Saturday, May 28, 2005

My Sedona or My Sherona

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
According to the March calendar I found in the living room of our Sedona lodgings, we missed attending the following classes- Angel Do You Have A Message For Me?, and, even more irresistible, Spirit Horse Readings- both then being offered at the Center For The New Age and taught by a woman named Angel Lightfeather. Lightfeather, according to a blurb found on the calendar brochure, receives “messages from the other side” and is available for phone readings.

Surprisingly, during our brief stay in Sedona (Population: 10,192, Elevation: 4,326 Feet) I saw little evidence of its reputation as one the capitals of the New Age movement. There was a small New Age bookstore (which smelled, as do most stores with similar leanings, excessively of lavender) where I stopped to buy a New York Times and where one of the clerks recommended the vacations first and only group hike along the Brins Mesa trail.

Making fun of New Agers is bargain-basement cheap and easier then shooting fish in a barrel but I admit to having made it known while in Sedona, with appropriate regularity, that I had been looking forward for sometime to getting my Chaka Kahn aligned. It’s an easy, highly compulsive, shtick, this- you may groan or roll your eyes in mild contempt if you feel it appropriate and it satiates your own need to consistently disavow the many merits of such banter. Me, I simply can’t resist. And I hasten to add that getting your Chaka Kahn properly aligned is nothing at all like getting your Chaka Wrath of Khan properly in order. Forgive me.

What are some of the more enduring clich├ęs of New Agism? Its healing crystals, its hodgepodge arcana of purloined neo-paganism/shamanism/Native-Americanism, its astrological (and highly synthesized) music and, perhaps most damagingly, its connection to the 1980’s as a nascent and supremely loopy boomer/Yuppie spiritual movement inexorably linked to a decade that spawned parachute pants, Reaganism and Cabbage Patch Kids. But the seriousness of its reach is not to be shrugged off as a trifle when one recalls that Nancy Reagan relied on the astrological readings of Joan Quigley to dictate her husband’s schedule.

A case could be made that beyond actually inadvertently helping a great many people (few of whom, I admit, I’ve ever met) the only aspect of the New Age solar system to break free of its air of fraud and hooey and resonate with the mainstream is its appropriation of Yoga. Our culture’s increasing tolerance for homeopathic medicine could also be said to have found its catalyst in those New Agers who evangelized the curative effects of Echinacea, Ginseng and Kola Nuts. But so-called holistic medicine has yet to take on the normative glow Yoga enjoys in the humdrum of the mainstream, where just about anybody can sign up for a class free of New Age trappings, its philosophy palatably diluted and its focus on the practical, down-to-earth benefits.

In his great book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James wrote, “The words ‘mysticism’ and ‘mystical’ are often used as terms of mere reproach, to throw at any opinion which we regard as vague and vast and sentimental, and without a base in either fact or logic.” Which is another way of saying we have contempt for such things. But to quote the tweed acerbity of H.L. Mencken (whose A Menken Chrestomathy is a must for any bookshelf): “I believe that quack healing cults set up a selection that is almost…benign and laudable. They attract, in the main, two classes: first, persons who are incurably ill, and hence beyond the reach of scientific medicine, and second, persons of congenitally defective reasoning powers. They slaughter these unfortunates by the thousand- even more swiftly and surely than scientific medicine (say, as practiced by the average neighborhood doctor) could slaughter them.” Which is another way of saying Concetta, who in addition to having the power to “speak with loved ones who have crossed over” is also a pet psychic. This is all good and fine provided she’s a licensed canine clairvoyant.

It’s easy to understand the spiritual allure of a place like Sedona. The surrounding red rock cliffs, mesas and buttes (fossilized sandstone over 270 million years old) rising up into a lazuline sky do inspire something preternatural, even venerable. And cartoonish. This is the landscape of countless and fruitless Wild E. Coyote Road Runner chases. I can’t help but wonder, however, if Sedona’s many vortex, defined by Lonely Planet as “points where the earth’s energy is focused,” aren’t actually New Age equivalents to what we commonly refer to as “Scenic Lookouts.” Such panoramic views, and Sedona has many, produce various grades of preprogrammed awe and celestial whimsy in addition to hackneyed photos of setting suns.

