Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Tonight, on this one-in-four Leap Year Day, I'm seeing Austin's Shearwater, who played one of my favorite concerts of 2010, return to the redoubtable Earl. The band is touring in support of their new album, Animal Joy.

In other news, Portland's Blind Pilot are playing tonight at Athens' infamous 40 Watt Club.  I almost bought tickets to the Blind Pilot show before I remembered that I had already bought tickets to Shearwater, but since I've seen Blind Pilot twice since last September and I haven't seen Shearwater since November 2010, it wasn't much of a disappointment.

Shearwater offers intriguing oddity and familiarity. They are a bold, majestic band with big conceptual ambitions, and elements of folk, baroque pop, indie, and post-rock coalesce into a music that doesn’t correspond closely with any of those styles. Call it "naturalistic chamber drama" thanks to the dynamic, orchestral mien and recurring nature themes.

Prior to Animal Joy, Shearwater released the thematically linked Island Arc trilogy of concept albums, Palo Santo, Rook, and The Golden Archipelago. But with those works now completed, the band has moved over to Seattle's Sub Pop records and were free to record the somewhat less ambitious and more straightforward Animal Joy, much as The Decemberists were able to do last year with The King Is Dead.  But Shearwater is still led by the intellectually curious singer Jonathan Meiburg, and themes of humanity's complex interactions with biology and nature haven't given way to mundane ruminations on love gone wrong.

Their far-reaching songs about man's relationship with nature boom and swoop with epic grace and grandeur.  Even at its most tender and delicate, Animal Joy pairs Meiburg's brainy proclamations with brawny, searching arrangements.  The common thread binding everything Shearwater does is a love of big thinking and a clear understanding that brains and beauty need never be mutually exclusive.

Back in 2010, Shearwater were touring with Damian Jurado, whom I also caught at MFNW (Mr. Jurado returns to The Earl on May 23).  Earlier this month, Shearwater was touring with Sharon Van Etten, another favorite of 2010 and a standout performer at 2011's Bumbershoot (rumor has it that she was in the audience at Mr. Jurado's MFNW set), and I was looking forward to seeing Shearwater and Ms. Van Etten perform together.

Unfortunately, the joint Shearwater/Van Etten tour has apparently ended and I will have to wait until April 25 to see Van Etten's return to The Earl.  The reward for waiting is that Van Etten will have Flock of Dimes, the solo project of Rocktober favorite Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner, open for her.  So tonight, I see Shearwater perform alone (well, not actually alone - Lily and the Tigers, who opened for Viva Voce during an early Rocktober 2011 show, are opening for Shearwater this evening).

But here's the ironic part: in separate news, Rocktober sweetheart St. Vincent announced she will be touring the U.S. again, this time with none other than Shearwater opening.  They're playing at the Variety Playhouse, and I've already got tickets to the show through a pre-announcement special from St. Vincent's website.

So I get to see Ms. Van Etten again, I get to see Jenn Wasner again, I get to see Damian Jurado again, I get to see St. Vincent again, and I get to see Shearwater, twice.  I bet you wish you were me (you should).

Here are a couple of stand-alone songs from Animal Joy in case you don't have the time to sit through an entire album stream:

"Stormy songs like Breaking the Yearlings find Shearwater booming portentously over dire warnings of ominous weather and destructive tides" (NPR, from whom I clipped some of the verbiage above).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Do We Say To Death?

Yesterday's Zen story about Hui-Neng, his pursuer, and the robe and bowl on the road reminds me of the sword-in-the-stone legend of King Arthur. Hui Neng's story, too, is obviously legend, and practice of Zen Buddhism does not require literal belief in the legend. The legend is just a vehicle for the lesson, just as the bowl and robe in the story were symbols for the teaching.  You don't have to believe that a hare and a tortoise once had an actual footrace to understand the moral of Aesop's fable.

Hui-Neng's "think neither good nor evil" also reminds me of William Shakespeare's "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" from Hamlet. 

