Noon hour. I just jammed on the bass guitar for an hour. This cloudy day makes me think of early summers in junior high school, or late spring. I can’t believe how bright everything is, how vital and resonant. Maybe it’s just me who is full of love of life recently, and of hope for better things in the future. Right now it’s super quiet in the room and everywhere else. It’s very strange when this happens; like I’m the only human being alive on earth. It will be a lonely afternoon again today, unless I decide to go to Bi Mart. I guess I’ll do some housework after a bit. While playing the bass, I copied the line for “Invisible Sun” by The Police, a song that always gives me goosebumps. It takes me back to my sophomore year in high school, when the future was unlimited, and yet my vocabulary was inadequate to compass my experience of life. Maybe it was this innocence that made life seem so boundless and infinite, like I could live forever. I bought Ghost in the Machine on vinyl a year after it was released. I still think it’s a better record than Synchronicity because it’s more groove oriented… I didn’t know how to think when I was 15 years old. It must’ve been an odd mode of existence, being so green and inexperienced, nonverbal and inarticulate. Language gives me a handle on things and events, a feeling of having control and power over situations. Otherwise I’d be just a passive leaf in the wind. Or maybe we’re all merely leaves in the wind anyway? Except for a few geniuses who move and shake the world. Sometimes it takes more than genius; it takes money to legislate what people do and think… I really hope the band I’m in can be a modest success here locally, and maybe get some radio airplay. Notoriety around town can be a good thing. The three of us are all around 50 years old, but not too old to have ambition. Whether we win or lose, we’ll still be having fun in the endeavor.
The only redeemer, really, is the sound of music. It is a beautiful thing, so evasive yet so naked, sublime and erotic; essentially spirit and sensuality at once. In my opinion it is expressed in what Ron, Mike, and I do on our instruments. I conceive that it is Freudian and Jungian both, but also neither. Basically it speaks the truth only hinted at by words. It goes under the net of language and everyday history and politics, mundane events, just what is and what happens. Music gives form to all external appearance while being itself the secret sitting in the middle and knowing. It is usia, prime substance, though insubstantial, spiritual, the essence of everything. Music is the Form of all forms, the Being of every outward face, an energy like libido, like the desire to Be and to create. It feels so awesome to participate in this act of becoming, of the shapeless taking shape out of inertia, nothingness. The strings, the sticks, the keys vanish to leave mere spirit, sound that is ultimately seeing. Music is not love, not reason; it is not this, not this; none of these things. It is the nonbeing giver of Being.
Quarter after eleven.
I don’t know whether to write of the future or the past. Music: “Saved by Zero,” an old hit by The Fixx. I’m sitting here alone in my family room with my dog, just feeling, not knowing much. I guess I’ll attend church this Sunday morning and listen to the sermon. The last one was fairly innocuous and affirmative of life here and now. I hated the eschatological preaching last summer and fall. I’d prefer not to believe that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead or that his kingdom will have no end. Am I supposed to take this literally, or is it just rhetorical hot air? Either way, it doesn’t make me feel any better. Thinking more deeply, maybe I’ll stay home Sunday. Do some reading and play my guitar, contemplate the beautiful and true as I unlock the secrets of the fretboard… I wonder what to do with my stimulus payment, when it arrives? Maybe save it for air conditioning this summer. Maybe blow most of it on music gear.
Midnight hour. A thought that bugs me is how different my sister is from my mother. Still I refuse to believe that rock music is spiritually wicked, or that my mother was misguided. The virtue of music depends on how you use it.
Five o’clock. If I could play guitar as well as Jamie West-Oram on Phantoms, I’d be happy. I needn’t set my sights on John McLaughlin to start with; this would be unrealistic and frustrating. The way to let myself in is by the pleasure of the sweet sounds of the Strat. And I think I will write of the future…
Quarter after five.
