The Singing Shrink
08/29/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
SHHH. DON'T TELL MICK JAGGER, but rock and roll is no guaranteed fountain of youth. Just look at Arthur Brown. With his sparse locks and salt-and-pepper beard, Brown is no longer the wild-eyed dervish who declared himself the "god of hellfire" on his 1968 No. 2 gold single, "Fire."
He has changed his tune as well. During his 1993 tour of his native England, Brown, 52, hung up the metal helmet he used to ignite at the end of shows. And his life now involves soothing the savage beast rather than rousing it.
With licensed counselor Jim Maxwell, Brown has started Healing Songs Therapy, a kind of one-stop counseling program in Austin, Texas, that deals with everything from substance abuse to depression—through music. After sitting in on a 50-minute session with Maxwell and a patient, Brown writes a song based on the discussion, then presents a tape to the client. "He hears things that I might miss," says Maxwell. "Things come out in the songs that surprise everybody." Adds Brown: "Once I picked up on what someone had never said to an absent father. As I sang, it allowed him to experience something he'd never allowed himself to even think."
That particular tune hit close to home. Last summer Brown reunited with his long-lost son, Julian, whom he and his first wife, Jeannette, put up for adoption shortly after his birth in 1964. "We were both very young and didn't feel capable of undertaking parenthood," Brown says. "There was a lot of guilt and regret. A certain numbness, too." But after Julian, now 30, tracked his father down through the adoption agency and relatives in London, he was stunned to learn that he was Arthur Brown, rock musician. Brown, in turn, remembers feeling "like I was being forgiven by the universe."
Now that his life is "connected in a way that had been shut off," Brown feels more qualified to help heal others. He and Maxwell are up to ten $100 sessions a month and expect the business to catch on. That's good news after some frustrating years. The youngest son of Peter Brown, a London airline navigator, and his wife, Monica, a laboratory food analyst, Brown began taking music seriously in 1965, the year he graduated from England's Reading University with a bachelor's degree in philosophy. But his first success would prove hard to top. He had a string of sequels to "Fire" that sold modestly only in Europe and a small role in the 1975 film Tommy. With Brown's prospects dimming, he moved his family—second wife Salima, now 44, a legal assistant Brown married in 1976, and their son Ali, 17—from London in 1980 to Austin, which had become the site of a vibrant music scene. There he struggled during the '80s, supplementing his income from local gigs with house painting. "I had a lot of anger, like, 'There must be something else I can do,' he recalls.
Salima suggested he pursue a graduate degree in counseling, and he enrolled at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos in 1990 to do just that. At a 1992 pregraduation party Brown performed a song he had composed that included references to everyone present. A professor was so impressed by the ditty he urged Brown to put his musical talent to higher use. "So I decided I was going to rededicate my life to music," says Brown. Shortly afterward he and fellow SWT graduate Maxwell became partners. In addition, Brown now conducts popular music-therapy seminars in the Austin area, teaching students how to ease tension through music and movement. He supplements his income with donations and a private investor "who has kindly been keeping me afloat."
Through it all, Brown has never stopped rocking. He began another tour of Europe in May and plans to release his still-untitled 17th album later this year on Justice Records. And though he'll never be Dad to his oldest son—"It's like having a friend but obviously with an extra something," says Julian—the future couldn't be brighter. "I'm only just starting to do some real stuff," says Brown. "My life is beginning to flower."
STEVE LEVIN in Austin