John Likides
(Book & CD Review/Interview)

by Jeff Fitzgerald

Uploaded to Aural Innovations: March 2004

John Likides - ďOut of the LabyrinthĒ (Book) (Xlibris 2003, ISBN: 1-4010-7420-0)

Music, synchronicity, posthumous survival, karmic destiny, philosophy, hallucinatory experiences, life extension technology, and more than just a little sex and romance are the threads that musician John Likides weaves together in his novel, Out of the Labyrinth.

The book follows the story of its narrator, Chris Christou. Smitten by a mysterious and alluring woman he meets in a restaurant, and then contacted by an even more mysterious organization looking for someone of just his talents and characteristics, Christou is drawn into the world of the enigmatic Gabriel Bruford. Bruford, it seems, was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident years ago, and his body remains in a state of suspended animation, watched over by a faithful uncle who also happens to be a supreme Zen Master who is in contact with alien entities near Jupiter. But Bruford isnít helpless, as Christou soon finds out. He has the ability to travel out of his body, and to appear in holographic form. It was he who summoned Christou, and the alluring woman from the restaurant figures into Brufordís mystifying and ultimately mind-blowing master plan as well.

Likidesí novel is a complex odyssey into some truly unique notions about life, death, love, and the survival of the human race. Itís told from the point of view of its narrator, and indeed, we spend much of the course of the novel inside Christouís head as his thoughts flow in stream of consciousness style, out of which the plot emerges in bits and pieces. Heís an interesting character, full of contradictions. Like William Hurtís character, Eddie Jessup, in the movie Altered States, Christou vacillates between profundity and crudeness, aware of the sexual animal nature of his being, and striving to, if not overcome it, at least tame it, or direct it into more meaningful tangents of growth and exploration. But where Jessup was obsessed with the notion of fucking God (in the cosmically sexual sense), Christou seems to want to fuck immortality. And through the course of the novel, he just may get his chance.

Likides layers his novel with numerous references to music, especially progressive rock, from the names of some of the characters (Gabriel Bruford anyone?), to the fact that the narrator himself is a musician, who, in an amusing meta-fictional twist, has released the same albums as the author has. Throughout the novel, music is an important and even critical element, used to express some of the more complex ideas in the book. It all culminates in an epic jam session that underlines the entire conceptual framework of the novel in a sort of climactic summary.

Out of the Labyrinth is a very unique and unusual novel, with lots of thoughts to ponder.

Out of the Labyrinth is available from www.xlibris.com/OutoftheLabyrinth.html or www.Amazon.com or www.BarnesandNoble.com or it can be ordered from your local bookstore.

John Likides - ďOut of the LabyrinthĒ (CD) (artist released 2003)

If movies have their own musical soundtracks, than why not books? Especially when the author of the book also happens to be a musician and music is an integral part of the story. This is exactly the case with John Likidesí Out of the Labyrinth. Drawing on the many themes throughout the book, John has created a series of instrumental tracks intended as the soundtrack to his book.

I actually originally put this CD into my player before I read the book. While listening to the opening track, Urban Heads, I was struck by the impression of being swept up in the intellectual slipstream of some vast metropolitan city. Sure enough, Johnís book opens with a freethinker named Christou as he weaves his way through the cerebral and social environments of New York City. So John has definitely captured something of his novel in his music.

But the CD also stands on its own as well, being a mucho enjoyable listen before I ever even had the chance to dig into the book, and my favorite so far of the three CDís I have heard from this artist.

John Likides produces a seductive blend of electronics and guitar, often building layers of lush electronic washes with rhythms and sequences over which he crafts subtle, complex, and creative guitar leads. The music is mysteriously melodic, often with surprising shifts in tempo. Occasionally it strays into new age or world beat territories, but Johnís guitar work always draws it back to a more progressive approach, whether heís delving into Spanish styles as on Seeing the Familiar for the First Time, squalling noise excursions as on Yin Yang Jung, or blistering rock explorations such as We Students of Socrates.

If you like that blend of guitars and structured electronics, somewhat reminiscent say of late 70ís to mid 80ís Tangerine Dream with touches of Vangelis, youíre sure to enjoy Out of the Labyrinth. And it does indeed make for a nice soundtrack while reading the book!

For more information, or to order CDís, you can contact John by e-mail at: Likides@aol.com
Or by snailmail at: John Likides, GPO Box 023211, Brooklyn NY 11202.

Via e-mail, I had a chance to talk with John about his music and his writing. I actually conducted this interview last year, but due to certain life circumstances, didnít get around to finishing it off till this year, so I recently contacted John for an update, which is right at the end of the interview. Thanks John for your patience!

Aural Innovations: Tell me a bit about how you got started. What drew you into writing and performing your own music in the first place?

John Likides: Although I had an acoustic guitar in high school and listened to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd, Aphroditeís Child, Renaissance, and lots of Greek traditional as well as modern music, I was inspired to perform my own music by my all-time most-favorite band, YES, because of their exuberance, rigor, musicianship, and progressive outlook. In fact, YES is the only band whose entire oeuvre I love (even Tormato and Drama and the albums with Trevor Rabin). However, there was something special about the Fragile-era band. In fact, Bill Bruford, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe, and Jon Anderson are still some of my most favorite musicians, and about twenty years ago, they inspired me to woodshed in order to acquire more chops than Iíll ever need: speed, finesse, precision, and melodicism.

As for writing, it came naturally to me because I am introverted and because Iíve always liked to read. While attending high school in Greece, I had to read Plato, Homer, and the English classics, so I got the truth-seeking bug early!

AI: What was your involvement with Alien Planetscapes' Doug Walker?

JL: As soon as I arrived in NYC in 1981, I began to play solo gigs, and during one of them, the person who booked it introduced me to Philip Gelb, a multi-instrumentalist who happened to live with Doug Walker. Shortly thereafter, I moved in with Phil and Doug, jammed a few times, but there were artistic difference among us, so we went our separate ways. I played one gig with Doug and some other people, not as Alien Planetscapes, however.

AI: Although your latest recordings are all solo works, you mentioned that you had played and recorded in a band (or bands) in the late 80ís and early 90ís. Can you tell me about that. What was the name of the band(s)? What kind of stuff did you play/record?

JL: In the late 1980s, I played with various drummers and bassists, in trios that improvised on structures and sounded sort of like the melodic side of King Crimson, many people said, not the dissonant heaviness, which I never liked. There was also a heavy Indian influence in my playing because Iíve always loved Ravi Shankar--ever since buying that Concert for Bangla Desh double record with Shankar, Dylan, and others, when I was in high school. My trios also sounded hot and tight, at times, in the McLaughlin mode while at other times we experimented with atonalities. I played with some great musicians, at the time, such as drummer Ken Serio and fretless bassist Andro Kotula, who made us sound like Oregon, someone told me.

My first trio was called The Breons, was more experimental, and performed for a couple of years mostly in galleries in Manhattan. My second trio, Sympan, was more accomplished, culminating in a gig at Wetlands, where we opened for a Pink-Floyd cover band, The Machine. I have several CDs worth of music on tape, however, that I will release one day soon hopefully.

AI: Throughout your book, you drop the names of a number of artists. What would you say are the artists or musicians who have influenced your music the most, and how would you say they have influenced you? What would you say are the musical influences most relevant to your recent recordings reviewed here in AI?

JL: Simply put, from YES I learned the importance of having serious chops but only as a means to melodicism and beauty while from Ravi Shankar and Indian music in general I learned how to combine the sacred with the intellectual. Moreover, for me, the pessimism of King Crimson has always served as a counterbalance to the optimism of YES. In fact, balance is very important to me. I am guardedly-optimistic but not as pollyannaish as Jon Anderson and certainly not anywhere near as gloomy as Robert Fripp. However, I do acknowledge humanityís dark undercurrents, by using that searing electric-lead sound except that mine is tempered by wisdom, not the sadness of Frippís playing.

I was also influenced by Steve Hackett and Tony Banks because I still listen to Genesisí early - and middle-period work, up until And Then There Were Three. In fact, the reason I used analog guitar synths with the trios and the MIDI guitar synths in my solo work has been so that I can emulate the beautiful interaction between Tony Banks and Steve Hackett. Moreover, I love Steve Hackettís solo work as well as his collaborations with his brother, John Wetton, Chester Thompson, and Ian MacDonald.

