Friday, September 7, 2012

Dylan at Artpark: It’s Dark

The only other time besides Thursday night that Bob Dylan ever played Artpark in Lewiston was back in the mid-90s. Deadheads broke through security during the encore and danced on stage all around him. At first, he was tentative, then relaxed and motioned for security to let the rest up. The show ended in an orgy of dance and happy music on stage and throughout the amphitheatre. At least a hundred babies had to have been conceived that night. It was another time…and not dark yet.

Our seats to Thursday’s show added to our excitement over seeing Dylan again. Only single tickets had been available hours after they went on sale, but man, great single seat they were. My friend and I sat 10 and 12 rows from center stage. We thought we’d be able to see Dylan very well for the first out of six times we’d attended his shows together. This was going to be up close and personal with the man himself.

The show was sold out, but it was slow filling thanks to Lewiston’s poor traffic control and lack of consideration for concert goers, but that’s another issue. At 8:15 p.m. the lights dimmed and we saw shadowy figures stroll onto the stage and assume their positions to thunderous applause. It was as if someone had been watching and the second the place was full they cut the lights. Dylan was in a hurry. They were playing in Massachusetts the next night. That’s a long bus ride. Guitar chords were struck in a muscular fashion as George Recile began what would be a steady, concert-long heavy thumping of the bass drum in something that seemed a bit faster than 4/4, a 100 bpm pulse rate that had the band throwing a tachycardic tantrum throughout much of the concert, yet something of a musical experiment developed and worked its way out, looking for answers it couldn’t quite find but rubbed against at different points throughout the show.

The lights dimly rose illuminating everyone but Dylan, who sat at the keyboards, hidden under a flat, wide-brimmed hat, stage right. The lighting made it appear as if the band were a holograph rocking before a huge cement wall in some large, subterranean structure [at least this is how it appeared from where we were most fortunately sitting]. The sound was garbled from the start. Artpark is perhaps the best venue, sound-wise, in the region [aside from Kleinhan’s Music Hall in Buffalo]. So the sound was a construct, or deconstruct, of the venue’s capabilities. The band was playing in the basement, as if it were a shrunken down dream strumming on the table next to your washer and dryer. And it’s a huge basement with lots of echo, so when the band plays it projects the sensation of singing the national anthem in a stadium, where you’re hearing a line come back at you as you start singing the next line, garbling the hopes for any sonic clarity. It was confusion…a tempest…the name of Dylan’s next album set for release on “Patriot’s Day,” September 11, five days hence…

The thumping bass drum and speed with which Tony Garnier’s bass guitar collaborated, with Dylan trying to fit something in on the keyboards while finding his way word-wise through Watching the River Flow [the opening song], left the crowd confused yet entertained, as no one who’s ever been to more than one Dylan show can tell you what to expect except the unexpected. Even the oddest dishes and courses of the meal leave unexpected aftertastes that leave one feeling strangely sated.

Next thing we know the music stops. Thunderous applause as Dylan stumbles up from the piano stool, raising his arms like Nixon at a rally, and gingerly works his way around the back of the keyboards and around his bandmates, gesturing instructions, light on his feet, seeming a bit drunk, maybe more than a bit, and then finally making his way back to the keyboards for an unintelligible It Ain’t Me, Babe, completely re-arranged to accommodate Dylan’s beyond-the-grave gurgle and growl that was, nonetheless, poorly executed. Throughout the night the band seemed to be standing as far away from Dylan as it could get, as if he were in exile or quarantine, while constantly keeping an eye on him, ready to jump in and cover up his apparently numerous mistakes, especially in the transitions between verses and whatnot. But everyone in the audience loved Bob and whenever he displayed a vibrant Dylanesque flourish either vocally or on the harmonica, the crowd went wild.

