Every instrument, a drum.

Get On Up (2014)

A banjo is a drumhead with strings.

In an early scene, James Brown explains to bewildered reporters what his new style of music is all about. Instead of being built on a melody, it’s built on a groove – a rhythmic environment that brings the mind and body to a state of readiness for feeling good. Later, Brown has to re-explain the principle to his musicians in the studio. Their training tells them, “It doesn’t work musically.” Brown insists: “Now we all got our drums.” Some may be guitars, some may be keyboards, but all should be doing the same work as drums: adding to the groove. “And when you’re playing a drum,” he says, addressing issues of music theory, “it don’t matter what key you in, what bar you in, what planet you on…” All that matters is: “Does it feel good?”

The metaphors for what music is and does are many. A traditional melody is a progression (travel) through notes and chords beginning at a root. The melody grows from the root like a plant.

In jazz, groove is said to trace back to phonograph records, on which a phonograph needle follows a track that keeps coming back around. If the needle is the band, the groove is their shared sense of direction.

Photo: Karl Stull

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Life is a journey.

A google search of “is a journey, not a destination” yields 1.5 million results, mostly quotations about Life. The “life is a journey” metaphor is one of the oldest in literature, answering one of our oldest questions: Why are we here? The concept of travel helps us understand novelty and change, for it’s a wide world, and the traveler is not exactly the same person he was at the beginning of the journey.

The google results that are not about Life relate to subheadings of Life (such as Wisdom, Healing, and Sustainable Fashion). Most of these are of the “sex is not about orgasm” type. As often as Catholics used to say “It’s a mystery,” the new explainers say, “It’s a process.”

The following are journeys, not destinations:

PHILOSOPHY

Happiness, Peace, Success, Joy, Art, Education, Destiny

PRACTICAL SELF-HELP

Fitness, Nutrient management, Losing weight, Quitting smoking, Gut health, Yoga

EMO SELF-HELP

Recovery, Growth, Therapy, Creativity, Strength, Love, Trust, Home, Faith, Attachment in adoption, Stages of life: Birth, Childhood, Youth, Motherhood, Everyday Parenting, Retirement

BUSINESS MANAGEMENT

Innovation, Leadership, Diversity, Becoming culturally competent, Entrepreneurship, Communication, Team transformation, Agile transformation, Walking the talk, Total quality management, Digital transformation, Cyber security

AVOCATIONS

Food, Coffee, Tango, Photography, Writing

Some people work their entire adult lives thinking Retirement is the goal. Retirement is the beginning of another journey, leading to Death – yet another process, with stages, still not a destination.

Photo: Unknown

Passed away

“Passed away” is a metaphor for having reached the end of the road in life’s journey – or at least one’s off-ramp. Others continue on their way, some taking a moment to mourn, thinking how they will miss the departed and his crazy lane changes. But the daily commute goes on.

Passing implies motion relative to something, in this case the boundary between life and death, which Shakespeare calls “the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns” (Hamlet III.i.79-80). The ancient Greeks and Romans saw the boundary as a river. Christians view “the other side” as a bright city, in contrast to the Greek and Roman view of a twilight realm of discontented shadows, not unlike East Berlin in its day.

People sometimes say “passed” rather than “passed away,” as if the last gasp of the breath of life were a flatulent exhalation. Space, the final frontier; death, the final fart.

Photo: Berlin.de

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You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.

– Paul McCartney, “Two of Us” (1969)

The “Two of Us” lyric turned out to be literally true. The bullet that ended John Lennon’s life was eleven years up the road, while he and Paul looked back on a friendship that began in 1955. “What a long, strange trip it’s been,” they might have said, if the Grateful Dead hadn’t said it already.

The idea that a lifetime is a journey is as old as mythology. The stories of heroes – Theseus, Jesus, King Arthur – present themselves as adventures that occur during travels, revealing by stages the hero’s full power and true self. It’s interesting that life as a journey should take hold universally among humans, since most of us (historically) have lived all our lives within a few miles of where we were born. The journey is one through time rather than space and, arguably, from me-centered need to a sense of belonging in a community.

One of Paul’s worst songs, “Long and Winding Road,” pictures a meandering route of “many ways” that always returns “to your door.” The idea of losing one’s way and rediscovering the true path is a staple for sermonizers. But the journey metaphor allows for happy wandering too. In “Two of Us.” Paul recalls the best times were when he and John went “Sunday driving, not arriving.” They had fun as young criminals – mocking adults who insisted on the seriousness of life, cheerfully “spending someone’s hard-earned pay.”

Photo: Denali National Park; NPS

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The marshmallow is melting.

– Martha Walton, Vermont resident, on early spring weather

People have been awed by the beauty of snow and ice for millennia, but we have only been comparing it to confectionery since the late 1600s, when cookbooks first described “icing” as a sugary syrup poured onto a cake and hardened in the oven. References to cake “frosting” began in the mid-1700s, and “marshmallow” became the name for a puffy-gummy candy by 1857.

The edible cottage in the story of Hansel and Gretel, with its boiled-sugar windows (Grimm’s Fairy Tales, 1812), helped popularize gingerbread houses as a baking specialty. The E.T.A. Hoffmann story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816), which became Tchaikovsky’s perennial Christmas ballet, did the same for confectionery landscape. Hoffmann’s story features a Candy Meadow, a Lemonade River, an Almonds and Raisins Gate cemented with sugar, and the original chocolate city, Bonbonville. Penny-candy stores, opening their doors on Main Street in the 1830s (thanks to new manufacturing technology), and mass-marketing of Santa Claus led to sugar-plum visions of the North Pole as a sucro-delic paradise.

What-if ideas about a world where everything is yummy go back to medieval poems and songs about the Land of Cockaigne, a legendary country where sinful pleasures are available every day – gluttony, sex, sloth on demand. The streets, to borrow a phrase from Encyclopedia Britannica, are “paved with pastry.”

Photo: Sperry Chalet, Glacier National Park; nationalparkstraveler.com

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Earth’s windshield

Most people have never seen a meteor shower, because the best viewing is typically around three o’clock in the morning. That’s when your time zone is turning to face Earth’s direction of travel. In the pre-dawn hours, when you look UP into the sky, you are looking FORWARD on the orbital highway, and the atmosphere is your windshield. Any space rocks that hit our windshield light up and leave a momentary streak. Of course, meteors are also visible at other times of day, but then it’s like looking out side or rear windows – less chance of seeing a splat.

The orbital highway crosses several streams of cometary debris, which produce regularly scheduled meteor showers throughout the year. See a roundup of the best ones at: http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/earthskys-meteor-shower-guide

Photo: noricum / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Illustration: Karl Stull

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Jesus was a sailor

Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water,

And he spent a long time watching from a lonely wooden tower.

And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him,

He said, “All men shall be sailors then, until the sea shall free them.”

–Leonard Cohen, “Suzanne”

The tower is the cross and also the mast of a ship. Jesus is like a sailor in the same way all of us are sailors — on a voyage full of peril and far from home.

(Posted on FB June 28, 2015)

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