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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Brain plasticity in action - John Elder Robinson, his book and his Creativity applyed to Kiss Concerts!

Robison's thoughtful and thoroughly memorable account of living with Asperger's syndrome is assured of media attention (and sales) due in part to his brother Augusten Burroughs's brief but fascinating description of Robison in Running with Scissors. But Robison's story is much more fully detailed in this moving memoir, beginning with his painful childhood, his abusive alcoholic father and his mentally disturbed mother. Robison describes how from nursery school on he could not communicate effectively with others, something his brain is not wired to do, since kids with Asperger's don't recognize common social cues and body language or facial expressions. Failing in junior high, Robison was encouraged by some audiovisual teachers to fix their broken equipment, and he discovered a more comfortable world of machines and circuits, of muted colors, soft light, and mechanical perfection. This led to jobs (and many hilarious events) in worlds where strange behavior is seen as normal: developing intricate rocket-shooting guitars for the rock band Kiss and computerized toys for the Milton Bradley company. Finally, at age 40, while Robison was running a successful business repairing high-end cars, a therapist correctly diagnosed him as having Asperger's. In the end, Robison succeeds in his goal of helping those who are struggling to grow up or live with Asperger's to see how it is not a disease but a way of being that needs no cure except understanding and encouragement from others.

Dear Alvaro and Shirley,

Today, your TMS gave me back something I did not know I had lost. Suddenly, I can see music again. Let me explain. Over the past 20-some years, I thought music had lost some of its richness; some color, but I accepted that as the gradual decline of my ears with increased age. Kind of crummy, but there it is.

Tonight, driving home, I became bored and switched on my iPod. I've got it loaded with the music I loved best, back when I did music. Most of my songs are original live recordings, the real thing, errors, mistakes, and all. Not the polished stuff that comes out of the studio. I switched it on to Diana Ross, recorded live in Las Vegas. I listened absently for a few minutes, and suddenly realized something was different. I turned up the volume a bit. It took a moment for me to get it, and then it hit me right between the eyes.

I could see the music. Again.

I listened some more, and realized it was true . . . I could “see” the voices, the microphones, the costumes glittering in the light; I could see the backup singers, and I could pick out the instruments out one by one. I heard her hit a triangle, and I could see it in my mind, clear as day, held up by the mike as she rang it. I could hear the emotions in her voice, and I could sense happy and sad and excited and tired.

I saw her in my mind, standing by the stage with me 30 years ago as we watched the band. I could see the instruments and hear them play, individually or within the fabric of the song. I could reach into the songs, and hold the individual bits and pieces in my hand.

Even the little stuff . . . the wind chimes; the bells; and the noises on the stage. I saw them all, just as clear as day, like watching a video. I could hear the echo as the vocals kicked back off the rear walls of the arena and came back into the stage mikes. I could see the crowds below. It was alive, and it kept changing.

A minute later, I listened to Eddie Holman announce his song, Hey There Lonely Girl in a hall in New Jersey, and I could see him speak. I didn't see him, exactly, but I saw my friend Willard Cofield, a prominent black Baptist pastor, who embodies something of his voice and expression. I could hear and feel the joy in his expressions as he shouted into the mike at the end of the song, "thank you for 33 years, three sons, and six grandchildren!"

It felt just like being there, with all the power of the original performance.

As I listened to three black musicians talking between songs, I could see my friends – Bobby Hartsfield and Seabreeze, standing outside my shop by their Harleys, and I saw the same expressions on their faces that I heard from the guys on stage. It’s like I could see the feelings of the guys on stage and link it to the “closest match” in people I knew; in the faces of my friends. An old recording transposed into the setting of Springfield, Massachusetts, yesterday. But not the music. The facial expressions and feelings. Strange, but not strange.

I listened to McFadden & Whitehead sing a song they wrote for Marvin Gaye, and I realized I could pick out the individual keyboard instruments. I could see them in my mind, too, three stacked keyboards with a fourth – a piano – to the side I saw the Korg on top and an old Hammond B3 on the bottom. I could see the keyboard player walking one hand along the Korg and the other on the B3, and then I could switch and follow the bass guitar.

I could pull them out of the music just like being in the studio, when I’d put on the headphones and hit the monitor button on the console. When you’re in a recording studio, making a record, you record every instrument and voice on its own track, so you can control it. That’s what I could do in my mind – pull the individual voices and instruments out of the background. But I did it without electronics. I had a digital processing suite in my mind, 20 years before they were invented.

Words cannot express the richness of the material I could hear. I listened to Tavares come on stage. Tavares is a group of brothers; they played the Boston club circuit when I started out and then made it big when they recorded the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever with the BeeGees. I could hear them passing the vocal parts back and forth as they opened Penny for Your Thoughts; I “heard” the subtext of the show. Now, that particular recording of Tavares turned to shit on the next song as the PA system picked up an arrhythmic "pop-pop" noise that was totally out of sync with the music.

Yesterday, that "pop" was so objectionable, I'd have skipped their song Heaven, but tonight I played it through. And I found I could lock onto each voice, and the instruments in back, one by one. And I could filter the pop right out with my mind. It was like I had a noise cancellation program running in my head.

These are not new abilities. Do you remember how I said I could see the music when I was young? This is what I saw and felt. It's faded away over the years, and I guess I didn't know it was gone. Until now. Experiencing its return is to say the least, stunning. Will it last? I guess time will tell.

That ability is what took me to the top of the world, making musical electronics, 30 years ago.

A few weeks ago, I said I thought I'd lost many of my old technical abilities as I developed new skills; new paths. You told me you suspected the old abilities I thought were lost were still there, dormant in my mind.

Well, today you woke them up.

Brief and to the Point:

If it hadn't been for Elder Robinson, Kiss would never have had a great deal of the pyrotechinia

Watch the videos bellow to understand a little more on "Aspenger Syndrome" and how normal people can be long as their needs are properly addressed.Make sure to watch the second one where Mr.Robinson talks about how the whole Ace Frehley "smoking guitar" effects came up!

Elder Robinson on


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