I am not now, nor have I ever been, a ladies' man, rake or playa. Nevertheless, I have had some experience with women and I've encountered a variety of pubic hairstyles. The majority of the females I've known had the standard triangle. Some were shaved, some were thickly furred. I had one long-termer who shaved occasionally for variety and one who was a compulsive hair-plucker, a trichotillomaniac. I never really thought about women's pubic hair much.
A few years back, I was working in a different restaurant and the subject came up in conversation. I don't know how pubic hair came up in conversation. Restaurants are like that. There you are dicing onions and then you're having a conversation with the nineteen-year-old server about pubic hair. A bartender came back to the kitchen and put her two cents in. By the end of the shift, I had learned that bare-down-there had become normal, that natural pubic hair was "disgusting" and that electrolysis of the pubes was a thing people did. I haven't conducted any surveys since then - questioning women regarding their pubic hair seems a mite awkward - but I have no reason to suspect that my former coworkers were anomalies. The women who I'm close enough with to discuss such matters assure me that total defibulation is the norm.
I was watching E. Elias Merhige's Begotten with a female friend, a smart,competent, confident young woman who has many accomplishments to her credit. She found the disturbing imagery disturbing, appropriately, but was especially critical of the female characters' bush. I explained that the woman in the movie represented Mother Nature. She replied that "Mother Nature needs to trim that shit". We've had plenty of discussions about feminist issues - and I've tried to get her to pose naked for cover art with no success - and she knows better, but her "vagina shame" is still there and still strong.
Women's bodies are not their own. Women - in this culture - grow up in the spotlight, constantly examined, critiqued, criticized and dictated to. Entire industries depend on women hating their bodies and being willing to spend billions of dollars "correcting' their "flaws". The body-shaming never ends. Men are subjected to some body-shaming, but that's nothing compared to what women endure. The majority of it is directed at parts of womens' bodies that anyone can see: their faces, legs, hair. A woman doesn't have to be naked for anyone to know how her body is shaped. Pubic hair, conversely, is private, which is why it's even more disturbing that the shaming has gotten there. Sex workers might have professional reasons to shave, but the average woman's pubis is only seen by herself and her lover(s). The fact that total hair removal has become the norm indictates that our culture's degradation of women has reached into their most intimate places. I'm not going to go into labiaplasty or anal bleaching.
Symbolically, women are linked with nature and the Earth. Mother Nature is a mother for a reason. Men are related to society, to laws and organization.Our society has abdicated all authority over nature. We have collectively given our planet to corporations, to do with as they please. Corporations have no symbolic standing because they're too recent. Myth offers no examples of heroes or heroines venturing forth to slay corporations. Myth does provide many stories of individuals fighting evil tyrants who seek total dominion over the land and everyone on it, which I would suggest is what corporations are.
Begotten, by the way, is a phenomenal piece of work. I got my copy from a friend who was really into fucked-up films and went into thinking that's what it was. I figured out what was happening halfway through. If it had ended differently, I would've been pissed, but Merhige got it right. It's brutal, disturbing and 100% spot on. It tells the story exactly right and Mother Nature's pussy is hairy for the right reasons. Kudos, Mr. Merhige.
So I decided to organize a various artists compilation, to be titled My Goddess Has A Crazy Bush. The whole point of the comp is not not not to promote a fetish for hairy pussy. I spent hours searching the web for the right picture to go with this thing, a search which paid off rather delightfully, I might add, but which entailed looking at a lot of images of hairy pussies. Fetishizing pubic hair is just the flip side of fetishizing no pubic hair and not what I'm after. I've gotten some responses from musicians who are really into the fur and I'm totally okay with that, but the end goal is that pubic hair is natural and fine. There's nothing wrong with trimming it if you don't want it curling out of your bathing suit or shaving it if that seems fun, but allowing some massive corporation to shame you into believing that your body, in it's natural state, is disgusting or dirty or unsightly is giving up too much. Our bodies belong to us. We should decide what to do with them and if our prospective sexual partners don't like our pubic 'dos, let 'em find some other lover.
My contact list consists mostly of experimental, noise, weird punk and drone musicians. Most of them are male. I think there is some value in males saying they're happy with women's natural bodies - many women do care what the men in their lives think about their bodies. For us to say "Hey, you don't have to shave to make us happy" is a positive thing, but I'm not trying to organize a sausage party. I've gone pretty far out of my way to throw this thing at female musicians and haven't gotten any responses. I've also sought diverse musical forms and have no reason to think any of the old-time bands I've contacted will be sending tracks. If you know any radical, banjo-pickin' femmes who might like to get in on this, send 'em a link.
Pubic hair is just an example, of course. What this thing is really about is the unnatural and unattainable images women are presented with and told they must conform to. I'm pretty happy to have plenty of hippie chicks in my life who don't shave anything, avoid make-up like the plague and wear comfortable, functional clothes. They listen to terrible music, of course, and none of 'em wanna jam with BDSR, but I'm happy to have 'em around, reminding me of how female human beings actually look. I'll take a hairy hippie chick in jeans and workboots over a made-up college girl anyday.
Relating it back to nature, I'm all for nature. I'm all for the woman/earth symbolism. Women and our planet can look good and fun when gussied up a bit - I like Japanese gardens and I know some punks who rock the Siouxsie Sioux heavy-make-up look pretty hard - but wild, lush and untamed is always preferable.
So, send in your tracks, let your big muff roar and get out to the national forest as soon as you can. Goddess bless.
I’m writing this in the last couple hours of 2013. It’s been a hectic few weeks since I put anything up here. Shit’s been falling apart.
The Toshiba has been showing signs of rough usage for some time. You know, bits falling off, little quirks, special knowledge required to get things to happen. It went mute a few months ago, which meant I had to burn cdr’s and go for a drive to listen to anything I was working on. In mid-December, the power cord wore through. The thingie that plugs into the back was already pretty hinky and it turned out they don’t make those anymore, so replacing isn’t an option, which left me without a computer for a couple weeks. That’s why I ain’t posted.
There’s also some car trouble – my ignorant guess is that it needs a new head gasket. I’ve done that job on older cars with simpler engines, so I might be able to pull it off. We’ll see. I sure can’t afford to have somebody else do it, even though the garage where I get inspections is pretty cheap.
Both roomies bolted. One has been talking about it for months, did it all right and on the up. The other one…not so much. I heard a rumor she was moving, asked her about and yeah, she’s out in ten days. No reason to think she would’ve told me if I hadn’t asked. Utilities are in her name so I assume she was just gonna leave me with no power and water, which is no worse than I would’ve expected really. She ain’t what you’d call a friend. I needed a place to live. I’m on a separate lease, so my rent don’t change, but the utilities’ll go up. Meh.
Then there was Xmas. I am a huge fan of the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and I don’t mind at all that the Xians pasted the birth of Jesus on top of it. They got all the imagery right, that’s for sure: the birth of the Sun God/Son of God, the miraculous birth, the evergreens, all of it merges smooth and works well. Until it all went commercial as shit. I’m not exactly sure when that happened. I’m sure somebody has been complaining about how the “real meaning of Christmas” is being forgotten since the year 2, but I’d put it in the 1950’s, since that’s when most of everything started to really go to shit in the USA. I haven’t done a lick of research on that one and I’m not going to. Xmas has been steadily getting more and more horribly anti-Christlike for as long as I can remember. The past few haven’t been too bad for me personally – my daughter is all caught up in the magic of it, believes in Santa Claus, loves every bit of it. I enjoy her enjoyment and I focus on what the Yuletide means to me. It works.
