Do You Love Your Teachers?
Eric Müller has accompanied his long career as a Waldorf teacher with his vocation as a writer. His published books include Rites of Rock (Adonis 2005); Meet me at the Met (2010); Drops on the Water (2014); and The Invisible Boat (2013), a children’s book, and four books of poetry. He currently teaches English and drama at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School and is a director of the Alkion Teacher Training Program in Ghent, NY. He is a recipient of the Kapteyn Prize for high school teachers who exemplify excellence in “whole child teaching.”
In Do You Love Your Teachers? Eric Müller recounts his experience with education beginning with his upbringing and schooling in South Africa, his youthful searching in Switzerland and Germany and finally Emerson College in England, where he finds what he has been looking for. In short sections he leads the reader on from episode to episode from his tender childhood and youthful rebelliousness in South Africa through his stint as a rock musician and the trial of his first teaching experience, his young family’s move from Germany to Eugene, Oregon, the growth and crisis of the Eugene Waldorf School to his work as a high school music, drama, and English teacher at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School. What emerges through this wide-ranging, well-crafted narrative is the true meaning of being a teacher and how the Waldorf approach and curriculum allow the teaching profession to blossom.
Much has been written about Waldorf education, but this is the first memoir that describes the individual path and life experience of a Waldorf teacher. This book is a pleasure to read and will be of interest to other teachers, Waldorf parents, and anyone who wants to know more about education and Waldorf education in particular.
- “From childhood innocence, through the highs and lows of adolescence, to the sentient, vagabond adventures of early manhood, Eric G. Müller’s destiny path weaves its way toward his true calling as an educator. He casts an objective, yet tender eye over poignant events in his life and, in seeking their meaning, garners fruits that are transformed into deeds of education.
“When the narrative turns to Müller’s teaching career, beginning in the early grades, into adolescence, and eventually with adults, the wisdom, breadth, and scope of Waldorf education is portrayed through the lens of real life experiences. And he does not spare us the accompanying exhilaration, drama, disappointments, and humor. A most engaging story for anyone, but a must read for anyone considering a progressive teaching profession.” —Patrick Stolfo, artist and faculty member, Hawthorne Valley Alkion Center
Drops on the Water
Drops on the Water traces the similarities and differences between distinct generations in their unique geographical environments. From the suburbs and fairgrounds of the United States to the majesty and beauty of the Swiss Alps, from a beach in Nicaragua to a gum plantation in Zululand, these stories jump between Europe and America, east and west coast, and the African continent. They trace the inheritance of World War II, of German nationality, of the shock of a friend?s suicide to a classmate?s overdose. The anxieties of early love and rural small town life are balanced against changes seen in the familial sphere across generations. Apartheid inequities, corporal punishment in strict prep schools, a friend?s illicit affair with an African maid, hitchhiking barefoot, and a scheduled Ping-Pong match with the Prince of Liechtenstein, all coalesce in a book that brings to life the circumstances that bind its authors to history, family, generation, and place.
"They?ve done it. Co-writers Eric and Matthew Müller have managed to capture those oh-so-enigmatic moments in a life?those moments that seem as ephemeral as all the others but, for whatever reasons, have attached to the soul like burrs, pulsing with a life of their own, even as years pile on and the children bewildered by the adults in their lives turn into adults themselves. The structure of Drops on the Water is a winner. The chapters are brief, anchored by a single memory, be it streaking naked through a South African shopping mall, facing death on the side of a cliff, or watching one?s father get a haircut. These simultaneously personal, yet universal, utterly recognizable incidents have been delivered to the page with perspicacity, humor, and a poet?s eye. With chapters alternating between the perspectives of the two authors, the dual life-journeys of father and son weave together, casting new light on each other?s lives, as well as our own. My hat?s off to the two Müller men."
~ Glen Berger - Award winning playwright, winner of two Emmys and author of Song of Spider-Man, The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History
"Drops on the Water is the sort of book many people talk about writing but few actually do. Here a father and son combine snapshots of their lives; and while they are separated by age, country of origin, and culture, and they don't hesitate to reveal their own mistakes and regrets, ultimately this collection is an expression of love. Readers will be intrigued by the tales told here, and inspired to reflect on their own lives."
