Musicians in Transition and Meditating on Mortality

By Steven Halpern

Music notes background

In the past two months, we’ve lost several superstar musicians, David Bowie and Glenn Frey chief among them.
Through their music and creativity, they affected millions of people the world over. That’s certainly a main reason so many of us felt their loss so intensely. We’ve lived and loved to their songs, as they eloquently articulated and inspired the pop culture since the 1970s.
Statistically, of course, we know that as millions of the Boomer generation hit our sixties and seventies, there’ll be many more tributes to come. Have you used their passing as an opportunity to ponder your own mortality?
If you could know, would you rather have a year’s warning, or have it be a sudden change of state? Would you tell your friends and family, or keep it a secret?  There are so many different ways to play the farewell song.
It’s suddenly much more real for me and many friends that I’ve spoken to than ever before.
In Frey’s case, I just read an article suggesting that the drugs that he was taking for his rheumatoid arthritis are well known for producing the side effects, bronchitis and pneumonia, that Glenn died from. I wonder if he knew of those side effects, or if he had tried alternative medical approaches?
While both deaths caught us by surprise, it’s clear that Bowie orchestrated his final months with impeccable detail.
He helped stage a retrospective of his life on exhibit from September 2014-January 2015 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. He included the haunting videos, images, and songs on his final album. Even the timing of that album’s release was impeccably orchestrated. His life was his art, not just music. So, too, was his death.
When Glenn Frey was interviewed by Charlie Rose, he didn’t say anything about his physical problems. He did, however, speak eloquently about the lack of honoring of the worth of music, as demonstrated by the miniscule royalty paid to musicians on the streaming services ($0.001 per track per play.) Do the math…it doesn’t add up to very much, even if you get a million plays!
Less well known is that Frey and Don Henley also testified on Capitol Hill, and organized the Recording Artists Coalition to represent artists’ royalty rights as creators of the content that fuels all the new streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify. As an artist and advocate, his voice will be missed.
Eben Alexander, Brian Weiss, Rosemary Brown
Like many of you, I’ve also lost a number of older friends and mentors recently. If you’re among the Boomer demographic, it may be an opportunity to consider the reality of some form of life after death and reincarnation, as billions of people around the world in other cultures have believed for centuries.  Now, bestsellers by Dr. Eben Alexander, Dr. Brian Weiss, and research by Dr. Walter Semkiw, Linda Blackman, and others are shedding new light on this ancient question.
What do this neurosurgeon, psychiatrist, and untrained London pianist have in common?
They all have become famous for their explorations into what happens after we die. Dr. Weiss is perhaps best known, with his Hay House bestsellers and appearances on Oprah. Dr. Alexander had a very different transformation from his traditional, materialistic worldview, which he recounts in Proof of Heaven.
Few people, however, have ever heard of Rosemary Brown. Even fewer “compared notes” with her, as I did when I visited her in 1977.
Her album A Musical Séance was recorded by the BBC as part of their research to confirm her claim that these new compositions by dead composers was a means of demonstrating that life continues after  physical death. Her story brings a whole new dimension to the concept of automatic writing and playing without thinking. More than that, the album, and how it came into my hands, was a life-changing moment for me.
Rosemary Brown and Me
In late 1969, I flew to California with a backpack, my guitar and trumpet, for a two week visit. When I never returned to grad school in Buffalo, I lost all of my record albums.  Needing to restock my essential collection of jazz (John Coltrane, Miles Davis), and jazz-rock fusion (Electric Flag, Larry Coryell), I soon became a regular at the hip used record store in Santa Cruz.
The second time I went there, however, something happened that transformed my materialist worldview.  I was digging through the familiar jazz bins of LPs… remember those? At least 100 albums, with titles printed invisibly on the edge, were jammed together in each row.
Suddenly, I was aware of what felt like a hand on my shoulder, pushing me to the classical record bins on the other side of the store. I remember thinking, “WTF is going on?  I’m not looking to buy any classical albums. Why am I standing here, and how did I get here?”
Just then, my right hand shot out into the middle of the row of 100 or so albums, and picked up just one.  There was no way I could even read the title, let alone go right to it.
I picked it up, and was immediately entranced by the cover. As I began to read the liner notes, I learned that the purpose of this album, which included new compositions by famous composers like Liszt and Schubert, who were no longer in physical body, was to prove the continuity of life.  BBC hired expert musicologists, who confirmed that these were not long-lost manuscripts. They concluded that these were either impeccable forgeries, or the real deal.
I also learned that Rosemary reported how her fingers would move over the piano keys without her volition. I flashed on my own experience at the piano shortly after my meditation in the middle of a sacred redwood grove the month before.
Could this help explain my sudden shift from a hotshot jazz trumpet player to meditative pianist?  
As I was soon to find out, there was a lot more going on than I ever imagined.  I’ve never shared most of that story, and you’ll have to wait a bit longer for many of the details, which I’m including in my memoirs.
I will add this note, though. In 1977, I was invited to speak in London at the historic first Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit. While in town, I looked up Rosemary Brown’s phone number, wondering if she was even still alive.
She was, indeed. When I mentioned my name, she said, “They told me you’d be calling.”
Someone recently posted her long out of print album on iTunes, so you can check it out for yourself.
Until next time, stay tuned.
Steven Halpern
PS:  About 20 years ago, my friend Dannion Brinkley, bestselling author of Saved by the Light, and three- time champion of dying and coming back to life, asked me to help produce a guided life review meditation. PANORAMIC LIFE REVIEW is still available on CD and MP3 at
Steven Halpern is a Grammy® award nominated recording artist celebrating his 40th anniversary as “the most trusted name in sound healing.” His latest releases are MINDFUL PIANO and AMONG FRIENDS: 1975-2015: A 40 Year Retrospective

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