Metaphysical Graffiti

Metaphysical Graffiti: Deep Cuts in the Philosophy of Rock by [Auxier, Randall]

Image of THE BOOK: Metaphysical Graffiti


THE AUTHOR:  Randall E. Auxier

: My editor is David Ramsay Steele

: Open Court (Chicago)

SUMMARY: These are 18 chapters, plus a prologue and afterword, that follow a philosophical and autobiographical thread through the rock era. Each chapter can be read alone, so skipping around according to interest works well. Each treats a different philosopher/philosophy whose ideas are helpful in talking about what makes the band or the individual rock star so interesting, but together these form a narrative thread that is both autobiographical (the reader will know me pretty well by the end) and also historical —  the rock era itself is the background, beginning in the Prologue with Elvis Presley and ending with an imagined dialogue between the rock critic Chuck Klosterman and one of his own characters from his autobiographical novel Downtown Owl. They discuss The End of the Rock Era. I divide the book into an A and a B side. The A side is British rock music, beginning with three essays on The Rolling Stones. To me, they are the essence of rock music (as distinct from rock n’ roll music, where Chuck Berry and Little Richard would be the essence). This transitions into two chapters on David Bowie, followed by explorations of Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Pink Floyd. Philosophically there is a lot of existentialism and European thought in this half.

The B side is American rock, but peculiarly as influenced by the folk and singer/songwriter tradition. It is more rootsy than glamorous. It begins with an examination of The Grateful Dead and proceeds through three Bruce Springsteen chapters (the essence of American rock music) to chapters on Neil Young and Paul Simon. Then there is a section called bonus tracks, which is more intensely autobiographical, built around my own stories in chronological order, more or less: growing up with Bruce Springsteen, Rush, Jimmy Buffett, and Jackson Browne.
The autobiographical stories are funny and anecdotal, things people relate to and which make them remember their own wild youth. Some of the tales are quirky, but never idiosyncratic or too self-reflexive. I never make myself the hero of my own stories –that sort of thing drives me nuts. I admit that I do like Hunter S. Thompson, but I’m not trying to BE him. Still, some stylistic borrowings will be evident to people who also like Thompson. Other than Thompson, I avow no other literary influences in this kind of writing.

THE BACK STORY: Eventually I started ignoring what my fellow philosophers thought and began writing essays for the (new at that time) series in Popular Culture and Philosophy that Open Court had started. It has now grown to include half a dozen publishers and series, and gradually has gained acceptance in the academy –not as “real work,” of course, but at least as a kind of ambassadorship to the public. I don’t care. I write about this stuff because I think about it and I care about it. After I had published a dozen or so essays on rock (and about twenty more on other topics), I realized that I had the material that could become a book, if I added the essays that would weave it together and rewrite the others to fit the narrative. So I proposed it and Open Court took it. It ended up substantial (almost 400 pp.), and the new essays (six of them, plus the prologue and afterword) were intensive self-assignments. It is like drawing to an inside straight in poker. I had a dozen immovable cards and needed to draw enough new cards to complete a run. I think it worked.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Well, we tossed a number of ideas around, but the Led Zeppelin album titles always stood out to me as provocative philosophically — Houses of the Holy, Presence, In Through the Out Door. One of my philosophical specialties is metaphysics (in my case that means the fundamental nature of time, space, and existence), and there is a lot of metaphysics in my essays, so turning Physical Graffiti into Metaphysical Graffiti was an obvious move. I learned after choosing the title that the Dead Milkmen had an album by that title. I’ve never heard it (or them), but I doubt there’s much metaphysics on that album 🙂 or at least not as I understand the term

I think the book is a really fun ride for the right reader. What people enjoy most about it is having their own ideas validated. What I mean is that lots of people have these philosophical thoughts when they hear a song, or consider an album concept, or watch a music video, and the reason they have these thoughts is because (1) they are human and humans are philosophical, and (2) the artists who make this music have philosophical thoughts too, and they put them into the art. It’s true of good film and television and theater and other kinds of entertainment as well. But I see myself as a sort of tour guide, showing you many of the thoughts you’ve already had and, since I do this for a living, hooking those disparate thoughts together and hanging them on various great philosophers’ works, which is where the feeling of validation comes from –some important person in the past, renowned as a philosopher, had the same thought you had while listening to The Rolling Stones.

That feeling of validation –that there really is depth and meaning in this stuff, it really is thoughtful, and it is really art– that is the main pay-off. But there is also nostalgia in this book for people of a certain age. Those are the ones who will experience “identification” with the stories and times. That can be a pretty strong feeling. Yes, I’ll take you back, but I hope it isn’t maudlin, although I think the Prologue is a delicate wirewalk with the maudlin.

