Vermin : CD Review

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Vermin is the new album by Hans San Juan  (It’s actually already had its 1-year birthday, but I wasn’t writing a blog back then.)

I am so freakin’ excited by this album!   Still…one year later.  That Hans happens to have one of my kidneys inside his body doesn’t mean that any of my musical acumen has shaped him as a musician.   It really doesn’t.   No, seriously.   And yes, I CAN be completely objective about it.   No, SERIOUSLY!

Upon first listen of Hans’s debut full-length album Vermin, you’ll immediately conjure up inspirations of Pink Floyd. And the influences are most assuredly there.  But after a deeper, repeated listen, you get the clearer understanding of the past life Hans is surely channeling.  I say past life, because at 22 years old he is far too young to be writing music of such depth.

Early productions of Hans’ reveal a music that is wonderfully wild and unharnessed in a way that is as compelling as it is also screaming out for a little balance of some compositional and rhythmic rules (go to Cal Arts, dude!   They would eat you up there!  And you would chew the freakin’ scenery!)   But I have to say, Vermin betrays a giant step out of that wonderfully adolescent energy into a decidedly matured seasoning that has married those two ideals magnificently (and that, without taking my advice and going to Cal Arts).

At once operatic and romping in the playground of electronic innovations, Vermin seems to be telling a singular story. Themes of death abound, and ordinarily such a heaviness of theme coming from a 22-year-old would give me great discomfort, but having been there first-hand for a bit of Hans’ personal history (that his kidneys were failing him before a successful transplant took place), I see an undeniable correlation between his music and what must’ve been years of contemplating his own mortality (a concept hinted at by the front cover art of Ted Brown).  If our pain can’t be funneled and turned into something powerfully creative, then what is our pain for?  And THIS Hans has done, so beautifully that his voice, thickened with a choral effect that gives it an otherworldly edge, breaks my heart in all the best ways.

My personal favorite cuts (though there’s not a weak one in the bunch) are:

  • Inside Out, which, at forty-one seconds and with no lyrics but is the briefest of chants, is probably the most spine-tingling track I’ve heard in a long time. Here, then gone, a grace note, but not without leaving an indelible mark.
    http://hanssanjuan.bandcamp.com/track/inside-out
  • The larger-than-life finale Charlatan, which touches on themes of redemption (you get the feeling that though he’s talking to someone else, he’s really talking to himself, as well).
    http://hanssanjuan.bandcamp.com/track/charlatan
  • And the opening track, Below The Skin, which is as strong as any of the concept album cuts out there by the ones who do it best (U2, The Who, Pink Floyd, etc.), a bold anthem that sets the stage for grand, tormented, cock-strutting theatre.
    http://hanssanjuan.bandcamp.com/track/below-the-skin

It’s clear, though, that Hans is also having a blast, twisting our brains with abstract-expressionist lyrics that take a second, third, and even tenth rendering to decode. And like any one of the most hair-raising canvases of de Kooning or Basquiat, it doesn’t really matter if we ever do.  Hans has plugged us into words that are rich, dark, almost gothic, and more multi-layered than most of the 20-something music that’s presently out there.  His music/poetry is nutritious food for thought.

And this guitarist/vocalist/bass player is not in the studio alone. With Hans on Vermin are Paulina Franco (vocals), Mario Torrico and Craig Pilo (drums), Glen Rewal (saxophone), Tyler Davis and Matt Tye (engineering), and this ultra-talented crew supports Hans well.

Vermin is theatre, opera, poetry, and Jackson-Pollock-esque philosophy all in one little square package. It’s the kind of album you keep forever, the way you’d never pack up The White Album or Electric Lady Land to give to the Goodwill during spring cleaning.

Here’s hoping that more than just family and friends get to experience this beautiful accomplishment, because Hans San Juan’s transcendent Vermin is worth the world’s notice and more.

Visit Hans @ http://www.hanssanjuan.com.  And tell him Aff sent you.

And as always:
Create – even if you’re not an artist
Support artists – especially the independents
Live well – doesn’t take money to do it
And be whole

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

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Belligerent Romance: song. heart. bravery.

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“…the only answer is to recklessly discard more armor.”
––– Eric Maisel

I am awakened rudely by construction in the neighborhood.  I fight it for a time, but eventually give in and hasten my exercise gear on.  I get myself outside for a good walking meditation (my thing these days), and can’t get Hans’ song out of my head.

Angela.

There are actually lots of songs with my name in the title.  The music from the television show Taxi is actually called Angela’s Theme.  There’s Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby. Of course, the Stones’ iconic Angie.  The Bee Gees have a song.  Even Motley Crue, stealing lines from Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary with their own “when the winds cry Angela” lyric.

