The Band and Struts: A Final Composition
It’s been almost a year since the death of the great Levon Helm, drummer in The Band. As this is kind of the Last Waltz for the J’box (and Beams more generally), Br. Levon has been on my mind and heart a great deal recently. Now I’m about to make a Beams as the Band and me as Levon Helm analogy but please don’t think I actually consider our project or my contribution to it personally to be on the level of The Band or Levon Helm.
Anyway at the risk of appearing self-inflated, here goes. The Band was a band a musicians, sharing singing responsibility around, with many playing multiple instruments. The Band eschewed the more common rock setup of clearly segregated lead singer, lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, drummer, and bass (e.g. Rolling Stones) in favor of a more collective feel. That’s a bit the way I’ve felt about Beams with our ethos of collective, experimental inquiry.
Levon Helm was the lone American in a group otherwise full of Canadians. As the only American working with a bunch of Canadians here at Beams, I feel a personal connection with the man. I tried to bring something of that American spirit to this site. I wonder if Levon had similar experiences as I did occasionally with Canadians telling him what Americans are really like. And if so, I wonder whether he reacted in a similar way--for me there was quite a bit of good-natured eye rolling involved.
Levon was a drummer. The drummer establishes the beat; the drummer has to keep the time. The drummer sits physically in the background but without him/her the music ain’t gonna happen. As Beams developed, I moved more to the back and helped make this puppy go. I set the publishing schedule, the closest analogue to the drummer’s beat I can think of Beams-wise.
It’s quite a rare thing to have a drummer sing but Levon could do that in spades. While I moved increasingly to the background of the site, to the production side, I’d still get out on the mic to write a piece or two and loved doing so. I doubt that it was a complex as singing and drumming simultaneously but writing, editing, and managing simultaneously had its challenges. While I’m the farthest thing from a musician, I would look to Levon for inspiration.
So for my last musical choice on this site, I want to honor a mentor of mine. RIP Levon. Long live The Band (and long live Beams).
As the beams on the cars from the overpass
On the ancient highway shine like diamonds in the night
Like diamonds in the night
I'll be praying to my higher self, to my higher self
Don't let me down, don't let me down
It's hard to summarize nearly four years of effort in any way, let alone a Jukebox entry. And yet, I feel like Rush's Tom Sawyer has the right gestures of bold fearlessness that will be an enduring lesson from this site for me.
Let's be honest, samsara is as beautiful a space as it is fucked up. That's its inherent contradiction -- perfectly radiant in its total imperfection.
Clearing a somewhat graceful path through this hot, beautiful mess necessitates being something of a modern-day warrior (mean, mean stride; mean, mean pride). And just what it properly means to be a warrior these days is, I think, part of the ink we spilt on these pages. Or, at least, a warrior of the sort that is deserving of some pride.
Just remember, "The world is, the world is -- love and life are deep. Maybe as his eyes are wide."
Writing for Beams has been an education.
John Fahey was an obscure American acoustic guitarist and composer who I pretty much worshipped for a lot of years. He didn't sing. Rarely played with other musicians. Wrote, played and released album after album of just himself, picking the strings. And doing it in a way that went right to my heart like a freshly sharpened sword.
I got a songbook of his about fifteen years ago. I found tablature of other songs on his website. I've learned maybe twenty of his pieces. I play almost nothing else on guitar.
This is someone else's cover of his song Give Me Cornbread When I'm Hungry - an adaptation of an older song (Fahey borrowed and adapted quite a bit, but always put his unique mark on everything he played). I think this person does a damn good job of it.
I learned this song maybe eight years ago, and it's one of my favourites of his that I can play. It may not sound that complicated. It isn't fast. Doesn't have any guitar pyrotechnics. But it wasn't easy. There's a fair bit going on there, if you really pay attention.
It took learning the song myself to really pay attention. Since then, I hear it with more completeness than I used to. I notice more of the intricacies. I have a better appreciation of what he's doing, and an even deeper respect for the artist he was than I did before.
That's what it was like writing up stuff for Beams and Struts. I'd take an idea I'd had, an inkling, an impression, a triangular connection between this and that and this other thing. Gestate. Chew. Stew. Mull. Ponder. Research. Reread. Dog ear. Indent. Transcribe. Paraphrase. And wrestle it all into prose of my own. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Tweak. Tweak. Tweak.
After doing this, I'd know the original source material so much better than I had before. I'd retain its ideas better. I'd be able to remember specifics of a topic, and multiple examples.
Bill Moyers once told Joseph Campbell that the journalist's job is to educate himself in public. That's what happened with this project for me. Every essay, every article, every blog post was an education, and a part of a bigger education.
I did a Jukebox on the theme of Revolution Rock just after Occupy Wall St. broke out (Oct. 1, 2011), and one of the songs I chose was ‘Which Side Are You On’ by Rebel Diaz. This is what I wrote about it at the time- “When I was listening to this song the other night, getting into it, a phrase kept popping into my head- Total Mobilization. What would this world look like if we had total mobilization of all the Earth's peoples towards a new and just civilization? I don't know what that would look like, or even what that means really, but the song kept on coughing that image forth in me, a testament to the power of great music”. Br. Phil Corkill (who I later met and traveled with this past summer) had this to say in the comments- “Your thoughts on Total Mobilization linked to something in my mind put there by Adi Da. The idea of everbody-all-at-onceness: "Only everybody-all-at-once can change the current chaos."
Fast forward only just over a year and half later, and you have a recent article by Paul Mason in the Guardian entitled 'From Arab Spring to Global Revolution', arguing that a global protest movement “is still kicking off everywhere.” And indeed, in only the past few months, we’ve seen huge popular protests break out in India and Bangladesh, governments toppled in Slovenia and Bulgaria, worker strikes in China "too common to suppress", and the continuation of struggles in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and elsewhere. Are we witnessing something like the beginnings of Total Mobilization? Hard to say really, but I’m liken where this is all going.