I Miss Gorgon

In the back of my apartment building there’s a box garden measuring about 7 feet long by 2 feet wide. Following years of neglect (not my own) the soil has become poor. In dry times, it’s sandy. Under a steady rain, it turns to paste. The steady application of compost has improved the garden but only somewhat.

A few herbs can thrive: thyme, oregano, lavender, and winter savory. A rose bush casts shadows in the evening. Its leggy branches sway in the almost nonexistent breeze. As the blossoms die away, they tumble onto the courtyard floor. A carpet of petals, dry and crimson, leads toward the basement laundry room.

But other plants (or plans) refuse to grow. The elephant garlic has rotted away. So have the sweet onions. The basil remains as pale and stunted as the day I planted it. An epazote bush droops into the lavender. Its leaves are withering. Beyond the garden, over the cinderblock wall, stand three newly built townhomes, their blank facades lit by the evening sun. Some luxury cars (Audi, BMW, Mercedes) are parked in the narrow driveways between units. Occasionally I’ll hear a door being shut, the beep of a car alarm set to activate, and then silence.

A single story rental house once occupied the lot. Its crooked walls were painted a fecal shade of brown. An elderly German Shepard named Gorgon lived there. He would escape on occasion, shambling up and down the block on his weak hips, whining softly to himself. The people I met only briefly. Their names escape me. None of them were as striking as Gorgon. A few days a week a band would practice there, at the house, playing an amateurish blend of indie rock and funk. Dingy quilts hung over the windows to baffle the sound.

Further on, at the end of the block, was a motel fronting Highway 99, one of the main north-south thoroughfares in Seattle. The name of the motel escapes me, despite it being one of the last places Kurt Cobain was seen alive, in early April of 1996, a few days before he retired from music, at his mansion facing Lake Washington, with a shotgun and a fatal dose of heroin.

The motel lot has proven less tractable for redevelopment. The sound of traffic echoes through its empty foundations. A few box vans park there during the night. In fissures along the concrete fennel and blackberries grow wild. Rats scurry between clumps of vegetation.

Every week my landlord gets mailed offers to sell his property. I’m uncertain how long he will hold out. At any rate, eventually, the box garden will demolished, the plants composted, and the soil (the soil I helped rehabilitate) sent to the landfill.

Since moving to this apartment, nothing has really changed for me, not really, not yet. I tend to my garden, sit on stoop. But I do miss hearing from Gorgon, his voice mixed the rustling of leaves, the muffled beat of drums, and the traffic as it diminished slowly toward nightfall.

I Give Up (Not Really)

Summer has arrived in Seattle. Summer in Seattle ranks among the best in the world. This opinion is uncontroversial. For three to four months a year, the weather achieves a perfection of clear skies, warm days, and cool nights.

Outside my office window, the rose bushes have come into bloom. Their pink and carmine flowers are radiant against the milky sky. Mount Rainer towers in the distance. A steady cooling breeze blows in from the sea. Now is as good a time as any to abandon literature.

Here is The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. It rests on my desk, among other more consulted works, seeing enough use to keep the dust away, but barely. As the title would imply, this book is vague and somber, although disquiet is perhaps too strong a word, at least in terms of its effect on the reader.

Pessoa is famous for adopting a multitude of literary personas under which he wrote the vast majority of his work. The count goes over seventy. Depending on the date of the manuscripts, the author of The Book of Disquiet is either Vicente Guedes or Bernardo Soares, though published editions credit Pessoa himself.

Guedes or Soares or Pessoa ruminates on his dissatisfaction with life — not his life in particular but life in general, life as concept — its impermanence, its petty and inexhaustible disappointments. These sentiments take no particular object. There is no story, no characters as such, no beginning or end. Pessoa never got around to finishing the book. It was cobbled together, posthumously, from author’s notes.

I take up my copy, read a page or two at a time, laugh at its pessimism, set it down again.The breeze combs the rose blossoms. Leaves gently rake the window glass. The day is growing brighter. It has a clarity deeper than any page.

I leave the house, walk down the narrow forested streets, toward the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and sit at the water’s edge, forgetting how to read perhaps, at least for one tranquil moment, as the ships, large and small, pass on their way to the sea.

 

Shabazz Palaces Preview New Album Lese Majesty.

Late last month, the Seattle rap duo Shabazz Palaces debuted new material at the Pacific Science Center. I wish I had been there.  Since forming sometime around 2009, they’ve made some of the most interesting music in the city, full stop. Pitchfork and other national music pubs have paid attention since the group’s inception.

 

 

That’s good. Seattle has earned the reputation for being middle of road, culturally speaking. And while Shabazz Palaces doesn’t rep the city as loudly as that other rap duo, I do prefer them as musical representatives for Seattle, however obscure they might be in comparison to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. False dichotomy? Least interesting thing about Shabazz Palaces? OK.

 

 

So what does this new stuff sound like? The answer is quite similar to their previous full-length release Black Up.  “They Come in Gold” features the deep, robotic grooves characteristic of the group backed with philosophical but easy flowing verses from lyricist Ishmael Butler.

Press releases make for dull reading most of the time. Here again, Shabazz Palaces do things differently. Their statement about the new album, Lese Majesty, is a little slice of pop-spiritual philosophizing that wouldn’t be out of place on the liner notes of a Sun Ra LP.

Herein bumps and soars Lese Majesty, the new sonic action of Shabazz Palaces. Honed and primal, chromed and primo. A unique and glorified offering into our ever-uniforming musical soundscape. Lese Majesty is a beatific war cry, born of a spell, acknowledging that sophistication and the instinctual are not at odds; Indeed an undoing of the lie of their disparate natures.

Lese Majesty is not a launching pad for the group’s fan base increasing propaganda. It is a series of astral suites, recorded happenings, shared. A dare to dive deep into Shabazz Palaces sounds, vibrations unfettered. A dope-hex thrown from the compartments that have artificially contained us all and hindered our sublime collusion.

These reveries were sent to Palaceer Lazaro and Fly Guy ‘Dai in the year of gun beat battles in excess; In a succession of days, whilst walking in dreams and in varied transcendental states….(every minute of every day is filled with observation and composition. In action). Songs are committed and gathered by robots at Protect and Exalt Labs, a Black Space in Seattle, Washington.

The visual features of Lese Majesty are resultant of the gleanings of fellow Constellationaire, Nep Sidhu.

The Black Constellation squads up, protects and exalts the messages within, and colludes accordingly. We thank you.

According to the label, the album is structured as series of suites rather discrete pieces of music.  Unusual for hip-hop, sure, but similar to how the group as always written their music.  And while the new track doesn’t break new ground for them,  it still proves that Shabazz Palaces are still one of the most unique bands working in hip-hop today. Listening to them means entering into a unique aesthetic space, an afrofuturistic universe where sound worlds intersect according to their own mysterious laws. Lese Majesty is definitely something to look forward to.