Even while releasing new music alongside writing and producing a feature film, Armand Ruby of Karmic Neighborhood makes time for his passions… one of which is reading.
Karmic Neighborhood, the duo of Armand and his musical partner Julian Colbeck has an innate love of storytelling. Their newest releases, including “I Learned To Forgive,” “Everybody Needs To Love,” “Where Do I Go Now,” and most recently, “That’s Me,” are pieces from the story of their upcoming feature film Equinox The Musical, which tells the tale of two homeless young lovers who discover that forgiveness, gratitude, and love can be the keys to navigating life’s most challenging circumstances.
Two lifelong musicians in their 60s who met by chance when they moved to the same neighbourhood on the central California coast, Armand and Julian, have taken very different paths to the present moment. Julian began his career as a London-based keyboardist and is an accomplished, lifelong music industry veteran, while Armand worked professionally as an environmental scientist in the U.S. and stayed involved in music as a part-time musician and songwriter. Armand and Julian formed a strong bond through their shared passion for music and their painful yet hopeful life experiences of surviving cancer. The two rhythmic alt-pop collaborators found inspiration within the harmony of their respective life journeys and a mutual interest in musical innovation.
In the latest of our Fahrenheit V13 series, V13 sat down and chatted with Armand Ruby about the books he loves, his favourite authors, preferred reading habits, and more.
What book has made the most impact on you as a person?
Armand Ruby: “Such a tough question…so I decided the top three would be Man As Symphony of the Creative Word, a compilation of lectures by Rudolf Steiner, Be Here Now by Ram Dass, and Gaia by James Lovelock.
“If I have to pick one…I guess it is Be Here Now. Reading that book in my early 20s acted as a ‘trim tab’ (nod to Buckminster Fuller) to redirect my life’s course in a direction that allowed for the real, legitimate possibility of a plausible spiritual reality. This came at an important time during my recovery from a Catholic upbringing, averting my turning towards an Ayn-Randian materialism. [There are more juicy bits to that story, best left for another time.]
“Then I recalled that about 10 years ago, I put together a list of the ten books that have most impacted my life. So I looked at it again just now, and it turns out my thinking is substantially the same now as then. The older list has (to my mind) interesting breadth – but interestingly, just one work of fiction* (and no Atlas Shrugged!) among them:
1) Man As Symphony of the Creative Word – Rudolf Steiner
2) Be Here Now – Ram Dass
3) I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression – Terrence Real
4) Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth – James Lovelock
5) Spiritual Midwifery – Ina May Gaskin
6) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Wolfe
7) To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
8) Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
9) The Story of My Experiments with Truth – Mohandas K. Gandhi
10) Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
*which is interesting because, as you’ll see in my next answer, my favorite writers are all fiction writers!”
Who are your favourite writers?
“As opposed to my first answer, which reflects back through my several decades of reading, my favorite writers are those I’ve been reading in the past several years; this may well reflect a recency bias – but perhaps not. I dunno; it’s too much work to try to figure that out.
“At the very top of my list of favorite writers: Abraham Verghese. I think I may have cried when I finished reading Cutting for Stone, just because it was over. My daughter just gifted me his new book, The Covenant of Water, which I will dive into as soon as I finish the latest Edward Rutherford tome I’ve been reading (The Princes of Ireland) – which hopefully coincides with my wife finishing reading The Covenant of Water! I also read Verghese’s first book, My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story (non-fiction), in which I think he was finding his voice as a writer (he’s a medical doctor by profession).
“Second place: Leif Enger. In Virgil Wander, the writing is so delightfully delicious I felt nourished just by the reading; I found myself stopping to relish some phrases. Yum! [OK, I’ll stop!!] I also enjoyed his first novel, Peace Like a River.
“After that, it becomes nearly impossible to choose, so here is a splattering:
Jeanine Cummins. American Dirt opened my eyes – and heart – to the plight of Latin American refugees in devastatingly new ways. I particularly admire Cummins’ ability to tell someone else’s story artfully, passionately, personally. Cummins is a gringa but you’d never know it from the reading. The historical novelists – like Rutherford – are also adept at this, but American Dirt is exceptionally, powerfully personal. As a perpetually housed person who has written a stage play and now a screenplay based around a homeless shelter, I appreciate this talent.
William Kent Kruger: Where the Crawdads Sing and This Tender Land; compelling story-telling.
Aminatta Forna: I’ve only read Happiness, which is a wonderful blending of the mysteries of the human and animal (fox) realms.
Gregory David Roberts: Shantaram was a great and wild ride; hard to put down; a sprawling yet continually engaging novel. I am less a fan of the sequel, The Mountain Shadow.
Anthony Doerr: I’ve read only All the Light We Cannot See, but that’s enough to land him on this list.”
Which book series do you think deserves a proper screen adaptation? Who would you want to play the main characters? Which artists would do the soundtracks?
“Either Virgil Wander (Enger) or This Tender Land (Kruger) could make wonderful feature films for different reasons. Mark Ruffalo or Ethan Hawke or maybe Ben Affleck could make a character study of Virgil Wander. Lots of soundtrack possibilities for that, maybe including Ed Sheeran, Sara Bareilles, Karmic Neighborhood…”
“This Tender Land is a story that should be told visually in my opinion; it would star newcomers as the Native American boys in an inhospitable world.”
What book do lots of other people enjoy that you just can’t stand?
“The Outlander series. I haven’t read much of it due to lack interest – and speaking of screen versions, I found the TV series to be awful, unwatchable.”
How often do you find or make time to read? Are you paperback, hardcover, or ebook?
“Nightly. Paperback and hardcover.”
Have you read any musical biographies? If so, any favorites?
“Perhaps surprisingly, this hasn’t been a significant literary interest, although I have a feeling I’m forgetting one or two I may have read in the dark and distant past. I did enjoy Jewel’s autobiography, and I have Bruce Springsteen’s in the queue. Not for its literary chops, but because I know the author and one of the other characters and found the book at times illuminating and amusing, I’ll mention Rolling with Rock Royalty by Brian Chatton.”
What’s the best part of reading for you? What’s your ideal reading setup?
“I particularly love two things, which can sometimes – but don’t necessarily – combine in the same book: losing myself in a story and learning about other places and peoples. I do love reading historical novels before traveling to the place I’m reading about. My ideal setup is in a chair in the shade with my feet up – but usually, I’m lying prone in bed.”
What was the most memorable book from your childhood?
“Earlier childhood: A Wrinkle in Time; later childhood: To Kill a Mockingbird”