Thursday, August 16, 2012


"Any kind of life that is making no effort to evolve is escapism." (Sangharakshita)

I was visiting a friend who lives on the beach, and we listened to Margaritaville Radio.  I had a little resistance to it, but then I read the Jimmy Buffett wikipedia article.  They describe his music as "island escapism".  Jimmy Buffett has best sellers on the fiction and non-fiction best selling list, which only 7 other authors have done before, the likes of Hemingway and Steinbeck.  A famous musician, author, business man and philanthropist, he's seems like he's not a bad guy.  I asked myself why I would have a kind of antipathy towards his "island escapism" style of music.  

What's wrong with escapism?  It's not like you go to his concert and somehow escape you life.  Any kind of escapism is only temporary.  Like everything there are extremes and of course the middle way is perhaps the best.  The Buddha had the middle way really refer to between asceticism and hedonism.

My understanding of the talk about dualism is that it's bianary thinking and there are grays in life.  That we do better with Keat's negative capability.

In the spiritual life there are extremes of confrontationalism and consolation.  I used to think confrontationalism is the only way, but then when I reflected, I thought consolation is OK, we don't have to be ascetics.  The Buddha talks about tightening the lute strings not too tight and not too loose, when he comes across an extreme ascetic.

In the above quote by Sangharakshita, he doesn't say only give effort to evolving or no effort to evolve.  He just says effort.

There is the idea that no effort is a kind of spiritual laziness, and that being really busy with worldly life is a kind of busy laziness.

Most people see monks or religious people as extreme.  When I see someone in religious garb, I wonder, have they gone too far.  Why can't they just be spiritual on the inside, why do they have to wear special clothing that marks them out in a specific sect or religion.  But then again, why not try to show on the outside your effort on the inside.

I remember a movie (Kadosh) where this guy is pleading with God to help him in his spiritual life, it's kind of touching, even though I didn't like the character in the end, there was a kind of brutality to his parents and another family forcing a woman to marry him without love (even if that is my modern conceit about marriage).  But I digress.

I was in Fat Cat celebrating two years of a relationship.  (We'd been to the Cloisters and Awash already.)  I have been there in many years and they tore down the walls of the jazz room, so you could hear all the people playing ping pong and billiards and all the other games there.  (The place was jammed btw, on a Wednesday night in the mid August.)  I have a kind of reverence for jazz.  Each musician is a composer, their solo is a unique composition.  They play between the rules of a song, how long they get to solo, and in what keys they can solo, and yet there is a kind of freedom and expression of individuality.  Asians and Europeans usually pack jazz clubs, Americans don't so much appreciate this unique contribution to world culture.  That makes me sad.  So this place has people walking in front of the musicians with their game equipment.  At times it's hard to hear the music the hubbub was so loud.

But then I liked the buzz or an active social life.  It reminds me of old recording where you can hear people talking in the background, when jazz was the popular music, it was the rock and roll, the hip hop music of it's time.

Jazz is a uniquely live art form.  You can crystalize it, but seeing live jazz is a million times better.  Every moment is unique.

It's a lovely dance between individualism and collectivism.  The way a well honed quartet plays off each other is a beautiful dance of collaboration.  It's a model of working together and harmony to create art, the beautiful.

And I found myself annoyed at these yobbos disrespecting the artists.  And yet, it was cheap vibrant jazz, it only costs $3 to get in.  They have a normal bar, but a lot of people seemed to be drinking PBR.  I like beer, and I like beer with flavor, which goes against perhaps modern American beer making culture with it's various brands that I won't list.  I guess I'm starting to sound like a snooty aesthete.  I backed down.  Maybe all the cover money went to the artists.  Maybe these people dabbled in listening to a form they might not have, while they waited for a table to become available.  I talked myself out of a negative mental state.

I really enjoyed watching the musicians and telling myself stories about about how they talked to each other, the pecking orders, the silent rules.  I loved seeing their collaborations and solos.  

I've drifted away from jazz because in a way it's so complex, that in middle age and with meditation, I've sought out simplicity.  And I don't know the song forms or keys, the rules underneath what might seem like chaos to people who don't know jazz.

I thought about Dharma Punx, and how Noah Levine's presentation of the Dharma comes out of his subculture of punk.  I love all forms of music, but I think Dharma Jazz is a really cool idea.  I know Herbie Hancock is a Buddhist and there are others.  Spirituality can be a private thing, I'm sure there are others.  My friend who is a jazz and music aficionado, references an article in a major jazz publication, which I can't find on line.  If anyone knows of the article link feel free to comment below.  

Jazz is the opposite of John Cage's music, which I read in Nothing and Everything - The Influence of Buddhism on the American Avant Garde: 1942 - 1962, with it's silences.  You can make up your mind whether you think avant-garde is indulgent or revolutionary.  

I heard Stanley Crouch quit the jazz scene because too many people were showing up to jam who didn't understand the rules of jazz and thought free jazz was an opportunity for people without talent, supposedly.

I've recently let go of a relationship I've over-invested in, and I feel a kind of freedom to express myself, so I hope you've enjoyed the musings.  

1 comment:

Savanna Jo said...

Regarding Jazz, innovation and beginner's mind, you might find John Kao and his work interesting.
This is a talk on-line: