Transcript: Eric Lewis and Eric Weinstein on The Portal episode 28
The Portal podcast transcription series
- Peter Thiel
- What is The Portal?
- Werner Herzog
- Timur Kuran
- Rabbi David Wolpe
- Jocko Willink
- Bret Easton Ellis
- Andrew Yang
- Bryan Callen
- Julie Lindahl
- Sam Harris
- Vitalik Buterin
- Garry Kasparov
- London Tsai
- Garrett Lisi
- Tyler Cowen
- Anna Khachiyan
- Eric Weinstein – State of the Portal 2020
- Bret Weinstein
- Sir Roger Penrose
- Ashley Mathews (Riley Reid)
- Ben Greenfield
- Agnes Callard
- Kai Lenny
- The Construct: Jeffrey Epstein
Geometric Unity – a First Look
- James O’Keefe
- Daniel Schmachtenberger
- Eric Lewis
- Jamie Metzl
- Ross Douthat
- Ryan Holiday
The following transcript was generated by a machine and not edited by any human – so it’s full of of errors. I’m posting the transcript because the podcast is excellent and a crappy transcript is better than no transcript. Questions/comments: get me on Twitter @mgmobrien.
[YouTube video not yet available but here’s the audio: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/kast-media-2/the-portal-2/e/68486443]
Eric Weinstein 0:06
Hi, this is Eric with a few thoughts for this week’s housekeeping. What I want to bring up this week is how to think about the portal podcast. And in particular, I want to give a few thoughts on how we should measure the scale of a critique or the power of an idea, and how these two different concepts might interrelate. Many years ago, I used to live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and we had our own very peculiar notion of celebrities Back then, I mean, Tracy Chapman literally used to busk on the street for money, and NPR, his car talk guys live locally. It was within that mill you that I would go to talks for entertainment. As a broke graduate student lectures were a godsend as they were free and plentiful. I would attend them the way other people would go to movies or concerts and from time to time that would include Noam Chomsky, his lectures on political theory as he worked at MIT. I was always impressed by his sincerity and sometimes I would stay after and talk with him. On one such occasion I told him that I had had a conversation with a contacted NPR and that that person might be interested in getting him a regular slot of perhaps five minutes or more. I was naturally very excited to make something like this happen if it were in fact possible. gnomes response was surprising to me at the time, he was absolutely emphatic that he was not interested. Somewhat stun I asked him why he was so definite. He replied in such a small slot against the backdrop of NPR filtered news, he would appear to the audience to be a stark raving madman, and that there was no way of presenting a deep critique so as to overcome the relentless framing of the news into narratives in which NPR was engaging. I have thought about that interchange many times since then, as I have been haunted by its implications. What good after all, is a Chomsky level analysis if it is barred from having any impact when done at scale. When we have a critique of a well known narrative or worldview, it usually can be sorted into a taxonomy according to whether it accepts bends or is forced to break the frame of the storyline with which it contends. As an example, imagine we were back in 2016 and I were to critique the coverage of the US presidential election. for failing to contend with the ideas of Donald Trump, saying that I feel that we aren’t covering Trump sufficiently because we all know that Hillary is going to win would constitute a critique, but one that accepts the narrative without challenge, saying instead, Hillary is going to beat Donald Trump by much less than she imagines and will have to build her mandate after the inauguration, if she is to be effective, would bend the Hillary’s inevitable media narrative. But saying instead, I think all the pundits and polls are wrong and that Donald Trump should be expected to win would break the narrative entirely. This breaking of the frame is usually cause for division and is of course exactly what got Ann Coulter ridiculed on bill Maher’s program when she made just that prediction. To return to our story in Massachusetts, almost all of Chomsky his points were in fact narrative breakers in this third category. He would have stories we’d never heard from East Timor, detailed history on Iranian self determination in oil reserves, data on Chile and atrocities. To accept Chomsky was to accept a world of different stories that oddly enough could usually be authenticated, but which were frequently not referenced outside far left circles. Thus, Chomsky could not play inside the game of NPR, which was often bending and sometimes challenging official narratives, but seldom ever breaking the dominant frames within which the storylines developed. In short planet Chomsky was an alternative universe in which a Howard Zinn might be found. But where you would never find Samuel Huntington or Henry Kissinger, I mean, they might have talked down the street at Harvard in the adjacent zip code one digit off, but it was another incompatible universe entirely. So what can one say about the style of deep critique which must break the frame of its target without knowing any further information? Well, in the first place, no one can really argue that all frame breaking is unwarranted. I mean, clearly, the US view of North Korea is such a critique, for example, as is the mainstream Baptist critique of an offshoot cult, like the hate fueled Westboro Baptist Church. And yet, when the narrative under scrutiny is our own narrative, the very one upon In which we depend to give direction meaning and security in our daily lives. We can be relied upon to fight everything that breaks our frame irrespective of its validity. So with this in mind and the COVID pandemic response is our backdrop who are today’s deep critics? And should we be listening to them or ignoring them, as is our reflex? Well, I’m glad to say that Noam Chomsky is still going strong, and I dare to think that upon his eventual exit from this world, he may well be remembered as America’s leading public intellectual, even by many of the respectable people who paid him absolutely no mind while he was still a living threat to our system. Nassim Taleb, of course, is another candidate. Now to libs, idiosyncrasies notwithstanding, it is particularly difficult to contend with the substance of celebs critique because it is so vast where other people trade accusations about the misuse of statistics, to lead verges on saying that the field of statistics is itself the problem. While some might argue about the fallacy of appeal to authority in a particular case, to lab instead goes After many of the experts class by name endearing himself to his targets by calling them I why I for intellectual yet idiot. He does this I believe because he wants to signal that all frames coming from the mainstream should be considered dead on arrival with him unless verified from first principles. A third case might have been my old friend and colleague Serge Lang at Yale, I may discuss another time as he is no longer with us, and I will leave Scott Alexander Venkatesh Rao, Peter teal, Nick Bostrom, and others for another time. My aim and bringing up these various and varied critics is to bring to consciousness that there’s actually almost no real information content in pointing out that we disagree with nearly any deep frame breaking critique, if it’s targeted upon our own narratives. This must be the baseline expectation if we wish to see ourselves as self aware and metacognitive. We oppose most all such critics reflexively and completely independent of the merit of their arguments for reasons of self preservation. And yet, and yet even knowing this my goal at the portal is at least in part to provide you the listener with just such a deep critique. The problem here is that the critique as it stands is simply so vast that it is difficult to consider independent of whether or not it makes sense or is true. Think for example about the past episodes we’ve been through. We’ve asked you to rethink science and its culture from the bottom up. The portal, in fact began with an interview about stagnation during a period where most everyone else was talking about some dizzying pace of technological change. We’ve explored the idea of universal societal lies and preference falsification and the idea that Judaism might not even be a religion, and most insanely, the need to stave off an apocalypse potentially through planetary escape. Well, before we were all told to stay indoors as a planet to avoid a killer virus. I mean, if there is a silver lining to this pandemic here at the portal, it is surely that our talk about the twin nuclei problem on the Joe Rogan program, and worldwide apocalypse seems a lot less far fetched after transitioning suddenly from business as usual to worldwide lockdown. So How can this be done at scale without paying the same exact reflexive penalty of cognitive dissonance as all the other deep critics seem to have suffered? If there is an answer here, it has to be found in the concept of the portal itself. My goal is not to tell you that where we are is terrible and contains no meaningful options. The highest ambition in fact of the program is to show you how else you might think about finding passages to something real and more meaningful than the place you were when we first met. After that, if you want to remain in place that would be a choice rather than a sentence. So what I want to leave you with is a notion which I believe goes back to Richard Dawkins. At some point, he opined that one could measure the power of an idea as if it were a fraction. To this way of thinking the power of an idea is measured as what the idea explains divided by what the idea is forced to assume. For example, Dawkins might claim that the theory of evolution is powerful specifically because it explains the origin of all known species and adaptations, but only assumes the principles of natural and sexual selection. Maxwell’s equations by contrasts are powerful because they explain light x rays, radio waves, magnetism electricity photons all as an unpacking of a single geometric concept. Weber’s theory by turns that all government can oddly be unpacked from the simple concept of a