In January 2005 NYU Grad student Meera Subramanian, a journalism major, shadowed Ed Hale around for three weeks as a class assignment to write an article for her school paper. Read the article below:
Seek and Ye Shall Find: Ed Hale, Music, & the Meaning of It All Author: Meera Subramanian
Ed Hale is warming up over a steaming cup of Dunkin’ Donuts decaf. He talks about, among other things, his weekly schedule (French language lessons one night, kickboxing classes another), his ambitions for a reality television show where he interviews a famous Bishop and other random people, his novel in progress entitled The Cosmos is Great and Large, Darn Right, (“like Huck Finn with superheroes”), and about the Army General’s uniform that hangs in his closet. Dressed in black fitted jeans, a black DKNY shirt, and black boots, he slips easily into the New York City landscape, recently transplanted from his native Florida. His curly, shoulder-length brown hair is pushed back from his face with a pair of dark sunglasses, also DKNY, and his heavy-lidded blue eyes are eager as he talks about everything and everyone that gets him excited, punctuating his explorations with an easy laugh and expressive stretching out of words like “brilll-yant!” This is all on decaf, remember. But Ed Hale is, by profession, a rock musician. Lead singer of the band originally named Ed Hale and the Troubadours of Transcendence, shortened to Transcendence by fans that filled Miami venues. Singer-songwriter, guitar and keyboard player, Hale’s sound is reminiscent of Bowie, U2, and the Beatles blended with a unique world-beat undercurrent. His music has been described by reviewers alternately as lush, original, bland, well-crafted, perverted, mildly entertaining, and hauntingly familiar yet futuristic. By no means a music critic, I hear good ole rock ‘n’ roll, heavy on guitars and drums, with a solid driving beat. A few of the tracks on Transcendence’s third album, Nothing is Cohesive, which is being released this month, slow down more than usual and become a dreamy mix — love songs to Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso, or Hale’s own sense of becoming.
Ed Hale is a work-in-progress, a man evolving. It’s easy to forget that music is even Hale’s first passion, what with all his talk about emerging consciousness and revolution. And money. And women. Oh, and religion too. Not necessarily in that order.
He says: “honestly, seriously, everyone thinks I’m thirty,” but the faint lines on his high forehead and smile lines around his mouth reveal a few more years. He’s old enough to have become established as a world renowned musician as well as in other more practical realms. “My non-capitalist days are behind me. I’m a capitalist,” he says off-handedly. “I own companies.” Was it four, or five that he mentioned? Vitamins. Real estate. A record company. “I believe in social responsibility,” he says, but he drives around in a convertible BMW. “I dig that stuff. That’s why we have America. It doesn’t mean that you don’t give.” And he does give. One friend, Kerri Huckabee, remembers learning that Hale was sponsoring kids in need all over the world and cutting checks to numerous churches and charities each Christmas. “He didn’t even mention it. He just does it. We go out to dinner and then drive around town looking for a homeless person to give the leftovers. And then Ed gives them money too. That’s how he is.”
It was in this spirit that Hale sought out protest leaders of the anti-globalist movement when they arrived in Miami in 2003 to oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement. He’d watched the 1999 WTO protests on television and been inspired enough to write the song, “The Journey (A Call to Arms)” from the band’s 2002 album Rise and Shine that he describes as a “wake-up call for his generation.” He walked into the makeshift welcome center of the protest movement, where organizers from groups such as United for Peace and Justice, SmartMeme, and the Citizens Trade Council were scrambling with limited resources to organize thousands of people. “I’m wearing shiny pants and my hair’s all coiffed,” Hale recalls. “I said, ‘I want to help you. What do you need?'” He offered the headquarters of TMG Records (one of his companies) for the week, located in one of the buildings he owns. They moved in and set up shop.
“I expect rock stars to be assholes,” explained Patrick Reinsborough of San Francisco-based SmartMeme, “But Ed Hale was quite an angel, and he’s got CDs! He sounds like Bono!” Hale set up the new Media Convergence Center for these total strangers with seven phone lines and Internet access on the spot. “We named the space Transcendence,” said Reinsborough, “an incredible place of calm in the middle of a police state.”
Hooked on street protest, Hale went costume shopping. An Army General’s uniform seemed perfect, and when the Republican National Convention hit New York City, he tucked his long hair under a hat, painted a sign that said “Peace!” on one side and “World â€“ We’re Sorry!” on the other and stood silently, “acting like a fucking pissed off army guy” among the thousands that had gathered.
