An Inquiring Response to Greg Thomas' "An Integral Take on the Blues Idiom"
Dear Greg Thomas,
I’ll show you light now. It burns bright forever. No more blue tomorrows. You on high now, love.
— INLAND EMPIRE
I have finally floated into a contemplative state which is conducive to reading your masterpiece “An Integral Take on the Blues Idiom.” I had intentionally postponed the reading because I wanted to rapport with the inner rhythm of my heart so there would be no tension and temptation of quick reading but spaciousness of mind’s wisdom and scrupulous attention.
The pace of your written piece, I think, fits the blues idiom perfectly. I want to quote here some of the remarkable parts of the text that you wrote and responsibly improvise.
“From the basic perspective of story and narrative, the blues, as such, is a tale of woe about a sorrowful situation. But we also know that story, as a fundamental part of human existence, has layers of meaning and various windows of hermeneutic interpretation.”
If I am to riff on that matter while finding reference in Marshall McLuhan’s perspective as well as my own experience of Integral, the blues narrative as a process of structuring human meaning-making regarding the karmic side of the inescapable existential condition (for a sorrowful situation is a resultant constellation of conjunction of individual, collective, and spiritual karma)—in the context of which each human being has a chance to eventually become aware of oneself—serves as an acoustic, simultaneous, holographic boat which one is welcome to board so as to go through an experience of purification. In the presence of an event of the blues idiom, which is always a tetra-occasion, all human beings, both artists and listeners, are embedded within the unifying field of psychoacoustic experience (a metaphorical hologram that guides the flow of energies) that potentially catalyzes via all-inclusion the opening of the soul towards catharsis and glimpses of spiritual awakening.
A question that I (as an ignorant dilettante in music) want to ask you (as a spiritual jazz critic with expertise in music theoria and praxis)—a question an answer to which could offer me essential help in estimating the panoramic breadth of the blues idiom—emerges as follows: What kind of relationship does blues have (or could have) to funerals and, possibly, funeral music? Would you or could you see in terms of the blues idiom crucifixion as a funeral of body and soul’s separate-self, its sacrificial preparation (via soaking of karmic sequences in awareness) for the latter resurrection, the event of theosis, the blossoming of divine jazz? I assure you, this is a sincere question, not a rhetorical proclamation!
Of course, this longing for a Kosmic vision of ultimate meanings of the blues/jazz idioms must not deceive us into ignoring the multiple layers and multiple meanings of these idioms in microgenies of our moments, as something that not only culminates our lifebody’s growth and opening but also accompanies us in our infinitely threading Hero’s (or Fool’s) journey from fulcrum to fulcrum, from funeral to funeral, for, as we heard, progress happens one funeral at a time—it is not only a streaming sequence of victories and heroic acts and births of new beginnings, it is also, dialectically, a sequencing of partings, disidentifications, losses, and deaths. It is a dance of creation and destruction.
In fact, with each revelation our relationship to the matrix of maya changes, shifts: what once was the only true subject for us appears to us as yet another manifestation of its many faces and appearances; what was considered death, ironically, now is full of living in this unpredictable twist of the boiling river of lifebody, in this sardonic laughter of perspectivism.
Isn’t what a Russian philosopher A. F. Losev wrote on the nature of maya in his earlier work a conceptual variation on the acoustic blues idiom, a thoughtful reflection of it, with philosophy and blues both sharing a similar kind of vibratorial configuration? Losev speaks:
“In human life there has always been a lot of tragism. Everything that is encountered by our soul and loved by her, everything that invigorates life in front of the inquisitive and surprised eye of ours, everything has to take its turn to become an ordinary—sometimes brilliant, but often painfully grey—veil of Maya… brilliant but always winning back once conquered Mystery.”
Joseph Brodsky in his poem “Ot okrainy k centru” (“From the Outskirts to the Center”) wrote something that a multi-edged ironist of blues would resonate with:
Разбегаемся все. Только смерть нас одна собирает.
Значит, нету разлук.
Существует громадная встреча.
Значит, кто-то нас вдруг
в темноте обнимает за плечи,
и полны темноты,
и полны темноты и покоя,
мы все вместе стоим над холодной блестящей рекою.