monopoly on violence would be such a theory in the social rather than the natural sciences. As such, it may be easier to accept Darwin’s Maxwell’s and vapers critiques of all that came before them specifically because their criticism is not scattered and flows simply from unifying and underlying principles. In the case of the portal, we have endeavored to follow this example, quite simply, and there’s no getting around this our critique of modern life is partially characterized by just how deep it is. Yes, we are really saying that we’ve had a universally unworkable leadership class in place for nearly 50 years and that most of our institutions are not functioning ethically or honestly. In other words, most of us adults grew up in a bubble. Of course, that probably sounded a lot crazier to many before most people saw the worldwide clown show that was an is the devil World’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But just imagine that almost every critical area of civil society leadership is just as badly prepared as our public health sector to react to immediate changes in need, and you will start to watch your brain tune out, as it may well have during initial discussion of the virus in January. After all, what would one do to fix it? I mean, I, myself get enervated just like you whenever I think about the most straightforward implications, where would we even begin for God’s sakes? Yet this is why we have endeavored to provide you with a very small denominator to combat the sense of hopelessness. I mean, if there is more or less only one root cause the problems we are picking out, then our idea will have power in the sense of doctrines and we need not work individually on thousands of idiosyncratic downstream emergencies clamoring for our attention. In our theory, almost all of this novel level of systemic failure and institutional leadership follows from a simple changing growth regimes in the post war regime from 1945 until the early 1970s. growth was so remarkable and constant that we built our institutions around expectations of economic expansion and technological innovation. And then just like that, most all of that growth stopped around 1971 through 1973, maybe having to do with predictions of Derick de sola price more than 10 years earlier, which we can discuss another time. Like Weber’s theory of a monopoly on violence or Darwin’s explanation of selection. the validity of this simplification rests on what can be unpacked from relatively mild assumptions through the theory of embedded growth obligations. Because these institutions are all facing the same system of pressures. There is a near universal need for every titular head in this cohort of leaders to hide the fact that their institution is predicated on high growth expectations, and that they are all now failing and that the expectations cannot be met. Further, if this is correct, they are failing in exactly the same ways with the same class and type of leaders at the helm, whose top skill must be this masking of the inability of the leadership to meet the Both obligation embedded within the foundations of their institutions simply to keep the game going. This is what must now come to an end. generations are in fact defined by their cognitive development during whatever environment was present during their formative years. The important generational divide is likely between the silent and baby boom generations on one side who grew up as children and young adults amidst real growth. And with us attached to the narratives of success under difficult circumstances, with Gen X and the millennials still waiting their turn and largely alienated from narratives which offer them very little other than debt and near permanent holding patterns. Once the baby boomers in silence exit the system, we are likely to see their successors start to actually admit to the terrible state of the institutions. So if you’re interested in this theory, this is now your homework assignment. As you watch this cohort of leaders wrestle with the COVID pandemic, ask yourself what part of the bizarre nature of this response can be deduced from the theory of embedded growth obligations we have now spent in the United States the last 28 years Under baby boomer administration’s So, how well did they do to prepare us for this pandemic? Did they leave us stockpiles of essential supplies? Did they resign when they failed in their duties? Are their instincts compatible with the heavy burdens which are now likely to cascade from here? And if pandemic leads to depression and depression leads to war? Would you wish to send yourself or a child into battle under President Sanders, President Trump or President Biden as commander in chief? Or would you look for a portal instead to avoid this choice?
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This portal episode introduces you to one of my favorite people and favorite artists on Earth. Now let me say this if you were to ask me which my guests so far is most often an open portal to the transcendent. This is the one and I’ve sold him in a certain as I am here. It’s hard to know what to say. But he Lou, aka Eric Lewis, two things, however clear, he is a straight up genius and a force of nature. Are we friends? I definitely say yes, but it is a strange thing to be friends with an avalanche or a tsunami. At our Shabbat dinner table, for example, he’s one of our favorite guests, but he often speaks to me in riddles, and sometimes reminds me in speech of how Jimi Hendrix used to struggle to talk to mortals, and in many ways beyond that the comparison seems a good one. If one looks at the musical notation meant to say what Hendrix was doing on guitar, it is remarkable how little is captured. This is because Hendrix expanded the dimensionality of the guitar with feedback, micro embellishments and electronic wizardry so that the notes provided only the bare substrate for the tapestry of sound that was being woven. In many ways, Eric has done the same thing for the piano. So just as Les Paul proceeded Hendrix and using the studio as an instrument and flamenco artist, we’re tapping on fret boards long before Eddie Van Halen changed the percussive guitar game Eric was not the first to play with the internal organs of the piano to coax out new sounds. But far beyond the prepared piano experiments of art music composers when Eric rip the cover off the piano to play both the keys and the harp like strings behind, he brought so much dimensionality and soul that hit last overcame the critical limitation of the instrument that had plagued it since its birth. The pianos mechanical action, which is one of the great triumphs of pure mechanical engineering, ensured that there was regularity to most every note, Eric replaced that regularity and created a higher dimensional instrument if the piano was Einstein to the harpsichords Newton. In Eric’s hands, the piano went relativistic and quantum finally at the same time, I should say that this is one of many different innovations that Eric has brought. He has explored the fusion of Baroque counterpoint in jazz into a style that he calls counter bop, which quite frankly stretches my mind farther than it can often go, as well as innovating rock jazz to replace the Tin Pan Alley songbook of standards. Additionally, he is in innovated in several aspects of showmanship as well as DJing, and screenwriting, which is hardly surprising as my entire body can seemingly fit inside his braincase. As for this interview, a word of warning, I should say that Eric is being very kind to me indeed, by inviting me to at least pretend to play along with him, either on the high registers of the piano while he is playing, or using the cloud harmonica that I happen to find in my pocket. The morning we recorded in LA on a famous Yamaha that was apparently used to record Angie by the Rolling Stones. I would appreciate it if you didn’t see it as me getting in his way so much as an act of supreme generosity from a true innovator and friend to a humbled curator. I hope you will look into Eric’s music after you’ve had a chance to listen to our uninterrupted conversation after these ads from our sponsors. And you’ll sit back relax and meet the portal that is my friend, Eric Lewis.
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Hello, you found the portal. I’m here today with one of my favorite people and our guest, Eric Lewis, alias he, Lou. I don’t exactly know how to describe what he is and what he does. But we’ll start with pianist and we’ll go from there because he’s also a DJ screenwriter and a guy who one of my one of the reasons is on the show is that it seems like everything he touches he has to innovate. So he Lu, welcome to the portal.
Eric Lewis 20:33
Eric Weinstein 20:34
So one of the things I just want to jump right into is that I’m super frustrated with where music has been recently. And I think it’s really interesting that you occur in our era. From my perspective, a lot of our popular music has been getting simpler as it was getting more intricate and more dependent on musicianship back in the 70s. And a lot of what we’re seeing is a shift to the studio to simpler forms and you come along and for my money, you are innovating at the very highest levels of jazz, rock and pop all at the same time. Are you seeing something like that? Where you were somehow like a salmon swimming counter to the stream? Or do you think that you’re just a part of our age and, in fact, it’s the same as it ever was.
Eric Lewis 21:23
Thank you. First of all, for saying that. I think of myself as just an arch traditionalist, in some sense, part of the tradition of jazz with a nod of the hat or an eye on Miles Davis, john Coltrane, Art Tatum. You know, part of the tradition of jazz is to innovate and to indeed, in individuated as Carl Jung might say, perhaps, you know, that is the focus that I find myself orbiting. And that’s my pursuit. I’ve sort of painted myself in a corner in a lot of different ways. And I use that sort of sense of being trapped or forced to commit to this thing that I’ve painted myself into a corner with. And I use that particular situation, that particular scenario to drive out and bring forth innovation, as they say, ingenuity, what is that Necessity is the mother of ingenuity or the mother of invention. Well, that’s just the thing.
