Ryan Power (Burlington)

Roggies, July 12
Mood Swing Music

This is a good ride bouncy you can feel the jolt of the cobblestones and the flutes and the pipes and the whistles then a wavy rock straight out of the seventies say ’76 and people are wearing mood rings the drums are rubbery

Vivacious vervy beat straw cymbal click wavering voice far away over field The Raspberries you will rise far away

Nice slow funk soul feel but it’s more like am echoing ringo beat the vocals very low it feels good the swirl of the seventies it’s a Hawaiian hotel so hot and mellow

Just want to let my mind wander in the arching trees by the river as the river boat rolls down chugging under steam with the star struck clouds in the sky the bass is spacy

Hard prog rock progressions like an organ driven chorus the haze of the crowds in the cattails

Radical mood swing music like a blanket of cobalt black a black bar of soap

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Human Mouth Jazz

Daffy Duck could do it

With his daffy bill

Jazzy as all get out

In the pond

 

With the other ducks

Looking on in admiration

As he aped Ayler

Who bled his soul

 

Jazz is the soul of the mouth

Human mouth jazz

Jaywalking through jacarandas

Just for the sound of the words

 

Like jazz, a beat for a beat

Mouth to human mouth

Finding in the tongue

Your capability

Pattern Time

for Lukas Ligeti

The sound of jazz as Africa
Does it, patterns of time
Like textiles, printed with brash

Colors, villages and jungles
Pressed together, the pull
Of outright funk

Like a hurricane storm
Precision of the beat so exact
It alters in the playing

Like an atom losing protons
Becoming one with others
Through the music

We become one with Africa,
For the time, time of patterns
Dim but silvery in the mist

Beyond

Beyond the Valley

 

1

 

The green days sprung ahead, and the lavender sprayed in the lilacs. The song of spring sped through my mind as I sped down the street. It became a garden, and I spread my sack of compost over it. The garden grew songs to sing. They were from the sixties, psychedelic and grand, the best. They threaded through my mind, chambers filled with ruby shards unearthed under the soil.

 

I did my best to assemble the shards. It was hard, with the glass, so I melted them, and blew another bottle. The poisonous fumes from my breath sped down the street like the song and like my feet.

 

The genie came out of the bottle, like she did 44 years ago, in 1969, like the flower children said she never would again. We were the new flower children, the youth of the day, and we were sowing a new garden with love.

 

This was beyond the valley where I fell in the shallow water, and the stream revived me, and I climbed the mountain. Jimi Hendrix with his Band of Gypsies, like a seed, sprouted on the slope, and I heard a whole new concert by myself, there, as I was climbing. This was just the beginning.

 

First, the daunting ascent of the face and slope, as I looked with dread upon the rock sheet in front of me, with the premonition I would slip and stumble, bashing up knee and head a few times, which I did, but I got to the grass, and it was as if I were leading a flock of sheep.

 

The sheep were recently shorn, by a friendly shepherd, who gave me a handful of grass to eat myself, and a nice sweater, a soft, muted red with a broad, thick stitch, braids going down the front.

 

I would need it in the cold of the coming days, as I ascended with no sleep, and little nutriment. But I recorded the sights and my insights, and this kept me stimulated. I even had some sexy goddesses to give me pleasure when I reclined on the soft surface; they kept me still, so I wouldn’t roll down the slope.

 

I made it to the pinnacle, and then a plateau, with relics of an Indian civilization. This was the new city, and the friends I had made in the valley came up the path I had blazed and built the new dwellings and shrines for communion with the goddesses, into the Indian ruins, like the medieval structures above the ancient ones in Rome.

 

The sun was very close to us, and we were warm in its red vermillion rays. It inspired us to make music, which we shared, dotted and laced with the poems I had written of the journey to the valley and up the steep mountain.

 

2

 

There was the darkness of the underground, arising like flames of fire in the night, like black wind vapor. It inspired visions, sometimes scary and bleak, but blossoming into light and flower in the morning.

 

I rested in the petals of a flower with a girl, and this lasted six weeks. We made love without end, and we still do.

 

Flowers blossomed from my belly. The pollen sifted onto my chest, and was blown by the morning vapor up to my face. I saw what the future would bring, a new world of days, cumulus clouds with smiles, and faces androgynous, raining tears of ichor onto our hair shimmering in the afternoon light.

 

The darkness was a messenger, with cryptic missiles I translated into poetry. The poetry sent its verbs of wild activity into the violins and clarinets the children would play, and the lines became something else as the sound poured like elated voices out of the bells.

 

This was a world of dance, which began as soon as someone lifted a hand to open a door to a stranger coming to listen to the music. It was effortless, no steps needed to be learned, just the choice of the sex and heart to enter into communion with the air and light and water, and the people there.

