Free your mind: life and how to live it

By Mark Verdin

Yes, I’m alive!I hear you, Tupac. I hear the cosmic sound waves you’re laying down, the whirligig speech spinning in reverse through its groove, gruesome ululations cutting suddenly into coherent words. Pulling the needle back from the center, the bullet flying back into the gun. What’s the opposite of entropy? I hear it. The shattered glass that reforms before our eyes.

Don’t blame me. This is about music-backwards, like a dream that puts itself together as it goes along. Willowy cymbal whisper: soft beauty of the piano, sustained like strings building abruptly to climax: voices sucked into bodies and cut off in the void. Bird singing, hesitant, while the bass slides, lost, heavy, holding up the shushing snare. And Miles Davis hasn’t changed a bit. Pertly terse, tersely pert, figure skating solo in the slush and stomp.

Are there messages that we don’t hear?-Ozzy telling us to taste our family’s blood, Zeppelin spraying their bullshit back and forth like some back alley drunk? “Turn me on, dead man.” You said it. There is no hope in music, no beauty, no sense, but music still is, either way, any way. What we say without knowing we say it, what we play without knowing we play it, what we are always doing anyway: stepping backwards in time reveals that slight hesitation in all we do, fading into a shout for a second only to pull back and out, a cosmic regression that spirals into blackness and oblivion. When Tupac reveals the truth, he purposely bends the medium to his will, he shapes his sound around the void and pushes himself back into the world-like a funereal movie sequence in reverse, raindrops falling up. “Yes, I’m alive!”

Sun Ra laid it down a long time ago, revolving around his rocksichord to the beat of his infinity drum. There is insanity lying dormant in everything we do, not just music, and by reversing the insistent teleology of Chronos we can lay it out in the open for all to view. If we just go from one to zero instead of zero to one we can see the world again. And we will see that it makes sense: beautiful symmetry, fearful symmetry-as much sense as it has ever made. Putting things back together instead of tearing them apart. Space is the place, the place is space, but we navigate back and forth in time through our space. If we only go one way we’re not seeing the whole picture.

So the snare whooshes to its hit like a quick swallow of air: because it always does that, even when it snaps and rings-perhaps especially then. It’s pure sound. Sun Ra knew it, This Heat knew it: we put the pieces together as we may, haphazardly. But we can always go back. Hell, Chubby Checker knew it: twisting in reverse reveals the basic selfsameness of our behavior, the ineluctable ever-present back and forth. You twist this way, that way, but it’s always the same way. Just remember, never on a Sunday.