Eric Weinstein 22:47
So for people who don’t know you, and they’re going to not only know you, hopefully, but we have a beautiful Yamaha piano behind us, they’re gonna feel you shortly. Let me just give you sort of The non musicians impression of where I’ve seen you innovating. Okay, first of all, you’ve taken what used to be called prepared piano where people would leave like bricks and paperclips in the back of the piano. And you’ve stuck your hand in there to coax all sorts of sounds out that add such a rich dimensionality to your playing that you have access to many more degrees of freedom than a standard person. So you’re playing in the back and in the front of the piano. You’ve innovated this idea, which you called rock jazz, which was a canonical innovation in that originally, when jazz was coming up, people use the popular songs of the day as the substrate on which to improvise. And you you pointed out that, you know, autumn leaves is not a part of our current canon. It’s a part of our older canon. So why not use the rock songs that everyone knows is the substrate to be true, not to the letter but to the spirit of jazz, which is to use that which everyone knows and show them something they don’t he Innovation. Like all of the best, you know, Jerry Lee Lewis footage where he kicks away the, the the bench, and he’s just playing standing there, you’ve got this insane, powerful stance, you use this armor to, you know, to convey the aggression. And I think you know, I was talking about the violence of creativity. One of the reasons we’re afraid of creativity is that we’re afraid that creative creativity is always a violent act, you came up with this thing called counter bop, where you’re bringing sort of Bach like counterpoint into a, into the jazz idiom and achieving a level of independence. We say have your hands but have parts of your mind that I’ve never, I don’t think I’ve ever seen at the keyboard to say nothing of how you’ve innovated. I’m starting to hear that you’re DJing from inside of the piano. It feels to me like everything you touch is a response to a constraint that you take on the constraints of the traditional and then you for yourself, Houdini like to break out of them, is that an accurate description of what it is that’s driving this sort of explosion?
Eric Lewis 25:08
I would say that most of it is accurate. Some of it would be argued from the perspective of branding, and that sort of kind of thing. But isn’t that part of validation? Right. So so there’s that, you know, that’s part of creativity, too. And it’s important, as well. So I would definitely say that counter Bob, of all of the innovations is one that’s got the heaviest musical, academic durability. Mm hmm. I would say that rock jazz was innovative. However, I’m not the first person to play rock tunes or rock covers on a piano. I think I might be the first person to sort of go at it with The ferocity and the physical degree of power and endurance and sort of fidelity to those pieces. So, I think that I go about that particular endeavor in an innovative way. Branding it as rock jazz, perhaps that’s innovative and using that as a wedge to create an extension of my career. So, you know, there’s an innovative quality there, I would say counter Bob, which is a more recent situation, the more recent device that I’ve come up with, that’s something that I can definitely say is innovative in the sense that I really haven’t heard anyone. Mix Bach counterpoint with Bebop. There’s a lot of people that have brought counterpoint European counterpoint into jazz, however,
and this is for all of the people who are going to
immediately pounce on this statement or scream whale that, oh, it hasn’t been done before. Actually, no, it hasn’t. It hasn’t been done in a swinging way. Well, that’s it. So the idea that jazz doesn’t have to swing or that sort of kind of a thing, right? That’s going to be a fan of that particular wormhole right there can go very deep. But suffice to say that no, playing Bach counterpoint or that sort of kind of a thing inside of jazz is very different from counter Bob, which is why I call it counter bop, right? It’s not counterpoint right counter Bob so that you have to bud Powell or two Parker like lines full of all of their internal striations and internal acrobatics, I would say harmonic melodic acrobatics, working within the traditions of swing, and the traditions of Bebop at the same time simultaneously. There are a couple of pianists that do have some very highly developed left hands that are able to do it to a degree and perhaps a good degree. But I haven’t heard anyone get it to, like the highest levels. And I believe that I’ve found a way to you know,
Eric Weinstein 28:45
I have to say this because I’m not a jazz guy. I don’t have some of the problems that you have. We just there’s an elephant in the room and I want to kill it at the beginning, which is jazz is such an intellectual pursuit. And it’s so discriminating As to the fine points of one’s ability, that it really is a Mount Olympus and it’s left most of the world behind. And so you always have this problem that when you’re talking to small number of jazz cats who can really track what you’re saying, and you know, the history like they’re historians of the subject will always pounce any simple statement is going to be wrong. You know, the point you’d have something that happened in you know, with Django Reinhardt, you know, way back when, and, and you It’s incredibly intimidating, to have to work within this tradition. And one of the things I’ve most appreciated about you is the way in which you’re willing to both take on the constraints and totally overturn the applecart at the same time so that you’re really true to the Spirit. And I think the people who will resist you at first will thank you later. If you think about, you know, Ray Charles, for example, who wasn’t quite you know, at this level of jazz mastery, but as an innovator brought gospel into the Popular idiom, boy did he catch hell for that? Or you know playing around with country idioms you know the black guy taking on were supposedly white songs and showing what can be done with them. I think that one has to to break sensibilities and norms and one of the things I don’t want to get caught up in is have you self censoring yourself. So I’m going to take full responsibility for all the wrong things that we say about jazz history on this show. Not your problem. My problem. What do you see? For people who don’t understand the difference between let’s say, a Miles Davis in in a Kenny G? Nothing against Kenny G? What what are the top people in this field? do differently? How did America end up with a classical music that was this advanced this quickly? And who are the who are the really top priests at the pinnacle of that summit?
Eric Lewis 30:57
Were you okay? So that’s a solid and complex, multifaceted octopus question. Oh, which is fine. It’s understandable. Okay. I’m a big fan of science. And I try to exploit the scientific method whenever possible. So, from the perspective of the human animal, you know, every sort of opinion about this or that, as far as sound goes or as far as,
as far as certitude or validity.
For instance, if you put Kenny G’s name next to Miles Davis his name I think that it’s difficult to have a truly a serving scientific conversation about that. There’s going to be those that feel as though Kenichi is the greatest musician that’s ever lived. And there is going to be those that think that Miles Davis is the greatest musician that ever lived. And then there’ll be those that think that the idea of calling someone the greatest musician that ever lived Israel itself is flawed. I agree with that and has a bias inherent in it. That intrinsically undermines the sort of conversation or the purity, the purity.
Eric Weinstein 32:30
I don’t want,
I don’t want to trap you in that let me
Eric Lewis 32:32
No, no, it’s fine. No, no, it’s fine. I I feel as though it’s important. As far as in the process of me answering your question and sure, in the process of you getting a sense of who I am, yep. And how, you know, I feel about things or how I, you know, classify things. So that answers the first aspect of my approach to comparison. So, existentially speaking, they’re sort of the Same depending upon, you know, for instance, you could do a mind hack where you turn on a television and switch the channel to something that just gives you white noise right? Now, you can do a mind hack where you could hear Jingle Bells inside of that white noise. You can pretty much hear whatever you’re listening on cage,
Eric Weinstein 33:20
certainly explored ideas like that,
Eric Lewis 33:22
right? You can hear whatever you’re listening for in something. And this goes to politics, this goes to that this goes all the way out into all of human thought and bias endeavors, right? So I shot I’m a chess player. So I shy away from that particular battle line. I’m going to shy away from putting a qualitative or a sort of a validate valid validation oriented thing with regards to the Kenny G versus the miles let me take Kenny G out of it. I think it’s no it’s a perfect example. Actually, you’re not gonna let me out of it. Okay, go ahead. It’s perfect, though. All right. It’s perfect.
Yeah, it’s perfect.
The extremities always allow us to get the clarity as far as I’m concerned. And that’s a big aspect of what I look at when I’m evaluating things, you know, the more extreme something is, the more pronounced it is the pure it is and the easier we can see how it functions. In reality, our political climate is one of extremes these days. So then it’s very clear, everyone’s agendas are very clear. And so, we can see how those things interact and where they agree where they disagree and you know, the basis is upon the basis the basis is bases or whatever that word is the plural bases, the bases, upon which each extreme side proffers. You know, their position to be concrete anyway. So when it comes to the aspect of classifying levels of greatness in musicians and stuff like that, that because Comes a difficult thing to nail down because of the movable objective criteria, the the attack ability of the objective criteria that we would try to put out there, right? But what we can talk about, we can talk about branding, we can say, or we can talk about physical difficulties, we can talk about things like that. Um, I’m trying to remember, you know, all of the questions, but I can say that, as far as who really inspires me, yeah, in that sense at the highest level, right, the highest level you get to me, I’m highly inspired by john Coltrane. I had a chance to tour with Elvin Jones, who was his drummer. So I was able to be sorcerer’s apprentice for two years amazing experience. I would say. I really look up to many of the European classical masters Stravinsky lits, Chopin, Bach, Beethoven Brahms rock, rock come on and off debut See, I look up to Hollywood film masters Martin Scorsese, I look at German, impressionistic master f, w Morneau. I mean, there’s so many geniuses in so many diverse fields to be inspired by and to me the actual physicality or device or technique that they’re using to access the light, shall we say the light is second somewhat secondary. I just am inspired that these people touch the light. I mean, Simone Biles, this Gemma sets out now is doing amazing things through the Williams sisters. Michael Jordan, moving Steve Jobs. I mean, Einstein knew There’s just so many, numerous people, I’m inspired by the existential fact that they even
Eric Weinstein 37:07
exist. Okay, well, this, this is, in large part what the portal is all about. And just to open something up, and I think this is the perfect episode to do it, I haven’t said it before, there are the N is often too low. In any particular field, the number of true geniuses like if I think about physics, there are lots of people who would be considered geniuses in any other field, but like the top level, it’s five people or less than the last century, you know. And so you have to aggregate over field by field by field if you want to see the pattern. And in some sense, that’s what I hear you saying is that you’re looking you’re not going to let the instrument define where you look for inspiration and what you port back into your own craft.
