It takes a lot to get me to fall in love with an album. You see, Im the quiet type, a monk in many lifetimes prior to this one. And if Im being perfectly candid, Im a monk without a formal monastery in this life as well. Im the kind of person who frequently switches off the television, shuts down the computer, turns off the iphone, crawls into bed, crosses his legs and JUST SITS. For me to intentionally add an extra layer of sound to my environment, that sound must pass the test of my admittedly somewhat oversensitive firewall.
That being said, Im always on the lookout for the next wave, what some may call post postmodern, second tier or even integral art. Since 2004, Ive waded my way through what seems like thousands of albums critically applying what I consider to be an integral lens. Ive enjoyed many of them, been enamored with a few, but have consistently withheld from writing about any of them because, to this point, Ive never fallen head over heels in love. Until now, that is. Over the past year or so Ive continuously returned again and again to one album: Michael Garfields Get Used to Being Everything.
It wasnt always like this. My initial reaction to Garfields music was very similar to my indoctrination to the work of Nick Drake. I remember being at a magazine stand while I was a student at Oxford, picking up a copy of GQ and being intrigued by an article about this genius singer songwriter who died mysteriously while still a young man. I immediately walked to the local Borders bookstore and purchased a copy of Drakes Pink Moon. The album cover was spooky like a hybrid engendered by Rene Magritte and Salvadore Dali which, of course, only added to my anticipation.
But I was disappointed. His sound wasnt something I instantly considered pleasant. At times he seemed to make his voice too raspy and I actually found myself getting embarrassed for him as he sang in a higher register. And what was up with that weirdly tuned guitar?
But something happened to me that day. Although my mind was telling me to take a pass, my poets Heart was unconsciously soaking it up as if it was some kind of artistic sustenance. All of a sudden, I found myself humming his music in the shower. I indescribably started quoting his lyrics in public and talking about his biography with my hyper-intellectual friends. I even began writing songs on bar napkins that were, quite frankly, mere echoes of his work.
And so it began with Garfields musings, but on an entirely different level. Although Garfield has a similar mysteriously addictive voice and a distinctive guitar brogue that seems to chase your auditory centers like a more effective Wile E. Coyote, what really attracts me to his work is an accelerated depth and Understanding that rarely emerges in any genre in todays music scene. Rather than primarily focusing on existential angst, or objectifying the system, or the fleeting moments of ego driven love and lust, Garfield chooses to compose accessible songs about waking up to the Higher Self while learning to embrace the fits and starts of living in a multidimensional world.
So here we have it: a 24-year-old meta-singer-songwriter who is part Hunter S. Thompson (Michael is a professional essayist), part Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Michael is a trained paleontologist), part Joseph Albers (except Michael paints fractals), part Ken Wilber (Michael is earning his Masters in Integral Theory), part Timothy Leary (self-explanatory) and all the while creating integrative artifacts to this point unrecognized as being a more evolved Bob Dylan and embedding it in a message that would have Deepak Chopra bobbing his head to the beat. For all souls fortunate enough to be vibing at a similar frequency, this young musician and his lifestyle can be seen, quite simply, as part of The Announcement.
Get Used to Being Everything opens without word or warning with a shredding solo guitar performance called Autocatalysis, an apt scientific title that means a self sustaining chemical reaction whose product is also the catalyst. In naming his opening song after a natural feedback loop, Garfield draws an enzo in the air and uses the technical veneer as cover while he slices through with his guitar to place a few drops of Visine in your third eye. This novel construction, whose title is a one word metaphor for involution-evolution or possibly even The Two Truths Doctrine, is the first part of five iambs partitioned via song rather than syllable. The stressed/unstressed pattern one quickly detects in this album alternates between instrumental meditation and lyrical koan which allows time and space for contemplation of content and preparation for the next poem. This is more than a mere collection of songs. This is Shiva and Shakti uniting.
Track number two, Time Machine Dream, is our first chance to hear Garfields subtly hypnotic voice as he croons the lines:
I went out on a limb,
grasping at all the pretty things Ive seen.
After the more transcendent Autocatalysis, Garfield reels us in reminding us we still live in the manifest realm before blasting us again into the Absolute as the song concludes with an absolutely joyous musical collage and with phrases such as:
but when I recognize
my higher nature peck the shell,
I'll split this cell
meditate on gleaming grace
that I don't ever come back
Tapping into part of the core message of the worlds great mystical traditions, Michael is speaking about the paradox of being both defectively human and fatefully Divine. He is teaching us to realize the dream-like nature of reality while simultaneously living the dream. And what should one do while harboring the knowledge to embrace both the dual and the non-dual? Michaels Zen-like answer is this: Ride It.
Which is the title for track three, the second of what Im calling instrumental meditation. The closing of Time Machine Dream and the whole of the post-techno, minimalist IDM-esque Ride It remind me of what it must have sounded like as Eckhart Tolle spent a year on a park bench reinterpreting the world after his enlightenment experience. Its edgy, yet completely relaxed. Its base, yet completely angelic. It makes one want to dance, and to think, and to pray, and to share it inside a crowd. Plus its awkwardly alive to the point I feel like Im listening through my skin.
