Defense of Music

Three o’clock.

My self flagellation seems to have come to an end for now. Freud used to say that bad dreams were occasioned by masochism. So, we voluntarily punish ourselves when we think we deserve it. Conscience is a strange and disposable thing. I wonder what I did wrong that I should flog myself with painful thoughts? But guilt is only a perception. It could be that I felt bad for not wanting to work a regular job. I emailed Dominic about this yesterday morning, but he was actually quite cheerful to hear from me. Apparently no regrets on his side, thus I should let myself off the hook. And he must be aware of how I love my music. The guilty conscience comes from experience with my family, especially my brother, who said openly that music is no way to make a living. On the other hand, there was my mother, who always encouraged me to use my gifts. Also there’s the church, which understands that different people have different abilities and different vocations. My brother doesn’t acknowledge any other aptitude than math and science, unfortunately. He has a big blind spot for the arts. I feel bitterly towards him for being so obtuse. The one whose opinion counts after all is me. And I have a lot of other support now that I don’t speak with my brother anymore. I realize that I will never get the approval I need from my brother, so from now on I have to just forget about it. Joseph Campbell said follow your bliss, and since I have but one life to live, I choose to do what I was born to do.

Monday Night

Quarter of ten.

I have a couple of purely social engagements this week, and one of them is with Heidi. She is a lot of fun because she’s so young, or perhaps young at heart. We can banter together, talk about nonsense while the invisible antennae purr between us. We had this sort of rapport from the time of our first meeting: a certain ease and familiarity, even informality, when we cruised over to Cal’s Donuts. It was as if we’d always known each other… My Wi-Fi has been connected for nearly a week now. At some point in the future I’ll have the motivation to unpack my computer, but it could be a long time coming. They say necessity is the mother of invention, but so far it hasn’t arisen. I’m anticipating my jam this weekend with gusto. It should be fun, but serious fun at the same time. I want to take my red Precision Bass copy, which I’ve been practicing on most recently. I remember how Roger helped me hotrod it with a DiMarzio pickup in August of 2018. He did the soldering for me, and together we figured out the instructions. We were lucky that the pickguard fit over the part after it had been installed. Finally, that December, I put in a high mass bass bridge, brass finished with chrome. The overall effect is quite a monster P Bass tone. The jam will take place on Sunday afternoon. As for right now, not much is going on. I can’t decide which book to read out of such a huge collection. William James might be interesting to learn more about. His revival ten years ago was quite a thing, though at the time I disagreed with it. At best, I was ambivalent. My brother was a diehard factualist, but James argued for the practical usefulness of religious ideas. If a belief worked for you, then it was in some sense true. This was the essence of Pragmatism. Today, I don’t know what to think of that. I only know that optimism can see you through difficult times. If it’s inaccurate, at least it works… Aesop is ready for bed again, and anon I’ll be right with him. In about twelve hours, Polly and I will be having lunch at Red Robin. It’s my long awaited birthday celebration. Fifty three years old, and thankful to have come this far…

David Crosby

Four o’clock.

Things hit me…

It was Tuesday afternoon when I spun the CD Deja Vu by CSNY, a release of 1970. Now flooding the floor of my mind plays the title track, written by David Crosby. It grabs you from the very opening, with the 12-string acoustic guitar in G minor waltzing a fast 3/4. The vocals in harmony come in, expressing something about having been here before. Presently the key changes to E minor in a slow common time, giving way to an electric bass solo by Gregory Reeves while the voices chant, “We have all been here before…” The overall effect on me is haunting. Just the fact that I am sitting there hearing a recording from 1970 gives a chilling sense of “already seen.” Seen already… and to be seen again and again, to the throb of the Reeves Fender bass, taking us back and beyond — and forward.