Eric Lewis 37:55
Sure, there are specific dynamics to execute behaviors, ideas upon a particular device or medium. The inspiration for that sort of thing, in my case comes from multiple places, which I’m sure is the same for many people. As far as within the field, who really inspires me like I would say, john Coltrane
and Art Tatum
from the perspective of how they merged extreme, extreme technical mastery of their given instruments have emerged that with a profound quote in house I’m referring to in their own mind and their own flesh. Yeah. Profound in house understanding of where to put the music and what approaches to take some To a chess player in the sense that a chess game if you know how the pieces move, okay, cool. Yeah. And if you as long as you’re functioning in some kind of way that you can either digitally or physically move pieces around, you can be part of the game. So now, how do the levels begin? How do you get from there to Magnus Carlsen, right. And so, that internal game of Okay, why did you decide to defend this way back? The greater attack was coming over here, you know, that kind of stuff. Okay.
Eric Weinstein 39:31
So there’s a great analogy with jazz in a weird way, which is if I go back to guy I think of as potentially the greatest creative genius of jazz, arguably would be Louis Armstrong. Okay. Sort of invented modern jazz, not fives, not sevens. Not just like the Jelly Roll Morton. That is understandable to me in the same way that a game of like Morphe or kapa Blanca was understandable when she chess was sort of in an earlier stage of its development. But as both of these fields progressed, you always have this problem, which is that the greater play loses the casual observer. Like they can’t figure out what’s going on. And I bring this up in the context of something I saw you hanging out with Herbie Hancock and it warmed my heart. I heard him described playing with miles. And he said, I hit a chord that was so wrong, and so off, I wanted to clutch my head. And he said, What I didn’t know is that there was a level of musicianship beyond this, where miles heard the same chord and figured out the exact right notes to play that made it the right chord in our ears. And it was a keyboard player. You know, talking about a trumpet player who is fixing his mistake because he didn’t hear it as a mistake. You just heard it as notes to be played with. And I think about that in terms of like the improvisational idiom, yes. And there are levels and levels and levels and they lose us as casual observers, like, would we have known that moment happened if we were in that club, or at that recording date if we weren’t at the top level of the profession?
Eric Lewis 41:23
Well, I think, as they say, if you have a good plumber, you never know anything’s wrong, right? So I think we’re in the business of not letting the audience know that anything has gone wrong. Now, analyzing the word wrong, and that sort of kind of a thing. That’s where a matter of skill and understanding come into play, we’re talking about phenomenology. At that point, we’re talking about event horizons, we’re talking about existentialism at that point. Let me be slightly less obtuse in the world of film, scoring Yeah, I think Bernard Harmon was the one who made the famous statement about the great paradox that exists in music, where a piece of music could, quote unquote, be terrible. Mm hmm. You know, it could be really weak bad, have a lot of inconsistencies fail at a lot of different levels clearly be mediocre. And it’s aspirations and execution of those aspirations. However, however, with the right visual apparatus, going with it with the right film, going with it, suddenly that piece of music is the penultimate Apex zenith of perfection for that particular moment. This is the great paradox. So similarly, when Herbie played that chord, yeah, miles, definitely aware of this type of paradox. can come to that, and put a sound with it that transcends one aspect of sincerity transcends one aspect of analysis and speaks. As Miles Davis said, a higher level of theory, it speaks to a higher level of theory. If you’re coming from the perspective that any sound is just a sound, free of bias free of predestination, you suddenly have expanded your toolbox. And so then it just becomes a question of how familiar are you with employing these, quote out of the box, I love the sorts of effects and manipulating that sort of kind of thing.
Eric Weinstein 43:49
You know, this joke that Leonard Bernstein put into West Side Story, where he takes the most dissonant interval, the tritone right, and he goes memory, which is like a goes to the fifth which is like the most consonant. And then he’s like the most beautiful word I ever heard. Maria right and the whole idea is that the release from maximal tension into maximum sonority is the most gorgeous thing. So he’s gonna take the ugliness and just serve it up as like this is what you know the the feeling of just having met your true love
Eric Lewis 44:28
in screenwriting conflict, yeah, and tension are the building blocks of your story. I mean, that’s drama. That’s irony, night and day. These are the binaries. These are the opposites, life and death, pain, pleasure, happy, sad, all of these things. opposites. There was a philosophy of aesthetic realism that one of my professors in Manhattan School of Music would talk about And I don’t want to butcher their tenants. However, one thing I did stick out they would always talk about was how the coming together of opposites is how beauty forms or no is the component of beauty. And so, you know, while I might not necessarily call it beauty or you know, put that term to it, movement. Speaking of counter Bob, right thinking of Bebop, speaking of improvisation movement is the core issue. I mean, even getting down to neurosciences, the brain enables movement, moving topics around moving pieces moving music, moving people, movement, movement, movement, dance, movement, choreography, movement, movement, how you use harmony, how you use, writing, how you use words. All of these things work towards that same thing movement, Einstein said when asked about the universe, when asked about God Something’s moving. Yeah, there’s something moving
Eric Weinstein 46:02
so and yet he froze it in space time, the whole concept of space time freezes the wave. And so there’s something profound about the fact that his insight, arguably got rid of movement by putting time as part of the substrate. So you know, then and this is going to come up when we talk about Cubism, where you were been. On this new project, which is, again, once once again, seemingly increasing the dimensionality of independence like parts, no longer just two parts of your hands being independent, like multiple parts of the same hand are now independent. And that goes back to like Duchamp, with the nude descending a staircase, which was a somewhat something of a reference to space and time where the tube of the nude, like one human form, creates a tube over time. Do you see that you’re playing with sort of concepts that are coming out of this Science inspired exploration and the tension even internal to somebody like Einstein. Is it movement or is it frozen?
Eric Lewis 47:07
I’m quite inspired by neuroanatomy. And I’m quite inspired by physics. A good buddy of mine is far more articulate about math and physics than I am. He’s, you know, a big devotee of that stuff. And he’s a musician. His name’s Marcus Miller, not the bass player. He’s a saxophone player. Yeah. But he’s really interesting. And so he and I, you know, talk about stuff like that i tend more towards the neuro analytical side of things. So I’m very interested in the human, the homunculus. I’m interested in the hippocampus and the corpus, corpus callosum and how the different hemispheres of the brain enable movement which plays directly into my question. animation. So I explore those kinds of spaces I explore how we perceive time, more or less so than the actual substrate of time itself. And, you know, although I do ponder those things, I am very concerned with what’s going on under the hood, you know what’s going on in the mind. I like to analyze transcripts of conversations between someone who has dementia versus someone who has Alzheimer’s and listen to them talk to each other, why and how they understand each other because to me, that’s the same as like, two pieces of music being played at the same time. You know, because when something makes no sense,
Unknown Speaker 48:44
yeah, at the
Eric Lewis 48:47
language level, yeah, or it’s incoherent. The only way that we have to try to glean anything from it, is by analyzing it from a different perspective. So if I analyze it as music That, that, that that, like the rhythm of my voice, that that that duh. You see what I’m saying that these are the kinds of techniques and manners and methods of analysis that start to come into how I go about assessing genius, pursuing genius, and pursuing challenges and pursuing fluidity at what I do. And so getting back to that question of Miles Davis and Kenny G. Yeah, again, we’re starting to we’re starting to get into topics that form the substrate of analysis, these are the all these topics are the components of a platform of analysis, through which I ponder the event horizon of Music and Musicians so like Lex Luthor said to Otis, and Superman, you know, there’s some people who can swerve some people can movement, some people can Look at the contents of a bubble gum wrapper. Yeah, and people figure out the secrets of the universe. Yeah, and I’m saying so that’s the thing. So if we want to pejoratively what’s called Kenny G a bubble gum wrapper, but yeah, actually, I know you did it. I’m not accusing you of that alright saying yeah, I’m just saying but so many people normally do. This is why I’m the reason I charges
Eric Weinstein 50:23
folks at home. The reason I chose Kenny G was that he was accessible.
