Young Wayne at Grady Orchard
More late night reminiscences. Swimming in the river of night, as it’s called hereabouts. One gets the sense that, although there may be certain dimensions to the relationship between Wayne Molly and Myra Fine that he didn’t expound upon in his telling of this tale – this is a flashback, mind you (it’s a safe bet that most pages in this story are) – nevertheless, Myra is learning for the first time some key background information that sheds some light on the contradiction between Wayne’s talent on the drums and his apparent ambivalence about it.
Speaking of shedding some light, her statement in the last panel “mirousz inkhadroun” is a common phrase among Silnai artists, such that Wayne would understand perfectly, but for those of us on Earth, here is an explanation of sorts… this expression is a sort of prayer or invocation that an artist uses prior to practicing their craft, which is asking the source of their creativity to shine clearly as through a lens, or reflect clearly as through a mirror. The underlying concept being that an artist is a lens or mirror, and whatever form their artwork takes, be it performance or literature, etc., is an act of shining a light that comes from a greater self, oneness. In this case, Myra is asking the source for guidance in what she is about to express.
Myra Fine describes some of the capabilities of the elder musicians, and the possibilities of music itself. But who were they? Why and how was the handing down of their knowledge disrupted? If they could move freely through space and time, is there any way they can come here now and sort out the dreadful mix of materialistic narcissism and sad nostalgia that comprises the severely limited playlists on mainstream corporate FM radio stations? Well, even if they can, I reckon they are hanging back to see what we do. We’re all musicians, after all. We’re all singers. We are all songwriters. Music is constant, our songs are ongoing – not just contained in 3 minute ditties, streamlined for mass production and digital distribution. We can all write much more interesting and uplifting songs than what we hear repeated endlessly on commercial radio, what we hear reduced to background music in advertisements and stores… well, if we can just realize that that’s possible. It’s hard to get an accurate idea of what’s possible if you’re stuck listening to the same few songs over and over again.
Wayne’s ambivalence about continuing on his path as a musician isn’t just down to some personal characteristic of laziness or apathy… the Kuranai system of mentorship for drummers is a rigid orthodoxy. There is one Jurai Sonsuraiun for each student, and if anything happens to disrupt that relationship and process, it’s regarded in a fatalistic way. There’s nothing to be done about it, because it is what was “meant to be.” Of course, as a musician, he has continued to learn just by playing music on his own and with other musicians, but he’s internalized the belief that, due to a cruel twist of fate, he can’t ever become a master musician – with capabilities equivalent to those of the Elder Musicians that Myra Fine referred to on the previous page. Nevertheless, from her perspective, Wayne is still capable of fully realizing his highest aims because he experienced the Djiurna as a visionary event and not just an ‘ordinary’ song. Myra herself is acting on intuition and insights gleaned from her own musical visionary experiences… although she herself hasn’t had the kind of guidance and support that she properly should have had (as she noted, “the passing down of this knowledge has been disrupted….”) she must have had glimpses of those timeless spaces within music and art where all wisdom is eternally present, all knowledge is accessible because there is no separation between the seeker and that which is sought. Of course, that’s the power and danger of all art, that it can reawaken all of us to who we truly are and what we are truly capable of doing. That’s the threat that it poses to socioeconomic, political and religious power structures that want to portion out tiny slivers of our own divine humanity to ourselves, re-sell lesser versions of ourselves to us. But if you can feel and experience powerful artistry, you can create it, no matter how long and trying a path to get there, to yourself.
Some of the slang and terminology in Zoonbats is made up for this world, while others are real-world terms that I tend to assume readers will be familiar with… but when I go to double-check these sorts of things, I’m often surprised to find that there is very little presence on the internet of definitions or explanations for these terms. Most of these words and phrases are familiar to musicians, particularly funky musicians, but I reckon that’s not a prevalent demographic lighting up the Twitters and such… some of these phrases I’m sure have been used before in Zoonbats, such as ‘the skins’ meaning drums, or an old-fashioned term for the trombone, ‘slushpump.’ On this page, Myra tells Wayne that he knows what he needs to do when he slips out the pocket – the implication being that he has to get back in it, ASAP. A semi-equivalent phrase might be something like ‘when you fall off a horse, you have to get back on,’ or at least the first half of the phrase, since she’s left the second half to be filled in. Well, anyway, back to ‘the pocket’ – I generally understand it as the groove shared by a band’s rhythm section. Here’s a good explanation I found by Guy Capuano:
“This mystical term “Playing in the Pocket” may sound like nonsense to the uninitiated or untrained, but to any serious bass player or drummer it is absolute necessity. “In the pocket” is where a solid rhythm section lives. Let’s discuss exactly what this phrase means. Some may say the pocket is the place of consistency of the kick drum, actually playing the same rhythm, and the bass player linking up and playing to that very same rhythm, or playing off that rhythm. Keeping the groove consistent and never losing timing. Others may say of the pocket “Its nothing more than keeping good time and playing a part that sounds good for the song.” To me the pocket is the rhythmic glue that holds a band, and most good music in general, together.
“Nothing gets an audience moving like a solid rhythm team, and a solid rhythm team is one of the pocket. Sure most audiences will never be able to point out if a team is “playing in the pocket.” But whether they know the terminology or not, what they will know is they feel like dancing. Good grooves are made from the place of the pocket, there is no compromise to this.
“Occasionally I have the pleasure of playing with a young drummer who is very talented. Yet until last year he did not know what I meant when I asked him about the pocket. Mainly because he did not have one. This was a bit aggravating as a bass player. It was even more aggravating trying to continually search for the pocket while playing with him. But I will admit he has some real talent. He went away to a musical camp this summer and is now working on his “pocket.” I played bass with him again this past weekend and it was like night and day. Sure his pocket is not flawless and much more work is required, but he is putting in a great effort nonetheless and the overall feel of that band is considerably better. It was a pleasure to play with him this weekend.”
This page concludes Wayne’s surprise music lesson with Myra Fine for the evening, as they arrive at the Fishscale District HIT (Haquel Intracity Transit) elevated train station. The Fishscale District earned its name not only from being host to many seafood markets, but also for being home to several manufacturers of scales and precision measurement devices.
Back on the road! Back in the present narrative thread after… I’m not sure how many pages of flashbacks. Including a flashback within a flashback. Why do I do these things? Well, I guess it could relate to the notion that we must know the past if we are to avoid repeating it, and/or navigate to a future of our selection. Within the narrative of the story, the Silnai have a strong oral tradition, so this kind of conversation is just normal. It’s expected that each person will become a good storyteller, expressing their own experiences and perspectives as a cultural contribution, and that in order for them to develop, other people will take the time to listen to them. (That’s part of what makes this science fiction!)
So where’s Murray?