(Originally written a long, long time ago and transferred between a couple of old blogs.)
Close friends know this story. A long time ago, when I was 20, I lived with a guy who was 17 years my senior. It ended in disaster (sort of) but the upshot is that, while I was with him, I was exposed to tons of excellent music that existed before I had even been born in 1973. Among this music was a gem of a band called Gracious.
According to my ex, this band had produced two records in the early 70s then had disappeared from the map. He had a 2nd hand tape of the first record from way back when and, when I heard it, I quickly became addicted although I had never even heard of progressive rock. I made sure to make a copy for myself for future use but, the sound quality being what it was, I was longing to have the original vinyl. At the time, I assumed that this had not been reproduced on CD.
Time passed and I intermittently looked up Gracious on the Internet, that newfangled thing I started experimenting with in 1997 or so. I searched to no avail. Finally, a few months ago, I found a site that had information on the band. There was a space where one could leave comments so I left one and asked that anyone who had info on how I could get the record contact me.
Now, at this point, it’s worth it for me to pause and mention that I have a pretty good relationship with the universe. I ask for things and I often get them. Not usually material things, mind you, because I don’t believe in manipulating the supernatural to gain mere material wealth. But it’s important to understand that, for me, access to music that touches me is so much more than a question of material wealth. Music touches my entire being at a very deep level; it resonates through the core of my being. I live and thrive on it.
So when Robert Lipson himself, the drummer for the band, wrote to me to bring to my attention the existence of the first two records on CD, it felt as though another click in my life happened. These clicks happen when things fall into place; especially when I didn’t know they were out of place to start with.
Now, you might be wondering why I specified the “first two” records whereas above I said that they had disappeared after two. Well, it turns out that sometime in the 90s, a few of the original members got back together to record a third one (well, a CD this time). I haven’t heard this one yet but . . . I finally got to hear the second album (“This is . . . Gracious!!) in addition to the already known and loved first one (“Gracious!”)
Amazing stuff, I tell you! I highly recommend Gracious to anyone who is into prog rock or who simply enjoys hearing intelligent music that has the capacity to transport one to interesting and unknown places.
The first album, the one I already knew, mesmerised me the very first time I heard it. As I listened to it over the years, I developed a whole visualisation that goes with it. I’m fairly sure it has nothing to do with the intentions of those who created the music – and most of it has little to do with the actual lyrics, expect perhaps the last song. It is the music that transports me.
I close my eyes and picture a wicked and fragmented world parrallel to the one my body is in. The first song, “Introduction” is like a teaser . . . an invitation into this warped world. I picture walking into a huge house where there is a weird party going on: people with outrageous outfits, trying to look rich and slimy. There is this underlying aura of filth – you’re not sure if you want to be a part of this or not but you feel you have no choice. There is something sexy in the air and you can’t resist, especially when you hear: “Let your mind trip to the things that we do”
“Heaven” is found through a door from this house: perhaps after metaphorically dropping something during the intro. You are in a field of very tall grasses on an overcast day – you feel the presence of a female spirit of some sort. You can almost see and hear her but not quite. You know she’s wearing a white dress (not a wedding dress, just a long white dress) and that she has dirty blond hair. Just as you feel like your soul and mind are going to explode, because she fills you in ways you can’t describe, the riff changes and suddenly you’re relaxing by a creek on a sunny day. Frogs and rabbits are hopping by and you’re drinking lemonade. You picture some musicians in your mind and they appear somewhere . . . only translucent, but visible enough so that one of the guitarists winks at you. They are not a young band, you think . .. perhaps this is the older version of them, since you are listening to this over 30 years after it was made. Suddenly, the music shifts and you are lost again – and find yourself in a place of passion. You’re being sung to by a beautiful man with hair . . . that is not short but hangs above the ears in a lovable way. He almost seems angelic, because of what he’s actually singing, but you know he’s not. You know where he could take you if you let him . . .and it scares you . . . but you let him take you there anyway. You have goosebumps and your heart is racing. Is he her? The one in the field with the white dress? You don’t know but you feel her on/in him. The pace quickens and becomes almost amusing, comical. You see an older man with a big black hat dramatically playing the piano with a big grin. Then it’s over. And you wind up in . . .
