Inside the Head of Mickey Hart

Mickey Hart has provided the rhythmic backdrop to several critical points in my life. It all began with the film Apocalypse Now showing me how dark we as humans can travel. Hart and Coppola tapped directly into this primal vat, covering me in its black goo.

From there I was drawn into the alternate universe of The Grateful Dead. I saw how rhythm is not the exclusive domain of soul, but rather a common point for all music. It made me understand why jungle rhythms were feared as rock and roll matured from stringed instrumentation to its frenzied beat. It will not only steal your sons and daughters away, it connects you to the living rhythm of this planet and beyond.

Now I can get into Hart’s head. He has teamed up with Dr. Gazzaley, neurologist at U. C. San Francisco, to become the first person to visualize brain activity in real time with the goal of helping people entrain their own brain waves and begin using music as medicine.

I spoke with Hart the day after the election from Sonoma County. “The sun’s coming up, life is good,” he began.

I asked him about his work with Dr. Gazzaley. “I’ve never seen my brain or heard my brain, and there it was right out in front of me. I was coming to grips with the inner workings of rhythm central…I was watching it at play, it was a very profound moment.”

When asked what he took from the experience Hart stated, “The same thing I thought going into this experiment. It’s the rhythm, the way things go, the way things flow…the communication. It’s all done with electrical pulses. Rhythm is the basis of all life, but to see it in front of you…the part of your brain, the part of your body, the part of your essence that is controlling everything…you don’t realize what a powerful entity it is.”

Hart expanded, “It’s something I’ve been investigating for a long time. I’m interested in the science of rhythm as opposed to the art of rhythm, which I practice on a daily basis. It’s rhythm as a healing agent. I’ve always thought and known that vibrations are at the core of everything in life, from the macro, the cosmos [and] the big bang, to the micro, stem cells, and your DNA. It’s all about the rhythm.”

Hart has been working on both the macro and micro lately. His latest album, Mysterium Tremendum, includes sounds of the cosmos. “I sonified the sounds of the universe, the planets, the beginning of space and time, [and] the big bang 13.7 billion years ago, and use it as a musical instrument,” explained Hart.

When asked if there was a particular cosmic sound that he resonated with he replied, “The sun is particularly interesting to me because it gives us life, in real time…and I love the way it sounds.”

Rhythm is a gift passed to me by my father, and I passed it on to my daughter. Hart appears again during this pivotal point in my life not once but twice.

Hart recorded his son Taro’s heartbeat in stereo. Then he looped and accompanied it with percussive tones on his album Music to be Born By. I was taken to the womb, sharing the final stages of my first-born’s natal experience. It felt as if I was sending a lifeline for her to make passage.

Three short weeks later, Hart’s legacy hit me again as my new family experienced the mastery of one of his collaborator’s, Babatunde Olatunji. I had tears rolling down my face, as my precious child strapped to my chest was the conduit between Olatunji and myself.

When I asked Hart about Olatunji he pined. “I miss him very much…he believed that rhythm was the soul of life, he knew it.”

Hart continued, “He used to say, there will be a drum in every house…he was a prophet drummer. When he came here he infused the powerful rhythm of the saints or orishas into American music…it changed everything for me. Dylan, Coltrane, all of us that heard him…we were never the same after that. He was a powerful influence not just in music, but music as medicine. He believed as I do, that music has a lot of power to heal. That’s why I’m working on this brainwave [experiment].”

The Mickey Hart Band will perform this Wednesday, November 28th at the Paradise Performing Arts Center. The event will be a partial benefit for community radio station 90.1 KZFR. Tickets cost $35 in advance and can be purchased at Diamond W Western Wear, Lyon Books, or Music Connection. Doors open at 6:30PM with music at 7:30PM.

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  1. Michele Zupkow says:

    Thanks for putting this in words that I can share with my friends. Mickey Hart is an amazing man and entertainer, bringing people in tune with themselves in a way they don’t even realize. Others in a way they don’t understand yet enjoy to their hearts capabilities, and then there are those that understand his music. Respect him, all he does for humanity, and have learned how to relax and let his music connect us to our higher selves.

    1. Spencer says:

      Wow, what amazing words yourself Michele!! Thank you, your comments are well chosen and very well received.