Friday, July 18, 2014

Janis Joplin - her last song

There is only one Janis Joplin - even Pink knows this despite of some similarities.

Her uniqueness is emphasized by the creative years of Rock&Roll, Psychedelic Punk, Blues and Pop from 1950'ies to 70'ies. After the Beatles revolution the big guys took over realizing that youth has money to invest on recordings. This led to the birth of the multi-billion industry of today producing slick popular music carefully targeted at audiences to make that hit song or a new idol.

With good reasons her interpretation of Summertime from Porgy&Bess is considered a masterpiece. The listener cannot but help to think who else that crying baby is but Janis herself.

Similarly, the enormous intensity of her performance of Ball and Chain at Monterey Jazz Festival, California totally captivated the audience with an impact few other white female singers have made.

The Woodstock generation of artists were living the music to the tilt and were not aware of the risks involved with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Not only Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin paid for the ignorance by their lives but certainly many anonymous young people around the world who imitated their way of life as the coolest thing.

Mercedes Benz
There are many other outstanding performances by Janis Joplin that remain classics of popular music. But her last recorded performance is "A song of social and political import"
"Mercedes Benz" is an a cappella song written by singer Janis Joplin with the poets Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth, and originally recorded by Joplin. In the song, the singer asks the Lord to buy her a Mercedes-Benz, a color TV, and a "night on the town". According to Bobby Womack, Joplin was inspired to come up with the lyrics after going for a ride with him in his Mercedes-Benz. It was recorded in one take on October 1, 1970, along with a couple of rowdy verses of "Happy Birthday" sung for John Lennon. These were the last tracks Joplin ever recorded; she died three days later, on October 4. The song appeared on the album Pearl, released in 1971.

Mercedes Benz
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a color TV?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won't you buy me a color TV?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town?
I'm counting on you, Lord, please don't let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town?

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends,
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

That's it!

Heh heh...

Chris Neal
Writers: Janis Joplin, Michael McClure and Bob Neuwirth
Recorded: 1970

It’s Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Sunset Sound recording studio in Los Angeles. Janis Joplin asks producer Paul Rothchild to roll tape. She has a song she’d like to sing.

The services of backing band Full Tilt Boogie, present and ready for action, will not be necessary. Joplin steps to the microphone and makes a declaration. “I’d like to do a song of great social and political import,” she says, a twinkle in her eye. “It goes like this.” Then she begins to sing, exercising soulful control over her enormous, whiskey-soaked voice: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? / My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends …”

“It wasn’t a sad and tragic time,” Rothchild recalled in 1992 (three years before his death). “Fun was the underlying thing.” But the jovial atmosphere in the studio hid a secret: After a period of abstinence, Joplin had resumed the heroin habit that had dogged her throughout much of 1969. She explained to a friend that she was only using it to keep from drinking so much during the making of the album; alcohol hangovers hindered her performance in the studio.

On Oct. 3, Full Tilt Boogie laid down a backing track for the Nick Gravenites tune “Buried Alive in the Blues”; Joplin was set to lay down her vocal the following day. Work finished at around 11 p.m., and the star returned to her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel. There she passed away from a heroin overdose during the night. She was 27. Rothchild and company fought through their shock and grief to spend the next two weeks applying the remaining overdubs needed to complete the album. The result was dubbed Pearl, after a nickname she had lately adopted.

Outside the hotel on the night of her death sat Joplin’s car: not a Mercedes, but a Porsche she had bought in 1968 and paid friend Dave Richards $500 to paint in psychedelic colors. The hippie icon who sang, “My friends all drive Porsches,” was herself well aware of the real—if fleeting—pleasures to be found behind the wheel.

“She’d go against traffic on blind curves, with the top down,” Rothchild recalled, “laughing, ‘Nothing can knock me down!’

By Chris Neal

Oh Lord!
This catchy song by Janis Joplin begins with a rather ironic introduction and ends with a happy giggle as if the prayer is just a joke.

I am not able to judge is the emotion here something similar to John Lennon's mockery of the spirituality of Bob Dylan, kind of light-heart emptiness of the rich and famous. Spontaneous the song definitely is and genuine Janis. She could not know that the dealer would sell her too strong dose that would end her life and bring her to God in only a few days after the recording.

There are other singers in deep troubles who sang from their heart asking good Lord to help them.

For example, the manic depressive singer Donny Edward Hathaway (October 1, 1945 – January 13, 1979) fell or jumped to his death from a hotel room window. But he arrived to the presence of Lord with quite a different song than Janis Joplin.

If only Janis Joplin had publicly asked Lord also for other help and not just another car!

