Thursday February 14, 2019

2019 is for me a search for ways to re-engage lovingly with reality. I need to shake off and step out from under the frozen pose of feeling crushed by it. Let go, relax, get loose. Dive into Light In The Attic’s new compilation Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990. These tracks of ethereal, gossamer-fine wisps of furniture music from a corporate future-past sometimes resonate with human-sized sadness as on Hiroshi Yoshimura’s “Blink.”

Empire of Signs, the label that reissued Yoshimura’s Music for Nine Post Cards, knows how to weave around this “recovery” a good account of the work’s origins amid the bubble economy if 1980s Japan. Simon Reynolds calls it the “Fourth World Japan moment.” If only I could re-conceive myself as young, free, and driven. I would cook myself chestnuts. The picture would be big enough, robust enough. Life would feed me its signs, crows would speak to me, we’d crack jokes about malls and grocery stores. I wouldn’t just sit around all day surrounded by books.

Tuesday February 12, 2019

After watching a trailer for Japanese consultant Marie Kondo’s Netflix series Tidying Up (but before yet having watched the series itself), I wander about my house asking of objects, “What will give me joy?” The one that answers is an LP by a Bootsy Collins project called Sweat Band. It’s not a “great” record. Some of it bores me, but for some riffing back and forth by the drummer and the sax player. Does this record give me joy, or should I sell it? “Jamaica” saves it, I decide; the record’s worth keeping, even just for that alone.

What I want, though, is an intensification from within, jewels and miracles revealed amid an otherwise empty present. Sometimes nothing short of pennies from heaven will do. But absent that, I tell myself, try exercise.

Sunday February 10, 2019

I start it right with World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love’s a Real Thing, a compilation from 2007 that has me up on my feet ready to march to the sound of Moussa Doumbia’s “Keleya.” Next thing I know, I’m watching an African movie from Senegalese writer and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène called Ceddo (1977). Like Huxley’s mynah birds, my students help to bring me to attention. I flower, I bloom. I pick up and thumb through a copy of Edward Espe Brown’s The Tassajara Bread Book. Among the rich assortment of cookbooks tossed into being by the counterculture, Brown’s is one of my favorites. Definitely a book written to and from “heads” — those of us who speak to each other throughout the ages. Sarah and I plan to create a print to hang in our kitchen based on the book’s opening poem, “A Composite of Kitchen Necessities.”

Saturday February 9, 2019

I find calming and centering Suzanne Ciani and Kaitlin Aurelia Smith’s use of Buchla synthesizers on one of my favorite LPs of recent years, their FRKWYS record, Sunergy (2016).

(Best heard, BTW, in a darkened room while watching a muted version of this Joshua Light Show video. I find the experience of pairing the two thrillingly synesthetic.) Drone, darkness, repetition, primordial shapes, sketches, free improvisations, print-based consciousness supplanted by multi-sensory “happenings” — together, these form a potent combination. Birds fly near and perch beside me. Above I hear the roar of a plane. What I long for, though, is an alteration of the fundamentals of experience, like my sense of time and space. Out of the meltdown of consensus reality comes a voice like Whitman’s shouting, “Cheer up, slaves, and horrify foreign despots.” But perhaps reality also wants us to hear Seneca the Younger, to whom my initial response is wonder at the dude’s disdain for a figure akin to Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” (In his critique of the followers of Epicurus, Seneca writes that the situation is like that of “a sturdy man dressed in women’s clothes: your decency remains unimpaired, your virility unharmed, your person is free from any degrading submission, but in your hand is a tambourine.”) Let’s see: according to Dylanologists, the bearer of the tambourine is the Singer’s Muse. And the Singer’s Muse is one’s inner voice, is it not? The one that counsels “If you’re currently uncertain whether you’re located outside or inside the Gates of Eden, then stay home and ‘let virtue lead the way.'” When faced with this voice, the question is always, “Who are we? Are we already in accord? Are we already centered? If not, then who does the letting, who the leading? Who gets to be the shadow after whom the Other is always chasing?” Lucky for us, a card is a card, a hand a hand. It is in our moderation that we horrify despots.

