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Evanston guitarist/singer/songwriter and clinical psychologist Jay Einhorn has just released his third CD “Elephant in the Dark.” He reveals that most of the 14 songs on the album refer to self-examination, learning and rebirth.
The title comes from an old Sufi teaching story told by the poet Rumi (1207-73). Most readers will be familiar with a version of it, as it has not only made its way into Buddhist, Hindu and Jain traditions, but also to the West. It is the story of the elephant introduced to a people who cannot see and the errors the latter make in deducing the whole from the parts they can touch.
All of the songs are composed and written or adapted by Dr. Einhorn. He plays lead guitar and is for the most part the lead singer. Daughter Emily joins him on some songs (she has a lovely voice) as do colleagues Jordi Kleiner, violin, and Lisa Yusk Bowker, who sings lead on “Journey,” also therapists and musicians. Other experienced instrumentalists who appear on the CD are Dave Budrys (vocals and the CD’s recording engineer), Alpha Stewart (percussion), Aaron Ackerson (keyboards), Doug Lofstrom (bass), Carol Francis (flute) and Rob Sulski on harmonica.
The first song on the CD is “Must Be Getting Better,” an upbeat-sounding folk tune. Dr. Einhorn’s songs are very storylike and this song exemplifies the quality. It opens with the singer’s girlfriend leaving him, telling him he’s got to “learn to face up to reality” and “see that he’s been lying to himself.” The singer does face up to the realization that he’s been lying to himself and has hit bottom:
You know this drinking
and this doping,
this knowing it’s all the same
You think that you’re the one who is
the master of the game
Till one day you discover it’s the
Game that’s mastered you
Leaving you to wonder
what on earth you’re gonna do.”
The refrain, “I must be getting better, ‘cause I think I’m getting worse,” coupled with the upbeat folk sound of the music, informs the listener that this is not intended to be a sad song. The singer is on his way up.
“Battlefields of Eden” is an exceptionally engaging and interesting tune about Iraq. It is the third in a trilogy of songs about war begun in Dr. Einhorn’s earlier albums.
The title song, “Elephant in the Dark,” is somewhat reminiscent of “Alice’s Restaurant,” by Arlo Guthrie It is a folk/bluegrass homage to the Sufi poet and teacher Rumi. The song tells its listeners about the historical figure’s use of “stories that can help us learn how to live” such as this one, in which each man who touches the huge animal touches a different part and comes to a different conclusion about the entire beast.
His conclusion is not completely wrong, but it is only partial in its understanding.
That story’s like the elephant
And we are like the men
Trying to find out what it meant,
Trying and trying again.
But only those with sight can see
The elephant reality
That’s right in front of you
and me –
The elephant in the dark.
Life and the world are the elephant that lies before humanity. Through openness to greater experience and attention one may perhaps come to a better understanding of the whole. A Sufi notion is that people must be taught at their level of understanding. The other side of the coin is that a story such as this will have different meanings for people at different levels of understanding. And to come even close to perceiving the whole “elephant,” it seems, people must recognize they are in the dark.
“Less is More,” on which Dr. Einhorn switches up his instrument and plays a flamenco guitar constructed by Mexican luthier Carlos Pinas, and “Quiet Fire” are love songs. “Invocation” is a prayer; its tune is a reworking of the nursery rhyme tune “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and is a request that God help people to “see the light within all humanity.” The moving, bluesy “Regenerate” contains lines “inspired by the Light Verse of the Quran.”
Dr. Einhorn has a nice grasp of musical style and his songs move smoothly from folk to blues to hymn, to bluegrass and combinations of the above. His guitar playing is solid and affecting. His voice, while not powerful, is very pleasant and goes especially well with the folk dimension of his music.
