Michael Garfield – Speaker, Musician and Artist

[quote style=”boxed”] I try to avoid typical days. Mostly because they involve me sitting in front of a computer for ten hours. God bless email on the iPod touch so I don’t feel tied to a 13″ screen when it’s time to go outside and put my feet in the grass for a while.[/quote]

Paleontologist turned guitar-wielding performance philosopher, Michael Garfield’s ecodelic explorations map the evolutionary landscape and our place in it. Trained in ecology at the University of Kansas, Michael worked for four years as a scientific illustrator before leaping into festival culture with a transcendental hard-on for novel and inspiring combinations of media, ideas, and people. His motto, “Imagination is our greatest natural resource,” flies on the banner for an increasingly diverse panoply of cultural offerings – live painter, poet, and cyber-troubadour, he tirelessly tours the United States marrying acoustic-electronic music, fractal art, and public speaking into mind-opening transmedia performances.

A contributor to Reality Sandwich & H+ Magazine and commentator on human-technology co-evolution for Hybrid Reality’s blog at BigThink.com, a speaker at Burning Man and innumerable other events, and an internet video evangelist for planetary civilization, Michael walks the tightrope between the New Age and the Academe, reminding us that everything is equally art, science, and spiritual practice. Follow him through his twice-monthly newsletter or on twitter: @michaelgarfield

What are you working on right now?

Five years of preproduction writing, rehearsal, and studio ear-training are now complete, and it’s time for me to track my next studio album of acoustic-electronic singer-songwriter avant-guitar adventures.

I’m also editing a couple of evolution/art/spirituality talks I gave this summer, soon to be published in my archives at evolution.bandcamp.com – I enjoy blowing people’s minds, basically. Opening them up to the possibilities of where we might be headed over the decades to come, discussing the nature of this profound and utter transformation we’re all shooting toward full speed…

And I’m getting ready to interview a few people for my friends at solpurpose.com, a website covering the culture of transformational festivals and the year-round collaborative work of re-programming our society. I’m hugely inspired by the work of people like Mark Heley and Dixon’s Violin and can’t wait to share those conversations with the world.

Where did the idea for your hydra of a career come from?

I have been playing music in public for over a decade but never took it too seriously as a career until the last few years, when I realized the kind of impact I am capable of making on people with music – and not just music, but the banter between songs, the opportunity to sneak in some profound teachings as a kind of storyteller/songwriter/stand-up. That tradition of a musician who is also the history-keeper (ie, history-maker) and who works as a kind of minister for his audiences…that’s old, old, old. And we still need it and respond to it, in some way. It’s core to what makes us human, this gathering-around-a-song.

But I also discovered I could get in on shows where I’m not playing music by offering myself up as a “live painter,” improvising visual art during other people’s concerts. Inviting people into the process, encouraging them to participate more and find ways to express themselves as an offering to the total ambience of an event – this work strikes directly at the alienation and disenfranchisement of the modern world and reminds us that everything is collaboration.

So it’s not as if I woke up one morning and decided to work in all of these different media simultaneously; I have just found ways to make a unique contribution to as many events and scenes and communities as possible, and I expect to continue finding new ways to be creative/informative/evocative/inspiring for as long as I’m alive. It’s the passion that guides my hand, more than any clear plan.

What does your typical day look like?

I try to avoid typical days. Mostly because they involve me sitting in front of a computer for ten hours. God bless email on the iPod touch so I don’t feel tied to a 13″ screen when it’s time to go outside and put my feet in the grass for a while.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Through music, through art, through speaking and writing and conversation…but maybe you have it backwards, and ideas bring us to life. Maybe it’s like they say in tent revivals, and the spirit moves you. That’s certainly what the Greeks believed – that genius is an animating force that possesses a person. When we lose our purpose, we despair and die of broken hearts.

Rather than offer a strategy for manifestation (start with gratitude), though, I’m of the disposition to suggest that a person figures out what really moves them, what pumps their blood, and then to find everyone else whose blood pumps for the same thing. Then things will likely take care of themselves, because all of you will have complementary strengths and assets.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The dissolution of nation-states in an accelerating techno-ecology of electronic communication, relocalized production methods, and rapid travel. This is something that has been going on since before any of us were born; Marshall McLuhan spoke very eloquently about it in the 1960s, notably in his 1969 interview with Playboy, where he was already prophesying the balkanization of the United States due to – of all things – the influence of television.

As our lives become more immersed in media, we paradoxically are capable of more immanent, spontaneous, unmediated emotional exchanges with people in other times, on other continents, from other cultures.

Admonishing your kids for not finishing dinner because “there are starving children in Africa!” has turned into programs like Peter Gabriel’s Realworld Records, the first company to offer global distribution to artists in dozens of countries; and Kiva.org’s international microlending, which allow people to support local initiatives thousands of miles away.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Probably working retail shoes in Boulder, Colorado. I’m not sure what exactly I learned from it except a taste of servitude, to a totally ungrateful employer that replaced me with my trainee. After that I’m pretty glad to consider myself in the employ of the planet in its evolutionary adventure, as opposed to one or a group of humans. It seems silly that we should lead each other, given that we have comparable neural complexity. Better to take the lead from transcendental intelligences.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would be less afraid to be honest with people like this: “I cannot be authentic in our relationship unless I say this to you.” Thinking of it as an offering that could improve things, instead of a confession that will damage them, really helps.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I remind myself that my resources are of many kinds, that luck is one of them, that help comes from strange places, and that I’m doing this for love, not money. (Money is just the blood that keeps the body working. I don’t need a basement full of blood.)

