YES ARW: Greek Theatre 8.29.18

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Yes ARW: August 29th, 2018—

After a two hour set, which started at 7:45 PM, Jon Anderson—who looked as great as he sounded—closed the show with his message, to “give love each day.” It won’t sound romanticized to longtime Yes fans to consider that this is what he has been doing for over 40 years, through the gift of his voice and lyrics, which seem to be divinely channeled for the purpose of transporting us to higher realms.

Yes splintered— 

Tension had been increasing since the death of founding member and bassist, Chris Squire, in 2015. So, it wasn’t a huge surprise when Yes splintered into two versions of itself, after their Hall of Fame induction, just last year. This lineup, with Jon Anderson on vocals; Trevor Rabin on guitar and Rick Wakeman on keys; Lee Pomeroy on bass and Louis Molino on drums, goes by the name, Yes, featuring ARW, with the acronym standing for the three original members.

An Assessment: Jon Anderson & Jon Davison—

As exuberantly noted in our review of the other Yes faction, who we had just seen with Steve Howe, Alan White, and Jon Davison, at LA’s Ford Theatre, we were more than accepting of Davison on vocals, despite the resistance of many other Yes fans, and still believe he is the one to carry on Yes’ mission and sound for the next generation. For now, the world is better for having both.

This is a story of the teacher and the apprentice. It is the story of a fine craftsman at work. It is a tribute and a salute to Jon Anderson, whose craft is his song. It is a lesson in mastery. It is a tale of The Grand Duke and The Count, where Anderson is Duke and Davison is Count… Or, the Shogun and the Samurai, though the teaching is indirect. And if they were to spar, we can well imagine them humbly bowing in deep respect to one another.

Those in audience on this night, under the faintly illuminated stars at LA’s Greek Theatre, were watching a consummate performer at his craft. Although it may seem trite to point to the most commercialized of offerings, it was “Roundabout” that made this most evident.

The Assessment Continues: Roundabout—

Roundabout was one of only a few songs that both lineups played…and it was the one they both saved for last. As if by some unseen, but divinely ordained appraisal by the high court in the sky…it became the ultimate test. The final battle. The concluding duel.

It was the only song our little angel, Davison faltered on, but by official cosmic decree, it had to be played. The people want to hear it. Well…Anderson soared, as he did on every song. He freewheeled through the air. He performed elegant pirouettes and light-footed chassés, with his seemingly ageless, crystalline voice. And so, at the final moment, we see the color of the mantle and cross…the master is revealed.

The Assessment Continues: Howe & Rabin—

As it happens, “Roundabout” would confirm another impression…one which, like a whispered confession, we divulged with some hesitation to one another, after only a few songs in: Rabin was the true weak link in this lineup. Despite the years he has been with Yes, it became painfully clear that without Howe holding the reins, his one man guitar show was lacking in shimmer and shine. On song after song, we continued to notice that all the special little twinkling accents went missing…all the perfectly placed twangs and impeccable little plucks, like exquisite seasonings dashed in just the right amount in just the right places…all the extras that give Yes their virtuosity, simply went missing. The fairy dust had been swept away.

In place of the majestic white horse that could whinny proudly, while up on its two hind legs, we had a little pony. Where Howe went from lap-steel to Fender to Gibson, in a heartbeat, or sometimes two at a time…depending on the texture he needed at the moment, Rabin never once switched out his one trusted guitar, “old faithful.” A one trick pony. If you think this is unfair, or if you have any doubts…watch Steve Howe play this song on the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, with Geddy Lee on bass, and Rabin on second guitar.

On the way home, with iphone recordings in tow, we scrolled through video clips from last month’s show at The Ford, with Howe & Davison. There it was! “Roundabout” in full. Howe’s attention to detail was so fresh and so immediately apparent. All the enchanting acoustic strums were as they should be. All the little particulars that Rabin left behind, sparkled forth with precision in Howe’s dexterous hands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYA97-csEfI
(Yes ARW: “Roundabout” Live)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUJz5SlVWaY
(Yes with Davison & Howe: “Roundabout” Live)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1-NsnlPc54
(Yes with Geddy Lee on bass: “Roundabout” Live at Hall of Fame Induction)

Awaken—

Running over 15 minutes long, and described by Anderson himself, as an epic piece of music, “Awaken” is, like so many Yes songs, about nothing less than human transcendence. It began with Anderson on his harp…soon joined by Wakeman’s unmistakeable toy piano-like riff in minor chords, which together, create a feeling of suspense, like the gap inbetween incarnations…the bardo…while waiting in the wings to meet God.

As Anderson himself, has explained, the lyrics were inspired by the book, The Singer: A Classic Retelling of Cosmic Conflict by Calvin Miller.

All of this suspense, while drummer, Molino, adds drama, by hitting his tom-toms with cannon-fire thuds, done with super-padded drumsticks. Wakeman begins to add embellishments, and the chords lighten; the somber, almost ominous minor key gives way to major…like the curtains opening. The air becomes thinner. And Anderson’s voice sails above the pressure line in the atmosphere…soaring now, effortlessly, up to the angels’ gate…as if to say, “I’ve triumphed over the trials and tribulations of this lifetime… I’ve passed the test.” And as he sings:

High vibration go on
to the sun, oh let my heart dreaming
past a mortal as me.
Where can I be?
…he takes us into the mystical realm, into ecstacy…into timelessness.

