24 January 2008

Current reading matter and other matters...

I know I said I thought I might stop posting here but my good friends told me not to be so silly, so here I am again. In brief, I just want to mention some books I'm reading and couple of other things.

Not so long ago, I mentioned my religious faith in this very blog. Keeping on that theme, I'm currently engrossed in Evelyn Underhill's classic tome, Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evelyn_Underhill . Written way back in 1911, this is an amazing study of mainly Christian mystical experience. Alongside this, I'm also looking into Mysticism: A Study and an Anthology by F.C. Happold http://www.escapefromwatchtower.com/mysticism.html, The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard http://www.dwillard.org/ and I'm re-reading parts of Karen Armstrong's A History of God http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Armstrong. That may all look a bit heavy but, somehow, it all fits together and it seems that everytime I come across something that sparks a light in me in one book one of the others has something relevant to say the next time I turn to it. This all seems to me to be just about the most vital subject for a person to take an interest in. Of course, merely reading about something is one thing, doing something about it is another. I must take up meditation once more and search for a way of 'right living' (as Buddhists would put it). I go to church (from time to time); I pray; in my feeble way I do my best to be 'good' but it never feels like it's quite enough. Don't get me wrong, I'm not chastising myself but I acknowledge that 'the search' goes on and I should try harder.

Something quite exciting happened today. I came back from my first solo walk (quite s little walk, really) since I became unwell and had to undergo months of treatment and I checked the blog to find that The Purple Gooroo had added some links that I hadn't noticed before. I clicked on the bottom one and this led me to an interesting site which had another load of links which I duly searched through to find a lot of people with similar interests to myself and many seemed to be on a similar quest. Most seemed to be far more mature in the spiritual life than I am and it was inspiring to read their thoughts and look at some of the things they have been reading and read some of their own poetry and prose. So, thanks to The Purple Gooroo. Back to the subject of walking, I hope to continue to build up my strength with regular walks and times of solitude, if the weather allows! I will be having a scan in a week or so to tell me how all the treatment has gone and we'll take it from there. I'm in God's hands and, whatever you believe in, please send postive vibes my way and I'll be sending them back to you too with great thanks.

Talk again soon.

23 January 2008

Mid-Winter Happenings

14 MuHarram - 1429 A.H.

We haven't been up to much lately, just the usual. Working, chillin' out--that sort of thing. The weather's been dull and rainy, but we managed a couple of short walks around the village.

We were asked to attend a Confirmation service a couple of nights ago--so we duly attended. I was mainly surprised when the church didn't collapse after I walked in. Having (mostly) forgotten about all of the pomp surrounding Confirmation services, I was also surprised at how long it all took. Apparently, it was even longer last year, as there were more Confirmandi. Ah well, we survived.

I've been spending a bit of time over at GoodReads the past few days (in fact, I've been spending virtually all of my on-line time there). I received an e-mail invite from Mark D., over at Cheek. The site seemed interesting to me, so I signed up. It's pretty much a place to list the books you've read (and are reading and want to read) and give and get recommendations from fellow bookworms. It's been an interesting exercise trying to remember exactly what I've read over the years, and when. I've been amazed that some of the titles I read over twenty years ago actually appear in the GoodReads database. I'm still adding titles to my bookshelf--I'm up to around 170 at the moment. When I've got as much as I can remember, I'll explore the other features of the site. Maybe I'll see you there.

The next couple of months looks good for tunes, with the newest Mars Volta album, The Bedlam In Goliath, out on Monday. More Latin-tinged prog-punk from the boys..and that's fine with me. I think I'll give their last one, Amputechture, another spin or two. Mike Oldfield's brand new one, Music Of The Spheres, is due out in March. He's collaborated with Karl Jenkins on the record. Jenkins is best known for his classical-lite Adeimus series--but once upon a time he was a second keyboardist in Soft Machine (alongside Mike Ratledge), with his apex being the remarkable Six album, released in 1973. From what I can gather, "Music Of The Spheres" seems something of a 'return to form'. I haven't been overly impressed with the last couple of Oldfield albums, so I'm hoping "Music..." does recover some of the magic. The new Elbow album is also slated to hit the racks in March. The boys are touring then as well and we may try to catch them at the Academy. It'll be tough for them to top Leaders Of The Free World, but I suspect they gave it really good effort. Time to warm up the disc player.

11 January 2008

Happy Bob-Mas & Happy Birthday Albert Hofmann

Sweetmorn, Chaos 11, Year of Our Lady of Discord 3174

Has it really been a year since Pope Bob left this planet for unknown adventures? I still miss him and I'm still hoping that his remaining family can put together an anthology of his unpublished works. Maybe even the fabled Tale Of The Tribe? Some of the MLA'ers have been talking about completing T.O.T.T. themselves--in which case, I'll definitely be up for helping out with that. In the meantime - there's the two MLA-related Wikipedia pages. The collaborative fiction one and the newest, a page dedicated to the Illuminatus! trilogy. Cool stuff.