~ Pete Turchi - Author of Maps of Imagination. Award winning author of five books and the Director of Creative Writing at Arizona State University, as well as the Director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing
"The Mullers are storytellers, and their stories twist around each other like two ends of a doubled thread, sometimes touching, sometimes moving apart in their own directions, but always returning. They are told with the intimacy of a dinner conversation, so particular and yet deeply, pleasingly familiar--it is a treat to be invited to the table."
~Hannah Fries ? Associate and Poetry Editor at Orion Magazine
"This moving memoir recounts the coming-of-age stories of father and son in ?flashes? remarkable for their concision and heart. Tender, evocative and often quite funny, Muller and Muller present two worlds-gone-by, intimately enriched by their separate but overlapping past experiences. Finally, generations as well as sensibilities collide in a venture entirely lovely."
~ Karen Brennan, author of Being With Rachel
?Innovative in its approach, quietly ambitious in scope, and unified by a father and son?s search for meaning through storytelling, Drops on the Water is a memoir unlike any you'll ever read. Told in voices as distinctive as the eras and geographies in which they came of age, Eric (the father) and Matthew (the son) take you on a journey that ranges through Europe, Africa, and North and South America?to the heart of things.?
Steve Edwards ? Author of Breaking into the Backcountry
"The conceit of this book--a father and son trading vignettes about childhood, adolescence, parenthood, cultural acclimation, tragedy and moments of pure and unexpected pleasure--is surprising and unique, but what makes "Drops on the Water" so unforgettable is the wry and open-eyed sensibility these two men share. Eric and Matthew Muller have pulled off quite the literary caper: a fascinating family memoir without a hint of dysfunction."
~ Michael Parker, author of ALL I HAVE IN THIS WORLD, THE WATERY PART OF THE WORLD.
"Two generations dancing a playful quadrille of respect, admiration and perspective awe....Drops on the Water dares to go where few men have gone before--into the depths of the human heart."
~ Chloe Caldwell, author of Legs Get Led Astray
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by Karen Tucker
published in HTMLGiant
Vladimir Nabokov once said "...literature was born on the day a boy came crying wolf, wolf and there was no wolf behind him?Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature."
In their debut memoir, Drops on the Water, co-authors Eric G. Müller and Matthew Zanoni Müller skillfully capture the elusive, glittering tales of chilfhood. A collection billed as "stories about growing up from a father and son," Drops braids a range of events from the young lives of each of these writers.
Eric Müller, the father, begins his narrative in rural Switzerland, where he rides crimson gondolas and tramps through wintry forests, before moving to South Africa where he encounters a phantom horse that forces him to consider his own mortality, hunts pheasants in Zululand, and befriends a thuggish young classmate, whose mother feeds him a rich, oily soup that turns out to be swimming with chicken hearts. Eric Müller's prose has a sly, fairytale quality, and yet a ribbon of grim realism persists throughout. In "Killing On a Koppie," one of the book's most unsettling stories, he watches as two schoolmates torture squirrel-like dassies on the savannah by stabbing them and yanking the slick ropes of their intestines out and gleefully waving them in the air. Afraid of being shamed by his peers, the child pretends he isn't troubled by this ugly brutality, which we recognize as his own version of crying wolf. Even so, the wolf sinks its teeth in our narrator's hide. "Two more suffered the same fate before we returned to the farmhouse. I felt guilty and sickened by the hunt?one thing I knew for sure, it would be a long time before wars would be eradicated on this earth."
While the stories of Matthew Zanoni Müller do not feature the Gothic landscapes of distant countries and instead explore somewhat more familiar terrain, his stark, dreamy voice and keen insight makes them no less bewitching. Rather than hiking through enchanted woodlands in Europe, we see him roaming the cold, bright aisles of a supermarket in Oregon, anxious and uncertain, later finding comfort in the simple pleasure of a licorice whip. The expansive African savannah is transformed into a cramped trailer powered by an extension cord. Here, he and his schoolmates watch an American action movie with a German antagonist, his friends sneering at the villain whose accent, he comes to discover, mirrors his own. As a child whose family immigrated to the United States from Germany just before he turned three, he struggles to make sense of his new home, where "everything is different afterward," and where "prevailing attitudes toward Germans so often seemed to look for that evil seed that must be inside all of us." In "Playing Our Parts," a young classmate calls him a Nazi and they scuffle, even though neither of the boys is old enough to understand the full meaning of what has been said. Afterward, "?we laughed a little, the slope of what we were looking down somehow too large for the roles we were cast to play, me, by my national identity, and him, by a curiosity in the power of words." One night, a prankish spirit takes hold of him and he sneaks out of bed and pushes his toys down the stairs, only to see the "pale angry ghost" of his mother emerge from the bedroom and break down in tears, not with frustration, but in despair. "She sits at the table with her hair over her face, crying quietly, all to herself, like we are dead?I hear cars going by in the street outside and somewhere farther way a siren driving fast, but it sounds nothing like the ones in Germany. It will keep driving farther away until the sound disappears, leaving us all here." Afterward, "the dark form of his father" scoops him up and carries him back to bed, where he lies alone in his room, lit by the cold American streetlamp outside.