That said, however, there were some good performances. The third song, Things Have Changed, seemed especially poignant in light of what was going on on the stage and the world at large. Early in the concert, either just before this song or after, a couple of girls began dancing in the aisle the way they used to at Dead shows [and Dylan’s only other Artpark appearance]. An elderly usher asked them to take their seats. They promptly obeyed. The crowd had that kind of compliant, sheepish feel to it. Western New York is a mean, rundown place, even among those of us who can afford $72.50 tickets. The stress is great. The show seemed to be addressing that stress, somehow. Dylan worked his getting drunk into that expression as well, getting up after each song and raising his arms and behaving like an elderly Liberace on acid, circumambulating the stage in a stumbling, gesticulating gesture of old timey entertainment style delusion, which itself may be an ironic self-commentary, knowing Dylan. He might’ve worn a cape. He could’ve introduced a few Elvis moves, too. And come to think of it, he perhaps did during one of the concert’s two highlights, Love Sick, where he walked around the stage like the King singing In The Ghetto. The sound of that song fit well with the sound the possibly intoxicated bandleader was striving for that night, and it was one of the few times the bass drum seemed to ease up just a bit.  
  Then came a rather long stretch in which re-arranged, loosely played classics were rendered difficult for the audience to recognize: A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall; Highway 61 Revisited; and Simple Twist of Fate. All with a loud, thumping bass drum, sloppy transitions and unfamiliar melodies apparently impossible to properly harmonize with…a tempest of music cyclonically exploding beyond itself into a kind of oblivion, all leading to Ballad of a Thin Man, performed in recognizable fashion, but with Dylan’s microphone set for echo, slyly commenting on everything that’s happening, so when the lyrics hit the first chorus—“Because something is happening here/But you don’t what it is/Do you, Mr. Jones?”—the whole show begins making some kind of sense, the kind of sense requiring one to go home, pick up one’s pencil and write it down.  
But then the band, led totally by Dylan, meandered through lackadaisical versions of Like A Rolling Stone and an All Along the Watchtower that left at least my friend, and perhaps myself as well, wondering if lead guitarist Charlie Sexton was going to last much longer with Bob. He didn’t seem happy. In fact, the whole band seemed a little put off…as if its performance had been somewhat frustrated.
Dylan’s encore, Blowin’ In The Wind, seemed to have the feel of a leaf being blown along rather than something consciously directed, as if the whole thing were subject to the whims of nature’s breathing.
Fifteen years ago, it still wasn’t the case. But on this night, the darkness had arrived.
My friend, a long-time musician, felt the show was an abomination because Dylan had the ability to do so much more with his sound, considering the resources, and he charged so much money for people like us to go see him. He also felt that the band sucked. I somewhat agreed, but said most things Dylan does are intentional, and that it might be more interesting to ask why this performance took the form it did. What was he trying to do? Why did he once again rip us off this way?
My friend didn’t buy it, suggesting it was because Dylan was a drunk, and said if he’d been there by himself he would’ve got up and walked out. I could see his point of view, but couldn’t help feeling fascinated by the whole thing. Dylan had stayed mostly in the shadows all night, and when the light did shine on him he seemed otherworldly, like an intoxicated ragtime carnival barker…a wild west card shark dressed to the nines but sleazy enough between the lines to get what he wanted from you.
We walked back to my car through heavy darkness, feeling humid on the inside and somewhat confused, disappointed yet stimulated, dissing Dylan and complimenting him at the same time.
We had a couple beers on ice at the car and chugged them when we got there, smoking our smokes, waiting for the traffic to thin, comparing and contrasting this concert with the six others we’d seen together over the last 25 years, and realized this was likely our last one. Tempest, his next album, is the name of Shakespeare’s last play. And though Dylan may deny it, remaining on his Never Ending Tour, there’s a feeling of finality, demise, dissolution afoot. Time drains all of us, right down to the last drop.
The darkness, maybe, is here.
The band: Charlie Sexton, lead guitar; George Recile, drums; Stu Kimball, lead/rhythm guitar; Donnie Herron, violin, viola, electric mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel, banjo; Tony Garnier, bass.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


A REVIEW OF Philip K. Dick: VALIS and Later Novels [A Maze of Death, VALIS, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer], edited by Jonathan Lethem, The Library of America, 2009.

It might be best when considering the chaotic life and writing of Philip K. Dick to simply start at the beginning.

