By Luis Castilla
Frank Simes, musical director for The Who, performed for music students and explained what he believes to be the meaning of life at East Los Angeles College last Thursday.
Simes is a guitarist, songwriter, composer and record producer who has recorded and performed with Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, Don Henley of Eagles and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac.
The talk, called “A Conversation with the Universe,” was a look into Simes’ life and his own spiritual and neuroscientific thoughts about the universe.
Simes’ first question for the universe was if music had any intrinsic value. His answer was yes.
Simes said that the universe is made of bundles of waveforms. Music is the basis of reality.
“Humans didn’t invent music, we just discovered it.” said Simes. Simes had lost his job as a producer for Martha Davis of The Motels, and had just become a father.
He said he had fallen into depression and was prone to panic attacks.
Simes even considered suicide, almost driving off a cliff. He stopped himself when he heard a voice say, “Not yet.”
“Maybe it was the universe,” said Simes.
After his near-suicide-experience, Simes found that music helped him recover from his depression.
“Music literally saved me and got me through the darkest part of my life,” said Simes.
This experience answered Simes’ second question for the universe, “What’s the meaning of life?” Simes came to the conclusion that creativity is the meaning of life.
Simes’ final question for the universe was on the importance of knowledge.
He said he had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
“I am a product of the universe. The universe created us so that it could know itself,” said Simes.
ELAC President Marvin Martinez introduced Simes and told the audience how music influenced his life.
Simes began his talk by playing guitar and dancing across the stage. He continued to tell the audience about his musical upbringing.
Simes was born on a U.S. army base in Tokyo, Japan.
He received a guitar for Christmas at the age of 10 and moved to Los Angeles on his own at the age of 15 to pursue a career in music.
Simes said he was offered heroin within five minutes of landing in Los Angeles.
He lived in an apartment where he had to heat the room with his stove and only had two pieces of furniture, one of which was a stand-up piano.
On that piano, Simes wrote a song called “Anniversary,” which he performed for the audience.
While earning his stripes as a musician, Simes auditioned for Mick Jagger at a studio in Hollywood.
Simes said he had to learn 12 songs on the spot and come up with something to play.
He said he could either freeze up in fear or let the music flow through him.
That night, he received a call from Jagger’s secretary asking if he’d be available tomorrow, but Simes had a gig.
The secretary handed the phone to Jagger who told Simes he would provide cartage and trucking so that he wouldn’t have to miss his gig.
Simes said he was blown away by Jagger’s respectfulness.
After the presentation, commercial music professor Lee Raby asked Simes for one piece of advice for music students.
Simes gave three: “Nothing great is ever achieved without enthusiasm. Details are important. Success is an elusive notion.”
“It’s great that he could give us practical advice. It’s invaluable to see the result of all the years of dedication,” said Raby.
Student Kenia Varela said she felt very relieved after the talk.
“It’s very relieving to know that there are people who think that way,” said Varela.
Simes’ visit was the result of English professor Nadia Swerdlow’s friendship with Simes.
“Frank and I became friends over our mutual interest in the relationship of music, science and the universe,” said Swerdlow. Music professor Anthony Lupica invited Simes to speak to the music department.
Simes said he was glad he could talk to the Music Department.
“They were hearing things that brought them joy and positive feelings. I saw that on people’s faces as I was talking. Anytime I could do that, I’m not going to pass up the opportunity. If I could articulate what people are feeling, that’s one of my objectives too,” said Simes.