“I don’t think there is any such thing as an ordinary mortal. Everybody has his own possibility of rapture in the experience of life. All he has to do is recognise it and then cultivate it and get going with it.”
– Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
In Jenny Boyd’s recently reprinted paperback book It’s Not Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (John Blake Publishing, 2013), iconic musicians reveal the source of their creativity. Boyd is well-qualified to tackle such an intriguing topic with a Ph. D. in Human Behavior, ties to the music world’s elite (sister-in-law of Beatle George Harrison, former wife of Mick Fleetwood), and immersion in the culture of Haight-Ashbury in 1967. Despite the psychoanalytical theme, the book is an easy, informative read. A question is posed; numerous artists provide answers, their insights garnered from 75 interviews conducted between 1987 and 1991.
Chapters include discussions about creativity, the unconscious, self-actualization, and, yes, chemicals. Those interviewed include such diverse talents as Eric Clapton, Michael McDonald, blues guitarists Buddy Guy and B. B. King, Ice-T, jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Bonnie Raitt, Queen Latifah, Sinead O’Connor, sitarist Ravi Shankar, Ringo Starr, and Keith Richards. The remaining roster of names is equally impressive, equally diverse, equally iconic. The Eagles are there and Genesis; so are Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Their individual revelations are filled with surprises.
Most enlightening, however, are the themes which emerge from the book. Parents were often musicians themselves, some professional but mostly amateurs, nearly all encouraging. Many artists grew up as social outcasts or rebels, their creativity born of loneliness and pain. Some musicians describe the need for tapping into their uncomplicated, unburdened inner child. Others subscribe to Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, archetypal ideas, symbols, and images universally shared. Still others candidly reflect on how intoxicants enhanced their creativeness while diminishing inhibitions and anxiety.
Through firsthand accounts—she was there to witness the genesis of songs that would later culminate in the Beatles’ The White Album—Boyd manages to offer not only a history of popular music of the last 50 years but also an exploration of the inception of the Idea. Ultimately, the book is about the search for peace for both artist and audience, the innate desire to be whole and fulfilled. It’s Not Only Rock ‘n’ Roll is a roadmap for the artistic quest, that journey made by extraordinary mortals.
I had the pleasure of interviewing the lovely and unique Jenny Boyd, author of It's Not Only Rock'n'Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal The Source of Their Creativity. Jenny was a model with her sister Pattie Boyd in the psychedelic 60's. The two of them where known as the original, "Apple Music Girls," living in an exciting time of music, and exotic travels. Her sister married George Harrison and then Eric Clapton. Jenny was married to Mick Fleetwood and drummer Ian Wallace. She also spent time in India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles, Beach Boys and Prudence Farrow. Jenny has lived an extraordinary life living so close to the creative flow and has authored an wonderful book on creativity by interviewing 75 iconic musicians and singer songwriters about their work.
RA: Jenny, what gave you the inspiration to write this book?
JB: I was fascinated from a very early age by what made people creative and having been surrounded by musicians most of my life, it was an obvious choice, to ask them the questions I'd always wanted to know about the creative process. I believe musicians have a very special gift. They are the torchbearers, the spokespersons of our time. Their songs express not only the feelings and ideas of the individual but of each generation and its culture.
RA: Did you find any common threads in what they had to say?
JB: All of the 75 musicians, except for two had nurturing parents or grandparents who were supportive of their creativity. I found this was an important element and because of this nurturing environment from a young age, it gave them the courage and faith in themselves that is needed to pursue their creative yearnings, to delve into the depths of their unconscious.
RA: You interviewed the late psychologist Frank Barron, a pioneer in creative research. That must have been pretty inspiring for you?
JB: It was. He told me that creative individuals are persons whose dedication is nothing less than a quest for ultimate meaning. What is enjoined with them is to listen to the voice within and allow it to express itself.
RA: The voice within is the creative collective that Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung referred to as the collective unconscious.
JB: Yes, musicians seem to have no fear of exploring the unknown, entering into the creative world of the unconscious. They all have this incredible drive to create. Keith Richards said, "If you're a musician, you can never really stop playing, even if you don't do any gigs or you retire. You're still in a way playing inside yourself." It's like Jung said, "Creative power is mightier than its possessor."
RA: We're verging into the spiritual here. Were musicians aware of that side of themselves?
JB: Absolutely. They all described in different ways what Abraham Maslow called a Peak Experience. Most of them had never spoken about it before, and some, such as Eric Clapton had no idea anyone else other than himself had experienced this feeling. They described it as a sort of midway point between conscious and unconscious, a place of timelessness, a dream state. It gave them a feeling of awe and reverence, being given a gift, being used as a vessel and at times the feeling of going into a trance. To get to that state many of them said they had to surrender to the power of the creative unconscious.