On Xmas day, we got up. She ran out to the livingroom and came running back yelling “Daddydaddydaddy! He was here!” It was cute. We saw some kinfolks, I took her to her Mommy, who took her to visit her family in godforsaken New Jersey. I had to endure a bit more relatives, but the food was good. One complaint I don’t have is that my people can’t cook. I ate all there was that didn’t have dead animal in it, sat around and listened to pudgy, bald guys talk about hunting and football and got out. Leaving the family thing on Xmas is always a giddy experience: it’s the furthest I can ever get from the next Xmas.
Here’s a thought: how about if we just don’t have Xmas occasionally? I’m thinking we take every fifth year and just don’t do it. No Xmas in years that end in 5 and 0. Wouldn’t that be cool? We’d all be able to get through December without the hectic, bombastic stressfest for a change. We could still give gifts to people if we wanted, get together with friends and family, donate to charities. We can do those things anytime we want, Xmas or not. Just think how nice it would be to be able to go to the grocery store and not have to hear some idiot ringing a goddamned bell. If we liked it, we could increase it to every other year. Maybe we’d eventually eliminate Xmas altogether, which would actually mean it would be celebrated by friends and families on 25 December, at home, with a good meal and some simple gifts, the way it was until the 1950’s or whenever.
Anyway. The grrrl went to NJ for a couple days. I worked both jobs (Isaiah 48:22). She came home and we’ve been tolerating each other pretty good for a few days. We’ve had a couple spats, but we get along pretty good most of the time. Things’ll get back to normal soon enough.
Nana gave me this weird little computer that I’m using now. She got it a few years ago, never really took to it. I had no trouble getting it working, though it did need one-hundred-twelve updates. I’m not kidding. “Now installing 1 of 112 updates. Please do not turn off your computer…” I had to download Google Chrome to check my email. I installed the sound program I’m used to and I’ve started fucking with sound again, which is fun. As I type this, in bed, sleeping Spotted Opossum beside me, I’m listening to Shinki Chen’s Shinki Chen & Friends, a fine slab of 70’s Japsyche straight off youtube, which I hain’t been able to do for a while. I still gotta get all the shit from the old box to this one, but I’m not worried.
2013 was a fine enough year. I moved twice, which was less than the year before. Swear to gods, if I can put some cash together, I’m buying a cabin out in the woods and never moving again. The little red truck runs like a top. BDSR released a bunch of new stuff. The line-up right now is a good one, possibly soon to be augmented with clarinet and flute. Seriously, there may be a clarinautist and a flautist joining the din. I can’t imagine how esoteric that would be.
Another thing happened. There’s this guy in town, another musician-type, we’ve had some bad blood between us for years. There’ve been times when I’ve wanted to make that right, but there’ve also been times when I’ve stirred shit up. Mostly I’ve just let it alone. Guy came up to me one day to tip me off about some LP’s he thought I’d be interested in at the local skateboards and used records shop. I was dealing with the grrrl, who was pitching a fit about something at that moment, so I couldn’t really engage with him, which may have been better. Small steps. I sent him info about the “Crazy Bush’ compilation, invited him to contribute a track. He said he’d put something together. So – may be that we’re both ready to move on. One shouldn’t look too far ahead with this sort of thing, but I’m hopeful. Decreasing the amount of negativity in my world is something I always hope for.
Been feeling the bite of poverty, man. Getting all Zen about it. Nothing like poverty to help ya get all Zen. Then again, I picked up a copy of Dennis Tedlock’s Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition Of The Mayan Book Of The Dawn Of Life And The Glories Of Gods And Kings at the free book stand in front of Downtown Books recently and I’ve been reading that. I haven’t figured out if the Mayans had anything like Zen, but they had some good shit going on, that’s for sure. Solid Twin Hero stuff, very popular all over the Americas. And I just realized, just now this moment while I was writing, how I can use that looped sample I made this afternoon and a section of the Popol Vuh that I wanted to do something with when I read it last week. Those two elements might just fit together exactly right or I might have to bend ‘em a little, but I think it should work. Ha.
Ah…uh….the Shinki Chen thing ended a couple paragraphs back. I switched to Taj Mahal Travellers July 5, 1972, which is a whole ‘nother trip. Also, it’s about to be 2014.
See ya on the other side.
I was recently thinking about compiling a list of the Top Ten Most Satanic Songs for this space, but could only really determine the one that would be in the number 1spot. Then it occurred to me that I use the image of Satan, the Devil, in two distinct ways and that I have never clarified what the fuck I’m talking about. Here and now shalt that mistake be corrected.
The Devil is, of course, a Christian character. Christianity, as we all know, has a rather warped sense of morality, some of which it inherited from Judaism and some of which it developed all by itself. The image of the Devil, goat legs, horns, general ugliness, came from Pan, the Greek god of the wild, embodiment of the animal nature of humanity, a piping, dancing, nymph-fucking id. Christianity vilified Pan because he represented all of the physical urges, the joys of the body, relegating the god-given and natural desires of the flesh to the same degree of evil as the actual sins which Jesus actually spoke against. Gradually, the “sins” of the body, which are external, became more “sinful” than the sins of the mind/spirit which are harder to point out in other people. Having sex somehow became worse than being greedy, which, taken to its most grotesque extreme, yields the Westboro Baptist Church, a group of utterly hateful and loathsome assholes who use a couple of verses from the Old Testament, taken deliberately out of context, to justify becoming exactly the people that Jesus was most violently angry with: the money-changers in the temple.
In October ’02, when the Beltway snipers were shooting people up in Northern Virginia, I was working in a restaurant. There was this squatty, bald mental midget who came in every morning to clean the place, one of those fervent born-agains who wears T-shirts that say things like “1 CROSS + 3 NAILS = 4GIVEN”. He was yammering at me about the snipers one morning and said something like “I know the good Lord says forgive, but the flesh is weak and I think they oughta hang those guys when they catch ‘em”. Apparently, he thought that Matthew 26:40-43 was a ready-made excuse for just not trying to do what Jesus said to do, a ridiculous and all-too-common misreading of what is, in my opinion, one of the most important passages in the New Testament. Later, he sexually assaulted a waitress.
That aside aside, I’m not really trying to go the direction of critiquing Christianity’s inanities. What I’m after here is an explanation of what the Devil means to The Big Drum In The Sky Religion. For that, I should turn away from Christianity to paganism, which is somewhat iffy since “paganism” is a big, jumbled mess of different beliefs, so why don’t I just drop that and say what I mean without trying to link it to anything.
Greed, deceit, selfishness, malice, bigotry and cruelty are fucking wrong. Enjoying the pleasures of the flesh is not fucking wrong. Cheating on your girlfriend is wrong because of the deceit involved, not because of the sex involved. Dancing around a bonfire in the middle of the night, whacked out of your skull on peyote and Night Train, naked and sweaty, participating in a filthy orgy and singing praises to the Morning Star is not sinful. Being rich, which means having more than you need while others have less than they need, is sinful. Being gay, okay; hating gay, no way. Is this making sense?