Eric Lewis 50:27
Again, just like bubble gum. Bubble gum, I would argue people would argue right, that his music is bubble gum compared to a Philemon neon or
Eric Weinstein 50:37
where I was going next with that is is that if I think about two records of miles, Bitches Brew versus kind of blue Sure. Bitches Brew was pretty challenging, even though it was trying to be a little bit more in the rock idiom here. Kind of blue despite the fact that it is unbelievable musicianship yeah was inviting It became so iconic because it worked at so many different levels. It didn’t intrinsically. Tell me, you know, back off kid. This is for experts only it said, this is the highest level of musicianship. And it’s going to work in a way that you can put it on without having to, you know, just break your head over when I think about Art Tatum. When I used to put the needle onto my vinyl Art Tatum albums, I would only do it if I was in some place to receive it. The brilliance of this person that I could not possibly understand, he was playing so fast and so technically, at such a different level. I mean, I would would it be fair to say that many pianists consider our Tatum you know, at the absolute, maybe even the top guy ever to play jazz piano?
Eric Lewis 51:56
Sure, many would. And then there would be those claim that it’s not that musical icon you know, go contrary to that. And yet that’s okay. But just
Eric Weinstein 52:04
be some some people have never heard of our Tatum at all at another level.
Eric Lewis 52:11
There’s different times for different things, different moods to ever get to. Right. You know, there’s situations where art Tatum’s best would be inappropriate or counterproductive. That’s what
Eric Weinstein 52:26
very few circumstances in my life do. I think, wow, I really just want to hear some Art Tatum The only situation I’m in when I really feel that for myself, and I’m gonna not as a musician, is when I want to remember what the human mind is capable of.
Eric Lewis 52:41
And this is the great conundrum. This is the great paradox because as we were saying, someone could hear Kenny G’s silhouette friends and experience profound tranquility and serendipity they listen to Yani. And get that There’s people if you go to YouTube, you can look in a comment and someone would say, Oh, he’s the Mozart of our generation, something like that. So, incredulity. Yeah. Is there’s, I’m sure, of course, you’ve heard of it the fallacy of the incredulity fallacy, where just because it’s impossible for you to find believable, makes it untrue. So, similarly, there’s only a certain threshold that
classifying or dissecting
validity or worth can go. And, you know, we put it to you this way. There’s a story about Charlie Parker, where he was at a club and he was listening to a guy play. That was to everyone else’s opinion, you know, really weak, but Charlie Parker was like really into checking it out. And he was able to hear things inside of what that guy was doing or what that guy was going for. That gave him ideas. And I think when I was first starting out with rock jazz, that was something that I experienced in a different kind of way, where when I first started hearing some of these young bands, and I would hear some of their live shows on the Internet at that time on YouTube, I would think to myself, man, this doesn’t really sound that great, but the people are loving it. Yeah. So then that caused me to have a different thought process about Hmm, maybe there’s other aspects that are in play that connect to people’s enjoyment of things. And so, you know, it really called some things into question. You know, it really caused me to think about things from mostly perspectives and basically threw me into the ocean suddenly, it’s just like what we see in politics, where you can feel really strongly about a particular thing. Then you can find out that there’s others that feel, even potentially for the exact same reasons that you feel strongly about a thing. For those exact same reasons, they feel the exact opposite then, and it can be very, very incredulous, sort of kind of situation.
Eric Weinstein 55:33
I bring up this example of Dolly Parton writing this brilliant song, Jolene. And if you look at the lyrics, they’re incredibly tight and economical and conveying so much more through implication than they even state explicitly. JACK white heard the song recorded with the white stripes, turned it into a pre murder ballad singing the female song from a male in a male voice and Dolly Parton. I believe wrote him a letter saying you may understand something about guitar, but you understand nothing about women. But I think the joke was on her that she’d written such a brilliant song that she didn’t realize that it was now approachable from a completely different angle that she hadn’t had the last word on her own song. So there are all of these weird and that reminds me of the difference between Newtonian physics model versus Einstein’s physics and models, you know, the quantum theory and things of that nature, how I might be misstating this correct me if I’m wrong, that classical physics start to break down at the quantum level. there sir, you would say that classical physics is recoverable from the deeper model, but only as an approximation to the true physics within a regime. And he but you know, we nobody has thrown away Newtonian physics, because of our Einstein because where it works, you don’t need the extra Einsteinian
Eric Lewis 57:04
perspective. Now, that was an amazing stay trapped and you trapped me in something. No, you just said something cool, though. You just said something that blows the whole thing open very nicely. Tell me. Well, we don’t need necessarily x. We don’t need to discard x in this location. Or we don’t necessarily need to bring in y to this location. So we can substitute Art Tatum for Rachmaninoff? Yeah, we can algebraically plug in Kenny G miles, we can plug in whichever artists or things that we want to in a thing and have that same exact dichotomy of this works in this particular space.
Unknown Speaker 57:50
Eric, I totally see where I’m going with
Eric Lewis 57:52
that. So similarly, let’s just say people want to have a romantic evening, Eric.
Eric Weinstein 57:59
Look, there isn’t aspect of this that I’m fighting, which you’re making a very deep point that whatever moves you whether it’s the way the performer looks or the feel of the evening, there is the total effect on the on the audience in the listener from having been present at a performance. There is also something which I can’t get escaped, which is you’re just at a different level than just about anybody I ever meet. And you can play around with that. And you know, I play a little bit of piano. I know when I’m being when I’m in the presence of greatness, and you are at a different level than almost anybody I’ve ever met. And you don’t have to say anything back. It’s an uncomfortable thing to hear. We can talk about the fact that who knows maybe Taylor Swift is is musically interesting as Miles Davis, it’s a reasonable
Eric Lewis 58:53
that’s not what I’m saying. That’s not what I’m saying. Okay.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective, another perspective. Let’s look at it from a DJ perspective. Alright. What is a DJs job a DJ is job. One of the jobs of a DJ is to curate, yeah, and present music right for people for a particular occasion to elicit either a certain response or to provide an atmosphere, that venue or the client is interested in. Now, if we take that down to a microcosmic level inside of our own head, take it to the piano, for instance, into these instrumental scenarios. each note that I decided to play in that nanosecond and that microsecond, right, I decided to play it. That’s the same as me DJing. That note is a track. Now, imagine how many knows that you would hear in the average performance and then in my case, I’m going to play a zillion notes, right? Yeah. So then that zillion tracks that I’ve dropped in a particular moment or a particular session. So I’m trying to get into how mental processes are uniform, whether it’s at a hyper slow speed, yeah, or hyper fast speed. Yeah, the same processes there. So this conversation that we’re having might seem nebulous or maybe even invasive on my part, or vague in my part, or non committal or I should
Eric Weinstein 1:00:32
tell people that in general, when you and I talk, what I get a time release understanding of your points over the next three or four days as they finally make sense to me, so I’m gonna challenge my audience. I told them the beginning of this show that I would never spoon feed them. You are a more challenging person to talk to because quite frankly, your perspective is just richer and you speak in an unusual fashion and I quite frankly, it takes me days to understand what conversation we just had usually.
Eric Lewis 1:01:02
Well, I appreciate the accolades and I love you to Eric.
Eric Weinstein 1:01:06
And I really love you is it just admire what you’ve done for us. I’m gonna blow people’s mind by just letting you be you. But it is important to know that these levels of being exist and that’s part of why the show is called the portal that you are in touch with something that most people have no idea is even available.