It can be heady, this idea of your name inspiring song after song, but then again none of them were written for me.  So, how heady can I really get?

Until Hans.  I’m giving him a kidney in just three more days.  This anticipated event has dragged out for nine excruciating bureaucratic months. My best friend pointed out the symbolic time frame as indicative of a kind of birth. But now it’s here, and both of us (Hans and I) have to be bouncing off the walls in our own way.  Me, I’m doing these walking meditations every day now for a month solid. It’s equal parts exercise (I really hoof it) and opportunity to live with my own thoughts before my day officially begins with and in the world; to level myself and clear out my brain for the big day. I chant, I do mantras, I work out problems, I talk myself down from ledges, I rationalize behavior, I ask for forgiveness, I defend myself in imaginary arguments, and I thank the Forces That Be for everything.

But on today’s walk, all that activity got shoved to the various corners and crannies of my obsessive brain to make room for memories of last night, going to see Hans play his guitar in a coffee house, and open his set with Angela….written for me.

Interestingly enough, I’ve been involved with countless boyfriends, almost all of whom have been musician/composers, and yet none of them has ever written a song for me.  It is either a great poetic juxtaposition, or a really unsettling indication of the impact I have on the people I’m involved with.  Of course, I’m also a songwriter, and I’ve never written a song for any one of them either.  So, okay, maybe all it indicates is that every one of us is jaded and crusty and we’ve lost all sense of romance and inspiration.

Picasso painted every woman he ever fell for.  What has happened to that kind of belligerent romance?  The terrible compulsion to celebrate another human being?

So, hearing this song, sung by teenager Hans and his girlfriend and the drummer in his band, was a moment that left me speechless and tearful.  A moment that made me realize that inspiration and romance do still exist…. they’re just hiding amongst the young.  And if we still want to be touched by it, then the young are who we need to surround ourselves with.

I walked my regular route in the neighborhood, and tried to chant my daily mantra, which usually begins with “Love, reign over me…” (I have tended to find much more prayerful intention in rock songs than I’ve ever found from anything biblical.) “….make me mindful….give me grace…. deliver me from need….fill me with wonder….” etc.  Sometimes I chant for winning the lottery, but I sort of get that that’s not really how it works, and so those requests always come with tongue firmly planted in cheek.  Today I didn’t care about money or enlightenment.  Today I was intoxicated by having had a song written for me, for the first time in my life.  I felt like Marie-Thérèse, or Anaïs Nin, or Beethoven’s “immortal beloved”; women who have been painted, written about, composed for, dedicated symphonies.  I highly recommend it.  Being someone’s muse.  It’s a high like no other.

As I walked, I completely tuned out the music that was blasting through the iPod buds wedged in my ear.  Explanation: It’s easier for me to do my mantras against music; it’s a deliberate sensory overload; somehow things just stick themselves deeper in the subconscious when they’re too overloaded to have surface impact. It didn’t matter today anyway; I had abandoned my Pete Townsend-inspired mantra and my downloaded pop tunes, to be flooded with Hans’ song.  Or rather, the idea of Hans’ song.

A complete stranger who was walking my way held her palm up, and shouted “high five” as we passed each other.  I obliged.  First time I’ve ever been accosted in that way.  And I thought of this woman’s completely loopy bravery.  Just to infiltrate a perfect stranger’s sphere, for a split second, and engage.  What if I had refused her?  Treated her the way we treat the bag ladies who pass us by?  I wouldn’t be brave enough to throw my loopiness out there in that way; too afraid of rejection, of having someone look at me like I was nuts.  And then I thought of the oddly shaped angle that I was practically on the eve of having surgeons cut me open and pull a kidney out of my body, yet here I was assured that I would’ve been too afraid to be silly on the street with a passing stranger.  Which one really takes more bravery?

It takes a special kind of bravery to write a song for somebody.  It takes letting down one’s cool guard and daring to show a little vulnerability.  Letting the world peek into your opened and exposed heart.  And most especially, letting the person for whom the song is written peek into your heart, daring to let them know that you feel, and that they have impacted your life enough to inspire public song.

I once had a boyfriend, a brilliant composer, who, with me, was one day listening to a song written by a friend of ours with a woman’s name in the title.  He said, “I don’t think I could write a song with some woman’s name in the title.”  He said this with a kind of pride in the claim. I felt sad for him.  And sad for myself, as well, because I think that claim was my truth too.  We’re all just too cool.  Vulnerability is not attractive.

