To explain Rage is much less rewarded in the pop art pantheon than to explain Love. I am wondering if Rage is too proud a word to be taken seriously - if one is troubled much about being taken seriously. Achilles had Rage but he was the son of Zeus (died anyway). Puddin has no trifle with being serious. Eat or fuck it, you know the rest. What garners sufficient importance to invoke Rage is a matter of opinion. Something, we all can pucker & produce. Outrage, we poop on FB just fine. Woe be to he who dips a toe in the mighty effluents of outragette on FB: what the Christians do! what the drivers do! what the governments do! what the fuck does or does not - wank yourself out. Bring tissue.
A definition of self can reasonably be provided by what would provoke you to rage. Rage against a Grand Enemy is mostly a matter of literary technique or self-delusion. (WWII was a good war: There's an insulting oxymoron.) Life’s bills & forms tend to mute a pure Orgasmic Rage. We are left with the more pedestrian emoticon.
The modern commuter invokes the gods of Road Rage: a less singular retort to a ding on your shiny pride. But we live in a land based on the Rule of Law. Right? America, we doomed ourselves to tepid outragettes with the Founding Fathers. They have castrated Achilles & left us with a glassed-in paper document that no agrees on, let alone has read. Pistols at dawn no more! From Aaron Burr to James Brady to Michael Brown, perhaps paper is better.
Driving at 55mph in a weakly plumbed Portland tiny house (Republican style bitches!) allows for a more careful observation of my fellow ragers on their commuted journeys to the vaulted Gates of the parking garage. And while a personal journey may result from something akin to Rage: hating the boss, hating the lunch hour meeting or the wildly manifest pointlessness of so much, our commuted rage is just that, a rather Domesticated Emotion. I expect that many the men of Sparta were simply bored of farming their tenant plots and had no idea their head would soon sit atop a grisly pike. They did not follow Puddin’s, example & leave their nuts at the vet. The Rage we moderns feel in our (much preferable) world of Law has a new name:
There I was blistering with rage over some unsung Office Insult, indulging my displeasure by punching a hole in the microwave. I was being nibbled away at by squinty Middle Minders with tiny lamprey jaws. A slow, bloodless death by mindless repetition. Like reading Latin to a room full of Catholics. My fear was fertilized with objects & cash prizes & encouraged to take root. There was no Real. Even if you just want to pull water & chop wood, some perky fella with a three ring binder is going to latch on.
Keep the Day jobs kids, I repeat, keep the Jobs. If you don’t have a Job, you will have to decide real shit. If you haven’t decided anything in a while beyond "Fries or Salad", you probably will suck at it. I do. We don’t want to suck while jobbing do we? Better keep your head down, you’ll get your reward.
If I had not gotten high in Cape Town while running a B-flat scale, the song Salt Shaker would have never been written. That is hardly important but I did learn the power of good Repetition for personal gain. Driving to work, listening to middle managers recite Power Point presentations until the Space Shuttle blows up, erodes your ability to decide. I become: Feckless & Anxious. These are the psychic sisters of Entropy. Entropy is the final end of all Energy. It reins over Jehovah too. Just ask Zeus who's how many prayers he's getting these days. To remove the unsightly spikes in Energy & make all of space-time 1 degree Kelvin. I mean ALL OF IT. That is Entropy. That is the Monster.
Bad Repetition is better than chaos and despair, which being unemployed with kids & a mortgage will get you. There are limits to what any of us can handle and not simply submit. But to sell out for such a low price? For such a parlor trick? The supposed infinite capacity of my Human Mind was dissolving in the tide of Group Think. I was washing in the ocean of lost souls, in mantra lane of FB, of chicken dinners & rent 'a jobs. It’s a new psychic lobotomy. But mostly, it’s a good way to help the Advertisers know how to target your Fear & hurt your Money.
“Obey," sez MacDoh!
Most of the truly gripping epiphanies I’ve had in the past decade were hewn from the tree stump by Repetitions. Attentive repetition. Like watching seasonal stars shifting. I have followed the music, the garden, even the career path to stumble toward those little “Aha’s!” They are flecks of gold in a river of waste. An instant of innocent good. The child is pleased.
I am pretty sure that when you play peek-a-boo with a baby the Joy you see in his toothless grin when you pull your hands away is Epiphany. To get an epiphany, you have to think. To think you have filter the many, many demands of attention & winnow down to a specific clear balance. There is an economy to connecting dots. The patterns are everywhere. That is the problem. Some lead to the Sublime, some lead to MacDoh!