Which brings up the question, did Shakespeare write the King James Bible? Or at least the Book of Psalms? It is said that Shakespeare was born on the 23rd of April, although that's never been historically confirmed. It is established that he died on an April 23rd. Two 23s equal 46, which would have been Shakespeare's age in 1610, when the King James translation was in its final stages. If you look up the Book of Psalms in the King James Version, the 46th word of the 46th Psalm is shake, and the 46th word from the end is spear

Just saying.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Zen Story

After having his enlightenment confirmed by his teacher, the Fifth Patriarch, Hui-Neng was given the Buddha's bowl and robe, which had been passed down from teacher to student through many generations.  The teacher, knowing other monks would be envious, sent Hui-Neng away from the monastery for his own safety.

Several monks indeed became very jealous and out of envy pursued Hui-Neng to take the treasure away from him.  Of his many pursuers, Hui-Neng once said, "One particular monk named Ming, who's secular name was Chin, was the foremost of those pursuing me.  He had been a general of the fourth rank as a layman.  In character and action, he was very rough and outspoken, and most assiduous in pursuit."

When Ming finally caught up to Hui-Neng, and catch him he did, Hui-Neng placed the bowl and robe on a stone in the road and told Ming, "These objects are just symbols of the Way.  There is no use fighting over them.  If you want them, go ahead and take them."

When Ming went to take them, they were heavier than lead and he could not lift them off of the stone at all.  Trembling for shame, he said, "I came wanting the teaching, not the material treasures.  Please teach me."

Hui-Neng said, "Think neither good nor evil.  At such a moment, what is the true self?"

At those words, Ming was awakened.  Perspiration breaking out all over his body, he cried and bowed before Hui-Neng, saying, "You have given me the secret words and meanings.  Is there yet a deeper part of the teaching?"

Hui-Neng said, "What I have told you is no secret at all.  When you realize your own true self, the secret belongs to you."

Ming said, "I practiced under the Fifth Patriarch for many years  but could not realize my own true self  until now.  Through your teaching, I have found the source.  It is like a person who drinks water and knows for himself  whether it is warm or cold.  May I call you my teacher?"

Hui-Neng replied, "We both studied under the Fifth Patriarch.  Call him your teacher, but treasure what you have attained."

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart;
the centre cannot hold.
 - William Butler Yeats

Or as Geoffrey Shugen Arnold of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism explains it, our sense of difference pervades human consciousness. Because of this, we draw lines where none exist and give rise to hatred and violence. If we want to create real peace, we must understand how such anger and hatred arise.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meanwhile, Back At The Goat Farm . . .

The brand new band Quiet Hounds played their first-ever performance this evening at Atlanta's Goat Farm art community.

The performance was billed as the one and only concert ever to be held in Building B-9 of the Goat Farm. Building B-9, located at the western end of the complex, is actually two distinct but contiguous structures. In 1899, the site of Building B-9 contained a lumber-drying house with a 60-foot framed chimney and a lumber shed. By 1911, the lumber-drying house had been replaced by a frame shed (itself destined for replacement) and the lumber shed had been replaced by a two-story, brick building, now the eastern half of B-9. This building was originally used as a motor-truck department. By 1931, a western extension of Building B-9 had been built between the eastern half and Building B-8. Both sections once housed woodworking operations.

In 2012, the band Quiet Hounds made their entrance into Building B-9 marching through the audience, wearing face masks while playing banjo and guitar and singing unamplified.  They took the stage still singing this way, sounding a little like Freelance Whales, until, suddenly, BAM!, the PA system kicked in and the sound suddenly went from acoustic quiet to rock loud.  Very cool start to the show.  

Those masks are sort of their thing, bordering on a gimmick, and have been worn in all of their publicity pictures and videos up to this point.  Their intrigue is only deepened by not using any individual names for the musicians.  Who are these guys?  They could be anybody.


It was both a revelation and a relief then when the masks came off during the first song of their set to reveal the musicians behind the facades.  I still don't know who they are, so their mystique remains.  

The band's a quintet, with several multi-instrumentalists.  The lead singer occasionally filled in with some guitar and some keyboard, and at other times pounded a tom drum.  As they described themselves in their own no-names-used manner, they are "one part prolific lyricist and melody writer, one part instrumental savant, one part curator of taste, music and culture and one part effortless precision of all things percussive."   

