Friday, August 15, 2008

Concert Review(s)

Mystics hold that there is a deeper, more fundamental state of existence hidden beneath the appearances of day–to–day living. William James points out that a mystical experience doesn’t have to be part of a religious experience. In fact, enightenment happens when we least expect it. Call it "The Zone" or whatever you chose, but what we're talking about is a perceived interconnection with existence or a loss of self accompanied by feelings of ecstatsy.

The issue of course is explaining that experience - in my romantic view, the main work of artists. But, James points out that a mystical experience displays the world through a different lens than ordinary experience. The experience, in his words, is "ineffable" and "noetic"; placed beyond the descriptive abilities of language. Which puts a guy like me – a language guy -- at a disadvantage. But, people like me are latecomers to the party; after all, a complete absence of terminology existed during the evolution of mankind's sacred texts. In the beginning there was the word, but everyone pronounced it differently.

So today where can these experiences be found,. Certainly there would seem to be a connection between the dancing of the hippies at a jam band show and the twirling of a Sufi dervish. And yet. And yet.

The chief aim of mystics, is to let go of all notions of duality, including a conception of an individual self, and to realize the Divine unity -- writ small the work is to erase the division between performer and audience. But here at the Big Leg Emma show at Oil City’s Justus Park last weekend, there was a huge divide between the performers and the audience. (Both literal and metaphorical -- So powerfully engrained is this idea of us and them that when the sound crew laid down cords from the stage to the “booth” they bisected the park and then laid cones on top o the cord so that people wouldn’t trip. However, the audience all stuck to the side of the cones upon which they entered (the other side of the cones faced the river, so that people could only enter the park from one side) BLE was putting on a show for us and we were there to passive dis-engage. That’s not, in any way, to denigrate the bad. beside the lead vocalist Steve Johnson’s mumbling faux-Southern accent, the band was practiced and tight – the (fairly) recent addition of keyboardist Steve Davis meant that they were able to blaze through a cover of Superstitious as well as still approach a soft, careful cover of “Dear Prudence”. But, for the majority of the attendees, it could have been anything on stage: a ragtime band, a man belching into a bottle, two cats attacking each other with miniature boxing gloves – we, the audience (for I am complicit in this as well) were simply there. And yet, when the drunks showed up, everything was skewed “Blue Heron!” one yelled. “yeah. mumbled Johnson the vocalist for BLE. That was a good time. In his tone there was clearly, “Shut up.” And I can’t blame Johnson – no performer likes it when drunks attempt to engage you in fragmentary thoughts, but more so this drunk had transgressed, keg cup in hand – he was unwilling to assume his role (sitter in the park or hippie dancer or consumer of merchandise) he wanted to be part of the show. I’m like you he was saying to the band. We are both equally worthy of attention. He was wrong, of course, but the lack of surrender to duality and the response it garnered was interesting.

And so, once the drunks and the leashless dogs crapping with abandon showed up, once we grew tired of the stumbling middle aged hippie slurping from the giant convenience store insulated mug, once the children on scooters started darting towards the audience, we bolted, understanding that this was not a place for us, that nothing would be revealed to us that night.

The next day, Saturday, Amy and I headed to Franklin’s Fountain Park to the see The Organ Grinder’s Rally. I had expected and imagined something big and old timey, but was actually sad and small and really more depressing than pleasurable. here it seemed was a rally that exited only for the participants. they milled around talking to each other about the esoteric of the reproduction organs (careful, now. Be nice.) But treated the visitors with limited forbearance.

We stood and looked at one frightening clown organ until finally the woman sighed heavily, lurched from her lawn chair and said, “I suppose you want me to turn it on for you?” Actually, I couldn’t possibly have cared less, but she was there to show off her craft and so we remained silent as she cranked and the terrifying clown pumped his foot in time to the tootling. (Perhaps it was I who expected too much. After all, Victorian Literature often depicts the grinders as minor extortionists who were paid to keep silent. Charles Dickens wrote to a friend that he could not write for more than half an hour without being disturbed by the most excruciating sounds imaginable, coming in from organs on the street. Charles Babbage would chase them around town, begging police to arrest them.

Later that day, exhausted, and unsure of my family’s plans, I almost didn’t make it to the Brother Bean Solid Rock Café Reunion show. I finally made it there around 7 – an hour after it had begun and between bands. The crowd was ample – around 125, but this was a crowd of 125 drawn together with no publicity at all- while the newspaper had run a pretty hefty article about Big Leg Emma, they had not done so about this show – no posters or fliers had been posted (that I had seen) – news was limited to MySpace bulletins.