I also love Vangelis, who used to play in Aphroditeís Child, a band I saw live in Greece when I was a child. I have most of his solo works, and I love his collaborations with Jon Anderson, especially Private Collection. However, as a player, I stay away from Vangelisí minor-key European-cosmopolitan thing because itís filled with nostalgia.

Jon Hassell is another musician who influenced me, and so have Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich because I love minimalismís meditative vibe.

About the question of musical influences most relevant to my recent recordings reviewed in AI, I am not sure because I am too close to my work to have an objective perspective on it. In fact, I think that is for you to say also because I learned a lot about my work by reading your reviews of it.

AI: You mentioned once to me that all of your artistic endeavors, whether it be painting, literature, or music itself, are all tied into your interest in music. It all relates back to the music. Can you tell me a bit about that?

JL: Musicís innate degree of abstraction and universality is a lot higher than paintingís and especially writingís. Unlike notes, words have specific meanings, and sentences must abide by the rules of syntax, no matter how abstract. In fact, linguist Noam Chomsky thinks that there is actually a hard-wired mechanism for language and meaning in our minds. As a result, for me, the parameters for experimentation are much narrower in writing than in the virtually-limitless possibilities of music. After all, a text must mean something, and the clearer and more succinct it is, the better. Otherwise, the reader will simply stop reading, and the opportunity for communication will be lost.

Though to a lesser degree, the same is true for painting, be it representational or abstract. The mindís primal need to make sense of the world and to see faces and figures even in abstract-expressionist works is too strong. However, the parameters for experimentation are wider than those of writing because color, balance, and other visual principles can compensate for paintingís relative lack of literal meaning.

However, instrumental music is a much more abstract and direct experience. First, the mind doesnít have to look for literal meaning in a piece of music, as the reader does with a piece of writing. Second, the mind doesnít even have to look for faces and figures, as viewers of abstract paintings do. Third, instrumental music is an affective experience, entering our minds much more directly because we feel it and because our ears arenít concerned with literal meaning as our eyes are.

Instrumental music is a universal language that transcends time and space. A listener doesnít need to know anything about the composerís biography, era, intentions, and so on to enjoy a piece of music and be greatly moved by it. This is not the case for painting and especially not for writing, the best kind of which relies heavily on linguistic and cultural nuances that can shut off totally a reader who doesnít speak the writerís language and doesnít know the writerís culture.

AI: Your current recordings are all solo efforts. Can you tell me about what equipment you use to play and record?

JL: All four of my solo CDs were recorded using a Gibson Les Paul Studio double-cutaway 24-fret guitar with a MIDI pickup, two Roland guitar synths (the GR-30 and the GR-33), two sound modules (the Roland JV-1010 and the Alesis Nanosynth), and a Mackie mixing board going directly into a mixdown deck (the Alesis Masterlink, which has an internal hard disk and a CD burner). This means that I canít overdub and that all four CDs were live recordings because, after all, the Alesis is only a mixdown deck. I do this because I want to be able to play my CDs live, note for note, with about 10% improvisation.

AI: The bio on the back of the book mentions various publications, though these sound like shorter works. Is Out of the Labyrinth your first novel? What other writing have you done?

JL: I wrote my first novel, The Latest Testament, in undergrad school, at age 19. It was accepted for publication by Philosophical Library, but I didnít like the terms they offered me, so I declined to work with them. After that, I wrote an experimental-story collection, Salvage Operations, and while in grad school, I wrote a 1,500-page experimental novel, But However Still, which grew out of my studies of existentialism, post-structuralism, and deconstruction. Then I realized that Sartre, Husserl, Derrida, and the rest of the people I had been studying werenít household names and that readers didnít know what the hell I was doing.

As a result, about ten years ago, I decided to meet readers half way, by using storytelling to communicate my more abstract interests. Since then, I completed three novels: Being Forever, Out of the Labyrinth, and The Landing. As soon as Out of the Labyrinth takes off a bit, I will bring out The Landing and then Being Forever.

