The Cosmic Suite: Open Your Ears and Listen to Reality!
One commenter said something to the effect that music was the one thing that had kept them connected to spirit during their years of wandering in the absurcular desert. I was probably the same way. The attraction to music itself was a kind of mystery that demanded an explanation: how can we be so deeply attracted to, and moved by, something that has no evolutionary utility whatsoever? Yes, yes, there is a Darwinian explanation for everything: short, plausible, and wrong, so let's move on.
Anyway, feel free to consider this an open thread. I'm just going to begin blah blah blogging as usual, except instead of free associating in the realm of language, I'm going to switch octaves and improvise in the key of music. More often than not, this is a hazardous venture, since words about music rarely reach their target. A lot of writing about music is pretty tedious, and only of interest to the person writing it. There are some gifted music critics, but most are such bad writers to begin with that even if they had a good idea, they couldn't express it properly.
Really, it's not that different from theological writing, is it? What percentage of it is not only bad, but probably wrong as well? Who knows, but I would say the great majority. I'm currently trying to read this new critical study of Van Morrison, but it quickly got bogged down in vague, flabby, excessive, and sometimes pretentious bloviating. There might be some good things in it, but it is badly in need of an editor. It reads like a first draft.
Right there -- there's a good topic: what are some good books on music? I'm always on the lookout for any. In fact, I was very much searching for any in the course of writing my book. I looked high and low, from baritone to falsetto, but the most useful one I discovered was Victor Zukerkandl's Sound and Symbol: Music and the External World. As you can see, the book is so obscure that it doesn't even have a single review, and is ranked like #650,000.
But the reason why I was in search of such books goes back to what I said above in the first paragraph about how music had always kept me connected to spirit, even back when I was a frivolous and drunken fratboy without a frat. Among the rejected titles for the book was The Cosmic Suite, the idea being that it is structured like a symphony with four movements: Matter, Life, Mind and Spirit. Those first few pages with all the crazy writing are supposed to be like the whatchamacallit at the beginning of the symphony that introduces all of the themes that will be explored and developed later, like the da-da-da-DUM that Beethoven stole from the Electric Light Orchestra.
I think I mentioned this somewhere in the book. Here it is, pp. 22-23. Regarding the four movements, Gagdad writes that
"If I may borrow a musical analogy" -- please, go right ahead. Just return it when you're done -- "I see these modes of being as the four great 'chords' constituting the song of existence. As improvisational (i.e., jazz) musicians can tell you, when they perform a solo, they are attempting to trace a coherent line, an artistically true and beautiful pathway through the chordal structure of musical space. At each step along the way, there are literally an infinite number of potential pathways through the chords, some of which will be 'complete' and musically satisfying, others banal, predictatble, and unable to explicate the musical potential implicit in the chords. This is my best attempt at such a solo, with the full understanding that there are any number of fellow improvisational scholars who would 'run the changes' differently."
Come to think of it, this would be my all-purpose response to any and all trolls: hey, it's jazz, baby. If you think you can do better, pick up your axe, get on the stage, and show us! No one is excluded from a jam session. But if you get into a cutting contest with another player, you had better have some chops. Don't just be a music critic. Rather, show us what you got! Our feelings won't be hurt. As I just said, we are well aware of the fact that other musicians will run the changes differently, so stop blowing so much and blow cat blow!
Indeed, no two people will ever run the changes the same way, unless one of them is just copying the other. Interestingly, our unique personhood extends to the realm of music, so that no two musicians ever sound the same. What's especially odd about this is that people playing the idential instrument sound entirely different. On tenor sax, Sonny Rollins sounds nothing like John Coltrane, who sounds nothing like Stan Getz, who sounds nothing like Pharoah Sanders, who sounds nothing like Wayne Shorter, who sounds nothing like Booker Ervin. Is one of them "wrong?"
It's even weirder with piano, where there isn't as much apparent "flexibility" in the instrument. It reminds me of something a musician once said of Thelonious Monk: man, he's the only cat I've ever heard who can bend the notes on a piano.
As you can see in the sidebar, I'm currently reading the Summa of the Summa, one of the virtues of which is the helpful footnotes. Therefore, you can both read the book and read a reader who already understands it. More to the point, Thomas wrote in such a manner that he tried to exclude himself from the discussion, which you might say is the opposite of a jazz mentality, in that the former is aiming for universality rather than individuality. Therefore, important passages can come and go without Thomas saying to the reader, NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS IS THE TAKEAWAY POINT!
So someday, after my book is in the public domain and I am no longer receiving my annual double-digit royalty check, I hope some slavish devotee will come along and publish a Summa of the Coonifesto, and insert footnotes that say NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS WAS THE B'OB'S THE TAKEAWAY POINT! Because one of those points is the above paragraph regarding the musical structure of the book and the cosmos it attempts to sing.
As mentioned, I looked everywhere for books that treated the cosmos as a giant symphony -- or jam session -- but found none (except for one by a new age pneumababbler). So it was down to me. As I indicated in the book's joycetification, it's easy enough for some toothless banjo-picker sitting barefoot on a little bridge of tenure to drone on and on in the key of matter or Darwin or Marxism or whatever. Okay, we get it. But if you're going to try to play the whole cosmic suite, you'll need to master a few more instruments, not the least of which being theology and metaphysics. To try to play the cosmic suite without metaphysics is like trying to play the symphony without the violin section. Indeed,
"The universe is like a holographic, multidimensional musical score that must be read, understood, and performed. Like the score of a symphony, it is full of information that can be rendered in different ways. The score can support diverse interpretations, but surely one of them cannot be music does not exist."
Again: NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS IS THE TAKEAWAY POINT! And it really is. The cosmos is a very different thing when you extricate yourself from your little scientistic box that neatly encloses it in quantities, and instead regard it as fundamentally -- I said FUNDAMENTALLY! -- musical.
This goes back again to the first paragraph of this post, and how our attraction to music is a mystery that demands an explanation. In my opinion, we are attracted to music for the reason that it imparts real knowledge of reality. Indeed, you could even say that we love music because we are music. Zuckerkandl comes close to saying this when he writes that
"The knowledge of space that hand and eye possess is exactly matched by their ignorance of time.... A true image of time must be an image for the ear, an audible image, an image made of tones.... Thanks to music, we are able to behold time."
So listen to your life, and hear how it is an individual solo, and yet, part of a much larger composition situated both in space and time -- and eternity:
"For at the end of the day, we are each a unique and unrepeatable melody that can, if only we pay close enough attention to the polyphonic score that surrounds and abides within us, harmonize existence in our own beautiful way, and thereby hear the vespered strains of the Song Supreme" (Gagdad).
Oh, and one last helpful tip from my future collaborator: PAY ATTENTION TO THAT LAST POINT, MORON, BECAUSE IT WAS REALLY IMPORTANT!