Leonard Bernstein’s Maria, from “Westside Story”, a song of truly loopy and delirious love.

Tom Waits’ Martha, an invocation of sweet, melancholy reminiscence.

The Beatles’ Michelle.

Elton John’s Daniel.

Brian’s Song.

Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.

The list goes on, and on, and encouragingly on.  Who knows which of these is based on an actual person, or is merely the playground of fiction?  And who cares?  Either one still requires a level of unadulterated celebration, and a willingness to abandon cool, which makes someone ultra-cool in my book.

Hans is brave.  He is brave to be a musician, going out there in the world for the scrutiny of the jaded.  He is brave to have withstood two years of debilitating dialysis, countless surgeries, stem cell experiments, and catheters and fistulas implanted beneath his skin.  And perhaps the bravest act of all is his daring to expose his great heart in so many ways, only one tiny example of which is the writing of a song entitled Angela.

(c) 2013 angela carole brown

(3 days later, on July 22, 2008, the transplant successfully took place at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. )

http://www.amazon.com/Kidney-Journals-Memoirs-Desperate-Lifesaver/dp/0615838081/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1373839509&sr=1-3

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

So, This Bindi Thing…

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For years I’ve worn the jeweled ones. Colorful ornamental drops that nestle between the eyebrows. The first time I even thought to do so was after seeing a White woman wearing one at a party. This was years ago. Though the bindi is of Hindu derivation, and comes from ancient tradition, and I’ve obviously seen Indian women wearing them since I can remember, I was struck by this non-Indian woman daring to be brazen enough to do this tradition that was not of her own culture (the truth is, I have no clue what this woman’s background or experience was). The point is that it opened up something in me. I realized that most people, at least that I’ve ever observed in life, attach themselves to rituals, causes, and agendas based upon very compartmentalized associations.

How many people march in Gay Pride parades that aren’t gay? How many African-Americans associate themselves with Jewish causes? How many Caucasians walk around sporting African kufis on their heads as a simple matter of fashion and personal taste? Of course the answer is never none. There are always those treasured jewels who believe in a world beyond their own personal demographic, who embrace that above all else this is a human culture, and not just a racial one, or a gender one, or a sexual preference one, or whatever. The movie Cloud Atlas dared to challenge that notion by its very casting (an Asian woman portraying a Mexican. A Black woman portraying a White woman. A woman portraying a man. A White man portraying a Chinese man). But the bottom line is that in most cases, because we belong to a certain culture, race, gender, etc., we must know our place.

I’ve always been someone who’s done ODD.  It’s been an inadvertent skill, not one I particularly chose, but one I’ve been sort of stuck with, as a kind of dubious blessing.

One example that is a complete tangent from this discussion of the bindi, but will set the tone for you of my proclivities toward being otherly, and is just one, among the many things, that branded me for life and set the mold for quirky. Quirky has been with me since childhood, for better or for worse, much of which ended up being for worse, as adolescence defiantly insists on an adherence to conformity. And the example that rings loudest is the time as an early teen that I picked up a dead bird and brought it home. I found it lying in my path as I walked the grounds of my junior high school on my way to class. It was beautiful. A perfect blue jay. So beautiful in fact, and unmarred even in its death, that I was drawn to pick it up. It had a warmth to it, and I placed it in my purse. I carried it there for the rest of the day, precariously aware that if I moved this way or that, I could accidentally squish it and squirt guts all over my wallet and tampons. When I got it home, I placed it in one of my mother’s Tupperware bowls and put it in her freezer. When my parents asked me why I would keep such a thing, I told them I planned on having it taxidermied some day. I truly wish I could go back in time and notice their faces at this out-to-lunch pronouncement, and have to give it to them; they were always great sports for my idiosyncrasies. And there my bird stayed for years, nestled between the rib-eyes and the popsicles. It eventually saw its fate when Mom and Dad separated, and as my dad was preparing to move out of our house he unplugged the garage freezer (the extra one in which we would store pounds of meat), forgetting that my frozen bird was in there, and Birdy was maggot food before anyone discovered it. I’ll let you sit with that one for a minute.

Here’s one more. I promise we’ll get back to the bindi thing, but I just can’t seem to resist a circuitous route. While in college, I decided to start writing my first novel, and I actually spent the next eight years writing its first draft. I’m a Black girl from Compton. Yet my story was not what you might expect from that demographic. Mine was not an urban tale of encounters with Crips, or what have you. I decided to write a book about England in the 1930’s. I’d never been to England, or any other place beyond my sheltered Southern California upbringing. But something in me was compelled to do that which would never have been expected of me. I had a very specific agenda to be the opposite of predictable.