For a new band, they already have a lot of songs written that sound fairly well polished.  The songs were all  apparently written in a mere two-week period, but they already sound comfortable and lived in.  Their music can be classified as sort of an indie-pop thing, if you're the sort who has to classify things, although they sound like no one else in particular and yet as though they could fit in with just about anyone.

Both their songs and their playing are actually quite good, and with any luck at all - and a lot of hard work - the band may actually come to some prominence.  Keep an ear out for Quiet Hounds - you may find yourself glad that you made the effort.

They ended their set similarly to the way it began - by marching back through the crowd playing acoustically and singing without amplification.  But this time, they tarried for a while in the middle of the audience and sang one song without any amplification, before walking out of the building as they sang the final chorus. A nice symmetrical ending to a very pleasing show.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Year Zero


While I might come to regret giving some of my blogspace over to advertising, whatever this is looks seriously cool.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"There are certain emotions in your body that not even your best friend can sympathize with, but you will find the right film or the right book, and it will understand you ." - Bjork
(with gratitude to Brooklyn Vegan)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Oh, look.  Daytrotter finally got around to posting the Bad Weather California set from January.  

Just thought you might want to know.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Day

The good news for the day - I received confirmation in the mail that my application for health-care insurance has finally been accepted.  Just what I needed, another monthly financial obligation.

All that it took was two lengthy applications, suffering through one rejection, a blood test, and seven weeks of patiently waiting.

At least I know now that when I die, it won't be for lack of medical coverage.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dharma is not upheld by talking about it.  Dharma is upheld by living in harmony with it, even if one is not learned. (Buddha, from The Dhammapada)

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Preparing for next month's Precepts Ceremony and initiation to Zen Buddhism for some members of the Chattanooga sangha brought up some complicated emotions regarding our teacher.  One teacher certainly familiar with complicated emotions, Dennis Genpo Merzel, once wrote, "It's scary to begin work with a teacher, but when suffering becomes great enough, we find the courage to push beyond fear.  I want the cure, so I accept the treatment.  That openness allows the teacher to begin to reveal how attached we have become to this notion of self . . . the teacher becomes a mirror that reflects how much we cling to the self."

Zen Master Dogen once said you should believe your teacher even if he says that buddha is nothing but a toad or an earthworm.  "If you continually reform your discriminating mind and fundamental attachment in this way according to your teacher’s instruction, you will naturally become one with the Way.  Students today, however, cling to their own discriminating minds. Their thinking is based on their own personal views that buddha must be such and such; if it goes against their ideas, they say that buddha cannot be that way. Having such an attitude and wandering here and there in delusion, searching after what conforms to their preconceptions, few of them ever make any progress in the Buddha-Way."

Being open to the teacher and setting aside our own personal views and preferences allows us to proceed along the Buddha-Way.

Friday, February 17, 2012

LCD Soundsystem (RIP)

For those of you keeping score at home, James Murphy has disbanded LCD Soundsystem and as of last report was planning to market his own brand of home-roasted coffee (seriously).  Also, there's supposedly some sort of movie in the works about their last performance, a concert in New York that made the Top 10 list of most bloggers in Gotham.  There's also various reports and rumors floating around about different supposed collaborations among Murphy and other artists.  Mr. Murphy seems to have found a way toward posthumous appreciation without having to actually die.

This posting is something of a love letter to LCD Soundsystem, a belated Valentine card, if you will, to a great band.  Like Mr. Murphy, I'm not getting any younger myself and am losing my edge to newer folks, and like Murphy, I'm a fan of Franz Ferdinand and of good coffee.

They don't make them like that anymore (actually, they do, which is a part of the reason that he broke up the band).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Other Shore Is This Very Shore

Our ideas of enlightenment often involve waking up into some special, heavenly realm, but Zen masters teach us that this ordinary world is all we’ve got.

Konrad Ryushin Marchaj explains that as our practice deepens, we simply get closer to this body, this breath, the sound of rain, the flower by the roadside.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


The difference between dreams and the thoughts that delude us during our waking hours is that we can awaken from our dreams on our own, but our own efforts can't awaken us from our deluded thoughts.

Thinking that we want to escape our thoughts just plunges us deeper into the realm of thought.  

