Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

June 16, 2014

Shamanic Drumming

Filed under: magic — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:23 am

I find that laying back and listening to shamanic drumming affords me access to the imaginative world not unlike the freedom available through psychedelics or lucid dreaming. By taking shamanic flight, and afterward talking with a supportive partner about what I experienced, I was able to substantially reduce some post-traumatic stress-like symptoms associated with my experience of attending school.

Shamans are able to answer many kinds of questions, and to heal diseases with a strong mental or stress component.

It doesn’t take a lot of expensive materials or hours of training to embark on a shamanic trip. Of course, you are dealing with your psyche, and while that can be a garden of pleasure, things can also take a dire turn towards matters of life and death. Still, I think that most people would be better off to go ahead and risk an unguided shamanic flight, then to shuffle on as they are.

Here’s the technology: Repetitive drumming is key to perhaps 90% of the world’s shamanic practice. It bores your mind in a very specific way, which cuts out certain types of mentation and allows others to run unchecked. Shamanic will teach you the basics of entering shamanic trance and navigating the world it opens up… the website is not going to replace a live teacher but it will give you some clues to proceed upon. If you are inclined to explore, read about the shamanic paradigm and shamanic journeying. Invent a little ritual or imbibe some soft drugs to loosen yourself up.

Then lay back and listen to this track. Let us know what kind of experience you have!


December 21, 2012

Sharing Music

“How come everybody wanna keep it like a Kaiser?
Give it away, give it away, give it away now!”
~-Red Hot Chili Peppers

Music is meant to be shared, passed around and tweaked like messages in a game of “Telephone.” That’s how it grows. I believe that there is just one song, and people began playing it in different ways depending on whether they were happy or sad, what instruments were at hand and who their teacher was. Nowadays variations and fragments of the vast and ancient Song are shuffled together through the arts of songwriting and mixology. There is quite a rich and global heritage of music available to even the humblest of Western consumers, largely as canned recordings.

I’ve got no complaints about the branch library, airwaves and Internet being stocked with free un-live music; it is a huge benefit to me. Still, I want to keep the more organic means of growing the Song well and vital.

One of those means is the distribution of sheet music. The oldest surviving written music is from about 1400 BCE, a hymn left behind by the Hurrian people in what is now Syria. The notation on the clay tablet resembles modern guitar tablature, but for lyre. Here is Michael Levy’s rendition (with lots of background information and links buried in the Youtube notes):

Of course, no one knows exactly what “Hurrian Hymn No. 6” originally sounded like. It’s an interesting fact, that no one even knows at what speed “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” was first performed, or what pitch it used for middle C. Every orchestra plays it a little differently. Music distributed in written form is inevitably subject to performers’ interpretation, whereas a “cover band” of the current era may opt for rigid fidelity to recorded material. Reproducing an exact guitar tone through a board of pedals and a stack of speakers is a project in an of itself, although it is all worth it when one gets to experience a good-as-real Pink Floyd show (now available in Australian and British flavors).

Beck Hansen was disappointed when he read a songbook based on one of his albums, and found it to contain a lot of vague directions for teasing weird sounds from recording equipment and synthesizers… so, Beck decided to write an album strictly for release in written form, for all the bands, musicians and combos in the world to take a stab at. “Song Reader,” released earlier this month, is a book of twenty songs, scored in various formats for various band setups. Like popular music from before the era of recording, the music must be reasonably easy to play, for once you have bought the music, you must go on to find people who can play it!

“Song Reader” is an invitation to learn, play and share. “I thought a lot about making these songs playable and approachable, but still musically interesting,” says Beck. “I think some of the best covers will reimagine the chord structure, take liberties with the melodies, the phrasing, even the lyrics themselves.” No one can claim to have laid down the definitive recording of any of these songs, but many musicians and acts have submitted their performances to, the Internet home of the project.