Furthermore, during the past year, Iíve been writing Consciousness Transfer, a science-fiction novel that takes place in the distant future, when humanity has spread across the solar system and several neighboring ones. So far, Iíve written about 40,000 words and intend to write about five times more. Iíve also written two screenplays, The Calling and Oh Beautiful.

AI: Youíve played both live and in the studio context, as part of a group and a solo artist. Do you have any plans to perform your latest solo stuff live (or have you done that already?). What kind of differences do you find between performing live and working in a studio. Which do you prefer and why?

JL: In the most fundamental sense, playing music is simultaneously a form of entertainment and inspiration for me because I donít have a television, and I have no plans of getting one, either! I enjoy both performing live (which is about communication) as well as working in the studio (which is mostly about composition). I spend hours and days working on grooves, melodies, and moods--tweaking synth settings, looking for strangely beautiful chords, making sure there is variety from track to track, and so on.

As I mentioned before, I record live straight onto a mixdown deck because I want to be able to perform the music live. However, after playing live for many years, I am very choosy about gigs because my music isnít suitable for bars where people go to drink alcohol and act like fools. Thank god I donít have to rely on music to survive. Playing in cover bands or other kinds of music is sacrilegious to me because music is my closest connection to the cosmos.

I am currently looking for a nice alternative space where I can perform the CD. †

AI: Can you tell me about your music composing process? Since your latest album, Out of the Labyrinth, is intended as the soundtrack to your novel of the same name, did you specifically set out to compose pieces with an idea in mind of how it related to the book, or was it a more intuitive process, where the music just ended up being that way? Iím interested, because I think I mentioned before that some of the music, especially "Urban Heads," just fit so perfectly with what I was reading. †

JL: My first three solo CDs (Roundtrip to The Pleiades, Astral Bodies, and Paths to Eternity) were experiments in different moods affected by my research into reincarnation. The fourth CD, Out of the Labyrinth, was composed after the novel had been written. Keeping in mind the novelís general trajectory of events, I began to compose grooves, melodies, and moods, as if I were scoring a movie. In fact, the CDís titles are the novelís outline: an urban head works up the psychic momentum to go upstate in search of a synchronicity leading to love, family, wisdom, and so on.

I am currently doing the same with my fifth CD, The Landing, to accompany a novel by the same title. By Christmas the book will be ready for publication, and the CD will be recorded. First, I wrote ten titles that outline the novelís main events. I am†currently composing music that suits the moods of those ten events, and when I am satisfied with the melodies and grooves, I will rehearse them enough to be able to record them live.

In other words, my friend, I may not have a life, but I do have a lot of fun!

AI: We talked a bit about your musical influences, but youíre also a writer and a visual artist. What are some of your favorite artists in those fields? Which ones have particularly inspired you?

JL: I am inspired by all kinds of writers: philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, dramatists like Shakespeare and Ibsen, stylists like James Joyce and Virginia Wolf, poets like T.S. Eliot and William Blake, cosmologists like Stephen Hawking, paleoanthropologists like Richard Leakey, psychiatrists like Carl G. Jung and Stanislav Grof, and many others. Being an avid reader, I am also very demanding as a buyer of books. I expect beautiful language and either a unique perspective or wisdom--ideally all three (beauty, originality, wisdom) and serious engagement with humanityís perennial problems. Ironically, many cosmologists combine most of the qualities I want as a reader. As a writer, I strive for excellence: beautiful language, original observations, wise remarks, comic relief, and serious engagement.

My visual-arts influences are considerably narrower. I am inspired mostly by the surrealists (Giorgio de Chirico, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali) and the Flemish masters (Rembrandt mainly). In fact, like all surrealists, I value greatly my dream world because it is filled with insights from the collective unconscious. Furthermore, the dream world is very instructive in how consciousness may be able to survive the death of the body, by using the etheric double (soul) that we all possess, according to the theosophists. In addition, I love that melancholic mood†we see in surrealist paintings and hear in the music of Vangelis, Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Jon Hassell, Enya, etc.

AI: The idea of a "groupsoul" is very integral to your book, as well as, I suspect, your music. Can you tell me about it?

