Random Thoughts (2)

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It hurts too much to truly love, more deeply than the greatest betrayal, so we define love in the most absurd and mundane terms, forever failing to understand its ‘terrifying’ and unyielding power.

Do not put off the giving of your charity or the forgiving of your enemy for the day after tomorrow. With the blink of an eye your universe could go dark. And an opportunity forever lost to carry some small piece of light over to the other side.

You will be robbed of many things, childhood dreams and secret labors. The goal however was not the result of these things, but the response to these losses. This was the real purpose which deep down you always knew.

It is all too normal to oftentimes confuse romantic love with fleshly desire. There is common ground between the two, the longing and the lust. More truthfully it is the fear of dying alone in those depressing places which we dread too much to ponder on.

Hunger and thirst are the primary movers [and then afterwards the Creator if we should find some spare moments to reflect upon the divine], all else are choices with which we seek to define ourselves to the world for its crowns of dust.

We are by our nature both political and religious beings, it is how we are ‘wired’ and as much we might try to wash these innate inclinations away, it is not possible so we scrub and scour and still the ‘stains’ will remain.

Every time we silence our true voice we die a little more, like a beautiful song drawing quickly to its end.

If you have two friends rejoice daily. If you have three weep and fall to your knees. Blessed, blessed that you are.

Next to war there is no greater destructive consequence than our idolizing of other human beings, the ‘personality cult’. The elevating of another person to ‘star’ or ‘celebrity’ status is not only the beginning of the destruction of that person, but also reduces the giver of that status themselves. And is not the cause of all war the personality cult in the first place?

I will see light to the extent that I walk in the Light; I will walk in the darkness to the degree that what I do contradicts the truth which has been revealed to me. And it is the accumulation of these contradictions which can ultimately become our greatest ‘stumbling block’.

We are to be judged with how we have responded to the Light with our conscience “bearing witness” to the integrity of our thoughts and actions (Rom. 2:15). So be delighted enough to allow for each heart to discover its own path and its own way home. But you must remain faithful to that which was set aside only for you from the beginning.

The most beautiful things will remain hidden, the flower with the heavenly aroma hidden in the rocky cleft of the highest alp, the greatest poem forever lost in the draw of a demolished bedroom, the profoundest music not put down on paper, the most incomprehensible sacrifices seen only by guardian angels.

Your brother and sister, your next door neighbor, despite the violence and the suffering which we witness each evening on our television sets, they are by their very nature good people. There are far more ‘righteous’ people in the world than there are ‘unrighteous’. Have you asked a stranger for a cup of water and have been given a cup of stones?

Enlightenment is not a mysterious process available only to an elect group of people. We have without need complicated it with the passing of time. The first and perhaps most challenging step towards enlightenment, is to desire it in the first place. That is, to find ‘meaningfulness’ in that very moment.

I know how deeply you are suffering, but hold on a little more. This, too, it will pass. You have travelled far to reach this place and measured many distances upon this earth. For the present, for now, this is where you must be.

Nothing is insignificant, all acts and all things, touch upon the eternal.

I am neither more decent nor any more devout than you. And so I must all the time remind myself of this apocalypse by committing it to words.

MGM

That showery morning when I met Father Christmas... And his name was Lawrence!

Paphos, Cyprus, December 2016

I love so very much speaking with those who live on the borders listening to their revelations and have some humorous but also some devastatingly sad stories to tell. Many of these stories touch on the fantastical. It is where I find most of my angels and where the ‘old man’ will mostly live. It is there where feather and flesh, flesh and feather, meet on the margins of the long narrow streets, and around ancient churches whose bell-towers are about to collapse, in the ghostly sounds of trains which rush towards their final destination, in remote petrol stations, in the entrances to hospitals. And in that place where the Moon is pregnant with the light of the Sun.

This Father Christmas was a little less animated. Peyia, Paphos. Photo: MG Michael (2016)

This Father Christmas was a little less animated. Peyia, Paphos. Photo: MG Michael (2016)

This story belongs to the lighter side of these encounters. It was the day before Christmas. In Kato Paphos I would visit a café bar by the harbour whose crystal blue waters course in from the Mediterranean Sea. I would come here every morning to have breakfast, to check my email, and to work on some drafts. This café [like most cafés] had a story of its own, with its famous resident Coco the African grey and the expat former middleweight Englishman boxer the proud owner. This tall gentleman with the broad Yorkshire accent was one time bodyguard and confidant to the likes of Tom Jones and Demis Roussos. But on this particular showery morning the attention of the patrons was drawn to a bellowing voice across the street to the promenade. From what we could see it was a bearded old man with a large red Father Christmas stocking cap atop his head. Some of the patrons thought he was being a nuisance, while others preferred to concentrate on their old-school ‘full English’. But some of us did enjoy the grace and joie de vivre of the old man. I must admit I found his repertoire rather strange but on hindsight it was entirely symbolic. Until this day I had never before heard Father Christmas belt out “My Way” and “A Girl Called Maria”. Followed by “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”! A huge pretend pine tree was decorated to the hilt and proudly set up in the middle of the square. Late morning of the 24th both to my surprise and merriment, I discovered over four short blacks that my new bushie acquaintance was Jewish, his name was Lawrence, and that as a little boy he was a gofer for a stock exchange company in the centre of London. He loved to sing and was a member of a number of choirs, but like me I would suppose, he much preferred going rogue. And then we slapped each other on the back and sung “Hava Nagila”.