Don't  misunderstand me, though.  There's nothing wrong with thinking in and of itself.  Heck, I try to do at least once every day.  But to confuse our thoughts with reality is like confusing our dreams with our waking life.

The left hand can't grasp a fist made of the left hand, but the right hand can easily grasp the left-handed fist.  Just so, we need others to help us awaken.

The Buddha, the Awakened One, laid out the blueprint for us to wake up.  The great teachers and monks since that time have passed the blueprint down teacher to student, generation by generation, all with the same message:

"Wake up, children."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

One Of These Two Is Not Like The Other

After his great enlightenment, the Buddha encountered a Brahman on the road who was struck by his radiance and peaceful presence.  The Brahman stopped and asked, "My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?" 
"No,"  replied the Buddha.
"Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?" the Brahman asked.
Again, the Buddha answered "No." 
"Are you a man?" 
The Buddha said, "No." 
"Well, my friend, then what are you?" 
The Buddha replied, "I am awake."
This was a little hard for me to understand at first.  My belief is that the Buddha was not a divinity or some sort of supernatural being, so I felt reassured when he answered "No" to the first two questions.  But why did he not admit to being a man, and what did he mean by "awake?"

The very clever science fiction film Inception give us some insight into the answer.  I don't think that I'm spoiling the plot for anyone if I explain that the premise of the movie is that using some sort of suitcase-sized  device (which is never really explained or even shown in the movie), waking, conscious people are capable of entering into a subject's subconscious and interacting with that dreaming subject, as well as with other characters who are figments of the subject's subconscious.  It all seems real enough, except that in the dream realm certain rules of physics, like gravity, and time don't always apply in the same way as in the real world.

Now imagine that you are a waking, fully conscious person who has used this device to enter into the dreamworld of another.  Around you, you see a city, and although it looks realistic enough, you know that it's not real.  It's just someone's dream.  The street is filled with pedestrians and passers by, but each of them are nothing more than a construct of the subject's imagination, the residents whom the dreamer imagines populate the city.

Now, picture this: one of those imaginary pedestrians notices there's something different about you and approaches you.  He asks who you are.  He asks why you seem different from the other imagined characters.  If he asks "Are you a man?," how do you answer?

Just as in the case of the Brahman, what the person really means is "Are you like me?  Are you and I both of the same kind?"  If you're not a god, a magician or a wizard, we both are alike, right?

In the Inception premise, the answer has got to be "No."  You and the imaginary pedestrian are not alike, as he is only a subconscious manifestation of someone else's mind, while you are, well, awake.  You are not a "man" in the same sense that he considers himself a "man," as you have an understanding and knowledge of realms of existence far beyond his comprehension.  While he is merely a part of the imaginary dreamscape you've allowed yourself to enter, you know what it real and what is not real.  No, you're not what he thinks is a "man," for you are awake.

In his great enlightenment, the Buddha awoke from our ignorance as if from a dream to the true undivided nature of the self and the world, and directly saw things as they are - thusly, just so, and not as the mind interpreted them.  In this state, the Buddha saw himself as different from the Brahman as Inception's dream interloper would be from the imaginary pedestrians.  He told the Brahman that what made him appear so radiant and so peaceful was that he was awake, and he encouraged us to also see the world as if it were a dream.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Night Zazen

Nanquan once pointed to a flower in the garden and said, "People these days see this flower as a dream."
(Blue Cliff Record, Case 40)

Sunday, February 12, 2012


I find it so sad that the terrific promise of both of their early careers was later overshadowed by the bizarre behavior and tragic events of their later lives.  Even though I was never a fan of either, there is no denying the incredible talent each had, and the profound impact they had on popular music.  Just as John Coltrane influenced generations of tenor saxophonists, no popular entertainer sings or dances today without being compared to Michael and Whitney.

