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Debbie and Me, pt. 1

This is me with Cisco, Debbie’s dog. It’s somehow fitting that I couldn’t find any photos of Deb and me among her things. Just Polaroids primarily of my siblings, my parents, and myself. And Cisco, of course.

Cisco was the Ghost to Debbie’s Jon Snow. She embodied the very concept of a “familiar” or animal companion, walking alongside Debbie everywhere she went. A leash was wholly unnecessary, even an insult.

To know Debbie was to know her relationship with animals and the natural world. Her spirituality was profoundly personal- borrowing in ways from common animistic beliefs, yet remaining distinctly her own. Whoever or whatever God was to Debbie, you could find him/her/it somewhere between the hearts of humans and their animals.

And it’s not like this was mere woo. Whether with Cisco or Boo (her cat of 15-some-odd years), an undeniable energy and mutual respect could be felt by anyone. It just was, and it shaped me before I had the words to describe it.

cisco fort.jpg

As Cisco was her companion and guide, Debbie was mine through my first explorations of imagination. Her visits to our home in Memphis were synonymous with wonder and fun as she’d patiently sit with me like no other adult would. Together, we’d coauthor entire narratives with my action figures and stuffed animals, most memorably with a realistic rubber bat (named Batty Bat) and a stuffed snow leopard (named Snow Leopard, of course).

Any talent I had as a child was a direct result of this encouragement. She was always gifting me something to inspire my mind- quality pencils and paper for drawing; books on mythology, art, or eastern philosophy; totems of deeply symbolic meaning. At a young age, she exposed me to The Odyssey, Carl Jung, Feng Shui, Native American beliefs, and so many more things that have become integral parts of who I am.

This slideshow is a photo of Cisco, followed by two drawings of mine from when I was really little that she always kept on her bulletin board.


Throughout high school and college, we’d write emails to each other, discussing movies we had watched, what we were working on, creative goals we had, etc. She never ceased to be a mentor to me.

But as much as she inspired me to create, she struggled to do so herself. Well, that’s not entirely true; she was constantly creating, but always struggling to achieve her vision or to move through the creative space as freely as she’d have liked. Resistance is a hell of a thing to overcome and it’s something that has immobilized me, as well. I’ll let her describe it:

Creativity is a mystery. It is elusive, but it is all around me. Circling. Waiting. Waiting for that magical moment to connect me to God, The Great Mystery. It has always come when I sought it out. But I only rarely seek it out, and then usually in short sporadic bursts, when what I really want is to take long refreshing drinks from the God-well.

What I want to get from Picture Writing is just that- to write and organize what I hold in my head, to bring it out of the mist and tell the story well. To tell it with color. To tell it honestly.

Writing is a secret rite. And a craft. The story part is the rite, how the muse speaks to you. It is something you can discover, but not something you can learn. The language you use to tell your story- that is the craft and it can be learned. The dance of words in your head and the choreography of the sentence and the paragraph. Rite and craft- never exactly in equal parts, but in adequate measure to complete the cycle and to renew your energy flow with the Great Mystery.

I am always rushed by the hare brain. It wants things done now, now, now. The tortoise mind wants to consider and think (and do it later). The result? Nothing ever gets done. Of course, the hare brain also wants it done “right” and seems to be in control most of the time. When the tortoise mind gets control, mistakes are possible and not really that big of a deal. I prefer the tortoise mind (less pressure), but the hare brain is doing most of the driving and demanding perfection.

How to find stillness. How do I quiet the hare? I can find stillness in the art room. It is an informal kind of meditation. I like to close my eyes and just let the thoughts come to me. Drifting in and out without direction.

It is one of the few times when everything has a chance to be peaceful.

Another time is just before I go to sleep. When I turn the light out, the few minutes I have before I go to sleep (and drop off very quickly). On the nights when I don’t turn on the TV is a very peaceful time of reflection.

Likewise, when I take a long bath and on those few occasions when I don’t take a book to read. The warmth, the quiet, and the water all lend themselves to stillness thinking.

I never really stopped to think about how many times I pass up opportunities to find stillness.

In your memory, in my own acts of creation, I will find this stillness. And when I do, you will be with me. I love you, Debbie.

jimmy sudekumComment
My favorite albums of 2018.

Either my tastes are getting stranger or music is getting weirder because this was an especially avant-garde year for music. Here are a few of my favorites.


 

Anna Von Hausswolff, Dead Magic

Anna described this album as utterly excruciating to make, a claim that proves self-evident with its opening “The Truth, The Glow, The Fall.” Though the album appears EP-length with only five tracks, its runtime comes out to just over 45 minutes. This is mostly thanks to the 16-minute-long “Ugly and Vengeful,” a frighteningly ferocious piece and my favorite on the album.

