The Reverend Dorian Baxter, a.k.a. Elvis Priestley
The Rock ‘n Role Model Interview: Part One
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, a.k.a. Dr. B.L.T.
Featuring questions by supporting authors:
Evelyn D. Velasco, Jasmine Young, Gordon Hartman
Of Chapman University, Sacramento and
Holly Macho, Vikki Lopez, and Cheli Shelmire
Of Chapman University, Travis Air Force Base
The Reverend Dorian Baxter is to Elvis what Ron Gross is to Socrates. Ron Gross, who often sports a toga and a pair of Socratic sandals, is a human bridge from Greek philosophy to contemporary, vital, philosophical dialogue. Dorian Baxter, an Anglican minister and Elvis impressionist who often sports the trademark Elvis jumpsuit, is a human bridge from religious tradition to contemporary, vital religious expression. Each has adopted a distinctive persona or archetypal character in order to bring their teachings and their philosophies of life to life.
Both men, through their scholarly merits and protean personal accomplishments have earned the right to perch themselves in an ivory tower and make lofty pronouncements. Instead, to borrow the song title of a classic Doobie Brothers tune, they are “Takin’ it To the Streets.”
Though he may strike some as a desultory madman, Ron Gross is the author of at least 20 scholarly books, including his latest, “Socrates’ Way: Seven Master Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost.” Dressed as Socrates, the tortured philosopher who spawned Plato, arguably the greatest philosopher of all times, Gross travels across the country, reviving Socratic discussions of self-knowledge, the essence of truth, questioning and openly challenging authority, and the virtue and merit associated with the pursuit of universal principles.
Rather than engaging in recondite Socratic dialogues about the merits of questioning authority, however, Reverend Baxter, a Toronto-based minister, is questioning and challenging that very authority on an even more active level; through his unapologetic adoption and incorporation of the personality and music of Elvis Presley into his gospel message. And though he has not yet been forced to ingest poison (a fate Socrates is said to have faced with unutterable courage), he has had his “Blue Suede Shoes” stepped long enough and hard enough to understand the laws of cause and effect in very real terms.
I learned of Reverend Baxter, a.k.a. Elvis Priestley, in an article by Janet Kornblum that appeared in a recent edition of USA Today. His message, combined with his rather unorthodox method of delivery, immediately struck me as vigorously dynamic. Although I soon became aware that I was standing in the same line for a prospective Priestley interview as representatives of NBC, People Magazine, and hundreds of major newspapers throughout the world, Priestley accepted my call and the Rock ‘n Role Model interview for Phantom Tollbooth was set up. Due to his burgeoning celebrity status, I pictured being hung up on or treated like the unknown, obscure writer that I am. Much to my surprise, he did not hang up and I would not have to hang out at Heartbreak Hotel. But until he sang a few lines of his “altar’d” cover of Blue Suede Shoes well into the interview, his British accent, charm, playful wit, and cultured, polite manner fooled me into thinking I was speaking with the renowned actor Michael Cane. I was also fooled when he began singing. I could have sworn it was Presley, not Priestley. The verisimilitude was uncanny.
As an ardent adherent of the Christian existentialist philosophy of Paul Tillich, I am more than disinclined to subscribe to the notion of reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul—a centerpiece of the Dion-Orphic religion of pre-civilized society. Although this doctrine was “reincarnated” in ancient Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plato and even rears its recurrent head in modern philosophers like Schopenhauer and J.M.E. Taggart, I, like the apostle Paul and Paul Tillich, my contemporary, believe there are only two births; one physical, and one spiritual. Yet as strongly entrenched in my faith as I feel that I am, at the moment Priestley sang, I was strangely drawn towards the transmigration notion, if only for a moment. Forgive me, Lord! Though ultimately I did not lose my religion, the temptation to become like one of the medieval Cathari or Gnostic heretics of the Christian faith grew as Priestley spoke and I found myself enraptured by the profound and mysterious ways in which God was so conspicuously working in his life. The thought of burning at the stake or being stoned to death brought me back in line with a more orthodox view. After all, I’ve always wanted to disabuse Bob Dylan of the notion that “Everybody Must Get Stoned.”
But if there ever was a “Once Blind, Twice Born” man as capable and as divinely appointed to reawaken the slumbering scores of saints from their spiritual slumber, it was, and is, the Reverend Dorian Baxter, a.k.a. Elvis Priestley. Elvis Presley may have called for “A Little Less Conversation,” but this Rock ‘n Role Model interview/encounter called for just a little bit more. Listen in and you’ll understand why.
Dr. B.L.T.: Good evening Reverend Baxter, do you mind if I call you Elvis?
No, I would be delighted if you would do that. It would be an honor.
Dr. B.L.T.: O.K. First of all, I’d like to congratulate you on being officially inducted into the Rock ‘n Role Model Hall of Flame.
Elvis: Oh, my goodness!
Dr. B.L.T.: Yes, well, let me take a moment to explain what that’s all about.
Dr. B.L.T.: Well, it’s a tradition that started with the first interviewee, Barry McGuire. In order to be approached about being one of my interviewees, you must have exhibited signs that you are a true Rock ‘n Role Model. A Rock ‘n Role Model is someone who can be looked up to as a role model for making a significant positive contribution to popular culture and for using music as an artistic catalyst for ameliorating human suffering. In short, it is someone who is making the world a better place through music or another worthy form of expression. You’ve been identified as such a person.
Elvis: My goodness, well, I’m very honored.
Dr. B.L.T.: Yes, and now you ready to accept the torch?
Elvis: I am.
Dr. B.L.T.: O.K. Great, I will also be sending you a certificate that formally documents your official status as a Hall of Flame inductee.
Dr. B.L.T.: Now, going back to our analogy of fire, students in my History and Systems of Psychology class at Chapman University in Sacramento, several of whom contributed to this interview with questions of their own, recently studied a pre-Socratic philosopher by the name of Heraclitus. If Heraclitus, a profoundly influential pre-Socratic philosopher were alive today, his favorite song would undoubtedly be “Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love,” for he believed that everything in the universe, including love, was made up of fire. My first question to you is this: How do you reconcile your burning passion for the music and archetype of Elvis Presley, The King of Rock ‘n Roll with your passion for serving the King of Kings?
Elvis: It has actually been a very, very obvious and a good connection, because whenever I read about Elvis as a young boy, I very seldom read anything where he didn’t mention God or Jesus Christ. That was the main reason that he enjoyed the success that he was enjoying. I was particularly moved as a young boy of nine when I read in a magazine where he spoke of God’s hands touching him and lifting him into this wonderful, wonderful realm of popularity and this tidal wave of success. But never once did he say that it was him who had done it. And so I think that for me, it was a very, very natural connection because Elvis always gave credit to the Lord Jesus Christ.
And I think the incident involving the show in Vegas where they sent out the dancing girls and they all had the flashing letters that spelled out Elvis, You’re the King is very telling. In his gentle and inimitable way, he stopped the whole procedure. He thanked them in his own way for the sentiments by which they were actuated, and then he said, “Now I would ask, “Please, don’t ever call me The King again.” He said, “There is one king, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.” And I have found in sharing these things with the general public, that they’re not only moved, but many of them are drawn into the gospel of Jesus Christ because of Elvis.
Dr. B.L.T.: Well, that’s really fascinating. It’s something I was truly unaware of.
Elvis: Yes, and I think that something of significance to me was the conversation I had with Rick Stanley, who of course, is Elvis’s stepbrother, and Rick was part of the Memphis mafia so to speak. Rick told me that Elvis was so generous that he gave away way too much money to the members of his entourage and a number of them, including Rick, abused the money by getting involved with elicit drugs. Now, Elvis never touched elicit drugs and was totally against them, but he was, ironically, hopelessly addicted to prescription drugs and the night he died, he came home and Rick was there. Rick told me that Elvis could tell that he, Rick, was high on cocaine, and Elvis looked up at Rick, and these were the words Rick told me that Elvis spoke: Elvis looked into Rick’s eyes and said, “Rick, I cannot preach to you.” He said “Look at me.” And in those days, at that time Elvis’s body was shutting down. People thought he was fat, but in fact it was the retention of fluids that was involved.
He said, “Look at what I’ve allowed Satan, the devil, to do to me. My only hope now is the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said as he pointed up to the sky. Then he took his finger, and he pushed it into Rick’s chest and said, “Rick, you have to get off that cocaine. Jesus Christ is your only real hope too.” Then he turned, lumbered up stairs and Rick said that four hours later he heard a thud, and he found Elvis dead. And he said he was so devastated he wanted to give up the cocaine for Elvis’s sake, yet he just couldn’t. And six months later he was ready to end his life, and he didn’t tell me how, but he said that just before he was ready to do what he was going to do to end his life, he hollered, not audibly, but in the still, small voice within him, he heard Elvis’s voice repeating itself over in his mind, “Rick, you have to get off that cocaine. Jesus Christ is your only real hope.” He fell on his knees, cried out to Jesus to deliver him, does not even remember how he got home apparently, but the desire for cocaine was gone. And the amazing thing about Rick was his gratitude was so high that he went back to school for three years, got his B.A.; went back to school for another three years and got a Masters of Divinity like I have. He was ordained I believe with the Assemblies of God, and Rick Stanley, by his own admission, has led hundreds of thousands to the Lord Jesus Christ because of Elvis.
Dr. B.L.T. Wow, that’s really a beautiful ending to the story! That brings me to my next question. Heraclitus believed the universe to be made up of fire because, in his view, everything is in a state of constant flux. Kind of like that David Bowie song, “Changes.” Everything is relative in Heraclitus’s world. How about you? In your worldview, or weltenshuaung as it is known in certain elitist, snobbish circles, is there any room for absolutes, or is everything relative?
