Jimi Hendrix in Life Magazine, 3 Oct 1969
Pretend your mind is a big muddy bowl and the silt is very slowly settling down, but remember your mind’s still muddy and you can’t possibly grasp all I’m saying.
Music is going to break the way. There’ll be a day when houses will be made of diamonds and emeralds which won’t have any value anymore and they’d last longer in a rainstorm than a wooden house. Bullets’ll be fairy tales. They’ll be a renaissance from bad to completely pure and good, from lost to found. The everyday mud world we’re living in today compared to the spiritual world is like a parasite compared to the ocean and the ocean is the biggest living thing you know about. One way to approach the spiritual side is facing the truth. People who make a lot of money, they get sadder and sadder ‘cause deep down they feel a hurt. So they go and buy a prostitute on Saturday and go to church on Sunday and pray down on the ground in a little salt box, hearing another man who has the same problems preach, and the collection plate keeps going around and around. That man thinks he’s found religion but he gets hurt more and more because he’s not going toward the spiritual side which is the way the atmosphere is.
Atmospheres are going to come through music because music is in a spiritual thing of its own. It’s like the waves of the ocean. You can’t just cut out the perfect wave and take it home with you. It’s constantly moving all the time. It is the biggest thing electrifying the earth. Music and motion are all part of the race of man.
I don’t think what I say is abstract. It’s reality. What’s unreal is all those people living in cement beehives with no color and making themselves look like their gig and slaving themselves for that one last dollar and crying with millions in their pockets and constantly playing war games and making bets. They’re losing themselves in big ego scenes and being above another man in some kind of form. Look at the pimps and the congressmen. But I can explain everything better through music. You hypnotize people to where they go right back to their natural state which is pure positive - like in childhood when you got natural highs. And when you get poeple at their weakest point, you can preach into the subconscious what we want to say. That’s why the name “electric church” flashes in and out.
People want release any kind of way nowadays. The idea is to release in the proper form. Then they’ll feel like going into another world, a clearer world. The music flows from the air; that’s why I can connect with a spirit, and when they come down off this natural high, they see clearer, feel different things, don’t think of pain and hurting the next person. You think of getting your own thing together. You can’t be lazy. You have to look at all the faults you have.
There’s no telling how many lives your spirit will go through, die and be reborn. Like my mind will go back in the days when I was a flying horse. Before I can remember anything, I can remember music and stars and planets. I could go to sleep and write 15 symphonies. I had very strange feelings that I was here for something and I was going to get a chance to be heard. I got the guitar together ‘cause that was all I had. I used to be really lonely. A musician, if he’s a messenger, is like a child who hasn’t been handled too many times by man, hasn’t had too many fingerprints across the brain. That’s why music is so much heavier than anything you ever felt.
from “Thyrsis”, Idyll 1 of Theocritus, trans. J.M. Edmonds (source)
I wonder if this is a precursor of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.
…if you but sing as you sang that day in the match with Chromis of Libya, I’ll not only grant you three milkings of a twinner goat that for all her two young yields two pailfuls, but I’ll give you a fine great mazer to boot, well scoured with sweet beeswax, and of two lugs, bran-span-new and the smack of he graver upon it yet.
The lip of it is hanged about with curling ivy, ivy freakedwith a cassidonywhich goes twisting and twining among the leaves in the pride of her saffron fruitage. And within this bordure there’s a woman, fashioned as a god might fashion her, lapped in a robe and snood about her head. And either side the woman a swain with fair and flowing locks, and they bandy words the one with the other. Yet her heart is not touched by aught they say; for now ‘tis a laughing glance to this, and anon a handful of regard to that, and for all their eyes have been so long hollow for love of her, they spend their labour in vain. Besides these there’s an old fisher wrought on’t and a rugged rock, and there stands gaffer gathering up his great net for a cast with a right good will like one that toils might and main. You would say that man went about his fishing with all the strength o’s limbs, he stands every sinew in his neck, for all his grey hairs, puffed and swollen; for his strength is the strength of youth. And but a little removed from master Weather-beat there’s a vineyard well laden with clusters red to the ripening, and a little lad seated watching upon a hedge. And on either side of him two foxes; this ranges to and fro along the rows and pilfers all such grapes as be ready for eating, while that setteth all his cunning at the lad’s wallet, and vows he will not let him be till he have set him breaking his fastwith but poor victuals to his drink. And all the time the urchin’s got star-flower-stalks a-platting to a reed for to make him a pretty gin for locusts, and cares never so much, not he, for his wallet or his vines as he takes pleasure in his platting. And for an end, mark you, spread all about he cup goes the lissom bear’s-foot, a sight worth the seeing with its writhen leaves; ‘tis a marvellous work, ‘twill amaze your heart.