And you and I—

Anderson clinked his tingshas—Tibetan ritual chimes, and thus began “And You and I.” This magnum opus of a song is a dedication to our collective reunion with the divine. The first thing any longtime Yes fan (what other kind is there?) would notice is, again…Howe’s missing acoustic accents. But nonetheless, he sang:

And you and I climb over the sea to the valley
And you and I reached out for reasons to call

The music then changes. The story changes…for that’s what Yes songs offer…a story. Not just a story, but an allegory, one which offers its willing listener a glimpse of truth…a glimmer of meaning…a glistening forth of the essence of life, itself.

The climb that Anderson sings about, evokes the sense of the grand ascent toward reunion with God…or liberation of spirit, if the “G” word doesn’t suit. But, the cosmic dance is a snaky one, fraught with twists and turns and constant set backs. As Anderson puts it, it is a spiral aim. The Buddhists call it samsara…the constant struggle that is part and parcel of human existence. Life and death, itself. Thank God! Infinite chances to try…try again. Life and death…found in every single breath we take, in this demented world of illusion.

Illusion…because “it” was right there within us, all along. Like the scarecrow and his heart. And hence, Anderson sings:

All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you…
And the You and I is…all of us.

But, as long as we are caught in the world of illusion…maya…we don’t see the splendor that was here, all along. Anderson calls this “the eclipse.” The chords then darken…imparting the continuance of our personal struggle. And he sings:

reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you

A moment of Self realization. Enlightenment. God is within, was within, all along. What a futile search!

The music then soars, and we climb… up, up into ecstasy, into the beyond. Anderson again clings the tingshas—two miniature cymbals held by a string—waking us up from the dream. Just as Zen Master hits the bell with the padded stick…and boom…instant enlightenment…satori!

But, we are held in the whirl of the cosmic dance, in the ongoing karmic waves of life and death. This movement is conveyed through the stillness that swells up in the form of an acoustic major chord. It is a new turn in the journey of life. In this way, it is a suite, rather than merely a song. This moment suggests the feeling of finally reaching altitude…steady…like flying on a giant wave in the cosmos. And he sings:

Sad preacher nailed upon the colored door of time
Insane teacher be there reminded of the rhyme
There’ll be no mutant enemy we shall certify
Political ends as sad remains will die
Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you
Oooh, ooh

reach over the sun for the river
And you and I climb, clearer towards the movement

Wakeman’s ascending triads and triplet rhythms express the jagged spiritual journey, alluded to in this opus…impelling a magnificent triumph over each downfall and over time itself, as the echoing chords skip and soar and swirl around one another, creating energy and motion and mimicking the continual drive toward ecstasy and rapturous joy.

SET LIST—

  1. Cinema
  2. Hold On
  3. I’ve Seen all Good People
  4. Changes
  5. And You and I
  6. Rhythm of Love
  7. Perpetual Change
  8. Lift Me Up
  9. I Am Waiting
  10. Heart of the Sunrise
  11. Awaken
  12. Owner of a Lonely Heart
  13. Roundabout (Encore)
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The Space where Ram Dass and Timothy Leary Diverge

 

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LSD & the 1960s—
It is hard to chronicle the era of the late 60s without reference to drugs—or to the Woodstock festival, itself, which was complete with “acid tents.” It was Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who pioneered their use in therapeutic settings….although it cost them their professorships at Harvard. Although Alpert would take a different path into Hindu spirituality, Leary continued to publicly promote the use of LSD and became a prominent player in the 60s counterculture.

Their work is chronicled in the documentary from 2014, Dying to Know. Narrated by Robert Redford, it patches together conversations between the two iconic figures throughout their friendship, which spanned five-decades. This analysis is more a close up of the most philosophically interesting part, than it is a review of the documentary, itself. It is one of their last conversations, erupting at the very end of the movie, in which, spawned by a discussion of what happens after death, they wrangle over the existence of the soul, which in Hinduism, is called the atman:

Ram Dass: I’m interested in awareness AFTER the brain gets eaten. I think about the dissolution of conceptual structures.

Timothy Leary: There are neurological and anatomical explanations for hallucinations.

RD: (I’m interested in how death) catapults us into non-conceptual space…my sense of continuity of awareness beyond the brain…is it just my wanting to keep something going?

TL: I don’t have that.

RD: You used the word, “soul”…what do you mean by it?

TL: “Superconsciousness.” And it…she…hangs around the brain.

RD: Well, Ramana Maharshi says, it’s right here (touches heart).

TL: (Rolls eyes)…A wonderful organ to pump blood. These Indian gurus…they’re using the heart as a metaphor? A bad metaphor.

RD: It’s in the lower, right hand corner…the size of your thumb…the atman

TL: (Aghast) Are you kidding me!?

RD: It’s in subtle form…not manifestation.

TL: (Un-camouflaged sarcasm) How do you contact it?

RD: You gotta get a better technology.