Often rooted in loss and longing, the stories in Drops on the Water also contain a profound sense of wonder that lifts them from the gloom of troubled childhood narratives, and despite being a memoir, the collection manages to embody that fantastic paradox of feeling at once real and unreal. It is as though the authors have conjured for us a half-remembered dream. Before long, we are seduced into those tall, shimmering grasses where the wolf resides, and in time it becomes no longer only the Müllers' tale, but ours too. This, of course, is the trick of all great artists. "There are three points of view," Vladimir Nabokov went on to say, "from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter." Drops on the Water triumphs in each of these realms.
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Review by Cindy Matthews
Prick of the Spindle ~ read HERE
The Invisible Boat
An Exploration into Unknown and Exciting Realms
A new AWSNA Publication, The Invisible Boat, a children’s novel by Eric Müller, is an amazing adventure that will delight any reader from fourth grade and up. It tells the story of two school-aged children, Julie and Leo, who are leaving the farm they love and are moving to the big city. Their hard-working parents are facing economic challenges and feel they must sell the farm and make career changes for the sake of the family. The novel opens on their last day on their farm, the place in which they have lived since they were born. They wake up in their sturdy tree house with plans to visit all their favorite haunts in the natural world. A voice calls out, “Get up!” and they descend to activate their plan. Once they are on their way, the voice repeats several commands like, “Hurry!” but each child thinks the other is speaking.
Only when they have settled on a rock in Hawk Gorge do they both hear the voice at the same time. They are puzzled, but brush the experience aside. Then Leo finds a mesmerizingly beautiful seven-petal’d purple blossom that he brings back to a special family breakfast of apple pancakes. Their mother recognizes the flower as a very rare one that only blooms once in several years. It will be significant later in the story.
As the youngsters resume on their goodbyes to all their favorite places, the mysterious voice continues to give them directions until, after climbing Puff Mountain, they enter Lost Cave, a place of hidden treasure supposedly once used by smugglers and robbers. Here they reminisce about their recently departed grandfather, who taught them most of what they know about the farm and its special places, including the cave. He told them stories of characters from another world including Curly Beard, a dwarf who set Grandfather and then the children on the task of finding a key, engraved with a seven-petal’d purple flower. They are wondering about the veracity of the family tales when Julie calls out, “Goodbye Curly Beard. Sorry that we could never find that special key for you. We have to leave this place now and won’t ever have the chance to find it anymore.” Soon the dwarf reveals himself as the owner of the mysterious voice, and the children are now set for a fantastic excursion to help save the earth.
Once in the city, the children meet a third child, Annabel, who is a crippled shut-in, but, with Julie and Leo’s support, she is able to join them on the adventure.
Müller understands the way in which children experience the world. The children wriggle toes in water, remember “the dams we built and the boats we made out of bark and stuff.” The tale is filled with wonderful descriptions of the natural world and examples from the life of childhood including delightful squabbles of siblings. Best of all are the extraordinary adventures with “invisible” characters that are busy with nature beyond the sense-perceptible world
Müller’s imaginative world is remarkably creative and rich in detail from the trip on a magical boat down a kitchen drain pipe to body-crushing granapods. The children meet the dreadful man-eating binagatorials in the sewers of the city, an underground King, and a watery Queen who weeps tears of bubbles containing the sad and joyful memories of human beings. The children must evade astonishing terrors, unlock confusing puzzles, and fight wicked creatures. The plot moves quickly and with incredibly imaginative skill so that it is hard to put the book down. I read the text aloud to a ten-year-old boy, who would repeatedly say to me, “No! Don’t stop!” even when it was time for his supper.
