Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Seasons
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
All last fall I dreamed about a year-end list consisting of non-2006 records I bought this past year; what else could I do, when I only owned eleven 2006 releases? (Ten, if you share my suspicion that a departing roommate filched Stephen R. Smith's The Anchorite.) Another fine year working the secondhand circuit, but almost no new music. Week after week, I was willfully—but without reason—pulling myself out of any critical dialogue.
The best record I bought this year was Rahsaan Roland Kirk's Prepare Thyself to Deal with a Miracle. And the song of 2006, by way of 1973, was "Seasons."
The summer found me circling the First Evangelical more times than Joshua, breaking up with my girl. I forget how many times I said the phrase "cutting off my own arm" to near-strangers. My white-collar salvation job downsized me; after four months and a free tuxedo rental, my frazzled boss finally realized calling Fed-Ex shouldn't be a 40-hours-a-week proposition. I sat on the couch for a month, sipping on Thunderbird wine. No visiting Stylus, let alone mailing anything in. Something shriveled.
Rahsaan, Rahsaan. The blind saxophonist, although to append either tag is a short sell. Famed for playing multiple instruments simultaneously, holding the unofficial playing-on-one-breath record ("Saxophone Concerto" is—again with the short sell!—basically a 21:30 uninterrupted solo), and having a shitload of fun onstage. There he is at the outset of "Seasons," grunting while playing “Balm of Gilead” on both the flute and the nose flute. Soon, his sandpiper melody cedes to a lovely two-chord roll, as Henry Pearson's bass lifts and nods its head sleepily. Kermit Moore doubles Pearson's languid changes on the cello to celestial effect. Like the unadorned "Wade in the Water" by British folkies C.O.B.: if you respond to thirty seconds of this kind of restfulness, a few more minutes must thrill you.
In March, I jumped from the couch, glowering and quaking, prepared to cold-cock my brother in an argument about dishes. (Hey, Jeff—you were right.) Five months later, we hugged and sobbed, the last two to shut the lights on our empty apartment. In September, I became a moderator at Rateyourmusic.com, last year's clearinghouse for hundreds of my terrible album reviews. I struck up a friendship with another user (Math), a startlingly cultured Christian from Virginia with his own DIY lo-fi hip-hop/freak rock outfit. He mailed me a shirt and a copy of their sprawling 2006 opus, Dungeon Records (that's me on the left, in front of the Alamo). This was after I got downsized, after falling back into my old factory job on the night shift. Different building, same surrender. I tried masking it as defiance. The same fifteen radio songs—eight of which featured Akon in some capacity—ten hours a night? Bring it on. We're blue collar again. Ended up drunk in a yuppie bar, celebrating the end of the fiscal quarter bobbing to a modern rock cover band. Stylus was a dim dream. Hell, dreaming was a dream.
I convinced Math to pick up Brutal Juice, but he'll flip for Rahsaan, Rahsaan. Ghost violins intrude at the four-minute mark of "Seasons." Kirk begins translating the deep bass waves to the flute. Soothes, then starts to bop. Modes are explored, shredded. He's an irreverent seabird, frolicking over the swells. Eventually, yes, Kirk leaves, and attention returns to those thick, harmonizing strings. It's mighty restful again, but frenzy made its mark.
The Lady K brought Mallory O'Donnell to Austin in November. For two days, I played shabby host, not quite believing my luck: these were friends, and it was daytime. That same weekend, Mike Powell came to town for his birthday. I selected his first Whataburger breakfast, desperately curious which of us was the bigger ghost to the other. Another weekend, two married Trinidadians offered each other the last bit of tequila from a sippy cup while I quietly felt for the safety belt under an empty child's car seat. I bought a lot of soul music. I threw a rod in my engine, which is neither as exciting nor as sexy as the term implies. Until I ran out of change, an intermittent file of homeless men kept me company, offering to help me move my Camry off the sidewalk. Drove dozens of alternate routes home from work, replaying "Seasons" until I calmed the fuck down.
But I didn't need calm, really. Sleep is the cousin of death and all that. Lord knows I spent too much of 2006 wondering how I'd ever wake up. There he is again! Rahsaan, Rahsaan, wringing joy out of simple scales. He's picking up steam, puffing frantically, inelegantly. He must have been recorded in a serious hunch; I can't see it otherwise. After the balm, after the ghosts, in the midst of that siren sea, here come the grunts again, rougher and louder, snarling and muttering like a shaman, until he's just talking. "Ha ha yeah," he says, and if I stretch it, "God knows". And I wonder if I needed more than the one album this year.
2007, though. It's looking up. By February I should finally have a pair of tan Starburys, and there's the matter of the next professional step. When I take it, I've promised myself: time to price the first tattoo. Against the shrugs of my peers, it's gonna be a phrase—original font—broken into two spooning arcs. Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle. Yeah.