Elvis: Well, I think that I tend to be extremely Pauline (referring to the teachings of the apostle Paul) in my philosophy and in my theology, largely because the Anglican Church that I was christened and confirmed in was extremely Pauline. I had the honor of being confirmed and baptized by the first black Bishop on Mombasa Island in Kenya and this Bishop was so passionately committed to the Lord Jesus Christ that one could not help but be affected by this magnificant man’s faith. I think that he got started in my Pauline view of things and that has continued. I tend to believe strongly in the scripture in Ephesians chapter six, verses 10-16 about putting on the whole armor of God, and the conclusion of that scripture says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and against virtual wickedness in high places, wherefore we take the whole armor of God unto us.” And I guess for me, there is this dualism: There is the power of goodness, which is far stronger than any evil, but because of the propensity and the tendency of mankind towards evil, there appears to be an uneven struggle going on.
I think that this whole view is summed up best in a story that was once told to me of a Native-Canadian Indian gentleman who was six-foot-five and had been the local terror in the bars and had beat many people up, and a young minister was sent up into that part of the province. The minister felt that he must go to this individual’s house and at least tell him about Jesus. And he knocked on the door, and this man came to the door with a baseball bat and so terrorized him, that he retreated rapidly, jumped in his car and drove away.
But each week the minister felt constrained to try again and as he would do that, the outcome would repeat itself, and this is a story based on true facts. He got to the point where he would knock on the door out of obedience for what he felt God was telling him to do, but he would immediately run, and jump in the car. And as he would run and jump into the car, he realized that there was nobody chasing him anymore. And there was this large, Native-Canadian-Indian gentleman, who looked very rugged and rough and hair all over the place, and he was beckoning the minister into his house. Now the minister had a problem. Did he dare trust him? He didn’t know. But, trusting the Lord, he went in and, wonder of wonders, this gentleman did find Christ through the minister. And the story goes that, in fact, the minister, about a year later was posted elsewhere, and tried to keep in touch with the Native gentleman, but the Native gentleman did not reply to any of the letters. So two years later, he flew back in to the Parish and the first person who wanted to visit him was this Native gentleman who gave his life to Christ. They found each other and they hugged one another and the minister asked, “Now how is your Christian walk? How is your life with the Lord?” And the large, Native-American man put his head in his hands and waited for the longest time and he looked up and said to the minister, “I have discovered,” he said, “that in my heart are two dogs fighting for control of my life. One is a dog of darkness, and it represents my old nature before I found Christ. The other is a dog of light. It represents my new life in the Lord Jesus Christ. And he said those dogs are locked into mortal combat every day.” Then the minister said, “Tell me, which dog is winning.” And there was a long pause, and the native gentleman looked up again and said, “It depends on which dog I feed the most.”
I find that this sums it up for me because we are, I believe, locked in war of cosmic proportions in this universe. My feeling is that we must take unto ourselves the whole armor of God. We must be ready to share the gospel and to stand up for what is good, and right, and decent in the eyes of the Lord.
Dr. B.L.T.: Well, you know Freud was very much in tune with that inner conflict. He talked about Thanatos, which was the death instinct, and Eros, which was the life instinct. Those are Greek terms that he used in developing his theory. But Freud rejected Christianity. He believed that religion was for the weak. It ultimately worked to his disadvantage, and that’s a gross understatement. So he was very much in tune with the nature of the conflict, but he did not have access to the light to wholly illuminate him and to lead him into all truth. He was able to discover some very important psychological truths, but he was unable to go beyond a certain level because of his closed mind as it pertained to spirituality.
Yet when you followed this path, a certain orthodox core within the Anglican Church rejected you. Isn’t that right?
Elvis: Well, actually, there was really only two, and then that did spread to the college of Bishops in Toronto, but what I used to say, in keeping with the thrust of what we’re speaking of here, is that I have and always have had a high view and a very strong view of holy scripture. As you know, Paul says, in scripture, that “I have become all things so that I may lead some to the glory of the gospel of Christ.” And to me, I suppose with tongue and cheek to some degree, I have said, “Well, if that involves, for me, becoming this Elvis Priestley persona, then so be it.”
Dr. B.L.T.: Why do you think that is certain religious communities, they seem to be more reluctant than in artistic communities, to accept such forms of expression?
Elvis: That’s a good point. I recently had the distinct honor of being asked by a Christian production company to audition for and later play the part of William Booth in an audio drama of his life. As you may know, William Booth founded the Salvation Army.
Dr. B.L.T.: Yes.
Elvis: Well that project was just completed and the CDs—there are three—were just released about two weeks ago. And by playing the part, I found that there were a number of opportunities to really get into the mind of William Booth. Linking that with what you’re saying though, I came across an interesting discovery in a discussion with the owner of the production company behind the project. He was also behind the production of a particular Bible study for groups do use in conjunction with CDs. After the Bible study was over, he asked the group, “What would be a modern version of what Booth was doing when he went out and rented a dance hall to have church meetings in?” Of course that sort of thing was unheard during Booth’s time. Now I guess the publicity had just broken across Canada and the U.S. about the church I had the honor and privilege of bringing into being, and low and beyond, they said, “This Elvis Priestley fellow—he would surely be a good example of that.” And at that point in the Bible study, none of them knew that the voice on the CDs was that of Elvis Priestley. Well then he broke the news to the group, and they broke into spontaneous applause. And they later invited me down as the keynote speaker. Now, these are dyed-in-the-wool gray-haired Salvation Army officers.
Dr. B.L.T.: Now that is very interesting and exciting.
Elvis: Yes, and what I also find interesting Bruce, is that the Salvation Army is documented in Graceland as being Elvis’s favorite charity.
Dr. B.L.T.: Is that right? Well, it all fits together, doesn’t it?
Dr. B.L.T.: Now Elvis, I’d like to go back to the notion of fire as an element that is constant only in its changes, I’d like to focus on three transforming stages in your life. The first was your birth. Where were you born and raised and how have your geographic origins and early childhood experiences shape the person you are today?
Elvis: I was born on the Muslim island of Mombasa in Kenya. It’s actually a British colony. I was born on the 3rd of April, 1950. I think being born out there was of great significance to the way I grew up because every two years, my father, who was the port engineer for all of East Africa, was re-numerated by the British government and the Kenya government at the same time. They paid for the whole family to go back every six months from Britain and I think that greatly broadened my perspective on life.
Dr. B.L.T.: Now I’d like to focus upon your conversion to Christianity. I know that you are a phenomenon I refer to in a song as “Once Blind, Twice Born.” How has your life changed since you were born again?
Elvis: That happened on June 5, 1972. It was a little boy in my grade four class. I was a school teacher. And his name was Paul, which is nice for me because I’ve always been very Pauline in my theology. The scripture tells us that “even a child shall lead them.” I was twenty-two years of age, and without going into all the detail, this young fellow invited me to church and within a period of time, I was challenged to read the scripture. In the scripture I found the evidence of the gospel of Christ that I determined to be irrefutable. The reason I identified so very clearly with the concept of being born again was… A number of our mainline denominations tend to shy away from that term, but it’s right in the Book of Common Prayer. It does speak of Christ leading us to the point of being born again. So even among the mainstream denominations, it is a very real part of the doctrine of Christianity. I think, for me, this involves coming to the realization that there is indeed a God and that God has revealed his will to mankind through his word which “became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Lord Jesus Christ, enables us this day to tap into that power, purpose and presence, through the through the third person of the trinity—the Holy Spirit. The realization of all of that is so magnificent—so life changing in terms of one’s perception that it is as if one were born again into an entirely different headspace. Suddenly death holds no terror, and life is bursting with meaning. No wonder Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.”
Dr. B.L.T.: Yes, that’s wonderful news. Now, finally, I’d like to focus on your third birth in a sense—your transformation into the persona of Elvis Priestly. How did that come about and how has it changed your life? What opportunities have come your way that might allow you to go further with your creative ministry?
Elvis: Well that did change my life to some degree as a young boy, because it gave me such a burning, burning desire, or interest in music. Prior to Elvis’s music, I had no interest in music really. I was five years of age and I was playing with a fire truck.
My father told me that the first time the music of Elvis heard in my home I dropped the fire truck and stood there mesmerized, starring into the hi-fi and just didn’t move until it was over. And I think what happened that day was that I met, in a very significant way, the power that can be transmitted through music. I asked my dad for an Elvis record and he gave me one, and from that point on, whenever I heard an Elvis song, I would try to sing like Elvis. And that has lasted until now, when I am 52. That’s been forty-seven years. The change that it brought to my life was very significant for me. Even though I wouldn’t become a Christian until age 22, my exposure to Elvis inculcated in me an appreciation for the raw goodness in life.
Now I know he wasn’t perfect, but I was deeply loyal to Elvis. I remember when I first arrived in Canada, trying to make money to put myself through college, I worked on a sod farm, and as we worked, we would play music. Other workers were into hard rock bands like Iron Butterfly and others, and I would play only Elvis. There was a lot of derision over my choice of music, but I would not let that deter me. I have always been loyal to Elvis. Even the Bishops’ criticism of me has not budged me an inch. It taught me to basically try and understand the nature of Elvis’s commitment to the Lord. Once I became a believer, I became overwhelmed with the depth, the height, and the breadth of Elvis’s spirituality. I hadn’t realized that he did as many gospel songs as he did rock ‘n roll and so when that happened, it was like everything just came together for me. I have had a few ups and downs in my life that I would have never come through if I had not had Elvis’s gospel music pounding away.
Dr. B.L.T.: And now, your incorporation of the Elvis persona into your ministry has led a lot of people to approach you with new and exciting opportunities.
Elvis: Yes. I have some remarkable developments now. I’ve been invited to be the Chaplain of Beale Street in Memphis. And they’re very sensitive to my needs as well. They said that they would fly me down every two weeks so I can come back up here to minister to the people at this wonderful church that we have here. We’re averaging between 250 and 300 people every Sunday. It’s the Church of Christ the King Graceland. The full name is Church of Christ the King Graceland Independent Anglican Church of Canada, but again, the name came out of Elvis’s response to those chorus girls—”There’s only one King and that king is Christ.”