Unlike some popular fantasy books for children, this is not just about adventures, but has a moral quality. The struggles have meaning for the future of the world and act as a metaphor for our responsible stewardship of the earth and the health of our planet. It is really a story of transformation on many levels including the transformation of evil. There is a profound wisdom in its pages reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. It is wonderful chapter book to read aloud to child and for older children to enjoy on their own.
One can only hope that this is the beginning a series of novels that will continue to enlighten and well as delight its readers.
– Margaret Gorman, Waldorf adult and high school educator and mentor
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The Invisible Boat by Eric G. Müller
We live in the age of “the bottom-line,” “brass tacks,” and lobbyists. As “grown-ups” and modern people we are immersed in a troubled world. We have long forgotten the wonder of our childhood and usually only remember the times when we became self-conscious, and not those times when we were immersed in our “own world.” Eric Müller's Invisible Boat takes the reader into the inner sanctum of that “own world.”
Three children are called upon to join a dangerous quest, full of breathtaking adventures and wondrous encounters with nature beings. The children join their realm of modern city living, homework, and chores with the ever present magic of invisible realms. They receive a boat in a bottle whose magic properties make it the perfect vehicle in this battle to save the earth.
Eric G. Müller has crafted a wisdom filled tale reminiscent of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis that moves quickly and is difficult to put down. His story takes us into this “own world” where we find out that this world is actually a common world that all may enter through a door of love and reverence. Modern life has veiled these experiences from us. This tale is for children and adults alike.
Eric G. Müller’s classy title, Meet Me at the Met, invites readers to follow a rich tale of romance, idealism, scandal, and emerging self knowledge. The novel has a double story—the living of a life and the process of writing that life—both tales narrated by a highminded, vain, passionate, confessional man who is determined to write it all until he can understand it. He delights in the arts, teaches at a school near
Gertrude Reif Hughes – Professor Emerita,
The book is delightful, original and idiosyncratic. It’s completely original. Congratulations!
Andre Gregory – Internationally renowned director and actor. His film credits include: My Dinner with Andre, The Last Temptation of Christ, Demolition Man, and Vanya on 42nd Street
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"Your new novel [...] is very good! There are so many levels. [...} You pulled it off .... It works. Congratulations."
Thomas Locker is an ward winning painter as well as an author and illustrator of over thirty children books.
I finished reading Meet Me at the Met a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a very satisfying book because it had such good resolution at the end. I found it validated our human condition. We all carry around these secrets, but we can raise ourselves above them and reconcile with others when we are willing to face them. I wish I could have gone to the Met to see each work of art that you talked about, as I wasn't familiar with all of them. I especially loved the description of The Gates, which corresponded so well with the return of hope in the story, and wished I could have experienced them. I loved all the references to teaching in high school, imagining how it probably reflected a lot of your own experience. You covered a lot of current social issues in a creative way.
Marianne Dietzel is the author of Laughing in a Waterfall - A Mother's Memoir
by Frank Thomas Smith, editor of the Southern Cross Review- here
Review by Zinta Aistars, editor of The Smoking Poet - here
Meet Me at the Met reviewed by Leif Garbish for LILIPOH - The Spirit in Life (issue 63 volume 16, Spring 2011)
In Eric G. Muller's sensitive, thought-provoking novel, Meet Me at the Met,Clarence Somerset's life has entered chaos. It is 2002. The Twin Towers have fallen. The United States is at war. And Clarence is getting a divorce from Arietta, his wife of fifteen years. What once was together now is coming apart. What follows is Clarence's efforts to understand his place in a world of conflict. Or more, to understand conflict in a world of himself.
Clarence takes notebook after notebook to New York City's Metropolitan Museum for answers. The Met, down the street from where Clarence teaches high school becomes the office for his self-analysis. Observation of the art is the starting point of his many reflections. His forty years of life provide ample ink. And pen in hand, to write (right) his way out of his mess-- this is the most pressing need. Ever invoking the muse of art, Clarence visits the museum and his life together.
Muller weaves his narrative, connecting the artwork of the Met with episodes of Clarence's life. Through tightly packed, though flowing chapters, Muller offers action of insights for the reader and Clarence. There is Clarence's initial infatuation with Arietta, a scandal with a student, his wife's affair, a later relationship for Clarence for Clarence with a museum guard, and his teenage daughter's own difficulties. It is an unfolding struggle with the women of his life, and Clarence is turned inside out reconsidering his involvement.