 

Our thighs moved like air, diaphanous and dreamy. Sleep came back, and refreshed the coming days. Sleep entered our shut lids like a gold tinged mist, moistening the eyes, which could see into the fibers of the brain now, reflecting back the dreams of others, concentrated into one sweet rhubarb stem, which we chewed on as it rose in the garden soil.

 

We sowed more seeds, sometimes just the saliva dripping from our mouths as we played our instruments. Peach trees grew from this liquid, with bristly fuzz covering a skin as pink and orange as an evening sky on the eve of a sun filled morning.

 

 

 

3

 

Michelle was the shaman, subsuming her grandfather’s spirit from the soil. She had visions. She could put her hand on my belly and bring the fountain of desire out of my brain, and there they were, spread out over the landscape up to the horizon. My sexual visions became a naked woman lying on the landscape, her own belly felt again by Michelle, bringing out the desire of the land, spewing up like a whale breaching on the sea, visible in the misty distance from the citadel on the plateau. The whale had her own desires, and they guided us, giving our land the vast blue clarity of the sea, as pure and as crystal and as salty, and the earth moved beneath us like another whale, balancing us on her spout.

 

4

 

Lucy took care of the sheep. She danced around them, in a gauze gown, and it kept them safe. They saw with her eyes, the things that humans see; they heard the music, and appreciated it, and bleated in unison. Lucy would pick up a lamb, and rub his belly. When she did this, I could feel my belly being rubbed, and I felt like I had a coat of fleece.

 

She made arrases and tapestries out of the wool, which she hung on the walls of the shrines. They made us feel warm, even on cool nights. But still the cool came through, and it was like diving into a mountain pool.

 

So we swam in the mountain pool, in the nude, enjoying each other’s body. We were each our own physical island, surrounded by a buffer of light, and our intimacy was transmitted like soft electrical currents to one another. As islands, two of us would become one, or three of us. Sometimes we evolved into an archipelago, with new flora and fauna developing wings and scales on our skins, and roots and bark.

 

We were able to live on the grass; it tasted like English double cream. The English sky was gray but merry, stimulating romantic visions of rolling, tumbling clouds transformed into balls of smoke traveling across the sky. Lucy cobbled these together, into sculptures of sheep that came to life, and she sheared their fleece and turned it back into clouds, which traveled to new pastures in the sky.

 

5

 

Foam from the sea washed up the mountaintop, which turned into clouds like the sheep, which in turn turned into Foam, the shepherd. He guided the clouds to new realms in the sky, where we lived in the late afternoon, after English tea. They tasted like tea. He led our tongues like the sheep, and we bleated new songs.

 

Foam was made of foam, a pure consistency of ebullience and light emotion. I was his sheep dog, barking at the wolves, the fierce, beautiful creatures with sharp fangs that were good if they dove into demons instead of human flesh, which they did, with the fear I inspired in them, and Foam’s continuous vigil. The wolves became our friends. Lucy painted watercolors of them, exhibiting them in open air. The watercolors came to life, ghost versions of the wolves. They drifted like the morning haze across the grass, dew collecting in their transparent fur.

 

I collected the dew, and distilled it into poems on the silver mist, and the poems became the silver mist itself, wetting the people’s tongues, which spouted poems of their own, rolling like dew onto the grass, giving the earth a language, which it spoke into our psyches with a dark, husky voice, imbuing our brains with dark brown syrup. We could taste it as we dreamed our waking dreams, and it sweetened our energy as we rose in the morning to greet the day.

 

The energy was a melded wolf and sheep, and we drifted on the foam that Foam became, like a surf on the Hawaiian pacific, now dogfish and barracudas, melding again to become a nascent, evolved human species, with Foam as ideal, his effortless grace and kindness making us kind.

 

6

 

The great hurricane came, the disembodied spirit of Hurricane, our lord. He roasted us with fire, giving us a charcoal crust and a golden texture. We ate each other’s flesh. And then the hurricane, blowing us to sleep as we rested after our meals, dislocating the trees and tumbling them down the slope into the river to be washed into the sea.

 

Hurricane showered branches against our heads, inoculating us with shock, jolting us into a new awareness of our environment. He drove us like slaves, making us labor to build the new civilization, of which we would become masters. We were the masters, building our pyramids, with the relics of our prior lives ensconced in their tiered chambers.

 

The hurricane blew over this desert on the rocky face of the mountain, where I had labored so long ago to discover the new realm, my shed blood the mortar to put together the gold bullions of the pyramids dotting the mountain face like studs on a belt wrapped round the rising promontory, keeping it safe and consolidated within the atmosphere of thin mountain air, which Hurricane breathed in for us to purify and breathe back into our mouths, a sweet cocktail of oxygen and ambrosia, and we became gods like him, dreaming into the night amber dreams that would become the rivers and mountains and seas of new ages.