“Never let the music die,” said the drunken guy I encountered on the road to Mike’s place yesterday afternoon. In one hand I carried a bass, and the other an umbrella. The man weaved in the lane ahead of me, holding a white plastic bag in his left hand and mumbling to himself. I believed he was homeless until I saw him head for a certain house around the curve, where he stopped and waited for me to catch up. He was barely articulate, but I understood his speech about being a musician at Lucky’s tavern prior to the pandemic. He said how unfortunate it was that people can’t get together and play. It made me reflect on the reasons people have for picking up an instrument and banging out their feelings. Also I wondered at the illegality of the local music community: why are so many musicians in trouble with the law? Are we just not very smart?
Our band had a few tense moments, but I still enjoyed playing “The Mincer,” just a slow jam in A7. The original version was quite atonal and noisy. Our rendition cleans it up a bit, saving the Wetton bass line and building up from there. We made no recordings this time; Mike thought it was a distraction, and also the mic is not set up yet. I got a good tone from my kit bass through the Fender amp. It made a difference to set the amplifier on the floor.
Now it’s after six o’clock and the little market might be open, though because it’s Sunday the hours could be different. I’m just sitting here awaiting the dawn of day, anticipating my Snapple raspberry tea. Aesop needs wet food again, so that’s the first thing on my list.
Three thirty in the morning.
Occasionally I am haunted by what happened early in my recovery, when my mental health was quite poor. I’d be awake 24 hours a day, and during December 2017 I read a raunchy little novel by Dawn Powell titled Dance Night. Those memories are miserable, yet sometimes they are necessary to my continued sobriety. I guess the worst part of it was desertion by my family, although at first I had my brother’s support. You always lose someone by the personal choices you make— and gain a few others. In this sense, every one of us ultimately lives their life alone with their freedom and responsibility. A grim thought, but probably the truth. I keep intending to read my Nietzsche or something else existential— even Dostoevsky would be interesting. On the other hand, I do pretty well at just winging the philosophy.
Every decision I make cuts away something, but also certain people in my life. I could be putting myself in danger with the rock band because of the A&D factor; additionally with their ideology of rock and roll rebellion. I don’t know what I’m getting into. Supposedly music expresses no opinion, and yet it’s a language of its own, saying something spiritual that may be either good or perhaps not so good. The virtue of the music is only observable by its effects on the hearers for better or worse. All the time I feel myself slipping away from the church the more involved I get with the band. In a world unseen, there’s a struggle of light and darkness for supremacy, and the choice again is up to me. To begin with, it’s good to be aware of the situation. From there, I can make an informed decision.
Quarter of nine.
During the late night I finished reading the first part of Faust. After being seduced by him, Gretchen’s life and reputation fall to pieces. Three murders are associated with her, and she ends up in prison. Faust meanwhile gets away with his crime and goes off with Mephistopheles. I’m not certain what to make of the plot. While Faust indulges himself and gets a little enjoyment from life, he ruins the life of his sweetheart. He’s even responsible for killing her brother in a duel. Faust’s pleasure is had at a huge cost, which I guess is the devilry of the story.
Michelle has come back from vacation. She went to Tulsa to visit her son. She said she had lived in Oklahoma for thirty years. Between eight and eight thirty, the store was quite busy with customers and one of the distributors. I sometimes wish for a time machine to take me back ten years. I really believe I was happier when I drank, though I wasn’t as healthy or as empowered. The difficulty of sobriety is having to face reality without the fog of intoxication, and indeed life is painful and hard; it is suffering, as the Buddha knew— but I don’t think nirvana is the answer. People should magnify the things that make them happy and spread happiness around… Tomorrow I’ll be doing band practice again at Mike’s place. At around noon today I’ll play the bass a bit and make sure my technical ability is there. I used to believe that I was the best musician in the area, but now I’m more realistic of my potential, more humble about it. I enjoy doing music as a group effort now, with less ego and more cooperation. I hope the music venues reopen before too long so we can go out and rock the house. Attitudes toward the virus vary from person to person and business to business. The news about the pandemic is very grim every day, yet we have to hold our heads up and persevere. Giving up is not an option for us.
