Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Top of the World

An old post, lost and now found:

Floating in the tank on the eve of departure to Africa contemplating death. The subject came up for me as a result of listening to Led Zeppelin IV the evening before.

I highly recommend listening to this album both to students of sound engineering and to students of Aleister Crowley's system of transformation. Listen to it with headphones. Jimmy Page's production techniques were groundbreaking, a big influence on yours truly, and a big reason why Led Zeppelin became so popular. His invocation techniques appear equally uplifting and effective.

The cause for considering the increased possibility of death ( my paranoia, if you will) was a line from Going to California:

Took my chances on a big jet plane.
Never let them tell you that it's all the same...

I could no longer take flying for granted, it did feel like taking a chance especially since I wasn't just going to Mali. Once in Mali, I had another series of flights to get to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and back. I had even less confidence in the African airlines booked to take me across that expansive continent. All the recent unrest in the area was just beginning.

When death feels closer, it seems possible to get more of a taste of it. That is to say, to get more of a sense and feeling for what might occur when it actually happens as it inevitably will. Several world mythologies and belief systems describe some sort of afterlife that the soul or being, one's essential nature ( called a voyager in modern terminology) goes to or through when it separates from the body at the moment death. The Tibetan and Egyptian mythologies map out the voyager's journey in great detail. Not in the sense of knowing exactly what will happen, but in the sense of describing the territory along the way.

Preparing for death, known in Sufi terms as "waking up," also known as bardo training, can take many forms and approaches but they all end up giving a taste of death one way or another. Paradoxically enough, when it works, you feel vitally alive.

What exactly do I mean by a taste of death? Hard to put in words but I think this poetic description from Timothy Leary's, Richard Alpert's, and Ralph Metzner's Book of the Dead manual gives some idea:

O friend, remember:
When body and mind separate,
you experience a glimpse of the pure truth -

Subtle, sparkling, bright,
Dazzling, glorious, and radiantly awesome,

In appearance like a mirage moving across a landscape in springtime.

One continuous stream of vibrations.

Be not daunted thereby,
Nor terrified, nor awed.
That is the radiance of your own true nature.

Recognize it.

Their book and other Books of the Dead elaborate a great deal further.

Going on a major trip always seems like a kind of death to me whether concerned about plane flights or not. The act of traveling, especially flying, seems to bring about a subtler type of body/mind separation. This partially explains jet lag. In other words, the sensations, feelings, and perceptions of voyaging through the bardo can get more easily accessed by traveling around Earth.

A perfect storm of events had conspired to make it so that I had less than an hour to pack. When it's time to go, it's time to go. I was on a red eye flight to New York that left at midnight. I could hardly believe it when I made it to the airport in time.

I was 'dying' to everything I knew in California to travel through the airline bardo and get reborn as a sound engineer in West Africa. Well, as it turned out I didn't die to everything I knew in California just yet. I was pleasantly surprised to see an old friend, Christina Wiebe, at the departure gate. She was on the same flight, going to New York to help celebrate her sister's birthday. We caught up for a bit before boarding then continued on the plane when, by coincidence, she had the seat immediately behind mine. Christina behind me reminded me of an exercise Robert Anton Wilson gives in Masks of the Illuminatti that's basically a shorthand form of the Golden Dawn's Rosy Cross instruction.

Arrived at the JFK International Terminal in New York at about 7am. Prepared for the long layover, my flight to Casablanca boarded around 3, by heading upstairs to the Food Court and getting a Tazo Awake tea, strong black tea, at Starbucks. I decided to make an audio retreat from the early morning, business suit wearing, rush hour crowd and put Shine A Light by the Rolling Stones through my headphones. A genius mix, very dynamically innovative, by Bob Clearmountain on that album, I might add.

There is something about sitting in the International Terminal at JFK, high on tea, after an all night flight that literally makes you feel like you're on top of the world when listening to inspiring music. It's not the first time I noticed this at JFK in a New York dawn.

In case you happen to find yourself in the same situation, 2 songs from Shine A Light thematically relevant and useful for inducing an ecstatic mood when drinking tea or coffee at an airport are: Loving Cup, the duet with Jack White, and You Got the Silver sung by Keith. This was the high point of the trip enroute to Africa, although 36,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean felt pretty high too!