Infant thought translation for Peek-a-boo:
“Holy shit! I thought your face was gone! I only recognize faces, tits & my butthole so when yours was obliterated I got worried. But Order has returned to my universe! Rapture!! You may now bear witness thru the visage of my drooly smile.”
That epiphany is easy like an orgasm. Later on but epiphanies get tougher once your brain acquires the moth holes of regret & the stains of nostalgia.
Thinking is hard. Concentration takes practice. Exploring your ignorance is scary. I don’t remember how hard it was to learn how to walk but I hear learning as an adult is rather a challenge. Gathering useable information is threatening and may well be boring. Boredom is a state of mind mixing misunderstanding with impatience. That’s why I like conspiracy theories so much. Emotions are wounded quickly & we want to have Rage. Rage is simple lie with a really nice ass. Rage starts wars (Helen had perky boobs I’m told), is then manipulated by cooler heads & kills everyone.
When Sad, Disenfranchised, Devout young men are manipulated to slay 3000 people; we invade the wrong country because we didn’t bother to read about Arabs in distinction to Islam - let alone Sunni & Shia (never mind Wahhabi or Alawite). Who gives a damn about Protestants versus Catholics in Fallujah. I'm trying to get to work but (oh shit!) my office block was blown up today. I’d start praying too. I’d even consider an armed Struggle (you know the word for it). To be Against something helps prop up the mind - gives you something to lean on like the song says. (Imagine with me for just a moment: Achilles dancing in his tunic with his spear & magic helmet singing slightly off key “Lean on me! When you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend…) Anyway, back to war.
I was not given useful information when my belief system was foisted on me. Learning about Virgin births & Santa or random acts of divine violence in the OT make for really odd juxtapositions next to the Dukes of Hazard and Super Friends. Children harden information to Truth so fast that untangling that hairball is what I spend most of my adult life doing. Saying something new is actually really rare. Long stretches of concentration are needed to find a pattern in the winds of your living time. This does not happen during pre-chewed television dramas, sporting events, or sermons. I am a big proponent of unarmed Jihad if you want an epiphany that is not enhanced by Regret.
Since we’re talking about changing one's mind, let’s add psychoactive agents. I will limit myself to two. Ethanol & weed. Otherwise, this will turn into some libertarian polemic. (I recommend you check out David Nutt if you have any interest in a readable paperback on drugs.)
If I sit on my back porches in the dwindling summer sun syphoning bourbon like Walker Percy then maybe the angels of Epiphany alight like fireflies in the garden. But maybe I slip into the sauce of a burbled Anxiety only to find out that ethanol metabolism makes nasty formaldehyde and actually kills more brain cells than it creates new synapses of epiphany. Alcohol does bring surcease but with it comes a rubbery Rage of fools. Some are clearly more vulnerable to its effect much like highschoolers in poorer parts of the US are vulnerable to the Army recruiters. (PTSD anyone? Oh no that's not a drug).
No drugs should be necessary according to: to whom exactly? Nancy Reagan consulted a psychic. Why is the mind off limits to drugs? Addiction is a good place to start & the War on Drugs is a good place to stop. Why don’t we mean penicillin when we say “Don’t do drugs”? Antibiotics are good for society right? Don't take that Paxil sir!! If you think your Sadness will go away because you swallow the blue pill you may never … Never what? Yeah there's addiction. But death by auto hasn’t stopped us paving a single road. Ethanol, reduces anxiety for me, there is no question of that. As soon as the turbulence buffets the wing of my 737, I sip my $7 glass of tasteless 12% and… things are better. Not fixed but better. However, I cannot neatly explain the hundreds of gallons of the stuff I’ve knocked back since my teenage years. To me, the tyranny of Suburban Safety, Road Rage & unlucky ethanol metabolism made weed & metronome worship a better decision.
Let’s try this: 8am quick stepping on your way to a Power Point presentation regarding the Cincinnati accounts for the rubber widgets modification for the near south Asian late winter market when an Airplane flies into your office tower and you watch in horror as the debris & the people fall. Now your dreams are peppered with the flames, mayhem and helplessness. Maybe you just saw it on TV. So the horror didn't affect you, right? Back to the grind then. The problem remains with less dramatic traumas; we don't really register them consciously but we manifest them physically. That's what the mind is. Your jello-cast of teeming bioactive amines is the Brain. Your body is the helpless automaton waiting for instructions. Your mind manifests. It's ALL in your head. Don't you want any say in that?
