photo by Leni Sinclair

From the notes of Olin Fisher:

            Where does, ultimately, enlightenment lead? Not to suggest that he had achieved that rarefied perch, but through the years spent struggling against the world he had seen some clearing. At least, if nothing else, he had come as far as feeling enough of an understanding of that persistent pest known as ‘the meaning of life’ to realize that the difficulty in an answer lies in the foolishness of the question. Meaning, that is, being the wrong way to look at it, since it in itself is entirely a man-made concept, and hence rendering it ‘meaningless’.

            But what pulled on his mind like a great weight tied to his thoughts, then plunged off a cliff, was the idea of post-illumination. What of those few who achieved such an understanding and then continue to live? He thought of John Coltrane – an artist that immensely altered the course of the idiom he contributed to and beyond, and that had arrived at some culminating point of conception with time to spare. Persistence and unalterable focus on creation and searching presented Coltrane with unequaled gifts. Take his recording A Love Supreme­; powerful, undeniably beautiful, intense, virtuosic. A complete achievement of musical conception and form – and directly spiritual. It was as if Coltrane had found a moment of clarity and enlightenment – the music itself traveling a path once searching and struggling, but ultimately resolved to a conclusion of peaceful beauty. But illumination is not an end for those unwilling to accept some Zen Master title and call the journey concluded, it is a clearing, a moment of sunlight and space. Coltrane never stopped searching. He walked through the fields of open and into the deep thickets that lie at the far side of enlightenment.

            Weeks before he died, a little more than two years after A Love Supreme, he recorded a document rare in art. If A Love Supreme is a vision of resolution that ends with peaceful contentment, than the years that followed were a godly struggle with the black woods that lay beyond that clearing. Most, it seems, that get to this point turn the other way, or bow out of life, but Coltrane looked the dark depths straight on and left a document of what he saw. The Olatunji Concert is bewilderingly intense, and as powerful as anything in music. It is twisted, tortured and frantically searching music, as if the darkness of post-illumination leaves one panicked and starving, overwhelmed by restless determination and continual disappointment. He tears at the heart of the thing, plunging deep into the thickets and thorns of meaninglessness, violently hacking out a vision of struggle, suffering, and pain as the darkness closes in. And dark – oh so dark. When he comes to the end, it doesn’t end with some peaceful pasture of clarity, but with a suffocating intensity of weight, as if everything is closing in on him, overtaking him. His last breathe exhales like a collapse, engulfed by the void. It is as it is; a pathway hacked like a tunnel through the overgrown darkness at the far end of achievement; a vision of post-enlightenment.

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