People used to pass around songs with no music at all: just plain lyrics were printed on pamphlets called broadsides, or even bundled up into songbooks. This is one of my favorite ways to learn/write a song: give me some solidly rhythmic words, and a melody and chords will fall right into place around them. I once wrote guitar music to go with J.R.R. Tolkein’s songs included in “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” novels, and of course that has been done for the movies, too. Lately I am perusing a 1921 book, “Songs of the Cowboys” by N. Howard “Jack” Thorp. Full of lonesome and violent cowpuncher tales, the book is included in a collection of public domain songbooks at

Passing songs around in incomplete form helps to keep music growing, because it demands creative participation. In my family, the main musical event of the year is singing Christmas carols. Singing together reminds me of my grandma Stade and pretty well gets me blissed out. However, many of us are not Christian and ostensibly should not celebrate Christmas. Actually, Christians did not invent Christmas — they adapted it from Pagan celebrations such as Saturnalia and Yule. So, today, Pagans are taking back Christmas by Paganizing Christmas carols! The results range from beautiful to humorous to kind of obscene. Cern has posted some re-Paganized carols in an online songbook, in the format of lyrics with chords (how the chords are played is up to the imagination of the musicians.)

 Later on, by the fire,
 Cone of Power, gettin' higher
        G7       Dm          G7        F
 It's a Magickal Night we're having tonight,
 D7           G7            C
 Dancing in a Wiccan Wonderland

It bears mentioning here that estraven/innana has been sharing links to Christmas music over on “View from the Loft,” for your listening pleasure. She knows some weird old tunes, so you will probably find something new there.

Music is meant to be shared so that it can grow. 70+ year copyrights are clearly supporting publishing-company profits over creative growth (ie, the advancement of human culture.) IMHO, by the time you are very old, you should have full rights to the songs of your childhood. The U.S. Constitution allows for copyrights of limited term, but Congress has the ability and willingness to extend copyright every time the Disney company stands to lose control over Mickey Mouse. That seems to constitute an unlimited copyright, something unconstitutional and therefor illegal. The copyright law is as invalid as it is unjust, and it should be regarded as nothing more than a cruel, small-minded and criminal threat aimed at capturing the world’s Song and other branches of human culture for private profiteers.

This post points to works that were meant to be shared, or are actually so old as to be public domain, or can be passed off as First Amendment-protected parody. You can always play cover tunes in your own living room, too. So, there is a good deal of free space to play in around the edges of copyright protection. The attempt to dominate the growth of the Song for the sake of private profit is as laughable as it is full of hubris.

Anyone can help feed the Song, by supporting musicians as well as exchanging instruments, music and ideas. Being in the music is the fullest human experience — engaging more of your brain than writing about philosophy or having sex. There’s no need to feel cowed by a phony ideal of originality or the standards of professional musicianship — music is for all people, and music is to be shared.

November 24, 2012

“Happy Birthday” Copyright Protects Legacy of Plagiarism

I’ve been investigating some old folk tunes to see which ones are in the public domain. “Goodnight Irene” and “The Pines” still sound good after all these years, but is it lawful for me to self-publish my own covers of these tunes, or is a recording house going to sue me into a lifetime of poverty for such bold theft?

The Public Domain Information Project publishes a little list of public domain songs, which could helpfully confirm that a work is out of copyright. “Goodnight Irene,” unfortunately, is not on there. I was intrigued to discover “Good Morning Children,” a song that goes:

Good morning to you,
good morning to you,
good morning dear children,
good morning to all.

Well, I can only imagine that being sung to one particular tune. Wikipedia and Google were able to flesh out the picture for me, no problem.

The origins of “Happy Birthday” can be traced back all the way to 1859. Horace Waters, remembered mainly as a piano maker, published a little tune called “Happy Greeting to All.” Follow the link and press the “play” button to hear the tune.

Happy Greeting To You sheet music

The chorus is recognizable as being much like “Happy Birthday,” and its lyrics follow the same repeating, repetitious, redundant pattern. Waters went on to publish “Goodnight to You All,” and, in 1875, “Happy New Year to All.” What a creative dynamo!