To these attendees, the music was secondary a reason for gathering, sure, and excuse if you will, but as youth will do they were primarily interested in seeing and being seen (which lead to some hilarious looks, the muffintop girls spilling out over last year’s skinny jeans, the guy wearing the tshirt from the virulently anti-Christian band Amon Amarth who I would have bet my last dollar was there to see the virulently Christian Neocracy, the unfortunate return of 1980s style cycling caps, but the point here was not to look good, but to look. And to see). This was a festival. there was no doubt about it. People ran about with the wristbands, smoking and taking pictures of each other with their cell phones – and, I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it myself, a rainbow stretched from the felid across the road to the roof of the Brother Bean Coffeehouse – I almost couldn’t write that because it seems so clichéd, but it was true.

Signal Home took the stage, but it was almost beside the point. I had brought mixed feeling to the show regarding the No Dancing edict. Some of my fondest memories were created in the pit at shows, and yet, without it, I was forced to reassess why I had been there – primarily for ego – to make sure that people saw me – to move the attention away from the performers and on to me. Here there, there was a paradigm shift. Although many in the crowd were dressed practically begging for attention, the band played straight forward rock, not as a “Hey we’re just regular guys” pose but because the music extended beyond the stage erasing the duality – they weren’t the show, the were part of the show.

What Gwen and Bruce do at Brother Bean is build community. And like finding enlightenment of any stripe, it’s not easy or pretty – like sausage (whether soy or pork), we like it when it’s done for us, when we can enjoy it premade, cooked and sat in front of our contended faces but the actual work is hard and dirty. We prefer to keep our distances - to laugh or brush off the metaphysical aspects of B’rer Rabbit and the koans "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" or "How many angels can stand on the head of a pin?" In either case, the intention is lost; the point being that the effort in contemplating the impossible leads us to give up the ego pursuit of doing/getting and leads us to the unity of being/having.

The rainbow disappeared, the clouds gathered, and I sprinted for my car as the heavens opened. On the drive home, there was some of the most intense sky to ground lightning strikes I’ve ever seen and I worried about the concert goers for a moment, and then I wished I had a way to photograph the lightening, and then just I was about to descend the hill into Franklin, lightening seemed to strike all around me, like I was inside the bolt and the thunderclap seemed to rise from within me as well as without.

More shots from the Signal Home portion of the show

More shots from the Organ Grinders' Rally

T-Shirt of the Week - "We Are Made of Carbon"

I'm reading Talking to Myself by Studs Terkel this week for the Franklin Public Library's Summer Reading Program for Grown-ups and kind of wishing I wasn't. Studs is great when chronicling the lives of others, but his persona in this memoir is annoyingly self-conscious and commits a writerly sin that drives me crazy - spending page after page explaining how tough and from the streets you are.

Venangoland's Pete Greene was an Olympic Torch Bearer? My jealousy knows no bounds. Even weirder my family and I went up to see the torch pass through Erie; however, Pete doesn't crop up in any of our photos.

So, what did I find in my POBox the other day? A missive from Mysticals of Pittsburgh. Thanks to the anonymous sender.

Not a tremendous amount of information on this one, but the Grammy Award winning traditional gospel group Dixie Hummingbirds will be playing Titusville on Sunday, September 21st.

Becoming a NYC rock star - the how to guide.

Life without record labels.

Ever wonder what it would be like to have gastric bypass surgery and then go to the Venango Fair? No, me either, but this woman has a blog about it. Adverse to vomit descriptions? Avoid it.

The NYTimes takes a look at It says it will professionally scan 1,000 photos for you, the same day it receives them, and put them on a DVD for $50.

The Barrow Civic website is now compatible with any browser! Huzzah and kudos!

What killed Tampa Bay's zine scene?

Herewith, a listing by geographic region, of some mysteries to check out for an armchair tour

The Poster List is offering a 2/$20 deal.

If Joseph Cornell had been born 50 years later and read too much HP Lovecraft he would have been AlexCF

Free and Legal Downloads:

Six Degrees Sampler featuring Jef Stott, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and others.

A Sound Legacy: 60 Years of Folkways Records and 20 Years of Smithsonian Folkways

Very Best of Naxos Early Music

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