While I was tinkering and thinking about whether a Blues guitar solo should share amicable space with an alto saxophone on a number, I was captured by this captivating photograph of Tsehai Essiebea Farrell which led me on a great train of thought for the lyrics to come. Ethiopia had been on my mind recently because of a conversation I had with a great Ethiopian Artist about an awakening he had. A revelation about his place in the world, his vocation, and the micro of the worlds within his wider perception. So much of the telling if not the toiling of life, both in our written past and living present, has much to do with our vantage point and the dubious nature of our muscle memory where matters of the tender heart are concerned. Uncomfortably numb but our eyes never tire of seeing and being seen. Or do they? Do they know? Do they look in on us and play our hand against better judgement? Our windows remain the seducer and the seduced, for perpetuity. It can seem that way. And what is seen is unseen. What is known is a mystery as I am to you. Always the stranger from eye to eye. Yet familiar in some kind of way. Never fully known.
I could have been anywhere but of course it would be Shoreditch. If anywhere epitomises the chase for the taste and the life that the city might afford those who would conquer it, the place would be here. I had a recent conversation about it, and we didn’t even have to break it down. If you know, you must have feasted your eyes on the wanton displays of the artful and ambitious in hopes of ‘making it’ with or without the rain that is sure to fall on the hopeless. Every shore that safe guards the dreams of the eternally green hearted and young, knows the way to the ditch. Not bitter. Possibly high. Yet still determined as all Alexanders are fated to be in the lies of greatness.
On There’s A Riot Going On, Sly Stone sings with ancestral depth about his vocation. He declaritively sings that he is a poet. There is the poetry of rhyming words. But there is also the poetry of a life that reinvents itself or endures something which is far more profoundly poetic than the rhyming of words. Verses so lived in, that survival is not even the monument. A Poet who not only survives but thrives before words are accorded to her voice. We may never read her words, yet she existed.
The double drummer accents the beaten heart. Take a deep breath and inhale. Perspiration crawls out our eyes for what we have dared to see, enduring the years locked in a moment. Not of wonder. How much better to survive even when you cease to be necessary. Father’s words were never mine to keep. She turns the head as he learns the hard way home. Never cease to be necessary in the bullsweat of silence. Enduring love holds you hostage to freedom. A twinkle of an idea that winks at your foolishness. You earned it too. Your coffee is late.
He was looking up, sky was looking down cast, hunched over the lessons it was teaching the young man who was closer to eternal life than the riches of mortality.
Sky always wanted legs and would trade places to feel what it was like to stand on ground, manly and rooted to core truth, womanly and mother to the men of war.
“As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles.”
– Walt Whitman
It has been noticed that I sometimes hold mine as she does hold her own. I wasn’t aware of that until it was pointed out to me. However in my case it may have more to do with the sack of fluid pressing on the nerve which restricts the fingers and forces the hand into a mildly clenched form when not active. Or it might just be that I am my mother’s son and have inherited a physical trait of hers.
Last December she told me that before I was born she prayed for another boy. She had read an article in a Reader’s Digest magazine titled ‘If your dreams came true’, and that was her dream. I was her dream come true. I was a little startled when she shared that with me. The idea of being someone’s dream is rich food for contemplation. Naturally I was destined to disappoint somewhere years down the line. Lawyer was not becoming of me with my head high up in the clouds. And there are some other things on the vicarious life through your children box that I didn’t tick off. But the hands have not failed to live up to the weight of dreams if not expectations. I’m not the baby in the picture and I’m not the differed dream. Just the dreamer still working with troubled hands that turn inwards but reach out for impossibilities like love. Some do wonder if fate and destiny, like some parents, have favourites. And yet children take sides too. I had only the hands of my mother so there was never a choice to be made. The bastard is fathered by the world he reconfigures. Made up mentors in books and elsewhere fill up his imagination. He chooses to love. He chooses to believe. He chooses to never give up. Bolder than stone. He chooses the hand he was not dealt and the hand he has not felt, to hold. And to be held, not held back.
When I was a child I was taken to see a Palmist who revealed something that would happen to me when I was older. It happened but I survived. Do not let people speak into existence your present or future if it is not for the good of your life. And that goes for your children too. When I was lying in bed in hospital in 2014, looking through an open window, I rejected those words spoken over my life. A hard lesson learnt. I spoke words of my own aspirations and decided I would live on. God would have the last word. And the hands of time would have to fall in line.
Only one hand works but two is company. To feel the resistance of a hand that does not obey the head. To reconcile. I wore a cast for years. I drained the fluid. It returned within minutes. It refuses to be compliant. It hurts me all the time. Since I was 8. But it has taught me a lot. It defies me. And I defy it. That is our harmony.