RA: It sounds very similar to mindfulness meditation.
JB: That's right. Mindfulness meditation allows you to flow into a state of open mind to access your creativity but as soon as the ego takes over, and tells you you're special or the best meditator in the world, it all disappears! You need to surrender and let go in order to hold the space but once you start grasping at it you lose the feeling of peak oneness.
RA: Did these musicians say they had any special times of the day or week they were more creative or any particular environments?
JB: George Harrison said he always liked to write in the early hours of the morning, when everything was still and everyone asleep.
RA: That's a good time to practice mindfulness meditation as well. In Asia and India this is the time of day where the prana of the earth and universe is felt to be the strongest.
JB: As you know, George was a meditator, and another musician, flautist and saxophonist Paul Horn who was in India with us enjoyed the practice of regular meditation.
RA: That's right. You went to India with the Beatles. Were you able to witness their creativity at work?
JB: Yes, I was very lucky. I would sit with my sister Pattie and the rest of the Beatles on the roof of our bungalow, watching and listening to them as they talked about their mediation or not being able to sleep at night. Then they'd start playing their guitars creating a song that would later be heard on The White Album. It was fantastic.
RA: What about drugs and alcohol? I notice you have a chapter on that in your book.
JB: Most of the musicians who talked about drugs and alcohol said that to begin with it would diminish the anxiety that can stall or prevent the creative process. Being high is like being put into another world, one without form or structure, similar to the unconscious. It would help them get the conscious mind, the busy mind, out of the way. But for many the tool became the end rather than the means. As Eric Clapton said, "The booze becomes more important than the doors it opened, so that's the trap." A lot of these musicians had stopped drinking and using when I interviewed them and were able to talk about the difference in their creativity since stopping.
RA: And do we all have the potential to be creative?
JB: Yes. Joni Mitchell said, "The net with which you capture creativity is made up of the threads of your alertness." It's about expressing yourself. As psychologist Rollo May says, "If you do not express your own original ideas, or listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself."
RA: Jenny, your book not only shares the context and development of these iconic musicians but also shows that anyone who takes the time to slow down, relax and listen to their inner self can tap into the richness of this creative collective. So taking time for a Mindful Pause throughout the day really is a great way to turn on the creative self. Thank you for writing such an inspiring and interesting book.
Mick Fleetwood once said that the first time he saw me walking back from school in Notting Hill Gate he knew I was the girl he was going to marry. We were both 16 and it was the summer of '64. The first time I saw him play at Brentwood Town Hall, I felt as though I'd been plugged into an electric socket. Listening to rhythm and blues, being part of the audience and feeling the exchange of energy between musicians and the crowd, was something that would inspire me for many years to come. But I didn't know I would write a book about it!
Twenty-three years later, while looking for a subject for a psychology dissertation, I remembered the impact of that first gig. I was living in Los Angeles, at that time, married to my second husband, Ian Wallace, drummer for such people as Bob Dylan, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, and Crosby Stills and Nash.
"Write about what you know," was what I was told, and so I did. Most of my life had been spent with musicians. My sister Pattie had married Beatle George Harrison and then later guitarist Eric Clapton. I had been married to Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, (twice!) and knew what it meant to be the wife of a musician - going on endless tours, to different countries, different towns, on planes, on buses and cars. I had attended endless concerts, standing by the side of the stage and knowing every word of every song.
We were all one big 'rock and roll' family and I loved being part of it. Most of the time it was fun. The music rocked and it was exciting to see creativity at work. But deep down I was aware of a growing sense of emptiness, my identity being nothing more than the wife of a musician. It wasn't enough just to bask in their glory. For many years I tried to numb these feelings and to push down the frustration. But the need to be seen in my own right, to express myself and to search for a sense of purpose became stronger as the years went by. Finally, with much trepidation, I enrolled in a degree programme at a college in Los Angeles, which meant I was no longer available to go on tours or any other social events. I was finding out who I was.
So when the time came to find a subject for this dissertation I knew what I had to do. I bought a tape player and with the help of my psychology teacher, Dr Ron Alexander, I put together a list of questions and began my interviews. I started with the musicians I knew well, or who were part of my family, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton and George Harrison. I used the skills I'd learned as a therapist mixed with my own fascination with the creative process. The combination worked as I witnessed one musician after another reveal their inner lives, their humility, their sense of destiny and their feelings of being a conduit while writing or performing. They openly discussed their thoughts on drugs and alcohol and their belief that everyone had the potential to be creative.
