On a humid evening in the middle of Brooklyn, as thunderclouds indecisively condensed, threatened and then broke apart, I arrived at a long warehouse. There, friend Rachel and older sister Lizzie were putting together the final touches to the event space. At midnight I was to turn 25. But, this year was monumental for another reason than my being on this planet for a quarter-century.
After a lifetime of development, endless revisions, pursuits of side-projects, realizations and developments in craft, I had finally completed an album called, "Songs of Longing."
And yet, I felt distant, in measures of geological time, from the person who wrote the lead single, off the up-coming album, "Lost In Gardens." It seems that the two years since I composed the tune until now, could be compared in Darwinian terms: The primordial soup in contrast to upright apes.
As much as this party acknowledged the achievement of this album being finished, it codified an attitude towards pursuing my artistic visions and a momentum towards sharing it with the public. At least that's the way I saw it.
Rachel and Lizzie had organized this event; I know nothing of event planning and was detectably anxious that my limited resources in the friends department would be an issue.
The album is an outcome of prolonged self-reflection, exploration of the psychedelic and contemplative inner space, as well as a struggle with loneliness and a longing to be free from self-imposed limitations and shortcomings.
Now that this work is completed, there is a magnetism from the world around me. People have begun to notice the sounds, the words, the emotions and have encouraged me to collaborate in sharing what I have cultivated.
In a modern tale of new connections and soul kinship it is a new character in my life — Bobby Hanaford — who has been a catalyst towards my ambitions. First, I found his music on Soundcloud. Then, from across the country — he in LA and me in Connecticut — I got involved contributing to his new music. I showed him what I was up to with "Lost In Gardens" and he said, “This is fucking awesome!"
A few weeks later, he came back with the video concept, a visual script that would go along with my song. I was impressed, almost beyond belief. He seemed to gather his inspiration from the same river I had tapped into, a tributary that I know to be remote and hard to find.
With Bobby’s encouragement and Lizzie’s advice, I began to feel confident in the notion of doing a crowdfunding campaign to make this vision a reality.
Lost in Gardens, Where She Must Grow
The dusty warehouse, with walls of raw, deeply textured concrete and brick, seemed more like a saloon in the old West; burly men, in boots and dirty T-shirts (roommates of the warehouse owner), sat at the bar, or smoked cigarettes on the stoop. My Dad hammered in nails on the wall at the furthest end of the space, across from the wooden planks, which made a small stage. There we hung five of my paintings, which were mostly completed while I was also recording "Songs of Longing."
A Hindu woman bathed in green water; her dark, damp hair swinging over her shoulders; her thin sari wet and rippling across her bosom. A portrait of my sister Justine was adjacent; her strawberry blonde hair glistened, while the shadows across her cheek seemed to recede into the dimly-lit concrete wall.
Then there was a large canvas of rich purple, streaked with pale pink, featuring a portrait of young woman, somewhat like a Margot Tenenbaum with purple skin and teal hair. I had painted that in 2012 — I called her the "Rainbow Girl." It was she whom I referred to when I sang: "She's being guarded; lost in gardens, where she must grow."
An even larger canvas, with a background of deep-space-black, shimmered with strokes of iridescent silver and magenta. Finally, there are swirls of similar colors with a purple-hued rendering of a skull.
A Dialogue on Politics and The New Age
I go to the front table, where we have raffle tickets. Rachel and I converse about a laptop that we were going to setup with the crowdfunding website. A short man with shallow eyes, dark hair and a long nose enters. He says, "Hi, I'm Rob. Happy birthday."
He spoke softly and was quietly warm. "So you are performing tonight?" I told him about the video campaign and that I'd finally finished my album. Somehow I began to explain, "I want to move away from writing autobiographical lyrics. I'd like to write about wider topics. I see how well-known songwriters walk into a room and everyone knows about their life already. For example, you're a —“ And I thought he might be a graphic designer.
"Graphic designer," he said.
"That's funny, I was just thinking that."
"Are you psychic?”
"Maybe a little," I said cracking a smile. "I would rather say intuitive."
He looked at me inquisitively.
