David Crosby's "Laughing"
Ooof. Lots of personal confluence in this one.
Is everything meta? I kinda think the answer is yes. My belfry bats resonated with your gongs on the nature of a “mature seeker” but wonder how one attains a state of maturity out of the reality of persistent uncertainty. I’m trying but it feels like an infinite babe-in-the-woods moment.
Your words and themes here entwine with threads of my history and meaning-surfing, but at awkward angles. I just wanted to share how they conspired in my mind.
I never got into Crosby beyond the hits, but my dad played and hung out with many of the Bay Area rock artists of that time, including Santana and the Dead. He was a hustling jazz trumpeter trying to find a place in Rock & Roll, and chose that path instead of being present in my life. When I was 30, I tracked him down while he was performing at Pier 23 Cafe on the Embarcadero. During a break between sets I introduced myself.
We never developed a relationship beyond sparse pleasantries, and he often filled those moments with famous musician name drops and related stories. He died suddenly in 2008, alone, between parked cars in Pacifica. Much of his life, at least from his perspective, is permanently locked in mystery. My younger dadhalf-siblings confirm that I have a lot of his traits, in spite of his total absence, and that is both intriguing and terrifying. It makes me ponder the scope of "spooky actions at a distance”.
Was my dad a seeker or just a hustling drug taking braggart artist? Both? Was he haunted or inspired by brushing shoulders with success and fame? What shadows dogged him? What parts of this quandary live in me?
All of the above, I assume.
Anyway, thanks for your Thought-Fu, Shrugged Shoulders style.
Erik, thanks for that. I can`t believe I`d never heard “Laughing” or any of that album before.
`Nice one` to use the parlance of the times.
Alan Watts presented that the whole idea of hitching up with a guru or following a path is to eventually find out that you don`t need to. The tricky bit is, we have to do it in order to get to that point; we have to get into it to get out of it and the fool has to persist in his folly in order to become wise as Blake said and Alan Watts was fond of referencing.
Even Krishnamurti spent decades on the Theosophical path with all its steps and handrails before he headed off into his pathless land.
I`m not surprised that Alan Watts is still wildly popular after so long (another 50 year anniversary for your list!). Apart from anything else, his emphasis on play and purposelessness can be a great medicine for today`s spiritual consumer culture with its obsession with getting to the next level/chakra/dimension/plane/state etc and acting like a spiritual tourist fighting for his seat on the bus, whilst missing the beauty of the journey.
Hi Erik. You always trigger many thoughts and memories. I’ll just put them out here in no particular order.
The two cultural icons from that period that resonate most with me are The Grateful Dead and Gravity’s Rainbow. Now I’m wondering is there a connection between the two and I’ll probably spend next week looking for one.
My favorite seeker is (I know it’s been debunked) Carlos Castaneda
Alan Watts’s laughing meditation
A dramatic experience during an ayahuasca ceremony that I can still recall in memory which still has more meaning than clutching a shadow
Thanks for the great post
Thank you for this. I was raised inside this culture of seeking by disenchanted hippies, who took the 80s very hard. The album gave me intense nostalgia, although I can't recall ever having heard it before.
I'm writing because I had a thought. It has a lot of pieces, I hope you have a few minutes to bear with me.
As it happens I just finished reading the book Pleasure Activism. There are some things to recommend it, but also something about it that really bothered me. It contains a defensiveness about pleasure, a fighting spirit, anger. "Fuck you, society, for telling me not to enjoy sex (or food, or drugs, or my body) -- I will enjoy it to spite you!"
The pleasure of the laughing child (in both the spiritual mode and the nonsense mode) exists with reference to the sun, but not other babies, if that makes sense. There is no moral component to the laughing child, no politics. I now see that this is what I disliked about Pleasure Activism -- the moralizing and politics of something that I suspect to be sacred.
The next book I hope to read, when it comes from the library, is The Master and His Emissary. I heard a recent interview with Iain McGilchrist, the author, in which he gives a low-bullshit account of the split brain, which is the topic of this book. To give a reduction of a reduction of a reduction -- the right brain considers things in their wholeness, while the left brain considers things narrowly and for their utility. The right brain knows it needs the left brain, but the left brain doesn't realize the right brain even exists. The left also possesses all language, and so the narrative, consciousness-as-dialogue, reasoning awareness of ourselves and the world is entirely the domain of the left brain. Anyway, it's fascinating stuff and I think it's likely you already know all this so I'll move on. The book then (I hear) moves on to social critique in what McGilchrist believes is an increasingly left-brain dominant world.
Finally, my thought: that what was so radical about the 70s-era counterculture weirdness was that it was a sincere attempt to subvert the left brain. The experience of a sacred thing, that is whole and wise and also somehow literally meaningless, is the hallmark of right brain thinking. As is the inability to express it directly; we must instead rely on such shady ambassadors as art and music to look at the laughing child, the shining bird in the palm, and even then as if through a hand-mirror pointed over our shoulders, trying to see the back of our own heads.
So much for-sale spiritualism doesn't see this at all. The left brain has identified the utility of spiritualism, meditation, and psychedelic drugs, and is putting them to use, while entirely missing the point. And so these things have been reduced to productivity, moralizing, lifestyle, or politics. So I'll be thinking about these things when the book finally arrives!
Erik, just when I wondered how you would top your post about your early writer’s aspirations, here comes “Slanted and Disenchanted.” Really, terrific. A riff on “If you see the Buddha on the road….” This passage is priceless:
“Even the most enthusiastic and intimate interlocutor remains, in some intangible sense, a stranger. There is always a gap. In the words of the Zen master Homeless Kodo, who wandered around Japan teaching layfolk instead of monks, ‘you can’t even trade so much as a single fart with the next guy.’”
To this we can add the following: Western philosophers make much of Socrates’ claim that he was wise because he knew that he knew nothing. Given the cantankerous character of Plato’s teacher, what he meant to say was that--after spending the day making various upper crust townspeople look ridiculous, and in front of a bunch of teenagers at that—he didn’t know shit, either. He didn’t have that answer, not even for himself. He was still looking until the end.
I’m signing up for a subscription to Burning Shore! Keep up the good work.
Great column, Erik! And thanks for introducing me all this great music, which, I sadly confess, I'd really never heard before. What's amazing is that I was already (almost) 'adultish', and you were just a 'little kid'! One assumes that you weren't listening to this when you were four or five years old, or, who knows? maybe you were! Keep up your fine work!
Aligns with my own recent experience, but I wouldn't have thought of the Crosby song. Thanks for the analysis and pointer. I wore that album out when it was fresh, but didn't have a clue what it might've meant. I've developed even more and better cluelessness as I've aged. "It's all done with mirrors." (Also appreciating the Homeless Kodo reference, I happen to be reading "The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo" right now...)