I’ve been thinking a lot about “aliens” recently. Primarily because my brother Jim and I, who comprise the “band” called Shrink Wrap, were asked to play at an opening of an exhibition at the Oceanside Museum of Art called “Beneath Alien Seas”. The exhibit consisted of “Light Sculptures created by William Leslie, in collaboration with Alessandra Colfi and Nathan Harrenstein. Since it is hard to describe these beautiful and mysterious pieces in words, I’ve included a short video of clips and stills taken at the Opening.
I suggest you check out the video before reading on. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3V7o07bN2Q&feature=c4-overview&list=UUVRR6l491Aafe34H23PwdNA
After we played for the Opening, my brother wrote on his facebook page:
This was the first time I can remember being
asked to be as “out there” as possible.
“Alieness” accomplished (I think) and great fun playing for
such a progressive crowd.
This was the first gig we had played in a long time where we both felt completely free to play the “weird” music that we both enjoy. We don’t play together often but coming together to create music is how we have been bonding together as brothers for many years.
Like many kids with no siblings, I had an imaginary playmate, who I called “Jim”. So, when my brother came into the world, when I was 5, my parents decided to named him after my “playmate”. I think for most kids at that age, the sudden appearance of a sibling seems pretty incomprehensible and miraculous. This was all the more the case for me as it seemed that I, somehow, had something to do with the Jim’s manifestation (perhaps my first “ego trip”).
As a toddler, Jim slept in a crib like that pictured above, with bars all around and wheels on the legs. Whenever he woke up, Jim used to grab onto the bars and shake the bed furiously, like a disgruntled prisoner hoping to shake loose the bars of his cell. If you read my brother’s posts on Face Book, you will see that things have not changed much.
My first memory of my brother is being awaken in the middle of the night by the sound of Jim’s shaking crib. Not being fully awake, I opened my eyes and saw him moving the crib across the wooden floor, inching closer and closer with every violent shake. In my memory, he had sort of maniacal grin and bright gleaming eyes. Peering through the bars of the crib he looked like something from “elsewhere”. He was from “elsewhere” but it turned out that he just wanted to play with someone in the middle of the night.
Before we took up instruments, our play together usually consisted of putting on shows for the family or friends. This flair for the dramatic was perfected in capers designed to torture a long series of babysitters.
Having materialized my own personal playmate out of my imagination, it was only natural that I directed these events. I was the schemer and instigator and poor Jim, always the “team player,” would carry out my plots and usually get the blame when caught. Our most famous caper was when I talked him into letting me tie a rope around him and lower him from an upper story window. I don’t recall how I secured him, but Jim managed to swing back and forth in front of the large picture window in the living room below where the sitter was watching TV. I imagined him looking like Mary Martin flying across the stage in the play Peter Pan, but to our elderly babysitter it was a reason to retire from the babysitting business.
When Jim and I periodically come together as Shrink Wrap, weirdness usually ensues, and so it was extremely gratifying to be able to draw upon our “inner aliens” and feel that we fit right in at the “Under Alien Seas” event. As you can see from his design for the cover of a Shrink Wrap CD, my brother’s “inner alien” is not far beneath the surface.
The term “alien” refers to whoever or whatever appears to be strange, foreign or different from oneself. In my last post, I mentioned that Theolonious Monk was part of a subculture that valued being “far out”. We all have stories about hearing music or a musician when we were young that had a life-changing effect on our lives. Monk was one of those musicians. When I was 10 or 11, I often listened to a crystal radio set that I had build in bed under the covers. The set was able to pick up stations from an incredible distance away. One station I listened to was WLAC (I think) in NashvilleTennessee, where I first heard blues and what was, at the time, called “race music”. I also recall hearing Monk on a station that played jazz and probably was located in Cleveland. Hearing any jazz at that time was a novel experience but when I heard the melancholy yet joyously weird sounds of Monk, I realized for the first time that there was a whole other world “out there” beyond the boundaries of Fremont, Ohio that needed to be explored.
In the next post, I’ll explore the importance of deveoping our “inner alien” in the practice of Art and Zen. By the way, do you know who is posing in the photo below? Another Brother from Another Planet? Maybe. I’ll reveal his identity as I further explore the realm of “inner space” in upcoming posts.