Best of Fish & Bicycles: Video Fridays: Long Live Hippies

Originally Published: July 26, 2011


A friend of mine recently tweeted a wonderful YouTube clip (video embedded below) of a joint performance by The Flaming Lips and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros of the Lips song Do You Realize?, filmed in a cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.

I dare anyone to watch the video and NOT have the word “hippies” come to mind, and I’m reminded of a post I wrote back in April 2010, a lament on the fact that for some, in my opinion too many, the word “hippies” carries a negative connotation.

I watch that video of Do You Realize? and it’s quite bittersweet for me. While it’s heartening to see hippie culture surviving, it breaks my heart to think of how squashed the movement got, as I wrote previously, by cynicism and conservatism.

What I see when I watch that video is a crowd of people being incredibly peaceful, lovingly joining their voices together in song, singing about how precious life is and how we should, together, make the most of every single second. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of similar experiences, and while I was raised Jewish and now dabble in Buddhism, I’d have to say that gatherings like that, especially when they involve making music, are really the only church I’ll ever need.

Back in April 2010 I quoted a line by Pete Townshend of The Who, a line that I remembered but couldn’t recall exactly where it came from. Well, I’ve since remembered.

In 1993, Townshend released an album titled Psychoderelict, a concept album about an aging rock star lamenting the fact that back in the late 60s and through much of the 70s artists and their fans really did believe that their music and art, along with their love and community, could change the world for the better.

Townshend’s aging rocker says at one point, “Whatever happened to all that lovely hippie shit?”

Well, despite all the cynicism in our screwed up world, that hippie shit is alive and well and recently showed up in a Los Angeles cemetery. And, it really has very little to do with how people dress or how often they do drugs and drink, and everything to do with a sincere belief that love; peaceful, supportive, inclusive community; and freedom of expression, are the most important things.

Tweet of the Day: @soulpancake

soul-pancakeI gotta say, the more I see of actor Rainn Wilson, the more impressed I am with him.

I first discovered Rainn, appearing as Arthur Martin, the quirky/slightly-creepy/yet-endearing intern at the Fisher Funeral Home, in the 2001-2005 HBO series Six Feet Under. And then, very soon after, he appeared in his most-known role, as Dwight Schrute in the U.S. version of The Office.

He has also appeared in a couple of movies, and has hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live, but the project I’m most impressed with is his website, Soul Pancake, and the the book of the same name. Soul Pancake is a kind of Web 2.0 platform, best described by this blurb from the site:

Our brain batter of art, culture, science, philosophy, spirituality and humor is designed to open your mind, challenge your friends, and feel damn good.

I particularly like Rainn’s video series, Metaphysical Milkshake, filmed in the back of a van, in which he has hosted a wide range of guests, from musicians to actors to entrepreneurs to Deepak Chopra. Now, plenty of fun has been poked at people who are inquisitive and think about life’s big questions, spiritual questions, but Rainn Wilson has achieved a wonderful balance between comedy and seriousness. He keeps things very funny, but the jokes don’t rob the discussions of their sincerity.

If you read up a little on Rainn, you find out that he’s from right here in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle), his mom was a yoga instructor, he’s very open about being a member of the Bahá’í Faith, and, while his humor can be as dark and risqué as it gets, he doesn’t allow it to be mutually exclusive with his spiritual side.

And so we arrive at the reason for today’s Tweet of the Day installment, something that, despite the typo in the tweet, I found very sweet and meaningful and representative of Rainn’s sincere big heart.

Enjoy!

The Boston Marathon & The Cycle Of Violence

meditationMy heart aches for the victims of the explosions today at the Boston Marathon

…just as it aches for all victims of violence everywhere, as well as the conditions that drive people to act out in violence.

I’m a longtime pacifist and aspiring Buddhist, who passionately agrees with the notion, commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

The belief, held by some, that injuring and killing people is ever warranted, for any reason, is just about the most alien, incomprehensible, indefensible concept that I can think of.

