Wolfku Musing - 29

Purpose on six legs
  some red
  some black
proudly crossing
  the path
Look out

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Stina, my youngest daughter, was three (or was it four?) years old. We were on a short daddy-daughter walk in the Angeles National Forest just north of the city.

We took a sandy path weaving away from the parking lot and into what goes for greenery in Southern California. As we took a little break, a very small ant scurried across the sandy path, apparently quite intent on his destination. We studied it for a while. So busy, so sure of itself, so knowing precisely where it was heading. “Do you think that ants think?” I asked her.

Not taking her eyes off the little guy, she pondered this for a while. Then she looked up at me: “Red ants or black ants?”

Stunned into fatherly silence, it took me a little while to reply, “Red. Red ants.”

She looked back at the little guy for a while, pondered my question, then answered, still regarding him, “Marriage. They think of marriage.”

True story.

::

Wolfku Musing - 28

A poem is a story
with galaxies
of spiritual space

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In the fall of 1967, sitting by my nineteen-year old self in the cellar/cave portion of a famous Stockholm pub called Brända Tomten (“The Burnt Parcel”) with a small carafe of white wine—half of which had already found its way into my belly—a fountain pen, and some paper—more or less convinced that in a previous life I had been Charles Baudelaire—I jotted a few “deep” lines down on the paper and then called it a poem.

I think the lines rhymed.

Irrepressible optimist that I was at the time I submitted this “poem” to a magazine (or a daily paper, I forget which) that actually replied within a few days. Nice poem, the editor said, but far too reminiscent, plagiarizing even, of some Swedish poet that I had never heard of. I looked her up, of course, this Swedish poet, and found that she was quite famous, several books (collection of poems) to her credit.

Discovering this, I naturally took this accusation as a compliment. My little three-minute scribble compared to this, apparently, modern icon of Swedish poetry. Oh, well, I thought, I guess that makes me a poet too.

I’m not sure I ever told anyone about this—though it would surprise me if I did not for at that time I always held center stage in my life and actors always need an audience.

Yet, this I knew: the poem, the deep lines, were fake. They were just colors that I tossed upon the wall to see what kind of pattern they would make. It was more a matter of chance than anything else; a matter of what words happened to surface at the time and spill their way onto paper. Should anyone (killjoy) have asked me at the time: well, what do you mean? I would have been stumped for an answer. Completely.

Now, Baudelaire was a poet, a true one. I believe History has proven him out. Still, I felt that he, too, somehow, was cheating for he wrote mainly what he called prose poems, which to my way of thinking were nothing but stray thoughts captured and wrestled down onto paper. I mean, what trick, or skill, was there to that? You just jotted down what did in fact float to the top without even a need to look out for (or try to chase down) rhymes. And when enough words had floated to the top and thence and onto paper, then you simply stopped writing and said: that’s a prose poem. Nothing to it.

Deep though, they obviously had to be.

The thing was, on some very self-aggrandizing level, I expected some true genius (for it would take one, to say the least) to read and interpret and explain to the world (and to me) what I meant by my poems; yes, it would take a genius to unearth and recognize (and hail) the true genius of my shamelessly simulated prose poems.

So, I wrote lots of them, these impersonations, nothing to them. This was a fecund, freewheeling, teenage mind at play.

Then one day, much later, I read, or heard rather, a real poem: or a line from a real poem. I went like this: “A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof / Like a dragonfly on a tomb.”

The image that sprung live in my mind was vast and vivid. And real. And perfect. And incredibly precise. And encompassing. And Joni Mitchell’s.

New York. Park Avenue. A thousand cars, a million people. A cloudy sky. A giant tomb at the far end (though, actually in the middle) of this broad, busy metropolitan avenue. And landing atop this tomb, a metallic dragonfly.

I had seen it several times, though never really thought about it. Well, I had thought about whomever had so much money they could skip taxis and limos to instead helicopter their way into the city from Kennedy or La Guardia.

Possibly the perfect metaphor. But then again, what is poetry but one, or two, or a few, perfect metaphors?

Denise Levertov opens her final poetry collection, This Great Unknowing, with this line: “I move among the ankles of forest Elders.”

This, to me, is an as true and evocative gathering of words one can ever hope to luck across. With them spring the forest, the ancient (and wise) trees. The air, the understory, the overstory, the cries of distant, or not so distant birds. The fog perhaps, or even rain. The soundless tread of reverent steps upon moss or needled-covered ground. Awe. Silence. Communion. One life to another. Father and child. Uncle and niece. Wisdom to youth—even if that youth was walking her final days, as Levertov was at the time.

Haikus make no bones about it. Seventeen syllables (more or less) are supposed to evoke a world, or at least a small portion of it, vividly. But for me, they sometimes appear as angles crafted on the heads of pins, as fine miniatures too elaborately fashioned, metaphors too meticulously spun.

Then, again, I think of Baudelaire and his rambling, fascinating bits of French life, so replete with desire and suffering, enchantment and thirst, darkness and strange moons.

And then I think of Mitchell and Levertov and I realize that a good poem, one that originates in the unpretentious heart, then travels (via words) to the grateful heart of another there to settle and sprout a world as vast as any novel’s.

Which is when I realize that a poem is a story (a novel even), says as much as any story, is as long as any novel: there is just so very much more space between the words.

::

Wolfku Musing - 27

As the human race
  tumbles
watch it drag
  language down
  along with it

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 Some time back, I bought a Dictionary of Thought at a local library's yearly sale. Published in 1954, it was a fine volume—old and well-read from what I could tell (it smelled much thumbed and revered) and steeped as it were in traditional and ethical values, to me this book was a goof reflection of the elevated, untumbled, thinking man.

