Sunday, December 25, 2011

Friend of the Devil

I've been meaning to post a blog on what I learned about Aleister Crowley that I didn't know before after reading Tobias Churton's excellent ALEISTER CROWLEY - the BIOGRAPHY. Quite a few very interesting and insightful details about his life and work get revealed in this book. An excellent review of it lives on the website.

Today I'll discuss one of these new insights: the fact that Crowley identified with Christ. This becomes apparent relatively soon to anyone who has spent time working with his exercises and learned his lexicon but I've not seen it stated so directly as it appears in Churton's book. Apparently it's from a diary entry.

How can it be? The Great Beast Himself, whose number is 666, a number considered the number of the Anti-Christ in popular religious superstition .... identifying with Christ????

For one thing, this doesn't mean that Crowley identified with the historical Jesus. Christ is a title that refers to a position, a post, or a station - one way of being and working. Christ was not Jesus' last name, his parents were not Mr. and Mrs. Christ. It would appear more accurate to call him Jesus the Christ.

That Crowley identified with both Christ and the Great Beast of Revelations seems to me like an honest portrayal of his situation ie that the expansion of his morphology in the role he identified with reached both god-like heights and beastly depths. Nothing sinster, depraved or indulgent about that, just a condition of that work. Maybe, maybe not.

Another answer could turn up in Crowley's love of the teachings of the tao and it's doctrine regarding the union of opposites. As it goes in this example, the Anti-Christ appears as another aspect of Christ, two sides of the same coin.

The Great Beast, as Crowley understood and ran with it, has absolutely nothing to do with malevolence or evil. To Crowley, the Devil didn't exist, a unified being of chaos making for too much of a contradiction for manifested existence.

The Devil seems descended from the Old Testament concept of Ha-Satan, the Holy Adversary, an Angel who instigates tests and provides challenges and obstacles to mankind to ultimately help it to evolve. From this view, 'he' seems another, perhaps sometimes annoying, function of the Creative Principle.

Good ole Wikipedia has

the Devil has assumed more of a dualistic status commonly associated with heretics, infidels, and other unbelievers. As such, the Devil is seen as an allegory that represents a crisis of faith, individualism, free will, wisdom and enlightenment.

The youth culture of the 60's sees the devil evolving into more of a trickster role. The Rolling Stones sang for sympathy and had the line, "but what's puzzling you is just the nature of my game." with the game as described above.

Crowley's role as a devil in contemporary society also fits the description given by wiki.

And so I offer this video of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman playing Friend of the Devil, a song with an adventure to tell:


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Shall We Dance?

My favorite Season's Greetings e-card this year so far comes from Erin and the Project:

This talented duo, Lindsay Erin and Paul Ezekiel, have an album in the works produced by yours truly due out near the beginning of next year. At the moment it's a work in progress, so more on that when it's finished.

Their fresh, vivifying version of We Three Kings makes for a nice preview. Lindsay also sent me a link that investigates the song's history suggesting that the Magi may have been Zoroastrian Pilgrims. It also makes a connection between the fabled Star of Bethlehem and Sirius:

What about the Star that the Magi were following? The Christian story is intended to recall the "star of Jacob" mentioned in Numbers 24:17 : "A star from Jacob takes the leadership..." A star was symbolic of a god, or a deified king, in the ancient Middle East - stars appear on carved signature seals and wall-carvings. There are Zoroastrian legends about the Star of the Magi, that identify it as Tishtrya, or Sirius, the star whose rising heralds the coming of rain. Sirius first rises in late summer, just before dawn, and in winter nights around the solstice and Christmas it blazes in the sky in the early and middle evening. Tishtrya is a yazata or guardian spirit, now known as "Tir," whose festival, Tirgan, is celebrated in the summer with much splashing of water. But remember that this is Story, not History, so that the element of the Star of Bethlehem is not a real, identifiable star or celestial event. (That hasn't stopped generations of scholars from trying to find it.)

. . . . . . . . .

In other news, the African roots music label, Kanega System Krush has a new release of music by Master djembe drummer Taga Sidibe. A review of it is here.