TL: Atman…better than LSD?

RD: In LSD, you saw all that, but it went by so fast, and you didn’t have a model to save it…it just went through…so much went through…but what we have conceptualized, is just a tiny edge…a trivia of the whole model.

These kinds of disputes, not unfamiliar to them, serve as a demonstration of opposites in harmony. It’s science and religion cutting the rug. It’s the Yin and the Yang in play, where Leary acts as Yang to Dass’ Yin…with his hard-edged, masculine demand for certainty, alongside Dass’ softer way, and willingness to surrender into the realm of the intangible.

As a relevant aside, what is often forgotten, is that science and religion started out asking the same questions… What is reality?… What am I?… Is there a God?… Is there an afterlife? It was all housed under the umbrella term philosophy. Even the category of “scientist” didn’t exist until the 19th century…1833, to be exact, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Guys like Newton were called Natural Philosophers. The different arenas just embraced different methods of ascertaining Truth.

Psychedelic—
These two scientists of the mind have been inextricably bound together, since their meeting in 1961. As if hand chosen by cosmic destiny, both lived at a time, a uniquely situated precipice within the timeline of the 20th century – when it was possible to explore these age-old questions in ways that were as yet, unprecedented in the western world.

Impelled, by both deep curiosity and mutual admiration, these academic big wigs journeyed through the inner landscapes of human consciousness. They went from theory and books to personal experimentation. First hand empirical investigation into uncharted territory, aided by psilocybin and eventually, LSD.

Each had just the right amount of ingredients to get the mixture right…just enough personal trauma and general suffering, together with the right amount of natural disobedience and rebelliousness. For Leary, it was profound grief after his first wife’s suicide. Ram Dass (then, Dr. Richard Alpert) was homosexual at a time when it far from acceptable.

Coming to Different Conclusions—
Something deeper was revealed through this exchange in the documentary. Like two trees growing in different environments, in different soil and all around conditions, not knowing the long term results until the trees reach maturity… But eventually, one tree bears fruit that tastes like love and feels like an open heart, and the other bears fruit that tastes like sarcasm and feels like vexation.

Ram Dass had found something that Leary hadn’t, and it has the aroma of divinity….while Leary’s projection carried the unmistakeable flavor of anguish. One of Leary’s five wives offers us some insight, when she explains the disconnect Leary has always had between his mind and his heart… ”the mind was always in charge and the heart got left behind,” she explained.

Roads Diverge—
It was 1967. Ram Dass wasn’t Ram Dass yet. After traveling the Himalayas, with fellow westerner, Bhagawan Dass, he stumbled into his first meeting with a little saintly looking man, wrapped in a blanket …the man who would become his teacher…Neem Karoli Baba (Babaji). Here he describes their first encounter:

The first time I looked at him, I said to myself, “I don’t want to be hustled.” The second time I looked at him, all I wanted to do was touch his feet…I looked up and he was looking at me with unconditional love and I had never been looked at with unconditional love by anybody…I felt loved…I felt loved…and I felt something happening in my heart.

He was forever changed.

Ram Dass would subsequently explore the same philosophical questions through different means…spiritual means. Under the guidance of his Guru, he would eventually discover the biggest Truth of all: I am a soul….that which would forever separate him from Leary.

“You have to be somebody before you’re nobody.” The idea, in eastern teachings, is that the realization of our truest essence—that we are spirit—engenders a natural breakdown of the ego, with all its attachments to identity and roles, in tow. There is a kind of death that occurs through the realization of what we really are.

Ram Dass sat in wonderment at how his friend, given his taste of expanded states of consciousness, could have remained a philosophical materialist…that is, one who holds that all things, including consciousness, are merely material. For Leary, there is a neurological answer for everything…including altered states of consciousness.

Ram Dass wanted more than a taste…he wanted to discover the means of how to integrate and maintain expanded states of consciousness. It was this desire that led Roshi Joan Halifax—featured in the documentary—to dig deeper, as well, as she embarked on her journey through Zen…searching for a means to really train the mind to be stable…in lieu of what she referred to as merely temporary, “decorative states.”

An Interesting Paradox—
They started together… but ended up continuing their lifelong journeys, exploring the inner dimensions of who we are, but on two very different different paths. Leary, exploring the mind with psychedelics, and Dass, with Bhakti Yoga…a devotional path, aimed at union with God through love.

Leary was at once a rebel against everything, but at the same time, not willing to waver from this very milieu….one that wouldn’t support anything less than empirically tested results. It was almost as if he were saying, “here you go…by your very standards, I’ll reveal your fallacies and limitations!” …As if he wanted to stick it to the world, using its own measurement scales.

Meanwhile, Dass traipsed barefoot into a far away, exotic land, steeped in God…and smothered in divinity…showered with deities, goddesses and myriad celestial beings with their fantastic myths and folklore…unconcerned with scientific methodology and framework.

The Final Transition—
Ram Dass counseled Leary’s family, after his friend’s death from prostate cancer in 1996. He reminded them to let their minds soar with his love, as he passed into the beyond, and to regard death just as highly as life…to let the mysteries of the universe, as they unfold, be beautiful. His last words were, “why?…why not?”