Back in the days when MTV used to actually show music on television, they ran a series of PSAs between videos called Books: Feed Your Head. They were weird little shorts, but they fit into the counter-programming MTV was doing at the time - cartoons like Beavis and Butthead and The Maxx along with comedy like The State and Jimmy the Cab Driver...okay, maybe there wasn't as much music as I thought.
Sherilyn Fenn reads Delta of Venus by Anais Nin. Whew.
Anyway, these PSAs fit neatly into my world of books and words and made me feel like less of an outsider even among the weirdoes of grunge and indie rock. Even though it was mainstream. Ah, high school. But, the point of the PSAs was to get people to read more. They wanted to promote the idea that we're all pretty privileged to be able to read, to have learned how as part of our basic education, and that reading could be just as cool and rewarding as movies or music. Worked for me.
Around the same time, I got a part-time job at a radio station. One of the profound joys of that job was to be able to dig through several decades of pop music in the record library. A friend pulled out a dusty copy of Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow and I suddenly remembered where I had heard the refrain "feed your head" before. That place being, of course, Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit.
Naturally, I decided to take ownership of the phrase. For longer than I care to admit, any time I gave a book to anyone, for whatever reason, I'd utter some variation of the phrase "feed your head" as I handed the book over. And, as I got older and the books got more challenging, I may or may not have gotten more smug.
For my teenage self, the direct, command form of the verb made it even easier to be an ass about having read something that someone else hadn't. Especially when it was one of those transgressive, difficult books I liked to read. Or maybe just the ones I liked to pretend I understood better than anyone else in my circles did. Man, I do not miss being a teenager.
Having grown up, at least a little, since then, I still find the phrase to be a powerful one, although, hopefully, I don't use it as disdainfully as I did then. If nothing else, it works for the way we talk about media today. We consume media. We ingest it. We feed it to ourselves and to our friends and loved ones every time we tell them about this great new show we just saw.
Back when, I took the phrase to mean that you had to be worrying at new ideas and really getting into the intellectual nitty-gritty of something in order to be feeding your head. Everything else, all that feel good late night t.v., that wasn't feeding your head - that was feeding your...heart, maybe?
These days, it still feels like a lot of our chosen media is still chosen because it does just that. It feeds (and maybe feeds on) our hopes and fears and aspirations and so on, rather than just give us ideas to ponder. I guess the difference is, I no longer think that's a waste of time. If anything, I think our (societal) growing acceptance of the importance of self-care has meant that we feel less guilty about watching trash t.v. or reading something just for fun.
My head is being well-fed in that earlier sense at the moment; the vast majority of my reading time is spent either on the news or academic linguistic theory. But that's not something I can, or want to, feel smug about. Instead, it's just part of the normal humdrum of life, just one more thing I've got to do before I can sink back into the comfortable sludge of pulp novels and video games.
In other words, I was wrong. There's no distinction between feeding your head and your heart; when there are no calories to worry about, everything is food. So feed your head whatever you want, it's all good for you.
White Rabbit, written by Grace Slick and first performed by Jefferson Airplane, 1967.
Grace Slick wrote the song White Rabbit as a response to parents who read fantastical, magical books to their children but were then horrified when those same kids began to experiment with mind-expanding drugs.
When logic and proportion, Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards, And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the Dormouse said, Feed your head
(The entire commentary on Genius.com is worth reading if only for the references to specific sections of Alice and Looking Glass.)
It’s worth nothing that the phrase “feed your head” appears to be original to the song as the phrase does not appear in Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland nor in Through the Looking Glass. Instead, when asked what the Dormouse said, in the book, the only response is…I can’t remember.
Notable Events of the Year 1967
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Songs inspired by novels are a dime a dozen. Songs that take their literary inspirations’ title as their own are a little more rare. Here are several lists you might want to read (Entropy, Scottish Book Trust, AXS, and Wikipedia, of course) and here are seven songs I enjoy:
Ramones - Pet Semetery (Stephen King)
Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
Iron Maiden - Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
David Bowie - 1984 (George Orwell)
Rush - Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)
Guns ’n’ Roses - Catcher in the Rye (J. D. Salinger)
Bobby Womack - Across 110th Street (Wally Ferris)
Although it doesn’t take the title, Mastodon’s Leviathan album is a full-length tribute to and retelling of Melville’s Moby Dick. It’s great.
Next time: Burn your bridges down. That’s it. Stay strong, stay curious. Learn something.