At the great risk of angering testosterone-riddled (or, deprived?) metal fans everywhere and for all time,
I decided to make the bold choice of titling–and deriving the artwork for–my “heavy metal bamboo album” directly after one of the iconic power-metal albums from the early 80’s, Dio’s Holy Diver. This was the zenith of this brand of “power metal,” featuring driving speed, pounding drums, dark fantasy, overdriven guitars, and the last gasp of what must be called AMAZING SINGING in the world of metal.
My album, Holy Flute, features one voice: the pure bamboo jinashi shakuhachi, on 7 songs, and it’s baritone brother the Taimu, on the other 5. Sure, we spiced it up with a few other sounds (stomping, thunderstorms, cat purr, even some vocals) but this is essentially a “live in the studio” solo shakuhachi album. I am engaged in expanding the repertoire for solo shakuhachi. Once your soul becomes entwined with this bamboo elemental–especially if you already happen to be a high-level woodwind wizard, composer-performer–you might be surprised the places you’ll go, the things you’ll see. The things you’ll hear and think.
Without making this the world’s longest discourse on why-my-album-looks-the-way-it-does-and-what-its-title-means–what I hope to make clear to everyone is that Zen, Taoism and the shakuhachi have all conspired to cause me to approach everything I do with reverence. Reverence, respect, depth and presence are the modalities within which I am functioning. Most of the time(!) If someone arrives at my music or concepts without access to or a preference for these modalities, then the response varies between dislike to indifference. But if we see that all music is prayer, in its essence, and that all energy is Life Energy, then our vision begins to shift. No longer do we associate clean, gentle, sterile and saccharine with Good & Correct or gritty, dark, abrasive and extreme with Bad & Wrong. We see clearly that all life breathes, that energy spans a huge spectrum that relies on poles or duality, and yet is not actually beholden to choosing one side or the other.
Music with soul is expressive. Expressive means alive.
Actually feeling your heart, actually feeling power from above and power from below flowing through your own body, that’s being alive. The analytical mind is an element, an aspect, a component. It is not King. Kill the King. As far as the Holy Diver cover, music, mindset or intention being “dark” or “evil” or “negative”–I propose that the deeper answer lies nearby to the answer to the question “What is Zen?” One answer to which is: “It’s not what you think.”
More thoughts in this video, also, read more scripture and quotes and pontification in the video description.
I worked with Nakona (my tattoo artist as well) to bring about this tribute album cover. We wanted to keep many of the Dio elements while transforming them into versions that suited the mindset and intention of my music, my shakuhachi playing and the spirit of high-energy, sacred new nature music with depth. The other direct elements of this process were Swamp Thing, of course, Alan Moore’s earth elemental, as well as the land and forests in which I live in Forest Knolls, CA (Marin County), and the great chimney rocks and beautiful air of Prachovské skály, a.k.a. Český Ráj, a.k.a. Bohemian Paradise in the Czech Republic, which I had the good fortune of spending 3 days in just before the International Shakuhachi Festival Prague 2016.
While it pains me to say that a handful of otherwise adept musicians and woodwind performers–rock, classical, jazz and world–deeply misunderstand what is actually involved in transcribing, arranging and performing a “cover song”–and keeping its true inner mojo intact–of the type that is featured on this and my upcoming Shakuhachi Unleashed albums, it is probably not their fault, so to speak. When faced with something so new, strange or unknown, a natural response is to assume that it might be pretty easy to do or come up with. Without another example against which to compare it, the brain is not sure what to do with it. Plus, there is a generous supply of far-below-excellent, soulless, stripped-of-vitality “cover versions” of songs on, yes, sometimes shakuhachi, and many other wind instruments. This threatens to poison the well, conceptually, even I must admit this. For non-musicians, however, you can actually set all that aside. I hope that everything on Holy Flute would simply be experienced as what we can call Good Music. Music with depth, creativity, skill and discernment. Music with soul, life and energy. Thankfully, I have friends, family, colleagues, fans, students– and blog readers ;-)–who have the Deep Creative Vision also, and enjoy joining me in these adventures.
By 1983, Ronnie James Dio had been a professional musician for about 25 years, and this album, Holy Diver–its caliber, energy, spirit, songwriting prowess and musicianship–released that year was a culmination, a zenith, a peak, and fans responded and continue to respond accordingly. By tapping into this iconography, culmination and response, I hope to catch a piece of the rainbow, so to speak, and shine some of that Holy Light upon our bamboo sounds, songs and prayers in the world of Zen and shakuhachi, and woodwind music performance.