Wife: I'm sad.
Huz: I have PTSD.
Both: I feel vulnerable & helpless. Let's eat stuff.
I do recommend learning how to cook but since I'm not selling that, I'll let Jaime Oliver handle that.
Only at certain orders of magnitude does the beauty of a process like music or global weather become evident. Otherwise, it’s just a rainy day. But alone in Cape Town it started & it continued in sunny Portland. This kind of life does not pay the bills. I was a student all over again. I returned to America & work for another decade before I realized Anxiety was the Rage still hiding behind the curtain. My own personal Wizard of Oz. The limbic system runs forward for Rage, runs backward for Fear. I had failed to make my heart go Boom Boom Boom. Despite being given the key, I stayed in my cell. No pharmaceutical, no god, no spouse, no child will cure that problem.
Music helps bring the Rat brain to the Thinking brain. When the two can communicate nicely you get epiphanies and next thing you know, you’re grinning like a toothless infant & ain’t that joy!
Given that we’re all snowflakes, I am sure you’ll have to work this shit out on your own. I tried music with weed. Running the B-flat scale in Cape Town made sense. I wasn’t suddenly better at music technically. It takes years to do that (Patience Grasshopper. Kung Fu was right!) But while practicing stoned, my Impatience put its feet up on the sofa. I focused on a simple but progressively complex pattern. With understanding of the pattern's meaning, my mood was elevated. I didn't even have to sell Amway or hand out pamphlets at the airport.
But first the scales and the metronome. Oh the metronome! The click Nazi. Why didn’t they put that in the fucking crib along with the Santa & the JC pamphlets. Instead the metronome mocks my adult mind with its perfect clicks. My hate for it burned like a laser pointer. Hate is like Rage tinder & we know where that leads us: Shaking our helpless fits at the smoke blackened sky. The metronome & the scales were trying to teach me something about the Harmony of things. The Entropy that waits to devour us (and it will) can for short periods of time be raked back in favor of melodies and rhythms or collected like space dust over eons into Suns & Moons. Eventually everything gets sucked back into the In-Sink-erator of Entropy. So why try?
Because I like to smile motherfucker. You?
So I made a deal. I negotiated with myself about my perceived future of gains & losses. Deals need not be about fairness but more about personal agency. I like to control stuff. I can see why dudes take their remote control race cars to the park. It’s like the super-fast dog you’ll never have be patience to train. Action, consequences, plans, negotiations. Does the gazelle make a deal with the lion? Well options can be limited but options remain. A die was cast...
So I became a musician as an adult for a price. Handing in my suburbia card was harder than you might imagine. I had to keep my plans secret from my neighbors because I was too embarrassed to tell them I was moving into a van to play indie tunes across the country.
“You’re gonna what?”
Their imagined reactions in my head were devastating.
But still, suburban trappings seemed a clear lion. A hungry she-lion with a focused rigid nimble poise flowing toward me like spilt milk on a granite counter top. My future final decades seemed a little too obvious. It wasn’t even that I was going to drink too much. It was the safety soaked inexorability & predictability of the future that was drowning me more than squinty middle management.
The shift demanded less booze and that led to some consternation amongst my Brethren of Drinkery and displeased the gods of fate who had genetically saddled me with a high chance of a bottle in front o’ me. And now I was entering the criminal underworld, buying boutique weed in Portland from a tranny named Tammy - a bootlegger! The frisson of insouciant law-breaking is just the kind of kind yuppie deviance that makes my socks go up & down.
I stole the cute espresso cup. Saucer too!
That’s how illegal weed seems in the northwest.
What if the study of music is facilitated by fully saturated set of cannabinoid receptors?
Load in ladies! Plenty of room in the center of the car.
Certainly the industrial revolution & our current office ball ’n chain society benefited from caffeine. I have a desire to bring together the Rat brain (Freud’s silly Id) and the Thinking brain (Blake’s poetic Urizen) and let them neurally copulate to synaptisize lots of toothless babies grinning at Life’s Little Peek-a-boo’s. Music is the positive synthesis of elevated mood & relaxed physical motion. Rhythm makes us happy. We must mentally relax & physically move to achieve that. Anxiety makes us assume awkward postures, place tensions on the wrong load bearing ligaments. Orthopedic surgeons pay for their yachts with your unrequited dreams.