Perusing this wonderful book, I looked up Abstinence and found that all entries, all quotes, under this heading held abstinence up to be a virtuous thing, a purifier of thought and soul, a measure of character, a good thing.

Out of curiosity, shortly thereafter, when I browsed one of my favorite bookstores, I looked up Abstinence in a modern dictionary of quotations and read, with only one exception, quotes that held the exact opposite viewpoint of the older (more mature) dictionary—just about every quote in the modern edition held Abstinence up to ridicule and as something to be scorned and smirked at.

It is a sad commentary on the defeatist view of man, and of the modern indulgent nature of the beast, that he must degrade everything he touches, including dictionaries—but then, George Orwell would not have been in the least surprised.

I left the store a little shocked.

::

Wolfku Musing - 26

The flower, loudly
to the bee: pick me, pick me
So many choices

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I am a bee.

Approaching this meadow (following my nose, as they say, and the sweet summer air) suddenly (yes, suddenly) here is a sea of yellow, and they are all sweet. And they speak bee (not kidding).

Me, me, me they sing. Pick me, me, me.

So many flowers, so little time. What is a bee to do?

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Wolfku Musing - 25

Out there, on the rim
Where the ocean falls away
sits God, feet dangling

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Of a late afternoon, with the sun and its warming light just right, the Pacific Ocean spreads out before me like a gigantic softly-rippled aqua-mirror, reaching all the way to the rim of the world, and there, among the haze and low whitish clouds (that look like a distant, soft mountain range beyond which lies the land of magic, or Heaven, or…), out there at the very edge, there (I can easily picture) sits a very content God, feet dangling over the rim—very pleased with Himself and Things in general.

Cooling off, I gather, for the afternoon feels unusually warm to me, and He is that much (8 miles or so from where I’m sitting) closer to the sun.

Again, I pinch myself to make sure I’m awake: I live here, this amazing scene is my back yard.

::

Wolfku Musing - 24

Looking for
  a younger self
I find that I
  am music—
round, black
  plastic

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They were more than mere possessions. They were a projection of being. They were so much more than a name or a car or an apartment.

In many ways, they were who I was. They were an extension of me.

They were how I, in my own estimation, was seen and judged by others. They were how I impressed friends, the way I established my identity with girls I dated and invited to my apartment to listen to them. It was the way I established myself with the guys. As a cool one. As one to know, as one with the cool, impeccable taste in music. The one with the great albums.

Yet, they were even more than that. They were what came to reflect my emotional depth, my searching psyche, my love for the beautiful. They were what I woke up to in the morning and what I went to sleep with at night. They were my entertainment as well as my guide. They were a path to follow, a garden to grow.

To me, they meant more than food, more than water, ranking up there with air as far as life went. Possibly—and I’m not exaggerating—my record collection meant more to me than life itself.

:

I clearly remember my first record player and album. The album was West Side Story, the original cast sound track with Natalie Wood and whoever else there was (although she didn’t sing her part as I recall). I got the album at the same time I got that first record player, if record player is the right word for such a monstrosity. An eighty-pound reject from someone’s (much happier for the loss of it) living room, ugly, huge and heavy. But it was a record player, with radio, and it played.

It arrived late one afternoon in the early fall. Although the sky was overcast you could tell that the sun had just reached the horizon, and that evening was not far away. My dad pulled up through the pea gravel in our old Volvo PV wagon, and in the back, testing its fetters, fighting to get loose, this feral thing of a record player. My father opened the back of the car and there, eyeing me with obvious scorn, it was. Just like real-life rejects or the little-liked in the world, it held an inflated opinion of itself and it seemed to debate whether I was worthy of its exalted presence. I stared back, slightly, but not overly, intimidated. I am very, very worthy. I know that, and it’s up to you to find that out. It held its horses.

My room, which I shared with my sister, was on the second floor and the fight through narrow doorways and up narrow stairs was completely in keeping with the arrogance of this bulky record player. Finally, though, it was installed under the western window. My monster. Mine. And along with it, West Side Story, also mine. My alum, my record player, my time, my sound, my songs.

It was an almost religious experience to place the needle on that first track and within a few seconds to hear this glorious sound rush out of the single (fairly large) speaker and fill the room, and quite well at that. For all its bulk and ugliness, this monstrosity voiced a fairly pure rendition of the recording; more than acceptable: respectable, I had to admit. I told it as much, but it ignored me, of course.

Still, I felt in some sort of heavenly control; I held the key to fantastic power, I could listen to this music whenever I wanted, I could bathe in this sound at will. It really was a personal treasure that soon grew to take on larger proportions.

Not long thereafter, I got a second album. It was a United Nations release featuring among others Ella Fitzgerald’s “All of Me” which just sent me.

I remember playing these two albums over and over, for the sheer pleasure of listening to and becoming filled with their magic. And I also remember forming the first tenuous bonds with the power of possessing such magic. I owned these two albums, they were mine, and by extension, so was the music they contained.

But they were more than simply mine, these albums, these tracks: they grew part of my being. A portion of me somehow seemed to seep out and into the tracks I liked, making them, as well, me in the process. And playing some of my favorite tracks for some friend or other, I felt as if I gave them a piece of me, and I felt as if, indeed, I was due some of the admiration they would express for the artist.

This feeling was embryonic at the time, but looking back I recognize it even from this distance.

The following fall we moved to another house (a brand new one, which my father had built out on a windy field by a small river), the monstrosity in tow. I must admit I had grown to like it by this time, and possibly it me.

Although it had yet completely to make up its mind about me, it did play, whenever asked to, even if today (so many years later) I would never allow a single one of my albums to be subjected to that five-pound tone arm (well, a pound, say, or half a one). This player belonged to another era altogether. You could select 33 1/3, 45 or 78 rpm, you could stack 10 albums on top of each other, and it never even suspected that stereophonic sound had in fact been invented. All you could get out of the single speaker hiding behind the ornate grille (made from discarded curtain material no doubt) was its very own opinion of that particular piece of music, take it or leave it. But it did play, and with volume.