One of the points that I make here and everywhere, over and over, is that myth and religion are about living a genuine life. Every person is born with a purpose, a defining and vital driving force, and the goal of living is to find that whatever it is and live it. Jesus’ purpose was bridging the divide between people and God, which meant death by crucifixion. The Devil who appeared to Jesus in the wilderness (Mark 4, Luke 4) was trying to convince Jesus to do anything other than fulfill His purpose. Prince Gautama was similarly tested by Mara. Parcival encountered numerous obstacles in quest of the Holy Graal. Arjuna experienced paralyzing doubt at Kurukshetra. In all these examples, and many, many others, the hero holds to his purpose despite doubt, doing what he is supposed to do, even when it means death. That’s what it means to live a genuine life. The Devil in these stories appears as “the Prince of Lies”, telling the hero that he should forgo his particular purpose in favor of security, wealth, power, a normal life. An example would be a person who wants to major in modern dance, but goes for the business degree instead because s/he wants to make a good living. If your heart says “modern dance”, anything else is wrong.
When my daughter was born, I experienced a moment of temptation. I thought “I’m a father now. I have to stop messing around with art and music and get a real job.” Because I was familiar with myth, I was able to recognize that thought for what it was and respond appropriately: “Get thee behind me, Satan”. Art and music are what I am supposed to do. I have always known that. I have never been able to really imagine anything else. I paint houses and do restaurant work to make a living, and I do enjoy those jobs, but my real calling is art and music. Actually, I should say that my real calling is learning about myth and religion and spreading what I’ve learned. Art and music are the methods I’ve been given. And writing. I don’t enjoy writing the same way I enjoy art and music, but I use it because it allows me to express ideas that I can’t express in those other forms. Eventually, I’ll get around to using movies as well.
Of course, raising my daughter is more important than any of that, but I’m teaching her by example. I must follow my own gods-given path in order to teach her to follow hers. She is the future; I am the past. She is the one who is coming, whose shoelaces I am unfit to tie.
Figuring out what one was made to be and then becoming that is the great task of life. It is terribly difficult and means constant struggle. The Prince of Lies never stops placing obstacles in the path. All are called to this course, but few even begin.
I woke up from a dream this morning, a drinking dream. I don’t have them often, but I do still have them. I couldn’t remember this one very well, but I know I was drinking and drugging. Drinking dreams are the only nightmares I have anymore and they always freak me out. It took me a while after waking to calm down. For those who can enjoy drugs and alcohol without losing themselves, there is no sin in drugs and alcohol. I am an alcoholic/addict. If I drink or take drugs, I lose myself; I become a voracious consumer of drugs and alcohol, a hungry ghost, incapable of pursuing my path. That is death, spiritual death, immediately, physical death soon enough. If you can take drugs or drink without losing yourself, no problem, no sin. I don’t have a romantic/sexual partner right now, but if I did we wouldn’t be married in the eyes of any church and we would certainly engage in sexual practices not approved by the Bible. Occasionally enjoying anal or oral sex with a willing partner doesn’t cause me to lose myself or deviate from my own path, no sin.
So, according to the Christian, Sleep’s Dopesmoker is of the Devil because it’s a slow, sludgy glorification of marijuana that rips off Black Sabbath. Cool. I love Dopesmoker. Dopesmoker makes me laugh. Dopesmoker does not make me want to smoke dope. I would call Dopesmoker “Satanic” because it’s big, dumb metal, but I do not mean that Dopesmoker, in itself, leads anyone from their own path. Makes sense? Devil-horn-hands, pentagrams, goat-heads, deviant sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, those things are all “of the Devil” in a way that any pagan would say is perfectly fine and dandy. Lying, stealing (in most cases), rape, corporate malfeasance, &c. are “of the Devil” in a way that any pagan would call truly evil, because they cause harm to self and others.
The confusion comes from being pagan in a society dominated by Christians.
I hope this clears it up. When I say things like “Stalagh’s Projekt Misanthopia is fucking Satanic”, I mean it’s really, really fucking cool. When I say “Monsanto is fucking Satanic”, I mean it’s an evil corporation that profits from deceiving and harming people. The word “Satanic” can be good or bad. I generally assume that a person of reasonable intelligence can tell what I intend by the context.
I describe songs as “Satanic” according to a vague and poorly defined sense of je ne sais quoi – they just seem that way. The riff matters, obviously. The message of the lyrics, though relevant, has less to do with it than the impact of the music. “Sympathy For The Devil” is clearly Satanic. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is Satanic as a motherfucker. “Sister Ray”, Satanic. “Telstar”, “Lola”, “Fox On The Run”, “Land Down Under” and “Bloody Hammer” are Satanic as Hell. Conversely, “Back On The Chain Gang”, “Come And Get It” and “Radar Love”, though awesome, are not Satanic. “Rebel Rouser”, “Come On, Eileen”, “Don’t Fear The Reaper” and “Stuck In The Middle With You” are almost-but-not-quite Satanic.
So. That said, the single most Satanic song in the history of rock is Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky”.
Autumn is the dying time. The trees shed their leaves, the creeks go dry, the earth goes cold. Animals crawl into holes to hide and sleep. There are few birds and they don’t sing, just shiver and pick at whatever carcass they can find. Dawn comes later and dusk, sooner. The veil between the living and the dead, no more than a veil at any time, is thinnest now, with ragged holes to peek or creep through. This is the time of shutting down, closing up, preparing for the cold to come. It is right and good that we think of death now, display death’s symbols and paint our faces as corpses.
We know, of course, that spring will come, as it always does. The animals and birds will return, the flowers will bloom and the riverbeds will swell with rains and melting snow. The world doesn’t die, only seems to, for a time and then returns to joyous, abundant life. ‘Round and ‘round roll the seasons as Terra Mater turns and turns forever and ever, unto the world’s end, amen. And why shouldn’t we celebrate the time of death? Are we not the same as the earth from whence we came? Do we imagine that our own deaths will somehow be different?
Everything natural is round. Day rolls into night into day as the seasons roll, the planet rolls, the Milky Way rolls, around and around. All of time and all of space are ever-turning circles, cycles, ceaseless rotations. Wheels within wheels.
My daughter, the Spotted Opossum, is four-and-a-half. I am forty-four-and-a-half. She finds it amusing that our ages end the same. And so they always will. She is at the beginning of her life this time; I’m in the middle of mine. She understands that death is only sad for the living, who are deprived of their loved one. The dead go to be with God, perhaps returning in another form or the same form, she doesn’t really know because I don’t really know and I tell her so. I’ve told her that death is nothing to fear and she wants to believe that. In time, she will. She’s had very little experience with life, doesn’t understand even the basic concepts of time or space. There’s no way someone so young can grasp that death is life’s other side.