Now for that cup a ferryman of Calymnus had a goat and a gallant great cheese-loaf of me, and never yet hath it touched my lip; it still lies unhandselled by. Yet right welcome to it art thou, if like a good fellow thou’lt sing me that pleasing and delightful song. Nay, not so; I am in right earnest. To’t, good friend; sure thou wilt not be hoarding that song against thou be’st come where all’s forgot?
Always Be Prepared
This describes a case in which no single component of a system is faulty, yet the system as a whole fails due to unforeseen complex interactions between the parts. An example is an airplane crash, in which various human and mechanical errors are all within required tolerances for failure, yet they compound in an unpredictable manner.
This is a case in which individuals make rational choices to maximize their profits from a shared resource, thereby as a group irrationally depleting the resource. An example is the processed food industry, in which each company creates the most delicious but unhealthy foods, in fear of its competitors taking the market in its absence. The consumers gradually become less healthy, so that the very market itself is risked.
This describes a situation in which a person receives contradictory demands, typically from different and competing levels of duty. A soldier needs to kill in order to follow orders or save his friends’ lives, yet is commanded not to kill by his society’s customs and his religious tenets.
This describes the “membrane” during the heart of a rite of passage. When a child becomes an adult, there is a point when the person is no longer a child, but not yet an adult. During this instability there are no understood rules of behavior or moral codes, so that if the rite is not completed, the intitiate is lost. Modernity as “permanent liminality”.
This is the obvious point at which to direct attention when no other more immediate draw or direction is present. Noon, the Capitol, Grand Central Station, the hotel bar, 1st and Main Street, the Ace of Spades, Labrador Retriever, Ball-point Pen, “asdf”, Paris (then London, now New York). “Each person’s expectation of what the other expects him to expect to be expected to do” - Thomas Schelling.
An Unfinished Wall
a fable by Brian Brock
from Silent Night
A scientist, an atheist, of some possible future when atheism is nearly universal, travels back in time and finds that his craft is taken for the star in the East. He realizes that although he is no infant, he is the historical figure upon which the biblical Jesus is based.
He considers that his very future existence depends on the action of the Christian faith over thousands of years, regardless of his own understanding. If this faith goes unrealized, his entire family tree will be regrown in patterns which create some other man. To live, he must present a Jesus to these assembled shepherds and other followers. In his Jesus must be found the heart of Christianity.
Panicked, searching his brain for information about Jesus, he comes up with scraps of miracles and parables. In no way able to turn water into wine, he is at a loss even to picture a mustard seed, much less find truth in it. He grows depressed.
The disciples worry for him, but don’t waver in their faith, surprising the scientist. Yet, he is certain they will waver. He knows he can never perform a miracle. As he doubts, his intellect founders, drawing him deeper into despondency. He does not fear for the world without Christ, but for himself without History.
In a strange room, dark with night, reaching for a light switch but feeling only the splinters of an unfinished wall, one can only sit down quietly and wait for sunrise. Hopeless, he stops being Jesus Christ. He is just Jesus, a man building a meager woodworker’s life in Galilee.
Yet still his friends follow him. He peers in their eyes and sees wells of pure water cut into solid earth. Their faith in him grows ever stronger, even as his woodworking turns out barely better than his miracle-working. One or two may well even detest him, but yet they remain.
He takes their faith as his model. These disciples, as aware as he of his undoing of prophecy, beckon him not from an observation point, but from the thick of life. His failure, an immeasurable disaster on his terms, is to them merely a blemish on the divine.
In this realization he becomes Son of God, and the story ends with this resurrection of faith in the faithless.
“language is the dew on a fresh apple - it’s the soft rain of dust that falls onto a shaft of morning light as you pluck from an old bookshelf a half-forgotten book of erotic memoirs”
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie
Here is some music which particularly struck me over the last dozen months. I also recently began making a list of effective albums.
Micachu and the Shapes released “Never” in 2012, a slab of classic British songwriting and impish self-indulgence that lives up to epithets like “dissonant”, “difficult”, “divisive”, and “diunbelievably dimazing”. The second-to-last song, “Nothing” is an easy candidate for song of the year, though I doubt that Micachu has access to any such ballots. The grinding symphonic howl drives the proud self-maceration of the lyrics into a strangely sweet corner of bliss. What really perfects the song, though, is that it’s preceded by the fluid droop of “Fall”, and moves off as the album ends with “Nowhere”, a kind of gleeful embrace of the panic you feel after being bitten by a rabid duck.
I had a super-good time listening to Idoli’s album Odbrana i Poslednji Dani. Idoli’s a Yugoslav band from the early 80’s I hadn’t heard before.