Also, I’ve just learned that I will become the new Archbishop of York sometime in March.
Dr. B.L.T.: Congratulations! That’s remarkable. Yes, and I heard about you and your new church through the remarkable article in USA Today authored by Janet Kornblum. Since that time, you’ve also been approached by NBC?
Elvis: NBC just did a two-hour filming session.
Dr. B.L.T.: And you’ve been approached by People magazine?
Elvis: People magazine has done a significant article on me. They tell me that it will be released sometime within the next month. Then CBS will be doing a story at the end of this month and then Vision TV, a Canadian group, will be doing a documentary this coming Sunday. And last Sunday, along with NBC, the largest television company in Korea flew in a team of four videographers and they followed me nearly non-stop for 48 hours on Saturday and Sunday. They put together a truly remarkable video. They even followed me into the hospital where I sang to those in wheel chairs dressed in my Elvis jumpsuit to cheer up the sick and the dying.
Dr. B.L.T.: Excellent! We’ll really be looking forward to hearing and seeing more of you through those avenues that you’ve mentioned. Now in addition to all of this, you are also a father of two children.
Elvis: I’ve raised my precious two daughters on my own as a single parent since they were 2 ½ and 4. They are now 21 and 19 and are both Ontario scholars, one is studying to be a lawyer, the other a high school teacher. I’m just so proud of them. They both love the Lord.
Dr. B.L.T.: Great. All of this is very exciting. Now as you know, Elvis, I first become “All Shook Up” about the prospect of interviewing you for the Rock ‘n Role Model series after reading the recent article about you in USA Today—the one authored by Janet Kornblum. The article seems to suggest that your work, like the work of Rene Descartes, the father of modern psychology, has been vehemently opposed by those in positions of authority.
Nevertheless, through your Elvis persona, you have actually built a bridge between religious doctrine and contemporary culture. Though many try to tear down that bridge, can you tell me what inspires you to persevere in the face of virulent criticism, what motivates you to continue working on that bridge?
Elvis: Well I think the most important part of it for me is the abiding sense of the Lord’s presence and the sense that what I am doing is being done with a very sincere heart. I know that the only reason I have done any of this is for the glory of God—to bring people to the knowledge of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I think that in that sense, the criticism that has been leveled at me has been actually built on false premises. For example, the notion that I do weddings in a jump suit, which I don’t, or that I do funerals in a jump suit. I’ve never done that. I know that I’m on firm ground there.
The other thing is that I’ve developed a five-point sermon based on the letters E.L.V.I.S. The E is for everlasting life and I support that theologically. The L—for the agape Love, the love of Jesus Christ. The V is for the Vitality of the father, the son, and the Holy Ghost. I—for the Inspiration that God gives every day and then the S is for Salvation and the shed blood of the lamb. I’ve talked to traditional Anglican ministers and they’ve told me they’ve used the Elvis formula to cheer themselves up and to remind of the power and the presence of the son of the living God in their lives.
Dr. B.L.T.: I love that. It’s got that pop punch to it, yet it reflects a great deal of theological depth.
Elvis: Well, thank you, or I should probably say, “Thank you very much,” (this later phrase of gratitude was communicated in his Elvis voice).
Dr. B.L.T. O.K. Elvis, for the purpose of this rock ‘n role model interview, I’ve asked students in my History and Systems of Psychology class in Sacramento and my Motivation and Emotion students at Travis Air force Base to follow your “rock ‘n role model” and take on alternative personas of their own. In the case of my Chapman University students, they’re going to borrow the identities of philosophers and theorists of yore, and, in certain cases, their contemporaries—all who have significantly shaped the face of modern psychology. In most cases, this will involve imaginary time travel—a magic realism technique I have been known to apply in many instances the classroom. Right now we’re going to go way back—in some cases long before the days when Elvis flouted tradition with his signature style and attitude. Are you prepared to take on some of their questions at this time?
Dr. B.L.T.: O.K. now it wasn’t feasible to include all of their questions, but all of my students formulated questions for you. Then each student voted on the top three questions. Of course they weren’t allowed to vote for their own question, as that could be considered self-serving. Let’s begin with questions from students in my History and Systems of Psychology course at Chapman University in Sacramento. This one’s from Gordon as Carl Jung:
Gordon: Hi Elvis, for the purpose of this rock ‘n role model interview, I’ve become Carl Jung. My favorite Elvis song is “Follow that Dream,” because I believe our goals for the future affect our current behaviors. That is, our unconscious minds work to reach goals for the future that we have established in our present day. My question is this: Do you believe it is your conscious or your unconscious mind that has helped you follow your dream?
Elvis: That’s a good question. I would have to say that it’s a combination of both—predominantly my conscious mind. I think that having found the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior, I’m never without the sense of His presence and always, I’ve very conscious of lifting to Him every day and consciously asking Him to guide and direct me. One of my favorite Elvis gospel songs is, “Lead Me, Guide Me Along the Way:” “For if you lead me, I cannot stray.” Jesus said, “You have not, because you ask not.” And I would have to say that predominantly, I’ve made a conscious effort, not only to ask Him on a daily basis, but also, in Thessalonians we’re told, “In all things, give thanks. For this is the will of God concerning us.” So I’ve consciously sought to ask him, and I’ve consciously made every effort at every waking moment to thank Him, to praise Him, for every moment of my life.
Dr. B.L.T. That’s a wonderful response Elvis. Now, this one is from Jasmine as Sigmund Freud:
Jasmine: Hello Reverend Baxter, for the purpose of this Rock ‘n Role model interviews, I am Dr. Sigmund Freud. I believe that life revolves around conflict. Conflict is the key to solving one’s problems and moving to the next step. With that in mind I have taken a liking to Elvis’ song “Blue Suede Shoes.” I believe the song was a way that Elvis was portraying his own conflict in life–the conflict between his way of entertaining, and a society that regarded it as inappropriate. My question is this: Do you feel that you are causing the same conflict in the religious culture as Elvis did in contemporary culture as a whole at the time he emerged?
Elvis: That’s a very good question and I would have to say that very definitely, I have identified, significantly I think, with what Elvis was to prove on a number of levels. Unlike Elvis Presley, the opposition for me has not been with everyday people. Elvis’s opposition was led by some of the more conservative church groups. I think in my case, it’s really just a few Bishops that have disapproved. However, that has filtered down from time to time, to certain people in the laity. And I think that I have definitely experienced the sense that they are somewhat like the Salmon swimming upstream. But to conclude the thought here, I would have to say that Elvis himself—just his name and the love that people have for him—have been responsible for this interview and many of the things that have happened in the last month. Elvis has been my strongest support. I’m now finding worldwide approval. CBS told me that I was on the front page of 5,850 newspapers around the world. Whenever I read such an article, it’s overwhelmingly in favor of what I’m doing. I think that’s because it’s connected to Elvis and everybody loves Elvis.
Dr. B.L.T.: That makes sense to me. This next one is from Evelyn as a female Robert Sternberg—let’s call her Roberta Sternberg.
Evelyn: Hi, I am Roberta Sternberg and I’ve spent time researching what love is and understanding what works to create lasting love relationships. I am fond of Elvis’ song “Love Me Tender” and I appreciate your talent and your ability to attract people to God with your Elvis ministry.
In terms of the song I mentioned, some of the lyrics are, “Love me tender, love me sweet. Never let me go. You have made my life complete, and I love you so.”
Can you tell me how this relates to God’s love and how does that relate to love between people in relationships?
Elvis: Very good question from Roberto. These are all equally good, and powerful questions. I’m just hoping that I’m doing a little bit of justice to them. This one in particular is best answered through another song. It was a gospel song for young people that included the words, “God’s love is so wonderful, God’s love is so wonderful, so high you can’t get over it, so wide you can’t get around it, low you can’t get under it.” I have seen in Elvis Presley repeated actions that could only have come from the indwelling Holy Spirit in the heart of Elvis Presley. On countless occasions, he took off ten-, twenty-, thirty thousand dollar rings and gave them to people that were poverty-stricken. And he made sure that they got the money for those rings. At times, he gave away Cadillacs. There were times that he, in concert after concert, with no profit at all, but rather, the proceeds going to help disabled children that were without families, and diseased people. These were selfless acts that can only come from one who is indwelled by the son of the living God and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. So I would have to say that Elvis, when he sang gospel music, even when he sang the song “Love Me Tender”—through all of that, you see the agape love of the Lord Jesus Christ being played out in his life. He never lost sight of everything that he had, everything that he owned being a gift from God. And unlike many of us, he never lost sight of the giver. He may have in fact, been gifted more than many others, but he was always cognisant of The Giver. That is why he is so revered today.
Dr. B.L.T.: Thank you. O.K., now these ones are from students in my Motivation and Emotions class. I trust that you’re highly motivated to answer them. Let’s begin with a question from Cheli as a female version of Gestalt theorist Kurt Lewin:
Cheli: Hi Elvis, for the purpose of this rock ‘n role model interview, I’ve adopted the name of Kurt Lewin. My favorite Elvis song is “Viva Las Vegas.” I know you have performed weddings and you have married lots of couples. My cognitive understanding of motivation is one in which people are portrayed as goal-seekers, either approaching or avoiding something: It is “need” that motivates them; needs produce intentions. My question is this: What intentions do you feel love generates when two people are motivated to get married?
Elvis: Well, I think it’s a powerful question and I love the way that it’s been phrased. I’m very impressed. When you think of love generating intentions, what immediately comes to mind, particularly as she’s referencing “Viva Las Vegas” and the whole Elvis motif, is the fact that Elvis was very quick to point out the fact that God is love. And that love knows no bounds. So I would venture to say that one, in this setting, could take it a step further and say, What intentions does God generate when two people decide they want to get married? Because God is love. God, who is love, generates within us intentions that flow from scriptures like I Corinthians chapter 13 where we see that love keeps no record of wrong. The agape love of Jesus that Elvis referred to in so many ways, generates unselfish intentions.
