|First Time Back: A time I spent with my LightDreams bandmate Andre Martin
Andre and I originally met in 1980 in a laundromat in Fernwood in Victoria BC. He was always 'now' as from our earliest conversations we rarely deviated from the subject of this precise moment we are in, at any given time. I think our first serious discussion happened when I invited him over to our place in Goldstream Park Vancouver Island where we discussed the notion that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' and by extension we agreed that 'so was just about everything else' ! From that basic philosophical perspective we became highly compatible mates in that simple understanding of the Universe of our perceptions. It figured greatly into the music we both created and explored periodically through the years. He was always self-sufficient in his philosophic views and was probably better equipped than most in his detached way to study the Eastern Religions he seemed interested in. Perhaps he was looking for some ancient confirmation or parallel to his viewpoint.
I remember arguing with him only once about a line in one of his songs 'Being Here' where he sings "my imagination rediscovers the light, revealing soul's eternal flight tonight" - never one to use words lightly we both dwelt on words very carefully in our songwriting because of a song's longevity and commitment to time and space. The discussion would have explored all the nuances and ramifications of the word 'soul' and knowing that at that time, in the early 80s that he was exploring the esoteric religion of Eckankar which actually alludes to astral projection and soul travel, I had an opinion about whether it was accurate in the context of the song. From my then agnostic perspective his interest in Religions seemed archaeological and harmless enough but we were thinking of using the song on one of my projects so I felt we needed to define what he meant and why. As it turned out I loved the rest of the song so much that I couldn't suggest a better word to use anyway and he seemed confident in it's appropriateness which after all was pre-cursored by the line, 'my imagination rediscovers the light'. That kinds of put it in the context of the imaginary allusions of the next line and we (I) went with it despite some misgivings. We kept it and although I always get a twinge when I hear him sing it, perhaps having now passed on it is more a comforting thought than anything else, "eternal flight" and all. Years later we chatted and I think he reassessed that it may not have been the best word to include in the song, whereas I had come to accept it as a perfectly fine snapshot capsule of his spiritual development at the time.
We lost touch until about 1993 when my wife went back east to visit her parents and Andre and I locked ourselves up in my studio on Salt Spring to record a definitive album of material called "First Time Back". We settled down to create a series of songs where every lyric would be hyper-analyzed to ensure it was 'appropriate' to our evolving notion that 'beauty was in the I of the beholder... along with everything else'. It was important to us, as we came at the project with only two or three previously written pieces of music; his Rite of Passage and my composition, Gayana which were both extremely neo-classical instrumentals in nature, and he also contributed his existing Higher Rain and Still Dreaming songs which we re-recorded from scratch. Over five weeks that summer we played and recorded bits every day and there were a couple of moments that influenced our project's trajectory, one was encapsulated in the first song on the album called appropriately 'None of the Above' which I was writing and fine tuning the lyrics, to reflect our sense of what the purest understanding of what Awareness and Consciousness are. Essential that awareness in particular was beyond everything one could conceptualize or imagine flowing through consciousness, so that pretty much any attempt to grasp the subtle truth meant disavowing all concepts and realising that being in a truly absolute state of awareness involved 'none of the above'. We would laugh out loud at the impossible nature of even trying to capture that notion in lyrical form, words themselves becoming useless tools of consciousness. I came home one day and Andre was playing an incredibly ambient piece of music that seemed so complete and finished that I asked him, "wow what's that one called?" he looked up and said "so far nothing" and I smiled and said, fantastic perfect, what a cool name for the next piece after None of the Above, So Far Nothing and so the album began to blossom with our first two pieces. I did eventually add some synth-like volume pedal lead guitar to So Far Nothing but whether it really needed it was only a matter of, well that sounded good too and so we kept it. I think of recording that album where it was truly our 'first time back' together recording and writing after a decade of living our lives remotely. First Time Back remains for me our best and last comprehensive collaborative work.
