A Winterland Nights Bonus Track
September 16, 2019, 9:21 am—Last Homely House. Monday morning. Much work to do today in the studio. Each morning when I wake up I am astonished by where I am and what I’m doing. Retired—what an inexplicable word.
At this moment I’m sitting in the reading room. I come in here first thing when I awaken and open the curtains that cover the bay window. A cloudy morning. More rain coming. Another front arriving tomorrow. A wind warning up on Accuweather. Possible thunderstorm this afternoon. The weather is always metaphorical as well as physical. I might be able to get out for a walk this morning after I finish my coffee.
Anyway, yeah, retired. I never expected it and certainly not in the way that it transpired. When I attended the Hot Tuna concert the night before last I looked around, and everyone, and I do mean everyone, was my age, most of them grey-haired. Men with big stomachs, even bigger than mine (gonna do something about that). Wizened ladies dancing and whirling. Tie dyed T-shirts. Good crowd. An exuberant Dionysian mood in Revolution Hall. (Yes, that’s the actual name of the venue.)
I thought about my generation and how we were transformed by psychedelics. We woke up. Some of us anyway. You can read that history now in a book called Acid Dreams—also Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind. All that happened long ago, but it lingers. We thought we were going to make vast changes. We did make a few. We ended an unconscionable ultra-violent war in Southeast Asia. We began thinking about the ecosystem. We raised our children to think planetarily. We failed in other ways. The power structure is resilient, and there are always new people willing to hypnotize themselves into having a piece of it.
What we are going through now is the last gasp of something. Business as usual is not sustainable. Literal religion doesn’t work. We have made a mess of the planet. The hounds of war are still at it, ravaging and tearing the natural equity of the world, migrating it into cash so that affluent folks can have more golden toilets to crap in. I think this is temporary. It’s all unraveling. It can’t last.
I am light years apart from those who love their guns and knives, those who have no doubts about their righteousness whether they are religious or not. That’s a trap—being so into your self-imposed relief from fear and discomfort that you cannot even consider that your solace is a warped fantasy. On occasion I’m as guilty of that as anyone.
But not now I think—not as I sit here listening to Bach’s Art of the Fugue on a Monday morning in the Pacific Northwest, gazing at threatening skies, while commuters rush past my home to their glorious day in the American economy.
What do I believe in? Books. Art. Music. Kindness. Love. The goodness of people despite their confusion over race and religion. I suppose you can believe in love and still carry a gun or a knife, but would you use it? Do you need it?
Music is at our roots, as humans, and as Americans. Examples: The Carter family and Jimmie Rogers. People from uneducated backgrounds who had no money but knew how to sing and play three chords on the guitar, or who could pick on the banjo or saw away at the fiddle. They got connected with recording technology and there it was—The Spirit of the Depths. Popular culture that arose from the bottom up rather than filtering from the top down. Simple and sincere. No music degrees. Only passion and play.
Same thing last Saturday night. Two guys, Jorma and Jack, who have been playing together for more than fifty years. Rock is here to stay. It’s part of that American music—the roots are blue and black with a bit of Europe thrown in as well.
It was all coopted by white people way back when. I laughed when I once saw a poster for a Carter Family concert that claimed the music was “morally right.” Everyone was concerned about appearances. God was a judge—a sky king. Understandable in those times. But these are new times. I wonder if what we know as popular music now is a desire to hold onto values rather than celebrate with song. Much of what I hear these days is sentimental and sugary. Or devoid of the human touch—wiped away by Autotune.
If maudlinism is the core of your cosmic foundation then you will be easily fooled and confused. Sentiment is a barrier to clear thought. Life is harsh. No point in trying to alleviate suffering with saccharine. Humans are temporary. Everything is. Even the universe will end—someday. In the short time we have as “spiritual beings having a human experience,” should we be anything but realistic?
I’m at that age where I can look back and see it all. I remember what life was like in Pennsylvania when I was a little kid. We were middle class, but those memories are all fading to grey sixty years later. Maybe that’s just recollection working in a mysterious way. I am as fallible as anyone else. My father and mother moved us to California in 1966. I came of age at a time when that celebratory Spirit Power was the air. We learned that what we considered as normal was anything but—the Establishment was the same horrible power structure that had always existed, fueled by hate, fear, and greed.
In America we were the center of the modern world—at least that was how it was advertised after the maelstrom that we had helped create after World War II. Now we are trying to get that illusion back, and it’s impossible. White people are vainly grasping at their privilege at all costs in a culture that has become so lightweight, shallow, and ingenuous that there seems no way out. Except to let it all collapse and build from what we have learned in the last fifty years.
That’s why I write as the world unravels. Not only is it a way to “getting the world right” (Wallace Stevens) but it’s a way to leave something behind me. There are far too many people on the planet. I’m one more slob trying to stay healthy and happy. There’s not a day that goes by when my monkey mind wakes up expecting some kind of ghastly news to arrive in my life. I imagine all sorts of personal horror. There is no point to that sort of thinking. I dismiss it and do the best I can.
Time for a walk before it rains. Then back to the studio. Words. That’s all I’ve got. Bach just ran out. Literally. Art of the Fugue, as I recall, was what he was composing when he died.
Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.Wallace Stevens
Notes on the text:
- Hot Tuna History
- Acid Dreams, Martin A. Lee, Bruce Shlain, Grove Press, ISBN 9780802130624
- How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science Of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, And Transcendence, Michael Pollan, Penguin Press, ISBN 9781594204227
- Art of the Fugue, Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Zhu Xiao-Mei, Accentus Music CD, ACC 30308)
- “But I did not consider that the spirit of the depths from time immemorial and for all the future possesses a greater power than the spirit of this time, who changes with the generations. Carl Jung, The Red Book.
- Modern Music’s Death by Autotune (Rick Beato video)