I attended two performances by the students of the Taos Opera Institute (taosoi.org). Each student sang one aria. The identities of the students and their arias was only briefly touched on before they sang, there was no program. They were divided up according to whether their opera’s language was Italian, German, French, or English. Their youth and inexperience added another variable into the jumble of stylistic and compositional intentions in the pieces. The English pleased me the most, with a mixture of Handel and 20th Century composers in both the severe and the popular modern traditions of composition.
“I Am the Wife of Mao-Tse Tung” by John Adams from his opera Nixon in China. The singer was perhaps the best of the group, beaming deadly confidence and inhabiting the character entirely. The climax of the aria was brilliantly sung, when Mao’s wife Jiang Qing badgers, “I speak according to the book I speak according to the book I speak according to the book - the book the book the book the booooo-OOOOK!”. The final syllable is of course the high note, which filled the Taos Plaza where the second performance happened almost as much as the first’s Episcopalian church.
“Ain’t it a Pretty Night” by Carlisle Floyd from Susannah, in two performances. One student sang it as if possessed, her mind roving over the veiled rolling night hills of a forgotten South, feeling the world-defying doom of the outcast girl - frankly it was better than Renee Fleming’s performance linked above. The other singer, who performed it a bit later, may have never witnessed a pretty night, much less the broken world that night conceals.
Mignon’s “Je Suis Titania” was brightly chirped to break through the relative tedium of French opera, while the German was heavily baritoned by Wagner and Straussed Salome-fully.
There was a terrific performance of an Italian Mozart aria, probably “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!”
I watched this sort-of music video called “The Sad Robot” a lot. I probably watched it a couple dozen times.
I listened to a bunch of tornado sirens. There’s a whole subculture devoted to basically anything, of course, and the tornado siren video-recording people have a certain stubborn union of foible and forte for capturing a siren atop its pole, stark against the sky. Click on these all at once for maximum tornadishness. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLoJroUbqjU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdk4a-PmuM8 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9wuwv7j-KE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLL9G-IeCwk This one has a bit of context, which is nice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lu56Wgz3hdE
I fixated on Gagaku, a traditional court music of Japan, for a while. Slow, deliberate, buzzing, listening to it is like listening to the smallest hairs deep in your ear canal.
Jim Metzner’s mid-70’s compilation of Bahia Brasil field recordings, reissued in 2005 as “BAHIA: Traditional Music and Moments of Brazil”, became my new favorite album. It’s quite like the soundtrack to Black Orpheus, the great 1959 Brasilian retelling of the Orpheus story with music by Jobim and Bonfá, but Metzner’s Brasil breathes like real life.
We wander up to a church in Itaparica. Inside, “women and children scrub the floor with brush and water, while outside a battery of drummers ‘washes’ the church down with Samba.” A couple of guitarists, both named “Sinhozinho” play, one accompaning a musical saw which is struck by a screwdriver.
It’s a world captured in a few minutes of sound, a great album.
The word “pied”, meaning mottled in appearance, as in a “piebald” horse whose “baldness” or whiteness is slurried by black (if a color other than black, we say “skewbald”), seems to be an odd sort of past participle formed from the verb “to pie”, which itself is not in use. To be clear, we do use one verb “to pie” when performing a stunt of repurposed dessert upon the face of a person, but there is a prior verbing of “pie”, devoted to that which is dappled, brindled, spotted or stippled.
While for example a banana cream pie may seem to have a certain variegated deliciousness, and if used to pie a person’s face the pied beauty of the pie would be transferred to the person, the noun in question supplying as derivative the fictitious verb “to pie” appears to be referring to a bird, the “magpie”. “Mag” in this use is short for “Margaret”, while “pie” derives from the Latin “pica”, a jay or magpie, related to “picus”, a woodpecker. “Pike” and “pick” and “pitch” seem to owe their existence to the woodpecker.
Magpies are really quite interesting birds, and their characteristics seem to have rooted the derivation of language for all manner of things. Magpies are known for the odd scrapple of items robbed from the unsuspecting and heaped uselessly in the nest, giving rise to the use of the term “pie” for any slapdash assortment. The food-pie, for example, is likely so named not only due to its dappled beauty, but its use as a sort of collection point for unwanted foods. The jumble of leftovers which could be found in a dinner-pie might seem quite like the magpie’s fabled nest of stolen baubles. Perhaps we began using Margaret’s nickname to refer to the bird to avoid mistaking “eating pie” for “eating crow”, the crow being a nearer relation to the magpie than the one meal to the other, though of course there is a recipe requiring 24 blackbirds. There are also tree-pies and sea-pies - birds - and shepherd’s pies and kitchen-window pies - foods.
Magpies, then, are motley in color, quavering in morality, and haphazard in housekeeping. Their reputation for ructious disorder is enhanced by the notion that they will eat anything. A person who, like Rebeca in One Hundred Years of Solitude, eats chalk, or dirt, or one who eats his own hair, or any inedible thing, due to disease or sometimes pregnancy, is said to have “pica”.