In this new house, I had my own room. Although the house was fairly large my room was minuscule, a large cupboard with heating and a window. It contained four pieces of furniture: a bed, a desk, a chair and the monster.

Then came Christmas and with it the album to turn my life around—the true forefather of all future record collections, The Beatles’ second album: With The Beatles. On the Odeon label (this did take place in Sweden mind you).

For some time thereafter the universe as a whole consisted of me, the monster, and With The Beatles. And we spent a lot of time together, we three, several times a day tracking the whole album from “It won’t be long” through to “Money”. This was now the album of my life, it was the only thing in my life, soul sustenance that it was. I played it to distraction, and eventually started yearning for more. The problem, however, was that I simply could not afford more albums; in Sweden, they were 5 dollars an album even then—a huge sum fifty years ago, especially if you had no income—and my album collection remained: With the Beatles, West Side Story, and the UN Album.

But, looking back, it seems I could afford singles and they now started, if not exactly to roll, at least to trickle in. First of all, more Beatles, “From Me To You,” and “Twist And Shout.”

Soon followed by The Zombies, “She’s Not There;” The Hollies, “Just One Look” and “Here I Go Again.” “I Believe” by the Bachelors (that’s a great one for you, oh, man, how I loved that song). By now the collection, incipient though it was, began to take on its own life, an emerging presence which I readily adopted as a potentially valuable ally.

As I had sensed from the very beginning: there was survival value in this stuff: I would choose and play a record for someone and that would make a difference in how they then thought of or viewed me. It was a sure way to show and communicate who I was (for the music I knew about, liked, and played said much about me) and a good, surprisingly reliable way to impress. All I had to do was to discover the best sounding and potentially most popular records (which discovery had to be made before the man—or boy or girl—in the street made the same discovery), somehow obtain these finds, share them with others, and behold: it reflected well on me and it grew my “hip” reputation.

I had found my mission.

One such discovery—marginally before it became a huge hit—was “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks. I remember it as if it were yesterday, ushering my soon-to-be girlfriend into the record store to see if they in fact did have it. And, yes, low and behold, they did.

In those days, you could sample records before you bought them (of course, I sampled a lot). Just ask the sales clerk, then pick up a set of earphones, actually, two single earphones, one in each hand, and “sample” away. We sampled “You Really Got Me,” her and I, several times, and for me it was ever after our signature song. And as we listened the record said what I wanted to say. Not by implying or explicitly meaning what the lyrics said, but by meaning and imparting the great impression that the record as a record, as a song, regardless of its lyrics, conveyed to her. Of course, in this case the lyrics did say what I wanted to tell her, as well.

This was me communicating through the record (responsible, as I was, for her now hearing it) this great, great feeling of a wonderful song, and she listen and smiled and laughed and confirmed that the great feeling did indeed come from me, my gift to her.

In that record store that day, I shared my discovery, and by extension I shared myself, with her, and we became, if not lovers (we were, or at least I was, too young), at least steady-ish dates.

Simply but oh, so truly put: I was becoming the music I discovered.

Some of these singles went on the road with me. I would bring my new-found treasures with me to parties—if you could call them that—and I’d be the DJ of the one or two singles I brought (The Beatles’ “From Me To You” comes to mind). Power, here was power. Unimagined, hitherto un-conceived power.

But what pitiful pre-puberty puppy parties they were (yes, I like that sentence). For, yes, we were puppies barely catching the scent of puberty, while completely lost in whatever it was life was actually about, stumbling around and tripping over our own ears in a comedy of tentative emotions and feeble explorations. And I remember, at the pinnacle of my valiant foray into the mystic realm of sexual promise, how I actually sat in one sofa for one hour holding girl’s one hand gazing at one spot on one wall without one single word passing my lips or a single glance at the girl. Sexual abandon, yes, but we were puppies, and puppies grow up eventually, as did this one. But this one was sure to bring his two singles, or was it one, with him back home.

:

The Beatles soon gave way to the full onslaught of the British invasion. The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” was huge. The Nashville Teens, The Swinging Blue Jeans, The Merceybeats, Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders (which eventually spawned 10cc), the original Moody Blues, P. J. Proby (anybody ever heard of him? “Hold Me”), Heinz (“Just Like Eddie”), Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, Dave Clarke Five, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clarke (“Downtown”—what a great song), barefoot Sandie Shaw (“Girl Don’t Come”), Lulu with her cover version of “Shout,” the Searchers, of course, “Needles and Pins-a,” the Rolling Stones goes without saying, and more and more Beatles, the list goes on, seemingly endlessly. It was a musical cutting edge and I stayed on it.

It was a glorious wave, and I surfed it.

During the first recess of every Tuesday morning I ran down to the railway station’s newspaper kiosk to pick up the new copy of New Musical Express, or Melody Maker, or sometimes even Fab, the magazine—all imported from England. I read these avidly, picking up new groups, learning about new records being cut or released, immersing myself in this ocean, rushing forward on this wave.

By now I associated myself almost entirely with music and had successfully managed to have others make the same connection.

I was music.

Fittingly, I also came to write a music column for a local paper, reviewing the English Top Twenty in each Monday’s paper, having barely managed to make the list out over Radio Luxembourg the previous midnight—a project and a sensation worthy of its own complete story. Yes, I was my music and I was the reigning guardian of hip (in a town of barely ten thousand souls).

And my hair grew. At first the attempt was to look like an original Beatle—lacking any real personal identity I garbed the most successful one around and wrapped it closely around me, hair and all, but it kept growing, and just when I was about to cut it to re-conform it to the Beatle model, I discovered that the Beatles had let their hair grow longer as well.