  1. I try to stay away from the idea of synchronities, because I'm afraid I'll see them everywhere, but it is an interesting coincidence that I have just started listening to "The Grand Pecking Order" by Oysterhead. I knew of it before before but only recently really listened to it and just realized what an amazing sounding album it was. I especially like the track "Oz is Ever Floating," which of course you know is about John Lilly, someone who I have been fascinated by for many years. There are not many songs that I know of about John Lilly and this one is excellent, but I couldn't work out the refrain "Oz is Ever Floating." Who is "Oz?" Probably because I had been reading your blog I considered that Crowley attached meanings to "Oz" but couldn't work out any references to him on the rest of the album and, unlike Leary, Lilly showed no interest in Crowley that I know. The lyrics area all surreal.

    I googled the lyrics and found out that Oz is probably you? Now I look at your blog and find a reference to floating in a tank! Is that synchronicity? Anyway, its another excellent album which you recorded. Thanks! I think I have quite a few albums which you have recorded which I don't know about.

    I looked at your blog and even found post which dealt with similar themes to the ones in the song.

    Oz is always floating

    Ever drifting sometimes doting

    Over things that mean the world to

    Dr. John C. Lilly

    In the tank he's grooving

    Ever sifting sometimes smoothing

    Out the things that mean the world to

    Dr. John C. Lilly

    Are you still floating Dr. John C. Lilly?

    Drifting as the time goes by

    Across the inner cosmos he is flying

    His tank is isolating

    In his mind he's elevating

    All the things that mean the world to Dr. John C. Lilly

    Are you still floating Dr. John C. Lilly?

    In the liquid he will lie

    Rehearsing for the final act of dying.

    So I assume that its is about you floating in an isolation tank, thinking about John Lilly? And, just as in the post above, either you or John Lilly, are thinking about death.

    In your post you mention Leary rather than Lilly but in many ways they had similar ideas and experiences but used "different metaphors" (Leary's words).

    I must give Led Zeppellin IV another listen. Like you, I prefer to listen to music through headphones. There is no doubt about the Crowley links with that album. That's very well established. I often think that music can be a modern form of evocation. I will have to listen to "Shine a Light" too.

    I have made the journey to Addis Ababa a couple of times. African airlines don't really inspire confidence, but South American ones are supposed to more dangerous.

    If I had known the dates I would have seen the Gigi concert which you wrote about. I have a friend who lives in Addis and there are a few places in Ethiopia I still want to see. I am not surprised at all at about the technical problems you had. You did well getting the concert happening at all. My friend said he heard it from the bar in the Ghion and it sounded good. Outside Addis things get more more chaotic...

  2. Synchronicities happen a lot around me, I can't help it.

    Yes, I am the subject of that song. I've had a floatation tank since about 1989. The song lyrics seem abstract and have no specific overall meaning as far as I can tell. I was asked, by the songwriter, what I did in the tank, and that influenced some of the lyrics.

    I had a lot of fun recording Oysterhead. I'm glad you like the way it sounds.

    John Lilly originally wasn't in that song. After it was recorded, before it was mixed, I was asked if I could get a rough mix of it for Lilly to hear. He wasn't in good health so we didn't want to wait for the finished version. I asked the band for permission. They didn't know about Lilly, but the songwriter, Les Claypool, researched him and got inspired to rewrite the chorus with his name.

    Lilly did hear it after the rewrite. He said he appreciated it but had no idea what it meant.

    Thanks for the feedback from your friend at the Gigi concert. I believe Laswell and crew are trying to do more work in Addis.

  3. Synchronicity is a curious idea. It seems logically unlikely but as soon as you think that coincidences happen...

    I like the refrain, "the things that meant the world to Dr John C. Lilly.." I have read a lot of Lilly. He is one of my favorite writers for various reasons. Not many have gone as far as he did.

    That's a great song, excellent funk-rock. Les Claypool's lyrics often don't mean anything in particular I guess, but the song suits John Lilly. I am glad you got Oysterhead to record a song about him. I will have more fun listening to it now I know how it came to be written and that Lilly actually listened to it.

    I didn't know you knew Lilly. That must have been very interesting. He was a real character and thinker. He should be better known. His dolphin work lives on even now, and he still gets mentioned in that context, but not many people even know that he inspired "Altered States".

    I have heard that something may be happening in Addis. I have limited time in which to go there, but hopefully I can be there at the right time!

  4. Yeah, Lilly truly was a pioneer in consciousness research, among other things. But I didn't know him. I do have friends that worked with him in the past and knew him quite well. It was one of these that asked for a mix of the Oysterhead song to play for him.

    I'll post any news I get about possible upcoming events in Addis. I'll be seeing Laswell in a couple of weeks and might have some new info then.