 

The Soil

 

1

 

The demons circulated the soil like stingrays. Sometimes, they upset our sleep and our veins stung inside as if chemicals had been poured through them. But the demons gave verve to the medicinal herb we cultivated, giving it fire and potency. And when the smoke rang through their veins, it was a red alarm, bringing to consciousness the structure and contours of our soul.

 

Other things grew in the soil; the peach trees, the rhubarb, strawberries. We fertilized it with the excrement of wolves, high in nitrogen, and the action of the demons subsided, like the tide as the full moon wanes. Our tears and mucus fell into the soil, giving it a human smell, salty and close and musty; and a viscous consistency, so it was pleasant to tread upon. We walked barefoot across it, subsuming the rich sprit into our feet, and up to our lips and fingers. It invigorated us. Lucy made more art, which inspired more music, and the music’s vibrations reverberated downward, balancing the soil of the earth, and bringing it into communion with the air and sky.

 

Angels slept in the fibers inside us. They made the liver drive at high speed, processing the meals we took in, and the heavy residue of the tangible conversations we gave and shared, and this passed into the soil, which was rich, and gave us energy as we shared our excrescences. It gave luster to our fingernails, made our skin a deep peach, or cream or ivory, or tan or deep brown. This reflected its tones, which also reproduced themselves in the pigments of Lucy’s paintings, for she went out in the early morning, at dawn, to extract the disintegrated tree barks, the sediment of decaying leaves, the minerals; some common as iron, but with flecks of gold, which she collected in an aluminum basin, and ground it to dust even finer, which she would spray on our skin with her lips.

 

2

 

We were fine draftsmen, with a knack for drawing fantastical palaces. One of us would trace an image of such a structure in the soil and within minutes the demons would rise, laying low hardwood timber from the trees, which angels would lift into the ether, collecting fine velvets and silks to dress and adorn the edifice, and we dwelled within it for an evening and its following night and morning, the elements drawn back into their respective places in the heavens and underworld by the next noon, and oaks and would be lined up in paths around streams and pools, giving us a place for an afternoon stroll. The soil retained the memory of the palaces, developing within it a mind of its own, which enriched our minds. Our minds grew to be like the soil, fertile grounds for fecund cogitation, and each of us would become a pure thinker, each a sovereign Socrates.

 

3

 

We became teachers without classroom, voices issuing long philosophical discussion in the heat of afternoon. Our knowledge increased with this sharing. The wisdom of Greece poured from voice, and back through another pair of lips. The sound strafed the air with crosscurrents, and surreal passages of language mutated into strange new landscapes, with levitated tree and bush and flower, growing in sinuous, undulating shape. The soil was enriched with these things of nature decayed into muck and seed, and the legend of the earth changed, new hills and hollows and glens forming among the gardens and forests.

 

4

 

A theater developed spontaneously from the potency of the charged air. We saw ourselves transformed into palpable images communicating with one another. Our speech morphed into a kind of new music, and we listened to and watched these changed selves in self-created cinema, new dramas unfolding that influenced us in our daily motions.

 

At times the whole earth disappeared in the face of the cinema, and we ourselves disappeared, subsumed into our images. We became these images, cleansed in a new birth. It was thus we achieved new incarnations of ourselves, without passing through death. Our old bodies decayed into dust scattered as crematory ashes around the soil, giving it a topsoil for the creation of saplings and flowering bush, and incorporeal image and nature would cross each other, sharing body and spirit in a swirling new cocktail of reality.

 

5

 

Soon the activity became so intense, so sustained, it became a new kind of stasis, a monadic element of new atomic composition. The whole of the civilization was brought to a cosmic point zero. We forgot ourselves. We became the disembodied conscious of the place, its genius loci, rejuvenating the climate and setting the stage for a primordial theater for which we were the stage set, becoming new beings as if our whole life force had passed into our children.

 

6

 

We became new people, passing from one to another, combining, splitting; a new status quo, minds continuously altered, bodies shared, new people walking their earth with a new lightness of stride, new breath and motion and voice.

 

Poetry and experience became one, the things we drew and assembled and sculpted, even the music we played, sharing in a new reality.

 

 

My Life As a Critic

Jazz was a sea when I heard it, made from an age of waves of the voices of slaves, tumbling to the shores of freedom… The waves rolled into my bedroom at night, waking me up, and surfed me over to the living room, where I wrote, turning the surf into saxophones, which tumbled over me, like the sea, and I swam with musicians, on the other corner of my green velvet couch, where I would talk to them, getting their best philosophy.

 

I covered the New York scene for two years straight, from my kitchen, at my desk, at the computer.

 

I scoured clean the lean and mean Boston scene, austere and blindingly bright, stark silence for minutes, then a low hum, like my heater going on in winter.

