Monday, August 18, 2014

The Walking Cure 2: Three Rivers

 -- By Tom Phillips                                           

Every walk needs a destination, and for me it’s usually the sight of water.  I’ll walk happily by the ocean, or around a lake or pond or reservoir.  But the best destination is a river – preferably a big river through a great city.  

The first sight of it inevitably brings a relaxation response, felt in the belly, released in the breath, and finally reflected in the mind.  That’s when thoughts begin to flow – not spilling over each other and splashing like water from a broken faucet, but moving at an even pace, going somewhere.   

More than any other sight in nature, a river is a mirror of the mind.   The ocean seems endless, incomprehensible.  A lake or pond is hemmed in, like a small-minded person with a limited repertoire of thoughts and feelings.   A river is contained, but still open on both ends; you never know what will turn up in the stream, or where it will go.

Three rivers stand out in my memory:  the Thames, the Hudson, and the Ganges.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Walking Cure

 -- by Tom Phillips
                       “Sometimes I wonder what I’m a-gonna do,
                        But there ain’t no cure for the Summertime Blues.”
                                                                                    -- Eddie Cochran 

Ever since I was a teenager I have suffered from the Summertime Blues – the aimlessless, hopelessness, boredom and loneliness that result from long days of humid heat, and the collapse of the structures of ordinary time.  What are you going to do? 

This summer I stumbled on an answer.   Browsing in my favorite bookstore, the Labyrinth on 112th Street, I came across a new work by a French philosopher, Frederic Gros, called “A Philosophy of Walking.”   I’ve always been a walker – for transportation, exercise, and mental hygiene – but I never thought of this humble activity as a way of life, as a meaningful act in itself. 

Gros treats it that way. “Walking is not a sport,” he begins.  He writes about famous thinkers and writers for whom it was the essential activity:  Rousseau walked to recover his original unspoiled humanity, Rimbaud walked to escape, to move on, to exhaust his body and mind.  Wordsworth walked to feel the natural rhythms of poetry.  Thoreau walked through the woods to simplify his existence, Nietzsche climbed mountains to drive his thought to its peaks.  Kant walked for discipline, and to relieve his constipation.  Gandhi walked for independence, for freedom and peace.   

Inspired, I tried organizing my life around walking.  And I found that three walks a day can relieve aimlessness, hopelessness, boredom and loneliness, and yield great benefits beyond. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Age of Melody

After watching the Grammy Awards on TV this week, I came away recalling some inviting rhythms (Daft Punk), biting lyrics (Lorde), and sweet voices (Kacey Musgraves) – in addition of course to the costumes and special effects.  But I can’t say I came away with a catchy new melody.  The age of melody is long gone.  After the golden era of song-writers like Gershwin and Porter, tunes took a back seat starting in the 1950s, displaced first by rockin’ rhythms, then by the lyrics of folkie songwriters.  In the age of the singer-songwriter, a tune was just a few repetitive notes to hang the verses on.  And in rap music, melody disappeared completely, as music got down to just the word and the beat. 

Someday, melody is going to make a big comeback.  That’s not because any of the above trends were wrong or not necessary.  It’s because melody is the element of music that says the most, on the most basic level.  It’s the musical statement that stands for the whole piece.  And it lasts longest in the memory.