Simple Things/ Lang Kenneth Haynes
I was looking through a popular Internet encyclopedia to see what they had to say about music. I clicked on related links to see where
they would lead. The process got very complicated very fast. I did what many people do which was to skim the information to broaden my
perspective or support what I thought I already knew. A couple of words, in the musicology link, jumped out at me. The words were relevant
culture. These words are admittedly extracted from an enormous context, but I immediately got to thinking about which cultures are relevant
and which ones are not. My own little non-Internet- related experiential link concluded that relevance is in the heart and experience of the
beholder. A generous dose of arrogance is required. What we know is best. What we are familiar with is best. What we aspire to makes the
most and possibly the only sense. All other endeavors are irrelevant. Why? Because we don't understand them. The notes do not fit neatly on,
above or below the lines that we have drawn for them. We skim off a little information and go running down the road as though we
understand. But there is something very important that we fail to understand. We fail to understand that true knowledge is not the exclusive
property of our little brains and intellects. True knowledge does not necessarily exist in the spaces created by lines that we are accustomed
to seeing arranged in a particular way. The notes may be familiar or sound very strange. They may be organized predictably or in ways that
feel random to our ears. But if the sounds captivate us in some way we do not feel compelled to walk away from the performance, change the
radio channel or press the "stop" button on the CD player or other more modern sound replicating device.
Maybe it's fine to trust ambivalence, once in awhile, and realize that there is nothing wrong with allowing intellect and intuition to share
the same throne. Maybe cutting off intuition too early, or not engaging it at all, deprives us of an essential piece of intellectual/empirical
evidence. There is no need to try to establish the superiority of one way of experiencing, observing or critiquing a particular thing over
another way. Intellect and intuition have already figured out the best way to take us to the next level of understanding. They are balanced and
understand that balance does not always require being 50/50 all of the time. It's an incredible waste of time and energy to argue about the
dominance of one kind of knowing as opposed to another when the reality is that a balance of intellect and intuition will be the final recipe.
We need to experience the parts that do not, for whatever reasons, resonate. There is a good chance that failure to resonate is linked to
unfamiliarity and it is tempting and apparently easy to believe that things outside of our individual experiences are irrelevant. Music gives us
an excuse to put race, ethnicity, gender, relative wealth, geography, physical ability, perceived mental capacity and all sorts of divisions on
the back burner. The process of being human is simplified. Is the rhythm consistent with the beat of your heart? Do your hips gyrate
automatically? Does your mind feel sharper when you hear the tune? Do you get a little giddy in anticipation of the next note or series of notes
even though you have never heard the piece before?
Music is everywhere. When we least expect it, music pulls at the strings of our guts. I lived on a hilltop in the country a few decades
ago. I developed a love of Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and Emmy Lou Harris in those days. Many of the themes and notes and
rhythms took me back to my growing up in a huge city far, far away. Then I realized that music has the potential to transcend geography and
real and perceived differences while leaving these partitions intact. One night I stood outside the house and listened to the buzzing of
insects. The stars looked close enough to touch. The creaking sound emitted from the anemic turning back and forth of the non-functioning
windmill seemed to keep perfect time with the other parts of the night-time, impromptu orchestra. A lone red light flashed off and on from the
top of a radio tower about twenty miles away in the city of Dodgeville. I went back in the house and listened to the WORT radio station. They
were playing the most beautiful piece of music that I had ever heard. I later learned that it was an Iranian lullaby. I had never heard an Iranian
lullaby before and wondered why it felt so familiar.
My friend Hanah Jon Taylor gave me a copy of his new CD, HyerPlasis. The experience of listening to it was enhanced because I know
the man a little. Small bits of information render the experience even more engaging. Like the seasoning we might add to a dish of food.
Savoring music requires a certain level of trust. Letting go. Falling backwards with the knowledge that the notes will catch you.
Here are a couple of imagined places and times I allowed two selections on the CD to transport me to:
Saturday morning in New York City. Everybody is sleeping except for me and maybe three or four others. There isn't even much traffic on
the East River Drive at this hour. It rained the night before. The streets glisten. You can almost smell earth through the concrete. A pigeon
bobs her head in agreement. I think of my grandfather, Papa, in the fifth floor apartment in Harlem that he shares with my grandmother and
aunt. He's wearing long johns buttoned up to the neck even though it's too warm for long johns. But they're respectable twelve months of the
year. Papa bangs lightly at the player piano in the living room. He plays church hymns with a few jazz chords slipped in every now and then.
I'm reminded that time has little or nothing to do with past, present or future. It all seems to converge on this breathing in. I once read or
heard or maybe made up that an ant fart released at the base of the Great Pyramid before the Great Pyramid was built or even thought of still
lingers in the air we breathe today. A whiff of something can convert the past to the present. A sound. A partial sound. An imagined sound
bent in the prism of memory that can be seconds or millions of years old.
When Betty Met John
They strolled down the street walking in opposite directions. I guess you'd have to say that one was walking up the street and the other
was walking down the street if you want to be technical. It was summer. Her linen skirt blew the scent of sweet promises in the direction of
his imagination. His pants were baggy, pleated and very cool-looking. Hands thrust deep in the big pockets. Brown leather belt matched his
shoes. Then their eyes met and a simultaneous smile rained fine crystals all over the sidewalk. It was so bright that it was hard to see. Like
the sun got tired of staying suspended in the heavens and decided to take a rest right in the middle of the sidewalk.
In the book A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album the late, great, often imitated but never duplicated John
Coltrane wrote 'God breathes through us so completely, so gently we hardly feel it — yet it is our everything. Thank you God.'
Maybe music is that breath.