And for some reason I would remember my dearly loved Viktor Frankl to whom I have oftentimes turned for “meaning” who somewhere said that Jews and Christians would in many instances hold each other’s hands to pray together before being led into the darkest places of Auschwitz.

Yasmin Levy a voice which does strange things to you

Yasmin Levy (b. 1975) an Israeli-Spanish singer songwriter is one of the world’s most heart-rending interpreters of Sephardic music.[1] I use “heart-rending” in this place to signify affectively moving. Her intensely soulful and emotional interpretations of this genre, inspired by the Ladino and flamenco cultures with its mix of Middle Eastern influences, is for Levy herself a way towards a “musical reconciliation of history”.[2] The key word here is “reconciliation” not only in terms of the singer’s philosophy (she is a goodwill ambassador for the charity Children of Peace), but also for her fusion of musical styles and instruments. The mistake some admirers of her music have made is to argue for one musical influence over the other. Ultimately, this is music and a voice without borders and that is why it travels deep. It is universal and so expressively symbolic [think on Andrés Segovia’s or Paco de Lucía’s timeless guitar playing for example] that it matters little whether you understand the words. When Yasmin sings her songs in the same way when you read a great poem, you become little by little silent and enter into the hard to define realm of joyful-sorrow.[3] You could feel crushed for a while, yet at the same time grateful that you might cross the threshold into that interior space of pulsating emotion.

The British musicologist and author of The Sound of the City Charlie Gillett said that after Yasmin Levy stops singing, “I unwillingly open my eyes and face reality.”[4] And it has proven true, that which Ivan Chrysler writes in the same BBC Radio 3 article, “[s]he has a voice that does strange things to audiences and critics alike.”[5] What is happening here? We are engaging in what philosophers who write on the aesthetics of music might describe: inner listening.

“I give you the song of my life forever until the day I die alone, walking the roads of this world…” (Lyrics from La Alegria).

The raspy blues of the inimitable Joe Cocker

There are voices in the world of rock n’ roll as quickly recognizable as one of those classic guitar riffs which peal off a Jimi Hendrix or an Eric Clapton Fender Stratocaster. Even from the first syllables we know Aretha Franklin, or Bob Marley, Janis Joplin, or Jim Morrison. It is a stellar list and a passionately contested one.[1] What is certain somewhere on this list we find the inimitable Joe Cocker, he of the spasmodic movement and of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” fame.[2] Yet he still remains underappreciated. Perhaps he is too often typeset into those images of the young and wild rocker from the 70’s who made his iconic mark with a cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help of My Friends” at Woodstock on August 17th, 1969.[3] And yet “[c]ontrary to his image”, writes Jimmy Webb, “[he was] sober for most of his life.”[4] John Robert Cocker born 1944 in Sheffield, England, passed away after a battle with lung cancer in Colorado on 22nd December 2014.[5] His body and soul were a well weathered seventy years of living. And a voice from the depths of the earth which could break you into a thousand pieces and put you back together inside the time-frame of a song. There is a broad consensus in the music world that the bluesy and raspy Cocker was “without doubt the greatest rock/soul singer ever to come out of Britain.”[6] It is not surprising that one of his great musical influences was the pioneer of soul music himself, “The Genius” Ray Charles.[7]

There is a wonderful moment in time captured on video where a noticeably emotional Joe Cocker shares the stage with his boyhood hero to deliciously belt out one of his signature songs, Billy Preston’s and Bruce Fisher’s, You Are So Beautiful.[8]

Similarly to Joplin, his was not the most beautiful voice, but like Janis herself, it was one of the most recognizably soulful. A “soulful growl” some have called it. I came to Joe Cocker later in life but it was all the sweeter to make this discovery at a time when the great anthemic music of the 60s and 70s was disappearing. At high school like most of my mates I was into the progressive hard rock bands, soloists were not your typical “cool”.

In a characteristically relaxed interview with ZDFkultur, Joe Coker smiles: “My dad would say get a proper job.”[9]

An hour ago I was listening to Gabriel Fauré’s exquisite Requiem[10] and now I am enthralled by Cocker’s gravely sorrowing in “The Letter”. How is that possible? “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness” (Maya Angelou).

Sometimes it can be too difficult to pray, music is the only honest alternative.

Below is a selection of Joe Cocker songs which have accompanied me on various journeys. Two of my favourites are Noubliez Jamais (J. Cregan and R. Kunkel) “So dance your own dance, and never forget” and Unforgiven (M. Allen, K. Dioguardi, et al.) “As much as life seems less for living/ I still try”. Harold and Madge’s son might not have been a song writer nor learnt to play the guitar, but very few could cover a tune like he could and make it distinctively their own.