 

I was good. I sided with the musicians. I saw, against popular prejudice, it was about their minds and their souls and beliefs. It wasn’t a consumer protection report, which makes you an accessory to the industry.

 

The industry dominates, however, and it becomes political. The Penguin Guide is an aid, yet it is also a bane. They are careless in their listening despite appearances and despite quality of writing, and knowledge and expertise. They slight unsung artists, and they pussyfoot around sacred cows, like the Marsalis brothers, decent but not “glitteringly gifted like the Kennedys,” Cook’s and Morton’s claim.

 

I poison-penned one author, a poetry translator and jazz historian, who had written a book on hard-bop trumpet player Kenny Dorham, which I thought was a fraud. Rather, I knew it was a fraud, and I said so.

 

Otherwise, praise, qualified when necessary. To write, I chose what I liked, or what interested me, or what I was curious about. This was all work by mature, hardworking artists, who deserved credit and respect and, I felt, recognition and support.

 

Andrey was my finest editor, by far. “I like to work with a scalpel instead of a chainsaw,” he said to me. And the New York City Jazz Record is a fine publication.

 

There were always power plays among editors and between them and writers, and even musicians. Some critics thrive on this, but it sickened me. I had to get out.

 

Howard is a fine listener, sometimes rough around the edges as a stylist, but usually accurate. He said my poetry is better than my criticism, and in the long run he is right. There is poetry in my music writing as fine as what I write in verse, and good philosophy too, and the noble effort to get good thought out of musicians. Yet this is what it is about. And Howard is good, not so much with regard to his consumer focus, as with his balance and general large-picture focus, looking at everything in context of the larger jazz idiom, and the essence of its structures.

 

I told him, Eliot called Pound “the better craftsman”. I called Howard “the better critic”. He was happy and knew I was right.

Playing Music

I remember best when I was twenty, after piano lessons, when I applied what I had learned. I put in the effort to master Mozart’s sonata in C, and I played it for Granny and Granddad, and my mother, and Grammy, her mother. It made me cry and it made them cry. Grammy, “Well, if I knew you could play like that!” and then she trailed off; and Granddad, “I wish to hell I could play like that!”

 

I always wanted to be an artist. I am an artist in a poet’s body, and language and words are always like paint to me. I love music best, but I could never play fast enough or read music very well to feel I could become a virtuoso, even though I thought hard about going to music school. I have a good ear, and a good feel for the moods and emotions of music.

 

I used to play jazz in my bedroom when I was studying when I was fifteen, but my parents would get mad and take the stereo away from me. I know it’s ok, because I worked in an OR for several months and the surgeons always played music. It calmed them and helped them to concentrate.

 

So I always play music when I write, even when I read. Playing music got me through the writing of my Master’s final exercise, and I got an A and passed the reviews.

 

People say my poetry is musical. It’s that, and painterly too. It’s not so much the sounds of the words and vowels and syllables, or even the rhythms, as the intense, brilliant tones.

 

That’s why the kids I hang out with like me so much. They are musicians, and I can play with them when they play, at shows, and it’s divine and great. I can even write stuff spontaneously, on the spot, at shows, and read it in interludes where I ask them for a break, in the middle of a show, say. And it inspires them and spurs them on, helps them to triumph over their fatigue, with so much exertion.

 

In other words when I recite my poetry I play music. I am even playing music when I am writing. My poetry is music, which is what all poets and authors, and artists, have always tried to do with their art. So I’m a success, and I have an ego, and I’m glad, because that helps you get through the day as a writer, because no one else is going to give you the credit you give yourself, the fanfare, the music.

House Show Scene

The Whitehaus is a three-story mansion near Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, and it’s almost like a college dorm, with the cozy bedrooms for the boys, the living spaces stark and dusty, except for the nights of music, when they come alive. I feel like its diplomat, its Secretary of State, even its Supreme-Court justice. It was the nexus, where I moved from one generation of musicians to the next, and started a good social life.

 

The first night there, when I crossed the network of streets coming out of Green Street Station, directed by my iPhone map, up Seaverns Ave, was so peaceful, bright, and serene, I felt the summer feeling would never end. Some of the abstract, lower-case musicians I knew from before were playing there, and the shining of the hardwood floors seemed to partake of the music.

 

The blast of the coming time: triple-deckers in Allston, Smokey the Bear’s Cave, and Gay Gardens. The rough and tumble mess. Sex appeal, intensity, and excitement, the shows lasting sometimes until 4 A.M., me crashing on a couch. Cool-looking kids in trippy, mod mufti, smile when they see me. “Hey Gordon!” “Let me see… How do I know you?” “You wrote a poem about me!”

The girls; enticing, alluring, persuading me to be their friend, affectionate and romantic, usually overwhelmed by me in the beginning; and then, later, charmed, enamored, and endeared. So many.