“Hell” starts by making your stomach plunge into the depths of your soul. Small white stones drop onto the piano from “Heaven”, accelerating in their pace until there are none. And then you are in a creepy place full of unexpected things. You crouch down for a while while the music slowly intensifies and does a few zany things, not sure of your next move. Eventually you walk in any direction and you find a rope. You climb it (and for some reason I always picture Homer Simpson climbing this rope). It take forever it seems, until finally you come to a respit, a soft place with soft singing, perhaps meant as a false reassurance that things will be OK. You don’t buy it but are intrigued. Swinging door open in front of you and, drawn in, you enter a tavern with a piano player. The familiar smell of cigarettes and beer as well as the familar sounds of vinyl in the juke box fill your senses. Still weird but at least familiar. A fight breaks out. You stay away but observe carefully and realise that it is a mock fight – glass gets broken but no one is really angry. You’ve had enough. You run back out of the doors and down a long, long hallway. You wind up on a runway, running faster and faster until you come to a small one-person plane, like the ones we see in war movies. You jump in and fly away.
I’m not sure what happens to you while you’re in the plane because the next song is a complete respit from all the weirdness, pain and fear. It is a harpsichord and accoustic guitar version of Fugues in D Minor. I’ve often said that if I met someone who could play this for me on the harpsichord, I would marry them. I’m not even into marriage but this is so beautiful: all kinds of things simultaneously come to mind. Dancing with a broom in the kitchen wearing a tattered dress. Dancing in a ballroom with a handsome man . . .perhaps the one from “Heaven”. Mice dancing on a piano. Cartoon mice, of course. A beautiful man playing an instrument . . . any instrument. Fingers on a harpsichord. The song eventually ends on a bitter note, bitter because this space is leaving you behind and you’re not sure if you will find it again.
Violent music suddenly assaults all your senses – your vision becomes blurry and you can’t function. You crouch down in fear. You’re paralysed. It ends and you are left with a snippet from “Moonlight Sonnata”. It’s like . . .a “Dream”. This bit always reminds me of my Dad (R.I.P.) for some reason. The dream transforms: you are momentarily back in the field with the white-dressed woman. You are sitting their, sweating and recovering. A voice in the skies chants “good night” over and over again. You’re confused. You wake up. You are trapped inside someone esle now. You see through her eyes as she applies her make-up in the mirror. She is tired – so tired, she doesn’t care anymore. She walks out. You can look down, out of her eyes, and see her stockinged legs and fancy shoes. She walks down the hallway of her building, casually, with hips swaying. She has a purpose. She is in the street now. It’s nighttime and the streets are wet. She enters a concert hall with thick, blood red carpetting. She walks all the way down to the front row. Eyes target her. The musicians see her and smile. They know her and were expecting her.
She sits. You’re still trapped inside her but you feel a tug. You are pulled out and wind up inside one of the musicians. You hear what is going on in his mind. He looks out at the audience, especially noticing her. He becomes obsessed. His mind is cluttered with thoughts and images involving her, all floating around in little bubbles in his head. “I can just see her face. Her eyes, they sparkle like the drink she’s sipping.”
The show is interupted by a drunken man who walks down and loudly reminds the musician in which you are trapped that he owes the drunk money. Events progress at an alarming rate. The drunk whirls the object of “your” obsession into an adjecent bar while “you” pace around backstage and plot to get her. You enter the bar, much violence ensues. Some of it is amusing and caricatured. The brawl is interupted with a group of stereotypical tropical-style dancers at some point while onlookers dance around. You, because you have become him now, decide to put an end to the partying around you and end it all with a direct attack. It ends with 2 gun shots.
The alarm rings. You, the original you, whoever you are, are in bed with a blond woman. She sleeps. It is still dark outside. You sit by the starry window and listen to the gentle male voice in the sky sing “good night” a few times. The sun rises suddenly and the voice turns more aggressive “GOOD DAY! GOO-OOD DAY!” You get up . . .it looks like you are back in the routine of your regular life. You’re not sure if you’re happy about it or not. You go on with life; the memories haunt you constantly and you’re never sure when you are about to slip into the whole episode again to avoid the repetitive grind of daily life.
And that’s it! Of course, most of this visualisation was formed at a time when I was living a very dreary, drug and alcohol permeated life, thus the escapist and stereotyped feel to a lot of it. Some of it seems unpleasant . . . at that time, even escapes from the dreary life were frought with pain. Anything to forget what was really happening.
NOTE: I actually added onto this post as I transferred it from my other blog. There is a difference in font, as you can see. I’m too lazy to try to fix it. Sorry!