For sure, outrage is an understandable reaction to acts of this sort, and yet allowing that outrage to transform into a desire for revenge is at the heart of a cycle of violence that we humans are so tragically susceptible to.

I pray for peace.

Eyecatchers: The Latest From Do Ho Suh

karma-1In two previous Eyecatchers posts and one Video Fridays post (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3) I wrote about a fantastic art installation, Cause & Effect, by artist Do Ho Suh that had just been, well, installed here in Bellingham, Washington, on the campus of my employer, Western Washington University (WWU).

Today, I’m excited to discover news of his latest work, via Colossal:

Towering 23 feet (7 meters) into the sky, Karma is a recent sculpture installed in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art by Korean sculptor Do Ho Suh (previously). Captured here in a series of photographs by Alan Teo, the piece depicts a tower of piggy-backed men, each successively covering the eyes of the man below him, creating an illusion that the blinded tower seems to stretch to infinity like a fractal, although technically it was made from 98 cast stainless steel figures.

Once again, Do Ho Suh does NOT disappoint. Karma is stunning and thought-provoking.

Like Cause & Effect here at WWU, the artist continues the motif of multiple figures stacked up on each others’ shoulders. Of Cause & Effect, the artist said:

…the artwork is a “physical realization of existence, suggesting strength in the presence of numerous individuals. The work is an attempt to decipher the boundaries between a single identity and a larger group, and how the two conditions coexist.”

The artwork at Western metaphorically places the individual within an intricate web of destiny and fate. “It comes from a belief that every individual is spawned from the lives he/she may have lived previously. The vertical context of the figures becomes a collection of past influences, and again, begins to define the inherent powers and energies that characterize an individual,” he said.

Karma is clearly a continuation of these spiritual themes, themes plucked from the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh religions.

Interestingly, as I observed Cause & Effect, both in photos and in person, somehow it didn’t really register with me that each figure is covering the eyes of the figure holding them up.

Now that the motif has been continued in Karma, however, it really jumps out at me, inspiring me to consider the implied meaning, something about how we’re all blind, blinded by illusions, and yet we’re all interdependent, and so, under those conditions, every action we take affects every other living thing and our environment in general, creating a delicate balance, what goes around comes around, and all that, such that, if any one of the figures in Do Ho Suh’s pieces was to upset that balance, it would be disastrous for everyone.

Here are some more photos of Karma. Enjoy!

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The John Lennon Bus, The Sound of Peace & Positive News Sources

lennon-busOne thing that never ceases to amaze me (or anger me or depress me), is that there are so many good things going on in the world, so many that it’s hard to keep track of them or even know about them, all because you won’t hear about much of it in the mainstream media, where bad news overwhelmingly dominates.

Case in point, I came across something today via Twitter that is incredibly heartwarming, a project by the folks at The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, a non-profit organization I just learned about, that crisscrosses the country in a bus, decked out with state-of-the-art audio and video equipment, providing educational and creativity opportunities for young people.

Their latest project, titled The Sound of Peace, is described on YouTube like this:

Last Monday, Yoko Ono celebrated her 80th year existing on this earth. Given that her time here has been so full of love that she has spread all over the world, we wanted to do our best to give a little bit back. While parked just outside the Academy of Contemporary Music in Oklahoma City, we started on a project with the hopes of creating something that resembles what peace might sound like. With the help of ACM students, Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, and the local population, we present to you the results of our week of work in Oklahoma. Happy 80th Yoko!

It turns out that the The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus has been around for 16 frickin’ years, but I’m only just now discovering them?!

There are many, many more examples of this, and I can’t recommend enough taking time out from the mainstream media in order to go looking for positive news.

Some of my favorite sources:

The Intelligent Optimist
Yes! Magazine
PositiveNews.org
Good News Network

In the meantime, here’s the wonderful product from The Sound of Peace project:

Eyecatchers: Transient Sand Art

Tony Plant

Tony Plant

In past posts, I’ve twice mentioned one of my favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy (Post 1, Post 2), both times in the context of art works that were intentionally designed to be impermanent.

