Shuffle Synchronicities 253

Guest Post by Christopher von Roy (The World According to von Roy) + "Isolation" by Harry Nilsson - 09/27/21

Welcome again to Shuffle Synchronicities by me, Dave Cowen.

An unusual mix of music & memoir.

Every day I Shuffle my Spotify Liked Songs playlist (42,057 and counting), then write how the song Synchronizes with my life and maybe yours ;)

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Today we have a guest post from Christopher von Roy of the Substack The World According to von Roy. We both started following each other after Christopher commented on a post by Substacker Harmony Holiday and I read his post about Harmony Korine and Werner Herzog, which was equally eloquent. Christopher commented on my post yesterday and I reached out to see if he’d do a guest post, and he whipped one together overnight or whatever time it was over there in New Zealand, much to my delight and I think yours!

Here’s a more formal bio!

Christopher writes weekly stories in The world according to von Roy using his background as a medical writer and hobby polemicist to capture opinions as widespread as immunology, mental health, pop culture, politics and philosophy. He is a ghost writer and has authored 5 books to date. He is working on a podcast and has already interviewed the New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern as well as the MIT Media Labs engineer and voice specialist Rébecca Kleinberger. In his spare time you can find Christopher writing poetry, obsessing over sharks and swimming in the open ocean (whilst obsessing over sharks).

OK, take it away, Christopher!


Of cold showers, Guantanamo Bay and Bahamas

I have been listening to music in the shower ever since I was a teenager. Now I’m in my 40s and I still do. Today was week 37 since the induction of my daily morning cold shower routine. I hit a personal best.

I managed to withstand the ice water, throughout all of John Coltrane’s 1963 classic “After The Rain”. 

John Coltrane in 1962, in his element with his trusted horn, looking up to the heavens.

That’s a whopping 4 minutes and 10 seconds of external brain freeze to deal with:

Coltrane was not only an incredibly gifted horns player, he was also a wordsmith. Once asked with how he comes up with his songs, he told a reporter:

“I start in the middle of a sentence and move both directions at once.”

I might not be doing this whole shuffle context much favour as this song did not appear randomly on my playlist.

No, it was a deliberate choice. 

For whatever reason, Jazz is the easiest genre of music to withstand torture to. There was that time about 15 years ago when I was visiting my folks and my dad and I in an act of empathy, ensconced behind the TV watching CNN footage of suspected Al Qaeda detainees being lined up and escorted to their cells in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when we both challenged each other to see how horrible waterboarding was. The following morning I took a tea towel into the shower, bent backwards as far as I could and lent my head to 45 degree angle, letting the water trickle over the tea towel until it was soaked. I lasted 50 seconds until I felt like I was drowning and coughing up water. Chick Corea’s “Light as a Feather” was playing.

Not sure why jazz makes tough things more bearable, but I guess it has something to do with its randomness. The drum, piano, horns etc.. all out of sync yet in sync magically, simultaneously. Beckoning chaos and imperfection at every note. Jazz embodies the second law of thermodynamics musically. Everything, yes everything, in the known universe tends toward entropy and chaos. Even if we pretend it doesn’t and do our utmost as civilised humans trying to prevent chaos and decay - proving the opposite of the second law.

All things fall apart eventually. 

The traveling naturalist, philosopher and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, once wrote:

“Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music.”

This house could be a John Coltrane song.

A sentiment which I adore and wholeheartedly agree with but back to my cold shower saga. Why on Earth would you do that? Last year I decided to change a couple of things about myself, the biggest was quitting a 25 year chain smoking habit, I found that changing routines up, helped and especially ones that made me live outside my comfort zone. And there is nothing more uncomfortable than to roll out of bed and be immersed in Antarctic sea temperature water. Well, bear with me. The Antarctic sea reference isn’t figurative, it is literal. I live in the South Island of New Zealand,  about a 6 day sail from the northernmost point of Antarctica. Our weather patterns are influenced by winds that come directly from Antarctica. And the water in my shower is bore water, which means it comes directly from the ground water, which in turn comes from the nearby river and rain from the sky. We are still in winter here in New Zealand, so the mornings are cold and the water is freezing. Not literally, but as cold as it gets before water turns to ice. 

And I manage to submerge myself for the entirety of Coltrane’s “After it Rains”? Amazing! Something strange happens to your brain when you cold shower every day for a year. Not only do your senses become more acute, your perspective on reality shifts and you become acutely aware of the simulation that we are all living in. I incidentally also quit alcohol, coffee and weed within the same time frame - cos they were all inextricably linked to my smoking habit. So if I was gonna be serious, I had to quit them all, especially coffee as that sucker is the linchpin to all habits. Its bitterness makes cigarettes actually taste better, it wakes you up when you’re stoned and it gets you going in the morning after a hangover. Coffee is the culprit. 

