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CCF95F5A-32C0-406F-9649-C5EE4E982B3F.jpegNote: This piece was originally published on thekyotokibbitzer. The original piece is called “a breakdown.” For the collected works version we have changed this to “a close reading.” They basically mean the same thing.

In this piece we will breakdown Kris Kristofferson’s “To Beat the Devil.” A breakdown is basically what the young folks these days call a “deep dive.” Only we’re not spending days falling through interweb rabbit holes to get there. That kind of action is reserved for Tusk and matters of that ilk. Tusk ilk is pretty thin on the ground.

Instead, a breakdown is just a close look at an item of interest. We’ll start with a couple of songs, see how the method wants to evolve.

To Beat the Devil appears on Kristofferson’s self-titled debut album from 1970 on Monument. It is, by any standard, an astonishingly good record, featuring “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” and “Just the Other Side of Nowhere,” along with the ol’ Devil. That’s four absolute classics right there for ya.

{Sunday Morning features an opening quatrain that most other songwriters would trade their career for:

Well I woke up Sunday morning/ with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt/ and the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad/ so I had one more for dessert

I could play this game all day—Jason Isbell’s Southeastern features another couple life-work worthy couplets:

The first two lines of “Super 8”:

Don’t wanna die in a super 8 motel/ just because somebody’s evening didn’t go so well

And from “Different Days”:

Time went by and I left and I left again/ Jesus loves a sinner but the highway loves a sin.

We’ll do a Different Days breakdown a little later on. If I’d written a song that great I’d call it a career and sip martinis on the house for the duration.}

Sunday Morning and Bobby are probably objectively better songs than To Beat the Devil, yet what I like about this one is that Kristofferson states very clearly a kind of founding intention for his life in song and art, right out of the gate. The only parallel I can think of is Craig Finn’s The Hold Steady, whose first album Almost Killed Me kicks off with “A Positive Jam.”

Here’s the master telling it like it is:

I got bored when I didn’t have a band/ so I started a band/ we’re gonna start it with a positive jam/ hold steady.

Rock on Craig baby.

Anyway, let’s get to the focus of this piece. And if you’d like to experience it sans interpretation, here you go:

TO BEAT THE DEVIL

Kristofferson opens with a spoken intro.:

A couple of years back I come across a great and wasted friend of mine in the hallway of a recording studio. And while he was reciting some poetry to me that he had written, I saw that he was about a step away from dying, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. And the lines of this song occurred to me.

Here the singer is looking up at his idol who is both “great and wasted.” I wasn’t around quite yet in 1970, yet I can easily imagine Ginsberg’s “best minds” line hanging over talented folks across a lot of zones. Klosterman wasn’t quite there either (June 5, 1972–a mid Gemini of course), but he was close, and to indulge not for the last time in a little Klostermania, the zeitgeist seemed to be making people thirsty.

The singer receives some scraps of poetry, shards of shattered inspiration, and a song “occurs” to him. He doesn’t state it directly, however we imagine the song arrives fully formed, like “Pancho and Lefty,” or “Kubla Khan.” Thus, To Beat the Devil is also both an answer and an offer of redemption to his idol, who here is John(ny) Cash.

I’m happy to say he’s no longer wasted, and he’s got him a good woman. And I’d like to dedicate this to John and June, who helped showed me how to beat the devil.

The singer takes up the mantle of the master, and in so doing opens a possibility window onto redemption for his senior. This is no exaggeration—Cash also recorded To Beat the Devil in 1970 and we are basically stipulating that Kristofferson’s genius, descended from Cash while also original to himself, helped rescue Cash from addiction and the whole deal there. We won’t be deep diving into the archive on this one—as we said we’re just keeping it local and breaking it down, so you’ll have to take my word on it or search it up your own self.

Here’s the first verse, and we’ll tread a little lightly from here and let the words speak for themselves:

It was wintertime in Nashville
Down on Music City Row
And I was looking for a place
And to get myself out of the cold
To warm the frozen feeling that was eating at my soul
Keep the chilly wind off my guitar

A classic down and out in the big city piece of scene-setting. The singer is physiologically and psychologically frozen, a cold wind gusts across his art. The man needs a break. Read the rest of this entry »

8097150301_48d39d4b9c_bMatthew Thomas, Kyoto

This post was originally published at craftfollowsconcept.com

Introduction: This little piece is a lightly structured meditation on aspects of the past and clarification of intentions concerning the future.  It appends my previous statement of intent from four years ago (posted below).  Although there is some continuity of concern, specifically around the nature of the demands that playing a role or roles in society places on the individual actor, and some continuity of theory through the continued influence of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, hopefully there is some new material and new thinking as well.  I should acknowledge a debt to several writers whom I have read intensively over the past four years: most especially this piece bears the fingerprints of Carl Jung, James Hollis, and Dane Rudhyar, and many of the ideas here would not exist, or at least not be as fully articulated, without their assistance.  I should also acknowledge that I have been experimenting with different means of writing, different approaches to producing a text, and to the extent that anything herein bears traces of the spirit I can claim no credit.