An aside:

Waters ripping off himself probably didn’t look too odd at the time, when lots of music was written through the folk process. To write a song, you “stole” someone else’s song (or your own!), rewrote the lyrics, and adjusted the music to suit your own playing style and band setup. As copyright enforcement became stricter and the public domain receded into the past, folk songwriting has been effectively outlawed. Our moral sense of a song being “ripped off” has even adjusted to harmonize with the law.

Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on my Trail” and “Travellin’ Riverside Blues” strike me as a couple of folk process tunes that no one would dare to call unoriginal, although “Hellhound” resembles Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman” and “Riverside” is a version of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” a song that “came out of the cotton fields.” You can easily find all of these songs on Youtube, if you’re inclined.

The modern songwriting process must treat each piece as original and unrelated to any other song, forged from the collision of beats, chords and melodic riffs in massive high-energy studio cyclotrons, and yet the result is only about as good as Britney Spears.

“Happy Greeting to All”or a variant was picked up by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill, who rewrote it as “Good Morning to All” for Mildred’s kindergarten class. The sisters published their song without the birthday lyrics in 1893. According to legend, the kids at school were so enthralled by the song that they in turn reworked it into “Happy Birthday” for singing at parties.  It saw print numerous times, and by 1924 the birthday lyrics were printed with it as an alternate verse. However, no one can name the person who wrote the birthday lyrics any more than we can know which cowboy first sang “Bury Me not on the Lone Prairie.”

In the early 1930’s, “Happy Birthday” was everywhere, being delivered by singing telegram and even sung on the Broadway stage. A third Hill sister, Jessica, decided that she’d had enough of people using her sisters’ song, and she was going to act to protect it. In 1935, the publisher of “Good Morning to All” copyrighted “Happy Birthday to You,” and even formed a new company specifically to enforce that copyright. The supposed composer of “Happy Birthday to You” was Preston Ware Orem, a piano-playing songwriter best known for weaving American Indian themes into orchestral music. Somehow the deal to protect the Hill sisters’ work included giving up their claim on authorship. Although everybody was stealing “Happy Birthday,” Orem looks to have crossed a line into plagiarism by actually taking credit for someone else’s song.

When a work is published, it is automatically copyrighted unless the author specifies a different license (such as the Creative Commons license, or simply releasing the work into the public domain.) Thus, the lyrics of “Happy Birthday” were copyrighted in 1924, not 1935, and the melody copyrighted 1893 at the latest. The publisher’s copyright and its extensions were not valid… not only because the company tried to copyright a song already copyrighted with a different composer’s name attached, but also because authorship of the lyrics is just plain unclear (neither of the songwriting Hills ever specifically claimed to have written the birthday verse.)

The phony 1935 copyright is now held by Warner Music Group, which collects about $2 million per year taxing the most-recognized song in the English language. Legal scholars view the copyright as invalid, yet artists are not exactly encouraged to challenge the music group and its Goliath parent.

And so “Happy Birthday to You” becomes a glaring example of how intellectual property law can be twisted to work against the interests of artists and instead promote the interests of those who already have some money. Copyright laws have also limited the techniques available to artists, from the folk writing process to sampling, and in their current form they constitute a real cultural attack. Joe Hill wouldn’t be framed for murder and executed today, they’d lock him up forever for copyright infringement. Eyes on the Prize, a documentary about the Civil Rights movement, was actually held back from going to video for several years, partly because of a scene which featured Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a birthday cake.

“Happy Birthday to You” is not under any legitimate copyright. It is rightfully part of the common heritage of all people.

November 23, 2012

The Dirt Worshiper Sings

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 5:01 am

I don’t just talk about the blues. I have them almost all the damned time. Some people call that a condition of mental illness, ’cause 1) they want to imagine that living in so much pain is crazy and 2) if it’s mental illness, it is okay to drug the problem away.