One very close friend of mine, also a writer, told me to dump the Prologue, “it’s the opposite of rock,” he said. I took that very seriously. People cry when they read the Prologue. Do you really want to read a book that makes you cry in the first twelve pages? In my case, yes. I really thought hard about it. I decided that the book is personal enough for me, as an effort to communicate with people, that to open them up emotionally right off the bat is probably the condition for appreciating what follows.

If they can handle the Prologue and keep reading, the good news is that nothing else will get that heavy in the book, but the secret password for getting the book, and the why of the book, is that you have to be emotionally open to the meanings in the music. Only then will the point of the thing reward the effort of getting through the thing. The music narrated its times, and those times were people’s very real lives. Older readers will be excavating and recovering the reasons for the things we’ve done. Younger ones will understand the rock era as if from the inside.

: Megan Volpert at Pop Matters published a very nice review that she gave the title “Professor Randall Auxier Is My Bass Player –and Philosopher.”  The only other reviews I’m aware of are on Amazon, and they say some nice things. On the back of the book is a quote by Andrew Calhoun, a well known poet, songwriter and scholar of traditional music. He said “The winding threads between the two [rock music and philosophy] feel organically generated . . . and the tension between what had seemed disparate fields sets up a third vibration which feels something like the presence of history.” I hope very much that he is right because that is exactly what I was shooting for. I wanted to make it live again, as a history of the present and a presence of history as palpable, accessible, active and meaningful now –even for people who didn’t live through it.
AUTHOR PROFILE. So, what’s to know? Well, I grew up in Memphis, went to graduate school in Atlanta, and did my early professoring in Oklahoma. All of these places left scars and affordances. I’m mainly a teacher, with the title of Professor of Philosophy and Communication Studies at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, doing that since 2000. I am owned by four cats and one spouse, and we all live in a huge Victorian monstrosity that we have turned into a library/research institute/art museum. (go to I am an activist, mainly environment and the teachers union, which has led on an inexorable path toward politics. I am currently running for US Congress in the 12th District of Illinois. See

I never envisioned a future in politics, but activism leads either to death or politics, which is death by another name. I have been a dj for the local community radio station for almost 17 years. I cook. That is how I stay sane. I like wine and I like Europe. I am lucky enough to get the use of both pretty often. I am writing this from Warsaw, which is my home away from home, where I teach at the University of Warsaw regularly as a visiting professor and researcher. I write a blog ( with a coop of other writers and a publisher; I write boring academic philosophy; I write fiction, but only a small portion has been published, at least compared to what I aspire to publish; I write for the local papers periodically, especially snarky book reviews, but some serious journalism too.


I am a Methodist, which means I don’t have strong feelings about religion. But I have taught adult Sunday school for 30 years and I have directed the handbell choir for 18 years. I play in bar bands, usually bass, but sometimes guitar or drums. I have recorded and released (publicly, unfortunately) a couple of albums of my original songs. This was before I became aware that I do not really posess any talent for poetry. It is a hard lesson to learn and embarrassing to accept. You should all burn your poetry before someone finds it. Between 1 AM and 4 AM on weeknights, I sleep. People say “well, he sure doesn’t let any grass grow under his feet,” not that I ever understood that expression, since it can’t really grow if you’re standing on it.

I will say that I am planning a second volume of essays on rock (already have some of it written) and that I will have similar volumes on film, on television, and on popular literature. All of these are written in part because I have a number of essays in various Open Court volumes, as well as some with other publishers, that can be conscripted into service in these other projects. I am also hard at work on the Great American Novel that we all so foolishly believe we possess.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: The full Prologue (that sad thing) is available on the Look Inside function on the Amazon page (as is Luke Dick’s Foreword), and a few pages of the first chapter on the Stones. That should be enough. It is interesting to me that the publishers/editors said nothing about the Prologue, given how . . . oh, I don’t know  . . . how not upbeat it is.

LOCAL OUTLETS: It’s at Barnes & Noble everywhere I’ve checked. Probably won’t be there long unless people buy it 🙂 We have no local stores anymore.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. Certainly Amazon and Barnes & Noble on-line, as well as all the other on-line bookstores I know of.

PRICE: supposed to be $18.95, but all the on-line retailers are going under that. Right at the moment, Amazon says it has one left and will sell it for $9.95 –which is the lowest I’ve seen. I don’t know how many the press printed, but Amazon keeps claiming to run out and saying there are more on the way. I think this is probably bullshit.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR. I am easy to find on on Facebook (unusual last name) and my general e-mail is I am always happy to hear from people who have read my stuff and I try to reciprocate and read theirs.

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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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