Well, today, via Colossal, I’m pleased to share the work of three artists who embrace the idea that all things must pass, creating amazing works of art in the sand, on beaches, where tides assure a lifespan for the works of only a few hours.

Several things are striking about these artists, but the thing that sticks out the most to me is that their work is BIG, and they seem to be gifted in their ability to be on the ground, working with precision, while keeping the big picture in mind. It would be totally impractical, too time-consuming, for them to hike up to higher ground with any regularity to check on how things are going. That’s mind-boggling to me!

Anyway, I’ll let their work do the rest of the talking.

Enjoy!

Tony Plant

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Jim Denevan

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Andres Amador

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Best of Fish & Bicycles: A Rock & Roll Elder’s Beginner’s Mind

Originally Published: September 21, 2010


Like most guys of my generation, I spent a considerable portion of my youth listening to Led Zeppelin. I didn’t really have a choice. I had an ear for music and I had testosterone.

Now, all these years later, I’m a 45-year old frustrated musician, harboring a dream to be in a performing band, having worked at the guitar for over 20 years, particularly over the past 5 years, and yet I can’t seem to find bandmates. My recent Craigslist ad, the language for which I crafted over several weeks, yielded not one response. For the first time in years, I walk past my guitar these days, sitting on its stand, and I don’t feel an intense magnetic pull. I’ve started to question whether or not I should even bother. Perhaps, I think to myself, I should just settle for the occasional jam session that I attend, or the occasional campfire that I strum and sing around.

But then, last night, I heard a delightful interview with Robert Plant on NPR, and I was particularly struck by this exchange (my emphasis in bold):

Melissa Block: Do you think that you started thinking of your voice, maybe, as an instrument, in the way that Jimmie Page’s guitar was an instrument in Zeppelin?

Robert Plant:Yeah, it was a thing to play off of, definitely. But, it’s a weird thing to do, because the voice doesn’t have that kind of flexibility. I wanted my voice to be a tenor sax, really. I wanted to be Coleman Hawkins. I wanted to be Dexter Gordon. I just think that certain instruments have so much more chance of following the electric charges in your mind. When you’re listening to people play the post-bebop stuff, you can hear this great instrumentation. But for a singer, you’ve got to work with syllables; you’ve got to work with themes and lyric. I’ve got to learn to play something soon.

Sure, a cynic could write this off as a kind of faux humility that comes with the privilege of being a superstar. Certainly, Plant doesn’t have to learn to play an instrument. He’s set for life.

But for some reason, his comment struck me as a genuine expression of Shoshin, the Zen Buddhist concept of Beginner’s Mind. As Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.

There’s a film I saw in 2002 titled Fierce Grace, a documentary about Ram Dass. The film is part biography and part exploration of Dass’ experience of a massive stroke he had suffered. Near the beginning of the film, Dass explains that when the stroke hit he was struck by how he — a world famous spiritual teacher, a former Harvard professor and devoted student of Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba — at a moment of being very close to death had no connection to spirit, had no spiritual thoughts whatsoever, that as he laid there all he noticed were the pipes on the ceiling above, and he thought to himself: I have some work to do. (You can see this very moving scene, as well as the entire film, split up into nine parts, on YouTube.)

And when I think about the writing of my Craigslist ad, I realize that it was written from an expert’s frame of mind. Of course I’m no true expert at anything, and yet, as I was writing the ad, I was thinking of my musicianship as having achieved a degree of expertise and that I required bandmates to have an equal degree of expertise or higher. While there’s a fairly thoughtful and practical motivation behind that approach – to filter out musicians who won’t be very compatible with me due to their lack of experience, thereby saving their time and mine – I can’t help wonder whether or not this expert mind energetically turned off potential bandmates.

Maybe, like Ram Dass, I have more work to do. Perhaps I should take some lessons, to finally learn all those alternate chord forms that I’ve coveted for so many years.