Monday, July 14, 2014

St. Augustine on creation

In the masterpiece of Saint Augustine (354-430) Confessions there is a particularly eloquent text on creation. In finest Latin rhetoric style he summarizes the human search for God in Nature hearing how all creation shouts "I am not He but He made us".

This gentle spiritual exhortation to love and praise God was written at a time when created things instead of their Maker were still widely worshiped in the empire of Rome.

St. Augustine Confessions Book X Chapter VI
Not with doubting, but with assured consciousness, do I love Thee, Lord. Thou hast stricken my heart with Thy word, and I loved Thee. Yea also heaven, and earth, and all that therein is, behold, on every side they bid me love Thee; nor cease to say so unto all, that they may be without excuse. But more deeply wilt Thou have mercy on whom Thou wilt have mercy, and wilt have compassion on whom Thou hast had compassion: else in deaf ears do the heaven and the earth speak Thy praises. But what do I love, when I love Thee? not beauty of bodies, nor the fair harmony of time, nor the brightness of the light, so gladsome to our eyes, nor sweet melodies of varied songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers, and ointments, and spices, not manna and honey, not limbs acceptable to embracements of flesh. None of these I love, when I love my God; and yet I love a kind of light, and melody, and fragrance, and meat, and embracement when I love my God, the light, melody, fragrance, meat, embracement of my inner man: where there shineth unto my soul what space cannot contain, and there soundeth what time beareth not away, and there smelleth what breathing disperseth not, and there tasteth what eating diminisheth not, and there clingeth what satiety divorceth not. This is it which I love when I love my God.

And what is this? I asked the earth, and it answered me, “I am not He”; and whatsoever are in it confessed the same. I asked the sea and the deeps, and the living creeping things, and they answered, “We are not thy God, seek above us.” I asked the moving air; and the whole air with his inhabitants answered, “Anaximenes was deceived, I am not God. “ I asked the heavens, sun, moon, stars, “Nor (say they) are we the God whom thou seekest.” And I replied unto all the things which encompass the door of my flesh: “Ye have told me of my God, that ye are not He; tell me something of Him.” And they cried out with a loud voice, “He made us. “ My questioning them, was my thoughts on them: and their form of beauty gave the answer. And I turned myself unto myself, and said to myself, “Who art thou?” And I answered, “A man.” And behold, in me there present themselves to me soul, and body, one without, the other within. By which of these ought I to seek my God? I had sought Him in the body from earth to heaven, so far as I could send messengers, the beams of mine eyes. But the better is the inner, for to it as presiding and judging, all the bodily messengers reported the answers of heaven and earth, and all things therein, who said, “We are not God, but He made us.” These things did my inner man know by the ministry of the outer: I the inner knew them; I, the mind, through the senses of my body. I asked the whole frame of the world about my God; and it answered me, “I am not He, but He made me.

Is not this corporeal figure apparent to all whose senses are perfect? why then speaks it not the same to all? Animals small and great see it, but they cannot ask it: because no reason is set over their senses to judge on what they report. But men can ask, so that the invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; but by love of them, they are made subject unto them: and subjects cannot judge. Nor yet do the creatures answer such as ask, unless they can judge; nor yet do they change their voice (i.e., their appearance), if one man only sees, another seeing asks, so as to appear one way to this man, another way to that, but appearing the same way to both, it is dumb to this, speaks to that; yea rather it speaks to all; but they only understand, who compare its voice received from without, with the truth within. For truth saith unto me, “Neither heaven, nor earth, nor any other body is thy God.” This, their very nature saith to him that seeth them: “They are a mass; a mass is less in a part thereof than in the whole.” Now to thee I speak, O my soul, thou art my better part: for thou quickenest the mass of my body, giving it life, which no body can give to a body: but thy God is even unto thee the Life of thy life.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Friday, July 11, 2014

Maimonides - The Guide to the Perplexed Book Three

An artist trying to make sense of Ezekiel's text - with little success, I'm afraid
image elbethelwarriors

The Chariot in Ezekiel - Merkava
And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great wars, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings.
And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.

And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.