It wasn’t easy for me to learn it. I once feared death. I once feared life. Fear drove me to dark places, to alcohol, drugs, suicidal ideation, insanity. I’ve courted death, jerked off to death, slipped into unconsciousness certain that I’d not wake up. I have killed and caused to be killed. I have held bloody human flesh. I have lost control of cars, dragged myself out of freezing water, been on the wrong end of swinging blades, tasted gun barrels, overdosed. I’ve seen the dead, heard the dead, walked with the dead. A man I knew died a few days ago, sixty-six-years old. He was in Vietnam, deep in the shit, with confirmed kills still fresh in his mind. We called him “Pastor” because he was one. Another man died a few days ago, Lou Reed, seventy-one. I never met him, of course, but his music blew my mind twenty-five years ago and still does today. The Velvets, I mean, and obviously Metal Machine Music. Both of them were recovering alcoholic/addicts, as am I, and it’s surprising, really, that they managed to hold on as long as they did. Maybe I’m closer to the end than the middle. We’ll see. I’m not planning on dying anytime soon. I’ve got a lot of shit to attend to before I shuffle off this mortal coil, a lot of work to get done. I might not have the final say on that matter, but I’d put up a goddamn fight, that’s for sure. I expect to be around for a bit longer, long enough to get tired and start to look forward to death as one looks forward to sleep at the end of a long, hard day. That’s how my paternal grandmother went. She was ready. She told me.
One my mother’s side, it’s not at all unusual for the old and failing to report being visited in the night by dead relatives who tell them not to be afraid. When somebody mentions that Uncle Arlen or Aunt Bon was in their room the night before, everybody knows they’ll be dead soon. I wouldn’t mind that.
I’ve been talking about physical death. There are other kinds. We’ve all experienced transitions in our lives, experiences that changed us in deep, profound ways which we were unable to comprehend until later, if ever. That’s a type of death. I experienced it when I got sober and again when the nurse put my newborn daughter in my hands. In both cases, the person who I had been ceased to be and a new person came into existence. In both cases, I had to figure out how to let go of the person I had been to be the person I had become. When I got clean, I was pretty close to physical death, in no good shape mentally and utterly ignorant of spiritual matters. When the girl came out, I was ten years straight and ten years into the study of myth and religion. I perceived that I had crossed a threshold of sorts, that I had entered into a new form of existence. That’s what religions mean when they talk about death and resurrection. People who are physically dead do not physically get up and call on their old friends before floating up into the sky. Metaphorical deaths happen all the time, many times to each of us.
Then again, there is the matter of identification. Who am I? Am I the body that houses the spirit for a brief time or am I the spirit that uses the body and casts it off when it is no longer useful? Am I the ego which clings to status, security and fondly held notions or am I an eternal, ever-changing monad which is playing at being temporal? Am I a blip that exists for a moment in an inconceivably vast and ongoing universe or am I an inconceivably vast and ongoing universe which is seeing itself through the eyes of a blip for a moment? I know my answers to those questions and knowing them, I really don’t think about it much. I don’t have to think about it. Thinking about would only distract me from the game that I’m playing, the game of being alive in the realm of middle dimensions. It’s a good game and I’m trying to play my hand well, according to my understanding.
Death isn’t the end of the game, not really. Well, it can be, I guess, if you choose to go to Amitabha’s Pure Land or something. I expect I’ll come back. I’ve got a list of things to do that I don’t think I can get through in one lifetime. Whether I make it to ninety-one, like Grandma, or go out in a fiery explosion tomorrow, I’ll have to come back to finish what I’ve started, which is the total transformation of human consciousness. No shit. The myths and religions of the world are all about living life and transcending death and I’m pretty sure that if people understood that they’d stop being such insufferable assholes all the time. The only way this world is going to become the place I want to live is for it to be radically changed, so I’m going to change it or die trying and come back to try again.
Also, skulls are cool. Halloween is fun. Old horror movies are great. We’ve been watching Hammer horror movies lately. Gary Oldman was really a better Dracula than Christopher Lee, but whatever. The classics are classic.
In case you were wondering, yes, the title is a reference to Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around”, the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Terrible song, great show. Sing it with “death” instead of “love” and it’s just as true.
You’re gonna make it after all.
Occasionally, I make comments in this space that an uninformed reader might misinterpret as mildly misogynist. I have a somewhat twisted and dark sense of humor and I frequently make the mistake of assuming that other people will know where I’m coming from and when I’m joking. I have also had no good luck with romantic/sexual relationships, which fact has certainly colored my perception of women. I do frequently find the females in my life to be somewhat frustrating and inexplicable. I am sure that there are inherent differences between males and females. None of which changes the fact that I am a feminist. I absolutely believe in gender equality. The fact that men and women perceive the world differently does not make one way better. Actually, the best course of action is for each gender to learn as much about how the other gender views the world so that each can increase their own awareness and become more whole and integrated.
Feminism isn’t ultimately about making sure that female laborers get paid the same wage as their male counterparts, though that is an obvious and necessary step. The final goal of feminism, the final goal that I’m working toward at least, is for all human beings to recognize how gender divisions create personal divisions, i.e. how each individual is negatively affected, so that everyone can embrace those qualities and aspects of themselves that are associated with the other gender and become a fully functioning, complete human being.
I am physically male. I have all the primary and secondary physical characteristics that are associated with males: penis, testicles, beard, broader shoulders than hips, &c. I am also artistic, intuitive, introverted and somewhat passive, attributes our society views as female. Another way of saying it would be that I am a yin man. My inner processes are more yin than yang.
Yin and yang, of course are the main pair of opposites in Chinese mythology. The black half, yin, is associated with female/wet/dark/passive/&c. The white half, yang, which is red in Chinese tradition, corresponds with male/dry/light/aggressive. All possible attributes align with either yin or yang, though how exactly they align might depend on circumstances. Neither is better than the other. Men and women are generally more yang and yin, respectively, but there are cases in which a male should act more yin or a female act more yang. Both should be options.
I want to point out here that the yin/yang symbol is one symbol. Many, if not most, people see it as two halves: a yin half, with a spot of yang and a yang half with a spot of yin. According to this (mis)interpretation, males should recognize the spot of yin in them and females should recognize their own spot of yang. Feh, says me. Each person contains equal amounts of yin and yang. Each person is the entire circle. The yin and yang portions are shaped as they are, as opposed to half-circles, to represent the constantly circulating interplay of yin and yang. Now one, now the other, as circumstances require.
My daughter fell off of a chair recently. As she fell, I lunged forward, thrusting my right hand forward to grab the back of her head, preventing it from striking the floor. I don’t mind if she falls occasionally, especially if she’s being kinda reckless. Falling down is educational. She certainly wasn’t going to suffer any bodily injury falling off a chair so I wasn’t concerned about her body, but I wasn’t about to let her skull come into contact with the tile floor. My hand provided sufficient protection. She was a little surprised and chagrined by the fall, but not hurt. I suggested she be a little more careful and that was that. I don’t know whether that particular incident, which just happened to pop into my mind at the point when I started writing about it, is an example of yin or yang, nor do I think it matters. I have achieved a degree of integration that I’m comfortable with.
In the past, I struggled with it a lot. I have never felt like I really fit in with the majority of people around me, but I felt more unlike males than females, so I tended to associate with women. I’m heterosexual, but it wasn’t all about macking on chicks. Actually, it wasn’t even mostly about that. I just felt more comfortable around women than around men, who I viewed as mostly misogynists. At a few points in my life, I rode the swinging pendulum to the other extreme and behaved somewhat misogynistically myself. Norse mythology helped me a lot. The Norse gods and goddesses are pretty extreme in their gender roles, which helped me to identify their various characteristics, sort them out in me and figure out how and why those characteristics worked together. It wasn’t a conscious process. I didn’t pick up a book on Norse mythology in order to figure out which parts of me were more Thor and which parts more Freyja. I read Norse myths because I like to read myths and later I realized how I had been affected. Greek mythology might do the same thing: the Greek pantheon is similar to the Norse, but I’ve never really liked the Greek myths that much. I dunno why.