Sometimes the difficulty is personal. This is a song about one lover telling the other, “things are going to get better, we won’t always be so broke” but the narrator doesn’t totally believe it.

When my neighbors dressed in black skin cross the boundary into the suburbs, they constantly get pulled over, searched, and caught with infractions from expired insurance to unlicensed guns. We all need to train up to resist police searches, or expect latexed hands up our anuses in the future.

The blues afflict people of all walks of life and social stations. Abraham Lincoln was known as the President with the blues, or “melancholia” as it was often called back then. Yet, Lincoln had some depth of character… what strange and bleak fantasy-scapes flash by when a Bush has a moment of clarity and perceives the emptiness of their meaningless life?

I know of people who have never questioned or had to doubt or peeked into the abyss of despair. They go on to obtain corporate jobs, raise children by the book, mow the lawn regularly and support mainstream politicians. I think I’m better off with the blues.

March 7, 2012

Sky Worship

Filed under: music, science — Tags: , , , , , , — paragardener @ 6:21 pm

Sometimes, from my Detroit home, I can see most of the stars of Orion or the Big Dipper. It probably helps, that vast areas of the city are depopulated or street lights don’t work. Goddess damn, I love this city.

How alienated you are from the sky is some gauge of how alienated you are from nature. For example, I sometimes watch a TV documentary about astronomy and/or old superstitions, and the question is asked, “Do the phases of the moon have an effect on human behavior?” To ask this question at all indicates some cluelessness. Go camping for a month and you will have a certain answer.

Not too long ago, Freelearner showed my on her i-Pad astronomy app how the full moon rises at sunset and sets at sunrise and the new moon rises and sets with the sun. Not only is the full moon bright, it’s out all night. On a clear night, there is light everywhere and campers can wander flashlight-less, stay up late and get into mayhem. On a new moon night, you’ve got only campfires and starlight to see by. People without electricity have to stay close to home. (The reason for the moon’s phases synching with its position on the day or night side of the Earth is really obvious once you see it. Get out two balls and a table lamp and figure it out — remember Earth turns once a day, the moon takes a month to travel around it, and watch those shadows…)

Singers, poets and other drama queens love talking about the stars. Enjoy some tunes about outer space.

Spaceman by 4 Non-Blondes — how did they know to write a personal theme song for me?

Moon in the Sky Called the Moon by B-52’s — a great live recording, but no video.

Big bonus points for referencing the Van Allen Belt in song!

See the Constellation by They Might Be Giants.

Crap, another morning wasted blogging. Time to go and slave under the accursed Day Star. May you come back as a guy made of dots and lines!

January 30, 2012

Youtube Playlist

Filed under: music — Tags: , — paragardener @ 7:14 am

All the Youtube videos from the Springtime Country Blues Explosion were put together with a few bonus tracks and posted as a Youtube playlist. That is all.

January 25, 2012

American Music Held Up on African Roots

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 2:39 am

The best American music combines European techniques (three-note chords, tightly structured songs) with African techniques (freely sliding pitch, polyrhythm). There is a cultural myth that America is the heir to Western Civilization, a torch passed to us through an unbroken line of progression from the wise forefathers of Classical Greece. That’s great and all, but we have also absorbed plenty of culture from the natives we nearly exterminated, the slaves we bought or kidnapped, and the great books of Asia which we’ve been reading translations of over the last 150 or so years. So, here I explore African music and its influence as a partial antidote to Eurocentrism. You may, however, find this post hopelessly Bluecentric (I’m actually looking for musical examples to help me understand passages from Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues ).

One crucible of America’s distinctive music was cosmopolitan New Orleans, where slaves were allowed to participate in drumming parties at Congo Square, and blacks soon got a hold of reed and brass instruments and learned to play them by inventing jazz. I sure wouldn’t condemn it, but I don’t really dig jazz. Every so often, I hear some prig on NPR say that “jazz is the only truly original American art form,” and I want to slap them through the radio. Blues? Rock and roll!?

