Earth, and its Dark Spots

IMG_0156by Ethan Fleisher

 

woe to the thief who catches wind of the truth.

woe to the bandit that sees his reflection

flashing in a drug store window.

woe to the river dog who watches a last pine fall

from his reward has come his doom, and not so late.

woe to the tyrant who kills his last serf,

to see his kingdom emptied of its blood.

woe to the woman who kisses a boy

to make jealous another, so only to find

he will never trust her because of it.

woe to the writer who pens all his secrets

exposed and naked he withers in winds.

woe to the god who makes smart all his monkeys

replaced by the creature, usurped by creation.

woe to the poem that words out the world’s magic

brujos add potion to the inkwell and quill.

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Soul Scene: The Rise and Fall of the Minneapolis New Age

 

 

It’s no secret anymore. These days, it’s easy to sense that many music festivals have a little extra political kick to them. They’re like the old festivals, but with siracha sauce. After all, Gen X has moved out of the scene now, for the most part. Either they’re helping organize the festival, or they’re at home tending to their three kids and trying to program the Hulu. That’s okay. It’s the Millennials turn to take the reins.

And boy. It shows. In my seven years of music festival experience (mostly as a musician) I can hardly state the changes in the vibes from those glory days of 2010-13; when the Minneapolis scene was blowing up, Matisyahu was still the coolest Jew around, Nahko was playing shows with small time guys like us (Aitas, check us out! shameless plug) and no one had spent any reasonable amount of time thinking about Donald Trump. We were convinced that our nation was broken; that was already apparent in the Obama years. But we had no idea what kind of monster was coming down the pike.

Well. Some of us did.

Some of us saw the changes taking place, culturally, even before the advent of Trump. Because even back then, many festivals had already adopted a distinct philosophy. In fact, some of them had gone one step further, and adopted a kind of distinct spirituality. It wasn’t a new philosophy, but it was new to the Minnesota scene, in the form that it was taking. Out west, it was already all the rage, and had been for some time. We were just getting woke in Minneapolis. But we were really woke.

It was an unlikely place for the Soul to make its comeback: drug fueled rage parties with sick bass drops and groovy guitar solos. But why not?”

 

We did realize that our festivals were quickly becoming worship concerts. But that was why we were coming. We wanted to worship. And at that time in history, we were going to worship how we wanted to. No one wanted to stop and discuss why, at least in a serious way. We were on a bliss cloud, and to admit that as a generation we were filling the void left from our departure from our childhood experiences with organized religion is not exactly the kind of bliss material we were looking for. But there was a reason why musicians like Nahko, Trevor Hall, Tubby Love, bands like Wookie Foot, and so many other overtly spiritual artists were rising to the top of the crème: they were voicing- and clearly- the need for a return to the Soul.

It was an unlikely place for the Soul to make its comeback: drug-fueled rage parties with sick bass drops and groovy guitar solos. But why not? There is something novel, something so peculiar and still archetypal, about Logos making its return from the echelons of subculture music festivals. It had worked with the free love and anti war movement in the sixties and seventies, to some degree. And everyone knew that this new spiritual music festival would be rife with the same problems that older collective expansion of consciousness brought with it. We just didn’t care.

Because this time, were ready for it. We had history on our side. This wasn’t the first rodeo. Our grandparents and parents had prepared us for this task. And unlike them, we weren’t going to make it ugly. It wasn’t about right or wrong, it was about finding the Self. For the time being, we were keeping politics out. Politics represented the system. It represented the mainstream. And we were the freaks; the outsiders; the castoffs. That world was maya, it was an illusion. It had no relation to the culture we were creating.

But there was of course an element of right or wrong. We just didn’t want to define that yet. See, we didn’t know it, but we were playing with fire. This new spirituality we were adopting had already been making its way through the ranks of underbelly society for a hundred years.

***

We had unwittingly invited the New Age belief system into our lives. And the New Age has always been, and is, lubricious. Intellectually and politically, the New Age has taken a slippery manifestation. As a spirituality, it never existed as an entity of its own. It has always been a response to traditional Western hierarchy. It has always been a challenge, to some degree, of the Christian-Judeo notion that God is separate from man in a way that limits man’s natural ability; he is bound by crushing mortality and is at the mercy of his flesh throughout his life. He does not often possess supernatural ability. Miracles are reserved for prophets. The New Age directly challenges that idea through a myriad of spiritual practices, not all of them being related or even interchangeable. Alchemy, Buddhism, and Taoism serve as inspirations. Even Christianity, but Judaism to a lesser extent.