As a whole, Dead Magic feels less a musical project and more a document of her self-annihilation and rebirth. It feels at times like something we shouldn’t be seeing, moments of wailing tantrums and chest-pounding rage that we ought best to look away from. Yet she lays it bare, trusting this vulnerability to the careful and capable hands of producer Randall Dunn (Sunn, Earth, Boris).

 

 

Tigue, Strange Paradise

Tigue is a three-piece ensemble of percussionists who weave mind-bending rhythmic tapestries reminiscent of Steve Reich and Dawn of Midi. “Triangle” opens the album with an especially mathematical fury, modulating time signatures with seamless virtuosity.

“Contrails” provides a hypnotic reprieve to the calculus of the other two tracks and is a paragon example of good ambient music. I found this album to be among the most inspiring of any this year, if only for its brazen not giving a fuckness. You’ll either hang with it or you won’t.

 

 

Lingua Ignota, All Bitches Die

In my life, I’ve rarely been so astonished as I felt when I first put on All Bitches Die. Kristin Hayter (Lingua Ignota) opens “Woe To All” with screams of pure agony and terror, which continue for over five minutes before morphing into angelic heralding. The balance of heaven and hell, liturgy and anguish is a prominent theme on this album, with Kristin channeling her religious influence and traumatic sexual abuse in every line.

Nothing about this record is gratuitous, however. The catharsis achieved by its end is profound, standing as a testament to the healing one can achieve in the wake of overwhelming suffering.

 

 

Low, Double Negative

I discovered Low via the “Half Light” music video on the DVD extras of the Mothman Prophecies, a forgotten film starring Richard Gere that had a huge impact on my 14-year-old self. Low’s featured song was a jagged exclamation mark to an already haunting cinematic experience.

But when I looked for more from the band, what I found was sleepier than I was hoping for with a catalog that was too diverse for me to follow, so I stopped trying. Until this album.

Double Negative is a perfectly balanced album- enchantingly melodic at times, hauntingly cacophonous at others, yet thematically cohesive throughout. Clearly, I’m not the only one who feels this way as it’s listed in nearly every major top albums list for 2018.

 

 

Tim Hecker, Konoyo

This is the album I had been dreaming of making after my trip to Japan and first exposure to gagaku, the ceremonial music of Shinto. Konoyo comes as a sharply organic contrast to his 2016 album Love Streams, which leaned far heavier into the direction of disintegrated noise that he’s become famous for.

But here, Hecker is at once more approachable and more haunting as he partners with musicians of Tokyo Gakuso, a 40-year-old gagaku ensemble, to create this record. The reverb-soaked wailing of the shō and hichiriki blend mysteriously well with Hecker’s synths and heavily modulated guitars.

Considerably more “ambient” than his previous work, Konoyo should resonate with fans of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Stars of the Lid.

 

 

Daughters, You Won’t Get What You Want

Merciless. Violent. Dangerous. These are the first adjectives that come to mind when I think of this record.

After I became completely obsessed with Lingua Ignota, I bought tickets to the first show I found of her opening for a band called Daughters at the Echo in LA. I genuinely had no idea what I was getting into.

After her performance, a friendly guy at the show warned me, “It’s about to get very crazy here.” And he was not wrong. By the end of Daughter’s first song, it seemed as if the entire audience was experiencing a childhood regression, desperately clawing at themselves and others for release.

That energy is infectiously present on You Won’t Get What You Want. Hardcore, noise, and avant-garde influence come together to leave you exhausted and manic.

 

 

Julia Holter, Aviary

The aptly named Aviary is 90 epic minutes of soaring strings, sonic vistas, and fantastical soundscapes. “Turn the Light on” immediately thrusts you upward, higher and higher, like a mythical eagle carrying you forever beyond the clouds.

Bjork, Joanna Newsom, and, at times, of Montreal all come to mind as I listen. Produced and recorded in part by Holter herself, Aviary is the unrestrained vision of a single mind, a fearless leap into the blissful unknown.

 

 

Honorable Mentions: Bob Reynolds, Quartet; Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet, Landfall.
Albums I still need to devote time to: Idles, Joy as an Act of Resistance; Sleep, The Sciences; Nils Frahm, All Melody; Connan Mockasin, Jassbusters; Oneohtrix Point Never, Age Of; Steve Reich, Pulse/Quartet; and plenty of others.

 
jimmy sudekumComment