Eric Lewis 1:01:24
Well, I will say that
I do find inspiration, having recovered from heavy depression and heavy panic attacks, even sort of debilitating ones, that it’s inspiring for me to
try to share
Unknown Speaker 1:01:52
Eric Lewis 1:01:57
hopefully, some people could use to Get a different angle on their sufferings. So like, when I talk about some of these things, or when I answer your questions, a certain sort of type of way. Some of these techniques, some of these ways that I’m managing myself, also helped me manage stress. Helped me manage depression helped me manage panic attacks,
Eric Weinstein 1:02:26
you’ve had anger. I’ve seen anger and you’ve certainly Yeah,
Eric Lewis 1:02:28
anger control, things of that nature. fury range. And it also helps me get a higher chess rating too. Because well think about the Godfather for a moment. Remember how the James Caan character Sonny? Yeah, ran out the house because Carlo was being you know, he was being super aggressive to his sister. But then the bad guys realized, Oh, that’s the way to get him out there because he’ll jump on that. And so then they miss out Don’t let the tollbooth Yeah, they manipulated his anger, they manipulated one aspect that was predictable about him. And they manipulated that to get out there. So similarly, I think within ourselves, there are certain weak spots or different things that can manipulate us whether we want to or not into bad situations or you know, whether it’s a micro bad situation or macro bad situation. And so it’s important to develop techniques to manage those kinds of things. Ergo box well tempered clavier. So I always wondered why, because as growing up as a kid, I was like, why is it called well, temporary? What does that mean? I only know one kind of temper.
Well, well anyway.
All of these particular devices and techniques and responses all played to try to find the most accurate Answer and you know, find the most accurate way to approach a situation. And that’s a very musical thing. How do we approach this? We see it in chess too. How do we approach this position? It’s your move, you’ve got to make a move. clock’s ticking. How do we approach this? You can see it in screenwriting. Okay, I’ve got this idea. I want to have this character save the world. How do we approach this? Okay, I’m at the piano. The people are waiting for the next tune. Okay, I’ve got this idea. I’m playing something with my left hand. And I’ve got this idea that I want to bring out I’ve got this energy that I’m feeling I’ve got this inspiration. But how do I approach it? How do I bring this thing into existence? existential reality, right? aesthetic reality, how do I do this intentions oftentimes are not enough, right? You has to match up with execution. You know? That’s when we start to get into the conversation of levels. Now again, it can become a debated and subjective thing. And that particular stalemate. But getting back to the Kenny G Miles Davis thing, yeah, that particular stalemate only gets broken by something objective when we’re faced with subjectivity. That seems endless. Yeah. And that stalemate gets broken by the simple question of, okay, who’s going to pay for it? Ultimately. So who’s going to hire Miles Davis, right, who’s going to hire kg now that can get to the limit that you were referring to earlier in the big picture.
Eric Weinstein 1:05:43
Problems of like the comedian’s comedian, can’t get hired, but all the people who can get hired look to that person and they say, that’s the guy who’s really got it going on. This is the confusion about this. Now the thing quite blunt, you know, I’m just gonna get an overwhelming presence. I’m gonna try to overwhelm you right back. Okay. One of the things that I love about your playing is that you’re playing at this incredibly technical level. It’s so inventive, but you bring so much soul and so much showmanship and the branding, the whole thing is going on whatever layer of the stack I want to plug into, it’s available to me, if I want to just have the most beautiful tunes, you’re providing that if I want to see something new and innovative, it’s happening. And what I’ve seen is you know, and I, this is a little bit off color. It’s like you make love to a room of 3000 people at a time and it’s everybody is locked in there. Everybody’s in the pocket. Everybody’s feeling the group and we’re thinking and we’re feeling at different levels. I think maybe one of the mistakes here is that I need to get you in front of the piano first. Have you play us some stuff? And then when we talk about these levels, I’m not going to be quite as back footed, I shouldn’t probably shouldn’t have done the Kenny G thing just because people will. Well, people will infer that I meant something from it that I didn’t but
Eric Lewis 1:06:59
it’s not so bit. I just I disagree with you. All right, I
think that it was perfect. I think that it’s actually a spectacular thing, because it’s really going to be a type of provocative and easily recognizable, maybe people distinction. Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean, it gets back to one of the other points that you were making with regards to distinction. Yeah. How do we tell things apart? So we have to use things that are very distinct in order for us to have a distinction in the conversation. I mean, that’s the same thing that happens in great film. If your premise or your opening part of your film lacks a strong enough of a distinction about a situation, that particular package, deficiency is going to haunt the film The whole time. You know? The premise of Dirty Dancing bears This professional dancer, and there’s this competition, and he wants to win that his partner ends up having and super dangerous, super harmful, I guess illegal, just terrible abortion. And then there’s this rich girl whose father’s a doctor who saves her life, that woman’s life, but now she can’t dance. And so then the daughter now who is a klutz has to be taught how to dance so that this guy can go ahead and win the competition, but it has to happen in secret now because the father you know, that however, it struck me, it blew me away. That such a an amazingly painful, controversial topic right, such as abortion, right, you know, such an amazingly painful, excruciating Lee mind bendingly.
Unknown Speaker 1:09:01
Eric Weinstein 1:09:02
topic and divisive, divisive. Yeah. Yet this all that story
Eric Lewis 1:09:08
yet. This is a dance at the finale, the dance and the finale. We see that at weddings on online, you can see the different couples trying to do that. So when it came out in the, you know, cinematically or as far as storytelling, the power of such a topic that seems What is that thing? What does that have to do with a dance competition? But think about it. As a screenwriter, I thought about it. If you take that out, right? Then you’re sitting with pen and paper and you’re like, Okay, well, I’ve got this dance competition. I’ve got this dancer. I’ve got this klutz. So the good guy that you know, the great dancer needs, needs to teach this klutz, right? How to dance so that he can win the competition. Now, if you replace that other scenario with multiple types of problems, you’ll find that it’s hard to get something as compelling as that. However, that person took a heavy riffs now their screenwriter was a woman. So then Sheila Yeah, the screenwriter is a woman, and she was a Mambo dancer. And she was, her father was a doctor, and she went to country clubs. And so she experienced this Dickens like, type of life where, you know, there’s rich and poor, and, you know, all these kinds of things. And I’m sure her father was, you know, warning her about the, the the dangers of sexual activity, and, you know, pitfalls, or what he’s seen and stuff like that. So she put that all together. So perhaps, because she had an experience with it, and she’s a woman, that she was able to speak on those subjects so amazingly, and she had the understanding of how to bring those subjects together because she lived it right now. However, it wouldn’t occur to the average person, but this is what we’d call g You know what I’m saying? That’s genius. And it’s lasted the test of time. But that’s my whole point with why the whole opening. And this gets back to what you’re talking about when we’re talking about genius and things of that nature. You did a genius thing yet you’re trying to get me to discount that or go away from that, but I’m identifying You’re a genius. And that ties to what I was saying about how Charlie Parker Yeah, here a guy that people will say, what what’s he talking about? But he’s listening intently. That’s the whole point. You see, all these things come together if you’ve created this podcast is
Eric Weinstein 1:11:37
the example of the thing that we were talking about in the podcast. Yeah,
Eric Lewis 1:11:39
these are wheels within wheels. This is universes within universes, quantum it all breaks down at this level, but it holds at this level. So
Eric Weinstein 1:11:47
why we love how
Eric Lewis 1:11:47
you buy all that kind of thing. So you did it from the very beginning. All right, your instinctive thing. You I didn’t force you to choose those names. Yeah, you naturally choose shows those names. All I’m doing Yeah, is the same thing that I would do inside of my mind. If I get an idea. The sensor Yeah, filter in my mind like, wow, that’s actually pretty cool because I’m referencing all these other things. I’m seeing all this stuff. It’s just like a chess game. I’m seeing the check me. I’m like, wow, this king is positioned over here. Okay, I’ve got to do this in such a way that by the time I’m going to spring this trap, she doesn’t even see that that subtle move he made actually provide. The
Eric Weinstein 1:12:29
funny thing is I think I chose Kenny G, if I recall correctly. Yeah. Because I think I remember hearing that he had had he had actually been an innovator with some circular breathing technique, and that he was somebody who was seen as being middle of the road, but actually a good deal above that and musicianship, so I think I had some different process. I wish it was that I had some some super clever idea, but it was probably only one, one or two moves deep, but thank you for saying it’s
Eric Lewis 1:12:55
still functions. Well, that’s
Eric Weinstein 1:12:57
because through dancing To dance with you. So you get to do what Myles did to my Herbie Hancock move.
