please stop tickling me

In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Sunday, June 12, 2005

A place of pause

I was playing a bit of the music I used to make, tonight, to The Cult Baby. There I was, ten years ago, so much more certain that I could say whatever I felt like in public, ridiculing religion in particular, and making fun of my fellow musicians in general.
I was one half of a duo named 'Selah', which is Hebrew for 'a place of pause', which is why there is both a Selah, Oregon and a somewhat more famous Selah, Washington (since Tree Top apple juice is made there). It's a fantastic place name, and due to its literal meaning, it appears at the end of each of the Psalms. Pause here.
Mind you, at the time I had thought that it meant the same thing as 'amen', which as we all know means, 'it is so'. I was wrong, but before I found out what it really meant, I was once assailed by a toothless sexagenarian at the Country Fair who looked down at Ichabod and I sitting on our haybales, serenading each and every person who walked into the fair that day...Noticing my shirt which bore our band's name, she said, "Se-lah! That's Jew-ish! You know what that means?"
"'It is so'?", I said.
"It is said!", she said.
She was wrong too, and was a person in her sixties who had been unsuccessfully been trying to sell acid right in front of us for too damn long. The day before, Ichabod and I had gone into that place, and had walked around all day, marching with the rest of the people, slow-ly, trying to get to some place or the other, and providing the music that guided the march. People seemed to enjoy our weird little raga-punk groove, and I had said, "Tomorrow, you and I will come back here and sit on a haybale and play music for each and every person that walks in here."
For the most part, that's what happened. But we were interrupted by Dick Ranger (who gets his own blog posting, one of these days), and the aforementioned toothless, sixty-something LSD purveyor. Then I went to go see my daughter, who was in town, and...
Awwww...What can I tell you without being maudlin, or a cliche, or something even worse, A Goddamn Bore? We were really good at what we did, and we made people happy. We played music that no one else in our limited little scene (the open-mike scene of middle-90's Olympia) was playing...And ultimately our thing was undone only by the personalities involved, not heroin, schizophrenia or any of the things that normally undo bands.
We made four studio recordings in our day, a lot to say for a band that nobody has ever heard of. The last was at Smegma studios here in potland, surrounded by singles and albums on the wall, cut by people far more famous than we, and many more who never went anywhere. We also recorded a record at KAOS radio studios in Olympia, which I believe neither of us currently know the whereabouts of, and another that was recorded with state-of-the-art technology, but was nonetheless recorded in Ichabod's bedroom.
The first was recorded at DreamKitchen studios in Olympia, by one Carl Dexter, who was a member of the band Dream Kitchen, and provided bass on that first record. We had wanted a tamboura, in keeping with the eastern punk feel, but it had sounded too tinny, so we went with a conventional bass, and had just gone from there. Only two songs from that session survive in my own personal collection, and in those days, we had little in the way of non-improvisational ideas.
The idea had been to wed the music of the east of the past and the west of the present, and I feel like we did a pretty good job. Later, when we went electric, more than one person dismissed it as having already been done due to the profusion of surf rock bands that had tried, roughly speaking, the same thing. In those days, for instance, we had noticed the extreme similarity between the sitar and the banjo, and made a song cycle for banjo and doumbek (or sometimes, spoons) that sounded like hillbillies meeting the Buddha. I once described our music to a live audience as 'raga-punk and archaic barnyard scratch'.
Our ideas for song names were spawned out of the half-assed spirituality that we were practicing in those days. I had told the folks at the Country Fair on that previously mentioned occasion that we were 'here representing Chaos'. I spoke at length with Ichabod on that day of the need for 'serving the Cosmic Groove', and how one would do that anyway, regardless of intent. In those days, I tended to start the evening waist deep in the Puget Sound, balanced on one foot, hands in an attitude of prayer on top of my head, shouting, "Humata, Hakata, Hvesta!" ("I praise aloud the Thought Well Thought, The Word Well Spoken, and The Deed Well Done!").
And like all Holy Men, I carried around a little totem (a statue of Ganesh, for some reason) that seemed to add some sort of religio-cred to what I was doing. I had the most annoying habit, in those days, of placing the damn thing down in front of me at, say, a coffee shop and saying a little prayer before defiling my body with the dread caffeine. This was better, you see, and can you also see how it makes a great deal of sense that this, the most 'spiritual' phase of my life, was marked by my very worst behavior?
Because I thought that I was Right.
