Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Is This Weird?

[geologic strata of musick]

I don't care if it is...but...

I'm phoning in from a parallel universe of being sick as a dog, delirious...
missing work!!! which I don't do...see the Bicycle Races post...They Need Me.

but...I'm sittin' up, past muh bedtime, listenin yet agin tuh "Potato Head Blues" and thinkin:

there seem to be a few primary places I reliably and intensely experience God...Kali...my Higher Power...She Who.

And one of these places is in pop music. I wonder if anything, save a beautiful woman, can be more perfect than a perfect pop song...I was playing The Smiths' "Cemetry Gates" over and over again today...

(If there's a good song, I will play it again and again, especially when I'm writing. I learned years ago that this is a habit I share with the late, great Andy Warhol, who in the early 1960s would paint whilst playing the same 45 ad infinitum...which explains a good deal, I think, about Campbell's Soup cans if not about my own inimitable prose.)

A few songs I've done this with:

"Girl's Got Rhythm"--AC/DC
"When Will I Be Loved?"--Linda Rondstadt
"Magnet and Steel"--Walter Egan
"Sad Waters"--Nick Cave
"She's Not There"--Santana
"In My Time of Dying"--Led Zeppelin
"The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead"--XTC
"More Than a Feeling"--Boston
"Dig Me Out"--Sleater-Kinney
"Silly Love Songs"--Wings
"Rock and Roll Doctor"--Little Feat
"Kentucky Rain"--Elvis Presley
"Rainy Night in Georgia"--Brook Benton

[In approximately ascending order of perfection...the last two are the most perfectly produced songs in pop history, save possibly "A Day In the Life"...oh! and "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," which despite cowbell calumnies I've been playing over and over of late...]

A pop song on auto-repeat tingles the brain's dopamine reward system as surely as drags on a crack pipe (maybe more subtly; certainly more cheaply). And I'm longing for that brain-honey-sizzle now as my body rebels painfully 'gainst whatever virus I've imbibed in my thoughtless, aimless, promiscuous breathing...quaffing the kind nepenthe of Ralph Ellison's essays yet...needing more...

...a dear e-card from Sophia...some chicken salad from that notoriously sensual gourmet store down the way...lying in bed much of the day, with kitties and Laura, thinking about Nothing, pure Nothing...in the middle of the day--

--now Billie Holiday's asking "why not take all of me?" and--I don't know--why not?

[some of this is plagiarised--]

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Inquiring Minds Don't Want to Know

I used to subscribe to The Skeptical Inquirer, but it became clear pretty quickly that skepticism was the last thing on most of the writers' minds...if we define "skepticism" in a manner harmonious with, say, the Oxford English Dictionary: "doubt or incredulity as to the truth of some assertion or supposed fact....disposition to doubt or incredulity in general."

It's the "in general" that trips up inquiring wanna-be skeptics everywhere, from CSICOP to Daniel Dennett--the latter exposed in a recent book review worthy of H. L. Mencken. Anyone interested in science, religion, or both should read this...or if you just enjoy a good piss-taking now and again; the reviewer, Leon Wieseltier, comes out swinging and doesn't let up, like a Muhammad Ali of vituperation, fearing not the cowardly norms of "civility" and "fairness."

As a science nut who also happens to be a religious fanatic (or is it the other way around?), I get frustrated by self-proclaimed "rationalists" who can't reason their way out of soggy fish-and-chip papers--as, apparently, does Mr. Wieseltier:

"Dennett lives in a world in which you must believe in the grossest biologism or in the grossest theism, in a purely naturalistic understanding of religion or in intelligent design, in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in 19th-century England or in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in the sky."

My attitude towards fundamentalists, new-age suckers, and we-are-the-world namby-pambies resides somewhere quite beyond contempt (especially for the violent end of the spectrum, the pro-life killers and cartoon rioters), and I fear, loathe, and wish for the late-Jurassic die-off of the believe-or-else types at least as fervently as does Dennett. Then again, Dennett (and Dawkins, and--) have always displayed an odd inability to articulate a persuasive alternative to or even argue well with religious pinheadosity. (For an example of someone who does argue well with religious pinheads, vide Thomas Paine.)

Wieseltier scoffs at Dennett's use of the term "brights," humorously and then profoundly. Here is Dennett's definition of the term from his op-ed piece "The Bright Stuff":

"A bright is a person with a naturalist as opposed to a supernaturalist world view. We brights don't believe in ghosts or elves or the Easter Bunny--or God. We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of beliefs about morality, politics and the meaning of life, but we share a disbelief in black magic--and life after death."