It is this kind of love that “believes all things, bears all things…” and so the intentions generated by this kind of love are intentions of goodness in the highest degree—goodness that places the needs of the other above the needs of the one who is having these intentions generated out of his or her heart. And so I believe that the intentions generated out of this type of love are not bound by time, but rather, they transcend time. As such, they kiss eternity. They end up bathing the two individuals concerned in the unbelievable, unfathomable riches of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. This enables the man or woman in question to be absolutely engulfed in a future that is not just one of intentions, but these intentions are then realized as this couple becomes intertwined in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As they go through, let’s say the next 50 years of marriage and beyond, their love actually metamorphoses into an all-encompassing love. So whatever love initially attracted them, when you compare it to the product once the intentions have been realized—it’s like night and day.
Dr. B.L.T.: O.K., let’s move on to a question by Holly as female representation of the father of modern psychology, Rene Descartes:
Holly: Hi Elvis, for the purpose of this Rock ‘n Role model interview, my name is Rene Descartes. I lived from 1596 to 1650. I have several favorite Elvis songs. My first one is “Follow that Dream.” While in Bohemia in 1619, I had three dreams that defined for me my career as a scientist and a philosopher seeking knowledge for the benefit of humanity. In my book Meditations on Philosophy (in which I proved the existence of God and the immortality of the soul) I began with methodic doubt, rejecting as though false all types of knowledge by which I was ever deceived. Let me explain I believe knowledge from sensory experience is untrustworthy because people sometimes mistake one thing for another, as with mirages, something you might find near “Viva Las Vegas.”
Next, knowledge based on authority should be set aside because even experts are sometimes wrong, like Reverend Ferris who might just have a case of “Suspicious Minds.” Finally, knowledge may be illusory because it comes from dreams or insanity or from a demon able to deceive men by making them think that they are experiencing the real world when they are not, like the “Devil in Disguise.” I find certainty in the intuition that when I am thinking, even if deceived, I exist: Cogito, ergo sum (Latin: I think, therefore I am). This would explain why I am a big fan of the Elvis song, “My Way.” I applaud you for doing things your way– the way you feel is best to serve God. My question to you is this: If God exists in the hearts and minds of the faithful because of the essence of their faith, but does not exist in the hearts and minds of the unfaithful because of the essence of their lack of faith, then does God truly exist at all and if so, how so?
Elvis: Very powerful question! And it has ramifications of eternal significance obviously, because we’re talking about the saved and the unsaved. We’re talking about the lost and the found. I love the reference to “Follow that Dream.” The words of Martin Luther King come to my mind when gave that amazing speech, “I Have a Dream.” He courageously followed that dream to his death. And I believe that Martin Luther King’s soul went to be with the Lord, so in that sense he followed that dream all the way through.
When I try to answer this particular question, I’m drawn into the scripture, John 3: 17. Everybody is familiar with the scripture found in John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever shall believe on him shall not parish, but shall have everlasting life. This verse is for those that make that choice and recognize God and God recognizes them by faith. The only trouble is that this can leave a rather negative implication for those who are left out because they have not necessarily believed.
Now I love the next verse, which is very seldom used, but I use it more than John 3:16. John 3:17 says: “For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him, the whole world might be saved.” And so to directly answer this question, I would say that the existence of God is proven by virtue of the inexhaustible riches of God’s grace to believer and non-believer alike. This verse, to me, clearly indicates that the grace of God has not only been offered, but given to the entire world. The sins of the past, the presence and the future have been paid for once for all, when Christ died on the cross and rose again, destroying forever death. If I were to illustrate John 3:17, I would use this analogy.
Suppose a preacher was preaching to a crowd of five thousand people and the preacher had a great deal of money. What if that preacher announced to the crowd that he was going to pay for them all to go to the Bahamas for a two-week vacation? What if they only had to go to the LA airport to pick up the tickets? Now if only five out of that crowd were to go and pick up the tickets, the preacher’s bank account would not show that he paid for five tickets. It would show that he paid for five thousand tickets. And yet the other remaining people would not have availed themselves to the gracious gift of the preacher. Those people would be like the people who have not availed themselves to God’s gift of grace. God’s account shows that the price has been paid for all with God’s mercy and grace. I don’t know of a better way to answer that question.
Dr. B.L.T.: Well you’ve answered it perfectly. I’m really impressed with your knowledge of the scriptures. Wow, that was an intriguing and decidedly difficult question. Are you ready for another, or did that one deplete all of your energy?
Elvis: I’m ready. I feel very privileged that you people are entrusting me with these questions.
Dr. B.L.T.: O.K. This question, the final one from my erudite students, is from Vikki as theorist Julian Rotter.
Vikki: Hello Elvis, before we begin this interview, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Julian Rotter. I want to commend you for having the strength to challenge tradition by taking on the role of Elvis Priestley. I disagree with traditional behaviorism because I believe that people are less likely to take trial and error learning habits into new situations. I believe that people apply what they know about the expectancy and value of rewards from similar situations.
My question is this: Because of your strong internal locus of control, do you have the same degree of success that you did as a “traditional” Anglican Priest now that you have evolved into Elvis Priestley? Are the rewards what you had anticipated? Was it worth losing the support of the Anglican Church? What is your advice to people who want to oppose tradition without any expectations of the outcome or consequences?
Dr. B.L.T.: There are a number of questions packed into that inquiry, so let’s begin with the first one, Because of what Vikki has identified as your “strong internal locus of control,” do you have the same degree of success now, as Elvis Priestley, that you did in the more traditional Anglican priest role?
Elvis: Well, actually, I have always incorporated the Elvis motif. There is no question about the fact that my success has been in direct proportion to my willingness to embrace the Elvis motif. Whether it’s through the E.L.V.I.S. sermon, or through a performance in which I sing “Are You Looking for Trouble,” with the words changes to “Are you Looking for Jesus? You came to the right place…” the congregations have actually expanded from maybe two hundred to ten-,twenty-, thirty-, forty-, even fifty thousand. And the opportunity given to me because of Elvis and his love for the gospel have gone above and beyond my wildest imagination.
More recently, with the film crew from NBC and the film crew from Korea—it was all because of Elvis, not because of Dorian Baxter. They came because of the Elvis Presley and the Elvis Priestley motifs that were being embraced. Now I’m told that the Korean broadcasting people will be showing their documentary film to in access of 350 million people. There was an assessment done that with NBC and CBS, and all the radio and television coverage combined, it looks like when everything comes together over the next few weeks over 2 billion people will have been reached with the gospel because of this new church—The Church of Christ the King Graceland, established here in Canada. It’s a long way of answering the question that whatever success I’ve had as a traditional priest in a traditional church setting pales in comparison to the phenomenal success I’ve had in my role of Elvis Priestley, there’s really no comparison, especially when one measures success according to souls reached for the gospel of Christ.
Dr. B.L.T.: Well, I think you’ve also answered the second question in which Vikki asked: What about the rewards, are they what you anticipated?
Elvis: Yes, I’d have to say that they’re totally unexpected rewards, ranging from just from the gratitude people have expressed to me to the amazing announcement you made to me last night about you inducting me into the Rock ‘n Role Model Hall of Flame.
Dr. B.L.T.: Well, I’m glad you got a kick out of that.
Elvis: Yes, it was wonderful. I was very, very moved by it. When Paul talks about the unsearchable riches in scripture, thanks to Elvis, I am experiencing the unsearchable riches of the body of Christ. It is surrounding me, not only with love and support, but actually encouragement and affirmation on a level that I can barely grasp in my mind.
Dr. B.L.T. Well, that kind of brings me to the next part of Vikkie’s question: Was all of this worth losing the support of the Anglican Church?
Elvis: Oh, I would say yes, yes and yes again. Not that I take any pleasure in giving the impression that I’m rebelling against church authority, but I have clearly made the decision to rebel against what I believe to be a tyrannical authority adhered to by a select few. What I’ve been able to do is pray for them and stand up to them. But I try to stand up to them with integrity and in the love of Jesus Christ. I continually offer them an olive branch. Not one of them has ever attended one of my services, so it does not help me to respect them.
Dr. B.L.T. Finally, what is your advice to people who want to oppose tradition without any expectations of the outcome or consequences?
Elvis: Well, first, I would say to Vikki that this is a very valid and significant question. I can only draw from my own experience in answering this. I had exhausted all lenient manner of appeasement first. I did not enter in this in terms of it being an impulsive move. The one rule that comes into play here is to seek to be fair. In Kenya, where I grew up and we used to play Cricket, there was an old saying that said that if something was done unfairly, well that just wasn’t Cricket. So I would encourage people to play cricket before they seek to rebel. They need to be totally fair and give every opportunity for people in positions of authority to come to an understanding.
In Isaiah it says, “Come, let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be whiter than snow.” Jesus, in Matthew, said that if you have a problem with your brother then meet him and discuss it first. If you can’t have that kind of amicable Christian resolution, by virtue of the fact that one of the parties is just ignoring the problem and refusing to get involved, then, what I have done in the past is prayerfully consider the alternatives. My advice to anyone on such a precipice would be to be prayerful and to know within your own heart that what you’re doing is right. Then ever so gently, move forward and take the risk. Then, even if it does end in failure, you’ll know that you did what the dictates of your heart told you to do. You will be following the edict that Thoreau followed, “To thine own self be true.” It necessarily follows that one cannot be false to any other man.