Taga is a renown figure throughout Mali drawing crowds into the thousands. He is both a revered hunter and musician versed in Sogonikun, a kind of music typically performed during ceremonies meant to uplift and beat back negativity. He is often called on to hype up audiences and entertain the occasional bush spirit, he says.

Drumming aficionado's will certainly find a wealth of listening pleasure in this album’s percussive mastery yet the epic level of musicality and pairing together with ‘Tu’ Sinayoko’s divine vocals makes it a must-have for music lovers the world over.

Taga represents one of the last bastions of traditional djembe drumming played in contrast to the all too common ballet style. Steady and true, his répertoire has been passed down through an ancient lineage. Learning at the hands of Mansa Bagayoko, Taga was hand picked to rigorously study drumming to continue an authentic tradition and integrate it into daily life. Whatever challenges one might face, music remains a source of wisdom and healing for the soul.

Last but not least on the Bari Dun Dun and Konkoni is Taga’s lifelong musical companion, Yakoub Sidibe. The incredible interplay between Taga and Yakoub has been honed since childhood when they first began playing together more than thirty years ago on the Kamalen N’Goni. The keenest of ears can sometimes hear up to forty variations of a single rhythm

I found it consciousness altering in a useful way when mixing it.

The cd liner notes mention that :

Besides being considered a Master of the Djembe, Taga is a traditional medicine man, a healer, a hunter, and a farmer. When he is not engaged in ceremony or ceremonial music, Taga spends his time in Wassoulou (a region in Mali) with his family where he grows millet, rice, and corn.

Friday, December 16, 2011

More Great Guitarists of All Time

As expected, I left out a number of the great guitarists of all time that I've worked with. My excuse for that and not posting more is that I've been working an average of 12 hrs/day engineering every single day for the past 2 and 1/2 months except when on a plane or a train.

The first rock star guitar player I worked with was Rick Derringer - amazingly fast but soulfull blues/rock guitarist, a very nice guy, and excellent producer. He was playing a Steinberger guitar which was relatively new at the time; he seemed kind of a perfectionist with his playing, searching for, and finding the ultimate solo. I had this impression because he would reject what I heard as amazing performances until he was satisfied completely. Lots of punch-ins until every detail of the solo cooked to perfection. Punch-ins consist of going in and out of record for one specific part of a performance. Got to work with Rick on a remake of his classic song, Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo.

Jimi Hazel came into Platinum Island with his band, 24-7 Spyz in 1989 or so and burned up the place. Jimi's guitar playing was on fire, living up to his namesakes Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Hazel. It was very exciting and energizing seeing someone of that caliber close-up. I would call his style at the time, virtuoso punk rock. The energy of punk by someone who could really play. I know that engineer Robert Musso was quite impressed with Hazel, and he's worked with the likes of Steve Vai. 24-7 Spyz recorded an entire album live in the studio in 2 marathon sessions and called it Harder Than You releasing it on the In-Effect label. They got compared to the legendary punk/reggae band, Bad Brains.

Some song titles from it are:

#1 Grandma Dynamite
#4 Social Plague
#5 I Must Go On
#6 Ballots Not Bullets
#8 Spill My Guts

Stevie Salas blew my mind one day with a solo he did for Ronald Shannon Jackson's Red Warrior album. Stevie's very fast with both his playing and sound manipulation on his pedals. He plays with a lot of heart, and the knowledge and confidence to set a course and take a solo somewhere definite. His solos tell stories. I've worked with him on a few different projects - his album Color Code for Island, with Buddy Miles, and with his longtime collaborator Bernard Fowler whose day job for the past 22 years has been singing background vocals with the Rolling Stones.

Marc Ribot gets truly possessed by an otherworldly spirit of guitar playing, or whatever you want to call it. He can get truly OUT with it, as we say in the vernacular. He's a guitarist who has inspired imitators but I've not seen anyone do exactly what he does. His playing conjures up bardo spaces for me. Worked with him on a Tom Waits record and with Arto Lindsay's band in the early '90's, Ambitious Lovers. He told some great stories about touring with Wilson Pickett.