"Intuition is a capacity of perception and I think that I have pretty strong… It's helpful with art." Then I remembered my train of thought. “Anyways, as — Jon — the graphic designer," I started.
"Oh, it's Ron."
"Ron, Jon — Kinda similar. Sorry about that."
I had mixed him up with a Jon I know who looks, speaks, feels similar. So I continued, "Jon — You walk into a room and can start with a fresh slate…"
Then Rachel tapped me on the shoulder. She was smiling brightly, charming as always, my laptop was cradled in her hands, "I have your laptop. I'm not running off with it or anything though."
"I trust you," I said. But in fact I had forgotten all about it.
Then I noticed the silhouettes of a tall man and a short lady with blonde hair, in front of my friend Jeff, who I've known since I first picked up a guitar over a decade ago. I mistook the silhouettes for two ambiguous friends of Jeff — people I would've lost connection with in the past couple years.
"Hey!" I said.
The silhouettes looked up at me. I then recognized them as Liz's friends Annie and Zak. Annie had dyed her hair blonde. I told her it looked good. Zak shook my hand firmly. I hadn’t seen him since Lizzie’s wedding in 2013.
I moved to greet Jeff. I hadn't seen him in a while either — months. He had just that week returned from France, where he'd been for a wedding of our high school friend Jack.
As the three of them were ushered in by Rachel, I turned to Ron.
"So you're a graphic designer. What kind of work do you do?"
"Mostly design for political campaigns or websites. I recently did a quiz which showed you if Hillary or Bernie aligned with your views," he said calmly.
"Oh I saw that! Can't remember which person the results said though."
He looked at me blankly; possibly confused, or annoyed that I was coming off self-centered.
"So I assume you must be a Bernie supporter?”
"Yes I am. What about you?” he said.
"Well, I've just started really paying attention to politics. For me, I can't necessarily back a certain candidate with policies that I don't understand the implications of."
He didn't move a muscle on his face and yet I felt a warmth and openness to express myself. So I spoke again.
"In other words, on education," in my head referring to free college tuition rhetoric, "or health care," referring to Bernie's aspiration to have Euro-style Single Payer. "I don't know what is best — I've heard arguments on both sides."
"I can respect that," Ron said in a light monotone, "I would encourage you to research the specifics and then decide."
"Oh I really have. I used to be apolitical and cynical, but have really dived into it all. I've come away with the conclusion that both sides — Left and Right — have their arguments and it's in the collision of those perspectives that is the political process. That being said," now I began to smile, "It takes some strong beliefs on either side for that to occur."
"That's interesting," Ron said slowly and with an aura of receptivity.
Carl Jung's Synthesis of Opposites
"That's not to say that I'm speaking of Republicans and Democrats as equals. The Right in America is a party of bigoted loons, like the Insane Clown Posse and Gathering of the Juggalos.” Ron laughed quietly, his bottom lip parting and the opening signaled his humoring.
I paused to laugh, recognized that I had successfully made a joke; Trump's absurdity makes easy sarcasm. Then I continued, "You see, to me, it's the synthesis of opposites where truth is. That's a Jungian idea."
"Carl Jung emphasized the need to balance opposites. So taking that psychological fact into the political sphere, I can see that both sides have points, and they have to shape each other for a society to function. The problem is the bipartisan system in America has people digging their heels in."
"I think people need to reflect more. Our culture doesn't encourage individuals to think for themselves," said Ron.
"That's right! I've been paraphrasing Nietzsche recently: ‘We don't have ideas; Ideas have us.’ And we see this in politics."
"Oh that makes sense. Still though, with something like getting money out of elections, there seems to be either a right or a wrong," said Ron.
"Yes! Out of all of Bernie's positions that seemed like a no-brainer. It didn't seem to me a Progressive or Conservative position, but rather an obvious one. Like: wouldn't a true conservative want our Republic to be truly representational?"
"Yah. And like with the Nazis and the Allies — they had opposing views, but one was obviously wrong.
