I listen to my favorite music over and over and over again. If I stand back to observe my listening patterns, I might determine that I am grotesquely obsessed and perhaps insane.
This observance has occurred repeatedly over my entire life, but yesterday morning I was a particularly harsh critic. In the car CD player (it’s an old-fashioned one that only holds one disc, which perhaps points to a laziness as explanation for what is to be described) was the Nine Black Alps CD. I saw these guys with my friend TK. TK goes to a bazillion rock and pop concerts and once in a while I tag along. We saw them in a bar for a $10 show with maybe 50 people in the crowd. They played all of the music from the CD much faster so the entire show was one big adrenaline rush. They were incredibly talented and mechanically perfect, or tight as we like to say. Afterwards, we met them and bought a CD for $7. I’ll never forget how wasted those guys were. This was after I had quit drinking so I was punch-hyped on Diet Coke, but man oh man, those guys were wasted, and I remember wondering with all of the imagination I could possibly muster how someone could play was well as they did being that wasted. When I performed music, I could not even have one beer before and I was a real solid drinker in my day. I am sure I was a bit envious of these guys.
I thought to myself that I had listened to the Nine Black Alps CD four or five times through so it was time for a change no matter how much I love their stuff, so I put in Steve Reich‘s Drumming. Steve Reich is my favorite minimalist from a classical or serious music tradition, and I absolutely adore minimalism. Not many people do, adore minimalism that is, and I always want to sell people on the power of the style, but I inevitably fail. I have a buddy in AA who has been struggling with meditation, and I bought Drumming for him. Drumming is perfect for the mind because if you allow the mind to fully dedicate itself to listening so carefully as to hear each miniscule change as it occurs, most being very difficult to hear, you free your mind from tons of junk that is running through it at high speeds and with unintelligible patterns. One of the main benefits of meditation for me is the clearing of the muddy mind. Often, my depressed mind seems to be depressed partially from all of the muddy lack of clarity that is going on. Okay, so in order that I might try to sell one more person, I’ll embed a video from the first movement. The sound is not nearly as good as my favorite recordings and sound quality is critical, but you will get the sense of how minimalism can toy with you and perhaps improve your condition, perhaps enlighten you to the way the world works if you are really open to that.
Yesterday and today, I did quite a bit of driving, so I listened to Drumming Parts I and II four or five times. I have many CD’s in the car, so why don’t I change, at least to Part II and IV, especially when minimalism is somewhat flat? Some people would say that once you’ve heard it, you don’t need to hear it again, but here is where I define art for my own perspective – When I am able to listen or read or see a piece and each time I experience that piece I get something new from it, that is art. That definition excludes a good deal of music and writing, but with that definition, I get to spend time with what I think is valuable. Amazingly, each time I hear drumming, I hear different things happening, and this is the most amazing thing to me. Each time I hear it, I get to clear my mind as much as possible, though I admit it is difficult in the car.
So I get in these ruts where I listen to one thing over and over, trying to discern the little things that keep me coming back to the art.
I do this with Tool, System of a Down, Queens of the Stone Age, and other rock artists, especially Tool. I never tire of Tool and that is not because I am a ‘square’ rock fan. When I was yet in the midst of my drinking career, I would listen to all of the Korn albums over and over, mostly at full volume in the car. (I have more spiritual experiences in my car than in any other place. That would not be true if I lived in the mountains or by the ocean or deep in a forest, but I live in a city.) I love Korn for the mechanical mastery with the instrumentation, but the lyrics are all about teen angst. It is interesting that teen angst was just fine for me in my thirties. I would scream and cry with every album and wonder when God was going to save me. One time I was at a meeting and I admitted to being a big Korn fan, even after getting sober, and that I even went to a Korn concert after getting sober, which is like going swimming in a pool with sharks while bleeding profusely. Everyone laughed at me, and I was puzzled because I didn’t think it is that funny that I like Korn, but then someone pointed out that it sounded like I said that I went to a Porn Concert, and they were trying to figure out what they had been missing all of their lives. I still love my Korn but am not so sure what I should say about porn.
In music school, a buddy of mine, Tom, a decent violinist with perfect pitch, and I would listen to our favorite music at lunch time in the dorm room. He and I had a theory that the end of Brahms’ 2nd Symphony was created by God, and we would literally drop the phonograph needle at the spot with about 50 seconds left in the last movement more than a hundred times so that we could hear God. We wanted God to come down and touch us and talk to us but the only thing that happened was that we could feel God. The stereo was up loud and big, as you might expect with God music. We would air conduct that last 50 seconds over and over, and I can still see Tom’s two hands, held above his head, looking as though they were holding tight to a softball with each hand, with his face red, and thinking he was surely going to explode, and when he didn’t we would do it again. I am positive I looked even more insane and out of control. We would do the same with the opening of Mahler’s 6th symphony, the second best military march music ever written (second to the opening of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony), and I had great fear because it seemed as though we were marching with the army and conducting the orchestra madly, and we had suddenly become thousand pound Roman soldier’s, and I was sure that my 5th floor dorm room would plunge to the basement from the sheer weight and influence of God’s and Mahler’s efforts. The floor never fell through, but several people complained about the volume.
This is what I try to do with music but without all of the theatrics. I try to find God in my soul with the greatest art. I know God is there, but God is very difficult to find for people such as myself, people who are wildly mad, people who are willing to listen to Steve Reich’s Drumming over and over again until maybe some day, God will announce himself or herself, and God will take me home.