Thursday, January 28, 2010

DISTURB THE AIR

In just a few days (February 2, 2010 to be exact) my album Disturb The Air will be available as a download from iTunes. Hooray!

This is possibly my personal favorite of the six Dimentia 13 albums, which will all be released as downloads this year. I say "possibly" because which one is my favorite depends on what day you ask me. Here is an on-line review of the album if you want to know what somebody else thinks of it. Please avoid the download they posted. It's crappy and what's worse, I don't get paid for it.

The legit download comes from Smog Veil Records. It's not up on their site yet. But when it is, you'll also be able to download from them eight pages of liner notes in PDF format that I put together about the writing, recording and producing of the album as well as some of the contemporary reviews and articles about it. It's now on Amazon for pre-ordering as are the rest of the Dimentia 13 albums.

Disturb The Air was the third Dimentia 13 album. It came out in 1989, though it was recorded in 1988. The producer was Glenn Rehse of the band Plasticland. Their compilation album Make Yourself a Happening Machine is something you must own in order to be cool. Returning the favor, I appeared on You Need a Fairy Godmother, Plasticland's live album with Twink who was a former member of The Pretty Things and sometime drummer for Syd Barrett.

Although Disturb The Air was the third Dimentia 13 album, it was the first to be recorded with a real band. I had played pretty much all of the instruments on the first two records with the exception of a couple of keyboard parts. But by the time it came to record the third album I had moved from Akron, Ohio to Chicago and had been playing live there with a band.

I’d gotten word that Glenn Rehse of Plasticland liked the first two Dimentia 13 albums a lot and wanted to work with us. I was already a huge fan of Plasticland and this seemed like a dream come true. Glenn was just a couple hours north in Milwaukee, so we met and talked and decided it could be done.

It was loads of fun to do this album, even though we had to drive two hours to the studio in Milwaukee. It was great to hang out with Glenn and get to experience his vast collection of amazing 60s memorabilia.

It's also cool to revisit a time in my life that I haven't written very much about. It's ironic to me that Zero Defex (0DFx), whose sole recorded output up until 2007 consisted of a handful of tracks on two compilation albums have eclipsed Dimentia 13 who recorded six full-length albums (although the sixth one was unreleased, until later this year when the download comes out). But I guess that's the way things go. But at the time these albums were being recorded I was giving my all to making Dimentia 13 a successful band. I feel like we were artistically successful even though we never had a hit record.

I began practicing zazen and studying Buddhism just before I started making the Dimentia 13 records. When I listen to them now I can hear little hints dropped into the lyrics. But I didn't want to sound preachy and end up like George Harrison with his annoying Hare Krishna albums (although those are my personal favorites of his records), so I never clearly stated that I was drawing lots of inspiration from Buddhism. In fact, much of what reviewers at the time saw as drug-influenced psychedelia in the lyrics was actually my own warped take on Buddhist philosophy. Ironically, my drug days were long over before the psychedelic band Dimentia 13 came to be.

The article I've posted on the bottom of this piece comes from the Milwaukee Journal in 1989 and tells a lot about the making of the album.

You've got about a week to save up your money for the download. Better get started now!

Friday, January 22, 2010

FINNISH DOCUMENTARY

For those who have asked, here are a couple of out-takes from the documentary of my tour of Finland last Summer. The film itself is very different from these out-takes. It's much faster and funnier and cooler. But here is some of the stuff that didn't make the final cut:


MEDITATION VS. ZAZEN

Link for those reading on Facebook:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNmdtlueAAM


IS DOING ZAZEN BECOMING A BUDDHA?


Link for those reading on Facebook:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1-6fzzQB3o


The filmmakers are currently looking for a distributor. Interested parties are invited to contact me at spoozilla@gmail.com & I'll put you in touch.

DON'T FORGET: ZAZEN AT 10 AM TOMORROW AT HILL STREET CENTER (237 Hill St., Santa Monica, CA 90405). Details are on your left at the link titled Weekly Zazen Classes on Saturday mornings. It happens every ding-dang week. Show up for once!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

INVITING THE BELL

Before we begin today, I gotta show you something cool. This is the cover of the German edition of Hardcore Zen that will come out in March, 2010 fro Aurum Books. Neat, huh? I’m looking forward to doing some live gigs in Deutschland this year to promote this thing. Been listening to the German versions of the old Kraftwek albums (kindly provided by Christine – thanks!) to try and get a little of the language under my belt before I go.

OK. Now on to today’s rant.

