Beyond the Surface: Lovin' Spoonful's Mike Arturi on Living the Music Path and His Divine Moment of Serendipity

10/14/2016 07:51 pm ET

To be one’s true self is the goal in life. This blog series would not exist if it werent for a reunion with an old friend who had all the makings of a modern-day Mozart. But at a pivotal fork in the road, he chose the path behind a desk, instead of one behind a keyboard, which would’ve honored his gift - like Mozart did. Now, 20 years later, he’s unrecognizable, this friend who once had music radiating from every cell, especially when singing in random bursts of happiness. The years have taken their toll - not just in the added 20 pounds that don’t belong, but in the heaviness that comes when living someone elses life, and not one’s true purpose. The life you came here to live.

As a writer, this inspired me to highlight the special souls who chose to follow their true path. The tougher path, but one that honors and expresses the powerful gift of music they’ve been given. To live the Mozart life. May some of their words help or inspire you to find your true calling in life.

Mike Arturi is the drummer for the Lovin’ Spoonful, and he reflects on giving back with his nonprofit music school Universal MUsic Center in Minnesota, as well as living the life he hoped he would be living.

I’ve said in my blog post about living the Mozart life, that it may be a tougher road to choose, where one gets to fully channel their Higher Selves, their true selves. But people who make music and get to travel the world doing so are rare example of such a life, where one is most connected to their true self. What are your thoughts on that? Do you feel you’re consciously living the life you thought you would believing?

I am living the life I hoped I would be living. I always felt it would materialize. It hasn’t turned out exactly like I envisioned but I am by no means disappointed. I am very grateful for my life and remain pro-active in my plan to continue growing until the moment of my last breath.

What is your songwriting process, if you have one, do you have a routine like work on music a certain time of day, for example?

I am a drummer by trade but I do write. My process is to start with lyrics. The lyrics suggest a mood for the song and a melody which then guides the chord structure. I am continually inspired by everything that goes on around me in my life. Things people say, situations, something I see etc. The resources are infinite.

When did you know you had this gift of music and how did you start to do the human discipline it takes to channel it, hone it, and bring it forth?

I’ve loved drums my entire life and started out on my grandmother's spaghetti pots at age two. Later, the sheer desire to play in bands placed me in competition with other drummers. This exposure illustrated areas I needed to improve on which eventually led me to formal study resulting in a degree in music and a realization now, of focusing on - ‘My’ sound.

How did you know this is your life path, your calling?

The music business is not for the faint of heart. Getting turned down for auditions, playing in bars and clubs, touring and the results of placing yourself in challenging musical situations can be devastating. I always knew I was in this for life as I never once ever considered getting out.

There are divine moments of serendipity, where a catalyst opens the door that leads to the path we’re meant to be on, the one where we live out the fullest expression of our true selves. What was that moment for you and how did it happen? Was that joining the Lovin’ Spoonful perhaps?

Though I am extremely proud of my position of twenty years and counting with the Lovin’ Spoonful, this moment for me was when I met my mentor and teacher in college, Mr. Sheldon Elias. “Shelly” believed in me and brought out skills I never dreamed I possessed. Not a day goes by some 40+ years later that I don’t incorporate something he taught me into my life as a professional musician and as a person.

We all have times when we’re in the desert, the wilderness of our lives. But it helps us evolve and create that next, hopefully better chapter. What was a valley, a low point in your life that helped raise your consciousness, and stay true to yourself and your own path in life? And what did you do when you had that epiphany?

When I was around 17 or 18, with a limited drumming vocabulary, I had been playing professionally for around four years with older “jobbing” musicians. These were all talented working musicians but, I wanted to Rock! I got a gig with a great band that I was a fan of. The members were my own age, they were writing original material and playing in all the ‘cool’ local venues. My limited vocabulary however was not enough to hold the job and I was let go. This left me devastated. I didn’t even look at my drums for two weeks while I struggled to understand what was happening. Then I faced the facts that I needed to do some serious work on my drumming skills. This episode led me to finding Shelly Elias and my entire world changed.

I’m a firm believer in doing as many mitzvahs as one can, especially in the tougher times of our lives. To give back, be of service in some way, to use our time most wisely. It can only help us in the end. What are your thoughts and do you try to do your own mitzvahs to help others, even in the smallest way?

I will do anything I can for anyone I can help. In 2012 I founded Universal Music Center, a non-profit music school in Red Wing, MN where we are teaching well over 100 local music students of all ages how to play and perform live on-stage. I also teach several different community group courses I’ve created for at risk, underserved and senior populations. I am grateful to all who support me and I am committed to supporting everyone I can in return.

Unlike any time in history, we are now in a overwhelming digital era. There is so much detritus, noise and schadenfreude. What’s your take on that and how do you find quiet in this noisy time? How do you ground yourself and focus on your own life path and purpose?

I’ve lived through many seismic social and musical changes in my life so far that have been very challenging. Through it all I realized that I always go back to the simple solid foundations my father taught me. Basically, to keep an open mind, treat others with respect, help whenever you can and never be a fool for anyone.

The music industry has lost many of its own this year. What are your thoughts on time, how it seems to go by faster each year? Perhaps it’s made you reflect on what you want to achieve in the time we’re given here?

At this point in my life I’m finding strength in who I am, what I sound like, how I play and what I hope I am contributing to my family and society. I accept these characteristics and I am committed to continuing to hone them and make them better. If I can be remembered for anything I would like to be remembered as someone who kept trying to improve.

What advice do you have for people who have the gift of music, but don’t know how to start to channel it, develop that gift and bring it out?

Start with an instrument and the music you like or love. Find a teacher and be your own advocate. Share the music you like or love with your teacher and have them teach it to you. This method gives you buy in and positive reinforcement for your efforts immediately. This method additionally brings you through the beginning stages of musical development and introduces you to the more traditional and legitimate areas of music education you may find needed in furthering your craft.

What do you do to help pick yourself up when you’re feeling down, and help you stay the course? Is there a song you play that inspires you when you’re needing some inspiration?

I only need one song of the billions that exist to inspire me or pick me up: Frank Zappa’s original recording of Peaches En Regalia!

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