On that recording at DreamKitchen, our first tune ultimately was named "Ormus", which is a bastardization of Ormuzd, which is a bastardization itself of Ahura Mazda, 'The Wise Lord', from Zoroastrianism. The above holy formula (for greeting the day, as it happens, not bidding it farewell) is from that religion as well, practiced by the Farsis in India to this day (they also have their own dialect, also called Farsi, from a bastardization of the word the locals had for 'Persian').
Like Ahura Mazda itself, 'Ormus' was the wellspring from which all else came. In that song, there are several sketches of ideas that would later become full-blown songs. I've always been obsessed with the idea of The Source. I once proposed that I was going to follow one of the many streams that I'm familiar with to its source and sit there meditating until I learned whatever it was I needed to learn. When I speak of the City of Water or Holy Shelter Swamps in my writing these days, that's what I'm talking about.
It is also what The Band was talking about when they spoke of "Up On Cripple Creek".
Our other recordings, especially after the migration to Portland, are electric, and are informed by ideas gathered by our time spent in other bands, together (Rustiq, Guild of Saints, Bringers of the Dawn, Sons of Fatima, and the one-shot Tumalo Turnip Truck). In the case of those other bands, it was our likelihood to enter into brief partnerships based on individual productions (Sons of Fatima), the fact that late-night deejays on KAOS were fond of sleeping, and would invite noise bands on to take hallucinogens and stay up all night, playing music (Bringers of the Dawn and Tumalo Turnip Truck: we once left all our instruments plugged in, feeding back, as we left the studio for an extended bonghit break), earlier ideas based around more traditional formats (Guild of Saints), and later experiments with new technology (Rustiq). We got better and better, but at the same time were moving in massively different directions: Ichabod was heading toward that sort of drone-rock that I often call 'room noise'. I myself was still interested in mining the east-west connection for all it was worth, in as much as very few people (with the notable exception of our idols, the Sun City Girls) had bothered doing so. We collected several of our jam sessions on primitive recording devices (some of the best stuff we did, if you ask me), made that final album with Mike Lastra at Smegma, and just sort of petered out.
These days, Ichabod is living up in St. Johns with his girlfriend, whose mother died a few years back, and had enough money to buy a house. They are living the urban-rural dream of living within the bounds of a city, but raising crops n' chickens. Me? I think bands are stupid, unless you are merely having fun, not trying to get famous, or if you are changing the parameters of the discussion that is popular culture itself, which is a hard and rare motherfucker, if I may say so.
I have threatened for years though, to put together a compilation of our greatest 'hits'. The greatest band you never heard of, unknown to the wildly popular music scene then happening around it, titled "Deny Not The Carnival of Values", after a thrown-off comment of mine, which seemed to take on a meaning of its own, in retrospect.
One last thing: I also once made one hundred dollars for one hour's work with this band. Ichabod has long been a caregiver with a local chain of homes for the developmentally disabled, and like other companies, they too have their company picnic. The picnic is both for clients and staff, and since no entertainment was booked for the event, and the entertainment budget was $200, we stepped up and said, "suuuure..." At first, we attempted rusty version of our old act; classical guitar, banjo, doumbek, spoons...But we had been electric for too many years, and were having a hard time keeping it together. We also ran through our catalogue, such as it was, in about a half-hour. Without even really discussing it, we decided once again to embrace the chaos. It was open noise jam time, and I figured that the hippies (for the most part) that worked for this outfit would quickly be on our asses for spoiling the mellow. Then I looked up.
The schizophrenics loved it. They were dancing ecstatically, as if they'd finally heard some music, after all these years of just barely holding it together, that made some damn sense to them. The caregivers looked on, shaking their heads and eating potato salad, as their charges found sense and meaning in all the undifferentiated noise and bizarre anti-rhythms we were filling the park with on that day.
It occurred to me that one day, if we felt like it, there was a market niche for us that we might exploit. So far, hasn't happened.



Blogger BRUISER said...

Thanks for giving "TugboatCaptain" a piece of your mind. Its the Republicans like that who are ruining this country...

8:11 AM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Thanks Bruiser, but like I said over there, I wish you'd given him a piece of yours, too.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

lol, I always thought selah menat "chorus"

7:47 PM  

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