Eric Lewis 1:13:05
And just like in Dirty Dancing, he had to take what she was doing right. And from what I’ve understood about dancing in that particular format. It’s the man’s role in traditionally, to showcase the female. Yeah, he’s more of basically a poll, you know, a static figure that’s showcasing all the things that she can do. That’s what makes a good male dance partner. I don’t know how things work, as far as you know, how we’re identifying and, you know, on political roles these days, however, I think traditionally, that’s
Eric Weinstein 1:13:42
kind of how it was. There’s a beautiful aspect to this concept that healthy male female relations in a heterosexual context have to do with passing power back and forth. And so the idea is that he might have the responsibility of leading in which people will say, well, that’s an impressive act. But then if the idea is No but it’s not just that I’m leading I’m my role is also to become the substrate to showcase your abilities. These kinds of dynamics have broken as we’ve gotten very simplistic in saying Well, that’s that’s power that’s oppression and not recognizing that these things are part of an interwoven whole. Right. So, you know, the idea is that if I, if I evaluate myself as a podcaster, and I’m just thinking about myself, and I’m not thinking about the dynamic of the conversation, because I’m just learning this is like, eight episodes in or something like that. Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s a question of, I need to learn more. Yes. And because of the improvisational idiom that podcasting is So,
Eric Lewis 1:14:45
improvisation is everywhere. Everyone’s doing it. Each word we speak is improvised. We’re drawing from a vocabulary, we’re putting concepts and ideas to sound We’re usually utilizing these instruments, and we’re bringing out energy and we’re moving things around to create a type of movement progression. And these are all the things that get depicted in art all over the place. So a lot of times it’s very easy to find genius or brilliant, brilliant sees the hard part can be to after you’ve managed to identify it, yeah, accurately that is to stay with it. And then bring in enough tradition or enough substantiation to further demonstrate why that thing is genius. That’s been my mission in this particular conversation, I thought fantastic. pivoting between the Kenny G and the Miles Davis element was brilliance in the provided Such a great foundation for the conversation because we could have gone we can go further we can talk about how Kenny G racially is very interesting. In fact, that was one of the things. Yeah, well, that was one of the things that inspired me as he Lou was the idea that there is a huge number of black people that really got into this guy playing soprano saxophone, they were really into it. And they made him rich. You know, much to the consternation of many black jazz musicians who couldn’t understand how a white musician like that could get such loyalty I know nothing money’s from Do you have an answer as to what target demographic? Well because some things transcend quote quote, color. It is what it is something transcend that for different reasons, for different reasons. So part of E Lu was also an experiment because I was thinking, well, that’s interesting. What if I tried that in reverse? What if I a quote unquote black guy from a murder capital from Camden? New Jersey? Yeah, look it up folks. Camden, New Jersey there’s a Rolling Stone article called apocalypse New Jersey, the sad story of Camden to get a sense of where I’m getting native of that place. What would happen? Yeah, if I, who has spent my life learning Miles Davis learning Art Tatum learning all of this traditional, quote, black music Yeah. What if I learned how to play the Rolling Stones? What if I learned how to play Nirvana? What if I learned how to play that stuff? Because when I was doing the traditional thing, I won the biggest comic Competition in jazz I got a full scholarship felonious monk competition. Yeah, one felonious monk, international Piano Competition. I had also gotten a full scholarship to Manhattan School of Music with which I graduated Dean’s list. All these types of accolades. I toured the world Wynton Marsalis Yeah, but I couldn’t get a record deal,
Eric Weinstein 1:18:17
which is always I mean this What am I talking about your anger, right? I couldn’t get a record. I was so flabbergasted to hear this right. And then the idea that you figured out this hack,
Eric Lewis 1:18:27
which, right? And that’s what we’re getting into here. So we’re talking about talking about Kenji miles there’s, it goes deep into a lot of aspects for me because I looked at him I looked at Jani I looked at Liberace right and I was like, wow, they have massive followings. If you took them to downtown New York’s jazz scene. How distinctive would they be? As far as skill level goes relative to you know your average college musician or post college major
So then, that was where
Eric Weinstein 1:19:03
Eric Lewis 1:19:04
the idea to Well, one of the places that I got an idea to do an experiment, well, what would happen if a quote unquote black guy from the hood, decided to start expertly playing Sweet Home Alabama, which I ended up playing on America’s Got Talent, the enigma of that, the speaking of elephants in the room, right, right. The elephant in the room is, you see this guy? I mean, sure, the average person is gonna say, Oh, I don’t see color. Oh, wow. You’re just playing Sweet Home Alabama. But you know, I don’t know. I kind of don’t think so. I don’t think it’s just that but either way. That’s my point. So I sought to see if the same thing could be true in reverse. And sure enough, it did. Now I didn’t write my own music. The way Kenny G wrote like silhouette. I didn’t use drum beats and things of that nature. And so there’s a relativity as far as you know degrees of success with that however I did achieve a very okay but like even even in this situation just to riff off sure
Eric Weinstein 1:20:10
you know this movie Victor Victoria the story of a woman playing a man playing a woman, a female, female impersonator. Right? Right. Okay. So you’re telling me when you do satisfaction, that you’re actually swerving and feeding the Rolling Stones black back to white audiences, potentially, very visibly black man. On the other hand, there’s this beautiful video of Keith Richards taking apart and dissecting satisfaction. And he says, you want to know where what it is and he starts playing it as like a Mississippi blues on the guitar. And so you realize that he took this this riff off of the fifth six flat seven, you know, typical blues pattern, disguised it and now you’re sort of weirdly the black guy playing a white guy. Playing black music, feeding it back to white audiences. And in some sense giving this really beautiful and friendly middle finger to this whole notion of race dividing us that we have to both note it because it does exist and it influences us no matter how much we deny it. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to preoccupy us constantly and be the only thing I always think about, you know, this race and IQ point that keeps coming up. I never see this happening among people who are deep into music because the contributions have been so profound from everywhere, that it just is like, why are you Why are you exploring these ideas that clearly don’t capture who has contributed and how much has been done?
Eric Lewis 1:21:50
For me chess has been a great Liberator or a great questioner of some of these more quote, Race driven concepts because I learned chess from basically black street hustlers in Washington Square Park. And they have a four speed chess yeah Blitz guys. Yeah, so they had great aspirations or sorry great admiration and aspiration towards some of the Russian gmms and just to hear these men who are the epitome of soul the hidden the epitome of quote blackness yeah flavor all of that stuff rhythm all of that stuff to hear them use about Kappa Blanco or to pull out a game NIMS of itch or towel or some of these great masters to you know, go over those games and say, well see he’s a killer here. No, hold on, hold on. Wait a minute. Now. We got to watch the bishop watch the bishop. Boom, okay. Okay. He saw that saw me coming, huh? Like just all the snacks are getting into bed.
Eric Weinstein 1:23:00
Conversation Washington Square Park about two grand petrosyan the giant player and these guys were like convinced that somehow he hadn’t been understood for the the soul that he was bringing to the game
Eric Lewis 1:23:11
right? So for me to get around that was like very striking because at that time, I was really starting to feel you know, my depression was coming in my panic was coming in, because in my thoughts I’m like, Wow, I’ve won the competition. I’ve toe the line full scholarship came from Camden full scholarship, graduated all this stuff, but the powers that bead, don’t find me, I guess marketable enough to have me be a representative of their agency, you know, in the form of recording artists. So I really started to have some really mind bendingly, rageful, and, you know, things going on in my head and and I noticed that there was some other artists, quote, unquote White artists that were starting to experiment with rock in the jazz lane. They were getting jazz record deals, but they were working with rock concepts overtly questioning, does jazz have to swing and things of that nature? That me from the winter Marcellus, purist background and aspiration? I would never question does jazz have to swing? Right? So
there was a lot of
anger, starting to build up from a couple of different places from, you could say, a political aspect and also from a personal aspect, because like, I can’t even get a record deal here. Like, how good Do I have to play? What do I have to prove here? And ultimately, who are you guys to judge whether I’m worthy of a record deal or, you know, it kind of gotten to these kind of simplistic and superficial anger,
Eric Weinstein 1:24:55
places diminish, and this is one of the reasons to be blunt about it. And since I heard you First, I don’t know, close to 10 years ago, but maybe in person a little bit less. I’ve often thought I have to be promoting this guy, not because he’s not going to get famous on his own, but because he shouldn’t have to say, what doesn’t need. It just doesn’t need to be said I, when I watch you in a room. Everyone knows something amazing is happening. If I can just tell one story from our personal life. We were having dinner my wife and I with Sam Harris, and he was fading in San Francisco. And I said, Hey, do you want to go over here friend of mine, play a little piano and it didn’t sound very inviting. I wasn’t gonna tell him anything more. So he says, you know, find fits quick. So we get him over to this place and you’re there. We go over and there’s this old beat up Steinway. And there’s a crowd of people who are sitting around waiting to hear you play. And this one woman will not be quiet. She’s just not calming down. She’s on her phone. And you say something like,
Unknown Speaker 1:25:56
Eric Weinstein 1:25:58
something amazing is about happen you’re about to have a life altering experience. You need to be in the right frame of mind. And everybody in the room who knew you knew what was about to happen and everyone in the room who didn’t know you said, What? Nothing, nothing, nobody talks like this. The room quieted down. I’ve never seen Sam Harris so deep in meditation, he was his whole world was like re woven with with the music you were playing. And he was just speechless at the end of it. And we all stayed up late into the night. There is something in this which is it doesn’t need to be said I don’t know why. It’s so hard to get through. Because the music does speak for itself but I think it goes back to your just wheels within wheels curation, one of the things I wanted to do and you were one of the people I had in mind when I started this podcast was I want To show people what is possible in their lives, and I’ll be honest with you, you have to separate effects on me. Sometimes I hear you and I just sit down at the piano and I want to play play play that and get better. And other times I don’t want to touch it, I don’t want to look at it, because I know I’m never going to be at that level. And it is difficult and uncomfortable to work with genius and to and to see it in a field in which you’re just playing and you’re never going to aspire to be at the top of what you might be able to achieve that particular night.