I guess I'm a "dark"...someone who worships the Dark Mother; who likes dark days and darker nights; who is, in fact, nocturnal; who isn't afraid of uncertainty; who can't for the life of me postulate a workable opposition of "natural" to "supernatural;" who is constitutionally unwilling and unable to "believe" and who would rather practice (a religion, a world-view, a life, a love) and see what happens...I am someone who bases his certainty about scientism's absurdity not upon an inclination towards "mystery" or "the unexplained," but upon the indisputable fact that there have existed and continue to exist an arbitrarily high number of contradictory philosophies that explain the world equally well.

Not equally "emprically," but empiricals reside mainly in instruments and interpretations; all philosophies, all views of the world ground themselves in some set of observables--and all views of the world necessarily ignore or "bracket" some other set of observables.

(Science doesn't? How many data was Newton willing to ignore to maintain his bond with alchemy? How many data was Einstein willing to throw out to maintain his opposition to quantum mechanics? How many people have you heard quote Einstein's faux-skeptical proclamation that "God does not play dice"? And how many times have you heard quoted Niels Bohr's genuinely skeptical [alleged] riposte--that one shouldn't presume to tell a Deity how to run His or Her universe?)

Bohr, less apocryphally, also remarked to someone surprised to see a horseshoe nailed up over a door in the physicist's house, "I heard it worked whether you believe in it or not." This is the essence of empiricism. Or, as a woman said to me at the Al-Anon convention I attended yesterday, after a rather disagreeably fundamentalist prologue: "I guess I believe in God because I've noticed my life works a lot better that way."

I would never tell You what to believe, Dear Reader...believe only what your True Will dictates...but don't reject any unknowns untried...don't conclude your study before viewing the data.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Phenomenology of the Electric Guitar, Part II

Once upon a time, in a letter to grigorss, I tried to pontificate 'pon the phenomenology of the electric guitar...to verbally trace the unsayable synaptic lightning-strikes of sound struck by those vibratoed, fuzzy, bee-buzzing notes...

OK, dude? I'm listening to the first Black Sabbath record...?

and that shit rocks the universe?

the Best Guitar Sound, though, is "Wheels of Confusion" on Black Sabbath Volume IV...somehow the coal-dust-covered englishman Tony Iommi makes his axe wail with all the epic ancient pain of Homer, Blues, Inferno...and that's just the first note...and this may sound random and infra-canonical, but you know who else's guitar sounds totally rad?

that guy from AC/DC.

he plays a Gibson SG, and I used to own one of those, but mine never produced all those harmonics...like, seriously, if you listen to the intro to "You Shook Me All Night Long"?...do it! I know it's "just" AC/DC! but do it anyway...and you hear all those harmonics coming off the melody?--it's all fuzzed out, but each note sounds like it's really three notes? that's cool. then listen to "Night Prowler"--same thing.

and I'll tell you something else.

you know how I mentioned "Potato Head Blues" by Louis Armstrong? the song that's really the first jazz song? because he shifts the focus from "let's dance" to "let's listen to the godlike peal of the instrumental genius as he turns the melody inside out and riffs all these microtonal, dissonant runs"? and I called it "cubist" trumpet playing?

well, you have to listen to Santana's version of "She's Not There." that old Zombies song that sucked when The Zombies did it. (that's called an "instant coffee" cover version; the original is dried, icky powder, and someone comes along and pours hot inspiration all over it and it comes alive. LIKE...I hate to say, because I like The Kinks, Van Halen's version of "You Really Got Me." or [another shameful admission] the version of "Brother Louie" by Stories, which blows away the original by Hot Chocolate...who were not a bad band by any stretch..."You Sexy Thing" and all that--)

so anyway, Santana, "She's Not There"...you listen to that guitar solo: if Satch is Juan Gris on "Potato," Carlos is Lucas Samaras on "She's"...maximalist...a little jewel box with a million silver straight pins sticking out of it...density of collapsed stars; someone once said the music of the future would contain as much information in one note as an entire Mozart symphony--they meant: enough juxtaposed, unexpected tonal différance...

and this is the first solo in "She's Not There." (the second solo's a separate epic.) he's not playing on any known scale because all scales are dead...he's playing the death of Cambodian multitudes, the death of his own childhood, the renewal in infinite sadness of hopeful love--

you can listen to it 1000 times and hear something new. I have. the guitar speaks, shrieks with all the longing of your naked inmost heart when no one could hear...the six strings draw blood, draw neural nets of winter tree chaos: beauty on blank blue skies...

and I'm not even going to bother to graph the Birthday Party's dark-moon guitar, or Sleater's interlocked strontium strum...