 

The online journal where I wrote: the months hanging out with the chap who was to be my editor, as “a chiller”. And then my column, “Inside the Mind”, heavy capsule write-ups on my favorite musicians who were friends, making us feel like superstars.

 

The fights, the clash of art and business, friends gathering around me to get coverage of their bold efforts, and the reality of the business.

 

The seductive identification with youth…

 

The house shows, confrontations with cops, sometimes coming up the drive with six cars, to a peaceful crowd.

 

The hatred and distrust of the police, the “good rebel/bad rebel” routines; “They’re only concerned about noise and underage drinking.” “I think they’re just picking on the fat kid.”

 

Lucy, with her fantastic art, kewpie dolls and stuffed animals stuffed together and hanging on the walls like 3-D bearskin rugs. And her Smarty, creative music act, different every time.

 

And Smokey the Bear’s again, and the abandoned bear cages at Franklin Park Zoo.

 

Frank Hurricaine, with his heroism, on top of the rock in the cage, singing about “chugging” with an old friend out West; coming back, crossing the country, the surreal stories he had to tell, the holy prophets, the hanging trees in the bayous, the mountains of West Virginia.

 

And his hip-hop samples. “This stuff is so good… You’ll be high all day; for a year—hell, this stuff will keep you high for six years…”

 

 

The Mirror

A mirror reflects what never was. It distorts reality. That’s why I broke mine. It gave me seven years bad luck. I was sick of my own reflection. I wanted to become someone new; and I did. But that was after I walked in front of the black cat.

 

She nuzzled against my knee. I gave her a cup of cream I had retrieved from the Miles jazz club in Cambridge, one I found in the dish at the center of the table as I took in the sexy piano of beautiful Sachiko.

 

I could see myself better now. I was someone else. “Picasso is someone else,” the painter said, and so was I. I could put together the set of years behind me, and discover a new reality, a more flexible, truer one, reassembled from past distortions.

 

The distortions? They began on a warm June evening, when I saw Otto Levant play his mesmerizing harpsichord mantras in a small room at the back of a conservatory in Boston. It appeared like nothing but a haze at first, like a lower-case letter repeated, the letter k, say, a printing press gone mad. Then the visions, as if induced by brandy snifters. There was a shimmering in the room, the stage levitated by audience awe, and the incantations and chants of Otto Levant brought me to Zion.

No one was the same coming out. Their shadows played on my mind as I exited the door, puzzling my eyes, which made the traffic lights and headlights outside on the street a new symphony, for the decade unfolding.

 

Massimo Edo played at the School for Scientists the next week. He held his koto the way Hendrix held his guitar, always threatening to pick it up and bite the strings. There was much space between the notes, as if an exercise in Zen. The notes themselves were like hard wood.

 

For the encore, a classic electric guitar careened, pulled and pushed like a team of horses at the bow of a chariot, going into battle, which was fierce, but exhilarating and triumphant. Everybody was sitting down, but you knew they felt like dancing; something Japanese, yes, but Japanese mad, like one of those parties where guys slide across the table with a rum and tonic in their hand, everything under secret containment the next day at the office.

 

Dave Dozen baffled me at first, in the back room of an urban wooden house. I still can’t remember precisely what he was doing. As I recollect, he had taken apart the pieces of his saxophone, and was rattling them inside a large wooden bowl mixed with silver ball bearings. It put me ill at ease, made me uncomfortably conscious of myself. I walked out afterwards, without introducing myself to any of the then strangers.

 

Dozen came after me as I twisted the doorknob. I remembered him from the Edo show, when he gave me a notice of his show, which was actually a blank piece of paper. That was when the mirror began to crack, with insufficient substance to reflect. It burst when I saw him play, catching me in a few places in my body, and causing some bleeding. Dave treated the cuts when he greeted me with a little gauze stuffed in the wounds.

 

The scars stayed like a spider web over my body for the seven years. They became all I would see, like my own circulatory system, like a crown of thorns I refused to wear but the sinners kept putting on my scalp.

 

After the seven years, I was able to extract the thorns, and use the residual blood as ink to my fountain-pen tips. The language I stained into the page was music, just as I had heard, but transformed, like a new symphony ever renewed by a new conductor each time.

 

Now, the notes have been changed, and the instruments, sometimes just random electrical household appliances, and pots and pans. This transposition came from Andreas Fleiss, whose brain just transmitted musical signals without even touching an instrument. Together we created poetry out of sound. We still do.

 

 

Poetry, Philosophy, Music

Nothing is constructed in a poem. It is a path under the sun where we seek our place. Philosophy is pure construction, or its blueprint. We build out of the perceptions we accrue from poetry. Music is the environment, the house as part of the landscape or its disintegration and return into the soil, as part of the new environment that will inspire more poetry.

