Over the past year, I have added another weapon to my arsenal as a presumptive endurance artist. Flute guy. The photo above came on my fb feed as a "memory" today. During a four week stint as a lentil and chayote stew eating camper in Tulum, I got comfortable in my own skin. Playing music with other people for the sheer joy of it. Posted exactly a year ago, this captures my first freeform rediscovery of the flute as instrument of choice, with Mariano Graziano from Argentina and a Montreal dude I can't remember.*
You heard right, freeform rediscovery. The thing that I rarely reveal is that I have been playing the flute for years––since a season in the California wilderness with the Bolivian keta (courtesy of ace picker and college roommate Steve Perry) my second year at UC Santa Cruz. I fasted for three days on a ridge next to an ancient Native American hand-printed cave and played keta to find a direction into which life could unfold.
There were a few false starts, but I found it.
I grew up as an only child in about the most isolated part of the Oakland Hills you could find. PG&E land populated by eucalyptus, pine, poison oak, unexploded WWII ordinance, and the occasional redwood. My earliest experiences with music as something to be manipulated as an artist was with an early 1970s model tape recorder that was somehow found or handed down to me. I recorded a lot of random sounds, including stuff off the radio that made interesting narratives. I remember one foible I had involved speeding up the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing" through half-pushing the fast forward and play buttons together. I was a major Beatles fan at the time, it seemed that every song I heard offered a new possibility. Kids know the darndest things, intuitively.
Amazingly in hindsight––I was a musical snob who completely disdained Hendrix––the first time I heard Purple Haze on an oldies Top 40 show, I was like, what is this shit and how was it by any conceivable measure a radio hit? The most disappointing birthday gift ever was when Dee gave me a tape of early 1970s Rolling Stones. I was strictly a mid-to-late-1960s Stones fan. And Dylan, my mom's favorite? Forget it.
Oh yeah, I hear you gentle reader. Roll of eyes, snotty little kid. Yes, I was.
I am going to jump quite a few years to a time in the late 1980s when I was using cassettes for a different purpose, making exploratory mix tapes. REM's Driver 8 (back when that was semi-alternative) rubbed shoulders with INXS "I Need You Tonight," Dinosaur Jr's "No Way Out," one of the Gang of Four's more political numbers and Pink Floyd's Brain Damage.
My favorite listening experience for about a year was this old early 1970s Led Zeppelin II cassette I found in a hidden compartment of a chest, next to some zigzag rolling papers. The tape was so phased out and muffled, it had this mysterious sense of coming in and out of consciousness. This particularly worked well with "What Is And What Should Never Be." Long story short, the tape ultimately broke and I never heard that tone on any CD of LedZep II, so the album lost my interest. The mechanically modulated variations, the running of tape and the variance of it as it aged––what I was experiencing was pure entropy.
We can create so many sounds via technology but we cannot imitate the tension of purposeful activity and equally purposeful decay.
About high school I began to formulate my musical tastes like a badge: Jimi Hendrix, Nothing's Shocking-era Jane's Addiction, Doors, REM, White Album-era Beatles. At the same time I was a member of the Oakland Youth Chorus and exposed to some of the deepest roots of soul that exist––performances with Bobby McFerrin, Jon Hendricks, and local luminaries of all cultures and ethnicities. Etta James at the Oakland Blues Festival blew my 16-year-old mind. Almost anything jazz, world, blues, or soul I could get into. War's "The World Is A Ghetto" was a particular lp + speaker system favorite, as was Traffic's eponymous barnyard stomper. Catch A Fire paired with Harder They Come, rediscovered from my very early years in San Francisco. Stevie Wonder's Innervisions. Al Green. Curtis Mayfield. Leonard Cohen. Red Hot Chili Pepper's surprising new single, "Under The Bridge." Etc. etc.
Crazy thing––I was having these path-to-enlightment musical experiences without herbal enhancers, even a sip of beer. Music just had a mighty powerful effect on the soul.**
** The question begs to be asked, what was I listening to as I wrote this? Jimi Hendrix at Winterland, 1968 playing a 12 minute Are You Experienced with the mysterious flautist Virgil Gonsalves. Bob Dylan in Melbourne with a cruddy borrowed (ahem) folk guitar. A strident pre Tosh-Marley breakup Wailers at the Sundown in Edmonton, London, 1973 (fundraiser for Ethiopia), and now Miles' Pharaoh's Dance.