"For sure, two opposing views are not always equal, even if they are framed that way. There's an ethical dimension to truth, which has to be seen objectively. That's a big problem today! Debates of opposing views are often portrayed as equal — like with Climate Change scientists and the deniers. We see broadcasts where it looks like the two-sided debate is of equals, but that's not the case. So for the collision of opposites to work, there has to be clear-thinking, authentic view-points on either side."
Ron was less speedy with his comments, but I felt his engagement.
"A lot of this comes from the work of an NYU psychologist and sociologist named Jonathan Haidt," I said.
"Oh! I know Jonathan 'Hate'"
"Yah! It's 'Hie-it' though. Anyways, he says that our political stances are basically predetermined by what's called trait theory — levels of empathy, openness, disgust."
My brother-in-law came in with another friend, gave me a light hug and hello, then continued into the room. Ron and I stood off to the side.
"So Haidt — He's been a big influence. Both sides seem to have good points on different issues."
Narcissism in Popular Music and My Artistic Direction
After going back and forth about various commentators, from Noam Chomsky to Glen Greenwald, I began to talk about how I think that the lyrics of today's music is too narcissistic. Ron listened to me explain that I want to move in the direction of lyrics that include social and political commentary, but that not being a fervent believer in either side, makes that difficult. I neglected the notion that creating characters who do have the strong beliefs is a possible solution.
Instead, I asked Ron where he was from. I learned he grew up in NYC, which was "rough," or "tough" — either one. I knew he was Jewish, but asked discretely and then revealed I was as well.
I then asked, "Have you noticed more of the sort of New Age types in the City?"
His eyes lit-up, he gasped and smiled with his mouth open, "How did you know? Yes! I've been coming across more and more of people like that. Do you live in New York?"
"No, I'm in Connecticut," I said.
"There were New Age-types even ten years ago, but it's been increasing a lot. I don't mind people who are into that, for the most part. It's only when people begin to speak of 'The Universe,' which seems so much like a Sky-god," he said as he tilted his head upwards. “That I take issue with. They seem to give away their rationality. And to me it's like: our civilization has worked over thousands of years and culminated in the Enlightenment we were able to emancipate ourselves from that type of thinking and create the sciences — for example.” Ron gestured his hands in a rising motion, “Rockets to space. It's not good to just throw all of that out the window. But, not everyone who is New Age, does that."
"I agree. I've been studying more about history and I really came to the same conclusion and have a reverence for Western innovations," I said. In my mind I saw what he must've been as well; the modern hospitals, architecture and fine art. "There's definitely a spectrum with the New Age ideas. It has seeped into the thoughts and beliefs of even the ordinary people, who will speak, for example, of Mindfulness. And it often seems to promote the need for reflection, which we mentioned earlier.”
"Yah, I can see that, but it often seems to reduce reality down; people take away their critical thinking and get into magical thinking."
"That's a real problem, but it's important to recognize this as a countermovement to the initial trend towards materialism and rationality, which is reductionist in another way. Everything is always moving in a dialectic; a movement and countermovement, with many subsequent interplay's within."
From behind me came Julien, a handsome guy, not much taller than Ron, with his arm around a red-headed girl in tight jeans. I hadn't seen Julien for about six-months. Our music collaborations had deteriorated since he'd been involved with his girlfriend, Ellie and, well, even prior — since he was obnoxiously drunk at one of my shows the summer prior. So, I hugged Julien, then Ellie, who leaned into me; her large breasts pressed into my chest; her thick plum colored hair itched my forehead.
Lyrical Prowess of The Beat Generation
Julien, Ellie, Jeff and myself congregated in a small circle of chairs. In those opening moments, Julien and I held each other's gaze and commented that it had "been a while.” It had been “too long,” we agreed. Julien insisted, as he always does, that he means to come back to the studio soon and finish up his project. He explained that he's debating if he should use rap and hip hop as his mode of creative expression. I said I could understand that reticence.
Jeff was flipping through his phone. I listened to Julien intently but without investing myself in his seeds of quicksilver. His charms, which I hadn't recalled at all recently, were immediately noticeable; He was especially appealing, being that he was sober, coherent and calm.