You will manifest your mental state physically. You can cry when exposed to physical trauma, you can laugh when two discordant images are presented together (that’s a joke, friends) & you can get that mellow look of joy stretched out like a cat in the sunshine from lips to eye crinkles when you hear a phat beat. A banjo rolling thru a B-flat scale may not be sublime to everyone, so I reach for a performance enhancer. (Oh the risk of adult decision making!)
I met Jim for the first time in Rapid City at the Jackson Frisbee Golf Course. The Rapid River flooded in the 70’s & destroyed hundreds of homes. In the wreckage a park system was made that is simply lovely & avoids future river rage flooding calamities. I figured it was a sign here among the destruction & rebirth that I might meet an Apostle of Weed.
“It sure is hot,” seemed appropriate thing to say to a mostly edentulous grizzle of a man with a tan/yellow stained American flag knotted to his head. He was thin, bow-legged & really happy to see just about everyone.
“Sure is.” Jim said, fiddling his headwear.
“What’s your pamphlet for?”
Jim’s pamphlet was easily identified by the block lettering “LEGALIZE MARIJUANA NOW AMERICA!” The outside of his decrepit RV was covered in signatures from fellow citizens voicing their democratic right to chill.
"You gave us TV America! Give us Weed,” The collective voice of America says.
Jim added, “The people of America want to smoke up. The government is telling lies. Some dude is in prison because he was trying to chill on his rage &etc…. Ya know?” “I know Jim, the Federals are wacked on this one.”
“I’m facing Persecution. But I got to bring the Word to Washington. I’m gonna drive this rig to the White House & make the Government listen.”
It was just like Jimmy Stuart playing Mr. Smith!
And like clockwork, a pair sable Police cruisers rolled up real close like & unhappy gendarmes emerged all Glocked & be-sunglassed - blue-screeneded by a cloudless South Dakota sky. The officers announced the Rule of Law to our erstwhile Freedom Fighter. He was asked if he had a permit to sell T-shirts (Jim gives T-shirts away to interested parties) and/or to organize a demonstration (a gathering of two doesn’t meet Rapid City ordinance for a demonstration). Jim added he was parking his RV for the day in the Frisbee Golf Park like other concerned citizens. He talks to folks about mary-J because at least that Amendment still holds sway. Gas money was donated by folks focused on getting baked in Rapid City or to help Jim move elsewhere.
No one present mentioned anything about trafficking in contraband because even these steely belted Centurions knew Jim wasn’t stupid enough to sell a nickel bag at midday in a public park decked out in such a fashion. Jim assumed a pale Martyrs’ glow in the punishing sun. His resolve was palpable before his Inquisition. He would not recant. After what seemed like an interminable 15 minutes, the tension lessened & the Centurions hefted toward their very waxed cruisers. Your correspondent was even given the once over as I heard the electric motor in the neck of one of the officers fix its facial recognition software on me. It’s helpful to be white in these situations.
Behind the mirrored sunglasses I imagined my conversation with the officer: Look kid, you probably got a nice life to go back to, don’t hang out with this sort of degenerate.
I emoted back: I did have a nice life but then Reefer Madness swallowed me! In Portland, I have a medical condition - Night Terrors I think. But here in Rapid City, with Jim, I am a Common Criminal. You know, God put the Seahawks & the Broncos in the SuperBowl as a sign for you people!
I thought of all the cool songs I would write in prison with my cell mate Gonzo.
Despite feeling probed & given a stare much like a NYPD choke hold, the officer whirred back into his waxy cruiser and completed our encounter. Nobody snapped a photo with their smart device, otherwise I’d’ve totally FB’d that shit & made ya'll seethe with jealousy at my danger-cool.
In his own way, Jim RVs across this land from Santa Fe (where he had his apparent Epiphany) to DC to nail his 99 Theses to the door of St. Peters or something. I wondered if Jim had constipation like Martin Luther did and has discovered that Barack Obama is the Devil like much of the voting public already has surmised. When up is down & right is wrong, Americans act. I have seen it with my eyes. The left & the right can see it & goddamnit so will the President of the United States.
