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Style

“For those unacquainted with the blues, it is not necessary to know much except all blues sound essentially the same. What counts is the individuality of the singer, the soul of the performer. Everyone plays the same three or four chords; the melodies are almost indistinguishable, so the captivating part is what the player brings to the form. In the presence of a rare and gifted player or singer, one can capture for a moment a special feeling. It may cause you to cry or laugh. Sometimes it can change your life. It is this essence that compels everyone who hears the blues to listen to more.” – Michael Nesmith, The Long Sandy Hair of Neftoon Zamora.

“There exists a unique language, halfway between a thought and a gesture.” – Antonin Artaud

In Platonic philosophy there exists a belief of the perfect form of things. Any manifestation of that object or person is only an imperfect instantiation of the perfect form. Working with this model in mind, we all have pre-programmed into our minds the concepts that exist of these objects. It is not the rabbit itself that is the ‘rabbitness’ and in truth there is no form needed to truly encompass the idea of rabbit. This is to say, the concept of rabbit and rabbitness is independent of the actual form of rabbit. This can be witnessed by taking a picture of a rabbit and slowly taking away each part of it. What is the defining point? The nose? The whiskers? One ear? The tail? Or is it in truth the fact that you have an image of rabbit that goes beyond all of these things?

Should that be so – and in truth it is – you have now in your mind the ‘Style’ of rabbit. It is this that we are trying to capture and this that this note is focused upon. The concept of style is abstract, but it is also vital to understand in what I will be discussing in future notes at this time. To grasp the concept of style is to grasp the elusive, mercurial language that Artaud sought to exemplify within his Theatre of Cruelty. To understand style is to understand that ephemeral “special feeling” that Nesmith wrote as being a driving factor in the widespread appeal that the blues has been known to have. To be able to recognize style is to recognize an ongoing theme within the music of the late, great, Townes Van Zandt. It its these things and more that I am focusing upon.

To reiterate – the function of style, as defined here, is to serve as the all encompassing meaning behind any object or thing. Style is what makes a rabbit recognizable despite the condition it may be in. Style is what allows you to recognize that someone has entered the room and who that someone is before they speak – irregardless of any other indicators. Style is that innate ability to recognize things that we each have within us. As an alchemical concept, it is nearly pure abstraction, but a basic enough form of abstraction that we each should be able to grasp it with ease.

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Wherever You May Be Wandering

Today is the birthday of the late, great, Townes Van Zandt. Although the man never gained the omnipresent popularity of artists such as Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan, he insinuated himself in his own way. Although many do not know him by name, they know his writing through the covers of artists such as Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, and Lyle Lovett. Townes enjoyed a cult following in his lifetime, even as he struggled to keep his own recordings in print.

Townes’ power however, is something entirely different from a catchy tune from a few notes strung together. His power is even greater than a clever line. The power of Townes Van Zandt resides in the feeling evoked from his poetry. It arises from the emotions that his melodies never fail to invoke. Listening to the music of Townes Van Zandt may not be an enjoyable experience (he famously described his songs as being hopeless, not depressing) but rather a transcendental one. Somehow, in the process of learning how to play the blues he instead hit upon a much more primal and transformative emotion.

Growing up, I have always had a penchant for the older music favoring it above the popular music of the day almost exclusively. In listening to Pink Floyd and The Who I learned that music can be something more than a tune to be hummed, it can be a deeply personal and cathartic experience. In listening to The Wall and Quadrophenia, I learned how music can save a life. In listening to Townes Van Zandt, I learned how music can change a soul.

On this, his birthday, I would like to offer up my thanks for what he has done. His life and his music are something that will be cherished for many, many years. Though he may never reach the status of superstar that so many artists strive for, he will always enjoy a more personal and intimate relationship with his listeners than any of the wildly popular artists have. I don’t think that he would have liked the distance that such fame would inevitably bring.

Thank you, Townes Van Zandt and I hope you’re finding everything you want wherever you may be wandering now.