So the other day we’re about to start sitting Zazen. And I say something like, “OK, let’s hit the bell and begin.” And somebody else mentions that in another Zen group they sat with you don’t say “hit” or “strike” the bell because those words are too violent. Rather, you “invite the bell to sound.”

And I said, “What if the bell likes to be hit?” I mean maybe the bell is really into being struck hard and begs you for it. It seems unkind in such a case to deny the bell what it most deeply wants.

Not everyone wants the same things out of life that you do. Those who want something different from what you want, or from what the majority of people want, are not necessarily sick and wrong and in need of changing by you into something that more resembles what you call "normal."

This, I think, should be obvious, especially to Western people interested in co-called “Eastern spiritual practices.” We are already minority members. So we should understand the difficulties involved in being interested in something that most people we encounter cannot understand.

And yet at Buddhist centers you often encounter these kinds of deeply held prejudices and deeply held compulsions to try to transform the people we meet into something more like ourselves rather than allowing them to be exactly who they are. In fact this tendency is often even stronger in people who are into very niche type things, such as Zen for example, than it is in the mainstream population.

In folks who are into Zen and stuff like that, this compulsion is often buried under layers and layers of unacknowledged self-righteousness. Of course if you’re into Zen you can’t possibly be interested in anything the rest of us who are into Zen would consider weird or (gasp!) kinky.

Much of what I see going on in the world of American Zen comes from a place of deep self-righteousness. It’s that same stifling group-mind that says, “Join us, be one with us, do what we say to do, be the kind of person we want you to be, if you conform to our ideals you will be rewarded with a sense of belonging. But don’t stray from what we consider correct or this will be taken away from you.”

But here’s the deal. If you join, say, a sesshin, in which a group of people decide to practice zazen together for several days living in close quarters, there have to be fairly rigid rules of conduct. This is something that’s atarimae (当たり前)to use a Japanese phrase. It’s something so obvious it feels stupid to even say it.

However, it does not follow that the people who attend such events must try and mold themselves into the kind of ideal person that the lowest common denominator of the group has envisioned.

To me, a bell is something that enjoys being hit. When a bell is struck it is able to manifest itself as a bell. If you fail to strike it, the bell cannot do what it needs to do.

If you try and mask the fact that you are hitting the bell by burying that action under some pretentious euphemism you’re not being honest with yourself or with the bell.

You have a responsibility to play your part. Sometimes you encounter a bell that needs to be struck in order to manifest itself as a bell. If you are too wrapped up in a carefully cultivated image of yourself as a person who would never strike anything, even a bell, then you may ultimately cause greater harm by not taking the action that is necessary.

Current popular culture has created an image of the ideal Buddhist as a timid person who fears causing harm so much that he cannot act when it’s necessary to do so. See this fine example:



It’s funny, I’ll grant you. And I am not at all offended by this ad. The problem is that you meet lots and lots and lots of people who consider themselves to be actual Buddhists who view Buddhism pretty much the same way as the people who put together this ad. People who try and pattern their lives after the caricatures of Buddhists they’ve seen on TV commercials and bad Hollywood movies.

Then the same thing happens as happens with any religion. In order to strengthen your resolve to be whatever thing it is you’re trying to be, you need other people to try and be that thing too. And so the group puts pressure on all of its members to conform. Those who do not conform are ostracized. And everyone left behind feels good cuz they’re surrounded only by like-minded people.

But the real world is not made up of people who think just like you do, or who, to be more honest, pretend to think like they imagine you think so as to win the approval of you and the rest of the group. If that’s what we’re cultivating in our sanghas, we’re not doing anyone any good at all.

Even more slippery than the compulsion to transform others into what we think they ought to be is the compulsion to transform ourselves into our own ideals. But those ideals are always based on the same greed, anger, and delusion we’re trying to uproot in our practice. This is why Zen is aimed at nothing at all except allowing what’s actually present to manifest clearly. Paradoxically, when we do this we can start to see what actually needs changing in our own lives and see clearly what must be done right here and right now to make that happen.

Kodo Sawaki tells a story in which he likens becoming a Buddha to becoming a thief. In order to become a thief you don’t have to practice for years and years to make yourself into the ideal thief. You simply walk into Amoeba Records, shove that new Metallica CD into your pocket and walk out. You’ll probably get caught by the big burly guys at the door. Or maybe you’ll make it. In either case, instantly you are a thief.

Same with Buddhist practice. You become a Buddha by doing zazen. The moment you take the position, you are a Buddha. No need to compel yourself or those around you into transforming into whatever confused ideals you have about what Buddhists ought to be.

This compulsion to change others and ourselves into our ideals is a significant problem, and one that I don’t believe gets very much attention. It’s the outward manifestation of a very deep misunderstanding of Buddhism that actually drives a lot of what passes for Buddhism these days.

