Thursday, July 26, 2012

Time & Tide Pt. 2

“Unfolding enveloping missiles of soul
Recall senses sadly
Mirage like soft blue like lanterns below
To light the way gladly
Whether whistling heaven's clouds disappear
Where the wind withers memory
Whether whiteness whisks soft shadows away
Feel flows (White hot glistening shadowy flows)
Feel goes (Black hot glistening shadowy flows)

Unbending never ending tablets of time
Record all the yearning
Unfearing all appearing message divine
Eases the burning
Whether willing witness waits at my mind
Whether hope dampens memory
Whether wondrous will stands tall at my side
Feel flows (White hot glistening shadowy flows)
Feel goes (Black hot glistening shadowy flows)

Encasing all embracing wreath of repose
Engulfs all the senses
Imposing, unclosing thoughts that compose
Retire the fences
Whether wholly heartened life fades away
Whether harps heal the memory
Whether wholly heartened life fades away
Whether wondrous will stands tall at my side
Whether whiteness whisks soft shadows away
Feel goes (White hot glistening shadowy flows)
Feel flows (Black hot glistening shadowy flows)
Feel goes (White hot glistening shadowy flows)
Feelings to grow (White hot glistening shadowy flows)

White hot glistening shadowy flows
White hot glistening shadowy flows
White hot glistening shadowy flows”
--Feel Flows

Time & Tide Pt. 2

Regarding the Whole, or “Beach Blanket Bingo” as Dharma

Epigraphs should be on the brief side, yes. To quote an entire set of verse/chorus/bridge then should mean that every line has a purpose. Unless you are talking about the totality. Which I am.

When you contemplate The Big Picture, you should.

Which, of course, brings up Fire Island.

Being fabled in pop culture as the Gayest Place on Earth (next to the Castro in SF and the Village in NYC) means that a lot of straights have eschewed the journey, preferring to party on Jones Beach and the other fine municipal facilities provided by the late, but-otherwise-unlamented, Robert Moses. Their loss is our gain. Place is gorgeous. (And if you have a mind to see what it was like in the old days—and I mean pre-GPoE—check out this movie called “Last Summer” filmed there in 1969. Barbara—a/k/a “Seagull”, for real!—Hersey, Bruce Davidson and John Thomas, all showing youthful skin and the darker side of the Funicello/Avalon California fiction.) Having pretty much tromped down to the big fence at Ocean Beach and as far north as Water Island, I can say that I know this little spit of grit well enough to state, with some certainty, that there is no place better—on the East Coast, north of the Mason-Dixon line—to sit on sand and listen to The Beach Boys. Despite their now-burnished legacy and laurels laid upon Brian Wilson (and deservedly so) there was once a time the band was denigrated as fallen “pop” idols…but after their re-emergence up to and including the mythical Smile sessions.

What this has to do with the above song-quote (and the reason for the nomination of bit of classic psych/prog rock to represent eternal verities) is its meditation-inducing qualities. And I’m not talking about the morning yoga classes, or the afternoons when the nude beach gets busy. See, it wasn’t just the Beatles and Donovan who went to India to get all guru-vy. Mike Love was there too. And like every other brother in the Flower Power age, The Beach Boys went on the same spiritual journey. ““God Only Knows”” was not just a riff on an idiomatic expression. And Carl Wilson was not just the one who led prayers before the recording sessions’—he led the band during those rough patches and also co-wrote “Feel Flows”.

For many of us (of a certain age, including Paul McCartney, I’m told) Brian’s song represents a crowning achievement in Western Civilization. But ““Feel Flows”” isn’t far behind, if not nearly as well known. And exactly why is difficult to say. Much of the greatest pop compositions are not just songs qua songs in themselves as much as markers in the culture of something beyond the limits of their structures. And it is this distinction which frequently isn’t noticed initially. Yet, as a standard-bearer of the Psychedelic Era, while it may have come late to the party, it was no less pixie-dusted sonically than “Good Vibrations” or acid-dreaming/navel-gazing lyrically than “God Only Knows”.

Which is why, as well, sitting high on the dunes between Cherry Grove and Sunken Forest is tantamount to sitting high on the dunes. When listening to something out of that period, which was meant to be one step from a mantra, one is entitled to get a tad elevated, shall we say?—if only from the mind-blowing quality of the totality.

