Friday, November 16, 2007

The Van Pelt - Sultans of Sentiment

Only connect

The Van Pelt – ‘Nanzen Kills a Cat’

"There it is, plain and simple.

It destroyed itself without any of my slander.

This is the lunacy by which we kneel.

This is the doublespeak by which we kill.

This is the inertia that keeps tradition feared.

This is the absurdity by which we walk barefoot with shoes on our heads.

Ponder this to get nearer to Nothing.

On top of the world, think about it, there's Nothing.

An unseasoned meal, monotone spirits, routine homily.

Nothing has never been clearer.

So kill a cat to keep logic at bay, then eat my body's finest and fell me how it tastes.

Is it Nothing too? Does it stink like Nothing? Does it poison like Nothing?"

‘Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two’ is the name of a koan from the ‘Gateless Gate’ collection, found here in the Zen Flesh, Zen Bones anthology of Zen literature. A koan is something in between a riddle and a parable. Seemingly nonsensical or meaningless, the purpose of the koan is to aid enlightenment by liberating the mind from traditional intellectual constraints, through the sudden realization of its meaning. In another way, a koan is like a joke – it has a punchline of sorts, and naturally it loses much of its meaning if it is explained rationally.

In this sense, the commentary is both unusual and slightly distracting, if in itself enigmatically informative. Hence, the proper approach would be to read the first part of the koan below, and then await sudden realization, as if one was awaiting the bliss of enlightenment in meditation:

"Nansen saw the monks of the eastern and the western halls fighting over a cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: ‘If any of you say a good word, you can save the cat’. No one answered. So Nansen boldly cut the cat in two pieces. That evening Joshu returned and Nansen told him about this. Joshu removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out. Nansen said : ‘If you had been there, you could have saved the cat.’

Mumon’s comment: Why did Joshu put his sandals on his head? If anyone answers this question, he will understand exactly how Nansen enforced the edict. If not, he should watch his own head.

Had Joshu been there,

He would have enforced the edict oppositely,

Joshu snatches the sword,

And Nansen begs for his life."

This is what Chris Leo has to say about the song and the koan himself in an interview from this site Only Angels Have Wings

“Nantzen is of course not just a koan. I would never just retell someone elses story in song. In fact, I barely retold it in the song. I even think it's not necessary to be familiar with the koan to get the song. Maybe I even mussed things up by delving into a discussion of the koan at all! Uh oh, back up and remove everything you know about Nantzen and start afresh. Yes, that the only way. There it is.”

Finally, you should definitely listen to the Van Pelt – but if you like this, you should be already listening to Lungfish. It’s futile to find comparisons for that band, but there is a similarity with the Van Pelt in the hypnotic, repetitive and absorbingly simple sound. They both delve into Eastern philosophy, too; in the case of Lungfish, more Taoism than Zen Buddhism, but it’s all connected anyway:

"Do you believe in liberation?

Can you understand liberation?

Are you afraid of liberation?

I am afraid of liberation

I admit I’m afraid."

(‘Non Dual Bliss’ from Talking Songs For Walking)

The Van Pelt - Sultans of Sentiment

(Album picture and dl link taken from Zen and the Art of Face Punching. Hope you don’t mind, Blend! Unfortunately mediafire is being a bit troublesome this weekend... nothing more, I hope)


pattyjoe said...

this is a great record. at the time this song was written, chris was describing it as an "anti-zen" song.

too bad i've never run into live recordings of this band from this era... they were something to see, believe you me. thanks for all the killer posts.

gabbagabbahey said...

you're welcome.

I can see why this song might be an 'anti-zen'. If I'm anything myself, though, it's probably 'pro-zen' (and probably meaningless statements at that). I can see what he's saying about absurdity and hypocrisy. Very intelligent guy...

blend77 said...

love this album... great post.

i am pro-meaningless-statements too... its a good method for getting through sticky situations where everyone thinks they know what theyre talking about..