Dr. B.L.T.: Well, one of the notions I’m trying to inculcate within my students is the notion that the eternal or timeless wisdom offered by philosophers of yore have applicability, not only to contemporary pop culture, but to the understanding, sorting out, and solving of everyday problems. Over the years, psychology, like the institution of the church has been vulnerable to stagnation. You remind me of not only Elvis, but also people like Little Richard, who seamlessly and with immense intensity and verve, moves from ministerial zeal to rock ‘n roll fervor. You are like a fresh stream of water in an otherwise stagnant pond of hackneyed religious ritual. At the same time, you are a bridge between antiquated philosophy, once closely wed to religion, and contemporary culture.
Here’s my last question: How does it feel to serve as The King while simultaneously serving the King of Kings?
Elvis: It makes me feel fulfilled in my mission as a priest, as a pastor, as a person who has been commissioned to go into all the world and preach the gospel. I have been able to share with people around the world. I recently did interviews with the BBC and with a similar corporation in Australia, and in Parish. Each interviewer asked me to sing my version of “Blue Suede Shoes,” and before I did, I said, “Keep in mind, that Elvis, the king of rock ‘n role worshipped Jesus, the King of Kings…It’s one for the father, two for the son, three for the spirit and your life has just begun, you can do anything, but don’t turn Jesus away.
(At this point the good reverend broke into his singing voice on the chorus and I was completely blown away): “Jesus is the king of kings. Jesus is the king of kings. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus is the King of Kings.” Then he went on to conclude: “I feel totally fulfilled in using that phrase, Elvis, the king of rock ‘n role worshipped Jesus, the King of Kings.”
I complemented and thanked him for sharing his voice and his version of “Blue Suede Shoes” with me in a manner that gave me chills. Then, as you shall see in the summary, we concluded our rock ‘n role model interview and went our separate ways…)
Dr. B.L.T.: Thank you, Reverend Baxter, a.k.a. Elvis Priestley for taking the time to participate in our Rock ‘n Role interview. I would like to thank the students of Chapman University who participated with a series of stimulating and thought-provoking questions, and I would like to thank you, Elvis.
Elvis: It is my distinct pleasure and honor.
Dr. B.L.T.: If I may, I’d like to end by quoting a couple of song lines that you inspired. First, I would like to say to you: There’s soul in your blue suede shoes, Reverend Baxter. Finally, to the world of Doubting Thomas’s and Doubting Descartes’, poisoned and paralyzed by the cyanide of cynicism, I’d like to say: Elvis is Alive and well! Long live the King! All praise and glory to the King of Kings!Read More
Certified Gold, Incense & Myrrh
Artist: Dr. B.L.T. featuring Tommy Isbell and Other Artists (http://www.drblt.net/)
Label: Frosty Rock Records (Independent)
Length: 24 tracks/76:15
Leave it to The Phantom Tollbooth’s Rock Doc to come up with one of the most original Christmas recording of the season. How do I describe it in just a few words? It’s raw, heartfelt, inventive, thoughtful, fun, reverent and all over the map musically.
If you are tired of homogenized Christmas songs that all start to sound the same, you might find this singer/songwriter collection to be just what the doctor ordered. Folk, alternative, pop, country, rock, rap and exotic programmed rhythms are all employed to honor “the baby king” and celebrate the trappings of the season. Amazingly, there are only a few covers on this generous offering of 24 songs.
Most of the tracks tend towards minimalist production and simple arrangements that marry guitar strumming with country, rock and folk influences. When they come together, as on “Brand New Christmas Song,” it helps spread that Christmas cheer that this Rock Doc would no doubt prescribe.
In “Certified Gold, Incense and Myrrh,” the opening song, Dr. B.L.T. sets the stage for the remainder of the CD by offering his music as a gift to the Christ child. He shows himself to be a clever songwriter with the play on words in “Between Iraq and a Heart Place,” a song that wishes US troops in Iraq a Merry Christmas. It’s a touching song, one that they would appreciate, knowing that they are not forgotten. “Christmas 4 Two” is a quiet, love song that eloquently expresses a desire to celebrate the season with one’s spouse.
The laugh out loud song of the CD is “You’re Not the Kinda Ho that Santa Had in Mind (Original County Rock Version).” The doctor tells a story that deals with a serious subject in a funny way. There is also a (New Rap Edition) of the song. Both versions are done equally well.
“Dear Johnny (Won’t You Help Me with My Christmas CD) is an affectionate ode to Johnny Cash that has a little of his trademark sound.
The wide variety of songs demonstrates how versatile Dr. B.L.T. is musically. The whimsical nature of the music and lyrics, the number of songs and their interesting titles, are all somewhat reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens. The stripped-down sound of many of the tracks fits well with the unpretentious vocals. He’s at his best when he ruggedly combines folk, rock and country influences. If you are not afraid to try something a little offbeat, you might enjoy this homespun blend of wit, wisdom and worship.
You can stay tuned to the Rock Doc and his songs by checking out his writings each month at The Phantom Tollbooth. He often helps to answer readers’ questions with a song and also shares his gift of music in his “Single Servings” column.
Critic, Al Barger, places Dr. BLT song, “Neil Young (Have you Forgotten)” at number 8 on his Best 40 Records of 2006
“Neil Young (Have You Forgotten?)” Dr BLT There was a lot of hoo-haa about the typical half-assed Neil Young album Living With War, which is a great artistic statement because he really, really hates President Bush. A Neil Young song called “Let’s Impeach the President” was guaranteed to be a critical smash judged to be a profound artistic statement before anyone heard a note of it. In fairness, at least that one song is somewhat better than average Neil Young. It’s got a decent hook at least, even if he didn’t bother to develop it at all.
But before it came out, Bruce Thiessen dba Dr BLT put out an answer song that’s simply superior to Neil Young’s song on pretty much every musical level. Regardless of the politics, Thiessen’s lyric is more focused and much better song craft. He develops his basic melody, and gives some thought to his arrangement. He’s an independent artist with incorrect politics, so there’s no chance that this would ever get the recognition. But BLT flat out wrote a better and more memorable actual SONG.
I’ve been groovin’ on a couple of pretty good protest type songs. Let’s start with the first and actually better of these, from a guy named Bruce Thiessen aka Dr BLT. Hearing the big publicity run-up about Neil Young’s Bush-bashing record, BLT offered a premptive strike- kind of like US in Iraq. It’s a point of pride that he beat Neil to market with “Neil Young (Have You Forgotten?)”
The obvious point is that BLT wrote a Neil-style song making his counterpoint. He’s got a nice raw guitar throb that Neil would have been proud to write. However, this is better put together than Neil’s mostly half-assed idea of making records. I won’t say that this unknown BLT is more talented than Neil, but he has at least as good a basic musical idea between just these two songs. Plus, BLT also obviously put considerably more careful attention to working out his ideas. Compositionally especially, there’s just more to BLT’s actual SONG.
But actually Neil Young’s “Let’s Impeach the President” is a pretty fair little jam. I’m highly critical of Neil Young’s common rock and roll mode of working. In the name of spontaneity, he pretty much comes in with just maybe one basic piece of melodic hook, and just bashes it out real loud again and again over the same unimaginative, generic chords. In other words, he just slops out a lot of half-assed crap without bothering to put in the work of developing it properly, justifying it on the basis of being “passionate.” Likewise, when last I saw my two year old godson, he was most passionate in his desire not to go to bed- but we didn’t call that tantrum a work of art.
In fairness though, “Let’s Impeach the President” works more effectively than it should. The chords are plain vanilla harmonically, but he does make it swing in a tasty way. There’s really only a couple of dozen notes of melody – enough for “Let’s impeach the president for lying, and misleading our country into war.” That little bit is pretty much all the basic melody, but it’s pretty catchy. The bits of trumpet are the extra little thing that adds enough unique flavor and style and at least a sconce more melodic content to put the whole thing over. This sounds most excellent cruising the country roads at midnight with the window down.
By the way, the big important political lyric is the weakest part of the song. Regardless of liberal/conservative, it’s just a ridiculous excuse for songcraft. I’m all in favor of a song about impeaching the president. Hey, rock and roll! But you need something better than this. SNL got to the big point about this whole album with their faux-ad for Living With War casting Kevin Spacey as Neil Young with his SUBTLEST album yet. The SNL version has a song called “George W Liar” in which Spacey/Young asked, “What did you have for breakfast Mr President, a big plateful of LIES? Did you wash it down with a nice cold glass of LIES?” That really is about the childish level Young is working at.
I’m sure there are many possible ways of writing a convincing rock lyric about why Bush should be rode out of town on a rail, but this isn’t one of them. It’s just throwing in the pinko laundry list of every damned idiot problem in the country this century. Plus, I don’t appreciate the tone of Young singing about “leaving black people neglected” as if they were some kind of livestock that needs tending. When you propose impeaching the president because of Katrina, then you’re blaming the guy for the weather. You’re not a serious person.
But even LESS serious was the one thing Neil came up with new for the list. It’s the perfect stupid Neil Young lyric, explaining as his final argument that we should impeach the president because they’re using steroids in professional baseball, and George Bush used to OWN a baseball team. I swear to Ayn Rand I’m not making this up:
Thank god he¹s cracking down on steroids
Since he sold his old baseball team
There’s lot of people looking at big trouble
But of course the president is clean
Now, you can see that Neil Young just looks like a fool talking that crazy out of his head. It’s even a bit more ridiculous to think that he actively supported the goddam Patriot Act at the time, but now he wants to impeach the president for actually using it. But that’s getting to be an external issue not really related to this record.
Dr BLT certainly has a better crafted lyric. I don’t know that it’s a brilliant visionary statement, but it is well focused and on target like a smart bomb. “They say ‘rust never sleeps’ but your memory fades.” He’s careful and respectful, “Don’t get me wrong, I am your biggest fan.” He’s not just gratuitously spouting every kind of unfounded hateful crap, but staying carefully on message: While you’re out posing for your liberal friends, have you forgotten the planes flying into our buildings?