Yes. There’s that word again. This is surf music raised to a power usually associated with GigaVolts in atom smashers. Waves are not just the glassies rolling in from the Atlantic today (and doing so something fierce enough to cause two swimmers to go under in the riptides), they are also the other component of matter…and energy.

Metaphor (and philosophy) finds its best employment when drawing examples from the material world to speculate on broader issues and topics. Many philosophers insist that no flight of logical fancy can ever get off the ground without at least getting a foot in the door of the physical. What is remarkable is how often simply contemplating the world, its evidence, and extrapolating theories that become laws aren’t that far from common sense…albeit raised to a similar exponential level. Darwin’s only real title was “Naturalist”, and look what he found. Therefore, watching the ocean—which, on this sphere at least, is one of the prime definitions of “timeless” and “endless” and “unceasing”, etc.—while listening to this song, one’s interest in things beyond bikini bunnies and speedo sacs may not be inevitable, but hey!—ok, —yeah, Aphrodite comes to call and all pay her due; Athena smashes revelation in your face and is lucky to get a Page Six mention. Here, however, like the sun at 3pm, there is no place to hide from the combination of the two. (Great tune by Big Brother and the Holding Company, yes. But not germane to the immediate discussion.)

What is also impossible to hide is the hide. Unless slathered in SPF 60+, the shadeless scape will fry any non-melanin Caucasian to the approximate hue of a russet potato in under two hours. To get to leather, first, you treat the pelt with brine, —no different from sweat—; then the skin is hung up to dry and blanch in the light…which is inescapable. Electromagnetic radiation rises up from the sand in heat shimmers, it coats the undulations of aqua in olive-drab, turquoise, indigo…and even as it crests the peaks in white, you recognize it is all just a dance of photons, most of which were being emitted from our local star—some 9 sidereal minutes and 93 million miles ago.

So? Big deal? Well, as an example of space and time (see?—“miles” & “minutes”), that’s pretty plebian, admittedly. It is only when you consider that it is no different at the edge of the universe that the microcosm/macrocosm thang (uh-oh! “totality”) looks more and more like a true manifestation of existence than a metaphysical concept.

Holding the concepts gleaned from Green’s book in the forebrain, the backbrain (“the Lizard brain”, or the R-Complex and limbic system, as it is more formally known) stews them over: if all matter and energy are composed of waves, and all interlinked and dependent upon the other, then what seems like a playground for boogie-board riders interfacing with the home of shell-hunters is no different than that barrier where an electron’s “probability” meets a photon’s “frequency”. Then, at the level of Quantum Foam (where a Planck length is still infinitesimal), the difference between the two seems to be governed by the Higgs boson—a “scaler” as they called it at the conference. But what is it “scaling”? Well, from what we have been able to glean from the least opaque writings of Benoit Mandelbrot—the founder &/or leading populizer of Fractal Geometry—we know that scales, in the fractal world, are, in point of fact, reductions or expansions of shapes already inherent to their structures: meaning, the more you go in or out the more you find self-similarity.

While this may seem like sci-fi doubletalk, it is actually more of an echo, very similar to Carl Wilson’s vocal track; reversing the attack envelope so the words suggest their arrival before their utterance--which is also a property of matter at the quantum level. Does that suggest Carl, who was perhaps avidly ingesting mushroom and cactus in his researches, meant this in the conception of the song? Or maybe it was his co-writer and producer Jack Rieley, who was perhaps avidly digesting quark research in the latest Scientific American?

No. But check out the song’s text and you will see a consistency that is striking. Grammar and vocabulary reveals overwhelming use of transitive verbs becoming adjectives. It is not only that words ending in “ing”” dominate; the manner of their delivery is of an equally unfixed demeanor: swirling, rolling, roiling, as much as--from nowhere, it would appear--—the surf surfaces, riding tubes and curls swell up from the coastal shelf, piling up on the same cascades of wonderment in the lyrical suggestions (to the slow-bang/head-nod/push-pull rhythm, and the metal grind of Carl’s guitar riff against Charles Lloyd’s butterfly flutter flute), always tentative, probing, uncertain: delineating less of what is there and more of what is possibly there.

And what is possibly there? Another favorite of this blog, a muller on grand scales, is Ludwig Wittgenstein, and his lovely encapsulation of this is: “If you can’t talk about it, point to it.”” SOooo— the “point” here is, go back to the Green book and you will discover “Probability Waves”” in matter, one of the key concepts that established the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in an environment previously thought “different” from energy--—at least the classical physics version.