I wanted to compel Jeff away from his phone; it was vaguely apparent he was flipping, with a slight smirk, through Instagram. I urged him tell me about the wedding. There was a lack of detail in his response, but he seemed happy. When Jeff spoke of the music festival, where Radiohead, Tame Impala and Arcade Fire performed in a trifecta of art rock glory, his eye's lit up, posture straightened and smile widened.
Ellie asked if they played that song… You know the one…
Jeff said, "Creep? Yah, they played Creep."
Then he and I geeked out on Radiohead. We recalled our experience at the age of fourteen, where we witnessed them at Bonnaroo, in 2006.
Julien said, "How is your music going?"
I noticed Jeff, back to his phone. "I feel more serious and directed about it all."
"I know, I can see." Julien smiled, with a genuine impression of admiration and support.
"My writing has become more of a focus as well, along with the painting. I'm trying to bring them all together. I want to move away from writing autobiographical lyrics and do social and political commentary." I remembered the afternoons, while I was painting, where I discovered a new appreciation for Bob Dylan's lyrical prowess; then in my mind was the image of Julien singing a cover of Dylan, while I accompanied on guitar. "The songwriters of the Sixties had such powerful lyrics."
"Nobody is doing that these days and we need it more then ever," said Julien. "Well Father John Misty does it in an incredible way," I said
"I love him," Ellie said, slightly rolling her eyes upwards in a state of musing.
"And I saw Local Natives perform a new song that had some political words about Trump. But, there was so much going on in the song, such a cacophony that the message didn't come through," I said.
“That's what was so great about Bob Dylan, he kept his music so minimal, as a support for the powerful words," Julien said.
He was right. He was exactly right. I want to do more of that I thought. "It's difficult to put serious, or political, intellectual words to music, without throwing off the aesthetics. I'm still trying to learn that."
Julien looked at me quizzically; either he agreed it was difficult, or recognized that my aesthetics are not always spot-on; I’ve had my lapses; In that admission he must’ve imagined some drafts that were cringe-worthy.
At that moment a Father John Misty song began to play on across the warehouse. It wasn't one of his political songs; it was the title track off his latest album, which sang "Oh, honeybear; mascara, blood, ash and cum on the Rorschach sheets where we make love."
I pointed towards the sound, Ellie rocked side to side and Jeff looked up from his phone.
The Roots of Political Correctness
I explained to Ellie and Julien, "I've gotten a big reaction to my blog writing. I started looking at how these Podcasters, especially the comedians — they have figured out a way to reach people and make a living, without being on the road for a year at a time. I feel myself gravitating more towards that. I get passionate about studying topics. I like to go in-depth and learn the threads of historical trends and then tie it into the present situation."
Ellie leaned in, "What kind of stuff are you into right now?"
"Well, I read a lot about Marcuse, this Sociologist who came over from Europe and, in the 60’s, had merged Freud's ideas of sexual repression with the Marxist stuff. He is responsible for the idea of political correctness," I said.
"Well, political correctness has come a long way. I think that we're seeing —" said Julien.
Ellie cut him off by placing her hand on his thigh and whispered, "Let him say."
I observed this interaction closely, looked over at Jeff, who was enjoying texting someone — I wondered who — and then continued, "It's true. We've seen a progression in our viewpoints and acceptance. But, there's also a radical ideological force in the Left, especially on campuses, which is so intensely politically correct, that it shuts-down alternative opinions. Marcuse invented this approach — ignoring the viewpoints of others, because he believed it stopped the revolution of the underclass — and termed it 'repressive intolerance.' Now we see even vanilla comedians like Jerry Seinfield saying they won't come to colleges because the political correctness is so hostile."
Julien and Ellie weren't aghast, or have any sort of strong reaction. But, by their bewildered silence, I could tell that they had been unfamiliar with all of this.
"Another of Marcuse's ideas, that I see still effects us today, is his notion of unleashing Eros — which is sexual libido in Freudian psychology. He saw that the Marxist revolution wouldn't come from the proletariat — the people — so he theorized that it had to come from radicalized art. In the 60’s there was a reversal of the role of sexuality — Eros — from the Christian repression, to the Hippie movements expression of 'Free Love.' I believe that this ended in hedonism, not a meaningful revolution."
Nobody said anything.