The brand of New Age thinking that hit Minnesota? I’m not sure. But I know what Minnesota did to it. We put a Minnesota spin on it. Of course, like those that lived in Oregon and Washington, and Northern California, environmentalism took primary position. (When you live in a city that is surrounded by wilderness, that makes sense). At the heart of the movement was a feeling that we were all connected through Gaia. The Earth was our mother. Even if we weren’t concerned with activism, or nature at all, we were culminating a culture without even realizing it. And it’s not rocket science. Minneapolis, like the west coast, had a subculture generation that had created an entire culture based on the two things it was subconsciously starving for:

Nature, and God.

And the interface of Nature and God we have Soul. We had built a Soul movement.

***

The New Age has always suffered from Marxism. It could be argued that much of its beginnings were based on Hegelian and Marxist ideas, made popular by turn of the century black magicians like Aleister Crowley. It was a not much more than a slap in the face of the middle class Christian establishment, although it was spawned from upper-middle class European romanticism. A mélange of pseudo spiritualism, alchemy, and mythology interpretation. While its early forms were being adopted by fascist extremists like the Nazis and the Bolsheviks, being that it drew from Hegelian ideology, a man named Carl Jung made it what we really know it to be today.

Logos had chosen, yet again, a very unlikely source for its reentry into the world. For a long time, art had carried Soul forward, for the church was stale in America. Nothing was reviving it. Jung changed this. In ways many Christians will never understand, especially Evangelicals, Jung was partly responsible for the resurgence of the church in America in the sixties. The counter culture, like in Minneapolis in the late twenty-oughts, had created an ideological bedrock for spirituality to flourish. And the churches, back then, knew how to be cool.

Unfortunately for Christianity in the twenty-oughts, they did not seem to grasp that Logos was not only reentering the pop culture, but it was fostered by a growing sense of Eros. The conditions across American subculture were absolutely charged for a spiritual take over.

I would have loved to see the Christian church take their shot. But they didn’t. Instead, many organizations and segments of our culture stepped forward that many of us were rallying against. The state. The corporate elite. The mainstream media. They were ready and already poised to pounce.

What we got out of the subculture boom, of which our Soul renaissance in Minnesota was an integral part, was a nightmarish convergence of state, technology, and rebellion (or counterculture) that is so Hegelian in its scope it can hardly be understated. The monster that would bring us headlong into the election of Trump had found its breeding ground.

***

I don’t think that was the intention from the get-go. In the beginning, it was just an opportunity that was seized. Artists, politicians, and businessmen all took their shots, whether consciously or subconsciously. Some of us wanted to bring the Soul movement into the mainstream. Others wanted to bring the mainstream into the Soul movement.

The rest is fresh in our minds. Make of the new mess what you will. Alt right. Alt left. Alt Soul. Like all times in history that Logos attempts to make its cultural reentry, we stamp it out somehow, and when we do it’s under the jackboots of statist principles that we do it. I’m not going to say that the short lived spiritual movement was anything tremendous culturally; it produced very little shockwaves into popular culture. We thought it was going to rupture. I could feel it.

Still. It would be unfair to say that we did not create the conditions for a true cultural renaissance. Artists are the first to gauge the spiritual barometers of our times. And when they feel the waters are right, they will again take us back to the place where Logos and Eros meet. If we wish to make it stay, however, we will need to admit some very troubling things. Things that look far more like the Judeo Christian mindset. To the capitalist scum mindset. For we will have to admit that human suffering is inevitable. That our bubbles of bliss will always popped by the knives of tyrants if we do not strengthen ourselves. To acknowledge that cultural momentum is fragile, and it must be kept like an egg from a brutal world, guarded by angry mothers and warrior fathers.

Namaste.

 

 

Frankenstein’s Monster: The Evolution of Tinker-Toy to Godhead

Allow me to say what should not be said. The fiber in the lining, you’re never supposed to see. Let me peel back the skin so you feast your eyes on the sinew. I want to show you your bones. The untouchables you dare not expose, even in the mirror.

They don’t really care

never did

the way the world has been swallowed so completely by the techno-bubble, brought to the mast of that great schooner with no captain, dangled overboard for the sharks. No one is at the wheel anymore, kiddies. The gig is us. It’s post-apocalypse now. It’s every man for himself, every woman for herself, and no child left behind. What was the apocalypse then, if we missed it?

It’s not something one can put into words very well, but I would say it happened when the human being was taken over by a parasitic relationship to technology. I would call it symbiotic, as many technocrats assert, but it’s not. It’s wasting our brains.