Band practice yesterday afternoon went very well. Mike bought us an ambient microphone for smartphone so now we can record our sessions. It works great. Listening again to our opening jam in D minor, I thought to myself that the bass alone wouldn’t sound like much, but in the context of the drums and keyboards it makes sense… At three thirty I left the house with my kit bass in my grip. It was 48 degrees outside so I didn’t wear a jacket. I tried to clear my mental windscreen and just go and play music with the fellas. I encountered a few neighbors on the street, but kept on walking. When I got to B— Lane, Mike passed me in his truck and offered me a lift, but it was only a few minutes to his house so I declined…
Most of the clutter in my mind stems from guilt received from my case manager at Laurel Hill. It does me a lot more harm than good to feel so burdened by health professionals who do nothing but criticize me. It takes all the joy out of life to be browbeaten. I think I’ll start looking for an alternative to the agency because quite frankly I despise it. I only need someone to prescribe my medication— that’s all. They can keep their stupid advice.
Noon. Overall I feel pretty good, except my back pain has gotten worse since Sunday morning when I stooped to pick up a book from a box on the floor… An advertisement from Fender has given me the notion to try playing my neglected Stratocaster. I wish I could get the sound of The Pretenders on my own guitar, but it takes a lot more practice than I’ve given it. I’m probably not driven to pursue the guitar, though it makes me feel kind of sick to admit it. I prefer playing the bass because it’s a rhythm instrument that gets people to move. Maybe I just need a stimulus to motivate me: I wonder what Mark has been up to? I like the way he plays drum kit. I believe I’ve grown more social and extroverted than in my youth, so that practicing solo doesn’t do much for me anymore. Dunno. I feel quite restless. I want something to do that isn’t solitary… I no longer entertain the delusion that I’ll be a famous rockstar someday, nor that my playing sounds like a famous musician. I’m not a member of Rush, so it’s rather silly to pretend to be something I’m not. Have I found my “voice” on my instrument, a character uniquely mine? Sometimes it all seems so futile; yet this is my perfectionism talking, and it’s more about the journey than the destination. Anything we do ought to be an extension of our individual personality. At first we have to be a clone of someone we admire, until a voice of our own comes through the guise. This is strength from the heart. This is self realization.
I really look forward to our next band jam on Saturday. In the meantime it’s simply today with no expectations on its merits. The future is a window, not a blind wall. Right now it’s black as ink outside; the earth is turned away from the sun. With a bit of a rotation counterclockwise we’ll see daylight in a few hours. I’ve considered swapping bridges on my white Fender bass, but this would make it sound more like the others. I should take the advice of someone who said, “It’s not the bass, it’s you.” I guess inspiration either comes or it doesn’t, but the most important source of this is other people. A couple of lines from Tagore arise, where he says he’s been spending his days in stringing and unstringing his instrument, awaiting the call of his God. The inspiration comes and goes with the visitation of the divine. It cannot be forced to happen. No more than we can speed up the rotation of the earth on its axis.
When I was walking past the salon in the afternoon sunshine, Karen came out and flagged me down to tell me that Kim’s shoulder surgery didn’t go very well, and to keep her in my prayers. I understand that she’s in quite a bit of pain and sleeps most of the time. I was on my way to band practice with bass guitar in hand.
Ron was already there when I arrived at Mike’s studio and knocked on the door. Mike said I could walk right in, joking that only cops ever knock. Our practice went pretty well, but the energy was less intense than the jam the week before. After two hours and twenty minutes Ron said he was tired, so we called it a night. A few times I had doubts about my involvement in music during the time we played. It seemed like an activity done better under the influence of alcohol. And generally, I realized that alcohol enhances pleasure I take in everything else in life. It’s like seasoning for a meal. In its absence, the meal is more of a chore to eat. It doesn’t taste as good but I suppose you still have to eat it… The tone of my bass through the new amp was pretty massive and powerful. I liked it. Low G on the E string hit me in the right spot. I think I had the most fun playing “Burning Coal” last night, a riff in G7 that goes on infinitely, no bridge or anything.
All in all, it was a good practice. Maybe we can add a new song to our repertoire before next time. Mike made a good point in passing, and this was that we need organization. I think this is true in general, so maybe we can open a discussion about it.