But in playing live music there is a fine line between, easing off the gas pedal of the limbic afterburner to the smooth glow of a canna-groove. In reality, much like Monty Python, it is better when you just repeat the highlights to your dude friends. To be physically open the emotions on a live stage his terrifying. Oversharing with music goes very wrong very fast. On stage with Jess, playing music to audiences that may not see the layered, carefully wrought genius of the lyrical interplay and get rather bored with the lack of consistent rhythm (is it that hard?). They may let their gaze drift away from the spectacularly performing duo and rest on their beer or the wall or the ads on the dreaded flat screen. This of course is a direct insult to my Soul & it’s labored over contents. The Anxiety returns with a vengeance. I have made a Terrible Choice of my life & the audience knows it. I manifest this thru an iron tight choke hold on the neck of my mandolin & a nice case of tendonitis.
Instead of wagging my finger of disapproval at the otherwise attending audience, which requires both courage and no interest in post-show CD sales, I find it easier to take it out on Jess. I can apparently be a real pain in the ass on stage. (Me?!) As Jess fights to control my rather emotional interpretation of what some might call rhythm, I’m over in my corner playing Dr. Faustus making sure I get my contract properly signed with the Dark Lord.
Sublime art can’t be held back by a weak tempo!
Like a 180 lb. angry infant, I wonder who is harshing my mellow: It must be Jess. The teapotty tempest turns its focus on to her as she wrestles the careening tune.
“What are you doing wrong?!” I glare needles at her.
“Slow the fuck down, psycho!!” She glares back.
“You are ruining the masterpiece!”
“You have doubled the speed of the song.”
Chaos, sparks, grandiosity. All in the minds the pop tune performers right here at the windowless Stein & Bunghole on sparsely filled Friday night. Who knew?
We are looking for a special place up there on stage. A place one can fit into like a cool waterfall on a hot day just big enough for your butt as the clear water pours all over you. That lulling waterfall is called the Groove. All musicians head for the Groove. This is not a place of fable. It is real like a Starbucks only better. It is the good side of Groupthink. Instead of watching the World Trade Centers implode on the national set, we can rest without self in this Palace of Epiphany. Time is not present, you never know how long you were there. When we do hit the groove the band floats above the stage anywhere from 2-4 feet, suspended in the colored cone of the light cans. Eyes roll back, you have no need for sight. Facial muscles relax to a gentle smile, mouth slight agape. A little drool may begin to pool on your lower lip. The face is revealed from behind the hands of the father. The sound man is just bobbing his head in a circle. The collective gravity of the room ebbs, the audience is with you. The floating garden of groove welcomes all. It’s a sneak preview of the afterlife, the River of Love.
As bassist, (granted playing cello) Jessica carries the tenuous link between the Cerebral, the Animal & the Groove. Music must first and foremost be Rhythm. To take the noise and make it Music means to define the Rhythm. The brain then sparkles with Delight. (Ooh! I see the Cassiopeia! We say “see", when we mean “feel".) Connecting what you know to what you feel stands a 5’2” young lady lashed to the mic stand under a hailstorm of lyrics & unsignaled rhythm jags across the brief life of a on-stage pop tune struggling towards the Groove. All hell can break loose between us and I consider it our main professional goal as performing artists to keep a lid on that shit. If we fail to do that, the suspension bridge of Disbelief contorts in pain & snaps like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge & we fall like naughty angels into the ever waiting jaws of Entropy and regular life.
When I saw Jim for the second time in Dubuque, Iowa we both felt a little less harassed & to be honest that made us a little sad but we were still pleased to run into each other again along the mighty byways of America. We stopped for a picture & I donated from my Paupers Fund to his. I knew God was personally lighting a bush aflame for me to show that I was doing the Right Thing by having me run into Jim the Weed Apostle, twice in the same road trip.
You’re like Johnny Appleseed, Jim.”
“Nah, Apple Jack’ll kill ya faster ’n hairspray. I got a few Indica seeds. Want ‘em?”
“Jim, I’m in an RV!”
Jim & I stared out over the wide calm ravine from the Mines of Spain City Park. It’s a good place to practice the scales & feel the dispersal of energy from the incalculable Sun shining over Iowa. The young muscular Mississippi cuts thru the stone below. Jim & I discussed art & politics. We weren’t even high. But in the back of my mind, I saw Achilles, the lithe, angry killergod, chilling like Cheester Cheetah watching Mork & Mindy, couch-locked & baked like a potato, playing hide-yer-face with his toothless infant son.