I made my spine upright and stretched out my arms, stroked my shaved head, then said, "I just get really interested in this stuff."
"These ideas are important man," Julien said.
"I've been shying away from sharing them. It's my sensitivity and temperament — like in my body — that I fear won't handle the pushback and criticism I might get if I speak openly. Like, if I get in a heated debate with someone, I feel it deep in my muscles, in my nervous system."
Ellie's eyes opened wide and she said, "Wow. I'm just like that too." She extended her arm and walked a couple fingers up and down, "I know what you're talking about, but I've never heard it explained like that."
I watched her closely. She seemed more clear-minded than the last time I saw her. I looked over at Julien, he had a beer can in his hand, but his eyes were clear and he looked vital.
"You have a gift for seeing things in a deep way and we need people like you speaking out,” Julien said.
"These pop stars, they're so public and get criticized all the time. I don't know how they deal," Ellie said.
"I think a lot of them self-medicate." I looked at Julien. "I want to publish my thoughts, even if they're controversial, but I don't want to end up in a place where it harms me, or I get a horrible backlash on Twitter, or whatever."
"I really get that," said Ellie.
"My analyst says that as one develops a strong sense of center," I made a fist, my elbow at a right-angle. “One can be more sure of their ideas and positions, without being so deterred by the challenges of others."
Ellie pulled in a breath, "Wow, that makes a lot of sense."
"I think you'll get to a place where you're gonna be able to be public with your ideas," said Julien.
Ellie brushed her hair back behind her shoulder. "I really feel like I'm getting more centered. I was doing, like what you said, about self medicating, but I've stopped like smoking pot so much — which really does make me so confused — and it's really true."
As convoluted as she spoke, I could actually tell that both she and Julien seemed much more clear minded. “It's like a haze just lifts," I said.
"I can see the sparkle in your eyes," Ellie said, as she leaned in towards me, entranced. "They really glow. I can see something in you."
We spoke a little bit longer. Julien brought up Bernie and how that was "over," and it’s, at this point, a situation of "the lesser of two evils." I looked to Jeff, wanted to chat, shook his thigh and called his name. He invited me to go out front while he smoked a cigarette.
The clouds were breaking overhead; spots of sunlight peered through gray clouds. A breeze scattered along disturbing the stagnant, humid air. Across the street was a tan brick building labeled "Bushwick Houses, No. 52." A man with broad, muscly shoulders, bulking out from his tank top, his arms scatted with tattoos, including one of a marijuana leaf, walked passed on the far sidewalk. Then, in the opposite direction was a blonde woman, in a striped shirt and blue-jean dress, with tortoise shell buttons down the front.
Back inside, Rachel was behind the bar, with a bubbly smile, serving drinks, with blue tape on the cups and a Sharpie to write the name, so that we wouldn't be wasteful.
My cousin, my brother-in-law and Dad were seated at the far end, in a discussion. Across from them was the stage, which was decorated with large golden balloons, which read "R-O-S-K-O." The "R" was partially deflated. I rubbed my eyes, took a deep breath, then remembered how I had woken up at three in the morning with Marcuse's name and a series of irrational statements, seemingly formulating all I had delved into, scattering across my mind.
Led Astray By The Psychedelic Scene
Jeff's older brother Tim came swaying to my side. I hugged him, my face at about his neck-height. Tim is about 6'3'', pudgy, but not overweight, wore a Biggie t-shirt, a flat-rimmed hat with psychedelic designs, black-rimmed glasses and small gauges.
From a small bag he retrieved a gift. "I had bought this a month ago and wasn't sure why. When I was invited to this, I said to Jeff, 'Didn't Sam go to Peru?' And I knew this was supposed to be yours, man!"
The object was a metal idol, with intricate designs. It was heavy in my hands. "Tim! This is fantastic gift. What a good memory you have, I did in fact go to Peru about four years ago."
"I remembered you had a transformational experience," he said.
I looked at the piece closely, "Do you know what god or hero this represents? It looks like a warrior of some sort."
"The bottom looks like a penis," Jeff said.
I laughed slightly. "Well, it could be seen as phallic, sure." In the center, the bronze colored object read 'Peru.'
