A cannon blast through the heart of all that is dead and decaying.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Monumental Night With Dark Star Orchestra

Just ran across this never-completed review of a DSO show I saw something like two years ago or so:

The night started innoculously enough. We really had no way of knowing that before us was a night of astounding musical hights. My friend and I ambled into Madison, Wisconsin's own Barrymore Theatre, making our way directly into the theater itself so that we might secure some choice seats before the milling crowd outside started to make their way in. The atmosphere was laid back, with people talking amiably over good Wisconsin beer. Just another Wednesday night. One might be tempted to think back to those now historic nights at the Fillmore and realize that for the Heads of those days, going down to see the Dead on a Wednesday night was just another night in San Francisco--no big deal, just another musical miracle coaxed from a well-worn stage.

We made our way down the aisle, little clusters of Heads here and there catching up on all that's gone down since the last show. We decided to park ourselves directly in front of the soundboard, where the sound was good, the crowd was laid back but still ready to shake their bones. We took our Arctic coats off (remember, this is Wisconsin in early February) and began to wonder about the new guitarist.

John Kadlecik, the guitarist who was with the band from the start (and was amongst the ones who had the idea for the original premise for DSO which they have remained faithful to lo these many years) had recently left the band after receiving an offer from Bob Weir and Phil Lesh to go and start a new band with them. Not that anyone can really blame him. After all, it's the chance of a lifetime, and he might as well play the cards fate has dealt him (in true Grateful Dead style).

I knew that Jeff Mattson had been with the Zen Tricksters, and had of late been playing with them and Donna Jean Godchaux. I had heard the Tricksters once many years ago down in Chicago, and had been impressed by their sound. But had Mattson been with the band long enough to develop the sort of psychic rapport that was an absolute necessity for this sort of music? We needn't have worried.

As we wondered to ourselves, the band casually took the stage and broke into a early 70s sounding Greatest Story Ever Told. The wah-wah crescendos were very Jerry, and Rob Eaton sounded his Weir best (complete with the over-the-top screams that early 70s Weir was so known and loved for--the dude sacrificed his vocal chords on the alter of Rock and Roll nightly). They then went directly into the medium-tempo shuffle of an early 70s Deal (though the Dead really rocked this one out later in their career, for whatever reason, I always appreciated the more understated early versions better--something about Garcia's leads and the easy-going way he sang it), and I began to get the distinct feeling that we were in 1971-1972 territory. The next song, a Pigpen number, sealed this opinion: Mr. Charlie came out in all its swaggering glory. After a one-beat rockin' Beat It On Down the Line, the bittersweet nostalgia of Brown-Eyed Women, and the sweaty Rock and Roll of Chinatown Shuffle, the show began to take on the distinctive hue of 1972--the last great hurrah for Pigpen, and the beginnings of the more Jazz-infused Keith Godchaux version of the band. 1972 had a bit of both, and Dark Star Orchestra drew on both for full inspiration last night.

By the time the first fateful notes of Playing In the Band floated free of the speakers, little doubt remained in our minds--we were knee-deep in one monster of a show.

The thing I've always admired about DSO is that you can tell they do their homework. Not only do they replicate the sound of the era they are playing, but they also recall the very structure of the specific songs they play. As any Deadhead worth their weight in Maxell XL II 90s can tell you (did I just date myself there?) a song like Playin' changed remarkably through the years. For DSO, it's not enough to simply play the song on the same equipment it was originally played on. Hell no, they need to musically trace the song's evolutionary trajectory. This obsessive need to remain true to the music is, more than anything else, what sets them apart from all other Dead-related cover bands.


An Autumnal Soul in Reach of Summer

It is almost summer, but that does nothing to change the fact that I find myself in a foul and evil mood.  Never in my life have I felt such an overwhelming feeling of complete impotence to affect any sort of positive change in the world, even in my little mundane corner of it.  I am not a man who relishes the feeling of standing helpless before the Fates, but it is an almost all consuming sensation of dread that I cannot escape.  I feel anchorless, rootless, and utterly removed from the vast flow of humanity.

