That song keeps resounding in my head: “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole,” the one a friend posted the other day. Is mine a whoring heart, too giving in its longings, too unheeding of its misgivings, too promiscuous in its affections? Now that the song has happened to me, various forces drawing it to me at this point in my narrative, I must attend to it. The song interpellates, hails its listener. One finds oneself drawn into a situation as one identifies temporarily with its “you.” And of course this stings. One doesn’t want to be a bloody mother fucking asshole. And we know ourselves to be more than that, as we identify equally with Martha: we, too, have been wronged. We, too, wanted to be good: “To do everything in truth.” For Martha is also the other Martha, the one in Luke 10:38-42, said to be distracted by all the preparations that she thought had to be made upon arrival at her home of Jesus and his disciples. The Martha in the parable, incensed by the sight of her sister Mary “sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said,” complains “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Lord replies not unlike a bloody mother fucking asshole, gaslighting her, treating her like an hysteric, trying to hail her as one “worried and upset about many things” which, to the Lord, are of no importance, no concern, no consequence. “Mary has chosen what is better,” says the Lord, “and it will not be taken away from her.” Martha is wronged in this parable, and the Wainwright song can be heard as a kind of rejoinder. Wainwright said she wrote the song in reply to her father, fellow singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III. Hear Martha’s song alongside Loudon’s “Daughter,” a song he released two years after Martha’s, and one achieves momentary apprehension of the Rashomon-like nature of the totality: each of us a face of the one true thing. In a 2005 article in The Guardian, Martha wrote, “For most of my childhood Loudon talked to me in song, which is a bit of a shitty thing to do […]. Especially as he always makes himself come across as funny and charming while the rest of us seem like whining victims, and we can’t tell our side of the story. As a result he has a daughter who smokes and drinks too much and writes songs with titles like Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole.” One could imagine the Biblical Martha responding similarly to Christ’s fondness for speech through parable. Martha’s isolation and uncertainty are conditions she thinks are hers alone, things about which others of us cannot know — those of us in particular who, in our act of fantasizing, occupy temporarily the position of the asshole father character: Loudon, Christ, and yes, we ourselves, to the extent that we have ears that can hear. “You have no idea,” sings Wainwright in a wonderful riff on Dylan: “No idea how it feels to be on your own / In your own home / With the fucking phone / And the mother of gloom / In your bedroom / Standing over your head / With her hand in your head / With her hand in your head.” That “mother of gloom” line haunts me each time I hear it. For I, too, feel in my more wretched moments this figure’s presence. The feeling is one I know to be false and ungenerous in its appraisal of reality (the mother, after all, is as deserving of forgiveness as the rest of us) — yet I feel it nonetheless. Thinking analogically, we might read this mother figure in the Wainwright song as a variant of the Mary character from the parable.
The day is a difficult yoga session writ large. I hold poses through tasks required of me: grocery shopping, lawn mowing, parenting. When time allows, I sit eyes closed and meditate. There is an alchemy in this working-through, this processing of desire. The day is the site where one practices care for an absent other. Come afternoon and suddenly it’s a pool day, world redeemed by popsicles and coconut bars. I rise up onto the surface of the pool and float there, big happy smile on my face as I imagine the act shared with another. My friend at The Alchemist’s Studio reminds me of a saying attributed to Vincent Van Gogh: “Yellow is capable of charming God.” The charm of that rhymes later in the day with “Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’),” the 21:24 B-side to Jon Hassell and Brian Eno’s Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics.
Hassell passed away yesterday at the age of 84. After listening and giving thanks, I receive J.R.R. Tolkien’s St. Andrews lecture, “On Fairy-Stories.” For this is what we wish to write, is it not? A story about Faerie, “the realm or state in which fairies have their being.” As Tolkien emphasizes early on, “Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.” Tolkien also calls Faerie “the Perilous Realm” — the source of peril, I presume, having something to do with the realm’s magic. Faerie’s virtue lies in its capacity to satisfy various desires: “to survey the depths of space and time,” for instance, and “to hold communion with other living things.”
What are we talking about when we talk about “political theology”? It’s a rejection of the secularization thesis. Religion never goes away; theological notions haunt the structures and discourses of capitalist modernity. I think of the lyrics to Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot.” The song’s title is a line from a poem in Leonard Cohen’s 1966 novel Beautiful Losers. “I propped two pages of his book up on a music stand,” she recalled when asked about the song in an interview, “and I just sang it out, ad-libbing the melody and guitar music together as I went along.” Who is it that tells us “mind itself is magic coursing through the flesh / And flesh itself is magic dancing on a clock / And time itself, the magic length of God”? Is it Sainte-Marie, or is it Catherine Tekakwitha, the 17th century Mohawk saint worshipped by the narrator of Cohen’s novel?
“Put a lemon on it” is the first of several words received as I sit eyes closed beside a pool. Words overheard, duly noted, to be reimagined in the evening hours as dream material and as a step in a recipe for pasta with broccoli. There has been a desire of late, some chakra lighting up all that is. I play it records, feed it the exalted public speech of Odetta at Carnegie Hall.