There was an odd metamorphosis of this boy from 9th grade to the 10th. 9th saw him exit with straight As, top of the class, albeit a music fanatic. The magnificent entrance to the 10th starred hair to the shoulders, head in the clouds and someone completely immersed in the success of being others, being albums and singles.

The monster (the old, gigantic record player, remember?) was more or less outgrown by now. It played my singles okay, but I don’t think I ever did get another real album for it to ruin. And it was time to move on. With insufficient cash to purchase a real stereo system, but with friends who had both the systems and the albums, the logical choice became a tape recorder. Reel to reel at that time, cassettes had not been invented yet. The brand was Phillips, made in Holland. Mono.

My mother got it for me the fall I turned 16. 7½ inch reels, a fairly large (and heavy—taking a cue from its predecessor) thing, but it recorded well, at least by the standards of the day. I lugged it with me to friends’ houses and managed to record the entire Beatles catalog (at that time not so formidable) along with other semi deities. Other music still came off the radio, like Dave Berry’s “Little Things,” the Ivy League’s “Tossing and Turning,” and Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night.” I kept listening, and recording, and writing for the local paper, and I got myself a shirt with frills down the front buttons, like the Merceybeats, and claimed the center of attention, albeit due to notoriety rather than fame.

Life, at this point, all of life, centered around music. School was heading for the background in a hurry, in fact I flunked my first math test, after having had the highest grade in the class going in. Will the real Mr. Hyde please step forward and take a bow?

Then, in the chilly hours and minutes of uncertainty, Donovan arrived in Sweden, and on his heels, if not simultaneously, if not just before, Dylan. Together they struck a deeper chord yet. Both personally—for they did touch me profoundly, although I was as yet not wholly aware of this—and, yes, opportunistically, because it seems the man on the street by now had just about caught up with the British Invasion, and here was new, unchartered as yet, territory where I could be very mysterious, hip and apart from (read, above) the street-man.

Before long I had Dylan’s complete recordings copied onto tape, and that, for several months, was virtually all I listened to, all through the much-too-light for sleep northern Swedish summer nights.

I don’t think I understood too much of what he said; Dylan spoke much too fast and much too much for my high school English, but he still spoke to me, or so I imagined. And, at that time, being as extremely into Dylan as I claimed (or was), was cool beyond cool. I reigned supreme in my little 10,000 population one main street home town on the Baltic—at least from where I saw things. I was into Dylan, and looking back, nothing else really took place at that time, that is what I was doing. The rest of the world was simply part of my involuntary anatomy, rubbing elbows with lungs and kidneys. I didn’t pay it too much attention.

And then, early one summer evening, I heard the Byrds’ version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” (one of the best songs I had heard up to that point), followed by more Dylan, and then by more Byrds, and then this kid left his little 10,000 population one main street home town on the Baltic for the much larger Swedish capital, still on Baltic, where I arrived as one of Stockholm’s first long-haired boys, turning heads wherever I went—is it a boy or a girl?—it’s a crying shame, and what is the world coming to trailing me like a taffrail log which in my view was just fine. I wanted to stand out, I wanted to be set apart, I reveled in it, me and my Dylan’ed tape collection—though these early days in Stockholm saw me without my records or tape recorder; I moved around a bit too much to carry them around, so my physical appearance had to take up the slack, which it did.

It and a guitar I had recently acquired and learnt how to play “House of the Rising Sun” and “Catch the Wind” on.

This, by the way, was how I found somewhere else to live after having been thrown out of my mother’s cousin’s apartment for drinking his wine and not cleaning the apartment completely up to his antiseptic standards after the parties I invited the neighborhood to in his and his wife’s absence. He had the nerve to complain to my mother about wine stains on the carpets and floors, and did not want me there anymore. They gave me one week to vacate. The first six days passed in unconcerned Dylanesque bliss, on the seventh day I played “Catch the Wind” for the girl in the army like parka and told her, quite truthfully as it happened, that I had nowhere to live, which is just about as romantic as things could get those days, and the next day I moved into her parents’ attic room in a southern suburb (cold as hell, that winter, but I did have a bed and some blankets).

Then there was Sonny and Cher, and the Righteous Brothers; in fact, I used to play Sonny and Cher’s 45 rpm singles at 33 1/3 rpm and to make them sound exactly like the Righteous Brothers, and I imagine they still do at that speed. And here came the Who and “My Generation,” followed in the early summer by Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” and I moved back into town, accompanied by Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” and Joan Baez.

I held down jobs of some sort, and I guess I spent some time at these places of employment, but what I did was more Dylan, more Byrds, and more Donovan.

I managed to get thrown out of another—sublet—apartment for a wild party, but soon found myself in my own one room apartment on the ground floor in the center of town, with the greatest phone number you’ll ever run across, 444-223 (it made me and my apartment the logical, if not the only choice, for late parties when my friends were roaming the streets, looking for things to do and places to go while stoned beyond remembering anything much—except 444-223); a single bed, and a portable mono record player.

I started my record collection again, from scratch.

My new first record was “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the album.

Picture this: There was me, a bed, the empty, empty room, the high ceiling, the two windows, the Byrds and the light Swedish summer night again. I’m not sure how anything else got done those days.

The rent was $15 a month. I could have scraped by on money my mother used to send me, but I did have a job. I must have, because my portable record player became a stereo (so I must have shown up regularly at work), and my album collection grew. Loving Spoonful, Bee Gees (the original, pre-disco Bee Gees), Cream, more Byrds, Percy Sledge (“When a Man Love a Woman”), Jim Hendrix, and my first taste of the classical, Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” Karl Richter on Deutsche Gramophone along with an album featuring Handel’s Water Music arranged for strings, weird actually, but it reached me.