Which might be a good thing.  It might even be the best thing to ever happen to me.  More than once in my life, I have had my back up against the wall with no discernible exit within reach, but I have always managed to somehow, someway bounce back.  I was born under the sign of the Phoenix, after all.  And that is not something to be forgotten.  Perhaps these dark stagnate seas which I now aimlessly float through are just the thing to put some dragon breath back in my sails.

More than anything, I think I need to return to a sense of community.  My wife offers a great deal of comfort to me (which is no easy task), but our work hours make it so we often times only see each other in passing.  My workmates are of a good sort, but when the whistle blows, we all go our separate ways and I return to that vast wilderness of isolation.

It is time to be grounded once more in the Earth and all that springs forth from it.  I have dwelled too long in those patches of night never cleared away by day.  A turning of the page must commence.  I must find a new day to write my song.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Wisconsin Recall Battle Royale

This time of year, I always have great difficulty waking up due to my king-hell allergies.  As I groggily ate my bagels and gulped down coffee at the dinning room table this morning, my blood pressure steadily rose as the constant stream of Scott Walker's bile filled my television screen.  No man should be asked to endure so many lies and so much transparent manipulation before he even rises from his first bagel and coffee of the day. 

It filled me with a strange sort of rage--the kind that would send most men running for a large calibre pistol to silence the utter gibberish emanating from the television set once and for all--but I am not Elvis; I do not live in Graceland, and new television sets cost too damn much for me to go around blowing them to bits every time some delusional moron enters my awareness through the boob tube. 

I chose the much more sensible (and economic) route of racing for the mute button on my remote every time Walker's weaselly visage suddenly appeared on the screen.  But it caused me to wonder who could be buying all this criminal rubbish that Walker and his billionaire surrogates (Koch bros., et all.) are cramming down our throats with the obscene amounts of money that the Citizens United ruling has now freed up to flow through our state like opened floodgates emptying out a sewage reservoir? 

How could any person not see through this manufactured fog of lies?  And yet, roughly half of our state seems to be held in bondage to the mantras flowing from the desks of the Masters of Talking Heads.  Despite the fact that Scott Walker has been outed time and time again by his own thoughtless arrogance (the now infamous faux phone call from one of the Koch Bros., as well as his "divide and conquer" comments to Diane Hendricks, to name but two instances), it would seem that 49% of the voting electorate is lapping it up and begging for more.  I cannot help but ask myself again and again--why?  When all reputable figures have put Wisconsin six feet below the basement in the loss of jobs, ranking dead last, not even close to No. 49, when Walker himself was forced to admit to Congress that his union-busting legislation had not improved the state budget one iota, when he was caught on camera admitting he wanted to make Wisconsin a "right to work" state while raising the taxes of all working Wisconsinites and slashing the taxes of the ultra-rich (it was divulged just yesterday that Diane Hendricks payed no taxes on her business in 2010 at all), one has to wonder how he is able to generate the support he has.

I think what it comes down to is who is able to wield the weapon of propaganda most effectively.  And now that we live in the post-Citizens United world, where we have even managed to put a dollar sign on freedom of speech, I think the forces of Right Think have gone into overdrive.  When the rich can sway enough of the electorate just by pumping our television, our radios, and our computers full of their lies, democracy itself is reduced to the shepherd who can move enough sheep between his own goal-posts, thereby winning the game that is politics. 

But in the final analysis, if we are to assign blame for this grotesque situation, all we have to do is look into the mirror.  After all, the Founding Fathers were no starry-eyed dreamers, and were very much in doubt as to whether the American people could properly tend the garden of democracy that they had so lovingly created with their own hands.  No democracy worthy of the name can survive without a well informed electorate.  And when the need to stay well informed degenerates into being manipulated by thirty second sound bits, you can bet the republic is in peril.
Those that naively believe that the battle being currently fought here in Wisconsin is only a regional dispute delude themselves.  Scott Walker is but one foot soldier in the army led by international corporations, whose tentacles run through such organizations as ALEC, and reach into every state legislator up to the federal level.  Their goal is to make America a cheap labor paradise, a shining sweat shop on the hill, to which end they want to destroy all organized labor, public and private, making every state "right to work."  Make no mistake: once they have their way and all the politicians that matter have been bought off or threatened into duplicity, America as we know it will have vanished. 