If you’re going to say you accept everything, then, dammit, accept every-fucking-thing. Not just those things you find acceptable.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things that truly need to be changed. But the things that really, seriously need changing are usually pretty obvious.

Buddhism isn’t about a retreat from reality into a kinder gentler world created in your own mind. It’s about making this world a better place by seeing it for what it is and doing what you truly need to do.

Friday, January 15, 2010

ZEN & YOGA RETREAT TOMORROW

Just so nobody forgets, we'll be having a day-long Zen and Yoga retreat tomorrow at Hill Street Center in Santa Monica starting at 10am and finishing at 3:30pm. The full info is at this web page.

The morning will be a full Yoga class taught by Nina Mikkelsen, an experienced Yoga teacher who also sits with our regular group a lot. Nina teaches mainly at Karuna Yoga in Los Feliz, but also teaches at a number of other centers and does private lessons and corporate Yoga classes in the LA area.

The afternoon will be a Zen sitting with a talk emphasizing the parallels between Yoga and Zen. I will do a short introduction to the practice first, followed by two rounds of Zazen and finishing with a group discussion.

Some people have asked about our suggested donation. Please remember that this is a suggested donation. No one will be turned away for lack of funds and no one will check to see what you put in the donation basket. But considering what other places around town charge for day-long intensives, this is still a bargain price.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pat Robertson Says Stupid Shit. Hooray!



People have been forwarding me this video of the Rev. Pat Robertson stating that the recent horrific and deadly earthquake in Haiti was the result of a pact with Satan entered into by the Haitian people.

It's fucking hilarious. I understand why this upsets people. It should. But on the other hand, it just shows how Rev. Robertson continues to marginalize himself and make himself and his cause look more and more ridiculous. This, I think, is a great thing.

In the 80s I was really worried that guys like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were going to establish themselves as powerful political figures in America. That never happened. Even G.W. Bush's association with the religious right was small beans. I know people will argue about this. And it's fine if you do. It's great that people still care about this and it's one of the ways the religious right will continue to become more marginalized and powerless.

I'm not saying the religious right is powerless yet. But compared to 20 years ago, they ain't nothin'. I know folks will argue about that too and say they're stronger than ever. But, y'know what? They aren't. They really, really are not. So there.

You can see this in just the simple day to day interaction of real people now as compared to 20 years ago. Look. I got hassled and threatened in high school because I was known to be gay. I wasn't actually gay. But I was known to be gay and that's all that mattered. These days Wadsworth High School has openly gay and lesbian students. This would have been absolutely unthinkable when I went there. They would have had the shit beaten out of them. Literally. And this would have been acceptable. Maybe not legally acceptable. But socially acceptable. They would have been seen as having deserved it.

Look at Lady GaGa with her fetish oriented videos. Great stuff! And also absolutely impossible to imagine getting shown anywhere in the 1980s.

Things have changed a whole lot. And mostly for the better. If the religious right were as powerful as some folks fear, these real tangible social changes could not have happened.

There are plenty of other examples of the waning in power of the religious right. But I'm not gonna waste time citing them.

So I say, rock on Pat Robertson! Keep saying stupid shit!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

BRIT HUME, ZEN & YOGA RETREAT, BUDDHISM & SEX LECTURE SERIES, MONSTER ATTACK TEAM and AGAINST THE STREAM

Before we get started, two things I gotta mention:

On Saturday January 16th starting at 10 am we will have our first ever Zen and Yoga retreat at Hill Street Center (237 Hill St., Santa Monica, CA 90405). Full info can be found by clicking on the words "Zen and Yoga retreat" above. We're still working on the actual schedule. I mean the date and starting time are fixed. But the schedule within the actual day might change slightly from what's listed on that page.

And in February I will do a series of lectures about Buddhism and Sex also at Hill Street Center. Again, info can be found by clicking on the words "series of lecture about Buddhism and sex" above. And again, the actual schedule within the days themselves might change a bit, though the dates and starting times are fixed.

Also, on Sunday January 17th at 11 am I will be leading Zazen and speaking at Against The Stream at 4300 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 90029. Be there or be a dope!

Also, I did a big ol' article about my work at Tsuburaya Productions for issue 8 of the magazine Monster Attack Team. I believe the on-line version is available now and the print version is soon to come. So get yours! I'm really pretty jazzed about the piece I wrote for them. Not much Buddhism in it. But I also have a whole other life.

OK. Now to the rest of what I have to say...

