“The scouts report that you’ve been seen down the river,
They say you sleep with one eye open, one eye dreaming,
Did they tell you madness passes? Did they tell you?
There’s no such thing as passing madness,
The monstrous has become mundane,
Routine takes the place of pain,
Voici le temps des assassins,
You’re addicted to revolution,
Addiction is no revolution.”
Paul Kelly “The Execution” 1987
And nothing’s changed. Well it has, these lyrics now seem more like personal and political prophecy than a warm voice from the past. What do you do when the monstrous has become mundane?
I do lots of things, for one I go down to the river as often as possible, and always (always) keep one eye dreaming. Mainly I try and make it warmer and wiser within my sphere of influence, but personally, I try to let it go. If this is the reality everyone wants going into 2018, welcome to it. No one consulted me, so I guess it’s time to go deeper within. Yeah.
” I remember I remember,
I go leaps and bounds,
I remember everything.”
Paul Kelly “I Remember”
I first heard Paul Kelly in 1987. Paul Kelly, shoulda been a household name… but in 1987, at 21 I thought I was gonna be a household name.
What a dumb ambition. It was bondage… and not the fun kind.
When I was 21, man, there were so many things pushing and pulling on me. I was dizzy, spinning, and hadn’t yet attained the courage or wisdom to know I could blow it all away in a puff of sweet smoke, let alone go deeper into letting go through meditation. With fire in the belly I wanted this and that, but whatever this or that I wanted, my family wanted anything but that and no part of this. This wasn’t their collective fault, it was just the way of things. I was headed off their path, hell, was already way out and way off their path, but I hadn’t beaten any of my own paths through the underbrush and thorns yet. Lost in the woods, like a fairy tale with stupid-looking cars and MTV. Whatever path I was on, I was the only one who thought I could make it, even lost as I was. I had teachers telling me I didn’t have what it took. Well, neither did they, but what they lacked was something I had in spades…. vision!
For all the people who told me “no,” and for all the confusion, I had a fire in the belly that drove me on. Maybe I wasn’t as lost as many, I don’t know, but knew what I wanted. If I was lost it wasn’t for ambition or dreams that had to be fulfilled, I was lost in knowing how to go about making anything happen. I mean, adults had it all figured out, right? That was what I thought as a kid, if I could just grow up it would all make sense.
It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. Trump, progressives, “reality” television, Facebook, extremism, superhero movies, relentless war, still poor, painfully lonely, barefoot and walking the same tightrope. I was wrong, adults never had it figured out. In some ways I wish I could sit that young skinny Justine down in the grass and tell her that. Might have saved her a lot of suffering. But that’s just it, I’ve realized, she wasn’t after the answers, she was in mid-adventure. Think about it, is “The Hobbit” all about how Bilbo got home and put his ring on the mantle, knowing deep in his heart who he was, or is that story about the fucking journey!
The journey, damn straight! Being changed and bigger is grand, but how you get there is where the stories lie.
I bought a turntable this week. You know, I’ve always been passionate about music, but I prefer Country over Rock, McCartney over Lennon, and Nat King Cole over almost anyone else, but I’ve forgotten how much fun music is. Fucking CD’s and Youtube… oh and Amazon. Yep, there it is, most anything you want. But who cares? This turntable has changed my life. ALBUMS! VINYL! Fucking albums. CD’s are a bummer. I haven’t enjoyed buying music since all the people “in the know” (you know the same guys that think they’re too hip for McCartney), peer pressured me into giving up on albums to buy CD’s. But this whole thing, a return to flipping through records, checking for scratches, finding stuff from the DEEP catalog rather than the surface of the top ten, the size, the heft, the art, is bringing me back to what fun it used to be to shop for music. When you hold an album in your hand, 12 inches of glorious vinyl and cardboard, you know you’re really holding a THING, an object worthy of your time!
Funny story, McCartney knew what was worthy of his time. Back in ’67 at the time “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was about to come out it was decided that the time had come to use cheaper thinner cardboard for the record covers. It wasn’t “spokesman” Lennon or “cool” Harrison that took on that, it was McCartney. He went to the top, arguing with record company executives for the thicker cardboard. McCartney knew, always did, still does, what was worth his time. Holding that album in his and in our hands was worthy of his time.
As the needle hit the vinyl I laid back on the bed, the album beside me, feet up, feeling herbally “groovy,” and listening to Paul Kelly and the Messengers, it got me to thinking, thinking back, and ultimately churning the sea of milk for the nectar of life. Back in 1987 I was handed that album at Kent State, and I thought, “What the hell is this?” I wasn’t that into the lousy crap that passed for music in the eighties, and the good stuff that was out there I recognized as good, but it just didn’t grab me. God damn that wretched brittle mechanistic eighties drum snap, those grating keyboards, to say nothing of the eighties metal guitar sound. Shit. So here I was handed this album by some eighties guy I’d never heard of because I answered a trivia question at some event I was unintentionally passing through between classes, hell, I was probably skipping classes back then, and definitely barefoot.
