Every so often, a combination of factors comes together and forces the critic to wax philosophical significantly more than may be his or her usual wont. That's the problem in being a crit: you criticize, it's what you're s'posed to do, and since art embraces (or rejects) life, one finds oneself reacting to art's eros, its life energy, the very motives which produced the art object. Sometimes that contemplation is schismatic. Allow me, if you will, dear reader, to take you on a trip down both paths this time.
As a prelude to pondering the raison d'etre for Megan Chaskey's Naam Radiance, I should probably start by mentioning that I not long ago read Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. Putting aside the geocentricity of America for the nonce, the very title of the book constitutes a premise scientists are just now coming to acknowledge and agree with via research and tests. Their conclusion is a tenet I've also long held, having witnessed the long-term effects of characters like Dale Carnegie, Maxwell Maltz, and of course the class of chattering dunderheads known as 'motivational speakers'. Religions, splinters, and other cults, though, have also, especially subsequent to the arrival of the New Age movement, embraced the highly unbalanced phenomenon. From that, a certain percentage of artists came to participate in the rather shallow dance. In music, the most regrettable exponents have been Steven Halpern and Georgia Kelly, alone and in tandem. They're far from the only ones, but without doubt the most visible and for decades.
Thus, when I run across CDs like Naam Radiance, I'm wary, especially when it's redolent with guru worship and other abnegative behaviors. Reading the liner notes, I groaned. Especially the lyrics to Ajai Alai—well, they're not lyrics exactly but a thesaurus of adjectives—were difficult to take, a litany of blind worship upon principals and phenomena humans can't possibly know if indeed any of it exists metaphysically: so-called Godhead, bliss realms, etc. I'll pose a corollary: tell me, if you will, what 'nothing' is. Take your time, I'll wait.
Figured it out? You can't. It's a non-starter as a term. If you say blackness, that's a something. Substitute a void, and you still have two somethings: the space the void occupies and the void itself. In fact, just saying 'nothing' is 'the absence of something' is glib, the human mind cannot possibly conceive what a nothing is, it can't be done, yet we chatter about it constantly. Words and concepts can be very problematic. Zen and the tao tell us this, we just don't listen.
However, even given that—and here's where I turn from the negative to the positive—much excellent art is created based upon such and other fantasies, whether the artist cognizes them as fantasies or deludes himself or herself that they truly exist. After all, what are the Mahabharata and Bible, to name just two liturgies, the former much older than the latter and therefore vastly more generative of the problem, if not science-fiction novels, and what are devotees (Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc., and all the thousands of splinters) if not just a different shade of Trekkie? Still, listen to bluegrass (very Jesus/God oriented), view a thangka painting (full of gods and demons, quite psychedelic, and often depicting scenes Tolkein and Lovecraft would envy for their imaginativeness), or gaze upon The Pieta. Great stuff!
And so is Megan Chaskey's singing and very spare musical accompaniment (David Darling - cello; Mike Guglielmo - perc.; Scott Petito - gtr., bass, piano, perc.; Aine Minogue - harp), both of which create resonances of quiet scintillating beauty and frequently aren't all that far from Enya's work, hushed Gregorian chant, Eleni Karaindrou's somber oeuvre, or any number of similar ventures. There are even moments of restrained drama, as within the building Aardas Bahee, but nowhere does one find the vacuous mediocrity of a Halpern, a Kelly. Chaskey's songs and their atmospherics are relaxing and positivistic, even lightly energetic in places. Darling's cello work, simulsynched at times, is marvelous, laconic and yearning; Minogue's harp is glassine, crystalline, gemlike; and Petitio and Gugliemo acquit themselves well.
To listen to the CD is to enter another realm, to give over the frenetic dangerous real world for a manifestation of our collective yearning for peace, hope, love, purity, and the various ideals human beings seem to have been created for (an interestingly dualistic concept as to source when entertained religiously and philosophically). Though all reality counters these aspirations daily, hourly, by the minute, still we cling to them, still we convince ourselves that they are the goal. It's just a matter of how we get there, right? Naam Radiance transports us to that farflung environment instantly, and those who surrender to its beauty will find themselves much enjoying the enviable experience, myself included, floating in atmospherics and, as the title denotes, radiances.
The underlying point of all the aforegoing? Chaskey has posited one method for attaining the endpoint of our yearning - the way of guru devotion - I have set forth its antithesis, myself having found gurus to be human, human human, all too damnably human, wherever they may be found…though frequently interesting, sometimes inspiring (Chogyam Trungpa, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Milarepa, Ikkyu, etc.). In the end, however, it is never the guru but always, as the Buddha averred, your own reality that matters and then, finally, hopefully, the reality in toto, and thus, within that, cleaving to the responsibilities implied, one can safely and easily ignore the circular fallacies of religion yet still admire what it has engendered.
Soooooo, was it necessary for me to have lambasted guru practice and religion? Well, yes, it was. It's time to get over such nonsense. In fact, we're doing so. Atheism is on the rise, and people are leaving the religions in droves, disgusted by the manifold hypocrisies secreted in all of them, by the engines of profit they operate, by the authoritarianisms, by the class systems they generate, by innumerable foibles and criminalities. Religion can be abandoned yesterday, now, tomorrow, and its artworks will remain, relics of the mythological nature of an evolving consciousness, and one can just as easily listen to Megan Chaskey and her Hindu devotionals, appreciating them for what they invoke, as be attentive to the Doobie Bros. singing Jesus is Just Alright while knowing they were doing drugs, chasing groupies, hoarding wealth, and far from monastic. Religion has nothing to do with any of it, our secret selves, our longings, have everything to do with all of it.
There's no need to believe in the plainly unbelievable, to surrender reason and knowledge, and the critical function is just that: critical, inspecting, judgmental, penetrating, able to separate lies and deceptions from truths. That's what I've just done. That's my job as critic. The only thing remaining is your part: as an appreciator of art, do you really need to drag slave systems, religions, into the equation? Maybe you do, maybe you don't, and the value of such art objects as this one can be multiplicit, can call far more into play than anyone intended. Perception is everything.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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