Did I ever complain here about how I have the world's slowest Internet connection? It's an AT&T deal called 3G Watcher that uses cell phone signals or some damn thing. Man, it's annoying! But I keep it cuz it keeps me from surfing the Internets and wasting time.

Anyhow, this could be why I completely missed my quote in this YAHOO! News article until someone posted it in the comments section of the article before this one.

The reporter talked to me on the phone for about 45 minutes. She kept asking, "What would you say to Tiger Woods if he asked you for advice?" And I'm like, well, I don't know Tiger Woods. I don't really know what's actually going on in his life. I don't like to give people advice even if I know them well.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, says the reporter, but if he asked you specifically for advice what would you say?

And I'm all like, first off I'd tell him that my advice isn't much good since I don't really know you...

And the reporter's like, c'mon, you must have some kind of advice!

And I'm like, well, I guess I'd just tell him what I tell everybody... y'know, do some Zazen, try to see clearly what your actual circumstances are without judging or thinking too much about them. Just see it for what it is. This takes years of practice.

"OK!" says the reporter, "Bye!" -click!-

Read the article yourself to see how I was quoted. Yes, I did say that. But no I did not say that at all...

I'm oversimplifying a little. The article contains a lot of good stuff, some of which I said but which isn't credited to me, probably because the reporter heard pretty much the same thing from every Buddhist she spoke with. The stuff about karma and the lack of any creator God who can prevent the law of cause and effect from smacking you in the ass when you do stupid shit. It's a pretty good piece, all things considered. Although I'm not real sure I understand Robert Thurman's use of the word "sin." Then again, his daughter is smoking hot. So I'll forgive just about anything he says. Anyhow, the reporter did listen to me, but the folks out there in Americaland wanted Buddhist advice. So that's what they got.

Whatever. This whole business is kind of amazing to me. I knew there was a ton of ignorance and misinformation about Buddhism out there in Americaland. But it's still kind of astounding to see just how deep it goes. You see Buddha statues and paintings and Zen-this and Zen-that all over the damn place. Yet folks out there really don't know squat about Buddhism.

I'd never even heard of Brit Hume before this whole business erupted. So I guess that shows my own ignorance. But thanks to him a few people will get interested in finding out more about Buddhism. Their interest will probably last all of seven and a half minutes. But it's better than nothing.

Jon Stewart had some of the best stuff to say about this matter. Here is the latest clip I've seen. Unfortunately this will probably be the end of the matter as far as the Daily Show is concerned.

As for Tiger, I really have no advice for him. Maybe he could advise me on how to pick up girls! If we're talking about a situation in which two people who don't know each other meet and one asks how to fix his marriage and the other asks how to pick up chicks, the guy who asks how to pick up chicks is gonna come out way ahead.

The problem with Buddhism is that it can't possibly fit into a sound byte. Neither can Christianity or any religion. But at least with Christianity in the West there's a significant existing base of knowledge to build upon. With Buddhism there is virtually no understanding at all in so-called "middle America."

What irks me about this is how a guy like Brit Hume, armed with pretty much zero understanding about Buddhism just mouths off on the subject like he knows it all. Think about it. If the entirety of Buddhism had no way at all of dealing with such a common thing as marital infidelity it couldn't possibly have lasted 2500 years and picked up several hundred million adherents. Feh!

My friend Bob Johnson of Sci Fi Japan made a real good point once that I'm sure I've mentioned here. Like me, Bob is a Godzilla geek. He said that every time he reads an article about Godzilla in the mainstream media they can't even get the most basic facts straight. After noticing this he started wondering if the "facts" he was hearing from the same media outlets about the so-called "real news" were any more trustworthy. He concluded they probably were not. I tend to agree.

Ah fooey! This is why I don't have cable TV.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

TIGER WOODS MUST RENOUNCE BUDDHISM AND BECOME A CHRISTIAN

Here's an article (click here) you all might enjoy about how Tiger Woods ought to ditch Buddhism and become a Christian so that he can be forgiven for his sins. This was discovered by Rod Mead Sperry of The Worst Horse. What kind of Buddhist is Tiger, anyway? I mean, SGI? Pure Land? Tibetan? Zen...?

I'm not gonna comment much. Except that, yeah, Christianity does offer more forgiveness for sins than Buddhism, since in Buddhism there is no idea of sin to begin with.

I could probably go on & on about this, but I got stuff I need to do today.

Oh! And by the way, I've noticed that ever since Tricycle magazine ran an article about all the hundreds of warring commenters on this blog, all the warring commenters seem to have fled! Where are you guys? Now all those poor Trike readers who've only just tuned in are gonna think the writer was making that shit up.