Under the Atlantic

Nine thirty PM.

A bit ago I remembered my love for Chris Squire’s bass with Yes, back when I bought every Yes record I could get my hands on. This was forty years ago and I was in high school. The band did beautiful work: creative, artistic, and poetic. I want to say that their lyrical inspiration came from Romantic and Victorian poetry, particularly Blake and maybe Tennyson; but I can find no hard evidence of such influences. Nobody seems to know about Jon Anderson’s reading habits along these lines, though I imagine that every young English student was exposed to the classics. So all my guesswork on it is fruitless at least for now… Sometimes I think that, for the sheer quality of the poetry, no one can compete with Alfred, Lord Tennyson. You can see it in a short lyric like “The Eagle,” especially the last line: “Like a thunderbolt he falls.” If I were to dedicate myself to poetry writing, I’d want to be like Tennyson, even though I’m American and he was English. Indeed, such an ambition is probably absurd… 

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Did We Forget?

Eight forty.

I just thought of Prof Wickes and almost cried. He was in his nineties when I met with him a few years ago at the Cafe Roma on campus… The main factor in my separation from the university is money. It’s probably a fluke that I ever went to college at all. So now I’m an educated lunatic, always looking over shoulder to better times, or hoping against hope for some opportunity to shine in the future. What can a pauper do with his time besides mark the shapes of the clouds outside his front window? And be happy he has a roof over his head.

Everything can change in an eye-blink. The line between housed and homeless is as easy as drug addiction. The life of comfort and security is underrated. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” So what? Who would rather live on the streets? There is poverty, and then there’s homelessness. “With diamonds and gold in hand / Will barter as the homeless burn / Someday will it be our turn?” It can happen to anybody and everybody. We complain when we see them organize with a car and raid the recycle bins around town, scrounging for change to support their habits. But every human being is our sister or brother, though I feel like a hypocrite saying it. This is the kind of message I used to hear in church. Somewhere along the way, it got lost or at least garbled with society as it currently is: greedy and materialistic. “What happened to this song we once knew so well?”

A guest preacher asked us, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is of course everyone.

It Dwells within Us

I feel okay now. It’s funny; the fall season hit me hard at first but now I can remember many other years besides the crazy ones around twenty years ago. I went through a very long period as a Romantic and mystic but probably in fall of 2009 I started to move away from that. Around that time I bought The Illustrated Jane Austen in six volumes and began thinking like a common sense realist… Reading Whitman again makes me sensitive to the mystical stuff as before. Maybe I’ll stop it and read something else.

The sun went down a half hour ago. The experience of the living godhead is a very strange thing to me. I don’t know if it’s even real or just imaginary, some ventriloquy of the human mind. When you get into a zone of energy, especially with a group of people doing an activity like music or sports or something, then it seems magical and quite powerful. It’s been a long time since I felt anything like that with people. I think the mystical power is a human power that we can give off and share together— or contain and withhold it from each other. I believe that’s what is happening right now: people are very self absorbed so that the experience of spirit doesn’t happen currently.

Even John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath writes of the human spirit in an Emersonian way. It’s a power that originates with us, with humanity. We kind of project it outside of ourselves and then we depend on it; but this gives us more confidence in ourselves, our decisions, our enterprises. I’m paraphrasing what he said in East of Eden.

I guess it’s up to us whether we want to awaken the spirit of God again. William Blake said that the Poetic Genius and man are the same thing. The Romantics saw it all along. Jon Anderson of Yes sings the same ideas. He suggests that heaven is something that human beings create by the power of imagination; but heaven is no less real for this reason.

We are responsible for the future of our spiritual life because it dwells within ourselves in the first place. So that what Jesus said is true: the kingdom of God is within you.

It Isn’t Just Me

Five thirty.

I had a good morning, but after twelve o’clock my mood went downhill and I felt uncertain and unstable. I have doubts about playing the bass guitar anymore or doing anything at all with music. I don’t know what I want to do besides write. Above all, I feel quite rudderless the more I realize that my mother is really gone. I’ve set my course for sobriety, whatever this entails for my mental state and however lonely it makes me. It’s hard to seize the day when the day is so slippery. It’d be cool to be a master strategist, planning every move like a chess player— like my brother. He always kicked my ass at chess and every kind of game. My own method was defensive and passive, simply reacting to action.