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“I wanna dedicate this to someone out there watching tonight, I know she knows who she is.”

Bob Dylan, spoken introduction to “Oh Sister.”  From the bootleg record “Songs for Patty Valentine.”

Today I feel as if I stand at the edge of a new world.  The journey through early adulthood has drawn itself to a close, in stages, over the past several years, and I am alive to the fact that a new journey must now be set out upon.  In order to face any new journey properly, with intelligence and intention, we are called upon first to recognize the altered nature of the landscape we will make our way across in the new phase.

The longer I live, the more I understand the words of Ecclesiastes, “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens.”  Each era of our lives, each season, sometime even each week or set of weeks, seems to take on a certain coloring and certain characteristics that differentiate it from what came before, just as each zone of time seems to require different things of us.  The strength of our intention and will, as well as the quality and effectiveness of our reactions and decision making, are forever put to the test in small ways, and large ones, and we are forced to define, if only to ourselves, the nature of our relationship to our surroundings, our community, our dharma, our fate.

When we are young, time seems to stretch on almost indefinitely.  The summer of my eighth year, for example, was experienced as a vast expanse of almost undifferentiated time; two or three weeks would pass in a barely conscious haze of biking around my parent’s property, hiking and collecting stones from quarries in the area, or sitting on the roof in the sun, a child in the flow of nature, without “problems” of his own.  Looking back on such a period today, it indeed has a coloring of a kind, and this coloring is so loaded with low-grade nostalgia and barely remembered circumstances that my memories exist not so much in the form of events, rather in the form of a “feel.”  I have a sense of what it felt like to be eight, a sense of the patterns into which life energy fell or was collected, pooled, also a sense of my budding interests, which would in time round into what we are pleased to call “personality.”  There was nothing specific that I was “up to,” and I never had the need to think more than a day or so in advance.  The expression of my energy was essentially aligned with the desires of my heart as much as at that age we can know these at all–or perhaps that is just the point, in a state of primitive unknowingness we are naturally and effortlessly aligned with the desires of our heart, and only when we begin to have to analyze or ask after these do we begin to lose connection with them.

As we grow, the process of socialization begins to crowd in on us, and no person, no personality, is wholly free from the pressures of socialization, of collective expectation, of the reactive categorizations and projections of the always slightly behind-the-curve zeitgeist.  Depending on our own type and manner of apprehending the world as it appears to us, we react and position ourselves in some relation to, at some angle toward, the categories and projections that surround us.  Indeed, both the conformist and the rebel define themselves in relation to and reaction to “the system,” and in many ways their respective positioning is far more similar than otherwise.  Dane Rudyhar makes this point clearly, as do, in more elliptical and elaborated terms, Berger and Luckmann.  Even those (myself for example) who purport or imagine to be able to live outside of collective expectations, to create their own life and write their own script, yet define themselves primarily through the categories that the zeitgeist makes available–it takes work, huge, lasting work, to even begin to transcend one’s era and circumstance in even the smallest part.

The first part of life is necessarily a struggle to find one’s footing in the swim of society, to demonstrate value, usefulness, and the ability to check whichever boxes one is asked to check.  Occasionally, we meet someone who in significant ways seems to have wrenched herself free of some of this static at an earlier age, but even such persons habitually define themselves in terms of existing categories and remain to some extent still a prisoner of them.  For most of us, the child turned young adult, buffeted by external events and demands, adjusts herself over a period of years by applying her core characteristics, tendencies, and abilities to the game as it seems to present itself, and in the process slowly relinquishes immediate touch with that inner voice that provided direction to the child of nature who knew instinctively what was and wasn’t good for her, what was and wasn’t desirable.

At the same time, the goals that one identifies for oneself in youth are not to be lightly dismissed.  They do often provide a symbol sufficient, to borrow Jung’s phrase, to drive libido up a gradient steeper than nature; one learns to accomplish “work,” and to appreciate both the material and ego-related satisfactions that comes from this accomplishment.  Jung says as much when he tells us that it is essentially heathy and necessary when a young person becomes “entangled with fate” which “(involves) him in life’s necessities and the consequent sacrifices and efforts through which his character is developed and his experience matured.”  This dance with fate leads us into a variety of positions and stances, some of which we may carry out with grace and ease, others of which require contortions which we preform without a clear sense of the relationship between the presented or required form and our ability to functionally engage with that form.