While the songs differ from each other in lyrics and style, an underlying agreement exists among them, a cohesion from one to the next, both of sound and theme. To some degree it is Dr. Einhorn’s voice that does this but it is deeper than that. The result is an album like a novel with chapters that express the evolution of the larger story, exhibiting different moods as the story progresses. This feeling is intensified by the very last song, “Deeper and Deeper,” which comes with the warning that the listener should “[l]isten only when it’s safe to relax very deeply and even fall asleep.” The album that opens with the waking, contradictory negative-positive tension of “Must Be Getting Better” works through love and life and spirituality, finally reaching the end of the day (and life?) to sleep with the serene “Deeper and Deeper.” It is a congenial, mellow album.
Mr. Einhorn’s CDs can be found for purchase at Amazon, cdbaby, and his music websites www.elephantinthe dark.com and guitaratlarge.com.
Dr. Jay Einhorn is both a clinical psychologist and a musician, two fields of endeavor that seem, in his case, to be two active facets of one philosophical view.
He grew up in New Haven, Conn., listening to music on records his father, a former drummer, often played at home. At 7, he started piano, switching at 9 to the instrument he had really wanted to play – the guitar. He took lessons for years, he says, from Frank D’Amato, a “legendary guitar teacher in New Haven.” By high school, he was playing Thursday nights – Thursday being “Jazz Night” – at a local place called The Exit. When he began coming round The Exit on Fridays, too,
he got his introduction to folk music.
Academically, his interests turned toward psychology and the brain and he did a degree of his own design in psychotherapy and neurosciences at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.
At that time he was even able to do an independent study project in which he took part in group therapy practice off campus, as well as a for-credit year-long apprenticeship with psychotherapist Eugene Eliasoph and founder of the Psychodrama Institute of New Haven.
Dr. Einhorn came to Chicago for his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Illinois Institute of Technology and stayed. In 1993, he and his wife, Cynthia Standish, a nurse educator in North Chicago, moved to Evanston, in time for Emily, the youngest of their four children (and who sings on the CD), to start school at Kingsley.
Dr. Einhorn has, he says, an interest in “spirituality all the way to the brain.” His interest in the Sufi tradition can be seen from a psychologist’s point of view, as expressed by the late Idries Sha in his book “The Sufis”: “Since most people’s spiritual life is really their emotional-psychological-social life renamed, Sufis start with this aspect when trying to clear up the confusion that is the usual condition of most people’s minds.” The story “The Elephant in the Dark” points out how people – most people – with impaired spiritual sight reach flawed conclusions – and stop. Because of the impression this story makes on Dr. Einhorn, he had celebrated painter Francisco Centofanti of London produce for him an illustration, which hangs in the musician’s home and has been used as the cover for this CD.
While this is certain to be an oversimplification, what Dr. Einhorn suggests is that story and music can help one progress toward a greater spirituality, an understanding of self and the world, by actually affecting the brain, helping it to “reorganize.” He says, “When people talk about ‘spirituality’ they mean different things. What I mean is a self-transcendence … that allows for a kind of top-down reorganization. What happens in psychotherapy a lot is a reflective process” that brings through retelling an experience, through drama, song, story, an objective moment of observing oneself. That moment “is a moment of self-transcendence,” says Dr. Einhorn. If this is so, participation (presumably either as artist or audience) in these arts refashions the physical brain to see and accept greater truth. “Reconciling of elements is what a poem does. People who hear it will … see in a new way,” he says. People will see the elephant as more than its parts.
Dr. Einhorn plays in cafes, restaurants, houses of worship, and also presents a “musical seminar in psychology and spirituality,” an “evolving presentation” that he started in 2007 at his alma mater, Goddard College, and reprised for Evanston’s Faith in Action group in 2008. Music and its effects on both listeners and performers, as well as on composers and songwriters, is an ongoing passion for Dr. Einhorn. As long as music is a living thing for him and his song-stories continue to come, he should have plenty of listeners.
Jay Einhorn will be performing at Unity Springfield Coffeehouse in the state capital on March 17.