Doug Bruns

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

“What I am, I am by myself.”

In Life, Music, Religion, Thinkers, Travel on April 1, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Do you ever ask yourself what is the best we have to offer? The “we” here is the species, homo sapiens. I will pass completely on the who or what to whom we offer (the verb implying such: O.E., ofrian, from L. offerre “to present, bestow, bring before”). Not bringing this before anybody/-thing but myself, and I am the project here. Back to subject: What is the best we have to offer? I’ve been asking myself this lately and, assuming there is an answer, wondering why I’m not intent, no, hell-bent, on knowing better what that might be exactly. If you spend half your life living, maybe the second half, gods willing, should be spent trying to understand at least one true thing.

I speak as a Westerner, Norther Hemisphere. I think Confucius and the Buddha rank among the best, but, try as I might, I cannot connect there with a sense of well-intentioned synchronicity, if that makes any sense. And to a grown up kid from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, it makes sense to me, even if it doesn’t to you. (I have studied their work some, the Buddha in particular, gone to Deer Park at Varanasi, where he spent forty-years teaching. But there is a sense, synaptic probably, that inhabits the young mind grown old(er) that cannot readily adapt to new neural pathways.) So, travel aside (I’ve also walked the Via Dolorosa. That works no better, really. And ultimately we settle for what works–that is the nature of pragmaticism.), what settles and feels right? What makes sense. But I digress.

I’m coming to some conclusions and they are rudimentary. But they are a start. Socrates. Montaigne. Nietzsche. Beethoven. Mahler. Certainly Bach. Don’t you seek resonance with what preceded you? The big stuff, in particular? I want to connect with someone who got it. And I don’t accept mysticism. I think these guys got it. And many others.

“What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself,” said Beethoven. “There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven.” What I am, I am by myself. That declaration gives me great consolation. But what is this thing, myself? I have failed the Greeks in their first and most important admonition, Know thyself. So, that said and done, plot a course and take coordinates. Set out and discover. If we indeed stand on the shoulders of those who proceeded, us, shoulders of the giants–should we choose to climb upon them–we must not take for granted the view. That for starters. The rest will follow.

Is it just me?

In Music, Photography, Truth on March 26, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Does not all photography seem derivative? I read recently (in the New Yorker, March 8, 2010) of Espranza Spaulding, a jazz singer, bass player. The article, long and New Yorker-typical deep, was compelling, as all things fresh and original are wont to be, and I listened, as a result, to the podcast with the author. I was struck by the freshness, the sui genius, of Spaulding, like Athena, born from the forehead of Zeus, perfect and in full-form.  Music affords the disciple such depth, of which I an envious. Keys. instruments. Style, Genre and so on. That is a big, huge, topic. Suffice it to say…. A person can swim in that ocean.

What do photographers have?

But I am comparing apples and oranges. Music is the most abstract of all the arts. Is it not said that all the arts aspire to the status of music? (Or is that poetry?) Photography is so many measures removed from the pure abstract. Think about it. We take a three-dimensional reality and render it two-dimensional.  (I hesitate to put quotation marks around that word, reality. That is a philosophical topic saved for another essay.) If we are a black and white photographer, we take the abstract one step further by rendering it thus, from color, what the eye recognizes, to something we don’t see naturally. But still it is a facsimile of what we recognize. That is what I mean by derivative. We cannot escape, cannot break free of,  the bonds which preceded us, simply because of the medium in which we work.

So, this all sounding so high and (less-than) mighty, this path we take–pursuit of truth and beauty, specifically. Truth we should be able to capture, no? Beauty gets mixed up and is relative. But cannot the photographer render truth? (Small t or big T–small, yes, we all agree?.) I will not try to wrestle that word to the ground. Truth. Let’s just concede that T/truth is something we recognize.  (Again: I know it when I see it.) Maybe even something we can aspire to.

Four Dead in Ohio

In Memoir, Music, Thinkers on February 19, 2010 at 9:57 am
Peace, Love, 7 Hippie Beads

Peace, Love, 7 Hippie Beads

We had breakfast with friends Mike and Wendy this week. Like a bunch of aged once-upstarts we were bemoaning the lack in today’s youth, vis-a-vis the activism of the sixties and seventies. Mike is slightly older than me and remembers better that period. He recalled passionately the atmosphere in Washington DC, where he lived. What I recall of that time was the energized sense that something important was going on. It was in the air like a down-wind scent. So, there we were, middle-aged and comfortable, digging into our omelets and shaking our heads, reciting the list: Iraq, financial melt-down, torture, global warming, corporate malfeasance and so on. Pick a subject. There are lots of them. Any one, one would think, should do job, should trigger youthful activism. But nothing seems to energize or move the youth to the streets or the campus halls or the temples of governance. Why, we wondered.

Five days later: the kitchen, making bread (walnut raisin whole-wheat, thank you very much), listening to streaming Pandora. My station consists largely of new music, alternative stuff, but occasionally an oldie will slip in, as it did this morning. Crosby Stills Nash and Neil Young, Ohio, live version. And it hit me. Music. There is no music connecting youth to a movement, like there was in the sixties. “Four dead in Ohio…” I know this is not an orginial thought.  Music today is more about marketability, image and style, I think, than message. Music a la American Idol. I know there are exceptions to this. Lots of them. But generally speaking, larger interests, corporations specifically, have usurped the individual interest–in most avenues of modern life, not just music.

Remember Plato’s Republic? Remember where Plato says that one of the first things that must happen in his idyllic kingdom is outlaw and banish the flute players? They have a corrupting influence on the youth, he posited. They gotta go. A flute player here, a flute player there and then next thing you know, there are people in the streets and the Agora is shut down. This always struck me as humorous, true, but funny. Plato recognized the power of music on the youth. And he knew it had the capacity to elevate discourse, as well as emotion. The problem today is, we have no flute players. It didn’t happen like he thought it would, but the result is the same, nonetheless.

CSN&Y, Live: