Songs are formed from the threads that weave their way through our lives. Pulled from the fibers of our being and woven into a collection of beats and bars to tell a unique story, songs are the histories of our lives and one of the finest musical storytellers from the last few years is Darryl Purpose.
Much like artists such as Jo Kroger, who used her experiences of love to pen Simplest, Purpose’s first single, Right Side of Zero (1996) was a narrative fuelled by his time as a blackjack player in Las Vegas (as the opening line “Springtime sunrise on a warm dessert morning” illustrates).
In fact, since his maiden release, songs such as Ghost of Crazy Horse (2012) and Dangerous Game (1996) (see video below) have not only captured the imagination of Americans because of Purpose’s subtle tones, but because of the messages they contain.
When you scroll through Purpose’s discography, you’ll see that he’s released seven albums – including Right Side of Zero (1996), Same River Twice (1997) and Travelers’ Code (1999) – you can see that allusions to the gambling world abound.
Using Blackjack Beats to Inspire Musical Beats
By far one of the biggest influences on Purpose’s musical career was his time as a blackjack professional. A proficient player before it was trendy to go online, Purpose was regarded as one of the best in the world prior to giving it all up to become an activist of sorts. Joining a variety of social awareness movements, Purpose literally found a purpose in life beyond blackjack. However, blackjack remained a constant in both his life and his music.
Indeed, Purpose began exploring his ideals through music and began to weave his life as a gambler into his moral outlook on life and society.
Gambling with a Purpose
One of the biggest influences on Purpose’s blackjack career and one of the reasons he was able to become a member of the game’s Hall of Fame was Edward O. Thorp.
A professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Thorp used his knowledge of numbers to work as a hedge fund manager, invent the first wearable computer in 1955 and pen one of the definitive books on blackjack: Beat the Dealer (1962).
That book not only became a global hit, but it earned Thorp a place in the Blackjack Hall of Fame alongside many of the most notable blackjack players in history. It was this very book that first inspired Purpose to become a blackjack player after his mother gave him a copy as a Christmas present when he was 16.
This childhood gift served as the catalyst for a career that saw Purpose win hundreds of thousands of dollars at the table and, eventually, earned him a place in the very same Hall of Fame in 2009, along with the author of Beat the Dealer.
Music’s Give and Take
Of all his life experiences, Purpose has often cited his blackjack career as the fuel for much of his music. However, as any artist would admit, the creative process is a reciprocal one that involves give and take – and Purpose certainly used his love of music to inspire his own emotions before he turned to inspiring others.
Indeed, Purpose didn’t simply draw on his experience at the blackjack tables to fuel his creativity. Instead, he used it in his previous career as a way to focus his mind. Like all games of skill, blackjack not only requires an acute sense of timing, but it involves a host of numerical processes and one of the best ways to focus the mind is to block out the world using melodic chords.
Whether it’s the sounds of Purpose or any other musician, music has been scientifically proven to help improve your focus. According to a study by the Wake Forest School of Medicine and the University of North Carolina Greensboro, MRI scans showed that participant’s brain activities increased when they listened to music. Moreover, when participants listened to their favorite musical genre, whether it was classic or pop, their internally focused thoughts (known technically as the default mode network in our brains) increased at an even greater rate.
From the online blackjack player grinding to the James Bond-style gambler in Las Vegas, music is a great way to focus the mind on all the skills and strategies espoused by the likes of Thorpe and his peers.
A Life’s Work in Song
Purpose clearly identified this connection between thoughts, emotions and focus early on in his life as many other artists since have done (Tom Lowe’s EP Phone was a tribute to his phone).
Indeed, for any aspiring blackjack player or musician there’s a lot to learn from Purpose. Whether it’s the way he’s used his experience to inspire his music or how he used music to inspire parts of his life, Purpose has shown that music is as much of a catalyst for life as it is a result of it.
Of course, Purpose is more than a blackjack player, but what’s clear from his life and career is that blackjack had a profound effect on his music. Indeed, you only have to listen to Dreams of Life or Right Side of Zero (see video below) to hear the undertones of a life lived on the edge.
The unpredictably and rush of emotions that one goes through at the blackjack table is often likened to the sensations an adrenaline junkie gets when they leap out of a plane at 10,000ft. Fear, trepidation, excitement and relief are all emotions Purpose would have gone through in his career and they’re all emotions present in his music.
While there’s no doubt the tapestry of his life as a whole helped shape his music, the threads that stretch back to the blackjack table are certainly the threads that bind his work together. For those wanting a new musical experience with a familiar tone, Purpose’s songs are certainly worth a listen.