Flying Start turns up in the bins, the second album by the Blackbyrds, the group Donald Byrd assembled while the head of Howard University’s Department of Jazz Studies in the 1970s. Curious, I look up info on the department — the first of its kind, established in 1970 “to preserve and perpetuate jazz through instruction, performance, and research.” From there, I’m off reading about a Beatles song released in 1968 called “The Inner Light,” the lyrics of which, written by George Harrison, paraphrase a portion of the Tao Te Ching.
Then onto the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University, as described by Stewart Brand in his 1972 piece for Rolling Stone magazine, “Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums.”
Cartoon images play across the backs of my eyelids like the surface of a scramble suit, an animated sequence of metamorphosing characters and places. Then back to baby care. Sarah passes her to me. After some adjustment of my arms, I comfort her, her beautiful eyes gazing up at me. Thoughts turn to a song new to my ears: Fountainsun’s “Ripening Sheaves.”
Fountainsun is a music project featuring Fumie Ishii and Daniel Higgs. I saw Higgs perform with his band Lungfish sometime in the late nineties. I’ve remained a fan ever since.
Arrived home from work, I go for a short walk around my neighborhood and stare up at trees full of red-chested robins. More than a dozen robins at varying heights above my head. They talk: I listen. Rustles of leaves and feathers, cheery tweets, blissful songs. Beatitudes performed for me, or at least tolerant of my listening. Performed first by the birds and then afterwards electronically, by a car that pulls up beside a park, bass sounds reverberating outward even with the car’s windows rolled up. That’s what I like, something suburbs often lack: neighborhoods with music (especially when the latter is of a spontaneous or locally improvised sort). When I return home, I sit and hold her, marveling and rejoicing, struck with a sense of beatitude as I behold my daughter. One day I wish to read Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954. “I promise I shall never give up, and that I’ll die yelling and laughing,” Kerouac wrote in an entry in the book from 1949. “And that until then I’ll rush around this world I insist is holy and pull at everyone’s lapel and make them confess to me and to all.” Always and forever I’m filled with the awareness of countless books unread. From Kerouac to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov to Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe.
I sit in my living room admiring this beautiful, brand new human who, according to a scale, has already grown a whole pound larger since last her pediatrician weighed her. By afternoon the sun has moved us outdoors. I honor mothers and mammalian and marsupial kin by carrying her in a front-facing pouch as I stroll through the neighborhood, talking with Sarah about a Nick Estes book that we’re reading together: a history of Indigenous resistance called Our History Is The Future. As readers we find ourselves wondering: How do we join the resistance to settler-colonialism so as to lessen the latter’s hold on lands, peoples, and nations? Perhaps I can begin by rethinking Hippie Modernist art, literature, and culture in light of Indigenous resistance movements of the 60s and 70s like Red Power and AIM. Rewatch counterculture westerns, movies like McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Little Big Man, and Midnight Cowboy. Watch, too, as F. lies on a couch listening to songs from Jeremy Steig’s Howlin’ for Judy, Karen Dalton’s “Reason to Believe,” Amen Dunes’s “Lonely Richard,” and Jessica Pratt’s “Moon Dude.”
A squirrel hops into a field of grass after a rainstorm, most of the ground around it covered in fallen leaves, the whole still wet from the storm. I relax with potted cacti and other indoor succulents, all of us reaching toward windows wanting sunlight. Honoring this demand shared across ages, Sarah and I rouse ourselves for our walk. Along the way, we converse with neighbors, some of them with dogs, one couple expecting like us, plus a woman I know from a sangha that used to meet here in town. A weird record turned up in the bins today: Harry Partch and His Strange Musical Instruments.
A recent book features an essay by music scholar Mina Yang calling Partch a “Hobo Orientalist.” He composed music that was to be played upon unique instruments, using scales of unequal intervals. Partch was one of the first twentieth-century composers in the West to work systematically with microtonal scales. An interesting find — but not where my head is at. I’d rather be licking bits of cranberry curd.
We’re ready for a new one. Little one on the way. I feel like leaning back and releasing wild exclamations, loud laughter, cries of animation and joy. Birds fill the air with song. After a walk through our neighborhood, Sarah and I sit at the counter at our favorite fried chicken joint, dining on breasts and sides. The owner recommends that we play music to entice the little one to rotate. I start thinking song possibilities: Yo La Tengo’s “Big Day Coming,” Fairport Convention’s “Come All Ye,” Apollo 100’s “Joy.”
Perhaps, as Maria Montessori might say, those sounds are too loud, “displeasing to the ear of one who has known the pleasure of silence, and has discovered the world of delicate sounds” (121). Perhaps we should try at a variety of volumes a variety of timbres and tones.
Like a needle dropped gently atop an LP, or an iron pressed briefly upon the arm of a shirt, so I happen upon The Soul of Mbira, an album in the Nonesuch Explorer Series.
Deep stuff. Afterwards, the rain upon my window. An mbira is an ancient African instrument consisting of keys mounted over a bridge on a hardwood sound-board. Thank you, fellow Explorers, for beaming this my way, like music from another galaxy, gourds and voices resonating across space and time. Nonesuch released the albums of field recordings in the Explorer Series from 1967 to 1984. That in mind, I agree to see a movie with some friends. Get out and explore a bit, I tell myself. Watch Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite and then stand on a sidewalk in front of a bar debating its merits with friends.