As for Pope Bob himself, well, I don't necessarily "believe" in an after-life..but if such a thing 'is' a possibility--I imagine he's still tripping the light fantastic with Arlen, downing pints of astral Guinness with Jimmy Joyce, Timmy Leary and Flann O'Brien, having ol' Ludwig Van teach him piano sonatas and blowing minds everywhere. Hail Pope Bob!

It's also the 102nd birthday of Dr. Albert Hofmann, who, in case you're not aware, was the first to synthesize a little compound called LSD. The man seems far more rational and sober-minded than a lot of "War On Some Drugs" types would have you believe. I've got a recording of Hofmann speaking at a psychedelics symposium held in San Francisco in September 1978. He describes his experiences with LSD with a clarity and focus that only a rational, scientific mind can conjure. You can read that 1978 lecture here.

It would be pure speculation to consider what 2008 would be like, had Aldous Huxley, Humphrey Osmond and Hofmann's view that psychedelics should be studied and used for therapeutic purposes won out over the mass-experimentation model of Leary, Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsberg. Some later counter-culturalists managed to bridge the gap a bit between the scientists and mystics (Terence McKenna comes to mind), but the cat's been out of the bag far too long now and the TSOG won't budge on the matter of keeping psychedelics illegal and "immoral"--so still no scientific testing and the only stuff available is dodgy 'street acid', which may contain a number of things and pure lysergic acid probably won't be one of them. Maybe someday that will change--but for the moment, I'm glad 'Uncle Albert' is still with us.

Check out Bogus Magus' post over at Only Maybe for another R.A.W./Albert Hofmann tribute.

No Man's Code: Forty Years of 'John Wesley Harding'


Some said he'd died in a motorcylcle accident, others said he was vegetating in a coma. No one outside of Bob Dylan's immediate circle really knew what had happened on that fateful day in 1966 when, following the utter emotional and artistic strain of his musically shattering world tour that had seen 'walk outs' by fans of the 'folk hero Dylan', boos from many of the confused and the infamous 'Judas!' shout in Manchester, England, Bob's bike skidded off the road somewhere out in the hills around Woodstock and he ended up in a neck brace. Perhaps he just didn't fancy another jaunt around the States that Albert Grossman was already lining up? Maybe he couldn't fulfill his contract for the long promised book he was writing? Maybe he was an exhausted wreck who fell off his motorcycle and just couldn't do anymore? Probably all three propositions are true to some degree. Whatever did happen, Dylan now had the chance to get off the treadmill, hide in the hills, re-evaluate his life and art and attempt to finally shake off the 'spokeman for a generation' tag that had made him sick from the very beginning of his career.

In 1964 Dylan had already signed off from the battles others had lined up for him on the final song of his third album, The Times They Are A-Changin'. On 'Restless Farewell' Dylan sang 'But it's not to stand naked under unknowing eyes, it's for myself and my friends my stories are sung'. It seems nobody wanted to hear that. He tried again in the same year at the Newport Folk Festival where in 1963 he'd been crowned the 'King of Protest' along with his abominable 'Queen', Joan Baez. In '64 Dylan turned up, still armed with an acoustic guitar but his threads were sharper and his new songs some light years away from 'protest'. He introduced the world to 'Chimes of Freedom' and 'Mr. Tambourine Man' but the folk purists, in their supreme dullness, didn't mind because his guitar wasn't plugged in to any of that 'e-lec-tri-city' so he must still belong to them. He must have thought, 'Oh, Lord, what can I do to make them understand ?' Finally, as we all know, in 1965 Bob went the whole hog and plugged in to become the rock 'n' roller he always wanted to be. Oh, the folkies 'got it' now. He had an electric guitar! He had a band! Get the traitor off! Trouble was, others still saw him as the one with all the answers to society's problems; infact, for many, he was even more so the 'saviour' they had waited for as he became the darling of the growing 'Counter Culture'. After all, his lyrics were weird, 'maan'. He spoke in riddles at press conferences: he must have a message for us!

We all know this story, so I should move on. It's easy for me to mock the short-sightedness of those Dylan fans who, back in early 1968, eagerly slid the vinyl out of the sleeve of John Wesley Harding and, placing it on their turntables, thought 'What the f*** is this?' There was war going on, there were riots on American streets, there were hippies threatening to turn the world upside down with their sex and drugs and mock and roll. What had Dylan finally given them in answer to their prayers? An album that sounded like it was recorded by an tragically religious hillbilly who had stepped out of the 1860s rather than the whirlpool of the 1960s. As I said, it's easy for me to mock. I didn't start getting into Zimmy until the mid-70s; by then he'd slowly made his way back into the arms of the mass of his fans (although he had a shock coming for them' just around the bend'). The first album I'd bought was Desire which was something of a commercial peak. After this I'd grabbed Greatest Hits and then let Dylan drift whilst punk took over. By '79 I was ready for a fulltime assault on Mount Zimmerman and probably bought Freewheelin' next. I had no real idea of where to go after this, so I grasped at anything the second-hand record and book shops happened to have at a good price. Thus, oddly, my next purchases were JWH, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait all on the same day. In retrospect, that's quite bizarre but I think I was lucky because, in my naive ignorance but spirited adventure, I had no massive expectations of what a Dylan should sound like. I just know what I liked and even through all the crackles in this ancient vinyl, I liked everything I heard but I particularly liked John Wesley Harding. If I'd been ten years older I probably would have booed.

