A Call for Songs

June 13, 2011

"Svaardvaard" Bill Bornschein

A call for papers is a standard way of generating interest and scholarship for a given academic subject. With this post I’d like to suggest something a little different, namely, a call for songs. By this I mean a call to enlist artists of all types to engage with the insights of Ernest Becker and thereby move said insights to a broader audience. Note that this call isn’t directed to the artists themselves, but rather to each of us, whether an artist or not. I myself am not an artist. Perhaps in my next incarnation. Nevertheless, I owe my initial exposure to Becker to the film Flight From Death, most certainly a great piece of art. Imagine the possible impact of a popular song or a great piece of poetry or visual art. There is certainly plenty of room in the non-documentary film category. What about theater? Imagine a Beckerian reworking of some Shakespeare. The possibilities are endless.

Here is a great example of what I’m talking about. A couple from Australia, Adrian and Francesca Bell, have written a children’s book that is premised on the notion that mortality salience is our primary repression. It is entitled Mother Moth and acknowledges Ernest Becker in the front material of the book. The fact that this material is aimed at a relatively young audience is wonderful because learning through stories comes naturally to us all. A work like Mother Moth is the artistic spoonful of sugar that helps Becker’s medicine go down. You can get a feel for Mother Moth at the following site:


Returning to our role in calling forth the songs, how do we decide who to call? This is the easy part. The artist you should call is the one you know—the one next to you at the pub, the concert, the gallery event. This process has a very serendipitous aspect to it. A bit like the parable of the sower, we have no way of knowing where our work will find fertile soil. The novelist Tom Robbins found his literary voice when he attended and reviewed a concert by The Doors. Within two weeks of seeing them he had begun his first novel, Another Roadside Attraction. Who could have predicted that? Similarly, given the power of Becker’s work, if enough of us make a conscious effort to engage artists there is no telling what fruit it will bear. There’s an artist out there waiting for you. Happy hunting!



  1. It is hard walking the tightrope. Recognizing the absurdity of our human condition while trying not to fall into the ever-present temptation to subscribe to absolutes. Becker helped me see it, Camus has helped me to bear it… as have many of the artists who appear aware of similar insights and terrors. Musically, I draw a lot of inspiration from the bands: “Modest Mouse” and “You Will Know Us By the Trail of The Dead.” Maybe it is just my reading into the music and lyrics, but when I do, I feel less alien, and more, in the words of Irvin Yalom: like fellow travelers.

  2. “Doubting Thomas” by Nickel Creek is a wonderful paean to neurosis and death awareness. (lyrics below)

    What will be left when I’ve drawn my last breath,
    Besides the folks I’ve met and the folks who know me,
    Will I discover a soul saving love,
    Or just the dirt above and below me,

    I’m a doubting thomas,
    I took a promise,
    But I do not feel safe,
    Oh me of little faith,

    Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face,
    Then I beg to be spared ’cause I’m a coward,
    If there’s a master of death I’ll bet he’s holding his breath,
    As I show the blind and tell the deaf about his power,
    I’m a doubting thomas,
    I can’t keep my promises,
    ‘Cause i don’t know what’s safe,
    oh me of little faith

    Can I be used to help others find truth,
    When I’m scared I’ll find proof that its a lie,
    Can I be lead down a trail dropping bread crumbs,
    That prove I’m not ready to die,

    Please give me time to decipher the signs,
    Please forgive me for time that I’ve wasted,

    I’m a doubting thomas,
    I’ll take your promise,
    Though I know nothing’s safe,
    Oh me of little faith

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