Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A dirty boy and dirty girl

I THOUGHT I MIGHT LITERALLY DIE laughing. Laughing hard for three minutes straight is painful. And what if you break a rib, or your sternum or something? That could puncture your heart, so yeah -- you actually could die laughing. I had to get up and remove myself from the room so I might have a chance to stop laughing, or at least, reduce the laughter intensity level by at least 40%. I mean, it really seemed, at the time, like a medical emergency.

What brought on this admixture of uncontrolled laughing and paranoia? Well I was sitting there with Brian Wharton, a.k.a. Sharkula, and his sidekick Kick Ass Alyssia, a.k.a. The Drunk Odd Kid, in her living room, for my first screening of their surreal YouTube video "Dirty Boys and Dirty Girls."

Yes, admittedly, my paroxysms were in part fueled by some kind of herbal product we were enjoying, as well as by some beer (and possibly, some weird chemical in the Chinese take-out). It elevated every Sharkula belch, every shot of him gesturing maniacally while sporting a Burger King crown, every shot of Alyssia on an exercise bike tossin' back Old Style -- to outer-space hilarity. Even the lurching beat and burping bassline made me laugh. Or:

Rhymes like these are straight breezy, easy for me
To think, I'm the opposite of Young Jeezy
Please me, my style's sick
I'm a flea in your D-O-G
I'm in the place to get b-b-BUSY

(The "b-b-BUSY" made me bust out laughing even harder; so did typical Shark lines like "Solar polar bear stopped on a staircase"...)

But even without herbal assistance, this is some off-the-planet stuff. I am proud to know such talented and crazy people -- even if their humor is kind of raunchy, at least they are so cartoonish about it that no one could take it seriously. Brian is just a tremendously talented guy blessed and cursed with mental and physical hyperactivity, who I think really just wants everybody to like him. In the meantime, he boasts a virtually random freestyling skill -- he just grabs words and pictures out of the ether and strings them together, often to hilarious effect.

Alyssia is also multitalented, sweet, and smart, and one of the first things she said after we met was that I reminded her of her high school boyfriend, who even had the same name as me. The more we hung out, the more it became evident that we think alike. Well, except nowadays she likes people of the same sex and I like people of the opposite sex. That's a pretty major difference.Anyway, the video. Here you go. (Warning: these lyrics may offend sensitive listeners...)

The fame of Hall


This is too good to be true. This is the online TV show starring one of my musical heroes doing music from his solo albums and, of course, from his thirty-odd-year partnership with John Oates. The latest episode co-stars KT Tunstall, a capable guitarist and singer who makes some beautiful harmonies with Daryl, and is not so shabby solo either. But best of all, Episode 1 (in the archives) kicks off with "Everything Your Heart Desires," a song I've never seen Hall and Oates do live -- not in the two H & O shows I've attended, not in hundreds of online videos. After that comes a acoustic-guitar-touched version of "Cab Driver," from Hall's solo album, which captures even more of the dark, misty mood of the original single, then expands into an acid-jazz jam. Then, out of left field, comes the forgotten "It's a Laugh," a late '70s single that had only modest chart success but was nonetheless a good song.

If all you know about Hall and/or Hall and Oates is their jingle-slick, radio-ready hits, you don't know the half. They're one of those acts who continually remake their songs: the live version is always new and improved, and usually extended. In episode 1 Hall's voice is in relatively good shape (not always the case anymore as he approaches 60). Do the brief registration and log in and see for yourself. The man's still got it.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

"Actually, I prefer nonduality,"

SAID PRASAD, ALOUD, in response to -- nothing.

We were in the midst of silent meditation, and he just suddenly decided to say that. The other yoga students sitting cross-legged in the room, including my brother, laughed good-naturedly, as if they were in on the joke. But, to whom was Prasad responding? No one had said anything. At least, I hadn’t said anything aloud -- I had only thought it.

Mind-reading? Perhaps.

Are psychic powers proof of enlightenment? Not necessarily.

See, I was there at the meditation/worship session, let’s say, less than willingly. My brother, a devout member, had invited me to what I thought would be a New Year’s party. A “celebration,” he'd called it. It wasn’t at all what I had envisioned. I had told him I might come to a party but I wouldn’t get involved in the religion stuff. However, as it turned out, it was all religion stuff: meditating, chanting to various deities I don’t believe in, venerating statues and pictures. It all made me queasy: I didn’t like the spirit in that place. I consider the statues and pictures to be idols. And because of that, I was silently praying -- for  protection, not only for myself but for my brother’s two little boys who were also there and who did not understand what they were doing. Because, you know, you have to test the spirits -- many are up to no good.

Did Prasad sense my silent prayers about all this? In Eastern thought praying to a separate, personal, transcendent God, or believing in discrete, personal demonic spirits,  would be “dualistic” -- i.e., backward and unenlightened.

Except, curiously enough, when it comes to certain dualistic practices these guys  favor, such as arranging dozens of idols, vessels, censers, pictures of their guru, and other items of worship or ceremony on the altar. And bowing down to those idols (or as I like to call them, “non-action figures” – from the biblical observation that they have eyes but cannot see; ears, but cannot hear, and mouths, but cannot speak). It's puzzling that these ones who are going to teach me and other benighted Westerners to transcend the evils of dualism, the attachment to material reality, are here literally worshiping material things.

Religions that worship images and relics and other objects tend to deny that they do so. Each has some rhetorical way to finesse the fact. Roman Catholics bow to statues and graves of saints, pray to them, and petition them for supernatural intervention. But relax: this is not worship, it's "veneration." (Orthodox folk would say the same thing, plus add that they are better since they venerate icons but not statues; but if "veneration" is not worship, what's it matter? They could've saved themselves a schism, seems to me.)

According to my brother, he and his fellow believers do not view the statues as gods; they are “deities.” They “represent various aspects of the divine.” For the time being I'll lay aside the parsing and simply ask: Why do people need a visual representation of the divine?

How enlightened are you, really, if you need pictures? When you grow up, you are expected to be able to read books without pictures. How much more should that be true in spirituality? Wasn’t this exactly the point of the second of the Ten Commandments?

If we’re striving for complete unity and devotion to the Source of all things alone, why then would we fragment our attention upon things, the creation – and some of the lowest, crudest things at that : mere pictures and objects made by human hands? It’s a great example of how a very lofty-sounding principle is negated in practice.