The obvious lesson here is that neither fame nor fortune can assure happiness.  As the 8th Century Indian sage Shantideva once said, all the joy the world contains has come through desiring happiness for others, and all the misery the world contains has come through desiring pleasure for oneself.
"But what need is there to say much more? The childish work for their own benefit, the Buddhas work for the benefit of others."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pictures: Thurston Moore - The Goat Farm, Atlanta, 2/8/12

First of all, do not call Thurston Moore's music "soft rock."  Even if he takes the stage at The Goat Farm with a harp player (an actual harp, not a blues harmonica), a violinist, a backup acoustic guitarist, a drummer, and no bass, please make the distinction between an avant post-hardcore string ensemble and a soft-rock, pop band, and if you're having trouble identifying the difference, Mr. Moore will unleash a surprising barrage of squealing feedback from his guitar to assist you in your effort.

This, then, is my photo essay on last Wednesday's concert by Thurston Moore at Atlanta's exemplary Goat Farm art community.  The concert was held in the Rodriguez Room, the same building where gloATL hold their dance events.  The building is a two-story, gable-roofed, 60-by-140-foot rectangular brick structure that was first built in 1899 and enlarged in 1911.  The interior is an open space spanned by wooden roof trusses that have been darkened with smoke and soot when the building was used as a foundry.  The building has been subsequently used for warehousing, machine-part spray painting and assembly, and as a welding shop.  Between 1899 and 1911, the building was flanked to the north and east by one-story brick sheds used for rattling, grinding, finishing, and pattern storage.  These sheds were demolished when the building was enlarged in 1911.

But already, I've gone off-track by a full century.  But there must be something about the building - it was almost a sixth member of Mr. Moore's ensemble - that rendered the crowd one of the most attentive audiences I've ever been a part of at a rock concert.  There were moments between songs that were so quiet you could hear, if not quite a pin dropping, the clinking of beer bottles at the bar.  Part of it, to be sure, was Mr. Moore's mastery of the material he was presenting, but part of it was also the special ambiance of the venue.

Mr. Moore performed material from his excellent new solo album, Demolished Thoughts, as well as his previous solo efforts, Psychic Hearts and Trees Outside The Academy.  The evening also included some free improvisation and a couple poetry recitations by Mr. Moore, and an arty, almost Warholian film by  Rose, a so-called "bicoastal chick," projected behind him.  In between songs, his banter reminisced about topics ranging from the technological possibilities of microphones in the 21st Century to the prodigious drinking abilities of the band Guided By Voices.

Mr. Moore and I share the same birthday - July 25; he was born in Coral Gables on my fourth birthday, although he grew up in Connecticut and will be forever associated with downtown Manhattan post-punk scene of the late 70s and 80s.  I was living in Levittown, Long Island when he was born, and during the late 70s and 80s, while Mr. Moore was making the Lower East Side safe for art, I was a college student in Boston and, later, starting my own career in Atlanta, Georgia (of all places).

If I haven't mentioned it yet, the show was incredible - tasteful and thought-provoking, with some Velvet Underground drone and occasional explorations of free-form improvisation mixed in among the more structured songs of Mr. Moore's recent output.  One wouldn't think that an acoustic guitar could make that much noise, but apparently, if you run the line from the microphone through the right pedals and then stomp on said peddles, as Mr. Moore does at about the 47:00-minute mark below, you can create enormous, block-busting bursts of sonic distortion that can melt the audience's faces.  Here, then, is a video of the entire performance (listen for yourself, don't let me be the  final arbiter), thanks to a YouTube upload by a certain Mister Lettuce.

If you want to see what pictures of the concert taken by professionals look like, check out this gallery posted by Prefix Magazine to Facebook, or this gallery posted at the Atlanta Music Guide website.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Night Video

We already had our music videos for this week.  Today's Friday Night Video takes on a different theme.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Goose Lessons

Without intention, Canadian geese demonstrating how karma works, as their presence and actions create ripples that interact with the effects of others, and of the wind, of the shore, and of the open spaces.  

Early morning view of Lake Lanier in Hall County, Georgia.  The temperature, a cool 39 degrees F, the water level dropped down low for the off season.  Just the geese and I this morning, alive and awake.

An island.

A cove.

I like it here and now - quiet, cool, and serene.  In six months, this lake will be three feet higher and dissected by motor boats and jet skis - fun, to be sure, but foreign to my February mood.  

My task for the day is to evaluate the environmental effects of a former marina on the underlying soil.  Important, to be sure, but as I gather my samples and write up my report, I'm still floating with those geese in my mind.