Saturday February 2, 2019

Igloo taxonomies pull my daisy, skronk my sax. Tug, ballast, season — walk the trail of things and their sources. There is truth to be had by closing one’s eyes and listening to the birds in the trees. Which sun gives one the color of one’s breast: the one in the East, or the one in the West? The birds sing of elevated places, skyborn joy. Elsewhere, in some other time-space in the multiverse, cultural critics drool over Alexandra Drewchin’s “cyborg balladry.” “Embrace the temporary aspect of everything” seems to be the mantra that organizes her workflow. I find her digitally manipulated vocals chilling and even grotesque at times, only to find myself won over on other occasions with tracks like “Inclined.” Inner space is the place. But I still get the feeling I’m dealing with an upgraded being, an augmented intelligence whispering, “Harness the yin of the central nervous system.”

Saturday January 26, 2019

I miss living in neighborhoods where people sit around together outdoors talking and listening to music. It happens sometimes — but so much of the current era’s technology is too small for sound to be shared by random parties, large gatherings, our bodies all wiggling on the dance floor to the same felt vibrations. What this allows, however, is silent, adoring contemplation of the magical languages of birds. A wonderful loud one with a high-pitched cry in a branch a mere few feet above me. The hippie modernists tried to communicate to us, in however fragmentary a way, a genuinely new, experimental, loving way of being, each psychedelic head of the General Intellect projecting in works of art back to others diamond-dimensioned reflections of the total picture. Classrooms should be spaces where we learn to hang out with others. Announce straightforwardly that we’re sifting through the artifactual rubble of the last period of revolution in American history, looking for keys to unlock the Age of Aquarius. (For those who wish to enlist in this cause, check out Vera W. Reid’s Towards Aquarius. Weird, interesting mythological thinking, at the very least. But also quite possibly a clue. Then again, maybe just New Age fantasy. My sense is that the astrology is gibberish, meant only as a means of transmitting a poetic sentiment: humanity’s great wish, the wish for a New Age.) Was there not always some revolutionary promise there? For those of us born after the 1960s, in the age of postmodernity, ours has been “a time when faith in modern science’s founding sacraments — its claims to unimpeachable objectivity, axiomatic certitude, and autonomy from the prejudices of power — is rapidly disintegrating,” as Andrew Ross notes, “under the pressure not only of demythologizing critics and activists within the priesthood, but also from the thoroughgoing historical critiques of scientism waged by feminists and ecologists with one foot in the door, and from public disaffection with science’s starring role in the grisly drama of global degradation” (Strange Weather, p. 22). I am an Acid Communist, a Dharma Revolutionary. I subscribe to a cosmology in which consciousness interacts with what appears to consciousness: a 3-D immersive parallelogram of dynamic bodies, forces, and energies. And consciousness is no fixed vantage-point, no mere camera-eye; like the world it reflects, it’s always growing and changing. I’m willing to organize around whatever helps us go on ahead.

Why is so much of the Nuggets anthology mired in thwarted romance, love unrequited? What role did that trope occupy in the 60s zeitgeist? Garage rockers were teens on hormonal and drug-induced bad trips, not yet woke to psychedelic love. The group situated on the precipice of these two modes was The Chocolate Watchband, particularly on their classic, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.”

Dudes who elsewhere in their discography display the genre’s signature: an unhealthy relationship to booze, to women, and to sexuality, away from which the band retreats into beautiful reverb- and distortion-drenched sonic floating zendos like their glorious track, “Dark Side of the Mushroom.”

What we find throughout the era of hippie modernism are works that cultivate a keen sense of group identity — youth as members of a shared Age. Take the collective “we” in the following timeline of the Beat Generation as proposed by Allen Ginsberg: “We’d already had, by ’48,” he told an interviewer, “some sort of alteration of our own private consciousness; by ’55 we had made some kind of public articulation of it; by ’58 it had spread sufficiently so that the mass media were coming around for information.” And as Leerom Medovoi notes, the Beats utilized this attention from the mass media “to wage an impressively successful campaign affirming their own version of what a ‘beat generation’ of young Americans meant” — the group thus building for itself “a reputation as the legitimate representatives of the young” (Rebels, p. 221).