Anyway, I’m more internally yin. Externally, I’m pretty yang. Probably many people who know me in only a superficial way would be surprised to learn that I view myself as yin. It doesn’t matter. Most everybody knows me as a person who opposes inequality whether its gender-, racial-, or any other form of inequality. I’m fairly blunt about it and I take it further than most of the liberals I know who tend to be kinda mealy-mouthed about it. Fuck sexism. Fuck racism. Fuck homophobia. Fuck the oppression of the poor, which doesn’t have a name – poorism? Capitalism? Oh yeah, that’s what it’s called. Fuck capitalism. Fuck all that shit.
The integration thing is something that we have to work on as individuals of course. Myth helped me with it, but I have the advantage of being male. I am absolutely certain that women can benefit from myth just as well as men, but women have to do more work. Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s Parcival is a magnificent piece of work. The point of that book, the best version of the Parcival story which is the best part of the Grail cycle, is the importance of having a quest, a goal, a thing to strive for. Parcival commits himself to finding the Holy Grail. He searches without respite, even after he has been told by a divine messenger that he will never succeed. He searches because the searching is what gives his life meaning and in the end, he does succeed. That is exactly how we should live: striving to attain the one true thing, whatever it is, that gives life meaning without being distracted by anything. That’s how Gautama went to the Bo tree. That’s how Jesus went to the cross. It’s a wonderful message and I think about Parcival in the wilderness when I’m struggling to find a way to continue to do the things that I do. Women can find that inspiration in Parcival just as well as men can, but they have to first identify with a male lead character. That may not be a huge step – it certainly isn’t one women haven’t gotten used to – but it is one more step than I had to take. There are myths with female leads, of course, but precious few. The lion’s share of myths are aimed at a male audience and have males in the lead.
I’ve been thinking about this stuff recently because of the Spotted Oppossum. She’s really into princesses these days, which is cute and fun, but I’m trying to raise up a strong, confident, assertive grrrl so I’m a bit concerned about the pink-washing she’s getting from the entertainment industry. We started watching the Disney/Pixar movie Brave t’other night. It has some scary parts that were too much for her so we turned it off. I watched the rest alone and was impressed. It’s not perfect, but it does present a strong, assertive female character, a princess, of course, but a tough one, who refuses to submit to tradition when it comes to her right to live her life her own way. It’s a good message. I talked about it with the grrrl the next day and her curiosity is piqued. She wants to watch the rest of it, if I skip the scary parts. She also wants a bow and arrows.
So. Kind of a meandering, unfocused ramble so far. That’s how it goes, huh? BDSR recordings tend to be that way too, don’t they? That’s yin. Allowing something to progress organically, accepting the various twists and turns and double-backs, going wherever it goes, is a yin style. If you’ve been to college, you’ve been exposed to that scholarly writing style where the first paragraph is the statement of intent or whatever and every paragraph after it has a specific reason and it’s all very formulaic and dry and dull and painful to read. That’s yang taken to the extreme. Making things happen is yang; letting things happen is yin. Again, both have their benefits. It seems pretty unlikely that I’m going to edit long, meandering BDSR jams into a smooth, three-minute, verse/chorus/verse/bridge/solo/chorus, normal, yang song anytime ever, because that ain’t my style. My artistic sense is yin and I’m quite capable of getting all yang up in here about it.
Let me just state right here that, most of the time, I have only a vague idea of what I’m doing. Seriously, I’m winging it more often than not, strolling right in where angels fear to tread. It consistently surprises me how well it works out.
As Espresso Shaman, I’m the one who assembles/produces/slaps together all BDSR releases. I do put some little thought into what goes where and how it’ll all end up, but I also jam shit together somewhat higgledy-piggledy and randomly. Sometimes, I realize why something goes together a certain way long after it’s finished.
That happened tonight. I was at work, confined to the dishpit, listening to some BDSR cd’s that I had in the car. I like to listen to BDSR sometimes when I just wanna trance out. One of my motivations as a musician is to create music that I can listen to when I just wanna trance out because I frequently wanna just trance out and the right kind of music makes that happen a lot easier. So I was listening to The Trout Mask Of God Replica/Ārya Soundtrack, thinking that it was a pretty decent release and I was happy with it and then I started free-associating.
There’s a long section on that’n where a voice chants “everything you do is wrong” over and over while another voice slowly says “I am yesterday, today and tomorrow. I have the power to be born a second time. I am the source and creator of all the gods.” over and over. The first voice is Danny Elfman – it’s a sample from Oingo Boingo’s “Same Man I Was Before” – the second is Smokin’ Joe Campbell and I can’t remember the title of the DVD that I stole that from. I got it from the library, that’s all I know. Anyhoo, I was thinking that the section goes on a little long and then I remembered that when I was putting that part together, I decided to repeat the Oingo Boingo sample 666 times because the voices that Elfman says “start shouting at me ‘everything you do is wrong’”, voices in his head, voices which I’ve heard in my own head, are infernal. That’s what the Devil tells you. You’re wrong, you suck, you’re no good, your dreams are for shit. That’s the Prince of Lies telling you that. So it made sense to have it 666 times. Smokin’ Joe Campbell is the voice of transcendence, the voice of Brahmā, the ultimate and unknowable energy that creates, sustains and permeates all that is and more, of which the other gods are representations. As human beings, we live in the Zone of Middle Dimensions, between the opposites, caught in the middle, constantly torn between “good” and “evil”, but Brahmā/Wakan Tanka/God(head) is not caught in the middle. Rather, the ultimate and unknowable energy is all that is and more, which means that it is both good and evil, but because it is beyond pairs of opposites, it is neither good nor evil.
That’s paradoxical nonsense, I know. When you start mucking around with transcendence, paradoxical nonsense is something you get used to. I’m trying to convey something like the free association thing I had going on whilst listening to Trout Mask at work.
The voice over against the Devil telling you “everything you do is wrong” is not a voice telling you “everything you do is right”. That would be another Devil. The Devil is nothing more than your own ego arrogantly trying to convince you that it is all there is. Poppycock, says me. There is a whole hell of a lot more than your ego, but your ego doesn’t want you to know that so it takes on different disguises to tell you lies. Many people think that “everything you do is wrong” is what God says, or rather what the Church says, and they’re right. The Church has toned down the whole absolute authority business in recent years, but it’s still there. That’s bullshit. You wanna go to Heaven? Fine, do what the Church tells you to do. But if you wanna do better than that, like for example if you wanna actually become one with the One, you gotta break past what the Church says. Somebody – maybe Meister Eckhart – said something like “the Church is the final defense against experiencing God”. This is what is meant by the saying “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”. See, if you meet the Buddha, it means you’re not the Buddha. It’s like how if you’re acting on your inalienable right to “pursue happiness”, you’re not happy because if you were happy you wouldn’t be pursuing it. The goal of Buddhism is not to venerate the Buddha, but to become the Buddha. Yeah, I know all about Amitābha and all that Pure Land jazz, but even with that, the final goal is to realize one’s own Buddhahood. You’re it, right now.