Technology in the old form is still around. The old meaning of technology was about practicality. It assumed that whatever machine or meme of the human mind was being constructed had a logical purpose in the world and had a clear and obvious task. But somewhere along the way the machines began making the machines. That was the beginning of the end. A lot got in the way since then.

Now we have technology that has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. We have sex toys (not a necessity), video games (not a necessity), social media (not a necessity)… and all that old convenience technology has worked so fantastically well, it has left a new generation unable to care for itself. Most of us twenty-somethings can’t even start a fire, much less build a house, maintain it, and fix our own vehicles- tasks that were mundane and rather common sixty years ago. We have specialized businesses for these tasks, and now specialized technology, too. We are a “streamlined” culture- only its really the technology that is streamlined, not human beings.

So at this point, we have created an artificial parent, an artificial god, and an artificial nature. The relationships between most individuals are dictated by Facebook messages and SnapChats, and to say that these relationships somehow extend beyond the limited parameters of what is offered by these apps is nonsense. Without the fundamental bedrock of shared experience, the cornerstone of healthy relationships, there is only a digital and commercialized relationships.

I have had friends tell me they refuse to send me a Facebook message, and that in order to talk to them online I must get SnapChat.

“I only SnapChat,” they say.

They have Facebook… but they just can’t.

Essentially they are telling me that our relationship is not worth the time it to takes to send a simple email. Or place a phone call. SnapChat is the epitome of quick, commercial communication. We are all beginning to talk like SnapChat, think like SnapChat, eat like Facebook, speak like Twitter. The end isn’t come. It’s here. The machines have won. The technology has superseded the creator. Frankenstein’s Monster is now a quantum-powered super-android with unknown potential for growth. We are the tinker-toys now. The computers are the brains. Don’t like it? “Tough shit,” says the artificial intelligence. “This is my realm now. You’re obsolete.”

Deer Hunting

Are you on fire in whales skin?
Sparkling, are you spitting?
My love is gone from the skin I’m in
rattling round, making viscous din
the object of my wandering down
to the creek where it was that I first found
something to hold in my eyes and both
a stalk of corn, clouds to roast
despite the risk it entails I’ll propose
we commit ourselves to the task at hand
of handing over our baggage, we land
and I meet you there with open arms
you were there for me when may come harm
snakes don’t scare me, but paranoias deep
I look over shoulders, most nights I can’t sleep
and if I never read the horoscope
horsetail would still fall in hexagon scope
and the mystic would laugh and tell me a lie
and watch me with his wide third eye
so I’ll take you with me to fire a gun
into the flesh of an earthen prize
that causes the flesh to prickle, rise
and that is why I will not lie
most of the time
that is why I will not lie
most of the time

First Monday in Boreal Time

Time sings in the forest
places have their songs
linear melodies break down
a cadence solders
but the melody might as well be
water
or sky
what it sounds like where they meet
I come to crossroads
crossing streams
horizon rushing on toward
aurora
boreal time signatures
are like wings on falcons
time dives and reaches
cloud-sewn peaks
nothing and then
hours, disappearing days,
arriving nights;
those moonsun temples
you cannot stay in one song
long.
Everything has a song
and we are the cherubim,
and we lament so that
evil sounds beautiful
by its beauty it is conquered.
From dark bogs
static spirits flash in peripherals
eyes detect the spirit but
concrete minds shut out
a million shades of one note
leave the angels suspended
the spirits half cocked.

Blood Fortunes

“Blood Fortune”

 

just one prayer:

take my brittle bones

scattered in jack pines.

do you know this kind of isolation

can you speak a name into the wind and have it be

or hash out the workings of your fortune

for the fortune is of your blood?

my blood is black and oily, and it does not know

gold

 

just one prayer: hoist me above the world, so that

looking down, I can see the looks of their faces

and catch their floating candles. hear my

delirious eulogy, probably pregnant with

lies

 

wrong turns brought me here. she tells me

discreetly, senses my weakness. over gaunt cups

of burnt coffee, her face is very serious

talk about

things in your soul that conspire to kill you

to end your life with brittle and ancient

precision

sounds of a bolt action, the steel parts falling into place

firing pin cradling its love, ignitions.

suicide dreams on beautiful black afternoons

where I can comprehend the terrible in ways that

only invalids and crazies

imagine

 

in the end most of our lives

come down

to the things we tried to buck early on

and if you aren’t shoved into the pits

when it counts,

then it’s exactly like swimming

against a thousandfold currents.

there are fine membranes in sanity

cut too close and you may tear

the savory tissue, the razor thin

tallow lining; and then cannibals will

devour the spoils

 

just one prayer:

bring me to the womb of the earth

I can’t remember anything but her anymore

my life looks like the bald and scorched prairie

they say, “you’re young”

I say, “I’m dead, when will I die”

“don’t talk like that”

“don’t talk at all,” is my reply

The Sleepless Crow Wing

In the heart of a broad track of hardwood forest, on a bend of the great Crow Wing just north of Motley, I made a campfire. The night was bluish, foggy. The sliver of moon barely eking through the inert gush of moisture. A sigh recoiling across the pale.

