Last month, I engaged in dialogue with Stuart Davis, a contemporary American musician, actor, and stand-up comic. With over 10 full-length music albums to his credit, including the brand new Music for Mortals, Davis has bravely brought depth and spirituality into popular culture — including the topics of God, sex and death — crafting them into lyrical and memorable pop songs.
This is the first of a three-part series of posts. In this section of the interview, I speak with Stuart about the topics of the future of Integral, spirituality, celebrities and popular culture.
Part 1: The Future of Art and Integral
(or: What if Kim Kardashian Endorsed World Spirituality Tomorrow?)
Joe Perez: As an introduction to this interview, let me say that I did a board retreat for the Center for World Spirituality last month [February] and met a couple of dozen of people contributing to World Spirituality in different fields working in this area that nobody even knows about. The more I am exposed to that, I think, there really seems to be something bubbling up in the world right now. And then there is the article by Terri [Patten] and Marco [Morelli], “Occupy Integral!” that people are talking about… Did you read that?
Stuart Davis: I think I did read that, a couple weeks ago.
Joe: Their basic idea being that there is something about Integral that hasn’t completely entered the cultural consciousness yet, and so there’s a discussion around what needs to happen, where are we at, what is this moment, and how can we best rise to the potential of the moment. What’s your take on all that, Stuart?
Stuart: I couldn’t agree more for starters. To go back to the initial, for me when this first started, the passion about integral entering the public consciousness at large, however you want to frame that, let’s say crossing over the threshold into something that’s bigger than our own private club, whatever that means in different domains. When I first encountered Integral, I encountered something that many people probably do, and I didn’t realize what it was. But when you get that initial hit of Integral and you begin to crackle alive in that regard, you have this sense, almost tactile, not just an idea or a promise, but you can feel it in your gut. And that promise is Integral taking its place and inhabiting its portion of the body of humanity, growing, being a truly emergent, novel dimension coming to life. And we all sense that.
And what I think has been interesting to navigate and process is that when I first felt that, I felt it was just a few years away. I felt it was just a few years away. It was 1998. When I first read Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality and first met Ken [Wilber]. I just had this certitude that it was pregnant, that we were giving birth, and it felt to me that the baby was crowning. Right, so I began, much in the fashion that people who think the apocalypse is coming, and that’s been going on for centuries, I began to prepare and anticipate and behave and conduct myself as though that promise was emergent and it wouldn’t be long, it would be just a few years, that you could turn on the NBC, or feel it coming from the White House, that it was going to enter into every domain.
I was really intoxicated for many years, and I was really wrong about a lot of timelines. I’ve felt the same certitude that I felt back then. It’s either inevitable because we’re talking about human development here. Either this is coming down the pipeline… or there won’t be humans around. Because we’ve never seen humans not develop. But on the other hand I will fully admit that I was really wrong about the timeline, what it was going to take, and specifically in the realm I can speak most precisely from, which is entertainment, because where I work is movies and film, television and books. I felt an immediacy that has turned out to be much more difficult. This inevitable process occurring I way underestimated in the people that I work with. I would say the way that I feel about it is that: Yes, I read that article and I have felt ever since day one that it’s occurring and I would qualify it by saying I’ve also been wrong about the timeline and how hard it would be. “Hard” in quotes. It’s a beautiful difficulty. It’s tough.
Joe: I was reading an article recently about youth today – specifically 18-to-19-year-olds. They’re less political, less concerned about the environment, and they’re turned off by organized religion, thinking it’s become very judgmental. But what’s most interesting in what I noticed is in what they ARE engaged with. If young people are to be recruited into politics, they said, it will be from selective use of entertainment media, celebrities, Facebook, Twitter and mobile technologies with forms of participation limited in their duration, sophistication, and intensity. You’re closer to this than I am. Do you think entertainment, celebrities, and social media can help to reengage youth into a developmental path?
Stuart: What a great question. That brings to mind the pop song. That has been my experience with the pop song since day one. The greatest triggers and invitations I have experienced have come through these brief, concise, but potent pop song type piece of pop art. Some of them literally pop songs. I have had moments of mystical insights that were unrivaled, more effective than anything I learned in church … Does that mean that pop songs are more effective, or is it just my typology, or something about how I’m put together? I do think that there is in a deeper place, my conviction is that art existed before organized and conventional religion, and it will exist after.
To me, art and the creative impulse and the way that it comes alive in us is primary and more enduring than some of the structures that will come and go. I don’t think religion is on the way out in the next century or two. Maybe a few millennia if we’re still around. I believe art will always endure. I personally find art much — even if it’s a three-minute pop song — I find it to be a more gratifying and effective channel for me to connect with the Mystery and with the Spirit. So definitely pop music is my Church. … So that’s my yes to that kind of thing. Yes, kids, three-minute pop-songs, stand-up comedy, television shows, movies. I have always felt personally that they’re more effective, meaningful on the whole than sitting in a pew for an hour and a half or whatever than the things that kids think are antiquated…
But the other half of this is that… I have miscalculated many times. I have predicted and anticipated that there would be some sweeping movement that would come up through these artistic domains (television and film and music), and I have seen a tension – not a contradiction — that it something I don’t know how it’s going to solve itself. I know on the one hand people like you and Saul Williams, I know so many creative, deeply insightful, awakened people working and making amazing profound work that has transformed my life. I feel that going on in the culture. It’s coming to life. It’s got a very significant presence. I believe it will exponentially increase. But on the other hand, getting it to the mainstream, a larger populace, has not occurred. And I don’t know why.