Yet this is not a novel of only confessional medicine for Clarence. With any luck, it is a work of love. Clarence's copious notebooks with words of the heart, his examination of himself through the works of art - this is not for himself alone. It is doors opening out, away from falsehoods. It is doors to move through, toward something true.
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Here's a real rant about my novel Meet Me at the Met. I've only read it once. I guess I got under his skin. RANT
Rites of Rock
"Eric G. Muller's succulent Jeremiad of rock rings necessary bells. The insidious commercial culture of rock, indubitably megalomaniacal, present and past, is his subject. The author doesn't bandy with religion to make his spiritual points, he goes right to the boss, his own presciently audible inner voice, which never stops pestering his fledgling attempts at self-destruction. Charging at a good clip through a mindscape of devilish villains, sublime goddesses and the walking dead, he makes it experientially clear that, for a musician, salvation is in the music or nowhere, certainly not in the absurd trappings of success. His observations on the art of music are deeply intuitive and fully educated. This book feels like it just had to be written and Müller took fifteen years to do so gracefully, poignantly and with unquestionable sincerity. If this book makes him famous, I reckon he can handle it."
Robert Hunter, chief lyricist for the Grateful Dead
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The riveting saga of a sensitive musician's initiation into rock and roll and his ultimate struggle to remain true to himself, Rites of Rock burns with passion as it explores the most potent musical hybrid - rock, in all its variegated forms. This fast-moving biographical novel takes us from South Africa through Europe to the United States, through outrageous rock scenes, romance and chilling encounters with evil to new frontiers of musical experience. At the same time, it offers a rare glimpse into the heart of an artist's soul.
John Michael Barnes, publisher and author of Goethe and the Power of Rhythm and The Third Culture
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When Vincent Erling discovered rock and roll, he was exhilarated by its power, energy and vitality. This rollicking novel (on the surface hip and savvy) is the story of a young man's odyssey through a world of new sound and his search for a new way of living -- the rites of rock."
Thomas Locker, award winning artist, illustrator and author
To read an excerpt - here
by Tresca Weinstein for the Times Union, Albany
"Novelist puts the pleasure, pain of music life into Rites of Rock"
Eric G. Muller has a love-hate relationship with rock 'n' roll. If he was still in a rock band, he'd probably have written an angst-filled song about his conflicted feelings. But now that he's a high school English teacher, he's written a novel instead.
Rites of Rock (Adonis Press, 372 pages), which took Muller 15 years to complete, working mostly during summer vacations, is the picaresque tale of Vincent Erling's journey from high school rock devotee to near-stardom in a heavy metal band and finally to self-realization and a surprising career change. The book is also a chronicle of the rock scene of the 1960s and '70s, and the casualties and cultural shifts it left in its wake.
Muller reads from his book at 7 p.m. Thursday at Borders Books and Music in Colonie, and from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday during New Writer's Day at Barnes and Noble, also in Colonie.
"I wanted to come to an understanding of the phenomenon of rock music, and I wanted to get people to think more deeply about the subject of rock and roll, which isn't a subject people usually relate with thinking," the author said in a recent phone interview from his home in Harlemville, Columbia County.
"Rock music is in essence a music that epitomizes rebellion against the establishment."
Like his protagonist, Muller was born in South Africa's Zululand; making music was in part his expression of protest against the injustices of apartheid. Also, like Vincent, Muller lived for a time in Europe and eventually made his way to the United States, settling first in Eugene, Ore., and then in Columbia County, where he teaches English, drama and music at the Hawthorne Valley School in Ghent.
In writing the book, Muller found his "most difficult task was to bridge who I was to who I became," he said.
"Initially I was very close to the whole thing, because I was so invested in being a rock musician and having that be my life. Then I became a teacher and saw it in a different perspective."
With its conversational first-person narrative and propensity for introspection, "Rights of Rock" reads like a memoir. Muller's years of touring Europe as a keyboardist and guitarist with various bands serve him well in re-creating the details of life on the road, from the crummy hotels, mosh-pit brawls and alcohol-soaked parties to the incredible high of performing.
"I screamed into the microphone, doubling over ... I heard the music and I was jerked back in control," he writes, describing a pivotal concert for Vincent's band, Tokolosh.