After putting the lofty idol down, in my backpack, by the stage, I came directly back to Tim. We began to talk about his alter, filled with relics of the Grateful Dead, Phish and other so-called "jam bands." He mentioned that some people call him a hoarder, which his grandma and uncle were. Tim spoke in a lackadaisical drawl, almost like a slow chuckle. Jeff watched in a way that seemed anxiously belabored.
"These concerts and experiences are spiritual for me," said Tim.
"I understand; it's a place to be free of conventions and explore yourself freely," I said.
"Too be honest: I've had some trouble with substances, because of a bad roommate. I'm trying to stay away from that, but other times it's like, on psychedelics, I've really seen God, if you know what I mean."
"I do! But, I have to tell you — and I'm not trying to preach at you — that there are ways to access those states, without psychedelics." I moved closer to Tim. "These techniques aren't widely known, while drugs have become popular. But, they are much more reliable, less dangerous and, in my opinion, more valuable, because the experiences can be integrated."
Tim didn't seem troubled, or offended, but he didn't seem overly excited either. "Like meditation?"
"Well, sure, but that can take a lot of discipline to get to a point of transcendent experiences. I have in mind — and this isn't very well known, but I did it pretty recently — Holoptropic Breathwork. This was invented by a European psychiatrist, by the name of Stanislav Grof. It uses deep breathing in conjunction with loud music to get you into an altered state — like with LSD. I had a powerful experience with it!" I said, opening my hands and smiling. "Also, there is Active Imagination, which is a technique invented by Carl Jung. It's similar to meditation, except you follow the images that arise and explore them — it can be incredibly profound and trippy."
"That's cool. I hadn't heard of that before. The drugs do have a downside and I've had some problems with that," Tim said with a somewhat sad, yet lighthearted honesty.
"I can relate. I feel that those substances, which are so popular, lead us astray. It's natural to seek out these experiences of the divine, or of the transcendent — whatever you like to call it — but our society hasn't educated us on how to do it safely. I'm not saying that all psychedelic use is detrimental, but generally speaking I feel more people need to be aware of the options inherent within ourselves, which are less risky."
"I have, I think, been led astray. That experience of the spiritual thing, that I've had. Like, you've seen those Alex Grey paintings? He's really great," said Tim.
"Yes, Alex Grey's art is incredible. I think his promotion of drug use —"
"He doesn't really promote it. He does talk about it," Tim said.
"Well, that place, that insight into the world of psyche, is available without any substances. I completely empathize with that need to access those realms." I looked at Jeff, "For some people that dimension of spirituality is so vital and we need to find balanced ways of exploring it."
And in that moment, where Jeff was silently listening, we all knew of my last five years — years in which I was searching and in that search utterly lost, and through that delusion, I was confused and hurt; after that pain I found repose, a relaxation in the search, which is still there, but takes on a much less drastic and worrisome posture.
"I really do empathize," I said to Jeff, as Tim walked to get a drink, "He's going through something so much similar to myself."
Jeff had studied Carl Jung's ideas on alchemy, at NYU. I remember reading his papers for that class and studying the books, which he had been assigned as course material.
Then, just at that moment, Jake, who we had known for a decade, since our youth, came stumbling, in a heap, straight to me. He hugged me heavily, with all of his warm embrace and body weight.
"Sammy," said Jake, "Happy birthday!"
He was warm and jovial, I felt an earthy embrace as I collected myself around him, my face pressed against the side of his, his long and heavy arms wrapped around my back and shoulders. He had several friends with him, who I met in a fleeting succession — one of whom I had met at Jake's birthday party a few weeks prior. That young man was a musician as well; but as much as we had music in common, he looked incomparably happy, and, at least on the outside, somewhat conventional; that is, conventionally happy — the happiness of being conventional. I saw in his large, dark eyes and a symmetrical smile, that he has a coherent life, numerous friends and no existential quivering.
Then Jake looked passed me, to where my dad was sitting. "Is that David?" He said. Then he bent forward, from the hip, and cascaded in a heap towards my dad, as he said, "Da-a-vid," in a prolonged, festive moan.
