas. We played together for 14 years, so last year was a difficult year for me. So I just wanted you to know where that song came from.


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