 

Music makes the house. It is the wood, denatured; motion become matter in a moving world, slivering the spine of the construction and making it part of the one again, the one of motion and of music, which is many, many vibrations pushing us onto new paths of poetry for which we build shelters along the way.

 

The path should just keep on going, without stopping to build a tent. We should arise out of music, as motion, and become motion likewise. The philosophy makes us stop.

 

In Being and Event, Alain Badiou conceives this continuum in terms of set theory. Philosophy comes out of institutions, which, compounded, comprise the State. But the one is never one. It is always many, and the many can shift according to set. This gives us identity in the world, going back to Heidegger. We dwell in a world with an awareness of who we are, and that’s what makes us caring beings. But this is only a perception. Uniqueness inheres only in how we see things.

 

And so we break in the home, and it decays. The decay is another form of music, which we experience, and in the experience it becomes poetry again, and we stop it, gouging out the rot and renovating, building new structures. In the building there is a searching, an exploration of a new environment, opening up with each new component of the new structure.

 

We look for poetry in philosophy, just as we look for music in poetry. The philosophy coming out of music is the moment of crisis, and the moment of opportunity. This is all where the process eddies, and we long for what came before; and it is these recursions which make up the rhythms of the intellectual life, making the mind a house whose boards split in the woods, becoming the detritus and death of nature out of which we were created, making death a kind of poetry.

 

Is music mourning, then? It is the pageantry of the passing. It is light from a dead star, itself just another kind of light. It is the shells of clichés drying out like clams on the beach. It is a metaphor taken too far, an oyster crushed for the pearl inside.

 

Is philosophy thought? Philosophy is the world, which presents the illusion of thought, all that thought is, time turning into music turning into poetry.

 

And so I picked up the hammer, and banged in the nails…

 

Nails, extracted from ore, manufactured, which is a whole phenomenological surface that can be reduced to a dried form of culture, the ideas and exploration and discovery of an age compacted to trash out of which we can build an artificial environment, which we do, or pick through like a homeless person for the rags and tags of poetry. Philosophy shows us how to do this, with its substrata of tropes.

 

In “White Mythology”, Jacques Derrida shows us how these substrata extend through all of writing, of which speech is just another type. The substrata are language itself, which only constitutes a part or an element of how we communicate. In this way language is a part of poetry, not the other way around.

 

We can break the process down into builder, materials, instruments. This is the creation of the set, all part of the construction. But the instruments are built, and the structure is a tool we apply to our own bodies for a place to dwell, or live.

 

And the structure is a body, allocating and designating us as sets of functional purposes, orchestrating the tools in our hands into another set, the action of the world, which can be broken down again into the three elements, in another erasure and retracing of the paradigm.

 

What goes on in this retracing? Again, it is writing itself, that which we can dispose towards music or poetry or philosophy, shedding matter like the stem of a leaf sheds the leaf in fall, something to rake up and burn, or put to another use, enriching the soil at its best.

 

For it is good soil that puts forth good crops, enlightenment and ethical understanding. These are the aims of life.

 

Out of music, already a path, on which the mind moves as it negotiates the sound. And the structure, already being raised as the music builds its own image among the chosen paths.

 

There is no poetry, only poets. Wallace Stevens erred when he said in “The Man with the Blue Guitar” “Poetry is the subject of the poem.” The poet is the subject of the poem, his body as he draws philosophy out of music.

 

And so the ethics turn like tumbleweeds down the highway, the poet sucking on a cinnamon fireball at eight years old, buying a pack of baseball cards at the Five and Ten. The stats structure his mind. He’s going to bat 300 +. The world divided into statistics, this is philosophy, the mind giving them new meaning, new music, as it achieves its global positioning like a car, with its two headlights for eyes.

 

 

“It was like a new knowledge of reality”, Stevens writes in his last published poem, of the bird’s cry at the earliest ending of winter. This is the poem become world, the words disappeared, the fictive glistening of philosophy coating like gossamer the branches of the tree, implicating a whole new world of angels and insects that exist only as the roots and extensions of the language that enabled us to see the tree in its landscape. And so we travel to a new one, already exploding like the spider eggs ready to weave their own webs.

 

Again, Stevens, it’s the pleasure of merely circulating, but it’s life, and work, and it throws us into new orbits, orbits of nature, seasons pledged to new tasks, stopping us and making us scratch our heads, as if another insect had stung, and our whole brains stung, sorting out the materials of the palace to be built, the materials all of the technology of culture, out of which we can leave nothing to arrive at a truth, but which if we ever could build it, it would obstruct the perception of the very thing it is intended to expose.