"What had been bleary adjusted into focus, and the audience became a close-up reality; I could see how the shock of our sound was shooting adrenalin (sic) into their blood, kicking in, and loosening their limbs. I saw the sea of bodies beginning to gyrate. And I knew we had them. I gave myself over to the ride, letting it take me."
Mulleralso shines a light on the dark underbelly of the rock scene, which he saw up close - the friends and hangers-on killed or damaged by drugs and the youthful musicians whose ideals went down in the flames of success.
"I wanted (Vincent) to have the typical adolescent ideals and be almost an exaggerated example of that," Muller said.
"I wanted him to be a person who really wants to change the world, and it's almost a tragedy that he's not able to embody his ideals and gets bogged down in trying to make it."
Reading at Borders Books
In the final section of the novel, Vincent faces the consequences of his passionate relationship with rock 'n' roll. Muller drives home the point that not all veterans of the rock scene come through it whole. The character of Oliver in "Rights of Rock," a brilliant, unstable recording engineer, is based on a real person, Muller said, "an extremely talented person who couldn't handle the lifestyle."
"I observed tragedies along the way," he said. "So much talent is thrown away or truncated."
He hopes the book will serve not only as a celebration of the rock scene but also as "an admonition and a hope that more people won't become invalids of rock."
[...] "Rights of Rock" has garnered accolades from the likes of Robert Hunter, chief lyricist for the Grateful Dead, who calls Müller's observations on the art of music "deeply intuitive and fully educated." Adonis Press, a branch of Hawthorne Valley Association [...] is preparing for a second printing, says editor John Barnes.
Müller plans to use his upcoming sabbatical to work on his new novel, "Meet Me at the Met," which uses visual art as a jumping-off point for an examination of the hero's midlife crisis. He says he isn't sorry he turned his back on the rock life.
"I have nostalgia, but no regrets. Life as a teacher is very fulfilling," he said. "But I still enjoy playing my songs and listening to albums. It's not like I've left it totally behind."
Book signing at Barne & Noble
Rites of Rock: One man's journey through 50 years of rock 'n' roll
Reviewed by Sidney Mackenzie - Psychoanalyst
For Lilipoh - the Spirit in Life
Eric Muller's Rites of Rock is a riveting story of initiation and transformation. Engrossing and fast moving, this biographical novel follows the life paths of Vincent Erling and his friend Oliver from their childhood in South Africa into adulthood in the European rock music scene of the late 70s and 80s, This is a deeply moving story of a young man profoundly affected and sensitized by the music of his childhood - the drums and sounds of the veld - the African bush, as well as his mother's sophisticated knowledge and love of classical music. This is his story of individuation - his personal evolution through his music.
Mark Twain advised all story tellers to be "prodigious noticers." Muller gives us all the details - the romance and the highs on the one hand, and the frightening temptations and pitfalls on the other. He allows us to travel with Vincent and Oliver as they negotiate this labyrinthine journey. The archetypal imperative of the artist is to be a voice reporting from the edge of the culture - to face forward and lead into the future using his skill of improvisation. This edge - this liminal space - is, however, fraught with existential peril, and Vincent is tested and confronted by genuine evil. It is not surprising that Rites of Rock has an avid readership in the 18-25 year group. And for the baby boomers it offers a thoughtful retrospection over the years that shaped their lives, offering lucid insights into the phenomenon of rock. The authenticity and emotional honesty of Muller's writing is both passionate and hip. As the mother of a musician - son and an actress - daughter I personally found the book to be an exhilarating read, sobering in content, and profoundly inspiring. Adonis Press 2005
Rites of Rock looks at life through a lens of heavy metal
By Charles Schram for The Independent
Anyone who has ever played in a rock and roll band will recognize themselves in Rites of Rock (Adonis Press, $14.95), Eric Muller's quasi-autobiographic novel that loosely hinges on the rise and ultimate demise of a heavy metal band called Tokolosh.
[...] On the surface, the first part of the novel delineates the author's initiation into the rock lifestyle, starting with his childhood on a farm in South Africa's Zulu country and through his high school years in the city of Johannesburg. [...]