The place we stayed in had all the modern accoutrements you might hope for (wireless access, satellite television with over 500 stations) as well as stunning 180 degree views of the surrounding sandstone that impressively formed the backdrop to our living room, taking on greater and lesser shades of salmon, rust and vermillion in accordance to the position of the sun. Enjoying a bowl of Life cereal in the morning out on the deck while contemplating such a spectacle is a sublime way to kick off your day, especially if that bowl of Life is topped with a sliced banana.

This whole vacation, when you get down to it, was all about the excellence and persistence of rocks. You better believe we took the 2-hour drive in our rented Monolith, a Ford Excursion (their largest SUV) up the tortuous, vertigo inducing roads of highway 89-A with its frail looking guardrails and fearsome drops to the astonishing geological wonder of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. And whereas I can understand the devotional attitude affected by Sedona’s more intimate 270 million-year old crimson sandstone, even contemplating the age of the wonderfully titled Vishnu basement rocks found at the bottom layer of the Canyon walls and estimated to be 1.68 to 1.84 billion years old draws you toward the presence of something primal and unfathomable.

We spent the bulk of our time in Sedona. There’s not much of a downtown and what does pass for one is marred and endangered by a highly invasive species of stores that prey on a particular breed of tourist hungry for garish landscape tableaus to adorn their Winnebago’s walls with. This area felt a little like those gone-to-seed beachfront promenades found along the coasts where you can buy yourself an Elephant Ear, a bong and while away a couple hours visiting a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. Cathy and I went exploring one afternoon and lasted roughly ten minutes before the sheer accumulation of knickknack and trinket debris overwhelmed us and sent us fleeing.

There are tonier aspects to Sedona, replete with posh resorts and, in our case, lavish rentals. Expendable income is, after all, the town’s bread and butter. There are numerous high-toned art galleries, too, with a special emphasis on pseudo-classical sculptures of muscle rippling nudes and horses. I’m not at all sure just whose equine esthetic tastes these works excite, but from what I saw I’ll hazard that the final outcome is probably just as tacky as the oil painted fable screwed to the wall of the Winnebago.

Here’s what I’ll remember most about Sedona: One night, after most of us had imbibed a couple very potent Margaritas, my sister-in-law accidentally said Schmuckers instead of Smuckers and scored probably the weeks biggest laugh. As with any reticent family gathering, alcohol invites much needed lowering of inhibitions, slips of the tongue and eventual descent into the ribald.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Water Down The Back

Originally uploaded by chrisbreitenbach.
There's a lot I wish I had more time to write about. I'm really looking forward to writing, for example, about our recent vacation to Sedona but I'm currently trying to prioritize in addition to practicing the subtle arts of not allowing petty-ass misguided bullshit get to me. I'm lucky as hell to have in my wife and partner an incredible bulwark against such slings. Love, if creepy Tom Cruise can do it, so can I! I can't be cool. I can't be laid back! Thank you!

In the meantime, check out this new Joan Didion essay here. As usual, it's a fantastic piece of journalism, beautifully navigating the many contours of the Terry Schiavo happening from a few months back. I'm a big fan of both Didion's acute, and supremely wry intelligennce and her awesome ability to synthesize these big tent cultural affairs.

Lot's more to come soon.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Harmonic Convergence

We’re off to Sedona until Saturday. We’ve already told you, and so we’ve heard (let alone that it bares repeating) that it’s a “spiritual mecca and global power spot.” We’ll try and definitely get some confirmation on that. Beyond this, we’re looking forward to the desert sun, red rocks, hikes and occasional naps between chapters of a good book.