During the interviews, all the shyness and insecurity I had been plagued with all my life, and especially around many of these musicians, melted away as I listened to them speak. The answers they gave helped me with my own search for creativity, that by being true to our own being, we will automatically become more creative. Many of the artists said they felt closer to who they really were when they played their music. It was obvious that the dedication to their creativity was nothing less than a quest for ultimate meaning, to listen to the voice within and to speak out. They knew their purpose in life.
Once I had interviewed 75 musicians about their creative process my dissertation became a book, published in the United States and Japan. And now, 20 years later, it has been published in the UK and the message is still as powerful. 'It's Not Only Rock'n'Roll.'
London was swinging. Rock ‘n’ roll had entered one of its most vibrant and visionary phases, with the latest hits by such bands as the Kinks, Cream, and of course the Beatles now reflecting a progressive amalgam of youth-culture adventurism and sonic sophistication. By the time she was a teenager Jenny Boyd was already in the thick of it. A fashion model by trade and, in no time at all, a muse—Boyd was the inspiration for Donovan’s 1968 single “Jennifer Juniper”—she moved among an elite social circle, including some of the era’s most influential musicians who welcomed her within their hallowed ranks.
Boyd’s modeling career was ultimately short-lived as she soon sought to explore other interests and ambitions, not least of all her academic ones—Boyd holds PhD in Human Behavior. But the relationships she forged in her youth proved fortuitous. Expounding upon what was initially the foundation of her doctoral thesis, Boyd interviewed a total of 75 artists about their craft, including friends and, in some cases, family: Mick Fleetwood is her ex-husband and the father of her two daughters, while George Harrison and Eric Clapton were her brother-in-laws (each respectively having been married to her older sister, Pattie). From these conversations certain key impulses and characteristic distinctions emerged.
“I realized this was something very special,” says Boyd, “and this was something that needed more people to be able to read about this.”
Originally published in 1992 and recently republished and updated, It’s Not Only Rock ‘N’ Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of Their Creativity (co-authored with Holly George-Warren) offers a unique, enlightening perspective on a musician’s artistry.
“I felt so inspired by the musicians’ humility,” says Boyd, “this incredible humility toward the creative process.”
DG: The creative process is such an enigma to a lot of artists, whether it’s spiritual or supernatural or just unfathomable. What’s striking is that even the most headstrong, mercurial artists, artists who are known for doing things their way—like Stevie Nicks, who is somebody who doesn’t look to some outside source on how to write her songs—yet they will concede that they are not in total control of their art.
JB: And I think they learn that early on especially with the writing because, as you say, they produce this amazing song and wonder where it came from. And so you kind of have to bow down to that in a way.
Some of the musicians talked about getting the lyrics for their songs while they’re asleep and if they don’t wake up immediately and write it all down or put it on a tape they lose it. Then they hear it again; somebody else has picked it up. It makes you feel like it’s all around us and it’s just a matter of—because they’re more perceptive and receptive—they are able to let it come through them. But if they don’t pick it up somebody else will.
DG:In speaking with those musicians you were closest to—Mick Fleetwood, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, people who are part of your life just as they are part of this book—was there anything any one of them said that surprised you about his approach to music?
JB: I asked them all the questions if whether they’d experienced this thing [psychologist] Abraham Maslow called “peak experience,” where they would just get into this zone and suddenly whether they were writing they would wonder where that came from or they were playing [live] they would play things they’d never been able to play before, but Eric said he thought he was the only one that had experienced that feeling. Because nobody had ever talked about it before so he didn’t realize that other artists experienced it as well.
DG:Some of these artists—especially Clapton and also Mick Fleetwood in his own way—seem to perceive themselves as being on a mission, and they are indebted to their craft and to whatever interior or exterior forces that encourage it.
JB: They have a sense of destiny and it’s very strong in them. And I do believe that the important part of all of this is the nurturing that they get in childhood, which gives them the belief in themselves and the belief in what they believe in. And so with this sense of destiny somebody who probably hadn’t been nurtured like that and accepted for who they are would not answer the call because they needed to have the sense of self that nurturing gives you and belief in themselves and belief that if they hear a call of destiny that they follow it.
DG:These artists surrender to their mission. Their talent and technique are factors too, but when they step onto a live stage there’s a mystery component that they surrender to—and that unknown element brings it to another level.
JB: That’s right. I have to say when I was interviewing the late Willie Dixon and went to his home and we talked… He was walking with a stick, and with difficulty in those days; it was not long before he actually passed away. Then Mick [Fleetwood] was playing a blues concert in New York and Willie was there. I was in the audience and Willie came onto the stage with his stick, hobbling as I’d seen him. Then as he started singing his stick came out and he was holding it with two hands and he was dancing on the stage. That magic takes over, and it’s not you anymore. You’re not hobbling or you’re not in pain or you’re not any of those things. I’ve heard that from so many musicians, that once you’re up there it’s like something takes over.