Dancing on the Stage of Infinity
If, in the middle of that warehouse party, I could've brought my own thoughts to cessation, would time have also ceased? Would the momentum of my own existence — the people I'd spent years with, the projects I'd invested myself in, the concentric circles of neighborhood, town, state and country that create the fabric of a society I am embedded in — have come to a standstill?
I was in all places of the world in that particular spot in Brooklyn, surrounded by beautiful, charming, intelligent people, with plenty of knowledge and plenty of diversion. And as much as I was one of them, I was nobody at all; I was a marionette in a play, scripted by chance, or by luck, to live the life that I have — one of freedom of thought, action and understanding that wouldn't have been available for millennia prior.
We were all nobody at all, inside that room, which I had come to by a maze of concrete roads, let alone a series of happenstance variables. And yet we were all somebody entirely, intricately, unconsciously bound to the existence we had fallen into. We are all marionettes, dancing on the stage of infinity, until our individual character wears thin, tatters and breaks, to reform anew, in some subsequent possibility of form.
Danielle's Salmon Colored Dress
A substantial crowd had now gathered, as the sun had set, on this humid mid-summer city night. I felt a sense of relief and confidence, for each shallow breath I took of the congested air was rich with excitement. Lizzie came by, seemingly hovering off the ground, her silk black jumper, opening at the clavicle where there were specks of sweat. She said, "Do you want to perform soon? I'll ask Rachel. How about another twenty minutes — let people settle in."
"Okay," I said in a daze. Let the pieces fall by the lady’s design. It was such a good crowd; I couldn't wait to play for them.
I saw Danielle at the far end of the bar, almost to the corner, where the warehouse owner, Drew, had parked a off-road, soupped-up Jeep. Danielle, one of my younger sister's friends from college, was talking to Ron. They were about the same height; she wore a form-fitting salmon colored dress, with thin ripples in the fabric. Her blonde hair was cut straight at her shoulders, below which her arms bent up to collect a drink in her palms.
Interrupting Ron and her, I came to greet her with a hug, "Finally, we get to hang out in the city! I'm so glad you made it," I said.
"I made it just after work. I’m excited! Are you performing tonight?"
"Yeah, in just a little bit. But it's really a birthday party; I'll only do four or five songs," I said.
Ron had a friendly look on his face, but somehow I thought that he liked this new girl he'd met and saw me as a hindrance. I may well have been such; my thoughts were scattered and clouded, my head was encumbered by the heat of the room and I stumbled to form sentences. Even in that disarray, Ron's kind eyes and calm demeanor had me unembarrassed and Danielle’s silliness and brightness felt easy and pure.
Liz waved at me to come! I told Ron and Danielle I was going to perform, to which they put their glasses up and encouraged me. As I walked towards the stage my cousin, Cody, restlessly moved alongside me and said, "Are you gonna play now? Alright, gonna get a good seat."
My 25th Year and The Songs of Longing
Everything was in a precise place on the stage; my Telecaster — a guitar I chose a year earlier, as I developed an appreciation for the folk-rock aesthetic — Fender Deluxe Amplifier, microphone and chair were all aligned with a sanctimonious exactness. I called for people to gather and, as they did, I witnessed the fullness of the room.
After they settled I said, "Thanks everybody for coming to celebrate my 25th birthday. This occasion marks, not only a significant benchmark in age, but the completion of a new album, called 'Songs of Longing,' which took me far too long to complete — because creative people are crazy." To the last bit, I received some chuckles. My heart fluttered and I smiled, a big, goofy, delicate smile. "I am so grateful to be in a room with such beautiful faces," I said, then scanned across the room, "I want to thank Rachel and Drew for hosting this; they are the reason this all could happen."
The crowd clapped a little, someone said, "Woohoo!”
"This first song, called 'Lost in Gardens' is the single off my album. It's the song we're crowdfunding to make a music video for."
Then I strummed the opening chords and hoped I came in singing on the right note. When I completed the song without a hiccup, I felt relieved, because the crowd's clapping approved of a difficult song to sing and play at the same time.