Anyway I digress. One more cool thing about the water in my shower, is that it comes from a natural source which exists about 4 kilometres from my house, called Te Waikoropupū Springs. It is the clearest water on the planet (look it up!) 

I exit the shower. Eat breakfast. Sit down and back in my chair at my writing desk and let my playlist really shuffle this time. 

“Fair Share” from Bahamas.

Not surprised that this song comes on as it is one of my favourites of 2021, his album Sad Hunk is a masterpiece. It’s playfulness and funny lyrics reminds me a lot of Flight of the Conchords which makes it doubly great that the video to his song “Can’t Complain” actually has a photo of Jemaine Clement, one half of the genius comedic kiwi duo, in it.

The man behind Bahamas, the multi-talented Afie Jurvanen - is a 6ft4 tall Canadian comedian, husband, father, phenom on the guitar and a brilliant lyricist:

Tryna do more
With all that I'm given
Tryna do more
Than just make a livin'
Forget your rules

I'ma use my own tools
Forget your union man
And your pension plan
And your private schools

Forget just tryna survive
I'm only doing that which makes me feel alive
Can't complain

I made a living with my brain

Bahamas actually lists Coltrane as one of his musical influences. So there you go. Full circle. 

Back at my desk and I open my laptop to start work, “Metamorphosis One” by Philip Glass comes on:

A dreamy piano piece that just sets my mind off into multiple realities, it really makes me feel alive and in the moment. Sometimes when I hear it, I wish I was still asleep, so I could dream. Why do we stop dreaming when we wake up?

A buzzing sound from my phone snaps me back into reality, Jacinda Ardern is giving another Facebook live update about the number of covid cases in New Zealand and whether or not we can advance out of our restricted movement levels yet. I shake my head, turn the phone off, gather my thoughts and begin today’s task.

Philip's piano accompanies me while I try to earn some money writing about the effects of covid and artificial intelligence on the manufacturing sector in the UK. Sounds boring? Tell me about it. But I do my best to make it interesting and palatable for a wider audience. 

To make a living with my brain. 

Thank the heavens for music, without which life would be a mistake.

And I wonder who said that?


Christopher! Absolutely lovely!! I believe, after some Googling to help confirm, it was Nietzche who said life would be a mistake without music, which it seems you already knew haha, and, in my mind as well, he is certainly right!

I had never heard of the musician Bahamas but have been really digging what I’ve heard of him today.

Your shuffled to song, “Fair Share”, made me reflect on my own situation:

What part was the hardest
Knowing you were never the smartest
Yes you were working as a sandwich artist
As far as I know

I wish I could warn her
Don't let them paint you into no corner
No don't ever sign a bad deal with Warner
That much I know

So where does all of that leave me
I don't know
I don't care
I only want my fair share
I said I only want my
I only want my fair share

I’ve always known I’m not the smartest person or writer.

And I don’t get paid that much more than a sandwich artist these days, even at age 37, at my day job.

And yet I wish someone would warn anyone trying to date me.

Don’t let them paint me into no corner.

I do think I’ll sign some deal for a film script someday.

I played tennis yesterday with someone at a fancy country club here in LA.

My first such invitation.

Before I went to the club, I looked into its history and found it quite amusing:

‘Located in the city's Cheviot Hills neighborhood, Hillcrest opened in 1920 as the first Los Angeles country club for the city's Jewish community.

In 1972, the Los Angeles Times referred to Hillcrest as "the leading Jewish country club in Southern California."

In the 1950s, oil was discovered on Hillcrest's land, and the club decided to permit drilling.

Members who had shares in the club collect tax-sheltered dividends on their original initiation fees, and "B.O." (for "before oil") memberships became so valuable that they were willed from father to son.

In the early days of the movie industry in Hollywood, when Jews were not permitted to join non-Jewish country clubs, they instead joined Hillcrest, all of whose members at the time were Jewish.

In the 1940s, Hillcrest attracted many of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Danny Thomas, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Danny Kaye, the Marx Brothers, George Burns, George Jessel, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and the Ritz Brothers.

According to various accounts, mogul Louis B. Mayer reportedly punched producer Sam Goldwyn in the nose while they were either in the showers or the steam room at Hillcrest.

In his book on the William Morris Agency, author Frank Rose described the prestige of Hillcrest as follows:

...Hillcrest Country Club was as close to invisible as 142 acres (0.57 km2) on the south side of Beverly Hills could be. No sign, just a number on the stone entrance gates...Ever since the Depression, this had been the preserve of Hollywood's elite. All the great moguls had belonged to Hillcrest—Louis B. Mayer and the Warner brothers and Harry Cohn of Columbia and Adolph Zukor of Paramount…

Groucho Marx was a member of Hillcrest, even though he once famously proclaimed that he would not want to be a member of any club willing to have him as a member.