Between them, I’m much more philosophically sympathetic to BLT, so I’m trying to be careful to separate that from the intrinsic qualities of these songs as art. Just because I’m sympathetic to the politics doesn’t mean that it’s a good song. Still, BLT has just flat out wrote Neil Young in this one song.
The care in the lyric is reflected even more importantly in the various musical aspects. For starters, BLT has a distinctly somewhat superior main vocal melody. Young’s basic phrasing of his song title is about equally catchy, but he does absolutely nothing to develop it. Now, BLT’s tune is not going to make you forget Richard Rodgers or anything, but there’s more to it than the Neil composition.
Neil is of course the obvious stylistic reference point for this BLT record, but actually this sounds more like Midnight Oil. The flattened effect of the melodic composition distinctly has that Peter Garrett thing going on, and some of those punky dark harmony vocals. There’s more memorable melodic spark here than in most Midnight Oil, though. I’d take this BLT over probably anything of Midnight Oil except maybe their one main hit, “Beds Are Burning.” I suppose you’d say that BLT isn’t being particularly stylistically innovative, but he’s written a better song than Neil Young or Midnight Oil have anytime recently. He sure sounds good back to back with Neil driving down the back roads.
But for a bonus, I’ve got one more song to complete the set. It’s old and completely unrelated, but BLT’s considered and carefully respectful reply is really not what Neil deserves as a response. These songs both appeal to me in an adolescent rock and roll Beavis and Butthead kind of way- which leads us to their #1 all-time favorite song, the Judas Priest classic “Breakin’ the Law.”
It SOUNDS so good together in that highway mix, and I’m imagining it as Bush’s first person response to Neil Young’s charges that W is “Breaking every law in the country.” To which, President Bush responds defiantly with the B&B devil hand gesture and in Rob Halford’s voice, “BREAKIN’ THE LAW, BREAKIN’ THE LAW!” Climactically, the president screams his frustration with these pesky congressional investigators, useful idiots and The Liberal Media, “You don’t know what it’s liiiiiiiiiiiiiike!”
Rock and roll!
Bruce Thiessen has graciously given me permission to offer his song for free downloads for personal use. Check it out, and tell me if it ain’t a fine little jam. DOWNLOAD “NEIL YOUNG” by Bruce Thiessen, Dr BLT
CD Review of The Buck Owens Recording Studios Farewell Session
Artist: Dr. BLT
Label: Nu BakoSound Recordings (Independent)
Length: 12 tracks/35:47
Dr. BLT is a psychologist, a featured writer for The Phantom Tollbooth, and a recording artist immersed in the old Bakersfield Sound and its modern counterpart, the Nu Bako Sound, which is being fashioned by up-and-coming Bakersfield artists that bridge the sounds of past and future.
He has a remarkable ability to take a subject and turn it into a song. He has done this numerous times to commemorate a special occasion, or to reinforce a bit of helpful advice to an anxious or questioning soul.
On The Buck Owens Recording Studios Farewell Session he provides a fitting tribute to the closing of a landmark studio started by Buck Owens. Before closing on April 30, 2008, the studio was used by music legends like Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Dwight Yoakam.
It was Dr. BLT’s honor and privilege to record the last solo project before it closed. The songs are a stripped-down mix of rugged country, folk, blues and rock.
The use of brief bits of wild electronic enhancement coupled with frank lyrics reminds me a little of early Frank Zappa. Dr. BLT is not afraid to experiment, and this is especially evident on remixed versions of four of the five songs that cover different aspects of the studio’s legacy.
The CD has three extra songs. There is the lively guitar-picking heard on the opening, “Six7Eight (Prelude to Farewell)” and two bonus tracks. “Make New History” is a challenge to those rooted in the Bakersfield sound to create something new. “Buck, the Beatles and Bo” was written on the day of Bo Diddley’s death. The song includes the interesting observation that the happiest BeatlesPaul and Ringoare the two that are still living. The Beatles and Bo Diddley were big influences on Buck Owens.
The doctor once again provides meaningful perspective on significant events.
July 12, 2008
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka, Dr. BLT
For the past two years, Santa has been extremely good to me. Last year, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of interviewing Pat Boone. This year, it’s a Quarrymen Christmas. That’s right. If you can believe it, I had an interview with the Quarrymen, the very boys who used to jam with John Lennon and Paul McCartney—the boys that laid the foundation for the sound that would eventually evolve into a worldwide, historical phenomenon.
When I spoke with Rod this morning, he was recovering from a bad cold (I bet even the Beatles got those). He was also preparing for a trip to Valencia, Spain, where he and the boys will be performing at an event known as Beatles Week.
Rod was the main spokesperson in this interview. He took the lead, but the others chimed in here and there, and when they did; their comments were greatly treasured and appreciated.
I’ve also taken the liberty of inserting the occasional personal reflection or two in response to the comments of the band members, including a musical reflection. These will generally be in italics.
Rod was hospitable, affable, and incredibly humble, especially for a man who had traveled side by side with Paul McCartney, and John Lennon, on a long and winding road that helped define and shape the signature sound of the Beatles.
Based on the comments of the other Quarrymen, they seemed to have the same admirable qualities that Rod possessed, and this made the interview a real pleasure. They all traveled the same journey, as well as their own individual journeys.
Today the journey of the Quarrymen continues, long after the Beatles broke up, and long after we so sadly lost John and George. I’m glad I hitched a ride on the Quarrymen wagon through rock ‘n’ roll history. It was a real trip. It even inspired this brand new song:
Before they Were the Beatles
(The Quarrymen, Now and Way back Then)
Words and music by Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT ©2006
And now, if you’d like to vicariously join the never-ending journey with me, and skiffle band that shook, and continues to rattle, the world, hop on. Enjoy the ride. Before you do, fasten your seatbelts and read the road map here:
Dr. BLT: Rod, we’ll start with you. First let me tell you what a pleasure is to have the honor and privilege of interviewing the Quarrymen. Let me ask you this: When did you become a part of the Quarrymen? What circumstances led to you joining the Quarrymen?
Rod: Some time during 1956 I bought a banjo as I was keen on Lonie Donegan and his music. I came into school the following day and mentioned this to my friend Eric Grifffiths who asked me if I wanted to join a skiffle group with himself, John Lennon, Pete Shotton and Bill Smith. I agreed. I played banjo at the time but now I play mostly guitar.
Dr. BLT: How about you, Colin?
Colin: I used to meet Eric Griffiths on the bus in Woolton as he was going to school and I was going to work. I had bought a set of drums from Frank Hessy’s in Liverpool as I was very keen on jazz. I happened to mention this one day to Eric, some time in 1956, and he came to my house to hear me play. He must have been impressed as he asked me to come down to his house and meet the rest of the group, and that was how I became a Quarryman.
Dr. BLT: Len, at what point did you come in?
Len: The original tea-chest bass player was from Quarry Bank, a lad called Bill Smith, however he kept not turning up for rehearsals. Apparently his dad had agreed to his staying on a school for an extra year on condition that he didn’t waste time playing skiffle with John Lennon. I had been introduced to John and Pete a year or so earlier by Ivan Vaughan, a friend from the Liverpool Institute where I went to school and so they asked me to replace Bill. This must have been in late summer of 1956.
Dr. BLT: And what can you tell us about your entry into the band, John?
John: I knew Paul from the Liverpool Institute where we were both pupils. I had met him originally at the auditions for the Liverpool Cathedral Choir, he failed but I was accepted. Paul had heard me play Jerry Lee Lewis style on an old piano at school, so he invited me to play with the Quarrymen in 1958 and with John, Paul, George and Colin we made the famous recordings at Percy Phillips’ studio in Liverpool.
(Dr. BLT: Much to my chagrin, I wasn’t familiar with these recordings, but John’s mention of them has me incredibly curious)
Dr. BLT: Rod, how did it come about that you met John Lennon?
Rod: I first met John when I was about five or six years old. I was in a class at St Peter’s Sunday School in Woolton which included Pete Shotton, Nige Walley, Geoff Rhind (who took the famous photo), Ivan Vaughan, Barbara Baker (eventually John’s girlfriend) and Rob Molyneux (who made the recordings on 6 July 1957). When John moved to Woolton he joined this class.
Dr. BLT: And Rod, may I ask you this? What sort of influence did John Lennon have on you as a musician, and what kind of relationship did you have with John? How about the other members of the Beatles? Did you get to know any of them? If so, what was the nature of your relationship with the Beatles that you got to know?
Rod: When I first started playing with John we were both crazy about Lonnie Donegan and his music, so we played skiffle, which was really a mixture of blues and country music, however with the advent of Elvis and Rock ‘n’ roll John wanted to play more of this type of music.
As I was a banjo player (Donegan himself played banjo and guitar), this was not the type of music for which my instrument was suited, and to be frank I was more interested in the country music roots of skiffle than I was in the new rock and roll.
So when I drifted out of the band in the summer of 1957 it wasn’t a big problem for me, they were becoming more of a rock and roll outfit.
I was replaced by Paul McCartney whom I remember meeting only once when we were practicing at Mimi’s one day. Our friends would occasionally ask to come and listen to us practice and when I saw Paul there, whom I didn’t know, I asked who he was and was told that he was there to listen to us practice. In fact, he probably already agreed to join the group although I obviously didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t get to know the other Beatles at all as George was well after my time.
Maybe because I had known John since we were both quite small, 6 years old or so, we always seemed to get on quite well although I was never one of his very close friends like, Pete, Nige, Ivan, Eric or Len.
The last time I saw him was in Liverpool in ’61 or ’62. I met him in the street and we got talking about music. He asked me what instruments I was playing and I told him. He asked me if I could play the drums and was I interested in coming to Hamburg with them to play. I had to admit that I had no idea of the drums and besides I was two thirds of the way through my degree course at university so that last thing I needed was to throw it all in and go to Hamburg. My mother would have killed me.