PKD and his twin sister, Jane, were born six weeks premature in Chicago in December 1928.
His father, Joseph, worked for the Agriculture Department. His mother, Dorothy, had kidney disease resulting in poor breast milk.
The twins and their mother had scant medical support. In January 1929 Philip and Jane were rushed to the hospital suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration. According to PKD, his mother allegedly gave more to him than his sister, so Philip survived but Jane didn’t.
Dick always felt guilty about Jane’s death, having taken her food. How might a young boy learn or imagine such a thing? Did someone suggest it to him or flat out say it? Or was it something his brain or mind manufactured with the materials at hand? Regardless, Philip kept her alive and relevant in his imagination, doing everything he could to bring her back: “She fights for her life & I for hers, eternally…My sister is everything to me. I am damned always to be separated from her/& with her, in an oscillation.” [823]
Dorothy divorced Joe when PKD was 5, and by the time little Philip was 8 he’d begun a life of never-ending emotional and mental challenges, having experienced a “childhood Satori,” being treated by a psychiatrist and writing his first story with fond maternal encouragement. 
Interestingly, and perhaps coincidentally [or not], the shape of Dick’s imagination seemed a recursion of many mythologies across humankind [the material on hand] that had certain key elements in common, suggesting to Dick the possible existence of a shared monomyth or collective unconscious as the wellspring from which his conscious matrix sprung. And that well, according to PKD’s vision, was a vast active living intelligence system [VALIS]. 
One of the most dominant themes in his final novels revolves around saving women in distress [various manifestations of his dead twin sister] as a means of unifying the universe [and making himself whole again]: the divine syzygy/yin and yang are once again united rather than separated [until it’s time to separate again]. The dharma process of unification, redemption and at-one-ment is accomplished. 
Then, hopefully, one’s relieved of one’s karmic cycle and moves on; unless, of course, one is a bodhisattva…then the cycle begins again…and so does the “occlusion” we must clear away so we can re-member and re-cognize ourselves for what we are.  Dick goes so far as to imply that he himself is a bodhisattva in his last novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.
These fictions not only seem to have en-lightened PKD, relieving his psychic burden, but may also ease the same in certain, or perhaps uncertain readers, of whom there are growing numbers thanks to a greater common awareness of Gnosticism, chaos theory, holograph theory, information theory, quantum physics, string theory, Zoroastrianism, ancient aliens, etc. & et al, thanks in large part to the Internet, cable, movies, etc. 
Dick [as a meme, perhaps] has evolved—is evolving—from a troubled child into an autodidactic archetype, and in this sense his energy’s lingering or maybe even growing in today’s world where an increasing number of people are “connecting the dots”—refining their qualia—and projecting their mindful holograms for themselves, as there’s a growing sense of the status quo pursuing its own interests, not those of Dickheads or Dickheads-in-waiting who might take a contrary view.
Such PKD-based films as The Matrix, Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly and The Adjustment Bureau—which register a level of paranoia that’s been growing since 9-11 and the explosion of social cybernetic spy technology—have gone a long way toward injecting the interconnected human mind with new-old mythic forms. The popularity of Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, based on the 1980s Bill Moyers’ interviews, introduced many people for the first time to the ideas of Carl Jung, who Dick began reading at 16 [40 years prior to the TV show]. This knowledge, becoming more widespread as a result, broadened Dick’s potential readership. More people began reading him and he began seeming less crazy as time wore on.
That Dick was writing 30+ years ago, one can’t help but wonder, especially after reading his later novels and some of his Exegesis, if he really weren’t some sort of prophet or medium or conduit of information injecting itself here from elsewhere. If you haven’t read Dick, that might seem a far out statement. If you have, you may argue it’s too tame. To write about Dick at all is to find the seam between over- and understatement and mem-brain it [sic], kind of like the “te” of the Tao te Ching in operation, language evolving virtue out of virtual phenomena. 
So, in an effort to keep Dick simple…
In VALIS, PKD writes of Horselover Fat’s belief that Christ “…[was] an extra-terrestrial life form which came to this planet thousands of years ago, and as living information, passed into the brains of human beings already living here, the native population. We are talking about interspecies symbiosis.” [274]

This truly frightens PKD, because that means Fat, who’s PKD’s textual avatar, has come to the realization that life, consciousness and reality are all about “where time changes into space” and space into time. We’re portions of an eternal consciousness forever conceiving Itself and ourselves, macro and micro selves conceiving self into self in material terms via language. “I” am the in-formation of that language, re-presented by The Word [or intercessor, medium, membrane] allowing us to perceive the signifier/signified duality of language, our means of becoming, and the paradox that we perceive ourselves as simultaneously  more than language, yet completely enmeshed in It. Each thing surpasses each other thing as a necessity of time. That’s the mind of God at work, according to PKD. 