The Times kicked off a series yesterday on class that’s worth a look and a little time if you’re interested about such things. There’s even a fascinating interactive graphic that allows you to plug in and see how you measure up by using what the authors claim are “among the most influential” characteristics regarding class; occupation, education, income and wealth.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Crossing the Rubicon

I find myself playing with teleological tendencies, at least on a meteorological level, on grim, shivery days like this. “By golly”, I think, “it’s May 11th already- enough with the blustery shenanigans!” Sometimes, my friends, the fact that we can go from 80 and sunny to 39-degrees with a wind chill is so exasperating that I can’t help but wonder if nature doesn’t have a Hobbesian worldview and a dog that bites.

Still, we’re test free! Hooray! I don’t think I shattered any records or anything, but I’m feeling pretty confident that I did well enough at yesterday mornings purging. Were you aware, however, that it was Caesar who crossed the Rubicon, just as Washington crossed the Delaware? Perhaps you were. Me, I was stumped. I always imagined the crossing of the Rubicon happened sometime during the Middle Ages and was part of the mythological canon. Where I got that, I don’t know but I think Tangerine Dream had something to do with it. Of course, now that I’ve learned more it seems so blunt, a perfectly famous historical exclamation mark amongst all the mundane bureaucratic detritus. And certainly this crossing was as consequential as Washington’s own crossing. I feel such searing shame!

Here’s a smattering of what’s in rotation of late:

01) Bucky Done Gone: M.I.A.
02) The Hustle: Van McCoy -Choice feather disco from the golden era- complete with a stunning Herb Alpert like horn breakdown. Lovely.
03) Sonho Dourando: Daniel Lanois -from the Friday Night Lights soundtrack- the dusty elegance of Lanois’s swamp fuzz piling up atop a humble kick drum and some autumnal touchdown strings)
04) Big Day: Phil Manzanera (w/ Brian Eno)- Hadn’t heard it until last month- recorded almost 30 years ago for Manzanera’s debut solo album. Could just as easily have come from the first half of Before and After Science. Eno co-wrote the track with Manzanera and sings lead- some of his most affecting and swooning at that.
05) What Happened (Deep House Mix): Ade Duque ft. Blake Baxter- Ask anybody who loves House music- anybody who’s ever shared the dance floor at 3:00 a.m. with a couple hundred other fellow travelers while a DJ laid down a groove so thick and sublime you understood with perfect, joyous clarity just what it means to set your mind free and have your ass follow- ask this person what, at its root, House music is all about and they’ll tell you, “House is a feeling.” What Happened is the quintessence of that feeling. It kicks right out of the gate with the sickest, funkiest 4/4 and rolling bump bass that I’ve heard in years. Over this naughty groove, Blake Baxter playfully drops a litany of harsh condemnations and questions to the House music community (Chicago … the house sound. You gotta be kidding. What happened?” “New York … what the fuck happened?). About a month ago, in lieu of the treadmill I spent roughly 30 minutes dancing to this song 6 times in a row. That’s a potentially frightening vision to conjure and for that I apologize, but if you think that’s scary you should also know that I’m thinking of setting up the video camera next time to capture it. It’s all part of my larger plan to begin the 21st Century Jazzercise revival.
06) Double Dutch Bus: Frakie Smith- From 1981 and supposedly the source that launched the izzle slang craze of a couple years ago (it’s so 2003) as well as being an inspired sample source prominently featured in Timberland’s fantastic Double Dutch production from Missy Elliot’s Under Construction album. Definitely a gem from New York’s early 80’s post-punk days, it’s got hints of the Tom Tom’s Club’s lightly coiled funk esprit and a hefty dose of roller-rink disco spindrift.
07) Timy Thomas: Why Can’t We Live Together?: I can’t imagine the samba preset Timy’s got going on his organ here hasn’t already been sampled- the real question is why I haven’t sampled it yet!
08) Albums we’re excited about: Brian Eno- Another Day On Earth, the first entirely vocal album by the man in over 25 years! And if that weren’t exciting enough, Daniel Lanois has gone and done what I had hoped for and will be releasing an instrumental album in July focusing on his lovely pedal-steel guitar playing. Others too, including a new one by Colleen, Sufjan Stevens and probably most excited about the new one from Isolee