And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.  As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.
Ezekiel 1:24-28 KJV

Maimonides' interpretation
The beginning of the third book is described as the climax of the whole work. This is the exposition of the mystical passage of the Chariot found in Ezekiel (cf. Merkavah mysticism).
Merkabah/Merkavah mysticism (or Chariot mysticism) is a school of early Jewish mysticism, c. 100 BCE – 1000 CE, centered on visions such as those found in the Book of Ezekiel chapter 1, or in the hekhalot ("palaces") literature, concerning stories of ascents to the heavenly palaces and the Throne of God. The main corpus of the Merkabah literature was composed in Israel in the period 200–700 CE, although later references to the Chariot tradition can also be found in the literature of the Chassidei Ashkenaz in the Middle Ages. A major text in this tradition is the Maaseh Merkabah (Works of the Chariot).
Traditionally, Jewish law viewed this passage as extremely sensitive, and in theory, did not allow it to be taught explicitly at all. The only way to learn it properly was if a student had enough knowledge and wisdom to be able to interpret their teacher's hints by themselves, in which case the teacher was allowed to teach them indirectly. In practice, however, the mass of detailed rabbinic writings on this subject often crosses the line from hint to detailed teachings.

After justifying this "crossing of the line" from hints to direct instruction, Maimonides explains the basic mystical concepts via the Biblical terms referring to Spheres, elements and Intelligences. In these chapters, however, there is still very little in terms of direct explanation.
A brilliant mind facing a text in the heart of mysticism, a truly perplexing description of close encounter with the LORD. As so many others in the past and present, Maimonides could not put his intelligence and knowledge aside with such mighty matters but rather gives a rationalistic exegesis of what Ezekiel's powerful vision of chariots means in scientific terms.

Maimonides deals with the problem of evil (for which people are considered to be responsible because of free will), trials and tests (especially those of Job and the story of the Binding of Isaac) as well as other aspects traditionally attached to God in theology, such as providence and omniscience:

"Maimonides endeavors to show that evil has no positive existence, but is a privation of a certain capacity and does not proceed from God; when, therefore, evils are mentioned in Scripture as sent by God, the Scriptural expressions must be explained allegorically. Indeed, says Maimonides, all existing evils, with the exception of some which have their origin in the laws of production and destruction and which are rather an expression of God's mercy, since by them the species are perpetuated, are created by men themselves."
Maimonides prefers a smooth Philosopher's God over the very personal and dangerous God of Israel we know from nature, the Bible and history.

Rationalism and moralism hand in hand
Maimonides then explains his views on the reasons for the 613 mitzvot, the 613 laws contained within the five books of Moses. Maimonides divides these laws into 14 sections - the same as in his Mishneh Torah. However, he departs from traditional Rabbinic explanations in favour of a more physical/pragmatic approach.

Having culminated with the commandments, Maimonides concludes the work with the notion of the perfect and harmonious life, founded on the correct worship of God. The possession of a correct philosophy underlying Judaism (as outlined in the Guide) is seen as being an essential aspect in true wisdom.
The purpose of the divine commands in Pentateuch is for Maimonides to have perfect and harmonious life. By following the mitzvot a person worships God in the correct way.

The fact that strong rationalism and idealistic moralism are inseparable among the followers of Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The brilliant mind and heart of Maimonides is not an exception to this marriage that appears to make so much sense!.

Maimonides' rationalism and understanding of correct worship of God provoked criticism among some Jewish scholars
In particular, the adversaries of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah declared war against the "Guide." His views concerning angels, prophecy, and miracles — and especially his assertion that he would have had no difficulty in reconciling the biblical account of the creation with the doctrine of the eternity of the universe, had the Aristotelian proofs for it been conclusive — provoked the indignation of his coreligionists.

Maimonides - The Guide to the Perplexed Book Two

Statue of Moshe Maimonides in Cordoba, Spain
image wikimedia

Book two: the physical universe 
The second book begins with the exposition of the physical structure of the universe, as seen by Maimonides. The world-view asserted in the work is essentially Aristotelian, with a spherical earth in the centre, surrounded by concentric Heavenly Spheres.

While Aristotle's view with respect to the eternity of the universe is rejected, Maimonides extensively borrows his proofs of the existence of God and his concepts such as the Prime Mover:

"But as Maimonides recognizes the authority of Aristotle in all matters concerning the sublunary world, he proceeds to show that the Biblical account of the creation of the nether world is in perfect accord with Aristotelian views. Explaining its language as allegorical and the terms employed as homonyms, he summarizes the first chapter of Genesis thus: God created the universe by producing on the first day the "reshit", or Intelligences, from which the spheres derived their existence and motion and thus became the source of the existence of the entire universe.

A novel point is that Maimonides connects the Heavenly Sphere with the concept of an angel: these are seen as the same thing. The Spheres are essentially pure Intelligences who receive spiritual essence from the Prime Mover. This energy overflows from each one to the next and finally reaches earth and the physical domain.

While novel in Judaism, this concept of intelligent spheres of existence also appears in Gnostic Christianity as Aeons, having been conceived at least eight hundred years before Maimonides. Maimonides' immediate source was probably Avicenna, who may in turn have been influenced by the very similar scheme in Ismaili thought.
It seems to me that the stages of emanations as shortly described in the quoted article have their origins not in Aristotle but rather in Neoplatonism for example in the writings of Plotinus..