My little apartment became a regular hangout for music appreciation. Not so much a novelty and expert and an outcast by this time, the world had caught up in those respects, but music had now become food in its own right, I listened to it like you would breathe. I osmosed my albums.

Especially the Doors’ first two albums, and, still my favorite sixties band, Country Joe & the Fish. Over and over again, they spoke to me. Then there was Pink Floyd, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”—recently released in its 40th anniversary edition.

As an aside, me and a friend set out one night to see Pink Floyd live at the Golden Circle Café in Stockholm, but (even though we set out quite early) we just never made it all the way there before the show was over. Talk about side-tracked. What nights!

And there was Sgt. Pepper, and Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” (still, in my mind, the best song ever recorded) and “Regent Walpurgis,” the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Touch (anybody remember them?), the Fugs, and West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (anyone remember them?), and Van Morrison’s Blowing your Mind on Bang Records and the first Mothers of Invention Freak Out album.

They all found a loving and very sympathetic home in this one small and very-cold-in-the-winter-with-no-central-heating-inside-and-twenty-below-outside apartment.

And then there was Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant which I learned by heart. Actually, I learned this almost purely by sound, for I only knew the meaning of half the words, if that. Then I would go down to the pub Sturehof and mingle with the Americans on extended visits to a draft dodging friendly Sweden and recite the whole thing for a couple of beers. Yes, the whole 20 minutes of it, I actually could do it, and they would laugh, and laugh, mostly at places where I had no idea about the meaning or the joke, I mean I didn’t know what Thanksgiving was, to start with, and it only got worse from there.

So, they would buy me another beer and plead with me to do it over again, and drunk on draft and all this attention I would gladly oblige and I put the needle on the outside track, got the record up to speed again, and off I went. Until they closed the pub for the night, to return next evening for more.

A bit of classical did leak through the rock and roll universe. One winter night I listened to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and for some reason I was completely enraptured by it. The images evoked by this incredible piece of music in the freezing cold of this winter’s night found their way into a long prose poem, touching me deeply all the way. I felt that Bach wrote for me, and maybe only for me, while my cold and inky fingers scrawled as the images grew. I felt I understood. I went to sleep that night knowing that I had discovered something, albeit uncertain of precisely what.

The months flew by at this point. Country Joe & the Fish was a mainstay, Sgt. Pepper a lot, and more Byrds, “Fifth Dimension,” “Younger than Yesterday” and “The Notorious Byrd Brothers,” still three of my favorite albums of all-time, were with me continually.

I left Stockholm that winter for a town further south, bringing only some of my albums (I kept my Stockholm apartment and the rest of my albums in it). Joining me were Country Joe’s “I Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die” and the three Byrds albums. That was it.

I grew to love Country Joe through that winter and spring, along with her.

Yes, I had found a girlfriend and was incredibly, incredibly in love, a feeling intertwined with writing poetry, reading Baudelaire and listening to Country Joe to form a fantastic world of emotion, sounds and images. I was truly crazy then and very, very happy.

This, alas, lasted only a few months, for although we were actually engaged to marry, she had to take a previously arranged trip to England with a friend of hers, and I was left stranded, and lonelier than I have ever been in my life. I hung around this town for two more months that seemed an eternity, then hit the road hitch hiking further south. Finally got just about as far south as you can get in Sweden without running into Denmark, and settled there for the summer.

Sans records again, I used to listen to classical music in the library, and I was also introduced to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos by a newly divorced city clerk who took me under his wing. I am grateful to him for that, there are still few pieces of music that bring so much pleasure for me, and I always recall that little house by the water where I first heard them.

Had to get a job though, out of money and nowhere to live, and found one as a summer nurse at a resting home. Sedate, but it provided living quarters and food, and a friend who introduced me to the Incredible String Band, a Scottish duo that were aptly named and, in a word, incredible.

I brought Donovan’s “Hurdy-Gurdy Man” and he played the String Band’s “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” on his great stereo system. And here I ran smack into incredible lyrics along with what I deemed fantastic music.

I had taken lyrics to heart before, and learned them and sang them and, quite often meant them, having them reflect my feelings and hopes, but here, these lyrics addressed so much more than being in love, or being lonely, or being lonely in love, et cetera, they reached for and found the spirit in me and struck chords that I didn’t know I could hear. The rest of that summer I lived for and with the Incredible String Band. Fall came, and with it the return of my wayward girlfriend. We were reunited and moved up north. I brought my String Band records, though not much more.

As it happened, we did not marry, and I eventually moved away, into the world, finding Sweden too much of a small town on welfare for my liking, leaving my records behind. Much have happened since.

I eventually settled in Southern California for a quarter of a century, before I moved up to northern Idaho (it’s very Swedish up there) for three years, then back to LA for two, and finally up to the northern California Pacific coast (just a stone’s throw south of the Oregon border), and over these years I have rebuilt my album collections many times over, first on cassettes, then on albums, then on CDs, and now as mp3s.

I have found all my old records and I’ve fallen deeply in love with classical, especially Bach, Handel and, lately, Haydn. But I still listen to Country Joe and the Byrds, and the others. And it is still with my music where I live the most and the fullest.

Music touched me early, stole my heart, and never gave it back.

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Wolfku Musing - 23

What do they live for
the ants, the bees, the spiders?
Small joys and sorrows

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The principle Bodhisattva vow is to work for and secure the enlightenment of every single sentient being before he or she enters Nirvana him- or herself.

This, of course, is an amazingly gallant goal and undertaking, but it begs, for me at least, the incredibly crucial question: what, precisely, is a sentient being? And by that I mean: what delimits and defines a life form sufficiently aware to be considered sentient. How large? How small? Especially, how small?