The fire I made of scrub oak and jack pine. You get the fire going with dry oak leaves and jack pine kindling. Then you lay on your jack pine logs, and that will usually go up like a roman candle. Jack pine burns fast and hot. After that you get her good and coaled up you can throw on a slab of scrub oak or two. If the coals are hot enough, the oak will take quickly too. If I wasn’t concentrating on writing, and thinking more about the quality of this fire, I would have gone down for some driftwood elm at the river’s edge. But I won’t. Tonight, mostly jack pine will have to do.

A gaggle of turkeys are skirting the edge of the forest around me. They come from the north, from a young spruce grove, and then follow the river bottom west. There are fingers of islands on the north side of the river, the bank that I am camped on, and it’s this side they seem to enjoy. Perhaps it’s the acorns. The fertile, insect-filled soil. I don’t know much about turkeys except that they are silly birds. Of course wise in their own strange way- their sheer numbers and adaptability to new environments can prove that. But if you hang with the turkeys long, you get the sense they are perpetually shitfaced.

Ten years ago it was a rare sight to see a turkey on this river bottom. In fact, for the first half of my life, I don’t remember hearing a word of the bird in the jack pine forests of Central Minnesota. Now it is a common sight to see meandering packs crossing highways almost anywhere in the state. The gaggle that has been waddling through this river bottom is at least forty birds strong. I counted on afternoon with a friend. You see, turkeys are not sneaky birds, and nor are they hard to sneak upon. There are hunters who will deny this fact. They will tell you that it’s simply not true, that the turkey is a cunning and illusive animal.  The truth is that the turkey is a bumbling bird, a clumsy bird, and a daydreamer. I have observed these traits in the turkey for years now.

My neighbor pack is ruled by one enormous Tom. The bastard wanders with his huge plumage unraveled, his glorious red gobbler wobbling, his neck erect and his eyes furious. In this way he walks about his tribe of luscious turkey vixens, his forty-some feathered geishas that he apparently gets free pick of whenever he chooses. And what does he give in returns? It must be protection.

The human male cannot imagine the life of a male turkey.

The fire burns low quickly. Stirring only patches the gaps. Fixing requires work. More oak to make the night. Superheat the coals before I fall asleep.

I don’t usually use a tent when I camp. Unless it’s going to rain, I don’t see the point. The chances of being eaten by an animal are about as good as being struck by lightning, or less. The weather in Central Minnesota in the spring is fairly predictable (there are always vicious exceptions to every rule in Minnesota). But just to be certain of my safety, I will often bring my trusty old shotgun for protection. It’s an ancient bolt action, but she’s as reliable as any gun ever made and she bucks like a damn mule and sounds like a formidable cannon. Any sane living thing would stand down at the sound of a simple charge of seven-and-a-half shot into the leaves. But bears can be sick.

More to the point, some people can be sick.

Coyotes purl through the willows and the elm at the other bank. They yowl and yammer through the night, from the first hints of sundown to the first hints of sunrise. There are nights when the band on the south bank will begin the eerie chorus, and suddenly there are yammers to the north of me. Like happy ghosts. Pranksters in truth. It does not take long to hear the bizarre humor in their songs. The way they do not fear the darkness and somehow rejoice in their own chaos, in the chaos of the river and the Crow Wing’s long and winding course.

Before I fall asleep, I often hear the echoes of a train whistle, and a barn owl in the oak above my head will answer it. As if the whistle is somehow a question posed by machine, a question asked to a machine in its lonesome transit and the owl whispers the reply onto the drifting wind but that whistle is too loud, and no machine will ever hear the answer over its own racket. It will disappear into the night and go drifting on the southern rim of the Crow Wing. Asking forever, wailing, splitting the soft abyss of the night. The river, on the other hand, is loud and boisterous on most nights. Woodpeckers get restless against the trunks of rotten oaks, gangs of coyotes taunt each other most nights from across the river, turkeys wander like drunkards through the dry leaves, otters splash and play in the shallow pools, and somewhere a wild cat screams bloody murder and stalks the darkness. I never feel quite isolated here. It’s a busy neighborhood, to be honest, and like New York, it never seems to sleep.