I don’t know why this has struck me on the most lusciously overcast day we’ve seen yet this year, but a remembrance of one of the hottest days that last summer saw suddenly flit past my eyes, and I thought I’d share it here. It was an especially hard day for me, as I futily tried to rid my brain of obsessive thoughts over a personal issue. Here’s what happened (not the personal issue, which I’ll just keep personal, but the day in question). I decided that going to see friends of mine who are in a band perform at a summer solstice fair in Santa Monica would be just the needed anesthetic for my flooded brain.
When I arrived at the beach, it was a gorgeous day in spite of the triple-digit heat, and everyone from every Venice/Santa Monica walk of life was out, and in their inimitably Bohemian form. My kind of folks. I traversed from where I’d parked my car about six blocks inland of Main Street, and found the stage where my friends would be playing.
And as the music began, and I found a nice shade spot on a nearby curb on which to sit, I began to catch myself, here and there, not listening to the music. The blue noise in my head was louder. So, I briefly moved away from the crowd and called a friend who lives in the neighborhood and had him meet me there, just to add to the party.
He showed up, and we sat together and clapped our hands and snapped our fingers, and “whoooo whoooo”d and whistled at the end of solos, and were happy to see each other. But I was still afflicted. What other tricks could I pull? What other pill could I pop?
And that’s when I realized that this music before me was being used by me as a tool for checking out. And it deserved to be heard for its own sake. Not as distraction from problems, where then its only task is to be noisy enough to drown out that other noise. For that matter, I could’ve found a nice landfill where sanitation trucks would loudly dump their refuse. Or just sat by the side of a freeway overpass and let the engines and car horns and screeches easily drown out the clutter in my head. But I chose music instead.
Something that is sacred and transformative. Something that is never noise. I whored it.
And just at the instant that I had this realization, I truly heard the music for the first time that day. And felt lifted. I even, at one point, felt my phone vibrate on my hip and I ignored it (something I simply never do) in favor of a magical moment between two guitar players that I just didn’t want to sacrifice. And then it was gone. Blue noise in the head back again. And as loud as ever.
I started to notice the people around me. A little boy, maybe 4 or 5, danced and twirled euphorically until his father swooped him up onto his shoulders and his mother suddenly slathered his little face with sun block. It took the kid by surprise, who expressed his great irritation in the form of tears, wails, and a furious wiping of his face. Until only seconds later, the annoying sun block was forgotten, and little tyke was euphoric in giggles and twirls once again. It made me smile, which turned into a laugh.
I noticed an older woman, maybe homeless, it was hard to tell, who found herself a chair in the hot sun, and sat for the entire two sets of music, never once moving to find shade, as everyone else was doing, and so completely focused on the music in front of her. And I wondered what key to enlightenment she had that I could not seem to find.
And in those moments of people-watching, I was once again tuned into the music. As if the music was the conduit to a sudden state of presence. To listening, and observing, and taking in every sensation, every smell, every sound, every judgment even. And embracing it all. The crazy man with the playhouse on his head, who played air drums right along with the real drummer on stage, was glorious to me. And I thought of the scene in the movie American Beauty where the video-wielding kid from next door shows his new girlfriend footage he’d taken of a piece of paper floating in the breeze, and how beautiful he found this thing that was really nothing. It is a statement about finding treasure in every cell of every thing.
And as my day progressed, I found myself in and out of this remarkable sense of true presence, of finding that treasure in every cell, interspersed with hits of my blues and my burdens, which are all about being chained to past and future, and recognized what Buddhists call satori, which is defined as a “brief flash of insight.” I was flashing all over the place. But could never seem to find what in aeronautics is called gimbal lock.
Can we really reach a point where we’re always in an uninterrupted state of true presence, never allowing our problems to sit in the brain and furiously try to work themselves out, as brains will do? Or if we can at least count on a few brief flashes here and there to periodically anchor us and remind us that everything has value for its own sake, and not just as tools for medicating our wounds, isn’t that enough?
And sure enough, on the ride home, I felt full. Full with a day of communing with friends, and hearing wonderful music, and eating great food, and laughing. And none of it made my problems go away. It just managed to put those problems in their proper place in my brain, instead of allowing them the indulgent, repressive center stage.
I heard music that day for its own sake, even if only for moments at a stretch. And I found great meaning in the littlest things, if only in brief flashes.
I’ll take it.
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.
Reading this reminds me of a period in my life when the music of jazz came to me exactly when I wasn’t noticing it.
This situation was a bit different – I was traversing a barren period in my young life drawn downward by inner conflict and turmoil – the battle with self, the final fight. The actual picture was a young man working in a simple shed in the back garden of a country village house fixing old radios with the New Zealand Friday Night Jazz Show playing in the background.
I was absorbed in the work. It was the perfect escape so I did not really know at any moment who was playing, the album title, the line-up, the recording and all that stuff. Suffice to say it was in the 50s bop era – probably Parker, Rollins, Davis, Coltrane, Roach and others.
But what happened was that the music became a mood, a resonance with something deeper within me. I didn’t need technical knowledge, all I needed was to feel it. It all went in subliminally working on me in its own way without my conscious intervention.
Everything l was at that time was contained in that moment. I was totally there, unimpeded by conflict, ambition, reasoning, planning and any sense of alienation from myself.
To this day, some passages of jazz awake those memories. The waves of the mood move quietly and deeply and I am connected again with an expression of who I really am.
Well, you just spoke to my deepest heart, as jazz is my first love. It is the music form that, hands down, gave me, like you, my first experience with music as transformer. I love many music forms, but jazz was, indeed, the first of it for me. Check out (if you can find it) a recording of Max Roach soloing over (or against, with, in concert…) Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It will take your breath away.
Dear Ms Brown,
I would like to know if the marvellous picture you use up on this page is royalty free (if not tell me please about the potential conditions of use).
I’m about to create a vinyl store on the net and will be happy to use this picture as a banner.
P.S : this kind of synchronicity in my research of a significant visual figure have led me to the reading of your lines… I love the way you evoke the incidence of music in life. Thank you.
Hello Marc, and thank you for reaching out! Regarding the enso image I used for my essay “Satori,” honestly it was so long ago that I published the blog post that I don’t really remember how I came across the image, or if it was royalty-free. I actually paint those enso’s myself, and have a collection of them. But I DID get that one online (so, it’s not one of my originals). What you can do to find out about it yourself is just drag the image onto your desktop and then drag it into Google Images. Once you find the image, there’s usually information about where it originates from. That’s how I’ve found the information I’ve needed in the past when I wanted to use an image. Best of luck with your online vinyl store!