By the fourth track, The Sun Setting, one figures out that Garfield is consciously telling a story; one that could easily be reorganized into a short opera performed in ten parts. Musically rich and full of surprises, The Sun Setting casually reflects back to peak experiences depicted in the first three songs as we realize the personage from Time Machine Dream is now sitting with a companion at dusk verbalizing a new-fangled worldview and speaking about the tendencies of the ego. There is even a hint of direct transmission as the song ends with an unidentified disembodied voice faintly shoving into the foreground saying, Thats how I feel! Inside out. Like, no skin, you know? Everythings rubbing up against No Boundary. So off the companion goes into the world . . . And the World Rushes In.
The third instrumental meditation is far from veiling its intention as meditation bells ring consistently throughout the songs duration. And the World Rushes In is a track of pure jubilation and wonder. Its reminiscent of the dreamy soundtrack Yann Tiersen put together for the motion picture Amelie.
Its intoxicating and rejuvenating, and as far as continuing the linear story line, its an accurate representation of how I imagine the companion felt as he or she realized for the first time that they were not their thoughts, feelings, or emotions. As reinforcement, Garfield actually allows his audience to hear the companion opening to the world in a new way as the sound of a brief case unlatching is continuously replayed as part of the presentation.
The next koan, Sweeping the Tide, focuses thematically on the healing process of shadow work, sweeping the patterns of the old self, and possibly connecting with ones Soul. In this track, the companion is back with his or her friend or teacher and is learning that after stabilizing state experience, one must also dive into ones subconscious and unearth all the material hidden from sight.
This is a wonderfully poetic piece that melts ones heart with stanzas such as this:
outside, the moon was a dollar at arm's length
so bright that while I stood there watching
in captured quiet at the railroad crossing
you hid inside, under cover of closed blinds
but under the surface, moonlight spilled in
like a deep sea fish, your outline filled in
it's not easy to win against the moon
why hate the love that you've refused
your darling life is not unused to it
but you hide like bugs in the kitchen
Theres a self-assured tone underlying this work as a whole; a gnosis in the corner harboring a Mona Lisa smile. But the message on the surface of this song is clear: Do the work. It wont be easy. Youll be thankful you did.
Track seven, "Lady of the Lake", Garfields second solo guitar performance, is in many ways the most somber and disconnected song on the album. Of course this is calculated as it represents the pain and struggle of working through grueling shadow issues or dying to the ego and learning to embrace it in a healthier way. Michaels guitar is beautiful and tender in its own right, but unlike any other song in this collection, theres a feeling of real desperation inside of the searching. We also learn, by paying attention to the title, that the companion is a lady and thus the story is about a young womans journey on the path of self-realization.
The Cartographers is the first of two instantly memorable and utterly magnetic tunes that close this album. Utilizing the ukulele, Garfield presents us with a study of language and semiotics whose authenticity and sweetness is boundary breaking. This is Garfield playing the part of a male Siren while revealing his rendition of the young womans final lesson: The Map is not the Territory. This well known phrase has rarely received such a graceful elucidation:
we ply in maps
we are certain that our world will fit on a page
in a poem
and believe that what we see
doesn't slip into the discontinuities
we use to lead our children through
this quaint diorama
but we are real people
living in our imagination
at simile speed
I habitually listen to this song before my morning meditation and watch my inner critic cringe as Garfield delicately releases the line: We are all sages and saints waiting to happen. Never have I found such a hip musical creature holding space at this evolutionarily advanced frequency!
The concluding instrumental meditation, Bete Moire, combines Garfields playful solo guitar with his loftier version of scat singing. A moire is a pattern of intersecting sets of lines that produces the illusion of a more complex pattern where they overlap. The title makes reference to the fact that self-organization is easily understood by considering that any two things create a third, which is an interactional pattern between them. Thus, for Garfield and his heroine, the emergence of order from chaos is no big mystery. After pointing behind the language in The Cartographers, Michael suggests, once again, that its in our best interest to hold both dual and non-dual perspectives.
Get Used to Being Everything wraps up by repackaging The First Noble Truth into a contagious ready-made spiritual anthem called It Hurts So Were Not Dead. This closing soliloquy compels one to sing along as were all invited to re-enter the market place and celebrate the essence of being human. Throughout this album, Michael never ceases to amaze me with the way hes able to capture mature spiritual content and enfold it in entertaining songs that completely upend the stereotypes of what one may think of as intelligent music. Yes, Michaels work has unbelievable depth. Yes, its content is unapologetically spiritual. And just as it is fashionable to objectify the social system and participate in a broadened cultural sphere, Michael expands on this by making it chic to authentically explore ones individual interior world-space as well.
Whats all the more stunning is that Michael put this album together completely by himself on his home computer. My imagination runs wild thinking about what he would be capable of with a little support. But until then, this mystic without a monastery will continue to acknowledge his work. From my perspective, the many emergent qualities in creations such as this are begging to be championed.
November 7, 2008