In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says “he who drinks from my mouth shall become as I am and I shall be he”. So what does that mean? When the Devil tempts Jesus, he appeals to His hunger: “cause these stones to be made bread”, he says. Jesus responds “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God” and we know that Jesus is God because he also says “I and the Father are one”. So Jesus is saying that whoever hears His teaching and understands – has ears to hear – will become as He is, which is God. See what I mean? Understand the teachings of Christ, who came to Earth to bring about the atonement, i.e. “at-one-ment”, of human beings and God. That’s exactly the point of Buddhism.
My favorite clean joke: A Buddhist monk walks up to a hot dog vendor and says “Make me one with everything.”
To know that one is at one with the One is Enlightenment. To become reconciled with God is to become at one with God, which is to become God. This is what the serpent was offering Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: eat of this fruit and you will become as God is. Adam and Eve committed no sin at all. They were simply trying to become one with God. Trouble was, God wasn’t ready for that. The most poignant and overlooked passage in the New Testament is that bit about the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asks some of His disciples to keep watch while He goes to pray. What He’s praying about. of course, is how much He would like to not be crucified the next day, but “Thy will be done” and that’s pretty major shit right there, but He keeps going back to check on the disciples and keeps finding them asleep. That’s when He says “the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. That’s the moment when God, in the form of Jesus, a simple man from Nazareth, understands the weakness of His creation. There is nothing like that until that moment. Read the Old Testament, I dare ya. What you’ll find there is an omnipotent God demanding the impossible from human beings who can’t ever fucking live up. Read Leviticus, for shit’s sake. Nobody can follow all those rules. When Jesus acknowledges the weakness of the flesh, it’s the first time God understands weakness. That’s when God and man are reconciled. That’s when the “sin” of Adam (and Eve) is wiped clean. At that moment, the barrier between God and man – a barrier God put up – collapses. In the East, of course, there never was a wall around Eden, but it all comes to the same thing: there is nothing between the individual and divinity. The Creator and the creation are of the same substance, infused with the same energy, are the same.
There are still infernal voices, of course, which is why it can be a bit tricky to realize one’s oneness with the One. More people than I care to think of have gotten a taste of this truth and gone mad. That’s part of what the Church and the Pure Land sect do – protect people from too much knowledge. I’m not worried about it because I know that I have no credence. I can go around spouting off ultimate truths all day long and nobody’s gonna pay any attention because I’m just some nutjob in a weird hat. The fact remains: Christ and the serpent were offering the same thing.
This isn’t original, of course. The whole Christ=serpent thing was well-known to the Gnostics, those freaky early Christians who wandered off into the desert and had orgies or whatever and who had the foresight to bury their texts good and deep before the authorities, representatives of what became the Church, came out to slaughter them. I knew all this in my brain. Knowing something in your brain because you read about it in something Smokin’ Joe Campbell wrote is not the same as wandering around to it in your own way, which is why free association is good. Free association helps you find your way, your own way, from A to B and from B to eternity.
This is what I had going on in my head while washing dishes and trancing out to The Trout Mask Of God Replica/Ārya Soundtrack tonight at work. It was a good time. I like washing dishes and trancing out to BDSR and I certainly enjoy wandering around in the Comparative Mythology section of my brain. I hope that BDSR can facilitate this sort of wandering and epiphany – that’s another motivation for me to do what I do. I want to communicate what I’ve learned and experienced.
The Trout Mask Of God Replica/Ārya Soundtrack is available from HysM? They’re in Italy. The whole thing is on youtube. Search for “the big drum in the sky religion trout mask” and you’ll find it.
Happy trances to you, until we meet again.
- The name of this band is The Big Drum In The Sky Religion, shortened when desired to Big Drum Sky Religion, abbreviated BDSR. For some reason, people want to leave off the first “The”, which isn’t a big deal. One time, we were billed as Big Drum & The Sky Religion, which was a little silly. More than once, it’s been sliced down to Big Drum. Sometimes, the unwieldy name is lengthened to The Big Drum In The Sky Religion Is Not A Religion, but not often.
- Little known fact: the last two notes of the Boredoms’ “Melt Down Boogie” are the first two notes of the riff from Pussy Galore’s “Cunt Tease”.
- Harmonics are only supposed to be possible on the fifth, seventh and twelfth frets. I have gotten them on the third. It happened accidentally once and then I tried to do it again and it happened again. I have no explanation for this nor do I feel any need for one. Impossible things happen sometimes.
- The other day, I took the little girl to church and as we were getting out of the car, I spilled my coffee and said “Oh, shit”. The girl asked “Daddy, why did you say ‘Oh, shit’?” So I lied: “I said ‘Oh, shoot’ because I spilled my coffee.”
As we were walking into the church, holding hands, she looked at me and said “You know, Daddy, it isn’t very nice to say ‘Oh, fuck’.”
- I am male; therefore I have never experienced menstrual cramps. However, I would never say to any of the female people in my life “Your menstrual cramps are not real. You’re just imagining it.”
Atheists are people who have never had religious experiences and who claim that those of us who have are just imagining it.
- The spiritual battlecry of BDSR is “Kill the wounded; mutilate the dead”, but it’s meant in a purely metaphorical way. For now.
- It is not at all unusual for this Espresso Shaman paraphrase Smokin’ Joe Campbell’s theme that myth is poetry, that myth should be read figuratively, not literally. I absolutely affirm that it is so and I love it for being so. However, no one should infer from that that I like poetry. I do not. There was a period of my life when I thought I did like poetry, but really, I just liked my own poetry. I don’t think I was the only person at open mic poetry readings who was only there so they could read their own stuff and didn’t give a rat’s ass about anybody else’s shit. After I stopped smoking cheeba, I realized that my poetry sucked as much as everybody else’s. I do have a book of Japanese death poems, Japanese Death Poems, which has some great pieces, all of which are really short, and I like some of William Blake’s really short poems – “The Proverbs of Hell” are awesome, though The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, of which they are a chapter, is kinda tedious. Other than those few examples, I can’t think of any poetry off the top of my head that I like, but I love me some myth.
- BDSR had two local shows, a week apart. The flier for the first had a picture of a woman breastfeeding a baby; the second had a still from a ‘70’s disaster movie: a woman covered in her own blood. One business downtown wouldn’t put up the breastfeeding woman, but the other one was okay.
Our society is fucked up.
- Browny’s Vox Maxim: There is no vocal track so flat, off-key or otherwise terrible that it cannot be rendered awesome by the simple application of fuzz. (More than one coat may be necessary.)
- The last time I checked, the number of deities being worshiped in India was something like 3,600 which is awesome in and of itself. The thing that makes it even more awesome is the fact that the average Hindu on the street is cognizant of the fact that all those deities are metaphors, images that represent the incomprehensible Mystery which underlies and animates the Universe. They know that there isn’t a four-armed, blue-skinned magic man with an extra eye in the middle of his forehead dancing to keep the stars spinning or a chubby, elephant-headed dude riding around the cosmos on a rat or a flesh-eating, corpse-fucking chick lurking around looking for the chance to chop off their arms for her skirt. They know all that and they still keep right on going with it, century after century. That is fucking awesome.