“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
– Bob Marley
I was not meditating but there are times when I tap into a peace that bounces back up in the abstract of sounds and colours. In this captured moment I put on my Sci-Fi music and reached for my guitar just to see what might happen. Sometimes I like to work out ideas on just one or two strings. Not chords. Single notes. Purples and reds at the bottom of the neck. One note can be everything. It can tell the whole story if placed and timed right. Not to say that it necessarily comes down to the semantics of right and wrong in the creative playground of imagination. It is as much a percussion instrument as anything that hands and feet can hit. The lower E string is home. It gave me my first guitar child, Love Never Fails, but I don’t always arrive at something of permanence. I had an old tape of home made jungle music that I dabbled in for a little while, trying to learn some modern production techniques in 1999 when I got my first computer. I was just throwing ideas out into the ether to see what might happen at a particular bpm. I had also read Octavia E Butler’s Mind Of Mind in my local library within that period or maybe a bit earlier and the images and ideas I got from the Afro-Futurist world of her novel aligned with the sounds and colours I didn’t know I was searching for. Fast forward to a few years ago, and I was now hearing something else in that old jungle music. I started to employ techniques pioneered by the late great Lee Scratch Perry, to strip down and make new out of the old. Just to see what might happen. I dared myself.
Jungle is a true school London sound which had faded out of counter-cultural relevance before the turn of the century but still held up low end sonic value owing much to Black America as most popular music does, and the polyrhythmic continent that we associate with the groove of life. In an ideal world of parity and fairness, The Amen break should have provided financial compensation for drummer, Gregory Coleman, and his bandmates in The Winstons for they and their heirs lifetime. Not to trivialise, but it is no less than the Henrietta Lacks of music samples, perhaps only matched in equivalent significance by Clyde Stubblefield’s Funky Drummer break. A similarly glorious and tragic story. I say this respectfully and without exaggeration. It is a cornerstone of recorded music over the last 30 years. Though Jungle music never truly crossed over, it had its moment in the zeitgeist. And its cult heroes. Goldie whose album, Timeless, marked its emergence from the underground into the homes of taste makers and gatekeepers of perceived cool in the era of Brit-Pop, has been a part of the institution of British music for many years. A purist? I couldn’t say. Whatever that means and for whatever that’s worth. What I do know is that the power of Jungle is visceral and almost indescribable.
I remember going to a Jungle music basement party in Camden with my friend, Beru Tessema (just for the record, this is not a false memory), long after its heyday. The hardcore massive as we would say, were out and they were mostly youngsters. Kids in late adolescence. They didn’t live those years of its come up and scene. Not that I did either. They would likely have been in their primary school years during its peak in the mid nineties and some in infancy. It found them or vice versa before the playlist era. There were mantra like moments when the DJ would mix out the drums and turn up the wobbling, squelching, soul curling bass. Alien textures that was felt. Colours of mystical sounds wildly spraying over everyone like lighter fluid in a sprinkler. Then the drums would come back in and planets in orbit collided or so it seemed. In that heaving space packed with substance fueled low gravity bodies, the intensity was overwhelming. Sweat dripping and filthy. The bass was that dirty and heavy all night. Sexual pummelling of the sensory. All the air was sucked out dry. Flesh watered by sound, and wet as the greatest sex ever consummated in a standing position. Possibly. Perspiration photographs life and holds mysteries by the hand too.
Once upon many moons ago, I met an elderly Japanese Haiku poet in Borders on Oxford Street. A favourite hang out spot of mine in the olden days. He told me his life story in the little English that he knew. A fast friendship was forged. He didn’t have a place to stay so he would spend his daylight hours in the book store and rely on the kindness of strangers, then at night he would wrestle with the odds and chance at finding somewhere to sleep, with all his earthly belongings in a bag for company.
I’ve been thinking about sleep a lot lately. I think about the line in Act IV of Macbeth. The lady’s inability to sleep without the light around her because of her fear of the dark. I’ve been in a dark place too and I have been awake through much of it. Sleeping with the light on in the dark. What light? Sometimes I watch the moon till my eyes tire enough to turn in. I rarely sleep without some light on inside my head. But getting back to the poet. He said to me “be the moon.” What did he mean? Light a way for yourself or someone in need. Perhaps that’s not what he meant but he wrote those few words in a book of his poems that he gave to me. I still wonder what became of him.
To be the moon. To turn the tide. An idea. Light as possibility. Light as love. Uncovered by night. Unbroken by morning. Even as we mourn through dark days and tread lightly on the minds of those who are dear to us, not wanting to hurt the gentle soul that has been pressed down to the bare bones of indifference in the war of being human. Naked enough to be badly disguised by the masks that silence sees through. And does the light come through when we lie? To each other? To ourselves? And do we die if we do not grasp it? Love. Light. The Moon. Us.
Snow is as unpure as my thoughts when I doubt that the bigger picture cares for none of us.
Frame the framed motion. All stand.
Earlier it rained. Still the water wasn’t deep enough to drown out the image of blood pouring out of his agony as he unsuccessfully attempted to kill himself again. I hate cleaning up blood. Even when its blood of my blood. My cell count is abnormally low but I’d give my blood to facilitate hope. Impure as the snow that falls on the filth. And settles there before dispersing into nothing.
Come softly to bed the night. Eyes lifted in sleep will greet us in the morning haste.