Okay, human beings—I take that as a given. Giants and trolls, if they exist, would also be givens.

Animals, yes, givens as well. And that would include birds, fishes, the lot.

Insects, yes, they too are (in Buddhist scripture) considered sentient, individual beings, each and every one (and there are a lot of them buzzing, biting little beings).

How about plants? I mean trees actually communicate, don’t they? Grasses too, most likely. The Pali Canon, as best as I can make out, is silent on this topic.

How about cells? Here, too, the Canon remains mum—as well it probably should be.

Now, there is no doubt in anybody’s mind (I believe) that both plants and cells are alive—which is fifty percent of the sentient being criteria. Cells, by splitting, form colonies which sometimes take the form of plants, sometimes of internal organs, sometimes of brains, et cetera. They metabolize food and what they don’t use for their own growth they can convert to energy. Yes, they are indisputably alive. But what about sentient?

Here’s the definition of that word (according to the New Oxford American Dictionary): adjective, able to perceive or feel things.

Let’s take a look at another interesting definition: Killer T-cells find and destroy infected cells that have been turned into virus-making factories. To do this they need to tell the difference between the infected cells and healthy cells with the help of special molecules called antigens. This way Killer T-cells are able to detect cells with viruses and destroy them.

Let’s repeat the last sentence: This way Killer T-cells are able to detect cells with viruses and destroy them.

Which, obviously means that they are able to perceive things. So, since as cells they are alive, this makes a single Killer T-cell a sentient being, by definition. And by extension, I would thus venture to proclaim that all cells are, each and every single one of them, a sentient being.

How many cells in a human body? Mr. Google reports, “Scientists have concluded that the average human body contains approximately 37.2 trillion cells.”

That also bears repeating: Thirty-seven point two trillion cells. Each, by definition, a sentient being.

I think I may safely assume that the same would hold true for animal cells, and insect cells, et cetera. And then we have the plants, who also consist of living cells.

How many cells in a blade of grass? Some say millions. And how many blades of grass on our planet? Well, you’re welcome to count, then multiply that by millions to determine the number of sentient grass-cell beings.

Of course, this is only planet Earth. I’m pretty sure there is life elsewhere in this very, very large universe of ours, each habitable planet with a similar number of cells (e.g. sentient beings) would be my guess.

And here’s a thought: Does the oxygen atom perceive and recognized the hydrogen ditto and go: “Hey, honey, wanna make some water?”

There are a lot of lot of lot of lot of atoms around.

Bottom line: any given Bodhisattva, if each cell (or, heaven forbid, atom) is a sentient being, has a long, long road ahead of him or her.

I am not saying this to make little of the pledge, but to cast it in a not-quite-so-blind (or blinding, take you pick) light.

But when we talk of enlightenment, surely, we cannot talk of individual atoms. Can we even talk of individual cells? Lose three percent of your body weight (as in dieting) and you’ve made a trillion homeless cell spirits—all now in need of salvation, individually—and/or looking for other cell bodies?

No, I cannot believe that is the case. It would graduate a very improbable task (enlightening the universe) to an impossible, truly impossible task, and we might as well lie down this very moment and give up.

Okay, that was some digression, I’m here to talk about ants, bees, and spiders—and their reasons for getting up in the morning.

Is there such a thing as a happy spider, an embarrassed bee, a jovial ant? Is there ever a trace of what we humans would recognize as emotion in these little guys?

At times I’ve observed a lost ant desperately (it seems) looking for his pals, his nest, his home. He scurries this way and that and back again and then off to the left and, no, to the right, no left was probably it, then back again toward the wall which he now starts to climb, a foot, perhaps two before he, convinced by something, realizes this is not the way home. Or, does he know precisely where home is and he’s actually looking for food to bring back? Or is he looking for something else? Who, apart from other ants, possibly, can tell?

Regarding this ant, I don’t see happiness on the move though, or sadness. I see monotony on the move, a wind-up toy with a pulse.

Lift a log that’s been on the ground for a while, especially after the rain, and an alarmed colony of pill bugs shunning the light (they love the dark, apparently—the wet and dark) all roll up into little balls on cue. Now, how does the day appear to one of these little guys? Can they even tall day from night? I try to take the view of a pill bug and I cannot find a single reason to go on—unless there are happinesses and rewards in my pill-bug life that humans have no way of detecting or even imagining.

Or a blade of grass, or even an old and ever-stationary tree. Are they all biological wind-up toys, simply driven by nature’s edict to survive at all cost? Is there any other purpose, I mean personal purpose, in these existences? I cannot detect or imagine any, no matter how hard I look.

That said, animals a little higher up the food chain appear to love their young. A mama lion licking her cub seems to love him or her; a mama bear will kill anything that threatens her offspring—out of love, or just sheer instinct?

But the smaller the being, the less there seems to be any sort of recognizable emotion or purposeful aliveness present. Yet, I’ve read that cockroaches can befriend humans (prisoners in dirty cells, for one). I shake my head.

My question, though (as yet unanswered) is: do these little critters have a purpose recognizable by themselves as purpose. Do they know where they are going, what they are doing, and why? That, in my book, would make them sentient? Anything less than that, I’m not so sure it would qualify.

In fact, I think a good definition of sentient being might be a being who considers itself sentient—for it’d take sentience to do that.

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Wolfku Musing - 22

The Northern Lights of
Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in
D-Minor: My home

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Did you know that the aurora borealis makes a sound? It emits a sort of electrical hiss, a subtle shifting of audible frequencies, as it both shapeshifts and colorshifts across the black, star-studded sky.

I count myself very fortunate to have been born and raised in northern Sweden where each winter we had vivid northern lights (norrsken—literally, northern shine) a dozen or so times a year.