So what does any particle have to do with probability? How can a solid get lost in a wave? Because reality is semi-porous, semi-permeable, semi-solid, way down the scale. The same thing as a line in the sand—erosion. Where two competing systems meet, there is always that friction and loss of energy and substance, one into the other, even when there is a merging, because the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics insists on playing a role as well: i.e. matter can neither be created or destroyed but merely descends to its lowest energy level. And, like the beach, even as the withdrawing water pulls down the shells and stones, the non-quantum foam loses its power in the porous grains and seeps into the mass.

And lest you think we neglect the other heroic thinker seen not often enough on these web-logs, one Marshall McLuhan, he made it just as simple as Ludwig: “The Medium is the Message.”

Wait a second, you say, are you asking me to put the God of Media Theory alongside physicists and the giants of philosophy? Yes, and we’ll bring in Information Theory too. The most discrete unit of anything is measured by a photon, and the return of that discrete bit of data is, well, the term being tossed around here is that the photon is a “messenger”, as are gluons and bosons. But the Higgs boson is even more talkative. It toils not, and neither does it spin—that is, it has a spin value of “0”, Zero. It just has one job, and that’s why they call it a “scaler”. So what would you “scale” between these components? It’s called “gauge symmetry” and appears to be what keeps everything in place, the dynamic relationships, compensation for shifts in force charges, assigns mass—everything. (Maxwell’s Demon? Eat your heart out.)

But what’s the message?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Time & Tide, Pt. 1

Midway in our life's journey, I went astray
from the straight road and woke to find myself
alone in a dark wood.
-Dante's La Commedia Divina

Time & Tide, Pt. 1


Dante nailed it for those looking more toward the dusk than the dawn. But it is the odd and efficacious nature of humankind that one can, still, take another turn, and will, given the opportunity, take that “road-not-taken” even after the journey may seem fruitless or inane. (Bytheby, the above is from the John Ciardi translation. There have been many since, and maybe better, but first loves die hard.)
Now, contemplate the visage of Marty McFly when you think on the work of Florence’s (belated) favorite son. This may appear an exercise in “meta”-type logic—using a classic of Western Civ. canon to lend gravitas to a popcult icon—but, y’know?—like, one man’s inferno is another’s comedy…divine or otherwise, yah? Over the course of the “Back To The Future” trilogy, this lad got to see his past and future (with the Doc along as his Virgil, you might conjecture), his parents as unformed personalities as hapless and hopeless as his own, and, later, himself as an adult exhibiting the same sort of mistakes they made and suffering the same fate. And worse: to see another possible world entirely wherein “Hilltown” has descended into “Helltown” (actually painted over the municipal welcome sign).

Yes. I know: Dante had to cross Styx in Charon’s Ferry, not a DeLorean. Whadda ya want?

However, the time-travelling saga aside, there is another way of looking at the above passage, one probably not considered by the Poet: that the crooked, even curved, road, might just be the proper one, and the dark wood merely dark matter.

A number of events have given rise to this rumination, chief among them the announcement of the discovery of the “Higgs-like” boson by two teams working out of CERN.

Then there are the books that have chanced upon mine Kindle in recent days. The two science tomes are “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene, and “In Search of Memory” by Eric Kandel. On the not-so-logical front, “The Collected Short Stories of Phillip K. Dick” and a collection of lesbian pulp novels from the ‘50s—most recently, “Women’s Barracks”—along with the semi-logical (if not semiological) philosophical (if not Theosophical) tract of P.D. Ouspensky from the early 1900’s entitled “Tertium Organum”, have been coloring the moods.

Be it as it may, a rather ‘eclectic’ selection, it behooves and moves me to mention all in fairness for who knows from whence the muse emerges?

Then there are the personal “events”, shall we say? Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings wrote a song called “Old Age and Treachery” which aptly described how one uses what remains to overcome the confusion of limitless choice, the vigor of youth, and a sense of alienation from a world grown less accommodating to advancing years. By which, these outlaw bards meant to say, as much as one may interpret their work, that cunning and experience is just as valuable a tool to getting over as vitality and energy. Or, as the old saying goes: “El Diablo saba mucho, porque es Viejo.” (No, I’m not going to translate it. Sounds better this way. And you can figure it out, easy.)

