We need to organize. I mean organize on many levels: from the desktop upward. Do we want to “arrange” life? And if so, into what: something more? Or do we want a “range life,” as Stephen Malkmus of Pavement used to sing. What was that song about? There were times in my youth when it felt anthemic. I used to drive around a lot playing it on the car stereo. Yet where are we now? What would I hear if I listened to it today? After singing of his want of a range life in the song’s chorus, Malkmus follows the line with an echoey, oddly haunting if-than proposition: “If I could settle down, / If I could settle down, / Then I would settle down.” Is “range life” country-western? Is it a life of aim and ambition? And how does it relate to “settling down”? Biographically, the song was written in the midst of the band’s performance at Lollapalooza 1994. The music video—always-already a time capsule (the whole thing framed as if found in a lunchbox on a beach)—shows tour footage of the band wandering bemusedly among festivalgoers.
It’s like watching a home movie shot by visitors at a grunge-themed World’s Fair. Malkmus sneers somewhat haughtily from indie-land at the major-label acts sharing the bill, Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, his voice drifting off into the clouds of a dream during the song’s finale. These topical references are enjoyable reminders of a particular historical moment. Yet today they interest me less than the song’s sentiment. Youthful arrogance, maybe, mixed with exhaustion and a sort of wistful melancholy about a life of crime. Was Malkmus feeling wearied by the festival, wishing he could settle into a home? I struggle with the song’s verses. They don’t quite cohere for me into a consistent narratorial voice, resembling instead a range of romantic-bohemian characters and personas: skateboarders, druggies, members of the Gen-X “doom generation,” some a bit pulpy, some a bit self-absorbed. Maybe I’m just singing this song to myself after too many meetings, wearied by work. Maybe the song just rehashes in advance plot-points overheard in the minds of tour-goers, kids raised on MTV.
Several factors converge: a remediation team to treat mold in our basement, the sound of a lawnmower, a Hearts of Space recording, Ariel Kalma’s Osmose.
Sounds are everywhere in quick succession. The air vents, the refrigerator; somewhere in the distance, a clock. Sarah’s pen moves across a page as she grades. I sit at points during the experience, feeling what Hearts of Space co-founder Anna Turner, using the on-air pseudonym Annamystyq, called “wind sung sounds.” These sounds, she said, “are heard, experienced, on the skin delicately,” like the peeling of a potato, but “with exquisite softness.” This wind, she adds, brings healing, reminding us that we are “starflower beings,” conversing with those close to us. Beside me sits a purple flower, a Sweet William. Sarah prepares mashed potatoes for dinner with friends. I spend a few more moments wandering about in Osmose, contemplating the shape of the whole. Before I know it, I’m elsewhere.
Les McCann & Eddie Harris wow a live audience with their cover of Gene McDaniels’s “Compared to What” at the Montreux Jazz Festival in June 1969.
The moment finds itself reproduced, resonating through countless lifeworlds. The single alone sold over a million copies, and appears on several soundtracks. Gene McDaniels was kind of an odd dude, though, referring to McCann as his “degenerate friend” on YouTube and Twitter before passing away in 2011. His work sometimes creeps me out, actually, much of it operating with a mysterious, vaguely esoteric air: puppet master, glint in eye, etc. McDaniels retired soon after the song’s success, spending his final years living as a self-described “hermit” somewhere in Maine. His politically charged albums of the early seventies, however, remain towering achievements. During this brief but potent stint, McDaniels reinvented himself as “the left rev. mc d,” a persona so radical it drew the ire of the Nixon administration, causing Ahmet Ertegun to drop McDaniels from Atlantic Records after the release of his album Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse in 1971. What about me: where am I at, how do I refocus? The command comes, “Go outdoors,” and it is good. Worlds of images, illustrated figures: around one a mix of life, plentiful, joyous, multitudinous.
1953, the year Gerald Heard first tried mescaline, was also the year he began writing for ONE, the first openly gay periodical in America. In the years that followed, he held seminars for the Mattachine Society, one of the country’s first gay rights groups. He also helped shape the curriculum for the first gay studies institute in the United States, the ONE Institute for Homophile Studies in Los Angeles (Falby 139). For Heard, gay rights and psychedelics both signaled the arrival of a new stage in the history of consciousness. Humanity was undergoing spiritual evolution, a transformation similar to the one imagined by astrologers and New Agers who saw around them “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” Meanwhile, I’m humming Madonna’s “Holiday” while walking beneath a Harvest Moon. It’s a magical night, moonlight back-lighting a cover of cloud. Lovely energy, air pulsing with life. A good night, perhaps, to listen to Craig Leon’s Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1, or to lie in a chair and read Anne Kent Rush’s Moon, Moon.
“The first revelations came,” Rush writes, “by allowing myself to make place for the moon in my daily living. These moments have remained the strongest and most palpable knowing. I started with the recognition that because the moon was shining on me at night and pulling on me during the day, it probably had been ‘speaking’ to me for a long time, and i had not been listening. I had to learn its language. I decided to begin my research at night by standing and looking out an open window” (21).
Returned from work, I change out of my work clothes, settle in, listen to Intentions by Sunburned Hand of the Man.
The album’s soundscape is dreamy and cosmic, as on “Experiments,” instruments stretching into other dimensions. Afterwards, I find myself wanting to drum, sound erecting around me a kind of cosmic cottage. A voice pipes up recommending Laurence Veysey’s The Communal Experience: Anarchist and Mystical Counter-Cultures in America. History is ours to reclaim through anamnesis. It’s time to dive in and retrieve what was lost.
Wherein the dreaming mind reflects on its use of forms. What do we remember (or “encounter and take back with us”) when we turn inward? What’s there? Whose home? Who’s home? I see a version of myself — backpacking, walking beside child companion, hair worn long with braids, voice echoing through valley. Shall we turn to the dialogue form? Say after me: listen, sing what comes into one’s heart, let carolers carol. In my classroom, I do not merely impart information, I suggest overtones and analogies. This is as it should be. My teaching is, as Irwin Edman said of the work of Alexandre Koyré, “a concentration of much thought and much scholarship into an instrument of analysis and contagious communication” (ix). Or so it seems as I reflect mid-afternoon. By evening, my mind is elsewhere, loosening in partnership with John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette’s “Back – Woods Song.”
A cat has been sitting on a chair on our deck these last few days, napping midday. I like having it around. Deck chair cat. Classes are going well. After a full day of teaching (a pretty magical performance, I must say), I hang out with colleagues at a department party. Once home again, I splash water under my arms and rinse my feet. I spent the day talking with students, dialoguing about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where the freed prisoner ascends toward sight of the sun, much as the philosopher ascends toward knowledge of the good, and by evening, I’m attending a show by the band Sunwatchers. Life assembles into these weird coincidences, these synchronicities. I share Gabriel Marcel’s view: “Hope is a memory of the future.” As Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox note, “Memories of primal pleasure are alive and well in the unconscious; all we need to do is call them forth.”