Part of digging one’s way through the rust and mud to a magical life is reaching back to those profoundly wyrd experiences which have occurred in one’s past but we’re potentially glossed over or not met with the same willing, open eyes with which one currently seeks the numinous. I know that I, personally, tend to find as much (or more) insight and inspiration from processing the accounts and experiences of other practitioners who I would consider to be peers as I do from practical texts. For these reasons I thought it would make sense to share another story.
I had just moved to New Orleans and was ironing out the kinks in a set of all-new songs using vocals, guitar, drum machine/beatboxing, synth, and base loops which I would record, layer, and mix on-the-fly into gritty indie jams. It would be my first performance in this unbelievable city as well as my first ever performance under my newly-chosen moniker, which was not just another band name to me, but a declaration of intent; a magical act that would have precisely undefined, but self-evidently real consequences.
Having spent eight-ish years prior to this in a locally successful five-piece band back in Florida, I had noticed that as our local popularity had grown, so had my wondering about the efficacy of what I was doing as a means for doing good. I struggled with the idea that many people out there dancing couldn’t hear the desperate cynicisms and ironic empathies within my words for the cacophony of booze and personal demons that always seem so empowered for most trauma and ghost-haunted humans when they find themselves wading through the swamps of social gatherings.
For me, the whole point of writing, composing, practicing, and performing music was to do something inherently good for others (it definitely wasn’t for the money), and while there were some who went out of their way to express that what I was doing really did mean a lot to them or helped them in some way, mostly what arose were meal-opportunities for personal demons and sickly social dynamics by means of addictions, both chemical and emotional.
So by the time I had moved to New Orleans this had all been fermenting inside for some time, and the trimming season I spent in NorCal that led up to my move provided plenty of time to ruminate away from writing and performing and that whole world. I was still pretty sure I wanted to make music as my primary output at that point, but I didn’t want the words to get lost anymore, and I needed to pinpoint the exact gears that made what I was doing helpful for others and focus on them.
So the tempo dropped and the sound became more moody and communicative as opposed to dancey, a choice that may have been an unknown cowardice on my part all along. And after an uncomfortable period of analysis and contemplation I began to feel that what I was really offering which was of-worth was the permission to feel anything without judgement that seemed to permeate the audience when I performed. When there’s a skinny drunk screaming his heart into a can up there, you, as an audience member, have zero chance of being the most obnoxious/ridiculous-looking/crazy/likely-to-be-hated person in the room, because that’s my job and you can be as weird as you like without fear. In my mind, that was so beautiful. A tiny martyrdom. A minor shamanism. And that became my answer.
Now that I finally knew what I was obviously supposed to do with my entire life, it needed a name. There is a concept a roommate told me about which I found on a Feng Shui website around that time called Sha. It was defined as harmful energy, the Chi that is present when people are angry or when a place has a threatening feel to it. Immediately I heard Issac Brock’s Ugly Casanova side project echoing in my ear “SHA SHA SHA SHAAAA” and it struck me as fun that these two contradictory feelings would be tied to the same three-letter word. But then it occurred to me that this idea of dispelling Sha was essentially the same mechanism of creating an emotionally safe place for the audience which I’d just, quite dramatically, identified as foundational to my craft, and the pseudonym Sha Sha Shaman was born.
Now, I feel I must contextualize that at this time in my life I had no magical education. I had my own occasionally-functional grassroots brand of Castaneda-inspired psychonautical shamanism, but my depth of study and practice was that of a teacup. An observation which is, in all honesty, still true, albeit nowadays a travel thermos may prove a more apt metaphor. The point is that my ignorance as to the cultural specificity and significance of the two terms involved, and the subsequently less-than-graceful appropriative line-walking contained therein, are not lost on me. My bad.