 

In the final analysis it is a matter of leaving things out. Deflecting the motions of the armies of workers always ready to become part of the system devoted to new constructions of knowledge. The building goes on, one hand passes a thing on to another. It is when we impose a rest that the melody builds, a rest of the activity of the mind, which is all that justifies philosophy in the end rather than its constructions, as often as not building follies that Freud equated with delusions.

 

And poetry, the text, the legend of the furious flow and its swift stop. The breaking back and forth into stop and flow, the marriage of music and philosophy, the mind moving and the mind at rest, poetry the orchestration of the body, apart from the world, into music.

Concepts of Pain: The Stuff of the Sixties

It is said that the ‘60s ended in 1974, with Nixon’s resignation. On the one hand, there was nothing left to believe in. On the other, there was nothing left to protest. Early in the decade, Timothy Leary preached acid politics, thinking that Mao and John F. Kennedy should be sitting in a conference room tripping on LSD, and all the problems of the world would be solved. As it happened, it was Mao and Nixon who finally met, and they just had too much in common. They were stars, beneficiaries of the very liberal rock ethos that promised a life of unbridled freedom for those who opened up freedom for others. It certainly appeared this way when Nixon visited China. A staunch rightwing conservative was appealing to the better instincts of communists. This was a way of appealing to the kids as much as anything else, showing he was on their side—the side of wide-eyed idealism. Meanwhile he was plotting to deny John Lennon American citizenship in New York.

 

When Dylan went electric at Newport in 1965, he had become aware of the complex embroglios an artist gets himself into when he positions himself to be the spokesman of a generation. Any act of protest is subject to reprisal, and an artist has to decide if it is worth fighting to the death, or whether his own life is more important, so he can go on preaching. Dylan went on preaching, but it became cryptic. This had already started with Bringing it All Back Home, where he realized that to become self-conscious as an artist is the best way to negotiate complex political issues. As much as he created an intense solidarity at Newport, he also created a rift. It is this imbalance that created the greatest explosions of ‘60s rock.

 

The Byrds understood Dylan even before Dylan did. By mixing their Beatles’ flavored jangling sound with Dylan’s lyrics, They brought a new quality out of Dylan that was implicit in his surrealist-inspired words, but took a marriage with The Beatles’ sound to really start a revolution. The Byrds’ sound alternates between a mellow country, almost muzak-like at times, and an insidious psychedelia that often becomes hardcore. In the end, however intense they get, they always land on their feet again, all the debris of the wild party cleaned up the next morning. Now, the medium was the message. The radical ideas of the time no longer needed the respectable mantle of traditional folk. What’s more, they could be deposited into innocent indulgences of pleasure that, in the long run, are the most revolutionary of all. The Byrds became catalysts of their own catalysts, and although The Beatles’ Revolver was the tocsin for the psychedelic revolution, they planted the seed.

 

The American psychedelic acts always had this political edge to their work, derived from Dylan’s more openly political early work, that ultimately proved their nemesis. In Europe, the tone of pyschedelia was more philosophical and ironic. American psychedelia was largely stopped by hard drugs and the police around 1968. The European version lasted well into the 1970s. That said, it was always the bold confrontations with conventions stateside that spurred the Europeans ever on, and as a result there is an ultimate oneness to all psychedelia, wherein the later acts complete the story of the earlier. Psychedelia goes back to the old country blues singers, the way they would howl and bend notes on their guitar. It would come to subsume all kinds of unconventional international music, from Indian raga to medieval English songs. In the languid intensities it releases, these histories are implicit, with their own pockets of political reality, microcosms for a new society. Again, after glorious revolution and protest and civil rights in the US, this led to much tragic confrontation; while in Europe, while the music got less attention, it was allowed to grow more organically and evolved into the sounds of the ‘80s and beyond.

 

With their electric jug blooping all over the place, The 13th Floor Elevators can be polarizing. Their 1966 debut, The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators, is dark, light, spontaneous and desperate all at once. From Texas, singer and leader Roky Erikson had a tough, frontier-like abandon, while at the same time he sang simply and sweetly. Erikson went on to become a martyr for pleading insanity. Busted for pot, he opted for placement in an institute for the criminally insane and received shock treatment that changed him forever. He would go on producing music into the next century, broken though he was, exemplar and mentor to youngsters seeking the flavor of the ‘60s. Their 1967 follow-up, Easter Everywhere, would step it up a notch, the band riding golden wires of intensity. There is a way to look at Erikson as a call to action, so no one is ever treated that way again. That is indeed part of the message. But the message changes. As we come to explore the conflict through Erikson’s own music, we see the primordial beauty there, and realize that he achieved this, and this was a glory in itself to transcend whatever the future was to bring him.