[...] It is interesting to hear his take on his first recognition of music as a life-changing force. He is drawn to the rhythmic drumming of Zulu ceremonies, the classical pieces his sophisticated and depressed mother plays on the family's grand piano, and the "foreign" strains of rock and roll he hears in snatches coming out of a local farmhand's transistor radio. While most of us were not privy to African drumming in our childhood, many of us did catch the classics via our parents and caught cadences of magical rock and roll blaring from tiny transistor radios babysitters used to listen to while our parents were at work. It's one truism that does work.
Most of us caught our rock and roll on the run, in little snatches early on, a foreign music not sanctioned by our parents which, thus, infused it with the frisson of the forbidden. It usually remained mysterious, like some foreign language, until something, some major event or new band, finally drove it home for us a few years later.
The parts that ring most true are those high school segments when the author drops the analytical mode and gives us straight narrative, descriptions of being in some pals room, both with guitars, trying to pick out the songs of the day from 45 records, fumbling around for chords they don't know the names of, smoking smuggled cigarettes and drinking smuggled beers, breaking every now and then to ogle girlie magazines one or the other has stolen from his dad's stash. Now that's rock and roll.
Section two places the author in England, where he has fled to avoid South Africa's conscription, and is quite different from section one in that it is more a straight narrative of events leading up to the formation of Tokolosh. The author has connected with a childhood friend, another ex-pat, who is working as a roadie (the grunts who move the equipment), for a last-chance band led by an aging (40 years old) front man desperate for his last shot at stardom. This monomaniacal front man is so obsessed with making it that he assumes the role of God for all that transpires with his band, which, inevitably, leads to his downfall, as fisticuffs break out over blown guitar solos and crappy sound mixes. These are all part of the rock and roll life, and most musicians accept it as part of the job, but then most people aren't on the verge of "aging out" of the lifestyle.
After the band invariably implodes, the author and his pal take their leave and find refuge in seedy flophouses and a flea-infested monastery, out of work, but not out of dreams. It is the late 1970s now, and rock music has split into four distinct camps - disco, heavy metal, new wave and, the antithesis of all of them, punk. When the friends part ways, the author [protagonist] lines up a temporary gig as part of a folk group and immediately departs to the continent for a tour. Along the way, he learns the art of busking, meets a girl, falls in love, moves in with her in the Black Forest region of Germany and, when the folk tour is over, forms a metal band with some German based rowdies.
Again, the frustrations of making a band into a profitable enterprise ring true, with chapters devoted to the nights of endless, undirected jamming, payless gigs, alcohol, drugs, willing women, and petty fights, all of which tend to unfocus a band over time. In a last desperate moment, they hook up with a manager/promoter who promises the keys to the kingdom, and all seems right for a while. They go from backwoods nobodies to the rising stars of the German metal circuit almost overnight, progressing from a biker band jamming in somebody's barn to a polished act working a high end European metal circuit full of fancy cars, top shelf drugs, and otherworldly beautiful and accommodating women.
While the fictional Tokolosh is a heavy metal band and Muller's observations will be colored by the trappings of that music (big hair, big boots, Spandex, et al), his reflections from the road are certainly universal. The descriptions of the lascivious girls, the guys acting like idiots with their devil horn salutes and alcohol-fueled aggressions, the stoned-out soundmen, the lumberjack roadies, the nights of booze and drugs and sex, all ring true. As do the problems associated with touring - traffic jams, missed connections, venues that aren't what they're made out to be, hometown idiots, and slimy promoters and nightclub owners who will rip you off at the slightest imagined provocation. It is these sections that legitimize the title, Rites of Rock.
To reveal why the author quit Tokolosh right as the band was on the verge of major stardom would be to reveal too much. But one merely has to conjure up images of the heavy metal lifestyle, with its emphasis on (often Satanic) ritual, to imagine how their seemingly magical manager could take the concept too far. It's a tale as old as fable itself, a bargain with the devil.
Muller is also gifted as describing rock's casualties, those who didn't get out in time. After Muller fled Tokolosh, he got out of the business and never looked back, coming to America to start over as an academic. He recounts a reunion many years later with a former band mate who stayed on in England as a record producer, describing a bug-eyed zombie who was too stoned and drunk to function, who had no idea what was real and what was fiction in their history and even in the present day.
It is a sad close to what could be considered a sad story, if it wasn't continuing to happen every day across the world. For every zombie left dazed and confused on rock's sidelines, there are two or three newbies coming up through the ranks with their eye on the same prize, going through the rites of rock that have become more ageless than the genre's mere 50-year history would seem to allow.