Maimonides worldview is geocentric but it is combined with an interesting view of spiritual realities in the physical universe above Earth.

Is the universe eternal?
This leads into a discussion about the merits of the debate whether the universe is eternal or created. As in the first book, Aristotle's theory of the eternity of the universe is seen as the best, philosophically. However, this is because Maimonides considered the proofs that the universe was created to be inferior. He still points out supposed problems with the Aristotelian view and states that, while Aristotle's argument is the best, the possession of Divine Revelation from the Torah is the extra piece of information necessary to decide the matter.

This is followed by a brief exposition of Creation as outlined in Genesis and theories about the possible end of the world.
The somewhat convulsed paragraph states the view that Maimonides accepted the scientific worldview of his days which was equivalent to the Aristotelian view that the universe has always been and will always be. Nothing better had been developed during the over thousand years after this Greek genius.

The famed Jewish scholar suggested that Divine Revelation in the Torah complements the scientific worldview adding extra pieces of information to the question of the eternity of the world. Of course, this is soft glossing over the real contrast between Aristotle's eternal world and the Biblical world which has both a clear beginning and dramatic end.

Prophecy and knowledge
The second major part of the book is the discussion of the concept of prophecy.

Maimonides departs from the orthodox view in that he emphasizes the intellectual aspect of prophecy. According to this view, in Biblical times, when God still revealed himself through prophecy, it was possible to combine logic and intelligence with a knowledge of God through the tradition (i.e. the Written and Oral Torah) in order to achieve a certain level of prophecy.

Maimonides outlines 11 levels of prophecy, with that of Moses being beyond the highest, and thus most unimpeded. Subsequent lower levels reduce the immediacy between God and prophet, allowing prophecies through increasingly external and indirect factors such as angels and dreams. Finally, the language and nature of the prophetic books of the Bible are described.
Maimonides raises a very significant hermeneutical point after discussing science and religion, Aristotle and the Bible. He keeps the Jewish concept of Divine Revelation but works on the matter more giving a challenging definition of prophecy vis a vis knowledge.

We can see the great mind at work here doing a selfie of his personal relationship to the Torah. An Einstein in his time, he cannot give up intellectual thinking and submit to blind adherence to Divine Revelation as a package that just has to be accepted in faith. Rather, for him prophecy is a combination of revelation and intellectual thinking, knowledge.

Maimonides - The Guide for the Perplexed Book One

Guide for the Perplexed manuscript from Yemen, dated 13-14th century

The text contains selected quotes from the wikipedia article as a short introduction to some of the subjects discussed in Maimonides' masterpiece that I personally find highly relevant also in modern times. Read the entire article and follow the links given there for further study.

Maimonide's book is available online in Word Digital Library.

The Guide for the Perplexed
The Guide for the Perplexed (Hebrew: מורה נבוכים, Moreh Nevukhim; Arabic: دلالة الحائرين, dalālatul ḥā’irīn, דלאל̈ה אלחאירין) is one of the major works of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides or the Rambam. It was written in the 12th century in the form of a three-volume letter to his student, Rabbi Joseph ben Judah of Ceuta, the son of Rabbi Judah, and is the main source of the Rambam's philosophical views, as opposed to his opinions on Jewish law.

Since many of the philosophical concepts, such as his view of theodicy and the relationship between philosophy and religion, are relevant beyond strictly Jewish theology, it has been the work most commonly associated with Maimonides in the non-Jewish world and it is known to have influenced several major non-Jewish philosophers. Following its publication, "almost every philosophic work for the remainder of the Middle Ages cited, commented on, or criticized Maimonides' views." Within Judaism, the Guide became widely popular, with many Jewish communities requesting copies of the manuscript, but also quite controversial, with some communities limiting its study or banning it altogether.

Incorporeal God
The book begins with Maimonides' thesis against anthropomorphism. In the Bible, one can find many expressions that refer to God in human terms, for instance the "hand of God." Maimonides was strongly against what he believed to be a heresy present in unlearned Jews who then assume God to be corporeal (or even possessing positive characteristics).