(We all run apart. Death alone gathers us all together.
Then, there is no separation.
What exists is humongous meeting.
Then, someone all of a sudden
embraces our shoulders in darkness,
and fulfilled with darkness,
and fulfilled with darkness and quietness,
together we stand by the cold shimmering river.)
You quote Ralph Ellison’s beautiful formulation which as if guides us into the world of blues:
“The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.”
What arises is an inquiring utterance: Can this impulse consist of longing to reach out to and embrace the true glory which we intuit as hidden beneath the pitiful condition of human ignorance, avidya, the very longing which Parmenides referred to in his mysterious poem, the poem that pointed to one of those (vibratorial to their core) mystical revelations which, according to Peter Kingsley, served as founding cornerstones for the European civilization?
The mares that carry me as far as longing can reach
rode on, once they had come and fetched me onto the legendary
road of the divinity that carries the man who knows
through the vast and dark unknown. And on I was carried
as the mares, aware just where to go, kept carrying me
straining at the chariot; and young women led the way.
And the axle in the hubs let out the sound of a pipe
blazing from the pressure of the two well-rounded wheels
at either side, as they rapidly led on: young women, girls,
daughers of the Sun who had left the mansions of Night
for the light and pushed back the veils from their faces
with their hands.
(Full version of the introduction to Parmenides’ poem is available in a beautiful Peter Kingsley’s book In the Dark Places of Wisdom. In the following passages Parmenides writes that the goddess welcomes him and starts revealing her teaching in which he must learn “both the unshaken heart of persuasive Truth and the opinions of mortals in which there’s nothing that can be truthfully be trusted at all.” But even these untrustworthy opinions based on appearance “ought to be believable as they travel all through all there is.”)
Is there a surprise, a negation, a running away from the idea that we can find the single Truth shining and vibrating through all the relative “truths” of “mortals” and their opinions (of which we are to learn in order to be able to play a mysterious trick), and that a mystical poem coming to us from the depths of ancient history and a music of blues that arises within our hearts right now can ultimately consist of the one substance?
You quote Albert Murray:
“As an art form, the blues idiom by its very nature goes beyond the objective of making human existence bearable physically or psychologically. The most elementary and hence the least dispensable objective of all serious artistic expression, whether aboriginal or sophisticated, is to make human existence meaningful. Man’s primary concern with life is to make it as significant as possible, and the blues are part of this effort.”
If we correlated this existential meaning-fullness that is brought forth by enlivened unfolding of the process of the blues idiom with the nature of maya that we noted above, we could see that what makes our experience of life, its karmic sequences meaningful isn’t a particular glimpse of a specific appearance, yet another concrete apparition, yet another vision fugitive existing separately in its own self-sufficient boundaries and contents—but an outpouring quality of existential intensity of the growing and radically all-inclusive self-awareness of Kosmos which is always already identical to itself, which is always already full of meaning.
5. Yeshua says: Recognize Him who is in front of thy face, and what is hidden from thee shall be revealed to thee. For there is nothing concealed which shall not be manifest, and nothing buried that shall not be raised. . . .
6. His Disciples ask him, saying to him: How do thou want us to fast, and how shall we pray? And how shall we give alms, and what diet shall we maintain? Yeshua says: Do not lie, and do not practice what you hate—for everything is revealed before the face of the sky. For there is nothing concealed that shall not be manifest, and there is nothing covered that shall remain without being exposed.
19. Yeshua says: Blest is he who was before he came into Being. . . .
28. Yeshua says: I stood in the midst of the world, and incarnate I was manifest to them. I found them all drunk, I found no one among them athirst in his heart. And my soul was grieved for the sons of men, for they are blind in their minds and do not see that empty they have come into the world and that empty they are destined to come forth from the world. However, now they are drunk—when they shake off their wine, then shall they change their mentality
29. Yeshua says: If the flesh has come to be because of spirit, it is a marvel—yet if spirit because of the body, it would be a marvel among marvels. But I myself marvel at this: how this great wealth has been placed in this poverty.
58. Yeshua says: Blest is the person who has suffered—he has found the Life. (Gospel of Thomas)