The other thing to consider is that my brother was rather unkind. People like to believe that kindness counts for something. We wish for good to be rewarded and badness punished. But it’s difficult to say whether the cosmos has those values. Five years ago I began reading An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. The novel deals with just that question, and you wonder throughout the story if crime is punished or not. Will the protagonist get away with manslaughter? And is it more than a coin toss which way it goes? Which outcome are we pulling for?

But I didn’t get very far in that book.

It feels like we live in an amoral culture today. The Machiavelli approach to life is not worth it to me, I guess. I certainly hope that the meek get the heaven they deserve.

“Death defying, mutilated / Armies gather near / Crawling out of dirty holes / Their morals disappear.”

Volition

One o’clock.

It’s a beautiful afternoon with a mild temperature of 72 degrees. I was just pondering why I usually feel so dissatisfied with my life, always waiting for things to get better to no avail. “Lost in losing circumstances, that’s just where you are.” What I tend to forget is that people must be proactive no matter what the circumstances are. I could be waiting here for the propitious time to act forever and nothing would get done.

I finally googled the band I played with last year and looked at their Facebook page. Apparently they did a gig last Saturday in Corvallis with the bass player from before. I guess it wasn’t a big deal— but that’s not the point. The important thing is that they’re doing it, at a time when musicians aren’t gigging much. So I should email my friend on drums to see what he’s up to.

The truth is that I’m stuck in a rut with no car for moving my stuff around. I deceive myself that I’m okay with just walking everywhere, but actually it’s a problem. And the only person who can fix it is myself. First I have to want it badly enough.

“Waiting for the rainbow’s end to cast its gold your way.”

“My ship isn’t coming and I just can’t pretend.”

The Answer Is “Yes”

Quarter of one in the afternoon.

Yesterday I went across the street to ask Roger for his help with my bass guitar again, since we did a rather incomplete job the first time. He smiled and agreed to work with me tomorrow at ten o’clock. It’s sort of a symbolic truce to my mind. Though he’s a Republican and I’m a Democrat, still we are civil to each other and achieve something together in the name of music, which shouldn’t have an ideology… The unseasonable rainy weather keeps on day after day, with showers that come and go. I suspect that when the sun shines again it’ll be like summer already, so there’s no hurry on that. Gloria was here and we did some tidying up around the house. In passing, she expressed her hope that the former president doesn’t run for office again, saying how rude he was and how insane— and she’s a Republican. A few lines from a Yes song come up. “A simple peace just can’t be found / Waste another day blasting all the lives away / I heard the thunder underground / Tunneling away at the very soul of man.” And later: “There, in the heart of millions / Seen as a godsend to us / There stands our future / There can be no denying / Simple as A B C D / There stand our children’s lives…” Is this too optimistic, or too utopian for people to grasp? Have we lost our faith in the power of poetry and song? It is said that two wrongs don’t make a right. When love is no longer the solution to our problems, then humanity is in deeper dudu than ever before. This demands that we go back to the drawing board and search not just our minds but our hearts. “It takes a loving heart to see and show / This love for our own ecology.”

Cosmology

I don’t know if there’s a deus ex machina in all of this. I suppose I could choose to believe such a thing, and yet no good fortune happens without an individual being assertive with the situation and people.

Once, a friend told me something humorous on that head. I’d had a phobia of parking my vehicle in crowded places Downtown or on the campus. Mike said, “You see? The parking gods will be kind to you if you show a little courage.” He was mostly an atheist but a great songwriter, leading the band with me in it. The same year I began dating a woman my age who was a Lutheran working in a bookstore. I did a lot of reading in Herman Melville, starting with Moby Dick, though his worldview clashed with the Tennyson I also tried to embrace. The result was a big mess for me, and in the end I lost those friends plus my best friend and my dad died that year: and on the whole it felt like 1999 was the end of the world.