When one club offered to waive its no-Jews rule for Groucho, provided he abstained from using the swimming pool, he remarked, "My daughter's only half Jewish, can she wade in up to her knees?"

Comedian David Steinberg noted that Hillcrest “is a little like an inverted New York Athletic Club: there is no discrimination, but it sure helps if you’re Jewish and a comedian.”

The person who invited me knew someone at my day job, who is married to her friend, and he represents some of the most famous talent in Hollywood.

She hadn’t heard of any of this lore about her country club she said though.

I had joked I was excited to potentially see some contemporary Jewish Comedians to network with as the writer of three comedy Haggadahs, LOL.

I had told her that me and our mutual friend who introduced us and our high school friends had all group texted about me writing a screenplay about the country club.

Kind of like a Scorsese movie like Wolf of Wall Street where Leo and Jonah Hill and guys like that start this renegade Jewish Country Club in early period Hollywood that takes off and then they hit oil and get even more rich and decadent.

Feels like Oscar bait doesn’t it???

But I’m both sad and not sad to report I saw no Jonah Hill type-people.

It was just a really fun time.

She was a good player and had a fun wit to her.

I beat her 6-3, 6-2 for those keeping score at home ;)

My song today was:

“Isolation” by Harry Nilsson

Which is a cover of his friend John Lennon’s song:

Another from his first official post-Beatles album.

For some reason, it reminded me of how you’ve been living, Christopher, even though I don’t know you at all, LOL.

Just the idea that you are in seemingly such a remote and isolated place so close to Antarctica.

The world is just a little town

Also how your ‘day job’ work is in immunology medical writing and we’re in the middle/end? of covid.

The sun will never disappear
But the world may not have many years

I too quit all substances in the last year or more. For me, it was alcohol and caffeine left.

And I feel so much better as well.

Personally, I’ve been identifying myself with the cardinal sin of gluttony as an Enneagram 7, and it’s helped me recognize all the insane drives I have in me, and in our culture, not to mention of course those Bush waterboarding years.

Or as Nilsson and Lennon would sing:

I don't expect you to understand
After you've caused so much pain
But then again, you're not to blame
You're just a human, a victim of the insane

I’ve continued to read Sandra Maitri’s book, The Enneagram of Passions and Virtues, and she talks about how points 6, 7, and 5 are the ‘fear corner.’

Or as Nilsson and Lennon sing:

People say we got it made
Don't they know we're so afraid?
We're afraid to be alone
Everybody got to have a home

It’s been said of this song, “At the time, Lennon began to feel disillusioned with fame and where his life was heading, with the break-up of the Beatles, the attacks he and Yoko Ono were facing at the time…’Isolation’ reveals Lennon's feelings of vulnerability, despite his fame and fortune.”

I just Bibliomancied to a page of Maitri’s book and got this:

“Obviously, the personality’s quest for security via prestige, status, and power rarely if ever resolve anyone’s anxiety, and if it does, it does so only momentarily. The more prestige, status, and power we have, the more we end up worrying that we will lose them, and so our anxiety goads us on to greater and greater striving after them, creating a vicious cycle. Whenever we look outside of ourselves for security, our search becomes endless. We can live in a gated community, we can install elaborate alarm systems, we can invest in any number of insurance policies, and we can take preemptive action, attacking countries we believe are a threat to ours, but as we have seen in the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, such moves only lead us into a quagmire…Rather than seeking security, then, the way through the fear is exploring our lack of security…What is the nature of the fear that we must not be deflected by if we are to explore and thus transform our inner reality? The first level of it is risking…to pay attention to what is going on inside of us [which] necessitates facing our own judgments about what we find…having the courage to cease simply going along with our superego’s demands about how we should and shouldn’t be, what’s okay to feel and to think and what isn’t, and to question these assumptions. This is a step that few of us actually take—challenging our beliefs about how we ought and ought not be. To do so feels like going against all of our conditioning—it means ceasing to go along with societal and familial mores and standards. And this can be very scary. It can feel as if we were going to lose our parents or step out of our culture, but this is not really the case. It does mean that we do so in our own minds.”

Or as Bahamas sings:

Forget just tryna survive, I'm only doing that which makes me feel alive

Or in meme form:

Okay, that’s the two hundred and fifty-third Shuffle Synchronicities.

Today, in Other! Substacks, check out our guest poster, Christopher von Roy’s Substack, The World According to von Roy, who has done some really interesting work about the cultural ramifications of covid, for instance, this post about the correlation between racism and anti-vaxxers.

He’s also publishing his extended version of this post which you can read here!