I think it’s probably fairly deep-seated. Perhaps steeped in a childhood of being severely outcast. When ostracization is your childhood, you tend to simultaneously and paradoxically try to blend in AND steel yourself by going the exact other way. And today I realize that this has been my engine my entire life. Associating myself with rituals, agendas, causes, even fashion that are beyond my own cultural background.

After seeing that White woman sport her between-the-eyebrows jewel, and being enchanted by that, I started sporting them myself, as much for the statement of otherly as for the beauty mark that they give any woman. What’s a Black girl doing wearing a Hindu ceremonial dot? I actually got annoyed, during the era of Madonna’s album Ray of Light, when she was suddenly shown sporting them along with her henna body art, during one of her endless reincarnations, and thought (the entire Hindu population aside): “Hey, she totally stole my thing!”   My thing, of course, only being a thing if the most famous pop star in the world is actually stalking my life in order to steal things from me.  Yes, I do live inside my own special world.

My line, whenever asked about my bindi, and which is meant to diffuse any real discussions of my reasons for wearing it, because that can sometimes be exhausting, is usually, dryly, “It’s to cover up the bullet hole.” It tends to get a laugh, and perhaps even has the person walking away with yet more intrigue about the mysteries of Angela. Or not. But this is who I am. I store dead birds, and I write books about Fascist Europe as a teen, instead of hanging out with my girlfriends and listening to Heatwave.

What’s silly about my Madonna annoyance, of course, is that I’ve hardly been the only non-Hindu out there sporting these. The bindi became instantly popular once the Material Girl and Gwen Stefani and Shania Twain made them fashion statements. But like any popular trend, which always has a “use by” date, other than the heritage and culture from which it comes, the bindi long ago got replaced as the trend du jour.

So, why am I still sporting mine? Because I have never adhered to the fashion of the day. But that’s the easy answer. More profoundly is that what I never foresaw when I first started wearing them was that I would, years later, come to pursue a spiritual life that is largely Eastern (Buddhist, Taoist, and Yogic practices, and meditation), and the idea of the symbolic third eye, of inner vision and enlightenment, which is the very place from which one meditates, as well as being the sixth-chakra spot of sight and insight, and which has resonated with my deepest heart. To think that a fashion whim, as well as the instincts to be otherly, has turned into a spiritual lifeline.

And so here I stand, present day, and after years of wearing the jeweled ones, or even just applying simple dots by the various means of make-up pencils, ink pens, or fingernail polish, I finally got my bindi made permanent in 2011, thanks to the wonders of the tattoo gun. It’s a part of me now.  Me, the Black chick from Compton.

I’ve always tended to think of myself as Hippie Girl (braided hair, tattoos, nose-piercing, and a weirdly fetishistic fondness for Birkenstocks, tie-dye, and Nag Champa). I collect crystals. I light candles when it comes time to commemorate the memory of someone. I burn sage when I feel the need to purify my surroundings. I rearrange furniture whenever my gut tells me that my home is in a state of discord, which means that I’ve been employing the practices of Feng Shui long before I’d ever even heard of it, and certainly before it became the new thing several years ago. I’ve even begun lately dabbling with the Tarot and palm reading, which, in spite of its popular mis-press, isn’t about predicting someone’s future, but is about locating and identifying archetypal energy and behavior, but that’s another tangent for another day. The point is, I do fully embrace the practices of healing and wellness, both the literal and the symbolic.

I don’t have a clue where any of that comes from, other than the fact that I am the Perpetual Seeker. I search for enlightenment in every hemp-strewn cubbyhole and New Age. But I cannot deny that it’s also a matter of my own brand of defiance against being pigeon-holed.

There is a price to pay for choosing to be otherly (still debating whether it’s actually a choice). It can be lonely. It can create a life of few inner circles. It can foster isolation. But those of us who align ourselves with its principles know that in spite of the possible challenges, we are staking our place in the world by the very practice of discombobulating people’s minds about who we are, and their instincts to compartmentalize us, and ultimately their inability to do so. It may have originated from a deep-seated place, but I have discovered that I quite like it.

More than anything, at this point in my life, my permanent bindi symbolizes the virtues of honor, integrity, grace, and peace of spirit. It is a reminder, every time I look in the mirror, of my pursuits of wellness and wholeness.  The actual work to attain these things is, of course, all on me.

I still like to say that it’s there to cover up the bullet hole. I make myself laugh, even if I don’t make anyone else. I still love it, nestled between my rapidly thinning eyebrows. I’d better.  Because it’s not going anywhere now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.