It could be fun to be a beginner again!

Video Fridays: John Lennon

gun_w_flower_peace_symbol_colorWith today’s shameful NRA response to the Newtown Massacre, a response drenched in delusional, paranoid fearmongering, promoting escalation of gun ownership instead of gun restrictions, the irony stings that these fearmongers are the folks we should actually be most afraid of.

And so, I find myself reaching for a different message, a message of love and peace and the transformative power they hold.

I’ve written before — Stuff We Need: Love, and Long Live Hippies! — of my fondness for the hippie movement, but more importantly the transcendent ideas they aspired to, ideas that preceded them by millennia, and so for today’s Video Fridays installment I’ve chosen one of my favorite expressions of these ideas, John Lennon’s classic: Imagine.

The Wikipedia article on the song contains this explanatory quote from Lennon:

The concept of positive prayer … If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion—not without religion but without this my God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing—then it can be true.

And that’s what we need today. A positive prayer, to counteract the horrible dystopian vision the NRA and others are spreading.

Peace!

Upcycling: Recycled Bottle Buddhist Temple

Now THIS is upcycling!

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Yes, that’s a Buddhist temple in Thailand, constructed using 1.5 million recycled glass bottles.

I know, amazing, isn’t it?!

Via Inhabitat:

The Wat Pa Maha Chedio Kaew temple has found a way to bottle-up Nirvana, literally. The temple, which sits in Thailand’s Sisaket province, roughly 370 miles northeast of Bangkok is made of more than a million recycled glass bottles. True to its nickname, “Wat Lan Kuad” or “Temple of Million Bottles” features glass bottles throughout the premises of the temple, including the crematorium, surrounding shelters, and yes – even the toilets. There’s an estimated 1.5 million recycled bottles built into the temple, and as you might have guessed, they are committed to recycling more. After all, the more bottles they get, the more buildings they are able to construct.

The monks started building this structure in 1984, so that’s a lot of years of accumulated karma!

It’s beautiful, practical, and it helps the planet.

Very cool.

Here are some more photos (quality’s not great, but they still tell the story):

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Eyecatchers: Michael Grab’s Balancing Rocks

glue-ver-2Via Colossal, today’s Eyecatchers installment features the work of Michael Grab, an amazing balancing rock artist. (Yes, his last name is “Grab” and he balances rocks.)

No matter how many times I see this stuff, it’s like I’m seeing these structures for the first time.

I think it’s because they are so unlikely! Gravity is just not supposed to allow these rocks to do this!

Now, some might see these as symbols of human arrogance, as a boast of some kind of mastery over the elements.

But I would argue that anyone who suggests such a thing has never actually tried to balance rocks.

I have tried, and I can tell you that it is frickin’ HARD! The first time, my family and I were on a beach in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We came across a guy doing his own, we thought it looked fun, and so we gave it a try.

Fun, Michael Grab will tell you, isn’t exactly the primary objective or outcome.

Over the past few years of practicing rock balance, simple curiosity has evolved into therapeutic ritual, ultimately nurturing meditative presence, mental well-being, and artistry of design. Alongside the art, setting rocks into balance has also become a way of showing appreciation, offering thanksgiving, and inducing meditation. Through manipulation of gravitational threads, the ancient stones become a poetic dance of form and energy, birth and death, perfection and imperfection.

So, I’ll admit it. Despite the fact that I normally consider myself to be a very patient person, trying to balance rocks felt very similar to the struggle to quiet my monkey mind when I’m on the cushion meditating. In meditation, I’m never able to stay focused on the breath for very long, and while trying to balance rocks, I could not hold still long enough to find the “gravitational thread” needed for the more dramatic of structures.

So, I post the following video of Michael Grab at work, along with some photos of his work, in total reverence for and appreciation of his achievements. And, I find it fitting that the video ends the way it does, a reminder that, even if balancing rocks IS an arrogant attempt to master the elements, the elements get the last laugh in the end, a beautiful lesson in impermanence.

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