Man as Boy

By Roy Hanu Hart, M.D., aka Doctor Faith on May 7, 2011


Just when I thought I would get back to writing about God and faith, which is what concerns me these days, up popped a page D-1 story in USA Today (May 3) about Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler’s new memoir Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?  Despite the fustian title, I read on.

Steven Tyler, a modern-day Peter Pan of sorts, adds to the themes of my March 25 blog, “Some Thoughts on Baby Boomers” (BBs). Edna Gundersen, author of the USA Today  piece, quotes the 63-year-old BB: “I’m glad I haven’t grown up…I  never want to. I get glimpses of adulthood in my sobriety, and I hate it.”

Tyler’s is the classic statement of a mind-body locked into the world of childhood. Shades of Michael Jackson and his Neverland, named for the fantasy island in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.

The singer fits the profile of psychoanalyst Dan Kiley’s description of the eternal youth as described in his book, The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up(1983).  (It should be noted that the Peter Pan syndrome, useful as it may be,  is not an official American Psychiatric Association diagnosis.)

For the reader inclined to pursue the subject at a  deeper level, there is Carl Jung’s  paper, “The Psychology of the Child Archetype” (in The Collected Works of C.G. Jung),and his disciple Marie-Louise von Franz’s book, The Problem of the Puer Aeturnus — the Eternal Youth, or Man as Boy.

My blog on BBs also dealt with narcissism, and on this  Tyler is quite blunt about himself. On page 102 of  Noise (I can’t bring myself to repeat the full title of his book),  he states, “Pretty much anyone who wants to be a rock star is by definition a raging narcissist —  then just add drugs!” 

I’m not about to comment on Tyler’s musicianship. I understand, from what I’ve read about him, that he tends to hurl his entire being into his music. According to Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, that includes “yelps, groans, growls, and squeals.”  I can see why he’s called the “Demon of Screamin’” and, as one of the illustrious inclusions in Rolling Stone‘s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time,”  has become a household name (but not where I live).

In general, I find rock ‘n’ roll offensive to my auditory apparatus and will go out of my way to shelter my eardrums from it as much as I can. I’m in agreement with Pope Benedict XVI, who in a 1986 speech commented, “Rock and roll  is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship…”

Another statement of his, from The Ratzinger Report (1985): “The musical sense of  the younger generation has been stunted since the beginning of the sixties by rock music and related forms.” Stunted is definitely the case.

Details concerning Tyler’s earlier life of debauchery need not concern us here. For the curious, Gundersen deals with some of it in her USA Today story.

It’s enough for me to say that no group in today’s culure is more into the life of self-indulgence than rock performers. Even though so many of them are now in their 60s, their life’s philosophy remains hedonistic. Sex and drugs are part and parcel of the lifestyle of these child-gods.

It comes as no surprise that the sexually focused Tyler thinks singing began “with the first primate uttering a moan during sex.” Realistically, the earliest singing was in imitation of the sounds heard in nature.

What we might ask the Demon of Screamin’, so immersed in his music, is whether he experiences sexual arousal when playing or listening to music. This goes by the label of melolagnia for sex therapists.

Topliner trans-generational pop singer Tony Bennett has commented, “Without heart, there is no art.” Tyler adds: “I wear my heart on my sleeve.” There’s no doubting that his frenetic singing springs not only from his lungs and vocal cords but also from the polestar within his thoracic cavity.

Speaking of heart provides me with a segue back to Marie-Louise von Franz and The Problem of the Puer Aeternus, the book that developed out of twelve lectures she delivered during the winter of 1959-60 at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich. Eight of those dealt with an analysis of  Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince.

In December 1935, while flying from Paris to Saigon in an attempt to break the speed record for a prize worth 150,000 francs, French author and intrepid aviator Saint-Exupery and his navigator crashed in the Libyan desert. The details of their harrowing experience are recorded in his memoir, Wind, Sand and Stars. The Little Prince, which he wrote in New York City in 1942, begins with a flyer marooned in the Sahara desert. 

Written as a children’s book, Saint-Exupery sprinkles the novella’s pages with wisdom garnered from the ages. In one instance, the young prince, emerging from the Sahara desert, meets a fox who says to him, “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Perhaps, just perhaps, one day the nation’s youth, including man-boy Tyler, will understand the words of the fox.

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