- People used to say that the music of BDSR didn’t “go anywhere”. Maybe people still say that, but nobody’s said it to me for a few years.
I never understood what the fuck that was supposed to mean. Where is music supposed to go? Where can it go except from its source to your ears? I honestly do not understand. I listen to a lot of music - ragas, free jazz, old-time, punk, new wave, no wave, hardcore, pre-war country blues, anthropological field recordings of naked savages chanting and beating slit drums, bagpipe regiments, grebo, gospel, noise, gamelans, heavy psychedelic, probably some other stuff that I can’t think of. None of it “goes” anywhere. Some of it evokes emotions. I listen to that stuff when I want to experience the emotions it evokes. Some of it helps me enter into a mentally turned-off zone which I find pleasant. I listen to that stuff when I’m drawing or painting or just zoning out. It’s possible that I’m missing out on something, that other people are having some kind of listening experience that makes them feel like they’ve gone someplace, but I don’t think I want it. If I want to go someplace, I’ll take the little red truck. It’s got a cassette player – I can listen to Native American war chants along the way.
- Some great quotes by me:
“Atheists and fundamentalists are equally annoying and for the same reason.”
“Things are seldom as they should be, but they’re always as they are.”
“Unsought advice is insult; unrequested help is injury.”
“Better to suck originally than be great at copying.”
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t know any better.”
“I don’t hit on women. I avoid any situation in which success is the worst-case-scenario.”
“When you’re dealing with crazy people, it’s important to remember that they’re crazy.”
“If what you see is all you see, you’re missing most of it.”
“Honesty is the best policy if you don’t want friends, sex or money.”
“Fuck a bunch of irony.”
Myth is metaphor. That is and will continue to be a reoccurring theme. Every myth is a story, usually a fantastic one, which conveys a meaning. Actually, any halfway decent myth conveys many meanings. Read a myth at fourteen and then again at forty and you’ll get different meanings. That’s how it’s supposed to work. The meaning changes according to the perception of the reader. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to read any myth.
This can be very difficult for people who were raised in a faith tradition which presents itself as fact, which most of us here in the USA were. I was raised in such a tradition. I grew up believing the Bible was literally true; burning bushes, talking snakes, resurrection from the dead and all. When I was no longer able to stretch my imagination that far – coincidentally, that happened at about the same time I discovered beer and actually got to touch a girl’s boobies – I rejected the whole thing. I threw the baby Jesus out with the holy water, so to speak. The Bible wasn’t literally true, therefore it was all lies, lies, lies and propaganda. Perhaps this sounds familiar.
The “myth is metaphor” concept came to me via Joseph Campbell’s Power Of Myth series which I watched with a girlfriend at her Mom’s place up in Maryland. We had to do something while her Mom was at work besides fuck. I was really high when we started watching it and kept running out to smoke more between programs. It blew my mind, man. I couldn’t make any sense of it until I got clean, which happened seven or eight months later.
So how does one read myth metaphorically?
Like dreams, myths come up from the unconscious mind. The genesis of any myth is the unconscious mind of one individual, a shaman, seer or visionary, who then tells the story to the group. If the story resonates with the group, if it reflects their own dream experiences, they will adopt it into their store of lore. Over time, the story gets worn in, so to speak, edited and refined to best suit the collective unconsciousness of the entire group. Myths, being dreamlike, should be interpreted as dreams are interpreted.
When you dream, everything in the dream is you. Say, for example, you dream that a monster is chasing you through your grandmother’s house. In the dream, you are you, the monster is you and your grandmother’s house is you. Of course, you most identify with the you in the dream, but when you’re interpreting the dream, you should also investigate the other components as aspects of you. It all has meaning, but the stuff that catches your attention probably has more meaning. That doesn’t mean that the background stuff doesn’t mean anything, just that the foreground action is more pressing. It may be that some little detail in the background stays with you despite the fact that it seems meaningless and random. Obviously, that niggling little detail matters.
There are plenty of dream interpretation books that will tell you what the symbols in your dreams mean. I generally avoid those on the grounds that symbols have different meanings for different people and that it’s going to be more profitable for me to interpret dreams using free association than some set of symbols that somebody else came up with. Nevertheless, I do recognize that I live within a cultural context. I have been implanted with some symbols by the literature and language of the culture and it behooves me to have some familiarity with the symbols that culture regularly uses. The same is true of myth. There are symbols which are used over and over and which can be said to have accepted meanings. One example would be: in Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s Parcival, Parcival is traveling in despair. He has lost all hope of finding the Holy Grail, but must continue to search for it. Having no idea which way to go, he lets his reins go slack, giving his horse the freedom to go where it will. In European myth, the horse/rider pair represents one individual in two parts: the rider represents the mind of the individual, the horse, the body which has its own knowledge. When Parcival lets go of the reins, he is relinquishing control of the adventure to the knowledge of his body. That is, he is letting go of his conscious mind and allowing his instinct/unconscious mind guide him. This particular symbol is probably applicable to any horse-riding culture. Dragons, on the other hand, have very different meanings in Europe and Asia. If you’re reading a myth which features dragons, the continent of origin of the myth is going to matter because that information will tell you what the dragons mean.
I’m going to assume that anyone reading this knows the story of Jonah and the whale. If you don’t, go find a King James Bible and read the book of Jonah. Seriously. A synopsis follows, but there is no excuse for not knowing the story of Jonah and the whale.
Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh to preach. Fearing violence in Nineveh, Jonah tries to avoid heeding God’s call. He takes a ship going the other way. A storm blows up. The sailors on the ship, being somewhat knowledgeable about this sort of thing, figure out that the storm is the result of divine anger. Jonah admits that he is at fault and the sailors throw him overboard to avoid sharing his fate. A huge fish, or whale, swallows him. Jonah repents of his refusal to obey God and begs for forgiveness. The whale swims to shore and vomits Jonah out on the beach. Chastised by the experience, Jonah goes to Nineveh.
As I read it, I am called by God, who is part of me as I am part of God, to perform some task, a task which I am capable of performing and which is suitable for me. Afraid that I will be unable to perform the task or fearing negative repercussions if I succeed, I try to avoid the whole thing altogether. In fact, I try to do the very opposite of what God, the small, still voice within, wants me to do. Nothing goes right, because I make everything go wrong. Finally, I find myself in a worse condition than I ever thought to be afraid of, trapped with myself inside myself. In desperation, I appeal to the very God I had sought to escape for help. Immediately, I am set on my feet and the way opens up before me. I realize that by following God’s plan, I put myself into accord with God’s plan, which is going to be done in Heaven and Earth, whether I want it to be or not.
The story of Jonah and the whale is one I’m especially fond of. I was raised with it and never got it until after I’d lived it. I followed the script to the letter. Now I’m out of the whale, looking and smelling and feeling much better than I was and preaching to Nineveh via The Big Drum In The Sky Religion.
I could have used The Bhagavad Gita instead of “Jonah and the Whale”. Or I could’ve continued with Parcival. They’re all about the importance of figuring out what one’s path is and following it even when it seems scary or futile or not profitable. The Jesus story is the same thing: follow your path even if it means death, which isn’t really death after all. The Buddha story is the same. Actually, most of the myths seem to be about following the path, Tao, God’s will, dharma, whatever.