In recent days, having attended the Procol Harum/Yes concert at Westbury Music Fair out on Long Island, and the following night spent at the Centenary Celebration of Woody Guthrie in Central Park, the attitude of Willie and Waylon seemed to be embodied in both, but more.

And now, after these introductory remarks, it is probably a good idea to establish what the title means.

From the Greene book, a new view of Special Relativity and General Relativity has crystallized in the mind, due to the author’s neat talent for using stupid little analogical examples to illustrate complex theoretical physics. It would profit neither of us to detail them here; suffice it to say I think I really understand E=mc2 at last.

I had originally written “for the first time” to end the last sentence, but realized that the next paragraph would use the word as its theme because that’s the other bit of revelation: what Time and Space really are (is?), as well...basically two sides of the same “thing”, as much as the whole “particle vs. wave” duality in Quantum Mechanics as anything else. But this is (conveniently if not downright serendipitously) simultaneous with the above-captioned flyer and the realization that another one of those pop milestones has passed. And this is just the day before Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” re-opens in Manhattan, for brief run.

The “Tide” part is both the “tide in the affairs of men” and the tides off Fire Island, another attraction that has impinged itself upon the immediate consciousness…along with the cut “Feel Flows” from the 1973 Beach Boys album, WHATEVER. And while the conceit as a whole may seem to be spun off of the olde aphorism “Time and Tide await no man”…well, it is. And it isn’t.

But before going off on the arcane parts, it is best to set such Think Piece in an experience common to most, if not all, of my generation: the Rock Concert.
Never having attended a show at Westbury Music Fair before, I was struck immediately by the intimacy; you are almost as close to the performers as any seat at the late, lamented Bottom Line. And, as well, that it is in the round, with a stage that revolves like the laziest of lazy susannes, makes it even more a chance to see a different show with every song and solo.

Digression aside, it is age that makes the deepest impression. Few still hippie-freak slender and most of burgher-girth, but all swaddled in beloved tourshirts faded and greyed as their heads; skin mottled and spotted or burnt to deep-water red. And as for their gaits at the gates? Roly-poly would be kind. But not the “bands”, or what’s left of them To look at Gary Brooker, alone, tells the tale: brush back scalplock and beard white as Gandalf’s second act. But the voice? Ah, nary a tone missing from the first note to the last, and made more remarkable by the revelation—during intermission—from a fellow fan who informed that his stage anecdote about cracking his skull in South Africa last week was not a joke. What made it even better was the reach into the old book for such gems as “Outside the Gates of Ceres”. An obscurity becomes a more treasured gift than the Top 40 crossovers.

As for Yes, the headliners, their new Jon Anderson stand-in—John Davidson(?)—lost no time in establishing himself as an interpreter of the back catalogue, issuing forth every hemidemisemiquaver known on our journey from vinyl to 8-track to CD. And it was necessary to do so, as Jon no longer has the pipes, nor the Pre-Raphaelite ephebic beauty to carry the day. But the original codgers—Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White—more than carried the torch: they burned the barn.
However, lest you think this merely another geezer kicking over the traces, there is one key revelation to mention. With full knowledge aforesaid that classic ‘60s/’70s stadium-fillers may be even more antiquated than the doo wop shows of septugenarians in matching suits hitting falsettos, the difference is that this particular brand of music—progressive—was never about girls and guys and dances and cars. We’ve all heard the jokes riffing on “ ‘In and around the lake/Mountains come out of the sky/You stand there/24 before my love and I’ll be there’…like, what does that mean, anyways?” (If you saw the Roger Dean cover art in the original 12-inch album format, especially with the gatefold sleeves, you might not have to ask.) While hoary cock rockers are still prancing about without mentioning that the tiger in their tank runs on Viagra, the above two bands represent today as they once did—as much as could be understood by stoned teens and twentysomethings—a timelessness. It is easy to get a laugh talking about suites and song-cycles and “operas” in a culture where a series of tweets could become a book and even optioned for a TV show (“Sh*t My Dad Said”, if you blinked and perchance missed it). Punch lines work well on stationary targets, don’t they?

But it is another thing entirely to encompass views of a grander design (intelligent or otherwise) and to express that in some form where science borders on the philosophical, if not downright mystical.
Which brings up, Part 2.