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Making money, ha! But I overcame it by reminding myself of my multiple bottom lines, and how I dedicated my life to the service of inspiring other people to participate passionately in the creative unfolding of our lives together here, to enjoy their discovery of purpose amidst the accelerating changes of the age of rediscovery, amen!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Do what only you can do. There are a thousand people in line behind you except for what critical node in the working body of our species? This is a place where “your deep gladness meets the world’s needs.”* Go for that.

* Frederick Buechner

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would completely reform obstetrics and the birthing process. Psychologist Stanislav Grof has written extensively about perinatal crisis, the crisis of birth, and how reprehensibly this most-sacred-and-influential of moments in handled in our society. Why aren’t techniques for orgasmic birth standard in prenatal education? Why do we make delivery rooms the most terrifying possible places for a newborn: flourescent lighting, air conditioning, beeping machinery, a doped-up mom who can’t connect with her child because the nurses immediately take the kid into a room full of other scared and disoriented infants…not to mention the research that indicates circumcision raises blood cortisol levels permanently. Is it any wonder that this culture is a veritable parade of post-traumatic symptoms? Let’s make that first experience a good one for every new child, and things will change fast. The whole world would be completely different within one generation.

Tell us a secret.

There are no such things as secrets except to observers on the ground. (We are all constantly involved in conspiracies.) One day everything will be remembered…everything. It’s the grand human project of exponential intelligence increase, finally resurrecting the past in a cybernetic New Jerusalem. It will be an explosion of wisdom catapulting us beyond our humanity.

Oh, you don’t jive with that? Well, you might be in ideological conflict with pretty much everyone that contributed to the informational architecture upon which we all now rely. Infopocalypse. Surf’s up!

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

I stand in awe of Wikipedia. It’s the only thing we’ve really done as a collective that I’m aware of that compares to wonders of antiquity like the pyramids at Giza, or the megaliths at Rapa Nui. People haven’t really given themselves to big projects like that, cathedral building, for several centuries. It’s not “cool” in a secular society. Well, posh! I think the internet is readying people to totally hive out and get super-collaborative, like engineered scientific revolutions and fluid improvisational government – a total phase change in the way we tackle things, due to our being so massively parallel when we stand together, and all that. We build together.

Another is . Thank God for that. It has restored participation to culture.

And thank you, Bandcamp. Now that I have my own page on their site, I can feel and look like a professional musician. It’s been fun to play with their options and hold various pre-order and pricing experiments, and I like the integrated merch shop.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

That would depend on exactly what box your readership needs to punch their way out from, but:

Vagabonding: A Guide To The Uncommon Art Of Long-Term World Travel, by Rolf Potts

…because it’s good to remind yourself why you’re working so hard;


T. A. Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, by Hakim Bey

…because it’s good to learn how to make your own private beauty in the blind spots of a fenced-off world.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

@bruces – Bruce Sterling, science fiction author and founding member of The Well; he has a blog at WIRED that is one of my favorite channels for keeping track of how our present is increasingly both the future and the past – his trademark notion is “Gothic High Tech,” or how the more futuristic we become, the more paradoxically obsessed we get with crate digging, zeppelins, and 8-bit video game music (among other things). A very keen sense on this guy for how the old and new will only continue to intertwine as our archival and sharing technology improves.

@futuredition – Unquestionably, this newsletter by speculative D.C. think-tank The Arlington Institute is my best news source for truly game-changing developments in our accelerating world. Definitely a out-of-the-box thinker, chair John Peterson has done more than most to help me understand just how truly weird and awesomely different the coming world will be…

@venessamiemis – The Dame-In-Charge at emergentbydesign.com, an excellent ongoing exploration for anyone interested in internet-enabled creative collaboration. She’s a superb resource on the topics of leadership, authenticity, and working together, whose authorial voice I imagine would appeal to anyone reading this.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I don’t know, but I cried like five times watching The Lion King again tonight.

Who is your hero?

Ernst Haeckel. He named and illustrated over 4,000 species of deep sea creature, came up with the evolutionary tree of life, named ecology, and articulated a rapturous scientific spirituality that makes Carl Sagan seem unimpassioned. Watching Proteus, an awesome documentary that situates his life in the history of what was, really, a religious revolution…I just feel like I was this guy. In a past life.

What are your plans for retirement?

Retire what now? I’m young and foolish, so ask me again in twenty years, but right now it seems like I’ll always want to be involved in something. I feel like retirement may be on its way out – not just because social security is failing, but because we’ll stay healthy longer and want to keep working. The day I stop learning and sharing and growing and changing is the day I might as well tap out and let another soul have this body, because that’s not living!

What is your favorite arthropod?

Tough one, Mario! But I’d have to say the Mantis Shrimp. Not because I like the Mantis Shrimp, but because I am afraid of it. We have three color receptors in our eyes; the Mantis Shrimp has fourteen. Anything that can see that many more colors than I can and can punch through the glass wall of an aquarium deserves my healthy respect and/or protection money.


Michael Garfield’s Blog: michaelgarfield.blogspot.com
Michael Garfield on Facebook: facebook.com/therealmichaelgarfield
Michael Garfield on Twitter: twitter.com/michaelgarfield
Michael Garfield on Youtube: youtube.com/michaelgarfield
Michael Garfield on Reverbnation: reverbnation.com/michaelgarfield