That five week period getting to know each other in 1993 was deep and wide, each morning getting up and expounding for hours over morning coffee about our theories of what consciousness was and how this awareness of it factored in. Why it seemed we were more about being our awareness of consciousness in contrast to being caught in the endless stream of chatter, emotions, thoughts and feelings flowing up and down throughout us. It was ever so interesting as we continued to hone the lyrics to each new composition in the project. At one point Andre found a Chinese cooking brandy that was actually sold out of a local corner store that was, something like 70% proof and which we took a particular liking to, although it kind of threw the project into a tailspin not without some rather hilarious moments as we 'lightened up' from our more 'serious' philosophical conversations. One evening I had to poke him as he appeared to pass right out and I said, "you know Andre, it is really not much fun chatting here if you are just going to pass out", he quite emphatically responded that "well Paul, you don't have to be conscious to be aware!". My gosh but that comment hit me between the eyes and had me rolling on the floor laughing at his seeming precociousness and just the clarity of truth in the statement. It led to an entire conversation about loss of consciousness when you fall asleep and yet how lucid and aware one can be in dreams while being unconscious. The next day was hot and we were recovering perhaps from the Ginseng Brandy the night before... Andre seemed pretty laid back and I was becoming concerned that the project was getting a little side-lined. I went up to the keyboard and very lazily began playing the first four chords I'd ever learned, D C G A, in a lilt of summer daze I began singing "Gazing on out over these fields of glory, the highlander plays his pipes of love, in memory of all those who have gone before us, into evaporation" it seemed an appropriate ad libbed lined as I watched Andre chilling out on my studio lazy boy chair... toasting my singing with a Martini and me wondering why my own glass seemed to be evaporating every time I looked at it. In a sense we had gone off the rails and I just wanted to sing a lament about that situation. I hit record and just captured the entire ad lib of lyrics and eventually, the next day grabbed the best lines to create the song "Evaporation".
Those brief few days were followed by a more determined attempt to get back on track and finish the album. Andre had a song already written called Still Dreaming but he refused to want to sing it, in fact other than Higher Rain, Andre did not contribute much singing at all. Not sure why, his voice is excellent and always reminded me of Lou Reed's voice. We discussed him singing his song Still Dreaming but he felt that I never sang enough love songs for a guy in love and who was obviously and still is in a long term relationship. So it was decided I would sing it. The song needed an intro and an instrumental section which I proceeded to compose and then I felt more like I could get into singing his lyrics... "still dreaming of that single kiss". Since my earliest psychedelic experiences I had felt an urgency to write about cosmologies and space oriented themes so classic love song stuff rarely seemed to come to mind, perhaps relationships were just too personal for me to want to write about and often they seem too bluesy, as so many are written about breakups, jealousy and whatnot. Andre's Still Dreaming was however more beautifully constructed and nostalgic and oddly suitable for the project so after analyzing the lyrics for any time sensitive limitations we recorded it with my vocal. Both Andre and I were in agreement that words if they were going to be used at all should have a timeless meaning so that hearing them years later one would not think they were dated or meaningless in the all important 'now' we lived. This goes back to his use of the word soul in 'Being Here' from 1982, at that time I felt it may have been his fleeting interest in Eckankar that was driving its use and that it might not hold up over the years. I think this was what we agreed years later.
I think the album, First Time Back is an excellent period to think about Andre, obviously it was one of the very few times we really hung out which can almost be counted on one hand from the time I met him. He was always about his own solitude in creativity, almost to the point where he seemed uneasy and secretive about his methods. As a self-learned musician his approach was spontaneous and unconventional, he may as well have composed with the keyboard in the bathtub for all I knew and yet with some stunning results. When he brought a reel to reel tape over with his epic composition 'Voiceless Voice'. I Heard that and simply had to have it for my project, Islands in Space in 1981. It was so 2001 A Space Odyssey, injecting an awesome symphonic element into the project that really changed the entire way I finally mixed and mastered the recording before going to the vinyl pressing. He allowed me to bookend the piece with some space chatter between the astronauts and mission control and then we were off on Andre's incredible cerebral journey, ambient music at its best. There were a couple more incidents in the completion of "First Time Back" that were significant influences on the album. One was a prepared dinner for a special guest, author, Jean Houston, that came about because she was visiting Salt Spring for a workshop. My oh my how we prepared for that. Jean Houston wrote the book Varieties of Psychedelic Experience and we were fanboys of psychedelic experience so one can imagine the anticipation we had to meet and chat her up on our recent insights regarding awareness of consciousness, other nuances of mystical perceptions of mind and imagination. Alas, it did not happen. Jean Houston stood us up, too fatigued after her workshop, darn! She did call very early the next morning to apologise again and in my conversation with her I tried to ask her some of the fundamental questions we had had for her and surprisingly, she was intrigued and supportive of our perspective and even some of our conclusions. She added a comment that actually I live by to this day; and that is that it is completely reasonable and credible to live a waking and active form of meditation filled with purposeful thoughts for tangible results. She herself was not partial to passive meditation at the time.