Once upon a time I was a lousy student, but I became a brilliant one once I grew up a little. Actually, funnily enough, I did less homework, study and class attending when I consistently made the Dean’s list than I had when I was getting C’s and D’s. See, THAT I’d figured out, go to class and take as much of an active interest in the subject as possible and I’d remember it all since I had been so interested. A genuine interest in a thing will earn better grades than suffering long anxious study sessions. I soared through college… but never could apply that active interest wisdom to Algebra, I guess some things are just to evil to be conquered with wisdom.
I still don’t give a shit what X plus Y equals, and I have NEVER needed to know, either. They tried to con me into thinking that in some abstract way I’d need to know algebra… well I didn’t! What a waste of time and anxiety, all that mathematics.
Take that math!
So there I was earlier today, bringing it all back around. In the bliss of flipping through albums, of all things, there was the album I least expected to see, hell an album I hadn’t even thought of in ages. Yeah, there it was, Paul Kelly and the Messengers, “Gossip.” Funny, though that first copy was free, I had to buy this one. The difference is, now I know what that albums all about. Back in ’87, with low expectations, I put the record on and it fucking blew my mind! Christ… how come no one I knew knew how good this guy, these guys, were!
Today, fucking 30 years later, and the album held more surprises for me… for one, it sounds as fresh and stunning in 2017 as it did in 1987. In fact, it sounds BETTER now than it did then.
And I ask again… how come no one seems to know how good these guys were… or are? I mean, I’ve never really heard anyone talking about him around these parts. But looking him up, it seems he’s quite beloved and famous after all.
Is it just me? I hope so, I’d like to think he’s wildly famous and I somehow missed it.
It’s New Year today, gonna be 2018 when I wake up, how ironic that I would discover Paul Kelly again on the 30th anniversary of the album. Synchronicity is Shiva… there are NO coincidences.
And now, it doesn’t just sound good in this moment… it takes me back and forth through a single 30 year continuity, and I can see it all so much more clearly now. Paul Kelly, the message is, THAT young Justine had a lot of bad karma to create, she had a lot of anger and confusion to work through, and she had a lot of life, adventures, dreams, breakdowns, blood and gore, drawings, friends, drinking, surprises and a life of barefoot ecstasies ahead of her. Though that little Justine eventually conquered most of her fears and accomplished all her dreams, not a damn one of them turned out the way she’d expected.
Not a damn one!
It was perverse how not a bit of anything came out anything like she’d thought it would, but it was always far more crappy and far more sensational than any of her fantasies about how everything would turn out. Did I think one day I’d be performing Carter Music songs before Buddhist monks in the mountains of South Korea, or the same songs in a bar full of johns and prostitutes in the Philippines?–And by the way, is “johns” capitalized in that usage? But I digress. Did I think one day I’d be talked about by Paul McCartney, running barefoot through the swamps, or bowing before Lord Shiv? No, she couldn’t have imagined a bit of it, but she had imagined changing the world with her art. Christ, how absurd!
I may not have changed the world, but I’ve done alright in mine. Paul Kelly’s done alright too.
Here and now “Darling It Hurts” is snarling through the speakers, heavy fucking guitar, raw and perfect. As I sat there with my feet up I felt a sudden end to all the suffering I had been allowing myself to fall into the past few weeks. It just drained down from my toes and out the top of my head to stream across the bed to the floor and out the window into the swamp. It came to me… I was still that young 21 year-old Justine, and if I could just drop the neurotic bullshit, I could be in bliss. A few weeks ago I had realized how since the physiological symptoms of stress and delighted excitement are the same, and it’s me who decides which to feel, that all I had to do was stop choosing compulsively and start choosing consciously how to feel in reaction to such sensations.
Flip the switch. Bliss!
My toes tingled as they bounced to the music, below or above them (as my feet were up, which is which?) and I sunk into that 21 year-old Justine. That which is really me was there then, is here now, and will be here later. That which never changes is all that is. I am that Justine… if I am Justine at all, which I am not, but I am having a “Barefoot Justine” experience. Not bad, someone’s gotta do it.
And you know what, young Justine, it was all worth it, the hard hard work, had knocks, hard times in Korea, the poverty, the mugging, the cancer, nearly drowning SCUBA diving in Thailand, the bankruptcy, the foreclosure, the divorce, the loss of faith and family, the disillusionment, because it all led to Shiva, and because it’s not about sitting at home with my ring on the mantlepiece, it is and was about surviving the revelation that nothing is ever like it seems. But everything is alright just as it is. I was and will always be about realization… even when I didn’t know that. I’ve been working off vasanas, conquering fears, seeing the patterns, and am ever seeking.
And that, is Shiva! That is Brahman, yeah? At the very least, it is Satvic thought, and baby I need it now.
“Baby I look so fine but I feel so low,” sings Paul Kelly as I type. Now, I’m not feeling so low.
But that’s it, I think I know now that if I had the chance to talk to young Justine, I think I’d just smile and give her a thumbs up and a wink. On your way, babe, live it out, that’s your dharma.
Would I trade places with young Justine? No, because I know what she really was looking for. I know through all the shit, the adventures, the boredom, the madness, joys and disappointment, the ecstasy, stoned or sober, she was looking for liberation!
“Listening to these stories of me,” sings Paul Kelly.
Well, Paul, let me tell you some stories of me.