There are other deeper symbols in “Jonah and the Whale”, but I don’t want to give it all away. Myths are written the way they are because they make for better stories that way and also because the act of deciphering them makes them more meaningful.
Maybe “Jonah and the Whale” doesn’t resonate with you in any way. The same approach works just as well with any myth. Think of one that does mean something. Perhaps one you remember from childhood. Lay in bed with your eyes closed and let that myth roam around in your brain. If you start to get sleepy, just let it happen. Pleasant dreams.
Myth is metaphor. That is and will continue to be a reoccurring theme. Every myth is a story, usually a fantastic one, which conveys a meaning. Actually, any halfway decent myth conveys many meanings. Read a myth at fourteen and then again at forty and you’ll get different meanings. That’s how it’s supposed to work. The meaning changes according to the perception of the reader. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to read any myth.
I never write these things in one sitting. Well, maybe there have been a couple hyper-caffeinated sprees of opinionated free-association, but most of the time they’re spread out over a few evenings. Sometimes I peck away while waiting for the grrrl to come out to the waiting room where the parents wait for their grubs at the Montessori school because sometimes I don’t feel like chatting with the other parents and I want them to think I have some important work to do on the computer. I’m the only Daddy in the waiting room at the Montessori school with paint on his hands, tattoos and a 10 gauge septum ring. I wrote the opening paragraph, decided it was a good opener and then read an article about Wolf Eyes in The Wire. I respect Wolf Eyes, but I really haven’t heard a whole lot of their stuff and the little I have heard didn’t grab me by the short hairs so I haven’t followed up. The article was boring so I went to sleep and then today, when I was out dumping a truckload of trash at some student housing complex, I heard an announcement on NPR that later they’re going to play David Sedaris reading his thing about taking guitar lessons from a guy who hated kids and I remembered the time I took guitar lessons and I decided to write about that instead.
My Dad got me an electric guitar for Christmas when I was fifteen – the red Hondo All-Star that I still have. I don’t know what he was thinking. We were on bad terms, even for us, at that point. I assume he was trying to bridge the gap and maybe he was trying to tap into my interests to get me to do something positive or channel my angst into a creative direction or something. I dunno. It became very obvious very soon that I was not going to start playing Rolling Stones or Byrds guitar licks. Left to my own devices, I ran the Hondo through a shitty, homemade amp that I got for $15, all knobs at 10, and just thrashed out the most heinous feedback scree I could manage. I opened the guitar to see what was inside, removed the neck to see how that would make it sound, scraped the strings, swung it around, tore the flesh off the side of my thumb, all at maximum volume for hours, totally in love with my new power to create horrible noise. I had no sense of sounding good or bad, just a visceral and engorging excitation. Any sound I made was fascinating. I’m sure the neighbors thought otherwise.
Now, when the time comes to thrash, I am unable to recapture that purely ignorant spontaneity. What I know about music, though useful and good in other ways, always interferes. It’s something I’m working on.
One Saturday, Dad picked me up after I mowed my Grandma’s yard. He had my guitar in the truck and he informed me that I would be taking guitar lessons and that I would be paying for them. Before I could come up with a token argument, he had dropped me off at some guy’s house. The guy turned out to be Jeff. Jeff was about thirty-five and had a moustache. His hair was parted in the middle and I’m sure it had once been just long enough to hang over his collar. He had clearly peaked early. At thirty-five, he was working some job – selling farm insurance or used mobile homes or something – and trying to keep his marriage from falling apart. I got the impression very quickly that his wife had given him some kind of ultimatum, something like “Stop playing in bar bands or I’m outta here.” Bar bands were a huge part of Jeff’s past. We would be sitting in the little side room where he taught guitar lessons, laboring over some song from a Mel Bay Guitar For Beginners book, “Cockles And Mussels” or “Greensleeves” or something, and Jeff would start explaining guitar techniques like “pull off”, “hammer on” and then he would say “When you master these techniques, you can do something like this…” and he would wander away from reality and into an extended Allman Brothers jam, head back, eyes closed, clearly reliving some unbelievably awesome gig at The Elbow Room or The Broken Spoke or whatever local redneck bar he had been at when he achieved supreme awesomeness.
I am not making this shit up. I would sit there, failing to comprehend the melody of “Shortnin’ Bread” because I never practiced what Jeff had told me to practice and had no interest in learning to read music and Jeff would completely zone out, wailing away at some Doobie Brothers solo until he suddenly realized what was happening and then he’d break off and say “Oh, uh, yeah, that’s what you’ll be able to do. Practice this song here”, poking his finger at “The Noble Duke Of York” or whatever, “That’s it for today. My wife’ll be home soon.”
The Mel Bay books are good instruction manuals for beginners. I’ve collected a bunch of ‘em over the years, mostly at thrift stores. Jeff basically had the right idea. He taught me to read chord charts from which I learned all the major and minor chords. He showed me barre chords which came in handy – I watched some Ramones videos and took power chords from that. He taught me where the notes are in the first five frets and tried to teach me to sight read melodies. I would figure out the notes using “Every Good Boy Does Fine” for the lines and “FACE” for the spaces, memorize the melody and then pretend I was sight reading, which worked. I can’t say that I liked Jeff or respected him, but I didn’t mind him much. As his marriage got rockier and rockier, I started to feel sorry for him and also to find him more interesting. Going to guitar lesson became more about watching Jeff crumble than about learning to play guitar. He started drinking beer during lessons. I was disappointed that he wouldn’t let me have one, but the beer did open up some long and rambling monologues which revealed more than Jeff probably intended. He went off one time about how you should never work for your father-in-law. That explained a lot.
One day, Jeff called to give me directions to his new place, which turned out to be a fairly crappy basement apartment. I didn’t ask, didn’t need to. After his wife threw him out and he lost his job, Jeff pretty much quit trying. When we’d first started, he was consistently dressed in khaki slacks, white shirt and loosened striped tie, the uniform of guys who have to dress for work but who have no sense of style. By the time he moved, he was usually in jeans and T-shirt, sometimes without shoes. At his new place, boxers, T-shirt and bathrobe became standard. He was now smoking cigarettes one right after the other and downing two or three beers during our hour. There were whiskey bottles sitting around. He was incoherent half the time, mumbling some drunken monologue about how unfair everything was. Jeff’s decline had clearly gone past the interesting and kinda funny stage and into the depressing and kinda scary stage. I started worrying that I was going to show up one day and find him dead on his kitchen floor surrounded by empty bottles and sleeping pill packages. And I was paying Jeff $5 an hour for this. I was sixteen by this point. I had a car and I knew college students who would buy beer for me. I had figured out the “Louie, Louie” riff without Jeff’s help and was ready to rock.
Jeff told me after a lesson that he wouldn’t be there the following week. He had to take care of something. He might not be there the week after. I should call before I came over. It had all gone too far. I left knowing I wasn’t going to call and that I would almost certainly never see Jeff again. I haven’t. I hope he’s okay.
I never had any more “formal training”. Whatever else I have learned about music came from listening to music, reading books and interacting with other musicians.
Don’t be surprised when I re-use that opening paragraph.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.