These were gigantic, multi-colored church organ pipes covering half the northern sky, fluttering or shivering slowly in the sun-particle breeze while whispering its unoiled song to all little humans standing in the snow, head back in awe.

The first several times I saw the northern lights I had yet to hear of Bach or any of his music, but I was introduced to this god of music sooner than most in that we lived a five-minute walk from our local church which sported a very impressive (I’d go so far as to say magnificent) organ, and in that the church organist was also my music teacher and he had invited me to come hear him practice any time I wanted.

The keyboards to this organ were housed in the choir loft (some call it the church balcony) at the rear of the church which you reached by climbing a narrow and spiraling set of stone steps.

Sometimes of a quiet winter night I could actually hear him play even from our house (yes, I’d have to be outside, of course, and yes, it would have to be very quiet) and then I’d rush up to the church, climb the stairs and debouch into this wonderful space that housed not only the multiple-keyboard organ cockpit, but also the seats for the choir and (of course) the magnificent pipes.

And there he would sit (his name was Harald) both hands and both feet busy with their magic. He’d sense me arriving and turn and smile at me without stopping. Me, I’d sit down and just watch and listen.

Now, it was not that I knew that the music was written by Bach—yes, he may have mentioned it but that did not register at the time. What did register, however, was Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor, which Harald played more than once (he obviously loved it, too). Those ten heavenly opening notes found two eager ears and a forever home in this young boy, listening in open-mouthed wonder to his music teacher’s conjurer’s trick.

The association between the northern lights and the grand pipes of the church organ is easily made—they do sport the same features—and it’s only a few short associative steps from there to seeing Bach up there in the winter sky (once I learned that he had written the Toccata and Fugue).

To be honest, perhaps it’s not so much that this stellar piece of music was my home (as I wrote in the Wolfku above); it’s more that I became a home for it, and from there on, looking up at the divine winter-night spectacle, there they were, both Harald and Johannes Sebastian, smiling down at me.

That said, let’s fast forward a few years, and I now live in Stockholm in a very cold little apartment with a very good stereo system. One night—and, yes, I must admit to being high on hashish this night—I put on Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor, and as the heavens opened in those first ten notes, I saw the familiar northern lights right there in my room, real as anything, descending through the ceiling.

Fast forward a few more years, and I wrote a short story about just that night called “Bach Lights,” which I’ve included it below. It tells of the wonder and why I still am a home for Bach, and he a home for me.

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Bach Lights

The Winter Dawn is timid this far north. That is why she tiptoed up to my window and then hesitated, as if unsure about what to do next.

Within, Night, her brother and contrast, lingered in many places: on the windows and along the floor as frost, in the cold hash pipe as ash, in the lava lamp as yellow and red bubbly ghost still rising and falling and rising and falling from the heat of the little bulb that could.

On the table as story.

The sun scaled the sky a little more before Sister Dawn finally worked up the courage to pry herself through the frosted glass and heavy curtains and onto my face where she settled and with the help of pure physical (as in bathroom) needs found and excavated me.

I opened my eyes to wonder at the ceiling, then turned to my left to wonder at the all the little letters written on the wall, then turned to my right to wonder at the table, then at the large sheet of paper on the table with many more inky letters scrawled all over it, all mine. And when I say wondered, I really mean wondered, for as yet I could not imagine what I might have written on wall and paper.

I heaved myself halfway up and onto my elbow to wonder a little harder at the sheet of paper: so many letters, all running around scratchily in my barely legible hand. And looking, and looking again, and making out a word or two or three it came back to me, little by a little more: that long, glorious and wordy exhaling under the spell of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor.

I sat all the way up now and retrieved the sheet from the table, wrapped the blanket around me (noticing my breath as faint mist in the cold air), leaned back against the thick wall behind me, and began to read in earnest.

Reading, I returned to the night before and again fell in with Brother Cold and Dark (aka Brother Night)—Cold and Dark despite the two gas burners on my stove burning as high as they would go and hissing heat into his icy heart and despite the little kerosene heater that did all it could to give the gas burners a hand from its frosty corner.

But those were only gestures at warmth, for I live in Stockholm and it is deep winter in the capital N North with a meter of snow outside my window, glittering now and would be sharp to the touch, I could well imagine, and would squeak now underfoot, I could well imagine.

And in this capital N North my room is a tall rectangular box of frigid space: a three-meter-high ceiling with two almost meter-thick walls colder than death facing the outside, another wall nearly as cold facing the entrance way, and a fourth (not so cold but not-at-all warm) wall that I shared with my neighbor. It is in this box of winter that Brother Night and I spent an interesting evening; a cold and stoned evening—just me, though, with the stoned part, Brother Night doesn’t smoke hashish.

Initially, after a pipe or two, I had sailed across first one ocean (the Atlantic) and then a continent (USA) to reach the next ocean (the Pacific) and the big city by the water they call Los Angeles which had gifted me the Doors and their Strange Days Long Playing (LP) record. Leaving my very good speakers as stereo adventure I listened through all of side one and then all of side two and still my frosty wings were spread and eager to go places so I carefully lifted the Doors LP off the turntable and returned it to its sleeve (only touching the record edges), then found and disrobed and carefully lowered a Bach LP onto the turntable instead. Then, as carefully, brought out the stylus from its cradle and lowered it, slowly, slowly, respectfully, the way you should always lower even the most eager stylus onto Bach.

I have a theory: Bach is God. Well, if not God God then at least of the same substance, of that I have no doubt.

:

Of sounds there are none more God-like than those first measures of the Toccata and Fugue in D-minor (or D-Moll as my Archiv German pressing says). They arrived through the ceiling, from a distant somewhere up there in the darkness, as descending lashes of beauty to kill the frozen silence.

Stunned, I reached for pen and paper as would a photographer for his camera when suddenly stumbling upon extraterrestrial aliens—slowly, carefully, centimeter-by-centimeter—hoping not to draw their attention, you know, spook them.