Ringo Starr was a sick kid. Constantly bed-ridden and/or hospitalized with peritonitis, and then as a teenager with tuberculosis, he amused himself by banging on any available surface.
Keith Richards, while onstage, used to think, “what are you looking at me for? [I’m just a] damn old junkie hacking away at the guitar.”
Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham says, “if you’ve been working on something for a few hours and you smoke a joint, it’s like hearing it again for the first time.”
Joni Mitchell says, “cocaine can give you an intellectual linear delusion of grandeur—makes you feel real smart.”
Jackson Browne says, “I always thought [LSD] enhanced [creativity] at the time but you pay heavily.”
Heart’s Nancy Wilson says, “I used alcohol to shake off the outside world and get into the primal world…Cocaine puts you in a heightened state of self-gratification. We called it blowatry.” Big difference between that and poetry.”
Randy Newman says, “I used to take amphetamines to write and was very frightened not to take them.”
Eagle Don Henley says, “I think those substances were used merely as a little instant courage,’…to overcome…feelings of who am I to be doing this? Why do I deserve to get my feelings and opinions on this blank piece of vinyl that a million people are going to hear?’ Some of the drug-taking was to cover that feeling of un-deservedness, to blunt that somehow, because when you do coke, it makes you feel that everything you’re saying is worthwhile and that everybody ought to listen. I didn’t use drugs actually to create but simply to buffer those feelings of inadequacy, those feelings of I don’t deserve this.’”
This theme of inadequacy pops up again and again as the biggest rock stars in the world let their considerable hair down and talk about truly not knowing if what they’re doing is any good. Conversely, many in this fascinating and unique book—first published in 1992 and updated in 2013—talk about what psychologist Abraham Maslow calls the “peak experience,” the uniting of the unconscious with the conscious during performance or writing or simply playing their instrument. They talk about the wonder, awe, reverence, humility and surrender they feel when they achieve creative peaks. They discuss how they get there and most of the 75 musicians interviewed feel everyone has a certain amount of creativity within and it’s just a matter of tapping into it.
The legends who opened up to Dr. Boyd are the biggest of the big: Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, Warren Zevon, Eric Clapton, Crosby Stills & Nash, Steve Winwood, Stevie Nicks and Willie Dixon are just a few. She got to these kinds of names because they knew her. And when an artist knows and trusts someone, the sky’s the limit for journalistic intent. The quotes up top are from the one chapter in the book about drugs and alcohol. They also talk about their childhoods, their sense of destiny and their fear of failure. They become human and you see them in ways you’ve never seen them before.
Jenny Boyd was 16 when drummer Mick Fleetwood fell in love with her. Her sister Patty Boyd was the muse of George Harrison and Eric Clapton and wound up marrying both of them while Jenny twice married Fleetwood. The sisters, both gorgeous models in the Swinging London of the 1960s, fell into an elite circle. Donovan wrote “Jennifer Juniper” about the author who ultimately wasn’t satisfied with the touring or the upscale highest-of-the-high rock’n’roll scene that she served as but a mere appendage. She went and got her Ph.D. in Human Behavior. Her dissertation became this book.
Eminently readable due to the fact that she and her co-writer weaved the quotes into the text in such a way that the legendary names pop up again and again in chapters dealing with nurture, obstacles, the “collective unconscious” and the “peak experience.” As a listener and fan, I could relate. These answers–that unravel in a great story, and not just a series of Q & A chapters–cut to the core of what makes them all tick…why they are who they are…and what their sense of self-awareness does to their art.
As Stevie Nicks says on the back cover, “all creative people should read this book.”
Do you want to be more creative in your life? Think creativity is for others and not for you? Having lived amongst musicians for many years, surrounded by creativity, but never feeling creative herself, Jenny Boyd Ph.d has spent the last 30 years exploring the creative process, speaking to hundreds of talented musicians and artists, and will share the tips and advice she has learned during her studies.
Psychologist Jenny Boyd has many personal ties to the music world as former wife of Mick Fleetwood and the inspiration behind folk-rock singer Donovan's 60's hit 'Jennifer Juniper'. She was in India in 1968 with The Beatles and her sister Pattie, (former wife of George Harrison and Eric Clapton). Jenny spent four years interviewing 75 world famous musicians on their creative influences including Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Keith Richards, Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell. The resulting acclaimed for her book 'It's no Only Rock n Roll' is a fascinating and unique insight into the creative process.