Ambient: Solidarity

According to Wikipedia, ambient music is “a genre of music that puts an emphasis on tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm.”  I think that sums it up.  My introduction to ambient music was via Brian Eno, the musican who got his start with Roxy Music.  Another influence was Tangerine Dream.

Eno says, “When I started working on ambient music, my idea was to make music that was more like painting.”  When you have the bucks to hire accomplished musicians and a nice recording studio, you can afford to be abstract about it. I have a keyboard, a couple of cheap Shure mics, a laptop and a program called Mixcraft (like Garage Band but for PC).  My idea is just to produce something that sounds half decent.

Today’s selection is taken from one of my earlier pieces, done in the aforementioned more “traditional musical structure.”  I had planned to call this version “Tomorrow’s Castles Are Only Sleeping About”.  If you listen closely and know your prog rock history, you can figure that one out.

Then I thought to call it simply “Track 9.”

But after yesterday, I decided on Solidarity.


Stephen Levine, Kuan Yin and an Eagle

Teacher, author and poet, Stephen Levine passed away Sunday at the age of 78 after an unspecified “long illness”.

StephenLevineAs noted on his Wikipedia page, Levine was “one of a generation of pioneering teachers who, along with Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, have made the teachings of Theravada Buddhism more widely available to students in the West.” Lion’s Roar, in its announcement of Levine’s death noted how he “was influenced by various spiritual traditions. He was also a friend of Ram Dass and, like him, was a student of Neem Karoli Baba.”

Levine’s last book, published in 2013, was Becoming Kuan Yin: The Evolution of Compassion.

The story he tells, of Miao Shan, the princess who defied her father and became a Buddhist nun at White Sparrow Monastry, is central to the Chinese evolution from the male Avalokitesvara into the female Kuan Yin.  In the Heart Sutra, Kuan Yin transcends all sufferings, crossing over the sea of suffering. Transcending gender, Kuan Yin becomes even more relevant as an archetypal symbol for our times.

Instead of some cosmic being that exists above our everyday reality, Kuan Yin should be seen as representing the universal capacity of all human beings to give love.

This excerpt from Levine’s book is from Chapter Five, “Miao Shan Observing” and it struck me as rather beautiful:

Miao Shan was learning a lot about true prayer and the levels of loving-kindness meditation available in surrender and mindful service as they infiltrated each action throughout her day. She found her heart in the first breath upon waking, and it called forth her spiritual ancestors, the saints, the bodhisattvas, and the Buddhas of the ages for support.

Each intention was enforced with the clarity and power of love. She learned more about love by watching how unloving the people around her could be. She learned about how mercy could heal, like a poultice, the wounds of absence in the convent’s sad inhabitants. And the parishioners, many out of exasperation, came to plead their causes to some power beyond their own . . .

Some monks not entering the monastery sat in the courtyard in meditative prayer seeking not some Supreme Being but supreme beingness; doing spiritual practice not just for their own benefit, but for the well being of others . . .”

And we bid a sad farewell to Glenn Frey who died yesterday. He was a founding member of The Eagles, the band whose music typified the peaceful, easy (sometimes hard) California country sound.  Several years ago, he release a sole album of pop standards and here is a video of one of them, Bobby Troup’s immortal “Route 66”:



As you probably know, David Bowie is dead. Comes as quite a shock. A victim of cancer, he just turned 69 a few days ago and released his 27th studio album, Blackstar. According to CNN, “Neither his publicist nor the statement elaborated on what kind of cancer the singer was fighting.” Earlier yesterday, this message appeared on Bowie’s Twitter account: “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle.”

bowie2I was just thinking about Bowie yesterday. I was remembering how much I enjoyed the music on the Let’s Dance album, not because it necessarily represented his best work, but rather because the tunes had a beat and you could dance to them and it was part of the soundtrack to a fun time in my life. I thought I should listen to it again.

It was during the tour supporting that album that I attended my one and only Bowie concert. A great show at the Forum in Inglewood. August, 1983. It was called the “Serious Moonlight” tour.

Bowie got into Buddhism when he was a teenager, influenced (like so many of us back in the day) by the novels of Jack Kerouac. After he recorded his first album, Bowie spent a few weeks at a Buddhist monastery in Scotland. I don’t know this for sure, but I believe it was Samye Ling, founded by Chogyam Trungpa, and the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the West. I also don’t know if the interest in Buddha-dharma stayed with him the rest of his life. There was a period when he flirted with Christianity.

In 1993, he produced the soundtrack for The Buddha of Suburbia, a 1993 BBC mini-series based on the book by Hanif Kureishi, a coming of age story set in London during the 1970s. As I recall the book has more to do with rock music than Buddha.

David Bowie’s impact on popular music during the last three decades of the 20th century is nearly incalculable. He is among the pantheon of music greats. I always thought he deserved more credit as a great singer, and to me, a great singer is someone who after just a couple of note, you know exactly who it is. That was Bowie.

That early Buddhist influence is evident in this song, Silly Boy Blue, from his 1967 debut album. Lyrics follow the video.

Silly Boy Blue

David Bowie

Mountains of Lhasa are feeling the rain
People are walking the Botella lanes
Preacher takes the school
One boy breaks a rule
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue

Yak butter statues that melt in the sun
Cannot dissolve all the work you’ve not done
A chela likes to feel
That his over self pays the bill
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue

You wish and wish, and wish again
You’ve tried so hard to fly
You’ll never leave your body now
You’ve got to wait to die

Child of Tibet, you’re a gift from the sun
Reincarnation of one better man
The homeward road is long
You’ve left your prayers and song
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue
Silly Boy Blue, silly Boy Blue.


Where the Buffalo Roam

When I was a boy growing up in Kansas and my family went on a vacation, it was always by car. To my kid’s mind, there was nothing more monotonous than driving though Kansas. Sweeping along a hunk of pavement in the middle of a prairie, with seemingly endless stretches of wheat fields and ranch land on either side of you. Riding in the back seat hour after hour, there was little for my brother and I to do except annoy one another, and Mom and Dad.

I would enjoy driving in Kansas now. I’d especially like to go back to the one place in that expanse of brown and yellow I really enjoyed and it seemed like we passed by the spot every year. It was a pasture where about a half of mile from the highway a small herd of buffalo grazed. Maybe 50 head or so. My dad said that once 50 million buffalo roamed the plains but these were the last of the great bison . . . it was the last buffalo herd in the world.

Thinking back on it, I’m sure he said the last buffalo in Kansas, because there were buffalo on Catalina Island and at Yellowstone Park. However, it is a fact that by the early 1900s there were less than 500 . . . anywhere.

It has been said that after 1870 it was the official policy of the United States government to wipe out the buffalo, part of the greater U.S. policy to exterminate Native Americans.

The memory of driving by the buffalo each vacation is one reason why I have always liked this poem by Vachel Lindsay, who was born on this day in 1879:

The Flower-Fed Buffaloes

buffalo1bThe flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prairie flowers lie low:—
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by the wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us, long ago.
They gore no more, they bellow no more,
They trundle around the hills no more:—
With the Blackfeet, lying low,
With the Pawnees, lying low,
Lying low.

Vachel Lindsay


Musical Interlude: October First Quarter Moon Edition

A break today from Buddhism and serious stuff.

I wrote and recorded this song years ago and occupied myself last week by putting some images to it. It ain’t much, just sort of a little pop song, but hopefully it won’t hurt your ears.

By the way, I have a YouTube channel with other videos I’ve made, a eclectic mix of covers, originals, and ambient music.