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We Don't Just Listen to Rock 'n' Roll...

Updated on January 3, 2010


...we feel it in our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies. Yes; bodies.

This past Christmas I received many wonderful gifts from my loving friends and family, but one in particular is proving to be as fun and exciting to me as whatever shiny new toys were to me that I may have recieved as a child in Christmases past. Although I am too old for toys now (most of the time), I have always enjoyed something interesting to read, which is what this gift happens to be for me, plus much, much more.

Enough with the vague descriptions; what I'm talking about is The Oracle, the unique and colorful newspaper of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the late sixties. Or, actually, a cd-rom with high-quality, full color replica pages of the original Oracle issues that were distributed in the Haight circa 1966, to be more precise.

Not only are the pages spilling with fantastic colors, patterns, and illustrations, there are also smatterings of poetry scattered amongst the longer articles, and listings of the hip events and happenings that were part of San Francisco's hippie culture -- like "Meditation/jam session: 3-5, 1415 Haight St" or "Diggers in the Park: 2 PM daily, Golden Gate Panhandle, free food, bring a bowl and spoon (Why is it free? Because it's yours!)" or "Fillmore: Grateful Dead, Chicago Blues Band, 9-2, $3". It's also a trip to take a look at the advertisements, psychedelic fonts and all, for shops and hangouts in and around the Haight; I would've really loved to have browsed around the jewelry/pottery/"objects of beauty that delight the eye and/ or blow the mind!" boutique called Wild Colors, or gotten an herbal tea (well, maybe coffee) at the Drugstore Cafe, or taken a stab at expanding my consciousness at the Inner Space psychedelic shop.

But the articles themselves are really where it's at; interviews with Dr.Tim Leary, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, author Ken Kesey, and surely more that I haven't even gotten to yet. I've never read a more fascinating newspaper. Articles on revolution, religion, new ways of living, meditation, spirituality, lack of spirituality, art, drugs, astrology, politics, peace -- subjects that, more often than not, overlap & interrelate -- and, oh yes most definitely, MUSIC.

One piece called "Notes for the New Geology," by Oracle contributer Chester Anderson, gave me such a rush of excitement and recognition that I felt I must share it. The article in its entirety discusses the nature of rock music, its effects on the rapidly-changing cultural climate of the time period, and, what I found most compelling, its effects on the individual. Specifically, one's physical person.

Paraphrased from the article "Notes for the New Geology" from Issue #6, The Aquarian Age:

"Though we've been brought up to think of music as a purely auditory art, we actually perceive it with the whole body in a complex pattern of sympathetic tensions and interacting stimuli.

Melodies, and especially vocal melodies or tunes in the vocal range, affect the larynx. It follows the tune, subvocalizing. As the line ascends, the larynx tightens, and as the line descends, it relaxes, responding sympathetically to the tension of the tones. (The larynx also tightens in response to strong emotion, just before the tears begin.) That's what makes an unexpected high note such an emotional event, because the part of the brain in charge of such things can't tell one kind of tension from the other. That's also much of what makes melodies work. Whether you want to or not, you participate.

Meanwhile, low notes -- especially on the bass, and most acutely if it's plucked and amplified -- are experienced in the abdomen as localized vibrations, an amazingly private sensation impossible to resist. The deeper the note, futhermore, the lower down on the trunk it seems to be felt. A properly organized R&R bass line is experienced as a pattern of incredibly intimate caresses: still more unavoidable participation.

A steady bass line in scales induces something like confidence and/or well-being. A jagged, syncopated bass can range you from nervous exhiliration to utter frenzy. (Old Bach knew all about this.) The possibilities are next to endless.

Rhythms, meanwhile, affect the heart, skeletal muscles and motor nerves, and can be used to play games with these pretty much at will. Repeated patterns (ostinati) and drones induce an almost instant light hypnosis (just like grass), locking the mind on the music at hand and intensifying all the other reactions. Long, open chords lower the blood pressure: crisp, repeated chords raise it.

And this is only the beginning, the barest outline of our physical response to music, but data enough for me to make my point.

And there's no defense but flight: not even the deaf are completely immune."

The information presented in this article and the passion in which it is explained by its author validated for me yet another reason why I so dearly love my rock 'n' roll, and uncorked within me a new gush of affection for that incomparable genre of music.

Try sitting completely still while listening to a rock song, (that is, a good rock song; I recommend Jefferson Airplane). No bopping your head, no nodding along, don't tap one toe or drum one finger ... You can't do it, can you?! I would say it's either impossible or incredibly frustrating to endure. Let go; embrace it. You know something significant is going on when you're driven to feel, inside and out, without being touched by anything but soundwaves.



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