A kind of love is organizing all things, Amens everywhere “all over this land.” That’s what Leary thought, isn’t it? “The history of our research on the psychedelic experience,” he writes, “is the story of how we learned how to pray” (High Priest, p. 171). Let us include among the characters in this story IFIF medical director Madison Presnell. A photograph of Presnell appears in the April 16, 1963 issue of Life magazine. A photographer with the magazine accompanies Cambridge, MA housewife Barbara Dunlap on her first acid trip. Presnell administers the drug. The caption for the final photograph in the series reads, “Dunlap smokes a cigarette while seeing visions in the seeds of a lemon.”
The pool’s not been what I’d hoped. This is one of the ways that Mercury Retrograde has manifested locally of late, prompting in me a sense of frustration and postponement, despite my knowing that we’ve performed our planting ritual, seeds and seedlings are in the ground, things are growing. Similar processes are afoot intellectually as I continue my wanderings. In my readings, I’ve been moving crabwise among many books at once. Robin D.G. Kelley keeps it surreal with his book Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Thelonious Monk appears near the book’s finale. Kelley went on to write a book on Monk. Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. Thumbing through the latter book’s index, I land upon “Monk, Thelonious: drugs taken by,” hoping to encounter word of Monk’s relationship to psychedelics, as he’s known to have done mushrooms with Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary. Monk came to the psychedelic sacrament a seasoned pro. Reports suggest he was unimpressed. Monk had been arrested years prior for marijuana possession. Police rolled up on him after a Sunday night gig in June 1948. He liked to smoke reefer when he played, and other players in his groups relied on drugs and alcohol to keep up. The meeting with Leary occurred in January 1961. Three years later, Monk appeared on the cover of the February 28, 1964 edition of Time magazine. The cover story’s author Barry Farrell wrote, “Every day is a brand-new pharmaceutical event for Monk: alcohol, Dexedrine, sleeping potions, whatever is at hand, charge through his bloodstream in baffling combinations.”
Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor opens the evening’s set, though I can’t say much of the 1972 performance of it by Dutch prog group Ekseption. It all feels a bit too tight, too clean, too controlled. I stick around nonetheless for the rest of the A-side on the band’s album Trinity. Flute, organ, and synthesizer solos on “The Peruvian Flute” reach across the frame a bit. “Dreams” is a track that could be sampled, as is “Smile.” And “Lonely Chase” features a lovely organ solo. Heard between episodes of Exterminate All the Brutes, however, it can’t but be a bit repulsive. Tacky, uninspired peacockery. I find myself wanting instead to read Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.
We buy varieties of veggies and herbs plus a blackberry bush and a fig tree from a local nursery. Seedlings, mostly, though also some packets of seed. With a bit of digging, we plant these. With a bit more, I unearth several classic Blue Note jazz LPs on CD in the bins at Goodwill: Sonny Rollins’s A Night at the Village Vanguard, Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-Tones, and John Coltrane and the Thelonious Monk Quartet’s Live at the Five Spot: Discovery! Welcome additions, all.
A flute is blown, a tone sustained, strung like a bridge of sound across an otherwise silent expanse. By flute I mean the shakuhachi, the most important of traditional Japanese wind instruments. “Certain special effects such as flutter-tonguing and distinctly audible breathing, which in Western music are associated with 20th-century avant-garde flute repertory,” writes David Loeb in the Kōhachirō Miyata album’s liner notes, “were a standard part of traditional shakuhachi technique by the 18th century.” The sounds are ones I reimagine come evening as I listen to birdsong. As May concludes, it’s time to plant. ‘Tis summer–nearly so. If not for rain, I’d have been at the pool reading Reclaiming Art, a book by Weird Studies podcaster J.F. Martel. Or perhaps I’d have finished Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows. I find the latter troubling in its traditionalism. Japanese communists of the 1930s regarded Tanizaki as a reactionary in the years prior to the Second World War. His writings failed to adopt a recognizable ideological “stance.” He was a foot fetishist; a masochist; his writings explore the erotic and the grotesque. To the ideologues of his day, this made him “decadent,” his worldview colored by nostalgia for premodernity and by an embrace of fantasy and the unconscious. The elements I admire in Tanizaki, however, are his visceral aversion to capitalist modernity, his respect for embodied being, and his desire to live well.
Sarah and Frankie listen to “Something Good,” one of many songs by Lindsay Munroe that Frankie’s been having us play of late. I dream of a ukulele as sun shines through an upstairs window. Record Night’s a thing again — though rebranded now as “Music Night,” and designed with a bit of forethought so as to approximate the style and spirit of a Rastafarian reasoning session. Thumbing through stacks of vinyl, I settle upon several I hope to share with friends. Rita Marley’s “One Draw” will make an appearance, as will “Şu Derenin Sulari,” a track from an LP that turned up in the bins by Turkish psych outfit Hüsnü Özkartal Orkestrasi.
Caught up on witches, let us sit with creatures and plot reading lists, end of schoolyear approaching. When time allows, we’ll plant our garden. Up onto the turntable I place an album from the 1960s folk revival, rescued from a bin at Goodwill: Mark Spoelstra’s Five & Twenty Questions.
Liner notes by counterculture folksinger and novelist Richard Fariña. The latter died tragically on April 30, 1966 in a freak motorcycle accident, two days after the publication of his novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. Fariña is the writer to whom Thomas Pynchon dedicates Gravity’s Rainbow. Pynchon had been best man at Fariña’s wedding to Joan Baez’s sister Mimi in spring of 1962. Along with the title track, other highlights on the Spoelstra album include “On the Road Again” and “My Love is Like a Dewdrop.”