My involvement with non-Western philosophy has been pretty limited overall, and one fellow I’d not run into was 13th century Persian mystical love poet and philosopher Rumi, though I see now I have a book with a couple pages of Rumi aphorisms in it in the “Contemporary Sufism” chapter such as “To the ignorant, a pearl seems a mere stone” and “Counterfeiters exist because there is such a thing as real gold.”
Well, my former bandmate Lee Abramson has now released an album of music whose lyrics are entirely by Rumi: Rumi Music. Lee’s story is interesting enough that I feel pretty queasy about trying to convey it. When I knew him best, in Austin during my grad school years, he was a definite character: droll sense of humor, kind of a harsh libertarian, unsentimental attitude, and aggressively voracious. One of his semi-novelty songs from 1993 or so that periodically goes through my head went like this: “I’ve got a chinchilla, he’s so damn cute when he hops around his cage; I understand his boredom, and he understands my rage!”
Well, as you can read here, he got ALS about five years ago, which is bad, as in no more getting out of a chair, or eventually even speaking, and a pretty short though indeterminate life expectancy. After being depressed a while about this, he channeled his sitting-around energy into learning a lot about music composition and electronic music, and in 2008 came out with an album under the moniker Ace Noface, which was a “piano rock” album with fairly acerbic, self-probing lyrics contemplating the end of life and religion, asking himself “have you done more harm than good?” Needless to say, lots of people write soulful albums after getting divorced or whatever, but this situation presents a much less common source of inspiration that provides good grist for both the musical and the philosophical palate.
With Rumi Music, he’s reached a more peaceful place. Programming a dense musical layer with one finger, one click at a time, and having his massage therapist sing the melodies (which he wrote) over it. He describes it as “Enya meets the Whirling Dervishes,” and to me it sounds like jazz-inflected, slowish techno. Very interesting stuff, and to me a natural progression of the previous album, though with more musical exploration and less (by the nature of the project) revealing of himself through lyrics. Go ahead and give it a listen. (I’d say track 9, “The Beauty of the Heart” is my favorite; I really like the tone palette at work there.)