Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Finding A Tree

Times Square Hotel, New York, summer of 1982. This was my first time in the Big Apple. I was on vacation from the band I toured with, The Tickets, who were based out of Calgary, Alberta in Canada. I'd just finished spending a week with my Grandparents for the last time, and other relatives in Cleveland where I was born and lived until age 9.

Doug Kuss, the lead singer for The Tickets had convinced me to check out New York saying that I'd really appreciate it. He and his girlfriend Candy went every year. It was Doug who suggested the Times Square Hotel as being right in the middle of things. Located on 43rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues it was ideally situated for someone taking the initial plunge into the maelstrom of New York culture.

After checking in, I called the Front Desk and asked to connect to Mr. Kuss' room.
"I'm sorry, we don't have anyone with that name staying here."
Doug and Candy were supposed to have arrived a few days earlier. They were going to be my guides. Something must have happened. Turns out they stopped Doug at the border and refused him entry for an old marijuana possession conviction. I was on my own.

First thing I did was go out and walk and walk and walk. The place was just buzzing with Life like nothing I'd ever seen before. Forty-Second Street was years away from being Disneyfied. It still had all the color and character from the days when the Beats used to hang out there. Thousands of mini-life dramas concurrently playing out amid the bustling hustle of urban survival. Years later I recorded the song/poem Forty-Deuce Street by Umar Bin Hassan that captured the energy found there.

One priority was getting books that I couldn't find in Canada. At that time Weiser's, a leading occult and esoteric book publisher, had a storefront bookshop on lower Broadway only a few blocks away from the recording studio I ended up working at. I stocked up on Crowley and Gurdjieff related titles.

The theater I saw on that trip consisted of Woman of the Year starring a very talented (I was surprised!) Raquel Welch in one of the more enjoyable Broadway plays that I've seen. Oh Calcutta I went to because one of its pieces was by John Lennon. It was ok, not memorably great.

Music I heard included a concert by Blondie warmed up by David Johansen (ex-lead singer of the New York Dolls), Nico ( formerly of the Velvet Underground), and English punk icons Killing Joke whose music seemed fueled by Thelemic metaphysics. What topped all of them was seeing Sun Ra and a special edition of his Arkestra that had over one hundred musicians and dancers at a small cabaret in the East Village. It remains as one of the most powerful performances I've ever seen, and I've seen and mixed quite a few powerful music performances.

Doug had told me about these "cats" who sold loose joints on the street for a dollar a joint. In 1982 smoking pot was one preferred method of relaxation second only to yoga so I attempted to avail myself of these gentlepeople's wares. Unfortunately, most of their product didn't work at all. Finally, on my third attempt, I found some weed that had a mild effect, but noticeably different from any cannabis high in the past. I attributed this to being at the altitude of sea level in New York, thousands of feet lower than the foothills of the Canadian Rockies that Calgary was close too. I was extremely naive (and still am to a greater or lesser degree) if that's not obvious already.

So one afternoon I decided to go see a film advertised as avant garde called Ciao Manhattan. The only thing I knew about this film was that it had something to do with Andy Warhol and his crowd. Found out later that it was the life story of Edie Sedgwick a notorious model and socialite who became one of Andy Warhol's Superstars but then degenerated into drug abuse, mental instability and a early death. She had also served as an important muse for Bob Dylan. The song Just Like A Woman is about her and she reputedly inspired other Dylan songs.

One of the things I loved about New York was that you could calmly smoke a joint outside on the street or in a park without worrying about arrest or imprisonment. I took advantage of this freedom just before entering the movie theater to smoke about half a joint. Suddenly, while standing in line in the lobby I felt this tremendous wave of energy that shot my awareness out the top of my head and continued vertically through the roof of the theater building. For a split second or so I had a rooftop view of lower Manhattan before my awareness returned to the body. Being back in my body was nice only I felt very, very stoned. This startled me so much that I felt I had to leave the theater so I went to the park across the street to take stock of the situation. It felt like I'd been dosed with strong acid. Found out later that it most likely was PCP which street hustlers would use to spike their fake marijuana. I'd inadvertently taken a significant sample.

Not having anything else planned or being in a frame of mind to chart a new course for the afternoon, I thought I could handle watching the film so I went back in. Again, I had no idea what it was about.

Fortunately for me I'd had just enough yogic training to remember to focus my attention by breathing deeply and slowly. Hallucinatory critters and wildly dancing chaotic forms appeared uncomfortably at the periphery of my awareness, but the breathing maintained calm enough to watch the film. The Void was at my back, or so it seemed.

I was very conscious of the irony of watching the true story of someone completely destroying themselves with excessive and indiscriminate drug abuse while feeling stoned on the edge of reality. My life imitating her life presented as art. I could not help but register a lesson in life going down here.