The blues is jazz’s country cousin. While Jim Crow laws were being passed and white terrorism was raging, railroads and post offices were connecting the rural South to the rest of the country. Blacks could buy a guitar through Sears and Roebuck, then hang out on the front porch singing about “I’m gonna leave my baby, ’cause she mistreats me all the time” (double meaning: “I’m gonna leave this plantation and the shitty white family that runs it.”) The early bluesmen wove together work songs, religious music, white folk/country, and rhythms from a deep memory of Africa.

The earliest wave of slaving had taken many Africans from Senegambia, a dry region of West Africa heavily influenced by Arab culture. The griots there are a caste of professional musicians. Griots might play on the street, or play to coordinate group projects, or play for royalty (singing long, praise-filled histories of the royal family). The satirical songs of a griot scorned are much feared, perhaps especially by the powerful.

Here is griot Lamin Saho singing about peace, love, and unity between the peoples. He’s using the kora, the leader among all the instruments of that region.

You can hear a little of the Arabic tendency to torture a melody in Saho’s singing. Check out how one hand plucks an insistent bass line, while the other indulges in crazy runs of lead notes. Country bluesmen often pick a bass pattern with thumb, and lead notes with fingers. The most intricate country blues players may indeed come from the Southeast, where most of the Senegambian slaves ended up. Also, said slaves almost certainly introduced the banjo to this continent, probably with fretless models.

I wanted to embed a video of a guitar-playing bluesman from the Piedmont region of the Southeast here, but this is too incredible not to take its place: here is North Carolinian George Higgins somehow playing bass and lead parts on the harmonica!

Speaking of harmonica, one can speak through a harmonica, or blend a vocal line into harmonica music almost seamlessly. In old-time black American music, kazoos are not unheard of, and neither is moaning into a jug. Black slaves were mainly denied horns, just like drums, because they were loud enough to serve as a signal for revolt. Still, there may be a tenuous connection between idiosyncratic wind instrument playing here in the States, and the talking horns of Africa. Sometimes made from animal horn, sometimes from a gourd, the talking horn can be played like a brass instrument (by farting with one’s lips), or by singing into it.

Here are some songs utilizing talking horn — I suggest “Humans are Not Food.” I can only assume that the talking horn is that instrument that sounds like a big old kazoo has been shoved up the bell of a trombone. It’s funny that the one example of singing horn I can find is an African band playing American-style jazz!

Here’s the Memphis Jug Band doing “Cocaine Habit Blues,” aka “Take a Whiff on Me.” I’ve been messing with an old brown jug, but I can’t seem to draw a note out of it.

Later waves of slaving moved from Senegambia down the African coast, to the stretch once known as the “slave coast” (it’s that long stretch that faces southwards toward the Atlantic.) As a well-forested land, the slave coast provided big trees for making big drums. The area is a center for African drumming and rhythm. Communal music, involving the whole village, is the thing. Anyone can clap their hands or join in simple harmonies. Slaves taken from here tended to come in later, farther west, and were used more in the field than the house (thus, they had even less opportunity to get ahold of instruments.) Here is just a bitty example of community music-making from Nungua, Ghana.

When I heard this, it seemed instantly familiar. It’s like the fife and drum music of Mississippi. So check out the Ed Young Fife n Drum Corps, rocking a 60’s folk festival.

Properly, a Mississippi fife ‘n’ drum corps would play at a picnic, at night in the middle of a field. Male dancers surround the musicians, maybe getting in a grind with the bass drum, and everyone else hangs around on the dark edges. My favorite part is when a fifer gets down, slaps the ground, and wipes the dust on his forehead… the meaning is lost, though, when you move the action onto stage. On the plus side, ladies such as Sharde Thomas can lately be full participants (you can look up her Rising Star Fife and Drum band, a strong family outfit that has been going on for decades with different players. It rocks, especially because Sharde is a fireball of energy.)