Raised Catholic by his single mom as she moved him and his brother from town to town in pursuit of work, Hale said, “I lived sixteen towns before I was eleven.” Now, he explains, “I’m not a believer but I like going to church.” Church is just another place to soak up the nectar of life. “Most people write off religion. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. My soul believes in God, but I don’t, ya know? It’s weird.”
His latest focus is the all-black Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he recently inquired about membership, mainly to avoid having to stand in line with the other white people who come from all over the world to visit the house of worship listed in Frommer’s guides in every language. Emerging from a recent service on a cold winter day, he sums it up: “It gives me juice.”
But getting juiced up in Harlem isn’t enough. When it comes down to it, Hale’s better at squeezing his own juice than drinking up others’. An idea sprang out of his time with the protest organizers in Miami, where he was inspired to organize an impromptu roundtable discussion with all the activist leaders present. He found a filmmaker to record the session, with the idea of posting it on his website (www.transcendence.com) for fans to experience. Then he thought, why not do more of this? Why not take it to television?
For example, what would a rock singer and an Episcopalian Bishop have to talk about? Hale spent a year and a half getting the runaround before he finally landed an interview with the controversial Bishop John Shelby Spong (best-selling author of the book, Why Christians Must Change Or Die). With cameras rolling, Hale and the Bishop ended up talking for five hours in the study of Spong’s New Jersey home, where they covered everything from the state of religion to Hale’s personal theories. (Done with the “Age of Technology,” Hale claims, the “Age of Personal Expression” is next, and with it will come complete human evolution, where mankind becomes humankind. “That’s where we are now, the Personal Expression Age. But who am I to name an age?” he asks with a laugh, but it’s not necessarily a rhetorical question.)
While the Spong interview was years in the making, Ed Hale is just as likely to have as intense a conversation for just as long at, say, a cafÃ© on the Upper West Side on a Sunday afternoon, where he recently befriended a Metropolitan Opera singer. Kevin Chap, CEO of Polar Productions, describes Hale as a “true social butterfly. It wears off on the people around him.”
Chap and Hale are transforming the recorded interviews into a pilot for Transcendent Television, which Hale describes as reality TV meets talk show. Chap calls it: “A look at life from the other point of view.”
Whether a studio like 20th Century Fox is willing to pick up a reality television show with people talking, as opposed to undergoing radical plastic surgery or eating worms, has yet to be determined. Chap said, “Ed likes to see the best in human nature. He wanted to bring the hopefulness of humanity back into reality television, but the reality TV business is not necessarily based on that concept. Would people rather watch a baby being born or a car accident? Unfortunately, it’s usually the car accident. Transcendent Television is a brilliant idea though. We will see.”
The Seeking Continues
But for all the flash that Hale portrays – the glossy albums with young naked women, the sunglasses after the sun’s gone down, dropping up to a grand on clothing a week â€“ Chap considers Hale “a stubborn headstrong artist” unwilling to sell out. In an Ink19 review of Rise and Shine, Transcendence’s first album, Hale is accused of just the opposite: “Hale…seems to admit that his brand of cross-cultural consciousness is nothing more than a way to buy hipster credentials and corporate consumer satisfaction.” But Chap contends, “Ed would rather take a loss than compromise his artistic concept.” Whether he is more pure to art than image is hard to tell. “Prostituting my integrity to secure this false celebrity,” he sings on “Bored” from the band’s latest album, Nothing is cohesive.
But really, most people don’t turn seeking into a lifelong quest. Most are quite content to do what needs to be done, settle down to quiet lives (Thoreau would say of quiet desperation) filled with simple pleasures and pastimes. When asked what the meaning of life is, they just shrug or refer to whatever particular religion they belong to for a convenient answer.
Maybe The Transcendence Diaries, Hale’s online blog written under the rubric of The Adventures of Fishy is more honest than Hale intended, when he writes, “Still finding myself obsessed with a quiet secret subtle and almost constant gnawing at my insides about the unbearable sadness of how impermanent everything is. Our lifetimes are short here. I remind myself that it is up to me to find meaning while I am here. I try to live my life to its fullest and even then I cannot shake the deep underlying knowing that they are all just moments lived and then soon forgotten. Where is the meaning in that?”
Meera Subramanian is a grad student at NYU majoring in journalism. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org