Angels, Demons, and Mud
“Life is full of strange absurdities, which, strangely enough, do not even need to appear plausible, since they are true.”― Luigi Pirandello
This past weekend, the Glastonbury festival came back alive after a long pandemic hiatus. I wasn’t there because of a big family birthday celebration (that was canceled last minute because of Covid) but found myself spending many a quiet moment day-dreaming Glasto memories…thinking about my dear friend David Chumbley who made all my trips out to the muddy fields possible (missing his larger than life superhuman self, and damning the cancer that killed him).
One of the memories that gave me the biggest chuckle was when I was alone, however. Forgive me if I have told it before (I don’t THINK I have)….
I was sitting on an ever-moving patch of ground within eyeshot of the West Holt stage…and at that moment it looked like I was not getting up for a while. Given that the band that was about to perform was the Sun Ra Arkestra, being led by Marshall Allen who at the time was in his early 90’s (he is still leading it), being fairly immobile seemed like a great option even with the earth below me refusing to be still, like waves….like the ocean; the afternoon was beautiful one, with scattered clouds and multiple layers of birds flying overhead, adding a cool three-dimensionality backing the bright grey sky.
The Arkestra hit the stage with a cacophonous prologue, warming up the crowd and each other with their patented joyful noise. They were dressed in metallic colors that shined blinding blazes as they moved with their instruments. As the beginnings of the concert commenced, I happened to notice behind me, up in the sky, one of the blackest clouds I have ever seen coming in our direction, over the green hills that King Arthur had once roamed. Four or five songs in, and the band was in full swing, in their iconic extra-terrestrial fashion, as they went into the funky jam that is Rocket Number Nine Take Off For The Planet Venus (you can watch it online) with the lead singer pointing to the sky yelling “Up, up up in the air.” All I could do was look up in the air behind me as that ominous, evil villain of a cloud got closer. Ever closer.
They followed Rocket Number Nine with one of their most famous compositions, Angels and Demons At Play, originally released on the 1965 record of the same name (when Sun Ra was alive, during one of his greatest artistic periods). The number is a complete groover, with moondog-style syncopated drumming amid jungle-book Xanadu-dreamed-out horns and a steady bass line. The Arkestra had taken what initially was an almost three minute number and stretched it out live, leaning on the playful addictive groove, celebrating their leader who had left the planet decades ago, assumingly soul gliding to Saturn. By this time the black cloud was overhead, eating up the light of day with its darkness. And Angels and Demons played on, the West Holt stage still being in the light, with the Sun Ra Arkestra seemingly fighting off the demons of the dark with their angelic sonic performance, with Marshall Allen acting as a gallant knight fighting some sort of flying dragon with his saxophone pointed up at the heavens; the cloud moved slower, gaining ground with its only impediment being the music coming from the stage.
The battle between Arkestra and mother nature was long and well fought. But the song had to end, as all songs do, and upon the final ringing of the final notes, the rain started coming down. The Arkestra went right into When You Wish Upon A Star, a number they started doing a few years before, as part of a Disney tribute. And while the song was of hope, there were no stars to wish upon in the sky as the rain came down harder and harder. The ground under me (that was moving during the dry times) morphed into mud as sheets of water started pelting down. Rain and mud are common at Glastonbury, but this was different. This was the biggest storm ever to hit the area during the festival and for the first time in 44 years, all the stages were shut down for hours while hundreds of thousands of people clamored to find dry places…preferably where drinks were being offered…to hunker down.
But for a moment, The Sun Ra Arkestra triumphantly battled the storm with their music. And while the battle was ultimately lost…since it is impossible to beat mother nature…it proved to me that music still was the most powerful force on the planet earth.
This newsletter is dedicated to the memory of David Chumbley. I miss him every day.
Jason Gross and I have been on music appreciation e-mail groups since the dawn of appreciation e-mail groups. And his music magazine, Perfect Sound Forever, has been going on even longer. And it is still filled with just incredible articles, interviews, overviews around music every time. It is pretty mind blowing. I found this somewhat-recent interview with Jason that I thought was a nice way to celebrate his pretty incredible body of work.
This story about the friendship of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Orville Wright has been out there before….but it is a great one and nicely told by Gene Andrew Jarrett.
Written on the wall of the print shop by Dunbar:
Orville Wright is out of sight
In the printing business.
No other mind is half as bright
As his’n is.
The Alta has become one of my favorite publications, and this new one has some great articles that I will post when they are made web-available. They ARE posting the lead currently: their picks for favorite bookstores in California. These kind of lists ultimately show the great bookstores that are not there…and there are many…as well as the classics. Regardless, s lists go, I learned some…and will keep it for road trips to new places.
8 concerts in 24 hours, on June 27 and 28, 2012 in the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee, with the Guinness rule being that each show had to be 15 minutes long.
The winning photographs are all just incredible. Very much worth a look. So much so, that it is worth to post another:
The Mississippi River Empties Into The Gulf
By: Lucille Clifton
and the gulf enters the sea and so forth,
none of them emptying anything,
all of them carrying yesterday
forever on their white tipped backs,
all of them dragging forward tomorrow.
it is the great circulation
of the earth's body, like the blood
of the gods, this river in which the past
is always flowing. every water
is the same water coming round.
everyday someone is standing on the edge
of this river, staring into time,
only here. only now.