How did blacks keep their excellent rhythmic skills through slavery and the attendant restrictions on instruments? Probably by singing, clapping their hands, and stomping their feet. It was a happy day when some miserable black draftee finally had a snare drum stuck in his hands!

There is one more musical idea I’d like to explore, polyphony. Basically, it means that people are making up melodies as they go, but listening to one another. You can hear it in the scattered “response” part of an old call-and-response work song, or in a Beck track where Beck has overdubbed his voice three or four times. The masters of polyphony are the Aka pygmies. These people were not slaved much (I guess, if I were working slaves, I’d want bigger, tougher-looking slaves), however, their neighbors picked up their polyphonous and yodeling ways. (Yodeling is slipping in and out of falsetto, also called “whooping.”)

Here are some girls singing a lullaby:

That’s what forest people sound like. Take the soul of that music and throw it in a prison:

This topic could go on forever and ever. One thing I’ve definitely learned, is that there is no traditional old “true blues”: the blues was going through changes since it came together and will go on changing as long as someone is playing it. It reflects a world in constant change. Just as dinosaurs faded and birds rose, old music is forgotten and reborn in new forms.

To leave you with, here is a haunting piece of traditional acid jazz, the initiation song of the central African Ongo.

November 30, 2011

Cornel West on the Blues Sensibility

Filed under: music, Soapbox — Tags: , , , , — paragardener @ 4:35 pm

Right on, brother West! Even the bits that were over my head.

September 16, 2011

Happy 86th, B.B.!

Filed under: music — Tags: , , — paragardener @ 5:44 pm

B.B. King, Ambassador of the Blues, turns 86 today. After completing his Farewell Tour in 2006, he’s just continued touring and is touring the United States currently — you can check it out on his official website. He gave a guest performance on an album just released in August. How many blues stars from “the glory days” are still alive at all?

My favorite B.B. song is “Everyday I Have the Blues,” because I do. Most of the versions on Youtube are too fast or have too much cheesy pop orchestration, so I had to settle for this one with no video:

I think that BB survived so many of his cohort because he takes it easy much of the time. He plays relaxed, sings relaxed, he seems to stay out of thickets like hard drinking and violence, and he’s nice to people. Happy birthday, BB!

July 28, 2011

Blues of the Moment

Filed under: music — Tags: , — paragardener @ 5:00 pm

I’m currently learning Goin’ Fishin’ by Taj Mahal and Back Door Man by Willie Dixon (written for Howlin’ Wolf).

Goin’ Fishin’ is in drop-D tuning and uses the chords D, G and A with a few decorations. The part that’s killing me is the weird timing of the vocal.

The eldest Backdoor Man is in the key of E. Willie Dixon wrote it for Chester Burnett, aka Howlin’ Wolf, to sing. The song seems to lend itself to some type of musical chaos, eh?

Willie Dixon was the quiet genius behind Back Door Man and quite a few other hits in the Chess Records family: Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Want to Make Love to You, Spoonful… Here is a 1970 recording of Back Door Man with Dixon singing and probably playing bass. And there is Dixon singing “Nervous,” though his bass playing betrays rock-solid confidence:

I sentimentally enjoy The Doors’ Back Door Man, but man, they botched it. You can find plenty of Doors B.D.M.’s in the infosphere, but check out T-Model Ford jamming with two honky compatriots, Bill Abel & Bert Deivert (2 guitars and a mandolin playing in T-Model’s driveway).


“The blues is like the devil it comes on you like a spell

It will leave your heart full of trouble and your poor mind full of hell.” — Lonnie Johnson


“You guys, having some satanic guitar pick isn’t gonna make your rock any better… because Satan’s not in a guitar pick, he’s inside all of us… in your hearts. He’s what makes us not want to go to work, or exercise, or tell the truth. He’s what makes us want to party and have sex with each other all night long. He’s that little voice in your mind that says ‘fuck you’ to the people you don’t like.” ~open mic host, Pick of Destiny

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