To explain his belief that this is not the case, Maimonides devoted more than 20 chapters in the beginning (and middle) of the first book to analysing Hebrew terms. Each chapter was about a term used to refer to God (such as "mighty") and, in each case, Maimonides presented a case that the word is a homonym, whereby its usage when referring to a physical entity is completely different from when referring to God. This was done by close textual analysis of the word in the Tanach in order to present what Maimonides saw as the proof that according to the Tanach, God is completely incorporeal.
This leads to Maimonides' notion that God cannot be described in any positive terms, but rather only in negative conceptions.
"As to His essence, the only way to describe it is negatively. For instance, He is not physical, nor bound by time, nor subject to change, etc. These assertions do not involve any incorrect notions or assume any deficiency, while if positive essential attributes are admitted it may be assumed that other things coexisted with Him from eternity."
Encyclopaedia Judaica

Unrestrained anthropomorphism and perception of positive attributes is seen as a transgression as serious as idolatry, because both are fundamental errors in the metaphysics of God's role in the universe, and that is the most important aspect of the world.
The first book ends with Maimonides' protracted exposition and criticism of a number of principles and methods identified with the schools of Jewish Kalam and Islamic Kalam, including the argument for creation ex nihilo and the unity and incorporeality of God. While he accepts the conclusions of the Kalam school (because of their consistency with Judaism), he disagrees with their methods and points out many perceived flaws in their arguments.
It is highly significant how Rambam is deeply immersed both in Jewish and Islamic theology. The Guide to the Perplexed gives deep insights into fundamental issues in the Theology of these two religions based on the Scriptures and, as the article says, has influenced Medieval European scholars leaving lasting impact into Christian Theology, as well.
The Guide had great influence in Christian thought, both Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus making extensive use of it: the negative theology contained in it also influenced mystics such as Meister Eckhart. It was also read and commented on in Islamic circles, and remains in print in Arab countries.

Monday, July 7, 2014


A comprehensive world view (or worldview) is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point of view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics. The term is a calque of the German word Weltanschauung, composed of Welt ('world') and Anschauung ('view' or 'outlook'). It is a concept fundamental to German philosophy and epistemology and refers to a wide world perception. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.
The quoted compact definition of worldview includes two distinct elements that in my opinion should be kept apart for clarity

  • Wide world perception
  • Framework of ideas and beliefs forming a globa description
Perception is subjective understanding, a mental construction of reality that individuals and groups have adopted and learned in very complex manners.It is an interpretation of the world.

Framework of ideas is objective understanding of what is known and believed in the context of the individual or group. It is a description of the world.

Thunder and lightning
The majestic thunder and lightning during stormy weather has always made and still makes a deep impact on us humans. 

In objective terms the phenomenon has been observed throughout human history as loud sound and sometimes fatal flashing in the sky. The meteorological phenomenon is perceived through senses and transmitted to the brain where it is recognized and associated with wind, rain and fire. 

In subjective terms thunder and lightning are understood by individuals and society according to the prevalent worldview. The associations in mind are culturally colored and depend on a multitude of diverse threats of thinking.

Hellenic people heard the sound and associated it with the fearsome wagons of Helios as he is riding on the sky. Zeus shooting his angry arrows.

Variously named storm gods were worshiped in ancient Near East where thunder and lighting occurs. For examples, Canaanites feared Baal of the holy mountains who gave or withheld rain from the thirsty nature. Flashes are the weapons of choice of several Mesopotamian gods and goddesses. 

Similarly, the Bible has texts that describe in Canaanite manner how thunder is the mighty voice of God shaking the high mountains of Lebanon.

In short, thunder and flash are experienced similarly by all humans throughout the ages through our senses and brain activity. What we see and experience, on the other hand, depends on our worldview in a complex network of personal, social and cultural connections and associations.

Scientific worldview
Modern scientists try to adhere to methods and rules that are as objective as possible in the framework of observations and theoretical explanations and free of the coloring of their own perception of the world.

This concentration on the framework of ideas and observations is an essential characteristics of scientific research and has proven invaluable.

However, it is not enough for us humans to know the mechanics of some natural phenomenon such as thunder and lightning. Electricity, friction, air currents - yes. But there is more to it, isn't there!

Not surprisingly, the top scientists of today studying biology or cosmology and other subjects tend to also write about the meaning of things, their perception of the world as Carl Sagan does in his famed Cosmology documentary - a personal voyage (1980).

The immense success of his masterpiece among the people of the world - the documentary has been shown in over 60 countries and seen by millions - witness the importance and need of talking about what this all means, a personal voyage for each of one according to our capacity of perceiving the world as a whole.

Sagan chose atheism. Hawking keeps asking Big Questions. Sir Isaac Newton chose faith in Creator.

It is important to keep the two elements of Weltanschauung separate - and yet it seems to be impossible to avoid drawing personal conclusions of objective facts, of having perceptions of the world based on the framework of ideas, so to say.

Religion definitely has room in this, both negative and positive. But that requires another discussion.