Rites of Rock is a decent read, especially for members of the rock and roll fraternity, at least those who got out in time. Though two-thirds of the book are over-analytical and off-putting, those sections that work - when the author is describing the rock and roll lifestyle - are fast paced and fascinating and, unfortunately, all too true.
Imagination Powers in Rites of Rock
By Janet Cross for Hawthorne Valley News
"Observe carefully, inkosi, one drummer at a time. Hear each separate rhythm. Sit, watch, and listen - for you must know before you act."
These words from Zulu mentor, Vamba, to the six year old protagonist of Eric Müller's remarkable novel, Rites of Rock, presage the book's theme: Before we become the actors in our own lives, we must take the time to absorb - without mediation - what the world is offering all around us. This message embodies the pedagogical philosophies of Waldorf education, and the book shows us how it can benefit the developing child years later, when he faces the moral dilemma of adulthood.
The coming of age story of fictitious rock star Vincent Erling, Rites of Rock is based loosely on Müller's own lifelong involvement with music. The book opens with a vivid picture of the macabre world of the heavy metal musicians. Playing into the empty night at an ancient outdoor cathedral, as instructed by a mysterious patron, Erling and his fellow band members feel the potent presence of an almost demonic audience that they cannot see. The seductive power of this experience troubles our hero, and he seeks solace in memories of his childhood.
The ruminations take the reader on an extensive flashback beginning in the veld and, later, the white apartheid suburbs of South Africa. We hear his earliest memories: the vivid sounds of Zulu drums, dreamy winds, and the minutest movement of bird and bush animals. We meet his elusive father and erudite, melancholic mother, and glean quick insight into a lonely childhood that produces a questioning and ambitious young man. Only much later in the book will our questing hero be able to synthesize these influences to make sense of his life and find his true path.
The second part of the book follows the now-grown Erling to Europe to seek fame as a rocker. The language changes abruptly here from intensely descriptive prose to spare, hard driving narrative that picks up force the deeper Erling descends into the torturous world of the fulltime rock musician and the closer he comes to success. When his band, Tokolosh (named for a mythical aboriginal beast that terrorizes its victims), finally is picked up by a big-time promoter, the morality play at the heart of Rites of Rock moves front and center. As the spin machine of the studio transforms him and his band-mates into heavy metal rockers with bad stage attitude, a path of treachery unfolds. Erling realizes the moral bargain required to "make it," and comes face to face with the question of how much he's willing to pay for fame.
So begins part three, a story of redemption. Erling abandons his rock and roll career, and begins a long, painful journey - both figuratively and literally - searching for purpose and direction.
The pain of disillusionment finally leads him to rediscover that deep connection he had once known as a child to the beauty of the world. Finally, he is able to rediscover that sense of wonder, and now, to share it with others. [...]
Passionate writing comes from direct experience. [...] He pours his love of language into every page of Rites of Rock. Whether you are a would-be musician, poet, or student of humanity, you'll find something of value in this ambitious work.
Above are some of the photos of the band on which the fictional Tokolosh in Rites of Rock is based
Coffee on the Piano For You
"Eric G. Müller's writing gives voice to that orphaned part of our human experience: that numinous dimension of life where few of our common words dare to tread. In his new book he traverses a wide scope of subjects and spans a breadth of experiences, taking us through a tour of the themes that have fired his imagination over the last few decades. He iluminates places, quiet spaces, the seen and the unseen, and unsuspected flashes of consciousness with verbal alacrity and a wonderful sense of sound. With playful forms, quirky moments that often elude our attention, and his sheer delight at what language can do to the soul, Müller nudges his readers along with him as he inches us toward that frontier where new possibilities of language can warm, surprise, and inspire us."
David Anderson, Executive Artistic Director, Walking the dog Theater
"With spontaneous utterances he catches the full movement of the moment. Like the Beats, on the road, he wanders in these poems through Europe and Indonesia with his mouth and his notebook open, writing often, I notice, in the present tense, close up to the world, glimpsing the Buddha in the face of a beggar, noting many a "daily Madonna" in the people he encounters, ever intent on "scooping the water for the wine."
Paul Matthews, poet and teacher of creative writing at Emerson College, England, and the author of Sing me the Creation and Words in Place