JL: The idea of the group soul comes from theosophy and posits that after death all souls gravitate naturally toward other kindred ones, forming groups that can create entire worlds for entertainment and education. It is a very attractive idea because at its core lies the primal need we all have for home, basically--a place where love is unconditional, the talk great, the sex primo, and so on! Writing and painting are solitary, but music is certainly not. Being in a great band with kindred spirits is†most musiciansí life dream: world tours, great music, packed auditoriums, and all that.

Being a freethinking experimentalist, I welcome with open arms ideas like the groupsoul, but I am not fully convinced that it is more than just wishful thinking. I hope it is our natural heritage (as theosophists claim), but that doesnít stop me from my lifelong research on the nature of consciousness and how to sustain as much of it as possible after the body has died. In fact, posthumous sustain is much more important to me because I lack the faith gene that would allow me to relax and have fun until itís time to meet Saint Peter and the angels!

AI: Letís get into discussing your book, Out of the Labyrinth. What lead you to the concepts expressed within it and the desire to write this particular novel?

JL: Out of the Labyrinth, the novel, grew out of a story called "Heads," which I sold to Unique. "Heads" is about two brothers: one a posthumous investigator like Gabriel Bruford, the other a family man like Eric Bruford. The†considerable dramatic potential and the philosophical ideas were strong enough for me to want to develop the story into a novel. However, I didnít want to write a third-person, omniscient-narrator kind of novel. Instead, I wanted personal connections between the material and my own everyday life in order to balance the otherworldly elements. Furthermore, as I mentioned elsewhere, two things I am very interested in are, first, the bridging of genres (such as fiction, poetry, biography, etc) and, second, the balancing of antipodes (fiction/mysticism, and so on). As a result, I decided to write a literary romance novel of ideas--experimental and philosophical but also readable and funny.†

AI: The narrator of the novel bears certain similarities to yourself, including having released several CDís and written works, which are the same as your own works. I find that an interesting sort of "metafiction". How closely do you relate to the narrator of the novel?

JL: As you probably know, one of the tricks of the trade is to invest some of our own personality attributes into our characters in order to endow the work with authenticity. In addition, telling the story from the perspective of an outsider to the brothersí story enabled me to bring in all sorts of other biographical elements from the narratorís background--and mine, too, ultimately. Doing this enabled me to balance the novel in all sorts of ways by juxtaposing Chrisís obsession with finding love and Gabrielís desperation to escape his coma.

Although I am a Greek immigrant to the U.S. like Chrisís father, I have no desire whatsoever to write immigrant fiction, for all sorts of reasons. If I ever marry, my wife will be almost certainly an American woman, and in that respect, I consider Chris kinda like my son because my parents are very different from his. However, as I said earlier, Chris has been invested with some of my own personality attributes, so my relationship to him is complex.

Moreover, there is an elusive karmic factor in operation that made me want to erase the boundaries between me and Chris. In other words, Chris is a very fortunate individual with excellent karma, as Buddhists would say. His parents are fine people, and he finds the intellectual babe of his dreams, Audrey, whose uncle is a bodhisattva with extraordinary powers who agrees to teach Chris. To put it simply, Christo Christouís life is where I plan to be in my next reincarnation--if there is such a thing, of course!

AI: So what are you currently working on?

JL: I am still proofreading my next novel, The Landing, and recording its soundtrack. I am also looking for a Bruford-type drummer and a compatible bassist for a touring band that will hopefully play ProgFest and other festivals soon. Music wonít allow me to pursue a regular career. Hardly an hour passes every day without my thinking about playing in college theaters with great acoustics: polyrhythmic drumming, fretless bass, and an operatic soprano, if I can find her. I recently found out about Saga, a Canadian band from the Toronto area. Theyíve been together for twenty years, selling thousands of CDs in Europe even though nobody knows them in America! If I have to move to Europe, Iíll do it because I have no talent for having a regular life!

AI: Well thanks, John. Iíll be looking forward to your next novel and CD!

Readers can buy a copy of Out of the Labyrinth from www.xlibris.com/OutoftheLabyrinth.html or www.Amazon.com or www.BarnesandNoble.com or order it from any bricks-and-mortar bookstore. Itís distributed world-wide via Ingram Distribution.

To get in touch with John Likides, you can email him at Likides@aol.com or write to John Likides, GPO Box 023211, Brooklyn NY 11202.


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