The magpie may have given her name to the pickle, though not by means of her brother the woodpecker, whose picking beak named pikes, peaks, and other pickle shaped items. Rather, pickle seems likely to have been at one time a sort of melange of unwanted vegetation left to ferment, a “piccalilli” of sorts, though this is mere conjecture.
Sri Lanka Blue Magpie
A certain hodge-podge list of ecclesiastical regulations was named for our bird, first “pica” in Latin, then “pie”. The pica printed on thin paper might blotch through to stipple the sheet, like a filling seeping through a crust, while again like a delicious pie the pica’s assemblage of rules resembled the Magpie’s sundered miscellany. Rules are useless unless promulgated, so presumably this pica needed to be reproduced in quantity for delivery to far-flung believers. As a result, the pica would have been a book printed at the earliest possibility, and in a typeface suitable to easy reading while conserving paper. Hence the term “pica” became used for the typeface used to print the pie. “Brevier”, the name of a smaller typeface, also finds its origin in a church text, the Breviary of hyms, psalms, and such.
During typography’s long capitulation to the intangible, “pica” remained in standard use in typewriters, in the hammers of which a given type size is unflinchingly allied to a typeface. “Pica” remains in occasional modern use to refer to 1/6 of an inch, the width of a character in Pica, the monospaced typewriter option which in turn begat Courier. In the age of desktop publishing, and even more so in publishing for the internet, the specific width of any given character is of less interest. We now measure not in picas but in pixels (from “pix” plural of “pic” short for “picture”, and heart-breakingly not derived from “pica”).
IBM Selectric II - Pica type style
Typographers having great access to words without, perhaps, a need to attach just meanings to them, “pie” also became a typographer’s pidgin term for a jumble of letters. One might need to pick an unpied pica to print a pica.
So the thieving magpie, turning cuckoo, Robin-Hoods its fancied flotsam into far-flown nests of savage, civilized, and then abandoned English.
- b. brock
A limb out on which to go, from Oscar Wilde’s “The Critic as Artist: With Some Remarks on the Importance of Doing Nothing and Discussing Everything”
When man acts he is a puppet. When he describes he is a poet. The whole secret lies in that. It was easy enough on the sandy plains by windy Ilion to send the notched arrow from the painted bow, or to hurl against the shield of hide and flamelike brass the long ash-handled spear. It was easy for the adulterous queen to spread the Tyrian carpets for her lord, and then, as he lay couched in the marble bath, to throw over his head the purple net, and call to her smooth-faced lover to stab through the meshes at the heart that should have broken at Aulis. For Antigone even, with Death waiting for her as her bridegroom, it was easy to pass through the tainted air at noon, and climb the hill, and strew with kindly earth the wretched naked corse that had no tomb. But what of those who wrote about these things? What of those who gave them reality, and made them live for ever? Are they not greater than the men and women they sing of? ‘Hector that sweet knight is dead,’ and Lucian tells us how in the dim under-world Menippus saw the bleaching skull of Helen, and marvelled that it was for so grim a favour that all those horned ships were launched, those beautiful mailed men laid low, those towered cities brought to dust. Yet, every day the swanlike daughter of Leda comes out on the battlements, and looks down at the tide of war. The greybeards wonder at her loveliness, and she stands by the side of the king. In his chamber of stained ivory lies her leman. He is polishing his dainty armour, and combing the scarlet plume. With squire and page, her husband passes from tent to tent. She can see his bright hair, and hears, or fancies that she hears, that clear cold voice. In the courtyard below, the son of Priam is buckling on his brazen cuirass. The white arms of Andromache are around his neck. He sets his helmet on the ground, lest their babe should be frightened. Behind the embroidered curtains of his pavilion sits Achilles, in perfumed raiment, while in harness of gilt and silver the friend of his soul arrays himself to go forth to the fight. From a curiously carven chest that his mother Thetis had brought to his ship-side, the Lord of the Myrmidons takes out that mystic chalice that the lip of man had never touched, and cleanses it with brimstone, and with fresh water cools it, and, having washed his hands, fills with black wine its burnished hollow, and spills the thick grape-blood upon the ground in honour of Him whom at Dodona barefooted prophets worshipped, and prays to Him, and knows not that he prays in vain, and that by the hands of two knights from Troy, Panthous’ son, Euphorbus, whose love-locks were looped with gold, and the Priamid, the lion-hearted, Patroklus, the comrade of comrades, must meet his doom. Phantoms, are they? Heroes of mist and mountain? Shadows in a song? No: they are real. Action! What is action? It dies at the moment of its energy. It is a base concession to fact. The world is made by the singer for the dreamer.
A poem is the fulcrum of a lever, its effort and resistance lodged in the hearts of author and of reader. How can a lever be useless?