Thursday, January 22, 2009


When I like a particular musician, I tend to immerse myself in their work for a period of time. Not only listening to music, but learning about the individual or group making the music. However, one thing I don’t tend to do is join forums. I was asked about this recently by someone, as I used to spend a lot of time in the early 2000’s on the Psychedelic Furs forum at Burned Down Days.

Enjoying the work of a particular band or individual is a bit like the religious or shamanic experience for me—I don’t really have words for it. I just have the experience. Some people are great at going into expositions about particular albums or songs or performances, but I have a hard time doing that. Sometimes I can relate the work of an artist to a particular experience—an event or a point in time, and I can say that a particular song or album reminds me of that event. Sometimes the song reminds me of an image, or series of images, or a quality (peaceful, disturbing, ecstatic, etc.).Beyond that, I only have the experience. When I’m introduced to a new song or album (new to me, anyway), there is an immediate visceral reaction—or there isn’t. Some songs do grow on you over time even if they didn’t strike you initially. And some songs infect you immediately, until you’re tired of them and have to put them down for awhile. Inevitably you will go back to them.

Back to the religious analogy—it’s often said that one shouldn’t talk too much about religious or spiritual experiences. I feel that way about music. The experience just IS what it is, I don’t really want to dissect it. The experience is crushed by too many words. My extensive participation in BDD had more to do with the people on the message board than the group itself, even though I am a Furs fan. It was more about meeting up, seeing the different (and sometimes opposite) personalities interact, and just enjoying each other’s company. When the board became more about discussing the music critically, I ended up dropping out, or at least dropping back. There was nothing wrong with anyone doing that, and it was appropriate given the forum. I just found I no longer had anything to add.

I reflect on this and find it odd in another way. I am a taxonomer by profession—Tech Services librarians are about describing and classifying. When I’m faced with a chaotic or irrational situation, I deal with it by seeking information—to do that, I have to classify it somehow, give it some kind of label, some means of sorting through it, even if that proves to be ultimately inadequate. It’s a means of regaining control at base—when we feel like we have no control of our lives, we employ tactics to protect ourselves, to feel like we have a grip again.

If I’ve learned anything through the years of spiritual experiences that I’ve had, it’s that I have little control over my life. I’m not suggesting that some external being is pulling puppet strings. Life just does not happen in a neat, orderly, planned fashion. All of the major religions talk about the idea of “surrender”. Surrender is not about giving up. It’s about recognizing that you don’t have control, and being comfortable with that. Most of us don’t surrender; however, in the moments that we do, there is an unbelievable freedom in not having to understand the what, or why, or how. It just is what it is. That is the crux of the mystical experience. The mind becomes unnecessary. The Buddhist idea of “unlearning” suddenly makes sense.

Music is like that experience. Music that is really moving is like a fountain—experiencing the piece inspires you to create, and hence more creations spring out of the same source, whether that is recognized or not. It is the same with art and literature. Hearing something, or seeing something that inspires you to create something of your own—not necessarily the same type of thing—is like an endless stream or fountain. That’s just magnificent. Too magnificent for words.

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