That evening I planned to see a Todd Rundgren concert at a pier on the Hudson river just off of 45th street. This venue was a great place to see mid-level touring acts in the early 80's. I don't recall the name of the venue, I always referred to it as the 45th Street pier. It held about 2000 concert goers, and had an excellent sound system which they weren't afraid to turn up. It always felt peaceful and safe there even with a noisy congregation in attendance perhaps due to the surrounding water and the river breeze that kept things a little cooler than the rest of Manhattan. The USS Intrepid, a WWII era aircraft carrier was permanently parked right beside the pier. It had been turned into a naval museum.

I don't know why I chose to see Todd Rundgren that evening. I had planned it in advance of the unexpected mind alteration fate had chosen to serve me. I wasn't a big fan of his music but respected him as a recording studio genius and innovator. He was also at the forefront of exploring new audio technology, and seemed to have knowledge and conversation with more esoteric levels of consciousness. The concert showcased his most recent album called Healing.

After the film I felt less edgy, probably from all the deep breathing I'd done, but still unsettled by all the tragic impressions I'd absorbed. I hoped the concert would pick me up, and it did. Rundgren's new music sounded more cerebral than my usual fare and much more synth laden than I preferred yet I had the sense that something different was going on here so I tried to take it all in without judgment. Even though I didn't fully grok the music I did feel much better after the show, in fact, although still in a distinctly altered state, I'd never felt better.

Whether it was the side effects of the chemical ingestion combined with the Healing music tempered by an active imagination, or something else, I don't know, but I'd regained a sense of being connected to the Invisible College of Adepts, who, if they exist, are said to guide the course of planetary evolution.

Although I didn't have the language for it at the time, it felt very much like what I've come to know as a bardo space as I joined the flow of the concert attendees making their way home. A few blocks east of the river I spotted a large eye in the triangle image on a Todd Rundgren concert t-shirt. The eye in the triangle symbolism was extremely important to me at that time (and still is) because I'd recently had my cosmic trigger pulled. That is, I was still caught up in the throes and glow of having read Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger for the first time, a book that radically transformed my life. Wilson used the eye in the triangle symbol throughout Cosmic Trigger to indicate a new subject or a new line of inquiry in the book. The Eye in the Triangle was also the title of the only accurate biography of Aleister Crowley circa 1982, a book I'd recently read and had been enthralled with.

The eye in that symbol represents the eye of Horus. The Egyptian solar god Horus is the reigning deity of the new magickal formula given to humanity, as Crowley presented it.

So, I just had to get me one those t-shirts. Back on the concert grounds, all the vendor's tables were still in service but no one had what I was looking for. I couldn't figure this out. Then it suddenly dawned upon me, like a crystalline iceberg in the fog of my mind, that I had seen a shirt from an old tour. A little disconcerted, I ended up purchasing the current tour t-shirt which had the word Healer in blue lettering on the front and some strange, geometric looking graphic silk screened on the back. Healer is the title of the first song from Rundgren's Healing album. I didn't think much of the shirt and likely only picked it up out of embarrassment for having been conned (or so I thought) into an eye in the triangle treasure hunt.

Back home in Canada I showed the shirt to my friend and roomate, Bob Gregory, who played the role of wise older mentor to me in that segment of this life's drama. Bob was the one who had turned me on to Crowley and The Cosmic Trigger and various other titles in his fabulous esoteric library. I wasn't aware of it then, but Bob was an informal Qabalist who never tired of reminding me that "Bob" spelled backwards was still Bob.

I made sure to point out to Bob the strange diagram on the back of the shirt that intrigued me in a curious way. After he saw it Bob immediately said, "Oh that's a Tree of Life," as if I was expected to know what that meant. Addressing my puzzled expression he continued, " It has to do with Qabalah, you know about Qabalah, right?"
"No, not really" even though I must have read some mention of it in Cosmic Trigger along with a thousand other highly interesting new subjects.
"Well the Qabalah explains and classifies everything" was Bob's succinct explanation of this vast subject.
Bob pondered for a second. . . "yeah, everything."
I left it at that. That I'd picked up a Tree of Life at a concert after a remarkable day in New York meant absolutely nothing to me at that time. It didn't even look like a standard Tree of Life diagram. This was a more collapsed 3 D rendering of it but still very recognizable if you knew what to recognize. A year later I was actively developing my own Tree in the inner temple of my work starting from the central sphere of Tiphareth and expanding out.

Todd Rundgren indirectly influenced my musical trajectory in other ways. An early audio mentor was Engineer/Producer Tom Edmonds. Tom had "grown up" ( an expression indicating picking up your studio chops) assisting Rundgren up at Bearsville Studio in Woodstock, New York. Bearsville was the studio that uber manager Albert Grossman had built to service his clients which included Bob Dylan. Grossman also managed Rundgren. The most well known and best selling record that Tom worked on with Rundgren was Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell. The album I began working on with Tom was Meat Loaf Live at Wembley which featured some righteously rocking versions of some of those classic songs.

I did run across Todd Rundgren again about 5 years ago at the Burbank Airport. He was seated on some steps across the way from where we were walking. I inadvertantly blurted out, 'hey there's Todd Rundgren' to my friends. He heard me and we made eye contact.


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