Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It Is Not What It Is Not

I met this guy on an airplane a few hours ago. He was carrying an instrument case that I guessed contained a clarinet, so I asked him, "Is that a clarinet?". Turns out it was a trumpet. He was returning to New York City from Fort Worth, Texas, where he had been invited to preach. This guy was a Seventh Day Adventist pastor (I was like "Oh, so you must be vegetarian then." After that, my store of knowledgeable things to say about the Seventh Day Adventists was pretty much tapped). He was carrying the trumpet because he uses it in his ministry - he said he usually starts out the sermon with some solo trumpet stuff.

We exchanged a lot of ideas about music, what with him being a musical pastor and me being a music theorist / composer / recommender / archivist / whatever it is that I do. I got the sense that for him, music was a sacred space, a touchpoint between the physical and spiritual, between the earthly and divine. It inhabits both spheres simultaneously. It is a time out of time. Or maybe that's what it is for me, and talking to this man just helped me to define it in those terms.

I was in awe of this man. He explained to me that he had grown up Presbyterian, but had attended some Seventh Day Adventist (do they call it SDA? I'm gonna call it that, if it keeps coming up) meetings when he was on a spiritual search in his early 20s, and one thing that particularly attracted him to this faith was its emphasis on health and the body.

It seems to me that seeing music as a sacred space between worlds provides an insight into the health/body aspect of SDA. Like, the body is the essence of the physical, yet too it is our spirit's manifestation in this world, the seat of our consciousness, and as such can be seen as another gateway to the divine. If the divine has chosen to manifest itself in this body, then we in turn can honor that nature by choosing to nurture and sustain it, using the knowledge we have of its working to maximize the realization of good work that it can do while it moves in the physical plane under our stewardship.

I explained a little about my job. I work for a company that develops search and recommendations technology for content providers in music, TV and video. I enjoy this because I'm fascinated to explore the individual relationships that people have with music. I'm happy with it because, in a small way, I am helping to make people happy, and enhance their lives.

He said, this is a ministry.

Well gosh! I guess I'm blessed then. Creating music recommendations is a ministry, and I get to do it. That means my daughter Frances has a ministry, too - the FPE. She recommends music for me. This week, I continue the work I began last time of clearing out the L's and M's that she selected at the FPE's inception, with this winner:


Frances isn't the only person who has recommended this CD to me. I received it in the mail some years ago from a friend who said, "I am sending this with the thought that you might crack yourself up with this thing... track 2 is the one".

Track 2 is "Messiah", and these are the lyrics:

I have broken the seal
I can no longer think, I can only feel
I can ride to a blinding night
There is something going on here

I am the sigh that makes you cry
Hold on
I am the one that makes you numb
Hold on

I have broken the seal
I can no longer touch, only feel
I can leave this world when I may
Let the star guide you

Chorus a few times

Messiah... messiah... messiah... messiah

I'm trying to find something to grab onto in there, but it's all just vague Collective Soul-y-ness. I think I'll try to write a 90s alterna-rock song now. Here goes:

If it is what it is
Then it's not what it's not, then, too
I long for it too
She is a mad monk

Grab me!
Put your head in a vice
Drag me!
Don't make me say it twice

It is not what I am not
And you are not there too
We long for it too
Her hair entwines the grass

Chorus a few times

Lama... lama... lama... lama

So there we go - I cracked myself up, and all because of the Lufa CD! Mission accomplished.

(The musical vagueness beautifully complements the lyrical vagueness. Bland post-grunge un-hooks meander, punctuated by an occasional uplifting guitar solo. When those solos kick in they could almost be Dinosaur Jr. for a minute - and then when the solo's over and it's time for the next song, I hear a lingering Mascis tang in the gray guitar rock, and I'm struck by how much Dinosaur Jr. actually sounds like Collective Soul, except with way better vocals.)

Lufa. Why these guys? Why now? Why ever? Their complete unremarkableness is the inevitable reality with which I must contend. These goofy, slouchy teens from an affluent Massachusetts town are tonight's manifestation of a deluge of boring guitar rock. I know it's out there, so many people spent the 90s and the 00s documenting its existence and blasting it from their dorms that no one can deny the reality of post-grunge. Lufa are the thing you mean when you say, post-grunge, and yet nothing could be further from the truth. I try to write around them, to describe with categorizations and comparisons, but with each name I drop and bucket I invoke I only push myself further and further away from their particular flavor of lame, uplifting vagueness. Can I reach into this music and pull something out? Why must they be what they are? Why can't they be Dinosaur Jr.? If they were Dinosaur Jr., I would not listen to them ever, but I would enjoy them when I did. What if they were Collective Soul? Well then, I would hear them now and again on the radio, and think to myself how lame they sounded, and then congratulate myself for liking Dinosaur Jr. They are Lufa, and I'm listening to them now, and I don't like their music very much. How silly all this is. We like what affirms our own reality.

So my friend sent me this CD and in doing so he ministered to me. He pulled a little bit of flotsam from the stream and blessed me with it. It didn't matter what it was, of course, any missive would be such a blessing, but the paradox is that it was Lufa and it couldn't have mattered more what it was, because that's all that it was, and that's all that it is.

Peace on earth...

1 comment:

  1. First time I read your blog. I enjoy your words. You have quite a lot to say. Good things. Glad I am getting to know you. AUnt Monica