Smoky Hormel has incredible feel. Worked with him with Waits and with rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson.

Lobi Traore I wrote about here.

Derek Bailey was a legendary avant garde British guitarist. Only worked with him once at a concert with Jack De Johnette, Bill Laswell, and DJ Disk.

Eric McFadden, Volker Stifler, and Johnnie Axtell are my go to guitarists when the opportunity arises to bring in musicians for projects I'm producing.

I listened to a lot of great guitar playing in my early years doing live sound in Western Canada: Gerry Neufeld and Luch Giacchetta from Sargent, Fast Eddie and Rick from The Tickets, Ronnie Champagne from Frantic, Steve from Blade Runner, and others whose names escape me. It was a real education for me. Sometimes we were obvious collaborators - them on lightening fast playing, me on the PA and Space Echo. For psychedelic guitar passages, I would put delays on the guitar, turn up the feedback significantly, then pan the guitar and effects opposite each other to create a swirling effect of movement in space. I did this with Gerry Neufeld during his guitar solo space explorations in the Van Halen cover of You Really Got Me. Ronnie Champagne and I would sometimes do sound improvs on guitar and Space Echo on breaks from the band's set.

Regular readers of The Oz Mix know that I tend to use the Qabbalistic Tree of Life as a compass and map for just about anything so it won't surprise them to hear that I sometimes associate guitarists and guitar playing with the path of Gimel on the Tree of Life. Gimel connects the spheres of Tiphareth and Kether in a vertical ascent up the Middle Pillar. It crosses a vast, largely unknown territory known as The Abyss said to separate the Real from the Illusory. By all accounts, crossing The Abyss seems like no picnic. It's been called the Labyrinth and finds itself compared to a desert for feeling so very hot and dry.

The writer who wrote under the pseudonym Christopher Hyatt once noted that the emotional quality of yearning accompanies this work of what Gurdjieff called 'waking up to the Real World.'

One of the best songs for illustrating this idea I'm getting at of using guitar music - either playing or listening, as a trigger for journeying up the path of Gimel, is 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps.' Here's a version by one of my favorite Canadian guitarists, Jeff Healy. Jeff no longer plays from that body having died a few years back. He was blind, so, like Ray Charles, Jeff used sound as a primary means for navigating through space. I used to see him play at a small club in Calgary, it was like seeing Hendrix just a few feet away - quite intense, naturally theatrical, and took you out. Last time I saw Healy was at the World Expo in Vancouver in 1986 with my Mother, and my wife at the time after having just visited John Lennon's psychedelic Rolls Royce that was on display.

This one looks good on the big screen. The footage of World Events they show seems quite relevant with what's going on in the world today.

Here's another version, this one lead by Eric Clapton and an Allstar band at the Concert for George tribute. Very big sound, lots of incredible musicians including Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Note the edit cut to Ringo Starr at about 1:07 after the line, "I don't know why no one showed you how to unfold your love??" Also looks good on big screen. Clapton's soloing in the outro chorus seems to have that yearning quality I spoke of. The very last shot of the video looks quite interesting too.

I wrote most of this late last night then passed out before I could finish. My assistant Isha, who doesn't know my recent posts, came in wearing a red Hendrix T-shirt today. I asked him why he wore that particular shirt and he said, "oh it just came around on the guitar, I guess..." Actually, he didn't say that, he said it was just at the top in his drawer.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Greatest Guitarists of All Time

Rolling Stone just published their 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list as voted upon by "top guitarists and other experts." They didn't ask me but I'm not shy about offering my observations as a longtime observer of superb guitar playing, some by guitarists who did make the list.

First of all, this concept of All Time, more of a grandiose poetic flourish than a literal truth, subconsciously (now consciously) brings magick into the equation. The Qabalistic Cross, a very basic, preliminary ritual goes: "Unto Thee, the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory, Unto All the Ages" ( ie All Time).