Eric Lewis 1:27:32
I know that you’re paraphrasing or you know, recalling. I know how I get when I feel as though there’s a person that’s violating things for others. So I don’t recall my exact words. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t call attention to myself in the sense of Hey, I’m about to do something amazing. In that sense, if I did It wasn’t from a narcissistic standpoint.
Eric Weinstein 1:28:01
Eric, it was it was she thanked? I don’t know if you remember this came up to me and she said he was absolutely right.
Eric Lewis 1:28:09
That said, um, I just want to kind of clarify that because I don’t want to create the impression of a naked, narcissistic, egotistical kind of thing. That’s not my point.
Eric Weinstein 1:28:21
You did say something like that. But it was the feeling of it. If I if I
Eric Lewis 1:28:25
mean, it’s just that she was ruining a situation, you’ve got Sam Harris there, you’ve got people there. And she’s, you know, bring a scenario that ultimately, no one else was going to sort of deal with it. And so
Eric Weinstein 1:28:41
as you make your choice for everybody, and then this,
Eric Lewis 1:28:43
you see this, so then I had to make choices. Well,
Eric Weinstein 1:28:45
this is the thing, how often do you have a conductor who stops a performance of an orchestra, you know, 50 people because somebody’s cell phone goes off. Right? This is now a common feature. We don’t make the room for Our hearts and I think to be blunt about it. I’m sorry if I told the story in a way that didn’t convey it. But what what actually happened was that we all did have a communal experience that we’re still talking about, you know, and I can tell you that there are a small number of performances, the time I saw Prince open for the Rolling Stones, the time that I saw a clarinet player, blow Dizzy Gillespie off stage that I’d never heard of named Tony Scott, there are a very small number of things that actually just changed your life. And this was one of those. That was one of those nights
Eric Lewis 1:29:34
on the other side.
I’ve come to understand over time,
what aspects of my playing and also what aspects of my personal behavior or presentation have been detrimental to my progression in certain aspects of the business. So I also want to make sure that I bring in that aspect too, because it’s very immature also, to come with a Knights Templar kind of perspective, we’ve seen that we’ve heard that and that also is not brilliant because the fact of the matter is, there are many reasons and many contributing factors, many dynamics that play into careers into helium into buoyancy and the like. And so, over time, I’ve come to understand a lot more about how energy works and how I’ve been very good at transforming the energy in a room and you know, bringing people to these types of ecstasies. However, there was another aspect that I was less concerned with. Now, I think that because of the panic attacks and the depression and stuff like that, I was a lot less sensitive to it, because in the anger, as well. However, as time has gone by, I’ve gotten better, I’ve improved my technique. And I’ve
through anger, and I’ve found ways to harness anger and panic attacks and depression and bring it into the music in a powerful way. And in a technical way, it’s caused me to have even more vision and my chest rating is improved. So I’m able to, I’m able to analyze myself and realize, just because I could raise the roof on a place didn’t necessarily provide a blank check for me to get a record deal. They’re looking at other aspects, and those aspects are important to like, see This is and this gets again, back to the Kenny G. Miles Davis, um, um, construct the model. Because one thing that I didn’t understand if I’m going to work with a record label, yeah. Then I’m making an implicit statement there. I’m saying that I want to be a part of their family, right? I’m saying that I want to represent them
at multiple levels. Now.
I was coming from a very uncompromising place. I was coming from a very
narrow, we could say, place. I also was sub aware
of how I sounded in certain aspects. These days I’ve come to understand as I’ve gotten so much better. I’ve come to understand Wow, there’s so many Other aspects?
Eric Weinstein 1:33:00
You didn’t have the luxury back then? I mean, if I can be honest about it sure. I’m not really ready to be in front of the world. It’s very terrifying having a podcast because I don’t have all my stuff sorted out, but nobody does. Nobody does. And one of the things back then, is you were you were a terrifying guy, because you were completely uncompromising. You know, and I get in there, and I try to have a musical conversation with you, and you’re very patient with me. But inevitably, you know, it shows the levels that we’re at, and, you know, I could see how exacting you were you have been driving yourself, you were in a competition with you alone, so far as I can tell at the piano, and you’ve been pushing yourself farther and farther. And I love the fact that you’re getting the recognition and that it’s giving you the luxury to look at yourself and then as your mental state goes up, the vision expands and your chest rating improves. But we also have to honor that it may be that it is is a developmental stage and just to turn it back to the Kenny G miles thing that we want to shed where we were, I was in a narrow place, I was in an angry place. But sometimes that stuff is like claustrum. It’s needed to get going. And you have to go through those periods where you’ve got that anger and fury, because that’s what causes things to progress. And that advanced your story
Eric Lewis 1:34:24
is quite the it’s quite the paradise that I’ll have to concede that that’s very true. Had I not been so angry? Had I not had those issues? Rock would have never appealed to me. Because what rock enables one to express Yeah, I wouldn’t have had that to express. The lyrics of rock are very different from the lyrics that you’ll find in a Gershwin or a jazz tune. And it was those lyrics that provided meet some escape from political saying sorry to you to Neil Young
Eric Weinstein 1:35:05
and screw you to the governor of Alabama in the song. Right, right. And to your point about swing the word rock transition from rock and roll where rock is a rocking motion, it’s a verb to rock where it’s Led Zeppelin, and it’s just a giant stone edifice and it doesn’t move. Right. And the same question comes up with with jazz but let me ask you can i lure you to the piano and sort of explore some of these ideas with me at the keyboard and give my listeners a taste of what we’re talking about? Yep, fantastic.
Unknown Speaker 1:35:58
Unknown Speaker 1:38:01
Unknown Speaker 1:38:04
Eric Weinstein 1:38:06
Yeah. And I was also able to hear the independence of the lines and I’m assuming that that is the good chunk
Unknown Speaker 1:38:11
impro it’s all improv. She’s
Unknown Speaker 1:49:00
Unknown Speaker 2:05:10
Unknown Speaker 2:05:13
all right. You’ve been through the portal with the maestro G’s himself Mr. Eric Lewis. Martin is he Lou?
Eric Weinstein 2:05:21
He’s all over the internet and wherever you buy your music and come out to see him in concert I guarantee you’ve never seen this show quite like it.
Unknown Speaker 2:05:33
Thank you, my friend.
The Portal podcast transcription series
- Peter Thiel
- What is The Portal?
- Werner Herzog
- Timur Kuran
- Rabbi David Wolpe
- Jocko Willink
- Bret Easton Ellis
- Andrew Yang
- Bryan Callen
- Julie Lindahl
- Sam Harris
- Vitalik Buterin
- Garry Kasparov
- London Tsai
- Garrett Lisi
- Tyler Cowen
- Anna Khachiyan
- Eric Weinstein – State of the Portal 2020
- Bret Weinstein
- Sir Roger Penrose
- Ashley Mathews (Riley Reid)
- Ben Greenfield
- Agnes Callard
- Kai Lenny
- The Construct: Jeffrey Epstein
Geometric Unity – a First Look
- James O’Keefe
- Daniel Schmachtenberger
- Eric Lewis
- Jamie Metzl
- Ross Douthat
- Ryan Holiday