Saturday, August 18, 2012

On "Bliss to Breakdown"

Long Way Around was an anthology CD that came out in 2002, covering Whitley's music from 1991 - 2001. For me it was like discovering your dad's baseball card collection and finding a Jackie Robinson. 

In this case, Jackie Robinson was two demo tracks that i had never heard before: "A Pint of Lotion" and "Bliss to Breakdown". As far as i know, these were never before released total jewels. I had heard that Chris played these live though i never heard either of them in the three live shows of his that i caught. Pint of Lotion, fortunately, you can find live versions of on the web like this piece of solid gold. And while your at it, listen to this guy's rawkin' cover of the same.

Bliss to Breakdown, though, seems exceptionally rare. I also imagine it must be a very high fidelity expression of Chris' perspective on his spiritual and emotional life. And perhaps a metaphor for his musical career itself -- moving from the spotlight of David Letterman to battling with addiction and near-eviction from his NY apartment towards the end of his life.

Musically, it is unlike any of his other songs. It opens like a punch in the face, with no delay in the vocal intro.  

You hear another arpeggiated signature Whitley chord at 9 seconds in, characteristically disconsonant  and suggestive of the theme of the song itself (listen for a similar chord structure in "As Flat as the Earth"). 

The chord progression at 48 seconds that transitions back into the base melody also fits thematically, as it seems to tie back into the cycle of moving back and forth between ecstasy and suffering.

Lyrically, this is another of Whitley's dharma teachings, on being caught in the cycle of happiness and suffering that the Buddha called samsara. It was a strong theme in a lot of Chris' music ("Angels even devils too / all await to show how far we come to joy" [To Joy]).

i'm up on the edge, i love to ride
i'm up on the edge where worlds collide

This was surely how Whitley experienced life, on the edge and towards collision. This lyric reminds of the "Dust Radio" lyric:

Mama said open up yourself when worlds collide

In many of Whitley's songs there is both solace and suffering through woman: 

well if you look at her closely 
maybe find some mistake 
well i know every woman is perfect 
while i'm lying in her wake

At some level the attempt to find imperfection in another is the projection of one's own imperfection. This recognition is beautifully captured:

well i try to look at her closely 
try to look at her well 
from way down here on the bottom 
well there's no one around to tell

We are all down here on the bottom, and there's no one around to tell. 

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