 

Faust was a German band organized in 1971 by producer Uwi Nettelbeck. In the atmosphere of anomy while the memory of the holocaust was still fresh, Faust’s music is fragmentary, feature bursts like something out of The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus,” with shocking onslaughts out of Stockhausen and jazz. “It’s a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl” is simple and typical. The lyrics consist of two lines—“It’s a rainy day, sunshine baby. It’s a rainy day, sunshine girl”—breaking precedent with sense, forgetting the past, discombobulating the present for a better future. Other works were more serious, and got haunting. Faust never made much of a splash in the commercial world, but they have become legends. It would not do to call them pioneers, though in a way they are. Their abrasive style laid down the template for later industrial music, but their greatness lies in their role as transmitters. They were on the outside looking in. First students of the stumbling of their fathers, they could see the complexities of the American political situation, and knew it took some humor and psychic absurdity to set things straight on the global scene.

 

The psychedelic revolution spread everywhere, from Latin America to Thailand and Japan. Young bands found a fusion, or a continuum, between the uneasiness of their position in the world, embracing yet shedding folk traditions. Psychedelic rock showed a way of crossing these currents with the ones drifting over from the American counterculture. Tropicalia in Brazil was one such movement, bringing together indigenous music with the wildness of Jimi Hendrix. The electric guitar was shocking in such a state, and even the left resisted it at first, seeing it as a sign of American encroachment. The Tropicalia movement, featuring such artists as Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes, went on to enrich the hippie atmosphere they brought into their culture with the type of native folk sounds that complemented them artistically, philosophically and politically. Singers embraced direct targets at the establishment and paid the price. Again, we can look at this as a tragedy, or we can see the songs as new seeds planted in the rain forest, upsetting the cash crops and reestablishing a new equilibrium.

 

Magma was formed in France in 1970 by the mercurial drummer and singer—and radical Coltrane disciple—Christian Vander. Magma’s albums constitute a serial science fiction epic, but in a different Language. Supposed to be from the planet Kobiah, this language, Zeul, was invented by Vander and spoken by everyone in his commune, consisting of the many band members. Magma mixed Bach, Coltrane, hippie musicals like Hair, to achieve a soaring passion the likes of which have rarely been seen before or since. Vander never explains the words. He says that the music should get the message across itself. The hermetic nature of the group and their habits, whether intentionally or not, provided a kind of solution for the danger many groups of the time got into by being so open politically. The group could go on cogitating in Zeul, tackling the most heated issues of the time, as in a code language protected from the State. And indeed, the group has stayed together into the first decades of the current century, inspiring a whole cult movement of international underground bands.

 

England’s Pretty Things built the very foundation of 1960s rock. Guitarist Dick Taylor and singer Phil May were originally in a group with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was Rolling Stones’ original rhythm guitarist Brian Jones who started the world’s longest lasting band, and Taylor lost out in a fight with him as to who would play that role in the new band. And though Pretty Things had a fairly hardscrabble career, they have inspired as much great rock as their former band mates. SF Sorrow came out in 1967, recorded at Abbey Road at the same time as Sgt. Pepper. It is a kind of musical radio drama about the difficult coming of age of an English war child. The music has the same, soaring golden harmonies as The Beatles, and though it is a little rough and tumble, it is a masterpiece and would go on to inspire The Who’s Tommy. Pretty things inspired England with their mutually incompatible gritty, nasty stage presence and their simple, glorious purity. In recent years the band’s reunions have been true spectacles, the musicians playing their early work with mature mastery. Again, as the Stones trot themselves out as if in formaldehyde in our time, Pretty Things are still pumping out a vitality and gathering ever new fans.

 

The ‘60s are still with us, as they were in the ‘70s. We are left with a kind of unconscious landscape, on which buildings that seemed solid tumble, and structures that seemed unfinished are redeveloped, or even shown to have a beauty in their unfinished state. Behind these are the nascent ideologies of the ‘60s, ever present as the hypostasis of the music. In the ‘60s culture reached the speed of light. We have been going backwards ever since. But reinvesting in the buried dreams, we become spiritual contractors, making the monuments our own and for our time.

 

Music is an orchestration of pain, and through pain we reestablish our belief systems. All the slipping out of social conventions, the dislocations—these shared experiences of the ‘60s youth generation exposed them to a new social nerve center. In The Gay Science Nietzsche lamented that we no longer build for the ages, as in the age of cathedrals. 90 years later, that was still true, but with a difference. Hippies were taking drugs and experimenting with sex, living in the moment as it were. But this is deceptive. Their goals were still long term, establishing civil rights, ending the Vietnam war, creating a more loving society. The pleasures of the moment, by becoming ends in themselves, at once satisfied the instincts on their road to political idealism, and led to a new understanding of human sexual response, extrapolated into a whole new sense of human relations. Much went wrong in the ‘60s, and that wrong still persists in the form of drugs and crime, but a new understanding of the psyche came with it—or rather the dawning of a new understanding that will take the patience of an age to fulfill.