That is what is at stake here, in Wisconsin, and in every state in this union.  A battle is raging for what this country is to become.  Are we to turn back the clocks of progress to sixty hour plus work weeks with no benefits to speak of, as corporations rape this once great land of all its resources and turn it into one vast dumping ground until it resembles a moonscape?  Are we to sit passively by while the rights our fathers and mothers fought for are legislated out of existence?  Or are we going to live up to the responsibilities our forefathers vested in us--to make this land a true democracy, where all are able to prosper and none go hungry or homeless?  A land truly of the free and home of the brave.  Which side are you on, Wisconsin?  Which side are you on, America?  Time will tell . . .

Monday, March 19, 2012

Origins of A Shattered Generation

Old entry from a beat-up notebook, written by a younger, more romantic self.

October 1, 2002 12:37 A.M. Czech Republic

My generation is a shattered generation--coming from 50% divorced homes, most of the other 50% families in name only.

Social discord of late 20th century, suburban & urban breakdown of community set us looking for our own tribal existence.

Social/religious institutions seen through as thought control joke.

The mirror of society shattered, we form a beautiful mosaic--each reflecting his/her own cosmological viewpoint--sub-communities of sincerity rather than mono-cultural community filled with avarice/materialist smiling, handshaking hypocrisy.

Having a better game to play, we ignore the old.

Shattered generation--taking the upheaval that formed us and creating something positive and enduring in its wake. Part of this is the internet breaking down former border/class/racial/sexual/ethnic barriers; bring back the Human clan through unhindered communication. We no longer depend on our respective governments to tell us about folks in other countries--we can ask them ourselves! The more we communicate with each other, the more we see the common thread which runs through all humanity.

Shattered--release from duality and man-made structures (shattering of old notions) to follow the natural flow.

Monday, March 07, 2011

From the Protests in Madison, WI

Here's a link to an article I wrote about the protests in Madison, WI.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I think It's Something More

It's weird, but I've been feeling a major up-swing in the good-vibes department of late, despite the economic meltdown and all the fallout from eight years of Bush and co. It's not just that Phish is getting back together, or that I received a major shipment of the Dead yesterday; it seems bigger than any of that, but somehow including it all at the same time.

Like for a while, I found that I couldn't connect with the Dead like I used to. Sure, I could listen to the tunes and sing and have an enjoyable time as I tooled on down the road, but that sense of ecstasy that has always been a hallmark of Dead music for me was somehow missing.

But then, the other day while I was on my way to work, the Eyes of the World from the Grateful Dead Movie came up on my mp3 player, and suddenly I felt that old joyful wonder returning, as if I had reconnected with the infinite Source--dust blown off the Over-Soul.

Maybe it has something to do with the return of Autumn, a time of year that, for whatever reason, I feel more alive and in tune with Nature and the Living World around me. But it isn't just the sunshine dancing off vibrant leaves--it's something more, something intangible and yet more real than the seen world.

Whatever it might be, I feel Big Changes in the air. And while I know the evening news is against me in saying this, I feel that the changes coming are good. Maybe a more enlightened leadership is on its way. Maybe everyone will start getting their act together and realize we have to change our ways and stop the Great Mother Nature Rape. Maybe Terence McKenna was right and December 21, 2012 (Jill's birthday) will bring about the next huge evolutionary stride forward--one of those Space Odyssey moments. Or maybe I've just been in a really good mood lately. But I think it's something more.