Under the pressure to make something of ourselves, to build a career, a business, an image, a body of work, to make more of time by trying to subdue it, we may come to feel that we have found the game, we are on the fast track, we are properly situated under the stage lights, playing the part as it is supposed to be played. Read the rest of this entry »

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

This post originally published at craftfollowsconcept.com

Press Release:

Good evening.  I am here to introduce to you a new band.  You will always remember this evening, as you are the first audience to hear about the band, which will go on to shake the music industry to the core.  However, I’m sorry, I’m very sorry, but you will not be hearing from the band this evening.  They are very busy preparing for the possibility of contemplating their first show, which you will hear about in a few minutes.  At that time, you will be given a inside tip about how to score FREE TICKETS for this gig, but first I should explain the membership arrangement of the band, as it is a bit special.  The band is a trio consisting of two humans and a third member, a “third term”, which is referred to as “the floating concept.”  The floating concept triangulates the members and makes the band structure as we know it possible.  The band structure is therefore equivalent to a trinity.  Without the floating concept, the band would spill apart in a matter of hours due to its own frivolity and according to the second law of thermodynamics.

Who are these band members, you will want to know?  Of course you do.  When something this special, this fresh, this frankly white hot, comes along it draws all eyes.  Well, I can let you in on this much–the members are multi-talented young artistes on the cutting edge of fashion who are even as we speak enacting the first true artistic theory of the 21st century.  They are considering and arranging all aspects of their performance, except those aspects that relate to the music to be played.  There is a reason for this–the band can play no music, owns no instruments, and is in no hurry to learn their craft.  They are instead, busy, very busy, honing their CONCEPT,  Just as night follows day, and form follows function, the band believes, as its only tenant of belief, that craft follows concept (twitter hashtag #cfc).

Now, with the three members in place, is there room for more, you may ask.  Yes indeed.  In fact the band is actively recruiting a fourth member, and the position is wide open.  There are some conditions on this member, however.  First, the fourth member must be a woman, a female.  Second, she must be gorgeous and bewitching.  (For the time being, in advance of her arrival, we shall refer to her as the  “background term.”  Upon her arrival, the band will, momentarily, become a quaternary.)  Third, and crucially, she must break up the band almost instantaneously upon joining it.   There are no other conditions.

Now, you will be eager to know when and where the band will be playing as the break up of the band could occur at any time, in the blink of an eye, and is entirely at the mercy of the bewitching female, the eternal anima.  Fortunately, plans for the band’s first gig are already well underway.  The band will be convening in March of 2014 in Boracay, just 11 months from today, to discuss its next move.  At this point we are thrilled to be able to announce that in Boracay the agenda point of a concert or live event of some kind IS a distinct possibility.  In short, a performance concept MAY be discussed.

What that performance might look like is currently a matter of the highest secrecy not to mention massive uncertainty.  After all, as I am sure you will agree, the first true artistic theory of the 21st century, the theoretical descendant of surrealism, pop art, and the theater of the absurd, needs some little time to germinate.  It cannot be rushed.  However, there is some information that we are prepared to release tonight.  First, initial scouting has been undertaken on the island of Gibraltar, and very tentative discussions are being undertaken with representatives of the Zimbabwean government regarding possible locations.  At present, we are referring to these as “Plan A,” and “Plan B.”  In the event that either Plan A or Plan B materializes, you will be able to score FREE admission by simply attaching yourself to the flash mob which will storm the venue precisely 20 minutes after the band takes “the stage.”  In order to join the flash mob, you will simply need to locate third member of the band, the floating concept, who will be leading the mob.  Please be aware that the floating concept IS floating, and therefore by definition is subject to frequent re-definition and re-nominalization.   In other words, by the time the third term reaches this putative future time/space conjunction it may well be styling itself as something entirely other.

There is a Plan C.  Plan C will be referred to as “Plan C.”  Plan C is cancelation.  In the event of cancelation, the concert/event will be simulcast across all platforms for viewing in the comfort of your own home.

I know that at this point you will be salivating to know more, that you will already be scouring the internet for more information about the band and its concept.  What we can say is, anything you might read online is the purest of speculation.  The band does not leak, in fact it does not even hold water.  From an atmospheric point of view, however, the band is currently working under the following umbrella, and I quote:

“The new girl in Tahoe has swallowed Sinatra’s c**/ A Russian primadonna dances slow on valium/ After the game the benchwarmer can’t get a ride/ in space there is no center/ we’re always off to the side

Guinnevere orders one more beer in the smokey pick-up bar/ A burnt out tramp by the exit ramp waits for one more car/ The Latin teacher always smells like piss/ The census figures come out wrong/ there’s an extra in our midst.”

An extra?  A fifth member?  Is that a leak?  Does the band leak?  Does it, after all, hold water?

Come and see, follow us across all social media platforms at#cfc and craftfollowsconcept.com, tell your family, tell your friends, tell your neighbors, don’t tell a soul. The telos of the art world is about to be revolutionized, about to jump the shark, run rampant, build its own contingent, its own motherf***ing army.  Follow the band, tap into the excitement come and see a legend while it’s still being made!  Ladies, gentlemen, I give you, THE BAND.

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