It’s Meet the Author Monday! Each week we meet a new author and get to know a little about them, their writing process, publishing experience, and tips for other writers. Today we’re talking to Christopher Hill, author of Into the Mystic: The Visionary and Ecstatic Roots of 1960s Rock and Roll and Holidays and Holy Nights: Celebrating Twelve Seasonal Festivals of the Christian Year.
About Christopher Hill:
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. I currently live in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m married with two grown children. My day jobs have mostly been in advertising, editing and journalism. As I worked at them I developed a sort of second career as a critic, essayist and author. I started out writing about rock and roll music, and my first publications were in the Illinois Entertainer, the Chicago Reader and Rolling Stone’s Record Magazine. Record Magazine was my break into writing for a national audience and I got it by writing a review on spec of U2’s October and sending it to the editor listed on the masthead. I eventually also made it on to the masthead as a contributing editor. Some of my work was anthologized in the book, The Rolling Stone Record Review. I became a regular contributor on pop music for The Chicago Reader and Spin Magazine. I’ve been able to expand beyond music writing in places like Summit: The Mountain Journal and Deep Roots Magazine and in my first book, Holidays and Holy Nights, which began as an expansion of columns I wrote as the communications director for the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee. I returned to music with my most recent book, Into the Mystic, because I had a big thesis about 1960s music and I wanted to see how far it would stretch. I’m currently working on a book about the entanglement, since age 10, of my life with the movie Lawrence of Arabia.
Explores the visionary, mystical, and ecstatic traditions that influenced the music of the 1960s
• Examines the visionary, spiritual, and mystical influences on the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, the Incredible String Band, the Left Banke, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, and others
• Shows how the British Invasion acted as the “detonator” to explode visionary music into the mainstream
• Explains how 1960s rock and roll music transformed consciousness on both the individual and collective levels
The 1960s were a time of huge transformation, sustained and amplified by the music of that era: Rock and Roll. During the 19th and 20th centuries visionary and esoteric spiritual traditions influenced first literature, then film. In the 1960s they entered the realm of popular music, catalyzing the ecstatic experiences that empowered a generation.
Exploring how 1960s rock and roll music became a school of visionary art, Christopher Hill shows how music raised consciousness on both the individual and collective levels to bring about a transformation of the planet. The author traces how rock and roll rose from the sacred music of the African Diaspora, harnessing its ecstatic power for evoking spiritual experiences through music. He shows how the British Invasion, beginning with the Beatles in the early 1960s, acted as the “detonator” to explode visionary music into the mainstream. He explains how 60s rock and roll made a direct appeal to the imaginations of young people, giving them a larger set of reference points around which to understand life. Exploring the sources 1960s musicians drew upon to evoke the initiatory experience, he reveals the influence of European folk traditions, medieval Troubadours, and a lost American history of ecstatic politics and shows how a revival of the ancient use of psychedelic substances was the strongest agent of change, causing the ecstatic, mythic, and sacred to enter the consciousness of a generation.
The author examines the mythic narratives that underscored the work of the Grateful Dead, the French symbolist poets who inspired Bob Dylan, the hallucinatory England of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, the tale of the Rolling Stones and the Lord of Misrule, Van Morrison’s astral journeys, and the dark mysticism of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Evoking the visionary and apocalyptic atmosphere in which the music of the 1960s was received, the author helps each of us to better understand this transformative era and its mystical roots.
Author Interview with Christopher Hill:
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- What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I was in London a couple of years ago and I visited William Blake’s new stone in Bunhill Fields cemetery. (They finally identified where his remains actually were.) It says:
Here lies William Blake
Poet Artist Prophet
I give you the end of a golden string
Only wind it into a ball
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.
- What are common traps for aspiring writers?
The imaginary over-the-shoulder critic. It’s crucial that you train yourself to stop listening to that person. You’ll make much more rapid progress as a writer.
- Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
It helps a lot if you really believe in the value of what you have to say. This can help keep you going through things like disappointing sales numbers.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
On travel, especially outside the USA and if you can outside the western world. It really does kind of work like a psychedelic – it opens your mind and refreshes your interest in the world. The perspective that it gives you is invaluable and can destroy a headful of stale and stupid misconceptions with just a few minutes on the street.
- Favorite book as a child?
Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. I had no idea that a story could enthrall and entertain you like that. I think that the voice he fashioned to tell those stories is one of the great literary accomplishments. I still have the book my mother read to us from with fantastic illustrations by Kipling himself.
- Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
Yes. Writing almost never fails to connect me to a function of my mind that I wish I could access more in life outside of writing
- What period of your life do you find you write about most often?
Childhood and adolescence are the source that I draw from in almost all my writing. Most of the things I was interested in during that time I am still most interested in today. Children have very clear vision which you will probably never recapture except in the most fleeting moments as an adult.
- What inspired you to start writing?
I was surrounded by great stories as a kid that gave me the impression that there was some sort of exciting mystery about life. The writers did this through the magical use of language. So I was also surrounded by magical language. It became a second native tongue to me. I was an English major in college because I hoped that I would gain more knowledge of that mystery. It partly worked. When I got out of school, it just seemed natural and obvious that I should pass that feeling along. I knew that you could do that through writing or through music. I was not trained in music, so I wrote, and it seemed like I could actually achieve some of what I was trying for. I was fortunate to receive some early encouragement along the way. So I kept at it.
- What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?
Be brave. You’ll never regret a risky decision you make (in writing at least) and you’ll surprise yourself.
- How do you handle writer’s block?
I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced it. I find if I really feel uninspired, if I can make myself keep writing and not get totally defeated by how flat, dumb and uninspiring my writing seems at that point, I can usually write through it.
- What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?
Success (for a nonfiction writer) means that you are having an effect on the general conversation and thinking about your subject.
- Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
Yes. A book about the entanglement of my life with the movie Lawrence of Arabia.
- What are you reading now?
Mirage: Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt by Nina Burleigh
- What is your favorite quote?
A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments.
TS Eliot “Little Gidding”
- What was your favorite book when you were a kid?
I really liked Carbonel: King of the Cats
To learn more about Christopher Hill, here’s where you can find him:
- Website: christopherhillbooks.weebly.com