As of six months ago, “Meeting the Master” might evoke the histrionic single by Michigander rock band Greta Van Fleet. It’s not unlike Medium Medium’s “Guru Maharaj Ji” from four decades before, which I’ve described as “either a snide putdown, or a pedestrian description, of the teacher-student dynamic.” I added: New York Times’ Robert Palmer writes that the song “manages to be understanding and wryly humorous.” (The epitome of this polarity might be The Beatles’ “Sexy Sadie,” written by John Lennon about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.)
Last month I wrote to my filmmaker friend Albert Gasser about
all the gurus I’ve “followed,” secular and non-, among them César Chávez (UFW), Arthur Janov (Primal Therapy), Rudy Perez (dance performance), Charles Cameron [literary and spiritual mentor], Tarkovsky (you introduced me to him), Roman Catholicism, Robert Adams (Advaita Vedanta), Lowell May (IWW), Guy McPherson (abrupt climate change).
To that list I would add my wife Andrea Carney, whose writings salt-and-pepper this blog. And from the New World and Old World respectively, Ricardo Reyes (art and culture) and Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca (compassion on a tightrope). And to that original list I added, to Albert, “If I spouted the party line, I hope usually it was for a brief while. But oh, what I learned.”
Rudy Perez died yesterday morning after a severe asthma attack that took him to the ICU. A year ago I had my first such attack, mild by comparison, but scary enough for an ER session, and as the doctor told me, “You can deal with a lot of things, but not being able to breathe…?”
The music label ECM is well known to fans of jazz, but also of avant-garde classical music. Recordings in the latter camp are by familiar composers like Arvo Pärt, John Adams, Steve Reich, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen—and Meredith Monk, who Rob Berg and I (and friends) caught at the lovely John Anson Ford Theater last month as she celebrated her eightieth birth year in song, movement, and music with the Bang on a Can All-Stars.1
Aside from Monk’s music, which was profound yet playful, I must mention that we arrived early enough to witness a deep-teal-colored cloudless sky framed by the theater’s walls. I had to look away; I didn’t want its perfection to pass. I was reminded of the John McLaughlin title, “What Need Have I for This—What Need Have I for That—I Am Dancing at the Feet of My Lord—All Is Bliss—All Is Bliss.”2
Definitely not dancing, but rather writhing, complaining—confronting—is Job, whose challenge to his Lord is neatly summed in the Christian devotional cycle, Officium Defunctorum (Office of the Dead). Thirty years ago this month, ECM recorded Job’s Parce mihi domine, from the Office, coupled with kindred motets, by Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and British quartet The Hilliard Ensemble, under the simple title of Officium. This arranged marriage was contrived by ECM founder Manfred Eicher, inspired by composer Cristóbal Morales’s sixteenth-century setting of the Office, which Eicher (re)heard while filming his Holozän, based on Max Frisch’s novel Man in the Holocene. In the booklet that accompanies the ECM release, Frisch mentions “driving through the jagged lava fields of Iceland” during filming, of his protagonist’s “encroaching isolation,” the landscape “a metaphor for the silencing of mankind whose history has come to an end.”
At about the time that Finland and Sweden were welcomed into the NATO follies, YouTube pushed my way a tune by Canadian band Martha and the Muffins, their hit “Echo Beach.” I in turn recalled getting Martha Ladly’s first solo single in 1981, “Finlandia.” It was anthemic, the sleeve graphics imperial.
The sun will never disappear But the world may not have many years
— John Lennon, “Isolation”
In the summer of 2020 I contacted visual artist Jim Morphesis to ask his permission to reprint his private reply to Rudy Perez in response to Part 2 of my Portrait of Rudy Perez series. Jim had reminded Rudy of how the two had met on July 24, 1981, when Rudy appeared on Rona Barrett’s television show.
I often am disappointed viewing pop concert videos shot from the audience. Bad sound, bad visuals, bad time. So when my old friend David Moreno asked if I’d heard that Joni Mitchell played Woodst—er—Newport on Sunday I was happy for her, but after hearing audio at the tail end of an NPR segment on Monday I thought I’d wait for the movie. Tonight YouTube as usual pushed Mitchell my way and I bit.
The following playlist is out of order; the artist enters on Brandi Carlile’s stage on track 3, with “Carey’s” original twang: dulcimer, my instrument in high school. I was snagged. The, mm…, videographer can be forgiven any less-than-perfections as can the somewhat ad hoc feel. There are some treats.
Just shy of twenty years ago the then-named Dixie Chicks were pilloried for daring to criticize W for his impending Iraq invasion. They responded with their masterpiece of resistance, “Not Ready to Make Nice.” I bought that album for my wife Andrea Carney, who liked the now-named Chicks. She converted me. Rick Rubin’s impeccable production was akin to what he’d done with Donovan’s Sutras and Johnny Cash’s several American Recordings: let the people play!
Five years ago this month I posted a lengthy review of Martin Aston’s encyclopedic Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out.1 Last week one of Aston’s subjects came to life as it was pushed my way courtesy of YouTube: 1964’s “Have I the Right?” by the Honeycombs. Lyrically it’s reminiscent of Sixties songs that became gay and lesbian bar hymns. Think Sinatra’s “Strangers In the Night” (1966), Bobby Darin’s version of “My Buddy” (1962), Connie Francis’s “Where the Boys Are” (1961). Such songs were appropriated by this social set, but its membership included a few of the hymnists as well.
Ten days ago Rob Berg and I rounded out the Bachelors Anonymous studio catalog with The Big Picture. Rob came up with the album title and the cover design: a rainbow emerging behind us as we frame ourselves (at a 1990 New Year’s Eve party held at the home of Anne Atwell-Zoll, who sang backup with Ann Russell). My first thought was that the rainbow is passé, but with the resurgence of a loathing that never left, I’m reminded of those peace symbol posters from an earlier era: Back By Popular Demand.