Dick also writes of Fat’s belief [meaning his belief] that we’re living in “apostolic times, but a layer of maya or what the Greeks called `dokos’ obscures the landscape. This is a key concept with Fat: dokos, the layer of delusion or the merely seeming. The situation has to do with time, with whether time is real.” [279] 

I think that PKD ends up discovering that time is more than real, it’s reality itself. However, it isn’t actual because the actual thing, or space, is beyond time. Only once time, or information, is injected into space from elsewhere does anything matter. This becoming matter becomes what Wilhelm Reich called a “mechanico-mystical” complex or syndrome that informs all “mystico-fascist,”[1] authoritarian ideologies that promote patriarchal domination. It’s exactly this kind of mindset that may have led his mother to give PKD more breast milk than his twin sister, if indeed that were the case and not something occluded by the evil loosing itself upon the world, which works to separate yin from yang, animus from anima, Dick from Jane.
The Metaphysical Apparatus
The world, according to Dick, is a “vast active living intelligence system.” He came to this realization after the events of “2-3-74,” in which Dick believed God communicated with him directly for a period of several weeks in the form of a pink beam of light. Dick realized that in this experience “his two space-time continua [the primordial twins; syzygy; the yin-yang] ceased to be separate and merged. And his two identities—personalities—[PKD and Horselover Fat—first and third person technique] also merged.” [271]
Now, Dick quotes from his Exegesis: 

#14: The universe is information and we are stationary in it, not three-dimensional and not in space or time. The information fed to us we hypostatize into the phenomenal world… “We are not individuals. We are stations in a single Mind. We are supposed to remain separate from one another at all times. However, Fat had received by accident a signal (the golden fish sign) intended for Thomas.” Thomas also gets Fat’s message and discovers Fat living inside him in ancient Rome. The language he’s hearing is English. [272]

As PKD re-members Horselover, Fat at-ones with Simon, meaning Simon is Philip and the Empire, the Black Iron Prison, has never gone away but still rules the world. Here in VALIS we have a revelation or apocalypse of orthogonal time, where Dick and Fat and Simon the Early Christian Roman are simultaneously existent being[s]. The world is an LP record and each of them [how many more of them exist?] merely represents different points in the groove. What matters, as in quantum physics, is where the stylus is…and it can be picked up and put down anyplace else on the album, illustrating the particle-wavelength paradox and Heisenberg’s uncertainty. 

If I can say anything for certain about PKD’s work, it’s that uncertainty is its fundamental default position. Uncertainty requires a faith in process, not some ends outside of time. And we see this, perhaps, in Dick’s last novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, in the way Bill and Timothy merge into the same person…the way Fats merges with Phil in VALIS…and that by extension and/or intension may actually recurse Itself with all humans, writing us in Its image: Your are me over there: I am you over here. They are us over there, we are them over here; etc. & et al. It is us everywhere, just dreaming each other, set across set into subset and sub-subset, etc. & et al. 

Word-beings living a dream plasma
As established, everything revolves around the male twin[Dick/Animus/Yin/Demiurge/Yahweh/Heaven] saving his fallen twin sister [Jane/Anima/Yang/Sophia/Goddess/Earth], and unifying the divine syzygy, yin with yang, despite yet because of the edicts of the orthogonal time vortex that’s overtaken them as a matter of fate, not will, becoming will, not fate, until fate overtakes will again, etc.
It would seem we’re eternally recurring cosmic hermaphrodytes simultaneously existing in many worlds, according to Dick. In The Divine Invasion, the anima, Zina, claims her world’s as real as Emmanuel’s, a demiurgical character representing the animus. Emmanuel, the instinctive patriarch, argues against this woman’s presumption, claiming “I am He Who causes to be. You are not.” [542] He tells her she doesn’t understand, that he picks and chooses among potential worlds and decides which ones become actual.  Zina tells him he’s made “poor choices,” to which he says her world and what she’s saying are all lies:
It is wish fulfillment. You cannot build a world on wishes. The basis of reality is bleak because you cannot serve up obliging mock vistas; you must adhere to what is possible: the law of necessity. That is the underpinning of reality: necessity. Whatever is, is because it must be, because it can be no other way…I know it; I stake everything on this proposition. Here I stand or fall.  [542]
Yet despite the chest-beating, Zina easily wins the argument. Animus can never win except by brute force…by taking the mother’s milk. Emmanuel feels as though he created Zina as his “disinhibitor,” who will help him re-member, something he can’t do on his own. And animus feels troubled when it senses anima’s greater psychological power. Animus gets an inkling of who Anima is, what she’s doing, when he realizes “it [time making space matter] is too much for me; even me. I can’t believe it.” But he must, because she’s the divine Goddess, the mother of the demiurge of whom the Gnostics speak. She is the one who’s truly all powerful…until she falls again and animus rises, seeking her recuperation. Thus goes syzygy, eternally recurring Itself…
The end of Timothy Archer shows it’s the search that matters, not the discovery. And that the reporting of what you find while searching is actually prophecy, especially when read in hindsight.
Dick reiterates his notion from VALIS that Christ was a fictional creation, but expands on that to suggest he may have been a psychedelic mushroom dealer, a kingpin in fact, whose 12 disciples distributed “the Word” throughout the land.
He uses the fictional discovery of the Zadokite Codex, akin to the actual discovery of the so-called “Gnostic Gospels” at Nag Hammadi, as a source for this speculation. Timothy Archer, the Episcopal Bishop of California based on the actual bishop, James Pike, a close personal friend of Dick’s, believes the Zadokite Codex was the source of Q, the sayings of Jesus from the Synoptic Gospels, but pre-dated Christ by 200 years. 
The codex, according to Archer, associates Q with the Anokhi, a divine being that is actually a mushroom the Zadokites grew in caves by the Dead Sea. This means that the “body and blood” of Christ in the Holy Sacrament is actually a psychedelic fungus. According to Bishop Archer, the Zadokites made bread from the Anokhi and drank broth made from boiling it. 
In The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, perhaps Dick’s most erudite and philosophical novel, the narrator and other characters attain an earthy mental state of wildness where and when the old myths are no longer adequate and newer versions of these old myths must return, be recouped, re-membered, arisen and atoned for.
It now seems as if PKD, in the voice of Angel Archer [his dead sister], is prophesying his own early demise in the form of Timothy’s ruin. The preceding suicides of the bishop’s son and mistress [Dick had made several serious attempts on his own life] were precursors to Timothy Archer’s fall [he landed on his knees] and, perhaps, to his own actual death, or the ways he imagined it might happen.

