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.”
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.
While searching for half-remembered short films on the theme of public restrooms last month (see In the Can), I ran across a parody of “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” posted last fall as a commentary on the trans* bathroom con-troversy.
The performer, Christopher Trautman, explains:
This song was recorded in North Carolina. The only State in the United States that passed a law specifically directing that the restroom you use must be based on the junk you possess. It was later repealed after a national embarrassment campaign [led] by Comedy Central where they opened a food truck called Bone Brothers Barbecue in downtown Raleigh and discriminated against everybody who they determined to be gay… which was everybody.
That barbecue pi—er—bit, which aired on The Daily Show in 2016, was by Roy Wood Jr., assisted by Jordan Klepper. It’s hilarious and is, mm…, cued up below.
Rob Berg and I released a thirty-year-old song by our band Bachelors Anonymous last week on the the occasion of the Winter Solstice; it also happened to be the birthday of Michael Tilson Thomas, whose work we knew as guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the early 1980s.
“What’s This Feeling?” asks a question that Rob posed to himself, and his affecting account is in the latest post from our BachelorBlog.
Before I start tooting the horn of current songwriters—and shortly I will profile the thoughtful Dan Wriggins of Friendship—let me toot my own. Over the last six months my musical partner Rob Berg and I have released eighteen songs, ten of which never were issued before (unless you received a few as a homemade Christmas gift in 1987).
This is a second conversation with dancer-choreographer Rudy Perez, taking place last month on May 30. During our review of Part 1 Rudy raised a few topics that I wanted to pursue. And, of course, there had been the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day, and the reactions from coast to coast.