It’s very curious to me especially as someone who sits in meetings with television networks and film studios and who has worked for years in Hollywood working passionately to cultivate this in a larger audience and it hasn’t happened yet. The reasons it hasn’t happened have been fascinating to me. I’m still learning about that. It’s a tough one. Sometimes I’m left… I had a bit of a dark night of the soul actually last year, which is partly what about when my album came out of. I’m divided about it. What those kids seem to be saying, I sign on with that. I think a couple thousand years from now art and creativity will be a bigger part of the body of spirituality and religion than sitting in buildings, the way things are today … but it’s very mysterious how things unfold. The culture doesn’t know about these artists yet. You can’t even test and determine –
One of the things I keep coming up against in television: executives are capable of perceiving that there are tens of millions of people who are hungry for things they’re not getting. I know I’m one of them. I wish there were more movies that came from a depth and a span and were more entertaining from a place of substance and mystery. I feel that about television, film, and music. I want more of that. If they make more, I will buy it. People look at that and know it exists. And then they look to the creative side, and when people come to them with those projects, they get very paranoid about putting them into development and actually making them because the risk to their job, the unpredictability of betting on something that doesn’t exist, that hurdle is one that is very difficult to get over. Not just for me. The abortion rate of those projects in those industries is multiples higher than the average death rate.
Joe: Still on the same topic… A couple of months ago I heard about this young guy, 28 years old, his name is Mastin Kipp. He has a new age, daily positive thinking Facebook page and Twitter. He had next to nothing. And then he somehow got a celebrity, Kim Kardashian, to tweet about him, and the next day he had 10,000 readers, and pretty soon that turned into 50,000 and 100,000, and so forth, and a couple of years later he finds himself listed on a list of the 100 most spiritually influential people in the world. I’m sure it took a ton of hard work on his part, but it all started with a tweet by Kim Kardashian.
This is the world we live in. Lady Gaga just hit 49,531,259 Facebook likes. One endorsement from a celebrity like Lady Gaga to her fans related to the Integral world – it’s going to be mocked by those people who think the scene is all about chasing celebrities all because some celebrities gave interviews with Ken Wilber a couple of years ago (there’s always those people out there who will say you’re not serious if you’re dealing with pop culture). But let’s push that aside. What’s the possibility of getting that attention? It ought to be exciting to people. It ought to be able to generate some juice. Don’t you think?
Stuart: I think that’s such a great point. Not only will it get mocked, but it will be derided and set this avalanche into play. The haters will come in, etc. But the truth about is: you know this as a creative person who has anchored your work in depth and substance is that you can’t do anything. There’s nothing you can do, even a celebrity on reality TV, and people will attack you for that. Or you can be Ken Wilber. Pick anyone who made anything and put themselves out there and they’re attacked. That’s inevitable; it doesn’t have anything to do with Integral. It has to do with making something in the world. When you get Julia Ormond or Sharon Stone or Larry Wachowski, the celebrities who have come into Integral and worked with Ken, that has triggered this allergy. But it’s not unique with integral. I have seen over and over again artists or figures who have worked with great loyalty to the Mystery for years and years, loyal to the creative impulse. Nothing has changed about that work, but it becomes successful, and the people who supported them now resent them.
I think people want to keep the party small, they don’t want it to be popular. It’s not cool anymore. It’s a sndyndrome. What I’ve always loved about Integral, is its impulse to include and inhabit more. As long as this is our private tree club up in the mountain, it’s irrelevant. If Love is what we’re really loyal to, there’s no way in good conscience we can withhold our work and our presence from trying to enter into the largest part of humanity. If your loyalty is to Love, not only can you not withhold that, you have to pursue that with the greatest diligence.
That being said, I think it is difficult. It is my experience every day that it’s confusing and problematic waking up knowing that (a) under the loyalty to Love and that principle, you have to dedicate yourself to try to introduce and engage with as many humans as possible – television and film in my case — and (b) trying to not to get sticky, desperate, or nedy or greedy about that. It’s very tough. The ambition and drive to bring your Dharma to life in this lifetime will always comingle and magnetize the negative inversions which are greed, neediness, stickiness. I’ve never figured out a way to cleanly divide those and cleanly divided and separated. Every morning I wake up and go through it again. I address those questions a dozen times a day. I don’t anticipate it will ever go away. But it doesn’t mean you can stop working for Love.
I think celebrities… When I see Sharon Stone or a Larry Wachowski or whoever and I hear people deriding that, implying that it’s going to be the death of Integral or the death of our integrity, it’s really confusing to me. I don’t know Sharon Stone from a hole in the ground, but I know she showed up in our community and wanted to focus attention on that work, that’s all I really know. And that’s fucking incredible. … and that’s beautiful. And we need so much more of that.
Stay tuned for more… in Part 2 (coming soon), Stuart and Joe discuss the topic of “beautiful people” and more.