The ritual of the Qabalistic Cross is a
basic psychic exercise of the modern
Hermetic tradition. Its purpose is to re-inforce a sense of the Here and Now",
the conscious self awake in the present moment.

- W.C. Eichman

Not many would disagree with their top choice, Jimi Hendrix, and I don't either. Hendrix had way more going on than just flashy guitar playing. He transmitted something very soulful along with, and sometimes instead of, the pyrotechnics. Lots of Universal keys in his oeuvre, for instance, giving a version of Crowley's 'Do what thou wilt' with the lyrics:

"With the power of soul, anything is possible
With the power of you, anything that you wanna do

Also, the first song title from his 3rd studio album Electric Ladyland suggests the Great Work in practice. This song lasts 1:21 . The second song title asks Have You Ever Been ( To Electric Ladyland). The answer, in my case, is yes if he means Electric Lady, the recording studio Hendrix built with Eddie Kramer on 8th Street in Greenwich Village. I recorded and mixed a track for another great guitarist of All Time ( on my list, not RS) Buckethead for the film Last Action Hero.

Related to some of my earlier blog (a)musings:

The original North American-only Reprise release album cover featured a "fiery" photo of Hendrix' head.

Rolling Stone gives "The Star Spangled Banner" as one of his key tracks.

Jimmy Page came in at number 3. I thought he should have reached 2 instead of Clapton but figure that Coincidence Control must have put him at 3 for Crowley/Qabalistic associations. As is well-known, Page is quite experienced with magick and it definitely got channeled through his music. Page had Do what thou wilt inscribed in small letters on the innermost part of every vinyl copy of Led Zeppelin IV. According to Wikipedia, that album has sold over 23,000,000 copies in the U.S. alone making it 23 times certified platinum. With all those spinning discs, Page instigated a Crowleyan flavored Tibetan prayer wheel.

Do what thou wilt
isomorphs with Gurdjieff's instruction to "create for yourself a real I." For those into pluarity like Robert Fripp with his signature quip, 'I am resplendent in divergence' it could read, 'create for yourself real I's.' For punsters with a visual orientation or for remote viewers I would offer, 'create for your Self real eyes.'

"Dazed and Confused" shows up as the first of Pages key tracks. Live performances show Page using a bow on his guitar which he also appears to use, 'as if' a magick wand. He also quotes Gustavf Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War a couple of times in the long piece. Mars represents the active energy of Horus, the Egyptian god of force and fire who symbolizes this new time of self-determined, voluntary evolution and reality creation. The War means the war on sleep in whatever form. The war against getting programmed into robotic compliance with external societal game rules about what you should do with your life. The war against becoming a Marching Moron as Cyril Kornbluth put it in a famous SF story. Bill Laswell and associates call this war Method of Defiance.

"Dazed and Confused" a title that suggests anyone going through a strong transistion such as 'birth' into a new life has the curious lyric:

"Lots of people talking, few of them know
Soul of a woman was created below..."

Something that perhaps only a fool can understand, as it seems related with a later song title Fool in the Rain from the 1979 album In Through the Out Door. Perhaps the lyric should read 'Soul of a WoMan was created below. It also connects with the 'bringing the woman to life' idea I mentioned recently, an idea that's one expression of the formula symbolized by the tarot card The Chariot which Crowley called the formula of this new period.

The lyric could indicate the idea that 'the Work is in Hell' - to qabalists Hell means the space-time continuum - not in escaping to a blissed out nirvana or fantastic wishful paradise but right here, right now in the nitty gritty of the physical Universe.

Keith Richards at number 4 becomes the highest rated guitarist I've personally seen. A Stones concert in 1981 at the Kingdome in Seattle convinced me of his brilliance. His new book, Life, holds some real gems about songwriting and guitar playing. Jumping Jack Flash was his gardener at his Redlands estate, and now we're somehow back in Mars' territory. Martin Scorsese's favorite Stones song, Gimme Shelter turns up as one of Keith's key tracks.