Sunday, February 5, 2006


At some point today after waking up and realizing that it was just a dream, that I really didn't have an all-important bicycle race looming in my future, I picked up the latest issue of Yoga International, one of several magazines I subscribe to even though I don't have time to read them. But...I had to have something to peruse while I drank my coffee, and I opened to a book excerpt by someone calling herself Gangaji and man, could I grok what she had to say:

"the meditation practice perpetuated by most people in the world is this: 'I am this body, I am these thoughts, I am these emotions.' There may be breaks where some kind of formal meditation is practiced, but then it's back to the strongest practice: 'This is me, I am this body, these are my wants, this is what I have to have, this is what I don't have.'"

She goes on to say that this "me meditation" is "a meditation of suffering. Because it is so widespread, it is overlooked. It is thought of not as a practice, but as reality."

Italics mine. Mine because, dammit, Laura has lately been trying to talk, shock, jolt, tease, argue, scare, joke, love me out of intensive me-meditation. I'm getting better about it, but...

Gangaji sounds like an advaitin, and I admire advaitins and have learnt a fair bit from them, especially Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and of course my dearest Lord Sri Ramakrishna, the advaitin Who disguised Himself as a bhakta. But it's the bhakti that keeps me coming back for more, as I'm not smart enough for advaita (although later I'll tell you about an advaita practice I improvised to help myself ignore shin splints while walking).

My guru says that bhakti and advaita and ritualistic religion all lead to the same union with God...and I'm trusting Her, and trusting Laura, Who once showed me the Brahman in branch tips, in gravel, in sun-scorched grass, in me...not "me," you understand, but...me.

Bicycle Races Are Coming Your Way...

I went to bed in a very bad mood. I had been writing a depresso/tragique blog post; I had allowed myself to get very upset at very familiar alcoholic behavior, and then had allowed myself to get upset at my own response to the behavior, and was on the verge of getting upset by my response to the response when a still-developing reflex kicked in and I just let myself fall, fall--into the black night, into Laura's arms, into peace, begging my Angel "Save me, save me."

Laura has her own transhuman set of priorities. I could tell She found the circumstances surrounding my anguish quaint and amusing, though She accepted the anguish as something separate to be addressed quickly, efficiently, with a loving eye towards frames of reference longer than the next 5 seconds. I felt like the boy who's fallen off his bike, allowing himself to be distracted into believing, as his mom cleanses his scraped knee, that his recent collision with the pavement just might not stand forever as the most catastrophic event of his entire life.

So--wrapped in her wings (her chubby arms) (my imagination of an ideal love) (a neural feedback loop I've created over years of meditation) I fell asleep, rather than lie there fuming...in itself a minor miracle. Early this morning I had a dream which I can only call an "overcommitment dream," much as one has school dreams (you're 40, but you remember that calculus class you haven't attended all term) or wish-fulfillment dreams (you're marrying that unattainable perfect One on the field in Candlestick Park while simultaneously pitching a no-hitter)...

in this dream, it was a Sunday afternoon and I knew that sometime in the next few hours I was to participate in a relay bicycle race. Our opponents were tough and I was slotted into a crucial part of the race: Everyone Was Counting On Me, the codependent's dream/nightmare. There were the usual dream-dystopia details: I didn't have the right kind of bicycle shorts, I wasn't sure of the route (other than it was 50 miles long)...and I wasn't sure when the race started.

This important bit of information, I was pretty sure, could wait until I'd taken a walk to limber up. I was very worried about leg cramps and knew I hadn't been stretching like I needed to. As I went out to walk, I ran into an Al-Anon friend, who asked about the race, and for some reason this prompted me to run back inside my house and find the starting time. Which turned out to be two hours ago.

Now I was a failure. Worthless. I'd Let Everyone Down. I hated myself. If there was something stronger and more negative than hate, I would have thatted myself. But as I sat around dejected in the kitchen with my Al-Anon friend, she reminded me "You know that class you took with me? That you failed? You just took it in stride. You didn't come to me whining about how you neeeeeded to pass." (In real life, this person doesn't teach any classes, but used to work as an RN; does this mean I'm "failing" (outgrowing) being a compulsive caretaker?)

And I thought, "Shit, yeah--I'm too old to be in a goddam bicycle race. What was I thinking? And what's so horrible about screwing up once in a while?" In fact, being a failure was suddenly a huge relief, not just in the sense of missing out on a 50-mile road race, but in the new way I was seeing my life: as my life. Through which I'd walk or ride wearing no number and fearing no Or Else. That dream gave me such a sense of relief I happily got right out bed afterwards, to face the day--though it was an unthinkable hour.

And now I'm sitting here listening to Louis Armstrong's cubist solo in "Potato Head Blues" from about 1926, the solo that many think created jazz as we know it...I'm feeling brand new; my knees are fine, I'm drinking some Oaxaca and eating dates and pecans and wondering if it'll snow tomorrow and I'll be forced to miss work and sit around reading H. P. Lovecraft. And let down some co-workers...and fall behind...well, worse things happen at sea.