Dr. BLT: That’s amazing. Now, would you share one or two of your favorite memories associated with the Quarrymen or members of the Beatles?
Rod: We would practice in Eric’s house in Woolton quite a lot as his father had been killed in the war and his mother was often out at work, also in Colin Hanton’s house or in my house. One day we were practicing in the garden, climbing all over a big old garden seat, my next door neighbors looked over the wall and threw pennies to us. They were the grandparents of the British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe and she mentions this in her autobiography. This might well have been the first money we ever earned from playing music!
Our band uniform in the early days was white shirts and black jeans, I didn’t own a pair of jeans and my parents could not and would not buy me a pair, so I bought a second hand pair from a friend for a few shillings. At one of our early gigs, at the Lee Park Golf Club, just before we went on stage the zipper split and so I had to play the entire evening in a sort of crouch, trying to hide my embarrassment behind my banjo.
Dr. BLT: What a great story! (As I reflected upon Rod’s disclosure, I was a bit surprised that his stage antics, born of embarrassment, didn’t spark some sort of dance craze.)
Dr. BLT: Let me hear a little more from you, Len. Would you tell me what you been up to between the time you first left the Quarrymen and the time you rejoined the band?
Len: I left the Quarrymen in 1958 when I fell seriously ill with tubercular meningitis, spending some 7 months in hospital and of course after this I couldn’t spend time hanging around in smoky clubs because of my health.
I started to study to be an architect and I was very jealous of the groups who were of course still playing and living an exciting rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle as I thought whilst I was working hard. I eventually became articled to a firm of architects in Liverpool and married. In 1971 our family left Liverpool and went to live in Chard, Somerset, where I became lead vocalist in a rock gospel musical called “Come Together”, originally started in America by Pat Boone, which toured the south west of England. My two daughters were born during our time in the south-west.
(Dr. BLT: Alas, it all seemed to be coming together at this point. As mentioned in the introduction to this interview, Pat Boone just so happened to have been the guest I interviewed at this time last year.)
In 1987, my wife Sue, the girls, and I emmigrated to New Zealand but couldn’t settle, so we moved back to England a few months later and eventually settled in Liverpool, where we still live.
In 1992 I linked up with John Duff Lowe and Rod Davis to do some recording, with me singing vocal lead on most of the numbers, but unfortunately the tapes from this session were never published.
In 1997 I met the rest of the Quarrymen at the 40th birthday party of the “Cavern” which led to the recreation of the day forty years before in Woolton when John Lennon met Paul McCartney! I am now enjoying singing and playing with my old mates and have written a fascinating account of my early days in Liverpool entitled “John, Paul and me, – before the Beatles”, which includes a CD of me and Pete Shotton going around some of our old Liverpool haunts, including “Mendips”.
Dr. BLT: How about you, Colin: Would you tell me what you’ve been up to between the time you first left the Quarrymen and the time you rejoined the band?
Colin: By the time I joined the Quarrymen I had already left school and was an apprentice upholsterer, at a company called Guy Rogers which was why I could afford to buy a set of Broadway drums from Frank Hessy’s in Liverpool, even though they were the cheapest I could find. I eventually became a fully fledged upholsterer and I have worked at this trade all my life. Guy Rogers closed down in 1979, since when I have run my own company.
I left the Quarrymen after playing a booking at the Pavilion Theatre in Lodge Lane. We had drunk a few beers during the interval and an argument started on the way home on the bus. I got off to catch another bus to take me home to Woolton and somehow or other that was that, they never contacted me again to ask me to play. I saw John a few times and he told me that they had got a drummer called Pete, which must have been Pete Best. After that I lost touch completely. I put my drums away and never played them until we got together to practice for the 40th Anniversary at St. Peter’s in 1995!
I married my wife Joan in 1965 and we have two daughters, Christine and Allison.
I live in Liverpool near Penny Lane and it amuses me when I see the Magical Mystery Tour Bus go by and I wonder what they would think if they knew they have just passed one of John’s Original Quarrymen!
Dr. BLT: How about you, John? What led you to leave the band? What activities filled your life while you were away from the band, and what ultimately drew you back in?
John: I was born in the Liverpool suburb of West Derby on the north eastern side of the City where my mother still lives. Getting to Paul’s house on the south side of the City on Sunday afternoons for rehearsals or on Saturdays if John or Paul had arranged a gig which was usually over their way, was a bit of a hassle for me as I was too young to drive or own a car and had to travel by bus. I think this, and a complaining girlfriend was why I eventually decided to leave the band, and also I didn’t live near enough to get together during weekday evenings.
I later played piano for a while in a band called “Hobo Rick & the City Slickers” which was fronted by a young Ricky Tomlinson who went into acting and has now become very well-known. After it opened in 1959, I spent many evenings in the Kasbah Coffee Club at the Best family home which was just a short walk from my house. The first time I went with Neil Spinal who was a mate from the Institute and lived in the next road to me. All the Mersey bands including the Beatles used to play at the Kasbah which was always buzzing and a great place to chill out.
After leaving school I joined a firm of Liverpool stockbrokers and was able to spend a lot of my lunch breaks at the Cavern. I remember one time talking to John Lennon during a fag break and he introduced me to a friend saying, “This is Duff, he breaks stock.” When I went back to the Stock Exchange trading floor afterwards my mates would all complain that I stank of disinfectant! After a spell on the London Stock Exchange, I decided I’d had enough of “breaking stock”, and changed course and went into banking and financial services. In 1975 a job moved me to the Bristol area where I now live with my wife Linda and son Henry. My daughter Maude got married to Shane in 2005. I also have a son (Edward) and two daughters (Louisa & Emily) from a previous marriage. Shane & Maude front a fantastic band called Sister Morphine and Henry plays keyboards in a band called Fluke star, so music certainly runs in our family!!
From 1992-1997 I played keyboard in The Four Pennies after being invited in by Mike Walsh the original bass player who wrote the hit “Juliet”. It’s really great to be back playing in the Quarrymen with Rod, Len and Colin.
Dr. BLT: Rod, what other sorts of activities have filled your life?
Rod: After leaving the Quarrymen I stayed on at Quarry Bank School to try to get into university. I eventually went to Cambridge to study French and Spanish. I then worked in Germany for a year teaching English followed by a couple of years in Liverpool.
I then moved to the south of England where I have lived ever since, to take a job in the travel industry where I worked for about 18 years, then I became a lecturer in Tourism and Marketing. I still lecture on Marketing at Brunel University in west London. I have always played music, mostly Bluegrass and Old timey, and over the years I have played guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin in various semi-professional lineups.
I got married in 1971 and have a daughter and a son, who are both musically talented but they don’t play much nowadays. I was divorced in 1982. With my new partner Janet we spend a lot of time racing in windsurfing events, traveling all over the UK and Europe to compete. We also practice the Japanese martial art of Aikido, which occupies much of our evenings.
Dr. BLT: What does it feel like to be a part of the band from which the Beatles were born?
Rod: It’s a great honour, although of course we were just a bunch of kids having fun. Even today, many people don’t believe us, but it had to be somebody and of course it WAS us!
Dr. BLT: What do you think John and Paul took with them from the Quarrymen when they formed the Beatles?
Rod: All that happened was that the Quarrymen evolved into the Beatles. “The Quarrymen” was a good name for a skiffle group but it was totally wrong for a rock ‘n’ roll group, so they had to change it and of course they went through several variations before deciding on “The Beatles”.
For me the great thing about being in a group is the “togetherness”, the musical tightness, the dovetailing together, the anticipation of the other guys’ moves, the closeness, the feeling that the group is more than simply the sum of its parts. These are probably the same feelings that you could get from being in any group however.
There was the love of American music and through that the beginnings of a love affair with a vision of America. There was also the feeling that we were breaking new ground, no one had ever imagined being able to stand up on stage with a guitar and feel good and try to look good, this was a whole new experience for us and we still really enjoy this aspect of performance today, although we do look just a little bit older than we did in 1957.
Dr. BLT: Rod, how did the news of the murder of John Lennon affect you?
Rod: My mother had recently died and I was in the early stages of splitting up from my wife, so I was feeling pretty raw already at the time. I felt immensely sad for John as he had tried to find a new life for himself away from the constraints of being a Beatle and had largely succeeded. I think John and the other Beatles had very quickly realized that there was a dark side to their fame and fortune–that it was like riding a tiger which one day could turn round and bite you, which is exactly what happened to John. It was particularly tragic for Julian, who had just started to rediscover his own father and for Sean, who lost his father at an early age, a macabre echo of what had happened to John himself.
Dr. BLT: How were you impacted by the death of George Harrison?
Rod: The saddest thing about George’s death was that he was the youngest. He had also struggled to escape from the tentacle-like grasp of his Beatle past and had established himself as a great solo artist on his own right. I never knew George and never even met him but I had always wanted to ask him how he became to be such a great guitarist at such an early age when the rest of us were still having trouble with three basic chords.
Dr. BLT: I agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiments Rod expressed, as I had previously expressed in this song that I’d like to share with all of you, and with the Quarrymen (I hope this supplements rather than distracts from the interview):
Words and music by Dr. BLT © 2001, 2006
Dr. BLT: When, and under what circumstances did the Quarrymen get back together? What has the present Quarrymen line-up been involved in these days?
Rod: In the early 90’s John Lowe played with some musicians in the Bristol area which included a guy called Mike Wilsh who was a member of the Four Pennies, a very successful band in the 1960’s. They were approached to re-form the original band in order to make a cd and the same company also approached John. He contacted Rod and Len, Eric and Colin were not interested and we could not find Pete Shotton.
John, Len and Rod, together with John’s other musical friends from his Bristol band, put together enough tracks for a cd, which however was never put out. A second attempt was made, this time without Rod, again no success. John tried again at a different studio, financing the project himself but the studio went broke and he was never able to get the tapes. A final attempt followed with John and Rod, but no Len this time, and the Bristol musicians which did see the light of day under the name The Quarrymen, “Open for engagements”. As a result of this, John, Rod and the band took part in a series of 3 concerts “With a little help from my friends”, together with Cynthia Lennon, Denny Laine and the Merseybeats amongst others.