Pete Townsend at #10 ranks as my personal favorite of anyone guitarist I've seen live. Incredibly powerful when I saw the Who, the proto-type punk band but with class, in 1980 or 81. A future blog on that concert will relate a drug-free, musically inspired OOBE that forever changed how I listened to and received music.

Got the chance to see #22, Frank Zappa with the Mothers of Invention at the Pier on the Hudson River in New York. Always very much loved his playing. I give him credit for best title for a guitar based compilation, Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar, a title that also resonates with Do what thou wilt. Trey Anastasio mentions this collection in the RS piece and finishes it by saying:

"But when he picked up his guitar or a solo, 'he was completely in communion with his instrument... It just became soul music."

Got to work briefly with #28, Johnny Ramone on the mixes for Brain Drain by The Ramones.

Once had lunch with #32 Billy Gibbons and Bill Laswell. I'd seen ZZ Top some years earlier and enjoyed them. Gibbons was wearing what looked like a stylized shower cap. Got the sense it had a protective function for Billy.

Mick Taylor, #37 was a delight to work with. He was laying down solos and guitar lines on a Golden Palominos record for over 4 hours at Platinum Island.

I have to disagree with Carlos Santana's statement about Mike Bloomfield, "He didn't get a chance to expand the mission of his soul..." As mentioned in an earlier post, I feel he did on Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited.

#62, Robert Fripp rates as genius, to me, based on the King Crimson albums and the 3 times I've seen him play. He appears the only serious guitarist I've seen who can translate Gurdjieff's theories about the octave into consciousness altering music. I could be making that up about his creative approach. I do know that he studied Gurdjieff extensively to the point of making retreats from the commercial music industry to further his researches. I also know that certain intervals he played on the guitar when I saw him live, corresponded with strong mood lifts in me. Lifting to the point of temporarily stepping OUT of consensual reality into a timeless present. Hard to describe exactly ... you start to feel a lot bigger.

#82 Nels Kline showed his creative mastery when I worked with him on Eric McFadden and Wally Ingram's Alektorophobia. Very nice guy to work with too!

I could have been the last person to record #83 Eddie Hazel. I remembered doing some overdubs with him with Laswell at Bill's old studio in Greenpoint. I don't recall for whom. I remember liking his playing but I didn't get the sense of being in the presence of a legend though he'd been billed as such, and probably was in better days. He was quiet and didn't look in the best of health. A few weeks later we were scheduled to record a trio with Eddie Hazel, Bootsy Collins, and Buddy Miles at Greenpoint. I was really looking forward to it - Bootsy and Buddy a were masters of their instruments ( Bootsy still is!) and I'm sure they would have inspired Hazel to new heights. Unfortunately, a call came through about a week before the session that Eddie had died.

In Rolling Stone they relay the legend that George Clinton inspired Hazel's epic solo in Funkadelic's Maggot Brain by telling him to imagine that he gets the news that his mother has died ... and then discovering that she is, in fact, alive. RS also writes:

Hazel... brought a thrilling mix of lysergic vision and groove power to all of his work.

#87, James Hetfield, seemed ridiculously polite when I recorded him for AntiPop by Primus. Pleasant and quick to work with.

Once flew to LA to audition for a tour with #100 Lindsey Buckingham. Was told on the way to the rehearsal studio that I likely wouldn't get the gig because I was his manager's choice. So goes it in the music biz. I enjoyed watching him put a show together for a couple of days, and they gave me an honest try-out. Buckingham does have amazing guitar chops which he showed off from time to time. In a conversation with me about Bill Laswell producing Laurie Anderson, he seemed concerned about getting taken seriously as an artist. He was friendly and nice.

Amazing guitarists I've worked with who should have made the list but didn't include Fred Frith (my favorite), Mark Ribot, Sonny Sharrock, Nicky Skopelitis, Buckethead, Raul Bjorkenheim, Trey Anastasio, Mike Stern, Smoky Hormel, Poison Ivy from The Cramps, James Blood Ulmer, Andy Hawkins from Blind Idiot God (their name comes from a H.P. Lovecraft story). I'm probably leaving some out...

Jimmy Page playing the guitar.