Be looking for the great monolith outside your front door.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Independance Day

I'm celebrating the Independence Day
of the red, white, & blue,
& the Rockies, Wobblies & Woody Guthrie too

I'm celebrating the Independence Day
of Monk, Miles, Coltrane & Bird
Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins
Bob Dylan before the Escalade
back when that wild mercury sound
boiled the air with an electric dawn
that called to me on
Highway 61, 1987

I'm celebrating the Independence Day
of Howl & On the Road,
Tropic of Cancer & Capricorn too,
Bound for Glory down through my own pen,
the rivers of Li Po through flourishes
of ink on page

I'm celebrating the Independence Day
of the unfettered soul,
of the Free Man unchained
from capitalism
from Stalinism
from Maoism
from the whole shit-load of isms
loaded high on the toiling's backs,
to breath in the air of a new day unbound
to never bend the knee to another man,
neither King nor Kaiser
but stand unbent before another
neither crippled by the crushing machine
of cash registers and assembly lines
or cubicle prison cells--
the war for humanity still raging
in the hot iron ovens of our souls

I'm celebrating the Independence Day
that Emma Goldman called us to,
that Proudhon and Bakunin dreamt of
and Gary Snyder points to

I'm celebrating the Independence Day
of the spontaneous anarchism
of Deadhead caravans arrived
in some Midwestern town,
of Kerouac's rucksack revolution
& Thoreau standing silent in dusk's field

& I'm celebrating the Independence Day
of samara's end,
of the enlightenment of all sentient beings
of sitting zazen before a campfire,
breath rising toward the heavenly furnace
bathed in the dance of gentle flames
as the stars burn up the eternity
of all that has passed
in silence
in dreams

Monday, May 19, 2008

Strike Another Match

And so, life starts anew. The Spring finally thaws the permafrost of my soul and the wonder that is existence fills me with its vibrancy once more. Finally, the new year takes hold.

And time to pull up stakes. My wife and I soon to move to a country cottage, which has necessitated a much needed thinning of possessions. Time to get down to the basics (or as close as I can come to them)--a few Buddhist books, some volumes of poetry (East and West), my Henry Miller collection ("always merry and bright!"), some good old Grateful Dead, my old zafu, and of course, Henry David Thoreau. He has been there always, shinning like a morning star on the horizon of a newly born day. If I owe anything to Clinton High School, it is for introducing me to Thoreau and Emerson. They began the puzzle that the Buddha-Dharma completed.

What a disconnect I felt sitting in church as a child between that place of worship and God's living creation outside! Instead of showing reverence for the miracle that is the living world, we raised a brick-and-mortar creation by our own hands and had the audacity to call it "God's house," when we were really separating ourselves from the true abode of the Holy; cutting ourselves off from the spring of life so we could more clearly hear the belchings of the pipe organ.

And I still remember that day in Catholic catechism when we were asked to go outside and go to that place where we could more clearly contemplate God. While others confusedly meandered around the parking lot, I instinctively made a bee-line to the woods--that place of worship I had always returned to since the time I could walk.

Then I was confronted by the dilemma of existence, the dilemma of self. The Buddha-Dharma appeared to me "of itself." Almost by accident, I glimpsed the Ultimate Reality, entering that place where "I" no longer had any meaning. For a moment, I was released from the burden of the self, as if waking from a long dream and seeing the world as it is for the first time. All contradictions fell away; all the horrible questions brought on by ego dissipated before me. I saw, ever so briefly, the One from which there is no separation but is all things as all things are one--the Buddha-Nature, the Tao!

The Transcendentalists were very much signposts on this road of awakening that I am still very much traveling on (still glimpsing, waiting for the pin hole of light to open up and forever envelop the delusion that is that traveler walking the road of awakening). When I read The Over-Soul in High School, I knew exactly what Emerson was writing of--it was that which I had felt my entire life growing up, daily disappearing into the woods to unconsciously pay homage to the living force I felt run like a current through all things, that current that all mystics and holy men feel course through themselves--that current that runs through us all, whether we are able to acknowledge it or not.

And so, in less than two weeks time, I will return to the country. And hopefully return to that place where I might once again more fully feel the pulse that runs through us all. Rest assured, Thoreau will be there with me, loafing away the days beneath the bright summer sun, surrounded by ten-thousand things that are the faces of the One.