As a result of the “Open for engagements” CD, John and Rod were invited to Mark Lapidos’s Beatlefest in Los Angeles and Chicago in 1995.
In 1997 we were all invited to the Cavern’s 40th birthday party, there was free booze all day and by the evening we were about to go off to have dinner when we were asked to go on stage to play for a TV crew who were just arriving. We got up on stage with a Lennon look-alike and a McCartney look-alike and played a couple of numbers. There were some Beatle fans in the audience from the NW of England who were planning to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the day John met Paul in Woolton in July 1997 and they asked us to take part, so we did!
Since then we have played five or six gigs per year, in the UK, Europe, America and Japan. We made a cd in 1997 -“Get back – together” and a cd in 2003 -“Songs we remember” and a DVD in Japan “Putting on the style” in conjunction with top Japanese group the “High-Lows”. We have appeared at Fests for Beatelfans in Orlando, New Jersey and Chicago, we have played in Las Vegas, the “Bottom Line” in Greenwich village and Foxwoods Casino, we have appeared in Havana, Cuba and made many radio and tv appearances. Beatle biographer Hunter Davies wrote a full length biography of the Quarrymen in 2001.
Now we are looking forward to the 50th anniversary of the Day John met Paul.
Dr. BLT: Which of you knew, recorded or performed with members of the Beatles?
Rod: I knew and performed with John only.
Len: I knew and performed with John and Paul and knew George.
Colin and John: We knew, performed and recorded with John, Paul and George.
Dr. BLT: What are some of your favorite Beatles songs and why?
Rod: I particularly enjoy Penny Lane, as during my school lunch hour when I was at Quarry Bank School, I would climb over the school wall, stroll past the fire station and walk along Allerton Road to Penny Lane, we’d get our hair cut at the barber’s shop, which was then called Bioletti’s, buy fish and chips and sit and eat them in the bus shelter on the roundabout – need I say more! “In my life” is also one of my favourites.
Dr. BLT: Describe the present members of the Quarrymen, and how the personalities in the band compliment or clash with one another.
Rod: I think we compliment each other very well in the present line-up, getting John Lowe to play piano has given the band a great musical boost, much the same as he did for the Quarrymen in 1958 in fact! We have still not started to tap all John’s musical talents yet and we intend to develop some more complicated arrangements. Len continues to be our laid-back lead singer who remains calm and unruffled, Colin is eaten away with anxiety before every performance and despite being the oldest in the group by a couple of years is still coming to terms with being on stage. However once you press the right button he is totally unstoppable and very entertaining, especially when you get him in front of a microphone. Rod just enjoys being on stage and making music and trying to explain what the Quarrymen are all about.
Basically we try to sound a much like 1957 as we possibly can, we don’t play Beatles music – but we do play the stuff we played back then so the audience can get a feel for the sound of the group which gave birth to the Beatles.
Dr. BLT: What would you, as an artist, like to be most remembered for?
Rod: I really enjoy just playing an acoustic guitar, I’d like to be remembered for being able to entertain people without any electronic gimmicks, just a wooden box with silver wires….
Dr. BLT: What would you, as a band, like to be most remembered for?
Rod: Being able to convey to the audience the sheer fun and excitement of playing in a band. As the Quarrymen– being able to show people the origins of the Beatles, and the music that influenced them.
Well, the Quarrymen are nearly as busy as the Beatles are big, so we had to wrap it up at this point. Yes, the interview was over, but the memory of it is, and will always be, permanently etched in my mind. As for the journey? Well, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings, and, so far I don’t even see a fat lady stepping up to the mic— only four extraordinary talented, forever young lads, who set off the spark that started the fire that continues to burn in the hearts of rock ‘n’ roll fans across the world. The Quarrymen are the centerpiece in the history of skiffle, the history of rock ‘n’ roll, the history of the British Invasion, and the history of the Beatles.
PS: Hey, Rod, be sure to take care of that cold of yours! Doctor’s orders JRead More
A personal story: Psychologist offers music as a way to help heal
By J. Freedom du Lac — Bee Pop Culture Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Sunday, Sept. 8, 2002
Sacramento psychologist and musician Bruce L. Thiessen says he’s wielding his own weapon in the war on terrorism: his song book.
“It’s a weapon of mass construction,” Thiessen said. “I think music can really help people to cope with September 11th and with this anticipation we have of a foreshortened future. From a psychological standpoint, music can be very healing.”
Thiessen, 41, should know – he teaches a course on the psychology of music for Chapman University.
On Wednesday, he’ll release “One September Mournin’,” which he hopes will “provide an emotional outlet for the psychological trauma associated with the events of September 11th.”
Written by Thiessen and recorded by him (as “Dr. BLT”) with several other Sacramento artists, the songs include “Risin’ From the Rubble,” “One Nation Under God,” “I’ve Never Bin’ Laden” and the title track, “One September Mournin’.”
The latter, written shortly after the attacks, includes these lyrics: “Teardrops fall like rain against a broken skyline/I wonder if we’ll ever sleep again/Teardrops on the pain of my shattered window/I wonder if we’ll ever be the same.”
Not necessarily the typical mutterings of a psychologist. Which is too bad, says Thiessen.
“I don’t want to criticize my own kind,” he said. “But you can get kind of content sitting in your office dealing with the patient sitting in the chair rather than dealing with social ills and problems.
“So psychologists haven’t really taken the lead in offering solutions to the fear… from September 11th. We’ve been pretty quiet about all the trauma and the fear of the future. But we have a lot to offer. We can help heal.”
Proceeds from the project aren’t earmarked for charity. But Thiessen says he’s hardly cashing in on a calamity – an accusation some have levied against Bruce Springsteen, whose recent album “The Rising” was largely inspired by the terrorist attacks.
“I’m definitely going to end up in the hole,” Thiessen said. “But making money isn’t my motivation.”
Freud meets Hendrix
Going by the stage name Dr. B.L.T., singing and playing his guitar for spare change most weekday mornings outside Noah’s Bagels on J Street, he seems to be just another down-on-his-luck artist trying to scrape by. Few would suspect that Dr. B.L.T. has actually earned his title with a PhD in psychology, or that he is a practicing psychologist, college professor and accomplished writer of both songs and articles in psychological journals. Yet the simple musician is as much as part of who Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen is as the professional therapist. He has found a way to marry his dual roles, using music as a key tool in his therapy, and allowing his public performances to expand his understanding of the human psyche.
What came first for you, music or psychology?
Music has always come first for me. That’s where my passion lies.
Was music therapeutic for you?
It always has been therapeutic for me, because whether you’re on the top of the world or the bottom, music can take that feeling and bring it to another level. Something creative can come out of it, so you feel like you’re in the midst of a creative process. It’s very affirming in that way.
But how can it help people deal with psychological problems?
Psychotherapy has always been about catharsis, being able to express your feelings. One of the most painful things about going through difficult conflicts and feelings is that sometimes they get stuck inside of you, so just having a way to mobilize those feelings in an expressive way takes the edge off it so your mind can more actively work on arriving at solutions.
And just listening to music does that?
Not just listening, but if you’re identifying with the words and the music, if the musical aspects allow your emotions to become engaged, and if the lyrics engage your mind and your emotions.
When did you first make the connection between music and therapy?
I’m not sure if it was ever a formal type of thought process that allowed me to make the connection, it just seems natural for me that music and psychology go hand-in-hand. It’s all about expressing yourself and communicating and not being afraid to tread on any subject matter having to do with emotions.
Say I came to you and I was suffering from depression and had some other issues. How would you bring music into our therapy session?
At the center of almost every serious psychological problem is a conflict having to do with the struggle for identity. One of the things I might do to help a person carve out their identity, since identity is so much related to a person’s personal history, is have them go into their life and reflect on significant periods in their life and try to remember songs that they heard that allow them to relate to that experience, and to just put together a chronological series of songs that tell their life story. That would allow them to see a more complete picture of themselves, so they have a stronger sense of their identity.
Does it work for someone who’s not a big music fan?
I think everyone’s a music fan on one level or another, though they may not be aware of the degree to which music influences their lives. And there might be certain blocks to being able to appreciate music, some of which could be actually emotional and mental blocks, and through the process of therapy, we may be able to tackle some of those blocks, which would allow them to gain a better appreciation of music.
So then it’s abnormal not to be a music fan?
I think music is so much of a core of who we are as human beings. It seems so natural for the human psyche to be drawn toward music that I do believe it’s an integral part of who we are as human beings.
And you’re obviously so drawn to it that you spend a significant amount of time just sitting on the street playing. What does that give you?
For one thing, it allows me to bring attention to a cause I represent, Compassion International, which is an organization that helps children in a variety of underprivileged nations to be able to eat and provides them with an education. So music can be a tool in that way. It also has the purpose of allowing me to be comfortable playing in front of people. Sitting there by yourself with your guitar and playing is a whole different experience than doing it with people sitting around you. It just allows you to gain that relationship with other people while you’re playing, and it’s all about relationships.
How do you think people see you? Do you think even one person in 10 would see you on the street and think you were a psychologist?
No, I don’t really fit the mold of the typical psychologist by any means. In fact, I think that’s what popular music is all about, stepping out of the mold and gracefully defying people’s expectations.
People project what they want to see. They might see me as a homeless person, although I don’t really look that part because I take care of my personal hygiene and try to dress nicely. I don’t really fit that, so then they try to go somewhere else in their experience.
Do you have fun analyzing those people while you play?
Being a psychologist is really all about experimenting. So this is like a big experiment. People have this idea of who you are, and when they find out differently, it blows away their stereotypes and frees their minds.