So back to the show, the first show under this declarative new name. I meant it to be just that, a pronouncement of my intentions to help, to serve, and to enjoy myself at the same time. I held a simple, small ceremony, which for me at the time was a pretty big deal, to commemorate the occasion before heading to the bar and I remember getting that hyperthick feeling in the air, one I was familiar with, but not yet intentionally. When it was time for my set I hurried to finish my beer and get another one, plus water, for the set and choke down a cigarette as I checked all my levels. Loop pedal work is absolutely ruined if your volumes aren’t dialed-in by NASA (or equivalent) and the dials on my pedal made it possible to adjust these, if necessary, while performing, however shoes were too bulky and socks too slick, so to do so required bare feet for the sake of traction. I tossed my shoes to the side and began to emotionally prepare. The sound guy gave me the go-ahead from his little booth and I remembered there was one little detail I had forgotten to mention to him which, to be honest, I cannot even recall now. So I intended to hop off the stage, take two steps to approach and deliver the message, then return to the stage and play a set so fantastic that they name a fucking parade after me. What happened was different.
I hopped down off the stage and was greeted, not with the familiar cold and sticky grime of a New Orleans dive bar floor, but with screaming pain from the arch in my left foot. I had quite literally looked before I leapt, but the dark of the bar and the beer I had been breathing rendered my best self-preservative intentions moot. I hopped on my good foot over to the sound guy and delivered the original message, too drunk to feel shame, and told him I needed to “fix my foot real quick.”
I sat in a chair and a friend came over with a cup and began collecting the dripping blood from my glass wound to keep the bar from becoming a hazmat zone, all red mixing with remnant beer foam. It was this moment that a man I’d never seen before, or since, saw what had happened. His eyes lit up and he walked very slowly and deliberately over to where my friend and I were sitting while praying under his breath and making the sign of the cross. He never broke eye-contact with me as his own eyes became wider and he dipped his finger in the blood-foam cup, which my friend still held, and continued to pray as he marked a cross of booze and blood upon my forehead and gestured as if to signify some sort of honor had been bestowed. I taped a bar napkin tightly around my bleeding foot and hopped back up onstage and played my whole set with that bloody cross on my head (and rather well for someone using foot pedals and having only one foot, if I do say so myself.) When I was finished the man was nowhere to be found.
In the months following this performance I would slide into addiction, a demon I knew I had within but had been effectively avoiding. It would begin a process that would take years, the process of being shaman-ned by the universe through the process of finding true bottom, dismantling everything that I was, losing most of my human relationships, and eventually overcoming addiction in a way that means true liberation, rather than the approach of institutional rehabilitations which hold as a core tenet the impossibility of that liberated state and offering treatment to the symptoms of a deeper, spiritual issue rather than the issue itself.
Looking back, I believe that this declarative ritual on my part, and the unpredictable mystery of the world meeting me halfway to significate the experience by means of a bloody forehead-cross barroom-baptism, was the initiation of that horrific but necessary journey. Sure, I could have white-knuckled it for the rest of my life, always having within me that desire for feel-good drugs above all other things, people, and experiences, pulling my consciousness partly away from being present and embodied and leaving me bitter about the banality of so-called normal human existence, but it’s unequivocally better this way.
I never would have been capable of maintaining the relationships I now have in my life, human and non-human, without that journey. I thought I was supposed to be doing what I was doing, believed it with my soul, and I was right about the structure, just not the specifics. I declared that I would give myself to the service of sanctity and the betterment of the Whole, and that call was answered with an intensive psychospiritual training program and eventual promotion.
For the time I have left on Earth as this self, I get to be fully present. I long for little that is damaging now, and I do not fear myself or my own judgement. I get to be whole. I get to be a husband, a mentor, and hopefully a father.
All this from a noob with a purpose.
I don’t want to sum this story up with some catchy little moral, because there isn’t one. But I will say that I don’t look at people who appear stuck as lost anymore, knowing that I seemed completely hopeless to all outsiders at certain stages in my life and would have probably slapped someone if they’d told me that one day my passion for music would migrate to spiritual practices. Paths don’t diverge in the wood on their own, we must participate in the approaching of the forks and accept, with open eyes and arms, the unfathomable possibilities we call to us when we act with meaning and heart. It is interesting though, to think that sometimes we may be auditioning for a much bigger role than we realize due to the potential in us that can only been seen at the current time, by spirits.
I just wanted to share, in case it reminds a reader of a time they need to go back and properly venerate within their own lives. These moments are our plot points, our nodes, and they simply can’t be shared or studied enough. For practical gain, yes, but also for pure enjoyment and fellowship.
Until next time. ❤