We wholeheartedly agreed despite her missing our dinner party I felt inclined to write at least a song encapsulating the moment. The song is called "Dreamland' which starts off naturally with a lament "Sorry we didn't get a chance to see you, we were told we shared a lot of interests, be that as it may, a friend of mine and I were thinking..." I listen to that song now and remember how thrilled we were in that fantasy moment that influenced us to add yet another significant song to our album in real time.
The last event to influence the album was when my wife returned after five weeks away and found a couple of guys, deeply embedded in the musical process, lookin' pretty scruffy and spaced out with visions of touring and a boundless enthusiasm to keep the momentum of the moment going. We had essentially created a bubble Universe of music that seemed pretty impenetrable and I guess it was my offhand suggestion that maybe Andre could move in with us and cook for us and maybe help out around with 'stuff' that kind of burst the total fantasy world bubble we had created... that was not going to happen in so many words and the mancave bubble was kind of over. Although it was traumatic for me, Andre was adamant that my suggestion was not realistic or worth fighting over or jeopardizing my long term relationship of then 20 odd years! I was admittedly more cavalier because it was the music and the creativity that was at stake, my first love, and what about the propitiousness of the time? Both of us agreed that now was really all there was but we still needed one more song despite the impending end of our five week recording session. I began writing even as Andre consoled me that it really was over and he really should leave. Sadly I grabbed the guitar and wrote the final piece almost verbatim, a blues song? not really, more just how I felt and how I wanted to conclude the album. "Fishing in the streams of consciousness catching illusions by the score".
I called the song Shoreline Oasis' because in all of our contemplations Andre and I had basically concluded that awareness is an oasis within. A perception where one can choose to associate one's sense of self with awareness not consciousness. From that central shoreline oasis of 'none of the above', just beingness itself was sufficient. From that perspective we felt it was possible to fully observe and appreciate consciousness as a separate thing, as a stream of thoughts and feelings coming and going through us but never requiring our commitment or attachment. It was like there is no need to go along on the ups and downs, the roller coaster of emotions and thoughts that ride the flow of consciousness. That although there is intrigue and patterns to explore within the many swirling eddies in the stream (of life's consciousness) that those eddies are completely optional, infinitely swirling, specialty explorations through which any one of them can still lead to revelations of infinite meaning and yet, as independent eddies of interest, none is as direct or all-encompassing, or all pervasive, as the liberation possible through just 'being' aware. We essentially concluded that it was our awareness of the 10,001 things and their placement in the scheme of things, and that observed from this oasis was the calmest place within ourselves to perceive the grander cosmology of our mind's eye. It is actually not a complicated philosophical stance that we had latched on to and I think if anything, Andre went a little further in that he felt at the time that our awareness was simply a microcosm of a basically self-aware Universe in general.
I lost touch with Andre for about 20 years until we started Skyping recently. Andre Martin will be missed for the active meditation of nowness he was always so focused on. In his explorations of various religions, particularly Buddhism, I suspect he was intrigued to see if he could find some sign in contemporary and in the foundations of ancient religion of some self-similar revelations and agreement with what he understood in his heart and mind. Andre was a seeker, to the end of the beginning of the end of the beginning. That was his continuum, his being, now gone yet ever present.
Paul R. Marcano
Friend and fellow seeker, musician and composer.
* Here's Link to a free copy of the album, First Time Back: Click Here