The Light on Broadway

Quarter of five. I felt very tempted to drink earlier today but rode it out. Something triggered me, cued me to times in a specific past. I think it was the color of the sky this morning, a luminous gray, making me believe it was 2017 again. I was so unwell back then, and also flat broke. I never had any money to spare. My addiction burned a hole right through my pocket. I really was a different person before I quit drinking. The daylight is dying down outside, gray fading to black gradually. The day turned around when I sat down to play my bass. I just emailed Mark regarding a future jam. We’ll see what he says. I feel more up with the present again. A little bit hungry. Aesop was good today while Damien and Todd worked on my trees. I’m glad for the nightfall; daytime feels oppressive sometimes, as if the sun were a judge in the sky, hammering verdicts with his gavel. Church tomorrow should be good. I ought to tithe something, but I’m nervous about my bank account. We’re supposed to turn in our pledge forms tomorrow. I hope I remember. It’s twilight outside now. Twilight time reminds me of The Moody Blues, in turn of when I used to work a job at Laurel Hill. I don’t think I could work another job like that one again. Nobody cared about my opinion when I was 37 years old. The street hires didn’t give a damn about the participants. We were looked down on as inferior… Jet black night. Dreams are forgotten, but my mood is better. I’d like to find my copy of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Peter Gabriel’s last album with Genesis. Probably it was their best album, though I think I like Selling England by the Pound better. This afternoon I picked out a few bass lines from old King Crimson. I had fun with “The Great Deceiver” and “One More Red Nightmare.” When I was done, I looked out the window: nothing had changed on my street. Roger was puttering about with his 77 Ford as usual. The overcast was a sheet of gray, no longer luminous, but the light dying down… on Broadway…

Friendly Universe?

Four o’clock. A universe friendly or unfriendly, asks Einstein. So did 19th Century American writers from Emerson to Melville and beyond. Moby Dick constitutes a monument to thoughts about the cosmos. When I played bass with Satin Love in the late 1990s, I tried to solve this intellectual problem myself by intensive reading. At one point I read Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Jude the Obscure back to back to ascertain the truth about the friendliness of the universe. They contradicted each other. I followed these with The Sheltering Sky and As I Lay Dying, both of which were pessimistic, and they influenced my mood while I was playing with the band. All the while I was listening to atonal music such as Schoenberg and Penderecki, and Webern and Berg. In fact, I dreamed recently about the Lulu Suite by Alban Berg. All this cacophony I learned and heard inside my head through my adventures with the disco band, accompanied by the ideas of Thomas Hardy. We took a trip to San Francisco in September 1997, and I was a wet blanket all the way. Lying in bed the last night, I heard Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra and wondered how I ever got to this place so far from home. I had insomnia for the whole trip. When we finally got home I went to bed and slept like a dead man. Life seemed as chaotic to me as the atonal music I constantly heard. Was the universe friendly? I don’t know, but the band I was in was definitely unfriendly…

Guitar Again

Three o’clock. Since staying sober, things I’d believed lost are coming back to me. It is now two years and four months. I just played my Strat for an hour. Slowly, I’m getting re-familiarized with the kind of chords I used to play. It’s an alchemical and psychological process, too; I’m learning to unlock my emotional soul by means of harmony. The chords that give pleasure are the best ones to play. To please the ear pleases the soul as well. I’m doing all right so far without a pick. The side of my thumb is adequate to strum chords. This American Fender Strat sounds really good to me. I’ll try to practice on it every other day if not each day. The Honey Burst finish is a knockout, and a nice dark piece of rosewood for the fingerboard. I’m so glad I’ve hung onto my Princeton Chorus amp all these years. It still sounds great. It never got much use before. I bought it for $450 with my SLO gig money in 1998. I almost sold it to Buy and Sell in October 2010 for beer money. The clerks turned me away, ostensibly because the pots were dirty and noisy, but really they were doing me a favor. It would have been a bad loss for me. My dad was with me when I bought the amp from Todd at Light’s Music Center on Main in Springfield. I believe it was in the springtime… Mostly the Princeton Chorus has just sat unused all these years, and now I’m finding it to come in handy. I can visualize myself as a decent guitar player, but my main axe will still be the bass.

Neil Peart

So this is the dreaded day I learn of the death of my old drumming hero. I walked off to the stores on River Road, looking once at the sun and thinking to myself, Neil Peart is gone. Then the music of “Free Will” began to play in my head, the first Rush song that ever swam back to me. The sun rose on the day anyway, and apathetic nature went about its usual business. Nature doesn’t realize that a rock and roll legend has passed away. I reached the pharmacy and saw glum faces, but they weren’t thinking of Neil Peart. I ducked into the grocery store and bought foodstuffs, but it was just an ordinary Saturday morning. Even now, the sun shines down out of a partly cloudy sky. If nature sympathized with human affairs, then surely it would rain on a day of grieving? He passed last Tuesday. The lyric to an old Yes song comes to mind: “All that dies, dies for a reason / To put its strength into the seasons.” Maybe that’s how it is with Neil’s death, but at the same time he left a big mark in music history. We’ll be listening to Rush albums for many years to come. His madrigal now appears: “When life becomes as barren / And as cold as winter skies / There’s a beacon in the darkness / In a distant pair of eyes…” It makes me want to dig out my copy of A Farewell to Kings…