I don’t know which impulse won the day, the blackness of Melville or the Christian sunshine, however, life went on with my dad’s passing. A few days later I bought two little books related to Epicurean philosophy but this was soon drowned out by the era of the holy wars and incidentally my mother’s death. And then my whole world was transformed, though I fought it as my addiction to alcohol progressed and eventually took over my life. Just today I pondered what the new hub of my life had become, and it seems to be the written word probably more so than music. As I think about it, a lot of living is adapting to sociological changes out of my control, surviving them and holding onto the wave like the old song by Yes says. Personal freedom is a comforting idea but ultimately it’s a tired illusion, so that my recovery from alcoholism really isn’t creditable to me at all, but rather to something like fate that operates within and without the individual person. 

“Soon”

Eight twenty.

It’s colder this morning than yesterday but it isn’t raining and the atmosphere definitely feels like March. I didn’t notice much of anything outdoors; I wondered why Kat is always gone from home when I pass by her house. I guess it’s none of my business, though she used to be friendly and a good neighbor. Life is ever in flux and nothing stays the same. The pendulum swings to and fro as history moves forward like some ogre stalking along, left to right and back again. I can’t shake the music in my head; it is “Soon,” an old piece by the prog band Yes. I don’t see its relevance to my life right now. Perhaps it’ll be clear later on. Some of my neighbors seem pretty vexed with the current state of affairs but it’s not my problem. In Oregon, the mask mandate is going away on the 12th of this month: looking forward to this a lot. Even the sparrows on my patio sound cheerful, unmindful of the price of oil and gasoline and other things that people believe they can’t do without. People ought to have the ingenuity to save themselves from ecological suicide, but only time will tell if they choose wisely. 

Today Also

Quarter after nine.

I’m suffering from a slightly guilty conscience for avoiding church today. Schizophrenia is a biological disease, not a defect of moral character, so why should I be shipped off to church to be reformed? I’ve grown sick of spiritual leaders who are basically dictators on what is ontologically what. Enough said.

Ten forty. My sister called me over an hour ago, giving me the perfect excuse to stay home. When I went to the market a while ago, the streets were dry and safe for walking on. The winter sky is marbled blue and white while the sun makes an appearance. I bought myself a Pepsi for the fun of it. Lately I haven’t been in the mood for theology or ethics, or for anything beyond the physics. The natural world is enough to make me happy. Old traditions are for old people in togas. Emerson’s attitude was, “The sun shines today also,” so why experience life secondhand? Read your Emerson first, then you put even his stuff away… Yesterday I made some noise on my Fender bass. I had to file down the slot I’d started in the E saddle of the Badass bridge so now the string doesn’t slip out. I’ve observed that I rarely listen to music anymore when I’m alone, probably because my memory is mostly phonographic.

Eleven forty. Even so, I could enjoy a run through of The Yes Album, especially “Perpetual Change” and “Starship Trooper.”

Good Things… Small Packages

Two o’clock.

I jammed on my G&L bass for a while. The snow was so bright that I didn’t have to turn the light on in the room. Out the window I could see Victoria sweeping her car of snow. A lot more people are coming out today to drive or walk around. They talk together in raised voices as if excited. When I was out on the sidewalk I heard this lyric: “The moments seemed lost in all the noise / A snowstorm, a stimulating voice / And rest for the day / With cold in the way.” During the time I played my bass, I moved the switch to the center to tap all the pole pieces, giving me a full range of tone. Sounds great, but I need someone else to play with. I expect two packages today and tomorrow, but the one coming by mail might be delayed… I can’t believe it’s only two thirty. But our daylight will be spent in another two hours. I don’t know if my little Rumble 25 is reparable or not. I may have to get a new amp for church, which doesn’t break my heart at all. There are some really nice combo amps for bass for a bit more money. Although, I don’t want to leave it in the sacristy all the time to be disused.

Nine forty.

Some very old music rises to my consciousness by the Ray Brown Orchestra. He was an amazing bass player, and hardly anyone realizes that he could play electric bass as well as acoustic upright. The tone of his Fender Precision would melt in your mouth and he was all over it with his huge hands… Amazon had one more copy of the music I wanted in stock— so I snagged it. It arrives on my birthday.