After that, I played three more original songs, which all went off without a blundering error. During one of those songs, as I played the opening chords, I saw my sister Justine smile, with the innocence of a child, who is soaring through the fields of a blueberry farm, picking and placing handfuls of fruit, her fingers stained a deep violet, into her mouth.
Something in The Way She Moves
"This is a song you might recognize, by one of my favorites," I said. Then I took a deep breath, watched my mind empty completely, saw the guitar dissolve into a static of pulsating, immaterial atmosphere and closed my eyes. I sang the line, "Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover."
I knew I had sung it well. In fact, I now believe I had sung it better than I ever had, with a stream of subtle emotion imbued in each syllable and inflection.
"Something in the way she woos me. I don't want to leave her now, you know I believe in how."
I saw the orange and yellow eroticism and deeply mellow, intoxicating green of the words and chords, as they moved through my hands and voice. I thought briefly that it was such a sexual song and felt the audience there with me.
After I had successfully sung the second verse, sung the b-section, improvised a lead guitar, while sustaining the chord structure and began the third verse: "Something in the way she knows and all I have to do is think of her." To that, I looked through to the audience. I saw Lizzie was watching intently, unblinkingly. I saw my dad like a high flying bird, unwavering, covering every inch his surroundings, with a subtle and sharp awareness. Then, across the school-picture-like arrangement of bodies and faces, I saw Danielle, her eyes seemingly radiating with an ephemeral, translucent white light, the sparkled and cascaded outwards. She had her hands around her waist and stood as still as a statue in the Louvre, which has remained fixed for centuries.
The claps and whistles penetrated my chest and made my heart accelerate into a patter. Like heavy rain on a wood roof, the applause hit all at once and then in heaps and shuffling batters.
I sang "The Weight," by The Band — a song that seems to stay relevant in the collective consciousness, as our culture moves onward, from the rural sound the original recording evokes. I looked out during the chorus, to which everyone can sing; Jake had his arm laid around a friends shoulders and Lizzie was rocking side to side, repeating the refrain, "Take a load of Fannie…"
Jimi Hendrix's "Wind Cries Mary" was the last song I had prepared. As I played the final riffs, the rising heat from my body and the density of the air in that room compounded. And like my meditations in the open sun of the beach, where the beaming heat collaborated with concentration on the source of consciousness within me, while playing that song, my mind wavered and collapsed into an oblivion of sound.
To that, I received the high-pitched “woohoos” of women, and the bellowing demands of "encore" by guys, along with a cacophony of clapping and shouting. And as flattered as I was, I wanted nothing more than to, as I do when my meditations at the beach reach the pinnacle of intensity, break and enter into the refreshing, cool and clear ocean water.
"You're not done! You're not done! One more song!" shouted Jake.
I hesitated and like a toddler who has offended his friend and must apologize, I said, "I'm gonna play a new song."
So I played one of the most mellow and lyrical songs I've ever written. One that was inspired by Justine's report of her friend’s new puppy named Edie. I mused, one summer ago, on the liberation of being a dog, or a child; free of concerns, free of self-doubt, happy and alive.
“Edie went out, across the lawn; she’s gone to play today. Meeting her friend, just beyond the fence and gone down the way. No troubles in view. With nothing to do; It’s all here today. Looking up towards the clouds; she saw some shapes swoon. Calling out loud, just to hear the sound; such a beautiful afternoon.”
The Desire to Know and Be Set Free
In that night, I was in the world, but not of the world; I was the sorrowful soul who’s been lost in the great sky, who would attempt to walk on well-worn paths.
As much as I have wanted to write something politically, or socially relevant, I have wanted to forget it all — to play and to sing, like there is nowhere else to be, nothing else to know, except the immediacy of my own consciousness, outside of it's interplay with the soup of the collective mind. I have wanted to both impact some of humanity's greatest challenges and to retreat into the blissful fields of sound, light and form.
But I do not tread alone; the ship of my life collides with the forces beyond my influence, as the winds of the past circulate and tumble across the great ocean of existence. In the momentum of movements greater than myself, that is, the directions chosen by other ships, I am lead towards shore — to a place of hope and resolution, where we can be rooted in knowledge and peace.
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