I had to get him down om paper.

Him God. Him Bach. Had to. For were I not to let what now flowed into me, flow through me and then out of me as ink onto this stiff paper I would overfill and drown in beauty. Not a bad way to go mind you, but I was young then and not ready that final passage just yet.

But I did not reach for pen and paper inconspicuously enough. Those first few measures, midflight, spotted my movement and rushed me and wrestled me to the floor where some part of me, some sunny sandy California part of me somehow remained in the Doors’ Los Angeles: prostrate upon Santa Monica beach sand, warm ear to the warm ground listening to the Pacific, listening to wave upon wave reaching sand like wind reaching trees but another part of me—most of me—remained in the wintry Stockholm here and now hearing Bach/God descend and I scrambled back on my feet and discovered a pen in my hand and the sheet of stiff paper on my table and then I began to write down all that Bach said.

Those first few measures again, resurrected in a lower register, circling, then entering me like so many lovers: through my ears, through my eyes, through my skin, embracing me each as they entered. My body sang with Bach. Then the vision.

It was brother North Wind: the ever dawn of the northern lights, their shimmering pipes of icy organ rising shifting rising in a mid-winter fantasy making snow sing. It was God coming down through my ceiling as the aurora borealis and I knew then and there that Bach and God are indeed one and the same.

Then the world rises. It starts somewhere in the engine room of time, his feet on the lower pedals, hands too to the keyboard left as he begins to lift the planet. My room vibrates with the effort, with the strength and sheer joy of that rising. I am water I am wave I am blue ink and I flow onto stiffly white frame after frame of photographed aliens or no one will ever believe me I actually hear this.

The lifting escalates and crescendos and is done escalating now and flings open the door onto Spring.

I hear and see and follow with the tip of my very costly fountain pen which I bought just the other day knowing full well I could not afford it. But these were the days when a check was automatically good because you signed it and gave it to the clerk who then handed you the pen with smile. I have since learned the meaning of the word overdrawn, but meanwhile here it is in my hand and anyway, it’s too late to take it back now, no matter how expensive it was, so I do with it what I hoped and dreamed I would do with it and I write with it.

And out into Spring: The doors are flung wide open, onto narrow crystal steps that dance up into the morning into sky. No more brother North Wind now, just dawn and dew and those little lakes of silver that form on my petals and leaves and do to sense of smell what Michelangelo does to rock.

I wish I could cry matching tears.

Though for whose benefit? I am overcome, yes, but not beyond control. So, un-crying, I keep writing. I no longer know exactly what I say or why really just that I know that this is a capital M Moment and I am having some sort of epiphany here and maybe just maybe I’m a genius of some kind that someone is waiting to discover and make immensely rich and warm and to move out of this freezing almost ceiling-less room so full of darkness and frost and this immense music.

Sound as Mountain. Physical. And I confess I lose my way. In Him.

I reach the end of the paper and there is more to write as I sail on, cast about by waves—a soul in blessed turmoil. And then a new cresting that lets me sprout wings and out and over I glide. He does this to you, you know, God does. Bach does.

I have taken leave of Stockholm of winter of snow and Boreas’ and Bach’s Light and now there is only ocean reflecting soul and I cannot comprehend how anyone encumbered with arms and legs and fingers and toes could possibly have conceived and composed beauty such as this, wings such as these and again I remind myself that I am in His presence, sailing His air, and that for Him all is possible.

I turn the sheet over. The one sheet. I only have the one sheet? Why have I only the one sheet? But wondering does not turn it into several, so instead I turn it over and continue this scribbly dance on the other side and I hope that at least some small vestige of what enters actually exits as I race ahead by one inky Swedish word after another and turning my head now I see a path that perhaps can be followed, perhaps should be followed, perhaps must be followed, or I will never find my way back.

What goes through God’s mind when he writes music like this? What could possibly inspire Him, source of all inspiration? But something does and did and am I really the first to hear this? To hear what He meant. To see what He saw.

There are islets below. They could be Greece or they could be Australia or they could be our own Stockholm archipelago in the summer I don’t know and really, I don’t care as long as my wings carry me and I don’t fly too close to the sun.

My speakers make a faint hum from an inverter I need in this old apartment, so old it only has direct current (DC) electricity which needs chopping up into little AC bits to drive my stereo and that’s what makes them hum but God doesn’t care and I no longer notice. Now there is only space and the windy tapestry of pipes as I approach the edge of the second page and there is so much more to say but nowhere to say it so I turn to the clean wall behind me and now I have a sheet to last me.

We sail on, Bach and God and I for the final measure.

Timid Sister Dawn (she is very perceptive) sees all this of course which is perhaps why she finally ventured through frosty panes and heavy curtain to find my face, beneath which I sleep the sleep of last night’s frost and though I slowly know her on my face up there on the somewhere surface I choose to ignore her for a while. But she has come to stay and soon manages to dispel her brother to some nether, even colder region, to under my bed perhaps and into corners where he will sulk till the sun sets again to set him loose and she tugs me gently and tells me to wake up, to wake all the way up and to open my eyes.

:

“So what do you think?” I ask.

My friend gets to the bottom of the stiff sheet and mumbles, without taking his eyes off the text, “Amazing.” Then he turns the sheet over.

“Do you think your dad might publish it?” I ask. His dad is an editor of some sort. It’s a small magazine, but quite prestigious I’m told.

“I would think so,” he says and keeps reading. “Surreal,” he adds after another while, still not taking his eyes off my scribbles.

Then he gets to the bottom of the second page and says, “Does it end here?”

He turns the sheet over again and over again and over again looking for a better ending. “Where is the rest?”

“On my wall,” I remember.

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