The cover of the album is a statement in itself. It was GREY. There was Dylan and three odd characters with him who'd NEVER make the cover of a Beatles album. We didn't know them. The Fab-Four really weren't hidden in the tree bark behind Dylan's shoulder. Why would he indulge in such crap? The previous year had seen the release of Sgt. Pepper's with its Peter Blake cover that shouted 'colour!', 'drugs!', 'self-regard!' and 'look at us!'. Zappa famously lampooned it all with We're Only In It For The Money but The Stones were so jealous that they had to have a 'Counter Culture' album and cover all of their own and made themselves ridiculous with Satanic Majesties. Dylan hated the so called 'alternative' world view of hippies and psychedelia. Musically, he'd always been grounded in Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and the R&B of Little Richard, to say nothing of the massive influence of Woody Guthrie on his early work. Guthrie died just before Bob took off for Nashville to record JWH and he instantly offered to take part in any tribute concert there might be for Woody. Never mind 1964s 'Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie'. For the past year, whilst recovering from the accident, Bob had been holed up in Woodstock with The Hawks, who were about to become The Band, recording songs for fun. Listening now to the well over 100 tracks they put down over this period you can hear the utter rejection of what was going on 'out there'; the refusal to 'speak' for anyone but themselves and the sheer joy of making music that matters. Many of the songs recorded through 1967 were folk songs or old pop songs from a previous era. The Dylan originals that came out of the 'basement' were as powerful and strange as anything he'd ever written but already they were pointing in a new direction. Listen to 'Tears of Rage', 'Wheels On Fire' or 'Lo and Behold!' and you'll be struck by the near religious intensity of these strange narratives that seem to look back and forward all at the same moment.

Oddly, Bob chose to not use The Band for John Wesley Harding. Their sound probably wasn't what he quite had in mind. JWH is rock minimalism. The small band that he used in Nashville featured Charlie McCoy on Bass, Kenny Buttrey on drums and Pete Drake on steel guitar. Dylan himself strums a guitar that sounds like the capo is permanently strapped high up the neck, creating a light, singing tone. All of the instrumentation is unobtrusive. What counts are Dylan's voice, the melody and the words. On the three albums that he recorded in fifteen short months between 1965 and 1966 Dylans vocals became increasingly a reflection of his state of mind until you reach the ultimate amphetamine fog of his vocals on Blonde On Blonde. By late '67 Bob had discovered a lighter but still aching tone that perfectly complimented songs like 'I Am a Lonesome Hobo' and 'Dear Landlord'. These were songs searching for but failing to find redemption; songs of dreams that seem to blame the narrator for the death of saintliness and, in 'All Along The Watchtower', a warning of the coming apocolypse in three verses of elliptical poetry that are possibly the most perfect of Dylan's career. He'd clearly been studying The Bible and there are plenty of scholars who'll point you to the 'Old Testament' and 'Book of Revelation' references but you don't need all that to feel the power of this song. I've always believed that whilst Hendrix's version has its own beauty it ultimately misses the point. As with most of the songs on John Wesley Harding, all that was necessary were three verses, no solos and the truth. Maybe it's the first punk album?

Enough! I've listened to this album hundreds of times, have already listened to it four or five times today and will never tire of it. It allowed Dylan to begin to shake of off the shackles of the previous years.It made possible the great country rock of Gram Parsons and The Byrds (it also allowed The Eagles to inflict their nonsense on us!); it told the hippies that Dylan could never belong to them and he would only ever be his own man whatever anyone thought of it. It may have even been the first 'Alt. Country' record. Over the years, Dylan has paid the price of his artistic integrity but has ultimately won the day and even if JWH had been the last we'd ever heard of him it would still rank as high as any of his other 60s albums in importance and downright musical greatness.


07 January 2008

The Cover Of The Quarterly

Happy New Year, All! I contributed to the latest Maybe Quarterly (a sort-of web-zine published by the crew at the MLA on the solstices and equinoxes) by flexing the Photoshop skillz and creating the cover. I meant to have it ready for the autumn equinox issue and all sorts of stuff happened to effectively sabotage it. Anyway, better late than never. Looks pretty good...to me, that is. See if you can spot the typo--and be sure to read the contents of the issue. Loadsa good stuff there--but especially Bogus Magus and Bobby's collab piece, called Magical Means. You can check out the issue here. 'Till next time...