Monday, May 08, 2006

Blessed Is The Groove

I live in a small suburb of Frankfurt, Germany, about two hours east of the French border. It's a beautiful area, with lush gardens and tree-lined old-town market streets. Though home to nearly 100,000 inhabitants, my town lacks the sprawl of similar cities in the United States, and instead of miles of parking lots and shopping malls, humanity here chooses to pack itself into a dense, progressive mini-metropolis, with hundreds of restaurants, produce shops, and outdoor cafes located within easy walking distance of the central commercial district.

Weekends here, as in many German towns, are truly a wonder. Every Saturday, the city square hosts a local farmers' market, with merchants pitching tents on every street corner and open space available. These markets are a shopper's dream; a place where 12 roses can be bought for 5 Euro, and where rare cheeses and fresh game meats can be purchased at prices which would put any American grocery owner to shame. Not to be outdone, many of the city's local artists and performers also turn out in force, and as a result weekends in this German town are home to a thrilling overload of culture to delight virtually any traveler.

Many of the performers are regulars: a mime frequently stakes out a spot on the corner of the local Galeria. Around the corner from City Hall, a one-man band belts out classic tunes from Dylan, Guthrie (both Guthries, actually) and Clapton, stomping and singing away on a device that looks like a tragic marching-band accident, but actually does the old masters a surprising amount of justice. Near a local pharmacy, or Apotheke, a scrawny, grizzled Turk in his forties sits against a wall and plays sad gypsy music on a beat-up violin. He smiles wearily, and gives a gracious nod whenever people toss coins into his upturned hat. I walk by men like this, and wonder if such income ever really pays for any meaningful expenses, or if they simply do it for deeper reasons.

I played trombone briefly as a kid, but abandoned it in high-school after I discovered marching drumline. I've been an avid percussionist ever since. While I'm comfortable enough on any set of working drums, my true passion lies in the exotic instruments of other cultures: Latin congas or gourds, African djimbous, or tablas from the traditional music of India. My real skill lies with the furious improvisations of tribal rhythm, and I love the way those rhythms seem to tap naturally into both the spiritual and sexual impulses central to human nature. Drummers call this phenomen The Groove, and as I once wrote in a poem from my early days at college, "the Groove is eternal."

I received an old pair of bongos from a friend as a gift last Christmas, and during moments of boredom I've often put those bongos to good use. As the German spring has become more temperate, and lush greenery returned to the Rheinland, I've accompanied my wife on her weekend jaunts down to the Marktplatz, and watched the street performers ply their trades. Lately, I've joked with Anne that I should stake out a corner some weekend and just spend the afternoon communing with The Groove. She, of course, thought that was a fabulous idea. So this weekend, I finally went through with it.

This past Saturday, I got up early, threw my bongos and tuning key into my backpack, and joined my wife in taking a little walk downtown. The marketplace was, predictably, a mob of human traffic. We stopped and had brunch at a favorite local hangout, a trendy but inexpensive restaurant named for two famous native sons, and after maybe an hour of pleasant conversations over strong German coffee, we paid our waiter and went our separate ways--she to the farmer's market, and myself to a nearby rock pool, set into the middle of a crowded cobblestone street. I bought a bottle of tonic water--the only bottled water people drink here in Europe--before settling down, and went to set up my spot. I placed the bottle upright in my wife's rumpled cowboy hat, a few paces away, and after sitting down to tune my drumheads for a few minutes, I cast my gaze skyward, relaxed my mind, and quietly allowed The Groove to overtake me.

I loved it--I can't explain how much I've missed drumming for drumming's sake, and the local kids loved me. Mothers with children stopped briefly to watch, pointing me out to their toddlers. Families and elderly couples gathered around me, dancing and bobbing their heads with my beat, while a few children--some as young as three-- waddled up to my hat to deposit a few Euro coins. At one point, I was even loudly catcalled by a gaggle of passing Turkish girls, all sans hijab. In thickly-accented German, one asked me if I was married. I smiled and nodded, feigning heartbreak, which elicited shy laughter from the rest of her group. I wasn't there for very long--my wife came to sweep me up at the end of her shopping--but for what little time I was there, I found myself legitimately sad to leave. Communing with The Groove, like any period of extended meditation, is a thing which transcends both Time and Self, and when the time finally comes when one must return to the world of regular life, only the basest of people would find themselves not reluctant to do so. I resolved to return the following weekend, and no longer hindered by self-conscious nerves, that resolution is a promise to myself which I eagerly look forward to fulfilling.

The street musicians do what they do for the money they can earn. But it's also more than that. There is something, I realized, something I'd forgotten, in simply abandoning self-consciousness in that public place, and totally giving yourself to the things, the crafts that you love. There, in the crowded marketplace, even the most haggard of gypsy violinists can feel like a god, and how can I not respect that? Rising above the limitations of men--above the limitations of Self--is only one of the glorious side-effects that results from taking time to celebrate life within the Groove.


Anonymous Delia443 said...

It has been a secret habit of mine to imagine making love to every different rhythm in musical existence. Nine Inch Nails for the throbbing, industrial pulse of modern fucking. Congas of the Carribbean for a smooth, heated Latin affair. The Gregorian Chants with their deliciously Roman pagan sex-cult roots send me into shivers of hedonistic and, if not a slightly guilty, heretical delight. Native American drums pound out earthy, do-it-in-the-dirt sex, especially if coupled with the wailing song they are so often paired with.

But I dream of Africa.

African drums, the speaking drums that carried messages across thousands of miles in the days before Imperialism and telephones. The drums that were there before society and humanity itself developed. African drums are the basis of every music we have. To sit in a drum circle and get into the Groove with a bunch of hippies is one thing, but compared to the Real Thing...*sigh*...there is no force on this earth that could prevent me from travelling to Africa to hear drums. I by no means intend to denigrate this essay in any way. I simply wish to express that the Groove is by far the bastardized cousin of the sensation one becomes involved in with a truly African experience.

African drums are forever linked in the psyche of man to produce such a euphoric, sexually-based response as to drive any man or women mad with the desire for frenetic fucking. Fucking of animalistic proportions. No man or woman, just two sets of senses intertwined for a brief interlude that seems to last forever.

I often wonder what a tight-laced, flag-waving, Bible-thumping, KKK-loving hypocrite would do if suddenly thumped down in the middle of an authentic African drum circle. Almost certainly, he would loosen his tie after a time and give in to the impulse with a bobbing of the head. It all snowballs from there. Humans, any humans, are powerless to resist Africa. She is our mother, and the drums are her milk.

And so I dream of Africa.

5:53 PM  

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