Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on December 4, 2013

[If you like or are interested in time, then you might want to read this. Better than read it, take TIME to actually listen to me tell this story. It says more to hear it. For those who don't have time for this or can't make time, well, you don't have time.]


This little blog is one of my convoluted, thinking out loud, ramblings, so you have been warned. Probably not for everyone.

Clock time may be static, but real time, the kind you and I live, is dynamic. It not only varies in perceived speed and quality, but it varies individually. We can both look at our watches and share the same clock time, but beyond that, time for me may be condensed and for you expanded, or vice versa. Just as you can’t tell a book by its cover, we can’t know what kind of time other folks are having internally, but we can sometimes get a sense of it. I found this out through listening to blues music, generally, and hearing the great blues artists performing live in particular. You may be moved by some other kind of music, but for me I like the blues. Substitute your favorite music here please. The truth of hearing remains the same.

In the great blues players I can feel something coming from inside of them, something not in my experience, yet something I can recognize and still respond to.

Blues strikes a chord in my mind. At the very least I know that somewhere deep within me there is some kind of ‘receiver’ that knows authentic music when I hear it. It is a little like the old story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Part of me can’t help but respond and move to the authentic blues. And then there is “blues time,” which is the reason for this blog.

I have been writing about this for years, but like so many things in life, it is hard to get a witness. Music is not just something to listen to. It is also about time, and the great blues artists can’t help but structure their songs around their own internal sense of time.

We have all heard of “quality time,” but there also are qualities of musical time.

Consider the old idea of marching to a different drummer. Other than looking at your watch, time is not a constant, but variable. I learned about this many years ago while reading the journals of the writer Franz Kafka. Kafka let fall a sentence, which went something like this: “Each sentence I write, it already has perfection.” It took me some years to fully appreciate what he was saying, which put simply I believe is:

We can try and learn to write poems or play music, imitate the great artists (copy their style or whatever) in an attempt at a close approximation to what we read or listen to. We want to do it too. Of course, we all have to learn the basics of writing or playing an instrument, but there is another way to do this other than imitate, which is what Kafka was pointing out.

Rather than try for a series of successive approximations (imitations) to what we feel is good outside of us in another artist or player, whether it be in writing, music, or what-have-you… instead we can work on perfecting our own mind until, as Kafka put it, everything we write or play already has perfection (of some kind), because we do. I would ask you to consider this concept very carefully. It was a key lesson for me.

Rather than learning from the outside in, as is commonly taught (by imitation), we can also learn from the inside out, with the bonus that we end up being original, or at least as original as we are capable of being. With that thought in mind, now let’s return to ‘blues time.”

These great blues artists are not just good because they practiced a lot, but are ‘good’ because of ‘who’ they are through the wisdom of their experience. Many of them have reached a point in life experience where everything they do is somehow authentic. Why? Because they are authentic (at least compared to many of us), and this includes their music. I spent years learning to play the riffs of the great blues harmonica players, when my time would have been better spent improving my mind, you know, improving who I am, the one who is playing all this music.

Having heard most of the great blues artists in person, often many times, I can attest that musical time is individual, a direct reflection of the mind of the player. That I am sure you will agree with, but try this:

As listeners, these great blues artists create or ‘make time’ in their own image, and here is the remarkable part: you and I can hear and even take a trip with them on their sense of time, not just our own, and learn from it too. I don’t know exactly how it works, but the real artists make and know time that is not only different from ordinary clock time, but different from the time that you and I live. When we listen deeply, we let go of our personal sense of time and get on their (perhaps more experienced) time. I mean, that’s what makes the music we respond to so powerful, the kind of time it offers us, like ‘good’ time or even a great time.

We take a ride or trip on their time, the artist’s time, and their time may be (I don’t have the words) more spacious, expanded, open, deep, etc. than our own. And in that sense of expanded time the artist creates, we experience both time and life a little differently than we do just on our own. We go for a ride on their time, perhaps feel or learn something while out there in their music, and then, when the music stops, come back and pick up on our own time again. Am I making myself clear?

Anyway I find this concept of living to alternative time through music fascinating, and have tested it again and again over the years. I have told this following story before, but it belongs here, so I will tell it again.

Years ago, while on one of our trips to Chicago to hear the great blues players, my brother Dan and I went into a little place on the north side where the great blues artist Howlin’ Wolf was playing. It was kind of late and the place was almost empty. There was the Wolf sitting on a wooden chair way up front, while next to him the legendary guitar player Hubert Sumlin was playing, just the two of them.

It was quite dark in there too, with a little lamp shining on Wolf. I don’t know if those of you reading this have ever heard Howlin’ Wolf sing, but if not, you are missing something important, that is, if you like the blues. Anyway, Wolf was singing and he was singing on his time, not mine. It was so intense and spacious that I naturally kind of fell in with his time and pretty soon I was living it with him. He was making time and it was stronger than my own sense of time. He could make time better than I knew how. I went for a ride on Wolf’s time.

As I listened in that little club, everything around me, the walls, the chairs, the dim lights, and so on, became completely transparent. In the piercing sound of Wolf I found myself suspended in space, no longer in a little room in Chicago, but just out there, somewhere in the universe, a mind just floating in space. My local reality all just went void or perhaps I saw through the veil of the flesh for the time it took for Wolf to play. And no, I was not high.

In a way it was terrifying, and at the same time exhilarating, that sense of space and time Howlin’ Wolf laid down. I was definitely on Wolf’s time, and I took a trip with him in his mind, and forgot about my own. Or was I just seeing that my mind was his mind, but just inexperienced and unexpanded? Who knows. I guess you could use the old phrase “he was blowin’ my mind!” Anyway, there you have it.

As you can see from reading this account, marching to Wolf’s time had the effect of reordering my own experience somewhat, and then returning me to what I call normal, but not without an affect. We are changed through life processes like I am describing, whether we know and remember them or not. Powerful music, art, or writing can actually change us on the inside, and introduce us to alternate realities that help to open us up and expand or modify our own sense of time. We are affected by great art and music, as in: actually changed.

And there are many other great blues players (and of course, not just blues) who can share their expanded sense of time with us. I mean: what is music anyway? Why and how does it affect us? That’s what I am trying to get at here.

Have you experienced this too?