Transmigration forms the climax of the self-destructive projections of Dick’s highly literary fiction, which is to say his reality, the actual state of his mind caught in time.

In both the VALIS Trilogy and PKD’s epic battle with cosmic guilt, we are able to see the human being heroically battling the gargantuan, biocentric forces of the cosmos. More than that, we are able to bear witness to postmodern humankind’s struggle to redeem itself for what it’s done—and ever doing—to the Earth.

Timothy Archer dies fighting his fate like a man. He chooses to do so, battling its memes/language/ideas as a living thing existing in its own right by its own means, using us as hosts [ends] the same way we consistently succumb to it, each signifying the other to its death.

Transmigration ends with Angel’s feet planted firmly on the ground. She writes that Timothy “died hard, which is to say he died hitting back. Fate had to murder him.” [767] She chooses to not believe Tim’s returned using Bill [the bishop’s mistress’ schizophrenic son] as a host, but agrees to take care of the mentally ill young man when he’s released, once again, from the mental hospital. And Angel, PKD’s surrogate, now wants to save the blond boy in distress, the way Philip always had a thing for dark haired girls in trouble. One must constantly choose flexibility if one’s to at-one with an irrational universe…becoming a grain of chaos blending into an inconceivable, macrocosmic super-order. 

Some suggest that Dick, finally, believed everything that happened in his novels and to himself was pure insanity. PKD WAS DESCRIBING INSANITY, NOT GOD. God was real. God was sane. But PKD knew better. He experienced actuality as an irreal, insane matrix emergent from multiple dreams of multiple selves in multiple places at multiple times dreaming itself into existence…into mattering. Mind is the witnessing I/Eye inside here—the other side of this hologram/plasma/membrane/seam…and love for his sister was always the guide star through his madness, what got him through. 

Finally, Dick, in the form of Angel Archer, seems to reject the apparent end that history would have contrived for itself in favor a more down to earth view, rejecting Timothy’s teachings and the religious impulse in favor of the material existence of a record store manager. 

I hear Sophia from The Divine Invasion telling Phil that “Unless your past perishes…you are doomed. Do you know that?...Your future must differ from your past. The future must always differ from the past.” [349] 

It’s called disintegrating the whorl, wearing down the groove, playing the song, breaking the record…as one must.

[1] The Gnostic Theory of Alien Intrusion by John Lash: Wilhelm Reich saw the rise of a similar syndrome which he characterized as "the mechanico-mystical" complex. (See The Mass Psychology of Fascism.) Its signature is "authoritarian ideology," the mindset of fascism and patriarchal domination. Reich's analysis of what I… call the mystico-fascist complex…contains ample references to Catholicism and the Holy Roman Empire, the millennial ancestor of the mystico-fascist program.