November 18, 2011

like a blinding flash of narcolepsy

I’ve made it back from my sojourn across the Atlantic, feeling just like a shiny new penny with all the oils of a thousand hands rubbed clean off, and the golden copper Lincoln grinning through again. After twelve years, I returned to the city where I studied abroad and where, in many ways, I think I first started to bloom even though I didn’t know at the time what colors I would be. I saw new terrain too, new monuments to beauty and joy and struggle, in cultures that value putting public money into creating and sustaining such majesty. I feel dizzy. I am reminded of things I used to know.

I’ve been enjoying my fast from technology as well, noticing how much more powerful the resonance of my thoughts can sometimes be when they just echo inside my own head and don’t zap out in bits and bytes to everyone else all the time. I have a few chapel sessions coming to share with you all, and they will come when they are ready. For now we’re contented in an inlet, a lull.

This is something I wrote one afternoon last week in a small cafe in Barcelona, alone, on my little iPod touch. It’s the only thing I’ve written lately, more about an internal dialogue than a new song. I thought you might enjoy it.

Barcelona, 11.10.11

Sometimes, I drift unmoored. The seas have been high, and choppy. The focus has been on the salty, windy survival. Today when I walked into Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, I surprisingly felt closer to God than I have in a long time, as the colorful light brilliantly flooded into all that whiteness. It is the most stunning and overwhelming space I have maybe ever been in. A train might as well have hit me when I walked through the doors; the splattering effect of my psyche was the same. I was derailed. I was, for a short time, wordless.

When you study and live and experience art (also reference: the complicated and sometime emotionally abusive relationship I’ve been in with Michelangelo these years), it’s like a small rip in your fabric is enlarged and pressed and kneaded outwards, sometimes violently. Picture the hands that work the pizza dough from underneath, as it drapes and offers no resistance. There’s a hollow vacancy that’s been left in my life as I try to return to normal dimensions after living daily with beauty and art that challenges and probes. Days like today blow everything back up and out again.

The exterior of the church evoked the dribble sandcastles my mom taught me how to build on the beaches of Santa Cruz when I was a kid. The spires are chaotic and irregular, and expansive and impressive, and dirty from years of exposure, and beseiged by cranes and scaffolding and workers still building. A hundred years after Gaudi started it, craftsmen are still rappelling down the sides.

But indoors.

Walking into that massive space felt like a blinding flash of narcolepsy, where suddenly I knew this place but I knew it from dreams, from a place that I used to be, thousands of years ago. I stood at the base of a forest of columns that turned into trees as I craned my neck, knitting together so high over my head into a canopy. I rolled around Wendell Berry’s words, “I love to lie down weary under the stalk of sleep growing slowly out of my head, the dark leaves meshing.”

There are clean, flat, angular planes everywhere that somehow still feel organic in their sharpness, the way starlight or thistles are organic. Dazzling, pure color (!) and light (!) bleach and stain and permeate the church, and soak through me. Here we are, and we are liberated from tradition, we are severed from heavy gold ornamental oppression, and we have forgotten our grief.

Sometimes you are in a space that is a perfect combination of all the elements that you are uniquely wired for, and this was mine. Gaudi’s got my number, and he has it completely. In art, I felt known.

Dig Down Deep – Vandaveer

In my head, songs often play, even without the tethers of white earbuds. Echoing all around me I heard the 2:17 crescendo of this song, sustained.

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  • …oh, you know. Just threw it together on my little ipod. No big deal.

    In all seriousness, wonderful words, sentiments and pictures. Thanks for sharing. Good to have you back.

    Adam — November 18, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

  • Hey Heather – welcome home…I’ve been a follower of your site for many years now, from Australia.

    This Vandaveer track is fantastic – why does the singers voice sound so familiar? Is he from some other band originally? Anyhow, thanks again for turning me onto another discovery!

    Adam — November 18, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

  • welcome back… wow! these pictures made me look up airline prices to Barcelona for Christmas!

    aims — November 18, 2011 @ 9:34 pm

  • OK, after visiting allmusic, I now know – the singer is from The Apparitions. Some years ago, I heard one of his songs and purchased their album immediately – I knew his voice was familiar! Thanks again…

    Adam — November 18, 2011 @ 11:15 pm

  • yes, adam, and he was also in These United States for some time. the new Vandaveer album is completely fantastic, front to back, and highly recommended. in fact, after I wrote this, i realized that the cover artwork of the new Vandaveer album reminds me of the colors i saw in barcelona: (for some reason the bandcamp only has four tracks, but you need to get the full-length 10).

    browneheather — November 19, 2011 @ 8:22 am

  • Hi Heather – I have been following your site for many years and I can’t thank you enough for all the amazing memories I have that I associate with the music that you have shared. I have been introduced to so many great artists through you. I don’t know if this is already in your plans, but I really hope you write a book someday. Your words and observations cut right to the marrow of what is best in music, art, and life. They are the kind of words that stay with a person’s heart and never leave. I think that is rare in this world. I hope it happens for you and thank you again for sharing so much over the years.

    Nick — November 23, 2011 @ 2:23 am

  • could you imagine having a chapel session there?

    ross — November 23, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

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    168 Hours at SXSW « Curiosity | GSD&M Blog — March 19, 2012 @ 9:12 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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