…Each one of us is a bundle of stories – some of which may be true [inspired by Linda Hogan]
I have been thinking about music stories recently. Wonderful instances when music has brought about change. When I attend guitar festivals, there is always a time for gossip, stories old and new about famous or upcoming artists. These stories give added context to our professional lives, make it richer and help us to see and feel that we are part of a greater community. Sometimes they make us laugh while sometimes they engender a thoughtful state.
There was a group of Tibetan monks brought over to record an album with Mickey Hart [Grateful Dead drummer]. There were 21 members of the Gyuto Tantric Choir, and they were performing in the San Francisco Bay area. Grateful Dead manager, Danny Rifkin was driving them in a large van when they started to pass San Quentin. At this point, several of the monks started shouting, “Trapped souls, trapped souls.” They asked what the building was, and had to have the meaning of the term prison explained to them. At that point, they refused to go any further until they could perform the necessary ritual. Rifkin drove as near to the prison as he dared, pulled to the shoulder of the road and the monks got out to perform a puja — a prayer and chanting ritual. They chanted to bless the caged spirits and souls of those who were trapped in the prison.
Three years later the group returned to the Bay area and asked to visit San Quentin in a more formal fashion. There was some initial skepticism, but eventually, they were allowed in the chapel. Prisoners were concerned that there might be proselytizing, but the inmates decided to give it a try. It was explained that the Chinese government had imprisoned the monks, who had escaped through the Himalayas with cloth tied around their feet. Forced to live far from home without any hope of returning, it was explained to the inmates that the monks had only these prayers and songs to sustain them through their struggles. Monks and the large men from the prison sitting across from each other looked at the vulnerability in each person’s eyes.
And then they chanted. It is at first an unearthly experience the first time you encounter Tibetan chanting. The prayers continue for quite some time with rumbles so low it is hard to believe that humans create those sounds. When they were finished, the large black men embraced the slender ones in saffron robes as a sense of camaraderie ensued. In subsequent years, a gospel choir was developed at San Quentin, which Mickey Hart also recorded. From trapped souls to recording artists.
Bob Dylan released a song called The Hurricane in 1976. The song was uncharacteristic for Dylan didn’t typically set songs in a narrow temporal frame. That same year, four law students in Toronto, heard it. When they finished the degrees, they moved to New Jersey to work on the case. They worked for ten years to gain freedom for the Hurricane [Ruben Carter] and in 1988 the charges were dismissed. Carter soon moved to the GTA and from 1996-2005 served as executive director of the Association of the Rights for the Wrongfully Convicted.
A song may fall on the right ears and may be true.
Sometimes we play music for the simple joy of sharing. It is easy to think that this small moment is lost in the tumult of news and events. But the simple joy of playing and enjoying music can be considered as contagious sanity. One simple act begets another, and it becomes easier for others to create and share. As we create and share cultures develop, ideas exchange and discourse flows. Like the poem by Borges “..the potter contemplating colour and a form… unaware is saving the world.”
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Our daily work is to spread sanity as one note follows another.